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TECHNICALLY, Hiccup is a harness master’s apprentice. Except that he is small and clumsy and weird and no one wants him near the dragons’ harnesses. So instead of the harness master’s apprentice, Hiccup is… something. On odd occasions, he gets to help with the actual tailoring of the harness, writing down measurements or cutting the leather straps, but most often not. He helps around: carries linen, pushes livestock into pens, fetches the surgeons’ supplies, collects the bones and bloody pieces of cattle the picky eaters disdained – even cooks, sometimes. Hiccup Horrendous III – jack of all trades, master of none.

Hiccup’s favourite task is the tending of the eggs.

They are neatly tucked out of the way in a small separate room standing in the baths, kept away from covetous looks and strangers’ touch. They do not need tending per se, but they do require at least a daily estimation of their hatching schedule and their linens changed to keep them from moulding in the sodden, hot ambience. It is more of a self-allocated task than an official duty but it keeps his skinny, useless self out of the way and out of sight, so no one’s complaining. And Hiccup loves the eggs.

He loves touching the glistening surface of the shell, wet and shiny from the sodden heat; loves to mould his hands to the oval curve of the shell; loves to polish their surface until every one of them glistens like a prized gem; loves to press his lips to the supple surface and whisper truths and secrets to the newborn babies.

Steel rusts if not properly greased. Bullets should always be extracted at the earliest convenience, to thwart infection. You shouldn’t only eat meat, even if cows taste better than grain. Spices are good for you. You should always tell if your harness pinches. Heated steel burns but it also dilates, and it shrinks in the cold.

You are loved. You can do anything you want. You can choose anyone you want. You can be anything you want. You are amazing. I love you so much and I know you will be incredible.

Those are things that dragonets are not usually told – not much is told to dragonets, to be quite frank – and that any aviator would sock him behind the ears for, accusing him of putting treasonous and rebellious notions in the dumb beasts’ minds Hiccup tells them every day anyway, along with the story of Temeraire, the Chinese Celestial dragon who fought against the rules and won. This one he narrates the most, at least twice a month, and even twice a week when another egg arrives. Incubation times vary greatly from species to species; he wants to be sure that none of the dragonets ignore that they can chose for themselves. There will be none of that dreadful business of throwing chains on the baby to keep it from flying away, not under his care. Plus, Temeraire lived a long and eventful life; there is plenty to tell, and even more that requires preliminary explanations.

He talks while he rubs them with his strip of cloth, even dares to take the eggs in his hands to clean their bottom, and nestles them against his thighs and belly for this part. It makes him feel tall and fierce, to be with the eggs, to push them into his body, to feel their weight and sturdiness under his hands.

Hiccup loves the eggs, but also the dragons that come out of them. He loves the small ones and the big ones, the cuddly and the lazy ones equally. Hiccup wishes – longs to, more like – more than anything, not so secretly, to be chosen.

Realistically though, there is not any chance it will happen. Hiccup is just a clumsy little freak, too scrawny, weedy and weak; too frail and unreliable and girlish. No dragon would desire such a captain, even if, by some miraculous twist of fate, Hiccup was to be picked to assist to a hatching – not even that of the mystery egg.

Ah! the mystery egg…

It is, at this point, as much a legend as a covert can have.

It is called such because no one knows when it materialized nor what it is. Of course, species cannot be identified by looks alone, but you can make an educated guess – except no one in action has ever seen such an egg, and no one remembers receiving it, it has been here so long. It’s not dead, though, only… taking its time, in no hurry. It happens, from time to time, but it has been more than thirty years now, maybe even forty, and aviators are a gossipy lot. It is smaller than all of the other eggs, even the Winchester ones, and it has been incubating for so long, it is probably twisted by now, and the egg is just ugly. Ugliness is not a sign of deficiency, but well, it’s not good either, is it?

Hiccup does not think it is ugly. Small, yes, that one cannot be contested, but who are they to say that a small dragon is worth less than a big one? (Aviators, the voice whispers. Real ones.) And the ugly part, well, Hiccup certainly does not think so. The egg is… quite frankly, it is stunning. It is black – unfathomably so. So black it is almost blue, so black it shines from it; black as the night and as deep as well.

But the delicate elliptical curve of its top is pickled with brightly opalescent specks, as if sprayed in radiant paint with a toothbrush, like the sky on a summer’s night. From its bottom rise spiralling, wild blue-purple-black stripes. It looks like claw marks, like violence and fury, or more strikingly, like lightning captured and poured in limestone.

The whole thing looks like a constellation, like a raging world, like a rebellion, a cataclysm with planets inside. Not ugly, no; not at all. Extraordinary. Different. Fierce. Challenging.

And his, somehow, even if Hiccup is ashamed of the thought. He does not believe that humans own dragons nor that they ought to. He just...

Hiccup loves the mystery egg. Hiccup loves all the eggs, but this one even more so. He spent countless hours brushing the raised grain of the claw marks with his fingertips, and whispering to it that it is loved, and dear, and perfect. Utterly, supremely perfect. Fuck the haters, as the new kids say. If Hiccup could choose only one egg, he’d pick this one.

(If.)

 

 

HICCUP, FOR the most part, is alone in the nesting room. Not always, but satisfactorily so.

Paired or not, most aviators occasionally come see the eggs and talk to them for a few minutes. Outwardly because dragons learn to speak in the shell, but mostly because those are dragon babies and aviators love dragons. Hazard of the job, really. Any aviator would gladly risk their life for that of a dragon, theirs or someone else’s. Maybe the most famous example of this is Temeraire’s own Captain, William Laurence who risked his life to bring the cure of a rare illness to the French dragons during the Napoleon Wars.

Most of the visitors are aspiring captains. Those are easily recognizable, even if Hiccup had not grown up in their midst. Those have the hungriest looks, the softest hands, the most reverent voices.

Hiccup knows.

He is one.

 

 

HICCUP BURSTS into the mess hall.

“The blue Winchester is hatching!” And then he slumps against the door, because he sprinted through half the compound and cannot feel his legs anymore. He really needs to build up some stamina.

There is a moment of utter silence, and then chairs scrape the wood of the floor and everyone hurries out of the room. No one says a word to Hiccup. The pounding of footsteps fades away, and soon, Hiccup can only hear the kitchens aids and his own laboured panting.

Panting, he drags himself to one of the benches and falls heavily on it. He is never invited to watch the hatchings even if he is the one to spread the news of their imminence.

Well. He will eat well, at least, for once. It has to be consolation enough.

 

 

SOMETIMES, Hiccup hides in the nesting room. Sometimes, Hiccup carefully dislodges one of the eggs from its protective valley of cloth and wraps his whole scrawny and unfit body around it. Sometimes, Hiccup hunkers down in the corner farthest from the door and only listens to the warm livingness of the egg and slowly breathes on it. Sometimes, more often than the other sometimes, Hiccup takes his queer little black egg. Sometimes, Hiccup’s eyes burn and his throat closes and his breath shakes and his frame quivers.

Sometimes happens more and more often.

 

 

HICCUP does not only tell educational stories to the eggs. Sometimes, he just rants as he switches the damp, smelly clothes with fresh, clean ones and blabbers away as he cleans them with gentle, tender swipes.

That is how the aviator finds him, kneeling on the brut stone of the nesting room, nattering about the outdated designs of the dragons’ harnesses and how they could be made more robust and comfortable with just a few tweaks.

Hiccup falls abruptly silent when he hears the rattle of the big metal door. He is always uncomfortable around the aviators, even the kind ones – the pitying ones. Especially the pitying ones. He knows he is only allowed to stay because of his father, the covert leader. He does not need reminding.

He steals looks under his lashes. Oh. It’s that big, hulking Captain who flew in some days ago, Draco Bludvist, Captain to a massive and rare Bewilderbeast named Alpha. He licks his lips nervously, his throat suddenly dry.

Now, Hiccup is not prone to violence, especially considering his diminutive size, but he would gladly make an exception for Bludvist. The man is a tyrant and an abuser of the worst kind. Who ever thought allowing him to captain a dragon was a good idea, Hiccup would like to know, and give them a piece of his mind while he’s at it. Poor beast. Alpha’s skin – and what a stupid and arrogant name it is, Alpha –is littered with scars and cursorily cared-for injuries, most of which were not acquired in battle. The poor beast is always partially starved, ‘to make him more efficient’ and already half out of his mind – he does not even speak. Bludvist’s dragon does not speak. How fucked up is that?

Reflexively, Hiccup caresses the egg he is holding for comfort – the little black one, as it happens. He is always uneasy around the aviators, even the kind ones, and Bludvist is not kind.

Still, Hiccup abandons his cloth on the black egg, rocks back on his heels and stands up to face Bludvist. Bludvist is a stranger, and has no business whatsoever being here – nor is he allowed to.

“You are not allowed to be here,” he says in his surest voice.

It is not very convincing though, and Bludvist’s mouth curls up in a cruel little twist. “And who is going to tell,” he purrs darkly. “You?” Well yes, that was the plan. The threat of it, at least. “Even if you did tell... oh, Hiccup, who would believe you?”

Hiccup’s heart falls to his shoes. Bludvist is right, but Hiccup was hoping he would be unaware of that. The aviator flew in only a scant week ago, and did not mingle with his peers. If Bludvist even believes he has peers.

(Of course, Draco Bludvist is an aviator in name only. He wouldn’t believe himself so superior if he were. He wouldn’t even think of birching his own dragon if he were. His presence in the small nesting room cradling all those precious, precious dragons wouldn’t be so alarming, if he were.

Again, whoever allowed him to harness a dragon is a fucking moron and deserves to be put down.)

But Bludvist, Hiccup realizes, is not here for the eggs. That much is clear now, in the curve of his mouth, in the glint of his eyes, in the way his bulky figure eclipses the door frame, and in the agitation of his meaty fingers. Not here for the eggs at all.

No one will wonder if the little freak shows up with bruises in the morning. Everyone will think it was a well deserved punishment for yet another mistake and assume it has been supplied by another aviator or officer – rightly so. No one will be the wiser, and most of all, no one will care.

Well. Hiccup can take a beating as well as anyone. Probably better than most, even. It is, almost, a relief. The eggs will be safe. His little queer egg will be safe. The babies will be safe. It is fine.

For once Hiccup is glad that only one wall, the warmest one, which stands in the middle of the baths, is laden with eggs, for it means he can step away from them. He does, carefully taking three steps to the side to put as much distance between him and Bludvist, soon and the eggs as possible. It means he is almost against the naked wall, and the thought makes him uneasy, but: the eggs. The eggs are fine.

Bludvist smiles and steps forward. Hiccup swallows reflexively.

“You are such a little freak,” he says casually. “I could hear you from the moment I stepped into the baths. Always nattering away like a housewife, thinking you’re the dragon’s roar. So you think you are smarter than everyone else in here? You think you are smarter than us? Smarter than me?”

Yes, Hiccup thinks. He knows he is. His body is weak but his mind is a gift, even if a disparaged one. “No,” he says instead. There still is hope to assuage the situation. Not much, but still. Hiccup will keep the eggs safe, as an aviator should, as he always will even if he is no aviator, but he would still prefer not to be beaten to a pulp.

If only he could take that outside of the nesting room. The eggs really do not need to hear slurs and threats, or the sound of Bludvist’s fist hitting his wet, bloody flesh. Such violence will corrupt them; maybe inflict damages Hiccup will not be able to undo.

Bludvist takes another step forward. Hiccup takes one step back. Bludvist keeps on coming, and Hiccup keeps on retreating. The nesting room is small, and the thought of being caged between the back wall and Bludvist’s malice is a frightening one, but Hiccup’s body is on autopilot and his feet move of their own volition.

All the while, Bludvist talks, in his deep, slow voice of his, pouring on Hiccup like sludge smothering him down.

“No, I think you believe you are. You think you are such a gift. A boy, thin as a girl, unfit for a dog, let alone a dragon, and you think you are so much better than us...”

Hiccup gasps quietly when his back hits the wall. He is trapped. Bludvist’s smile widens. He stops very close to Hiccup, and raises a hand, leisurely. Hiccup can feel his heartbeat quicken the closer it draws to his face. He knows what is going to happen yet he cannot help but flinch when Bludvist’s fingertips brush against his cheek, soft as a butterfly wing; from any other in any other situation, the touch would be called gentle or tender. Hiccup grinds his teeth and tries to suppress his shaking. He does not like those games at all; he would rather  Bludvist start pounding him like bread dough right this moment.

Bludvist leans down, his great shape obscuring everything around Hiccup, and as his fingers delicately follow the curve of the column of Hiccup’s throat, whispers, “Someone ought to teach you a lesson.”

Hiccup laughs. He does not mean to. Only... is that really what Bludvist is going with? Teaching him a lesson? Hiccup had all the lessons he could wish and more taught to him. Growing up the scrawny, useless son of the chief ensured that.

Bludvist, as one might expect, does not like to be laughed at. Hiccup’s laughter has not even died off that he finds himself pined to the wall by the throat. He gasps in pain and surprise, stupidly, letting off what little air was in his lungs, and starts scrabbling at the hand squeezing his windpipe.

He knows he should not, knows he is only wasting precious air and energy trying to pry off Bludvist’s hand, and that he should simply wait it out – even as powerful as he is, Bludvist cannot hold him up with one hand for long; but as earlier, panic predominates. Fear shorts his rational thinking and grows the longer he cannot manage to free himself. He feels hot and it hurts and he cannot breathe and he is going to die. Already, his mind clouds and moving has become more difficult. He is too feeble, as usual, too inadequate.

But Bludvist is a cat: he likes to play before the kill. He releases his prey and watches him fall to his knees on the ground. Hiccup curls in as little a ball as he can to make himself harder to pick up and breathes. Precious, precious air. He can only take short, explosive half-breaths but half-breaths are better than no breath at all. Everything hurts: his lungs, from the privation; his head, from all the hitting, his struggle induced; his knees, from the fall on the brut stone; his throat, already become raw from the strangulation, but not only: his nails are red with blood and skin alike, doubtless his and Bludvist’s both. He tries to plan, at least an escape, but breathing takes precedence. Anything else can wait – except it cannot, not really.

It seems to last a handful of seconds only and Hiccup is still panting and struggling to make sense of things when Bludvist grabs a handful of his hair and pulls up. Hiccup cries out, shocked by the pain of it, igniting his skull and making his eyes water. He scrambles to get up, hindered by Bludvist grip hauling him off. Bludvist pulls until Hiccup is on his tiptoes and then more. Hiccup blinks furiously to chase off the tears. He will not give this human-shaped monster the pleasure of seeing him cry, bodily response or not. Hiccup had never cried during his beatings.

Bludvist brings their faces close. He looks like a fat, replete cat.

“A lot less chatty now, are you?”

And Hiccup does something entirely stupid, because he is Hiccup and does not know when to quit: he bites Bludvist’s nose. He launches himself forward, ignores the pain in his scalp, and crushes Bludvist’s nose between his teeth. Bludvist yells in pain and uses his grip on Hiccup’s hair to pull him off, throwing him on the ground. There is a muted crack! and a line of fire runs all the way up to Hiccup’s shoulder but he ignores that as well. He spits blood on the pale stone, disgusted to think that he has some of it in him now. Maybe biting the other man had not been such a grand idea, after all.

Heavy footsteps resound in the room. Bludvist roars, “I will kill you, freak!” Definitely not a good idea, then. Hiccup scrambles upward, headless of his ringing head and his throbbing shoulder both. Bludvist is rushing towards him, absolutely furious, his face a mask of rage and violence. He looks like a beast, the visual not helped by the blood marring his mouth and chin. Hiccup is going to die. He skitters back, nervous and in pain.

And then there is a noise on the other side of the room. A detonation of air, like the thump! of a sail abruptly filled with wind. Bludvist freezes, and both he and Hiccup look askance toward the noise, but there is nothing to see. Bludvist turns back toward Hiccup and snarls like a hound, blood on his lips and teeth.

And then there is something between Bludvist and Hiccup. It’s a body. A tiny body. A tiny body with little wings and a double-finned tail. A tiny body with sharp little wings and a disproportionately big, round head. A tiny body blowing whining detonations right in Bludvist’s savage face.

A dragon.

A baby dragon.

A black baby dragon.

His dragon. The mystery egg.

His dragon.

Elation surges through Hiccup, muting all hurts. No word has been exchanged yet, busy chittering and firing little detonations as the dragon is, but Hiccup does not need any. He knows.

Time seems to stretch as both Bludvist and Hiccup stare at the dragonet with equal – if different – stupor.

Undeterred, the dragonet keeps firing little whining puffs of concussive air in Bludvist’s face. The blasts die in flashes of white-blue light, more annoying than harmful, really. The dragon is tiny, barely the length of Hiccup’s arm, and Hiccup has small arms – small everything; even if it was not tiny, it is only a hatchling. So young from the shell, such mastery already is exemplary.

Bludvist appears to reach a similar conclusion at the same time, because he raises a hand as if to swat the bothersome dragonet away. Like a fly. Against the wall. Against which all of his tiny, bright new, soft bones will shatter.

Never.

Roaring with a rage he did not know himself capable of, Hiccup tucks his head in, hitches his shoulder up, lunges under the dragonet and launches himself at Bludvist. Doubtless he only succeeds in throwing Bludvist off his feet because neither of them thought he would do something like that. But he does succeed; Bludvist groan in pain when they land, and Hiccup racks his mind to find a next step. What does he do now? He did not plan this thoroughly at all, and Bludvist still is bigger, stronger and meaner than he is.

But an aviator cannot be cowardly; an aviator does not live for himself. Hiccup has a dragon to protect now, and if he thought he understood what the aviators mean when they say they would readily kill for their dragon, he now knows he did not comprehend at all.

This is how the three aviators who barge in the nesting room find them: scrawny Hiccup astride mean, bulky Bludvist, his chin and mouth bloody, and a tiny, exotic dragon crazily flapping its wing to stay afloat hovering around his red head and firing little puffs of at the bigger man.

“I can explain,” Hiccup blurts before they start to yell.

It does not bode well, but he does not care. There is not much they can do to him that he has not been already through at least once throughout the years, and he has a dragon now.

 

 

BLUDVIST AND Alpha are firmly asked to leave. Hiccup watches the great beast fly away with grief. He would rather they only chased Bludvist away. Alpha does not deserve Bludvist – no one does, really.

Hiccup gets to keep the dragonet. Mainly because it fired at anyone, although not Hiccup, who dared to try and get close to it, and when surprised from behind, bit Stoick hard enough to draw blood and narrowly missed scratching one of Gobber’s eyes out. Also because, even if the circumstances were unique, the dragonet obviously already decided on his captain. (But mainly because of the biting.)

Soon after, captain candidates started loudly whispering that they did not want a defective dragon anyway. It waited forty years and chose the scrawniest aspiring ever? There has to be something wrong with it. Hiccup seethes. There is nothing wrong with it – him, as he discovered. Dragons are known to wait for compatible captains; it is not unheard of at all. Hiccup does not have the arrogance to think the dragonet waited for him especially, but he did wait. This is not a defect. And what if he was ‘defective’, anyway? He is a dragon still, and therefore amazing. His shell alone proved it at length.

Said shell, Hiccup carefully collected. He kneeled on the wet stone and meticulously gathered any and every bit of it he could find. It was a beautiful egg, after all, even broken. And he wanted to draw it for his book. But chiefly, he wanted to reconstruct it, so the dragonet, and later dragon, could be reminded of his origins, and maybe, one day, recognize similar-looking eggs and know he was not alone. The dragonet helped him gather the broken pieces of his shell, painstakingly flapping to and fro, picking the shards in his tiny, stubbed claws or in his wide, soft mouth. Hiccup received each piece, carefully set in his palm with a little chirp, with a smile and a feeling of love unlike anything he has ever felt before. He stopped for a while and watched the dragonet descend very carefully between two eggs to pick a bit of broken shell, his tail twisting this and that ways to help him. He was still wobbly but really, he should not even know how to fly yet, so Hiccup did not worry.

But currently, Hiccup probably was unable to worry about anything. He was so happy he went through the days as in a daze, the dragonet wrapped around his arm or neck, tucked under his shirt against his belly or in the small of his back. It was not entirely comfortable but Hiccup was so pathetically happy that the dragonet wished to be with him at all that he did not protest. This would not continue for long, anyway, and he wanted to enjoy it while it lasted; like all dragonets, this one was growing very quickly – he would soon be too big for Hiccup to hold. The thought alone saddened him immensely. It was tremendously comforting to feel the little warm body tucked against him, to know at all time where the dragonet was. To have proof that he was liked. To see and know that, of all anyone and anywhere he could have chosen, the dragonet picked him, Hiccup Horrendous IIIrd, freak extraordinaire, time and time again.

For this dragonet, at least, was neither collared nor harnessed, and would not be for a good long while.

 

 

THAT HAD been the first fight of Hiccup’s Captain career, mere hours after his captainship. It was only fair that, if the dragonet fought for Hiccup right out of the shell, Hiccup should fight for the dragonet right from the start of his Captaincy.

“We do not have any harness fit for this body type,” Spitelout Jorgensen muses, ogling the scaly black scarf wrapped around Hiccup’s throat.

“Hiccup has always shown promises with forms and conception; he can very well craft one himself, can you not, my boy?” As if what has been relentlessly mocked until then is now matter of praises – now that he has his own dragon.

Hiccup swallows his anger and replies, soft as sugar: “There is no need for a new harness design, for he will not wear any harness.”

Silence.

“He does, however, require food. It has already been several hours and no dragon had ever suffered such delay between the time of its hatching and its first feeding.” He does not add that the average dragon does not, as a rule, tussle right out of the shell. This is positively unheard off – yet another idiosyncrasy of this dragon of the galaxy shell. His dragon needs to eat, pronto.

By that time, Jorgensen, Gobber and Stoick have come around. The three of them burst out yelling, lecturing about duty and practices and mores and a whole lot of drakeshit. You have to harness your dragon before feeding it; it is just how it works. For the dragonets’ safety, of course. The heavy breeds, especially, have to be trained from the very start, before they grow too big and too feral and have to be put down. They cannot have dragonets entertaining foolish ideas.

Hiccup says nothing, watches them with blank eyes, focuses on the tender heat of the dragonet dozing in the depression of his throat and waits the storm out. Then, when the noise of their certainty simmers down, and since his voice carried weight now that he was an aviator, Hiccup seizes the opportunity to say what he has never been permitted to before.

“Do you hear yourselves? I ought to harness him before he grows too big and too feral? Before we have to put him down? Whatever reason for? Thinking? Not wanting to do your bidding? I ought to put him down because he is too much like a person? I ought to keep him from fully growing his personality because it is too inconvenient? Do you realize what you are saying? And what about your own dragons? Does that mean you can only love half of them – the half you allowed them to develop? That you can only love the part that is submissive and cowering before your wrath? Do you hear yourselves? You are telling me – and them, every single day that they are only lovable if they are not too inconvenient? That their Captain, their alleged best friend and partner, would rather murder them than seeing them free? What kind of love is that? No, please allow me to rephrase that – what kind of drakeshit is that? Can’t you love them entirely? Are they not worthy of love if they do not serve you? What kind of relationship is that? I am not DONE!” he hisses when Jorgensen opens his mouth to object. Taken aback, Jorgensen closes back his mouth.

Hiccup knows he will not get another chance to say this if he lets himself be cut off. Nevertheless, he is glad for the interruption; it allows him to get back on track and to correct the direction of his speech. Appearing hysterical would not help him make his point.

“What you do – that is not training. This is blackmail and manipulation. You dangle food in front of starving children and promise to give it to them if they, in return, promise to be compliant and submissive. What happens if they do not want to? Do you let them starve until they submit? Of course, none of them refused yet, I would wager. They are so hungry they would agree to anything to get to eat – they do agree to anything to eat. Being harnessed so young? Barely an hour out of the shell, your force this contraption of leather and steel on them. Do you know what it does to their skeletons? Of course not. This is the blackmail part – obey or starve.

“Then comes the emotional and psychological manipulation. They are forced to rely on their Captains – who they have to choose from a selection of carefully vetted candidates – for every single thing, most of all, again, food. They have to ask for the right to eat and depend entirely on their Captains’ liberality. Oh, my Captain is so good to me; he always gives me food when I ask. Of course they are grateful, they are hungry. They are babes. And then, they are used to it. They grow up seeing all those adult dragons living in their own harnesses night and day and obeying your commands and asking to be allowed to eat when hungry. They learn that this is how it is: they obey, and they are fed. And then they obey some more.

“But they should not have to ask. They should not have to beg. They should not have to be good. They should not be emotionally engaged with their captains because of conditioning and emotional attrition. They should not have to accept to wear a harness too heavy for their tiny bones to be allowed to eat. It is not training. It is not for their safety. It is not protection, it is not care!” The volume of his own voice surprises even himself and he stills, shocked. He gathers his wits quickly, however, and breathes deeply to regain his composure. He needs to appear self-possessed and rational. Those are not his father, mentor and distant superior standing in front of him, but the chief of this covert, his second in command and the taskmaster.

“They should not have to beg,” he repeats, glaring at his chief without blinking, “and mine will not.”

There is another silence, longer that one, during which he stands proud and unwavering on his own two feet and glares at all three in turns – his father the chief, Jorgensen, and Gobber. This whole speech – rant, really – was very forward of him, and quite frankly, out of character. Doubtless unfair, as well – at least in part:he does not think that they are purposefully impairing or harming their beloved dragons, but facts are that they are harming them in the first place. Same as a foal is not given to be reared to a hen, you do not entrust the rearing of a dragon to a man if you want the dragonet to grow as a dragon should. It is elementary logic, and Hiccup does not understand why he is the only one to see it. Hiccup observed a lot, growing up in a covert and being as big a disappointment as he was is was and in his observation, all captains do is curb the dragons’ natural instinct to fit into what they deemed useful and acceptable. There is a reason why shepherds do not hand-rear the young unless they absolutely have to.

Hiccup had no power and no voice before, and had scarcely been heard – let alone listened to – even when he had made an effort; and he presently still is without both of those, but he does have a dragon. A precious, beloved, splendid tiny black dragon. A dragonet who risked his very new life to come to Hiccup’s aid, and Hiccup will be damned if he repaid that care with treachery. He cannot rear his dragonet as a dragon should be raised, for all of the dragons in the covert are “human dragons”, but he will do his utmost to ensure that this dragonet grows into a dragon. It is not as if he could lose any of the standing he never had, was it?

Hiccup is also fully aware that change is never pacific and as a result feels very little guilt at lashing out as he did. He might, in truth, not lose even a wink of sleep over it.

Plus, it has been rather a taxing day, what with the assault, the hatchling, and expressing his thoughts which no one has ever listened to in the past, since he was no aviator and could not “understand the bond”. What bond? The bond one forces upon a weak, starving, helpless child and reinforces with daily exposition? Was that the bond they were talking about? Because Hiccup does not want it. Hiccup will not have it.

And maybe the dragonet will choose another human as he ages. Maybe his seeking Hiccup and wrapping himself around the boy’s throat and wrists and everything is just a passing fancy. Maybe, yes. But in that case, Hiccup will sweep his broken heart under his shirt and get back to cleaning the latrines. What he will not do is harness his tiny black dragon. His dragon will stay because he wants to, not because he has a leash.

His first act has been to protect Hiccup from a being at least twenty times the dragonet’s own weight and size; he deserves that Hiccup fight for him as well. Any dragon deserves that Hiccup fight for them.

“My dragon, my rules, right?” He resumes, “Is that not what you told me, repeatedly, when I came to you about Alpha? You told me time and time again that I could not interfere in a Captain-dragon partnership. Well, now I am in a Captain-dragon partnership, and you have no right to control it. If you did not intervene when Bludvist starved his own dragon,” and there his voice shakes, because it would take a far deader heart than Hiccup’s to not be horrified by that, “you will not intervene because I refuse to torture mine.”

With that, Hiccup goes to feed said dragon.

 

 

THE DRAGONET does not have a name yet. Hiccup does not want to name it something stupid, and the dragonet has not said anything on the subject either. Has not said anything on any subject, for that matter. Hiccup worries a little about that. Just a little, however. Maybe he could learn to talk later on, or maybe Hiccup could teach himself how to communicate with his hands, as he had seen three people do once, and then teach it to the dragonet. He is obviously intelligent and able to make his moods known – no one had tried to touch it after he had bitten Stoick’s finger. Hiccup is certain that there are ways to communicate even if his dragon never finds his voice.

 

 

THIS VERY FIRST meal, the dragonet did not eat as much as Hiccup had expected. It had already been a long delay and the little beast had fought seconds after hatchling, he was probably exhausted. Hiccup worried that it would be detrimental to his growth, however, and tried to coax him into eating at least one whole tuna. The dragonet left the tail, but Hiccup could understand that. He brought him a whole bucket of water, and the dragonet pitched his whole head into it to drink, eyes wide open. Hiccup did not think any breed was able to do that and made a mental note to add it to his book.

Hiccup sat under a tree and, as he watched the tiny dragon hatched from his queer little cataclysmic egg drink voraciously, felt this feeling of elation surge anew. This was his egg. The egg he had curled around of so many times, the egg he had talked to for hours, the egg he had taken pain to brush and buffer, the egg with the most beautiful patterned shell he had even seen. His egg, and his dragon.

It was amazing.

It was absolutely enchanting.

It was one hundred percent pant-shitting terrifying.

For all that he had ever wanted to be chosen, he had never truly entertained the fantasy of it. He had never planned what he would do, and as such, he had no idea of what he needed to do – or not do. He was, as one might say, flying blind. And deaf. And hog-tied. Good gods. Hiccup was, understandably so, freaking out.

Little paws pricked the skin of his stomach through his clothing and burst his freak out bubble. Fed and watered, the sleepy little dragon was poking at his belly as if to inspect the squishiness of it. Hiccup let him. A few more pokes, and the dragonet seemed to find Hiccup suitable. He climbed on him with his baby claws and a few disorganized beats of his wings, and plopped down on the boy’s stomach. He yawned adorably, exposing bright pink ridges of gum, paced a few times around, and then curled up in a tiny black ball, the double fin of his tail covering his dark eyes. The dragonet sighed once and immediately started to emit a low rumble which managed to convey some immense satisfaction.

Utterly entranced, Hiccup raised a hand to follow the curve of the creature’s back with the tip of one finger. The dragonet mewled and nudged Hiccup’s hand with his head until Hiccup curved it, at which point the dragonet pushed his head under the arch of his fingers and promptly went to sleep.

And that part was not even a little bit terrifying.