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Heart of Gold

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Tony Stark was a Stark first and a human being with free thought absolutely last - at least as far as his father was concerned. There were few things he hated quite as much as his father’s ‘plans’ for him, which went a long way to explaining why he was staring out the window rather than actually listening to the man speak.

“- and two meetings with the Hong Kong execs on Friday morning. I expect you to be on your best behaviour, Tony. If I see anything about you drinking or spending time with Ms. Cho again we’re going to have a serious talk.”

“What if I don’t want to?” Tony sighed heavily, turning his gaze away from the window to look at Howard.

“If you want access to any company ‘assets’, then you’re going to do as your told and act like a responsible representative of this company,” his father responded, giving him a cool business-stare. As always. As though he’d seen any other expression from the man, ever.

“And what if I don’t want any of that?”

“What do you plan to do, exactly, without it?” Howard scoffed.

“I’ll go to the Sanctum-”

“Oh here we go again.”

“-I’ll become a dragon rider.” Tony continued as though he hadn’t heard the man speak. Tony meant most of what he said in part, but it was also an excuse to get Howard riled up. He knew his old man hated any mentions of the sanctum.

“You’ll become an obsolete waste of space, that’s what you’ll become. Is that what you want? How many times do we have to talk about this? There haven’t been any attacks in two centuries, and even if another one came, what Stark Industries is creating is far more effective and cost efficient than fantasy concepts of riding around on dragons. Here I thought you were beyond childish ideas like that.”

“Mom didn’t think they were obsolete.” Tony bit back sharply and Howard’s eyes narrowed but before he could get a word in Tony shoved himself to his feet and stalked off towards the door. “Mom gave a shit what I wanted. And you know what? I’m not out here to make you proud. I’d rather make mom proud.”

He slammed the door behind himself as he went. He had only about a year left until he’d be considered too old to submit himself as a candidate for a hatching, because apparently that mattered for some reason he never quite understood. What he knew was that his time was running out to live out his dream and damnit he wanted to do something for himself.

There was a tempest of emotions surging inside the founder's son. Much of his life he'd felt had been squandered, taken from him. With his age also came insurgence and Tony had just about reached the pinnacle of what he could stand when it came to his father's autocratic ways.

Howard ran the family less like a family and more like a fascist dictatorship. Money and weapons were all that really mattered in the old man's eyes and every mention of Tony proposing to abscond to the Sanctum would always be met with the same ice and ichor from his father.

Each time the fights ended the same way and had always since he was a child - lately with the peak of Tony's patience, he'd started to bite back. Howard's words affected him less and less with each berating and belittling and he was teetering over the edge on whether to run. Albeit he was emotional right now, and perhaps acting out of that emotion wouldn't prove to yield fair results for him.

So he did what he normally did when he needed time to think about his problems, he called up Rhodey, and the two of them met up to help Tony get his frustrations out.

"Thanks for coming Rhodey-bear, I've just about had it with dad and I know I've said that before but I really mean it this time!" Tony stated, regarding his best friend since childhood. They were at a small local coffee shop and he'd begun to divest himself of his frustrations to his best friend.

"I hear the same song and dance from you all the time Tones, I honestly think you should stick it to that old man and seriously," the man clapped a hand down on Tony's shoulders, "go for it, what do you have to lose?"

Tony focused more on his cup, but he was still solicitous to Rhodey's words.

"If not to show him up, then do it for you. It's been a dream of yours, hell - you always pretended to be a dragon rider when we were younger. Remember when we would play those games with Jarvis? This is something you can actually make happen if you just take that first leap." 

The young engineer finally regarded his friend with a very intent look. "Yeah, I know, I know… but man, talking about doing something is way easier than doing it. I was emotional and-"

"Tones, you're always going to find a million reasons not to do something, it only takes one good reason to go ahead and do it, and I think you should really do it." Rhodey, flashed Tony a half-smile and lightly shook squeezed his shoulder.

Tony hesitated briefly, and Rhodey offered a short smirk. “I’ll drive you if you want? I hear there’s a clutch about ready to hatch in the next week or so. I’ll hang out with you through it and if it doesn’t work out then I’ll give you a ride home, no harm, right? And if it does work out… then fuck Howard, you’ll be a dragon rider!”

He could feel the surge of excitement welling up within him as he looked at his best friend. “Really? A hatching soon? We… I mean we could just… go watch the hatching right? I don’t necessarily have to participate…” Tony began, fidgeting in his spot and contemplating the idea.

He’d only ever seen hatchings on TV shows - and what were the chances that he and Howard had their argument while there was a clutch already on the hatching sands? Opportunity… fate, maybe? At the very least he could see the hatching in person, but maybe… maybe he could ride a dragon.

Become a dragon rider.

For a moment he pondered the thought, before realizing Rhodey had continued to speak while he was lost in thought.

“-And you called it ‘Red’ because what else would you name a red dragon, remember? You wouldn’t listen to me when I told you dragons named themselves. ‘Who names themselves?’ you’d always argue…”

Excitement was a meek, docile creature that poked its head out of the safety of its dwelling to venture on a path to a potentially exciting future. Quick to scare, but determined and once set on it's path would not stop until it's final destination, obstacles or no. 

Either idea had no downsides to it, Tony could only come out on top , right?

If the plan didn't work out, he hardly doubted Howard was going to completely ostracize him from the household, though he would receive a rather stern talking to if not an out-right haranguing and potentially have to live with some pretty nasty smart remarks and belittlement.

For a dream? It was a small price to pay for the potential of true happiness.

Tony leaned on his arm and imagined himself flying on a majestic red dragon, he knew a lot about the different dragon types from what he'd seen on television, an ever-present fascination within the realm of his mind.

A realm indeed. 

Tony's mind was just so expansive and advanced, so formulaic that the engineer-slash-genius' drive and knowledge knew no bounds. He learned at lightning speed and should he put his mind to it, could have long surpassed his father's legacy.

But to be an heir to the company was no dream of Tony's and so his father always saw his talents wasted on flights of fancy, which Howard considered the Sanctum orders to be.

Still.

"Let's do it, I'll go home and pack, and we can go tonight." Tony had made up his mind, and Rhodes brandished a broad smile in response.

"That's the spirit!"

And so it was that eight hours later they were finally approaching a place he’d only ever seen in pictures or on the television. 

The massive structure that was something of a self-sustained city rose from amidst green hills, and Tony was glad Rhodey was driving the moment a green dragon swooped over their heads to carry off a cow.

“They’re… way bigger in person, holy shit,” Tony gawked without thinking about it. Rhodey only laughed a bit, even as Tony turned to stare at him. “If a green is that big, can you imagine how big a red or a queen are? Like, they must be massive!

“Well, I’ve never seen a queen, but I saw a brown once. Must’ve been a good 40 feet long. And the wings were a whole other story.” The other man gave a shrug as he headed along the winding road towards the Sanctum, before parking in the small lot at the end of a long bridge.

“We gotta walk from here. We might be able to get a ferrying back afterwards or something to collect your things if you’re good.”

Tony couldn’t even focus on what Rhodey was saying - not when he was seeing several dragons in the distance moving about and flitting between platforms of the Sanctum. It was picture perfect, exactly what he'd envisioned, seen on television and he was finally granted the chance to live one of his dreams for once.

It was the light at the end of his dark tunnel he considered life, which to this point hadn't felt so much like living, rather, existing. 

Tony had merely been clawing and scraping by, his potential held back by fantasies he could never decidedly seek out, so in a sense this was a chance for him to show his hidden potential, show the world what he was worth if it wasn't simply to sit in the shadow of his father's legacy.

"Alright, let's move!" he snapped out of his thoughts as they approached the ferry platforms. There was a horde of excitable green dragons all clustered on a single spire that jutted out of the ground with many different platforms shooting off from different directions.

Tony approached the base of the spire and looked up, some dragons playing with others while most rested and gazed down curiously at the newcomers. One of the dragon ferry masters approached and greeted both of them with a smile, wearing what looked to resemble a monk's regale.

"Would you two like to be ferried across to the Sanctum?" she inquired cheerfully, regarding both of them. Tony was still stunned from the splendour of seeing dragons in real life and they were about to get even closer to them. Rhodey was impressed, but not nearly as awestruck as Tony.

"Yes, my friend and I would like to cross over to the Sanctum to sign him up for the hatching."

The woman gave the two of them a curious look and a nod before turning away. “Loki. Aya. One to the sands and the other to observe?” She glanced at Rhodes who nodded a little as the two riders went to fetch their dragons.

“Once you reach the sands someone there can advise you of how the procedure goes. I’m fairly certain we haven’t seen you here before so I can assume you haven’t done this before.” Pulling a book from her desk she flipped a few pages to pull out a sheet before offering Tony a pen. “Please place your name and date of birth here, and you’ll want to read the page thoroughly. We do need you to be fully informed of the dangers involved in participating in a hatching before you go in.”

Tony procured the contract from her and looked it over, reading some of the warnings. Fatalities, dismemberment, permanent scarring - it was basically the equivalent of the running of the bulls in Spain, except with adorable and very excited baby dragons. While the idea was cute, the thoughts didn't sit well and he read the contract aloud to Rhodes who quirked a brow.

Still, this didn't change Tony's mind on things. He may have for a second paused to understand what the warnings were but outside of that, they'd come this far and he wasn't about to turn around and go back now.

Doing another read-through of the contract he signed his name at the bottom of the page. "You will need to hand that to the ferry master on the other side once across," she took the letter, stamping it with an emblem before closing it into an envelope and setting it in one of the saddlebags of the green dragon Tony was to ride.

"Sounds like it's going to be a real chicken run over there," the ferry master chuckled. "This is where a new adventure begins, and an old one ends. I wish you well Mister Stark"

"Heh, thanks!" Tony smiled. Both Rhodey and he were led to their respective dragons and a couple of helpers came out and aided them in climbing up onto the tacked up dragons.

The black-haired man who offered Tony a hand up gave him a short smile and a little wink. “There are two holds, or you can wrap your arms around my waist. If you’ve never been flying before, I’d recommend the latter.” Reaching back the man gestured to the two handholds. “Otherwise, here and here. You’ll have a better view if you use the handholds, but a lot of people panic their first flight. I promise Hela won’t let you fall.”

Tony had spent a hot moment ogling the drake. He only snapped out of his little stupor when the dragon-rider began instructing him.

"Uh, yeah! Sure, I got all that." He floundered a bit to climb up onto the green hide of the dragon, slipping into the saddle spot behind his ferryman.

The dragon let out a soft snort and seemed almost indifferent about the fact that there was a second rider climbing up onto her back.

"Let me know when you are ready and we will ascend," the other man spoke, his voice carrying an almost British sounding accent that Tony had to admit, was very nice on the ears.

"I'm good to go." 

He gripped onto the handles and took in a deep breath. The man smirked and he beckoned his dragon forward. The beast took off with a running start towards the edge of the wooden docks before her wings began to flap and with a hard spring from the ground, she launched herself skyward.

Tony's stomach was in his throat, it felt like he was on a rollercoaster and unsurprisingly his hands were immediately around his rider's chest, gripping on for dear life.

“So,” the black-haired man began easily, his voice carrying over the wind as the green’s wings spread wide, allowing them to glide towards the building, “looking to imprint on a dragon, are you? It’s going to be a rather exciting experience no matter how it goes. There are only about thirty eggs this clutch and a good hundred and forty-some people looking to imprint. I mean, better odds than winning the lottery, right?”

Tony wasn’t entirely sure that he could speak without throwing up, and the rider seemed to know full well given he kept talking, cool as a cucumber about the whole thing. 

“Better odds than when I was imprinting, you know. There were almost five hundred people at that and it was a mess.” The man’s hand rested on the dragon’s neck for a moment and the green turned her head slightly to look at them, before refocusing forward. “But Hela’s the love of my life. There’s nothing quite like being chosen by a dragon…”

The other man's voice was almost melodic, soft - unlike the wind, which was whipping through his hair as the dragon tore through the sky towards the Sanctum. Their speed, fast enough to make the wind feel like daggers against his skin, or perhaps that was just the cold from the speed they were flying at.

Their flight lasted an awfully long time. Longer than expected.

It didn't even look like their destination was really that far away. The dragon's path wasn't even a direct one and seemed to veer left and right for no reason, almost as if their rider was doing this on purpose.

One tight bank to the right and Tony yelped, squeezing his arms tighter around his rider, his face was buried in the back of the other man's neck and all he received were loud, boisterous laughs from the man in front of him.

"Having fun are we?" Temporarily abandoning his preamble about the dragons and the hatching process to make sure his passenger was alright with an almost mischievous grin.

Though, Tony couldn't see it.

“Don’t worry. We’re almost there,” the rider crooned, laughing softly as they descended swiftly, leaving his laugh caught on the wind before they rather suddenly seemed to come to a stop. 

The breeze disappeared and the area around them grew darker before Tony opened his eyes. “Here we are. Stephen, this is Mister Stark.” The black-haired man dug through the pouch at Hela’s side before offering him the paper. “His documentation.”

“Thank you Loki,” the other man, Stephen, took the paper to look it over briefly before nodding and tucking it away and offering Tony a hand down. “Mister Stark, let’s get you down and out onto the sands so we can talk about the process, shall we?”

Hela bellowed out a loud roar and stretched her wings. Her feet stepped to the stone and padded in place as she slid down on her haunches to idle and let her passenger down with ease.

Tony felt woozy when the dragon had landed, and he idled on her back a bit before his feet slid off and touched the ground. He almost doubled over, his stomach churning as he felt light-headed and needed a moment to regain his bearings before addressing the other man.

He looked from Loki to Stephen, straightened up his poster and held up a hand. "Oh god, I think I'm good. Yeesh, that was a ride." The poor engineer was ruffled from the flight and he heard a small chortle from Loki as he faced Stephen who didn't seem to display much emotion as he seemed to be sizing Tony up.

"Yeah, sure - let's go. Stephen, was it?" the engineer waited for the other to shake.

The other man gave him a once over then gestured towards a pathway that was lit with curious orbs, ignoring his hand entirely as he did. “This way. I hope your shoes are durable, the sands are quite hot as they help incubate the clutch.” The deep baritone echoed through the hall even as the green and her rider took off again out of the entrance.

Tony frowned and put his hand behind his back. He opted for sticking them in his pockets as he followed Stephen through the hall.

“Hatchings will take anywhere from an hour to three hours,” he began to explain, “during this time there is a high likelihood of injury and a low likelihood of death - but the risk is there. Even if a dragon imprints upon you that may not spare you from injury.” He raised the hand that he’d neglected to shake Tony’s with as they passed a light and deep scars showed down each of his fingers. “Medical personnel will be on hand, but be prepared for the potential violence.”

Stephen paused and gestured to a bin full of still flopping fish, his eyes catching Tony’s briefly. “The hatchlings will be hungry when they’re first hatched. Remember that a hatchling doesn’t necessarily imprint on the first person they see, but rather on someone they feel a certain kinship with - they will understand and intuit that without your help, so if you do not imprint on a dragon that does not necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with you, simply that you may not have been a match for any of the current clutch. Given your age, I would suspect that this is the only chance you’ll get to imprint, however, as the former queen has passed away, and the hatchling will take about five years to reach adulthood.”

This guy was really putting a sour taste in his mouth, he'd rarely met someone so formal and unwelcoming, it was almost as if he was dealing with the men his father associated with. All business and formality, it put a bad taste in Tony's mouth. He did, however, see the scars and opted to inquire about it - of all things to ask about as he's being shown the ropes and told of the hatching process.

"So did your hands get injured in one of the hatchings? Is that what I need to worry about or is that from something else?" He made a weird face as he inserted the question rather arbitrarily into their conversation with absolutely no shame whatsoever.

He was curious.

“Yes. There will be no one on the sands but those of you looking for a partner amidst the hatchlings. I was injured during my own imprinting. Levi was hungry and over exuberant in his desire to meet me. He crushed both of my hands and cut up part of my arm fairly easily. They’re babies, don’t forget that. They don’t know any better and they’re hungry and enthusiastic. They don’t realize that they’re strong and dangerous. Their claws tend to be the cause of most fatalities as they attempt to clamour over people seeking the one they’re feeling. If you don’t want to be hurt, do not crowd them. They will push and try to get through others to reach the person they’ve chosen and crowding them is the most likely to cause you to get hurt.”

The rider folded his arms as he turned to face Tony, looking pointedly at the bin of fish. “You are attempting to imprint on a dragon, aren’t you? You’ll need a fish. To feed them.”

Tony was a shadow as Stephen spoke, quiet and attentive as he was informed of the events to come. He'd deemed the answer he received to satisfy his concern as he stepped attentively beside Stephen. He regarded the bin of fish and made a discontented face at the sharp, sour aroma it seemed to waft.

"An ill-fated injury, but it sounds like someone really wanted to meet you." The corner of Tony's mouth quirked up in a wry smile. "So how much will a whelpling eat, how much will I need to have when the hatching starts?"

“There’s nothing ill-fated about it. I lost my hands, I gained wings and a friendship and bond that can never be replaced. Trading my hands for that? I got the better deal.” The man smiled softly for a moment, before shaking his head. “As to the hatchlings, they’ll require a lot, but for the hatching you only need one fish. Once imprinted and the hatching finishes, hatchlings and their riders will be taken for proper feeding.” 

"Right, ok so it's basically the running of the bulls and each and every one of the people out in the sands is holding the equivalent of a big fat target." The engineer chortled softly.

He understood the insides and outs of the process, now it was all a matter of waiting. "Maybe I'll get lucky and imprint on a big red," Tony's inflection sounded a bit cocky but was more supposed to be playful.

Stephen offered a smirk in response. “Hm. If you imprint at all I’m sure you’ll feel lucky. But you certainly sound like a red rider, talking like that. Take your fish, let’s get to the sands so I can explain the last of things.”

He turned and headed further down the hallway to where the stone became golden sands, and then finally into a massive cave. It was vaguely egg-shaped itself and while the entire first level of it was hot and covered in the golden sands and eggs, the full cavern had many things to look at.

Eggs lay mostly upright in one spot, gathered together like there was no issue, and off to the side a separate egg - larger than the rest - sat amidst a circle of young women who appeared to be anywhere from 16 to 25. Tony knew enough about dragons and hatchings to know that meant a queen was in the large egg that came up to the waist of the tallest girl in the circle. On the sands Stephen simply guided him to where others his age and younger were gathered, talking about the eggs or simply staring at them eagerly.

Unlike the queen egg, there was no real telling what the rest of the eggs might contain - they were all approximately the same size and had an oddly iridescent sheen to them that the television had never really picked up. They reflected back some of the gold of the sands but otherwise seemed to twinkle and sparkle in the light. 

The rider leading him stopped as he gestured to a spot. On one side of him a young man sat with his large fish across his lap, taking notes in a notebook about the eggs by the looks of it, and above them, circling the entire length of the room were balconies. On the lowest tier of them, he could see Rhodey sitting and waving wildly at him before giving him a pair of thumbs up. A few people in medical garb also stood in that tier, clearly prepared for those who may be injured in the process, and others were hanging over the edge - parents chatting to youths who were on the sands. They weren’t very high up, really, the tier itself was only about eight feet above the sands.

Tony's neck craned to look around the room. He'd waved back to Rhodey and flashed him a double thumbs-up as he started to blaze a trail through the sand.

The next tier he couldn’t exactly tell much about, but the people all appeared to be dressed in the garb of the Sanctum, robes of deep blue, green, red and brown as per various preferences. But it was the top tier that caught his eye most prominently: sparkling eyes twisted with various colours depicting the emotions of the dragons who loomed in their spot, their riders seated or standing near them to stare down upon the sands in interest.

More than anything else there seemed to be a collection of reds and their riders watching the queen egg and chatting amidst themselves - from this distance, it was hard to say how big the dragons themselves were, but when he saw them beside the blues it was a rather marked difference in size.

As he stepped farther from the arena entrance he could feel the heat rising, it hit like a wave all at once with how drastically different the air temperature was from the air on the exterior.

He continued through the sands, trudging over the dunes that he'd sunken into up to his ankles. He definitely wasn't dressed properly for this, and his shoes quickly became sand-logged by the time he made it to the crowd of people in the middle of the room.

His toes twitched uncomfortably as coarse sand seeped into his socks making his feet feel uncomfortably dry and chafed. "Great..." He mumbled sourly.

Stephen had long left his side and he stood around awkwardly though he did feel a strong somberness as he looked upon the many parents that had come to root and cheer for their young one's success and safety. It was all rather touching, but only dredged up his own feelings of anxiety towards memories of how his father was completely averse to his dreams and how his mother wasn't even around.

He saw what went on, and wished he had a family like that. All this time he'd been alone and he was mostly fine until he was presented so many different families, sisters, brothers that all loved each other and gave support to one another.

He shook his head, this wasn't the time to be down - plus he had Rhodey here. Rhodey was there to support him and this was potentially the beginning of a journey. If anything, he should be excited.

He soon found his smile, tossing his fish in his hand as he took his place on the sands and waited for the ceremony to begin, eyes focused on the opalescent eggs nestled comfortably in the sands.

It was nearly two hours and more people had filled the sands - there might have been about 200 of them there now in total, though there was enough space that nothing felt even remotely crowded. Tony was just beginning to find himself bored when it began. 

An egg rocked into another, and a hush fell over the crowd. He could peripherally see the shadows of the dragons above shifting, but Tony found his eyes fully fixed on the eggs.

In the quiet and stillness, the first crack of an egg hatching sounded impossibly loud - and then chaos broke out. A loud cry sounded as a brown nose pushed its way out of an egg and eagerly a large gathering of people shoved their way forward towards the hatching eggs. He couldn’t hear the cracking anymore, and while he could still see some of the eggs, they weren’t the first thing on his mind after a moment.

A blue hatchling’s claws caught on one of the crowded boy’s legs, tearing it dramatically open as the blue scrambled past the crowd and towards where Tony stood, still and surprised. He couldn’t help the disappointment when it wound up nosing at the boy who had been drawing beside him earlier, though the boy’s expression of awe and wonder was heartwarming enough to ease some of the ache.

Still, there were other dragons.

Screams sounded from the main crowd of hopefuls as other dragons pushed their way past the main crowd and towards those waiting in the wings as they’d been told. The sands in the middle were beginning to look uncomfortably red, and Tony took a few uneasy steps to the side, before jolting a bit as he saw what looked like it might have been entrails caught on one of the red hatchlings’ claws. He nuzzled up to a hopeful and began his feasting on the fish, and Tony could barely keep himself from throwing up as he twisted and made his way away from that particular sight.

Tony drew back, repulsed as he saw someone crying while a blue and a brown stepped over them. Others were knocked down in the cacophony of cheers and cries. It was almost a daze with the mix of screams as eggs began to hatch and burst by the second as if set off in a chain reaction. 

Tony feared maybe he was not close enough, he may not draw in a dragon - his anxiety spiking despite being told that the imprinting process was wholly reliant on the rider and the dragon bonding spiritually. 

Proximity favoured no one.

Tony Stark wasn't about to die to reach his dream, no, that wasn't what this was all about. He retreated from the masses entirely and fell back behind the crowd. 

Some eggs didn't hatch, they remained still while some gentler dragons nosed their way through the crowd despite grasping and grappling hands from some of the other hopefuls. A pair of reds broke free of their shells and Tony locked eyes with a brilliant ruby scaled dragon.

It began to slowly approach him and his heart skipped a beat. He took a step closer and the red began to charge towards him without any signs of stopping.

"Fuck this!" Tony dove out of its trajectory as it went to a rider who like himself, had the same idea of standing away from the epicentre. 

He'd fallen into the sand, looking up disheartened as the red was united with its new rider. Most of the eggs by this point had hatched, those that hadn't didn't move or make a sound.

Stillborns.

He picked himself up off the sands, arms chafed and burnt by the heat of the dunes and he brushed himself off, looking over the red streaks from his sustained injury of diving.

Guess that was that.

He sighed, the pit of his stomach sinking as he looked up to Rhodes and his best friend mirrored the melancholy expression he wore. The hatching was pretty much done and he had not imprinted on a single one of the hatchlings.

He would return to the city-empty handed. And as the rider from earlier had said - he’d be too old to partake in another such hatching. This had been his one chance - his only chance of breaking free from Howard’s grasp and living his dream.

The medical staff slowly began to descend into the sands to help the injured, pulling some onto stretchers, and others being wrapped up and bandaged on-site, with still others simply being corralled away. Those who remained slowly began to make their way up to the tier above where family and friends waited, but it took time and Tony saw no need to rush, watching the new riders with their young whelps and allowing himself to imagine what it would be like.

Some were clearly still injured and seemed perfectly unaware of that in their blissful states, touching the not-yet hardened scales of the young dragons. He was so intent on his observations that when it happened it came across almost surreal.

Heads seemed to turn quickly, the dragons first before the young riders followed suit, and the hush descended again, broken only by the pained noises of those being tended to, or unable to be tended to.

Then he heard it. Another crack.

Whiskey eyes turned to follow the direction of the sound and to his pleasure he at least had a good vantage point to watch as the large egg housing the queen rocked, cracking again. The young women gathered there looked nervously amidst one another after the display that had been put on before on the sands, but the moment the keening noise sounded from the egg they each moved in their own way. Some forward, others away, a couple holding out the fish at arm’s length as though it might appease the creature.

He could barely see the queen amidst the women and when he heard the girl nearest him give out a loud scream he winced, flinching in discomfort for her before the queen made herself plainly obvious, swirling, multifaceted eyes searching around the room. The circle of women was broken at the injury, some of the girls dropping their fish entirely, but Tony’s attention was focused on the golden beast who took a few awkward, rather adorably toddling steps towards him.

He didn’t know why at first - his hand raised and he offered the fish to the young queen, whose head cocked slightly, focusing on the fish before looking at him. And then everything hit him in a rush.

<I am Friday.> The feminine voice in his head stated clearly. < I am very hungry…> The words were a soft whine that seemed to echo outwardly, though it was hard to get a grasp on anything.

He felt the hunger. But also joy and contentment. She took the fish from him and sniffed at his hands before giving each of them a lick as though to clean them of the smell that had enticed her. < Is there more? I’m really very hungry…>

Tears welled up in Tony’s eyes as he felt the love and warmth flood through him, the complete trust and adoration. The wonder at how something so precious could have chosen him. A connection had formed, one that rivalled that of a mother holding her newborn child.

His hand touched at her scales, surprised to find them considerably softer than he’d anticipated even knowing they wouldn’t have hardened yet. Her head easily met his height as a series of contented blues and curious greens flickered through her eyes, communicating worlds more than he ever could have expected.

His arms flung around her neck as he held her tightly and she gave a pleased and confused grumble at the action.

“Friday… it’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Tony…”

<Tony,> she responded easily, the grumbling in her neck feeling like a soothing purr, < it’s nice to meet you. Can we eat now? Please? I’m really so very hungry…>

Nothing else in the room mattered, but he found himself chuckling and nodding. “Yeah, let’s find you something to eat, baby girl… there was a whole bin of fish earlier, I bet they have something real nice around just for you…”

Tony pulled away from the gold but kept a hand gently perched on her front right haunch as he walked alongside the golden beauty. He looked up at Rhodey who had just as exuberantly cheered when the wonderful golden dragon had connected with him, taking pictures on his phone and hollering loudly. Though something about this seemed to be a little off.

Tony didn't quite know why, but a veil of silence blanketed the chamber and only Rhodey's excited pitch could be heard among the growing murmurs and soft mumbling among the people.

All eyes were on Tony and Friday, and he started to grow uneasy as he slowly led his beautiful queen forward. Something felt wrong, people weren't cheering for him and as he scanned the audience all he could discern was the look of disturbance, bewilderment and confusion on the face of the masses.

What happened? Had he done something wrong? Why the hell was everyone staring at him like that?!

Of all the people he saw fixated on him he specifically identified Stephen, Loki and another oriental looking male who was much more heavy set. 

Stephen had a look of stoicism on his face, while Loki simply looked as if he'd just witnessed an anomaly. The other man, however, had a stone disposition and he was now walking towards Tony to escort him over to the feeding room.

He stopped in front of Tony and looked the man up and down, then at the dragon. "I am Wong, let me show you to the feeding chambers." He said nothing more than that and turned to guide them.

Tony followed.

The silence was building up like an elephant in the room, strangling, asphyxiating and Tony could literally feel the air around him thick and palpable. He dared to ask, "Wong?" The man made a sound of acknowledgement slowing his pace.

"Yes, Tony?"

"Why is everyone… looking at me like I just desecrated a sacred monument?" Tony kept his words hushed as he tried to ignore the heaviness in the room but it was slowly becoming too overbearing.

"Your situation is quite peculiar, never has a gold, a queen, imprinted on a male before."

“Oh…” that was all he could think to say. He had no idea how else to respond to that. 

He was an oddity. 

And there was something special about queens, wasn’t there? Aside from them being the largest of the dragons and the only dragons who laid eggs… There was definitely something he felt like he’d forgotten.

< Food! > the voice chimed in his head and in moments Friday disappeared forward to sink her face into a large pond utterly teeming with fish. She made quite a sight splashing around, shoving her nose and foreclaws into the water to try and catch her meal.

Whatever he’d forgotten remained forgotten as he simply allowed himself to bask in the pleasure of watching the excitable young dragon.

 


 

Stephen’s brows furrowed deeply as he considered what he’d just witnessed. His hand rested on his dragon’s side for a moment before he climbed up onto him and shook his head. “The library please, Levi.”

< Unusual things are afoot, > Levi grumbled softly at him and adjusted to take off into the skies. < Are we not going to greet the newcomers? >

“We’ll greet them another time. The unusual things are more of a priority right now. You don’t have any recollection of something like this happening either, do you?” He inquired as the dragon ascended the Sanctum towards the library.

< No. Does it really matter that she chose a male rider? >

“You know I don’t like puzzles like this, Levi. There has to be something on the books… perhaps he’s in the midst of a transition? Did you sense anything like that from him?”

< You’re overthinking all of this, Stephen. Regardless of what you find, Friday’s rider is a male. You’ll have to live with that. >

“You still mean to mate her, naturally…?” Stephen sighed to himself a little.

< You’re asking questions you already know the answer to. The queen will rise. I intend to catch her. >

Stephen sighed to himself heavily even as Levi landed on the ledge outside the library. This wasn’t exactly how things were supposed to go.

Levi was right, of course. No matter what answers he found, it wouldn’t change the fact that the queen had chosen her rider. There was nothing more to be done about it. That didn’t sate his desire for answers. It didn’t diminish his curiosity.

It was an idea he’d just have to get used to.