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Thomas Hamilton has always wanted to see a dragon. He’d read books and legends and myths, fascinated by these fire-breathing creatures and wishing desperately that he might encounter one someday. Not once in his daydreams, however, had the dragon actually taken an interest in him.

Being abducted by a dragon is far more thrilling in stories than in reality, Thomas decides as he dangles from these scaly claws and tries not to get too dizzy. Within moments the pillar of smoke and flames that was once his carriage is miles behind them. Thomas sincerely hopes that the dragon’s lair is not too much farther, else he’s in danger of losing his breakfast all over the countryside below.

It turns out that its lair - a wide cave at the top of some craggy, snow covered mountain - is only about half an hour away when traveling by dragon. As soon as Thomas is put on his own two feet, he scampers over to the edge, peering down and trying to decide if it’s worth risking falling to his death to avoid being burned alive instead. He doesn’t have long to ponder this, as the dragon is plucking him up again by his shirt collar and dragging him back to safety within moments.

“I wouldn’t attempt the climb, if I were you,” the dragon chides in a deep, booming voice, placing him on his feet much further into the cave. “I chose this cave only because it is near impossible for men to reach it. I don’t imagine climbing down would be any easier than climbing up.”

Thomas lets out an irritated huff, but doesn’t attempt a second escape. Instead, he sits against the wall of the cave, and tries not to shiver too badly from the chill.

“Stay here.” It - Thomas thinks it’s a male dragon, but it would be rude to assume - orders, and with a gust of wind it’s gone. It returns within a few moments, several large tree branches clutched in its claws. It drops them at Thomas’s feet, and he immediately scurries away.

The beast looks awfully put out at that. “Where are you going?”

“Well, if you’re building a pyre on which to burn me, I’d rather stay as far from it as I can.”

The dragon rolls its eyes. “I’m not going to kill you. Have you ever heard of a dragon killing the person it abducts? We’re hoarders by nature.”

“Who says you can’t hoard the bodies of your victims?” Thomas challenges, and the dragon snorts.

“I do. It would smell something awful, living in with a bunch of dead bodies,” and - well, Thomas supposes it has a point there. “Now, I’ve gotten you these branches for a fire, to keep you warm. There’s no point in making a fire if the person who needs it is too far away to benefit.”

So Thomas cautiously scoots back toward the pile of branches, flinching only a little when the dragon breathes out a stream of fire to light them. It is warmer, he must admit, and so he gives the beast a grateful, small smile.

“What is your name?” It asks, staring at him intently. Its eyes, now that Thomas is not so panicked and can take the time to look, are a shocking shade of sea-green.

“Thomas. Thomas Hamilton.”

“Thomas,” It repeats, its forked tongue turning the final consonant into a slight hiss. “I am Flint.”

They fall silent at that, Flint gazing into the flames and Thomas taking in the sight of this fantastical beast in real life. Flint is massive, nearly as tall as the cave itself, with scales a dark, almost burnt shade of orange. All in all, he’s (for Thomas is now certain he is a he) rather a magnificent specimen of dragon.

It’s only when Thomas’s stomach begins to grumble that Flint is stirred from his thoughts, looking over at him in amusement.

“Hungry?” He asks, and before Thomas can respond he’s gone again. This time, Thomas rushes to the opening of the cave, staring in awe as Flint spreads his wings, the orange of his scales glimmering in the fading sunshine.

It’s not very long at all before Flint returns, his claws filled with fruits and nuts collected from the nearby forest. Thomas eats with gusto, before he realizes he’s being terribly rude.

“Would you like some?” He asks, offering a handful of raspberries to Flint. The dragon looks taken aback, like it never would have occurred to him that someone might want to share their meal.

“No, thank you. I hunted some while I gathered your meal.”

They sit in silence for only a brief moment, but Thomas’s curiosity gets the best of him.

“Why did you take me?” He asks. “I thought dragons only abducted princesses.”

“You mean you aren’t a princess?” Flint asks, sounding confused, only to burst into rather frightening sounding cackles at Thomas’s insulted expression. “The fairest in the land. That’s who we’re meant to take. Only - I’ve always found that rather complicated. How does one know they’ve found the fairest? There are beautiful creatures everywhere - who’s to say the next day you won’t encounter someone fairer than the one you’d taken?”

“I hadn’t realized you took this so seriously,” Thomas says, slightly bemused. “I always thought dragon’s were fickle creatures, simply attracted to gold and things that shine.”

“And who says I’m not? You’ve spun gold atop your head, have you not?”

Thomas runs his hand through his hair, chuckling. “I suppose. Is that why you chose me? Have all your abductees been golden-haired?”

“You’re my first,” Flint admits, sounding chagrined. “And I chose you because… well, it doesn’t matter why I chose you. You’re here now.”

“Oh,” is all Thomas can think to say. “I - I’m flattered.”

Flint snorts. “You’re taking this rather well, Thomas Hamilton.”

“Well, now that I know you aren’t going to kill me, I’m actually a bit grateful. You’ve saved me from a rather grim fate.”

“Have I?” Flint sounds awfully intrigued, but in truth Thomas shudders to even think about what had awaited him at the end of that carriage journey.

“Perhaps I’ll tell you another time,” Thomas says, biting back a tremendous yawn. He glances out the cave opening, surprised to see that it’s pitch black outside.

“You’d better get some rest, Thomas Hamilton,” Flint says. He disappears further into the cave and returns with two quilts, no doubt stolen from some nearby farm. “Wake me if the fire begins to dwindle.”

At that, the dragon retreats into the cave, leaving Thomas alone for the rest of the night.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Are you young for a dragon, then?” Thomas asks the next morning over another meal of fruits and nuts. “If I’m the first fair maiden you’ve ever taken. Plus, you know, there’s not a horde in sight.”

“I’ve been a dragon for nearly forty years,” Flint responds, though he’s quick to follow, quite indignant, with: “And I do have a horde, thank you very much. You simply haven’t seen it yet.”

Thomas is so excited at the thought of seeing any dragon’s horde that he completely misses the odd phrasing in the first half of Flint’s reply.

Flint moves into the depths of the cavern, gesturing with his front claws for Thomas to follow. It seems that the cave is separated into three rounded rooms of a sort, each bigger than the next. It’s like a hollowed out snowman, Thomas thinks, before grimacing at his own childish comparisons.

The second chamber has in it a pile of gold that’s - well, rather lackluster, Thomas thinks. Not at all like the magnificent dragon hordes coins he’s read about.

“Oh, my. Well, that’s...certainly more gold than I’ve ever seen.” Thomas says diplomatically, and Flint makes a chuffing sort of sound.

“You needn’t worry about my pride, Thomas Hamilton. I keep the gold only because it is expected of me. My true horde lies just beyond this chamber.”

He gives Thomas a gentle push with one enormous knuckle, and so into the next room he goes. It’s dark and shadowy, and so Thomas can only make out an outline of an odd sort of pile. Then Flint, with the barest of breaths, lights two sconces on either side of the entrance, and -

Thomas gasps, wandering toward the towers upon towers of books with awe. The cavern is at least twice as tall as Flint, and the books are stacked halfway to the ceiling. He’s never seen so many books in all his life.

“Flint, this is…”

“Do you like it, Thomas Hamilton?”

Thomas whirls to face Flint, positively beaming. “Why, it’s wonderful! Like nothing I’ve ever seen before!”

“I am glad, for I must ask you a favor of the utmost importance.”

At Thomas’s acquiescence, Flint begins his tale of woe.

“For many years now, I have been forced to read my treasures sparingly, if at all. My talons, while useful for hunting and striking down foes in battle, are nothing but a hindrance when it comes to these delicate books. On many occasions, I have shredded a page or pierced the bindings in my eagerness, rendering any further reading hopeless.”

Thomas, by the end of Filnt’s speech, is smiling helplessly, covering his mouth and trying to keep his giggles in check. He feels suddenly, terribly fond of this fearsome beast, who only wants to read his books.

“When I saw you on that lonely road, you were quite obviously the fairest creature I would encounter for some time,” Flint continues, oblivious to the way Thomas has begun to blush at the compliment. “But I saw that you were reading , completely absorbed in your task. I was overdue for a proper kidnapping, yes, and perhaps I would have taken you nonetheless, beautiful as you are, but it was the book in your hands, your face, so enraptured, that sealed our fates.”

Thomas doesn’t know that he’s ever been called beautiful before. Handsome, yes, or even dashing - normally compliments from simpering suitors after his father’s money - but never beautiful . And never has Thomas believed those people. But Flint means it, he can tell: the dragon truly thinks him the fairest in the land.

Thomas doesn’t think he should feel as touched as he is.

“What would you like me to do?”

“Read to me, so that I might enjoy my collection. Not here, of course, it is far too dark, but - perhaps by the fire?”

Thomas grins, delighted. Now this is a challenge to which he can easily rise.

“All right. But only if I can choose the book.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Thomas and Flint slip into an easy routine: they spend nearly all their time together, constantly reading. Often Thomas will read aloud, but if his voice begins to ache Flint is content to simply read over his shoulder, letting Thomas’s smaller hands turn the pages. In the month since Thomas was first taken, they’ve finished nearly thirty books together, and often discuss their readings well into the night.

Flint has also invited Thomas to sleep in the book room itself, for it is the furthest away from the mountain’s chilly winds. Flint himself doesn’t sleep in that largest chamber, for fear of setting his horde alight in his sleep.

The only time the two of them aren’t together is when Flint goes out to hunt, usually in the mornings and evenings. He suspects the dragon doesn’t want Thomas to think him too savage for eating his game raw (though he does often bring back strips of meat for Thomas to cook for himself).

It is just after they’ve finished reading The Odyssey , an old favorite of Thomas’s, that Flint reveals a rather intriguing secret.

“I don’t remember much of my life before,” Flint says sadly, after Odysseus has been reunited with his family. “Though I don’t think I ever had a Penelope to return home to.”

“Before?” Thomas asks, setting the book aside and turning to face Flint curiously.

“Before I was a dragon.”

Thomas gapes at Flint, eyes wide as saucers. “You mean you were a man ?”

“I only get the occasional flashes of memory: a small cottage, an old man, a boat by the sea….”

But - how did you end up as a dragon , of all things?”

“I was cursed, of course. I remember the old warlock, his face craggly and angry, punishing me for some misdeed, though I don’t remember what it is I did wrong, or how indeed to break his spell.”

“But how are you meant to break the curse if you don’t know what you were cursed for?” That seems awfully unfair to Thomas.

“That I cannot say. I’ve long since given up trying to remember, resigned to my fate. Though…” here Flint pauses, glancing at Thomas almost shyly. “It has not been so terrible, lately.”

Thomas smiles at that, looking down at his knees bashfully. Flustered and strangely nervous, he stands. “Shall I get The Iliad , then? Continue on with our Homeric trend?”

The first time Flint had smiled at him, Thomas had thought he’d been trying to frighten him with his terrible fangs. Now, looking at Flint’s unintentionally menacing grin, all he can muster to feel is a rush of warmth toward this unusual, wonderful creature.

 

 

*****

 

 

Some nights, if they’ve been up late reading or chatting or simply enjoying each other’s company, Thomas will fall asleep, curled into Flint’s scaled side (not as cold or uncomfortable as he would have thought). The first time this had happened, he’d been absolutely mortified, but Flint had simply huffed and insisted it had been no hardship, and that he’d rather spend the night in the cavern’s chilly opening than wake his friend from much-needed rest.

It’s rather nice, actually, to wake up next to Flint, who creates heat like a giant furnace. Often, Flint will have lowered a wing to protect Thomas from the wind, and he finds himself in a lovely, cozy cocoon of sorts, feeling ironically safe by the side of his dragon companion.

Early one morning, two months after Flint had taken him, Thomas wakes with a shout, shaking something awful.

Flint immediately springs to action, moving in front of Thomas to protect him from any perceived threats. When none appear, Flint turns to find Thomas curled up on himself, shaking like a leaf and wiping away tears.

“I’m sorry,” Thomas stammers, “I didn’t mean to alarm you. It was just a nightmare.”

Flint lets out a great sigh, no doubt relieved to learn there’s no immediate danger, but still seems concerned. “What could you have been dreaming of, to make you scream with such fright?”

“My father,” Thomas says after a brief pause. He hasn’t spoken of the events that led him to be on the road on that fateful day, but Flint has more than earned his trust. “He’s - he’s not a good man.”

Flint hesitates for a moment. “You mentioned, that first day, that I saved you from a terrible end. Was this your father’s doing?”

He nods. “I’d had an affair, you see - well, affair is perhaps too generous. It was more of a tryst, really. With a man. My father learned of this, and…” Thomas sighs, his throat growing thick. “What you must understand, Flint, is that Alfred Hamilton is a very powerful man. All he had to do was pull a few key strings, and I was declared mad, disavowed and disowned. The cart you stole me from was taking me to an asylum, where I was to spend the rest of my life locked away and in chains.”

He wipes away a tear, smiling wobbily up at Flint. “You rescued me.”

Flint inhales sharply, his nostrils flaring. Without a word, the dragon leaves the cave, soaring out into the slowly brightening sky. There’s a monstrous, rage-filled roar, and when Thomas goes to peer out across the vast canyon, Flint is breathing a pillar of fire like nothing he’s seen before. Certainly, he knew Flint was powerful, and frightening, but for some time now Thomas has seen him as a friend first and a dragon second.

Flint lands before him, his talons gauging deep gorges into the cave floor and smoke billowing from his snarling mouth.

“Where is he?” The dragon bellows, and Thomas takes a startled step back at the sheer volume.

“My father?”

“Where is he?” Flint repeats - demands, really - and Thomas stares, baffled.

“Why do you need to know?”

Flint laughs at that, a dark, menacing thing. “So that I might find him, and tear him limb from limb. So that I might sink my claws into his belly and watch him suffer.”

Thomas should be horrified by Flint’s violent desires, but instead he is awed. “You would do that? For me?”

Flint’s snarling visage softens at that, and he looks at Thomas with mournful eyes. “He hurt you, made you cry. You should never be made to suffer, Thomas Hamilton.”

And Thomas - well, Thomas is so full of love for this magnificent creature, there’s only one thing for it. He steps up to Flint and presses a sweet, chaste kiss to his still-warm, scaly snout.

Only to be blasted backward by a sudden billowing of smoke, so powerful it knocks him off his feet. He spends a few moments coughing and rubbing his eyes, and once the smoke has cleared he looks to Flint, prepared to demand an explanation.

Except Flint isn’t there. There’s not a dragon in sight. Instead, there is a man - an extremely naked man - standing where Flint had been. The man rushes to Thomas’s side, affording him a closer look.

“Thomas! Are you alright?” The man asks, almost frantic.. His hair, a dark auburn, is loose, hanging to just below his shoulders. He reaches a heavily freckled arm toward Thomas, only to freeze when he sees his own hand.

The man is distractingly handsome, with sharp cheekbones and freckles dusted across what seems to be every inch of his skin. Thomas is trying very hard to be polite, yet he can’t help but notice his thick, furred chest, nor his strong shoulders.

It’s the eyes, though, that Thomas finally recognizes: wide and earnest, a most unusual shade of sea-green.

“Flint?” The man nods, and Thomas beams, thrilled. “You’ve done it! You broke the curse!”

Flint grins as well, just as feral as it had been when he’d been a dragon. “I rather think it was you who did that, Thomas.”

That gives Thomas pause. “What, true love’s kiss or something? But that wasn’t even a real kiss!”

“I think we can remedy that,” Flint says with a much softer smile, pressing his mouth to Thomas’s hesitantly.

Thomas leans into it readily, though his persistent smile makes the kissing a bit difficult. He breaks the kiss after a time, running his nose along Flint’s. “If I had known you were so handsome, Mr. Flint, I would have kissed you far sooner.”

Flint pulls back, an expression on his face like a man slowly coming back to himself. “James,” he says, slightly wondrous. “My name is James.”

Thomas’s face hurts from all the smiling he’s doing.

“Well then, James , I’d very much like to kiss you again. Being your true love and all, I think I’m entitled to.”