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with ne'er a fear of drowning

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He comes awake slowly, teased up and out of the darkness by little trickles of awareness. He’s lying on his back. It’s warm. His limbs feel heavy, weighted down.

He opens his eyes, but there’s too much light, too bright and sharp. He shuts them again. Thoughts are drifting listlessly through his mind, wispy and insubstantial, dissolving when he tries to catch them.

“You with me, Kurt?” asks a voice. His dad. His dad is with him. That’s nice. They don’t spend much time together these days. Kurt is always off with Sil, always…

Sil.

Sil,” he says aloud – tries to say, anyway. His tongue feels too big in his mouth, thick and dry. He attempts to sit up, but doesn’t make it far: pain flares in his side, making him gasp, which in turn sends a stabbing pain through his ribs. He collapses back down to the bed with a whine.

“Sil’s fine,” his dad says. He easily pins Kurt down with two fingers to his shoulder. “You, on the other hand, have earned yourself a new hole in the side and a couple of cracked ribs, so just take it easy. Emma and Blaine will both have my head if I let you puncture a lung.”

Another jolt of fear spikes through him. “Blaine,” he rasps. He fumbles to grasp his dad’s hand, squeezing clumsy-numb around his fingers. “He…where…”

“He’s okay,” his dad says. “He’s with Sil now, patching her up.”

The terror recedes, ebbing away as quickly as it came. Blaine is with Sil. They’re together. They’re okay. “Hurt?”

“Couple of scrapes, is all. Blaine’s taking good care of her.” He frees his hand from Kurt’s slackening grip and pats him gently on the shoulder. “You didn’t tell me he was some kind of dragon healer.”

His burst of fearful energy is fading away, leaving him even more tired than before. He musters the last of his strength to string together one final question: “We win?”

His dad laughs. “Yeah, kid. We won.”

“Good,” he mumbles, and slips gratefully back beneath the waves.

+

When he surfaces again, it’s to near-darkness, the room’s only light coming from a single lantern in the corner. His dad is gone, probably asleep in his own bed. He feels stiffer than he did before, but still fuzzy enough that nothing hurts too much.

He turns his head on the pillow, trying to ease the ache in his neck, and sees Sil curled up on the floor next to his bed, one wing draped over herself like a blanket. Relief blossoms in his chest at the sight of her. She’s really okay. The trappers didn’t get her.

She shifts in her sleep with a soft, drowsy growl. The edge of her wing slips down off her head, revealing her peaceful face and a white-bandaged ear, as well as tufts of curly dark hair near her neck that definitely do not belong to her.

Blaine.

Kurt smiles. He stretches a hand across the blankets, reaching out toward the pair of them – his best friends, the two great loves of his life. He wants to go to them, to fit himself into their tangle of limbs and let their warmth banish the last traces of fear from his heart. It would be uncomfortable, lying there on the hard floor, but that doesn’t matter, not as long as he has them.

His body won’t cooperate, though, and sleep is already starting to overtake him again. He closes his eyes, content with the knowledge that Sil and Blaine are here with him.

+

The next time he wakes, it feels different. Clearer. He blinks up at the ceiling, eyes slowly coming to focus on the familiar scratches in the rafters. He’s home. His dad was here earlier, and Blaine and Sil, too, unless he dreamed that.

There’s a snuffling sound nearby, the creak of a floorboard. It’s all the warning he has before his mattress dips dangerously to the side and he’s got himself a face full of grinning Night Fury.

Not a dream, then.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” he says. He raises a hand to pet her, and she croons happily, rubbing her whole head against his palm. Her ear is still bandaged, bound up in strips of white linen, but other than that, she looks perfectly healthy.

Kurt starts to sit up, only to instantly realize how terrible an idea that is. What was it his dad said – cracked ribs? A hole in his side? That can’t be right. He pats gingerly down his flank. Sure enough, just past his twinging ribs, he encounters the unmistakable bulk of bandages, a soft lump under his tunic.

“What…?” he breathes, baffled – and then, suddenly, it comes to him. A thick arm around his throat, the hard point of a blade digging at him through his flight suit. The captain’s dagger, slick with blood.

“I wouldn’t go sticking my fingers in that if I were you,” says a voice from across the room. It’s his dad, taking off his helmet as he squeezes through the doorway. “It’s not too deep, but it bled like hell. Best not open it up again if you’re fond of these blankets.”

“He stabbed me,” Kurt says stupidly.

“That he did,” his dad agrees, settling himself on a stool next to Kurt’s bed. “Paid dearly for the privilege, for what it’s worth. There wasn’t much of him left to recognize by the time we found you.” He fixes Kurt with a sharp look. “When you’re feeling a bit better, we’re going to have a good long talk about you going off on your own like that.”

Kurt winces. “I’m sorry.”

“You should be. A mistake like that could’ve cost you your life. It nearly did – and Sil’s, too.” He lets that sink in for a minute, watching Kurt squirm under the reproach, and then continues, more cheerfully: “But, as I said, that’ll keep until you’re well again.”

“Great,” Kurt sighs. “I can’t wait.”

“Oh, I’m not the one you need to be worried about,” his dad says cryptically. Kurt frowns over at him, confused, but he just huffs a laugh and continues, “In any case, you shouldn’t have too long to wait. Emma thinks you’ll be on your feet again within the month.” He jabs his thumb toward Sil, who is still nosing and sniffing at every part of Kurt she can reach. “You have this one to thank for that, by the way. Don’t think I’ve ever seen her fly faster than she did getting you back here. By the time the rest of us made it home, Emma already had you all bandaged up and drugged out of your head.”

Kurt captures Sil’s head between his hands, trying to conceal a grimace as the movement pulls at his ribs. “You brought me back? But how could you have…“ Kurt trails off as realization dawns. “Blaine.”

Sil’s tail gives a wild thwap at the name, nearly whacking the stool out from under Kurt’s dad. She grins, tongue lolling out to the side.

“Damned fine rider, that friend of yours,” his dad says. “You and Sil both owe him your lives.”

Kurt owes him a lot more than that, truth be told. He looks around, half expecting to find Blaine lurking nervously in a corner somewhere. “Where is he?”

“His dragons were starting to get a touch restless, so I sent him down to the stables for a bit to settle them down. I expect he’ll be back soon.” He scratches his chin. “He’s an odd one, but he does have a way with those beasts.”

Kurt cracks a smile at the thought. “They love him.”

“Aye,” his dad says, pensively. “Seems that way.”

There’s a quiet tap at the door.

“Ah, that’ll be him now.” He raises his voice and calls, “Come on in, lad. Our patient is awake.”

The door creaks open, revealing Blaine, who looks...terrible, honestly. His face is gray and strained, lined with exhaustion. He’s shockingly disheveled, his hair an untamed mess of curls, a thick scruff of stubble darkening his cheeks and jaw. His lips are pale, his eyes puffy, and he generally gives off the impression that he’s about a minute away from collapsing in a heap on the ground.

And yet, somehow, he’s still the most beautiful man Kurt has ever seen.

“Kurt,” he says, a smile lighting up his tired face. “You’re awake.”

“Thanks to you, I’m told,” Kurt replies, smiling back.

“I’ll leave you boys to it,” Kurt’s dad says. He pats Kurt’s leg through the blankets, then heaves himself up to his feet. “I’ve got a village to run, you know. Can’t be frittering the day away at my son’s bedside.” With a parting scritch for Sil, he turns and heads for the door.

He slows his steps as he passes Blaine, lingering beside him for a moment. The two of them make a curious picture together, backlit by the light coming in from the doorway: his dad so tall and broad, bulky with furs and armor, dwarfing Blaine’s slight frame.

After a moment’s pause, his dad reaches over and claps Blaine gently on the shoulder. Blaine freezes under his hand, shocked by the unexpected touch, and the chief chuckles to himself. “Relax, kid,” he says kindly. “I don’t bite.”

He leaves, shutting the door behind him. As soon as he’s gone, Blaine springs back into motion, hurrying over to Kurt’s bed and squeezing past Sil to seat himself on the edge of the mattress. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ve been better.” Kurt wriggles his fingers impatiently, and hums in satisfaction when Blaine takes his hand. “How are your dragons?”

“Feeling a bit neglected, I’m afraid. I’ve barely seen them the past couple days.” He kisses the back of Kurt’s hand. “I wanted to be here when you woke up.”

“You’re here now,” Kurt says. “That’s all I care about.” He caresses Blaine’s scratchy cheek with his knuckles, smiling at the way Blaine closes his eyes and tilts into the touch. “Days, huh?”

Blaine nods. “Emma makes some powerful tonics. I need to ask what she puts in them.” He brushes another dry kiss against Kurt’s fingers. “You needed the rest. You were in a bad way, sweetheart. You lost a lot of blood.”

His voice wavers over the words, and guilt coils unpleasantly in Kurt’s stomach. It’s only now occurring to him what Blaine must have gone through over the past few days, starting with the moment he realized that Kurt and Sil had disappeared.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “You were right about the trappers. About…pretty much everything, actually.”

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” Blaine asks. “I told you I’d go with you. I told you.”

“I know you did,” Kurt says. “I should have waited. I’m sorry.”

“I thought you were dead.” Blaine squeezes his eyes shut. His mouth is trembling. “When we found you, when Sil and I – you weren’t moving, and there was so much blood. So much. I saw you, and I thought…” He holds Kurt’s hand against his cheek, the grip of his fingers painfully tight. “I thought I was too late.”

“Oh, Blaine,” Kurt says softly. He doesn’t know what else to say, what words could possibly erase those terrible moments from Blaine’s memory. He tugs at their joined hands. “Come here, honey. Lie down with me, come on.”

He urges Blaine down with words and hands until he’s curled up along Kurt’s uninjured side, head on Kurt’s shoulder. Blaine shivers against him, breathing unsteadily. Not crying, but not too far from it, either. He must be so tired.

“I’m sorry,” Kurt says again. He strokes Blaine’s hair as best he can, his arm folded awkwardly around Blaine’s shaking shoulders. “My sweet, brave Blaine. I’m so sorry.”

“I can’t lose you,” Blaine whispers. “Please, Kurt. I’ll do anything you ask. I’ll stay in Lima forever, I’ll do whatever it takes – just please, please, don’t ever leave me like that again.”

“I won’t,” Kurt says. This, at least, is something he can give to Blaine. “Never again. I promise.”

+

“You want to hear something strange?” Blaine asks him later. He’s much calmer now, lying peacefully at Kurt’s side. “After we brought you back here, the whole time Emma was fixing you up, Sil would just not stop licking you. I tried to get her to stop, and she almost bit my hand off. She kept trying to get at where you were bleeding.”

Kurt makes a face. “Oh, that’s disgusting.” He glares across the bed, toward where he’s pretty sure Sil is sleeping on the floor. “You and I are going to have words, gorgeous.”

Blaine shakes his head. “You know what, though? I think it actually might have helped. By the time Emma got you bandaged up, the bleeding had almost entirely stopped.”

Kurt shoots him a skeptical look. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not! You can ask Emma. She said she’d never seen anything like it.” He nuzzles into Kurt’s shoulder, gazing up at him with sleepy, half-lidded eyes. “How does it feel now?”

“Sore, but…not too bad,” Kurt admits. “Honestly, it doesn’t hurt as much as I would have expected. Not that I have anything to compare it to.” He sees the look on Blaine’s face, and immediately covers his mouth with one hand. “No, no. Don’t you dare say it. I refuse to believe that Sil’s spit has healing properties.”

Blaine swats Kurt’s hand away, grinning. “Believe it or not, sweetheart. It doesn’t change the facts.” His smile dims a little. “What about your ribs? Are they hurting you?”

“Only every time I breathe,” Kurt says.

Blaine’s face screws up in sympathy. “Yeah, it’s going to feel like that for a while. You have to try to breathe normally, though. Even if it hurts, do your best to breathe deep. You could get sick otherwise.”

“Just what I need,” Kurt says sourly. “More bed rest.” He feels restless just thinking about it. “How long before we can go flying again, do you think?”

“At least a month. And that’s if your ribs heal properly, and your wound doesn’t get infected.” He’s the one to cover Kurt’s mouth this time, cutting off his protests. “Nope, no arguing. I’m not letting you out of this bed one minute before you’re truly ready.”

Kurt smirks. “Is that right?” he asks innocently, slightly muffled under Blaine’s hand. He mouths teasingly at Blaine’s palm, thrilled by the way it makes Blaine’s lashes flutter. “Well, then, you’ll just have to entertain me while I’m here, won’t you?”

+

Kurt’s recovery turns out to be every bit as long and dull as he’s dreading. The first week is by far the worst, as he’s almost entirely confined to his bed. Poor Blaine takes the brunt of his increasingly foul mood, largely because he’s the only one who really has to deal with it. His dad simply leaves the room when Kurt starts being difficult, and Sil just rolls her eyes and settles down for a nap until he’s less snappish. But Blaine stays with him through everything, apparently taking quite literally his promise to never leave Kurt’s side.

For the first few days, Emma comes by regularly to check on Kurt’s wound. Once she judges that the danger has passed, she quietly passes control of Kurt’s care over to Blaine, who takes to the task with the same attention and tenderness he’s always directed toward his dragons. He changes Kurt’s bandages daily, cleaning the healing stab wound and inspecting it carefully for signs of infection. He fetches ice from the Icegrinders to soothe Kurt’s ribs, and talks him through breathing exercises to keep his lungs strong. He helps Kurt eat and drink, and even to bathe, after Kurt announces that he can’t bear the stench of himself anymore.

He is patient and devoted and entirely lovely, and does not deserve half the nasty things Kurt says to him during flares of temper – but even those, he handles with extraordinary grace.

“It’s fine,” he says, waving off yet another of Kurt’s halting apologies. “You’re hardly the first of my patients to snap at me while I’m trying to help.” He absolves Kurt with a brief kiss, and then adds, eyes sparkling, “Though, of course, you will be making this up to me once you’re better.”

He does leave the house occasionally, usually to go see his dragons. The flock has been restless since coming to Lima. They’re not used to staying in one place, nor to seeing so little of their favorite human, and they’ve shown a remarkable knack for starting trouble around the village if left unattended for too long. In an effort to curb their misbehavior, Blaine gets into the habit of taking them out flying every morning, along with Sil, who badly needs the exercise. Kurt feels a little jealous every time Blaine heads out, Sil bounding eagerly out the door in front of him, but he tries to rein it in. He’s just glad that Sil has someone to fly with her while he’s unable to.

Blaine also spends time with the trappers’ dragons, who have been assigned their own corner of the stables until they can be integrated with the others. He reports to Kurt that they all seem to be recovering well, slowly gaining confidence in themselves and their surroundings. They’re still wary of most humans, but they’ve started interacting with the other dragons: sniffing around their neighbors’ nests, watching the Sand Devil babies at play, occasionally sidling up to Torch or Wheezy for a cautious cuddle. Even the Gloomers seem a bit happier than they were before – though, as Blaine acknowledges, it’s awfully hard to tell for sure.

All told, though, Blaine is never out of Kurt’s sight for very long. He’s rarely away from the house for more than an hour or two during the day, and he sleeps at Kurt’s side every night, tucked up close in Kurt’s narrow bed. Kurt’s dad has arranged for a cot to be set up in Kurt’s room, though Kurt is fairly sure he suspects that it’s not being used. It’s only polite to maintain the façade, though, so Blaine obligingly musses up the covers every evening, ensuring that they look nice and rumpled before he climbs into Kurt’s bed for the night.

+

Blaine isn’t Kurt’s only companion during his convalescence. Kurt’s dad comes and sits with him for a while every evening, and his friends drop in frequently too, to check up on him and chat and gossip about each other. Blaine generally makes himself scarce during these visits, either withdrawing to a corner of the room or going down to the stables for a while. He’s still skittish around people, especially large groups. All the same, Kurt is touched to see that most of his friends make a point of greeting Blaine warmly. Even Santana manages to scrounge up a smile for him when they cross paths. Kurt’s not sure she’s ever smiled that nicely at him, actually.

Then there are the dragons. There’s Sil, of course, who has become a more-or-less permanent fixture in Kurt’s room, stubbornly refusing to leave for the stables at night. By the end of the first week, they’ve also been joined full-time by Prism, after some of the villagers started complaining that his nightly pining was depressing their dragons.

“I don’t know why we bothered building the stables if they’re all just going to end up in my house,” Kurt’s dad grumbles. There’s no heat behind it, though, and Kurt catches him several times watching their newest houseguest with a suspiciously soft look in his eyes. Not that Kurt can blame him. It would take a cold heart indeed not to be moved by Prism’s pure, radiating joy at being together with Blaine again.

+

“Doesn’t it seem a little odd to you?” Mercedes asks Kurt one day, very quietly. She keeps sneaking glances over at Blaine and Prism, who are cuddling contentedly in a far corner, having retreated to give Kurt and his guest some privacy. “I’ve never heard of a dragon so attached to a human before. Even Sil gets tired of you sometimes.”

“It’s different for them,” Kurt says. He hesitates, unsure how much of Blaine’s past to reveal, and finally settles on: “They’ve been through a lot together.” He follows Mercedes’s gaze, wondering if the two are doing anything out of the ordinary, but Blaine is just petting Prism’s head the way he often does, stroking a familiar path from his horn to the edge of his frill. Prism lets out a drowsy trill, his yellow hide sparking with little pinpoints of gold, and a warm, fond smile spreads over Blaine’s face.

Kurt smiles too. He’s missed seeing the two of them together.

He turns back to Mercedes, who is watching him with an odd expression on her face. “They love each other,” he says with a shrug. “They…need each other, I guess. I think it’s sweet.”

“Hmm,” Mercedes says, and leaves it at that.

Their conversation returns to the subject of Mercedes’s upcoming wedding. It’s only a few weeks away now, and they have a lot to discuss regarding various plans for the ceremony, going over all of the details about flowers and songs and dances and seating arrangements.

“Wait, hang on,” Kurt says suddenly, frowning down at Mercedes’s notes. “Rachel’s with Puck? I thought I was dancing with her for this part.”

“You were,” Mercedes says slowly. She seems confused by his confusion. “I changed it, because I figured you’d be with Blaine.” She raises her voice a little, enough to be heard across the room: “You are coming, aren’t you, Blaine?”

Blaine’s head shoots up. He’s plainly startled, as he usually is when anyone other than Kurt speaks to him. “To your wedding? Um. I…I’m not sure.” He looks to Kurt for guidance.

“Of course he’s coming,” Kurt says, taking pity on him. “I can’t very well leave him alone here, can I? He and Prism would burn the house down.”

Blaine pulls a face at him, and Mercedes laughs, poking Kurt in the leg. “Like you have any room to talk. Blaine, I don’t suppose Kurt’s ever told you what happened the one and only time his dad ever left him in charge while he was away?”

Blaine’s face lights up. “I’m listening.”

“Traitors, both of you,” Kurt accuses, but he gives Mercedes’s hand a furtive squeeze, trying to convey his gratitude.

+

Three weeks after the battle with the trappers, Kurt has finally been deemed well enough to leave his bed for long stretches of time. His side is still a bit sore, and his ribs twinge from time to time, but overall, he feels a hundred times better than he did.

He’s also painfully, unbelievably bored. He drags Blaine on walks around the village, then further out, eventually roaming all the way to Raven Point and the docks. He wants to take him to the cove where he met Sil, but Blaine demurs, worried that the hike will put too much strain on Kurt’s injuries.

“Why don’t we go down to the stables instead?” he suggests, in a too-bright voice. He offers Kurt his arm, taking advantage of their relative seclusion from the rest of the village. “We can see how Sharpnose is getting along.”

Kurt sighs and loops his arm through Blaine’s. “Okay, fine. We’ll go to the stables. Again.

It’s not that Kurt doesn’t like the stables. It’s just that they’ve gone there every day this week, spending hours with Blaine’s flock and the new dragons. Kurt is glad to finally be allowed outside after so long spent in bed, but the village limits are starting to feel as maddeningly small as the four walls of his house. It’s been years since he was stuck on Lima for this long, and the routine is starting to drive him a little crazy.

He’s sure that Blaine feels it too. He must, after spending so long living out in the wild. He never breathes one word of complaint, but there are times he seems as restless as his dragons, distracted and fidgety, like he’s uneasy in his own skin.

Kurt can’t help but remember what Blaine said to him, that day he asked Kurt to leave Lima and come traveling with him. There’s so much out there, he said. You’d be free. We’d be free.

That’s what Blaine is giving up by staying with him. That’s the cost of keeping Blaine here, tethered at his side.

Blaine paid that price willingly, pays it anew every day that he stays here in Lima – but the more Kurt thinks about it, the more he hates himself for demanding it of him.

+

Blaine and his dad still won’t let him go flying yet, so Kurt busies himself with various projects, starting with repairing his flight suit. It takes two days, which includes the addition of an enhanced chest piece. After that, he moves on to building himself a new Dragon Blade, since his old one is still lying abandoned at the top of a cliff, some two hours to the south. He’ll go and fetch it at some point, but in the meantime, he doesn’t want to be caught empty-handed. It can’t hurt to have two, anyway. Maybe he’ll give one to Blaine – assuming that Blaine ever figures out how to hold a sword properly.

With those critical tasks completed, he goes hunting for other work. He harasses Blaine for feedback on Sil’s saddle, which he uses to make half a dozen tiny adjustments to the stirrup and cables. He experiments with a new end for his prosthetic, though the final test will have to wait until he can go out with Sil. He makes Blaine a new helmet, significantly stronger than the first. He helps Shannon on a few saddle orders, just to keep his hands moving, and throws together three different prototypes of a saddle for Prism, for no better reason than that he’s developed an irrational dislike for the rope harness.

When he finally runs out of things to occupy him at his workshop, he turns his attention to planning for Mercedes’s wedding, just two weeks away. He picks and tweaks at her gown until she physically pushes him out of her room and forbids him from even looking at it again until the ceremony, at which point he decides to focus his attention on his own outfit.

And then, in a flash of inspiration, it occurs to him that Blaine will need something, too.

He gets started the next morning by taking Blaine’s measurements, perhaps a bit more thoroughly than is absolutely necessary. Blaine squirms and goes nicely red at the ears, among other even more delightful reactions, all of which give Kurt plenty of ideas for additional projects he can pursue later, in their bed, ideally with no clothes at all.

Once he’s finished, he sends Blaine off to the stables for the day, with orders not to return to the house until dinnertime. This is the first outfit he’s ever made for Blaine – the first of many, hopefully – and he wants it to be absolutely perfect. Blaine can see it when it’s finished, and not a moment before.

“That’s a fine piece of work,” his dad comments from behind him, startling Kurt so badly he nearly stabs himself in the thumb. “This for Blaine?”

Kurt hums an affirmative around the pins stuck between his teeth. He’s working on attaching the trim to the undertunic’s cuffs, and wants to make sure he gets it exactly right.

“I’m sure he’ll be very happy with it,” his dad says. “It’ll be good to see him out of those ragged tunics, anyway.”

Kurt shoots him a glare, half-tempted to spit out the pins in order to defend Blaine’s wardrobe. Nothing Blaine wears is the least bit ragged. Somewhat faded and worn, perhaps, but Blaine takes excellent care of his small collection of clothing – whereas if Puck or Sam were to be sent out to live in the wilderness for years, Kurt is confident that they’d be down to tattered loincloths within the month.

His dad rubs a bit of wool between his forefinger and thumb. “Very fine indeed. I imagine you’ll wear something like this to your own wedding.”

A stone drops into Kurt’s stomach.

“I’ve been meaning to ask: have you given any thought to which girl you might marry?” his dad continues, oblivious to Kurt’s discomfort. “Mercedes would have been the best choice, of course, but you missed your chance there. What about Rachel? Now there’s a good strong woman. You’d have to do all the cooking, though, if you don’t want to starve.”

Kurt forces himself to laugh. It comes out like he’s been slapped hard on the back.

“If you’re going to be chief, you need to get married sooner than later,” his dad says, slipping into the Very Serious tone he always uses when he’s talking about the chiefdom. ”You’ll want to start building a family before you have to take on all the responsibilities of running the village. Your duty to the people comes before anything, you know that. A good wife will know it, too.” He scratches his neck, looking thoughtful. “Maybe not Rachel, then. How about Brittany? You used to get on well with her.”

Kurt takes the pins out from between his teeth before he accidentally swallows them. He’d risk it if he thought it might actually get him out of this conversation, but his dad doesn’t stop for anything when he gets like this.

“Sure, dad,” he says with a sigh. “Maybe Brittany.” That wouldn’t be the worst possible solution. At least they’d both be in the same situation. Maybe Santana could marry Blaine, and they could all live next door to each other. If they’re careful, they can all sneak into the beds they’d rather be in every night – that is, when they’re not struggling to perform the work of “building a family.”

And if they succeed? Children. His children with Brittany, Blaine’s with Santana. Growing families that will demand and deserve ever more of their attention, anchoring them here, to their houses and this island and their separate lives.

Maybe one day it will hurt less.

“Wonderful!” his dad says cheerfully. “That’s settled, then. I’ll go have a talk with her mother and father.”

Kurt goes cold all over. “Now?

“No reason to wait, is there? Better that we start working out the details as soon as possible. Not that I think there’ll be any problems, mind you. What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to see their daughter wed to the hero of Lima, the future chief?” Suddenly, in the space of an instant, that proud beaming smile slips off his face. “Unless, of course, this isn’t what you want, and you’re lying to me because you think it’s what I want. But you wouldn’t do that, would you, son?”

Kurt stares at him, thunderstruck.

His dad heaves a sigh. “I’m no fool, Kurt,” he says. “You don’t want to be chief. You’ve never wanted it.” He lays a hand on Kurt’s shoulder. “I’ve known that as long as I’ve known you’d never take a wife.”

Kurt’s eyes prick with tears. “Dad…”

“I admit I hoped you’d come around on the chiefdom,” his dad says. “You’d make a good chief, Kurt. Strong. Dependable. But you wouldn’t be happy. Ever since you met Sil, you’ve wanted nothing more than to be off exploring. Even when you’re here, you’ve always got one eye on the horizon.” His grip tightens on Kurt’s shoulder. “And I see, now, that Blaine is part of that horizon.”

Kurt inhales sharply. “How long have you – “

“Since the moment his flock landed on Lima,” his dad says. “The way you looked at him…” He lifts his hand and swipes a tear from Kurt’s cheek with a rough thumb. “You’ve got your mother’s heart, son. There’s no hiding it.”

“I love him, Dad,” Kurt whispers. It’s terrifying to voice the words, but it’s freeing, too, to finally let slip this truth he’s kept buried for so long.

“Good,” his dad says. “Because that boy worships the ground you walk on, and I’d hate to see him get his heart broken.”

Kurt scrubs at his eyes with the edge of his sleeve. “I can’t…I can’t marry him. I can’t give you grandchildren.”

His dad snorts. “Come midwinter, we’ll have more babies around here than we know what to do with. You just keep an eye out for another Night Fury. One egg from Sil would make me the happiest man alive. As for marriage…” He brings both hands to Kurt’s shoulders. “You love Blaine, don’t you?” Kurt nods. “You’d do anything for him? Stay by his side through any storm?” Another nod. “You planning to leave him when he takes ill, or when another man catches your eye?”

“Of course not,” Kurt says, appalled, and vaguely insulted that his father would suggest such a thing.

His dad smiles, satisfied. “A ring’s nothing but a pretty bit of metal, kid. What matters is the promise you make to each other: to honor each other’s love, and to build a life together, come what may.” He releases Kurt’s shoulders. “He’s a good lad. I could do worse for a son-in-law.”

They’ve never been much for hugging, but Kurt can’t stop himself – he flings himself at his dad, throwing his arms around his broad waist. After a moment, he feels his dad’s heavy, muscular arms come around him, nearly swallowing him up in his embrace.

“I think – “ The words come out muffled by his dad’s vest, so Kurt turns his head slightly. “I think Mercedes would be a really good chief.”

“I think so too,” his dad says. He gives Kurt a good, solid squeeze. “You know, it’s not too late to beg her to marry you instead…”

Dad,” Kurt groans, and tries in vain to push him away, shoving futilely against his chest as he laughs and laughs.

+

The next morning, Blaine finds Kurt in his workshop, putting the finishing touches on his latest project.

“I brought you some breakfast,” Blaine says, setting a covered bowl down on a table. “I was going to bring you dinner last night, but your dad said you ate before you left, and it was better to leave you to it.”

“Yeah, he’s learned that the hard way,” Kurt says. He glances around and, seeing no one nearby, leans over to press a quick kiss to Blaine’s cold lips. Winter has finally arrived on Lima, bringing the year’s first snow with it, and Blaine is appealingly rosy-cheeked from the chill. He’s dusted all over with a fine layer of snow, fat melting flakes glittering in his curls and on the very tips of his eyelashes.

Blaine peers over Kurt’s shoulder at his worktable. “A saddle? That’s what kept me alone in bed last night? Surely the dragonriders of Lima could wait a few hours for their orders.”

“Don’t pout, it doesn’t suit you,” Kurt lies. “And yes, it’s a saddle, but not just any old saddle. This one is specially designed for traveling. These pouches are big enough to hold a good amount of supplies, and these straps here are meant for bedding. And look – you see this little space between the seat and the cantle? Just the right size for Haze. I think he’ll be much happier not to be carted around like a sheep, don’t you?” He looks expectantly at Blaine, who hasn’t said a word yet. “Well? What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful,” Blaine says, running his hand over the dark leather. He bites his lip. “But, Kurt…you know I don’t need this. I told you, I’m not leaving you. Not ever.”

“I know. And I’m holding you to that.” Kurt sets his polishing cloth aside and turns to face Blaine. “This one’s not for Prism. It’s for Sil.”

It takes a few moments for Blaine to work out what he’s being told. Once he does, his face goes completely blank with shock. He stares at Kurt as if he’s suddenly grown a second head, like a Zippleback.

“We have to stay for Mercedes’s wedding, of course,” Kurt continues, reaching back to untie his apron. “And Dad wants us back for Snoggletog. Which reminds me, I’d better warn you now: do not try anything Rachel offers you then. Every year she comes up with some horrible new concoction made of yak hair and rotten weeds, or at least that’s what it tastes like – “

Kurt,” Blaine says, sounding very much like he’s trying not to cry. “Are you – are you really – “

Kurt finally allows the grin he’s been holding back to break across his face. “I’m going with you.”

It’s all a blur after that. There’s kissing, lots and lots of kissing, and at some point Blaine sweeps him up into his arms and spins him around. It’s not very dignified – Kurt nearly breaks his good leg on an anvil, and they accidentally step on poor Tripod, who’s come scurrying in to see what all the fuss is about – but that’s okay, everything’s okay.

Everything is perfect.

+

It’s snowing heavily the day they leave. The desert dragons are deeply unhappy with this state of affairs; they’ve been hiding in the stables for days, and are not pleased about being dragged out into the cold now. Grit and Glimmer hunker down together near the shelter of the armory, whining in complaint. Oddly enough, their babies don’t seem to share their discomfort – though really, Kurt supposes he can’t call them babies anymore. They’re more like teenagers now, sheep-sized and charmingly ungainly as they gallop around and snap their jaws at falling snowflakes, trying to catch them in their teeth.

The rest of the flock is far too excited to care about the weather. Most of them have been with Blaine long enough to recognize the signs of an imminent departure, and they’re bursting with anticipation, pacing around and shooting Blaine frequent glances to make sure they don’t miss his signal to leave.

The whole village has come out to see them off. Kurt says goodbye to Will and Emma and Shannon, and then to his friends, accepting hugs from the girls and manly back-clapping from Sam and Puck. Finally, he gets swept into a tight embrace by Mercedes, who is looking as beautiful as she ever has these days, newly married and in line for the chiefdom, positively glowing with happiness.

“Your terrible dark secret is pretty cute,” she murmurs in Kurt’s ear. “Nice catch.”

He laughs out loud and squeezes her tighter, hiding his grin in the thick fur of her shoulderpiece. He’s really going to miss her.

With all the hugs and goodbyes and well wishes out of the way, it’s finally time to go. Kurt levers himself up onto Sil’s back and settles comfortably in the saddle, taking a moment to appreciate the scraping sound of his prosthetic clicking into place in the stirrup. Sil wriggles eagerly under him, impatient to head out.

Blaine is already on Prism’s back, both of them looking very handsome indeed in their new attire: Prism with his gleaming leather saddle, Blaine in his warm and perfectly tailored clothes. Kurt is especially pleased with the cloak, rich blue wool with a touch of gold embroidery to set off Blaine’s eyes. He won’t need it for long, not in the warmer lands they’re heading toward, but it suits him marvelously for the time being.

“We’ll see you boys in a couple months,” the chief says, coming forward to stand between Prism and Sil. “Don’t be late, or I’ll feed your gifts to the Gronckles.”

“We won’t be, sir,” Blaine says. He’s grown markedly less nervous around Kurt’s dad in the weeks that they’ve been sharing a house. When the chief reaches up and clasps his arm, he doesn’t flinch at all, but returns the grip with a small, shy smile.

“Oh, it’s not you I’m concerned about,” the chief says. He releases Blaine’s arm and jerks his head at Kurt. “You’ll have to keep this one in line. He has a tendency to go wandering off.”

“I’ve noticed, sir,” Blaine says. “I’ll do what I can.”

Kurt’s dad grants him an approving nod. “Good lad.” He turns to Kurt, grasping his forearm like he did Blaine’s. “Be careful out there, kid. If you run into any more trappers, you’re to come straight back to Lima, you understand? Don’t go trying to take them down on your own.”

“I think I’ve learned that lesson,” Kurt says wryly. “No more solo missions, I promise.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” He lowers his voice, so that only Kurt can hear him. “You take care of him, Kurt. Do me proud.”

Kurt squeezes his dad’s arm. “I will.”

“Good.” He steps back and looks between the two dragons and their riders. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go on, get out of here. Some of us have work to do today.”

Kurt checks to make sure that everything is as it should be: saddlebags latched shut, his tether secure, and Haze safely strapped in behind him, puffing sullenly into the scarf he’s made of his own tail.

“Ready?” Blaine asks.

“Ready,” Kurt agrees.

Blaine gives the signal, and the flock lifts off all at once, rising above the gathered crowd.

“Be careful!” someone shouts.

“Bring back another Night Fury!” cries someone else.

Kurt waves goodbye to all of them, and then they’re off, easily clearing the sloping roofs of the nearby houses. The wind buffets them as they climb higher, bitterly cold, but the sun has briefly emerged from behind the clouds, bathing them all in its weak light.

“You sure you have everything?” Blaine calls, teasing. He has been far too entertained by Kurt’s somewhat hectic attempts at packing.

Kurt rolls his eyes and looks over to him, a witty retort on the tip of his tongue, but his amusement fades when he sees how Blaine is smiling at him, honey-gold eyes crinkled up at the corners. He returns the smile, and says simply: “Everything that matters.”

They fly past Raven Point and the docks, and finally soar out over the open sea. The wind is stronger here, but the dragons don’t seem to mind. Sil crows with delight and fires a bright blast in front of them. Prism warbles a gleeful response, and together, the two of them lead their flock away from the village, pale winter sunlight gleaming off the choppy waves below as they leave Lima behind and head out into the limitless world beyond.