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There Was A Boy, Once

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“He might have not been a ‘good Viking,’ but he was a great person. I think you would have liked him. He would have loved to see all of the new technology they have now. He was an inventor. There wasn’t a problem he met that he didn’t immediately try to pick apart piece by piece to find a solution…”

*****

Jack wondered if this was what it felt like to be in a dream. Sleeping was like eating- he felt that, if he took a notion to, he could sleep, but he didn’t need to, so he had never tried. A dream was the closest thing he could think of to describe his days, though. Hiccup would make the trek to the grotto daily now, to visit Jack. If he could slip away early enough, he would pack his lunch and share it with Jack, laughing and talking over new and exciting flavors for Jack to try. If Hiccup couldn’t make the trip until late in the afternoon, he would bring his book so he could sit and sketch while Jack skipped rocks on the surface of the lake, chatting sometimes or just simply enjoying the other’s presence.

They talked about small, insignificant things, but Jack learned a lot about Hiccup from what was said. He was an only child, the son and heir of the chief of Berk. His mother had died when he was a baby, leaving his father to raise him. Hiccup was by far the scrawniest, weakest kid in the village, and was considered weird for his interest in superstitions and creating new things.

One day, Jack asked about the book Hiccup was always scribbling in. Hiccup hesitated before showing Jack the sketch he was working on. Jack eyed the picture.

“What is it?” he finally asked.

“It’s, uh, to help me hunt,” Hiccup explained. “This part holds a net,” he said, pointing each piece out. “When it’s finished, it’ll launch the net out for me, catching um, big prey.”

Jack nodded. “That’s amazing, Hiccup.” He could see the genius in it. If it worked right, it would let someone even as small as Hiccup catch large prey. In a climate as cold as the one Hiccup lived in, food was a big concern. “How far have you gotten on it?”

Hiccup ran a hand through his hair. “I, I think I’ve almost got it right,” he said. “I’ve just got a few pieces to adjust, and I think it’ll work.”

“Really? That’s great! I wish I could see it,” Jack sighed. Hiccup glanced around before leaning forward.

“I guess you could come take a look,” he murmured. “I know you don’t like the village.” Jack had told Hiccup of the time he had visited Berk, only to discover that absolutely no one could see him. “But, I can see you. It’d be better if they couldn’t anyway, right? Vikings aren’t, uh, the best with…” he gestured to Jack.

“Anyone different?” Jack supplied dryly. Hiccup nodded.

“Pretty much. But if they can’t see you, you’ll be safe.”

Jack hummed as he thought. Hiccup did have a point. He couldn’t get in trouble for visiting Berk if no one but Hiccup could see him. Plus… Jack glanced over at Hiccup. He probably didn’t have anyone else he could show his invention to. The rest of the Vikings would probably blow him off if he tried, telling him he was wasting his time. He had been working on it for a while, and the excitement in his eyes when he spoke about how it was nearly complete was contagious. Finally, Jack smiled.

“Sure. I’d love to see it.”

*****

The decided to wait until nightfall, when the village would be almost completely empty and no one would notice if Hiccup started talking seemingly to himself. Jack padded along behind Hiccup, taking in all of the buildings. He stopped to run his fingers over the carvings of one particularly bright house. “It’s changed a lot since the last time I was here,” he mused. Hiccup glanced back at him.

“Y-yeah, we’ve been here for a while, seven generations I think, but, Vikings, what can you do? We end up having to build new houses all the time.”

“Woah, you guys end up destroying your own houses?” Jack asked with a laugh. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

“Oh, haha,” Hiccup said, rolling his eyes. “Like anyone could be afraid of me. Come on.” He motioned Jack over before Jack could reply. He opened the door of a slightly older-looking building. The inside was dark, only the pale light of the moon streaming in a single window illuminated the room until Hiccup built up a smile fire in the hearth. The whole place smelled of iron, and coal. Once the fire was going, Jack looked around. They were standing in some sort of workshop. A heavy anvil stood beside the fire, blackened with use but still standing strong and sturdy. An equally large sharpening stone was set up on the other side of the room. The walls were covered in hooks with various pieces of equipment and weapons waiting within reach of the workspaces.

“Impressive.”

“I work here sometimes,” Hiccup said as he began unwrapping a large, lumpy piece of equipment. “I may not be strong, but I can fix a blade quicker than anyone else.” There was a rarely-heard note of pride in his voice that had Jack smiling.

Before Hiccup could pull the cover off of his invention, he paused, cocking his head to the side. Jack glanced out of the window, frowning as he heard bells. Hiccup sighed.

“Oh no…”

The bells continued ringing, joined by a chorus of angry shouting. The voices got louder as their owners ran by, heavily booted feet pounding along the road. Jack crossed over to the window, cracking it open and peering through, blinking in the light of the early morning sun.

Only… what he thought was the morning sun was actually the intense blaze of a fire that ravaged the building across the road, tongues licking at the timber and making it groan in protest. The most likely culprit was standing right in front of the window Jack was peering out of- a giant, winged lizard that was on fire.

“Get down!”

Hiccup tackled Jack just as the lizard looked over at the window. They fell to the floor, and Hiccup clamped his hand over Jack’s mouth to muffle his startled shout. Jack held his breath, able to practically feel the heat coming from the vicious fire.

There was a shout, followed by a thud and a grumbling roar, and Hiccup rolled off of Jack. Jack hopped to his feet, gripping his staff so hard it bit into his hand. “What was that?!”

Hiccup hefted himself up, leaning heavily on the counter. “Dragon,” he breathed. “Monstrous Nightmare; they have this nasty habit of setting themselves on fire.”

“So I saw!” Jack gestured to the window wildly. “Why-?”

The door flung open, and Jack threw himself in front of Hiccup protectively, only to be walked through by a large, blonde Viking with a hook for a hand and a peg leg. He clung to his staff at the painful, invasive feeling.

“Hiccup!” the large blonde man cried. “Nice of you to join the party on time for once!” He patted Hiccup on the back heavily, making the brunette stagger to the side. “Now I don’t have to worry about you getting carried off.”

“Who, me?” Hiccup asked, eyes darting over to Jack. “They wouldn’t know what to do with… all this?” He made a pose, showing off nonexistent muscle. His eyes were pleading, but Jack shrugged.

“I don’t know what you expect me to do?” he said, leaning against his staff and watching the proceedings with interest now that he had caught his breath again. “I’m invisible, remember? He can’t see me.”

The blonde rolled his eyes, twisting the base of his hook hand until it popped off and quickly exchanging it for a hammer. “Even dragons need toothpicks, don’t they?”

Jack frowned, resisting the urge to freeze the bottom of the man’s shoes until they were nice and slick. Hiccup just shrugged, hurriedly tying a thick leather apron over his clothes. The blonde man unhooked a hatch Jack had previously missed and propped open a large window. There was already a line of Vikings waiting with dinged shields and dented weapons. The first one handed the blonde a sword, who tossed it to Hiccup.

“Sword, sharpen,” he barked before turning to the next Viking in line.

Hiccup hefted a sword nearly larger than him across the room to the sharpening stone. He started the wheel spinning and began to hone the edge of the blade, sparks flying. Jack weaved his way through the equipment to stand next to the stone. Hiccup glanced to make sure the other Viking was busy, attention elsewhere, before speaking.

“The meathead with interchangeable hands is Gobber. He runs the forge, and I’ve been his apprentice since I was little. Er, littler.”

Jack glanced over at Gobber, watching him swap a damaged axe for a fresh one. Behind him, out the window, Jack could see bright orange flames. Dragons were running in front of them, silhouettes sharp and clear against the bright light. There were several different kinds other than the one he had seen. Thick, bumpy, brown-skinned dragons were knocking their way through walls with ease. Several blue dragons with two lower legs and sharp, spiked tails were grabbing startled sheep in their claws, lifting them into the air with ease. Two green dragons were working together to light and empty house on fire; when the smoke cleared, Jack realized that it was not two dragons, but one dragon with two heads. Chaos was everywhere, with thick, stocky Vikings wrestling the large dragons amid the embers of the various fires that dotted the entire village.

Hiccup had finished with the sword and was sharpening the axe Gobber had received earlier. Jack turned to him with a deep frown. “Why, though? Why are they attacking?”

“It’s not-”

“Hiccup! They need me out there,” Gobber declared, nearly running right through Jack again as he hurried to grab an axe of his own. “Mind the store while I’m gone.” Gobber paused at the door, turning back to Hiccup. “Stay. I mean it.” He backed out of the door. “Stay. Put. Here.”

Hiccup waited approximately two seconds before abandoning the sharpening stone and sprinting over to his invention. He whipped the cover off, revealing a large contraption similar to that that he had drawn in his book. Hiccup hefted it up on a single front wheel, steering it out of the door. Jack blinked before following after him, ignoring the outraged shouts of the Vikings that Hiccup left behind.

“Hiccup! Wait, where are you going?”

Jack followed Hiccup through the smoke of the ruined village, staff at the ready. He knocked a dragon off course with a wide swing of the staff, steering it away from Hiccup’s path. Finally, Hiccup stopped on a high hill, dropping his invention and opening the top. He pulled the barrel that would launch the net out, setting it up to point at the dark sky. Jack landed beside him.

“What are you doing? You could have been hurt!”

“I couldn’t miss my chance!” Hiccup gripped the handle of the barrel, peering up into the sky. A loud, shrill sound echoed over the hill, and Hiccup nodded. “You hear that? It’s a Night Fury… the rarest dragon of them all. If I catch one, everyone would be so surprised.”

Jack glanced up at the sky, frown marring his face. “Why are the Vikings and dragons fighting anyway?” he asked for the third time.

“Dragons are our enemies,” Hiccup said, like that answered everything. “They attack us constantly, stealing our food and destroying our village.”

The loud, shrill roar sounded again, and Hiccup’s grip on the barrel of his invention tightened. “Come on, come on,” he murmured. Jack gripped his staff uncertainly.

A nearby tower exploded in blue fire. Hiccup swung the net launcher around, taking aim at the dark shadow that passed over the fire and pulling the trigger. He gasped as the dragon roared, a faint glow of embers trailing downwards across the sky signaling its descent into the forest on the other side of Berk.

“I hit it.” Hiccup threw his hands up. “I actually hit it! Did you see that, Jack?”

“Yeah…”

Hiccup whirled, but paused when he faced Jack, staring behind him. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Jack turned in time to see the Nightmare burst into flames. Hiccup screamed and ran, trying to escape the fire. Jack flew beside him, shooting slick patches of ice in the dragon’s path. It tripped, but not enough to slow it down much. Hiccup ducked behind a tower, knees shaking. Jack summoned a flow of ice and wind to direct the dragon’s fiery blast away from Hiccup as much as he could, so it hit the wood of the tower instead of Hiccup’s head. He cursed as the dragon advanced. His ice wasn’t strong enough to stop the fire.

The dragon peered around the thick wood of the tower, eyeing Hiccup. Jack stepped between them, shielding Hiccup with his staff raised. “Hiccup, run!”

Suddenly, the dragon was knocked sideways. A massive Viking with an enormous amount of thick red hair stood there. The dragon shook the hit off and opened its mouth to blast the man away, but the flame fell short.

“Looks like you’re all out of juice,” the man rumbled, before pummeling the dragon with his fist. While he took care of the dragon, Jack knelt beside Hiccup.

“Are you okay?” he asked, looking the smaller boy over to check for wounds. Hiccup nodded, and Jack held out a hand to help hoist Hiccup up to his feet. They turned and looked just as the tower, weakened by the molten fire the dragon had spewed at it, fell and knocked over two more towers, subsequently unhooking the nets that held the dragons that the Vikings had captured down. Said dragons leapt to freedom, gleefully taking a large chunk of Berk’s sheep population with them. Hiccup winced as the redheaded Viking turned a glare on him.

“Sorry… dad.”

Ah. So that was Stoick the Vast, chief of Berk and Hiccup’s father. Jack winced as yet another tower fell behind them.

“Okay,” Hiccup said quickly, “but I hit a Night Fury.”

Stoick’s eyes narrowed and he grabbed Hiccup up with one large hand. Jack grimaced and followed closely behind them.

“It’s not like the last few times, dad,” Hiccup insisted, glancing at Jack. Jack tried to smile encouragingly. “I really actually hit it this time. It went down just off of Raven’s Point. We should get a search party-”

“Hiccup, enough,” Stoick said, cutting his son off mid-sentence. “Every time you step outside, disaster falls. Why can’t you follow the simplest of orders?”

Jack frowned and stepped up next to Hiccup, placing a hand on his shoulder. No one else could see him, but Hiccup could feel his encouragement, at least.

“I can’t help it,” Hiccup said firmly. “Whenever I see a dragon, I just have to, to kill it. It’s who I am, dad.” Jack had never heard a more blatant lie, but this man was most of the reason Hiccup was so down on himself all the time. He couldn’t imagine Stoick’s reaction had Hiccup replied with anything else.

As it was, Stoick shook his head in disappointment. “You are many things, Hiccup, but a dragon killer is not one of them.” He took Hiccup’s shoulder right from under Jack’s hand and steered him towards Gobber, the blonde man from before. “Take him home, and make sure he stays there.”

Gobber smacked the back of Hiccup’s head before following him towards the edge of the village. They passed a group of younger Vikings that looked like they might be Hiccup’s age. One of them, a thick boy with dark hair and an ugly sneer laughed as Hiccup went by. “I’ve never seen someone mess up that badly. That actually helped!”

Hiccup’s shoulders hunched and he looked down. “Yes, thank you, I tried.”

Jack gaped and lifted his staff to knock the boy over, but Gobber beat him to it. He grabbed the boy’s helmet and shoved him so hard he fell to the ground. Gobber caught up with Hiccup, but Jack stayed behind to freeze the boy’s clothes stiff against his skin, for good measure.

“He’s better than you,” Jack said, getting close to the boy’s sneering face. He couldn’t see Jack, but it made Jack feel better. “You’ll see, soon. You all will.”

Jack huffed and took off, riding the wind in the direction that Hiccup and Gobber had disappeared to. A single house stood on the outskirts of the village, closest to the forest. Hiccup was standing on the front steps, talking to Gobber.

“I just want to be one of you guys,” Jack caught Hiccup saying before he slipped inside the large door, closing it on Gobber without another word. Jack made to fly around the house, looking for a window he could go in, when the back door opened. Hiccup jumped out, heading for the forest at a fast trot. Jack swooped down next to him.

“What will you do now?”

Hiccup clenched his fists tightly by his side. “I’m going to go find that dragon.”