(They used to stage play-battles by the sea, when the tide wasn't threatening to wash them away. Hiccup always lost, even when he wasn't playing the role of the enemy dragon, and Stoick always took the games just a touch too seriously.
He used to cry to Gobber, before he learned the be ashamed of the tears - "what's it going to take to make him happy, anyway?")
Dagur's first kill is a Zippleback, and he counts it as two. Hiccup hears all the gory details while they're sharpening knives by the docks. Or more accurately, Dagur is sharpening knives - Hiccup is watching, trying for excuses to get away before Dagur decides it's a good idea to start testing the points on something that bleeds.
Hiccup is eight, and Dagur is twelve, with a clear, angular face and red hair that's just getting long enough to be tied at his nape. According to him, he's the youngest of the tribe to land an unaided kill in over a century. Even if it was at a distance. Crossbow, he says. Poison-tipped. Hiccup's a little surprised at that - he always imaged him blindly running into an oncoming raid instead of arming himself with any tactical measures first - but then what would he know? The closest he's gotten to even bruising a dragon has been drawing X's over their eyes in the back of his leather-bound notebook.
The knife is slid back into a belt. Dagur's smiling, which surely means Hiccup should start running, only the next words out of his mouth are, "When we're older, I'll kill one for you. It's tradition, for when we're married."
He's not sure what to say. Laugh, maybe - it's so ridiculous. But Dagur's hand is still lingering on that knife, so he doesn't laugh.
The next year the Berserkers visit, Dagur starts calling Hiccup, "mine." Not in front of their Dads - just around the others of their age. Strangers and children. Nobody seems to care a whole lot, or at least they don't ask about it. They're only kids, after all.
Hiccup wonders if that's what he called the Zippleback after shooting it in the throat: mine.
Some Vikings get really possessive over their favorite targets. So that's how he smooths it out it in his head - he's Dagur's favorite target. It makes more sense that way, or at least that's the only way he can make sense of it, because he may not know a lot about affection but he does understand that it's not supposed to start out with throwing knives and fear.
Years pass before marriage becomes a popular topic on Berk again. It's something to do with coming of age, the focal point of which is killing a dragon. In that respect, Hiccup has never come of age. But he does get to watch every single one of his peers cross that mark without him.
There's a Nightmare's skull on the eastern mantle of Astrid's hut. They've painted a red stripe across the bone, a tribute to a particularly gratifying death. Hiccup remembers it from the stands of the Kill Ring, the little glimpse he caught between padded elbows and thick arms. Blood had splattered her face when she gutted the creature, and when a drop hit her cheek, she had wiped a hand across it in answer, smearing a horizontal streak of red over her the freckles on the bridge of her nose.
Stoick just loved that.
By the time they're nearing their sixteens and seventeens, she's clearly taken up her calling as leader of their group. On nicer days, she takes the time to re-adjust his grip on a dagger, makes sure he's standing up straight when he slouches. It's impatient notes, stubborn like his father, but there's a certain kindness to it that he recognizes, too.
She knows he's trying.
Snotlout tells everyone they're going to be married. He's been throwing it around here and there for years, but the public killing of the Nightmare seems to seal the deal for him, and now he brags about to anyone who will listen. Astrid doesn't seem to notice until the following year when the Berserkers visit to sign their peace treaty.
It's the first year Dagur is signing, after the death of his father. He's broader now, with Oswald's chieftain tattoo branded into the side of his face, giving him a wild, battle-hungry look. He boasts about killing a pack of Nadders during a hunt for a table of eager listeners, while Astrid makes off-handed comments about a Timberjack scar. They're rare, the Timberjacks, so it attracts a lot of questions. Comments. One of the younger Berserkers, taller than Hiccup by over a foot and grinning with a awe of respect that even Snotlout couldn't hold a candle too, asks Astrid if she'd like to go for a walk.
They walk. And when they return they're muttering to each other in quick, hushed voices. The man has a goofy smile, but Astrid's eyes are sharp as knives, saying something about strength, family. “I'm serious about this war,” Hiccup hears her hiss. “I'm not just showing off.”
“I'm serious, too.” he says, but he sounds the way Snotlout does when he's talking about a kill, like a child trying to impress a disappointed parent. Astrid shrugs his hand off her shoulder, rolls her eyes, and for a moment Hiccup can just see it, that blood on her face. On her hands. She hadn't smiled when she killed that Nightmare, she had just stared and stared.
That afternoon, when Snotlout brings up marriage again, Astrid pulls him aside and says something in an undertone. Hiccup never knows what, exactly, but he skips lunch afterward, and the next time he talks about a kill he sounds like he no longer cares who approves.
Before the boat takes off, Dagur pulls him Hiccup aside. Calls him 'mine', like he always does, only there's a set to his jaw that looks a little disturbed, and before Hiccup can stop himself he finds himself asking about Oswald.
"Thunderdrum got 'em." Dagur grunts. "Blew his head clean off. There wasn't much to bury."
Ruffnut went for a Thunderdrum once. Her first kill ended up being a Zippleback instead, but Hiccup still remembers how she spent days disappearing with a slew of weapons, just trying her luck on the hunt. He thought, only half-jokingly, about killing a Terror for himself, just to say he's killed something. But it feels like cheating and besides, Snotlout would laugh. Astrid would roll her eyes.
And Stoick....Stoick wouldn't even look at him, so.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Hiccup tries, and colors a little before hastily correcting, "Not hear as in...hearing the Thunderdrum, I mean--"
"She might just be Chief, actually." Dagur talks over him carelessly, and he doesn't use Astrid's name but he doesn't have to.
Hiccup swallows and says nothing.
"You could move in with me." His hands are on his hips, fingers drumming like the silence is unreasonable, somehow. Hiccup tries not to stare although he knows, guiltily, that he wouldn't be the only one caught staring. Dagur was never a small guy, but there's muscle on him that wasn't there the year before. "That makes you close to a Chief, doesn't it?"
"...she doesn't have to be Chief....I'll, I'll kill a dragon...."
"Or you could marry me." Dagur says sharply, advancing until their faces are inches apart.
"--or I could kill a dragon." Hiccup snaps back.
He's twenty years old, and the vest still feels too big around his shoulders. Astrid takes him on a hunt, just the two of them, because Stoick insists its about time he's got a story to share and if anyone is willing to divide up the credit unevenly for once, it's a seasoned veteran like Astrid.
She makes him pick the breed (Gronkle: tough but clumsy) and says she'll stun and and he'll....well... he's planning to hit it really hard upside the head, maybe, so that way there won't be a lot of blood. Astrid insists it'll give him an 'image', the blood, and isn't that what he wants after all? An image for his father to be happy with?
She's a smart tracker, but Hiccup's the one who suggests traps. He's really good at them, the spring-loaded kind. Pressure sensitively. Even has it all worked out - they're heavy creatures, so they only need to take one wrong step and bam, all the work's done for you. Doesn't require an ounce of muscle. He could even bring home the head.
She complies to a point, only the trap doesn't kill. It stuns it. The Gronkle is a warm, wet brown, almost gold in the nettled light. Its scales rise with every breath...and they're beautiful, really. Like polished coins.
Astrid offers him her axe, then hands him the dagger instead when Hiccup can't bring himself to heft it out of her hands.
He spends the next three minutes just watching the downed dragon's chest heave, adjusting his own grip on the hilt and telling himself he's only hesitating because he wants to pick out the most effective place to stab. He doesn't want it to start thrashing if he can't get it done in one shot. Then he'll have to go in for it twice, and it'll be screaming...and..
Astrid just stands there, narrowing her eyes at him until the dagger clatters to the ground and she shoves him out of the way. Lifts her axe above her head.
Hiccup covers his ears for it. It doesn't mute the noise, only muffles it. She takes his shoulder when she's done, red-speckled and sober looking, but there's a grit to her jaw and a coldness in her eyes and he only realizes too late that his hands are still clutched tight around his ears, pulling at his hair like a child.
"You okay?" she asks.
Hiccup mouths at her for a moment. The Gronkle's just behind her, he knows, but he doesn't want to turn his head to look at it's body. "It's..." Useless. He has to form the words again and again. His tongue feels like sand, uselessly heavy in his mouth.
"It's...loud." he manages at last.
"Yeah, you screamed...."
"Of course it screamed, that's -- that's what things do when you cut out their--"
"No, you screamed. You."
He can't understand it. People do this every day. Dagur had it over with by twelve. And they've all done it at least once, except for the young ones, the ones that are still attending training sessions through the afternoons. And except, of course, for Hiccup.
The hand on his shoulder lifts. He gets an awkward pat, more gentle than he had expected, and when Astrid speaks again, she sounds genuinely worried. "We can tell your Dad you did it...the trap was yours, wasn't it?"
He wishes it wasn't.
"What's it gonna take to make you happy?" she whispers. "It really was your kill, Hiccup."
...he's going to be sick.
What made him think this was a good idea? Any of this? What is he even good for?
"Okay." Hiccup rasps.
No one's ever killed a Night Fury. He has a thousand ways to do it, all of them tactical, long-term projects. Catapults and fire arrows. Ranged weapons. Signals that could mimic its cry, maybe draw it in close. Explosives.
After the Gronkle, he scraps all those plans.
Dagur says if they're married they won't need kids. He'll pick a successor by strength. If it's gotta be a bloodline, someone else can have it for them. As far as Hiccup is concerned, that makes him more of a whore than a husband, but Dagur insists he'll matter just as well because he says he'll matter, and people don't argue with Dagur, do they?
The next time he brags about it, he doesn't bother picking and choosing who listens. It's only a matter of time before Stoick catches on. He doesn't bring up the measly Gronkle because they both know what happened with that, even though in public Stoick stands by the claim that Hiccup's killed before. And he has, really - like Astrid said, it was his trap...but as far as his father's concerned, he hasn't. In private, it's still that disappointed look, like maybe he could trade him off, trade him in.
When the subject of Dagur comes up between them, Stoick hides his face in a mug of ale, and Hiccup's just starting to think -- well, that's that -- when he rumbles out, "Do you want to?"
He can't be serious. He can't want him to...with Dagur...
"I--? No--?" Hiccup rushes out, because he doesn't, he doesn't...
"You don't want to be Chief?" Stoick clarifies instead, turning to face him.
It's perfect. It's his luck, really. And it's not that he doesn't want to be Chief, it's that he doesn't want to be this Chief. But he wants Stoick to be proud, and there's no other way to do that than to fit within his mold, inside and out. Even if he does grow into his too-big clothes, even if he could strike the impressive silhouette Stoick makes without even trying.... you just can't lead a warrior tribe without being a warrior yourself.
And then; "Dagur says you'd do well in battle."
"Best of any of his trappers." There's something sad in his eyes, now. Hiccup can't meet them. "Hiccup, do you want to...?" he starts again. This time, he knows, it's not the role of a Chief he's talking about.
....it's one way to command respect. Maybe even join his father for dinner every now and then, talk about the kill. He doesn't know anymore. There's nothing else to do with his life now that he's accepted being nobody. And maybe if Stoick asked a year ago, two years ago, ten...maybe Hiccup would have argued back fiercely the whole while and kept looking for that impossible, hidden way into his Dad's good graces. But there's blood on his hands now and not even shard of bone to show for it. He's twenty-one, a grown man, and as far as anyone else is concerned, he's no different than he was at six. He's useless to them.
Just not to the Berserkers.
"I don't know." he says, and when there's no reply, he tries again; "I..."
Stoick takes a long pull from his mug. His knuckles are white around the clasp.
"...yes?" Hiccup tries at least, pleadingly.
"Right, then." his father says, and Hiccup nods stiffly and wonders what he's just agreed too. He supposes it doesn't matter so much, anymore.
A week later, he's watching Berk disappear over the waves.
It's actually an exercise is peace, or at least that's how it goes over. Dagur calls them brothers, as if it's more of an adoption than a wedding. As if he's doing Stoick a favor, collecting his son graciously and toughening him up a bit. Maybe return him a few years, a hardened warrior.
Hiccup wears a woven crown in his hair, smelted from dark metal. They sacrifice a Doomfang for the ceremonials. Hiccup's never even seen one before, but Dagur says they only tracked it because of Hiccup's hunting notes, and that really it's his kill or...or something. Maybe it is. He's not sure if he counts it, since nobody else does.
Its blood isn't red, exactly. It's such a dark shade that it's almost black in the first light. The Berserkers are a wild lot who send the island buzzing with noise for any celebration, so Hiccup can barely hear himself agree when they're serving the mead. Dagur pours a glass for him, and he pours a glass back. Smiles sickly even when the drink burns his throat and keeps burning long after the ring is set on his third finger. And long after that, when they lead him to the bathhouses and re-dress him. It's all furs and linens, white and sky blue.
It's not tradition for anyone to be present in Berk, and he's only hoping the same is true for Berserk. As luck would have it, they get a private hut to themselves for the honeymoon.
Dagur's hair is dripping, so they must have bathed him too. He's kind of relieved, deep down, that the consideration extends to the both of them. And because it means they'll both be clean for what's actually his first time doing...anything like this.
That's nice, he thinks coldly, staring into his husband's face with something like lead weighing down his stomach. It's actually more than most Vikings could hope for. He gets a lot of wealth from it. Tons of power. Elevated status. And as far as looks go, he's very attractive. A striking image, hard muscle and tan skin.
He remembers when they were twelve and eight, sitting by the docks, and Hiccup still thought this was someone's idea of a joke.
Dagur strips his belt off lazily, never breaking eye contact.
In a way, he is scared. But it's this or the Night Fury, and Hiccup already said no to the Night Fury. So instead of standing there rambling at a mile a minute like he wants to, he slides himself silently to the edge of the bed and opens his legs so Dagur can settle in between them.
It hurts, at first. But Dagur wants him to like it, so after a lot of hissing and furious blinking and a good five minutes of feeling like his skin has been set on fire, it starts feeling okay. And then, slowly, it starts feeling good. It's kind of like hunting after all, only there's a lot less blood and the screaming isn't from pain, and in the end if he wants to, he gets to win.
Not just survive, but win.
So somewhere between the drunken tongue that drags over his nape and the quick work of his hips and Dagur's animal grunting in his ear, Hiccup opens his mouth and lets himself moan. Urges his husband's hands where he wants them to go.
It's still, for a moment. Then Dagur flips him roughly onto his back and for the first time Hiccup sees his face stripped of all it's dark impatience. There's smoke behind his eyes, hazy, and his cheeks are stained pink. Hiccup can feel him pushing in deep, like maybe it wasn't a joke after all, like it really actually matters.
"Can you---?" He doesn't want to ask. It sounds so raw, his voice, breathy as he's never heard it and catching with each thrust.
"Can I, what?" Chortling. Hiccup can feel the rumble all through his chest, under his skin. He tries to lean up, speechless, until Dagur closes the space between their mouths at last.
He's twenty-one, and it's his first real kiss. Hiccup comes so hard he can't stop shaking.
Astrid used to sneer behind the Berserker's backs -- "That kid should be locked in a cage."
She's not entirely incorrect. Dagur's the bloodthirsty sort and his idea of romance has a lot more to do with adrenaline than it does with holding hands. But there's an adoration in his hands that Hiccup hasn't found anywhere else, not among any of the Vikings or his peers, not even among family.
The Berserkers are spirited lot to start with. They pour their hearts into everything -- fury in battle, enthusiasm in the hunt. Even when they're sad, they throw tantrums, break mugs, cry. Dagur soaks up their passion like it's his lifeblood, laughing too loudly at the jokes and overreacting to every maybe-insult that hangs for an extra beat in the air.
They're only married a month when a tribesman puts a hand on his arm. It's a harmless gesture, companionable. Hiccup doesn't know his name, but he knows the face; narrow with a nose that looks like it's been fractured once before and healed incorrectly. Quick as a flash, Dagur re-breaks it, curls his hand in the front of the man's tunic and demands an apology.
He gets one. The tribesman apologizes to Hiccup publicly, the shameful words slurring where the blood is still dripping over his lips.
He was hoping to make friends, although the notion seems a bit ridiculous in his head now. He didn't even have friends on Berk, unless you could count Astrid, and he's still not sure how much of that was really pity. He wants to believe it's love, but then he wants to believe a lot of things. And besides, if he talks about her now, Dagur might get jealous.
He used to be okay with a bit of bitterness, until he started asking about that Thunderdrum, and the people that did reply laughed it off nervously. "What Thunderdrum?" they'd say.
Oswald was twice Dagur's size, when he died. And if Dagur counts a Zippleback as two, maybe he counts a Chief as three.
Only that's silly, because Dagur's not a bad guy. He's a rough guy. A possessive guy. He still calls Hiccup "mine", inside and outside of bed, somehow managing to be rough and gentle all at once. He's always satisfied by the end, so it's better than he could have imagined. He thinks he might even be happy.
He takes him on hunts, but Hiccup never has to kill anything. Dagur calls him the brains of the group, and in a way, he thinks it's at least the most honest assessment he can be given. He's dead useful, and it's even a little flattering how warriors he's never spoken to before will rush right up to him and ask him for an plan.
It's almost like they did with Stoick, when the stakes were high and a few rouge calls had to be shouted out.
Only Stoick never turned his face away when a dragon's head hit the ground.
"Squeamish?" Dagur hums teasingly, and Hiccup grins through the grimace.
"It loses it's charm after a while." he says. Which is true, in a way. There's a numbness that comes with watching.
He doesn't scream anymore, anyway.
He has no idea, sometimes, why Dagur ever wanted to marry him. Why he even likes him. He could have anyone else - literally, anyone else. Hiccup is small and skinny and maybe he is responsible for a lot of the hunting party's success, but he can never bring himself to say 'yes' when Dagur asks if he wants to claim parts afterward.
He tries to rationalize it - what would he want with a wing? A tail? A Nadder's skull mounted in their little hut, above their bed, so he can have something to focus on when he wants to last longer, when Dagur's still excited from the kill and they can go for hours like that, teasing each other for more?
"I'm..." A coward. I'm weak.
They kill Gronkles, Zipplebacks, Slitherfangs. Hiccup never holds the knife. But then they're all killers, aren't they? They're Vikings, they're stubborn and vicious, and to be any other way is worse than death. He thinks of his father surrounded by fire, a coal-dark smudge against the brightness of a midnight raid. Of Astrid, with that spot of blood smeared over her cheek, standing tall in the Kill Ring while a hundred men cheered. He thinks of it over and over again while he's digging his nails into Dagur's shoulders -- all that bravery they must have felt conquering something greater than themselves.
He's Dagur's right hand man on the next peaceable tour. Astrid seems him by the docks, calls him over with a nod of her beautiful head, and Hiccup's so grateful that he's never talked to his husband about her because otherwise he's not sure if it would have been so easy to slip into that space at her side and ask her how she's been.
"Couldn't be better," she says. "You look - happy."
"Really healthy, too."
"It's all that training." Hiccup's not sure why he feels the need to laugh the comment off. Astrid nudges his arm teasingly before she seems to remember that they're supposed to be distant, now. Her smile loses shape at the corners, hanging loosely on her face.
"We missed you, idiot." she grumbles.
"I'm sure. It's my brute strength, right?"
"I'm sure your battles have become wayyy too slow without me there to spice things up...."
"Uh huh. No, you're exactly right. What have I done without you all this time...?"
She joins them for dinner, role model Viking that she is. Snotlout's there, not much taller but heavier with muscle and a dozen new battle scars. He watches the couple while they eat, Dagur downing mead like it's water, Hiccup trying to figure out why he feels the need to focus all his attention on the crackle of the distant fireplace. He knows envy when he sees it now, but it's not him that Snotlout's jealous of, it's just the attention. The seat of honor. It's Dagur praising him when he did absolutely nothing worth praising. Nothing that someone else couldn't do better, except maybe warm his bed every night.
Hiccup's gotten really, really good at that.
They still get that Night Fury here, too. Dagur says he thinks maybe there's only one, just a single ancient dragon that roams the sky lonely, but they've all but given up on plucking it down to find out, so Hiccup figures it doesn't matter either way.
Hiccup says hello to his father before they set off from the docks again.
They're both facing the skyline instead of each other.
He remembers him being so much bigger, towering endlessly above him.. The difference is a little less than a foot now, although there's still a vast gap when it comes to weight.
Stoick asks him how he's been. Fine, he says. Just fine.
Sure he is.
"Spilled a Nightmare's guts." Hiccup says off-handedly. Stiffly. There must be something about the edge in his voice that make's Stoick's brow shoot up. The truth is, Dagur dragged the body in after a hunt with the help of a dozen other men. Loaded it into a boat. You can't cook anything without gutting it first, so technically, he's not lying.
"'s my boy...!" Stoick laughs. It only sounds a little forced. "What'd you use? Not a dagger, right?"
"Just....they're not so bad, Dad, knives are better than fists, right?" Why is he smiling? It's not even funny. They tried to make a stew out of it, cooked strips of meat over a fire.
"And you liked it, did you?"
He didn't even like eating it.
"It's a shame I wasn't there for it. I'd be proud."
"Yeah." Hiccup says again. Proud. His brain feels like the mists around their old maps, the ones that Stoick had marked with "Dragon's Nest?" in his scraggly, scratchy font. They never found it, of course, but then what would they do without it to look forward to anyway? Settle down? Relax? He can't imagine a world where nobody has to kill to prove themselves worthy.
Then Dagur's hand is on his wrist and he's all too eager to go.
It's so perfect. It's so perfect. Because he imagined it a thousand different ways, but he hadn't imagined it like that.
When they get home, Hiccup steps ahead of him, leads him with a look into their shared hut, and by the time the door slams behind them he's already got his tunic off. Dagur's whistling something, the wide line of his mouth curling like ribbon, so Hiccup kisses him before he can start to talk.
He's not sure he wants to hear it.
They don't make it to the bed, falling into a tangle just a hard floor. Dagur's hand in his hair where Hiccup hastily shoved it into place and asked him to curl his fingers in, pull. He's not sure why he wants to feel it so badly, but he can't get them together fast enough. And Dagur says mine, just like he always does, and Hiccup nods and nods because it's true -- this is what he has. This is all he has. This is what his father is proud of.
They lay tangled together afterward, panting and slick with sweat. Dagur's sated and comfortable, gathering him up into his arms and allowing himself to be kissed. Falling asleep. And Hiccup can't stop kissing him, blinking furiously through the heat that prickles behind his eyes, trying to work his own small hand between their bodies again.
He has no idea why he's still hard.
what's it gonna take to make you happy, anyway?