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with ne'er a fear of drowning

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“Hey, Sil, come here for a minute,” Kurt says, holding out a loose sheet of parchment. “I need to borrow your tongue.”

Sil obliges him, trotting over and licking carefully up the side of the proffered page. She doesn’t even take advantage of the opportunity to slobber on his fingers, which shows an unusual level of restraint on her part.

“Thank you, gorgeous,” Kurt says, and gives her a brief appreciative chin-scratch. He turns back to his map and carefully pastes the new page onto the southern edge. “That’s all for now. You can go back to showing those trees who’s in charge.”

She goes tearing off immediately. Kurt’s not offended; she has a lot of energy to burn after being stuck on Lima for nearly a week. A bad storm kept them grounded for two days, and then Kurt’s dad insisted that he stay and help repair the damage done to various roofs by the plum-sized balls of hail that had pummeled the village. Most of his friends were recruited as well, so it wasn’t entirely awful, though Santana’s barbs and Puck’s blustering bravado are really best tolerated in small doses. He spent most of his time working with Mercedes and Rachel, but it was still a painfully dull, tedious task. By the time the repairs were completed to his dad’s satisfaction, Kurt was crawling out of his skin with the urge to go, to hop on Sil’s back and fly away in any direction, any direction at all, as long as it took him somewhere new where he’d never have to look at another shingle or endure another lecture from Will about the true meaning of teamwork.

Now that he’s finally out, it’s every bit as good as he expected. He loves his dad, and his friends too, but nothing can compare to the thrill of taking off with Sil for parts unknown, exploring places no one in his village has ever seen and discovering dragons that have never been described in any book.

It's freedom. Kurt can’t get enough of it.

He begins to draw in the surrounding area on the map, consulting his compass to make sure he’s orienting himself correctly. Sil rejoins him after a while, settling down nearby to gnaw on a sapling she ripped from the ground, stripping off little ribbons of bark with her teeth.

Once he’s taken care of the sparse forests to the east, he turns south, toward the grey looming shapes of cliffs in the distance. That’s where they’ll go next, he decides, after he’s done with the map and Sil has finished destroying her sapling. It looks like just the sort of habitat that might be favored by a Gronckle or a Snafflefang.

Sure enough, just as he is setting his pencil to the parchment, he spots movement near the cliffs – not just one dragon, but a whole flock. He squints, trying to make out what they are, and is surprised to realize that they’re all different sizes and colors, from what looks like a Snaptrapper all the way down to a few tiny specks that could be Terrible Terrors or Sidewinders.

It’s rare to see different species flocking together in the wild, and such a large group…

Well, now he’s really curious.

He quickly stashes his map and jumps to his feet. Sil looks up in surprise, the battered sapling still clamped loosely between her teeth. Kurt jogs over and launches himself up into the saddle, nearly forgetting to flip his prosthetic to riding position in his haste. “Come on, gorgeous. Let’s go track down some friends.”

+

By the time they make it to the cliffs, the dragons Kurt spotted are nowhere to be seen. He’s not worried. There can’t be too many hiding spots in these bare, rocky canyons, especially not for a flock that size.

An hour later, though, he’s starting to question his own sanity. He and Sil have searched the canyons high and low, and they haven’t found a single trace of the other dragons: not a nest, not a bed of embers, not even a footprint in the dust.

Where could they have gone? It’s possible that this wasn’t their destination, and they continued flying south, or veered west toward the sea – but then, why cut through the cliffs at all? It doesn’t make any sense.

Kurt’s eye catches on what looks like a crack in one of the cliff faces. Maybe they’ve tucked themselves in there somehow? He steers Sil in for a closer look, only to discover that it’s not a crack at all, but the opening to a narrow gorge, cutting back through sheer walls of rock.

“What do you think, Sil?” he calls, grinning. The flock went this way, he’s sure of it. “Up for a little more exploring?”

Sil crows her approval, and they swoop down into the gorge.

The gap between the gorge walls widens and tapers at random intervals. It’s narrow enough in a few spots that Sil’s wings nearly brush the sides, and Kurt steers carefully, not wanting to be taken by surprise by an unexpected jutting of rock.

The gorge grows greener and less forbidding the further they go, plants sprouting up through cracks in the stone. Trees start to appear, clinging tenaciously to the rock face; in places, they’ve grown out across the gap, tangling their branches with those on the other side to create a sort of canopy.

He and Sil navigate a series of narrow, snaking turns, and then the gorge just…ends. The rock walls fall away, opening up to a small, startlingly lush valley. The creek below feeds into a lake, surrounded on all sides by moss-covered boulders and a handful of trees trailing their slender, drooping branches out over the water.

Sil brings them down in a small clearing near the mouth of the gorge. Kurt slips off her back, removing his helmet and looking around in wonder. He never would have expected to find an oasis like this tucked away in such a barren landscape. The moss beneath his feet is thick and springy, and the trees ringing the clearing are easily twice as thick as any trees on Lima.

Sil is busy investigating a nearby bush, which sags under the weight of its massive, brilliantly colored flowers. She pokes her nose right into the center of one, and promptly lets out a rather spectacular sneeze, shaking free a haze of shimmery golden pollen.

“You deserved that,” Kurt informs her. He scans the edges of the clearing, trying to decide which direction to head first. They’ve found the dragons’ den, no doubt about it. Now, if they can just find –

The stillness around them is suddenly broken by an earsplitting roar, as loud and shocking as a thunderclap. Kurt staggers in surprise, instinctively reaching out for Sil as he looks wildly around, seeking out the source. It sounded so close, but there’s nothing there.

Before he can think through his confusion, a huge shape appears right in front of them. It seems to materialize out of thin air, bright red and snarling, with enormous curved teeth –

It’s a Changewing, and it’s angry.

“It’s all right,” Kurt says, trying to keep it calm while he reaches for his Dragon Blade. He can see other dragons approaching now, drawn by the Changewing’s roar. He has to gain control of this situation, and fast. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

In one practiced motion, he draws, extends, and ignites the blade. A few of the newly arrived dragons rear back in surprise; the Changewing stays where it is.

Kurt spins the flaming sword in slow, deliberate circles, watching the dragons’ eyes for the telltale pupil dilation. Most of them stare at the blade, mesmerized, following its movement with dreamy expressions.

The Changewing, it seems, will not be so easily placated. It ignores the sword entirely, still focused intently on Kurt himself.

“We’re not going to hurt you,” Kurt repeats quietly, but his voice only seems to upset the dragon more. It growls, lowering its head in a way that looks fairly ominous.

All right, then. It seems a more dramatic approach is called for.

Kurt extinguishes the blade and quickly bends down to retrieve a canister of Zippleback gas from his boot. Before he can fit the canister into the sword’s hilt, the Changewing snarls and lunges forward, halving the distance between them. It spits out a small stream of acid, which falls just short of Kurt’s feet, sizzling as it eats through the moss.

Kurt jumps back, and Sil roars, incensed at the threat.

“Redbrier!”

The Changewing’s head whips around in the direction of the shout. Kurt follows the dragon’s gaze, and is astonished to see a small, dark-haired man leaping off the back of a Hobblegrunt. He hits the ground at a run, and the small crowd of dragons shifts to let him through, clearing a path for him to sprint right up to the infuriated Changewing.

Kurt takes an instinctive step forward, alarmed – he can’t just stand back and watch this idiot get himself killed – but the Changewing doesn’t attack, even as the man skids to a stop by its head and wraps his hand around its front horn.

Kurt has rarely seen a Changewing permit that kind of familiarity from a human. Even he has trouble wrangling them sometimes.

“Easy, now,” the man says in a hushed, soothing voice. “Easy, Redbrier. No need to get all worked up.”

He’s completely unarmed, not carrying so much as a knife. He isn’t even wearing any kind of protective gear, just trousers and a simple blue tunic. On closer inspection, it looks as though he’s been bathing: the tunic clings to him in damp patches, and his hair is dripping, plastered in wet curls to his forehead. He’s barefoot.

Kurt exchanges a baffled look with Sil. Who is this man?

The Changewing – Redbrier, Kurt supposes – lets out another low growl, turning its head to glare pointedly at Sil and Kurt. The man pats its nose. “Yes, well spotted, sweetheart. Why don’t I find out what they want, hmm?”

The dragon growls again, but sits back slightly on its haunches, allowing the man to step in front of it. One of its antennae slithers forward to wrap protectively around his ankle.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” says the man – the boy, really, for he can’t be a day older than Kurt’s nineteen years, if that. “He’s had some unpleasant encounters with humans, and he’s not a big fan of unannounced visitors.”

The boy’s tone is light, but Kurt can see the tension in his shoulders, the hard set of his jaw. The Changewing isn’t the only one unsettled by the appearance of two strangers.

Kurt deliberately meets the other boy’s eyes, trying to convey his utter lack of ill intent. “We mean you no harm,” he says. “Sil here just saw your dragons and wanted to come say hello, that’s all.”

Sil snorts and grumbles next to him, not amused at having the blame shifted to her shoulders.

The boy’s gaze flickers warily between Kurt and Sil. He has lovely eyes, the color of honey fresh from the skep. “That’s your dragon’s name? Sil?”

Kurt nods. “Short for Silhouette.” He slowly lowers his hands, encouraging the boy to watch as he clips his Dragon Blade back into its holster. “I’m Kurt.”

The boy stares at him, worrying his bottom lip. Those lips are rather lovely as well – focus, Kurt.

“Blaine,” he says at last. “My name is Blaine.” He hesitates for a long moment, then adds, “You are welcome here. Both of you.”

Kurt’s shoulders sag in relief. “Thank you.”

Blaine dips his head in acknowledgement. His attention shifts back to Sil, who is still crouched defensively at Kurt’s side, tail curled around his legs. “Is she…” His eyes go wide. “Gods above, she’s not – ”

Kurt smiles. “She is.”

“Night Fury,” Blaine breathes, awe-struck. “I can’t believe it. They say they’ve all died out.”

“Not quite,” Kurt says, though his heart sinks at yet another suggestion that his beloved Sil may be the last of her kind. Even this boy, with all his dragons, has never seen one before.

The last trace of reservation has vanished from Blaine’s demeanor, replaced by open fascination. He glances eagerly back to Kurt. “May I?” At Kurt’s nod, he drops to his knees and shuffles slowly toward Sil, reaching out carefully as he approaches.

Sil sniffs at his outstretched hand, curiosity overwhelming her lingering crossness at their less-than-cordial reception. She must decide that Blaine measures up, because she nudges her snout against his palm before giving him a quick, slimy lick from wrist to fingertips.

Sil,” Kurt rebukes her – honestly, he’s told her a million times – but the other boy just laughs, evidently not concerned by the viscous strings of dragon saliva sagging like webbing between his fingers.

“Oh, she’s beautiful,” he says. He strokes Sil’s nose with his wet hand, slips the other one down to scratch under her chin, and she croons with pleasure, pressing forward to butt her head against his shoulder.

Encouraged by Blaine’s acceptance of the newcomers, the other dragons have started creeping closer, eyeing both Sil and Kurt with blatant interest. Even the Changewing, Redbrier, looks a great deal calmer now. He pads hesitantly up behind Blaine and peers down over his head at Sil’s blissed-out face. Apparently satisfied with what he sees, he turns to Kurt with an inquisitive noise, ducking his head in a show of contrition.

“It’s okay,” Kurt assures him, smiling. He rubs Redbrier’s neck, briefly surprised to encounter a raised mess of knotted scar tissue near his shoulder. “No hard feelings. I’m sorry for scaring you.”

He feels a sudden tug at his leg, and looks down to see a Terrible Terror wrestling with one of the leather straps looped down the side of his trousers.

“Hey, no, cut that out,” he says, yanking the leather out from between the Terror’s teeth. The little dragon chirps excitedly and lunges for the strap again, plainly delighted by this game.

“Tripod, leave it alone,” Blaine says firmly.

The Terror freezes with the strap in its mouth, eyes shifting furtively over to where Blaine is watching expectantly.

Leave it,” Blaine repeats, and the Terror immediately drops the strap, scuttling back a few paces as if to distance itself from its wrongdoing. “Good boy, Tripod.”

Kurt is impressed. The Terrors on Lima frequently seem to suffer from selective deafness when it comes to obeying instructions.

“Tripod, is it?” he says, crouching down to pet the dragon’s head. He’s about to comment on the odd choice of name, when he suddenly notices that Tripod is in fact missing a back leg. He seems to get by quite well without it, easily darting around to Kurt’s other side to investigate the rest of the fastenings on his trousers.

Kurt wouldn’t think much of it, but he remembers the scarring on Redbrier’s neck, and Blaine’s comment that the Changewing had had bad experiences with humans. His curiosity piqued, Kurt looks a little more closely at the dragons around him. That Grapple Grounder has a drooping wing; the Hackatoo is missing an eye; one of the Sand Devils has a twisted, withered leg.

In fact, of the two dozen dragons crowding around, only a handful are without visible injuries.

“You’ve rescued them,” Kurt says, amazed.

Blaine nods distractedly, absorbed in rubbing vigorously at the sweet spot between Sil’s shoulders. “Injured by trappers, for the most part, though not all. That little tyrant at your feet bit off more than he could chew of a Whispering Death’s dinner.”

Kurt frowns. “Trappers? You don’t mean dragon trappers?”

“Have you not encountered them?” Blaine asks, sounding surprised. Kurt shakes his head. “You’ve been lucky, then. Their ships sail further and further north each year. If I were you, I’d be very careful flying over the sea, or even along the coast. I shudder to think what they would do to get their hands on a Night Fury.”

Kurt’s hands clench into fists at his sides. “I’d like to see them try.”

“I wouldn’t,” Blaine says frankly. “I’ve seen what those men are capable of. They can’t be reasoned with. Best to steer clear of them altogether.”

If Sil understands their discussion, she doesn’t seem troubled by it. She coils herself happily around Blaine, encouraging him to continue his massage all down her back. Her tail sweeps in front of him, and he touches careful fingers to the bright red material of the prosthetic fin, dark brows drawing together in concern.

“What happened to her? This certainly looks like a trapper’s handiwork.”

Kurt winces. “Ah, no. That was me, actually.” Blaine’s head snaps up, his face slackened with shock, and Kurt has to force himself not to squirm in discomfort. He could never truly regret the series of events that brought Sil into his life, but it does reflect rather poorly on him when contrasted with this apparent dragon savior. “I shot her down during an attack on my village – well, we thought it was an attack – it’s, uh, it’s kind of a long story. It’s all right, though,” he adds, and scuffs his metal foot against the ground to draw Blaine’s attention to it. “We’re square now, aren’t we, gorgeous?”

Sil gives him her wide, toothless grin and bounds back to his side, nuzzling fiercely against his belly. He curls his arms around her head and hugs her close, running a hand along the line of little spikes that run back between her ears.

“Well,” Blaine says, clearly taken aback. “You’re quite the pair.”

Something about the way he says it makes warmth bloom in Kurt’s stomach. They’ve only just met, but for some reason he desperately wants Blaine to be impressed by him. There is something so captivating about him, with his big pretty eyes and the easy way he handles his dragons. All right, yes, he’s probably the handsomest boy Kurt has ever seen, but that’s not all. He’s just…different. Special.

Anyway, Sil likes him, which Kurt has found to be as good an indicator of character as any. She’s never steered him wrong.

Blaine stands, brushing off the knees of his trousers. “Would you like something to eat? I don’t have much to offer you beyond fish and berries, I’m afraid. I don’t exactly entertain a lot of guests.” He rubs the back of his neck, looking a bit sheepish, as though he is somehow to blame for not anticipating that his home would be invaded by strangers today.

Oh, Kurt is absolutely done for.

“Fortunately, I happen to have some jerky with me today,” he says, and drinks in the sight of his new friend’s brilliant smile.

+

They share the jerky and berries on a wide, flat rock near the water’s edge. They chat while they eat, trading questions and brief explanations. Kurt learns that Blaine is eighteen years old; that there are currently twenty-six dragons living here in the valley with him; that they have only recently settled in this area, having abandoned their previous den after it was discovered by a hunting party.

For his part, Blaine is very curious about the back-story behind Kurt and Sil’s friendship, so Kurt gives him an abridged explanation of how they came to know each other, and how Lima went from being at war with dragons to restructuring its entire way of life around them.

“That’s…that’s amazing,” Blaine says, shaking his head in wonder. He looks at Kurt the way he looked at Sil earlier, like he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. “You’re an extraordinary person, you know that?”

Kurt does know that, actually, but the compliment still warms him right down to his bones. “Thank you,” he says, with a smile he hopes does not look half as dopey as it feels. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Blaine ducks his head, cheeks darkening with the hint of a blush, and Kurt nearly swoons right off the rock.

Redbrier and Sil have moved past their mutual hostility from earlier, and are romping around together through the trees. Redbrier keeps disappearing while Sil’s back is turned, camouflaging himself to blend in with bushes and tree trunks. It never takes Sil long to find him, probably because he seems to delight in teasing her, prodding her flank with an invisible claw or tripping her up with his tail while she’s sniffing around for him.

Most of the other dragons have long since grown bored of the humans and wandered off, though a handful remain, grooming themselves or dozing peacefully on nearby boulders. Kurt notices that the Hobblegrunt has stayed especially close, hardly straying more than twenty paces from Blaine’s side.

“Oh, Prism?” Blaine says, when Kurt points this out. “Yeah, he never goes too far.” He looks toward the dragon in question and clicks his tongue, which seems to be all the invitation Prism needs to trot over and nestle down next to him. He lays his head across Blaine’s legs, sighing blissfully when Blaine scritches behind his stubby horn. “You’re just a big spoiled softie, aren’t you, Prism?”

Kurt watches them both with a knowing smile. “He was the first, wasn’t he?”

“How’d you guess?” Blaine says wryly, as Prism tries to snuggle even closer, his golden-yellow frill vibrating with pleasure.

By the time they’ve finished eating, the sun is already starting to sink toward the horizon, so Kurt reluctantly calls Sil over and prepares to leave, with a promise to return soon.

“We could go flying together, if you like,” Blaine suggests shyly. He pats Sil, who responds by giving him a sloppy, affectionate slurp farewell. (She’s changed a great deal since Kurt first met her, but it still doesn’t take much more than fish and cuddles to win her over.) “I’d love to see her in action.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Kurt says. And then, a little boldly, he adds: “I should warn you, though, she’s a terrible show-off. I hope your dragons can keep up.”

Blaine smiles up at him. “I think we’ll manage.”

+

Once they’re soaring comfortably above the clouds, Kurt flops backwards to lie flat between Sil’s wings, grinning stupidly up at the darkening sky.

“Blaine,” he sighs. “That’s a good name, don’t you think, Sil?”

Sil snorts. Even without seeing her face, Kurt can tell that she’s rolling her eyes at him.

He whaps her gently with the flat of his hand. “Oh, what do you know? At least I kept my tongue to myself,” he says primly, and Sil shakes all over with her throaty, rasping laugh.

Chapter Text

The day after Kurt meets Blaine, Mercedes invites him to go flying with her and Torch. He accepts, of course. It’s been too long since they’ve have had the chance to go out together, just the two of them (well, four), and it’s not like he can explain that he has other plans.

The day after that, though, he sneaks out of the house before dawn and makes his way down to the stables. Sil is no more than half-awake when he finds her. She looks surprised to see him; usually she’s the one who comes to him in the morning, jumping on his roof and pawing impatiently at the shingles until he rolls out of bed and comes out to greet her. She cuddles sleepily under his arm, apparently in no rush to head out into the chilly morning air, but perks right up when he tells her where they’re going. She stretches long and sleek, tongue rolling out of her mouth on a huge yawn, and then noses at him eagerly, urging him up into the saddle.

It seems Kurt isn’t the only one who’s keen to see Blaine and his dragons again.

It’s a long flight out to the valley. They arrive mid-morning – as luck would have it, just as Blaine’s flock is preparing to set out.

“Kurt!” Blaine exclaims, turning to him with a smile that could melt the northern glaciers. “This is perfect, you’re just in time to – oof, yes, hello to you too, Sil.”

“Hi,” Kurt says vaguely. He’s very happy to see Blaine again, of course, and maybe a little envious that Sil can pounce on him like that while he himself has to keep a respectful distance. But he’s…distracted. “Blaine, what have you done to your hair?”

“My hair?” Blaine raises a hand to the severe, greasy-looking wave atop his head. “Oh, right. I wear it like this when we go flying. Helps keep it in order.” He frowns. “Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing!” Kurt says hastily. He suspects it’s a little early in their friendship to expose Blaine to some of the harsher facets of his personality. “It’s just different, that’s all. Are you ready to leave?”

Blaine doesn’t have a saddle for any of his dragons. It makes sense; after all, it’s not like he has access to a workshop, or to any of the necessary materials. Instead, he’s fashioned himself a clever rope harness, which helps him keep his seat on Prism’s back.

“I’ll ride one of the others sometimes, but I have to adapt the harness for each of them,” Blaine says as he secures the last knot. “And between you and me, I think Prism gets a bit jealous.”

Kurt turns his gaze to the Hobblegrunt, who is practically quivering with excitement, craning his long neck around to stare hopefully at his rider. “Yes, I can imagine that.”

Blaine does a quick count to make sure all of his dragons are present, and then they take off, soaring up and out of the valley. (Kurt feels a little silly for having entered through the gorge again this morning, but he wasn’t quite sure he could find the den from above.) The flock flies much slower than Kurt and Sil are used to, which is to be expected, given the range of injuries they have to accommodate. Kurt is privately worried that Sil will grow impatient with their pace, but she seems content to cruise leisurely alongside Prism, only occasionally ducking away to zip around between the other dragons.

She is a show-off, though, and Kurt doesn’t exactly suffer from an over-abundance of modesty himself. Honestly, he’s surprised that they hold out as long as they do. They’ve been in the air for at least an hour before the temptation to flaunt their skills grows too strong to resist.

Once they get going, Kurt doesn’t hold back. He pulls out all their best tricks and maneuvers: tight spins and barrel rolls, screaming dives and bursts of lightning-fast speed that demonstrate exactly how the Night Furies earned their reputation. He decides against attempting the over-under they’ve been working on recently; they’re still only at about a fifty percent success rate, and the potential pay-off isn’t worth the risk of humiliating himself in front of Blaine.

Anyway, Blaine seems amply impressed as it is. Every time Kurt steals a glance at him, his face is glowing with delight, alternately grinning and gawking open-mouthed. Once, it looks like he may even be applauding, which is so startling and wonderful that Kurt nearly steers Sil right into a rock formation.

He focuses his full attention back on flying after that. The last thing he needs is to crash because he can’t keep his eyes off the very person he’s trying so hard to dazzle.

A few of Blaine’s dragons are beginning to tire, as Blaine had warned Kurt they would, so they detour down to an empty meadow for a short rest. Kurt jumps down from Sil’s back and sidles up to Blaine and Prism. “So?” he prompts, suddenly feeling a little shy about their display. Maybe it was too much. “What did you think?”

“She’s incredible,” Blaine says fervently, instantly soothing Kurt’s nerves. Somehow, he’s even more impossibly beautiful in his excitement, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. “You both are. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

I’ve never seen anything like you, Kurt thinks. Out loud, he says, “Yeah, she’s really something. And you haven’t even seen the different blasts she can fire.”

“I can’t wait,” Blaine says, smiling, and turns to heap praise and attention on a preening Sil.

+

They make tentative plans for their next flight together – Blaine knows of a series of waterfalls nearby that he claims Kurt will love – but the third time Kurt and Sil go out to the valley, they don’t end up going flying at all. In the two days since their last visit, Blaine has found a Smothering Smokebreath with a badly mangled tail, nearly severed in places; the unfortunate thing can hardly fly half a fathom without crashing to the ground. Kurt keeps a prudent eye on his Dragon Blade and other metal accessories, but the Smokebreath doesn’t seem to be in a thieving mood. Perhaps it’s been subdued by its injury, or by being separated from its swarm. Whatever the reason, it perches docilely enough on Kurt’s lap, belching sulky little clouds of smoke while Blaine washes the wound and applies fresh bandages.

“Do you think trappers did this?” Kurt asks curiously. He’s still trying to wrap his head around the concept. Dragon trappers. What sort of idiot would be both stupid and vicious enough to hunt dragons, of all things?

Blaine shakes his head. “I doubt it. They target loners, for the most part. They wouldn’t take on a whole swarm of Smokebreaths. And anyway, trappers are usually after some feature in particular – a good hide, big horns or teeth. Those are the things they know people will pay for. They wouldn’t waste their time on a dragon this small and dull.”

“That’s…lucky, I suppose,” Kurt says. He feels faintly ill. The idea of a dragon being targeted for specific physical features, reduced to nothing more than its skin or claws, is hitting him harder than anything else Blaine has told him about the trappers.

“There,” Blaine says, with a final tweak to the strips of linen wrapped around the Smokebreath’s wounded tail. “You’re all set.”

The Smokebreath blinks its yellow eyes at him, unmoved.

Blaine looks up at Kurt. “What should we name her?”

Kurt raises an eyebrow. “What makes you think it’s a ‘her’?”

“Well, of course she is,” Blaine says. “Just look at her.”

Kurt eyes the dragon skeptically. It looks like every other Smokebreath he’s ever seen, gray and bulky with an oversized head. “I’m not convinced. For all we know, this might be the ideal male physique for their species.”

“Don’t listen to him, girl,” Blaine tells the ambiguously gendered Smokebreath. “You and I both know you’re the prettiest little dragoness this side of Breakneck Bog.”

“All right, fine, let’s ask it,” Kurt says. He tips the Smokebreath’s chin up with two fingers and looks seriously into its eyes. “If I’m right, jump down off my legs. If Blaine is wrong, stay right where you are.”

“I can see that you’re really committed to answering this question objectively,” Blaine says dryly, and laughs out loud when the Smokebreath blows a mouthful of hot, fetid-smelling smoke right in Kurt’s face.

+

The first time Kurt sees Blaine slick his hair back before a flight, he nearly laughs himself sick.

“Oh, be quiet,” Blaine says, peering down at his reflection in the lake to assess his progress. “Not all of us have wonderful manageable hair like yours. If I don’t tame this mess down, it’ll be a nightmare after five minutes in the air.”

“I could make you a helmet if it really bothers you that much,” Kurt says. “And don’t be ridiculous, your hair is lovely.”

Blaine pauses, glancing over with an odd look on his face. “You think so?”

Kurt feels his cheeks go flaming hot. “Um,” he says. “Yes?” He gestures vaguely with his hand. “It’s all…curly. I don’t know many people with curls. Only my friend Mercedes, and hers are much different from yours.”

“Lucky her,” Blaine says grimly, and returns to smothering his hair in that thick goop.

“What is that stuff, anyway?” Kurt asks. “You could just ask Sil to lick your head – you’d accomplish just about the same result.”

Sil’s ears perk up at the sound of her name. She makes a questioning noise, head lifting where she’s been drowsing on a nearby boulder.

“It’s all right, Sil,” Blaine says, waving her off with a sticky hand. “Your services won’t be required.” He pulls a face at Kurt. “It’s a mixture of beeswax and oil, and I’ll have you know it’s very popular in the Western Isles. Some men use seal fat, but I don’t like the smell.”

“Is that where you’re from?” Kurt asks, intrigued. He has heard of the Isles, but he and Sil have never ventured so far across the sea. It would be at least two days’ hard flight from Lima, and they’ve never had the time for such an excursion.

The amusement fades from Blaine’s face. “Yes,” he says shortly. He busies himself with his hair concoction, carefully smoothing the wax down over the last rebellious curls. “I was born in a very small village on a very small island, filled with goats and old women and the constant smell of rotting fish. You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

Kurt is taken aback by Blaine’s sudden shift in mood. “Do you go back very often?”

Blaine’s lips thin. “No.”

His voice has lost its usual warmth, and Kurt can sense that they’re treading on dangerous ground now. “I’m sorry,” he says uncertainly. “I didn’t mean to – “

“It’s fine,” Blaine says, not meeting Kurt’s eyes.

It’s obviously not fine. Kurt has managed to upset him, but he’s not sure exactly how, and he doesn’t know Blaine well enough to know how to fix it.

Fortunately, Prism chooses that moment to wander over, nudging his chin against Blaine’s back with a low trill. He’s a dusky purple all over, dappled with blue. Kurt tries to remember what that means. Curious, he thinks; maybe a bit anxious.

Prism tucks his head over Blaine’s shoulder, and Blaine reaches up to stroke the dragon’s long jaw with the back of his hand. “Hey there, sweetheart,” he says quietly.

Prism lets out another soft warble. His frill vibrates gently as his skin slowly begins to shift color, blossoming with splotches of yellow.

Blaine sighs, long and drawn-out, and sags back against his friend. Prism easily takes his weight, curling down over Blaine’s shoulder to nuzzle very carefully against his chest.

Kurt doesn’t quite know what to make of what he's seeing. He knows that Hobblegrunts can affect the mood of other dragons, but he has never heard of one attempting to employ that talent with a human. He shares a glance with Sil, who seems equally perplexed by this interaction. She jumps down from her rock and slinks over to him, cocking her head as she studies the pair.

After a long minute, Blaine seems to come back to himself. He sits up, gently urging Prism’s head away, and twists around to offer the dragon a genuine-looking smile. “You ready to go? Where’s your harness?”

Prism screeches happily, bright yellow all over now, and whirls around to go fetch the harness.

“I’m sorry,” Blaine says to Kurt, glancing guiltily in his direction while he rinses off his hands in the lake. “I’m just feeling a bit off today. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

“It’s all right,” Kurt says. He watches thoughtfully as Prism trundles back toward them with loops of rope dangling from his teeth, and Blaine stands to meet him, his handsome face as good-humored as ever. He doesn’t fully understand their relationship, but he’s glad they have each other.

+

They don’t talk again about Blaine’s former home. In fact, Blaine doesn’t talk much about himself at all, though Kurt still manages to learn a great deal about him over the first weeks of their friendship. He amasses his bits of knowledge like a child gathering pretty stones, hoarding them greedily and frequently reviewing his collection. Each detail seems vitally important, helping him to construct a fuller picture of the boy he is so hopelessly infatuated with. Of course he needs to know that Blaine prefers bilberries to cherries; that he can tie all sorts of different types of knots, including a few that appear to be of his own invention; that he’s afraid of spiders, but refuses to admit it. What kind of friend would he be if he didn’t know those things?

He learns, too, that Blaine goes flying with his dragons every day without fail, and that he tends to avoid the coast, but will occasionally take the flock out over the sea very early in the morning, while most fishermen are still snoring safely in their beds. He climbs onto Prism’s back from whichever side he happens to be standing, but invariably dismounts on the right. His first order of business after returning to the den is always to see if any of the dragons need massages or any other type of care.

He has several scars on his arms, mostly burn marks. The smallest finger of his left hand sticks out at an odd angle, likely from a break that wasn’t set properly. He walks with a very slight limp, more pronounced on especially cool mornings or after a long flight. He smiles easily, and he’s incredibly ticklish, and he takes meticulous care of his clothes, and he has a beautiful singing voice.

Kurt discovers this last piece of information quite by accident. He and Sil manage to enter the valley one morning without being spotted, so they decide to see if they can sneak up on Blaine without being caught by any of his dragons.

They find their target surrounded by half the flock, all of them lazing serenely in the morning sun. Prism is lying with his head in Blaine’s lap, radiating contentment as Blaine pets his frill and sings a quiet, pretty song that Kurt has never heard before. The words are those of a romantic ballad, but Blaine sings it like a lullaby, slow and soothing. The result is strangely hypnotic; the dragons are all too spellbound to notice Sil and Kurt at the edge of the clearing, and Kurt himself is feeling the oddest urge to lie down and let Blaine’s low voice lull him to sleep.

Unfortunately, Sil is not similarly affected. She surges forward before Kurt can stop her, springing nimbly over Yang and Wheezy and skidding to a stop right behind Blaine, who she cordially alerts to her presence by tackling him face-first into the dirt.

Kurt is disappointed when Blaine stops singing, but his remarkably shrill shout of surprise just might be worth it.

“You sing well,” he tells Blaine a while later, in a small attempt to make up for the chaos that followed Sil’s dramatic entrance. “I don’t know that song, but it’s very pretty.”

Blaine looks slightly flustered at the praise. “Thank you. I, ah…I wrote it myself. It’s just a silly little tune, but the dragons like it.”

Romantic, musical, and modest? Sometime Kurt truly wonders if Blaine is real or if he has just invented him entirely, piecing him together out of wisps and scraps of his own fantasies.

“Well, it’s beautiful,” he says. “Will you teach it to me?”

Blaine’s weak protests don’t stand a chance in the face of Kurt’s persistence. He is eventually persuaded to teach Kurt that song, and others, too, each one as tender and dreamy-sweet as the next.

Before long, singing together has become part of their routine. They both share the songs they know, occasionally quibbling over the words of some melody they’re both familiar with. Kurt is pleased to learn that, like him, Blaine favors love songs over droning epics of great battles and heroic deeds. It’s unsurprising, really: they are both terribly unsuited to war and (Kurt surmises) prone to daydreaming.

What is surprising is Blaine’s claim that he loves Kurt’s voice. Kurt initially assumes this is a kind untruth; he knows his range is unusual for a man, and has been teased for it many times. Sometimes, though, he catches Blaine watching him sing in a way that makes him think Blaine’s admiration may just be sincere.

In fact, there’s nothing Blaine doesn’t seem to admire about Kurt, no quirk or mannerism he finds off-putting. Kurt has never felt so wholly, unconditionally accepted in his life. His status in Lima may have improved spectacularly in recent years, but he is still different from the other villagers in ways they can’t help but remark upon, even if those comments lack the malice they once held. Kurt knows very well that he is considered strange by most of his neighbors, and even his friends. A hero, yes, an unrivaled dragonrider and a true Viking – but strange, even so.

It’s not like that with Blaine. Blaine likes him for exactly who he is, or at least does a commendable job of pretending he does. And Blaine is different, too, of course. He’s unlike anyone Kurt has ever known, and Kurt adores him for it.

If only he could figure out how to make Blaine adore him in return.

+

He doesn’t see Blaine every day. Kurt’s dad often asks for his help with work around the village, still unsubtly trying to instill in him those chiefly values of duty and industriousness. Other days, he and Sil are trapped on Lima by heavy rain, or invited to join their friends on some outing.

Another time, Sil wakes up with what seems to be the dragon equivalent of a head cold: nothing too serious, but enough to make her groggy and irritable. For three days, Kurt refuses to leave her side. He gives her long massages, tries to tempt her into eating the choicest bits of fish he can find, and essentially coddles her like a hatchling as she mopes and grumbles. He even sleeps with her in the stables at night, drifting off to the oddly comforting rhythm of her scratchy breaths.

On the morning of the fourth day, Sil nudges him awake just after dawn, bright-eyed and restless after spending so long cooped up inside. As soon as he’s conscious, she starts loping out of the stables, leaving Kurt to stumble after her, still rubbing at his eyes.

Outside, she plants herself facing southward and looks at Kurt expectantly.

He rests a hand on her head. “You sure about this, gorgeous? It’s a long trip.”

Her only response is to duck down between his legs, lifting him straight off the ground and flinging him unceremoniously (and backwards) onto the saddle.

“Okay, okay,” he laughs, twisting himself around, “let’s go, then,” and they head out into the gray morning light, following the familiar route to the valley.

(Mysteriously, Sil’s illness overwhelms her again once they arrive, requiring her to flop dramatically across Blaine’s lap to be lavished with sympathy and caresses.

“You’re not fooling anyone,” Kurt mutters to her. The shameless little fraud just grins at him, eyes gone half-lidded from the stroking of Blaine’s strong, gentle hands.)

+

They’re out flying with the flock one day when they come across a beautiful, crystal-clear river running through a range of small mountains. They follow the water downstream, tracing its path between the modest peaks, until they find a nice open stretch that looks like a good place to rest for a while.

It certainly seems to meet with the dragons’ approval. A handful of them dive right into the water, looking very pleased indeed as they splash around like children in a tide pool. The riverbanks slope easily down to the water, so even the dragons who don’t swim can lounge nearby, poking noses and paws into the gentle current.

“We should come here every day,” Blaine says, tilting his head back to bask in the sunshine. He looks every bit as content as the dragons, with his boots tossed aside and his bare feet kicking idly through the water.

“They’d get bored of it soon enough,” says Kurt, somewhat absently, as he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity to admire the long bronzed line of Blaine’s exposed throat.

Blaine chuckles. “You’d get bored, you mean.”

Kurt shrugs. It’s true: he likes the excitement of discovering new places. “So would you,” he points out. “You like exploring just as much as I do.”

Blaine hums in agreement. He turns his head toward Kurt, a small smile playing on his lips. “I don’t think I’d ever get bored if I had you for company, though.”

Kurt’s heart flutters, as it always does when Blaine looks at him that way. Not for the first time, he has to wonder if Blaine is like him – if he too feels for men the things he is supposed to feel for women. Kurt suspects as much, sometimes, but he has no proof, nothing to ground his theory except his own flimsy hopes. Blaine is very kind to him, every bit as courteous and attentive as any suitor Kurt could dream up, but maybe that’s just the way he is. He’s affectionate with his dragons, after all, always petting and praising and cooing over them like an indulgent parent. Maybe he would behave just as warmly toward any man or woman he befriended. Maybe he would give anyone those sweet, earnest smiles that make the bottom fall out of Kurt’s stomach.

Kurt could drive himself mad dissecting their every interaction for clues. (Did Blaine’s hand linger a moment too long at his waist when he helped him down from that ledge? Did Blaine really glance at his mouth as they were singing, or was it a trick of the light?) But he just doesn’t know for certain, and he may never. There are words for men who avoid a woman’s embrace, none of them flattering, and he hardly has the right to demand the truth from Blaine when he himself hasn’t told anyone, though he’s sure his dad and closest friends have their suspicions.

The fact is that Blaine’s friendship means the world to him. It seems inconceivably lucky that he has stumbled upon this wonderful boy who fills a space in his heart that he never realized was empty, who seems to truly understand him in ways even Mercedes can’t. Kurt can’t risk losing that, not even for the chance of an even greater happiness.

It’s hard to remember that, though, with Blaine still giving him that look. He pokes Blaine in the ribs to divert his attention, amused as always by the high-pitched yelp he lets out.

“Oh, no, we’re not starting that again,” Blaine says, swatting at Kurt’s hand. Kurt gets him on the other side while he’s distracted, and Blaine squeaks and flails as he tries to squirm away, laughing. “Stop it! It’s not fair that it only works on me!”

Kurt isn’t giving in so easily, not when Blaine keeps making those noises like a startled puppy, and it’s not long before the jabs and slaps escalate into a full-scale tussle. Nothing particularly aggressive, of course, not like the wrestling matches the boys on Lima will sometimes engage in to impress the girls. It’s more like play-fighting with Sil, rolling inelegantly around on the bank together as Blaine tries to defend himself from Kurt’s prodding fingers.

Blaine yelps again, louder, when the end of Kurt’s prosthetic catches him square in the shin.

“Truce!” he cries. He releases Kurt’s arms and rolls onto his other side, clutching his leg. “I think you broke it.”

“Oh, you’re fine, you big baby,” Kurt says, though he feels a little guilty. He tugs at Blaine’s shoulder, trying to get him to roll back over. “Here, let me see.”

It turns out that Blaine has a greater capacity for treachery than Kurt would have predicted. As soon as Kurt lets his guard down, Blaine launches up and tackles him onto his back, pinning his shoulders flat to the riverbank.

“Truce over,” he says smugly, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

“You are a dirty cheat,” Kurt declares. He struggles briefly, more for show than out of any real desire to escape. It’s not exactly a hardship being trapped under Blaine’s strong, compact body. “Do your dragons know about this? They can sense dishonor, you know.”

“I’m plenty honorable,” Blaine says, feigning affront. “You’re the one who went and brought weapons into this. That kick really did hurt.”

“A thousand apologies,” Kurt says. “Will you ever be able to forgive me?”

Blaine’s smirk softens. “I might.”

Kurt gives up his display of resistance and goes lax against the ground, gazing up at his captor. The mid-afternoon sunlight is slanting right across Blaine’s face, glinting off his long lashes and drawing out the hint of gold in his eyes. He looks relaxed and happy, and so ridiculously lovely that Kurt can barely stand to look at him.

If only, he thinks, with a familiar pang of melancholy, if only…

“You are so beautiful.”

For one fleeting, horror-filled instant, Kurt thinks he’s accidentally spoken aloud. But, no, that wasn’t his voice, which means…

Blaine suddenly ducks his head down, and Kurt doesn’t even have time to close his eyes before their mouths collide.

Oh. Oh.

So this is what kissing is. Not the quick pecks Mercedes and Rachel will sometimes press to his cheek, not the wet, awkward smashing of mouths he once shared with Brittany, but this: the barely-there pressure of Blaine’s lips against his, stealing his breath and lighting him up from the inside.

Too soon, Blaine is drawing back. He looks as though he’s in a trance, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Kurt could stare at his stunning, peaceful face for hours and never tire of the sight, but right now, he needs to really see him. He needs to know that this is real, that he hasn’t dreamed it up. He needs to know what it means.

“Blaine?” he whispers, hesitant, and the trance breaks.

Blaine’s eyes fly open, wide and panicked. The color drains from his face so quickly that Kurt thinks he’s going to be sick. “Oh, gods, I – I’m sorry, I’m so sorry – “

He springs back, half-falling off of Kurt to land gracelessly on his backside. Before Kurt can react, he’s up and running, sprinting full-tilt down the riverbank toward where Prism is playing with a group of other dragons.

Kurt scrambles to his feet. “Blaine! Wait!” He follows after Blaine as quickly as he can, stumbling in the loose, loamy soil. He is wildly confused, but somehow he knows that if he lets Blaine go now, he’ll lose him forever. “Blaine, stop!”

Blaine keeps running. He’s too quick; Kurt will never reach him in time, especially as Prism has caught on to Blaine’s panic and is already rushing to meet him halfway.

Well, fine. Two can play at that game.

“Sil!” Kurt shouts frantically. There’s a flash of black at the edge of his vision, Sil appearing suddenly from the tall grass edging the bank. “Sil, stop him! Stop Blaine!”

Even without a rider to help her fly properly, Sil is still ten times faster than any human. The grass bows in her wake as she takes off after Blaine, rapidly gaining on him with just a few hopping, wobbly glides. She doesn’t have the maneuverability to pick him up or bring him back to Kurt, so instead, she does exactly what Kurt asked: she stops him, bowling into him at full speed and knocking him to the ground with so much force that Kurt winces in sympathy.

Prism lands near the two and screeches with anger, flaring red from snout to tail. Sil growls a warning at him, crouched possessively over her capture, and Prism snarls back, his frill quivering.

If Kurt had the breath for it, he would curse. Extravagantly. As it is, he pours all his energy into running, desperate to reach the two hackling dragons before the situation erupts.

The other dragons have started descending on Sil, not quite angry yet, but visibly tense, agitated by the waves of fury radiating from Prism. Blaine gasps something, barely audible to Kurt’s ears – hitting the ground must have winded him. Whatever he’s saying, Kurt is grateful for it, because it holds his dragons off long enough for Kurt to reach him.

Kurt shoves Sil away, wheezing out a breathless apology as he takes her place over Blaine, who has managed to roll over to his back. Kurt straddles his waist and sits down on him, hard. Not one of his more elegant maneuvers, but it gets the job done.

“So,” he pants, planting a hand on Blaine’s chest to make sure he stays pinned. “Want to tell me what that was about?”

Blaine tries to twist away, but he’s not going anywhere, not with Kurt’s weight holding him down. He still doesn’t seem to be breathing very well, and Kurt eases the pressure on his chest, concerned.

“Are you okay? Sil didn’t hurt you, did she?”

Blaine gives a jerky shake of his head. His eyes are squeezed shut, jaw clenched tightly. Under Kurt’s hand, his heart is pounding rabbit-fast.

Kurt can’t begin to understand what’s going through his head – and he never will, if Blaine won’t talk to him. “Blaine, would you just look at me, please?”

Blaine obeys, opening his eyes to reveal that they’re gleaming wet. He’s crying, and the sight makes Kurt’s chest hurt. How did this all go so wrong, so fast?

He searches Blaine’s stricken face for clues, for something he can latch onto and work toward fixing. “Am I that bad of a kisser?” he jokes weakly, the catch in his voice betraying his own distress.

“I’m sorry,” Blaine says. “I’m so sorry, Kurt. Please don’t hate me, please – ”

“Hate you?” Kurt echoes, stunned. Is that what this is about? “I could never hate you. Blaine, you’re – how could you even think that?” He brings a hand to Blaine’s cheek, a light and cautious touch, like gentling a wild dragon. “You’re one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I…I care about you.”

Blaine stares up at him, looking frightened and bewildered – and maybe, just maybe, the slightest bit hopeful. “You’re not angry?”

Kurt scoffs, allowing himself to relax a little now that he feels like he has a better handle on the situation. “About what? The fact that the most gorgeous boy I know told me I was beautiful and kissed me, or the part where he ran away afterward? Because, no, I’m not thrilled that I had to chase you halfway to Helheim, you know I don’t run well on soft soil – “

“Kurt?”

Kurt strokes his thumb over Blaine’s cheek. “Yes?”

“Can I – that is, would you want – “ Blaine swallows hard. “May I kiss you again?”

Kurt smiles at him. He braces his hands on Blaine’s shoulders and bends at the waist, slowly lowering himself down until he can feel Blaine’s breath against his own lips. “Yes,” he says, “yes, you may,” and closes his eyes as Blaine surges up to bring their mouths together again.

By some miracle, their second kiss is even better than the first: bolder, but sweeter, too. More sure of itself. The third is better still, and oh, the fourth

Kurt can feel laughter bubbling up inside his chest, a heady combination of disbelief and sheer unrestrained happiness. He can have this. Blaine wants this too, wants him, and it’s better than he ever imagined. It’s almost like flying, like soaring off a cliff and feeling the wind catch under Sil’s wings: that same swooping, weightless, infinite joy.

They kiss for what feels like hours, until Kurt is dizzy and his lips feel tender, and then they kiss a while longer. Blaine’s lips are so plush and warm; they fit so perfectly against his own, as if Blaine’s mouth was made just for him. Maybe it was. Maybe both of them were made for this very moment, lying together in the tall grass with their fingers intertwined and their hearts beating in time, a flock of confused dragons nosing curiously at their legs.

+

“What’s got you so moon-eyed tonight?” his dad asks that night, eyeballing him from across the table. “Your cooking’s pretty good, but it’s not that good.”

“Hmm?” Kurt says, still half-immersed in thoughts of Blaine’s kiss-swollen lips. “Oh! Um…nothing.” His dad raises his eyebrows, and Kurt quickly adds, “I was just thinking about this river Sil and I found today. It was really incredible – the water was so clear you could see all the way down. We ended up spending the whole afternoon there.” He’s pleased with himself for this answer, which is entirely truthful, if not quite complete.

His dad grunts, apparently satisfied, and goes back to sawing at his mutton. “Sounds real nice. How’s that map of yours coming?”

“Great,” Kurt says honestly. “Lots of new additions recently.” He doesn’t specify that almost all of those additions have been lands to the south, within a few hours’ flight of a certain valley – but then, his dad didn’t ask about that, did he?

Chapter Text

Everything changes, and nothing does.

Kurt still goes out to the valley as often as he can, and Blaine is still always happy to see him – although, admittedly, he never used to greet Kurt with a kiss. That’s a definite improvement.

Kurt still spends a lot of time staring at Blaine’s lips and hands and broad, muscular shoulders, only these days he doesn’t have to worry about getting caught in the act, because he knows that Blaine is staring right back. And he can touch now, can take Blaine’s hand or wind his arms around those shoulders any time the urge strikes him. It feels like an unthinkable luxury, this newfound freedom to kiss wherever he pleases, to hold and be held, to trace his fingertips over the curve of Blaine’s smile and see it widen in response.

They still sing together. Kurt has always enjoyed singing with Blaine, but it feels different, deeper, now that they both know they aren’t just play-acting the emotions involved. Blaine even confesses, with a great deal of blushing, that most of those beautiful songs of his were written with Kurt in mind.

(“It was torture,” he groans, burying his face against Kurt’s shoulder and resisting Kurt’s efforts to extract him for a kiss. “Listening to you sing my own words back to me, knowing that you would never return my feelings…”

“Of course,” Kurt says. “Because I was so very subtle in my affections.”)

They still go flying with their dragons, visiting favorite places and exploring new ones. Now that he has a personal interest in the state of Blaine’s hair, Kurt follows through on an early promise and makes Blaine a helmet: nothing too elaborate, just a lightweight cap to keep his hair tidy without the use of that sticky wax. Blaine still opts for the wax sometimes, but not very often. He’s wisely coming to appreciate the merits of leaving his curls loose for Kurt to run his fingers through.

Kurt also decides that it’s time to teach Blaine how to fly with Sil. She has always mulishly rejected any rider but Kurt, but she adores Blaine, enough that she grudgingly tolerates the indignity of suffering through his first fumbling attempts at operating her saddle and tail fin.

Kurt is confident that they’ll work themselves out sooner than later. Blaine is a skilled rider, though unused to sitting in a saddle, and with Sil deigning to cooperate, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to manage it. Besides, Blaine is benefitting from the years of improvements and adjustments Kurt has made to the whole system. Sure, the left stirrup is specifically designed for Kurt’s prosthetic, but it should still be more or less usable with a foot.

Less, it turns out, after a particularly ugly crash landing in the forest which leaves Kurt momentarily terrified that he’s just watched his best friends die.

They’re all right, thankfully. Sil is grumpy but unharmed, and Blaine escapes with nothing worse than a few shallow scratches and a bruised ego, as well as one deeply alarmed Hobblegrunt.

“I’ll make a few tweaks to the stirrup,” Kurt says. He nudges Prism’s head aside to pluck a leaf from Blaine’s hair. “Don’t feel bad. You should have seen some of the crashes we used to have back when I was developing the steering mechanisms.”

“What do you mean ‘used to’?” Blaine asks, rubbing soothingly at Prism’s blue-speckled horn. “You two crash all the time.”

“We do not,” Kurt says, indignant. Behind him, Sil huffs loudly; he can’t quite tell if she’s siding with him or Blaine.

“You went down in that briar patch last week. Remember? We spent half an hour getting all the thorns out of your clothes.”

“That wasn’t a crash,” Kurt says. “It was an…improvised descent.”

“Into a briar patch,” Blaine says, and splutters with laughter as Kurt shoves a handful of leaves in his face.

+

In return for the flying lessons, Blaine begins teaching Kurt what he knows about treating wounds, broken bones, infections, and any of the dozens of other mishaps that may befall an unlucky dragon.

“How did you learn all this?” Kurt asks, impressed by the breadth of Blaine’s knowledge.

“Trial and error, mainly,” Blaine says, sorting through the various leaves and flowers he’s collected for use in poultices and tonics. “Though I did learn some of the essentials from my aunt. She was the healer in our village. Not everything transfers over to dragons, of course, but most of the basic principles are the same.” He goes quiet for a while, as he usually does after the rare occasions he lets something slip about his old village, but it’s not long before he’s holding up a bright pink blossom for Kurt’s inspection. “Now this is a tricky one. Good for calming anxiety, but always make sure to remove the stamen. It’ll give them awful indigestion…”

Under Blaine’s tutelage, Kurt learns that treatment doesn’t end with the wound closing or bones re-knitting. Many of Blaine’s dragons require regular care for old injuries. Several of them have had to adjust their flying form to something functional but not ideal, which can lead to stiff joints and muscle cramping. They seek Blaine out after long flights, pushing into his hands and whining for the relief they know he can provide. Blaine shows Kurt how to massage their aches away, or at least bring the pain down to a tolerable level so they can rest peacefully.

Each dragon needs something different. Redbrier and Puffer both have extensive scarring that pulls at their back and shoulder muscles when they fly, but Puffer likes a deep, hard massage, while Redbrier prefers a gentler touch. Tripod goes through bouts of terrible itching around what’s left of his back right leg – Kurt can empathize – and Cricket occasionally just wants a good scratch along the part of her flank she can no longer reach to groom. Every once in a while, Venus will delicately lay one of her long, long necks across Blaine’s lap so that he can apply a soothing balm to the scar tissue there.

And then there’s Haze, the Smothering Smokebreath Blaine found in the spring. His tail (her tail, Blaine insists) is healing well, though he’s still far from being able to fly properly. He isn’t half as sociable as the other dragons, but can occasionally be persuaded to endure human company in exchange for fish and light petting. Most of the flock naturally tend to gravitate toward Blaine, but Haze very obviously prefers Kurt, to the point where Blaine claims he doesn’t see him at all on days when Kurt and Sil don’t come to the valley.

“It’s probably because you’re always the one bothering his tail,” Kurt says, trying to be gracious, though he’s secretly delighted to have earned Haze’s favor.

“You don’t need to console me. She just likes you better,” Blaine says with a smile. He leans across Haze’s dozing body to kiss Kurt’s cheek. “I don’t blame her.”

“Him,” Kurt corrects, pulling Blaine closer to kiss him properly.

+

Kurt thinks he understands, now, why Mercedes and Sam seemed to be joined at the hip for the first few months after they got together. Being with Blaine is incredibly addictive; the more time they spend together, the more Kurt craves his company. He’d spend every minute of every day at Blaine’s side if he could. It’s always an effort to force himself to leave at the end of the day, even when he knows he’ll be back the next morning.

Everything is just perfect. He has Blaine, and Sil, and adventure, and new places. He couldn’t be happier.

And, of course, there are the dragons. Not just Blaine’s flock, but all the dragons they cross paths with in the course of their travels: Hotburples and Monstrous Nightmares, tiny Long-Eared Flutterfires, and many others that neither Kurt nor Blaine have ever seen before. They meet dragons with stripes and spots and feathered tails, trout-sized water dragons with iridescent scales, dragons with three rows of jagged teeth that eagerly roll onto their backs for belly rubs.

On one memorable occasion, they encounter a small dragon that expels a frankly impressive volume of stinking yellow goo as an evasive tactic when it feels threatened. Unfortunately for Kurt, they discover that detail a little too late.

“Oh, Kurt, your hair,” Blaine says, breathless with laughter. “Gods, it’s everywhere. Here, let me – “

“Don’t touch it, are you crazy?” Kurt snaps, slapping at where he thinks Blaine’s hands might be. “Save yourself, you idiot. Ugh, I can barely see – it’s gluing my eyelashes together. Help me get back to the creek so I can wash this off.”

Blaine’s hands settle gingerly on his waist and elbow, steering him along until they reach the creek. Kurt goes down to his knees on the muddy bank and scrubs furiously at the goo, which seems to only grow thicker and fouler-smelling with every splash of water.

Once he’s finally cleared the gunk from his eyes, he glances around and sees Blaine to his left, perched on a nearby rock. He’s not laughing anymore; instead, he’s watching Kurt with warm eyes, mouth slanted in an unexpectedly fond little half-smile.

“What?” Kurt asks suspiciously. He swipes a hand over his dripping hair. “Did I miss some? You have to tell me if I do, this stuff will be impossible if it dries – “

“I love you,” Blaine says.

Kurt stares. He’s soaking wet, hunched over like a madman at the edge of the creek, smeared with mud and yellow bile. And Blaine loves him.

“I love you, too,” he says finally, because he does. Of course he does. A droplet of…something…slides down into his eye, making him squint. “Though I’d love you just a little bit more if you’d saved that particular declaration for some time when I wasn’t covered in dragon vomit.”

“It couldn’t wait,” Blaine says serenely, and scoots over to help him scrape the last of the goo from behind his ears.

+

They’re relaxing in the valley one day, making the most of the time they have left before Kurt and Sil have to leave. They’ve settled themselves at the base of a tree, nestled down between two massive roots with Kurt slouched comfortably back against Blaine’s chest. Sil, Prism, and Hatchet are playing nearby, chasing each other through the trees; Kurt keeps half an eye on them while he fills Blaine in on the latest drama in the preparations for Sam and Mercedes’s wedding.

“I can’t believe Rachel wants to sing through the whole ceremony,” Blaine says.

Kurt rolls his eyes. “You’d believe it if you’d ever met her. I love her, but she is as narcissistic as they come.” He brightens as a thought occurs to him. “You know, you should meet her some time. Mercedes, too. They’d love you.”

Inexplicably, Blaine goes tense behind him. “I – I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Kurt says, puzzled. “I wouldn’t bring them here, if you’d rather keep the den private. We could meet somewhere else, or you could come to Lima. We could bring the whole flock! Oh, I’d love to see the look on Puck’s face when he sees Redbrier. He hasn’t had the best luck with Changewings.”

“I can’t.”

Kurt sits up and turns around. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t meet your friends, Kurt,” Blaine says. His fingers are twisting anxiously in the wool of his trousers. “I’m sorry. I’m sure they’re wonderful, but I just…” He looks away. “I can’t.”

Kurt lays his own hand over Blaine’s to still his fidgeting. “If you’re worried about how they’ll react to us, we don’t have to tell them,” he says gently. He knows now that there’s a story behind Blaine’s panic after their first kiss, though he doesn’t know all the details. “It’s none of their business anyway. But I promise you, they wouldn’t care. Everyone knows Brittany and Santana are together, even though no one talks about it.”

Blaine doesn’t look reassured. “Do we have to talk about this right now?” He draws Kurt’s hand up, pressing it flat against his chest. “Can’t we just enjoy being together, the two of us?”

Kurt thinks they should talk about it now, actually, but there’s a troubling undertone of doubt in Blaine’s voice, and his eyes have gone all wide and sad in a way that makes Kurt want nothing more than to kiss him happy again. So he does. He lets Blaine tug him close, lets himself get lost in Blaine’s lips and his strong hands, and he tries not to think too hard about what has Blaine so nervous.

+

Meanwhile, back on Lima, Kurt’s increasingly frequent absences aren’t going unnoticed. Mercedes corners him one evening in the stables, just as he’s leaving to head home for the night.

“Where were you today?” she asks, with a tone so deliberately casual that Kurt is immediately on alert.

“Oh, Sil and I just went up north to see if we could track down any more Icegrinders,” he says, carefully repeating the lie he told his dad in the morning. “No luck, though.”

Mercedes crosses her arms over her chest. “Is that so? Because we went looking for you there, and you were nowhere to be found.”

Damn.

“You must just not have seen us,” Kurt says. “Sil’s hard to keep up with, isn’t she, Torch?” He pats the Hellsteether on the nose, smiling when she nudges agreeably into the touch.

“You two have been gone an awful lot recently,” Mercedes says, narrowing her eyes.

“Have we?” Kurt pretends to think about it. “Huh, I guess you’re right. I’ve just been caught up in the map – you know how I get. I’m sorry.” He slides an arm around her shoulders. “Let me make it up to you, okay? Come over for dinner tonight. I know my dad would love to see you. He keeps asking when I’m going to make my move and steal you away from Sam.”

She snorts and shoves him. “In your dreams, boy.” She looks up at Kurt, squinting a little in the flickering torchlight. “Seriously, are you sure there’s nothing going on? The last time you kept sneaking off like this, you ended up bringing home a Night Fury.”

“And look how well that worked out!” Kurt says cheerfully, gesturing around the stables. He dodges another shove, then tucks Mercedes back against his side. “I promise, I’m not hiding some terrible dark secret. I’ve just been busy, that’s all.”

Mercedes leans into him, mollified. “Just make sure you don’t forget about your friends. You know, those people who love you, and support you, and need your help finishing their wedding dress before they tear all their hair out?”

“Well, we can’t have that,” Kurt says. “Come on, let’s go take a look at it.”

He wants so badly to tell her, to spill everything about Blaine and his dragons. He wants to tell her how happy he is, happier than he ever thought possible, in love with a beautiful boy who treats him like a king. He wants to tell everyone, to shout his joy into the faces of all the boys who used to tease him and the old women who keep trying to marry him off to their granddaughters.

But he can’t. It’s not his secret to tell. It’s theirs, and for whatever reason, Blaine isn’t ready.

Soon, Kurt promises himself. He’ll figure this whole thing out soon.

Chapter Text

One afternoon, he and Blaine leave most of the flock behind at the den and set out with just Sil and Prism in search of one of the Sand Devils, Glimmer, who has been missing for two days. Her mate doesn’t seem very concerned about her absence, which makes Blaine suspect that Glimmer is hiding a nest somewhere.

“It’s not the season for that, is it?” Kurt says. “All the dragons on Lima lay their eggs in midwinter, on an island some hours south of here.”

Blaine looks intrigued. “Is that where they go? I never knew. The first time half the flock disappeared in the night, it scared me half to death, but when they came back with the babies, I figured they knew what they were doing.” He scans over the cliffs below. “Anyway, Grit and Glimmer have never gone. I think the desert dragons have different breeding practices.”

There are no deserts nearby, of course, but there are plenty of dry, sandy canyons that could serve as a reasonable substitute if Glimmer wanted to stay close to her mate and flock. Sure enough, after nearly an hour of searching, they come across what might be footprints in the sand near an opening in the rock face, even narrower than the gorge that leads to the den.

Blaine isn’t sure how Glimmer will respond to other dragons if she does have a nest, so they leave Sil and Prism behind in the canyon proper and set out on foot. They’ve been walking for about twenty minutes when they round a bend and spot a familiar shape crouched down a stone’s throw away.

There you are,” Blaine says triumphantly.

Glimmer rears up in alarm, hastily flaring her wings in what must be an attempt to hide her nest. Once she realizes who it is, she relaxes, though Kurt imagines she looks a bit guilty, even as she pads up to give them both gentle head-butts in greeting.

“Mind if we take a look?” Blaine asks her, petting her nose. “We just want to make sure everything’s okay.”

After a moment’s consideration, Glimmer licks Blaine’s hand and turns back to her nest, inviting them to follow her.

The nest is more like a burrow, its entrance camouflaged with scraps of dry grass. Glimmer paws the grass out of the way to reveal a small, sloping pit filled with half a dozen golden-brown baby Sand Devils.

Blaine actually claps his hands in excitement, like the overgrown child he really is. “Look how tiny they are! They must have just hatched.”

The hatchlings are very small, even smaller than most of the babies Kurt saw on the island. They yip curiously, craning their scrawny necks toward their visitors.

Blaine glances at Glimmer, waiting until she puffs in acceptance, and then reaches slowly into the nest. The hatchlings all surge toward his hand, tripping over each other in their rush. One of them bats at Blaine’s fingers, trying to grab hold; when Blaine lays his hand on the ground, it clambers right up onto his palm, squeaking with delight.

Blaine turns to Kurt with a huge, radiant grin. “They like me!”

Kurt rolls his eyes, fond. “They’re babies, Blaine. They like everything.”

“You’re just jealous,” Blaine informs him haughtily, and then promptly belies his indignation by offering Kurt the hatchling he’s holding.

Kurt readily accepts, cupping his hands together for Blaine to tip the baby into. It’s surprisingly soft, almost velvety, a stark contrast to its mother’s rough hide. Kurt strokes the top of its head, and it nudges into the touch, vibrating with a funny little purr.

“Watch out for that one,” Blaine says, turning back to the nest. “He’s going to be trouble, I can tell.”

Kurt watches with amusement as the hatchling latches onto his thumb with its gummy little mouth. “Yes, it’s a vicious thing, all right. I dread the day it – “

He’s interrupted by a sharp, sudden shout. He looks up, startled, to see Blaine jerk his hand out of the nest, just as Glimmer leaps to her feet and roars, visibly enraged.

Kurt lunges forward and seizes Blaine’s shoulder with his free hand, yanking him back out of blast range. He doesn’t know what Blaine has done to rouse the mother dragon’s ire, but he’s not about to let him get incinerated for it.

To his confusion, though, Glimmer doesn’t seem to be paying attention to Blaine at all. She snarls at her own nest, tail lashing furiously as she ducks her head down to scan over the babies.

Kurt squeezes Blaine’s shoulder, still cradling the hatchling against his chest with his other hand. “Blaine, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Blaine lets loose a foul curse, something Kurt has never heard from him before. “There’s something in there with the babies,” he says, sounding pained. “Something else must have snuck an egg into the nest.”

“Something like what?” Kurt demands, horrified at the thought of some vicious interloper attacking those helpless hatchlings. He remembers how Blaine shouted, and his blood runs cold. “Did it bite you? Let me see.” He grabs Blaine’s hand and pulls it toward him, flipping it over so he can see the damage. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no – “

Four small, dark puncture wounds are clearly visible in the heel of Blaine’s hand. The skin around the marks is already inflamed, darkening to an angry violet-red. Kurt grazes his thumb over the very edge of the discoloration, and Blaine hisses in pain, wrenching his hand out of Kurt’s grip.

Glimmer roars again. There’s a sudden awful crunching sound as she deals with the intruder.

“What was it?” Kurt asks urgently. “We need to know, to treat it. Was it a Vorpent? A Vampire? A Toxic Nightshade?“

“I don’t know,” Blaine admits. “I didn’t get a good look at it.” He lays his uninjured hand on Kurt’s arm. “Look, whatever it was, it was just a baby itself. There’s no way it had enough venom to do any real damage. I’ll be fine, okay? Don’t worry.”

The other dragons arrive then, attracted by the commotion. Prism heads straight for Blaine, and Sil positions herself between the humans and the nest, growling low in her throat as she takes in the scene.

Blaine squeezes Kurt’s arm. “Come on, let’s get out of here. We should get back to the den.”

Glimmer is already gathering her babies, scooping them up in her mouth and craning around to drop them securely onto her broad back. Kurt cautiously offers her the hatchling he’s still holding, wary of setting her off again, but she just plucks the baby from his hands and deposits it with the rest.

“Are you sure you’re okay to fly?” Kurt asks, turning back to Blaine. He smoothes a few curls away from Blaine’s face. “If you’re feeling dizzy at all, I’d rather you ride with me and Sil. In fact, you probably should anyway. Some of these venoms can sneak up on you, you know, and – “

Blaine tips up onto his toes and presses a chaste kiss to Kurt’s mouth. “Kurt, stop panicking. I’m perfectly fine.”

He sounds confident enough that Kurt concedes, stepping back to let him clamber up onto Prism.

But by the time they make it back to the valley, it’s become apparent that Blaine is not fine. He’s cradling his bitten hand against his chest, looking flushed and woozy, and he seems to have trouble dismounting one-handed.

Kurt’s stomach tightens with worry as he watches Blaine struggle through removing his helmet and untangling the harness. “Do you need help?”

“I’ve got it,” Blaine says. He manages to free himself from the harness and slide down from Prism’s back, but his legs buckle the moment his feet touch ground, sending him crumpling down to the moss.

“Blaine!” Kurt cries. He races to Blaine’s side and drops down next to him, his heart in his throat. He runs his hands over every part of Blaine he can reach, his unmoving back and leg and arm and shoulders, as if he can somehow feel out the problem that way. “Blaine, please, talk to me – tell me what’s wrong – “

Blaine stirs beneath his hands. “’m okay,” he mumbles. He shifts around, trying to get his limbs under him. Kurt helps him pull up onto his knees. “I’m fine, I swear. Just lost my footing.” He sags into Kurt’s side, his head falling heavily against Kurt’s shoulder. He’s hot, unnaturally so, sickly heat seeping through layers of wool and leather. Kurt can see now that his wounded hand is swollen to nearly twice its normal size. The bite marks have started to blacken at the edges.

Prism whines and butts his jaw against Blaine’s thigh. He’s gone a deep midnight blue all over, thrumming with anxiety. For once, Blaine doesn’t try to soothe him; he’s too out of it, practically dead weight at Kurt’s side, and his lack of response only ratchets up Prism’s distress.

Kurt looks past Prism to where Sil is lingering with the other dragons, looking fretful. She meets Kurt’s eyes and makes a low, uncertain noise.

It strikes him, then, as he takes in the two dozen worried faces staring at him: the dragons don’t know what to do. Blaine is always the one to care for them when they’re ill or injured, and they’re unnerved by seeing him laid low. They love him, but they can’t help him, not with this.

Kurt tightens his grip around Blaine’s waist and makes a decision.

“I’m taking you to Lima,” he says. “Sil, come here, help me get him – “

No,” Blaine says, so forcefully that even Prism startles. He tries to push away from Kurt’s hold, but he’s too weak, and ends up clutching a fistful of Kurt’s vest just to keep his balance. “I’ll be fine here – it’ll pass. I need to rest, that’s all.”

“You need help,” Kurt snaps, fear sharpening his voice. “I know you don’t like being around people, but we don’t know what bit you, or what’s going to happen. You’re feverish, you can’t even sit up on your own, your – your hand looks like it’s going to fall off – “

“No,” Blaine says again. He’s trembling all over; Kurt can’t tell whether it’s from emotion or the venom. “I’ve been bitten before, I know how this goes. I just have to wait it out. I promise you, I’ll be good as new by morning. Just…help me get to my bed, okay?”

Kurt presses a hand to Blaine’s blazing-hot cheek and forces him to meet his gaze. “Blaine, you’re scaring me. Do you understand that? I’m afraid for you. I’m afraid for meif something happens to you.” He traces his thumb over the bow of Blaine’s lips, alarmed by how dry they feel. “Let me help you.”

Blaine ducks his head, hiding his face against Kurt’s throat. “Don’t make me go,” he whispers. To Kurt’s horror, he can feel wetness against his skin, smearing hot against the bare skin of his neck. “Please, Kurt. Please don’t make me.”

Kurt struggles with himself. Blaine’s fear is a tangible thing, radiating from him just as surely as his fever. He’s clearly far more frightened of being taken to Lima than he is of his illness. Kurt is terrified of dealing with this alone – but what could they do for him in Lima, really, without knowing the source of the venom? The wrong treatment might do more harm than good. And it would take hours to get him there, a long and uncomfortable trip, and with him so upset…

“Okay,” he says finally. He runs his hand through Blaine’s hair, to comfort himself as much as Blaine. “Okay. Where’s your bed?”

Blaine lets out a loud sob of relief. It hurts worse than the pleading.

Kurt props Blaine up against Prism while he gets to his feet; he doesn’t trust his own strength or balance enough to lift Blaine from a kneeling position. Once he’s standing, he crouches down and wraps an arm around Blaine’s back, tipping him over so he can get hold of his legs.

“I can walk,” Blaine says weakly.

Kurt could slap him right now, he really could. He settles for a dark look, which he regrets immediately when Blaine shrinks back, looking thoroughly miserable.

“You can’t, and you’re not going to try,” he says. “Just let me handle it.”

He braces himself on his right foot and heaves Blaine up into his arms, staggering a little as Blaine’s weight settles against his chest. He’s heavier than he looks, wiry and dense. It’s a good thing Kurt has finally put on some muscle in the past year, or he’d probably drop Blaine right on his stupid, reckless, idiot head.

“If you’re not better by daybreak, we’re going to Lima,” he says, steel in his voice.

Blaine nods against Kurt’s shoulder, seemingly too exhausted to argue.

Prism is the one who ends up leading Kurt to Blaine’s bed, which is nothing more than a pile of blankets on the ground, tucked away under a wide overhang of rock. The dirt nearby is tamped down in depressions of varying size, some dusted with a thin layer of ash. A few of the dragons obviously like to sleep near their human.

Kurt lays Blaine down in the center of the blankets. He starts to move away, intending to remove Blaine’s sand-gritty boots, but hesitates when he sees Blaine shudder. “Blaine?”

“Cold,” Blaine mutters.

It makes no sense – he’s still burning up with fever, skin flushed and sweaty – but there’s no denying that he’s shivering now, curling in on himself like a frightened Prickleworm. Kurt tugs one of the blankets out from under him and drapes it over his quaking body, boots and all.

Kurt leaves briefly to gather a few supplies, and returns to find that Prism has settled himself at the edge of the blankets, huddled close to Blaine’s still form. Kurt sits on Blaine’s other side and gently shakes him. “I brought water. You need to drink some.”

He cajoles Blaine into drinking as much as he can, in the hope that the water will help flush the venom from his system. He makes him eat a bit, too, ignoring his claims that he’s not hungry. Kurt may not know exactly how this illness is going to progress, but he knows Blaine will need his strength.

He rinses Blaine’s bitten hand and, following Blaine’s mumbled instructions, carefully prepares and applies a poultice of crushed calendula flowers to the wounds. After that, he spends a few minutes fussing over Blaine’s bedding, arranging and rearranging the blankets until he’s satisfied that Blaine is as comfortable as possible.

Blaine blinks up at him, his eyes glassy with fever. He looks so terribly young like this, small and red-cheeked. “It’ll be dark soon,” he says. “You should get home.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Kurt says. He strokes a hand over Blaine’s hair to soften the sharpness of his words. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Blaine frowns, even as his eyes drift shut from the rhythm of Kurt’s petting. “But your father…”

Kurt’s dad will be beside himself if Kurt doesn’t come home tonight. Still, there’s nothing to be done. The thought of leaving Blaine here with only his dragons for company, with no one to fetch him water or monitor his fever, no one to comfort him if he’s scared or in pain – Kurt can’t bear it. He couldn’t live with himself if he left Blaine like this.

“I’m staying,” he says firmly. He cups the back of Blaine’s head and leans down to kiss his forehead. “Get some rest, all right? I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“Okay,” Blaine breathes. He’s asleep in seconds.

Kurt sits there for a long time, slowly carding his fingers through Blaine’s sweaty curls while the light fades. Blaine seems to be resting comfortably enough, his face glowing hot but relaxed. He’s stopped shivering. Maybe he was right, and he just needs to sleep the sickness off. Kurt hopes so.

Glimmer and Grit have gone off somewhere, no doubt to dig out a new nest for their hatchlings. A few of the others disappear into the trees after the sun goes down, probably seeking out high branches to roost for the night. For the most part, though, the dragons stay close, settling down to sleep in pairs and clusters near the overhang. Prism stays at Blaine’s side, faithful as ever, and Sil stays at Kurt’s, keeping watch with him as night falls over the valley.

When Kurt’s eyelids start to droop, he tugs off his boot and lies down next to Blaine. After a moment’s hesitation, he slides in under the blanket, fitting his body against Blaine’s. Sleeping together is an intimacy they haven’t shared before. Kurt has thought about it many times, but he can’t say he’s ever imagined it happening under these particular circumstances. Still, it’s comforting to lay his head on Blaine’s shoulder, to rest a hand on his belly and feel it rise and fall with his steady breaths.

There’s a familiar presence at his back as Sil curls up behind him. Her wing settles over him and Blaine like a heavy, leathery cloak, shielding them from the cool night air.

“He’ll be okay,” Kurt tells her. “He will.”

She rumbles softly in response.

+

He wakes twice during the night. The first time, he’s roused by Blaine pawing weakly at his chest, slurring out a request for water. Kurt helps him drink, and he settles down again immediately, burrowing hazily into Kurt’s arms and relaxing back into sleep.

The second time isn’t so easy. Kurt surfaces slowly, not quite sure why he’s awake until he hears Prism crooning and suddenly realizes that Blaine is moving restlessly in his sleep, moaning like he’s in pain. He keeps repeating the same words: no, stop, please. Kurt tries to wake him, to soothe him, but he just gets more and more agitated, his voice rising, no, stop, please, shying away from Prism’s attempts to cuddle close. He’s nearly shouting now, thrashing in the blankets, and Kurt is on the brink of full-fledged panic when Blaine cries out, “Don’t!” and abruptly falls silent, sagging down bonelessly to the ground.

The sudden stillness is almost as unnerving as the thrashing. Kurt drops down beside Blaine and gathers up his limp, over-hot body. “I’m here, Blaine,” he says helplessly. He buries his face in the damp curve of Blaine’s neck, while Prism tucks himself against Blaine’s back, his warm scaly chest pressed tight against the backs of Kurt’s hands. “I’m here. I love you. I’m here.”

It takes him a long, long time to fall back to sleep.

+

By morning, the fever has broken. Blaine is exhausted but coherent, and ravenously hungry. Kurt cooks up some fish for him and picks a massive pile of his favorite berries from a nearby bush.

“I’m not going anywhere until all that food is gone, so you’d better get started,” he says, lowering himself down to sit at the edge of the blankets again.

“That won’t be a problem,” Blaine says, already gnawing on a hunk of fish. “I feel like I could eat an entire horse. Maybe a bear.”

“Good luck taking down a bear in this state,” Kurt says. His stomach rumbles, reminding him that he hasn’t eaten a full meal himself since midday yesterday. He steals a handful of berries from the pile. “I don’t think you could crush an ant right now.”

Blaine gestures dismissively. “I’m fine. The fever is gone, and I’ll change out the poultice after I eat. Good as new, just like I told you.”

“You’re as weak as a kitten. I could knock you over with a breath.”

“You can always do that,” Blaine says, with a coquettish little flutter of his eyelashes.

“Stop being charming, I’m trying to lecture you,” Kurt complains, though he does lean over to grant Blaine the kiss he’s so blatantly seeking. He’s only human. “I mean it, Blaine, you’re still recovering. I don’t want you doing anything but resting until I come back.”

“Fine,” Blaine says. “Even though I think you’re overreacting.”

“Prism is still worried,” Kurt points out. The Hobblegrunt has yet to budge from Blaine’s side, and doesn’t look like he plans to any time soon. At the moment, he’s curled behind Blaine like an oversized chair, supporting him as he eats and ignoring the raw fish Sil keeps nudging in his direction.

Blaine gives his dragon an affectionate pat, earning a quiet trill in response. “Prism is a worrywart. You both are.”

Kurt plays with the rough edge of a blanket. “You really scared me, Blaine.”

Blaine’s face grows serious. “I know I did. I’m sorry.” He reaches up to stroke Kurt’s cheek with slightly greasy fingers. “But I’m all better now. Thanks to you.”

“We’ll see about that,” Kurt says. “Keep eating.”

After Blaine finishes off the fish and berries, he gets started preparing a new poultice, as promised. His hands look steady enough, so Kurt finally accepts that it’s time for him to go home and face whatever disaster may be waiting for him there.

“There’s more fish in the basket by your feet,” he tells Blaine. “You’d better get to it before Tripod does. And remember, you’re on bed rest today. Your dragons will tattle on you if you cheat, don’t think they won’t.”

“I promise,” Blaine says. “I wouldn’t risk your wrath.”

“Clever boy.” He kisses Blaine soundly on the mouth. “Be good. I’ll come back tomorrow, if my father hasn’t killed me.”

He steals one last kiss and then quickly departs with Sil before he can change his mind, leaving Blaine in the care of his flock.

+

For once, luck is on Kurt’s side. His dad was at the Great Hall late into the night, and didn’t even notice that Kurt wasn’t home when he returned. He easily accepts Kurt’s explanation that he rose early this morning for a quick flight over the sea.

Kurt spends an uneasy day on Lima, tinkering with various half-finished projects in his workshop and wishing the whole time that he were back in the valley. He hopes Blaine is heeding his advice to rest. Maybe tomorrow he’ll train Haze to sit on Blaine’s chest if he starts over-exerting himself.

That night, he lies awake for hours, staring out into the darkness of his bedroom. He’s exhausted, but he can’t stop thinking about how upset Blaine was at the prospect of coming to Lima. He’s long known about the lengths Blaine will go to in order to avoid traveling too close to human settlements, and of course they’ve butted heads a few times about Blaine’s refusal to meet Kurt’s friends, but Kurt is only now realizing how deeply, genuinely afraid Blaine is of other people. This isn’t just an issue of shyness or nerves – there was real terror in Blaine’s eyes when he thought Kurt might force him to go to Lima. What could possibly have happened to him to instill that kind of fear?

He resolves to ask Blaine about it once he’s feeling better. He loves Blaine, and he’ll do whatever he can to help him, but to do that, he needs to know what he’s dealing with.

+

Blaine recuperates well, regaining his strength under Kurt’s strictly-enforced regimen of sleep and food. The swelling in his hand has gone down to almost nothing by the second day, and he claims that the pain has all but vanished by the third. Kurt is perhaps overly cautious, still haunted by the memory of watching Blaine collapse right before his eyes. It’s nearly a week before he deems Blaine sufficiently recovered for one of their customary long, exploratory flights.

When that day finally comes, the dragons are overjoyed. They swoop gleefully through the air with more energy than Kurt has ever seen from them, crowing in excitement and chasing each other between layers of cloud. In fact, they fly so hard that by the time they find an agreeable-looking spot to rest, they’ve managed to thoroughly exhaust themselves. Half of them flop down for naps right where they land, sending up little clouds of petals from the wildflowers blanketing the meadow.

Blaine makes the rounds to check that none of them have aggravated their injuries, getting briefly sidetracked along the way by the Sand Devil babies, who have quite enjoyed their ride on their mother’s back. When he’s done, Kurt draws him down to sit by the bank of the lake, and they share the food they’ve brought with them, eating in a companionable silence. Blaine seems content to admire the gleaming lake in front of them, easily three times as large as the lake in the valley. Meanwhile, Kurt is preoccupied, trying to work up the nerve to ask some of the questions that have been nagging at him for the past week.

“Blaine?” he says, when they’ve finished eating. “I want to – I think we should talk.”

Blaine looks at him curiously. “This sounds serious.”

“It is. But I – oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s not bad-serious.” He rests a reassuring hand on Blaine’s knee. “It’s just that…when you were ill, you said some pretty worrying things in your sleep. And you seemed really afraid of going to Lima, even just to see a healer.”

“I guess I panicked,” Blaine says in an odd tone. “I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m sorry if I made you worry.”

“I’m not looking for an apology, Blaine. I’m concerned about you. About why you felt that way.” This isn’t coming out as eloquently as he’d hoped. Blaine’s face has gone blank and unreadable, but he hasn’t pulled away yet, so Kurt pushes on. “You know I’ll never force you into anything. If you really don’t want to talk about it, I understand. But I think…I think maybe you need to. Talk about it, I mean.”

Blaine doesn’t respond to that. He doesn’t look upset, exactly – more unsure. Kurt gives him time, waiting patiently with his hand still cupped over Blaine’s knee.

Eventually, Blaine’s hand finds it way there, too, fingers tucking tentatively over Kurt’s. “Kurt…I don’t know if I can.”

“Will you try?” Kurt asks softly. “For me?”

After a moment, Blaine gives a jerky nod. “Okay. I’ll try.”

He grips Kurt’s hand, and Kurt twists his fingers around to grip back. It’s not much, but it seems to give Blaine the courage he needs to start talking.

“You asked me once how I found Prism.”

Kurt remembers. Blaine avoided answering, as he often did, and Kurt didn’t push. As with so many things, he figured Blaine would tell him the story when he was ready.

“The night I had to leave my village, when they – when those boys…”

Kurt nods quickly, sensing that this is background rather than the heart of the story, and that Blaine would rather not delve into the particulars. He has never recounted the story in full, but Kurt has pieced together that there was an altercation after he was seen kissing another boy, something brutal and violent and outrageously one-sided, after which Blaine was either formally exiled from his village or felt he had no choice but to flee.

Blaine gives Kurt’s hand a grateful squeeze, then gently pulls away to fold his hands together in his lap. “Well, Prism is the one who scared them off. Came out of nowhere and sent them running.” His lips twitch at the corner. “They probably think he ate me. I thought he was going to eat me, though at that point I didn’t much care one way or the other.”

“You didn’t trust him?” Kurt asks, surprised. He and Sil got off to a rocky start, but after she warmed to him, he never once doubted her loyalty.

“I didn’t know him.” He sees Kurt’s confusion, and explains, “That was the night we met. He’d never seen me before. I hadn’t done a thing for him, not fed him or helped him or even shown that I wouldn’t hurt him. He had no reason to protect me, but he did.” He fiddles absently with his crooked finger, tracing over the warped bone with his thumb. “He saved my life.”

Kurt glances over to where Prism is sleeping nearby, cozied up with Wheezy and tinged a cheerful dandelion-yellow. Thank you, he thinks. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“My neighbors, my own kin, they…” Blaine exhales sharply, unable or unwilling to voice the words. “And then this beast, this sharp-fanged monster I’d been taught to fear all my life – suddenly, he was the only friend I had in the world.”

Kurt can’t even imagine it. He may have grown up feeling like an outsider in his village, even in his own home, but at least he never doubted that he had a place there. He always knew that his father loved him, even during those years when it felt like Kurt could do nothing but disappoint him. He would have left Lima if he absolutely had to, if it was necessary to keep Sil safe, but he’s grateful that it didn’t come to that.

“It was hard, to start with,” Blaine says. “We moved around constantly, never staying more than a few nights in one place. I hadn’t ever left my village before. I missed home. I missed my parents, my aunt and uncle, even my brother. I was miserable. But Prism was amazing. He stayed with me through everything, through all my foul moods and outbursts, through weeks when it rained from dawn till dusk for days on end, and nights we both went to sleep hungry.

“I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and those were torn and stained. So after a while, I started venturing into the occasional village, did some odd work in return for clothes and blankets. I was always nervous, going in, but most of the time it went fine. Every once in a while there’d be some rough boys looking for trouble, or a man who, ah…” He shifts awkwardly, looking uncomfortable. “Well, apparently in some places people get ideas about a boy traveling on his own.”

Kurt bristles at the implication. Blaine would have been barely more than a child then. If anyone laid a hand on him –

“Nothing happened,” Blaine assures him. “I had Prism, remember. At the first sign of trouble, I’d run for it, and we’d be long gone within the hour. We never went back to the same village twice.” He pauses, gathering his thoughts. “We went on that way for about half a year, just the two of us, always moving from place to place. Then we found Puffer, all tangled up in a snare. He was – well, you’ve seen the scars. I did my best to fix him up. By the time he was healed, he’d decided that Prism and I were his new flock. He’s been with us ever since. A couple months after that, we found Venus. Then Grit and Glimmer. Then Redbrier, and Tripod, and Dink – no, Dink then Tripod.”

The Terror in question scampers up to them, attracted by the sound of his name. Blaine gives him a good scratch between his horns before sending him on his way.

“I did what I could for them, treated their injuries and cared for them while they recovered. I think, though, when it comes down to it, they’re the ones who saved me. They gave me purpose, a reason to go on living.” He smiles faintly. “They’re my family, now. My home.”

Kurt has known that much since the day they met, but it’s good to be reminded that Blaine isn’t still that homesick child, pining inconsolably after everything he’s lost – that he has forged a new path for himself, has found his own happiness and surrounded himself with the love of his dragons.

“There were others, too,” Blaine says. “Most choose to stay with us, but not all. I think Haze might leave, once she can fly properly again.”

He, Kurt mouths, and grins a little when Blaine rolls his eyes and knocks their shoulders together.

Anyway,” he says, growing serious again. “Two summers ago, we were passing through a mountain range, on our way to the coast. The flock was still small, maybe nine or ten all together. We weren’t in any rush, so we took our time exploring the mountains. On one of them, hidden away in the back of a cave, we came across a Deadly Nadder, very badly wounded. The trappers had gotten her, that much was obvious. I have no idea how she managed to get away in the condition she was in. Her left wing was ripped nearly in half, and her leg was so badly broken you could see the pieces of bone shifting around under the skin.”

Kurt cringes at the mental image.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Blaine agrees. “We ended up spending the better part of the summer there, nursing her back to health. Spikeblossom – that was her name – she couldn’t even walk, much less make it down the mountain, so I’d go to her instead. We settled in a nearby valley, and every day Prism and I would fly up to her cave. We’d bring her food, and I’d see to her wounds. Usually we’d stay a while after that, spend a few hours with her. Prism scared her at first, but they grew to be good friends. She used to try to groom him like he was her hatchling.” His mouth twists into a small, sad smile. “She was lonely, I think.”

Kurt doesn’t doubt it. Handled properly, Deadly Nadders can be wonderfully affectionate, eager for play and attention. Rachel’s Nadder, Starfire, is one of the sweetest dragons Kurt has ever encountered. (The vainest, too. He and Rachel are truly perfect for each other.)

“There was a large town not too far away, maybe twenty minutes’ flight,” Blaine continues, his smile fading. “Once a week or so I’d leave Prism a few rests away and walk in to trade for supplies – a few chickens for Spikeblossom, linen for bandages, things like that. The people in the town were curious about me, of course. I made up some story about what had brought me to the area – I can’t even remember it now. But they accepted it, and they welcomed me. In that land, people believe very strongly in the laws of hospitality. There was always someone asking me to sit and share tea with them, chat a while, even join them in a song. I hadn’t spent so long in one place since leaving my village. It felt strange, at first, seeing the same faces week after week. But they were always so kind, so happy to see me when I arrived. Sometimes they’d invite me into their homes, to eat with their families. It was…nice, to have that again. Real food, conversation, music…”

He shakes his head. “I came to like them. It made me careless. I would meet up with Prism afterward and go straight to the cave, not imagining anyone would be able to track us.” He huffs a laugh, an ugly humorless sound. “And why would they? After all, they were so kind.”

He pauses for a long while, staring out across the water. Every passing moment of silence makes Kurt a little more afraid for what must be coming.

Blaine’s voice is lower when he speaks again. “I don’t know who it was. Maybe one person, maybe a dozen. Maybe the whole town was in on it. Sometimes I wonder if I was the only one who didn’t know.” He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, then opens them. “It doesn’t matter, really. The end result was the same. I went into town one week, traded for some oils and ate a meal with the tanner and his wife, and went to see Spikeblossom.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out, slowly. “And then, two days later, Prism and I flew to the cave as usual, only to find that the trappers had beaten us there.”

Even though Kurt has been half expecting this, the words still land like a physical blow – like a hammer to his chest, driving the air from his lungs.

“By the time we arrived, it was too late. They had already – “ Blaine cuts himself off, and says again, roughly: “It was too late.”

“Oh, Blaine,” Kurt breathes. To have to witness such a thing… He has seen death, human and dragon alike, but never…never like that. It’s horrible to think of that sweet, shy Nadder, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her friends, and instead finding herself trapped by strangers with weapons – maybe even the same weapons that caused her injuries in the first place. He can only hope she didn’t suffer too much in the end.

Blaine draws in a shuddering breath. “There were so many of them, and I had Prism with me – I couldn’t put him in danger. We had to leave, to get back to our den before they came for the others. There was nothing I could do.”

He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself more than anything, like it’s something he’s repeated to himself again and again, and Kurt’s heart breaks a little more. His poor, gentle, tender-hearted Blaine. How painful it must have been to carry such a crushing guilt with him all this time.

Blaine is still gazing blankly over the lake, so Kurt moves to kneel in front of him, placing himself in Blaine’s line of vision. “Blaine, listen to me,” he says, taking both of Blaine’s clammy, trembling hands in his. “It wasn’t your fault. You must know that.”

Blaine looks at him with dull, dry eyes. “I led them to her. They would never have gone looking for her if it weren’t for me.”

“Blaine,” Kurt tries again, but Blaine is shaking his head, furiously, his face twisting up in agony.

“They brought her down the mountain in pieces,” he spits out, and the tears come at last: ragged, awful sobs that rip out of him like soundless screams. He collapses in on himself, folding down over his knees, and Kurt wraps him up in his arms and holds on.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he whispers into Blaine’s hair. “It was a terrible, terrible thing, but it wasn’t your fault.”

“I let them take her,” Blaine moans, forcing the words out between heaving gasps of air. “I promised her – and then I just – “

“You did everything you could for her,” Kurt says. “You couldn’t have stopped them. It wasn’t your fault.”

It’s not long before Prism is there, drawn as he always is by Blaine’s distress. Kurt doesn’t want to loosen his hold on Blaine’s shaking shoulders, but he’s not about to shut Prism out, not after everything Blaine has just told him. He shifts over to one side to make room, and Prism presses into the offered space, his frill quivering as he tries to comfort his human the only way he knows how.

Blaine’s tears are like a summer storm: fierce, violent, and brief. Within minutes, he’s spent and quiet, leaning wearily against Prism while Kurt smoothes away the last tacky-hot tear trails from his cheeks.

“The others knew,” he says hoarsely. “I don’t know how, but they knew. They were afraid, for a long time after that. The way they looked at me…” His mouth trembles. “I promised them I’d never put them in danger again. I swore to them, no matter what, I’d always keep them safe.”

“You stopped going to villages,” Kurt says. He thinks he gets it now.

Blaine nods. “Stayed as far from them as we could manage. I started keeping an eye out for hunting parties and travelers, anyone who might accidentally come across our den. If I noticed a single sign of human activity anywhere nearby, we’d be gone the same day.” He shifts his weight slightly, moving closer to Kurt. “When you and Sil showed up in the valley, I hadn’t spoken with another person in nearly two years.”

Two years. Gods, it’s no wonder Redbrier was so upset to encounter Kurt that day. After all that time spent fleeing from the slightest trace of human presence, he must have been absolutely terrified.

Prism lays his head across Blaine’s lap, cuddling up against his belly. Blaine rests a hand behind his horn and looks up at Kurt with red-rimmed eyes. “Do you see, now, why I can’t go with you to Lima? It’s not just my life at stake – it’s theirs. I can’t put them at risk again.”

“I see,” Kurt says. He hesitates, choosing his next words carefully. “But, Blaine…this isn’t just some random town we’re talking about. Lima is safe, I promise you. I know every villager personally, and not one of them would ever harm a dragon. Or a person,” he adds, thinking of those horrible boys who drove Blaine out of his village.

“I wish I could believe that,” Blaine says. “I really do. But that’s not a promise you can make. People aren’t safe, Kurt. You don’t know what they’re capable of until they do it.” He strokes Prism’s head, drawing out faint trails of gold with each touch. “If it were just me, maybe – but I have to protect them. And you, too.”

“Me?” Kurt echoes, perplexed.

Blaine leans in to kiss him, very softly, a brief and delicate moment of connection. “Your village loves you,” he says, with a sad, gentle smile. “I’d rather die than cost you that.”

“They wouldn’t care,” Kurt says, though he can hear the doubt in his own voice, dragging at each word. “It’s different in Lima. It wouldn’t be like – like what happened in your village. My friends would stand by us, I know they would. And my dad…” He trails off. He’s not sure how his dad would take the news, actually. There’s a reason he’s never told him.

“I can’t give you what you want, sweetheart,” Blaine says. “Even if I did come to Lima, you know we couldn’t be together. Your father wants to make you chief, you’ve said so a hundred times. You’ll have to marry one day, and have children. I can’t give you any of that. We could never stay together.”

Kurt’s eyes well with sudden tears. “It’s not fair.” Why shouldn’t they get to spend their lives together? Why is their love different from anyone else’s?

“No. But it’s the way things are.” Blaine cradles Kurt’s jaw with both hands. “Kurt, I love you. With every part of myself, from now until the end of time, I love you. My heart is yours, if you’ll have it.” His eyes are bright and intense, boring into Kurt’s. “I can’t give you a life together. But this, us, what we have – that’s ours, and ours alone. No one can touch it. No one can take it from us.” He strokes Kurt’s cheeks with his thumbs. “We just have to keep it safe, that’s all.”

Kurt brings his hands up to Blaine’s, fingers curling loosely around his wrists. He sighs, breathing out around the ache that has settled in his chest. “My dad would really love you, you know.”

Blaine kisses him: once, twice, three times. Beneath Kurt’s fingertips, his pulse is beating strong and steady, measuring out their time together.

Chapter Text

To Kurt’s great relief, the weeks following Blaine’s illness and recovery are considerably less stressful and chaotic. Neither he nor Blaine are eager to dwell on the painful subjects brought up over the course of that one difficult conversation – the specters of Blaine’s past, the fears for their future – so they come to an unspoken agreement to let them rest for now.

It’s simple enough to settle back into an easy, comfortable routine. They go flying, work on Kurt’s map, care for the dragons and play with the growing Sand Devil babies. They talk and sing and cuddle and explore.

And they kiss. They kiss a lot.

Blaine is quite possibly the best kisser in the history of the world, though Kurt has no plans to ever share him with anyone else to confirm as much. His mouth is made for it: lovely full lips, strong teeth to nip and tease at Kurt’s skin, a talented tongue to soothe the sting. He always seems to know exactly what Kurt wants, playful or sweet or gentle or passionate, and he delights in giving it to him. Kurt can feel Blaine’s love for him in every kiss, every touch, and he pours everything he has into making sure Blaine feels his love in return.

Recently, their hands have begun to wander as they kiss, slowly learning the shapes of each other’s bodies. No clothes have come off yet, and they make a point to keep their hips apart, but there is a growing confidence in the way they touch each other, hinting at their mutual interest in more. More often than not, these days, their kissing sessions end with both of them aroused and embarrassed about it, unable to make eye contact as they adjust themselves in their trousers.

“Do you ever think about it?” Blaine asks him one day, once they can both look at each other again without blushing. “Being together, like that.”

“Sometimes,” Kurt says, not quite bold enough to admit that he has a difficult time thinking of anything else some days. “I mean, I…I’ve never…”

“Neither have I,” Blaine says quickly. “But I, um…” He looks up at Kurt through his eyelashes. “I think about it. About you. A lot.”

Desire pangs sharply through Kurt’s body. “Me too,” he says, feeling a bit faint.

“And I – “ Blaine starts, only to be interrupted by Sil, who chooses this of all moments to come bounding over with an enormous, profoundly unhappy snake clamped between her jaws. She seems incredibly excited to show it off, and it is only Kurt’s deep and abiding love for her that stops him from strangling her where she stands.

And you what? he wants to shout at Blaine, even as he’s trying to negotiate with Sil to release her catch. You what?

After the unfortunate snake has been freed and Sil has gone off to sulk, they sit back down together. Kurt smiles at Blaine, aiming for just the right balance of loving, supportive, and curious. “You were saying?”

“I was…oh. Right.” Blaine looks even more bashful than before, clearly rattled by the interruption. “You know, it doesn’t matter, really.”

Oh, it matters.

Kurt arches an eyebrow and frowns very slightly, just enough to convey a sense of disappointment. He should probably feel worse than he does about playing on Blaine’s weaknesses like this, but it’s for his own good.

Predictably, Blaine folds almost instantly under the pressure. “I, ah – I touch myself. You know. There. While I think about you.”

For a moment, Kurt can’t do anything but stare, rendered speechless by the images Blaine has just brought into his mind. It’s only when Blaine starts to pull away from him, face crumpling, that he forces himself to act. He grabs both of Blaine’s hands, squeezes them tight in apology and reassurance. “Oh, honey, no. I’m sorry, please don’t be embarrassed. I’m glad you told me.”

Blaine glances up at him warily. “You are?”

“Yes.” He pushes down the wave of shyness trying to overtake him. “Because now I can tell you that I do, too.”

Blaine’s lips part in surprise. “Oh.

Kurt kisses him then, both to disguise his own blush and because Blaine’s mouth looks irresistibly inviting like that, all soft and open. Blaine returns the kiss with fervor, and that’s the end of that conversation for a while.

“So,” Blaine says, quite a few minutes later, when they’ve finally managed to separate again. “If we’re both doing…that, and thinking of each other, then maybe…” He nervously wets his lips, which does not help Kurt’s concentration in the slightest. “Maybe we should do it together, some time. If…if that’s something you would want.”

Kurt’s mouth goes dry.

“I don’t mean to push you,” Blaine says. “I’m happy with what we’ve been doing. Very happy. And if you don’t – if you’re not ready, even if you’re never ready – “

“Blaine,” Kurt says, cutting off his rambling. “Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, I want that. With you.” He musters all his courage and places a hand high up on Blaine’s thigh, swallowing hard at the feel of hard muscle under his fingers. It’s as clear a signal as he can give without actually ripping Blaine’s clothes off. “Soon.”

Blaine opens his mouth, and then closes it. Then opens it again. Kurt would find it adorable if he weren’t so distracted by the way Blaine’s lips cling together just a bit every time he parts them.

When Blaine finally finds his voice, it’s no more than a whisper. “Okay.” He lays his hand very lightly over Kurt’s. “Soon.”

+

They don’t take that step that afternoon, or the next day, or the next. They’ve decided that they’re ready, in theory, but it’s not something either of them wants to rush into. They both want this to be something special, as close to perfect as they can make it. If that means waiting to find just the right place, just the right time, then so be it.

Fortunately, they don’t have to wait too long. A few days after their initial conversation, Blaine has the inspired idea of returning to the hot springs they discovered earlier in the summer. Kurt does remember how romantic the caves felt, steam-filled and warm, and they can bathe together in the springs afterward. It’s as close to a perfect location as they’re likely to find.

On the day they’ve chosen, they fly out to the hot springs with the flock, arriving around midday. They scout around a bit, and decide on a small, dimly-lit cave with a conveniently wide ledge of rock overlooking the bubbling spring. There’s a comfortingly intimate feel to it, and they’ll have some privacy, assuming they can manage to keep the dragons out. (Kurt may have bribed Sil to distract the others with a promise of an entire basket of salmon, but Blaine doesn’t need to know about that.)

While Blaine shoos the dragons away, Kurt lays out the thick blanket that he brought from his own bed, smoothing it out over the hard rock. It’s odd to see something so familiar in such an unfamiliar setting. He’ll probably never be able to look at this blanket again without thinking about today. About what they’re preparing to do.

About what he’s preparing to do with Blaine. Together. Naked.

Blaine returns, and Kurt stands to greet him, grateful for the distraction from his own thoughts. “All clear?”

“For now, anyway.” Blaine slides his arms around Kurt’s waist. “Is everything all right? You look nervous.”

“I am,” Kurt says. There’s no point pretending otherwise. Blaine knows him too well. “This is…a lot.”

“We don’t have to do anything,” Blaine says. “There’s no rush, sweetheart. It doesn’t have to be today.”

“No.” Kurt draws Blaine into a brief kiss. “But I want it to be.”

Blaine’s eyes look darker than normal, pupils wide in the low light. “You’re sure?”

Kurt steals another tiny kiss, taking comfort in the soft slide of their lips. “Of you? Always.”

He rests his hand on Blaine’s chest, seeking out the faint thud of his heart. He wants this, he does, but now that they’re here, he’s not sure how to move forward. Should he take his clothes off? Should he offer to take Blaine’s clothes off? Maybe they should just start kissing like usual and see how things progress. But Kurt’s flight suit takes time to remove; he doesn’t want to be struggling with that while they’re right in the middle of things.

He and Blaine both open their mouths to speak at the same moment.

“Should we – “

“Let’s just – “

They laugh, a touch hysterically. Blaine bumps their noses together. “Why don’t we both turn around and get undressed? Then we can just get it over with. Like jumping into a cold sea.”

This analogy is not as comforting as Blaine probably imagines, given that Kurt has not been a particularly strong swimmer since losing his leg, but his attempt at settling Kurt’s nerves is sweet. Kurt brushes a curl off Blaine’s forehead and kisses him there, letting his lips linger against Blaine’s skin. “All right.”

They turn away from each other. To be on the safe side, Kurt retreats a few steps before beginning the somewhat arduous process of getting himself out of his clothes. For once, he’s thankful for the complicated assortment of straps and fastenings, the various tools and adornments which require delicate handling. He focuses on removing each piece of his gear and clothing with the care they deserve, and deliberately does not pay attention to the rustling sounds behind him.

It’s very warm in the cave. Kurt doesn’t feel chilled even when he has stripped down to nothing, standing barefoot and entirely, disconcertingly naked with another person for the first time since he was a small child. He arranges all his belongings into a neat pile and deposits them on a relatively dry patch of rock, propping his boot beside them.

At last, out of excuses to drag this out any longer, he calls over his shoulder: “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

He clenches his hands in fists at his sides, trying to contain their trembling. “So I guess we’ll both just…turn around.”

“Okay.”

Kurt turns around cautiously, wary of the wet rock under his prosthetic; the last thing he wants is to lose his balance and fall. Though, of course, Blaine would never laugh at him. Blaine has never once made him feel stupid or self-conscious, has never treated him like he’s anything less than perfection itself, and that knowledge is what gives him the courage to lift his eyes from the ground and look.

Blaine’s body is…indescribable. Kurt has seen bits and pieces of it before – strong calves and forearms, a flash of collarbone, that tantalizing strip of skin that occasionally appears above the waist of his trousers when his shirt gets rucked up – but never like this. There’s so much of him to take in all at once. Kurt can’t even work out where he’s meant to be looking, flitting uncertainly from Blaine’s shoulders to his belly, his hair-dusted chest, the angles of his hips and – and his –

He quickly looks back up, ears burning with the same heat that has suddenly flared to life low in his gut. He takes some comfort in the fact that Blaine looks as overcome as he feels, staring at him with wide unblinking eyes, his lovely red mouth hanging open in a way that sends another frisson of excitement through Kurt’s belly.

He moves a little closer. Blaine matches him step for step, until they are standing right before each other next to the blanket, as close as they can get without touching.

At this distance, it’s easier to focus on Blaine’s face, familiar and so very dear to him. He knows those eyes, those cheeks, those brows. He has kissed those lips countless times, has dedicated hours to the study of that strong jaw. He knows this boy. He trusts him. He loves him.

“You’re all pink,” Blaine says, his gaze fixed intently on Kurt’s throat.

He must be as red as a Changewing from the steamy heat, to say nothing of the flush he can feel spreading all down his chest. He squirms a little, embarrassed, but Blaine catches his hand before he can twist away.

“No, I like it. It’s beautiful.” He cups Kurt’s jaw with a slightly damp hand and kisses him tenderly. “You’re beautiful.”

Kurt can’t help but smile, remembering the first time Blaine said those words to him. He tilts his forehead against Blaine’s. “You’re not going to run away now, are you? Because I’m not chasing after you like this, no matter how nice the view might be.”

Blaine shakes his head, his eyes gleaming with affection. “Not a chance. That chase is long over.” He kisses Kurt again, a little deeper this time, and murmurs against his lips, “You’ve caught me for life.”

Kurt finally allows his hands to fall where they’ve been aching to, sliding up and over the smooth, firm muscle of Blaine’s shoulders. “In that case, I’d better get started enjoying my prize.” His tone is teasing, but his own words send an odd, possessive thrill through him. He sucks on the fullness of Blaine’s lower lip, nips it gently with his teeth. “You are mine, aren’t you? Tell me.”

Blaine moans. His fingers curl against Kurt’s neck, pressing into the soft flesh under his jaw. “Yours, Kurt. Yours forever.”

He presses the whole length of his body against Kurt’s, feet and thighs and bellies and chests. Kurt drags him in even closer, eager for him now, opening himself up to the hunger that’s been building in him all these months. Blaine is his, and he wants him. He wants all of him.

They manage to sink down to their knees without breaking apart, more out of stubbornness than any particular agility. Blaine nudges Kurt to lie back on the blanket and immediately follows him down, crawling up to hover over him like some kind of golden-skinned fantasy.

Kurt smiles up at him. “Hi.”

Blaine smiles back, one of those big beaming smiles that takes over his face and crinkles his eyes. “Hi.” He dips down to brush their lips together. “Still nervous?”

He’s not – not anymore. Excited, yes, and increasingly impatient to get as much of his body touching Blaine’s as they can possibly manage, but not nervous. He can’t even remember now what he was so worried about. He faced down the Red Death with hardly a shiver; he’s tamed a thousand hostile dragons that could have killed him in a thousand deeply unpleasant ways. But this? This is just him and Blaine, together, loving each other. There’s nothing the least bit frightening about that.

He can’t quite figure out how to put all that into words, though, so instead, he answers Blaine by sliding a hand into his hair and tugging him down into a kiss.

It feels so good to have Blaine above him, straddled over him with his bare, hairy knees bracketing Kurt’s hips. He brings a tentative hand to Blaine’s waist, then slides it around to his back, splaying his fingers wide to stroke greedily over all that warm skin. Blaine hums, mostly occupied with sucking a trail of wet, open kisses down Kurt’s throat.

Aside from the nudity, none of this is particularly new for them. Kurt’s hands have crept up under the back of Blaine’s tunic more than once during particularly heated bouts of kissing, and Blaine has certainly made no secret of his appreciation for Kurt’s neck. It’s good, it’s wonderful, Kurt could spend the rest of his life doing nothing but this and die a happy man – but here, today, he’s ready for more.

He drags his hand once more up the long line of Blaine’s spine, all the way from the small of his back to his hairline, entranced by the way Blaine arches up into his touch. On the downward pass, he dares to stroke a little lower, skimming over the rounded muscles of Blaine’s backside.

Blaine lets out a very encouraging noise against the hollow of Kurt’s throat, somewhere between a whine and Kurt’s name. Kurt flushes hot all over, thrilled by his own power. He drew that sound out of Blaine. He can bring them both pleasure with something as simple as the touch of his hands.

He’s aching now, almost painfully hard, throbbing with every hot suck of Blaine’s lips. He can’t quite make out the details from this angle, but as far as he can see, Blaine is in a similar state, his arousal bobbing heavily between them.

(His cock, Kurt reminds himself. If he can’t even think the word, he has no business trying to do anything with it.)

He brings both hands to Blaine’s back, easily spanning his small waist, and presses down lightly with his palms. Blaine takes the hint, shifting his knees back and lowering down to his elbows to bring himself closer.

The change in position makes the slight curve of Blaine’s belly nudge against Kurt’s cock, startling a shrill cry out of him. “Oh!” For such a fleeting sensation, it’s shockingly intense, almost overwhelming. He clutches at Blaine’s back to steady himself, but that just brings Blaine down more firmly against him, jolting another sharp burst of pleasure up his spine.

“Is this all right?” Blaine asks breathlessly. “Is it – tell me what you need, please, just tell me and I’ll – “

It’s so much, so far beyond anything Kurt has ever felt before. He can’t do this alone. He needs Blaine to feel what he’s feeling, to stay right by his side as they explore this uncharted territory.

“Here,” he says, “like this.” He wriggles gingerly under Blaine’s weight, trying to adjust their position without anyone getting kneed in a sensitive place. Blaine quickly catches on, and they carefully arrange themselves so that they’re slotted together just right, their cocks pressed slickly together between them.

Blaine rocks his hips a bit; even that slight motion makes them both moan. Blaine drops his head to rest against Kurt’s shoulder, breathing heavily. “Kurt.” He sounds so vulnerable all of a sudden, wide open and helpless. Kurt wraps him up as tightly as he can, folding his arms around Blaine’s shoulders and hitching his right leg up over Blaine’s hip. He cradles Blaine’s body with his own, holding him close as they find a shaky, irregular rhythm together.

“I have you,” he says. It’s his turn, now, to be brave for the both of them. “I have you, Blaine. I won’t ever let you go.”

It builds faster than he could have imagined, faster than it ever has alone in his bed at night. He’s already spiraling far beyond his own control, wild with want for this boy in his arms. Blaine’s heavy body, the throbbing of his cock against Kurt’s belly, the smell of him – it’s all too much. He digs his fingers into the lush curve of Blaine’s backside and thrusts up into him with everything he has, grinding against that hot, perfect weight until the pleasure snaps like a bowstring and he’s lost to it.

He’s still drifting in a haze of euphoria when he feels Blaine go tense on top of him, every muscle straining as he shudders through his release, more wet heat spilling between them. The cry that escapes his lips is the sweetest sound Kurt has ever heard.

Blaine slumps off to the side afterward, defying Kurt’s feeble attempt to keep him where he is. He doesn’t go too far, though, curling up warmly at Kurt’s side with his head on Kurt’s shoulder, one leg still twined between Kurt’s. He kisses Kurt’s chest, sighing with contentment. “Mmm. How do you feel?”

“Exhausted,” Kurt admits. He barely has the energy to keep his arm wrapped around Blaine’s shoulders.

Blaine laughs. “Me too.” He idly wriggles his toes where they’re pushed up against the metal of Kurt’s prosthetic, eliciting a faint squeak. “Do you think the dragons will come looking for us if we take a nap?”

“Honestly, I can’t believe they’ve stayed away this long.” Sil has more than earned that salmon, that’s for sure. Kurt drags his fingers over the soft, sweat-damp skin of Blaine’s upper back. “We should clean up first, at least. Get dressed.”

They do, and it’s a good thing, too. When they wake from their nap some time later, it’s to find half the flock dozing all around them: Sil and Prism on either side, Glimmer’s babies giving whistling little snores near their feet, Tripod purring loudly where he’s nestled behind the bend of Blaine’s knees.

+

“Blaine, be honest with me,” Kurt says. “Do you actually think I’m stupid?”

Blaine groans in frustration. “Of course not. Look, I know it sounds hard to believe, but I’m telling the truth. I saw it, and it was huge.”

Kurt’s map is laid out before them on the grass, edges fluttering in the gentle wind that sweeps across the plateau where they’ve settled for the afternoon. Kurt has already added all the details for this area, and now Blaine is sharing what he remembers about the places he’s traveled, many of which lie beyond the physical boundaries of the parchment. Kurt won’t sketch them in until he’s seen them with his own eyes, but it’s thrilling to think about how very much of the world he has yet to explore.

At the moment, however, their conversation has gotten somewhat sidetracked by Blaine’s attempt to convince him that he once saw a cat the size of a horse, with massive paws and teeth like a bear’s.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Blaine insists. He’s starting to sound suspiciously like Shannon when she goes off on one of her rambling tales of the monstrous creatures she’s faced down single-handedly. “Its head was as large as Sil’s, I swear.”

“Of course it was,” Kurt says, a touch patronizingly.

Blaine makes an expression of exaggerated outrage. “It’s true! Have I ever lied to you before?”

Kurt pretends to think about it. “Not that I know of,” he allows. “But that could just mean you’re very good at it.” Blaine pouts, and Kurt grins, darting in to bite at the tempting jut of Blaine’s bottom lip before turning back to the map. “All right, enough about these mythical beasts you may or may not have seen. What’s over here?” He points to the patch of grass to the right of the map’s southeastern corner.

Blaine shifts a little closer and props his chin on Kurt’s shoulder, having evidently forgiven him his skepticism. “I’ve never been, but I’ve heard that the seas there are incredible. Endless stretches of beach – not rocky like the beaches here, but covered in mounds of powder-fine sand. And the seas are clear and calm, as warm as bathwater. They say the water is the loveliest turquoise blue you can imagine…like the color of your eyes.” He cranes up to kiss Kurt’s temple. “Though if it’s even half so beautiful, I can’t think how anyone could ever leave that place to tell the story of it.”

“Mmm, now there’s a masterful bit of flattery,” Kurt says approvingly, basking like a pleased cat in the sweetness of Blaine’s words. “Whatever you’re angling for, you can have it.”

“It’s not flattery if it’s the truth,” Blaine says loyally. He beams at the flurry of kisses Kurt lavishes over his face in reward, his eyes gone squinty with happiness. “In any case, I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. About the seas, I mean. That’s probably where we’ll go this year.”

Kurt draws back slightly, startled. A hint of unease skitters up his spine. “Go?”

“For the winter. We can’t stay this far north – most of the flock couldn’t tolerate the cold. Nor could I, for that matter,” Blaine adds, with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

It makes sense, now that Kurt thinks about it. Winter in the valley won’t be quite as harsh as it is on Lima, but Blaine does have a number of dragons adapted to hotter climes, and his little blanket nest won’t be nearly enough to protect him from the wind and snow.

Already, the days are getting cooler. The first frost can’t be more than a month away. Two months, and the valley will be buried in snow. By then, Blaine and his dragons will surely be long gone.

Kurt’s stomach twists.

“There’s plenty of room in our stables, you know,” he says, as nonchalantly as he can. “They stay quite pleasant through the winter. Even the Sand Devils should be perfectly comfortable there.” And there’s room for you, with me, he doesn’t add – not aloud, anyway.

“Kurt,” Blaine says softly, the gentlest reprimand.

Kurt exhales. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. You just took me by surprise, that’s all. I’ve never thought about you leaving.”

“We’ll come back in the spring,” Blaine says. “At the first thaw. I promise.”

That will be nearly half the year, even with the most optimistic predictions for the coming winter. Half a year without Blaine, without his smile and his warmth and his love. Kurt can barely remember what his life was like before Blaine came into it. He doesn’t want to remember.

“You’re upset,” Blaine observes.

“No,” Kurt says. “Maybe. I don’t know.” He folds up the map, preparing it to be tucked away. The excitement of pondering far-away places has lost its appeal for the moment. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t,” Blaine says. He takes Kurt’s face in his hands and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “I’m yours, remember?”

He kisses him again, slowly, deeply. Kurt sighs into it, willing himself to accept the reassurance Blaine is offering. What they have is stronger than any separation. They belong to each other now. Blaine will come back to him. It’s only time.

This isn’t an ideal position for kissing, as they’ve discovered through exhaustive trial and investigation. When it becomes clear that neither of them intend to stop any time soon, Kurt pulls away just long enough to shift himself into Blaine’s lap, reclaiming Blaine’s mouth as soon as he’s settled. Oh, yes, this will do much better. He loves the feel of Blaine’s strong thighs under him, the faint twitch of muscles as he sucks delicately on Blaine’s tongue.

Gods, he’ll miss kissing.

He plays with the hair at the back of Blaine’s head, threading his fingers through the curls and tugging a little, the way he’s recently learned Blaine likes very much. Blaine makes a wonderful sound in response, so Kurt does it again, a little harder. They have already made love once today, but Kurt is seriously considering steering them toward a second round. He craves the intimacy of Blaine’s skin against his, the comfort of their shared pleasure. Nothing can touch them when they’re together in that way.

He is just about to suggest retreating to a more private space when Blaine mumbles something incoherent into the kiss.

“What was that?” Kurt asks teasingly, pulling back to allow Blaine to speak.

Blaine stares up at him, eyes wide and disquietingly serious, and says again: “Come with us.”

Kurt doesn’t get it. “Come where?”

“When we move south. Come with us.” Kurt can actually feel his jaw drop in shock, but Blaine is already forging ahead, words pouring out of him in a nervous rush. He’s clearly been preparing this speech for a while. “You’d love it, I know you would. You’d be free – we’d be free. We could go flying every day, move around as much as we wanted. There’s so much out there, Kurt, so many places waiting to be discovered. We could double your map in half a year. And the dragons – you wouldn’t believe some of the dragons I’ve seen, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s out there. We could find them all, together.” He reaches for Kurt’s hand and twines their fingers together. His voice wavers a little as he says, “We could be happy. I could make you happy.”

“Oh, Blaine.” Kurt squeezes Blaine’s hand; when that doesn’t seem like enough, he tugs it up to hold against his chest, cradling the tangle of their fingers over his heart. “You do, honey. You make me so happy. These past few months have been like a dream.” He ducks his chin to kiss Blaine’s knuckles. “I never want to say goodbye to you.”

“Then you’ll come?” Blaine’s big, mead-colored eyes have never been so beautiful, glowing with hope.

Kurt feels sick with the knowledge that he’s about to shatter that hope into a thousand pieces.

“Blaine, I can’t.” He forces himself not to look away from the way Blaine’s expression falls, the naked hurt that spills across his face like ink on parchment. “You have to understand, my dad – I’m all he has. I can’t abandon him. And there’s Mercedes, and Rachel, and all the dragons, and I just…” He shakes his head. “It’s my home, Blaine. I can’t just walk away.”

“I understand,” Blaine says, very quietly. He looks down. “I shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t fair of me.”

Kurt uses his free hand to tilt Blaine’s face back up toward him. He kisses him, soft but lingering, trying to memorize every last detail of Blaine’s lips on his.

“I love you,” he whispers. “If there were any way…“

“It’s okay,” Blaine says, though they both know it’s not. He slips his hand out of Kurt’s and wraps his arms around Kurt’s waist, drawing him into a tight hug.

Kurt winds his arms around Blaine’s neck, resting his cheek against Blaine’s hair. He has never felt as secure as he does in Blaine’s embrace, safe and cherished and so, so in love.

If only, he thinks, for the first time in a long time. If only I could keep this forever. He has grown spoiled, accustomed to having everything he wants. He should have known it was too good to last.

“You’re sure I can’t talk you into moving to Lima?” he tries, already knowing the answer.

Blaine squeezes him a little tighter. “I’m sorry.”

Kurt tucks Blaine’s head under his chin, savoring the familiar tickle of soft curls against his throat. “Just swear to me that you’ll come back.”

“As soon as I can,” Blaine says. “I swear it.”

Kurt has to trust in that vow. For the sake of his own heart, he has to have faith that those words mean as much to Blaine as they do to him.

After all, Blaine has never lied to him before.

+

The day everything falls apart, Kurt is running late.

It’s not his fault. He’s all ready to leave, preparing to head down to the stables, when his neighbor comes running in with the news that her Gronckle has taken ill, and can Kurt please come see what’s the matter? Poor Crudblast is sick, coughing up rough little chunks of half-melted rock. It takes a while, but Kurt eventually works out that the neighbor’s children have been feeding their dragon scraps of wood, curious to see how it would affect his fire blasts. More than likely, the ailing Gronckle is just a little “stopped up” and should recover as soon as his stomach can process all the wood pulp. Kurt has a talk with the children about the dangers of feeding dragons things they’re not meant to be eating, and instructs their mother to keep Crudblast on an easy diet of pebbles and small rocks until his health improves.

By the time Kurt and Sil finally make it out to the valley, it’s already early afternoon, well after the time he told Blaine they’d come. Kurt hopes Blaine’s not too annoyed with him. They had vague plans for today, but nothing that can’t be put off until tomorrow. Maybe they can just have a lazy afternoon here in the den.

He and Sil do a quick loop of the valley, searching for Blaine. Sil is the one who spots him, standing with Prism in a small clearing near where he sleeps. She immediately swoops down toward him, crowing out a greeting.

Blaine’s head snaps up at the sound. He doesn’t smile, as Kurt expects, but he does start running in their direction, as if to meet them halfway.

Puzzled, Kurt unfastens his tether before they land, preparing himself to jump down to Blaine and find out what’s going on.

His feet have barely touched ground when Blaine barrels into him, grabbing him up in a bone-breaking hug that leaves him reeling.

“I’m glad to see you too,” Kurt says, patting rather awkwardly at Blaine’s waist, since Blaine has managed to pin his arms to his sides.

Blaine releases him without a word of explanation, only to fling himself at Sil, who squawks in surprise as he throws his arms around her neck. She looks at Kurt quizzically, and he shakes his head. He doesn’t understand, either.

It’s not long before Blaine turns his attention back to Kurt. He cups Kurt’s cheeks and kisses him fiercely, smashing their mouths together. “You’re okay, right?” he demands. “Nothing happened?” He doesn’t give Kurt a chance to answer, just kisses him again and again until they finally have to break apart for breath.

Kurt studies Blaine’s drawn face with rising concern. “What’s wrong? I know we’re a little later than usual today, but – “

“I saw trappers this morning,” Blaine says. “I’ve been waiting for you for hours. I thought…” He presses another hard kiss to Kurt’s mouth.

Kurt is too stunned to kiss back. “Trappers?” he repeats. “Are you sure?”

“Three ships of them. They’ve set up camp on the coast. They must be planning to send raiding parties inland.” He drops his hands to Kurt’s shoulders. “You have to warn your village. If they don’t fill their holds, it won’t be long before they’re moving north. They could reach Lima within the fortnight.”

Kurt can’t even speak. For all the stories Blaine has told him about trappers, they’ve never quite seemed real to him. But they are real, and they’re here. They’re coming.

“It’s not a sure thing,” Blaine says. “They may find what they’re looking for down here, or choose a different course. But you can’t count on that. They’re heavily armed, and they…they have enslaved dragons. Not many, but enough to cause problems for you if you’re unprepared.”

Kurt nods, shaking himself out of his daze. “We can handle them.” He’s confident about that much. Their dragons on Lima are powerful and well-trained. With the right strategy, they should be able to incapacitate the trappers without incurring much damage themselves. If Sil and a handful of untrained dragons could take on the Red Death and come out victorious, those murdering bastards don’t stand a chance.

Close by, Sil makes a strange, unhappy sound. Kurt looks over to find her pacing anxiously around Prism, sniffing at him like she’s never met him before. Prism doesn’t engage, just watches her movements, his frill fluttering with a weak flare of emotion. He’s wearing his harness, which is unusual; normally Blaine doesn’t put it on him until just before they go flying. Near his feet are a few small cloth-wrapped bundles.

Kurt spies movement out of the corner of his eye. It’s Venus, sneaking one of her long necks through the nearby trees to peer at him and Blaine. In fact, now that Kurt is paying attention, he can see that the trees are practically crawling with dragons. Dink, Redbrier, Yang, Tripod, even Haze – it looks like the whole flock is here, lingering uneasily at the edge of the clearing.

“You’re leaving,” he says numbly. Trappers are approaching Lima, and he’s losing Blaine a month early. This has to be some kind of horrible dream.

“Yes,” Blaine says. The gentleness in his voice cuts like a knife. “We have no choice. They’re too close. If we stay here, there’s no question they’ll find us. We’re lucky I spotted them and got away cleanly – it gives us enough time to get out and stay well ahead of their scouts.”

“But you do have a choice,” Kurt blurts out. He knows it’s not going to work, knows it will only upset them both, but he’s unable to stop himself from making one last grasping attempt to keep Blaine with him. “Come back with us to Lima. Your flock will be safe in the stables with ours while we figure out a plan to take on the trappers.”

Blaine’s hands tighten on Kurt’s shoulders. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Blaine, please, just think about – “

“There’s nothing to think about.” Blaine takes a step back, brows drawn together. “We’ve talked about this. I thought you understood.”

“Please,” Kurt says. He’s not above begging. He’s not above anything, if it means keeping Blaine. “Please, Blaine. I know you’re scared, but I promise, you’ll be safe in Lima. All of you.”

Kurt,” Blaine says, sounding anguished. “The answer is no. Don’t make me fight you on this. Not today.”

Kurt bites his lip, hard, trying to clamp down on the threat of tears. “So you’re just going to run? Let them chase you out so they can butcher their way through all the dragons that aren’t yours?”

Blaine looks like he’s been slapped. “That’s not fair.”

It’s not, and Kurt hates himself a little for saying it – but it’s not entirely wrong, either. “Look around you,” he says, gesturing to the flock, who have gone uncharacteristically still and silent, watching the quarrel with wide eyes. “Look at the damage the trappers have done. You’ve rescued these lucky few, cared for them and seen to their injuries. But if you could have stopped them – if you could go back and keep Puffer from getting caught in that snare, or Hatchet from losing his eye – wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you want to save them that pain?”

“Of course I would,” Blaine snaps. “But it doesn’t matter – don’t you see that? You can take out a dozen trappers, or a hundred, or a thousand, and more will come. You don’t know what it’s like out there, Kurt. There are people who will pay any sum for dragon skin, and horns, and the meat from their bones. As long as that demand exists, the world will never run short of men willing to commit any evil to satisfy it. You can’t ever stop them all, not even with a whole army of dragons.”

“But we can stop these ones,” Kurt says, his voice pitching high and shrill with frustration. “Just because we can’t solve the problem all at once, that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.”

Blaine stares at him. He looks torn, and for a moment, Kurt thinks he’s broken through – but then he’s shaking his head, jaw set. “No. I can’t do it. Glimmer’s babies are still so small, Haze can barely fly, and half the others – they’re all too vulnerable. I can’t put them at risk for the chance of one small victory, not when the alternative is guaranteed to keep them safe. I promised them, Kurt.”

The fight seems to go out of him then. He looks tired, suddenly. Tired and so terribly, terribly sad. He’s not any happier about his decision than Kurt is. Kurt wants to comfort him, to kiss away those miserable lines from his face, to shake him until he sees reason.

Blaine steps close again, taking Kurt’s hands in his. “Come. We have a little time. Come sit with me. I’ll tell you what I know.” His expression is imploring, a silent plea for forgiveness, and Kurt can’t refuse him. If he’s losing Blaine today, he can’t let him go looking like that.

They sit. Blaine tells him everything he knows about the trappers, what he saw at their camp and what he knows from previous experience. Kurt writes it all down in a shaky hand, words scrawled spidery and uneven across the page. He marks down the encampment’s location on his map, sketches in Blaine’s estimate of the range of their raiding parties and plots the likeliest northbound courses for their ships.

“You probably have at least a week before they make it anywhere near Lima,” Blaine says. “That gives you plenty of time to prepare.”

“We’ll be fine,” Kurt says. He even believes it, for the most part. Lima will be fine, he’s sure of that. He himself is another story.

He folds the map up, stashes it away along with his journal. His pencil has gone rolling off somewhere, hidden in the thick grass. Blaine finds it and hands it to him, their fingers brushing together.

It’s the slightest touch, barely anything, really, but it sends a spark all the way up Kurt’s arm. He looks up at Blaine, who is looking back at him. Their eyes meet.

Later, Kurt will have no idea who started it. It’s not important. All that matters is that one moment they’re sitting side by side, staring at each other, still holding the damn pencil, and the next, they’re falling on one another in a frenzied rush, a mess of grasping hands and clumsy kisses, too much at once and nowhere near enough.

They barely have the presence of mind to stumble a few fathoms into the trees, just out of sight of the dragons, before they come crashing together once more, tearing frantically at each other’s clothes.

It’s harsher than it’s ever been. Kurt sucks and bites a series of dark, angry marks all over Blaine’s body, desperate to claim him even as he’s slipping through his fingers. Remember me, he begs with each mark. Remember how much I love you. Remember that you’re mine.

He brings Blaine to completion with his hand, working over his thick, hot length until Blaine is writhing under him, crying out as he pulses over Kurt’s fingers. He licks Blaine’s release from his hand, then from Blaine’s belly and softening cock, chasing each bitter-salt streak with an eager tongue. He has never before felt a desire to do so, but it seems vitally important now, to taste and feel and possess as much of Blaine as he possibly can.

Maybe Blaine feels the same. He pushes Kurt onto his back and takes him into his mouth, farther than he ever has before, so far that he chokes a few times, his eyes watering. Kurt tries to pull him off, but he won’t budge, still taking Kurt’s cock impossibly deep. His hands grip bruisingly tight at Kurt’s hips, urging on his instinctive thrusts. He moans, wet lashes fluttering against his cheeks, and the vibrations of his throat drag Kurt helplessly over the edge, tumbling down into a scorching-bright pleasure that seems to last a small eternity.

When he regains his senses, Blaine is lying over him, a hot trembling weight on his chest, anchoring him to the ground. “I love you,” he rasps, his voice so utterly wrecked that Kurt shudders with an aftershock of shameful arousal. “I love you, I love you, I love you – ”

Kurt shushes him. The fierceness of their lovemaking has drained out of him, leaving behind only an aching tenderness. He wraps Blaine up in his arms and rocks him gently, stroking his wild curls until he calms. He knows Blaine loves him. He knows.

If only love were enough.

They dress in silence. Blaine assists Kurt with the various pieces of his flight suit, and Kurt helps Blaine into his tunic, smoothing down the worn fabric over his shoulders. He really should have sewn Blaine some new clothes. He’s been meaning to for ages. He just never found the time.

Maybe that’s how he’ll keep himself busy in the coming months, all through the dark days and long nights of another brutal winter. He’ll make Blaine the finest wardrobe any man could want, good durable trousers and colorful tunics, perfectly cut and carefully embroidered. He’ll stitch his love into every seam like some lonely wife pining for her voyaging husband, daydreaming all the while about the look on Blaine’s face when he comes back and sees what Kurt has made for him.

If he comes back.

When he comes back.

Fully dressed, they return to the clearing, where their dragons are waiting for them. Prism lifts his head as they approach, looking to Blaine with a little questioning trill.

“Yes, sweetheart,” Blaine says quietly. “It’s time.”

He helps Kurt up into Sil’s saddle. Kurt doesn’t need the help, of course, but he does need this last touch of Blaine’s hands, warm and steadying. How long will it be before he feels those hands on him again? And Blaine – Blaine won’t touch anyone at all, won’t share one word with another person until the next time they meet. What will it do to him, to return to a life without any human contact at all?

“We’ll come back,” Blaine says, still slightly hoarse. “Next spring, as soon as the snows melt. We’ll come back. I’ll find you.”

Kurt nods. “Stay safe. Don’t go sticking your hands into any nests.”

Blaine’s lips twitch with a faint flicker of humor. “As you command.”

He moves around to stand in front of Sil, who stares at him with big, mournful eyes. She may not fully understand the reasons behind what’s happening now, but she knows a goodbye when she sees one.

“Bye, Sil,” Blaine says. “Take care of Kurt for me, okay?” He lays a hand on her nose, and she butts into it with a soft, subdued croon that twists the dagger in Kurt’s chest.

Blaine looks up at Kurt, eyes bright with the gleam of fresh tears. Neither of them speak. They have already said all the words that matter.

Kurt’s last image of Blaine is of his back as he turns away, returning to his flock.

Kurt shuts his stinging eyes, blocking out the sight of Blaine leaving him. He draws in a deep, bracing lungful of cool autumn air, wipes his cheeks roughly with the back of his hand. “Okay, gorgeous,” he says, leaning forward to pat Sil’s neck. “Take us home.”

There will be time for crying later. For now, he has a village to protect.

Chapter Text

Kurt’s news of the trappers sends the village into an uproar. A handful of the fastest dragons and their riders are dispatched to bring in anyone who’s ventured off the island today. Kurt’s dad orders every dragon grounded indefinitely, hidden safely away in the stables until the trappers have been dealt with.

“That means you, too,” he says sternly to Kurt and Sil, eyeing them suspiciously, as if they might make a break for it at any moment.

He needn’t worry; this is one order Kurt intends to heed, at least for now. For all his brave words to Blaine about taking down the trappers, he’s not reckless enough to think he can manage it single-handed.

Within hours, Lima is completely locked down: dragons in the stables, children in their homes, and every villager strong enough to hold an axe gathered together in the Great Hall to discuss how to handle the trappers.

“Are you sure they’re dragon trappers?” Shannon asks Kurt. “What’s to say they’re not after boar or elk, like any other hunting party?”

“Not with the weaponry they’re carrying,” Kurt says. He recalls something Blaine told him, his stomach turning again as he repeats it: “Their shields are covered in dragon skin. Some of them even have cloaks of it. And they have dragons with them, live ones, chained up at their camp. I think they must be using them to help track down others.”

It’s not his theory, but Blaine’s. Blaine told him it wasn’t the first time he’d heard of trappers with enslaved dragons. According to him, the dragons are kept caged and half-starved, broken down with beatings and abuse until they’ll do anything they’re ordered to, just to avoid the lash. It’s Blaine’s belief that Redbrier and Wheezy both suffered most of their injuries in such captivity, but managed to escape somehow.

“That’s revolting,” Rachel says, voicing the disgust visible on many faces around the table.

“It’s fucked up,” says Puck. “Please tell me our plan involves beating the shit out of these guys.”

Half the people in the Hall look to the chief. The other half look to Kurt.

Kurt’s dad claps him proudly on the back. “You’re the one who saw them, Kurt. Where do you think we should start?”

+

Pulling a plan together turns out to be far harder than Kurt anticipated. Everyone has an opinion about what they should do, and few of those opinions mesh with anyone else’s. Normally, in a situation like this, the most seasoned warriors would pull rank, throwing the weight of their hard-earned wisdom behind the strategy they judge strongest. But they’ve never faced a threat quite like this before; there is no prior experience to draw on. There seems to be a tacit agreement that Kurt’s opinion holds more weight than any other individual’s, but while many defer to him as the resident expert of all things dragon-related, others dismiss his suggestions as naïve and unrealistic.

They can’t seem to find consensus on a single detail, not even the very basic question of whether to take the battle to the trappers, or wait until they come to Lima. If they attack the trappers at their camp, they can fully exploit the element of surprise – but the camp is in unknown territory, and they can’t be sure what fortifications the trappers may have made or what their defenses are like. If they allow the trappers to come to them, that balance is flipped, and they have access to all the larger weapons and other resources they wouldn’t be able to carry with them – but that places the entire village at risk, not just the combatants.

And then there’s the question of what to do with the trappers once they’ve defeated them. Should they be killed? Imprisoned? Let go? Kurt flatly rejects the first option, which most people grudgingly accept, but the alternatives present problems of their own. They don’t have the resources to detain such a large number of prisoners indefinitely. They could dump them all on an uninhabited island somewhere, but that could easily turn out to be a death sentence by another name. And simply letting the survivors go on their way strikes many as overly lenient at best, fatally stupid at worst, especially if the battle takes place near Lima. As Santana points out, what’s to stop them from regrouping and seeking revenge, this time with their own element of surprise?

It’s incredibly frustrating. By the time they break for the night, Kurt is ready to rip his hair out. And it goes on the same way the next day, and then the next. They go back and forth for hours upon hours, picking apart every possible option – sending scouts to assess the enemy’s territory, evacuating all the children and elderly from the village proper, evacuating everyone from the whole island until the trappers have moved on – on and on and on, well into the night, and starting up again just after dawn each morning. Debates grow increasingly heated, fueled by a volatile combination of tiredness and frustration, not to mention the awareness that every passing day limits their options and increases their risk of being caught unprepared.

Of course, Kurt has his own reasons for his foul temper. He’s barely slept in days, and not just because of the late hours they’re keeping. His bed is suddenly the most uncomfortable place he’s ever lain, lumpy and overly soft all at once. He can’t stand to lie there tossing and turning all night, so he paces instead, roaming his room in endless circles until the thud and squeak of his footsteps brings his dad in to investigate.

“I’m just worried, I guess,” Kurt tells him. Another half-truth to add to the pile. “I feel like we’re not getting anywhere. While we’re wasting time arguing, the trappers could be heading straight for us.”

“We’ll get there,” his dad says. “It may not look like it to you, but we’re making progress. We’ve discarded what won’t work, and now we’re closing in on what will. If what you say is true, we have time yet before we have to make a final decision. Seems to me we ought to put the effort into making the right one.”

“But it’s taking so long,” Kurt says, with a very real sigh of aggravation.

His dad gives him a weary grin. “Welcome to being chief, kid.”

+

Even with his dad’s assurance that they’re on the right track, the meetings are still hard to endure. Kurt forces himself to pay close attention to the proceedings – not because he actually cares about whatever tangent Will or Rachel are going off on now, but because every time his attention starts to wander, it goes to places he can’t allow. He can’t let himself think about anything but the trappers right now. If he does, he might just bury himself under the blankets of his lumpy bed and not get up again until the spring.

He’s trying, he really is, but it’s so hard. Getting through each day is like wading through a muddy swamp, struggling every moment to move past the great sucking grief that threatens to swallow him whole. He makes himself eat, but even his favorite foods turn to ash in his mouth, tasteless and nauseating. He can’t go flying to clear his head; he can’t even leave the village, which seems to have grown smaller and more confining overnight. He feels trapped, and he resents it more than he has in a long time.

The hardest thing of all is that he can’t talk to anyone. Sil is the only one who could begin to understand what he’s feeling, and he’s barely seen her since all this started, just a few fleeting moments here or there, on the rare occasions he can escape the Great Hall long enough to sneak down to the stables. No one else has any idea what he’s going through, and so he just has to carry on like everything is perfectly fine – like his heart isn’t lost out there in the void that lies beyond the edges of his map, untethered and vulnerable, flying farther from him every minute.

A week ago, he was as happy as he’s ever been. Now it’s taking every bit of his strength just to keep from falling apart.

+

Mercedes draws him aside one night, while everyone is dispersing to head home for a few hours of sleep. She waves her parents on ahead with a smile, but it falls off her face when she turns to Kurt, her mouth pulling tight with concern. “Okay, Kurt, what’s going on with you? And please don’t try to tell me it’s nothing. I’m not blind. Or stupid.” She brushes a few limp strands of hair out of his eyes. “Something’s got you hurting. Bad.”

Kurt has a deflection on the tip of his tongue – he’s tired; he misses Sil; they’re all under a lot of stress; he hates this sort of thing, she knows that – but he opens his mouth and…nothing. The lie just won’t come out.

Mercedes smiles sadly at him. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.” She studies him, dark eyes roaming over his face. “Anything I can do about it?”

He shakes his head.

She sighs. “Come here, then.” She opens her arms, and he stumbles into them, sinking into the comfort of her hug. She’s soft against him, warm and sweet-smelling. It’s not the embrace he’s longing for, but he takes it anyway, resting his head against hers and closing his eyes against the darkness of the vast, empty night around them.

+

Just before noon on the fourth day, as hunger is starting to make everyone snappish and impatient, their increasingly uncivil debate is interrupted by a disturbance outside. It takes Kurt a moment to recognize what he’s hearing. It’s children, it sounds like, shouting and shrieking in a sudden upswell of excitement. The parents around the table exchange wary glances, probably all hoping that it’s not their children causing such a commotion when they ought to be waiting obediently at home.

“Someone should probably check on them,” says Shannon, looking a little too enthusiastic about the opportunity to escape the Hall. “I’ll go send them on home.”

She’s hardly made it ten steps when Will and Emma’s boy comes bursting through the doors, wild-eyed and breathless. “They’re coming!” he gasps. “The dragons are coming!”

Kurt’s breath catches as the room erupts in chaos. No. Not yet. They’re not ready.

“Arm yourselves!” Kurt’s dad orders, somewhat redundantly, given that every woman and man in the Hall is already snatching up their preferred weapons and racing toward the doors. Kurt unclips his Dragon Blade as he runs, mentally plotting out the fastest course to the stables.

The midday brightness is disconcerting after hours spent cloistered in the dimly lit Hall. Kurt squints at the white-blue sky, trying to make out the shapes approaching the village. Dragons, no question, and a lot of them – too many. Blaine told him the trappers only seemed to have a handful of enslaved dragons, half a dozen at most, and none larger than a Monstrous Nightmare.

The realization hits him in the same moment he recognizes the massive four-necked silhouette of a Snaptrapper. He knows that dragon. He knows all of those dragons.

“Hold your fire!” he shouts. He sprints down the hill to where most of the villagers have congregated. “They’re friends! Hold your fire!” Frantically, he knocks weapons out of as many hands as he can, ignoring the cries of outrage as crossbows and axes go clattering to the ground.

A heavy hand lands on his shoulder. “You heard the man!” his dad bellows, as loud as a Thunderdrum. “Stand down, all of you! Let them pass!”

To Kurt’s relief, every last one of the villagers immediately complies, lowering their weapons even as they grumble with disbelief. They don’t understand or agree with the order, but no one is prepared to blatantly defy the chief at a time like this.

“You’re sure you know what you’re doing?” his dad mutters in his ear.

“Trust me,” Kurt says. His gaze is locked on the dragon flying just ahead of the rest of the flock, a Hobblegrunt whose silhouette is almost as familiar to him as the rider on its back.

The flock lands with a great flapping of wings, stirring up dust from the dry ground. A few of the dragons alight on nearby buildings; the armory’s roof gives a particularly worrying groan under Venus’s weight. Haze escapes from where he’s been clutched in Redbrier’s claws and waddles quickly away, looking aggrieved, while Glimmer and Grit crouch low to the ground, allowing their excited babies to tumble down off their backs.

Prism and Blaine touch down near the armory. Blaine removes his helmet and turns his head to scan the crowd, searching, searching –

He spots Kurt and visibly relaxes, his fingers releasing their white-knuckled grip on the harness. He leans down to say something to Prism, then slips free of the ropes and leaps down to the ground.

The crowd has begun to recover from the shock of the flock’s arrival, buzzing now with a low hum of curiosity.

“Where did they come from?”

“What is the name of all the gods is that thing?”

“Who is he?”

“Mama, look at the babies!”

“He’s handsome,” Rachel hisses, in a whisper that somehow manages to be louder than a shout.

Blaine ignores the murmuring all around him. He gives no sign of how nervous he must be, surrounded by so many strangers, but instead walks purposefully through the crowd with his back straight and his head held high, Prism following loyally just behind.

He stops short a few paces in front of Kurt and his dad. He bows his head in deference to the chief, who gives a brief nod of acknowledgment and squeezes Kurt’s shoulder.

“Kurt, you know this boy?”

“Yes,” Kurt says. “He’s a friend.”

“Is that what you’re calling it,” mutters someone behind them – Santana, no doubt.

Mercifully, Kurt’s dad ignores her. “What’s your name, lad?”

“Blaine, sir,” Blaine says.

“And what brings you to my island, Blaine?”

“I’m here to help, sir,” Blaine says. “I saw the trappers myself, four days ago. I know their location, their numbers, and what kind of weaponry they carry. I know how they operate. I can help you put together a plan of defense.” He glances around at the crowd, and adds uncertainly, “Or…attack?”

Kurt’s dad scratches his chin. “Haven’t quite worked that out yet.” He gives Blaine a long, assessing look. “Kurt, take your friend to get his dragons settled in the stables, and then bring him up to the Hall. We have a lot of work to do.”

Kurt can’t obey quickly enough.

He leads Blaine swiftly toward the stables, guiding him with a not-entirely-necessary hand on his elbow. He doesn’t dare to kiss or even hug him, not with half the village still gawking at them, but he squeezes Blaine’s arm as tightly as he can, reassuring himself that he’s real and not some exhaustion-induced hallucination.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” he says, as soon as they’re out of earshot of the crowd. “You’re here. What did you – I mean, why – “

Blaine brings his own hand up to grip briefly over Kurt’s fingers. “You were right,” he says. “I’m tired of running.”

+

“Sil and I will go in first to negotiate,” Kurt says.

“No,” Blaine says, at the same instant Kurt’s dad says, “Absolutely not.”

“Kurt, that’s suicide.”

“It’s stupidity, is what it is,” the chief says. “I won’t allow it.”

“We have to give them a chance to surrender,” Kurt insists. “We can’t just go in and annihilate them without warning. What would that make us?”

“Vikings,” says his dad.

“Smart,” says Blaine.

“Probably all alive, which is more than can be said for your dumb idea,” says Santana.

Just like them,” Kurt interjects loudly, “would be the answer I was looking for.”

Most of the group seems unmoved, but his words clearly hit home with Blaine, who flinches noticeably. Kurt turns to him, sensing an opening. Blaine has more reason to hate the trappers than anyone else here. If Kurt can convince him, the others will follow, he’s sure of it.

“Think about it,” he says. “You said the trappers all looked different, with clothes and weapons from half a dozen lands. There may well be men in those crews who’ve been forced into it, men who have no choice but to do what they’re told or be killed. I’m not excusing them,” he says quickly, noticing the dark look that passes over Blaine’s face; Blaine is exactly the rare breed of man who would choose death in that situation. “But they may be all too willing to give up this work in exchange for their freedom. That’s fewer enemies we have to take on, less risk to ourselves and the dragons…and less blood on our hands.”

Blaine scowls, looking away to stare intently down at the table. To the others, it probably looks like he’s disagreeing, but Kurt knows him well enough to recognize that he’s working through what he’s heard, trying to reconcile it with his own feelings. Deep down, he must know that Kurt is right, that this is the only possible course of action. In his heart, Blaine hates violence as much as Kurt does. He’s allowing himself to be driven by fear and anger now, and an understandable desire to avenge the suffering the trappers have inflicted on his dragons – but more death is not going to ease his pain, only add to it.

“I’m coming with you,” he says finally, looking up to meet Kurt’s eyes again. “You’re not going in there by yourself.”

Kurt really, really wishes he could kiss him right now. “I can accept that.”

“Now wait just a minute – “ Kurt’s dad begins.

“And you can’t take Sil,” Blaine says. “The instant they see her, they’ll attack.”

Now it’s Kurt’s turn to scowl. “I’m not going anywhere without her.” For all intents and purposes, he and Sil are one unit. The idea of splitting up to work separately is inconceivable.

Blaine holds his ground. “The reward for a live Night Fury would be enormous, enough to make every one of those men rich beyond their wildest dreams. They’ll kill you to get to her and not think twice about it.”

“Without a rider, she’s in even greater danger,” Kurt argues. “We’re both safer together.”

“You won’t be able to persuade anyone to surrender if you’re too busy dodging arrows to speak,” Blaine retorts. “They’re not dragons, Kurt. You can’t just wave your fire sword at them and expect them to swoon at your feet.”

Kurt very nearly growls in frustration. “That’s not what I – “

“Enough!” his dad shouts, banging his fist on the table. “Both of you, just…be quiet.” Kurt deflates, feeling sulky. “Thank you. Now, I think we’re all quite clear on how Kurt and Blaine feel about all this. I’d like to hear some other voices before I make a decision.” He glances around the group. “Mercedes, what do you think?”

As Mercedes begins to speak, her words as measured and thoughtful as always, Kurt catches Blaine’s eye. Your fault, he mouths, barely moving his lips.

Blaine ducks his head to hide a smile, given away by the telltale little lines that sketch out from his eyes.

Kurt’s heart sings.

+

Slowly and painfully, their plan comes together.

They’ll leave the following morning at first light. Scouts will be sent ahead to determine the trappers’ location, as Blaine says they’re likely to have moved on from the encampment he spotted.

Kurt and Blaine will approach first, and make an attempt at parley. While they’re keeping the trappers distracted, Mercedes, Sam, and Puck will sneak onto each of the three ships to free any live dragons trapped in the holds. Blaine will send Redbrier with them, as he should be able to conceal them as long as they’re careful to stay behind him. Kurt has his doubts about whether the Changewing will be able to keep calm around so many armed strangers without Blaine there to reassure him, but there’s nothing they can do but hope for the best.

Assuming that the trappers don’t gladly throw down their arms and offer themselves up in surrender, the parley will eventually unravel into open battle. The main priorities of the combatants under the chief’s command will be to destroy the trappers’ ships and seize their weapons. Once that has been accomplished, any surviving trappers are to be allowed to flee for their disgraceful lives.

Meanwhile, Kurt and Blaine will attempt to corral and pacify the enslaved dragons. Unfortunately, they can’t say for sure how many there may be; Blaine counted six, but the trappers could have been keeping some in the holds, or have already sent them out with a raiding party. They also don’t know how aggressive those dragons will be. It’s possible that they will abandon their captors at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s equally possible that they have been so thoroughly broken and abused that they will instinctively attack any man or dragon who approaches them.

Regardless of the dragons’ behavior, all combatants are under strict orders not to harm them unless it becomes absolutely necessary. They are to fire only to deflect and distract, not to injure. Blaine and Kurt will handle the rest.

+

They all retire early in preparation for the early start. Blaine politely declines the chief’s offer to have a bed found for him, explaining that he’d prefer to stay with his dragons. Kurt immediately starts constructing an excuse for why he too needs to stay in the stables, but in the end, he doesn’t need it. His dad just waves him off with a roll of his eyes and tells him to send home whoever’s been posted as guard tonight.

The moment they’re alone in the stables, Kurt seizes Blaine’s face in both hands and kisses him until they’re both seeing stars.

“I love you,” he says into Blaine’s mouth – his soft, sweet, beautiful mouth. How could he have ever thought he could survive half a year without that mouth? “These have been the longest four days of my life, I swear.”

“For me, too.” Blaine sucks lightly on Kurt’s upper lip, making his knees wobble. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Kurt, I – “

“Don’t apologize,” Kurt mumbles, already feeling hazy and loose-limbed, floating on the pleasure of Blaine’s plush lips moving against his. He has Blaine; he doesn’t care about anything else. “Just kiss me.”

Blaine doesn’t require any further orders.

It turns out to be for the best that they’re both spending the night in the stables. The dragons are all keyed up, nervous and on edge. Blaine’s flock is unsettled by the unfamiliar surroundings, the Lima dragons are intrigued by (and slightly suspicious of) the new arrivals, and all of them can sense that something significant is about to happen.

Of all the many dozens of dragons in the stables, Sil is the only one who seems to be perfectly content with the present circumstances. She’s overjoyed to see Blaine again, and proves it with her tongue, licking him all over his hands and face until Kurt finally has to push her away. Blaine may not mind getting coated in a gooey layer of Night Fury spit, but Kurt doesn’t want to get a mouthful of it every time he goes in for a kiss.

Sil is equally happy to be reunited with Blaine’s dragons. She zips back and forth between them, pestering them all relentlessly. She’s particularly persistent with Prism, for some reason, nuzzling and teasing him, trying to goad him into playing with her. Kurt is on the verge of chastising her when Blaine stops him, quietly pointing out the way Prism’s hide shifts color every time Sil pounces on him, anxious blue-violet slowly fading away under blooms of gold.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Blaine says with a smile – the first true smile Kurt has seen from him all day. “The calmer he is, the calmer they’ll all be.”

Kurt shakes his head in amazement. Sil never ceases to surprise him. “Do you think I should be afraid of how much smarter than me she is?”

Blaine laughs and leans his head on Kurt’s shoulder. “Just keep on her good side, and she’ll stay a benevolent despot, I think.”

Finally, inevitably, Prism takes Sil’s bait and lunges at her, harmlessly snapping his teeth in a pantomime of aggression. The pair of them tumble around in a tussling ball of black and yellow, mowing a clumsy path through disgruntled onlookers. Yang and Dink jump into the fray; to Kurt’s surprise, they’re shortly joined by a few of the Lima dragons, the whole lot of them scrapping like oversized puppies while Glimmer wisely herds her babies away from the commotion (much to their disappointment).

“Half a day in your stables and they’re already at each other’s throats,” Blaine says. “Your dragons are terrible influences.”

“Nonsense. They’ve broken the ice, at least.” Kurt glances around to check on the rest of Blaine’s flock, tucked away in various nooks and corners. None of them are sleeping, but at least they don’t seem too restless. “Do you think they’ll be okay tomorrow?”

“I hope so,” Blaine says. “I’m almost more worried about the ones we’re leaving behind, to be honest. I’ve talked with all of them, but I’m not sure how much they understand.”

“They’ll be fine here. They’ll barely notice you’re gone.” He folds his hand around Blaine’s, stroking over the familiar angle of his crooked finger. “And you? Will you be okay?”

Blaine shrugs. “I’ll be happy when it’s over, and you and all the dragons are safe.”

It’s an evasive answer, but Kurt lets it slide. He pets Blaine’s hair with his free hand, tweaks a springy curl and winds another around his finger. “I know it’s not easy for you, but I’m so glad you’re here. So, so glad. Thank you for coming.”

“I had to,” Blaine says. “And not just because of the trappers, though I meant what I said before.” He draws Kurt’s hand into his lap, clasping it tenderly between both of his. “It took me less than two days to realize I couldn’t leave you. I was a fool to think I could.”

“Will you stay, then?” Kurt asks, hardly daring to hope. “After we deal with the trappers? Will you stay with me?”

“As long as you’ll have me.” Blaine curls a little closer, rubbing his cheek against Kurt’s shoulder. “And possibly a while longer after that. I can’t promise to let you go without a fight.”

“Well, it’s a good thing it’ll never come to that, then,” Kurt says. He tilts his head to rest against Blaine’s, watching their dragons, who are finally starting to settle down to sleep, nesting together in little huddles. He feels a little apprehensive about the coming confrontation, but mostly he is just happy, content to savor the moment and not worry too much about what the future holds. Dawn is hours away yet, and for now, he has Blaine at his side, warm and safe and promising him forever.

Tomorrow will bring a battle, and violence, and fear – but tonight, there is peace.

+

It turns out that the trappers have moved on, as Blaine thought, but not too far. They find their ships just north of where Blaine saw the camp, sailing near the coast.

“That one,” Blaine says, indicating one of the ships. “With the black and red banners. That’s where the captain will be.”

“Then that’s where we’re headed,” Kurt says. “Remember, I’ll do the talking. You just stand there and try not to kill anyone.”

“I haven’t promised anything,” Blaine says flatly, a weak attempt at a joke. At least, Kurt thinks it’s a joke. Blaine isn’t even armed, aside from the small knife he always carries and the shield Kurt insisted on. He doesn’t know how to use a sword or a bow, nor even an axe, and expecting him to learn as he goes seemed to be asking for trouble. Kurt will just have to protect both of them, if it comes down to it.

They fly down toward the ships, making for the one Blaine pointed out. As they approach, they can hear shouting, and see movement on the deck. Their arrival has not gone unnoticed.

“Fire!” cries a tiny voice. A weighted net comes hurtling through the air toward them, and they swerve out of its path, Kurt and Sil in one direction, Blaine and Prism in another. Another net follows shortly after, and a third, each one easily dodged. The trappers are clearly either in the habit of wasting nets, or accustomed to less agile prey.

They land near the bow of the ship, where the crowd seems to be thinnest. Still, by the time Kurt and Blaine dismount, the trappers have them surrounded. Sil bares her teeth and growls at the men.

Kurt looks around, not making much of an effort to hide his distaste for the ragtag assortment of thugs around him. As Blaine said, they seem to be from a variety of different backgrounds, though they all share a similar hulking build – and, Kurt thinks uncharitably, a distinctly dim-witted set to the face. He rather doubts that they’re any more adept with words than they are with nets.

“Which one of you is the captain?“ he asks loudly.

“I am,” says a deep, booming voice from within the crowd. The crew parts hurriedly, clearing a path for a tall, burly man to come forward. Aside from his admittedly imposing size, the most arresting thing about him is his face, which may have been handsome at one time, but has been hideously disfigured by a mess of raised white scars. Out of this gruesome mask peer two startlingly sharp, icy blue eyes. Kurt has to resist the urge to shiver when they land on him.

“This is my ship,” the man says, “and these are my men. That makes me the captain, wouldn’t you say?” His pale eyes shift over to Sil. “And that…that is a Night Fury.”

Kurt hears Blaine draw in a sharp breath. Calm, he thinks, wishing he could project emotions like a Hobblegrunt. Just stay calm.

“That’s a fine-looking beast you’ve brought onto my ship,” the captain says, looking back to Kurt. “I’ll be glad to take it off your hands.” His hand drops to the hilt of his sword, making it clear that he’s not proposing an equal transaction.

“She’s fine where she is, thank you,” Kurt says. “We’re here to make you an offer.”

The captain scoffs at him. “If it’s coin you want, you’ve picked the wrong crew. I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, but I don’t deal with middlemen.”

“Well, good, because we’re not selling,” Kurt says sharply. “Our dragons aren’t what’s on offer. Yours are.” He looks around at the crew. “You’re in the wrong line of work, gentlemen. What you do is vicious, savage, and unpardonable. Worst of all, it’s unnecessary. Dragons aren’t game to be hunted, any more than people are. They’re smart. They’re loyal. You don’t need whips and chains to get a dragon to help you. You just need to be kind to them. Earn their trust, their friendship, and they’ll do anything for you.”

“Will it give up its skin, if I ask real nice?” the captain asks, his voice mocking. “Filet itself into fat steaks to sell?” He spits on the deck, toward Kurt’s feet. “I’m not interested in their help, boy. Their bodies will suit me just fine.”

“We’ve come to ask you to stop,” Kurt says. “Free any dragons you have in your holds, hand over your nets and snares, and we’ll let you go. Believe me, this is an offer you’re going to want to take us up on.”

“Or what?” the captain says. He takes one menacing step forward, then another, advancing on them. “You two pretty boys and your pet dragons will stop us?”

Kurt smiles coldly. “Something like that.”

The captain stares at him. This close, the scars on his face look like the glowing veins of a hatching Gronckle egg, ready to explode. Whatever dragon wreaked that damage deserves a place in Valhalla for it.

“Forgive me,” he says suddenly. “We’ve been terribly rude.” He turns back to his men. “Aldred! Babak! Why don’t we show our guests some hospitality?”

The crowd shifts, allowing Kurt and Blaine to see through to where two men are crossing the deck, whips in their hands. Between them is what looks like a Seadragon, still young, not much larger than Sil. It’s weighed down by a heavy steel collar, as wide across as a grown man’s hand, and attached to two chains held by the trappers. Even from this distance, Kurt can see glimpses of scar tissue and freshly broken skin where the collar chafes around the dragon’s neck.

“I’ve got dragons too, pretty boy,” the captain says. He motions to one of the dragon’s handlers, who snaps his whip against the deck. The sound spurs the Seadragon into action; it roars and tries to lunge forward, only to be brought up short by its chains. “And they do exactly as I tell them.”

“Your dragons despise you,” Kurt says. It’s clear from the Seadragon’s stance, the way it cringes away from its handlers even as it snarls at Kurt and Blaine. “They obey you out of fear, not loyalty. Do you really think they won’t desert you at the first opportunity?”

The captain spits again. “Best not give them that opportunity, then.” He looks over to Sil, curling his fingers around the hilt of his sword. “I’m feeling generous today. Hand over the Night Fury, and we might just let you run away without putting an arrow in your back.”

Sil growls, ears flat against her head, and Blaine shifts at Kurt’s side.

Kurt puts a hand out to stay both of them. “We’re trying to give you a chance,” he says, directing his words at the whole group.

The captain grins, his scars twisting the expression into a tilted, open-mouthed sneer. “And I’m taking it.”

Kurt sees the attack coming, and instinctively brings up his sword to deflect it. At the same moment, however, Blaine seizes the back of his flight suit and jerks him backward, so that the two blades barely make contact, glancing off each other with a scraping clang of steel on steel. It’s probably for the best – Kurt didn’t design the Dragon Blade for strength, and he knows it wouldn’t hold up against the full weight of that heavy broadsword.

Blaine yanks him further back, which gives Prism space to fire on the captain, knocking the sword from his hand. His expression of shocked outrage is deeply satisfying, and it only gets better when Sil fires off a blast that destroys the chains attached to the Seadragon’s collar.

Unfortunately, they can’t stick around to see what happens next. Kurt scrambles onto Sil’s back, and they’re in the air the next moment, pausing only long enough to make sure Blaine and Prism are with them before surging up and away, climbing fast to escape the range of the trappers’ nets and arrows.

“Now, Sil!” Kurt shouts.

She fires a blast into the sky, easily piercing through the first layer of clouds, then wheels around and fires on the ship they just vacated, shattering one of the masts and setting a sail ablaze.

Within seconds, dragons come pouring down from the clouds. Kurt spots his dad and Morningstar among them, and Rachel and Starfire.

With luck, Mercedes, Sam and Puck have noticed the signal as well. Kurt can only hope that he and Blaine managed to buy them enough time to unlock each of the holds.

He steers Sil up through the sudden storm of dragons, pulling high enough that they can see what’s happening on all three ships. They hover there with Prism and Blaine, scanning the chaos below in search of –

“There!” Blaine calls. He points to one of the ships, where an unfamiliar Needlewing is circling just above the deck.

“We need to get it away from the ships,” Kurt calls back. “Come on, I have an idea.”

He and Sil dive down toward the ship, followed closely by Blaine and Prism. The Needlewing doesn’t notice them at first, too busy shooting sizzling bolts of electricity at anyone within range. Its distraction makes their work a little easier. On Kurt’s instruction, Sil fires a small blast just to the right of the Needlewing, startling it out of its circling pattern. It swerves left, veering out over the open water. It looks up, seeking out the source of the attack, but Sil has already ducked down below it, nearly skimming the water as she fires another blast up between the dragon and the ship. It looks down, only to be distracted by a burst of flame from Prism above.

Working together, they manage to herd their target away from the ship. Once they’ve put some distance between them and the trappers, they meet in the middle, allowing the Needlewing to finally get a good look at them. Kurt can see the moment it realizes it’s been tricked, its small yellow eyes darting furiously between Sil and Prism. It screeches at them, an awful piercing noise. No doubt it means to be intimidating, but Kurt thinks it sounds more scared than anything.

“It’s okay,” Kurt says. “No one’s going to hurt you, I promise.” He ignites the Dragon Blade, pleased to see that it catches the Needlewing’s eye, and begins swinging it in lazy, rhythmic circles. To his left, he can see Prism shifting from red to yellow, pulsing out waves of soothing energy toward the agitated dragon.

Separately, either of these techniques might not have been sufficient, but the combination is as effective as they could have hoped. The flaming sword distracts the Needlewing, disarming it and holding its attention while Prism’s radiating calm dulls the edges of its fear. Within minutes, it’s blinking uncertainly, looking confused, like someone that’s just woken up from a strange dream.

“There, that’s better,” Blaine says, in the same low voice he always uses with his own dragons when they get worked up. “You’re safe now. We’re not going to let anyone hurt you again.”

They guide the Needlewing over to the rocky beach. It’s calm enough now that it allows Kurt to approach and examine its collar, sniffing curiously at him with its pointy snout while he runs his fingers over the rusted hinges.

“Can you take it off?” Blaine asks.

“Not right now,” Kurt says regretfully. “I don’t have the right tools with me. It’ll have to stay on until we can get them back to Lima.”

“That’s all right. I don’t think this guy’s going anywhere.” Blaine rubs very gently behind the Needlewing’s ear, huffing a laugh when its forked tongue lolls happily out of its mouth. “You wait here for us, okay, sweetheart? We’re going to go help your friends.”

+

One by one, they find, isolate, and pacify the trappers’ dragons: a Desert Wraith, a Rumblehorn that could be Morningstar’s twin, a pair of small and wretched Gloomers. They’re not all as easy to placate as the Needlewing, but for the most part, they yield without much of a fight.

An hour after they arrived, the trappers are well on their way to a crippling defeat, their ships aflame and half their weapons destroyed, and Kurt and Blaine have gathered seven dragons on the beach, a good distance from where the Limans are temporarily confining the trappers.

The dragons are all remarkably compliant. They sit quietly on the beach, submitting to Blaine’s careful nudges and prods as he checks them over for injuries. Prism is still helping to keep them calm, but it’s an easier task than Kurt anticipated.

“They were probably all used as trackers, not trained for aggression,” Blaine speculates.

“That Seadragon was, though,” Kurt says. “You saw how it lunged at us.” He looks out across the sea, squinting at the handful of dragons still flying around the blazing ships. “Speaking of which, where is it? I haven’t seen it since the battle started.”

“I haven’t, either.” Blaine looks up from petting the Gloomers, both huddled miserably against his legs. “It must have gotten away from the trappers. I can’t imagine it’s gotten very far, not with that collar.”

“I’m going to go look for it,” Kurt decides. He waves Sil over. “You and Prism stay here and keep the others calm. We’ll be back soon.”

Blaine frowns. “No, we’ll go with you. You shouldn’t – “

He’s interrupted by the arrival of Redbrier, who nearly knocks him over in his excitement, his antennae winding all around Blaine’s body as he burrows in for a cuddle. Dink turns up shortly after, followed by Hatchet and then Venus, all of them looking immensely relieved to have found a familiar face. Understandably, Blaine’s attention is diverted away from the question of the missing dragon, focusing instead on making sure his own dragons are uninjured, praising and reassuring them. They preen under his attention, crowing happily as their relief shifts into pride.

In the midst of this enthusiastic reunion, Kurt slips quietly away with Sil. Blaine might be a little upset with him later for going off on his own, but he’s busy with his dragons right now, and they really need to track down that Seadragon. It might not survive on its own with that collar on.

They check each of the three burning ships first. There’s no sign of the Seadragon. They can’t spot it in the water, either. Kurt hopes that means the dragon made it to land; the alternative is too grim to think about.

The Seadragon could have gone anywhere, but Kurt is betting that it made for the cliffs at the far north end of the beach. He and Sil head in that direction, keeping an eye out along the way for any signs of movement below.

The cliffs are invitingly lush and green on top, and they’re not very tall. Even weighed down by its collar, the Seadragon could easily fly up here, seeking out the cover of brush and trees.

Kurt and Sil make a few passes overhead, searching for clues. Finally, they spy a puff of smoke drifting up from the sparse trees near the cliff’s edge, just before the steep drop down to the water.

“Got you,” Kurt mutters.

They land at a safe distance, not wanting to spook their target too much. The Seadragon still hackles when it notices them approaching, but it doesn’t lunge forward like it did on the ship, which is a good sign. Without the threat of the whip, it probably doesn’t care much about its former masters’ enemies.

Kurt draws and ignites his sword. The Seadragon flinches, growling instinctively in its surprise. Kurt spins the sword in the same hypnotic circles that worked so well on the others, encouraged by the way the dragon’s eyes track the blade’s movement. This was easier with Prism’s help, but it’s not as if he’s never tamed a wild dragon on his own before. Even now, the Seadragon’s slitted pupils are starting to expand, growing round and black.

“I’m not one of them,” Kurt says. “I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.” He takes a tentative step forward, and the Seadragon allows it, still focused on the blade. “That collar must be pretty heavy, huh? Looks like it hurts. I can help you get it off, if you let me.”

He shifts the sword into one hand and extends the other toward the Seadragon, who eyes it warily, cringing back a step. Okay, maybe not quite ready to trust yet, but it’s getting there.

“Fire!”

Kurt and the dragon both startle, jumping back from each other. Kurt spins around just in time to see the net being launched – not at him or the Seadragon, but at Sil. She roars in outrage as it closes around her, catching her up in a thick, tangled mess of rope.

“Sil!” Kurt starts toward her, but finds himself snared by a thick-muscled arm around his throat. Something hard presses against his side, digging into the thin leather between the belts of his suit.

“Well, would you look at that,” says a deep voice in his ear. “Here’s my chance.”

Sil thrashes, screeching with panic. Her wings struggle to open, bulging uselessly against the rope pinning them in. She loses her balance and topples over, and instantly begins rolling around in a frenzy, wrestling to squirm free of the net.

“Sil!” Kurt cries again. He fights against the captain’s hold, but the man is too strong. His arm is like steel, briefly cutting off Kurt’s air with a slight flex of muscle.

“Should’ve taken me up on my offer when I gave you the chance, pretty boy,” the captain growls. “Now you’re losing your life and the beast.” He twists the point of his blade against Kurt’s waist. “Not just yet, though. First you’re going to watch my men put the collar on your bitch.”

Sil is still thrashing wildly, rolling over and over. She’s frantic, entirely focused on escaping the net. She doesn’t notice how close she’s rolling to the edge of the cliff, until –

A few of the trappers leap forward, but it’s too late. She’s tumbled over the edge, plummeting down toward the sea below.

Sil!” Terror claws at Kurt’s throat. He struggles desperately to break free, barely noticing the dagger digging harder into his side with every movement. “You have to let me help her! She can’t fly on her own, she’ll drown!”

The captain flexes his arm again, choking off Kurt’s words. “You three,” he barks at a few of his men. “Go get the bitch. I want her alive.”

While those men depart, two of the others approach the Seadragon, brandishing their swords in its face. It cowers away from the weapons, and they both laugh. “Dumb beast,” says one, and whacks the dragon’s flank with the flat of his blade.

“You two looked awful cozy a minute ago,” the captain says to Kurt. “Why don’t you try making nice again, now it remembers who its real masters are?”

His men laugh and jeer. One of the Seadragon’s handlers hits it on the hindquarters, urging it forward. It obeys, stumbling a few steps toward Kurt and the captain. Another hit, and the dragon bares all its teeth in a roar.

“Aye, real friendly sort, these dragons are,” the captain says. “I can’t wait to see just how friendly it gets with you.”

Kurt locks eyes with the Seadragon, whose pupils have gone narrow and slitted once more. He was so close before. If he can just find that connection again…

“You don’t have to do this,” he says. “I’m not one of them. I won’t hurt you.”

The trappers laugh again. “I don’t think it’s going to be you doing the hurting, boy,” says the captain.

Kurt ignores him. His Dragon Blade lies forgotten in front of him, still blazing against the ground. He looks deliberately at the sword, and then back to the Seadragon, pleading with his eyes.

The Seadragon growls at him, even as its gaze flicks down toward the sword. It glances back to Kurt, then to the sword again, its eyes reflecting the faint glow of the flames.

One of the trappers lashes out suddenly, aiming a kick up into the dragon’s belly. “Go on, then, you worthless shit,” he snaps. “Get him.”

The Seadragon’s lip curls back from its teeth again, snarling from low in its chest. It looks at Kurt once more – not at his face, but just below, where the captain’s arm is still squeezing tight around Kurt’s throat, choking him. Collaring him.

Kurt slams his prosthetic down against the captain’s instep at the exact moment that the Seadragon rounds on its handlers, spewing fire. The captain’s answering grunt is more surprise than pain, but his grip still gives, every so slightly. It’s all Kurt needs. He frees just enough space between them to drive an elbow back into the captain’s gut. His arm loosens just a bit more, and Kurt surges forward and down with all his strength, already reaching out for his sword as he finally, finally breaks free.

Just as his hand closes around the hilt, something comes crashing down between his shoulders, sending him sprawling. He rolls onto his back and swings his blade in front of him, slashing at the captain’s leg where it’s poised for another kick. The burning edge strikes hard against the man’s dragon-skin boot, not searing through, only throwing him off-balance.

Kurt tries to scramble away, but the captain is too fast. He kicks the sword from Kurt’s hand and plants that foot on Kurt’s chest, leaning into it with his full weight. It’s too much: something snaps under the pressure, and Kurt sees white, ears ringing with the sound of cracking bone.

The captain hunches over him, still grinding his weight down through his heel. The pain of it is blinding. “I’ve had enough of your games, boy.” He spins his dagger in front of Kurt’s eyes. The blade is wet, shining with blood. Where did the blood come from? “It’s my turn to play.”

He lowers the blade to Kurt’s neck, tracing the tip down the side of his throat. Kurt can barely feel it. He can’t feel anything but the crushing weight on his chest, the ache of his lungs, a curious dull pain growing at his side.

“I think I’ll make myself some new boots with you,” the captain muses. “Won’t do me much good with the dragons, but they’ll look awful nice. Don’t you think so, pretty – “

He never sees it coming. The Seadragon strikes out of nowhere, cutting him down between one word and the next. Kurt hardly sees it himself, just a flash of color and movement, green scales and bright crimson blood, and then the dagger is gone, along with the pressure on Kurt’s chest.

He still can’t breathe properly, though. The pain hasn’t gone anywhere. The hurt in his side is throbbing, pulsing in time with his heartbeat. He thinks he knows, now, where the blood came from.

Somewhere off to his left, someone is screaming. The captain, probably.

Good.

He closes his eyes, just for a moment. When he opens them, he sees red. Blood? No. Scales. A belly.

Distantly, he notices shouting nearby. Fighting. There’s a dragon crouched over him, spitting blasts of flame at anything that comes too close. Protecting him.

The dragon turns suddenly, and something whips sharply against Kurt’s face. It’s rope. Rope from a harness, hanging down in limp, empty loops.

Prism.

Blaine. Where is Blaine? He’s not here, but Prism is. That’s not right. Prism never leaves Blaine’s side.

“Go,” Kurt croaks out. He can’t find the breath to explain – go find Sil and Blaine, help them, leave me – so he just shoves weakly at Prism’s leg, trying to spur him into action. “Go.”

But Prism doesn’t go, and Kurt doesn’t have the strength to tell him again. Everything is fading now, darkness stealing in at the edges of his vision. Shouts and roars, the clang of weapons, all of it blurs into a vague, humming drone of sound, nearly drowned out by the rush of blood in his ears.

As the pain washes up over him, he imagines he can hear the shrill, whistling sound of Sil diving into an attack.

Go.

Chapter Text

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.