Yo, it me.
Just a quick note to thank all the people that're still keeping up with this fic, and to all those who left such kind reviews on the last chapter. It really means a lot.
Hope you enjoy!
Astrid had tried to stall for time, she really had.
She had been desperate for Stoick to pause and listen before simply barging into the cottage without forewarning or explanation for what he would find within, but he had cut across her with ease, becoming increasingly irate as he demanded to know why Astrid had been acting so vague, and why she was now standing in his path when he was trying to reach his injured son.
Despite her best efforts to hold her ground, a thud from inside caught their attention and gave him the opportunity to push past her and close the distance to the door.
She was hot on his heels until a bony hand closed around her wrist and brought her to a standstill.
Spinning in surprise, she was greeted by Gothi giving a solemn shake of her head, wagging her finger in warning.
"Let me go!" Astrid protested, all inclinations of respect towards the Village Elder gone as her thoughts became consumed with trying to avert the catastrophe she felt sure was about to occur, "Please; we have to go in there and make sure he doesn't do anything stupid!"
Gothi raised an eyebrow, half in amusement, half in warning at the young Viking's boldness. Future father in law or not, it was audacious of her to refer to the Chief in such a manner, especially in front of the Elder. But at that moment Astrid wasn't feeling particularly respectful towards her Chief either.
Not when Hiccup's safety could be at stake.
Ignoring Astrid's insolent expression, the old woman gave a stern grunt and guided her firmly along the porch to sit atop a barrel, the pair settling in for what could be a long wait.
Simmering in silence for several moments, Astrid's thoughts turned to the origins of the sudden thud from within the cottage.
"So Hiccup's awake?" She let the question hang, feeling sure that Gothi wouldn't leave him unconscious before Stoick with nobody to vouch for him
Upon her nod of confirmation, Astrid's concerns subsided a little.
She was just about to press the woman for more information when a passing Terrible Terror spotted Gothi on her porch and swooped down in the hopes of being treated to a fish and a scratch behind the horns.
The old woman was happy to oblige and went to tend to the little dragon, fending off Toothless, Stormfly, and Skullcrusher as they eyed her jealously whilst the food was handed out. Astrid remained sat to the side, tapping her feet irritably and staring out to sea.
Every time the faint murmurs from inside grew in volume her head would snap around, half expecting one of the men to storm out, or be thrown out.
But the door remained firmly closed, and the crowd of dragons on the increasingly cramped porch continued to grow as more Terrible Terrors arrived from the nearby cliffs.
As the demand for her attention grew, Gothi turned, a soft indulgent smile on her face as she handed Astrid several fish to distribute, seemingly oblivious to the withering look that she was shot in return.
The last thing Astrid wanted to be doing at that moment was playing Dragon Dinner Lady; not when Hiccup was in there on his own, bartering for his future and his father's acceptance. Despite the upheaval of the last few hours, she found herself vehemently wishing she could be at his side, defending him to the last. If he would still have her.
Without ceremony or preamble, she tossed the fish into the horde of dragons, ignoring the scuffles that broke out as they all scrambled in at once.
She stared motionless at the writhing mass for several moments until, above all the grunting and growling, she heard the slight creak of the door swinging open.
Breath catching in her throat, she spun to find Stoick in the doorway; his expression indiscernible.
"Astrid, bring the tunic."
Heart thundering in her chest, she clambered over a bickering trio of Terrors and retrieved the garment from one of Skullcrusher's saddlebags. By the time she turned back to the cottage, Stoick had disappeared inside.
Anxiously she followed, almost tripping over the smaller dragons in her haste.
Gothi brought up the rear at a more leisurely pace, bidding farewell to her scaly friends and waving her hands in the hopes of thinning the swarming flock. An apprehensive Toothless shadowed her movements across the porch, the reassuring pat she gave him as she passed seeming to do little to ease his concern.
Entering into the relative gloom of the cottage, Astrid's pace slowed, finding Hiccup perched on the table, his back to the door, while Stoick stood in a corner, arms folded firmly across his chest.
Gingerly, she broke the precarious silence, butterflies fluttering through her innards as she placed the tunic on the table beside Hiccup. "Here."
"Thanks." He spared a quick glance back at her and dipped his head in response, pulling the tunic into his lap but making no move to don it, instead curling his fists into the fabric and returning to his motionless state, the muscles in his neck and shoulders tense and poised.
"Now," Rumbled Stoick, "I've heard how Hiccup has found himself in this predicament-" He navigated the word with the care usually afforded to dealing with an irate Typhoomerang, "-what little there was to hear of it anyway. So I would appreciate it if someone could enlighten me as to just how this new accident has taken place."
Astrid swallowed thickly, feeling the tips of her ears turn red. So Hiccup hadn't yet told the Chief what had happened...
The prospect of having to explain the events of the afternoon again, and this time with Hiccup present, made her feel deeply uneasy, new tidal waves of shame rising to crash against her consciousness.
"I was showing Astrid what I could do in the air." The words left Hiccup's mouth with a steady matter-of-factness before she had even begun to formulate a response. She stared at his back, dumbstruck, as he continued, "I was pushing it - tried to weave around some sea stacks too quickly but misjudged it and clipped my wing... I fainted so-" He took a weary breath, "I don't know what happened next."
Astrid frowned. Why was he covering for her?
"You saw it happen?" Stoick looked to her for confirmation and she hurriedly tried to assume a more confident demeanor.
"Uh-" The sound of Hiccup's cry of pain rising above the beat of Stormfly's wings echoed in her mind, "Well not exactly… I was there, but- I didn't actually see him go down; he'd gone beyond my line of sight. Luckily Toothless had been shadowing him from above and managed to catch him before he hit the water." She spoke lowly, fighting against the ache of regret within her. Unable to meet the Chief's eye, she directed her words towards Hiccup's back, wondering if he could detect the remorse in her tone.
Stoick grunted, his voice becoming more weighted as he shifted his stance slightly, "So, you knew about this mess then, Astrid?"
She froze, her gaze flickering quickly between the two men as she mentally replayed Hiccup's revelation; the feelings of shock, crushing worry and fear that it had evoked in her.
This time, Hiccup didn't come to the rescue, leaving her to speak for herself.
"No. Not until this afternoon." She took a breath, arranging her thoughts and injecting some conviction into her monotone, "The others and I were doing some training drills along the coast-" Best to leave the whole mystery dragon debacle out of it, "We'd all split up and gone in different directions, and I found Hiccup on a cliff. That's when he told me."
"And you were... perfectly at ease with the situation?" There was an unspoken suspicion in the man's voice, a low threatening cadence that had Astrid's stomach twisting with uncertainty
"What?" Working to keep her voice measured and low, she finally turned to face the older Viking, determined not to allow herself to be thrown off guard too easily.
"Well, you stuck around while Hiccup proceeded to demonstrate his new… abilities. Clearly you weren't too unsettled?"
Astrid was silent for several moments, mind racing to try and settle on an appropriate response. Fighting to keep her face neutral, she tried to discern the intent behind the Chief's line of questioning: was he simply trying to gauge her reaction, or was he trying to pick holes in their story? Could he even be trying to implicate her in some way? Accuse her of having something to do with the acquisition of his son's new reptilian limbs?
As Hiccup continued to make no further moves to intercede in the interrogation she chose her words carefully, willing her voice to remain level.
"It was- a shock to say the least; and at first, I won't deny, I had trouble trying to process the thought of it… I still do. But, at the heart of it, I believe that Hiccup is still the same man I've grown up with." Her eyes drifted back to him so that she was once again addressing his bare shoulders as she said, "No matter what limbs he might lose, or gain, I don't believe anything will change that."
"So instead of pausing to consider the safety of the village and your people, you allow yourself to be whisked away on some love-addled notions?" He spoke with a clinical coldness that took Astrid aback.
She didn't bother to hide her frown, "What?" She was all in favour of preventing an outbreak of panic and hysteria in the village, but since when had their safety become an issue?
"He thinks," Hiccup spoke up at last, weariness rendering his intent towards her indiscernible, "That this could be a curse from the gods; marking me as the one that has betrayed tradition and upset Viking customs by making peace with the dragons."
"That's not what I said."
"It's what you're implying." His rebuke was swift. Head tilted in Stoick's direction, though his sight remained directed at the wall. He sighed, "I thought you believed me anyway. This isn't a curse. It's some kind of Night Fury thing."
"You don't know that Hiccup." Stoick growled, drawing himself to his full height, arms crossed over his mighty chest.
"Well neither do you!" A wave of frustrated passion rose in his voice and he turned to face his father fully, fixing him with a steely look from the tabletop.
Astrid found herself wishing she had remembered to hand him his prosthetic so he could at least reduce the gaping disparity in height and make the confrontation feel less one sided.
"How can forging peace for our people be a bad thing?!" Hiccup continued, "What kind of gods would punish me for that? Punish me for saving lives? These wings have nothing to do with dragons living on Berk!"
The two men fell into silence, the rise and fall of their chests overly pronounced in the stillness of the cramped room.
Astrid was impressed with the conviction that Hiccup had spoken with, though part of her did question whether he truly believed what he said or whether he was just trying to prevent a knee jerk reaction that could jeopardize the peace.
A low cough broke the stand off as Gothi shuffled forwards into the fray, making her presence known for the first time since she and Astrid had re-entered the cottage.
If not for the circumstances, Astrid would have found Stoick's sudden change in demeanour almost comical as he relaxed his shoulders and inclined his head towards her, his bearing instantly less dominating and the lines on his face less severe. Even the Chief had to show a measure of respect towards the Village Elder.
"Gothi," His tone was oddly chastened even before she had communicated anything, "What do you make of all this?"
The old woman turned her gaze onto Hiccup, studying him with the same intensity as when Astrid had first come to her help.
The seconds ticked by as Gothi stood unmoving save for her eyes combing analytically across Hiccup's form.
He held her gaze to begin with, but then his eyes shifted instead to her staff, only occasionally flickering back to her face to gauge her expression.
Astrid watched the silent proceedings with a cautious dread filled interest, wishing she knew what it was Gothi was looking for. From the quick glance that she spared in Stoick's direction, it appeared he was doing the same.
At last, Gothi drew back, leaning on her staff as she peered up at the Chief and gave a single solemn nod of her head.
Stoick's brow creased in confusion and he started to speak but the old woman wasn't finished. She took one of his hands in both her petite ones, and guided the great paw up to rest on Hiccup's shoulder. Once she was sure he wouldn't pull away she gently released him.
So she didn't think Hiccup was cursed. Or at least, that the situation posed no immediate threat to the village.
Astrid sagged in relief at Gothi's endorsement, while Stoick gazed uncomfortably down at his son.
Remaining for a moment, he gave a great shuddering nod before warily lifting his hand as if it had been in the mouth of a Whispering Death.
Hiccup's body seemed to relax slightly at the loss of contact, "So," He spoke quietly, giving a small cough, "How long do these bandages need to stay on for? Will I-" He gave a quick glance up at his father, "Will I be able to fly again?"
"Not on my islan-"
Stoick's reprimand fell silent as Gothi waved a hand in dismissal.
Pausing, she thought for a moment before holding up a hand and extending all five digits.
"Five weeks?" Astrid asked.
Gothi wiggled her hand in an unsure gesture but nodded nonetheless.
"And I can fly again?" Hiccup asked once more, oblivious to the way Stoick's face flushed in indignation behind him.
The old woman held up a second thumb, indicating six weeks but gave an earnest nod.
"Good." Hiccup bowed his head, letting out a breath of relief.
"'Good'?" Stoick asked, "You've already managed to injure yourself once, how can that be good? This situation is anything but good."
"It's good because it's incredible up there." Hiccup said, voice turning wistful.
Astrid's heart shifted in her chest, a part of her suddenly curious to hear him speak about the mysteries of flying on your own two wings, but he didn't elaborate.
Stoick scoffed and shook his head, warned off of any retorts by an almost imperceptible look that Gothi shot him. He took a moment to settle before asking, "So, exactly what injuries have you landed yourself with then? Astrid said something about fractures; but I'm guessing she didn't mean arms or legs."
Hiccup glanced back at Astrid over his shoulder, his gaze questioning as he waited for her to supply an answer.
"Uh," She forced herself to become distant from his piercing green eyes, so melancholy at that moment, and cast her mind back to Gothi's explanation of his injuries, "His right wing-" She tried not to falter over the word, "-has some small fractures, and there's a lot of swelling, especially around some of the joints. Gothi set and splinted it, and put some poultices on before binding it."
The old healer nodded in confirmation.
"Right." Stoick rumbled, "Well at least I don't have to worry about you flapping around Berk for a few weeks. This knowledge does not leave this room, understand? Nobody can know." He pinned Hiccup and Astrid with a steely look each, "Not the villagers, not your Dragon Rider pals, especially not anyone from beyond Berk. Not - a - soul."
Astrid nodded mutely while Hiccup turned back towards the wall. She could sense his eyes rolling as he ground out, "I've already told you, there's no danger of that after today was such a resounding success."
"Hmph…" The Chief's simmering tension was palpable as he ran a hand through his expansive beard, "Well, I think we've taken up enough of Gothi's time for one day."
Hiccup sighed, resting his stump across his right knee and scratching it absently, "Astrid can you pass me my leg please?"
"Just make sure you keep those things strapped in tightly once we're back." Stoick warned as she set the prosthetic on the table, but Gothi stepped forwards and shook her head resolutely, gesturing with insistence that the injured wing couldn't be put under too much pressure.
Stoick looked down at her and sighed, "Just, keep them hidden."
"Again, there's hardly any danger of me flaunting them through the village after receiving such an outpouring of support from my family and loved ones." Hiccup retorted drily, fixing his leg into its rightful place. At his words Astrid froze; heart thumping an anxious rhythm at his indirect criticism and trying to ignore the fleeting glance that Stoick sent her way.
They were both distracted from pursuing the matter further as Hiccup slid himself off the edge of the table and stretched his left leg, "That's better." He murmured, before moving his attention to the tunic.
His movements were stiff and tentative as he stretched his abdomen, slipping the fabric over his head. Shuffling his left wing for a moment, he pulled it tight against the gauze and gradually wrigged into the body of the tunic. As he pulled the increasingly taut fabric over his wrapped chest the process became almost painful to watch.
With a slight grunt and a low sigh of, "There…" He released the hem and smoothed the fabric over his front, turning questioningly to his father as Stoick released a deep breath of dissatisfaction, "What is it?"
"This isn't going to work Hiccup." He said with an exasperated tut, "Walking around with a great hump on your back is hardly subtle!"
"What? Is it bad?" Hiccup's voice spiked with anxiety as he craned his neck and awkwardly tried to twist his body to try and catch a glimpse of the problem.
Astrid winced with pity. "They are sticking out a fair bit," She tentatively agreed. "The left one's sitting pretty high above your shoulder, can't you try pulling it down a little?"
"I am!" Hiccup insisted, "I can't get it any closer, the gauze is too thick." He turned to Gothi, his words taking on a pleading tone, "Can't you retie it and use less?"
But the old woman simply gave a sad shake of her head in response.
"I- I'm not sure it would support the injury properly if she did." Astrid sighed uneasily, her mind working to try and think of a way to cover up the conspicuous shape.
"Well what am I supposed to do?" His expression one of bewilderment mingled with panic, he looked first to Gothi, then to Astrid, and back again, resolutely avoiding his father's gaze, "It's five weeks until all this comes off… how am I supposed to hide them until then?"
"It looks like you're just going to have to stay inside..." Said Stoick after a moment, "Either until you're healed, or until we find a cure of some kind, it'll be better if you just stay out of sight, keep you out of trouble."
"For five weeks?!" Astrid cried in disbelief, "People will wonder where he i-"
Shaking his head, the Chief cut her off before she could continue, "We'll have to think of something to tell people. Perhaps he's contracted an illness while flying abroad, or got bitten by a venomous dragon." A sudden bitter note crept into his voice, "You're away for long enough at a time for people to believe it. Who knows what you get up to?"
Hiccup stared at him mutely for several seconds before turning slowly back to a forward facing position, jaw clenched as he studied the wall before him.
"That's the only way then?" He asked after several seconds.
"Not if you can't hide them better. I will not have you walking around like that." Stoick rebutted, jabbing a finger towards the conspicuous humps on Hiccup's back, which were growing only more prominent as he leaned slowly forwards and threaded his fingers through his hair, the threads on his tunic bulging at the movement.
Hiccup seemed to deflate as he let out a great sigh, his fingers tightening as he said quietly, "Okay... It doesn't look as if I really have a choice..."
"Hm." Stoick breathed shortly, seeming slightly more satisfied now that a solution had been found, "Now unless there's anything else we'd best get back. Gothi will be wanting her house back to herself."
As Gothi slowly shook her head with an affable smile and a wave of her hand, that no there was nothing more to be done and of course it had been no bother, Astrid could only stand and gape at proceedings.
Inwardly she wrestled with herself, wondering whether she ought to speak up further on Hiccup's behalf; but as cruel and unjust as sentencing him to five weeks under house arrest seemed, as much as she might try, her scrambling brain couldn't think of a viable alternative. And given Stoick's demeanour she wasn't sure that this was the moment to try and sway his opinion.
Suppressing her inner doubts she resolved to find another solution once the Chief had cooled off and was more likely to be receptive. For now, she supposed, the most important thing was that Stoick was still accepting Hiccup into his home and that he no longer seemed to be in any immediate danger.
A low ripping sound tore the atmosphere, bringing her thoughts lurching back to the present.
"Oh Hiccup…" Breathed Stoick, pinching the bridge of his nose and averting his eyes.
Astrid stared at Hiccup despairingly even as he looked gradually down at himself, cringing at the edge of his left wing as it protruded from the burst seam in the edge of the tunic.
"I- I-" He stammered, hands gesturing weakly around the ruptured tunic, betraying his lingering disorientation.
"Just take it off." Stoick tutted as he shook his great head, though Astrid couldn't tell whether it was in disgust or dismay. "You'll have to wear this." He said gruffly, unslinging his own cloak from around his shoulders.
"Thanks." Hiccup spoke numbly, staring for a second at the proffered cloak before coming to his senses and carefully wriggling back out of the tunic, placing it to one side on the table. Slipping from the tabletop he stood and took the cloak from Stoick's outstretched hand, hefting the garment onto his shoulders and wincing as the heavy furs draped over his injured limb and battered body.
As he struggled to make himself comfortable, Astrid scooped up the tunic that Gothi had cut off of Hiccup and the tangle of ropes from the floor.
"I'll get rid of these for you Gothi." She smiled to the old woman, eager to draw attention away from Hiccup's back and break the wary atmosphere that pervaded the small space.
Gothi nodded graciously and hobbled swiftly to open the door for Stoick as he moved to leave. Passing over the threshold he paused only briefly to bow his head to the Elder, leaving Hiccup and Astrid alone in her company.
His laboured footsteps further weighed down by his father's cloak, Hiccup crossed the room to stand before her, carrying his most recently discarded tunic with him.
"Thank you for everything you've done today Gothi." He met her eyes and bowed as much as his bandaged injuries would allow.
A thoughtful melancholy overtook the old woman's face as she bobbed her head in response, reaching a bony hand up to touch his cheek in a fleeting caress. As he straightened and stepped aside her gaze followed him for several moments, an indiscernible cast to her eyes.
Approaching the healer last, her arms full of tattered rope, Astrid bowed.
"I can't thank you enough Gothi." She said lowly, unable to quite look her in the face.
With a light grunt Gothi clasped one of Astrid's hands in her own, giving it a light squeeze and a reassuring shake.
A sense of uneasiness sat heavy in Astrid's gut as she nodded and broke the contact, passing out onto the swaying porch as Toothless bounded around Hiccup in great overjoyed leaps. A final clutch of straggling Terrible Terrors fled the area, squawking with annoyance as Toothless narrowly avoided knocking Stormfly, Skullcrusher and an unimpressed Stoick from the platform in his revelry.
"Hey bud." Hiccup greeted him with a weary smile.
His movements suddenly lithe and impossibly precise, Toothless scuttled close so he was face to face with his friend, gently butting his nose against Hiccup's forehead, eyes wide, as he gave a low croon of satisfaction, his light chuffs ruffling through his hair.
"Yeah, it's good to see you too." Hiccup's smile grew as he leaned into the contact, reaching a hand up to both support himself against the Night Fury and to give him a slow scratch behind the jaw.
They remained there for a moment before Toothless pulled away, moving purposefully towards Astrid.
Remembering his veiled hostility earlier in the day, she couldn't help but tense as he drew nose to nose with her.
She swallowed, breath rattling in her ears, the heaviness in her gut bundling into a great knot as he drew himself up onto his haunches.
A lilting warble rose from deep within his chest as he lightly pressed his nose against her forehead, holding the position for a second before drawing back and releasing a puff of air, blinking solemnly.
"Yeah-" She had to fight to stop the word from cracking in her throat with the force of her relief and gratitude, "I'm sorry too." She murmured, trying to ignore her pangs of guilt as she gave him a reassuring pat on his neck.
"Come on." Said Stoick roughly from Skullcrushers saddle, "It's getting dark, we need to be back at the village before the night-watchmen go on patrol."
Giving a quick nod, too worn to find any more words, Astrid let Toothless return to Hiccup's side as she went to join Stormfly, grateful for the comforting warmth radiating from her scales.
She and Hiccup both held up their hands to Gothi in farewell as the trio of dragons rose from the porch into the dimming sky.
The old woman paced along the vacant porch after them, watching their departure. Even as she did, the Terrible Terrors began to flock back to her on sight, seemingly unaffected by the troubled frown that passed across her face.
But before Astrid could observe any more, she was lost to the gloaming.