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There Was A Boy, Once

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“Hiccup was brave, though not in the usual, respected, charge-in-the-midst-of-battle Viking way. He always had been little, scrawny, and weaker than the other kids his age, but he never let that stop him. He kept going, no matter how seemingly impossible it was, determined to prove that he could do it, both to the people of Berk and to himself. He had the kind of courage that never wavers, no matter how many times it got battered and beaten and knocked down.”

*****

Hiccup squeezed his eyes shut, gripping his book tightly with hope. He sighed and opened his eyes again, only to see the same lush vegetation and distinct lack of dragon he had been faced with for the past few hours. With a growl, he marked a thick ‘X’ over the makeshift map he had drawn in his book. Angrily, he scribbled over the entire map and closed the book with a snap.

“The gods hate me,” he mumbled. “Some people lose their knife in the bog, but no- I manage to lose an entire dragon.”

Jack, floating beside him, shrugged. “It’s a big island.” He had already flown over the island, trying to help Hiccup out, but that was a lot of land to spot one single dragon well-known for its ability to camouflage itself in most situations. Not to mention Jack was hesitant to leave Hiccup alone for very long with a dragon somewhere in the forest waiting for him. Hiccup narrowed his eyes at Jack.

“An entire dragon.”

He huffed and swatted at a low hanging branch, only to have it swing back at him and hit his head. “Ow!” he yelped while Jack hid a grin. “Hey…” Hiccup pointed to the tree. It was nearly snapped in half, bending low towards the ground. A little ways away, the ground itself was torn up. Hiccup followed the trail of destruction to a low shelf, Jack following behind him closely. Hiccup gasped at the sight of a large, black figure down below the rocks, ducking back down out of sight. Jack stayed standing, studying the dragon. Hiccup glared at him, but Jack shrugged.

“What? It’s not like it can see me,” he said quietly. Hiccup rolled his eyes and gently crawled over the edge of the shelf, dropping down level with the dragon and hiding behind the rocks in front of it.

“Okay,” he murmured, digging beneath his vest and producing a knife. Jack landed beside him with a frown.

“Hic…”

Hiccup ignored him, creeping out from behind the rocks to approach the dragon. Its limbs were tied down securely with the thick ropes of Hiccup’s net. As the brunette got closer, his posture got more comfortable.

“I did this!” he said, staring at the dragon. “I brought down this mighty beast!” He lifted a foot, placing it on the dragon’s leg. The dragon, completely still up until then, shrugged him off with an annoyed roar.

“Hiccup, wait,” Jack said, jumping down to join him beside the dragon. “What are you going to do now?”

Hiccup’s fist tightened around the handle of the knife. “I’m going to cut out his heart and take it back to my father.” The dragon’s eyes snapped open, staring up at Hiccup. Jack felt like his expression was the same.

“What?” Jack breathed, nearly dropping his staff in shock. Defending the village against an attack was one thing, but killing a dragon while it was helplessly tied up? “Isn’t there another way? I mean, you said the village keeps some dragons on hand for training. You can’t just-”

“I can!” Hiccup cut Jack off insistently. The dragon lifted its head slightly to watch them, studying them intently with large green eyes. “I have to,” Hiccup continued, lifting the knife up and poising it downwards to strike. “This will fix everything. I won’t be the lonely loser any more. I’ll have friends other than someone who no one believes even exists.”

Jack felt like someone had punched him in the gut. He took a step back, eyes widening. Hiccup immediately dropped his head in guilt. “I didn’t mean… not like that…”

Jack pulled his staff tightly to his chest, mouth set in a thin line. Hiccup grimaced and raised the knife higher. “I have to kill you, dragon.”

The dragon sighed and put its head down, eyes resigned. Hiccup mumbled something to himself, bracing his arms to swing downwards, but Jack wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at the dragon…

Who was looking back at him.

Jack jumped, startled, as those green eyes looked right into his. There was knowledge and a deep sense of understanding in their depths. Jack’s mouth dropped open. “You can see me?” he whispered harshly, closing his eyes. He couldn’t watch.

Hiccup made a determined noise, and the dragon closed his eyes as well, bracing for the impact.

An impact that never came.

“I can’t,” Hiccup said quietly, arms falling to his sides. “I did this…” he glanced at the knife and turned away from the dragon.

Both the dragon’s and Jack’s eyes snapped open at the sound of sawing. Hiccup was knelt by the dragon’s side, quickly slicing through the ropes that held him down. The ropes gave way with ease, releasing the dragon’s legs.

Before Jack could move, the dragon was up, one massive paw slamming Hiccup back against the rocks. Hiccup flinched, dropping his knife, face pale. The dragon’s eyes narrowed down at him.

“No!” Jack shouted. The dragon looked over at him. “Don’t hurt him!”

The dragon jerked his head and huffed. He reared back, jet black wings parting open slightly, before pounding down, one paw on each side of Hiccup’s head, claws digging into the ground. He opened his mouth and roared, shaking the trees nearby and sending several wild birds flying. Hiccup threw his arms over his head in fear.

The dragon snorted one last time before darting away, disappearing into the trees. Hiccup and Jack watched him go, hearts still pounding from the encounter. Hiccup absently picked his knife up and stood, mouth parted slightly.

“Oh…”

He hit the ground in a dead faint before Jack could catch him.

*****

Jack silently followed Hiccup on his trek home, after the brunette had finally woke after collapsing. The air between them was tense, making Jack’s chest heavy with dread. Hiccup’s earlier words rang in his ears, making him wince every time he replayed them over and over. As for Hiccup himself, he was pale and quiet, making a point not to look over at Jack.

It was night by the time they reached Berk, and Hiccup was stumbling and yawning. Two days and no sleep had him trudging straight towards his house, no doubt eager to crawl in bed. At the door, Hiccup hesitated before holding it out wider than he needed to, clearly inviting Jack to come in. After a moment’s hesitation, Jack slipped through the door.

The main living area was mostly dark, the only light coming from a fire in the middle of the room and casting long shadows over the walls. Hiccup headed straight for a set of stairs to the left, beginning his ascent. He paused when a low voice rumbled, “Hiccup.”

Hiccup turned, looking at Stoick. “Hi, uh, dad. I was just, um…” he made a wide gesture.

“I need to speak with you, son,” Stoick said, standing from his seat by the fire. He walked across the room, fiddling with his fingers in a gesture that was oddly endearing on such a large man.

“Yeah, I have to talk to you too,” Hiccup said, running a hand through his hair.

Both of the Haddock’s opened their mouths at the same time.

“I’ve decided I don’t want to fight dragons.”

“I’ve decided it’s time you learn how to fight dragons.”

Jack grimaced, but Hiccup spoke before Jack could warn him. “Uh, you go first.”

Stoick nodded. “You get your wish. You start dragon training in the morning.”

Hiccup made a face and glanced at Jack for the first time since he woke up. “Oh, wow, I really should have gone first. I was thinking, you know, we have a surplus of dragon fighting Vikings, but do we have enough bread making Vikings? Or small home repair Vikings?”

Stoick very clearly ignored him, hefting a large axe up and pushing it into Hiccup’s arms. “You’ll need this.”

Hiccup sighed. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Hiccup.” Stoick’s voice was firm, leaving no room for argument. “When you carry that axe, you become one of us. You have to start acting like it.”

“This conversation is feeling very one sided.”

Jack had to agree with Hiccup. Stoick, however, did not.

“Hiccup. Do we have a deal?”

Hiccup frowned and nodded. Stoick’s shoulders relaxed slightly.

“Good. Study hard.” He grabbed a large helmet that was hanging beside the door and hefted a large bag over his shoulder. “We’re making one last attempt to reach the dragon’s nest before winter. I’ll be back in a few days’ time.” He paused. “Probably.”

Hiccup placed the axe down and shook out his arms. “I’ll be here. Maybe.”

Then the most awkward interaction Jack had seen ended, Stoick heading out into the night and Hiccup turning to climb the stairs. Jack followed him uncertainly. Hiccup was already kicking off his boots by the time Jack reached the top of the stairs. “You can sleep here, if you want,” Hiccup said without looking at Jack. He slipped into his bed and pulled the covers over his head without another word.

Jack thought about telling him that he didn’t sleep, but decided not to. Instead, he made himself comfortable on the window sill and settled in for what was guaranteed to be a long night.

*****

Dragon training started bright and early the next morning. Hiccup rolled out of bed and got ready without a word, leaving Jack to trail behind him awkwardly. There was a chill in the morning air as they made their way through the village, heading for the largest structure in Berk. A massive arena stood up on a cliff, facing the sea. It was enclosed by strong metal chains, preventing anything from flying out. Giant wooden doors stood in front of stone pens, rattling as the dragons contained within growled and roared for their freedom.

The rest of the young Vikings were already in the arena, looking around in wonder. One of the twins, the boy named Tuffnut, as Hiccup had told Jack, grinned.

“I hope I get some serious burns,” he declared loudly, voice echoing off of the stone walls surrounding them. His twin, Ruffnut, rolled her shoulders.

“I’m hoping for some mauling, like, on my shoulder or lower back.”

Jack tilted his head in confusion, watching them. The only other girl, Astrid- who was apparently the favorite to win the title of the best in dragon training this year- laughed in agreement. “Yeah, it’s only fun if you get a scar out of it.”

Hiccup finally stepped out of the shadows, looking like he would rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment. “Yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Pain, right? Love it.”

The other Vikings pulled faces at his appearance.

“What is he doing here?”

“Can I transfer to the class with the cool Vikings?”

Hiccup stared down at the rocky floor, gripping the handle of his father’s axe tightly. Jack swallowed, resisting the urge to cross over to him. Hiccup had asked him to keep his distance during training. This was something he had to do alone, even if he was likely to fail. Jack flew up to the chains that crossed over the top of the arena, perching on one to watch the training.

Gobber came stumping up beside Hiccup. “That’s enough, let’s get started with this year’s training. It’s time to see which one of you will have the honor of killing his first dragon in front of the entire village.”

Snotlout, Hiccup’s worse aggressor and cousin, from what Jack had been told, sneered. “Hiccup already killed a Night Fury, so does that disqualify him, or…?”

Gobber snorted and motioned for them to line up, steering Hiccup to stand next to Fishlegs, the largest Viking their age, and one who was somewhat nice to Hiccup at times. He began naming off the various dragons that they held captive specifically for dragon training. The Deadly Nadder, the Hideous Zippleback, the Terrible Terror, and the Gronkle- all dragons that Hiccup had described and named for Jack while they were looking for the downed Night Fury.

Jack had to restrain himself from flying down to join Hiccup when Gobber released the Gronkle with no warning, declaring that they would all learn ‘on the job.’ Said dragon quickly started launching fireballs at the Vikings, who thankfully had grabbed up shields for protection. The Gronkle had obviously been put through this before, as it easily hit each trainee before moving on to the next. Jack had to wonder how many times it had completed the same exercise with each year’s set of trainees.

While Jack was musing, Hiccup had been hit. He had lasted long, at least; only Astrid was left. Jack smiled, but it quickly slid off his face when the Gronkle continued after Hiccup rather than turning to face Astrid. Hiccup’s shield had been blasted out of his hands, and he ended up with his back pressed against the wall, eyes wide with fear. Jack launched himself down as fast as he could manage.

“Hiccup!”

Just as the Gronkle was about to blast Hiccup head on, Gobber’s hook snagged the dragon’s mouth and lifted him up, aiming the fireball safely above Hiccup’s head. Jack landed and leaned against the wall, letting out a relieved sound. Hiccup glanced at him before watching Gobber wrestle the Gronkle back towards its cage.

“Go back to bed, you overgrown sausage,” Gobber growled, manhandling the dragon back into the cage. Before the door shut completely, the dragon glanced out at Jack, tilting its head in confusion. Jack straightened at the sight, brows furrowing.

“Can you guys all see me?” he wondered aloud. Hiccup hummed questioningly, but Gobber tugged him up on his feet to get his attention.

“Remember, a dragon will always, always go for the kill,” he said sharply. “You can not hesitate, or they will roast you.”

Hiccup bit his lip and glanced over at Jack. They were both thinking the same thing.

Then why didn’t the Night Fury attack them?