Hiccup deflected the dagger Astrid tried to stab into his gut, twisting and pulling it up at an awkward angle so she couldn’t try again. The fading light caught the blade, and he realised there were words etched into the metal:
‘Touch her, I kill you’
Hiccup almost snorted in amusement. It’d been seven years since he’d spoken to Gobber, much less anyone else from Berk, and it was nice to know the blacksmith hadn’t changed in the least.
He was pretty sure there were some anti-Troll charms carved into the handle as well. Gobber covering all of his bases, in case the rumours were true and the elusive ‘Dragon Master’ wasn’t human.
The urge to make a sarcastic comment was there, but it was well known that the Dragon Master didn’t speak to Vikings. Although in this case, it looked like he was going to have to break his own rule.
Flying over Berk and finding Astrid dressed up as a bride with a knife at her throat while Spitelout called for the Dragon Master would do that.
“Where is Stoick the Vast?” He demanded, trying to make his voice sound lower than his usual tenor. He may not have gotten along with his father, but there was no way he could imagine Stoick allowing one of his people being offered up as some sort of sacrifice.
Unless Stoick was dead. That might have explained the stench of alcohol, which he’d been able to smell from the air above Berk.
Astrid recoiled, releasing the dagger and nearly falling off the carved watchtower just off shore that Toothless had landed on after snatching her from Spitelout’s grip. Toothless rumbled, curving a tail around her, so she didn’t fall off and she skittered away from him, trying to stay out of reach of both of them, but not having anywhere to go except a steep drop down.
“He’s at the Spring Assembly.” Astrid stammered, eyes wide.
Of course he was. Each Spring, the local chieftains gathered to discuss business, pass along news, and make trade agreements. And unlike the massive mid-Summer Althing gathering in Þingvellir, the meeting location changed every year. “Where?” He demanded.
“Bergen. It’s about a week away by sea, to the south east.” Astrid swallowed, shifting nervously, her gaze flickering between the glass lenses of Hiccup’s horned helm to Toothless’ face.
A week by sea was little more than a day’s trip by Night Fury. It took Toothless just under two hours to fly the same distance it took a full day and night for a boat to sail. It wouldn’t take much effort to get to Stoick.
“Did he know about this?” Hiccup tried to gentle his words, but he was too angry to have much control over that.
Astrid shook her head, unbound hair tumbling over her shoulders. “No!”
Thank Thor for that. Hiccup nodded, able to relax his shoulders for the first time since he’d heard Spitelout shouting for the Dragon Master, offering Astrid in exchange for something that Hiccup hadn’t heard over the sound of blood rushing in his ears.
Out of all the people they could have offered to him, it had to Astrid Hofferson. Anyone else he would have been able to ignore or been rational about, but he’d never been able to be rational about Astrid.
It didn’t help she was more breathtaking now than she’d been seven years ago, and a glimpse of her had been able to steal the breath from his lungs then.
He took a deep breath and let it out. Focus. He need to nip this ‘Virgin Bride Sacrifice’ in the bud, before anyone else got any bright ideas. “If I drop you off back on Berk, will you be safe there?”
Astrid glanced towards the glow of the village, fires being lit to ward off the approaching sunset. She squared her jaw, teeth grinding for a moment while she thought. “... No.” She finally said, bitter loathing filling her voice.
His gaze flickered to the line of blood marring the pale skin of her neck, the bruises forming on her arms.
Right. The unwilling bride sacrifice thing. It had been a stupid question to ask.
“Is there someplace I can take you?” Hiccup asked, trying to think if Astrid would have travelled much off the island. It wasn’t like he spent a lot of time around Berk, there too many memories. The only reason he was in the area was because some of his tribe had decided they had a craving for sheep and he was trying to keep the dragon raiding down to a minimum, to keep death and injury low on both sides.
Astrid pressed her lips together and shook her head, looking like she was close to tearing up in frustration.
“Right.” Hiccup sighed. The first place he could think of that was safe was with Mom and Cloudjumper, but given Astrid’s reaction to Toothless, she might not consider that safe. And, they were about a days’ flight away in the opposite direction.
Same for the the Wingmaidens, which was unfortunate because Astrid would probably enjoy spending time with fellow warrior women. The baby Razorwhips, possibly not so much though.
He wished he knew where Heather was, she and Astrid would probably get along well.
Toothless warbled, looking pointedly at Astrid, then gestured with his head towards the sky with a contemplative expression. Astrid was small enough that it wouldn’t be too exhausting for Toothless to carry both of them.
Well, that was one solution. “You can come with my brother and I.” Hiccup offered. “As long as you promise not to hurt or kill either of us.”
“Brother?” She looked down at Toothless, then up at him, her gaze flickering back and forth in confusion for a moment. Hiccup almost gestured at his flight suit, covered in Toothless’ shed scales, as if to say they had the same hide, but resisted the urge.
Toothless cooed at her, giving her a draconic grin, illuminated by the fires in the carved statue they were standing on. To Hiccup, it was familiar and reassuring. For anyone else, he wasn’t so sure.
Astrid squared her jaw, taking a deep breath, then nodded. “I promise not to hurt you, as long as you don’t hurt me.” She said stiffly, giving him a defiant glare.
“Works for me.” He agreed, offering her his empty gloved hand. She looked down at the claws on the tips of the gloves for a moment, then reluctantly took it, the two of them shaking on the deal. She shivered as she pulled her hand back, and he wasn’t sure if it was from revulsion or because she was wearing a very thin shift in the brisk wind.
… very thin shift. It didn’t look like she was wearing any undergarments underneath it, he could see-
Hiccup quickly glanced away, looking at Toothless, who gave him a dry amused expression. He gave Toothless a sour glare back, which was most likely lost due to the scaled helm that covered his entire head.
Toothless chortled, moving so Hiccup could swing a leg over the saddle and get on. He tucked the dagger Astrid had tried to kill him with into a knife sheath sewn against his thigh. It pressed against the other blade there, so wasn’t the best solution, but it’d keep everyone from getting stabbed.
“You’ll want to sit behind me.” Hiccup motioned, setting his peg leg into the stirrup. Astrid glanced at it and shivered. “That way my body blocks most of the wind.”
She nodded, lips pressed together and hesitantly climbed on behind him, trying to touch both him and Toothless as little as possible. It didn’t really work. “Should I hold on to anything?” She asked quietly, voice tense.
“Probably.” He admitted. Dragon riding was rarely a smooth ride. “Grab whatever you’re comfortable with.” He’d probably recommend holding on to him, but due to the whole ‘kidnapping’ thing, he wasn’t sure how well she’d take the suggestion.
Toothless gave a little wiggle, adjusting their weight on his back before crouching down and leaping off the watchtower and diving towards the water. Astrid gave a small shriek and wrapped her arms tightly around Hiccup’s chest, nearly squeezing the breath out of him.
Just before they hit the water, Toothless snapped his wings open, catching the faintest bit of sea spray before doing a quick barrel roll and catching a breeze, soaring up into the sky.
“Gently.” Hiccup sighed as Astrid continued to make little gasping sounds of terror in Hiccup’s ear. Toothless just warbled in amusement, catching a thermal and rising rapidly high up into the air, Berk turning into a distant glowing speck in very little time.
“Where are we going?” Astrid asked, voice wavering slightly as her fingers dug into the leather of his flight suit.
“To get Stoick.”
The moon was starting to curve back towards the horizon when Toothless gave a low groan and turned, gliding down towards an island instead of chasing the horizon. They’d been flying most of the day, trying to keep the various dragons out of trouble, and now Toothless was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest.
Something Hiccup could heavily agree with.
Astrid stirred behind him, fingers digging in before easing, although the tension didn’t leave her frame. “What’s going on?”
He startled slightly at her words, he thought she’d fallen asleep a while ago. A few hours prior, he’d felt her shaking, her breath coming in hitching gasps against his back, but he didn’t know if she’d been crying or not.
It wasn’t as if he could do anything if she had. She knew him as the Dragon Master, not her old childhood friend.
“We’re setting down for the night.” Hiccup called back, the wind trying to steal his words.
Her grip tightened again, but she didn’t say anything as Toothless began to flap his wings, slowing their decent before he landed in a tunnel that was nearly invisible in the sharp cliff walls. The dragon gave a soft sigh as his feet touched the ground, happy for the change of pace.
“I know, bro. I know.” Hiccup assured his best friend, feeling tired as well. His legs hurt from being in the stirrups most of the day. “Just a little more, and we can rest.”
He got a low growl at that, but Toothless obligingly walked deeper into the tunnel, following the curve, where it opened up a little bit, sheltered from the wind. They’d left the campfire ready to be lit, and Toothless gave it a small plasma blast, the wood jumping, then starting to crackle with a cheerful glow.
“Where are we?” Astrid asked, both confusion and nervousness causing her voice to waver as Hiccup pried his fingers off the saddle.
“South east of Nepenthe Island, in some old Whispering Death tunnels.” Hiccup explained, throwing his peg leg over Toothless’ head and sliding off the Dragon’s back. His knees tried to buckle, legs feeling numb and not wanting to support him and he wobbled a bit, holding on to Toothless for balance. Too many hours in the same position for too long. “Abandoned.”
“Oh good.” Astrid deadpanned, climbing off of Toothless and taking several unsteady steps away from the dragon before catching her balance. “Whispering Death tunnels. No chance of being eaten here.”
Hiccup pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. “They haven’t been here in years.” He assured her, picking up a branch and sticking it in the fire. “Come on.”
He motioned for her to follow him, leading deeper into the tunnels. The ground was mostly soft sand, which would hopefully be gentler on her bare feet than solid rock or pebbles. The tunnels were a bit of a maze, but it wasn’t a terribly large island, and only so many places they could go.
He lead her down, until they reached a large cavern with a shallow pool of water. Water dripped from salagities above it. Toothless gave a happy sigh and leapt forward towards the water, eagerly drinking his fill.
“The water here is safe to drink.” Hiccup motioned towards the water with his head. He dug the end of the branch into the sand, the fire illuminating the room with a cheerful glow.
“Oh.” Astrid looked around in surprise. Hiccup left her to it, walking over to Toothless, who ignored him as Hiccup pulled out the small pack on the back of the saddle. He pulled out the half empty water skin from the pack, kneeling down next to Toothless and filling up the water skin. If he got some dragon drool mixed in, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
As much as he wanted to pull his mask off and drink like Toothless was, he didn’t feel comfortable doing so in front of Astrid. Most people thought he was some sort of demon or human hybrid in his mask and flight suit, and it was probably safer to leave it that way around her.
Toothless finished, giving a low mutter and bumping Hiccup with his head before wandering off. “He’s going to hunting for dinner.” Hiccup explained, rising to his feet as well. “You can bathe if you want to, I think I left some hides here that I’m going to see if I can find. Holler if you need anything, I don’t know how long the torch will last.”
She nodded, a wary, almost feral look to her face. “Don’t you need the torch to get back?”
“Nah.” Hiccup grinned behind his mask, pulling out a dagger and igniting it, the flame illuminating the cavern even more. “I’ve got my own.”
Pocket torch. Didn’t use as much fuel as his flame sword did either, which made it perfect for stuff like this. And it was useful a knife too.
“Come up to the fire when you’re ready to eat.” Hiccup called, heading towards the tunnels and up to the entrance. He was familiar enough with the tunnels that he probably didn’t need the torch, but it gave Astrid a way to track him, to know that he was giving her some privacy.
He thought he’d left a couple of seal hides here for bedding, but one would probably make a fair cloak for Astrid to wear during tomorrow’s flight. A lot better than the shift she was wearing anyway.
Toothless gave a warble as he walked up, looking impatient. “Sorry, Bro.” Hiccup apologised, turning off the dagger and setting it down on a rock to cool for a moment, along with the pack and the water skin. He unfastened the saddle from Toothless’ back, the Night Fury giving himself a shake. “Go have some fun.”
With croon, Toothless turned and bounced out of the tunnel, his mechanical tail blending in perfectly with his scales.
He didn’t really need Hiccup to fly anymore, but both of them preferred the feeling of soaring together.
A few seconds later, Hiccup heard a large splash, and figured Toothless must have spotted what he was after. Either that, or he was in the mood for a nighttime swim. Sometimes it was hard to tell with dragons, no matter how much time he spent with them.
Hiccup shook his head at his partner’s antics, and lifted his visor up, pulling the fabric around his mouth down and taking a breath of cold, fresh air. Much better. He grabbed the water skin and took a mouthful, just washing it around his mouth for a moment before swallowing, realising how dry his throat felt. He took a larger sip, wandering off to a nearby dead end tunnel they used as a storage area.
He’d carved a shelf out of the rock with some dragonic help a while ago, when they’d send this up as a place to stop and rest. There was more wood for fire there, as well as some dried fish, two seal hides with the fur still on it, and a sail they’d stolen from a dragon slaver ship, figuring they’d find something useful to do with that much canvas.
There wasn’t enough time to sew Astrid some proper clothing, but they could still probably use it to wrap her limbs at least. Anything had to be warmer than what she was currently wearing.
He dragged the seal skins out by the fire first, laying one on each side of the flames, then got the sail and hauled it out too, before taking a seat on the ground. It felt good to just sit for a moment and not move. His stomach growled and he was tempted to grab the dried fish, but resisted the urge. Toothless would be back soon with fresh.
In the meantime however… He grabbed the sailcloth and the now cool flame dagger, cutting a strip off of the fabric, as long as his arm and about as wide as his hand. Putting his knife back, he grabbed the pack, finding the small sewing kit inside. He pulled a thread off a fraying edge of the sailcloth, and used it to thread one of his needles. Folding the strip of canvas in half long ways, he did a quick whip stitch, sealing the edges together into a tube.
It wasn’t his best work, but it didn’t need to be more than a patch work job. He finished the long side, then stitched up one end. Satisfied the fabric would hold, he put the needle back, and turned the long rectangle inside out, so the seams were in the inside. Then he pulled Astrid’s dagger from his thigh sheath and measured it against the canvas. The fabric was a bit long, but it could be folded down.
He cut a dangling bit off one of the seal hides, shoving it inside the makeshift canvas sheath so the point wouldn’t go out the bottom, and slid the dagger in. Not his best work, but it could at least be carried without accidently slicing anyone.
Hiccup pulled the dagger back out, taking a moment to inspect it in the firelight. It was rougher than Gobber’s usual work, no doubt made in a hurry, but there was care in it too. A sharp edge and a warning, slipped into the ropes that had bound Astrid’s hands. She probably would have eventually been able to free herself, even if he hadn’t cut the bonds before she attacked him.
A pang of nostalgia blindsided him, for the times he’s spent in the smithy, learning the trade from Gobber. The man had been more of a father to Hiccup than his own father had been. Gobber was always a bit rough, but Hiccup had never doubted that the blacksmith loved him like family.
He missed those days, Gobber grumbling in the background, alternating instructions and advice with grumbling and swearing. It’d been hot, heavy, hard work, but he’d loved it. It’d been his haven, the one place where not being a proper Viking didn’t matter quite so much.
He missed it. Just a bit.
A scrabbling sound from the entrance of the tunnel heralded Toothless’ return and drew him out of his head. “Have fun?” Hiccup asked, grinning at the look of Toothless with his mouthful of various kinds of fish. One was still alive, tail trying to slap Toothless in the eye, and getting his cheek instead.
Toothless opened his mouth, the fish falling to the ground with a wet ‘blaaaaagh’ sound. “Thank you for that.” Hiccup deadpanned, putting the knife back in the crude sheath and setting it down. Toothless snickered at him, walking over to nudge Hiccup’s face with his snout in a smug way, then danced away, prancing back out of the tunnel and into the night sky.
Hiccup grinned. As much as he missed Gobber and the smithy, he liked his life a lot better now. He was happier during his worst days now than he’d been in his happiest days back on Berk, if such a thing was possible. And a lot of it had to do with his scaley brother.
Finding his Mom and realising he was carrying a different family tradition hadn’t hurt either. Made him feel less lonely.
He stood up, heading back to the storage cave and grabbed some of the branches there. He brought them back to the fire, splitting some of them with a regular knife, then started gutting the fish, setting the innards aside for Toothless to eat when he came back. Sticking the gutted fish on the skewers, he used some of the rocks around the fire pit to angle them over the fire to cook.
Some types of fish he didn’t mind eating raw anymore, but he still preferred the flavour and texture of cooked fish. And over a fire was better than plasma blast charred any day. Though some days he was happy for that much.
There was a long strand of kelp mixed in with the fish that he cut the long floppy leaves off of. He wrapping some of the remaining fish in the kelp before setting it aside to roast in the embers once they banked the fire for the night, to eat for breakfast or a snack when they got up. Wiping off his hands, he grabbed the water skin and took another drink of water.
And choked when he heard a mild swear coming from the tunnel going deeper into the island. Astrid. He tried not to cough at the water going down the wrong pipe and pull his visor down at the same time, resulting in the water skin getting stuck between the pieces of the helm. It took a second to get it unstuck and his face safely covered back up.
“I’ve got a skin for you by the fire.” He called, trying to casually turn around and not look like he’d been panicking. He rotated a couple of the fish so they finished cooked evenly, trying to gauge how ready they were.
Thankfully, it didn’t look like Astrid had spotted him. She had the torch in one hand, the edge of her long shift held up in the other hand to keep from tripping as she walked. Her hair was wet, dripping down the shift.
He frowned as she stepped into the room, realising that her neck was bleeding again, staining the collar of her shift red. “Hold on.” He muttered, reaching into the pack. He had some ointment in there for both himself and Toothless, for when their prosthetics worked the skin raw.
She set the branch in the fire, spotting the seal skin across the fire from him and picking it up. He found the container of ointment, opening the jar and wrinkling his nose at the sharp herbally scent. It worked, that didn’t mean he had to like how it smelled.
Hiccup rose, standing next to her, scooping a dollop of the ointment on his fingers and reached for the cut on her neck-
And abruptly found his arm twisted behind his back, his shoulder screaming in pain as his shoulder threatened to pop out of the joint.
“Don’t. Touch. Me.” She growled, low like a Monstrous Nightmare hiss.
“Sorry.” Hiccup ground out, mentally berating himself for forgetting. “I have ointment. For your cuts.”
There was a pause, then he was abruptly released. He ground his teeth to keep from making a noise as his shoulder screamed in pain at the way it had been pulled. He stretched it out, rotating the joint and grimacing silently at the clicking noise it made until the pain eased up.
Astrid watched him from a few steps away, looking like she didn’t know whether to apologise or attack.
That had definitely been a stupid move on his part. He needed to remember that this wasn’t his childhood friend, but a dangerous warrior who’d had an extremely bad day. He made a mental note to treat her like some of the feral, newly-freed dragons. Skittish, and prone to biting.
“Do you have any other cuts or scrapes?” He asked, holding out the small pot of salve for her to take. She did so, then moved out of reach, eyes glinting suspiciously.
“No.” Astrid glared down at her wrists, and the dark marks that looked like handprints there. “Just bruises.”
Hiccup frowned, resisting the urge to cover the marks with his own hands, wishing he could heal them or magic them away. “You can use the sailcloth to cover those up.” He gestured to the sail, which was on ‘his’ side of the cave. “I also have a comb you can borrow for your hair.”
“Why would you have a comb?” Astrid asked, looking confused.
He stared for a moment. “Why wouldn’t I have a comb-?” He may have been mostly living in the wind, but that didn’t mean he didn’t take care of his own hygiene.
She motioned up towards his head, and he belatedly realised that his helmet completely covered his hair, so she’d never seen it. He had to keep it short, it was a fire hazard otherwise.
The flight suit was fire resistant. He was not.
“Nevermind.” Astrid shook her head, turning towards the seal skin again. He frowned, realising her feet were bare. That wasn’t going to work at all.
“One second.” He held a hand up, then grabbed the skin over on his side of the fire, kneeling down to spread it out on the ground, fur side down. “I need to borrow a foot for a second. Then you can get warm.”
“My foot?” She echoed.
“Yeah.” He motioned for her to come closer, remaining kneeling. “Step on the part that sticks out there, where the limb used to be.”
This earned him another suspicious look, like she was contemplating bashing him in the head with the ointment container. “Why?”
“You want to go barefoot?” Hiccup asked. He pointed to his peg leg. “Not like I can use mine for size.”
She frowned at him, but slowly walked over, putting her foot where he directed. He nodded, reaching into a pouch and pulling out a piece of charcoal. “I’m going to trace around your foot, and try not to touch you. Please don’t kick me in the head.”
“No promises.” Astrid said seriously, watching him intently as he outlined around her toes with a smooth curve. Her feet were smaller than his, with tiny, dainty looking ankles.
Ankles he probably shouldn’t be staring at, even if they were attached to the feet he was tracing. She could probably kick his head off his shoulders if she put her mind to it.
He bit his lips as he switched hands to draw around her heel and other side of her foot without brushing her skin. It was a looser outline than he would have liked, but this was probably pushing it.
“Done.” He announced, leaning back.
Astrid stepped away, quickly crossing to the other side and wrapping herself in the seal skin with a shiver. He ignored her for the moment, digging through his pack for his comb. It gave her a moment to settle, sitting close to the fire to warm up.
“Here.” He held up his comb and tossed for her to catch. She did so, staring at it for a moment, turning it in her hands so the comb caught the light, revealing the colours.
“What’s this made of?” She asked, curiously running a fingertip across the teeth.
“Nadder spike.” He shrugged, looking over the markings on the hide, figuring out the best way to do this. Turnshoes would probably fit the best, but it was late and he didn’t have the pattern at hand to make the upper portion. And he didn’t want to deal with that much sewing right now. “I have plenty of them around, so figured I may as well make them useful. They carve up pretty too.”
Most of the comb was a brilliant sky blue, but the end of the long narrow teeth were pale creamy yellow, almost the same shade of her pale hair. The spine wasn’t quite as tough as bone or antler, but held together better than wood, sort of in-between the two materials.
“I’ll want that back.” He advised her. Combs were a pain to make, getting the teeth even and close together without breaking the material was tricky. Especially without a vice, which he certainly didn’t have while in the air.
She made a face, but started running her hands through her long golden hair, which caught the light and seemed to turn molten. He swallowed as she started to work the worst of the knots out with her fingers. Flying with unbound hair might have looked cool, but it was a nightmare to groom afterwards.
He turned his attention back to the footprint he’d outlined, tracing about three finger widths around the marks, except for behind the heel, which he drew a straight line, forming a kind of tongue shape. Satisfied, he traded the charcoal for his dagger, using the sharp blade to cut through the tough hide.
There was more than one way to make any article of clothing, and Hiccup had learned a lot of odd ways during his travels.
“Why are you helping me?” Astrid abruptly asked, and he almost fumbled with the dagger at her words.
“Why wouldn’t I?” He countered, surprised by the question.
She glared at him. “Are you going to answer all my questions with a question?”
There was really only one answer for that. “Why not?” He shrugged, grateful for his helm hiding his grin.
Astrid made a scoffing noise, rolling her eyes.
“The fish is probably ready to eat.” He motioned to fire. “Feel free to help yourself.”
“You’re not going to eat?” She tilted her head to the side.
“In a bit.” He held up his dagger. “I want to get this done first.”
Speaking of daggers… He looked around, finding the one Gobber had made. “That reminds me. Here you go.” He tossed the sheath towards her. “Not the prettiest, but it’ll give you some place secure to carry the dagger until you can get to Berk and have Gobber make something better.”
Astrid caught it, looking it over with something like awe on her face. “Thanks.” She offered hesitantly.
He shrugged and waved it off. Astrid without some sort of weapon on her was like saying the sky was below and the ocean above. And hopefully she’d feel more comfortable this way.
She tucked the dagger next to her, then started combing her hair in brisk, efficient movements, until it was a gleaming smooth waterfall, with nary a tangle in sight. She separated some of the strands from the top of her head and quickly twisted them together, until she had a braid going down the left side of her face, forming half a crown across the top of her head. That accomplished, she took large handfuls of her long hair and braided it together, until it was just the end left.
She put the end of the braid in her mouth, leaning forward to grab the sailcloth and pull it closer to her. Unsheathing the dagger, she cut a narrow strip off, then set the dagger down, running a hand over her head.
Some strands hadn’t joined the braid, and she grabbed the loose hair, wrapping it around the braid, before pulling the end out of her mouth and using the scrap of fabric to tie it off. She tossed the braid over her shoulder and shook her head, checking the weight, and seemed to find it acceptable.
He realised he was staring, and turned back to the leather, finishing cutting the hide, trying to make it look like he’d been fighting with that, rather than gawking when he shouldn’t be.
Grooming was a private thing. Especially for women, and braiding their hair was especially intimate. It was something that only her parents would have seen her do.
Or her spouse.
He shoved that thought aside, pulling the cut pieces of hide away and putting his dagger away on his thigh, reminding himself that she wasn’t here entirely of her own free will. That being here was the better, safer of the two options, between himself and Berk.
He cut small holes in pairs along the outside edge of the U shapes, then folded the first one in half, fur side out. Pinching the flat edges, he started sewing them together. It was fortunately a small seam that would just go up the back of the heel, because the hide was stubborn and didn’t want the needle to go through the thick hide.
“Here.” Astrid held the comb up, then tossed it back to him. “Thanks for the use.”
“Welcome.” He nodded, catching it with one hand and putting it away, not releasing the shoe he was sewing.
“You know.” She said warily, reaching forward and picking up one of the skewered fish, before curling back up again. “You’re not quite what I expected.”
The impulse to apologise was right there on his tongue, and he bit it back.
“I never am.” He admitted, just a touch of bitterness in his throat. He was never what anyone ever expected of him. Too much… whatever he was.
The old Hiccup would have, an apology always on the tip of his tongue, but he wasn’t on Berk anymore. He was the ‘Dragon Master’ now, and didn’t owe anyone anything.
Hiccup cleared his throat. “What did you expect?” He asked, slightly curious as he sewed. He didn’t get a chance to talk to other humans all that often, other than occasionally his Mom or shouting at trappers. Or having trappers shout at him.
They used a lot of swear words.
“Something more feral.” Astrid admitted, taking a hesitant nibble at the fish. “The stories say that you’re not mortal. That you’re half dragon, which is why you can command them. Or you’re a demon or a troll. That you have a goat’s foot because you made a deal with a devil.”
He huffed, glancing down at his peg leg in amusement.
“But you’re not, are you?” Astrid gave him a shrewd look that reminded him of her sizing up a target before throwing her axe. “You’re a Viking.”
“I can say with complete honesty that I am not a Viking.” He said devoutly.
Well, not anymore, anyway. He’d given that up when he’d been awarded the ‘honour’ of murdering a Monstrous Nightmare in the kill ring seven years ago, and flown away with Toothless that afternoon, freeing the dragons trapped on Berk on their way out.
They’d been attracted to the Red Death’s siren’s call on the way out of the archipelago. The massive Queen had seen them, and they hadn’t been able to easily escape the mountain. The Red Death had chased after them, flying into the skies. Toothless had attacked her wings, tricking her into falling back into the mountainside, head first, unable to stop her decent.
Even with Toothless’ tail fin catching fire and burning away, there had been a brief moment when he’d thought that they were going to make it out alright. And then the Red Death’s tail came out of nowhere.
That was the last thing Hiccup remembered before waking up, wrapped up in Toothless’ wings, missing his left leg from the calf down. He didn’t know what happened to it other than Toothless radiated guilt over it. It didn’t matter, he’d trade it for Toothless and the rest of the dragons freedom in a heartbeat.
The dragons accepted him in a way he’d never been before. It’d been like coming home.
“But you were a Viking.” Astrid pressed, looking stubborn, then taking a big bite of the fish, one cheek bulging out. It shouldn’t have been as endearing as it was.
“My brother would argue with you.” Hiccup gestured towards the tunnel opening, where Toothless had gone.
Astrid wrinkled her nose, looking thoughtful. “How is a Dragon your Brother?!”
“Same way anyone else gets a brother.” Hiccup answered neutrally. Through blood, spilt and shared.
She gave him a stubborn look, as if silently portraying that she didn’t quite believe his answer. “Are you at least fully human-?” She finally ventured.
“Not really.” It was hard to resist the urge to laugh, but he did it. Toothless thought that Hiccup was a dragon born in the wrong body, and he really couldn’t argue with that theory.
And he wasn’t fully anything, because he was missing part of a leg.
This time she rolled her eyes, but finished the rest of the fish in silence, hunger overtaking her curiosity for the moment. She grabbed a second fish and devoured it as well before starting to slow down, grabbing the sailcloth in one hand and examining it while she finished eating.
Toothless made a reappearance, dropping a mouthful of fish down on the ground, then settling down to eat it. Hiccup smiled fondly at happy noises his brother made as he gulped down the fish, finishing one seam, and starting on the other.
Astrid, on the other hand, gave Toothless a wary look, picking up the dagger with a white knuckled grip.
“So what happened?” Hiccup asked as Astrid grabbed the sailcloth, keeping Toothless in her line of sight. “I get that Stoick is away, but I didn’t think things were bad in Berk.”
“They’re not.” She grunted, cutting into the sailcloth and ripping off a strip about the same width as the palm of her hand. She gave a yank on a particularly stubborn bit of fabric, it giving way and tearing cleanly. “-But since Spitelout is Stoick’s last remaining kin, they left him in charge. With a bunch of barrels of recently discovered mead that Gobber had forgotten about for about for about a decade.”
“How drunk were they?” Hiccup deadpanned.
“Very.” Astrid growled, then grunted as she started tearing a new strip from the canvas.
He nodded, having expected it. Spitelout wasn’t exactly known for his brains. Hiccup remembered one time when the village had gathered a surplus of fish and wood, and Spitelout’s solution as to where to put all of it was to toss it all in the ocean.
Dad had expanded the wood stack and the fish basin instead, so they had more resources going forward.
“Someone-” Astrid growled, as if she found out who, she’d strangle them with her bare hands with little to no remorse. “-Came up with the idea of offering you a bribe to have you use your dragons for battle, have you fight on our behalf.”
Hiccup scoffed in the back of his throat. Like that would happen.
“Exactly.” Astrid rolled her eyes. Hiccup bit his lips to hide his grin, even if she couldn’t see it behind his mask.
“The original idea was to offer up a sheep. The best one in the village.” Astrid sliced the fabric again with a vengeance. “One of the villages ‘elders’ protested. Suggested offering up a young maiden instead.”
“Let me guess.” Hiccup deadpanned. “Mildew was afraid they’d offer up Fungus, his favourite sheep.”
The old bastard loved that sheep more than he did any of his former wives. Hiccup really didn’t care to speculate on their relationship past that. Just.. no. Ew.
“Got it in one.” Astrid gave him an odd look that he couldn’t quite read. “They were drunk, and it just rolled downhill from there. They formed a mob, and…”
She shivered looking down at the bruises on her wrists. Hiccup remembered that she hadn’t seemed to be wearing anything under the shift and wondered if it was her nightgown, or if they’d changed her into it and felt ill.
With a snarl, she picked up one of the strips of fabric she’d torn up and started to wrap it around her palm, and then up over her wrists and arms, tying it off with one hand up by her elbow, using her teeth to hold the fabric while she made a knot. He wanted to offer to help, but didn’t think she’d accept or appreciate it.
“I’m sorry.” Hiccup said quietly as she began to wrap her other arm. He didn’t have anything to do with their decision or choices, but he was sorry that they’d done this to her.
“It was revenge.” Astrid snarled, baring her teeth in a way that reminded Hiccup of Toothless, when the Night Fury was about to throw a plasma bolt. “Snotlout proposed to me, if you could call it that. I turned him down. Snotlout… seemed relieved about it, to be honest. We’d be a horrible match. I’d kill him within a year and we both knew it.”
She took a deep, shuddering breath, and then the words seemed to erupt out of her, coming one after another in fast succession, spilling out like lava from a volcano.
“But SPITELOUT, Spitelout hated me for it. Thought it was a slight against his family’s honour. Said his son was too good for me. Started talking behind my back, there were all these rumours about reasons why I didn’t want to get married that had nothing to do with the truth. They were so ridiculous I thought people would just laugh them off, and then Stoick left with Snotlout for the Clan Head meeting, and it got worse and worse until-”
She stared at her fist, which was turning purple in the firelight, the bandages cutting off circulation to her fingers. She undid the wrappings without a word, her focus on the task all encompassing, like if she didn’t wrap the bandages just so that her limbs might break into pieces.
“Until they offered you up as a sacrifice to a demonic-looking stranger on dragon back.” Hiccup said quietly, finishing her thought.
“And now I’m on a distant isle with no means of escape with him.” Astrid said tightly, the look in her eyes silently promising that she’d kill both of them if he tried anything. “And I don’t know what you want with me.”
“I don’t want anything from you.” Hiccup stated, tying off the seam on the second shoe. He’d never been responded to as if he was a male before, one of those stupid alpha brutes who took what they wanted, and he didn’t like it.
He glanced up to find her looking at him intensely, like a dragon sizing up a rival before attacking.
“Other than accompanying me to get Stoick and return you both to Berk to clean up this mess, no.” He turned the seam inside out.“The less I have to deal with Vikings, the better.”
“Although.” He offered, tilting his head to the side. “If you prefer, we could leave you here and pick you up on the way back. Your choice, really.”
“No.” She shook her head, a stubborn look on her face. “I’ll come with.”
Less risk of being stranded. He didn’t think there were any oaths strong enough to make her believe that he’d honour his word to come back for her. And it wasn’t likely that someone could live on the island long with no supplies. It was good for a rest stop, but almost everything here had to be brought onto the nearly barren rock.
“That’s fine.” He agreed. “But I don’t need or really want anything a Viking could offer. I’ve got my brother and the sky. Don’t need much other than that. And don’t forget the ointment for your cuts.”
She wrinkled her nose at him, but re-found the ointment, applying it to her throat, before wrapping that in a strip of sailcloth too, tucking the ends in so they didn’t flap.
Toothless finished his fish and burped, humming happily to himself over having a full belly. He turned and gave Hiccup a look, reminding him to eat too, but didn’t move from where he was laying, too comfortable to bother at the moment.
“... Actually.” He paused, a stray thought flickering through his mind as his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten yet. “There may be one thing I could want from you.”
Astrid shifted, looking like she was getting ready to attack or defend as needed. “Uh-huh.” She said, radiating suspicion.
“Next time you see us fly by, which with any luck will be an extremely long time, toss me a loaf of bread-?” He asked hopefully.
Astrid made a weird noise in the back of her throat that made him glance over at her again. “... Bread.” She echoed flatly, clearly not believing him.
“What? You don’t have any bread making Vikings on Berk?” He teased. He’d certainly been interested in the profession when he was younger. Anything to get out of the killing.
Astrid gave him a contemplative look, like she was seeing him for the first time, and it made him slightly uncomfortable. “Bread.” She echoed again.
“Need agriculture to grow wheat and rye, and some way to grind the grains into flour, and an oven to bake bread in.” He explained. “None of which are really possible while living in the air. I can barter or buy bread, but it’s not something that’s easily accessible for me, given the whole-”
He gestured to all of himself.
Fish and meat was easy enough, especially while travelling with a dragon. Wild fruits and vegetables weren’t that hard either, now that he had experience in what to look for and where to harvest them, and he could get the occasional wild honeycomb for a treat. And while he could get flour and meal, pots and pans weren’t the easiest thing to travel with, being both heavy and cumbersome.
And there was something about the bread specifically from Berk, nothing else he’d ever tried had the same flavour. He’d hated it when he was younger, finding it too tough and chewy unless dipped in stew, but now he kind of missed it.
There was silence for a long moment as Astrid pondered his words over, starting to wrap her hand again, this time without pressing too tightly and hurting herself. “I don’t understand you.” She said, sounding annoyed. “I can’t think of another Viking who wouldn’t take advantage of this situation. -Except maybe Fishlegs. And Gobber.”
Hiccup nodded. He’d liked Fishlegs when they were growing up. The other Viking was huge, but extremely gentle. He hoped that Fishlegs hadn’t been forced to change too much.
“But instead-“ She waved a hand agitatedly through the air. “You’re giving me clothes, weapons, food, and promises of protection. You’re this untouchable, crazy, mysterious warrior, the boogieman to Vikings, but you… you’re kind and it doesn’t make SENSE!”
It kind of hurt, her expectations of him. Of the other Vikings. That kindness was a surprise. He’d offered the same to other people, food, protection, clothing if he could scrounge it if they needed it. People didn’t have to be cruel, they could be generous too. There were so many other cultures, ways of being that he’d experienced while travelling with Toothless that he wished she could have experienced.
He’d really love to introduce her to the Wingmaidens, so she could experience their culture. That you could be fierce and nurturing at the same time. And Heather could always use more friends.
But he didn’t it’d be safe for any of them right now. Not with her attitude towards dragons.
“If it eases your mind, think of it as me being a good host.” He gestured to the tunnel around them. “My home is in the wind, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide basic hospitality. And it only makes sense to offer you clothing, as flying is cold and it’s going to take another day and some to get you both back to Berk.”
She nodded, but didn’t seem convinced. He sighed, and stood up.
“And... you’re not the only one Vikings turned their back to.” He added softly, feeling like he was admitting to a gaping hole in his own soul. “Dragons don’t do that. They protect and take care of each other. So that’s what I strive to do.”
She stared at him with wide blue eyes that seemed to glow in the firelight, and he could practically see the questions swirling and forming in her brain. He tossed her the shoes he’d finished, distracting her. “Weave a strip of fabric through the holes, draw it tight around your foot, then tie them up around your ankle. It’s not much, but it’ll keep you warmer than the sailcloth.”
Hiccup grabbed a couple of the fish, and headed back down into the tunnels, lighting his pocket torch to see by as he headed towards the water. He waited until he was down a ways before pushing his visor up and starting to eat.
The fish were devoured by the time he reached the pond, his stomach happy to be filled again. He tossed the sticks and the bones to the edge of the room, away from the water, knowing that the scavengers would clean it up eventually, before setting down the torch and pulling off his helm. He ran his gloved claws through his hair for a moment, then knelt down, splashing water on his face and hair.
He hadn’t anticipated Astrid to bring back so many old memories and emotions. Probably should have expected it, but he hadn’t. Hiccup sighed. And tomorrow, he got to see his father for the first time in seven years. It was not something he was looking forward to.
“What am I going to do?” He asked quietly, looking out over the water. It didn’t answer.
He hadn’t really expected it to. If it had, he would have panicked and run, former identities be damned.
Hiccup signed again, putting his helm back on and picking up flaming dagger, heading back up. He was exhausted. Hopefully they’d have the oppertunity to sleep in, with Toothless being nocturnal given a chance, he didn’t usually get up until around noon. And if he remembered correctly, Astrid was used to being up at first light.
Maybe he could request the rest? Blame it on Toothless, it wasn’t like she was going to argue with the dragon.
Astrid was adjusting the wraps around her legs when he arrived, the fire already banked for the night. He nodded his thanks to her as he set the seaweed-wrapped fish in the coals to cook while they slept.
“Brother and I are going to sleep over here.” He motioned to the entrance of the cave. “Not to keep you in, but to keep the wild dragons who might use the caves out. In case any do show up, please don’t kill them.”
“I won’t try to kill them if they don’t try to kill me.” Astrid promised, strapping the sheath to her arm, checking that the ties were solid and that the dagger wasn’t about to fall out.
He figured that was probably the best they were going to get. With a grunt, he grabbed the seal skin he’d been using and dragged it over to where Toothless was laying, spreading it out on the ground next to the dragon. Toothless purred as Hiccup lay down next to his scaly bulk draping a wing over him like a tent, the ground already warm from Toothless’ fire.
“Thanks, bro.” Hiccup whispered, pulling off his helm and curling up with his dragon before going to sleep.
He woke up briefly at dawn, Toothless making a warning noise in the back of his throat, the Night Fury’s head turning inwards, towards where Astrid was sleeping. Or should have been sleeping.
He could feel someone looming over him, until Toothless shifted the wing that was draped over him like a blanket, shielding him from her gaze. He shuffled closer to the warm dragon, pressing his face against Toothless’ scales, wondering if she was going to try to kill him while he slept.
“It’s a helmet.” Astrid breathed, sounding vindicated. “He’s got hair.”
He kind of wondered if this meant that she’d really thought he actually was a demon, but her footsteps walked away, and he could hear the rustle of the furs, Astrid going back to bed.
Toothless made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat that Hiccup agreed with, both of them going back to sleep.
He woke up much later to a shriek, and Toothless’ annoyed rumble. He opened his eyes to find a large beak hovering above his head, which he sleepily batted away.
“G’way.” He muttered. “Is too early.”
Toothless warbled in agreement, then let out a low moan, stretching his limbs for a moment before curling up again, covering his face with the end of his tail.
The Night Fury was generally not a morning person.
The other dragon was not to be deterred, giving them a chiding ‘wark!’ noise.
“There’s a Deadly Nadder.” Astrid’s voice was tense. “And a Monstrous Nightmare lurking outside.”
“Yeah.” He drawled. “This is Stormfly. Chances are that it’s Hookfang outside. They’re Brother’s second-in-command.”
He really didn’t have a better way to put it. The four dragons they’d rescued from the Killing Ring before killing the Queen had bonded closer with him and Toothless more than any other dragons they’d met.
Hiccup fumbled around, finding his helmet without opening his eyes and putting it back on. “There’s probably a Terrible Terror around here too. His name is Sharpshot.”
There was a muffled yelp and Hiccup didn’t have to look to know that Sharpshot had found Astrid.
“Please don’t kill him.” He called, wanting to go back to sleep. The Terror could frequently be annoying, but that didn’t warrant death.
“What does he WANT?” Astrid practically howled, and he looked over to find Sharpshot sitting on Astrid’s shoulder, making curious noises.
“Food and attention.” Hiccup nudged Stormfly’s face out of the way as he sat up, giving her chin a quick scritch as he did so, earning him a happy half-lidded look. “Scratch him under the jaw, he likes that.”
“I don’t want to.” Astrid said, voice wavering slightly.
“Then don’t.” He got up, his stump of a leg complaining that he’d left his prosthetic on all night, not giving the skin a chance to air out. He’d pay for it in a couple of days, it’d be at least two more nights before he could take it off. He did not look forward to the sores that had to be forming. “I got him.”
Stormfly hovered, keeping her head next to him so he could grab her for balance if he needed it. Sharpshot chirped a greeting, leaping off of Astrid’s shoulder to land on Hiccup’s arm, then purred happily, rubbing his face against Hiccup’s chest.
“Heya little guy.” Hiccup smiled, rubbing between the nubs of the Terror’s horns, where they were itchy.
Astrid just watched him with wide eyes, her hands holding the seal skin tight around her. “They’re not going to hurt you.” He assured her, keeping his voice light and gentle. “You’re new, so they’re curious.”
“Curious.” She drawled, giving him a flat look as Stormfly tried to nibble on his helmet.
“Most dragons are.” He shrugged, then turned to Stormfly. “Speaking of curious, what are you doing here?”
Stormfly warbled and looked at Toothless. The Night Fury grumbled, one green eye peering over his tail. It was a lot of flying, especially with two passengers, and he remembered how big normal vikings were, especially the chiefs, and no interest in carrying THAT weight too.
“Yeah, okay, good point.” Hiccup agreed. His brother was strong, but even he had limits. “Thanks, bro.”
Toothless harrumphed, pulling his tail back over his head for a little bit more sleep.
“What… what did he say?” Astrid asked, glancing back and forth between Hiccup and Toothless.
“He called them.” Hiccup waved it off. “He’s their Alpha, so they can find him from just about anywhere.”
That had been a crazy time. Meeting his mother had been wonderful and exciting. Meeting Drago and his crazed Alpha Bewilderbeast, less so. At least the Bewilderbeast was free now, happy and content in the Hidden World.
“Wait. He CONTROLS the dragons?!” Astrid bit out.
“No.” Hiccup snorted. Technically, Toothless could. But after the Red Queen and being trapped under her control for years, Toothless was hesitant to use that ability. Mostly Toothless acted as a sort of judge to settle disputes between dragons, and they acted as a gatekeeper to the Hidden World.
That didn’t mean his brother couldn’t ask the other dragons to do stuff. Hiccup had seen dragons turn down Toothless’ requests, but Stormfly and Hookfang were usually happy to help. For sheer entertainment value more than anything else.
Sharpshot made a pained noise and he looked down to find the Terror had a cut along his side, no doubt from trying to steal fish from a larger dragon. It didn’t matter how many fish Sharpshot had, he loved trying to steal them from others. Thought they tasted better when stolen.
“Can you hand me the pack?” Hiccup asked Stormfly, turning Sharpshot so he could see the injury better. It was minor, but it’d still heal faster with some ointment.
Stormfly chirped and walked over to the fire, picking up the pack from where Hiccup had left it the night before, bringing it over and holding it in her teeth by a strap so Hiccup could get the ointment without releasing the Terror.
“Thanks, girl. Here you go buddy.” He cooed absentmindedly as he put the ointment in the cut.
Sharpshot purred in response.
“Yeah, bet that feels better.” Hiccup smiles, then looked over Stormfly and where Hookfang was. “What about you two, anything that needs to be looked at?”
Stormfly preened, showing off the glorious condition of her spines.
“You do look lovely today.” Hiccup praised. She really was the prettiest Nadder, in his opinion. “Such brightly polished scales.”
Hookfang snorted from the entrance, only slightly mocking Stormfly for her vanity, used to it by now. He was fine, but wanted to get flying, sitting around was boring.
“True.” Hiccup agreed with a yawn and a stretch. He glanced outside, trying to gauge the sun, guessing it to be a bit before noon. It was earlier than he would have liked, he’d hoped to get to the Spring Assembly sometime after dark, and it’d be about dusk at this rate.
It didn’t matter how many times Toothless mocked him for it, sometimes dramatics were good.
He moved Sharpshot to his shoulder, then put the ointment away, making sure that he’d put the sewing kit away before sealing the pack up. “Alright. We should get some water and head out. Astrid, can I borrow your hand for a moment?”
“My hand?” She echoed suspiciously.
He grinned behind the helm. “How do you feel about riding a dragon on your own?”
She burrowed herself as much as she could into the seal hide. “Nope!”
“WHOOOOOO-HOOOOOO!!!!” Astrid hollered as Stormfly dove, then caught a breeze and rocketed up into the air. “THIS IS AMAZING!!!”
Both Hookfang and Toothless snorted in dry amusement. Astrid had been wary as they’d first taken off, holding on to the makeshift rope of sailcloth around Stormfly’s chest as if she was afraid that the Nadder was going to throw her off at any minute.
And then she’d gotten used to it, beginning to trust Stormfly wasn’t going to drop her. Now, the two of them were playing in the wind, diving in and out of clouds as if this was what they’d been made to do.
Hiccup grinned in delight. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her so happy and carefree before. She’d laughed, sometimes, rarely, when they were kids, but even that was usually more of a dry snort or a twist of her lips than actual laughter and bright grins.
Toothless grumbled to himself at their antics. He was still sleepy, and wanted more fish and to nap in the sun.
“Don’t be such a grump, Bro.” Hiccup chided playfully. “Let them have their fun.”
He got a snort in return. Hiccup could nap later if he wanted. Toothless couldn’t, because someone had to be the responsible one and not have them fly into any unexpected stone sea stacks. Again.
Hiccup chuckled, watching Astrid and Stormfly do a barrel roll towards the sun. Okay, that one he probably deserved. Flight suit testing had a lot of hazards associated with it. But they’d eventually gotten the bugs worked out and he almost never crashed now.
Astrid and Stormfly drooped back down, flying alongside them.
“Are you grinning?” Astrid demanded, peering at him. “I can’t tell. I feel like you’re grinning at me.”
“I am.” He admitted, tilting his head to the side. “I’m glad you’re having fun.”
If he could spend everyday making Astrid smile like that, he’d be a blessed man indeed.
He paused, running that thought through his mind again. There was something there…
“I am!” She beamed back at him, her cheeks rosy and red from the wind, a giant grin on her face.
His heart gave a double thump at the sight, and he realised with a swooping in his gut that he loved her still.
Hiccup had met a lot of people on his travels, but never wanted more than friendship. He could admire people for their beauty, their grace or their skill, but he’d never been interested in more, all but fleeing from any amorous advances he received.
And this was why. He’d given his heart away to Astrid years ago and never wanted it back.
Suddenly the Wingmaidens’ acceptance of him on their ‘women only’ island made a lot more sense. Atali was scarily perceptive sometimes. He truely wasn’t interested in any of them, past learning their skills with the Razorwhips.
He swallowed, closing his eyes for a moment. Two more days, and he’d never see her again. She’d be safely home at Berk, being the best Viking warrior she could be. And he’d far away, living with the dragons.
And never the twain would meet.
“I never knew…” Astrid looked blissful, as she stared out over the horizon. “It’s like freedom up here, isn’t it?”
“It really is.” He agreed, shoving those thoughts aside, rubbing Toothless’ neck fondly, turning his thoughts towards his brother. He never would have known this freedom or this life if it hadn’t been for meeting Toothless. It was all possible because of him.
Toothless hummed in response, eyes lazily half lidded as they soared. It was a good day for flying, no thunderstorms on the horizon.
“And you do this every day?!” She demanded eagerly.
“Almost.” He agreed. There were days when both of them hurt and neither wanted to fly, preferring to stay in the warmth of their shelters, huddled by the fire. But there were more good days than bad days, and flying had yet to get old. He didn’t think it ever would.
“I can see why you live like you do.” Astrid sighed, holding her arms out to the sides, like they were wings she could glide on with. “I just want to keep flying, forever.”
The seal skin she wore as a cape flapped in the wind, revealing her body underneath. In the daylight he could see the shift really was nearly transparent, but she’d wrapped more sailcloth under the shift around her chest and hips, keeping her modest.
He glanced away, bitterly wondering yet again what the Vikings on Berk had been thinking, grabbing and offering her like that.
“You could, if you wanted to.” He suggested, then shrugged. “Well, maybe not forever, the dragons do get tired and need to land. Have to stop and get food. And sometimes the toilet situation gets a little desperate.”
Astrid laughed, a bit of disbelief creeping into her voice that made him wince. “Are you trying to invite me to fly away with you?”
“Not precisely.” He held his hands up. “I’m saying that if you wanted to keep flying, it’s an option. It’s a great big world out there, you could go explore it. I’m not the only one who flies dragon-back, just the most local. I could make introductions if you’d be more comfortable with them.”
There were so many people he’d love for her to meet, if she was interested.
“Thanks, but-“ She gave him a wry grin and a shrug, wrapping the sealskin around her once more. “-I’m a Viking of Berk, and that’s where I belong. Once we get Stoick and head home, that’s where I’ll stay, and I’m happy with that.”
He nodded, having half-anticipating her answer. Astrid’s loyalty had always been to Berk first. “Then I won’t bring it up again.” Hiccup promised.
The thing he wanted most for her was to be happy. Happiness for her was far away from him.
He’d known that back on Berk, and it was doubly so now. And he’d respect that.
She nodded, giving him a smile. It wasn’t quite as bright as it had been before, but it was better than when they were kids, and he felt his face get warm.
Toothless snickered, giving his shoulders a shake, rocking Hiccup a bit. Hiccup chuckled, catching the hint.
“There is one thing better than flying on dragon-back.” He admitted with a wiry smile, locking the hand rests at the top of the saddle.
“Oh yeah?” Astrid gave him a challenging look as he rolled his shoulders, loosening his back a little bit.
“Flying on your own.” He gave her a wide cheeky grin she couldn’t see, then rolled sideways off Toothless’ back, free falling for a brief second before releasing his wings. They caught the wind, pulling him straight up into the sky, past Toothless, Stormfly, and Astrid, who was staring at him with wide eyes.
He laughed, mixing with Toothless’ smug, warbling chortle.
It really was a good day for flying.
“Are you an Outcast?” Astrid asked as he tossed her one of the seaweed-wrapped fish for a lunch-ish snack. She and Stormfly had played themselves out for the moment, and they were just soaring through the sky now at a much more sedate pace.
He chuckled and shook his head. “No. Need a trial to be banished.” Viking law code was very thorough when it came to grievances and punishments.
If Stoick hadn’t been so keen to sculpt Hiccup into his own mould of a giant Viking Warrior, Hiccup probably would have made a good lovsigemann, or Law Reader, memorising the laws and speaking them out at Things and Trials.
“And you left before then?” She gave him a quizzical look.
“Tell me, Astrid.” He gestured down to Toothless, who garumphed in response, grumpy about being brought into the debate. “On your island, if someone was found to be on friendly terms with a dragon, what would happen?”
She thought about it for a moment. “If it was before the raiding stopped, they’d both be executed.” Astrid said with a frown, absentmindedly rubbing Stormfly’s neck. “Since the raiding has stopped and you’ve proven that people can ride dragons… Maybe not.”
“But maybe so.” He shrugged. “Wasn’t willing to risk either of our lives like that, so we left.”
She nodded, unwrapping the fish and nibbling on it thoughtfully. Sharpshot appeared from wherever he was hiding, silently begging for a bite, but she didn’t seem to notice, lost in her own thoughts.
He let her be, nudging Toothless a little higher, so she couldn’t see his face before lifting the helm a crack and pulling the face scarf down to eat his own fish. Toothless rumbled, and he broke a piece off, leaning forward to feed it to his dragon.
“Greedy.” He murmured. Toothless didn’t care for cooked fish, but he kept trying to steal bites of Hiccup’s. Toothless snickered in response, then stuck his tongue out, not liking the taste this time either. Hiccup grinned, taking a large bite of his fish, seaweed and all, eating as quickly as he could.
“Is that why you wear a helmet?” Astrid asked, and he did a double take, relaxing when he realised Toothless’ wing was blocking her view. He nearly choked as he tried to swallow what he’d eaten. “To hide your face so no one recognizes you?”
“It’s a blessing to other humans.” Hiccup snarked back once he got his throat clear. “I was not born with my father’s good looks.”
There were a lot of reasons for the helmet. Protection being the big one, keeping the wind off his face, and the glass lenses meant he didn’t have to worry about stuff flying into his eyes. Even it did occasionally fog up a bit.
And he thought it looked cool. Toothless certainly thought so. But then anything that made Hiccup closer to being a dragon, such as the borrowed scales on the leather flight suit and horns on the helmet that helped with steering while gliding, Toothless approved of.
Although it did have the side effect of making people think he was some sort of strange human/dragon hybrid. Not that he was arguing that, it meant that people left him alone.
He pulled his visor down, leaning over to glance at Astrid, who was giving him a scrutinizing look, like she wasn’t sure she entirely believed him. Which was mostly fair.
“Why?” He asked. “You don’t think it looks good?”
She rolled her eyes and changed the subject, which he counted as a win.
“I see the Assembly.” Astrid called, peering into the distance. The fires of the Assembly made it easy to spot, even from this far of a distance, the sky a dusky warm colour as the sun dipped down the horizon. Hiccup estimated that it’d be fully dark by the time they reached the island.
Toothless had been taking his time, they could cruise a lot faster. But that would leave the others behind, and they didn’t want to do that.
“So what’s your plan?” Astrid asked, looking at him intently.
“Quick retrieval.” Hiccup shrugged. “In, grab Stoick, and get out before they try to kill us.”
Because there was very little doubt that the Vikings wouldn’t try to kill them.
“And me?” Astrid tilted her head to the side.
“With Stormfly.” Hiccup said decisively. He didn’t entirely trust her not to turn the whole thing into a trap, resulting in his and Toothless’ capture and death.
“Not because I’m doubting your fighting skills.” He assured her. “But because of them.”
“Oh.” She nodded, a flicker of something he couldn’t read going across her face. He wondered if she’d forgotten the reason she was flying with them.
He sighed, wishing just this once he didn’t have to be paranoid. But they’d been stabbed in the back before, and he was leery about trusting people in potentially dangerous situations now.
And as much as he liked Astrid, he doubted a single dragon flight was going to be enough to undo a lifetime of teachings from her tribe or family.
“I’m not going to pretend you’d follow my orders out of trust or loyalty like the dragons do when you’ve got no reason to do so.” Hiccup explained. “And I’d like to keep you out of any fighting, since our goal is to get you safely back home.”
She thought it over for a moment, then nodded.
“Hookfang, you’ll be with us, I’ll need your fire.” Hiccup instructed. “Stoick’ll be in your care.”
The Monstrous Nightmare snorted, but nodded his acceptance.
“Stormfly, you’re with Astrid. Keep her safe.” Hiccup looked over, and both Astrid and Stormfly nodded in agreement. “Brother… You know what to do.”
Toothless warbled, expressing hiding his amusement. Toothless’ role was to do whatever he felt like.
He closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on the feel of the air on his helm, the way it whistled against his ears, as if telling secrets, trying to calm the panic in his chest.
Stoick the Vast.
He still wasn’t sure how he felt about this. He wondered if his father would recognize him, all grown up, but still a toothpick. If Dad would hug him or try to kill him. Hiccup didn’t know. He’d never wanted to know, but here he was.
Toothless rumbled, reminding him that he wasn’t alone, and Hiccup smiled, leaning forward and giving Toothless’ head a rub, grateful for his brother’s support.
He took a deep breath, looking over the sky, seeing that the sky had turned to a dark blue, the last of the warmth fading away.
“Alright. Let’s do this.” Hiccup squared his shoulders. “Hookfang, catch up when you can.”
Hookfang let out a squawk, wings started to flap, picking up the pace from the glide they’d been at all day. Toothless chortled, folding his wings and flipping upside down into a dive, picking up speed as they fell. The ocean loomed closer and closer until Toothless snapped his wings open, droplets of ocean spray hitting them as they started to fly upwards again, the wind whistling against the tips of Toothless’ wings.
Hiccup grinned, more of a draconic baring of teeth at the sound that heralded a Night Fury’s appearance. Below, he could hear screams and shouts, the sound not forgotten even after all these years.
He chuckled, remembering the ‘Dragon Guide’ back on Berk, and their entry on Night Furies.
The Unholy Offspring of Lightning and Death itself. Never engage this dragon. Your only chance: Hide and pray it does not find you.
It was so completely wrong and right, all at the same time.
“Peek a boo.” He muttered, spotting the great lodge, where the chieftains would be gathered. Toothless chortled, opening his mouth, the blue-violet glow of a plasma shot building up in his throat. With a grunt, he fired it off, a weak blast onto the roof of the lodge, just enough to open a hole without exploding the entire building.
Hiccup launched himself off of Toothless, wings snapping open as he glided down to the great lodge, diving through the hole and landing on the floor without stumbling. He grimaced, his left leg complaining about the impact against his already sore stump, but he ignored it, rising to his feet.
A second weight landed on his shoulder, Sharpshot joining him, peering out around the room with a low hiss as Hiccup looked at all the chieftains, who were staring at him with a mix of shock, anger, and awe. They were proper Vikings, large and strong, both physically and in the loyalty of their peoples. A chieftain who didn’t found themselves quickly usurped.
Once upon a time, it was assumed he would grow up and become one of them.
He spotted Dagur leering at him with an excited look on his face and tried not to shudder in revulsion.
“Dragon Master.” The word went around in a ripple. There was a brief moment of silence, then someone shouted. “GET HIM!”
Hiccup brought up his flame sword, igniting it just in time to catch a blade coming towards his head. He threw the man off, spinning and doging another attacker, kicking them away. Sharpshot blew a fireball at a third, blinding them so Hiccup could side step and knock them away as well.
Just as he was starting to worry that he’d be facing all of the chieftains in close combat, Hookfang poked his head in through the open hole, breathing a protective ring of fire around Hiccup.
Everyone dove back, leaving the middle of the large room to himself.
“Demon!” Someone hissed. “No human legs are that skinny!”
Right. It was his skinny legs that made him terrifying. Totally. Not the flame sword, the fireproofing, or the dragons. His skinny fishbone legs.
A chieftain he didn’t recognize held a hand up, keeping the rest of the people from charging through the flames to attack him again. “Dragon Master.” The large man intoned. “What brings you to our council?”
‘Uninvited’ went unspoken.
Hiccup straightened, lowering the sword, although he did not douse the flames, which flickered uselessly against his flight suit.
“The last several years, I have done my best to stop the dragon raids.” Hiccup proclaimed, trying to lower his voice to something rougher, but still understandable. “To keep Vikings and dragons from killing each other.”
Another ripple went through the room at his words, surprise that he could talk.
“-And I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of it.” He added sarcastically, increasing in volume. “But it is NOT my job to mediate Jorgenson stupidity.”
Hiccup pointed his flaming sword towards Stoick, who was standing, fist clenched as if to restrain himself from attacking bare-handed. “It’s yours.”
“Yeah! Jorgensen!!” Snotlout’s boastful triumphant yell from the back of the room turned panicky. “Wait, what?”
Before Hiccup could explain, there was a minor commotion, and he turned towards the door to find Astrid walking through, illuminated by the ring of flickering dragon fire. Her hair was loose and flowing, the white of her gown picking up the light and making her look ethereal.
Or possibly a lost or vengeful ghost, with her grim expression and the hellfire in her eyes. The sailcloth wrapped around her limbs looked like bandages in the light, and the dark cut was visible on her neck, the remains of dried blood staining the collar of her shift.
His heart did that strange double thump as he took her in. Astrid was glorious.
She stopped at the edge of the fire, staring straight ahead at Stoick. “Hi, Chief.”
The room went dead silent, a few people making signs to protect themselves from evil.
Stoick suddenly went flying out of his chair, launched forward towards the center of the room by an unseen force. Or mostly unseen, as Hiccup caught sight of a familiar tailfin. Hiccup motioned to Hookfang, who grabbed Stoick by the cloak and hauled him out of the room through the roof.
He glanced back towards where Astrid had been standing, to find her gone, like a ghost.
… Nobody would ever believe he was human again. They’d think he was a demon for sure, cavorting with spirits.
It took a lot of effort not to start cackling maniacally. There were worse things.
“I do not want to have to talk to any of you, ever again. Chieftains.” He nodded his head in farewell, stepping through the fire as if it was nothing, walking out through the door. “Dagur. Eat nightshade and die.”
Dagur cackled gleefully as Hiccup walked away. “He knows my name!” He cheered, clapping his hands together.
Hiccup rolled his eyes and Toothless greeted him at the entrance, barely allowing Hiccup a chance to throw a leg over the saddle before leaping up onto the lodge and launching himself up into the sky. Sharpshot gave a little screech, and took off into the air from Hiccups shoulder as well.
They quickly spotted Hookfang, who was carrying Stoick in his back claws, holding the large man by his shoulders. As per his name, Stoick was mostly stoic, although there was an air of anger and uncertainty about him.
Astrid was astride Stormfly, fastening the sealskin back around her to protect herself from the winds.
“That was amazing!” He called, only barely suppressing the delight in his voice as he and Toothless soared next to them, giddy at their success.
“Really?” He thought she looked kind of surprised as he reeled his wings in. “I thought you’d be mad.”
He got the impression that she might have been aiming for that.
“Not your boss.” He reminded her. Hiccup didn’t think anyone could tell Astrid what to do if she didn’t want to. “That was totally unexpected! Did you see their faces?! What made you think to come in?!”
“It was your dragon’s idea!” Astrid grinned, his own excitement mirrored on her face, fingers fumbling as she braided her hair back up. He wanted to kiss her, press his lips against her mirthful rosy cheeks. “He had us land, then nudged me towards the entrance before slipping in himself. I didn’t realize why until Stormfly took my hair tie!”
Hiccup laughed, high and incredulous. That had gone better than he could have hoped or planned.
Although the hair tie was probably more Stormfly collecting shiny things than any thought out plan. “Good job, Stormfly.” He praised, then raised his voice. “Nice timing back there, Hookfang! You too, Sharpshot.”
Hookfang roared in agreement, sounding very pleased with himself. Hiccup nudged Toothless to fly closer to the Monstrous Nightmare, getting within speaking range of Stoick, who glared at him like an irate cat.
“We’re taking you back to Berk.” He announced, lowering the timbre of his voice again. “So you can clean up your village, or whatever is left of it with the idiots you left in charge.”
“What have they done?” Stoick rumbled, his voice sounding like mountainous stones grinding against each other.
“I’ll leave that for Astrid to tell, I’m just a bystander in all this.” Hiccup motioned to Astrid, who was flying closer. Stoick gave Hiccup a thoroughly suspicious look. Toothless rumbled back, flashing a bit of sharp teeth.
Toothless hated it when Hiccup mentioned his father, and probably hadn’t realised ‘Chief Stoick’ was Hiccup’s sire until now.
It was a long burning grudge, the lack of care for a youngling from a sire that angered the dragon. Toothless had thought Hiccup was an abandoned kit when they’d first met, from the lack of familiar smells on him, that should have been there from close proximity and affection. Hiccup hadn’t, and Toothless never forgot.
Which meant he was going to be dealing with a sulking dragon on top of everything else. Great.
“It was safer for me to come with the Dragon Master than to stay on Berk.” Astrid called. “For one thing, he gave me clothing.”
Hiccup nearly broke up laughing at Stoick’s wide-eyed look of horror. He managed to bite it back, keeping a straight face.
“Don’t hurt the dragon, and you’ll be fine.” He instructed, his voice managing not break in mirth. “Attack, and he’ll drop you from here, and you will not survive the fall. If you ask politely, Hookfang may let you ride on his back, which is much more comfortable than flying like you are now. We’ll stop sometime after midnight to let the dragons rest before continuing on to Berk.”
Toothless did a barrel roll, curving to the side and ahead of Hookfang as Stormfly took their place, close enough for Stoick and Astrid to talk.
Hiccup let them be, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath as Toothless made a low annoyed hum, still carrying his grudge.
Well, Hiccup had done it. Talked to his father and survived.
Now he just had to get them back to Berk and he could wash his hands free of all of this.
Stormfly let out a low whine, letting them know that her wings were tired; she was running out of stamina to keep going. Hookfang grumbled, seconding the motion.
“I know.” Hiccup assured them. “We’re almost somewhere we can stop for the night.”
“Another tunnel?” Astrid asked, brightening up. Stoick, sitting on Hookfang’s back gave her a contemplative look.
“I’m afraid not.” Hiccup shook his head. It was at least another three hours before they got to the island they’d spent the previous night, and they were taking a slightly different route back, due to the way the winds were moving. And the dragons were too exhausted to get there, after flying for nearly 12 hours straight. “Just a sea stack, but the weather is fair enough we shouldn’t need more while we have the dragons with us.”
“Thank goodness for that.” Astrid shivered. She wouldn’t have made it to the Assembly, much less here while wearing what she’d been last night, without the seal cape. Stormfly gave Astrid a small reassuring croon, that she was safe and warm now.
Hiccup smiled sadly. It seemed like Stormfly had really bonded with Astrid. He just hoped it wouldn’t end in heartache once they got to Berk.
“I think I see it.” Astrid said, squinting her eyes, and Hiccup did the same. Toothless waved an ear fin at him in amusement, that yes, she’d spotted the sea stack first.
“Good eyes.” He called. “That should be it.” If he recalled his maps correctly, it was pretty empty, no wild dragons. Just a bit of elevated land, with a small forest growing on the top.
His stomach twisted in knots as the dragons began their decent, eager to have land under their feet for a bit. While they were flying, he didn’t have to worry about talking to Stoick, who had been staring at him intently almost the entire trip, as if contemplating ripping Hiccup’s head off.
He really didn’t want to talk to his father. But he didn’t see how he was going to make the rest of the trip without doing so at least a couple of times.
All three dragons let out a groan as they landed, shaking out limbs and legs that were sore from flying so long. Hiccup followed, sliding off Toothless, and having to hold on for support as he caught his balance.
Yup. His stump of a leg was really starting to hurt, and there were probably a couple of friction sores he needed to take care of. Preferably without Stoick and Astrid seeing.
He especially didn’t want Stoick seeing that he was just flesh and blood. And could be injured.
Hiccup was weak. The Dragon Master was not.
Toothless turned around with a snickering croon, batting playfully at Hiccup, before standing up on his hind legs, like a human. Hiccup was aware of Astrid and Stoick making alarmed noises as Toothless stepped forward, grabbing Hiccup in a giant bear hug.
And then flipped over on his back, rolling them both over so Hiccup was pinned under him, large head resting on Hiccup’s chest, making a warbling laughing sound.
“Hey.” Hiccup rubbed Toothless’s head in confusion. “What’s gotten into you? We need to-”
With a gleeful noise, Toothless licked Hiccup’s helmet, nearly lifting the visor.
“Too-” He spat as Toothless licked him again, drool getting inside the helm. “Stop that. We need to-”
Toothless refused to budge, playfully nudging him.
“You okay?” Astrid’s hesitant voice asked, and he looked up to find Astrid standing nearby, on hand on her knife hilt, but not pulling it out.
“I’m fine.” Hiccup assured her. “Guess someone wanted some attention. Big baby boo.” He said the last part mockingly.
Toothless grumbled, mimicking Hiccup’s words. He was not a big baby boo.
But he also wasn’t moving any time soon.
“Astrid, if I loan you my pocket torch, can you and Stoick collect wood for a fire?” Hiccup wiggled under his brother’s larger bulk, trying to reach the dagger on his thigh. “Brother and I will work on getting dinner once he’s got this out of his system.”
She looked back and forth between Hiccup and Toothless for a moment before smiling, looking slightly amused. “Sure.” Astrid agreed, walking over to lean over him. Toothless lifted his bulk just enough to let Hiccup pull out his dagger.
“You sure you’re okay?” She asked quietly, her braid dangling low enough that it almost brushed his helmet.
“Yeah. He’s not fond of Stoick for personal reasons.” Hiccup explained. “Plus, this’ll give you two a chance to talk without the wind blowing your words away.”
Astrid nodded, looking content at his words. He activated the dagger, then handed it to her, the flames illuminating her face and hair with shades of molten gold.
“It’s got a limited amount of flame, but it should last you long enough. Hookfang or Stormfly can help you get the fire started once the wood is collected.” He instructed, then grunted as Toothless put his head back down on his chest, keeping him pinned.
“Thanks.” She nodded, looking the flaming dagger over for a moment before walking away, looking like she was trying not to laugh. Stoick gave Hiccup and Toothless a narrow-eyed look before following her into the trees.
Toothless grunted, motioning to Stormfly to follow them. The Nadder growled back, flicking her tail in their direction as she followed Astrid, affronted that Toothless thought he needed to instruct her to protect the girl. Stormfly would be more than willing bite Stoick’s hand off if Astrid showed any signs of being uncomfortable in his presence.
Probably end up dead for the effort, but Stormfly would try. Hiccup had seen his father kill too many dragons with his bare hands to feel really at ease with his friends around Stoick the Vast.
They wandered off into the forest, Stormfly following Astrid like a mother hen with a chick. Hookfang grumbled, plopping down on the ground and spreading his wings out, giving every sign of not moving in the foreseeable future.
It was a lie, Hookfang was probably as paranoid as Hiccup was. The first sign of trouble and Hookfang would attack, his flames burning bright.
“Alright, Toothless.” Hiccup turned his attention to his brother, running his gloved hand over Toothless’ broadhead, automatically finding the itchy spots and lightly scratching them. “What brought this on?”
Well, other than the obvious. Toothless didn’t like Stoick.
Toothless grumbled in the back of his throat. Stoick thought the dragons were mean and vicious. Being playful would put him off balance. Sending the others off meant Hiccup had time to take care of his leg, so he didn’t appear injured in front of the large Viking.
“Thanks.” Hiccup lifted his visor up, wrapping his arms around Toothless’ neck and leaning forward to press his nose against Toothless’, since the angle was wrong to press his forehead. His brother almost always had his best interests at heart.
-Unless he thought something was funny. Then he’d let Hiccup fall down, but not very far or very hard.
Toothless crooned, and Hiccup could almost feel the flood of love and affection from his brother, wrapping around him like a safe, comforting blanket.
Then Toothless sat up, pulling Hiccup along with him, and he gritted his teeth as his leg protested the shift in position. He hung on as Toothless carried him over to a rock to sit down, holding on until Hiccup wasn’t in danger of falling over.
“I think I’ve used up my allotment of energy for dealing with Vikings for the next several years already.” Hiccup admitted, taking a moment to breathe.
Toothless warbled in agreement, settling behind Hiccup so he could be used as a back rest. Hiccup did so, pulling his left leg up and undoing the prosthetic, offering it to Toothless. His brother took it with a pleased hum, idly chewing on it without teeth. Hiccup would never understand Toothless’ fascination with gnawing on his leg.
He grimaced as the air hit the sock that covered the stump, then carefully peeled the fabric away, finding the skin warm to the touch. Yeah. There were definitely blisters there, from where the prosthetic had rubbed against the sock. He peered into the top part of the fake leg, checking the sheepskin that lined it. The wool was slightly damp to the touch, and he needed to let everything air dry for a bit and stay off his leg.
Which wasn’t going to happen until the Vikings were back at Berk. Toothless warbled in concern, dropping the saliva covered prosthetic in Hiccup’s lap before leaning over to sniff Hiccup’s leg, nearly bending Hiccup in half as he checked it for infection. Toothless didn’t smell any rot, but he didn’t like how it smelled either.
Hiccup grimaced, pushing Toothless back so he wasn’t squished anymore, kneading the knotted muscles of his leg, trying to get the muscles to relax again. “How’s your tail, Bro?”
He got a trill in return, Toothless bringing his tail around to show off his prosthetic, opening and closing the tail a few times. Dragon hide was tougher than soft squishy human skin, he didn’t have any problems with his at all.
“I’m glad.” Hiccup murmured, leaning forward and pressing his head against Toothless’ muzzle, just breathing for a moment. Toothless gave a gentle sigh, closing his eyes as they relaxed against each other, finding peace in each other’s company.
They pulled away after a moment, Hiccup feeling more grounded. “So. What are we going to do about dinner?” He asked.
Toothless muttered mockingly for a moment, then turned his head towards the ocean, raising his voice in not quite a bellow or a scream, a sort of musical element to it. “We could scream at the ocean for fish.” Hiccup deadpanned. “That could totally work.”
He got a mocking look back from Toothless, who watched the water with a smug air. Hiccup waited.
Several minutes later, he was still waiting. “Well?” He asked Toothless.
Which was when a giant Thunderdrum head popped out of the ocean, the large dragon stomping up on to the shore and spitting out a giant mouthful of fish. Considering Thunderdrums seemed to be half mouth, it was quite a lot of fish.
Toothless warbled a thank you to the Thunderdrum, who grumbled and stalked back into the water. A moment later, a Scauldron stuck their head out of the water, spat fish to the pile on the beach and disappeared again before they could be thanked.
Hiccup looked at the pile of still twitching fish, then at Toothless, who was smirking. “Alright. I admit it. You were right. I was wrong. Screaming at the ocean for fish totally works.”
He got a smug snicker in response.
Hiccup sighed and shook his head, reaching over to grab the ointment from the pack on Toothless’ back, rubbing it on his leg before putting the sock back on and attaching his protesetic.
Just in time too, Stoick came charging out of the forest with what looked like half a dead tree over one shoulder, Astrid with the flaming dagger in her hand, Stormfly hovering protectively over her, ready to attack. They quickly stopped, staring slack jawed at the giant pile of fish in front of them, which probably reached Astrid’s shoulder.
Stoick dropped the giant log. “HOW?” He demanded.
Hiccup flailed as he got to his feet, left leg screaming agony at him, although to a lesser degree than a few minutes prior. “Dragons.” He said succinctly.
Both Astrid and Stoick looked at him with incredulous expressions on their faces. Toothless rumbled, turning to look at Hiccup with an annoyed expression.
“What?” Hiccup shrugged and threw his arms in the air. Really, that was about the only explanation he could give, he didn’t really understand it either.
“Okay then.” Astrid nodded, clearly having decided to just move on. “We’ve got fish, and we’ve got wood. What now? None of us have axes.”
Stoick normally would, but large weapons being prohibited during meetings to keep the Viking leaders from killing each other under the guise of politics.
“Stormfly.” Hiccup called, motioning to the log Stoick had dropped, then made a horizontal motion with his arm. “Spine shot.”
Stormfly whipped her tail around, spikes hitting the side of the log. Stoick and Astrid jumped away, Stoick growling in the back of his throat.
“That could have hit one of us.” He rumbled.
“You’re kidding, right?” Hiccup drawled as he walked over to the log, and put a foot down on the spike closest to him and pressed down.
The log split cleanly in half.
“Stormfly’s got the best aim outside of my brother.” Hiccup motioned to the Night Fury behind him. “And he never misses. Hookfang, do you think you can get a bonfire for us going?”
The Monstrous Nightmare let loose a heavy groan, as if he was ancient and his bones hurt. Toothless huffed in amusement as Hookfang shuffled over, picking up half of the split log and setting it down in a sandy spot before standing on it. He flexed his feet, claws digging into the wood, and the wood fell into pieces.
Looking smug, Hookfang stacked it in a lazy pile and blew on it, setting the whole pile ablaze before sauntering back over to where he’d been laying and sprawling out again.
“Thanks, Hookfang.” Hiccup called, trying not to laugh. Honestly, Nightmares were such prima donnas. “Well, pull up a log and a couple of fish.”
Stoick looked around, hands clenching and unclenching like he was completely out of his depth and wanted to start punching things. “Thanks.”
Astrid just shook her head and walked over, examining the catch with the pocket torch before pulling out some of the smaller fish. “What about the dragons?”
“They’ll either eat the rest or save it for morning.” Hiccup assured her. “Although if you wanted to toss one to Stormfly, she’d probably love it.”
Astrid glanced between Stormfly and Stoick for a moment before grabbing a large bass.
“Stormfly.” She called, holding up the fish. The Nadder’s spines flared in interest, and she dashed over next to Astrid, wings quivering in excitement. “Here you go girl.” Astrid praised, tossing the fish into the air.
Stormfly caught it in midair, crooning as she ate it, then looked back at Astrid, tail wagging eagerly, happy at both the food and the attention.
“They’re not eating.” Stoick said, sounding suspicious as he stepped closer, inspecting the pile of fish, as if expecting something to burst out of it.
“Not yet.” Hiccup agreed, then didn’t explain further. Partly out of embarrassment. The dragons seemed to think Hiccup was either too skinny or a dragon kit, and therefore waited until he’d taken his meager share before eating theirs. Toothless was firmly in the ‘too skinny’ camp.
Hiccup inspected the pile as well, pulling out the large kelp leaves to cook with later, then grabbed a mixed assortment of fish before walking back over to the fire. He pulled out his sword, using it to hook one of the longer unburnt logs of wood towards him before sheathing his sword again. “Hey, can I have my dagger back?”
“Sure.” Astrid joined him, handing the sputtering dagger back to him, nearly out of fuel. Which wasn’t an issue, Hiccup had some back up fuel containers on him, tucked in his boot.
“Thanks.” He put the flame out, putting his sword away before using the dagger to slice several skewers for cooking the fish with. “Actually, if you could retrieve Stormfly’s spines, we can use them to cook too.”
Astrid nodded, walking off to grab them, Stormfly following. Stoick watched her go, before glaring at Hiccup, who ignored him.
“You don’t have to do what he says, Astrid.” Stoick informed her as Astrid plucked the spines out of the log.
Hiccup pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.
Astrid snorted in response. “I know.” Stormfly picked up the other half of the log in her jaws, then turned back towards the fire. “But I’m hungry and this gets me dinner faster. Unless you can think of a more expedited way?”
Hiccup almost pointed out they could just toss the fish on Hookfang, but decided against it in case they took it as a suggestion. Stoick looked disgruntled, but silently acquiesced.
Stormfly dropped the log next to the fire for Astrid to sit on.
“Thanks, girl.” Astrid nodded, taking a seat and pulling out her dagger, gutting fish with efficient strokes.
“You’ll notice she kept the spines.” Hiccup pointed out, setting the skewers aside and starting on his own fish. Astrid smirked at him, a silent laugh.
Toothless walked over, dropping another mouthful of fish next to Hiccup before returning to the pile of fish, grabbing some of his favourites to eat. Stormfly glanced back and forth between Astrid and the fish for a moment before joining him. Hookfang watched, but waited.
Stoick sat down next to Astrid, causing the log to lift her in the air for a moment before settling back down, holding a fish in his hand.
“Do you need a knife?” Astrid asked, offering hers.
“I’ve got one.” Stoick pulled a small knife from under his cloak and began working on butchering his fish. He wasn’t as good at it as either Hiccup or Astrid was, clearly out of practise.
One of the perks of being the chief of Berk, someone else made his meals.
Toothless joined him, a couple of fish sticking out of his mouth, turning a few times before settling down so Hiccup could use him as a backrest. Hiccup tossed him the fish guts, earning a happy rumble.
They worked in silence, putting the fish on the sticks and spikes, settling over them over the fire to cook, before wrapping the extra ones in seaweed to cook in the coals again. Once he was out of fish to prepare, Hiccup glanced around, looking for something else to occupy his hands, so he didn’t have to come up with small talk.
“Question for you.” Astrid said, and he could have kissed her in gratitude. She held up a shimmering blue scale with a golden edge, about the length of her thumb. “Stormfly dropped a scale when we were gathering wood. Is that normal?”
“Can I see it for a moment?” Hiccup asked, holding his hand up. She tossed it over, and he caught it, holding it up to the to inspect it, checking for blood or skin. “Yeah, it’s fine. Dragons lose scales like you Vikings shed hair. There’s probably already a scale where this one was.”
“Oh good.” Astrid grinned, looking fondly at Stormfly, who walked over, trilling happily at the mention of her name. Astrid paused, looking over at Stoick, as if realising her reaction might not be proper.
Stoick glanced away, as if he hadn’t seen it, and she relaxed.
Hiccup pressed his lips together to keep from snickering.
“One moment.” He said, reaching for his pack and pulling out the sewing kit again. He found one of his slightly larger needles, the point shaped like a triangle. Carefully pressing the tip of it to the scale where it was thinner, he began spinning the needle between his fingers, slowly drilling through.
The needle finally poked out the other side of the scale. He grabbed a length of sinew from the pack, and threaded it through the scale, before tying it in a knot.
“Here you go.” He called, cutting the sinew long enough so she could tie it around her neck, the scale hanging as pendant. “Gift from Stormfly.”
Astrid caught it in her hands, staring at the scale in awe for a moment, before tying it around her neck.
“Thank you.” She said, touching the scale.
Stormfly cooed, leaning over to inspect it, then rose proudly, looking smug that her chosen was wearing one of her scales.
He shrugged and waved it off, tucking the needle back in the kit and checking on the fish, turning some over. He had lots of scales floating around. If he’d had more time, he would have carved an image of a Nadder on it, make it a proper pendant.
“Wait.” Stoick rumbled, looking surprised. “How did you do that? Dragon scales are nigh impervious to weapons.”
“Dragon Iron.” Hiccup explained, holding up the sewing kit, needles and scissors flashing in the light, before putting sewing stuff away in the pack. “Lighter and stronger than usual iron. My swords and daggers are made out of it too. It’ll cut through normal blades in a fight.”
The claws on his fingertips were made of it as well. Strong enough to give him enough grip to climb cliff faces in emergencies.
Astrid’s eyes went wide. “I want one.” She breathed. “How did you make them?”
He chuckled. “That’s a secret.” Hiccup tapped his head. “Wouldn’t work for you anyway, since you don’t have dragons.”
Or more specifically, a Gronkle. ‘Gronkle Iron’ might have a better ring, but he didn’t want to accidentally put Gronkles in danger, people trying to recreate the metal.
Stoick hummed, giving Hiccup a thoughtful stare, which he did not like at all. Hiccup sighed, wishing the fish were done cooking already. He could probably take his share and wander off with Toothless, but he was tired and didn’t want to move if he could help it.
And doing that meant less time with Astrid, even if Stoick was here.
Sharpshot appeared, landing in Hiccup’s lap, body wiggling as he shoved something into Hiccup’s hand. It was an apple, and Hiccup’s mouth immediately watered. He hadn’t been able to stop for fruit in what felt like ages.
“Thanks.” He murmured, wondering where Sharpshot got it.
“Hey, Astrid?” He asked, reaching over and stealing a small fish from Toothless’ pile, offering it to Sharpshot, who chirped in delight, pouncing on the fish. Toothless grumbled in annoyance, pulling his fish closer, but it was mostly in jest.
Stolen fish tasted best, after all.
“Hmm?” She paused in her petting of Stormfly, who chirped at the interruption.
“What have you deduced about me thus far?”
Her eyes went wide, flickering between Stoick and himself for a moment before swallowing.
“Well. You’re not a devil or a demon.” She said slowly, as if it was some sort of trick. “That’s not your real face, you wear a helmet. And you have experience with Vikings and their culture, but you’re not one, at least any more. Why?”
“You’d tell your chief later, if you haven’t yet already.” He shrugged. “And this way you won’t freak out if I do this.”
He popped the visor a bit, just enough to reach up and pull the face mask down under his mouth. He cut into the apple with his claws and ate a small slice. Toothless rumbled encouragement, pleased Hiccup was taking care of himself.
Astrid nodded, like this was somewhat expected, reaching forward to check the fish closest to her. Stoick frowned, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Why not show us your full face?” He demanded. “Why hide it?”
Hiccup ate another slice of apple before speaking.
“I have my mother’s eyes.” He said honestly, pausing to lick some apple juice off his claws. “Although personally, I think my eyes are more like my brother’s.”
Same shades of green when the light hit it right.
Stoick nodded, as if this made sense. “And your mother?” He asked, head tilting curiously.
“She’s like me, only more feral.” Hiccup shrugged. “Has a sibling who is a dragon. But she loved a Viking warrior, and he, her. They were wed and eventually had me.”
“This was before the raiding stopped, I take it.” Stoick rumbled.
“Yes.” Hiccup agreed.
Astrid glanced between him and Stoick, a sharp look on her face. “What about your father?”
He shrugged, his mouth full, refusing to answer that question. She nodded, a thoughtful look on her face.
“Was he eaten by a dragon?” Stoick asked, clearly not thinking the same thoughts as Astrid, and Hiccup had the odd feeling that two completely different conversations were going on.
“No.” Hiccup snorted. “Humans taste bad. Not enough flesh, too much metal. Most dragons prefer fish.”
The old Queen might have, but Hiccup had never found any evidence one way or another.
Stoick rumbled, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “You appeared about the same time the dragon raids stopped. Was that your doing?”
Hiccup nodded. That, he would answer. “The dragons were attacking the villages because their former Queen would have eaten them if they hadn’t. Brother and I put a stop to that years ago, and here we are.”
“The Dragon Queen.” Stoick asked, leaning forward, an eager glint in his eyes that reminded Hiccup a bit too much of when he was younger, his father’s nearly consuming obsession to find the nest. “What happened to it?”
“She died.” Hiccup said bluntly, then shoved the last of the apple in his mouth.
Stoick let out a barking laugh. “You’re saying you killed the Dragon Queen?!” He exclaimed, not quite hiding his disbelief. Toothless let out an annoyed rumble. “She must not have been that much of a threat after all.”
Hiccup put his hand on Toothless’ muzzle, trying to radiate calm, and keep his brother from attacking. “Think what you like. I believe the dragons’ changed behaviour speaks enough for me.”
Stoick rumbled, looking thoughtful, and Hiccup knew he’d made his point. He checked on the fish closest to him, deciding that the smallest was done, picking it up and began eating that. Astrid glanced between the two of them, as if wondering if it was going to come to blows, then reached forward and grabbed the fish closest to her and began eating.
Stoick watched her before doing the same, and Hiccup bitterly wondered if his father was going to blame him for the poorly butchered fish. It wasn’t like he could blame Hiccup for the poor preparation.
Or maybe he would. Hiccup sighed, feeling weary. Toothless nudged him, reminding him to eat, and he did, inhaling it without really tasting it. He offered the head to Sharpshot who grabbed it and gleefully ran off before taking a second one.
“You are being... very talkative.” Stoick broke the silence with a suspicious rumble.
“Well.” Hiccup drawled, between bites. “It is a nice change of pace to talk to someone who isn’t either A: a dragon or B: going ‘Ahhh! Demon!! Kill him! Kill him!’.” He waved his hands in the air in an exaggerated fashion.
Astrid snickered, then pressed the back of her hand to her mouth, trying to hide her amusement, acting like she was wiping something off her face before taking a big bite of her fish, cheeks bulging adorably. Hiccup allowed himself to bask in the sight for a moment, delighted that he’d made her laugh again.
Stoick glanced between them, his eyebrows coming down and Hiccup quickly spoke again.
“-And it’s not like it matters, you’re never going to see me again. We don’t pass by Berk often, and you won’t see my brother when we do.” He motioned to the Night Fury, who looked smug. “You never caught him before, you won’t catch us now.”
Stoick looked disgruntled at the reminder.
He would have added a commented that no one would believe Stoick that the ‘Dragon Master’ talked, except he’d just kind of blown that with the rest of the chieftains.
Although rumours of him being a demon would probably spread after this. Ulf the Unwashed might finally have people believe him now after that one time Hiccup threw his helmet at Ulf. The guy had thought it was the Dragon Master’s severed head and screamed like a terrified little child.
He glanced over at Astrid, wondering how far the stories of her being a ghost would spread, and if that would hurt her at all.
Not something he could deal with. It’d be a minimum of a week for Snotlout to make the journey back to Berk if he’d left right after the meeting, and hopefully by then Berk would think it was all an exaggeration on Snotlout’s part.
Other Viking tribes however… that might get awkward if Astrid ever went to an Althing. Hopefully the stories would die quickly.
“Come to think of it, it was pretty shocking to me too.” Astrid mused, moving her feet closer to the fire, wiggling her toes in the slippers. “I think I screamed when you first started talking after I tried to stab you.”
“You didn’t.” Hiccup assured her. “You did almost fall off the watch tower though.”
She snorted in amusement, adjusting the seal skin around her. He smiled, happy to see her smiling, even if it was only a little bit.
“Another thing I don’t understand.” Stoick rumbled. “You do not think Astrid would be a good bride?” He sounded offended, as if Hiccup was offering them insult with his actions.
“She’ll make an amazing bride.” Hiccup said honestly. “For a Viking. Me? I’m not entirely sure she wouldn’t try to stab me in my sleep. Yanno. Scales and all.”
A proper Viking reaction when confronted with someone like him. He glanced over at Astrid, expecting a baring of teeth and agreement, playing along with his tale.
Instead, a flash of something like distress crossed her face before she schooled it. Stormfly sensed her change in mood and crooned, leaning down to nuzzle the top of her head. Astrid leaned back, wrapping an arm around Stormfly’s neck, and Hiccup couldn’t tell if it was to comfort herself or the dragon.
“Yet you saved her.” Stoick continued, looking sly. It was a look Hiccup recognised, his father getting ready to spring a trap. “Give her clothing, gifts. Promises of protection.”
Hiccup’s eyes went wide as he realised what Stoick was hinting at, that Hiccup was courting Astrid, offering trinkets to coax her into his bed, if he hadn’t already. Astrid’s eyes went wide, expression turning sallow as she realised what her chief was insinuating as well.
“Course I did. She would have been dead or frozen if I hadn’t.” Hiccup countered. He leaned forward, staring intently at his father. “Tell me, Chief. Are you angry that I’m the type of person who would stop and help someone, or would it make you happier if I wasn’t?”
If he’d left her there, with blood running down her neck, a knife at her throat.
He could see the triumph slide from Stoick’s face as his father realised the depth of what he’d implied.
“I don’t have much to offer as far as hospitality, but I do what I can.” Hiccup said, done with this conversation, and Vikings in general. Hiccup pulled himself up on Toothless’ saddle, sitting sideways so he didn’t have to walk. “I’ve prepped the fish to cook in the coals overnight if you’ll put them in when you sleep. We’ll head out sometime around mid-morning, and you’ll be home by nightfall.”
He pulled the cloth back up his face and sealed his helmet again as Toothless wandered a distance away, finding a nice large rock to heat up before flopping down. Hiccup sighed, sprawling out on his brother’s back, Sharpshot fluttering away.
He’d had just enough time to close his eyes and get comfortable when he heard the sound of a hissing Terrible Terror. It was echoed seconds later by his mattress rumbling. Annoyed, Hiccup sat up, activating his flame sword and pointing it at Stoick, who was standing several yards away, his hands up as if to show he was defenseless.
Which of course, was a lie.
“They don’t like me, do they?” Stoick stated baldly, staring at Toothless, who had his full set of sharp teeth on display.
Hiccup closed his eyes, reaching down to pat Toothless, more to comfort himself than calm his brother. “We’re exhausted after flying all day, on an island in the middle of nowhere with the best Viking warrior of her generation, and a Chieftain who bare-handedly killed more dragons than I can count.” Hiccup deadpanned. “Obviously we have no reason not to be on guard.”
If it came down to a fight between Hiccup and his father, he didn’t think he could win, even with the dragons’ help. He’d had too many nightmares of watching his father kill to get into a fight clearheaded.
He lowered his sword, although he didn’t put it out. “That being said, from what I understand, you’re generally a fair leader to your tribe. Which is why my first thought was to fetch you when your village turned stupid.”
Anyone else, and he wouldn’t have. Although a large part of that had to do more with Astrid than Stoick.
Stoick nodded, taking his words seriously. “Dragon Master.” Stoick said gravely.
“-Not a Master.” Hiccup tiredly interjected. He didn’t own the dragons. If anything, they owned him.
Stoick grunted, clearly holding on to strands of patience. When Hiccup was younger, he would have offered some frozen bricks for the headache his father was clearly suffering from.
“Tamer, then.” Stoick ground out. “I have a question. In your travels, have you seen my son?”
Hiccup said nothing, surprised by the question. Toothless stopped his growling, glancing at Hiccup for a moment, then back at Stoick.
“My Son.” Stoick repeated, this time there was no anger in his voice, but a lot of desperation. “Hiccup.”
The urge to tell him ‘no’, was strong, the word resting on his tongue. It wasn’t a lie, he hadn’t ‘seen’ himself. And he hadn’t been Stoick’s son in years.
The pleading in Stoick’s posture stopped his mouth though. He didn’t know if Stoick was lying or not, but he seemed hopeful, and Hiccup couldn’t find it in him to crush his father completely.
And somehow, he got the feeling this would.
“Son of the Great Chief of Berk, Hiccup the Useless.” He said instead, adding a twist of scorn to his voice, the same tone his name had been called on Berk over and over again. Stoick flinched at the words, and Hiccup gentled tone slightly, turning his head slightly away. “-Or so he claimed he once was called.”
“You know him?” Stoick took a couple of steps forward before catching himself at Toothless’ warning snarl. “You know my son?”
“You could say we’re close.” Hiccup deadpanned.
Stoick gave a deep, shuddering breath, covering his face with a hand. “He’s alive.” He breathed, like he was on the verge of tears. “I feared he’d been killed and eaten.”
Hiccup snorted. Considering how often the village had commented that the dragons should have done just that, it was a little amusing. “He wasn’t eaten. He’s alive and happy where he is.”
“Can you… Can you take me to him?” Stoick asked. “On the dragons? Or… Or bring him back to Berk?”
“If he wanted to be found by you, he would be.” Hiccup shook his head, trying not to laugh at the irony.
“I don’t understand.” Stoick looked so confused. “Why wouldn’t he come home?”
Berk had never been ‘home’. Berk had been where he was raised, scornful villagers, and a strained barely tolerant father who used spending time with Hiccup as a threat to keep other Vikings in line. The only time the village liked him was when they thought he’d betrayed himself by becoming like them, becoming a Dragon Killer.
The last time they’d actually talked, Stoick had talked about Hiccup being the worst Viking Berk had ever seen, and spoke about wanting to give up on him. The last time Astrid had talked to him before this was to call him a ‘son of a half-troll rat eating munge bucket’ because he’d been given the ‘honour’ of slaughtering Hookfang over her.
No, Berk was not home.
“Did you ever ask your son what he wanted?” Hiccup asked quietly. “What path he wanted, instead of becoming just another murderer?”
Ironic, given that’s what he was now. The first thing he’d done after leaving Berk being to kill the Queen. He’d been careless with a couple of trappers over the years as well.
His kill count may not have been high as his father’s, but there was blood on his hands as well.
Stoick looked surprised, almost taken back at Hiccup’s words.
Hiccup shook his head, turning off the flame sword, and putting it away. “No. He’s alive, and happy where he is. That’s all you’re getting from me.”
He lay back down on Toothless, turning his back to his father. Toothless growled, plasma building up in his throat in warning. After a moment, Stoick’s footsteps walked way, heading back towards the fire.
Toothless muttered darkly, letting the plasma bolt fade as he curled tighter, as if to shield Hiccup from his father. Hiccup let out a sigh, petting his brother.
He’d be lying to himself if he said the thought of taking off his helmet and revealing who he was wasn’t tempting. To see if maybe his father could be proud of him now.
But it was only a tiny part. He knew where he belonged, and it wasn’t back in Berk. It was in the skies, with his brother. Helping and saving the dragons from idiot Vikings.
Like his father.
A loud crash followed by a scream snapped him out of his sleep, heart pumping as adrenaline coursed through his body. Toothless jumped up onto all fours, Hiccup scrambling to hold on as his brother ran towards the source of the noise.
The campfire was in disarray, embers scattered across the sands. Where it had been burning was a Hobblegrunt, letting out a high pitched keening wail of pain.
Hiccup glanced at the sky, realising it was still about an hour to dawn. “I need light!” He called as Toothless approached the fallen dragon.
There was a ‘woosh!’ as Hookfang lit himself on fire, illuminating the area. Stormfly opened her jaw, fires burning in her throat, and he realised she was standing protectively over a confused-looking Astrid. On the other side of where the fire had been was Stoick, looking ready to tear something apart.
Toothless lit up, blue light sparkling down his spine, plasma leaking from his jaws and Stoick took a step back as they passed.
“Easy now.” Hiccup said, pitching his voice soft and soothing. “We’re not going to hurt you. It’s alright now.”
He slid off of Toothless’ back, crouching down so he was nearly walking on all fours, carefully approaching the Hobblegrunt. The dragon focused on him, letting loose a warning hiss as Hiccup got close enough to touch, holding a hand out in front of the dragon’s snout.
He turned his hand to the side, the Hobblegrunt’s head following, hitting the sands with a soft thud, out fast asleep. Hiccup was aware of Stoick and Astrid making noises of shock, but he ignored them, focusing on the dragon.
Hookfang stepped closer, illuminating the Hobblegrunt better, and Hiccup could spot what the problem was. There was a grappling chain wrapped around the dragon’s hind legs and tail. Hiccup glanced down the beach, noting the long furrow in the sand.
“That explains the landing.” He murmured. No legs to land with.
“Keep her calm if she wakes up, please.” Hiccup instructed, and Hookfang shifted to pin the Hobblegrunt if necessary, Toothless moving towards the tail, ready to hold that down. Sharpshot scurried over, offering his little light where Hiccup’s hands were so he could see better. Hiccup grabbed the chain, noting the blue-green of dragon-proof metal with annoyance. The damn stuff was resistant to both dragon fire and strength.
The chain had barbs on it that dug into the flesh; blood was oozing from the cuts. Hiccup had seen it before; any struggling on the dragon’s part dug them in deeper, causing more agony. At least these didn’t seem to be so tightly wound there was a chance of losing a limb or the tail.
Hiccup found an end and began unravelling it from the Hobblegrunt’s body, ignoring the twitches of the dragon’s body, or the sucking tearing sounds as he pulled the barbs from the skin. He got it mostly off the tail before turning towards the legs.
“What happened?” Astrid asked, sounding shaken and he was a little surprised to realise that she was standing right over his shoulder. None of the dragons had protested her closeness.
“Hunters.” Hiccup grunted, pulling the chain loose. “Butchers. They trap and kill dragons. Frequently for sport.”
The Hobblegrunt let out a shriek, waking up and flailing around, wings nearly clipping them both in the head. Hookfang and Toothless leapt on the dragon, as Hookfang pinned the Hobblegrunt’s narrow neck to the ground with a large foot.
Toothless growled, ordering the Hobblegrunt to lie still, that they were removing the binding. Helping, not hurting. The Hobblegrunt obeyed, and Hiccup shot his brother a grateful look. He knew how much Toothless hated giving commands as an Alpha, having been on the other end, and being unable to disobey, no matter how much he wanted to.
Stormfly crooned, comforting the Hobblegrunt, and Hiccup worked as quickly as he could to free the dragon. Hookfang gave a warning growl, and Hiccup snapped his head up to find the other dragons staring at Stoick, who was approaching.
“Back off, Dragon Killer.” Hiccup snarled, holding up his bloody claws in warning.
Stoick’s eyes went wide and he backed up several steps, moving to the edge of Hookfang’s glow. Hiccup grunted, turning his attention back to the chain, pulling the last of the barbs free, tugging the chain completely off.
“I need my pack.” He called, placing the chain next to him, away from Stoick.
Between Stoick’s strength and the chain’s dragon-proof abilities, it’d be entirely too easy for Stoick to use it and slaughter them all.
Toothless gave a warning grunt, then walked over, angling himself so Hiccup could reach his pack. He pulled out the water skin, rinsing the wounds he could reach on this side, then grabbed the ointment, grimacing at how little was left.
“Astrid, can I have some of your wrappings?” He glanced over at her. “I want to keep the sand out of these wounds.”
“Sure.” She agreed, unwrapping the strips of sail cloth from her upper arms, which were protected from the wind by the sealskin.
“Thanks.” He said absently, applying the ointment to the worst of the injuries.
Astrid held the end of the cloth out, and he grabbed it, using his claws to slice through the fabric. He grabbed both ends, holding it up Toothless, who licked it, covering it in a layer of drool. Hiccup then lay the strip over the dragon’s injuries, before taking taking the fabric from Astrid and repeating the process.
He really hadn’t found a better adhesive than Night Fury saliva.
They finished the first side, Toothless instructing Hookfang to let the Hobblegrunt go, so they could get the other side. The Hobblegrunt groaned as she was released, letting out a chirp of pain as she moved, exposing the more injuries. Hiccup stepped over the Hobblegrunt’s tail, Toothless and Astrid following, bandaging up the other side without a word.
Hiccup gave a sigh of relief when they were done, the Hobblegrunt rising to her feet with weary dignity, wings flapping for a second before mantling them, sinking back onto the sand in a more comfortable position.
“There we go. Good girl. You were very brave.” Hiccup praised, scratching the Hobblegrunt’s forehead, where the frill met the skull. The Hobblegrunt gave a soft croon of contentment. “Brother, do you know if she was followed?”
Toothless flicked an ear at him, before turning and letting a echolocation blast over the ocean, then listened for it to come back. Toothless shook his head, not hearing anything, then chirped at the Hobblegrunt, who meeped back.
Hiccup waited for them to finish their conversation, checking on the other dragons, who were a little wary, but otherwise relaxed. He really couldn’t understand most dragons like he could Toothless. Basic things like come here, go away, food, happy, angry, he could get. But more than that, and he needed his brother to translate.
Mom said it was the same way with her and Cloudjumper, something about having a deeper connection.
Toothless nudged him, then crooned reassuringly. The Hobblegrunt hadn’t been followed, they’d escaped when their clan had been attacked, flying far until she’d seen the spark of the fire and thought it might be dragons who could help. She hadn’t seen any pursuers, or she would have flown far, much farther than she had.
No doubt the Hunters had been distracted by capturing the rest of her clan. Why go after a single one when they had a dozen in their nets?
Sharpshot scurried over, several fish in his jaws that he offered to the Hobblegrunt, motioning for the dragon to take, before running off to get more. The Hobblegrunt made a desperate noise, devouring the fish like she hadn’t eaten in days.
Which was entirely possible. Panic did funny things.
“Alright.” Hiccup sighed, rubbing his head, a headache from lack of sleep pounding in his skull. “Everyone back to sleep. We still need to leave mid-morning.”
Hookfang crooned, letting his flames flicker and fade away, curling up next to the Hobblegrunt, sharing his warmth with the injured dragon. Contact helped soothe injured dragons, surrounded by friends and family.
His left leg buckled slightly, and he wobbled, Toothless suddenly there under his hand, supporting him.
“Thanks, bro.” He whispered, as his brother informed him he was an idiot, nudging him to the Hobblegrunt’s open side.
“You can control the dragons.” Stoick’s voice broke the fragile calm, an edge of defiance in his voice.
“I don’t.” Hiccup said wearily.
“You waved your hand, and the beast fell asleep.” Stoick gestured with his hand. “You ordered light, and they did it. You wanted your pack and they gave it. They obeyed your every command.”
“I ask.” Hiccup countered. “Just like with Astrid. They don’t have to, it’s their choice. There’s no harm if they don’t.”
He wasn’t very good at remembering to say ‘please’, but he tried to phrase everything as a request, not a command.
“You said the Queen was controlling them.” Stoick shook his head, denying Hiccup’s words. “That you killed her. Did you do that to gain the ability to control the dragons when you did?”
“NO!” The word was out of Hiccup’s mouth before he could think of it, horrified at the idea.
“If I killed you, would I be able to control the dragons?” Stoick asked, his eyes narrowed into slits. “If I killed a Queen?”
Hiccup flinched, and every single dragon turned towards Stoick and growled in warning. Hiccup swallowed, realising that Stormfly had a wing around Astrid, shielding her from her chief.
“Easy, easy.” Hiccup soothed, trying to project calm. Dragons were highly empathic, if he tensed, they tensed, and there wasn’t much he could do but get in the way if they decided that Stoick was too big of a threat. “He’s not going to hurt me.”
Hiccup took a deep breath. “I don’t think there’s anything I can say to convince you to change your mind.” He said, staring at the chief. “So tomorrow I’ll show you the Queen, and you can decide if you really want to try.”
Stoick nodded, accepting this. Hiccup nodded back, letting Toothless escort him to the Hobblegrunt’s side, laying down between the two dragons, covered by their wings. He took his helmet off, pressing his face to Toothless’ side, feeling his brother breathe. It was warm and comforting, sleeping like this, having slept this way many times before.
But he still couldn’t shake the unease from his bones, nor the realisation that his own father had just suggested killing him in order to gain power.
He woke up with a crick in his neck, an ache in his back, needing to pee, and wanting a drink of water.
Then he remembered his water skin was empty and groaned. It really didn’t matter what way he looked at it, today was going to suck.
He sighed, running a clawed hand through his hair to comb it slightly before pulling up the fabric up around the lower half of his face and putting on the helmet. Toothless groaned, protesting his movement. Or waking up.
Pretty much the same thing.
“Any chance of water on this isle?” He asked, feeling a brief glimmer of hope. Toothless huffed a negative, pulling a scaled arm over his eyes. Hiccup nodded, giving Toothless a pat before wiggling out of his wing tent.
He looked around, finding both the Hobblegrunt and Hookfang still asleep. Or at least Hookfang faking it, it was hard to tell. Astrid was sleeping, Stormfly practically roosting on top of her, like Astrid was a chick in a nest. He smiled at the sight, then looked around for Stoick.
The chief was still asleep, sleeping on the far side of the remains of the fire, his cloak wrapped over his head to keep the light out, snores rumbling through air.
Thank goodness. Hiccup stiffly walked away, heading into the trees, grabbing them as he walked to take some of the weight off his burning leg. He hated when he got blisters or skin irritations, but it was part of life with a prosthetic. The push-pull of walking didn’t help at all.
He got far enough away for privacy, pulling off his gloves and half tucking them in a pocket before undoing the trouser flap that allowed him to take care of his business. He’d just finished, wiping his hands on a leaf before tying himself back up when Sharpshot appeared, landing on his shoulder, looking very pleased with himself, another apple in his mouth.
“Are those around here?” He asked, putting his gloves back on before taking the apple. Sharpshot chirped, leaping onto a branch and clearly waiting for Hiccup to follow. He did, grabbing on to branches to assist him.
Sharpshot led him to a small grove of apple trees, only about three of them, but there was ripe fruit on the branches.
“Thank you.” Hiccup said, sighing in relief. It wasn’t exactly water, but it was more than fish.
Toothless found them, half bent over as he picked up apples, yelping in alarm because he hadn’t realised that Hiccup had wandered off.
“Seriously?” Hiccup asked. Toothless had been aware that Hiccup had woken up, what had he thought Hiccup would do? Stay in one spot?
Toothless gave him a soft apologetic croon, then looked curiously at the apples. He picked one of the windfalls up, chomping on it a bit before spitting it out, looking disgusted. Hiccup laughed. “You hate my food, remember?”
He got a grumble back. Toothless kept trying, he wanted to know what the fascination was with stuff other than tasty yummy raw fish.
“Not tasty to me.” Hiccup reminded him with a laugh, and got a mocking mimic back. Toothless hadn’t forgotten that time Hiccup ate smoked eel in front of him. EEL.
Dragons hated eels. All sane dragons anyway.
Toothless continued to grumble as he nudged Hiccup on to his back, Hiccup’s arms full of apples that he tucked into his saddle bags, Sharpshot balanced on a shoulder.
“We’ll need to get water as soon as we can.” Hiccup mused, opening his gauntlet and pulling out his map, spreading it wide.
He traced back where the Assembly was happening, then where Berk was, then figuring out where they were from there. Not as close to Berk as he would have liked, but they should be there by nightfall without a problem.
There were a couple of islands with springs along the way, most notably the Isle of Friga. He mentally notated where the closest ones were, then folded the map back up, tucking it away in his gauntlet as Toothless walked into camp, still grumbling at how reckless Hiccup was, disappearing like that.
Seriously, dragons were such mother hens sometimes. Although he could understand his brother’s paranoia, given that they were on an isolated sea stack with Stoick.
“There you are.” Astrid greeted them with a small twist to her lips. “Was wondering where you went.”
“Found breakfast.” He held up an apple, then tossed it to her. She caught it in one hand, looking it over for a second before biting into it. “Since I didn’t remember the cooking fish last night after the Hobblegrunt showed up. And there’s no water on the island, so we’ll have to make a stop at the next one to get some.”
“Hobblegrunt? Is that what this type of dragon is called?” She mused with her mouth full, looking at the still sleeping dragon. Hookfang opened an eye a slit, but didn’t mind her presence. “I’ve never seen this kind before.”
“Their territory isn’t close to Berk.” Hiccup explained with a shrug. “There’s hundreds of different kinds of dragons out there; even I don’t know all their names.”
She huffed, looking amused. “You’re a bit of a dragon geek, aren’t you?”
He paused, thinking about it. “Probably.” He agreed.
Astrid laughed, shaking her head and he grinned, feeling light. It only lasted for a second, remembering that she was going home today.
He reached back into his pack, grabbing a scrap of paper, then pulled a charcoal stick from his gauntlet, scooting back on the saddle to use it as a writing surface. Astrid walked over, head tilted to the side as she watched him write. “‘Dear Mom’.” she read out loud.
“We can’t take the Hobblegrunt with us to Berk, she’s too injured.” He reached up to pat Sharpshot on his shoulder. “So he’s going to escort her to my Mother, where she can heal the dragon from there.”
They did this frequently, if there was a dragon they couldn’t get back to their own base, or there was a personality conflict. It worked well for them.
He just needed to not mention to Mom that he was travelling with her husband, that was a conversation for face to face.
… Mom was probably going to chew him out too, for taking such a risk.
“Hey.” Astrid asked, getting his attention, and he glanced up to find Stormfly resting her head on Astrid’s shoulder. She looked tentative, stroking Stormfly's muzzle. “You referred to Stoick as a ‘Dragon Killer’ last night, and wouldn’t let him get close to them.”
“But I had no problems with you getting close, despite you both being Vikings of Berk?” Hiccup finished the thought. She nodded and he sighed, rolling up the paper. “It’s… complicated.”
“So uncomplicate it.” She shrugged, like it was so simple.
Maybe it was. Part of it was certainly that she was Astrid, but there were other factors as well. “When you first saw my brother, you were terrified.” He said slowly. “Same when you woke up yesterday surrounded by everyone, you didn’t know how to deal with them being so close to you.”
“And that made me safe?” She asked, looking disgruntled.
“It meant you weren’t used to them.” Hiccup explained. “You didn’t know how to handle them, because you don’t have that experience. If you watch Stoick, he’s looking for their weak spots, so he can take them out, because he knows where they are from killing so many of them.”
She thought it over, and nodded. “I haven’t.” Astrid finally said, looking at Stormfly. “The ones in the training ring escaped, and then the dragon raids stopped. I was furious about it for a long time, my chance to prove myself as a Warrior gone. I’m kind of glad about it now.”
“Dragons are good at reading people.” Hiccup smiled. “I can’t ask them to like someone if they don’t. That’s all you and her. Chances are Stormfly will stick around once you get to Berk, watching out for you.”
He was surprised when she looked distressed at the idea. “Can you order her not to?” She asked. “If the villagers find her, they’ll kill her.”
Hiccup looked down at Toothless, who gave an inquiring chirp. “Possibly-?” He said slowly. “But it’s her choice. She chose you as her wing-sister, it wouldn’t matter what we did, she’d still come back to you.”
Astrid leaned against Stormfly, hiding her face against the Nadder’s scales.
“Stormfly is good at hiding.” He tried to assure her, lighten her mood. And if something did happen to Stormfly, she had Astrid to help her get free again.
Toothless’ ear flap twitched and he gave a quick warning growl. Hiccup glanced over to find Stoick standing there, probably having returned from his morning ablutions as well.
“Did either of you check on the fish cooking last night?” Hiccup asked hopefully. Stoick paused, looking surprised by the question, then shook his head.
“I did.” Astrid volunteered, pulling away from Stormfly. “I don’t know how cooked they are, given that the fire went out when the dragon appeared. They’re still in the remains of the coals.”
She walked over, checking on what looked like charred bricks. He pulled a bit of string out of his pack, tying it around the note, then motioned for Toothless to approach the Hobblegrunt, who lifted her head at their approach.
“Can you give this to Mom?” He asked.
The Hobblegrunt stretched her neck out, letting him tie it around her neck, then tuck it under the giant frill, where the wind wouldn’t catch it.
“Thanks.” He murmured, Toothless stepping away again. He noticed that the Hobblegrunt had half buried the chain under her tail, where it couldn’t be grabbed, and gave her an extra scratch on the itchy spots in gratitude.
“They’re still a little raw.” Astrid announced. “Although I suppose we could always toss it on the Hookfang to finish cooking.”
Hookfang raised his head, looking spectacularly unimpressed with the idea.
“Do you know how Monstrous Nightmares set themselves on fire?” Hiccup inquired.
Both Astrid and Stoick shook their heads.
“Then I’ll leave it a mystery.” Hiccup shuddered. “And trust me, you don’t want that as an aftertaste.”
Astrid was still smiling when they took off from the sea stack, heading towards fresh water and Berk, with apples and half-baked fish for breakfast. It still wasn’t the best start of a day, but any day he could make Astrid smile was a good one.
“I see Berk!” Astrid called, eyes squinting into the distance. She grinned, her shoulders relaxing as she spotted her home.
“Hang a left, we’re taking a detour first.” Hiccup called, motioning for them to turn towards the west.
“What?” Astrid yelped.
“I promised to show Stoick the Queen.” Hiccup said, his tone flat. “Don’t worry. It’s a quick detour on dragon-back.” As opposed to the half-day sailing via ship.
Toothless let out a soft roar, wings starting to flap instead of just gliding. Hookfang and Stormfly answered it, the three of them diving towards the water, picking up speed. Astrid cheered and Stoick yelled as the ocean spray hit their faces, then the waves started to part under the force of their speed.
They headed straight for Helheim's Gate, Toothless leading the way as they began to dart through the rocks. Stormfly and Hookfang warbled and whistled as they went, keeping track of each other, but Toothless was silent.
They passed the remains of Viking ships, stranded high up in the rocks after having been dropped from the sky, and he thought he heard Stoick cry out at that. The Vikings said nothing as they passed the skeletons of dragons that hadn’t made it.
Finally the rocks opened up, revealing the crumbling side of a mountain and the pebbly beach. Toothless growled as they landed on one of the tall white spires that came out of the mountain, Hookfang landing on the tallest pale rock that stuck out from the mountain side. Stormfly did a small circle around them, before deciding to land on the beach.
Hiccup didn’t say anything, he and Toothless looking around as the dragons that lived on the island began to gather around them, chirping and meeping softly in welcome. Toothless straightened, a blue glow lighting up his spines as he roared in greeting.
The gathered dragons roared back, flaring their wings and bowing. Toothless nodded regally to them all, and the horde began to resume what they’d been doing, a few moving closer to converse with Toothless.
Stormfly preened at it all, doing a little dance as she proudly showed off her rider.
“I don’t understand.” Stoick rumbled, sounding annoyed as he looked around. “Where is the Queen? There is nothing here but boulders and dragons!”
“You’ll understand in a minute.” Hiccup assured him, wondering if he was being too subtle.
Astrid figured it out first, her jaw dropping as her eyes went wide.
“Chief!” She called. “That’s not a boulder.”
“What?” Stoick barked. He looked down at the white rock, then nudged Hookfang back in the air.
There was a moment of silence, and then suddenly Stoick got it. “Sweet Mother of Thor.”
“You wanted to know about the Dragon Queen.” Hiccup called, waving an arm to gesture to the entire giant skeleton that was partially embedded into the mountain wall. “Here you go! That’s was her skull you were resting on, and her tail ends somewhere over there.”
He pointed to the far side of the island, where the vertebra disappeared around the curve of the mountain. He wished he was a little closer, so he could get a better look at the shock that went across Stoick’s face.
“So tell me, Chief.” Hiccup called towards Stoick, just a bit of mocking in his tone. “How well do you think your Vikings would stand up against something whose eye socket is bigger than you are?”
If looks could kill, Hiccup would be dead of multiple puncture wounds through his chest.
Part of him felt vindicated. For years Hiccup had been brushed aside in favour of Stoick’s obsession with finding the Queen and her nest. And now the chief had seen it and hopefully understood the futility of that mad quest that he’d lost so many Vikings to over the years.
And if the ‘Dragon Master’ had taken down the Queen, what chance did Stoick have of taking down the ‘Dragon Master’?
Well, theoretically anyway. Practically, the chances were pretty good.
“THAT’S what was controlling the dragons?” Astrid called, petting Stormfly’s neck, to soothe herself or the Nadder, Hiccup couldn’t tell.
“Yup.” Toothless launched himself off the vertebrae, landing by Astrid and Stormfly, causing the wild dragons to shift and make room for them. “Now you can see why they were raiding all the nearby islands to keep her fed.”
“Yeah.” Astrid agreed, looking stunned.
Toothless warbled and Hiccup looked up to see where Hookfang was. “Don’t get too close to the mountain.” Hiccup warned, Hookfang obeying and gliding away from the rockslide. “There’s a Catastrophic Quaken guarding her nest in there now and you don’t want to piss her off.”
“What’s a Catastrophic Quaken?” Astrid asked, sounding wary.
“Picture a Gronkle, multiply the size about 10 times, then give it a split lower jaw, large spikes, and a nasty attitude.” Hiccup deadpanned. “Best just to leave alone.”
“Gotcha.” She nodded. Astrid paused then shook her head. “I didn’t think dragons came this big.” She admitted, voice hushed in awe.
“They get bigger.” He deadpanned, trying not to smirk and failing. As big as the Red Death had been, Bewilderbeasts and Foreverwings were bigger. Fortunately, with the exception of the Bewilderbeast when it’d been trapped under Drago’s control, they were all extremely gentle, caring giants.
Astrid nodded. She looked around at the dragons gathering around them, several of them making curious noises, but she didn’t seem to mind their presence this close. He smiled to himself, happy that she wasn’t scared of them now.
His chest felt full, like it was overflowing with emotions. Pride. Love. Happiness. For a moment, he wanted to lean over and press his forehead to hers, see if she resonated with the same joy.
Toothless shifted, making an apologetic noise in the back of his throat, and Hiccup’s thoughts came crashing down to earth.
Right. He was taking her home.
Was it just two days ago that she’d tried to stab him for touching her?
“I spoke with Stoick last night.” Astrid said quietly, shifting closer as Hookfang went to find the end of the Queen. “After the Hobblegrunt showed up. He said you know where his son is.”
“I do.” Hiccup agreed flatly. “If Hiccup wants to be found, he will.”
Astrid nodded. “Stoick’s not just going to take your word that Hiccup’s doing well. And since you won’t tell him where Hiccup is so he can check himself, and you… ‘control’ the dragons, he thought if he could control the dragons, they’d take him to his son.”
He barely kept from snorting in amusement. If Stoick killed the ‘Dragon Master’, he’d either find his son really quickly or never at all. “And then what?”
“I don’t think he knows.” Astrid admitted with a shrug. “And I don’t think you understand how much Hiccup’s going missing destroyed him.”
Hiccup pressed his lips together, keeping himself from either laughing or crying in scorn.
Astrid took a deep breath. “He thought the dragons killed his son. And then they stopped attacking, and there were… rumours. That maybe they should have sacrificed Hiccup sooner, because Hiccup’s always been strange, his mind everywhere other than killing dragons.”
He nodded, having figured that was what happened. He’d never been well liked until those last few weeks, when he'd gotten uncomfortably popular for his skill at controlling dragons.
“When the dragons stopped raiding, no one knew what to do.” Astrid shrugged. “And the one person on Berk who might have known… wasn’t there.”
“And suddenly there was an empty void on Berk because they didn’t have the runt to pick on anymore?” He barely kept from sneering.
“Not to most of the village.” Astrid admitted, staring at him intently, like she could see through his mask. “I blamed myself. So did Gobber. Stoick blamed himself most of all. He’s here, and he is a good leader, but it’s like the fire’s gone out of him. The thing that kept him waking up every day is gone. His shouting at you is the most like his old self than I’ve seen in years.”
Didn’t that just figure. “Right. All those years and I’m supposed to believe he suddenly cares?” Hiccup muttered bitterly.
“Maybe not.” Astrid agreed, looking at him with a weird jumbled sort of look, like she wasn’t quite sure what expression to be wearing, smiling and frowning all at the same time. “But could you let Hiccup know that I miss him? And I’m sorry?”
He shook his head, patting Toothless’ neck. “There’s no need to blame yourself.” He said, pulling himself together enough try to sound reassuring. “He’s happy where he is.”
“But maybe if I’d realised that his sudden changes at fighting dragons were a warning sign instead of getting mad at him, I could have stopped him from leaving.” Astrid looked away, down at her hands. “And maybe he’d be happy in Berk. Instead of wherever he is.”
“I doubt that.” Hiccup muttered under his breath. Toothless rumbled admonishingly at him for being sarcastic.
“Come on.” He motioned towards the air. “I promised to get you home safely. Hiccup may not belong on Berk, but you do.”
Toothless grunted, crouching down for a second before launching himself straight up in the air, startling Hookfang, who floundered for a second before following after him. Stormfly reluctantly followed, trailing after them as Toothless navigated their way out.
One last stop, one last visit to the place of his birth, and he’d never see it again. Never see Stoick again.
Never see Astrid again.
They flew faster.
People screamed as they landed, the golden rays of the sunset illuminating them swept down from the sky. Hookfang in the middle, Stormfly and Toothless on either side behind the Monstrous Nightmare. Hiccup said nothing as Stoick dismounted, feet hitting the ground in what looked like should have been an earth-shaking thud.
“What’s this I hear about offering people up as a sacrifice?” He demanded, looking around the village.
It was nearly comedic, how quickly people parted to reveal Spitelout. Several others pointed towards Mildew, who gave them all bitter expressions.
Hiccup watched as Hookfang quickly took off into the sky, hiding up amongst the trees.
He pulled a small slender dagger from his boot, half-tucking it into the underside of his gauntlet before dismounting Toothless, who gave him a warning warble. His brother looked nervously at Fishlegs, who was making a high-pitched squeal of excitement.
His leg screamed in agony as he walked over to Astrid, who was giving Stormfly one last pet before the Nadder flew off, disappearing surprisingly quickly for someone of her bright coloration. Astrid seemed to hear him, turning to look at him as he approached. Hiccup didn’t say anything, holding his right hand out for her to take, or not. She looked at him for a moment, then clasped his wrist with her hand.
“Thanks.” She said with a tight smile. “For everything.”
He nodded back, twisting his hand to allow the leather-wrapped dagger he’d just tucked into his gauntlet to slide against her palm. She blinked, looking surprised to suddenly find herself holding a dagger, but hid it well, tucking it against her arm where it was harder to see.
“If anyone tries to touch you again, stab them with the handle.” He smirked, releasing her arm, which she pulled under the sealskin cape, hiding the knife. “Dragon tooth handle. The acid in the tooth will eat them from the inside out.”
He trusted her not to stab herself.
She looked at him, eyes wide in awe. “Thank you.”
Well, she’d said she wanted a Dragon Iron dagger, and it wasn’t like he could protect her anymore. She was a Warrior, she could protect herself, especially when given the proper tools.
“Just don’t show it to Gobber.” He said flippantly. “Don’t want to make him jealous.”
Astrid huffed in laughter, settling the cape closer around her shoulders, an amused twinkle in her eye.
There were words he should say, words that he wanted to say. Words that he’d promised not to say. Instead, he scanned her face, how blue her eyes were, the stubborn line of her jaw, the pale gold hair shifting in the wind, memorising it for later.
She’d made her choice to stay on Berk. And he couldn’t stay here.
He noticed her parents and Gobber coming up behind her and stepped away, turning and walking over to Toothless, and climbing on his brother’s back. Toothless glanced up at him, then took off without fanfare or comment.
Hiccup kept his eyes ahead on the horizon, the pale blue same shade of Astrid’s eyes, instead of watching Berk disappear behind them. He felt more than saw Hookfang join them, Stormfly staying behind.
“Let’s go home.” He said quietly, and Toothless warbled in agreement.
He’d had his share of Vikings for a long time.
The sound of wingbeats drew Hiccup’s attention from the detail work he was doing on the hilt of a replacement dagger in the half-built forge. It seemed like they were landing by his house, which was odd. Wild dragons usually landed wherever Toothless was, and his brother was off attempting to court the shy Bright Fury.
Not having much luck, it seemed like Night Fury courting displays were something different than most other dragons did, and Toothless had yet to figure out how. He kept trying though, and Hiccup wished him all the luck.
Guests, such as Mom or Heather, would land by the forge where he was more likely to be, but he wasn’t expecting any. Curious, he grabbed his crutches, wobbling for a moment before he got his balance. It’d been a week since they’d returned from Berk, and he shouldn’t need them anymore, but Toothless had hidden his prosthetic and was being stubborn on giving it back until he felt that Hiccup was fine.
Either that or his brother had forgotten where he’d hidden it and was too ashamed to admit it.
Both were likely.
He made his way outside, blinking in the bright light, realising he might have been spending too much time in the smithy if he was this accustomed to the dimmer light.
-And found Stormfly standing there, hovering protectively over Astrid, who was dressed in Viking garb, skulls and spikes all over her clothing. And at least three weapons that Hiccup could count at a glance.
Including her favourite one. A great big heavy axe strapped to her back, that looked a lot like the ones she used to throw with devastating accuracy.
“Oh, good.” Hiccup deadpanned. “You’ve got an axe.”
And now he was the one severely underdressed, in just a loose shirt and trews, the fabric on his left pants leg folded up to give the irritated skin of the stump some air.
She turned and grinned broadly at him. “Ha!” Astrid gave a little hop and fist pump. “I KNEW it! I knew it was you, ‘Dragon Master’.”
“Wha-?” He laughed nervously. “Dragon Master? What are you talking about? There’s no dragons here-”
Toothless crashed through the brush, stopping in front of Stormfly with a happy warble. Stormfly chirped back, wings fluttering as they started doing their happy dance, heads raised and lowered as they bounced around.
Hiccup covered his face with a hand. “Thanks for nothing, you useless Alpha.”
This was it. This was how he died. Not by dragons, or in battle freeing dragons from hunters, but because he’d broken his ‘no talking to Vikings’ rule.
Astrid laughed, looking delighted. “It is you, right?” She stepped forward, peering at his face. “Hiccup?”
“Yeah.” He sighed, letting his hand drop so she could see his face clearly. “It’s me.”
He was not expecting her to suddenly wrap her arms around him, lifting him off his foot in a bone crushing hug. There was a moment he was waiting to feel a knife slide through his ribs, but nothing came and she set him down, hands on his arms to keep him steady, grinning bright like the sun.
So maybe he wasn’t going to die. “How did you know?”
“I never told you my name.” She bounced gleefully, walking around him, checking him over. He stood still, letting her look her fill. Goodness knew that he’d done the same with her. “But you knew it, along with everyone else on Berk and what they did, which meant you were familiar with all of us somehow.”
Hiccup nodded, accepting that. He hadn’t even thought of pretending otherwise, falling into old patterns.
“But I didn’t start to wonder if the Dragon Master was Hiccup until you made a comment about bread-making Vikings.” Astrid leaned forward, looking smug. “No one wants to make bread, and there’s only been one person I knew who ever expressed an interest in it.”
“Yup.” She nodded, dancing backwards to where Stormfly was still playing with Toothless. “You kept mentioning your mother, so I wasn’t sure. But if Valka was alive and flying with dragons, that meant there was a possibly that Hiccup was too. And just before you disappeared years ago, you mentioned you shot down a Night Fury.”
Toothless warbled at her, greeting her with a gummy grin. “And only one person flies with a Night Fury.” She said smugly, giving Toothless a grin and a wave that made the dragon wiggle in delight. “Dragon Master.”
That was quite a bit of sarcasm packed into two words.
“In my defense.” He protested. “I did not choose that name.” He wasn’t ‘Master’ of anything, much less dragons, as she well knew. He honestly would have chosen something else. Dragon Rider, maybe.
“You didn’t refute it either.” She pointed a finger at him, and he could tell that she was laughing at him.
“I wasn’t talking to anyone.” Hiccup shrugged. “It’s a trick I picked it up from Mom. It’s more terrifying when confronted with a mysterious silent figure instead of a nervous, joking, sarcastic one.”
Although for Mom, it was partly because she’d almost forgotten how to use human speech. She was getting better at it.
“Good point.” Astrid admitted. “It was harder to be afraid of you once you started talking.”
“Thanks.” Hiccup said dryly.
“If it’s any consolation, I wasn’t completely sure it was you until our last discussion next to the Queen’s bones.” She said, practically skipping over to Stormfly, hips swaying happily. “When you said ‘After all those years, I’m supposed to believe he cares’.”
She gave him a bright ‘gotcha’ grin, and he realised that she’d set that conversation up to try to get that information out of him. And it worked. He shook his head, feeling silly.
“Also, you implied that you were the only one who knew how to make Dragon Iron, and Gobber recognised your work on the blade. He’s happy you’re doing well and improved as a Blacksmith.” She continued, fiddling with the pack on Stormfly’s saddle.
“It was the first thing you did after we flew away, wasn’t it?” Hiccup deadpanned. Right after he’d told her not to show it to the Blacksmith.
“Pretty much.” She agreed unrepentantly.
He shook his head, more amused than anything. He should have known. “What brings you here? Other than Stormfly, which I’m guessing you remembered the whole ‘she can find my brother’ anywhere’.”
“Yup. And I had a promise to keep.” Astrid pulled a large lumpy sack off Stormfly’s back that was half her height and stuffed completely full. She turned back towards him, holding the sack in both hands, giving him an apologetic grimace. “It’s also kind of a bribe-?”
“A bribe.” Hiccup deadpanned.
“Yeah.” She opened the bag up, revealing the inside to be full of large brown lumps. She pulled one out, offering it to him.
Bread. She’d brought him an entire bag of bread.
Hiccup started laughing, nearly losing his balance as he did so, wobbling for a minute before getting his foot and crutches back under him. “Bread.” He grinned at her. She’d remembered. “How much is in there? What did you do? Rob the entire village?!”
“Almost.” She agreed. “Gobber helped. There’s also bags of flour, to make some later, if you have an oven.”
For the chance of fresh bread, he’d build or modify an oven for it. But there was something about her expression that made him pause. His mirth faded as he tilted his head to the side as he studied her face. Her mouth was curled in an amused smirk, but there were shadows back in her eyes. “Astrid?”
She took a deep breath, the hand holding the sack tightening in a white-knuckled grip. “It’s a bribe, to let me travel with you.” Astrid said, her voice thick and tense. “You mentioned that you weren’t the only one living on dragon-back.”
“I don’t…” Hiccup blinked, shaking his head in surprise. “I don’t understand. What about your home? What about Berk?”
Down to her bones, Astrid was a Viking. She was a Warrior. And a Viking was nothing without their family, their tribe. She’d said nearly as much.
“I can’t be there right now.” She put the loaf of bread she was holding back in the sack, sealing it shut with shaking hands. She bowed her head for a moment, wrestling with her breathing.
“I’m angry, I’m hurt, and I feel betrayed.” Astrid bit out, her voice thick with unshed tears. “I’d give up my life to protect and defend Berk and it’s people, but when it comes down to it, they’re not willing to do the same for me. I can’t stay there right now, I’m going to kill someone if I do.”
“So you came here?” He’d be an easy mark at the moment if she wanted to kill him. No armour, no weapons, missing a foot.
“No.” She shook her head. “I came here because I trust you.”
He didn’t know what to say about that. He didn’t think he’d done anything to earn that.
“You didn’t need to save me, you could have left me there, when Spitelout had his knife to my throat, just flown off like you hadn’t seen me.” Astrid glared down at the ground. “You didn’t. You gave me clothing, made me shoes. Introduced me to Stormfly and taught me to fly. Even if you were a stranger and not Hiccup, you still did more than my own family did.”
“I’m sorry.” Hiccup said quietly. He understood that feeling of being betrayed by one’s family, one’s clan, and didn’t wish it on anyone.
She shook her head. “No. I’m sorry.” She twisted the bag in her hands. “The first day back was fine, everyone was occupied with Spitelout and Mildew, and Stoick organising a trial for them. Then, the rumours started, that you’d soiled me. Stoick shot those down. Then…”
Stormfly gave a soft comforting croon, nuzzling the top of Astrid’s hair. “Then Snotlout made it back two days ago, with people who’d been at the Assembly, and had seen me there. Said I was a ghost. That I was dead, the Undead Bride of the Demon.”
“That’s the real reason you’d asked me not to go down with you to get Stoick, isn’t it? In case someone thought I was on your side?” Astrid asked, looking up at him and he nodded apologetically. She scoffed, looking to the side. “I thought I was being clever, messing with your plan a bit.”
“It was definitely dramatic.” He offered.
She chuckled, a dry, wry sound. “Anyway. After….” She paused and started over. “I packed my bags and left on Stormfly, who checked on me every night. I left a letter for my family so they know I’m not missing. Gobber helped me pack. And here I am.”
He wondered if when she said she was going to kill someone if she stayed on Berk, if it’d be self-defense. If they weren’t going to try to kill her first, for her association with him.
“This isn’t what I wanted for you.” He said, feeling guilty. It was he’d hoped, that she would join him. But he wished it was because she wanted to, not because she thought she didn’t have another place she could go. “But I meant it, there’s a big world out there. I’d be happy to show you around. There are a lot of people I can introduce you to who live with dragons.”
He paused, looking down at his flapping trouser leg. “As soon as my brother gives me back my leg.”
Toothless made a startled yelp, then looked around as if he had no idea what Hiccup was talking about. Astrid giggled, wiping her eyes.
“You never told me.” She said, giving him a small smile. “What your brother’s name is.”
“Toothless.” Hiccup said, and Toothless gave her a bright grin, showing off his gums. “My brother’s name is Toothless.”
“Toothless, huh?” She smiled, reaching out a hand to greet him. “I could have sworn he had-”
Toothless snapped his teeth out. Astrid froze and squeaked. “-teeth.” She finished.
The Night Fury laughed, giving the palm of her hand a lick, then bounced off, looking pleased with himself.
“Yeah, he’s… like that.” Hiccup ran a hand down his face, then raised his voice after his brother. “AND FIND WHERE YOU HID MY LEG!”
Toothless rumbled sulkily back, and Hiccup shook his head, watching as Astrid tried to wipe the drool off. “Well. Welcome to my home. Hope you don’t mind the insanity.”
“I think I can handle it.” Astrid smirked, leaning against Stormfly, who puffed up, looking proud at the attention. The sealskin he’d given her was rolled up behind where Astrid had been sitting, hidden under the giant bag of bread, and he felt stupidly happy that she kept it.
He gestured back towards the forge, and his small cabin, mentally tallying up materials he had on hand to make her a bed of her own, and what supplies he had in the kitchen. They probably wouldn’t be able to eat all the bread she brought before it went bad, but they might be able to give some away…
“Hey, Astrid?” He asked, feeling his excitement and joy bubble up in his chest as Astrid and Stormfly followed him.
He had a whole list of people he couldn’t wait to introduce her to, too.
He grinned. “Want to go meet my Mom?”