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the meridian of misery

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“Okay, I can explain.”

This is not how Ryan wanted Shane to find out. He’d already felt guilty enough about keeping the whole thing from him- the kind of guilt that makes your heart race in the middle of the night, and makes you sick with fear. There are parts of him that only Shane has ever known, and probably will ever know, and this is something that Ryan has wanted desperately to tell him about since it happened. And maybe that’s the root of this anxiety and suffering over the secret: that he couldn’t trust even Shane Madej with it.  

Ryan had thought up so many scenarios- bringing Shane here himself when the wing was working properly and Ryan had a gameplan on how to tell their people, flying into town with a whole hoard of tame, beautiful dragons around him and telling Shane that they were going to end this once and for all, going to Shane’s house in the middle of the night to collect him for a ride and explain it all in the air.

Anything but this. Anything but Shane finding out on his own, and with the evidence of Ryan’s lies and deceit written all over his face.

But how the hell is anyone supposed to explain Toothless?

Currently, Shane’s eyebrows are very high up on his forehead, and he is clearly waiting for Ryan to do what he promised: explain himself. Ryan can see the shock on his face, and more prominently, the fear, and it makes his stomach clench.

Ryan can feel himself hurtling towards a panic attack at a very fast and unforgiving speed. So, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“It happened the night before everyone left,” Ryan begins, still not looking at his best friend.

“When you fucked up and destroyed the whole village?”

A weak smile forms on his face. “Yeah. That night. I know that no one believed me when I said it the first time, but I shot down a Night Fury. With that stupid catapult I made when Quinta wasn’t looking.”

Ryan sees it happening all over again: the people of their village shouting and roaring, Quinta hobbling out from behind the blacksmith hut and racing to help, and Ryan sneaking out and shooting down Toothless. The way his father glowered down at him, and the other vikings hissed and sneered around them. He feels Toothless nudge his nose against the back of Ryan’s hand, and Ryan soothes his palm over it, trying to ground himself in the scratch of scales.

“I went looking for him the next day. I found him all tangled up in the trap, and I was going to kill him. But when I had the knife held up, and I looked into his eyes… I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. If you had been there, and seen the way he was staring up at me…”

Ryan takes another deep breath, rubs a thumb over Toothless’ nose, and then opens his eyes. Shane is staring at him in astonishment, and when Ryan meets his gaze, it slides over to Toothless. Ryan watches him take Toothless in, from his talons to his wings to his big, big luminous eyes.

“Toothless is gentle, and sweet.” Ryan tells him. “He’s incredible. He’s nothing like what the vikings have made Night Furies out to be like.”

Shane swallows. “Oh?”

“All of the dragons are gentle and sweet. They’re afraid of us, of what we’ve done to them, and they’re responding like any other creature would respond to being hunted.” Ryan takes a step closer to Shane, and when his hand slides off of Toothless’ nose, his stomach goes all queasy again. For the first time in his life, the closer Ryan gets to Shane, the more afraid he becomes. “I showed Toothless mercy, and compassion, and I built him a new wing. I gave him freedom and love, and he gave me the same back. Don’t you see?”

Shane keeps looking at Toothless, and Ryan’s chest twists at the fear that is still sitting in the corners of his eyes and mouth. Shane follows the line of Toothless’ back down to where his tail is, where the handmade wing is tied up next to his other one.

“You made that?”

“Yeah,” Ryan says. He gets close enough to touch Shane, and he does; when Shane doesn’t jerk away at the soft brush of Ryan’s fingers against his, Ryan carefully folds both of their hands together and stares up at him. “I made that. I injured his wing when I shot him out of the sky, and the only way I knew how to help him was to build him a new one. We’ve been learning how to work together to help him fly again.”

Shane stares for a long moment, and no one moves. Ryan hardly blinks, focuses all of his attention on the feeling of their hands loosely clasped together and the freckles on Shane’s cheeks and nose.

Then Shane looks down, takes his own deep breath, and says:

“Will you show me?”

Ryan nods, relief sweeping through him like the first day of spring after a gruelling winter. “Of course.”

It takes a few moments to get it all sorted out. Ryan talks to Toothless in a low, soothing voice (“We need him to like us, okay? We have to show him what you guys are really like.”) and once he’s on the saddle and harnessed in, he pulls Shane up behind him. The balance is a little screwed up because of Shane’s height difference, but they make it work. The way he tightly curls his arms around Ryan’s waist and digs his forehead into the back of Ryan’s head makes his gut bubble again, for an entirely different reason.

“We’re going to take off now,” Ryan tells Shane, giving his forearm a quick squeeze, and then they’re in the air.

Toothless does as Ryan asked and takes it nice and slow. He doesn’t do any of the crazy flips that they’ve worked up to, and doesn’t go shooting vertically like he’s been known to. He arches up into air smoothly, and then levels out so that they’re gliding through the clouds like one elongated bird. It takes Shane five minutes to pry his head away from Ryan’s, and five more to stop squeezing Ryan’s sides like he’s going to plummet to his death if he doesn’t hold on with all of his strength.

Ryan hears it when Shane finally takes in the sky. The sun is starting to sink into the horizon, and it turns the clouds a beautiful swatch of rose, copper, and gold. It’s a sight that Ryan never gets tired of looking out at, the wind pushing through his hair and his entire body light and at peace.

Shane finds the courage to move one hand off of Ryan’s side and Ryan watches his hand stretch out from the corner of his eye. Shane trails his fingers through the clouds and whispers to himself, quiet exclamations of “Wow, this is amazing,” and “I can’t believe it,” spoken in a daze of sorts. Ryan smiles, for what feels like the first time in months, and gently presses back against Shane’s chest. One of his hands drifts off of Toothless’ harness and gently runs over the side of his neck, dangerously close to the spot that makes Toothless collapse and purr like a cat.

Eventually, Shane pulls his hand out of the clouds and curls his arms back around Ryan. He sighs, wonderstruck and content, and tucks his head over Ryan’s shoulder so that they’re cheek-to-cheek. Ryan’s heart is stumbling in his chest, and there’s a dumb grin spread across his dumb face, but he feels better than he has since he realized that Toothless’ wing was all messed up because of his trap.

“This is amazing,” Shane says right into his ear. “I can’t believe you got to discover this side of the dragons. Of a damn Night Fury.”

Ryan reaches down to squeeze his arm again. “I still can’t believe it, either, if that makes you feel better.”

“Sure,” Shane hums, and then falls back into an easy silence.

They fly like that for an ambiguous amount of time. It’s long enough that the colors slowly but surely fade into blue, and then navy, and almost black by the time they fly close to the village again. The stars are like giant, twinkling diamonds from this distance, and the moon hangs low amongst them and the aurora borealis from the north.

Ryan is about to direct Toothless back to the part of the island that he lives on when Toothless’ ears suddenly fold back, and his wings curl closer to Ryan and Shane, like he’s trying to shield them from something. Shane’s arms tense around him, and Ryan feels the all-too-familiar sensation of dread pool into his stomach.

“What’s wrong, bud?” Ryan asks Toothless, leaning close to be heard.

Toothless makes one of his quiet noises that tells Ryan to listen instead of talk, and presses his wings down in warning.

“Get down,” Ryan tells Shane over his shoulder. “There’s something going on.”

They don’t see it right away, still stuck in the wisps of clouds over the night sky. Ryan can hear something going on around them, but can’t make out what it is, even with the help of the lanterns lit along the edges of the village. Shane’s hold on him has tightened almost painfully, and Ryan’s grip on Toothless’ harness is white and steadfast.

And then they all hear a collection of croaking noises, and dragons appear through the fog of the clouds. There are dozens of them, flying in the same formation as Toothless. Unlike him, though, they all have various pieces of food clenched in their talons. Underneath the flap of wings, and the snorts the dragons let out intermittently, Ryan can hear the bleating of the sheep that are still alive.

“It looks like they’re bringing in their kill,” Ryan tells Shane.

“What does that makes us, then?” Shane hisses back.

Ryan doesn’t have a response for that, so he doesn’t try to give one. He’s never seen so many dragons in one place before, and even with Toothless there and on his side, he still feels that habitual ripple of fear go through him when dragons are involved. Dragons that don’t know that Ryan doesn’t want to hurt them.

Ryan leans down to one of Toothless’ ears again, trying to keep his voice steady. “Toothless, can you get us out of here?”

Toothless makes another noise, one that tells Ryan no, he cannot get them out of there. They’re stuck in the formation of the other dragons flying around them, and have to follow them until they break apart or risk starting a fight that they’ll most likely lose. The path and their speed isn’t erratic, and Ryan is more lost than he’s been in a while, so the forces himself to let go of the harness with one of his hands. It seeks out Shane’s, and they clasp hands as tightly as they can stand it. The feeling of the calluses and dirt on both of their hands being pressed together makes Ryan’s chest loosen the slightest bit.

After passing countless rock formations, and a few islands housing only more rocks and dead fish, they finally make it to an island that houses a giant mountain. Ryan can see the entrance to the mountain where all of the dragons are filing into. Toothless trails along, and Ryan wonders how much of it is following formation to not become suspicious and following the same compulsion that these other dragons are under.

Upon entering the mountain, the first thing Ryan notices is the smell and the temperature. It’s uncomfortably hot inside, sweat already gathering at his hairline, and it stinks like rotting food and sulfur. When they make it into the center of the mountain, he sees a giant pit of fire in the middle, and watch as all of the dragons drop their hauls right into it, fish, sheep, and other livestock disappearing into the flames.

“Glad to know that all of our food is going right into a fiery abyss,” Ryan says, suddenly angry. All of this chaos and starvation for it to be wasted on fire? What was the purpose?

“They’re not even eating it!” Shane says back, sounding equally outraged and confused. “Where the Hell is it all going?”

This is when a lone Gronckle putters out to the middle of the fire pit, scratching behind an ear. It coughs up a single fish, drops into the fire, and begins to putter away again, looking unbothered. There’s a moment of stillness, and then the mountain starts to shake, the fire starts to bubble and spring up towards the cliffs where all of the dragons have gathered, and something moves underneath the steam the fire has created.

Ryan swears when the head of the biggest dragon he’s ever seen comes barrelling out of the fire and its jaws close around the Gronckle, swallowing it whole.

“Oh my gods!” Shane gasps, hold tightening around Ryan distressingly. “What in Thor’s name is that?”

The gargantuan dragon starts to growl so loudly that it shakes the walls. Rocks and boulders fall from the ceiling of the mountain, and Ryan sees the other dragons jitter and take off for the entrance.

He touches Toothless’ neck again. “Bud, you gotta get us out of here. Now.”

Toothless jumps off of their rock platform seconds before the jaws of the monster dragon close over where they just were. Shane swears and holds on, and Ryan guides Toothless towards the entrance of the mountain with the other dragons. He can feel the hot, acrid breath of the dragon trailing behind them, still trying to go after Toothless, but he glances back in time to see the dragon swallow up an unfortunate Zippleback. He pushes Toothless forward, murmuring encouragements and warnings, and then they’re out into the night air again, the other dragons paying no mind to them in their own haste to get away.

“Take us home, Toothless!” Ryan tells him, and Toothless zooms off towards the direction of Berk.

Ryan and Shane are silent for a while, trying to process what they just saw and what that means for everything they know about the dragons and their raidings. Ryan is stuck between the sheer size of the dragon the other ones had been feeding, and Toothless’ quick reflexes being the only thing that kept them from being eaten.

Shane is the first one to break the silence, leaning in close to be heard; the way his lips brush against Ryan’s temple might be mistaken as a kiss, if Ryan could afford to be generous or wishful.

“It’s like a giant beehive,” Shane says, voice shaking. “The mountain is a giant beehive, and the other dragons are the workers, bringing food to the queen.”

Ryan shakes his head, unable to wrap it around what they’ve just discovered. “All that food. It wasn’t for them- it was for their queen.”

He knows that Shane is understandably and solely concerned about the size of the queen dragon, but now all Ryan can think about is how many dragons they’ve slain because they were doing what they were forced to. How many dragons the vikings have slaughtered and demonized and proudly killed when all they were trying to do was survive. Ryan’s hands clench around the harness, and he feels tears prick at the corners of his eyes. His heart aches deeply for what the vikings have done to the dragons, and how they celebrated it, held it above any other accomplishment or triumph.

The rest of the ride back to the village is silent, Ryan and Shane lost in their own heads. They carefully coast over towards the part of the island that Toothless inhabits and land. Ryan, despite all of his anger and pain, feels better being on solid ground that he knows, and Shane clearly does, too, if the way his shoulders unbunch once he climbs off of Toothless says anything.

Ryan turns to Toothless and checks him and the harness over, trying to find some comfort in Toothless’ kind eyes and the way he nudges his head against Ryan’s.

“What are we going to do, Ry?” Shane asks eventually. “We have to- we have to tell everyone about the nest. About the queen, and the dragons bringing her food.”

Ryan feels an icy fist close around his chest at these words. He knew that the vikings would find out about Toothless eventually, but Ryan wanted them to find out on his terms, in a way that would allow the village to see how unthreatening Toothless is. If they tell them about the nest now, with Toothless still on the island-

“We can’t tell them yet.” Ryan says, still looking at his dragon. “We have to come up with a plan on how to break the news, and we have to do it carefully. If we just go running into town, yelling about finding the whole damn nest, they’re going to have an uproar, and they’re going to kill Toothless.”

Shane inhales sharply, and then speaks to Ryan in a tone he’s never used before. It’s the tone that Ryan’s dad and the rest of the vikings use when they talk to him, but never Shane.

“Ryan, are you kidding me?” Ryan doesn’t look at him, and doesn’t flinch, even though he wants to sink into the ground at the way Shane is beginning to yell. “We just discovered the dragon’s nest! The thing that the vikings have been trying to find since we first sailed out here! The thing that has been tormenting our village for years! And you want to keep it a secret so that you can keep your pet dragon safe? Are you serious?”

Your pet dragon. Ryan looks at Toothless, who hasn’t moved his eyes off of Ryan since they touched down, and feels his resolve harden. Even if it means losing his best friend, the one person Ryan loves more than anyone else in the world, the love of his goddamn life, he’s going to see this through. He’s not going to stand back and let his people murder any dragon that’s not the queen.

He turns around and meets Shane’s eyes. Shane looks angry, but Ryan’s anger is hotter, brighter, and sitting right on top of years worth of belittlement, abandonment, and the deep, hungry desire to be heard and accepted.

“Yes.” Ryan tells him.

The monosyllable word is enough, for once in his life. The unyielding, unflinching seriousness behind it makes Shane falter, makes his anger melt into shock, and he looks at Ryan like he’s never seen him before. It makes Ryan want to sob, but instead, he keeps looking and doesn’t back down. He doesn’t move a single inch, away from Toothless or towards what Shane wants.

They stare and stare at each other, stuck in this standoff that neither are willing to give into. The longer they stare, the more Ryan feels his heart crumble and his determination strengthen. Even if this leaves him broken beyond repair, he’s going to do what he has to.

And then Shane softens. He glances at Toothless, and then meets Ryan’s eyes again, anger melting down into confusion and concern.

“Okay.” It’s nowhere near as ironclad as Ryan’s “Yes.” but it’s forgiving, and that’s enough. Ryan is still trying not to cry. “Okay. We won’t tell them. But we need to come up with a plan.”

“I know.”

Shane chokes on a thought. “Gods, Ryan, your final exam is tomorrow! You’re going to have to ki-”

Ryan jerks his head, and Shane looks at Toothless again. He doesn’t finish his sentence, and Ryan is pleased to see that the thought of him killing a dragon isn’t something that makes Shane look proud anymore. If anything, the look that settles over Shane’s face now could most fittingly be described as nausea.

“I know,” Ryan tells him again, and then sighs. He feels the stress of keeping Toothless hidden from Shane and the others, dealing with his father, the prospect of having to kill a dragon tomorrow, and having just discovered the dragon’s literal nest press down on him. It feels a lot like the weight of viking armor. The weight of prison shackles. “I just… I need tonight to think of something. I’ll come up with a plan.”

Shane’s looks like he doubts this very much, but he doesn’t press the issue, taking in Ryan’s abrupt exhaustion.

“You need to get home and rest up for tomorrow.” Shane walks up to him and rests a gentle hand on Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan’s body droops, and he nearly allows himself press his head to Shane’s chest. “Fighting or no, it’s all going down tomorrow. You need to be ready for it.”

“Yeah,” Ryan agrees, and gives in a little by grabbing onto the bottom of Shane’s tunic. “Let’s head out. You’re not looking so hot yourself, between the ride and the nest.”

Shane smiles, and Ryan feels the wild desperation to have Shane accept and understand him and Toothless settle a little.

After Ryan says good night to Toothless, giving his scales a little scratch and kissing him softly on the nose, they head back to the village. The walk back is silent, but less oppressive than the ride back to the island, and they stick close, even when the sight of the huts come into view. In a mutual and wordless agreement, they head to Ryan’s house first.

They stop short of the back door, and the panic over the final exam comes back to Ryan in a woosh now that he’s home and so is his dad. Shane sees it clearly, and he puts his arm around Ryan’s shoulders.

“We’re going to figure this out,” Shane whispers. “No matter what happens, I’m with you, okay? I’m sorry that I made you doubt that.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan whispers back, because he has no way to put into words how much it destroyed him to see Shane on the other side. To envision him with the other vikings who have hated Ryan since he was small. “I know you have my back.”

Shane pulls him into a strong, warm hug, one that encompasses all of his viking and best friend traits into one gesture. Ryan clings back, forcing back all of the tears still burning at the back of his eyes and the white, hot fear.

When Shane pulls away, he looks at Ryan and hesitates. Ryan opens his mouth to ask what’s up, and then Shane leans down to press a soft, warm kiss to Ryan’s cheek.

He gone before Ryan can do anything besides gasp softly. He pulls his arms back and steps off towards the direction of his own hut, and Ryan can’t be sure, but underneath the darkness of the night, he swears that Shane is blushing.

“Good night,” Shane says quietly. “Thanks for the ride.”

Ryan watches Shane smile and then turn away, stumbling his way down the hill. He eventually says a very soft: “Good night,” into the empty air where his best friend was just standing, and then, after Shane’s head bobs out of sight for good, he slips inside and heads to bed. His mind is a mess of ideas on how to show the villagers that dragons are benevolent creatures, and the way Shane’s kiss made his entire body light up, and he doesn’t fall asleep for a very long time.

~.~.~

When the sun claws its way up into the sky, and weak, orange rays slip in through Ryan’s window, he’s already awake, and he knows what he has to do.

It’s not a good plan, or the most eloquent, but it’s the one that makes sense to him, and the one that will do the most the fastest.

“You’re just gonna go into the ring and show them?” Shane asks, obviously trying to hide his doubt.

Ryan stabs mindlessly at his breakfast. “I’m going to do what I’ve been doing at dragon training. All those tricks that have made me so ‘famous’ around the village? It’s all stuff I’ve learned from Toothless- stuff that makes him cringe away from me and stuff that makes him happy and sweet. Dragons hate eels and they love grass.”

“Are you just going to rub grass over its head and show everyone how fun is it to play with dragons, then?”

Despite the dread, Ryan finds it within himself to laugh at Shane. “No, idiot. I’m going to go in and gain the dragon’s trust, and then show everyone how gentle they are when we give them the opportunity to be gentle. I’m going to set my armor down and hold my hand out and let the dragon know that I’m not there to hurt it. Then, maybe, everyone will see that the dragons aren’t what we’ve made them out to be, and they’ll be willing to go take the queen down without hurting the others.”

Shane looks at him for a long moment, and then nods. “You’re right. Not the smartest or wisest. But it’ll do. It’s not like we have many more options.”

Ryan punches him on the arm, but smiles, and forces himself to eat some of his food.

The final exam comes quicker than Ryan would have liked, but at the same time, he’s glad that it’s early in the day so that he can get it over with. The sooner he shows the vikings the dragons’ sweet demeanors, the quicker they can reconvene to come up with a battle plan that will include not intentionally hurting the harmless dragons.  

He wants to vomit listening to the speech his dad gives the village. Their cries of excitement and relief over Ryan apparently becoming the biggest, baddest dragon killer of his generation makes his stomach churn, and hearing his dad say that he’s proud of him for supposedly becoming this killing machine is… devastating. The only thing that keeps Ryan hopeful and focused is the thought of Toothless and him gliding through the clouds, and Shane’s steady, unwavering presence at his side.

When it’s time for Ryan to step out into the ring, Shane hugs him again, this one filled with a little more viking oomph. He pounds Ryan on the back and tells him:

“You can do this. You don’t have to kill a dragon to be the strongest person in the village.”

And then the gate is rising, and Ryan is fixing his inherited viking helmet on his head. Shane watches him walk out into the ring, and Ryan holds his gaze as long as he can before the gate shuts again and he’s forced to turn to his people. They’re all cheering and yelling, a sea of green and brown muscles who are starving to see Ryan slaughter his first dragon. His chest tightens with fear, but he forces himself to look only at the gate holding back the dragon he’s going to fight. He walks over to the weapons selection and picks up a shield and a simple knife, and then goes to stand in the middle of the arena. His heart is racing and he feels like he actually might puke, but he keeps his head high and holds onto his promise to do the right thing.

When the gate is lifted and a Nightmare slinks out, already covered in flames, Ryan forces himself to take a big, deep breath, and focus. It slinks around the edges of the ring, and even blows out a funnel of fire at a particularly loud group of vikings, but Ryan holds his ground and watches as the fire covering its body begins to burn out. The Nightmare crawls off of the wire dome of the arena and onto the ground, where Ryan is waiting, and sets its sights on him. 

The screaming and cheering around him begins to blend into itself, until it’s mostly white noise, and all Ryan can hear is the steady pump of blood through his ears and the Nightmare’s low growling. As it creeps closer to him, Ryan begins to talk.

“It’s okay,” Ryan tells the dragon, who eyes him with the contempt and distrust that Ryan knows he deserves. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”

He lets his shield slip out of his hold first, and then his knife, and the dragon’s face moves in confusion. Its eyes glance between the fallen shield and fallen blade, and then back up to Ryan.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Ryan says again, and then counts to five to prepare himself.

He glances up at all the vikings watching him, some of them waiting patiently, and some of them talking and gesturing at his fallen weapons. He sees his dad staring down at him, hand pushed against his chin in concentration, and looks back at the Nightmare. His hands are shaking when he lifts them up to the helmet on top of his head, the one with his mother’s breastplate built into it, and he doesn’t look anywhere but at the dragon when he takes it off.

“I’m not one of them,” Ryan says, shaky but honestly, and then he throws the helmet onto the ground.

The crash it makes silences the crowd for a split second, and then they’re all gasping in horror and crying out, asking what’s going on, what’s Ryan doing.

“I have to show you all this!” Ryan calls out, over the sound of their outrage. He can see the vikings all pressing in closer to the dome, can see his dad starting to rise out of his seat. Ryan reaches his hand out towards the dragon, who looks almost curious at the sight of the helmet laying on the ground. “They’re not what we think they are! We don’t have to kill or hurt them!”

Ryan creeps closer to the dragon, face open, calm, and gentle, and his hand out in invitation. The dragon stares at him, at his hand and his defenselessness, and almost smiles. It slinks closer, and Ryan feels a swell of affection for the Nightmare over his jackrabbit pulse.

Its snout is just grazing his fingers when Ryan hears his dad yell: “Stop the fight!” and hears his hammer beat down against one of the dome poles.

As soon as the loud, unforgiving sound of metal meeting metal rings throughout the arena, the dragon’s pupils slit again, and Ryan barely has time to move his hand away before the Nightmare is snapping at him. Ryan rolls out of the way just as the first blast of fire blows past his body, and then he’s off running around the arena, trying to buy himself some time. He hears someone yelling his name, and when he catches sight of Shane using an axe to pry open the bottom of the entrance gate, he yells:

“Shane, stay out of here!”

Shane ignores him and wriggles his long, thin body through the gap between the gate and the ground. Ryan curses and dives towards the weapons rack, scrambling to get ahold of a shield. The Nightmare roars and stomps after him, the edge of its foot narrowly missing Ryan. He jumps up and takes off again, trying to keep the dragon’s attention on him and not on Shane, and loudly swears to every god and Thor himself for his dad’s and Shane’s inability to listen to directions.

“Hey, over here!”

Ryan and the dragon both look over towards Shane, and Ryan watches as he launches a hammer right at the Nightmare’s head. It hits hard enough to make the Nightmare crumple on the ground, whining loudly, and Ryan’s heart aches at the sound.

“Both of you, this way!” Ryan’s dad shouts, now at the gate Shane climbed under, and they take off for it as fast as they can.

Shane manages to slide under it and behind his dad’s big, hulking frame, but the Nightmare sends another blast of fire towards them that almost hits Ryan. He yells, dives away from the gate, and takes off towards the shields again, Quinta’s voice ringing over the chaos in his head. Always go for the shield.

He doesn’t hear or see the tail of the Nightmare coming, and it takes him by surprise when it knocks Ryan right off of his feet. He goes sprawling out into the middle of the arena, and then one of the Nightmare’s giant talons is caging him in on all sides. Ryan wriggles around and stares up at it as the dragon leans closer, growling and rageous, and Ryan thinks that this is it, this is the moment that he’s actually going to die, and all he can think is please no no please don’t kill me I finally have something to live for-  

And then a loud, familiar screeching sound echoes through the arena. It makes the Nightmare’s ears fold back and draws its attention towards the sky. Ryan knows that screech just as much as he knows the teasing lilt in Shane’s voice, and it makes his stomach drop.

Someone yells out: “Night Fury! Get down!” and sends the entire village into a loud panic.

“No!” Ryan screams, thrashing under the Nightmare’s talons. “Toothless, no!”

He sees a streak of black and then there’s a bright, blue fire and smoke all around him. The Nightmare scuttles away from Ryan, roaring and hissing, and Ryan can just barely make out the shape of Toothless fighting with it and pushing it away from where he’s lying on the ground.

When the smoke clears, everyone can see the two dragons fighting, a tangle of black and red, and Ryan watches Toothless snarl at the Nightmare and snap at its legs with his teeth. The Nightmare claws at Toothless, but Toothless thrashes around like a snake and uses his tail to shove the Nightmare off of him, until they’re up and facing off like a pair of wolves.

Toothless backs up until Ryan is squarely behind him, protected on all sides by his body and wings, and then he bellows at the Nightmare, daring it to try and come closer. The Nightmare growls back, starts to advance, and Toothless releases a deep, hell-splitting screech that makes the Nightmare cower and try to flatten itself against the wall of the arena.

When the Nightmare skitters away, back towards where it was being kept before the fight, Ryan clambers to his feet.

“You need to get out of here, bud!” Ryan tells him desperately, pushing at Toothless’ head. Now that that the Nightmare has backed off, the vikings are starting to pile into the arena, swords and axes at the ready. Toothless refuses to budge and Ryan feels hysteria rising above anything else. “Go, Toothless, go! Go! Get out of here!”

A few vikings throw themselves at Toothless and he fights them off, growling and still trying to protect Ryan. In the midst of Ryan shouting: “Stop, don’t hurt him! He was just trying to protect me!” the vikings keep running close to Toothless and trying to force him down onto the ground.

When Ryan’s dad finally jumps into the arena, he feels his heart explode.

If there’s one thing that Ryan knows about his dad, it’s that he won’t stop until a dragon is dead.

If there’s one thing that Ryan knows about himself, it’s that he won’t stop until Toothless is safe.

His dad charges towards Toothless with a sword in hand, and Ryan screams as loud as he can: “Stop, dad, don’t! Don’t hurt him! He won’t hurt you, stop!”

His dad ignores Ryan and runs. Toothless kicks off the vikings trying to force him down and goes charging after his dad, growling and ready to fight. Ryan watches as they go down in a heap, both trying to get on top of the other, and he stumbles forwards, pushing through the vikings trying to get their own kill shot in.

“Stop, Toothless! Stop!”

Toothless finally gets the upper hand and pins Ryan’s dad onto the ground, looming over him with a look of absolute rage over his normally docile face. It makes tears spring into Ryan’s eyes, and when Toothless rears back, ready to exhale fire, Ryan yells: “No!” with so much fear and desperation that the whole arena stops moving. Toothless closes his jaw and looks over at Ryan, concerned, and the vikings all freeze, weapons at various states of being swung.

Ryan’s dad uses the split second of hesitation to flip Toothless over, and Ryan feels the tears spill when his fist goes right into Toothless’ head. Toothless groans, and then the vikings are all piling on top of him to force him to the ground, despite Ryan’s shouts and pleas for them to stop.

When he sees someone producing restraints typically used to harness in the dragons used for training, he sprints forwards.

“Stop! Let him go! He was just trying to protect me!”

Ryan almost gets to Toothless when someone grabs him around the middle and holds onto him, their arms forcing his down. Ryan screams and claws at them and kicks his legs, mind solely on getting to his dragon and getting him out of there, but another viking moves to hold Ryan down, just like they’re holding Toothless down.

“No, don’t! Let go of me! Don’t hurt him, please!”

In the end, it takes three vikings to hold Ryan down and seven to hold Toothless, who is struggling just as violently as Ryan. He jerks as hard has he can when he sees his dad take the headlock from one of the others and lock it around Toothless to keep his jaw shut tight.  

“Stop-” Ryan cries, and this time, it’s more of a choked plea than a wail. “Please, stop. He was just trying to keep me safe.”

He’s forced to kneel and watch as the vikings lock Toothless up in shackles, until he can barely move any part of his body without chains pulling him back in. Ryan tries to hold it together, if only to see Toothless more clearly and make sure that he’s okay, but the tears are hot and blinding and they won’t stop.

When he hears his dad spit out: “Put it with the others.” Ryan sags forwards, sobbing openly. He only lifts his head up long enough to look at Toothless, as he’s being carted away, and tell him: “I’m so sorry, buddy.”

When Toothless is out of the arena and on his way to where the other dragons are kept, the vikings holding Ryan finally let go of him. Ryan collapses onto the ground and cries, clenched fists digging to the stone. Nobody says a word, and Ryan knows that they’re watching him fall apart, but he doesn’t care, doesn’t give a single damn about any of them. He stays on the ground, feeling cracked open and raw, and weeps while the other vikings watch.

He’s taking a series of choked, painful breaths when someone steps up to him, and a dark, angry voice says:

“Enough, Ryan. This is over.”

Ryan gasps, eyes flying open. He feels the rage that he’s been trying to keep down for weeks and months and years sweep over every other emotion and turn the edges of his watery vision bright red.

He lifts his head up to look at his dad, at his equally red, rageous face, and gets to his feet.

“This is not over!” Ryan shouts, and it’s almost as fierce as his loud, frantic “No!”

His dad falters, and the others around them take a collective step back. No one has ever seen Ryan like this- no one has ever seen him acting like a spitting-mad, justice-hungry viking.

“This is not over!” Ryan says again, moving closer to him. “We’ve been wrong about the dragons this whole time! We’ve been mindlessly killing them and hunting them down and demonizing them for generations! It has to stop!”

His dad steps up, too. “Mindless? They’ve been stealing our food, leaving us to suffer through winters without resources, Ryan! They’ve killed hundreds of us!”

“And we’ve killed thousands of them! They’re just defending themselves against us!” Ryan is going insane, between worrying about Toothless and wanting his dad to understand just this once. “They have to take our food to survive! If they don’t bring enough food back, they’ll be eaten by the queen!”

Surprised echoes over the crowd, and Ryan’s dad looks down at him in naked amazement.

“The queen?” Ryan says nothing, but doesn’t look away. “You’ve been to the nest?”

Ryan swallows. “Yes, I’ve been. There’s a queen dragon that lives in the center of their mountain, and she’s the one they gather food for. She’s the one controlling them.”

“How did you find it?” his dad demands, pressing even closer.

“I didn’t find it- Toothless is the one who found it! Only a dragon can find a way to the island!”

Ryan sees the exact moment that he fucked up: his dad’s face changes from blind, uncontrollable anger to epiphanized, and to righteous anger, and his eyes sharpen.

“No, Dad, it’s not what you think- the queen- she’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before- you can’t defeat her-!”

“Stop, Ryan!” he bellows, and where Ryan would do exactly that before, it only fuels his anger. “This ends now! We’re going to the island and finishing this!”

“You can’t!” Ryan screams, and wraps his hands into the front of his father’s fur coat. “Why won’t you just listen to me for once? You can’t win this fight on your own! You have no idea-”

Ryan’s feet leave the ground, and it takes him a few stunned seconds to realize that his dad has thrown him off of his coat. He looks at his dad from his slump on the arena floor, and all the words in his throat shrivel up. He’s been taught since he was born that dragons are dangerous monsters to be feared above all else, but at this moment, Ryan thinks that the man he’s looking up at is the most dangerous being that he has ever encountered.

The look on his face can only be described at pure, merciless hate.

“I’m not listening to you any longer,” his dad tells him, and Ryan feels tears well up again at the complete lack of warmth in his tone. “You’ve decided to throw your lot in with them. You’re not a viking. You are not my son.”  

They stare at each other for a moment, and when his dad turns away, Ryan sobs again, so quietly that even Ryan can barely hear it.

“Ready the boats!” his dad yells, striding towards the exit gate. “We’re going to find that island and end this once in for all! Bring the dragon!”

Ryan knows that ‘the dragon’ is Toothless, but he hears it and registers it like he’s underwater. He wants to get up and scream and yell and fight tooth and nail to get back to his dragon, but he feels like his mind and body have separated. While his mind is racing to figure out what he’s got left and what he needs to do to keep it safe, his body remains a crumpled, broken heap on the ground.

He doesn’t hear his dad leave the arena, and he doesn’t hear anyone else leave after him. He sinks down until his forehead is pressed to his knees and lets himself cry, knowing that he’s lost almost everything and knowing that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He wonders how it could have all gone wrong so damn fast.

He doesn’t know how long he kneels, curled up and crying, before a soft, warm hand soothes itself across his back. Ryan weeps harder at the feeling of callused fingers curling around his neck and pulling him up, until he pressed against a solid, warm chest.

When Shane leans down and whispers: “Shh, I’ve got you, Ry, I’m here,” Ryan sobs harder than he’s ever sobbed in his life and grabs two fistfuls of Shane’s shirt to try and ground himself. Shane just folds him up in his big, long arms and lets Ryan cry, one hand on the back of his head and the other curled protectively across the expanse of his shoulders.

Ryan cries until the tears stop coming, and then he just sits and tries to breathe in and out. His heart feels like it’s going to burst, and he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to survive the grief of losing two people that he loves with that same aching heart.

Eventually, Shane presses a soft, soft kiss to the top of his head and asks him:

“What’s the next move?”

Ryan’s brain is sluggish, and it takes him a moment to understand what Shane says, what he’s implying. When it gets through the thick fog of pain, Ryan leans back to meet his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

Shane smiles sweetly and wipes away the leftover tears on his cheeks. “What’s the next move, Bergara? How are we going to fix this?”

Ryan would start crying again if he could. “I don’t think this can be fixed.”

“Oh, buddy,” Shane laughs, shaking his head. “I’ve never seen you unable to fix something. You always have a plan, even if you don’t know it.”

He bites his lip to keep it from wobbling. “There’s nothing I can do, Shane! They’re all already gone, and Toothless is with them! There’s no way I could fight off an army of vikings to save him, even if we managed to get close enough to get him off of the ship.”

They sit in a few moments of silence, while Ryan tries to push away the thought of Toothless being alone with the vikings. Shane lets him regroup, and when Ryan stops hyperventilating, speaks up again.

“What made you save him in the first place?”

“Shane.”

“Shh, I know- I know it hurts really badly right now.” Shane cards his hand through Ryan’s hair gently, trying to soothe away the aches and pains. “But I need you to do this for me, okay? I need you to tell me why you saved Toothless when you found him in the woods.”

Ryan thinks back to it, to Toothless’s defiant glare, and then his resigned limpness.

“I wanted to kill him so badly,” Ryan admits, even though saying the words out loud make him sick. “I wanted to kill him and bring his heart back to my dad so that he could see that I was a real viking. That I was like everyone else.”

“So why didn’t you?” It’s not accusing, or judgemental.

Ryan shrugs, and looks at Shane helplessly. “I couldn’t. The way he looked up at me, when I was about to kill him, it just fucked me up. He was ready to fight, and then suddenly he wasn’t. He was going to let me kill him, and I was going to do it, and then I stopped and thought about the way he looked at me when he saw my knife. He was just as scared as I was.”

Shane nods, and it pushes Ryan to finish with: “I looked at him, and I saw myself.”

It feels good, to have it all out in the open. The reasoning, the emotions, the need for Shane to understand him. The need for someone to see Toothless like Ryan has always seen him after cutting him out of the trap.

“All right,” Shane says gently. “So what are we going to do to save him again?”

Ryan stares up at him in shock, and then his head starts to race like it always does when he’s making something new at the blacksmith shop.

“Probably something stupid,” Ryan says, a smile creeping over his lips.

Shane laughs. “Okay, but you’ve already done that, Ryan.”

The thoughts come faster, and Ryan thinks about the dragons they’ve been keeping for training, and how sweet they would be to anyone who was trying to be sweet back, and a plan lights up like the sun on the horizon.

“Then- then something crazy.”

“That’s more like it.” Shane laughs again, and lets Ryan pull him to their feet.

~.~.~

Surprisingly, it takes very little effort to convince their dragon training classmates to join them.

“You want us to do what?” Steven asks, mouth wide open. “Are you sure that Nightmare didn’t clock you on the head, Bergara?”

Ryan rolls his eyes. “No, Steven- listen, I just need you all to trust me, okay? I know that it sounds scary, but I need your help. I can’t do this alone.”

The four of them agree at Ryan’s pleading and Shane’s reassurance that it’s going to be okay, and then watch as Ryan goes into one of the gates. He coaxes out the same Nightmare that tried to kill him earlier, using sweet, gentle words and gestures to lure it out into the arena.

The other trainees gasp and start to ask Ryan what, exactly, he thinks he’s doing, but Ryan shushes them.

“Just trust me,” he says again, never breaking eye contact with the Nightmare. It blinks at him, all trust and softness. “It’s all going to be okay.”

When he’s right next to Steven, he blindly reaches back and fumbles for his arm.

“What the Hell-”

“Trust me!” Ryan tells him, and after a moment of fighting, Steven does. Ryan gently, slowly places Steven’s hand on the Nightmare’s nose, right where his own just was, and he feels Steven shudder when he touches its scales for the first time.

“Woah-” Steven breathes, and when the Nightmare nuzzles into his hand, he laughs in amazement. “Oh my gods!”

And after that, everyone is eager to becomes best friends with a dragon.

The pair-ups end with Steven on his Nightmare, Andrew on a Gronckle, Annie and Adam sharing a Zippleback, and Ryan commandeering a Nadder with Shane curled around his back. Ryan loves watching all of them fall in love with their dragons and recognize their gentleness for the first time, and it makes him miss Toothless like a sword in his side.

The ride to the nest goes smoothly, and Ryan’s razor-sharp focus on saving his dragon and taking out the queen keeps him alert. Shane’s arms around his sides and his soothing voice keep Ryan strong. He tries to funnel all of the love he has for Toothless and Shane and the other trainees and, yes, his people, and still, after everything that has happened, his dad, into the determination to win this fight.

When they arrive, the fight is in full swing, and the vikings are losing. Ryan doesn’t even let himself feel a kind of grim satisfaction before swooping the Nadder in close, ordering the others to follow close behind.

The vikings see them when Ryan gets the Nadder to shoot fire at the queen, and the cheers that float up from their people make him grin.

“Andrew, break it down!” Ryan shouts, leading the dragons into a big circle around the queen.

Andrew yells out all of the stats for the queen dragon, from her skull to her jaw to her wingspan, and Ryan makes a game plan in his head as he talks.

“All right- Andrew, Steven, hang in its blind spot and make some noise! Keep it confused! Annie, Adam- find out if it has a shot limit! Make it mad!”

“Bianchi’s got that covered!” Annie hoots, laughing, and Adam sticks his tongue out at her.

Ryan rolls his eyes and yells: “Please just do what I told you to! I’ll be back as soon as I can!”

He maneuvers the Nadder away from the queen and down towards where the vikings ships are all on fire. Fear creeps into the edges of his carefully made armor, but Ryan keeps his head and looks for Toothless.

There’s a familiar, piercing cry, and Shane points- “There!”

Ryan finally sees Toothless thrashing around one of the ships, trying to get out of his restraints, and steers the Nadder down to him. When he’s in jumping distance of it, he turns back towards Shane and shouts: “Go back with the others! I’ll be up there in a minute!”

Shane nods, and Ryan stares at him. For a second, the fighting around them fades into the background, and all he can hear is Shane’s steady breathing and all he can see are Shane’s big, beautiful eyes and the ubiquitous smudge of dirt on his face. And then, before he can think better of it, Ryan leans forwards and presses a hard, longing kiss to his mouth, because he can’t help but think that he doesn’t want to fight this fight without Shane knowing how much he loves him. Shane inhales, surprised, and Ryan pulls away from him, gives him a broken open look, and then jumps off of the back of the Nadder and onto the boat with Toothless. Shane stays long enough to make sure he’s steady on the ship, eyes brightening and face suddenly radiant, and then he’s zooming away towards the fight.

But not before yelling: “I’m gonna get you back for that, Ryan Bergara!”

Ryan watches him fly away, forcing down his own radiant smile after yelling back: “I hope so!” . To keep himself focused, he swallows the rest of his desire and fear and leaps towards his dragon, hands coming up to yank at his head restraints.

“Okay, hold on, hold on,” Ryan rambles at Toothless’ frantic squirming. “I’m gonna get you out of here, bud, just give me a second-”

Ryan can hear the chaos raging on as he works Toothless’ shackles off one by one, trying to hurry and not hurt his dragon at the same time. A pulse of anger, much like the kind he felt in the arena when they first locked Toothless up, echoes through Ryan at the complexity of his imprisonment.

Ryan’s close to getting him all the way out when the queen howls and stumbles back towards the ships, snapping at the other dragons. Her foot comes crashing down onto the ship and Ryan and Toothless barely have time to scream before they’re being flung into the water.

Ryan is disoriented for a few precious seconds, trying to figure out where he is in the water and where his dragon is in the water. He forces his eyes open and looks, sees Toothless sinking to the rocks at the bottom of the sea, and goes diving after him. Toothless is pulling against his restraints as hard he can, and Ryan yanks too, knowing that if he doesn’t get Toothless out as soon as he can that they’re both going to die down here. He pulls and pulls and pulls until black starts to creep into the corners of his vision, and Toothless’ face blurs and tilts, and Ryan feels his fingers starting to go numb.

One second, he’s letting the chains of Toothless’ restraints slide through his fingers, succumbing to the blackness and the frustration, and the next he’s laid out on the rocks next to the sea, coughing up water. Ryan lifts his head up and only gets a glance of the person diving into the water, but it’s enough to know it’s his-

“Dad?”

Ryan pants on the rocks for one, two, three heartbeats, panic starting to flood in at full force, and then Toothless is zipping out of the water with his dad in his feet. He sets his dad down next to Ryan, lands on other rock, and looks back, jerking his head forwards as if to say: What are you waiting for? Let’s go!

“You got it, bud.” Ryan glances at his dad to make sure he’s okay, and then scrambles up the rock to get onto Toothless’ back like he has so many times before.

He’s hooking himself into the harness with practiced movements, already thinking of how he and Toothless are going to take the queen down, when a large hand closes over his.

Ryan looks down to find his dad, soaking wet, clinging to Ryan like he’s never going to let go again.

“Ryan-” he starts, and then stops, looking close to tears. “I’m- I’m sorry. For everything.”

And that’s all it takes. Ryan feels the broken, jagged pieces leftover from the confrontation at the arena put themselves back together, and he finds it within himself to forgive his dad for everything that he’s put him through. When they make it out of here, they can talk more, but right now, all Ryan wants to do is make sure his dad knows he loves him before he goes rocketing towards his possible death.

“I know,” Ryan tells him. “I’m sorry, too. For everything.”

“You don’t have to go up there!” his dad tells him, almost desperately.

It makes Ryan grin. “We’re vikings- it’s an occupational hazard!”

His dad sniffles a little, and then grips his hand in between both of his own. He looks into Ryan’s eyes and tells him with no small amount of warmth: “I love you, son. I’m proud to call you my son."

Ryan wants to start crying all over again, but the feeling of Toothless’ scales against his free hand and the shouts of his friends keep him together. He squeezes his dad’s hand, says, “Thanks, Dad, I love you too.” and then turns back to grab Toothless’ harness. Toothless shoots up into the sky without prompting, and Ryan holds on, ready to take the queen down once and for all.

When he gets back to his friends, he finds that they’re all doing okay, minus the fact that Andrew and his Gronckle are grounded and Steven is stuck up on the queen’s head, his Nightmare grounded. Ryan guesses it was from the noise tricks and swears, tucking himself against Toothless.

“He’s up!” he hears Shane yell, and watches as he pulls his Nadder away from the front of the queen.

“Annie, Adam!” Ryan shouts. “Get your Zippleback down with the Nightmare and the Gronckle! You too, Shane! I’m taking the queen up into the sky with me and Toothless!”

Annie and Adam move their Zippleback closer to the head of the queen, and when he’s able to, Steven goes launching through the air onto one of the heads. Ryan smiles when he hears Steven scream: “I can’t believe that worked!” and watches them zip away from the queen and safely land with the rest of the vikings.

Shane’s well on his way to landing, too, but then the queen opens her mouth and tries to suck the Nadder in towards her with Shane still on it it.

“Toothless, we need to get to Shane before she does!” Ryan yells, and Toothless takes off for them.

He hears it when the vikings catch sight of them, hears their collective cries of: “Night Fury! Get down!” He holds on tight and doesn’t look away as Toothless carries them towards Shane and his Nadder faster than they’ve ever flown before. When they get close enough, Shane and the dragon are just reaching the edges of the queen’s mouth, and Toothless rears his head back to shoot fire right into it.

The Nadder goes tumbling head over ass towards the edge of the shore, but Shane plummets right to the ground, screaming and flailing wildly. Toothless zooms past the queen and then flips them so that they’re flying to Shane again. Ryan whispers, “Come on, come on,” to himself and Toothless suddenly swoops and pulls up, Shane’s screaming abruptly cutting off.

“Did you get him?” Ryan asks, and Toothless looks under himself. He makes a pleased noise, which tells Ryan yes, he got Shane, and Ryan swears that the dragon is smiling when he lifts his head back up.

They drop Shane off on a small pile of rocks, and as they take off for the queen again, Ryan hears him yell: “Go! You’ve got this, Ry!”

It makes the determination to win burn hotter, and Ryan sets his face, ready for whatever is going to happen. He looks down at the queen as they fly back into the air, trying to find anything that they can use to their advantage. His eyes catch on the folds along her back, and recognizes them as wings.

“She has wings!” Ryan yells to Toothless. “Let’s see if she can use them!”

Toothless makes a noise and turns them around to face the vikings. When he gets close to the queen, he spits out a ball of fire at her wings, and then takes them back up into the clouds. It’s a taunt, and going by the loud wail the queen lets out, and the sound of her wings unfolding and flapping, she’s decided to take the bait.

Ryan glimpses back to find her chasing after them, wings fifty times the size of Toothless’ and her eyes blazing. He turns back to Toothless, leans in close, and says:

“She can fly! It’s time to disappear, bud!”

They make a loop around the island, and Ryan grins when he hears Shane and their friends cheering for him and Toothless. When he knows they’ve got the queen’s full attention, Ryan shifts the pedal controlling Toothless’ wing and sends them up to the sky in a straight vertical path. He hears the cheering turn abruptly into shouts of surprise, and then they’re through the blanket of dark, heavy clouds.

The queen goes after them, pissed beyond belief, but Ryan has spent enough time around dragons to know when she’s going to shoot fire at them. He hears the familiar churning sound deep in her belly, like thunder about to rumble across the sky, and shouts: “Now!” when she’s a second away from shooting it towards them.

Toothless dives out of the way just in time, and while she’s distracted by all of the smoke, they disappear into the rest of the clouds. Ryan hears her noise of frustration and keeps his head down in case she tries to blow more fire their way. He knows that Toothless is almost invisible in this weather, and he prays that his dark hair and clothes will help to keep them blended into the sky.

They hover in a patch of particularly dark clouds, trying not to show themselves or their position to the queen. Ryan can hear her huffing and groaning in anger, desperate to catch sight of them, and even though he knows that they won’t be seen unless they want to be, his heart still races at the thought of it. He presses a hand to the top of Toothless’ head to ground himself and bides their time.

While the queen is swinging around, reckless and careless in her haste to find them, and stays facing away from them, Ryan moves his hand back to the harness and says as softly as he can:

“Let’s go!”

Toothless’ wings fold in close to the sides of his body, Ryan’s grip goes white-knuckled on the harness, and then they’re off. Toothless is a near-silent streak of black, lunging towards the queen, and she doesn’t even notice that they’ve re-emerged from the clouds until Toothless spits another ball of fire at her.

They turn it into a blitz attack of sorts. While the queen howls and snarls at them and tries to get a lock on their location, Toothless performs a series of dips and twirls that send them all over the queen’s head and body. They’re in one place one second, and then back in the clouds the next, and each time that Toothless gets close enough, he shoots fire at her. The sky lights up a brilliant indigo, closely followed by ruby red, and they’re gone before the smoke has fully settled over the queen’s eyes. Ryan can’t tell how much damage it’s doing to her, is only trusting that Toothless is aiming at the places he knows will take her down, and prays for a swift, minimally-painful victory.

Toothless blasts her with another well-aimed fireball and it hits where her wing meets the joint of her shoulder. The queen bellows the loudest she’s bellowed yet and throws her head back. Ryan curses when he hears it and an uncontrolled wave of fire leaves her open, gnashing mouth shortly afterwards.

“Watch out!” Ryan yells, and guides Toothless away from path of flames.

Toothless zips away from her and the fire, but when Ryan glances behind them to see which direct the flames are travelling, his stomach turns to ice. The fire has caught onto the wing he made, and is quickly eating up all of the leather and rope. Ryan figures that they only have a minute until it burns away completely and Toothless is rendered flightless.

“Time’s up, bud!” Ryan tells him, in a voice that is starting to lose its firmness. “Let’s see if this works! We have to push through!”

Toothless moves until one of his big, big eyes locks onto Ryan’s, and he jerks his head down in a nod. Ryan loves him more than he has words for, and he hopes that whatever happens, Toothless will still be with him at the end of it.

They make one final arc across the dark, smoky sky, and then Toothless flips them over and sends them back down to the queen. Ryan screams: “C’mon! Is that the best you can do?” at her, and Toothless releases his own loud, angry roar in agreement. Toothless hits her with another ball of fire, and daringly shoots through her open mouth before she can bite down on them. The baiting works, and Ryan hears her take off after them.

Toothless angles his body so that they’re flying almost vertically again and lets gravity pull him down more than his wing. It’s hanging on by a literal thread at this point, and Ryan’s only got a few more shifts until it’ll fall off for good.

The queen puts on some speed and gnashes at Toothless’ tail, and Toothless shrieks back at her.

“Stay with me, buddy- we’re good! Just a little bit longer!”

Toothless hisses and forces himself to remain steady. Ryan can hear and feel her getting closer to them, can feel the sweat running down his neck from her hot, unbearable breath, and hear her gut churning to produce another surge of fire.

Her hears her low growl, and the sound of her big jaws opening, and everything else around him whites out. All he focuses on is that growing rumbling and the way Toothless is shifting underneath him.

“Hold steady, Toothless-” Ryan tells him, closing his eyes. He listens, waits, listens some more, until the sound of the gas filling up her mouth fills up his head, and then he yells: “Now!”

Ryan clenches around the harness as tightly as he can stand it when Toothless flips them, so that Ryan’s back to the ground, and Toothless spits one last ball of fire into her bubbling mouth.

The reaction is immediate: Toothless’ fire catches to the gas, lights up the queen’s mouth, and rapidly spreads down her throat and to her stomach. Her wings start to spot and disintegrate, and her roaring makes his ears hurt, but Ryan keeps looking to make sure that she’s going to go down and stay down.

When they breach the clouds and the mountain comes into view again, Toothless flips them back over and spreads his wings. They avoid hitting the queen’s head and float up as much as the wind will let them, and Ryan watches as she goes careening right into the mountain she made her nest in. The impact of her body meeting the rock causes a deafening explosion, and Ryan can see all of the vikings stumbling away from it and back towards the water.

They’re not in the clear yet, though. The wind from the explosion drags them back down to the queen’s head, and Toothless works as hard as he can to get them out of the vortex of wind and fire. The flames rapidly climb to where they are, by her hind legs, and Ryan grits his teeth and tries to use the pedal to shift Toothless’ wing.

He looks behind himself in time to see the wing fall off, into the mass of flames and charred dragon, and then looks back towards the sky, where it’s safe. They’re so close to getting out, just a few more seconds until they’ll be out of the line of fire and back towards the clouds-

As the queen’s body fully collapses, the momentum swings her gargantuan tail up and then pulls it back down like an immense pendulum. Ryan watches, almost in slow motion, as it barrels down towards where he and Toothless are fighting tooth and nail to get away from her. They’re so fucking close to safety, and the sight of her humongous tail and all of its knobby spikes falling fills him with anger and dread.

He doesn’t even have time to try and get Toothless out of the way. All he has time to do is shout: “No, no!” as the tail crashes down onto him and sends Ryan toppling back into the flames and complete darkness.

~.~.~

The collision of the queen dragon hitting the mountain makes fire explode everywhere, and then leaves behind a large downfall of ash. As soon as the ashes start to fall, like a white-out blizzard, all of the vikings close ranks to stick together. Shane is clinging onto Stoic’s and Andrew’s hands, face tucked against one of their shoulders, and tries not to inhale too much of the smoke.

As the smoke and ash begin to die down, Shane feels one of his people let go of his hand. Through the fog, he can see that it’s Stoic, and fights the urge to haul him back in.

“Ryan!”

Shane’s heart stops at the sound of Stoic yelling out his son’s name. He realizes, with a dawning sense of hysteria, that he can no longer hear Ryan yelling out words to Toothless, or Toothless’ shrill, ear-splitting cry. All he can hear is the sound of panting, Stoic frantically looking for his son, and more deafening, silence.

“Ryan!” Stoic calls out again, more desperate this time. “Son!”

Shane rips his hand away from Andrew and stumbles to his feet to go after Stoic’s blurry fur coat, unwilling to sit and wait for Ryan to be found.

“Ryan!” Shane yells. “Ryan, where are you? Can you hear us?”

Shane is so busy looking through the fog and trying to hear movement over the pounding of his heart that he doesn’t notice Stoic has stopped moving until he runs right into him. Shane chokes and grabs onto the back of his coat to keep from falling, and then he notices that Stoic has stopped to stare. Even though he feels like he’s going to throw up, or break down, he forces himself to look around Stoic to whatever made him pause.

The ash has finally settled enough that Shane can make out Toothless’ body in the distance. He’s curled up into a ball, and he’s not moving.

Ryan is not sitting on his back, or laying next to him on the ground.

The two of them stare at Toothless’ still form for a few shocked, sick seconds, and then Shane is racing forwards like Hell is on his heels.

Shane is so relieved to see Toothless breathing that he drops to his knees and rests a hand on the dragon’s head. Toothless groans and shifts, until he’s resting on his side, and Shane looks him over. The harness and saddle are singed around the edges, and Toothless is scraped up in some places from the fall, but the thing that hits Shane right in the gut it his tail; the wing that Ryan made for him is gone, burned up by the fire. All that’s left are the fastenings.

He hears a deep, wounded noise cut through the silence, and then Stoic is dropping onto the ground next to him. Shane has never seen him anything but proud or angry, and the sight of the viking leader on his knees and in tears suckerpunches him. He realizes, suddenly, that this means that Ryan is probably in the mountain somewhere with the remains of the queen.

A sob forces its way out of Shane’s throat, jagged and coarse like a rock, and he presses his face into Toothless’ shoulder. He can feel Toothless beginning to come back, can feel his confused twitching and the way his breathing changes, but it hurts to look at him and not see Ryan seated on top. Shane and Toothless have only just become familiar with each other, but Shane knows that the loss of Ryan is going to hurt him just as much as it’s hurting Shane, and it moves him to wind his arms around Toothless in as much of an embrace as he can give.

“This is my fault,” Stoic whispers, voice hitching. “This is all my fault.”

Shane feels it when Toothless blinks his eyes open and looks up at Stoic, at the way he’s kneeling before him in utter despair. Shane sobs harder, pressing his cheek against Toothless’ scales, and tries to find his footing in the midst of his entire world is falling apart.

Toothless makes a curious noise, head tilting against Shane’s. Stoic chokes out another sob of his own, and tells Toothless and Shane and Ryan:

“I’m sorry, son. I’m so, so sorry.”

Toothless stills completely underneath Shane’s body, and Shane’s heart breaks, knowing that Toothless finally understands what’s happening. He pulls away from the dragon’s shoulder and looks down at him through the tears still gathering in his eyes, and Toothless blinks back at him, eyes impossibly wide. Shane whimpers and rests a hand on Toothless’ nose.

“I’m so sorry, buddy,” Shane tells him. “I- Ryan- I love him so much, too, just as much as you do. I should have been able to save him.”

Toothless looks between the two of them, both crying openly over their loss, and then he rolls away from Shane. Shane lets him, feeling like he probably doesn’t deserve to comfort Toothless when his and Stoic’s lack of understanding is what got Ryan ki-

Toothless groans again and slowly unfurls his wings. The one on top falls to his side, and the other one opens up to reveal a small body cocooned between all of Toothless’ legs.

“Ryan!” Shane gasps, and then Stoic is pitching forwards to grab to his son.

All Shane can do is watch as Stoic gathers Ryan’s limp body up in his arms to see if he’s still breathing, and watch as Stoic mindlessly throws his viking helmet to the side. Watching Stoic lower his ear to Ryan’s chest to see if his big, beautiful heart is still beating is all Shane can see through the fuzz in his head.

“He’s alive!” Stoic grits out hoarsely, and then says it louder, for the others and Shane to hear. “Ryan’s alive! He brought him back alive!”

Shane’s entire body slumps forward, tears falling freely from his eyes, and he lets the overwhelming sensation of relief crash over him. Ryan’s alive, Ryan’s alive, Toothless brought him back alive-

As the rest of the vikings cheer and Stoic begins to weep in earnest, Shane forces himself to get back on his knees and crawl over to his shaking form. Shane looks down long enough to see that Ryan’s chest is moving underneath all of his furs and his tunic and then lets out a loud, painful sob. He leans in to press a kiss to Ryan’s forehead, and then he turns to Toothless, who is watching the whole thing go down with an obvious air of contentment.

“Thank you,” Shane chokes out, and crawls over to Toothless. He presses a kiss to Toothless’ head, and says it again. “Thank you.”

Toothless makes a pleased, happy noise, and nuzzles his head against Shane’s. Shane stays there, trying to regain his ability to breathe right, and only half-acknowledges Stoic when he comes over to rest a hand on his shoulder, and then on Toothless’ nose.

“Thank you for saving my son,” Stoic tells Toothless, with more sincerity and love than Shane ever thought the man was capable of.

Toothless makes another pleased noise, pushing up into Stoic’s hand, and then he relaxes against the ground, obviously exhausted.

They’re a long way from home, and a long way from figuring out what to do next, but all Shane cares about is that Ryan is safe, and so is Toothless, and so are his people. He gathers himself up enough to look at where Ryan is still being cradled in his father’s arms, face beat up but otherwise fine, and lets himself feel the relief he’s been missing since he caught Ryan planning to run away.

He reaches out and takes one of Ryan’s scratched, sooty hands in his own, and squeezes tightly. His thumb presses up against Ryan’s sluggish pulse and it brings him back down.

Quinta is the first person to come up to them after letting Shane and Stoic have their moment with Ryan and Toothless. She smiles at all of them, and he watches as her eyes catch on something by Ryan’s legs on their sweep over their beat-up bodies.

“Well, he brought back most of him, at least.”

Shane has no clue what that means, is too tired to figure it out, and just lets his head slump back onto Toothless’ without letting go of Ryan’s hand.

~.~.~

Ryan wakes up to the sound of curious, impatient chirping.

It takes him a few moments to remember how to open his eyes. They’re heavy, like he’s been asleep for decades, and the slivers of light hurt when they creep in past his lids. As the shapes around him begin to smoothen out and turn into objects, Ryan realizes that he’s 1) home, and 2) being sniffed at by his pet dragon.

Ryan blinks, and then grins lazily up at Toothless, who is staring at Ryan intently. His mouth opens to show his cute gummy smile, and Ryan pushes past all of the exhaustion to rub a hand over Toothless’ nose.

“Hey, bud,” Ryan says, laughing when Toothless pushes into then his space. He starts to snuffle against Ryan’s hand and crawls closer to snuffle at Ryan’s chest, neck, and face. Toothless makes a happy, pleased noise and even licks Ryan, clambering up onto the bed. “I’m happy to see you too-”

Toothless accidentally steps right onto his stomach and Ryan groans, shooting up into a sitting position. It’s then that he puts together that it’s daylight, and Toothless in is his house.

“Uhhh,” Ryan stammers, looking around for his dad. Toothless takes this as an invitation to start excitedly hopping on all of the furniture, and Ryan watches him go from the pillars holding up the roof to the clothesline set up next to the fire and back to Ryan’s bed. “What are you doing here, Toothless? Does my dad know you’re here? Why are you in my house?”

Toothless makes one of his cute roaring noises and pushes in close to Ryan’s face again. Ryan shoves down the urge to indulge him by laughing again or pulling him closer, mind focused on his dad coming back and freaking out at the sight of a literal dragon in their house.

“Okay, okay,” Ryan says, patting Toothless’ head. “We, uh, we need to get you out of here before my dad sees-”

Toothless roars again and flings himself up onto one of the support beams. Ryan groans, knowing that it will take nothing short of bribery in the form of a basket full of fish to get him to come down.  

“C’mon, bud, let’s go-”

Ryan throws the covers off and starts to get out of bed, and then stops. Something isn’t right.

He takes a few breaths in through his nose, because he has a horrible suspicion of what’s going on but he doesn’t want it to be true. His memories are starting to filter back in, slow and murky, like they’re sitting at the bottom of a pond. He catches wisps of Shane falling through the air, Toothless shooting indigo lightning across the sky, and a large, bulbous tail descending towards him.

When he thinks that he can handle it, Ryan grips the bedsheets in between his fingers and looks down. One foot is covered in his usual indoor sleeping boot, and in place of the other is a small stump of wood and a curved metal hook and spring contraption. It looks exactly like Quinta’s, and Ryan’s vision goes black around the edges when he understands what has happened. The entire sequence of defeating the queen dragon with Toothless comes pouring back in, and Ryan lets it play through up until her tail collided with him and sent him flying back into the eruption of fire.

Ryan thinks that he’s probably lucky to be alive, but he also thinks that he doesn’t know how to deal with missing a foot.

He doesn’t notice that he’s spiralling until Toothless is in his space, nose nudging against Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan looks at him and tries to steady his breathing, uses Toothless’ big, unflinching gaze as an anchor to hold him down in the present moment. What’s done is done, Ryan tells himself, and at least we didn’t die.

After his breathing slows down enough that the black fades away, Ryan decides that his next best plan of action is to stand up and walk on his new foot. Toothless backs away enough to let Ryan rise, but watches carefully, like he’ll pick Ryan up and put him back into bed if he pushes himself too hard.

Ryan grips onto a bedpost and uses it to stand up, putting most of his weight on his flesh-and-bone foot. The fear of pain and falling almost makes him sit down again, but tells himself that after the first step the rest will come easier, and pushes forwards.

The first step is rocky, but he manages to stay upright, despite the foreign sensation of wood against skin and the dull flare of pain in his knee. The next step, though, is a little more painful, and catches him off guard. Ryan grunts as he spills forwards, fully expecting to collapse onto the ground, but Toothless is right there to catch him with his head and shoulders. Ryan grips onto him and Toothless doesn’t move a muscle until he’s ready to try again.

“Thanks, bud,” Ryan says, rubbing his hand along Toothless’ scaly neck.

This time, when Ryan straightens up and begins to walk, Toothless stays right next to him. Ryan curls his arm around his Toothless’ shoulders and moves with him towards the door. He feels like he wants to cry, knowing that he and Toothless survived this ordeal with nothing more than a lost foot, but he also wants to show that he can be strong. So he keeps breathing in and out as steadily as he can and lets Toothless help him towards the door of the hut, thanking the gods that he has the dragon in his life still and at all. He thinks about what a pair they must make, one of them missing a wing and the other missing a foot, and thinks about how well they fit together in spite of it all.

Ryan barely gets the door open when he sees a Nightmare swooping down from the sky and slams it shut again, turning to Toothless.

“Toothless, stay here.” Ryan tells him, and then slips outside to see what’s going on.

He realizes, after the Nightmare swoops down further, that Steven Lim is seated on its back. Ryan gapes at him, even as Steven turns around to yell: “All right, everybody, let’s go!” and then leads the Nightmare forwards. Ryan watches as the rest of his friends appear on the dragons they rode to the nest: Andrew on his Gronckle, Annie and Adam on their Zippleback, and Shane on his Nadder. They all follow after Steven and the Nightmare, hollering and laughing, and Ryan’s heart swells at the sight of the big, warm grins on their faces.

Ryan limps out farther, looking across the expanse of the village. There are dragons everywhere- perched on top of houses with vikings perched on top of them, curled up on the grass, and flying over and around different buildings. They’re all roaring happily at each other and the vikings, and Ryan can’t do much more than stare in complete and utter amazement.

“I knew it,” Ryan announces, maybe to himself, or maybe to Toothless. “I’m dead.”

He hears someone’s deep, round laughter carry up to where they’re standing, and turns to find his dad approaching. He looks happier and softer than Ryan’s ever seen him, and it makes him stare more than the sight of dragons living peacefully in their village.

“No, but you gave it your best shot.” his dad tells him, patting a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. And then he gestures out towards all of the dragons. “So, what do you think?”

Ryan’s mouth is open and it’s probably rude to be staring so intently, but he honestly doesn’t know how to respond. He follows the line of his dad’s arm out towards the dragons again, and lets it all sink in: taking down the queen, waking up with one foot, and finding out that while he was unconscious, everyone welcomed the dragons to their island with open arms.

“It’s incredible,” Ryan tells him honestly. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

His dad laughs again, clapping Ryan on the back. It draws attention from the vikings all puttering around down the hill, and when they catch sight of the three of them, they start shouting:

“Look, it’s Ryan! He’s awake!”

Ryan is struck dumb once again, watching all of the vikings race up the hill towards him. At best, the vikings have always regarded him with disinterest, and at worst, complete and utter loathing and contempt. He’s never seen them all looking so radiantly happy before, and he’s never ever seen it directed at him.

They’re all talking to him at once, clapping him on the shoulder like his dad did, and congratulating him on taking the queen down. Ryan smiles at best as he can, through the shock and overwhelmingness of it all, and thanks who he’s able to. He focuses on his dad’s large, warm hand on his back and the way Toothless is still pressed to his side to keep himself from getting panicked again.

“Oh, give him some air!” someone shouts, and the vikings part to let Quinta through. She hobbles up the stone steps towards them, shaking her head. “You lot trying saving the entire village and then waking up to all the people you know breathing down your neck.”

The vikings take a step back from Ryan, muttering out apologies and giving him sheepish smiles. Ryan lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, and says: “Thanks, Quinta.”

She smiles at him and points down at his new claw-foot. “You can thank me for that, too. That was my handywork, you know, with a few Bergara flares thrown into it. Think it’ll do?”

Quinta wiggles her own claw-foot at Ryan for emphasis.

Ryan laughs, and wiggles his back at her, feeling better about it. “I might make some tweaks, but-”

Everyone laughs, including and especially Quinta, and Toothless pushes his nose up against Ryan’s side.

There’s a cry above them, and Ryan turns to see Shane landing his Nadder. His heart swells at the sight of him so close, close enough that Ryan can see that his hair is an absolute mess and he still has dirt streaked across his forehead from gods know what. His grin is radiant, and everyone melts a little when he delightedly calls out:

“Ryan!”

Shane lopes up the hill towards them, and Ryan is so desperate to get to him that he forgets about how imbalanced he is on the new foot. He takes off and stumbles, almost goes down, but Shane is there before anyone has to move to catch him. His long arms slide around Ryan’s sides just as he begins to trip and hold him steady.

Ryan says, “Shane,” the way someone else might say “You came back for me!” and burrows into his chest, arms like a vice around his back. Shane pulls him flush against his front and babbles out: “Gods, I’ve missed you, Ry, I’ve been waiting for you to wake up for days, you’ve been asleep for so long-” in a mindless, rambling stream. Ryan clings to him and sucks in big, gulping breaths, feeling the rest of his anxiety drain away at the familiar scent of soap and the earthiness of Shane’s clothes and skin.

The vikings let them have a moment together, let Shane say what he needs to say and Ryan hear what he needs to hear, and then Shane pulls away to look at him. His smile is so wide that it crinkles his eyes and shows nearly all of his teeth, and he is so damn beautiful that Ryan can barely stand it.

“You took the queen down, if anyone forgot to mention it to you.” Shane tells him. “You completely obliterated her.”

Ryan didn’t even let himself begin to imagine that all of it was for nothing, but hearing confirmation that he and Toothless were able to kill the queen lifts a weight off of him. He closes his eyes briefly, says a few words to the gods for getting them through it, and then looks back at Shane.

“And everyone is safe?”

“Yeah, little guy. You saved everyone.”

“Well- mostly everyone.” Ryan glances down at his claw-foot ruefully. “Everyone but Lefty.”

Shane tucks a finger under his chin and makes Ryan tilt his head back up. “Hey. I love your new foot. It’s cute. And it’s righteous. If anyone wants to give you Hell for it, tell them you rode on the back of a Night Fury to destroy a dragon that would instill fear in Thor himself. I bet they won’t be taunting you then.”

Ryan laughs loudly. “I can finally say that I’m Stoic the Vast’s son without people mocking me.”

“Nah,” Shane says, and his brilliant smile melts into something more soft, more fond. “I think that Stoic the Vast is going to be telling people that you’re his son, and he finally deserves to be able to call himself your father.”

The words burst inside of him like a firecracker, and Ryan suddenly finds tears in his eyes. He’s cried so many times over the past few weeks, but this time he can say that they’re happy tears, and that he’s crying because everything finally feels right in the world.

“I love you.” Ryan tells Shane, and doesn’t look away from his rich, amber eyes even as the tears begin to fall from his own. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. For believing in me. For loving me too.”

Shane makes a funny noise, and then he’s crying, too, and Ryan has to giggle at the sight they must make. Two vikings crying together while steps away from their people.

“I love you so, so much, Ryan Bergara.” Shane tells him, lips trembling. “Maybe almost as much as your pet dragon.”

Ryan laughs again, and then Shane leans down and kisses him soundly. The vikings around them all gasp and then start to catcall, delighted and humored by their weird conversation and embrace, but Ryan barely hears them. He kisses Shane deeply, puts all of his love and affection into it, and lets himself relax for the first time possibly ever.

When they pull away from each other, goofy grins spread across both of their faces, Shane asks him: “Want to go for a ride?”

The vikings reveal Ryan’s new harness for Toothless, in all of its painted, indestructible, claw-foot-accessible glory. Ryan touches it carefully, his millionth look of amazement making the crowd laugh.

“Another stroke of my genius handywork,” Quinta tells him warmly. “Toothless likes it, too- he helped me pick out the design.”

He looks over at Toothless, and his gummy smile makes Ryan grin, too. He thinks back to when Toothless uprooted a small tree to draw in the dirt with Ryan, way back before they loved each other.

“Are you ready to get back up there, bud?”

Toothless’ loud roar is heard as an enthusiastic yes. Shane helps him get everything attached, waits patiently for Ryan to swing himself up onto the saddle, and helps guide his claw-foot into the self-locking holster. When Ryan is all set, and Toothless is ready to take off, Shane gives them both another kiss (Ryan on his smiling mouth and Toothless on his nose) before running to get onto his Nadder.

They take off before Shane and the Nadder, and Ryan feels at ease with Toothless’ scales under his palms, Shane’s loud laughter ringing through the air, and the wind soothing across his skin. Ryan looks down at the village, at where all of his people, his friends, and his dad are watching them fly, and knows that at long last, he’s found a place to truly call his home.

When Shane gets up next to him, he calls out: “I’ll race you to the lake!”, referencing the place Toothless has been staying all these weeks.

Ryan agrees. “What do we get if we win?”

He can see Shane’s challenging eyebrows even from all the way over here. “Loser has to kiss the winner.”

Ryan grins wolfishly. “You better pucker up, Madej. Toothless is unbeatable.”

Toothless makes a noise that tells them he agrees, and without warning, shoots off towards the back of the island. Shane curses and calls them cheaters, and Ryan just laughs carelessly and leans down closer to Toothless’ back.

Ryan presses a hand to Toothless’ neck and Toothless glances back at him, gummy smile in place and eyes wide and glowing. Ryan loves him more than he can bear, and he lets Toothless know this by shouting over the wind:

“We can win this, buddy! We got this!”

And Toothless’ responding shriek tells Ryan all that he needs to know, too. That Toothless loves Ryan more than he can bear, and that he’s going to be with Ryan for the rest of his life. Ryan catches sight of Shane closing in on his Nadder, a reckless grin stretched across his lips, and knows that Shane is going to be with him for the rest of his life, just as much as Toothless. Seeing both of his boys together, safe and happy, makes Ryan want to cry again.

Instead, he moves closer to his dragon’s ear and says: “All right, Toothless, let’s show him what we’ve got!” and holds on tight while Toothless moves through the air like it’s another piece of his body.