He knows he shouldn't have accompanied his rider to Gothi's hut. And now he's suffered the same fate as Toothless, he's shrunken to a little hatchling, defenseless, helpless…
"Oh my Thor, he drank Gothi's potion," he hears Snotlout's voice from behind him.
His rider won't want him now.
Hookfang backs up from the dish he drank out of, fluttering to the edge of the healer's platform. It's so far now he's a little baby dragon again. He doesn't wait to hear his human's words of rejection. If he's going to starve, if he's going to be replaced by a new dragon, he doesn't want to be there for it.
"Hookfang!" Toothless advances on him, pupils wide and sympathetic. "Fire-Scale! I know it's frightening, I've been there!"
Hookfang shakes his head. Toothless is just as soft as his rider. He has never been captured, never been marked for death. He has no conception of the ruthless nature of the world, and neither has Hiccup. A human like Snotlout, though… He knows that softness is weakness, and weakness is death. And a human like that won't care for a useless dragon. Fight or die. He must find a new dragon, must find his way back into the skies. That's just the way it is, just the way it works.
"You don't understand, Toothless-Queen," Hookfang mutters, then cringes at how thin and chirpy his voice has become. Childish. Vulnerable. And a vulnerable mount defeats the entire purpose of having a dragon. Hookfang understands, but he can't endure the friendly and sensible words of goodbye, can't endure seeing Snotlout find a whole and useful dragon.
"Hookfang," Hiccup says kindly. "Calm down. It's okay. It's okay." Hookfang edges faster towards the end of the platform. He may have a small, stupid hatchling's body now, but he has some pride left. Hiccup keeps speaking kindly to him, Toothless-Queen crooning and making himself small and nonthreatening, while Snotlout's eyes are wide, his arms outstretched. They're all so much bigger than he is. He's used to looking down at them. He's never seen them as giants before.
Soon. Soon he'll escape this humiliation. His tiny legs are taking for ever to cross a distance he would have taken in one step. But perseverance has paid off, and he's at the edge of the platform. He should jump. If his little wings will carry him…
"Where are you going?!" Toothless calls, Hiccup echoing his question and Snotlout yelling in the background. Hookfang should jump. He should. The other dragons will be able to scent him, if they want to find him. And he'll starve rather than walk through the village like this, to be laughed at or pitied by Snotlout and his new dragon. This is what he's reduced to. A lost hatchling. Better to die alone in the forest than endure the humiliation of the others watching him starve.
Yet Hookfang hesitates, one ridiculously small helpless foot off the platform. He knows he can't fish yet in this body. He doesn't want to starve. Will they let him starve? Stormfly and the rest? Fear spikes through him. He hasn't always been kind to the others. He's always been disrespectful to Toothless-Queen. As for the humans… He tried to kill Hiccup, although he thinks Hiccup's mostly forgiven him for that. But the rest of the humans on this island… they keep Fire-Scales to kill them. He's under no illusions that they want him. That anyone wants him. He sometimes allows himself, in his weaker moments, to imagine that his rider—But no…
With one bound, Toothless-Queen has snapped Hookfang up in his mouth, holding him firmly by the back of the neck. Toothless' teeth are retracted, but his grip is like a Shellfire's jaws. "Let me go!" Hookfang yells, struggling. Oh gods, his voice isn't a roar, but a humiliating chirp.
No wonder Toothless ignores him, dragging him back to the humans. His feet don't even touch the platform before Snotlout has scooped him out of Toothless' mouth, holding him in his arms. "I can walk," Hookfang mutters, squirming as Snotlout scratches his neck and back. Oh, that feels nice. Undignified, but… nice.
"Awww…." Hiccup is positively cooing as he lies clasped firmly in his rider's arms. Humans are foolishly sentimental about young, any young, Hookfang has observed. This baby thing might not be as bad as it looks. He certainly doesn't feel in any danger right now… Snotlout rubs his tummy and he closes his eyes completely, a purr breaking from him as he burrows his face into his rider's chest. Fire-Scales are never afraid… But being so small makes him afraid. Hookfang's always been the largest one around… And having someone larger than him to protect him feels – well – nice.
"It's okay," Hiccup says. And he reaches out to pet him! Like Hookfang is an actual baby! Hookfang growls and snaps at his outstretched fingers. "Hey!" Hiccup snatches his hand back.
Toothless-Queen roars. "Have some respect, hatchling!" Hookfang feels himself cringe. He's only just hatched and already he's earned the queen's displeasure…
"I'm sorry!" he whimpers. "Don't cast me out!"
"Hey, you okay?" Toothless croons. Relief pours through Hookfang. Clearly, his hatchling instincts are stronger in this body. He hasn't angered his queen. He won't starve. He's okay… His… dam is… protecting him?
"You scared him!" Snotlout snaps indignantly, curling his face and arms around Hookfang. "Hey, hey," his voice is impossibly soft, "don't be scared, Hooky. It's just Toothless. You'll be big and scary again soon and then you'll scare him, won't you?" He presses his cheek to the top of Hookfang's head and Hookfang chirps happily. "You're a big scary dragon. You scare everyone. Hel, you scare me."
"I don't want to scare you," Hookfang hears himself say. It's positively frightening how thin his voice has become. Snotlout seems to understand, though, because he just chuckles softly and starts to stroke Hookfang's scales.
"How long till he changes back?" Hiccup asks Gothi as Snotlout continues to pet Hookfang. He's not a helpless little hatchling, he's not! He still has the mind of an adult, the heart of an adult! He's a proud—Oh gods Snotlout's hand covers his entire tummy and it's so warm… Is his rider nuzzling him? He slits his eyes halfway open. Yes, Snotlout's pressed his cheek against Hookfang's snout, and he's… Gods. He's humming to him.
He side-eyes Toothless. He better not be laughing at him, queen or no queen. He'll tear him limb from limb. He'll… Oh no. Toothless-Queen, too, is looking at him wide-pupiled, with big sentimental eyes. Hookfang barely has time to squawk before Toothless licks him.
"I'm not really a hatch—Argh, what are you…" Toothless ignores him and keeps up his marking behavior. Hiccup is looking on and smiling broadly. If Hookfang was an adult, he'd smack him with his tail. Then Snotlout lifts him up with a hand on either side of his ribs like he's a Biter. Hookfang would blast him, but not in the face, so he has no choice but to take it. "I'm not really a hatchling! Put me down!" he growls, only it comes out high-pitched and squeaky with his new voice box. That seems to cause the humans to make squeaky noises too.
"You're an adorable hatchling, Fire-Scale," Toothless croons. Queen or no queen, he's as sentimental as his rider.
"I'm not a hatchling! Stop licking me!"
"Well, Snotlout can't," says Toothless reasonably, continuing to mark him, "so I have to."
"Why would Snotlout…" Hookfang squirms, but Toothless is insistent on putting up a sign that says Property of the Nightwing. "Quit doing that!"
"Well, you're his hatchling." Toothless finally finishes licking, and sits back on his haunches with the most irritating satisfied expression.
"I am not his!" Hookfang splutters.
Seeing that Toothless is done with his embarrassing self-appointed duty, Snotlout pulls Hookfang in from where he was holding him at arm's length and tucks him into his chest again. Toothless raises an eyebrow. "Doesn't seem that way to me."
"I belong only to myself!" roars Hookfang, ignoring that it comes out a chirp.
Toothless raises one eyebrow. He probably learned that from his rider. "Yeah, that's why you won't let anyone touch you but him."
"That's just… ohh…" As he's speaking, a gigantic, soft human hand splays protectively over Hookfang's back. He can't help a little squeak: Hookfang never knew human hands could feel so warm and gentle and safe, covering him completely like cuddling in a cozy nest with clutchmates. Snotlout's other hand skritches over Hookfang's head, drawing a purr before he cuts it off and shakes his head in frustration. Toothless smiling smugly does not help matters. "He's not my sire or my dam! He's my human—I mean, my rider—uh, my partner… Stop smiling like that!"
Hookfang has yelled so loudly that Snotlout holds him out far enough to meet his eyes. "You okay, Fangster? Does it hurt?" He looks up anxiously at Gothi. "Does it hurt to change into a little dragon? I don't want him to hurt, he can't tell me if he's feeling bad or—" Gothi rolls her eyes and whacks him in the head with her staff. Unfazed, Snotlout cradles Hookfang tight, as if the elder might hit him next. "I'll take that as a no, then?"
"There's no call for her to treat him like that," huffs Hookfang, curling up in his human's arms. "He just asked a question."
"Mm-hmm," nods Toothless, still frustratingly smug.
Hookfang doesn't know how he would have responded, but luckily Hiccup cuts them off. "You hear that, Hookfang? It's just till the new moon." He looks up at the human elder. "Just like Toothless, right?"
Gothi nods, and Hookfang slumps in Snotlout's hold. That's over two weeks. Well… He was worried about eating, but he doesn't think he's going to starve, not the way Snotlout is holding him… almost as if…
"You hungry, Hooky? You must be hungry, we were going to lunch. Hiccup, can you give us a ride to the Great Hall?" Snotlout clasps Hookfang tight to his chest, human heart ridiculously fast and loud against his ribs. "Is he gonna be okay?" Snotlout asks Gothi, stepping forward, braving being beaned in the head with her staff again. "Is there anything special I should do for him? What do I need to know?"
Hiccup grins. Smug little bastard. "You saw Toothless, he came out of it fine. Just feed him and make sure he has enough to drink."
"Yeah. Okay. Food. Water. Okay, I can do that." Hookfang wants to laugh at how flustered Snotlout is, but it's frightening to be so small, and having the human hold him so close is… safe. "Come on, Hookfang, we're going to get you something to eat."
And with that, Snotlout climbs onto Toothless, Hookfang's small body clutched securely in his arms.
Hookfang's still stunned as they rise into the air. He's not going to have to fight at the feeding-station? He's not going to have to ask his fellow-dragons for help? He's going to find food?
…His rider is going to take care of him? But that makes no sense.
"Hey, Hooky," Snotlout murmurs to him, holding him tight as Toothless rises gently into the air, and takes off more sedately than Hookfang can ever remember him flying. "It's gotta be hard, I know. Bet you don't feel good, huh? It's gonna be over before you know it. Just hang in there, you'll be back to your old big scary ferocious self in no time."
Yes. Big scary ferocious. At least someone around here recognizes Hookfang for what he is. Secure in the knowledge that at least Snotlout knows he's not a helpless hatchling, he burrows into his waistcoat, pushing his head into the folds of fabric, and curls up, purring and being stroked.
Unfortunately, the rest of the dragons and their riders are easily fooled by outward appearances. To hear them fawn over him, you wouldn't imagine he was a big scary ferocious Fire-Scale, at all. He can't flame up yet, but he can breathe fire, and he does it repeatedly to prove he's not as helpless as he looks.
…It doesn't help.
"…adorable," purrs Meatlug, bumping Snotlout's elbow. Astrid and Fishlegs are cooing over him, and the twins are clutching each other, making silly noises. Stormfly is bending close to lick him with her longer tongue, and even Barf and Belch are making the most ridiculous, sentimental faces.
"I'm not a hatchling!" Hookfang growls.
"Oh, his little voice is so sweet!" Meatlug exclaims. Stormfly has forgotten her place in the hierarchy completely and has marked him Property of the Spike-Tail Protected By The Nightwing Queen. Her rider has forgotten she's a warrior and is making squeaky sounds.
"Yeah, you could almost like the grouch," says Barf. "At least this way his whinging sounds cute."
"I don't whinge," Hookfang pouts. Snotlout has been carrying him since they got off Toothless. The Nightwing-Queen and his rider have gone off somewhere, probably to tell Hiccup's sire about this embarrassing development, and Snotlout, having learned from Hiccup how this marking thing works, is holding Hookfang up to the dragons to lick, with a stupid simpering broody-dam smile that's going to make Hookfang forget he's a Viking warrior any minute now. If he didn't need Snotlout to feed him, he'd object strongly to being coddled like a real hatchling. It's humiliating being so helpless… oh, his human has cupped his snout in his hand and pressed his newly-tiny head to his fast-beating human heart and he can't suppress a purr. The other dragons burst out into loud, high-pitched, thoroughly disgusting noises. You'd think they'd never heard a fledgling purr before. Idiots. He ignores them.
"C'mon, guys," Snotlout says to humans and dragons alike, "don't crowd him. We don't want it to be too much for him." The press of bodies abates, and Hookfang sighs with relief. "Let's get you something to eat, Fangster," Snotlout says softly, and Hookfang relaxes as he's carried up the stairs to the Great Hall. He has a moment of thinking I should walk! I should fly! But it's so unfamiliar to be so tiny, and he can just hide here in Snotlout's waistcoat, surrounded by the scent of his salt-human-iron skin, his heartbeat strong in Hookfang's ear. His warm voice is speaking of food, and he lets himself burrow in and be safe.
The door to the Great Hall opens and Hookfang's assaulted by the loud, booming voices of adult Vikings. It cuts through to his marrow and he's afraid.
For a moment he can see nothing, hear nothing. Work up to the Monstrous Nightmare. All he can see is a darkened cell. Vikings throwing in fish, staying out of range of his flame. Taunting.
He's locked in, marked for death. Outside, the human fledglings are fighting Storm and Meatlug and Barf-and-Belch, training for the day they will kill him. The loud Vikings sound the same as they did in the arena. He's helpless. Trapped.
"…fang. Hooky. Fangster. Hey. Hey, you okay? You don't look too good."
A big pasty human face is in Hookfang's. He remembers that face. That scent, mingled with Hiccup-Consort's. Fear, and also respect. That hand, touching him. Hookfang, for some reason he still can't understand, allowing it.
There's a voice linked to that face, and it's singing to him again, some human song. He concentrates only on that voice, looks only at that face. This Viking doesn't want to kill him. Doesn't want to hurt him. He shouldn't trust that knowledge. Trust is dangerous. Trust can get you killed. But…
This is his Viking. Hookfang's Viking. His rider. The one he would protect with his life, even though he knows the human only sees him as a prized weapon, an efficient mount. He's still the one Hookfang fights with for dominance, still the one who doesn't leave when Hookfang singes his rear. Still the one Hookfang trusts the most on his back, even more than Hiccup-Consort.
If his human wants to sing to him… to keep him fed… Well, there are worse fates. Hookfang shrinks into Snotlout's waistcoat, hiding behind it. Especially now he's so tiny and all these big Vikings with their booming voices are so large and threatening. He knows humans and dragons are at peace now, he knows it, but all he can think is that his only use to them is to be killed.
"Hiccup? Bring us some fish outside. I think the noise is getting him spooked." And with that, Snotlout turns and carries Hookfang out of the hall, sitting on the steps outside, even though there's a north wind blowing and the human has to be cold.
His tension drains away as soon as he's outside of the noise and bustle of the Great Hall. Out here, there's only the murmuring of the wind, the scary sound of the big Vikings muffled by the thick human door. Hiccup brings a basket of small fish and Snotlout feeds him, placing fish after fish in his mouth like a dragon dam and watching with soft, solicitous eyes as Hookfang gulps them down. He brings a bowl of water and watches over Hookfang to make sure he's had enough, then strokes his back and scratches his snout. And Hookfang is… confused.
"What is it, Fire-Scale?" Toothless-Queen asks, coming up next to them, Hiccup alongside Toothless like his shadow.
"I don't understand it," Hookfang tells him. "I… Why is he doing this?"
Toothless rolls his eyes. "Why do you think?"
Hookfang's mouth opens and closes. "I… I don't know! He could give me to Hiccup! He could put me in the stables! Why is he doing this?"
It's Toothless' turn to look mystified. "What are you talking about?"
Hookfang sighs. The humans, seeing them talking, are conversing amongst themselves. "He and I are not like you and Hiccup," Hookfang tries to explain to Toothless. "He and I… It's a mutually beneficial alliance. He provides food and protection and I take him into the skies. If one of us fails to keep up our end of the agreement, it's dissolved of its own accord."
"What…" Toothless blinks. "Who told you that?"
"It's understood!" snaps Hookfang, not liking how squeaky his voice sounds now he's a little fledgling. Snotlout palms his snout in his soft hand and he nuzzles back, turning his head outwards so he can continue to talk to Toothless. "He even said it once. When we…" He can't tell Toothless-Queen the details of that incident. "When we were alone together."
Toothless nods, not pressing for details, and Hookfang is grateful. "Forgive me for contradicting you," his tone is smug, "but it doesn't seem dissolved to me."
"That's what I don't understand!" Hookfang almost wails. "He's confusing me! He should put me in your or Hiccup's care and find a new mount, one who can serve his needs!"
Toothless' mouth falls open, pupils narrowing. "A new mount? Is that what you think you are to him?"
Hookfang ignores the warm human arm wrapped around his little body, the confusing sensation of soft five-fingered hands caressing his snout. "That was the agreement! That was the exchange! Why is he feeding me and carrying me when I'm no use to him? And…" He can't help the tremor in his voice. "And how long till he tires of it?"
Toothless sighs. "I should really have Hiccup talk to him sometime."
"No!" snaps Hookfang. "I don't want anyone's pity!"
Toothless drapes a front paw over his face and shakes his head.
"Just…When he finds a new mount, will you – I mean, as Queen – I don't…" Hookfang hates how abject he sounds. "I won't be able to, uh, fish yet… It's…"
Toothless growls, and just for a moment, Hookfang remembers why Nightwings are alpha predators despite their small size. "You will not starve on my watch. I swear it."
Hookfang slumps with relief. "Thank you, Toothless-Queen."
Toothless looks up at Snotlout. "You won't starve on his watch, either. He would die rather than let you come to harm. But you'll have to find that out for yourself."
Toothless makes to go, but Hookfang stops him. "Toothless!"
"When he, uh. When he finds a new mount. Will you make sure they take care of him?"
Toothless just smacks his face again. Then he turns to his human and signals him that they're done talking.
Hookfang blinks: he wasn't done, but clearly his audience with Toothless-Queen, now he's a lowly hatchling, is at an end. Of course, he's fallen in the hierarchy; he should have anticipated it, but he was too preoccupied with practical matters—
"…Fangster? What do you wanna do? You want to practice flying? Or maybe do some target practice, get control of your flame? I'm right here, I'll help you do whatever you wanna do. Or you want a nap after lunch? You must be tired after that changeover."
"Nap?" Hookfang says incredulously. "I'm not really a…" He yawns. Oh, by the egg that hatched him, he's sleepy. And Snotlout steadily scratching under his chin is not helping.
"It's okay to nap after lunch! You and I often take naps, and I'm a fierce Viking warrior and you're a ferocious Monstrous Nightmare! It's just to digest our food!"
Hookfang purrs and moves closer, laying his head on the conveniently available human shoulder. "Well, when you put it that way…"
His human doesn't understand him, of course, but he probably gets it, because he gets up and scoops Hookfang into his arms. Hookfang should be more concerned about being carried like this. It's just more practical, he tells himself. And really, he thinks, he can see what Toothless-Queen liked about this arrangement, being smaller than his human and wrapped completely about in care and affection and taken care of and—
He looks up at Snotlout, strolling back to his house and whistling. He's smiling, one hand absently petting and stroking Hookfang's scales. Every so often he looks down at Hookfang and his face softens. Which makes no sense. He should be upset that he's been deprived of the skies. He should be putting Hookfang in the stables and finding a new dragon. Why isn't he doing that?
Hookfang's not stupid. He knows what Toothless-Queen was implying. That Snotlout – well – cares about him. As more than just a finely honed weapon, as more than an intimidating and dangerous battle partner. As a… what? A pet? A friend? Hookfang growls. He's nobody's pet, hatchling or no hatchling.
"Hey, you okay, Hooky?" Hearing his growl, Snotlout looks down, meeting his eyes. "Want anything?" And he actually waits for an answer. Snotlout has never treated him like a pet. He does try to assert dominance from time to time, but he's never treated Hookfang as anything but an equal. Hookfang shakes his head. "It's gotta be hard, being so little." Snotlout grins. "Don't worry, you'll be back to your big scary self in no time."
His big scary self? So… Snotlout's just waiting for him to get back to normal? If that's true, he wouldn't be this indulgent to a hatchling. To test it, Hookfang makes his hatchling eyes as big and round as possible, as he's seen Toothless do with Hiccup when he wants to get his way. It never works when you're a Fire-Scale – which is as it should be, he tells himself hurriedly, in which of the seven worlds would a Fire-Scale want to be cute? We get what we want by taking it. So he waits for Snotlout to be upset, to be reminded that he doesn't have a powerful dragon anymore, just a helpless hatchling who needs him for everything.
Instead, his hearing is pierced with a high-pitched "Aw, Hooky, you're such an adorable baby!" Snotlout positively melts at the Hatchling-Eyes. Too bad there isn't a single thing Hookfang wants, because Snotlout would be putty in his hands. The look on his human's face… Why is his chest aching? Snotlout looks so soft. No dragon dam ever looked more lovingly upon her clutch. And then he bends his face to Hookfang's own, and nuzzles his little horn, and brushes his cheek and nose and mouth over the top of his hatchling head.
Hookfang groans. His chest really hurts. If he's not careful, he'll believe Toothless-Queen, and then where will he be? At the mercy of affections that can be withdrawn at any moment? His heart given as Toothless' is to a human, to do with what he will? His—oh, that feels so good. As he's carried back to the Jorgenson homestead, Snotlout's handskritching ceaselessly at his head, Hookfang settles into his human arms. Not like he can do anything about this for a while. So until it's withdrawn, he might as well enjoy it.
He keeps on enjoying it as Snotlout carries him upstairs. He can fly upstairs! He can walk upstairs! He just… doesn't want to.
Being tiny has its perks. Snotlout settles Hookfang securely into his, Snotlout's, own bed, bunching blankets and pillows around him. "I know you'd probably have a nest or something," he smiles, "but I'll try to make it comfortable."
And Hookfang blinks. Comfortable? Snotlout wants to make him comfortable? He can understand Snotlout not wanting any harm to come to him… But… why would he care about Hookfang's comfort? "Why?" he asks, even knowing his human can't understand him. The sound comes out an embarrassing baby chirp.
"I don't want you to worry about a thing, Hookfang. I got this. I'll take care of you." Snotlout kneels by the bed. Hookfang's curled up in a circle, and Snotlout wraps his arm round Hookfang's back, his other hand scratching his eye-bulbs. "I'm here. I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere and you won't want for anything, okay? Anything you need, you got it. I know it's not fun, but I'm gonna make this as easy as I can for you. Okay, Fangster?" Snotlout's voice is a whisper, but Hookfang can hear it just fine. "Huh? You okay? I just want you to feel better."
"I'm not sick," Hookfang protests. But his heart isn't in it. He's too bewildered. I'll take care of you. One only takes care of—well, sure, he's seen Vikings care for their weapons. But… You won't want for anything. I just want you to feel better.
As he falls asleep, Snotlout singing to him, he edges closer towards believing it.
Exhausted by the ordeal of de-aging, Hookfang is sleeping soundly in moments. Snotlout keeps singing his ma's lullaby until he's absolutely sure his partner is fast asleep. He strokes his little head and sighs. Hookfang is big and beautiful as a Nightmare, but he's absolutely adorable as a hatchling. Even more than Hookfang's own clutch was. Iridescent, impossibly delicate orange-gold scales, the black mottling not yet grown in, large loving honey-gold eyes set in round, soft eye-bulbs, big velvety wings tipped with adorable itty-bitty perfect claws. Snotlout sighs and strokes a finger down the curved outer side of one tiny claw, smiling. Of course, Snotlout may be biased. He freely admits he's not an impartial judge in this.
Hookfang is Snotlout's partner, his… well, kind of his everything. He's always sorta-known that, from very early on, although he wouldn't admit it anywhere but the inside of his own head. They had a rocky start, but Snotlout likes him just the way he is, crazy and temperamental. He doesn't think he could stand a dragon partner with his heart on his sleeve like Toothless. Hookfang reminds him he's a warrior. Keeps him on his toes. Yeah, he sets him on fire every now and then, but that's part of being a dragon. They breathe fire. Duh.
But now, seeing Hookfang so tiny, so helpless, makes Snotlout's chest tight. He remembers how scared Hookfang looked, how vulnerable. Toothless is okay with being little and taken care of – he's different in temperament. Not that there are any other Night Furies to judge by, but he's always acted like an overgrown hatchling anyway, especially around Hiccup. But a dragon like Hookfang, aggressive, warlike, a fighter – like Snotlout – it must be galling for him to be this helpless, reliant on others for his most basic needs. Snotlout shudders to imagine being sick with some affliction that forces him to depend on, say, Hiccup, or Fishlegs or Astrid. Not that they would help him, the way he's always treated them. He takes a deep breath. "I got you, Hooky," he murmurs, stroking Hookfang's smooth baby scales. "You won't have to ask anyone for help. I'll get you whatever you need till you can take care of yourself again." If Hookfang were awake, he'd have added in something about being big and scary, but since he isn't, Snotlout just runs his fingers along the ridges of his tiny wings and strokes the top of his soft little head.
"Snotlout!" calls his dad from downstairs.
Snotlout bends to press his cheek to his partner's baby snout. "You have a nice nap," he whispers. "Be right back."
"What's this I hear about your dragon, then?"
Snotlout half-tenses as he walks down the stairs, but his da's in a good mood, sitting at the table with a mug of something hot. He grins at Snotlout, seeming amused more than anything. The atmosphere in the house is relaxed: Snotlout can hear his ma clattering about in the kitchen, humming. He takes a breath, lets his shoulders relax, and sits at the table opposite his da with a smile. "Same thing as Toothless," he says, shrugging. "Gothi must be getting careless with her potions in her old age."
"You sure he didn't stick his nose in something he shouldn't? Headstrong, that lizard of yours."
"He's not my lizard, Dad," Snotlout lets himself chuckle. He doesn't usually like his da calling Hookfang a lizard, although gods know he's heard Hiccup call Toothless a useless reptile, and Toothless would – Hel, Toothless has – broken every bone in his body just to keep Hiccup safe. Today, though, in good-natured ribbing, it's okay. "And it really wasn't his fault. She told him to drink out of the bowl, and it was the wrong one."
"Hmm," his da shrugs, taking a sip of his tea. "Well, time to see about trainin' a new dragon, then, isn't it?"
Snotlout stills. "What?"
"Stands to reason." Spitelout waves a casual hand. "Can't very well be a dragon rider without a dragon, now can ye?" His brow furrows in thought. "There's a lot of wild dragons around Berk, but the question is what's suitable for a Jorgenson like yourself."
"No!" Snotlout bursts out without thinking, straightening up.
His da raises an eyebrow. He still looks mild, but Snotlout knows he doesn't like to be contradicted. His temper could flare up any moment. "What do you mean, no?"
"I mean you're right," Snotlout adds hurriedly, "but that won't be necessary."
"I'd have thought you'd want to get back in the air. Fulfil your duties."
"Dad," Snotlout smiles with practiced ease, spreading his hands wide, "it takes two weeks just to train a new dragon. Hookfang's gonna be back to his regular size in two weeks. It doesn't make sense to pick out a dragon who might not even be trainable!"
"I thought you and Hiccup could train any dragon in a day or so." There's honest curiosity in his dad's voice.
Snotlout puffs up his chest. It's rare that he can supply his father with information rather than the other way round. "Training isn't the same as making contact. Sure you can convince a dragon you're not a threat, but teaching them moves, getting them to, uh, obey you…" The words leave a bad taste in his mouth, but he knows his da will argue endlessly if he says that it's the dragon who teaches you new things or that, Thor forbid, you're partners who learn together. Hookfang taught him that, but no-one's ever taught it to his father. "It takes time! Way longer than a week or two. Complicated battle maneuvers can take weeks or even months to perfect. You know what you always say: Practice, practice, practice!" He smiles broadly.
"I suppose so." Spitelout still sounds doubtful. "Let's just hope nothing happens in those two weeks. I still think you should get a new dragon, just in case. I know you're attached to it, boyo, but a baby dragon is no use in battle."
"Attached? Ha!" Snotlout gives his best manly laugh. "I'm not attached! This is just practical, Dad! Don't you always say that a," he chokes a bit, but gets it out, "a weapon that's familiar to you is better than a new one in a crisis?"
"That's certainly true," his da nods sagely. He leans back, relaxing and taking another swallow of his drink. "Well, good luck, son."
Snotlout tries not to visibly slump with relief. He's going to have his hands full taking care of Hookfang without having to fight his da on this, too. The worst would have been having to pretend to be training a new dragon while trying to care for his little partner. At least this way he's free to attend to Hookfang's needs. Not, Snotlout groans inwardly, that he knows anything about baby dragons. He should have listened more in Dragon Academy, but how was he to know that Hiccup's boring lectures would ever have any impact on him? He'd just drowsed through the care and feeding of fledglings, secure in the knowledge that he had a large and fearsome Nightmare on his side. Yeah, that worked out well. "I'll just…" he gestures, and jogs upstairs, his da waving a casual hand.
When he gets into his loft, the bed is empty, and the window's open.
Astrid folds her arms. "What do you mean, gone?"
Snotlout waves his hands. "How many meanings of 'gone' do you know? Gone gone! I went upstairs into the bedroom and he wasn't there!" He draws in a shuddering breath. The twins' pronouncements to the contrary, he is not hysterical. "GONE!"
"Did you look under th—"
"So help me, Hiccup," Snotlout gets up in Hiccup's face, "if you ask me if I looked under the bed, in the closet, under the floorboards—I looked, okay? He's gone!"
"But why would he just run off like that?" Fishlegs frowns. "Did you two have a fight or something?"
"No! Since when do Hookfang and I…" Snotlout trails off as all the Riders stare at him. "Okay, okay." He holds up his hands. "But we really didn't! He was having a nap, for crying out loud!"
"Okay." Hiccup's face tightens in concentration. "He was upstairs taking a nap. And you went downstairs, then he wasn't there when you went back up?"
"If you insist on stating the obvious… Why aren't we out there looking for him?"
"I just wanna know where he went!" Hiccup snaps. "He wouldn't have just run off like that unless he wanted something! Was he hungry? Thirsty?"
"We'd just had lunch, peg leg! And there was water in his room!"
"His room?" Ruffnut blinks.
"My room. His – where he was napping, okay?"
"Maybe he went outside to, as they say," Tuffnut interjects, "see a man about a yak?"
"No! He'd just been! Before we went upstairs. And if he had, he'd still be out there! Not," Snotlout takes off his helmet and runs a hand through his hair, "gone!"
"Maybe he was lonely?" ventures Fishlegs.
Snotlout rounds on Fishlegs. "No, he wasn't lonely, Fishface. He's a big bad dragon, not some little whiny pussycat like your—"
Meatlug gives an uncharacteristic warning growl, and Hiccup nods in agreement. "When your body's small, you have different needs. Your mind's affected." He gentles his tone. "You better remember that when you get Hookfang back. Toothless used to get lonely when he was shrunk."
"Hookfang's not Toothless—" Toothless steps in front of Snotlout and growls in dead earnest. Snotlout raises his hands, then lets them flop to his sides. "Okay, okay! But I mean it! I only left him for like five minutes! All I did was go downstairs and talk to…" He trails off. "Oh no…"
Ruffnut steps in front of Hiccup. "Oh no, what?"
Snotlout shakes his head, muttering to himself. "He couldn't have heard… could he?"
Astrid's eyes narrow. "Heard what?"
"Uhh…" Snotlout looks away and rubs the back of his neck. "I might have said… You don't argue with my dad, okay? It's just easier to tell him stuff in a way he can understand!"
Astrid hasn't reached for her axe yet, but she's palming the strap where it's hanging over her shoulder. "Heard. WHAT?"
"I might have… calledhimaweapon," Snotlout says in a rush.
Toothless' gasp echoes through the village square. He stares at Snotlout, pupils narrowed in shock.
"I didn't mean it!" Snotlout says desperately to Toothless, then looks around at the glares of the other dragons and their riders. Meatlug lets out a low-pitched groan, and Stormfly is shaking her head. "I don't! Mean it, I mean. Hookfang's not a weapon to me. He's… he's…" Snotlout shakes his head. "I just said it because that's all my dad understands! I didn't mean it, I swear I didn't mean it!"
Hiccup stares at Snotlout, mirroring Toothless' horrified expression. "And you said it where he could hear you?"
"I was downstairs! He was all the way upstairs, and the door was shut!"
Hiccup rubs a hand over his eyes. "Snotlout, do you remember the kill ring? The final exam? When it was Hookfang in the ring, the day of the battle? You remember Toothless came running to defend me?"
"What's that got to do with—"
"He heard me yelling," Hiccup cuts across Snotlout as if he hasn't spoken, "from Raven's Point."
Snotlout's jaw drops. "Oh, gods…"
He grabs Hiccup by his waistcoat and shakes him. "We gotta find him, Hiccup! He's so little and he's out there! And he thinks I don't care! Well, not that I uh… care, but…"
Toothless growls low, and moves in close to Snotlout, right up in his face. Snotlout cringes, but endures the scrutiny. Stormfly comes closer to him, and says something Snotlout can't understand. With a huff, Toothless whirls, not-quite-accidentally batting Snotlout with his tail. Stormfly sniffs, widening her nostrils and tilting her head at Astrid. "You can find him, Stormfly?" Astrid says, looking up at her. Stormfly nods. "Okay," she looks back at the other riders, "let's go."
Hookfang trails through the forest. It was stupid to leave. Leave a comfortable human wood-cave, a nice warm bed, all the fish he can eat. Food and water and… He trembles. If he could flame, he would, but he can't in this hatchling-body. Food and water and affection. Pretend affection. Pretend care.
Maybe he can go back, but not today.
"A familiar weapon." That was what Snotlout said about him behind his back. When he thought Hookfang wasn't listening. And when his sire spoke of affection, Snotlout denied it. Derided it, even.
Hookfang knows it was stupid to leave. The moment he heard those words, he was leaping out of the window, furiously flapping his fledgling wings. He plummeted for a moment, but even as a hatchling, a Fire-Scale's wingspan is the largest of all the baby dragons that he knows of, except for Flame-Spinners. He partly flapped and partly ran here, where he can hide until he figures out what to do next.
A familiar weapon.
All the caring, the holding, the petting? Snotlout might as well have been polishing his sword. Hookfang's seen him sit for hours adjusting the heft of his axe so it flies just right, sanding rust spots off the metal, coming and going to the forge to sharpen the whole family's daggers on the grindstone. Rubbing oil into the blades. The way he rubs flame-gel into Hookfang's neck.
Hookfang keens, dropping into the soft grass. Why does it feel like iron in his chest to think on it? What difference does it make what a lowly human thinks of him? It's nothing but a mutually beneficial arrangement. He knows this. It's always been agreed. Ever since his rider's hand – hard and callused by human standards, soft and smooth by Hookfang's own – touched his face, ever since he scented fight-or-die on his human…
Hookfang shakes his head. Snotlout's not his human. He never was.
There's no reason it should make Hookfang's chest feel tight to know he's nothing to Snotlout but a hunk of iron. Is this the madness his sire warned him, years ago, would come of associating with humans? He's tried not to be servile. He's always flamed Snotlout in retaliation for disrespect – maybe that's why he can't love you, the shocking thought whispers in his mind. Because you treated him badly.
Hookfang shakes his head and roars, hating that it comes out a chirp. This madness must cease! He must become a dragon again!
He drags his humiliatingly small fledgling body into a safer position behind a fallen tree. If he were an adult, he'd fly away and never come back. He'd find a place he could be wild and independent and free and never, ever be owned by a human again. Not his loyalty, and certainly not his heart. Just as well Hookfang never let his—never let the human know he owned Hookfang's heart. All those kind words. "I'll take care of you." A lie. Well, not a lie: a pledge to take care of his weapon. His sword. Hookfang's blood stings like acid.
"Hookfang!" a human voice echoes from above, through the trees.
It's Hiccup, and it sends another pang through Hookfang's chest. He knows that Snotlout won't search for him, and he berates himself sternly for the stupid hope that he might. "He won't," Hookfang snarls to himself, scuttling in deeper. "He knows how this works." It's true: his rider is the only human who understands. That first time Snotlout laid his trembling hand on Hookfang's snout, Hookfang was surprised out of flaming up, so shocked was he to scent a kindred spirit: You are born to fight, born to die. Never seek tenderness, never show weakness. Punishment for failure is swift and terrible. If you fail you are better off dead. It was there in the human-metallic-sweat-pain-fear in the human fledgling's hand, less soft and tender than Hiccup but closer to something Hookfang could begin to understand.
"Stormfly says he's down here!" That's Astrid's voice. There's the sound of wingbeats coming in for a landing and Hookfang dives into a hollow tree. There's so much confusion of scent around here – boar tracks, bird droppings, decayed wood—he's confident that even Stormfly can't track him through this mess. And not a moment too soon, as the Nightwing settles on the grass not a wingspan from where he's hiding. Well, an adult wingspan. Not the mockery he's become.
"Hookfang!" calls Toothless, Hiccup echoing him. "Come out! I can smell you, I know you're around here somewhere!"
"Hookfang!" Meatlug's scent comes to him, her voice gentle. "I know you're afraid. Come on out."
The other dragons and their riders join the call. Not Snotlout. Probably given up searching for him, off to train a new dragon. A new weapon. He shakes his head. He's being silly. It was just stupid that he ran off. He should come out, show himself to Hiccup… Get food and warmth…
Hookfang's head whips around. If he had the adult capacity to flame up, he would. His heart shouldn't leap in his chest at Snotlout's call. He shouldn't want to burst out of his hiding-place and run to him. He… He curls tighter into himself. He would rather starve than endure one more minute of Snotlout's pretend-affection.
"We're here. Come on out," Hiccup calls to Hookfang, trusting that he can hear him although Hiccup can't see him. Humans do this – place blind trust in things they shouldn't. Hookfang's never understood it. Then Toothless-Queen's wings flap, accompanied by the slight metallic click of the artificial tailfin snapping into place. And that's another human oddity. Restoring flight to a downed dragon. Who would ever think such a thing? Well… at least that is justified. Hiccup is still a fledgling in human terms, but Hookfang can scent that about him that makes him think he will be Hiccup-Consort sooner or later. Love between mates is practical, useful. It would be unusual for a dragon to take a human mate, but for the fact that Hookfang has seen them in action together. Toothless-Queen and Hiccup-Consort together are powerful enough to take down a Fire-Giant. The results speak for themselves. He can't fault Toothless for choosing Hiccup. Even though Hookfang prefers his own bitter little human.
He swallows his flame, angry at himself. Why does he keep coming back to thoughts of Snotlout?
"Fire-Scale!" Toothless calls. "Come out. Your rider misses you." The ache in Hookfang's chest makes his wings numb. It's too sweet for words, and to think he might have believed it, almost did believe it before today. That he would be missed, for something more than what he could do for—
Snotlout calls out, thin and unsteady. "Fangster? I'm here. You must be scared. Come on out. I'm here for you."
Hookfang whimpers and curls up, tucking his head under his wing. Snotlout sounds so soft, so kind, the way he did when he held Hookfang's small body in his human arms. But now, knowing what he knows, Hookfang can't take it. He doesn't want pity. He'll come out at night. He'll fly to the village and find food. He'll stay hidden…
"Maybe if we brought some fish?" That's Hiccup's voice. Oh, way to fight dirty, Consort. When you're alone in the forest with no source of food, fish sounds tempting. But he's only just eaten. Hookfang shakes his head. Spoiled dragon, eating several times a day. In their wild origins, they eat once a day if that.
"If he doesn't want to come out, we could leave it for him." That's Snotlout again. "He'll get hungry soon."
"Not a good idea to bring food and leave it." That's Fishlegs. "We can try and tempt him out with it, but if he won't eat it, we should take it back. It'll attract insects at best and predators at worst."
There's a bonk—probably a human kicking something. "Stupid dragon! Why does he have to go and pull this stupid—"
"Hey," Hiccup says. "That's not helping."
Stupid. Hookfang burrows deeper into his tree. Snotlout thinks he's stupid. A useless weapon. Unserviceable. Unwanted.
"Snotlout, he might be able to hear you!"
"Shut up, Fishface!"
There's a thud and a growl. It sounds like Toothless-Queen is butting Snotlout. "Shut up, human," he says. Hookfang doesn't know why he bothers. They can't understand him. But then, pitching his voice to carry, Toothless calls, "Hookfang, I know you're around here somewhere. He doesn't mean it." But Hookfang doesn't answer. He's no fool.
"Hookfang, if you don't come out right this minute…" Snotlout pauses for a long moment, "there, uh, there will be consequences!"
Hookfang almost laughs at that. Consequences from his small, fragile human, whom he can chomp in his massive jaws? But then his thoughts grind to an abrupt halt. He doesn't have massive jaws. He has a tiny fledgling mouth with no fangs to speak of. He can't chomp Snotlout. He can't assert his dominance in any way. He can't even flame up, not till he's at least a few months older. Hookfang can't help the yearning he feels at the memory of Snotlout cradling him in his arms. It was a lie, but it felt like safety – like what being in the egg must feel like, only warmer, because you're surrounded by kind words and soft hands caressing you and someone who knows you… He shakes his head. That's over. It's not coming back.
And Hookfang is just fine with that. He doesn't need a human anyway. He's never needed a human, never had any truck with them. Humans lock up Fire-Scales to kill them. Snotlout only accepted him because they were going into battle and he needed a powerful dragon to defeat the Fire-Giant. And after that… Well, he was useful and Snotlout probably didn't want to train someone new. It was high time this partnership was dissolved. If a partnership between a human and his weapon can even be said to be a partnership.
He wonders – he shouldn't wonder, but he wonders – if Snotlout will feel anything in his heart for his new dragon. If he'll remember Hookfang as anything but a weapon that outlived its usefulness.
If Hookfang could have done something to earn his affection.
The other riders go to dinner, but Hiccup and Snotlout and the friend-to-dragons Fish-human are still there. Hookfang can tell from the change in the light filtering in that it'll be nighttime soon. Hiccup and Snotlout are still stampeding through the undergrowth. It's a good thing there aren't any wild boars out here, or they'd be boar-lunch by now. –Well, with how late it is, boar-dinner.
As if the stamping around wasn't enough, Hiccup is yelling. "Snotlout, quit talking like that! If I was a dragon, I wouldn't come out if someone talked to me that way!"
"Hookfang, if you don't come out…"
"Oh for the love of—Will you stop making threats!" Hiccup sounds mad, and Toothless growls right along with him. "We both know you're worried sick about him, so just – just quit being such a piece of yak dung!"
Worried? Hookfang almost laughs at that. Snotlout has no such reservations, and he guffaws out loud. "Worried? Me worried about that—that dumb dragon? He couldn't even drink the right potion! He made the same mistake Toothle… Hey, easy!" Toothless's growl rises in volume, and Hookfang can visualize him baring his teeth at Snotlout. "What's got him so riled up, Hiccup?"
"He doesn't like you being a muttonhead any more than I do," snaps Hiccup. "You keep saying you don't care, so why don't you go home?"
"I… You're just defending him because he drank the wrong potion like your dumb dragon."
Toothless growls, but Hiccup's voice is louder. "It was a mistake anyone could have made. Gothi still hasn't labeled her potions. I thought she'd have learned from last time! And leaving it out in a dish like that, it's almost like she wanted him to drink it."
"Well, okay," Snotlout says sulkily, "but he's still a dumb dragon. And I'm not worried about him. He's a warrior! He can take care of himself! He's gonna be fine. Hookfang's always fine."
Hookfang's sire was right. Humans are insane. Just being around them is enough to drive a dragon out of his mind. Hookfang now has two feelings at the same time. He's proud that Snotlout trusts him to take care of himself, and calls him a warrior, but at the same time there's an ache in his heart at the completely illogical desire for Snotlout to worry about him. Worry isn't even a useful emotion! Have the humans finally succeeded in driving Hookfang out of his mind?
"So…" There's a pause. "Do you wanna get back on Toothless with me, and we can go get some fish?"
"No," Snotlout says quickly. "I'm just gonna kind of maybe, uh, just relax here for a bit. While you guys get the fish. Being on Toothless makes me… airsick."
Hookfang can't help feeling smug. Whatever new dragon Snotlout trains, a Nightwing won't be one of them. Not that there are any Nightwings out there except for Toothless-Queen… Ugh. He wonders what kind of dragon Snotlout will take on as a replacement.
The flapping of wings and Toothless' Nightwing shriek tell Hookfang that the pair are gone. They're flying just fine again, now Hiccup took Toothless back. A traitorous thought creeps into Hookfang's head. Hookfang knows it's wrong to think it, but… assuming he stayed around humans, and assuming he accepted a rider… well, it's easier to have someone you know than need to train another human from scratch all over again. Even knowing what he knows, it might make more sense to take Snotlout back.
If Snotlout wants him back.
"Hookfang?" Snotlout's voice is gentle, gentler than Hookfang ever remembers hearing it. "It's just us now. I know you might not have wanted to come out when the others were here," he adds. "But it's just us now. Come on? I bet you're scared," he says conversationally. "I was scared when it was Toothless. Ah, Hel… I was scared when I saw you up there, all little like a hatchling. I know you're a warrior, I know you can handle yourself – like me – but… I uh…" He hesitates. "I just wanna make sure you're okay."
The words send warmth spilling down Hookfang's insides, healthy heart-fire. He quells it sternly. Snotlout doesn't want to see him dead. That's only natural. He doesn't want to see harm come to Snotlout either. He's not an enemy, that's all. It doesn't mean there's anything more between them.
"Hookfang?" Snotlout says hesitantly. "I don't know, uh, how much you heard. But I… I didn't mean it. I didn't mean any of what I said back there."
Then why did you say it? Hookfang buries his head deeper under his wing. He's not going to be fooled. Snotlout never pretended to care. He's always been an exemplary warrior. And as if that wasn't enough, when he was out of Hookfang's sight, he said it loud and clear. Does he take Hookfang for a fool? Why pretend? It's not like Hookfang ever expected anything. They're warriors. Warriors don't run around with melting hearts. It's not natural. It's not even safe.
And Hookfang will be the best warrior he can be. He won't rely on anyone. For that matter… Why shouldn't Hookfang consider Snotlout his weapon?
The idea sparks in his mind, bursting into bright flame. He must admit it makes him feel better. Snotlout has clever human hands, and an inventive human mind, the kind that makes a downed dragon fly again. It's only natural that Hookfang would want to keep him around. There's no affection, no love lost between them. They care for each other like Vikings care for their swords. If he's broken, Snotlout will toss him aside. The momentary delusion of caring, borne of Snotlout taking care of his hatchling-self, was dispelled by the human's own admission that it's better to wait for a familiar weapon to be repaired than break in a new one.
Well, two can play at that game. Hookfang isn't taking any more false affection. He's just going to hole up here, in the forest, until the two weeks are up. Dragons can survive two weeks without eating, or even longer. A chill of fear goes through him as he realizes he doesn't know how long hatchlings can survive without food, but he dismisses it. If it gets really bad, he'll go to the other dragons. From now on, Snotlout is nothing but a weapon to him. His weakness has gone on long enough: he's been solitary all his life, and he will be again. He can take care of himself just fine.
He ignores Snotlout calling, and burrows into the dead leaves and detritus inside the hollow tree. He doesn't need him. He doesn't need anyone.
Hookfang didn't really notice it before; the wood retained warmth, and he entertained himself by listening to the sounds of the others outside. After dinner, the dragons and their humans returned. Hookfang stubbornly resisted Toothless-Queen's calls to come out, despite the tug that said listen to your queen, hatchling. It kind of hurt, like a string pulling at his heart, but he resisted the pull of his small, weak body. He still has the mind of an adult. He can control his impulses.
The humans stamped about the forest all around, yelling and making a din – their hearts are in the right places, but gods, he'd been terrified they'd draw the boars or other predators with all that racket – until Thornado and Stoick arrived. More noise. Whatever else you can say about Bellowers, they're not quiet. Then there was human bellowing as Stoick commanded the human fledglings to return home.
"But Chief," said Meatlug's rider. "He's out there and he's just a baby!"
The big human remained unmoved, as he should be. "You can search at first light, but I'm not having you gallivanting round the forest at this time of night. Your parents would never let me hear the end of it."
"Uh, Dad, since you're technically my parent, how would that work with—"
"Nice try, son. You come back first thing in the morning like everybody else."
Hookfang listens for a protest, but Snotlout is silent. Snotlout is a good warrior. Follows orders. Doesn't let emotion get in the way. Hookfang will be just like him. His human is a good weapon, he says experimentally to himself. My human is a good weapon. My human is a good weapon. My human…
"…tmare hatchlings are the hardiest of all the dragon breeds." That's Meatlug's rider again. "He'll be all right till morning."
Hookfang preens. Hardiest. That's more like it. Then the thought that's what makes you a good weapon strikes him through the heart, and he bites back a small cry.
"Did you hear that?!" Snotlout shouts. Oh, no. Hookfang subsides, barely even breathing.
"What? Come on, now, lad," says the chief, not unkindly.
"I thought I heard something… Chief, can I just stay for a while longer? Please?"
"No can do, son," Stoick says, and there's some regret in the human's voice. "It really not safe out here at night. And I promised your mother I'd bring you home safe."
One by one, the riders mount up and fly out of the clearing. "Take care of yourself, stubborn hatchling," Toothless-Queen calls as they go. "I'll have something to say about this when you decide to show your face."
And they went.
They've been gone for a long time. The temperature has slowly dropped as the night wears in. The tiny skritchings and scuttlings of the creatures of the night are Hookfang's only company, so much larger now that he's so small. When he was a mighty, powerful dragon, an ant or beetle would have been insignificant, beneath his notice; he wouldn't even notice if it crawled across his scales. Now, a giant dung-beetle crawls across his foot, twice the size of his stupid tiny toes. He snaps it up, although it's not really proper dragon-food, and it even bites his tongue going down. Still, food is food. Food will help keep him warm.
He shivers, the wind seeming to cut right through his scales. The stump provides shelter from the wind, but even the still air is frigid, and Hookfang hasn't counted for his heart-fire being so diminished as a baby dragon. He curses his helplessness. He could light a fire, of course; but that would attract predators, and in this stupid little hatchling-body, he's no longer an alpha predator, but – gods, it's humiliating to think it – he is prey.
Think, Hookfang, think! What did he do to keep his clutch warm when he had one? He shakes his head: in this body, it's almost impossible to believe he was once a mighty adult dragon with hatchlings of his own. He remembers the little ones playing in the sun on the warm volcanic island; when they got back to Berk, they all snuggled together for warmth, huddled under his wing. He permits himself a moment of weakness at the memory of his own dam's warm wings, the press of his clutchmates' soft scales—He shakes his head. It's too mixed up with the softness of human arms, the gentle tug of a blanket around him, Snotlout's cheek pressing against his newly-small face and pledging to be by his side and keep him safe.
A cold pit opens up in his stomach, lies all lies. Hookfang shakes his head violently. Comforting thoughts, comforting thoughts. Where was he? Him being a big scary adult. Hatchlings. His hatchlings. They're grown now, big beautiful Fire-Scales with big beautiful wingspans. He sees them sometimes when he flies over Dragon Island, although dragon sires and dams don't remain attached to their offspring with the tight family bonds that humans have. When he'd brought them back to Berk, he couldn't flame the ground beneath them, because they were in Snotlout's wooden home (much to his sire's disgruntlement, but the chief had given instructions to care for the little ones, so he'd had no choice but to obey), but they'd made up for that by stoking the fire high. Hookfang had collected wood and kindling and kept the fireplace blazing merrily, and the little ones had thrived and played in the warmth, even in the dead of winter.
The memory keeps him warm, and he pulls it tighter about himself as frost starts to form on the outside of the tree-trunk.
It's so warm in bed.
Snotlout pulls the blankets tighter about him. They seem to be radiating heat. Little Hookfang should be here where he belongs, in Snotlout's arms. Next to him under the blankets, safe. Warm. Protected. Instead… It's not right. Snotlout's the bigger one now, bigger and stronger, and Hookfang is just a little dragonet. He should be with Snotlout so he can be sure he's safe. And instead, he's out there. Out there in the forest in the middle of the night. Cold. Alone.
Snotlout's been trying to sleep like he should, but all he can do is stare out the window at the moonlit night. Is Hookfang staring at the moon, too? All alone in the forest? Or has he found cover?
Hardiest of the hatchlings, Fishface said. Yeah, fat lot he knows. Outside his window, Snotlout can see frost forming on the leaves, a thick crust that shimmers in the moonlight. How is Hookfang keeping warm? Yeah, dragons have heart-fire, but baby dragons? Do they have enough? Snotlout remembers how they had to keep the fire stoked high, and how Hookfang kept his babies under his massive wing, nuzzling them and keeping them warm. How they clambered all over each other in a little dragon-pile, chirping and purring and crooning and blinking at him with their big round eyes.
Hookfang has the same eyes, only softer, wiser. Bigger and rounder now he's a hatchling. Well… He's an adult, but he's so tiny. He must be scared out there all alone. Big bad dragons aren't supposed to be afraid of anything, but Snotlout knows Hookfang gets scared sometimes. He's felt his partner's massive flanks trembling under his thighs, felt Hookfang's rapid, unsteady breathing under his hands. For that matter, big strong Vikings aren't supposed to get scared, but Snotlout does, he just doesn't show it. Just like Hookfang doesn't show it. Can Hookfang tell when Snotlout's scared and hiding it the same way Snotlout knows it about Hookfang? He's never asked. It's not manly to ask. Besides, he'd be saying he knows Hookfang gets scared, too, and Hooky's temperamental, he might not like it and flame up and…
Damn, damn, damn! Why did he have to say that stupid stuff to his dad? And why does Hookfang have to believe it? He doesn't believe it when Snotlout tells the truth, but when he's lying, that's when Hookfang decides to trust in his every word?!
"Stupid dragon," Snotlout grunts. He throws the covers off. It's too warm. Too warm when Hookfang's out there. He can't lie here and be warm and safe when his… his what? Well. Whatever Hookfang is to him, he's out there.
He swings his feet over the side of the bed, pulling on thick leggings and boots. "I must be out of my mind." He pulls on a long-sleeved tunic and shrugs on a fur jacket, his brow furrowed, a slight tremble in his voice. "Stupid. He can take care of himself. " He shakes his head and clears his throat. No. "He'll be fine." He takes a moment, head in his hands. Hookfang has to be fine.
He sets his jaw as he pulls on his helmet and shield, considering. Should he take a blanket? It's risky to be encumbered if you encounter predators, but if – there's a pang in his chest – if he finds Hookfang cold, if he needs to be warmed up… "Idiot, going out in the middle of the night, yak-for-brains muttonhead..." He scowls ferociously at some invisible literal-minded dragon. Gods, that small body of his, those tiny wings, out in the frost… And his little face… He was so happy today when he was being fed and taken care of. Snotlout hasn't seen him since. Is he upset? Frightened? Worse?
Snotlout takes a deep breath. It's perfectly steady, not shaking at all. He's not afraid, just angry. Very, very angry. "Stupid. Dumb. Fucking. Dragon," he grunts, digging a fur shortcloak out of the closet and slinging it around his shoulders. That won't drag behind him. "'Course he's not scared. He's Hookfang, he's never scared. Gonna be fine. Probably bonding with the forest dragons and laughing at me right now. Wouldn't be surprised if he found a wild Nightmare mama to take care of him." He slings a lightweight axe over his shoulder and slips a dagger into his belt. "And they'll both flame me and tell me to get back home where I should stay like a sensible Viking instead of…" he swings a leg over the windowsill, "crawling out the window like a Gods-damned idiot…"
He curses and mutters all the way to the forest, treading softly on the frost-covered ground.
Hookfang stamps his feet and flaps his little wings, shivering at the cold air that aches against his sides when he lifts his wings up. He started to move around some time ago, hoping to ward off the chill. Only now does he realize how stupid he was to stay out here sulking. He should have gone to the stables where it's warm, but he was too stubborn, and now he can't risk crossing the forest in this ridiculously small body at this time of night. So he's stuck here, freezing his stupid scales off.
He doesn't think he'll actually die of cold, at least not this time of year. Hookfang's heard tales of abandoned hatchlings found in the snow, but even those were always dead of starvation or torn to pieces by predators. Still, even if he isn't dying, he's so cold it hurts, prickling into him from all sides. He never realized just how vulnerable stupid little hatchlings like him really are. He grunts. His own fault for drinking that dumb potion. For hanging around humans in the first place. He should have kept his pride. Not laid it at the feet of a human who doesn't even—He shakes his head. None of that.
The wind picks up, moaning through the cracks in the hollow log and making it vibrate. The tiny pocket of warm air around Hookfang dissipates, and he shivers again. He was so stupid for refusing to accept his status as a weapon. What was wrong with being a weapon? He'd be warm and fed now. He'd be with his human—his human weapon—and he'd be sleeping soundly. Maybe even in his bed, pretending he cared. Nothing wrong with pretending if he knows the truth.
Hookfang shakes his head, moving it about on his newly-shorter neck in frustration. His thoughts keep coming back to, well, coming back. The sickness runs deep. He will need time to heal of it.
If he survives this cold. He really, really wants to set something alight and get warm. He puffs smoke out of his nostrils experimentally. Yes, his flame's still working. But fire will draw boars, and boars are truly dangerous, even to dragons. Stoick's Bellower told him – when he was an adult dragon, and a lot higher up in the hierarchy than a lowly little fledgling – that he and Stoick just barely fought off a pack of them when they first met. Anything that would attack an adult Bellower – not to mention the Human Alpha, who's as strong as a full-grown Spine-Twister – is pretty fearsome. He's only smelled one distinct scent today, but that's no guarantee it's alone. They're known to hunt in packs. And fire is a sure beacon to them.
Fire just like the one flickering through the crack in his hollow log. What the…? A dragon? Surely not, he'd have smelled them. Then what…
"Hooky? Hookfang? Where are you?"
The soft human voice slams into him with the force of a ballista. Snotlout? Here? In the dead of night? In this freezing cold? Why? What for?
And why does his voice warm Hookfang from the inside out?
"Hooky? Fangster? Come on out. Look…" Snotlout draws a shaky breath. "It's the middle of the night. It's cold. Just come out and we can go home."
Home. The warmth curdles and chills. He… He doesn't want to go to him. Certainly doesn't want to be held and—and… It's this stupid hatchling body, that's all! It has needs he doesn't! Hatchlings want to be cuddled, Hookfang knows that from experience. But it doesn't mean he wants to go to Snotlout specifically. He would be fine with Hiccup, or Toothless-Queen, or Stormfly.
But none of them is out here in the dead of night. Only Snotlout is. Only Snotlout came to look for him.
He shakes his head so violently his teeth rattle. No! That was his mistake last time. He thought all that care and attention meant something… something else. He should have expected this, knowing that Snotlout takes good care of his weapons. He wouldn't leave his best axe out in the forest to rust, he tells himself sternly. You're his best axe. It should make him proud. But it feels like his heart is being cut out with a knife.
"Hookfang?" There's a tremor in Snotlout's voice. "Please… If you can hear me… Please be okay. I—I didn't mean it. I swear on Thor's hammer, I didn't mean it. You don't have to come out. Just let me… I…" His voice hitches. "Just please let me know you're okay." Is the human crying? "Okay? Please?" A pause. "Hooky?"
No. No. No! Hookfang aches to soothe his partner's misery, to take away that pain. And he despises that feeling. Weak. Weak and stupid. Whatever feelings Hookfang might have are weakness, a weakness he can suppress. And he certainly wouldn't ask Snotlout to betray his Viking nature. That's all Snotlout needs, a weak dragon with his heart on h—
The scent of a boar spikes into his head. He stills, scales vibrating on high alert.
Snotlout, oblivious – humans have no scent or hearing to speak of, how do they even survive? – is still babbling on. "You know how my dad is! I mean, you of all people should know that. He doesn't understand…"
Hookfang adjusts his hearing, attuning it to lower pitches and distance. Only one boar, but there's the stench of hunger, and it's coming this way. –Oh, damn it all to Helheim, it's probably coming towards the human's torch, and he's stamping around and talking at the top of his lungs and leading it right to him! Oh no, oh no, oh no! "Shut up!" he hisses to Snotlout. "Be quiet!"
Snotlout shuts up. For a long moment, there's complete silence, only the rustling of the leaves and the night-creatures scuttling and the boar's hooves approaching. "Hookfang?" Snotlout says, hushed. Oh thank all the gods, maybe he's going to finally freaking shut up… "Hookfang!" Snotlout yells, and Hookfang winces. "Hookfang, I'm out here! You okay? Did you just say something? Are you hurt? You must be hungry! Where are you? Make a sound, give me a sign!" And as if all that yacking wasn't enough, he starts babbling under his breath, "He's okay, he's okay, he's gotta be okay, please let him be okay…"
The words touch something inside Hookfang. Or they would, if his senses weren't all turned to where the moon sets, attuned to the boar coming in fast. Galloping hooves, now – no no no no no – snorting and heavy breathing, interspersed with grunts. In less than twenty wingbeats he'll be upon them.
No. Upon Snotlout. Hookfang is safe in the hollow log: the boar won't sense a baby Fire-Scale as prey. It's going to go straight for the conspicuous, pale blob waving a flaming beacon and making noise and made of soft human flesh.
Hookfang's heart-fire freezes in his chest. The boar will tear Snotlout to pieces… Sure, he's established that theirs is merely a mutually beneficial alliance, but that doesn't mean he wants his human to die.
Pride be damned. Hookfang darts out of the tree, roaring, not caring how tiny it sounds, and leaps at Snotlout. "We have to get out of here!" he shrieks.
"HOOKFANG!" The pure joy on Snotlout's face would make Hookfang feel something if they weren't going to die in the next half-minute. And instead of running, or understanding his warning, Snotlout scoops Hookfang up in his arms in delight, pulling him close to his chest. "Are you okay? You had me worried sick! Oh, you're freezing…"
"MOVE!" Hookfang shrieks, but it comes out a chirp.
"I was so worried, oh Hooky…" Snotlout has his back to the incoming attack, and babbles on, unaware. His chin over Snotlout's shoulder, Hookfang can see the boar now, thundering over the hill, wending through the trees. Its red eyes are glowing, fangs out and flashing in the torchlight. Snotlout should have sensed it by now – would have sensed it by now, if he hadn't been blinded by joy. Oh damn it, Hookfang wanted to warn Snotlout and instead he's just succeeded in distracting him!
His human's joy at finding Hookfang is going to get him fucking killed—
-the boar is yards away, claws and fangs out, readying itself to leap, aiming at Snotlout's back—
And Hookfang sees it, sees everything, slow and timeless, clear as a sharp, perfect sunlit day when you can see a fish under the surface of the water from a mile up in the air. As though it were actually happening, he sees Snotlout's neck snapped, quickly, cleanly, dead before he hits the ground. The great predator rips his little human's carcass apart, crunching up his arms, bones and all, taking great bites out of the muscles of his legs, feasting on the rest of him, steam rising from the still-warm body of the human, Hookfang realizes, he loves more than anything.
He sees his days, arid and desolate, stretching before him, without that annoying presence to greet him in the mornings with that odd toothy human smile, to butt heads with him, sometimes literally. His heart, empty without that small human hand resting between his eye-bulbs, Snotlout always leaning an elbow on Hookfang's head and placing his hand on his forehead as if it belonged there.
Only now, now in this moment, does Hookfang know that Snotlout being killed would tear a hole in him as surely as if the boar had ripped his still-beating heart out of his chest. And Hookfang knows that if Snotlout were killed, he would leave the island and never return. He is loyal to Toothless-Queen, but… To be on the island and never hear Snotlout's voice again, bossing him around as if he had any sway over a giant dragon like Hookfang? Never to see his little face again, smiling so confidently on the outside, fear and loneliness just beneath the surface, trembling in his scent and the fast little heartbeat that thrums through the hand on Hookfang's body?
So what if it's the hand of a human resting on the hilt of his sword? At least he gets to be by his side.
Only now does he realize that he would rather die than be without it.
It's as though he's spent an entire summer thinking, although it's only an instant. Hookfang scrambles out of Snotlout's hold, kicking free of his arms and scrabbling up from his chest onto his shoulder. "Hookfang, what—I'm sorry, look, you gotta listen to…"
He's a weapon? Fine. He'll be a weapon.
Ignoring Snotlout, Hookfang blasts out flame as the boar pushes off from the ground and leaps for its prey. Oblivious for one final instant, Snotlout says, "Hookfang! I didn't mean…"
The boar's flying through the air, but Hookfang's already moving, pushing off Snotlout's shoulder with a powerful kick and propelling himself upwards, on a collision course with the beast. He can't stop the massive creature's momentum, but he's confused it and ruined its attack. He blasts again as they collide in mid-air. The boar roars and bites down, by all that's holy isn't it scared of fire at all? They tumble into a heap on the grass, rolling over and over thank the gods it didn't get Snotlout. The human seems to be screaming.
Hookfang feels himself being shaken. There's red splattering around. He looks down at his own side. Hmm. The boar's tusks seem to be buried in it. That really looks like it should hurt. He stares at the place where they've pierced in fascination. Everything seems far away and quiet. He wonders if this makes him a good weapon or just an idiot.
It gets darker and quieter, and then there's nothing.
Snotlout is desperate.
He'd just about given up hope when Hookfang suddenly appeared out of a hollow log, leaping on him and chirping frantically. Weak with relief, Snotlout scooped him up, but he jumped out of his arms. Snotlout thought his friend was still mad at him. For about a second. And then… then all Hel broke loose.
He turned to find Hookfang's little body already in the air, flapping his baby wings and blasting a tiny puff of flame at – where did it come from he must have been distracted a warrior should always be aware of his surroundings – a gigantic boar, all red eyes and sharp tusks, meeting it mid-leap. Snotlout instinctively ducked and rolled, following the fight with his eyes as Hookfang collided with the airborne predator. Everything seemed to be happening slowly, the way it does when he's in battle and time slows while your opponent throws a punch or swings a weapon. He saw his Hookfang, so small and vulnerable, throw himself into the great maw of the beast – willingly to save him, no surely not, no – with all the courage and ferocity of a full-grown Monstrous Nightmare.
And now he screams Hookfang's name as the boar swings its head upwards, its great yellow tusk piercing the fragile baby dragon's flank.
At the end of his tuck-and-roll, Snotlout gets his feet under him, already reaching for his axe. "Hookfang!" he yells, unlimbering the heavy weapon and throwing it even before he's fully balanced on both feet. It's not battle-perfect – if an enemy was this close, you wouldn't throw your axe. You'd engage, his father's training echoes faintly – but it doesn't matter. Nothing matters but the little dragon still impaled on the great yellow tusk.
The heavy blade buries itself deep in the boar's throat. "Hookfang, no!" Snotlout screams again as the dying boar falls onto its back, shaking its head and tossing the dragon's tiny body across the clearing.
He pauses only to give his opponent an honorable death. Hookfang's whimpers tear at his heart as he yanks the axe out of the boar's thick neck, blood spurting as he does so. He lifts it two-handed and swings it down in a clean arc. One blow and the head flies off into the trees, the blade burying itself into the soil.
"Hookfang?" Snotlout lets go of the axe and runs to the small, still figure crumpled on the grass. Hookfang's flank is welling with blood, soaking into the earth beneath his limp wings. "Hookfang…" Snotlout whispers, hardly daring to breathe. He kneels to him. Through the almost-translucent skin of his delicate baby chest, Snotlout can see the pulsing of his little dragon heart, clinging desperately to life.
"Hooky…" Snotlout's throat closes and he chokes it down. Now's not the time. Reaching out, he slips a gentle hand under the tiny dragon tummy, grateful beyond words to see his baby friend's fragile ribcage expanding and contracting, fast and shallow. "I'll get you help…" he stammers. So much blood, he's losing too much blood and this is Hookfang his own… Snotlout squeezes his eyes shut and draws in a deep breath through his nose. He manages to pull the shortcloak off his shoulders and wrap it around his friend to ward off the chill. The stench of iron doesn't help matters, but he controls himself, laying the flat of his hand against the little stomach to stop one welling puncture wound, and pressing Hookfang's other side tight against his chest. "You hold on, you hear? You're a warrior. Gotta dig deep. Come on!"
He starts running.
The Ingerman household is shaken by a pounding on the door. "What? Ragnarok already?" Fishlegs' father mutters.
"No, that'll be Helga wanting her cup of sugar back. I told you she starts baking early!"
"FISHLEGS!" comes the scream from the door.
"Ah. Good." Used to their son's madcap friends from two years, now, of dragon riding, the Ingerman parents go peacefully back to sleep.
Meatlug noses Fishlegs awake. "What? Girl… Oh!" The house is rattling almost off its foundations – and there's a desperate yell at the door. Fishlegs sits up in bed with a shocked frown. "Snotlout?!"
Meatlug hovers down the stairs ahead of Fishlegs as he fumbles for his helmet and feels his way down the stairs one foot at a time. He opens the door to Snotlout's fist, just raised to knock again. "Finally!" Snotlout snaps, like he wants to start a fight. "You took your sweet time answering the door!" Snotlout takes a step forward, and Fishlegs takes an involuntary step back. Then Snotlout takes a breath, and Fishlegs can hear the thin sound of desperation behind the bluster. "You gotta help me, Fishlegs! It's Hookfang!"
Fishlegs instinctively looks behind Snotlout for the Nightmare's massive form before he remembers—before he sees. Meatlug is already nosing at the bleeding hatchling wrapped in a fur cloak in Snotlout's arms, his hand barely stopping the blood from a terrible wound in his side. "Oh Thor…" Fishlegs breathes.
"Help me!" Snotlout roars, voice ragged.
Meatlug butts Fishlegs, and the touch galvanizes him into action. "Gothi's. Now." Meatlug lumbers out, then crouches low, lower than she usually does, to allow Snotlout to climb on while still carrying Hookfang. But he can't without the use of his hands; reluctant to waste time, Fishlegs just lifts Snotlout by his belt and plops him down on Meatlug's back. No time to put the saddle on. Anyway, his girl is such a great flyer she doesn't need one for short distances. He hops on behind Snotlout. Needing no instruction, Meatlug heads out.
Wait, how can it be raining indoors?
Is he indoors?
Hookfang sniffs the air. His younger, immature sense of smell isn't as sensitive as his regular sharp nose, but he's immediately surrounded by the scent of his rider. Dratted hatchling instincts, imprinting on familiarity: in spite of himself, his insides flood with warmth. He's safe. But there are other smells… Oh, no, it's the human healer's hut! Where he drank the potion that made him into a baby!
He struggles to move, to get out. But his slack muscles won't obey. He struggles harder, and succeeds in moving a fraction—only to cry out as a sharp pain pierces his side.
"Shh, Hookfang. Stay where you are." That's Snotlout's voice. Hookfang's eyelids are too heavy to open, but he can feel softness around him – human fabrics, furs. Warm and soft and comforting… But it's raining, nonetheless. Something damp splashes on Hookfang's nose. The roof must be leaking. No, wait. It smells of salt. Seawater? How's Gothi's hut leaking seawater?
He sniffs and sniffs, but there's nothing for it. Clenching his jaw with effort, careful not to jostle the place where it hurt so bad before, he opens his eyes.
Snotlout's face is so close that Hookfang blinks for a moment, unable to focus properly. His cheek's touching Hookfang's horn, and fills his entire field of vision. Then Snotlout moves, and another drop of rain falls on his snout – no – that's water, coming from Snotlout… Wait… Snotlout's crying? Snotlout never cries. At least not where anyone can see, and Hookfang can hear human murmurs in the room. What's wrong? Why's he crying? Was he hurt? Is he okay?
He wants to ask if Snotlout is hurt, if something happened. Surely his rider would tell him if something bad had happened? He can't smell human blood or pain, but what could it be? Snotlout wouldn't hide bad things from him just because he's a helpless hatchling now, would he? Oh gods, no, is Snotlout crying because Hookfang's not going to change back? Is he going to have to remain little for always, and grow at a snail's pace instead of regaining his former strength and size? He flutters his wings in distress—and again, pain spikes through his side.
"Hookfang…" Snotlout's face moves back a fraction so he can look in Hookfang's eyes, and Hookfang's field of vision opens up. He is in the healer's home, as he suspected. It's cavernous now he's so tiny: normally he can't so much as move his head in the cramped space without knocking something over, but now the vaulted roof seems sky-high, the walls several wingspans away. Even the table he's lying on stretches for miles around him, the small folded fur beneath him more than enough for his small body to use as a bed. "Easy. Don't move. Don't try to do anything. Just hold still."
It's pure instinct not to obey. 'Hookfang doesn't listen to anyone,' he's heard Snotlout say, with a trace of pride in his voice. So… He tries to flutter again.
This time it's like a knife in his side, and he falls back panting. Soft human hands cup his head and his side, catching him, not letting him fall. He nuzzles the hand without thinking. Maybe he can listen to Snotlout while he figures out what's going on. The human's still talking, hand gently stroking his face.
"Hooky, you were hurt bad. You almost," Snotlout swallows hard, "we almost lost you. You…" He curves an arm around Hookfang's entire body right where he lies, like a dragon wrapping his tail round a human he cares for. It should be annoying that he's little enough for Snotlout to wrap his arm completely round him, but it sends a rush of warmth through his chest. It's hard to remember… What happened?
"You might be wondering what happened," Snotlout murmurs, pressing his other hand to Hookfang's eyes and cheek so gently it's like he's afraid he'll break him if he's too rough. Doesn't he know Hookfang is a big, strong dragon? Well… maybe not so big now. But he's not fragile. He tries to tell Snotlout that, but all that comes out is a feeble little chirp, the effort of trying to say anything sending another spike through his side. "Hush. Don't talk," Snotlout entreats. He sounds so pleading that Hookfang's surprised into silence. "You attacked that boar all by yourself," he says softly.
"You might not have noticed," says another voice, "but you weigh maybe three pounds, not three thousand." Hookfang blinks up. It's Hiccup-Consort. Next to him, Toothless-Queen is giving Hookfang that narrow-eyed look that means he is going to unleash his Razorwhip-sharp wit at someone soon.
But he doesn't get the chance. "Here." Fishlegs comes into his line of sight – how many people are there in here, anyway?! Oh gods, Meatlug is hovering by the door, murmuring something about brave little hatchlings! Give him strength!
Fishlegs gives Snotlout a human receptacle filled with a lukewarm brew. Well, it's probably hot to humans, given how they're using fabrics to handle it. "Give him this."
"It's too hot!" Snotlout complains.
Hiccup rolls his eyes. "He's a dragon, Snotlout."
"He's a baby dragon! We don't know if—"
Hookfang opens his jaws wide, and Fishlegs obliges by pouring the brew, whatever it is, down his throat. It tastes of the plants dragons sometimes nose out in the forest to make them feel better. He has to hand it to these humans: they know their herbs. Snotlout is still whinging on about how it could have burned him and can't you at least be more careful, Fishface and on and ON. Hookfang wants to smack him with his tail, but he kind of suspects it's going to reignite that pain in his side. So he uses his other weapon: Hatchling Eyes.
Really, humans are shockingly easy to manipulate. Toothless' eyes widen as he realizes just what Hookfang's doing, but Hiccup and Fishlegs coo and tilt their heads sideways, while Snotlout visibly melts, lowering his face to nuzzle Hookfang and murmur to him in embarrassing baby-talk that certainly doesn't make Hookfang feel warm inside. And he's purring for a completely unrelated reason, thank you very much and if Toothless doesn't stop smirking like that, he's going to smack him with his tail, Queen or no Queen, and injuries be damned.
"You attacked the boar for me," Snotlout whispers. "His tusk went through your side. It was just pure dumb luck it didn't hit anything important. But…" His voice trembles. "You nearly bled out."
Hookfang suddenly remembers—a familiar weapon. He turns his head aside. "It's just my job," he breathes, knowing his human won't understand him.
"When are you going to stop this foolishness, Fire-Scale?" Toothless says, not quite angry, but with spirit.
Hookfang snarls, or tries to. His breath is short, and when he moves more than a fraction, the room tilts frighteningly and he feels a buzzing pressure in his head. "Easy, Hooky." Snotlout's hands are cupping his wings, supporting him. "You'll feel dizzy for a while till your body has made up the blood you've lost."
"Foolishness?" Hookfang whispers to Toothless when he can breathe again. "You don't know what he…"
"Yes, I do, Hookfang. Snotlout told us."
"What do you mean, he told you?"
"Well, he told Fishlegs and Hiccup," Meatlug chimes in from her position by the door, "in the long hours Gothi worked on you, when you hung between life and death. He was consumed with regret."
"He never left your side," Toothless adds. "Made a nuisance of himself."
Meatlug nods. "All he wanted was to be close to you. You didn't see his despair when Gothi said… well, that you might not live."
"Humans fear for their weapons," Hookfang says impassively.
"Oh, come on." Toothless' eyes narrow. "How can you even say that?"
"He said it!" Hookfang bursts out. "He said to his sire… He said I was a familiar weapon."
"We know." Toothless is unimpressed. "You know, Hookfang – you know, better than any other dragon – what he goes through with his sire. He lied to him, as he lies to him often. You know this. Yet you cling to the bleakest untruth, and insist on believing it as though it gives you satisfaction."
"He said it behind my back."
"That doesn't make it true."
"Humans aren't like dragons," Hookfang recites, ashamed to find his voice trembling. "They lie to your face, and speak ill of you behind your back."
Meatlug's voice is very soft. "Your sire hated humans, didn't he?"
Hookfang growls. Sometimes he hates that his flock-mates used to be part of his old nest. He should be able to have some secrets. "They killed his dam. He had the right."
"Hookfang…" Toothless' voice is too gentle. His hatchling emotions are too affected by that tone, and they shouldn't be.
"And they were about to kill me!" Hookfang growls frantically, hating his chirpy voice, hating that he can't flame and roar and intimidate. "Toothless... Before… Snotlout would have killed me."
Toothless shrugs. "Hiccup would have killed me. But that was before." He raises wide-pupiled eyes to his ridiculous, sappy rider. Consort. Whatever. Hookfang would hide his head under his wing if it didn't hurt, but instead he has to watch this disgusting display.
"Yes. But he didn't," Hookfang manages to grate out. Why does he feel like he's flying in air that's too -thin?
"And Snotlout didn't!" Toothless snaps in exasperation. "Look at him, Hookfang. Really look at him. He was so desperate, so frantic, when he thought you lost to him forever."
"Vikings fear losing their…"
"If you say 'weapons', I'll smack you with my tail when you are back to your normal size."
"I'd just like to see you try."
"Don't change the subject, Fire-Scale. Look at him."
"Look." And Hookfang does.
Snotlout's eyes are bloodshot and puffy. There's that odd redness around them – blue and purple in places – that means the humans have been shedding the water from their eyes they call tears, which comes out with sorrow. A lot of tears, by how discolored and swollen his eyes are, and the redness around his nose, and the stains on his cheeks—
Hookfang's brought up short. Tears for him?
No. That can't be right. Vikings value their weapons, yes, but they don't weep for them – well, excluding Belch's crazy rider, he's not a typical human. Even the two-limbed Viking who makes weapons, although he gets emotional about them, has never – no-one ever sheds this many tears over a weapon. No human ever sheds this many tears unless he's going to lose something he values.
Not something – someone.
"He wept the whole night." Meatlug whuffs and shakes her head. "You didn't see him crying in despair. Begging you to live. Bargaining with the gods to take him instead."
Hope flares in Hookfang, shaped like shock, the shape of the hands wrapped around his small body. "No. He wouldn't cry for me. He wouldn't say that. I'm not disputing what you heard, but it must be because he felt I sacrificed my life."
"No," Toothless says evenly. "He was babbling to the gods above for hours about how he can't live without you."
"His exact words," Meatlug lilts, "were 'You can have me. He'll be okay on his own. Just don't take him from me.'" Her voice is soft, misty. "'He's my everything. He's the reason my heart beats.'"
Hookfang trembles in Snotlout's warm hands. The fear of those hands disappearing makes him savage. So he nips at Snotlout's finger, drawing blood. It's only logical.
"Ow!" Snotlout yelps, sticking the finger in his mouth. "What the Hel– Oh, man," he softens immediately. "I must have hurt you! Was I too rough?"
He brings his hands round to cup Hookfang's wings again, and the sharp scent of his blood – the blood Hookfang has just drawn – spikes into Hookfang's nostrils. The boar's teeth tearing into Snotlout… taking great bites of his dead flesh… Hookfang shudders and nuzzles Snotlout, whining. "I'm sorry."
"Shh, shh." Hookfang licks Snotlout's bleeding finger, shuddering at the taste, and Snotlout smiles. "You can't hurt me. You're just a baby and I'm a big strong Viking."
Hookfang should bristle at those words. He can feel the place inside him where he would bristle. Why is it all warm and sappy instead? And now Toothless-Queen is battering at him. "How long are you going to deny the evidence of your own eyes? Your nose? Smell him, Hookfang. I know you don't have the use of your full sense right now, but just try."
Hookfang sniffs obediently. Then he has to close his eyes. He wouldn't have believed it if anyone had told him. Mortal-fear… That can be explained by the boar… Grief, so deep as to be almost inexpressible. Sorrow. Loss. Desperate hope.
"How long, Fire-Scale?" asks Toothless.
"How long what?" Hookfang grunts, head whirling.
"How long," his queen tells him, "will you make him pay the price for his sire stifling his emotions?"
"I…" Hookfang's eyes narrow. "You were there, Toothless-Queen. You were there."
Hookfang knows Toothless remembers. It was years ago, but Hookfang can't forget. Driven mad with pain from an inflamed tooth, Hookfang was desperate, screaming and flaming through the village. The big two-limbed Viking coming to kill him. Hookfang fought, but in the end he was caught. He remembers thinking Deferred but still fated. And Snotlout was the only Viking crying, sobbing. A Viking warrior, weeping for a Fire-Scale. In front of all the gods and everybody. Nobody had wept for Hookfang that day in the arena—not a dragon, not a Viking. But that day in the village square, he knew that when he was finally killed, at least one being would mourn him.
And then there was Hiccup hanging onto the big man's one arm, and the big blacksmith did something and suddenly Hookfang's pain was gone. And his life was spared.
He had only one thought: to run to the one who wept for him. He ran for Snotlout and nuzzled his face and tickled his tummy, filled with gladness and affection, and Snotlout was happy. Hookfang knows he wasn't deluding himself: in that moment his human was bubbling over with joyful laughter that came straight from the heart. Hookfang picked him up and he laid his small human body completely over Hookfang's snout and there was such a warmth as Hookfang could never believe existed…
…And then. Snotlout hissed at him to put him down, and said loudly to whoever would listen, "Can you train that out of him?" It was a rejection of his affections, not to say a bare-faced insult. Hookfang should have flamed him then and there. But he didn't.
"Hookfang," Toothless stares, "do not tell me you are still clinging to that slight…"
"It was a bare-faced insult! And he was right! It was my fault for forgetting my pride and degenerating into nuzzles and licks like you and your rider—No offense…"
"None taken. But, Hookfang…"
"Toothless! You and your rider can somehow wear your hearts on your sleeves, as the humans put it, and yet remain strong, capable warriors. But Snotlout was only doing what any warrior would do!" Hookfang babbles desperately, hating how high-pitched and pathetic he sounds. "Warriors push away weak and soft emotions. That was when I lost any illusions that our relationship was anything but an alliance for mutual benefit."
"Do you truly believe that, Fire-Scale?" Toothless' voice is unsettling in its calm. "After seeing his tears? Smelling his devotion? Tasting his blood?"
Snotlout is standing respectfully by as he did earlier, letting Hookfang and Toothless converse. Hiccup and Fishlegs are speaking together, but Snotlout's entire focus is on Hookfang, and Hookfang can see how he's standing at the ready, worried and alert, prepared to run for Gothi or offer a helping hand if Hookfang should need anything. "It… It could be guilt… Because I got hurt defending him…" he argues weakly.
"You can be your own worst enemy, if you choose, Hookfang," Toothless says evenly. "You can be like the humans whose conduct you deplore, and cling to the rancor and bitterness of old slights. Or you can be a dragon, with a dragon's open heart. It is not my choice to make, Fire-Scale, but yours."
A small, undignified sound forces itself from Hookfang's throat. Snotlout startles to hear it, and in a second is murmuring to Hookfang, all wide, loving blue eyes and soft, caring human hands. Hookfang looks past him to Toothless. "I must guard myself," he grates. "He withdrew his affection once. If I grew dependent on this and it was taken away…"
"What if he died?"
Hookfang starts. "What?"
"What would you do if it was taken away by death?"
"I would die before I let him perish," Hookfang responds evenly.
"You nearly did, tonight," Toothless responds. "And he nearly died of grief."
"You have lost those you love to death before." Hookfang growls, but Toothless continues, relentless. "I was part of the old nest. I know."
"You fear to love, lest you lose everything."
"You're treading on dangerous ground, I don't care who you—"
Toothless makes himself small, but his eyes and scent are serious. "You choose, Hookfang. You choose. You can choose to fear being bound to another, lest they abandon you—"
"Abandonment by death is one thing! But he… he…"
"Relinquish your fear, Hookfang. He is prideful, self-important, and intent on protecting his heart and keeping up appearances… like a certain Fire-Scale I know. But, like that same dragon, he would die gladly before letting anything hurt a scale on your hide."
Snotlout is still petting Hookfang and murmuring to him. It's so tempting to relax into it, to let himself fall into the bliss of being loved and cared for… But if it was torn away again, it would destroy him. "What will I do if he rejects my affections another time?" he asks, his voice a reedy hatchling-whimper, and for once he doesn't care how pathetic and hopeless he sounds.
"Not all humans are like mine." Toothless' gaze turns to Hiccup-Consort, pupils so dilated there's barely any green visible. Hookfang wants to smack him, especially when Hiccup interrupts whatever he's saying to Fishlegs and tilts his head towards Toothless with a human smile, eyes big and soft and wide as a dragon's. Weak, ridiculous—
But then Snotlout cups Hookfang's head in his newly-giant hand, pushing his human nose and mouth into the place between Hookfang's chin and his body, and his funny human "eyelashes" tickle Hookfang's sensitive neck. Huh. He'd never be able to feel a human hair through the much thicker scales of his adult body. Then Snotlout's other hand settles gently and protectively over Hookfang's wound, covering his whole stomach. Hookfang sighs, turning his face and body towards his loving human. He's never felt so safe, so protected. So cared for. And he's starting to feel sleepy…
"I'm here," Snotlout murmurs, and the hum of his voice against his neck sends a shiver through Hookfang. "I'm right here. You just rest. I've got you. I'll take care of everything." He pulls away enough to look into Hookfang's eyes. "You just take care of yourself, you hear?" His pupils are wide, like Toothless', and as much as Hookfang wants to believe it's all another deception… he can't. Humans are liars, but no human is that good an actor. They lie with their words, but Snotlout's hands and his eyes and his scent and his voice… Those are true. And all of them say you are loved you are valued you are treasured you are mine.
"He may well conceal it sometimes in public, even now. Human sickness, as you say." Toothless still sounds serious, but there's a certain dryness in his tone. "Although some dragons, too, see openly showing affection as a weakness. Even feeling it. Like a certain Fire-Scale…"
"He… started… it…" Hookfang can barely speak, his voice a sleepy chirp. Snotlout's ministrations are making him dizzy and he's so tired. As he speaks, human fingernails softly scratch the underside of his chin.
"Sleep." Toothless-Queen gives him a tiny lick, mindful of the bandages and the human hands cupping almost his entire body. "You're wounded. We can talk later."
'Later' ends up being Hookfang waking up surrounded by even more warmth than before. The first thing he's aware of is Snotlout petting his head and singing to him under his breath. The human lullaby merges with the sounds of the healer's hut, the wind outside almost singing along with Snotlout's voice. Being a hatchling, he's realized, makes everything softer around the edges, brighter somehow, more comforting. It's dark outside the window, but the night is less scary when he's here in the candlelit room, protected in strong arms, fire crackling in the hearth. He snuggles deeper into the warmth and lets out a squeak.
The sound embarrasses him and he collects himself sternly. He must take stock of his surroundings: he's not really a dragonet, he's an adult and he needs to be aware of where he is!
"Where he is" is not calculated to make him feel like an adult. He's actually in Snotlout's arms. Snotlout's sitting on the pallet-bed in the corner of the hut, knees drawn up. Folded across his lap is a fur cloak saturated to the core with his scent – so it's his, not the healer's – and on top of that, his arms are cradling Hookfang, one hand cupping his head and the fingers of the other one running lightly along the lines of his wings. Snotlout's knees are supporting the weight of both his arms and Hookfang, and the fur cloak is radiating warmth. It seems to seep into Hookfang's very bones after so many hours of being chilled in the forest. He shifts gingerly. His wound isn't hurting as bad as before, but his body's saying be careful, no sudden moves. He listens obediently.
Snotlout's sensed his shift, though, and tilts his head to look at Hookfang. "Hey, you awake?"
Hookfang kind of wants to use the Hatchling Eyes, just for the Hel of it, but he's too dizzy and warm and safe and tired, so he just blinks sleepily up at Snotlout instead with a little chirp. "Hi."
Huh. He must be better than he thought, because Snotlout melts just as surely as if he had used the eyes. "Sleep okay, Hooky? Huh, little big scary baby dragon?" he teases, nuzzling Hookfang's tummy, giggling softly. "You must be hungry. I've got some broth for you. I'm sorry it's not fish, but Gothi says we need to wait before giving you anything that might take energy to digest. You were hurt pretty bad, Fangster." Snotlout's smile disappears, his scent changing again, terror-grief.
Hookfang almost, almost purrs. But the words echo in his head: A familiar weapon. What is he to believe? The human's words, or his scent and his caring? Can he trust that this isn't just guilt? As a dragon, he believes his senses… But words mean so much to humans… Can he afford to ignore the words Snotlout spoke when Hookfang wasn't around to hear him?
"Is my son here?"
Neither of them has time to react as Gothi silently ushers Snotlout's sire into the house. A growl vibrates in Hookfang's hatchling-throat as Snotlout stiffens under him. But at the sound of Hookfang's admittedly high-pitched and chirpy attempt at an intimidating grunt, Snotlout's hands cup him protectively, as if to shield him. Shield Hookfang? A mighty dragon? From the puny Jorgenson-sire, with his fragile human skin and…
…and it feels so comforting and secure to be sheltered by those hands. These hatchling instincts are overpowering. Because what else could it be, really?
"…find you gone. And when I go to the forest, what do I find but your axe?" Snotlout opens his mouth to speak, but his sire smiles. "I saw that. That was a clean kill, boyo. One blow." Pride-joy thrums through Snotlout's scent. "But the scavengers got it. That would have been good meat! By the time I got there, there was nothing left!"
"I'm sorry. I had more important things to attend to at the time." Hookfang's surprised at the firmness in Snotlout's tone, the way his hands never stop stroking his wings and head.
"The lizard?" Hookfang raises his eyes warily to the Jorgenson-sire, who's looking neutral. "Wasn't much use against the boar."
"He saved my life," Snotlout says evenly, his breathing hitching beneath Hookfang's body. "That's how he got hurt – he jumped between the boar and me." His caress softens even more. Hookfang's head spins. Is this guilt? Or… or… or something else?
"Well, you wouldn't have been out there if it wasn't for the dragon, so it's a fair trade, I would think." Snotlout's muscles tense, and he draws in a breath to speak, but his father beats him to it. "I still think you should find a replacement. Looks as though it's going to be out of commission for a while."
Hookfang stiffens. Snotlout's hands tighten around his body, but not tight enough to aggravate his injuries. "I'm going to take care of him till he's better," Snotlout says, his emphasis on the 'him' probably clearer to dragon ears than it would be to human hearing.
The Jorgenson-sire shrugs, but doesn't seem to object. "So you'll be coming home with me, then?"
"No. I'm staying at Gothi's to be with Hookfang. I've asked her and she's agreed to let me stay."
Hookfang stills. What? Snotlout is going to remain here? With him? He can't help a chirp. "Why?"
Snotlout looks down at him, smiling with such softness in his face – right there in front of his father, who mocks emotion as weakness – that Hookfang's breath catches. "That's right, Hooky. I'm gonna be right here with you. You're just a little bitty baby now," he croons, and Hookfang should be incensed that his human is referring to him at a baby but he's crooning to him in front of his sire, "and you need someone to take care of you till you're," his tone is pure baby-talk now, "a big bad scary dragon again."
"That's time wasted that you could be—"
"Time with Hookfang isn't wasted." Hookfang blinks at the conviction in Snotlout's tone.
"Are you contradicting me, boyo?" The human sire moves forward like a stalking Slitherwing. Snotlout stiffens, but his hands on Hookfang remain gentle.
There's a tap on the wooden floor. Hookfang and the humans turn to where the human healer is standing, fixing Spitelout with a meaningful glare. Of course! Violence is taboo in this place of healing. She looks hard at them again, then pushes aside the curtain and withdraws, giving them their privacy.
"Get outside," Spitelout hisses.
"I'm staying," Snotlout's voice trembles, "right here with Hookfang."
"Hiding behind the old woman's skirts, eh?" Spitelout leans in close and whispers in Snotlout's ear. "You'd best enjoy walking while you can, boyo. When you get home, you won't be able to walk for a week."
Hookfang bristles, but Snotlout doesn't flinch, doesn't react at all. Hookfang stares as he looks calmly up at his sire. And his next words knock Hookfang flat.
"Hiccup lost a leg for his dragon," Snotlout says evenly. "I'd lose both mine for Hookfang and still come out ahead."
Hookfang is still staring, mouth open, when Spitelout begins to laugh.
"Good on you, boyo! That's the Jorgenson spirit!" Hookfang doesn't know what's caused the about-face, and Snotlout's scent screams confusion, but the sire is clearly broadcasting indulgence-forgiveness. "Take after your old man, you do!" He laughs uproariously. "Chip off the old block, that's what you are. I like it." He claps Snotlout on the shoulder, comradely. "Right then, you can have your little holiday! See ya when I see ya, wouldn't want to be ya!"
And still chuckling, he lets himself out into the night.
Snotlout sits there, quite still, shaking his head. "Dodged an arrow there," he breathes, still staring at the door. Then he slumps. Every part of him is still—except for his hand, still petting Hookfang's snout.
Hookfang turns onto his side. He needs to look at Snotlout.
Well, tries to turn onto his side. He'd forgotten the agonizing pain until he moved, and it's such a shock that it makes him cry out. "No!" Snotlout yells, too late to stop him. "Oh, Hookfang…" His hands hover over Hookfang as he keens through gritted teeth. If he were an adult, he'd be flaming for sure. "Try to breathe. Oh, gods, just let me know when you want to move, I'll move you! That's why I'm here! Just let me do the work! You can't move yet. You're gonna be okay but you have to take it easy, and you're gonna have to move carefully for a while, take it slow…"
Hookfang lets Snotlout lecture. He's ended up on his uninjured side, and he lies there, looking up at his rider, still wittering on.
Hookfang never meant to care for Snotlout; he spent weeks denying the shock of recognition he felt when Snotlout's hand touched his snout for the first time. It made him so confused that seeing the human's little face felt like coming home. Coming home to a human?! So he denied that as well. Ever since they started working together it's been 'Listen to your master' and 'Do what I tell you' and 'Obey me, dragon', and Hookfang has given that kind of thing all the respect it deserves. But… But every time Hookfang flamed Snotlout or shut down his attempts at dominance, every time he left him stranded or walked away, every time he batted him with his tail or snapped him up in his jaws… Snotlout came back. He always came back. Hookfang's guard must have been down, because he started to feel glad every time he saw the little human again. Started to feel… home.
Nobody else has ever come back after he's fought them and flamed them. Well... except for Toothless-Queen. And Hiccup-Consort. But other than that... no-one.
But then Snotlout pushed him away that day in the village square, and he's responded in kind. Well, not inside; not even a Fire-Scale can control their heart. But he's kept his feelings tightly controlled. He may hold the little human ("little" seems funny when he, Hookfang, is small enough now to fit in Snotlout's lap) in his heart as kin, but he'll never ever ever show weakness for someone who has rejected his affection.
Except Snotlout hasn't.
He came to the forest in the dead of night to find Hookfang and protect him. He wept openly in front of everyone at the thought of losing him. He pledged to stay with him. He risked his sire's wrath for him, and Hookfang knows he'll do anything to avoid angering his sire. Usually. But today… he stood up to Spitelout. For him.
I'd lose both legs for Hookfang and still come out ahead. Could be more empty human words. But Hookfang could smell Snotlout as he said them, and he there was no denying it: Conviction. Sincerity.
Snotlout is so big. As big as a dam… No, what do the humans call it? A mother. Hookfang could almost fancy he's being held in a pair of wings as his rider picks up the bowl of soup in one hand and cradles Hookfang with the other. "Slow and easy now. Don't want to upset your tummy," he croons, holding the bowl up to his snout so Hookfang can lap it up without having to shift position. He realizes he's ravenous, and gobbles up the broth despite Snotlout's repeated injunctions to slow down.
When he's licked the bowl clean, Hookfang lies back contentedly, his stomach letting out a noisy gurgle. Snotlout giggles, loving and glad. Setting the bowl aside, he splays a hand over the curve of Hookfang's full belly, stroking with startling gentleness. Hookfang's tummy gurgles again. "If you want to use the outhouse," Snotlout whispers, "just tell me. Blink twice if I don't get it, okay? I'll carry you right out, just for Odin's sake don't try to move by yourself, let me do it. There's a chamber-pot if it's too cold outside. Or if you prefer outdoors, I'll take you out. Just let me know."
His voice is a caress. And the way he's looking down at him… Hookfang has only ever seen such tenderness in Snotlout's eyes when he's looking at his mother, and then only when he thinks no-one else can see. Seeing that tenderness openly shown – for him… Hookfang stares, swallowing hard. He's so overcome that he does the thing he always mocks Toothless-Queen for doing: speaking to his human as if he understands him. "Did you…" His voice is nothing but a squeak. He feels silly, but presses on. "Did you… mean it?"
Snotlout cradles him closer. He's surrounded by his scent, his warmth. "I meant every word I said," he whispers, for all the world as if he understood Hookfang. Maybe humans do understand? Hookfang blinks. But Snotlout's not done. "Hooky… I know we don't always… you know. See eye to eye. But there's nothing I won't do for you. It's you and me, Fangster." Hookfang is just starting to purr in response when Snotlout's scent shifts to scared-unsure. "Unless you don't, uh… You know… Maybe… I mean, I won't hold you back if… uh…"
Hookfang's shocked. He never knew his human feared— He always thought Snotlout was the one who—He wouldn't—"No!" He finds himself fluttering, but Snotlout holds onto his wings before he pulls too hard on his stitches. Stupid excitable hatchling instincts. "I… I mean…" Hookfang mutters, "I mean I wouldn't. Not unless you…" And those damned hatchling instincts take over again, and he whimpers like a real baby dragon about to be abandoned.
Snotlout seems to understand. "No, no, no, no, no!" He gathers Hookfang gently into his arms. "I'm here with you," he whispers. "I'm gonna be right here till you get big again."
Hookfang shakes his head, his stupid hatchling vulnerability driving him to nuzzle into the crook of Snotlout's arm. "Don't leave me when I get big. Don't ever leave me." Dammit, it's a good thing the human can't understand him. What is he even saying? Where's his pride?!
Snotlout doesn't seem to misunderstand, but he sounds unsure. "You sure you want me to be around? I can get Gothi or Hiccup to, uh…"
It pulls on the wound in his side, but Hookfang burrows deeper into Snotlout and purrs. Then, to keep him from leaving, he chomps Snotlout's sleeve in his jaws. Don't go anywhere.
He doesn't need to look up at Snotlout's wide eyes and shy, beaming smile to reconfirm what his scent is already telling him: delighted-incredulous. But he looks up anyway. "Okay, Fangster," Snotlout whispers. "Okay." His voice hitches. "I won't ever leave you," he vows. "I…" He takes a deep breath. His eyes are filling with moisture again. He bows his head to Hookfang's snout, nuzzling him and holding him and smearing his tears all over Hookfang's face, and Hookfang doesn't mind one bit. He keeps Snotlout's sleeve in his jaws, just to make sure.
Gothi mutters curses under her breath. Sometimes she's this close to telling Eir and Freyja and the rest of them to just mosey the fuck down the branches of Yggdrasil and do their own dirty work in Midgard, instead of making her look like some blithering idiot. Really? "Leave the potion out for the Nightmare to drink, and we'll do the rest?" And what about "Just plant the suggestion into the head of a wild boar to drift away from its pack, and we'll do the rest?" She doesn't dispute that the Jorgenson boy and his wild, aggressive dragon have hearts of gold, but they're a pain in her old baggy bum. Always fighting, always bickering, always…
"…my little baby dragon. I'm right here with you. Who's a little bitty scary dragon?"
Gothi's never heard a baby dragon giggling before. First time for everything, she supposes.
She peeks around the privacy curtain and watches, entranced, as young Snotlout tickles Hookfang's hatchling tummy, carefully avoiding the bandages. His nose is rubbing against the baby Nightmare's horn as he babbles more inaudible baby-talk, getting rewarded with chirps and croons and nuzzles. Then he straightens, for all the world like a stern mother. "You need your sleep," he declares. "I'll be right here if you need anything, so don't go trying to do anything by yourself! You got that?"
Snotlout waits for Hookfang's sleepy nod before lifting him off his chest and laying him onto the mattress with infinite care. He scoots carefully down in the pallet-bed, curling his body round the dragonet's in what the young 'uns nowadays call "the big spoon," chest and stomach pressed against his back, Hookfang's little head tucked under Snotlout's chin. Snotlout drapes the cover over the baby carefully, then lays his arm close to him but not on his body. Probably afraid it'll be too heavy.
But the Nightmare's head turns on his long neck, chomps the boy's sleeve and drags his arm around so it's on top of him. "Are you sure?" asks Snotlout dubiously. The baby lets out a high-pitched and rather whiny growl. "Okay, okay." He wraps the arm close round Hookfang, gathering him in, and is rewarded with a happy croon and a purr. "Just don't wanna crush you." That earns a dragon snort of derision. "You know, I'm still a big scary Viking." Another snort. "Okay, you get a pass because you're so little. But just this once."
Snotlout turns and blows out the candle. Into the dark, his voice croons, "Hush, little Nightmare, don't you cry… Snotty's gonna sing you a lullaby…"
Gothi has to grin. The child has a good voice, despite his odd choice of lyrics. And the baby dragon seems to like the song: he's positively gurgling with delight. She lets the curtain fall back into place. Maybe she too will give Eir and Freyja and the rest of them a pass. Just this once.