A Chance Encounter
Certainly Uncertain Epilogue
Waking up felt like slowly rising to the surface of her pool in the bathhouse. The difference was striking, with the accompanying sensation of leaving warmth and safety.
Stinging pain brought her consciousness fully into focus. She had the vague impression that the pain should have been centered on her left side, but couldn't recall why. Her entire nervous system seemed like it was burning. Breathing became hard, each rise and fall of her chest bringing pain that she wasn't ready to deal with.
"I think she's coming to!" she heard a voice; panicked, shrill. Female? No, male. Probably, it was too high-pitched to tell for sure.
Something took hold of her hand -her right, something in her mind supplied; why was that relevant?- sending fresh jolts of pain through her receptors. She wanted to hiss, to pull away from the touch, but all she could manage was crack open her lips and let out a weak exhale.
The touch softened, but didn't let go. The hand was rough, calluses pushing and pulling against her delicate skin. It should have been uncomfortable, but it didn't feel that way. Despite the pain it was causing, her tired mind decided that it likes the presence. She felt safer now. Her fingers twitched in the grasp.
"Elsa?" she heard the same voice, calmer but still alarmed. The deeper, nasal tone was unmistakably male.
"Can you hear me?" the voice prompted. She wanted to answer. She couldn't move. "Anna, I think she's awake. Can you get the doctor?"
"Right away!" The second voice, female, prompted another jolt of recognition. Relief, too. She was in pain, but also relieved. Things were okay. Perhaps not good but … safe? That felt like a better word.
"Her Grace is awake!" she hears another voice, from further away. The same phrase, repeated again and again by various voices. Were they outside the room? Possibly. Elsa could feel her wits slowly gathering, the haze in her mind lifting.
The touch in her hand - the source of her stinging pain and relief- vanished. Before Elsa had enough time to panic it was replaced by another hand. This one more delicate, smaller than hers if by a tiny bit but still familiar, and she relaxed again.
"It's okay," she heard a voice say. She knew that voice. "You're okay."
Her eyes fluttered open. Some part of her expected to see the world in shades of blue, and was surprised when she did not. When her vision cleared after some blinking, she could see the ceiling of bed. She was in her room.
Her eyes wandered momentarily. Something in her sense of vision seemed to be missing; some hidden dimension or color that she had seen once but could no longer. It vexed her.
The thought passed as quickly as it had come once her sister's face came into view, worried and puffy eye. As soon as their eyes locked, the redhead smiled brilliantly. She leaned forward, surging as if to hug her, but a firm hand on her shoulder halted her progress.
Anna looked up, glaring up at who Elsa recognized as Kristoff; her official ice master. The young man shook his head once.
"Be gentle with her," he cautioned. Anna's eyes widened and she grew as red as her hair as she turned back towards Elsa.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
Elsa cracked open her lips. "S'okay," she managed to murmur, still fighting to maintain her concentration on the present. "Hug is … okay. Just … easy."
With another smile Anna approached again, this time much slower, and brought herself down to Elsa's level, giving her a very brief hug where they didn't really touch, but Elsa appreciated the closeness all the same.
Anna was here, and everything was okay.
"What's a guy gotta do to earn that hug?" she heard the first voice again. This time, she recognized it.
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Assailant. Viking. Chief. Ally. Friend. Lover.
Her eyes turned towards the source of the voice as Anna let up, and found leaning against the bottom poster of her bed, arms crossed. He'd been holding her hand earlier, hadn't he?
He looked … rugged. Clean but unshaven with several days worth of stubble on his face, eyes red with dark circles. He should really be sleeping more. God, he was still so handsome. Was he biting his lip?
"You…" she managed to croak out, "... you get … more."
"Elsa, this is so not the time right now! Also, ew!"
She ignored her sister's indignation, instead focusing on eye-contact with him. It felt right. The look in his eyes as he looked back at her felt satisfying. He seemed uneasy about something; shifting his weight. Was everything okay?
She was about to ask that when she heard commotion from outside.
Anna instantly vanished from her side, to be replaced by the wizened face of Olario, her doctor. She looked away from Hiccup to focus on him. He looked at her critically, making her follow his finger with her eyes. The effort quickly made her dizzy and she stopped.
Olario moved to her left side, where he pushed her sheet aside.
"Look away please, your Grace." Elsa complied. Her entire left side was a concentrated mass of aching, pain and a weird feeling she couldn't place.
Something of her pain must have shown on her face because she heard Hiccup speak.
"I think the drugs are wearing off, Doctor."
Olario raised his eyes from whatever he was inspecting back to her face. Elsa tried to remain collected, but her vision swam and it was hard to focus on a single thought at a time.
"Mm, appears so. Drink this, your Grace," he said, offering a small, uncorked bottle of something. "It'll make the pain go away."
"Let me," she heard Anna say as she gently took the bottle from Olario and brought it to Elsa's lips. She did her best to swallow, and managed to get her throat to comply without choking.
"Elsa … can you tell us anything about what happened?" Anna asked. Elsa tried to focus. It was getting difficult to make her out.
What did happen? She remembered vaguely … bits and pieces.
"There was … a monster." Of that she certain. There had been a monster. A fiend in human skin. "I was scared." That, too, came easily enough to her recollection.
"Where is this monster now?" she heard Hiccup's voice, barely above a whisper, hard and terrible.
"Gone," she mumbled. That felt true. He was no longer a threat. Had he left? No. No. She hadn't let him. "Banished."
"Banished?" Anna prompted. Elsa's felt too strained trying to see, especially since it seemed more people had entered the room since they started talking, and trying to make all of them out was painful. Her eyes fluttered closed.
"Ice ... for … thousand years."
"... gone," was all Elsa could say. Her lips felt heavy. Thoughts came slowly and with difficulty.
"Sleep now, your Grace," Olario suggested gently. "Everything will be better by tomorrow."
"Sleep, Elsa," she heard Anna say.
She faded before the thought had completely registered. The last thing she recalled was the gentle touch returning to her right hand.
It was the whispering that woke her. Too low to make out clearly, too loud to ignore, just at the right pitch to burrow into her brain and chase away any attempts at returning to sleep.
She opened her eyes, met with the ceiling of her bed. It must have been afternoon, or evening. She was slightly propped up against a number of pillows.
A small, tentative shake for a more comfortable position had two effects. It reminded her that she was in pain - a lot of it- and it made the whispering cease as whoever was in her room must have noticed the movement.
She looked up, finding Hiccup and Ernie across the room by the balcony door. The Viking was wearing a simple blue tunic, and Ernie looked rested and on the mend from his injuries. Good.
Ernie's hand was in the process of retracting, as if he'd been trying to make a point. Upon noticing her gaze, the young man bowed deeply.
"My apologies, your Grace. I didn't mean to disturb you."
"How are you feeling?"
She thought for a second before making a slight grimace. Her nerves still ached, her left side was a mass of throbbing pain and her arm wasn't responding.
"I'll … get Doctor Olario."
"Wake up Anna, too. She'll want to know."
"It's fine," Elsa said, before frowning at how weak her voice sounded. She cleared her throat once, before speaking again, more steadily. "Let her sleep."
Ernie looked to Hiccup, clearly uncertain. The Viking gave him a nod, and the young man bowed to her and to him before hurrying out of the room. It irked Elsa that he had sought his confirmation before obeying her order, but she didn't have the energy to ask after it right now.
"Why are you … over there?" she asked when they were alone.
As soon as she said that, he crossed the room with long strides, sitting by her right bedside. His hand hovered for a second, as if unsure. She frowned, before reaching for his hands, which prompted him to meet her halfway.
The feel of his hand was familiar, and comforting.
"What's wrong?" she asked. The crease of his brow should not be there.
On hearing her question, he let out mirthless snort. "You're asking that? I should be asking you that. How are you?"
"Better," she said, and it was true. She was tired, and in pain, but it was less than before, and thinking did not hurt like it had.
"That's good. Yes, good," he said, punctuating his words by rubbing the back of her palm with his thumb.
Belying his words, he seemed almost panicked about something.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked, frowning.
His lips pursed as he blinked once, twice. Elsa recognized this as nerves. He was anxious.
"I probably shouldn't be the one to tell you this but … Anna isn't here and neither's the doctor, so..."
"What's going on? Is everyone okay?"
"Everyone is … fine."
"Hiccup, you're scaring me."
He shook his head, his grip on her hand tightening just a tad.
"It's just … when you were brought in … you were in a bad state. Your burns were very serious. Most people I've seen wouldn't have made it, but your doctors here are very good. They saved you."
Elsa nodded along. "That sounds like good news."
His look spoke of anything but.
"For god's sake Hiccup, just spit it out."
"... look down, Elsa."
She blinked in confusion, before complying. Bandages started at her neck, continuing down her chest, covered under the sheet.
After a second's observation, something seemed weird about the sheet's shape. She dislodged her hand from Hiccup's and pulled the sheet out of her, revealing her bandaged torso.
She blinked. Once. Twice. Three times.
The bandages wrapped around her torso and around her right arm, but her left side was completely covered. Where her left arm should have met her shoulder, instead all she could see were more bandages, wrapped around her as if an arm had never been there.
Hadn't she been moving her arm all this time? She'd thought she had. It had hurt but … hadn't she moved it? A quick perusal of her memories showed no specific results. Had she just imagined it?
"Elsa, breathe." The voice was enough to pull her away from her frantic thoughts, and she quickly realized that she was hyperventilating. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and closed her eyes. She took a slow, deep breath, trying to lower her heartbeat.
As if to mock her, the stump where her left arm used to be seemed to intensify its throbbing pain.
"Okay," she said. "Okay."
"The doctors … they said it had to go. To save you. I thought about stopping them but I don't … I'm not a healer or a doctor, and Anna seemed to be convinced."
"Okay," she repeated, still taking slow, deep breaths. Stemming away the oncoming panic. She still couldn't grasp it. With her eyes closed, she could almost swear that she felt her arm, if painfully.
"But, but look! This doesn't have to be it! I have-, I mean, I have a design, yes? I worked on it the last few days-, here take a look," he babbled as she heard ruffling, which prompted her to open her eyes.
Hiccup had procured a large roll of parchment -from his belt maybe?- and was in the process of unfurling it, before turning it over and presenting it to her with a hopeful look.
For a moment, all she could see were charcoal lines, little more. The parchment was covered in them. Slowly she began to make out shapes; circles here, rectangles there, lines of text here and there with arrows pointing to specific things.
She realized what she was looking at. In the center of the page was designed what seemed to be a human arm, attached to some sort of leather harness. Arrows pointing to specific parts of it led to more detailed representations of the separate parts of the contraption. She could even see the half-finished line of ineligible text that Hiccup must have worked on last.
"What's this, then?" she asked, completely befuddled; not because she couldn't guess, but because she had to hear it told to believe it.
"Your engineers were a huge help; and I actually didn't have to start from scratch!" he rushed to say, as if afraid her patience was thin. "You'd be surprised how similar this was conceptually to an independent tailfin- look!" He let go with his left hand, which made the parchment droop a bit, before pointing at a specific point where several slim lines were depicted.
"These smaller straps here, they can be used to direct the arm with your shoulder. It'll take some getting used to, but it can be done. Joints are easy enough in that way, but I have nothing remote for the fingers. Still, I'm thinking of a mechanism in the wrist which you'll be able to control with your good hand-"
She blinked at him as he spoke, utterly baffled. The design was nothing short of genius, and it flew completely over her head in its sheer complexity. It reminded her of all the dozen different things his prosthetic could do.
That thought suddenly made her remember the fact that Hiccup had a prosthetic leg. Yet here he was, deathly afraid of what her reaction might be.
"Hiccup," she tried to speak.
"It'll have different settings, like holding a spoon or shaking hands or holding a cup and other such, you'll see-"
"I've already started working on it; your engineers are really skilled actually-"
"It's just a prototype, but with a bit more work-"
"Hiccup, shut up."
His mouth shut with audible clack and his eyes widened. Elsa realized her error, seeing him recoil. She wasn't mad at him, she just needed him to stop … explaining things for a second.
She reached out and took hold of his hand again.
"This is amazing," she told him earnestly. "Thank you. I'll definitely want to keep the design."
He blinked down at her. "... but?"
"No buts. I'm just … exploring my options."
"What does that mean?"
She looked at her ruined shoulder. "How long has it been?"
"Just about a week, I think. You were asleep for a while. We didn't know … well, I'm glad you woke up."
She pretended not to hear his voice breaking momentarily, for both their sakes.
"Is this healed?"
He cleared his throat. "It shouldn't be. Your doctors are good but even with them, it shouldn't have closed over so quickly. You … you're cheating somehow."
Sorcery. Instinctual, perhaps.
She nodded. She was still looking down at herself. She had only bandages and a nightgown to cover herself, that should be amended. "Be a dear and fetch me my robe from the wardrobe. Any will do. And my gloves? They're in the middle left drawer in that dresser."
"Both of them?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
She tsk'd at him. "Well now, a single glove would just look silly wouldn't it?"
He gave her an incredulous look. He looked about to argue, before shaking his head and getting to his feet and following her directions.
While he did that, Elsa very carefully untied the bandages around her shoulder, trying not to put stress on the wound. It revealed a neatly closed line of stitches in the process of healing over, though heavily scarred. The cut seemed to be in a straight line up her ribs, almost as if an arm had never been there.
She grimaced upon seeing the mass of crisscrossing burn scars that covered her left side. She picked up a small mirror from her bedside, bringing it in front of her.
The burns spider-webbed their way all through her left side, around her ribs, ending just at the base of her left breast and reaching up her collarbone into her neck.
She tried not to think about the scars too much. It was nothing a good dress shouldn't be able to hide. She'd have time to worry about that later.
Hiccup returned with the clothing items, bringing a beige robe and her silk gloves with him. She'd stashed them, seeing no use for them anymore, but hadn't wanted to throw them away. She was glad she hadn't.
"Leave them here," she said, tapping the space on the bed by her waist. He complied, before sitting next to her again. He didn't speak.
Elsa closed her eyes again, taking a deep breath. Slowly, she formed her intent in her mind, weaving her magic into it. She felt the temperature drop momentarily before stabilizing, as well as the familiar trickle of frost along her skin as ice obeyed her commands and flowed.
She opened her eyes once she felt the spell finally take hold, in time to see the ice -frozen but flowing like water, unbreaking but fluid- coalesce on her stump. She once again marveled at the skill of her surgeons, to make such a clean cut, even as her ice covered it. Slowly it bubbled, bigger and bigger, more on top of more. As it gathered it started elongating, lengthening. An elbow was form, then a wrist. A palm. Fingers.
Elsa flexed her new hand, entirely controlled by her mind and magic. She couldn't feel touch from it; perhaps something to work on later. Still, it was an appendage identical to the one she had lost, at least in shape. It had the white sheen of ice and the clarity of a frozen lake surface. It would do.
She replaced her gown, covering her nakedness, and added on the robe Hiccup brought. She picked up the left glove of the pair, slipping it on over the ice limb. It fit perfectly. She flexed the fingers again. Control was easy enough.
Only then did she turn to look back at Hiccup. He was staring at her hand, eyes wide, bottom lip trembling. He looked … amazed. Surprised. Afraid, maybe? Too many different things to tell.
He opened his mouth, as if to speak. Then he closed it with a shake of his head. He slowly, testily, reached out with his hands.
Elsa put both of hers in his. He gingerly wrapped his fingers around her gloved ones. When it became apparent that they wouldn't break or shatter, he held on more securely.
He seemed like he had so much to say, or ask, but no sound came out of his mouth. He just kept on holding her hands.
"What do you think?"
He smiled. "Well, you're right. A single glove does look silly."
"Oh for the love of-"
Amid his chuckling laughter she retrieved the other glove and slipped it on, completing the ensemble.
"What are you thinking?" she asked, feeling the frustration of trying to guess any of things going through his head.
"I just … didn't know you could do that."
Her heart broke at his forlorn smile. "Oh, Hiccup," she brought her right hand up over his neck, pulling him further down, their heads almost touching. His eyes were such a clear green.
"Your design is amazing," she said, uttering slowly and sincerely. "And it is going to help a lot of people."
His lip curled in something that could be a smile but held no joy. "But not you."
She couldn't stand this. She pulled him closer, bringing his lips to her, giving the kiss she was craving for since she woke up and saw him there. He responded after a frozen moment. She hadn't realized how must she'd needed to feel him like this until she was actually doing it, and was surprised that she hadn't done that earlier, lost arm be damned.
When they broke apart, she kept his forehead in touch with hers, looking him straight in the eye.
"You are the best man I have ever met, and I love you," she told him, slowly and clearly, leaving no doubt or space for argument. "Very much. Remember."
His mouth opened, as if to say something, before stumbling over a half-word and closing again. It opened and closed a couple of times, to no effect.
"Am I interrupting?"
She closed her eyes, counting down from ten in her mind.
"Ow," she heard from Hiccup as she fought to keep her temper, and realized that she'd accidentally made a fist with her hand in his hair and was in the process of pulling it out.
She let go and Hiccup pulled away. Certain now that she wouldn't resort to violence, she turned to face her sibling, standing just inside the door.
Anna looked a combination of amused and deathly embarrassed, judging by her badly-restrained smile and completed blushed-over cheeks.
"I heard that you were awake, but if you guys would like some time … to … is that a hand?"
Elsa opened her mouth and, as if sensing her distraction, Hiccup all but bolted to his feet.
"I'll … leave you girls to talk," he said. He turned to look at her, smiling that same bitter thing, then hurried out the door before she had a chance to tell him otherwise.
She extended a hand, as if to -what, stop him? He was already out the door- but Anna was in her face, asking all of the questions at once, and she had to focus her attention shelve her anger at her.
She explained the hand as best she could. Anna's eyes were wide and her mouth hanging open as she examined the arm after taking off the glove.
"This is so cool, Elsa!"
Elsa wondered if she made that pun intentionally. Knowing Anna, probably not.
After another few seconds of excitement over the arm, Elsa decided that enough was enough.
"Why are you here?"
"Hm?" Anna asked, pulling her gaze back to her. She looked a little better but her hair was frazzled and her dress crinkled. She had to have rushed out of bed to get there. "Ernie got me. He said-"
"He did?" she interrupted her, narrowing her eyes. Perhaps she needed to have a conversation with the young man regarding obedience to one's sovereign.
"Hey, don't be like that, I'd expressly told them both to get me if something happened."
"But I'm fine. Sore, but fine."
"And that is a huge change from before! You don't-, you have no idea-..."
Elsa blinked in confusion at the sudden tears and sniffing that erupted from her sister. Anna really was a messy crier.
"What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
"I- I want to -sniff- I want to hug you …"
"Should be fine- oof!" No sooner had she given approval that Anna was on her, wrapping her arms sort of gently around her from her right side.
It took her a second or two to get over the initial discomfort; she was still in quite a bit of pain. Once that passed, she wrapped her arms around her sister, though confused.
She let Anna sob into her shoulder for a minute, before softly asking what was wrong.
"You don't know … how terrified we were," Anna replied, making a good effort to rein in her crying. She pulled back slightly so she could look at Elsa and, with another sniff, seemed to pull herself together.
"When the doctors saw you, they could hardly believe you were alive. Any later and you'd be d-... dead." Elsa felt a stab of guilt at hearing her sister's voice break so, knowing she was the cause of it.
"Did the soldiers find me in time, then?"
Anna gave her a quizzical look. "The sol-, no. You mean, you don't know?"
"You'd have never made it in time. You were in surgery for a day, if not more. The camp didn't have the tools for that sort of thing. So many tools, Elsa. It was horrifying. To think that they saved your life…"
Elsa tuned out Anna's unreasonable fear of doctors and their tools of the trade. "Anna."
"... sharp ends- hm? Oh, right. No, it was Hiccup."
"I don't really know what happened. I found him in a block of ice and Toothless helped me free him. He stormed out; he didn't even tell me what happened! He and Toothless took off a while after you did."
Ah. So he'd been let free.
"They brought you to the castle. You … you were in bad shape, Elsa. I've never seen anything like this. The doctors say it's a miracle you even made it."
Not miracle. The science of the doctors and her own sorcery keeping her on this side of the veil.
"Hiccup … found me?" she asked, just to be sure, and received a nod.
"He refused to speak of it, when I asked him."
So … that blackness that she remembers seeing before passing out … that wasn't the darkness of death. It was a shape. The blast of air that felt like her last breath … that must have been Toothless' landing. It seemed that she did end up flying, in a way.
So much to talk about. Where was Hiccup?
"And what have you been doing this last week? How are things?"
Anna let out a loud exhale, something between another sob and a laugh.
"I've spent what time I could by your side, but I've had to step in with the council. The people-... some saw you when Hiccup brought you, and there are rumors you died. We told them otherwise of course but they won't really believe it until they see you. Oh, it is so good to see you awake again."
"You've been ruling?" Elsa asked, unable to hide the skepticism and a degree of amazement from her voice.
"I don't know how you do it! It's exhausting! There were the funerals to do and I will never again think that's easy and Grandland has been getting bolder; they've pushed five miles past the border since the news of your apparent death spread-"
"Grandland?" she cut her off. "They're still at it?"
"They halted for a day or two, but when the rumors spread they've been getting bolder. I'm doing all I can to keep us together. We're deploying and nobody has died yet but-"
"Hush," Elsa stopped her, seeing that Anna was about to cry again. She took her hand in hers. "You did a great job. I'm very impressed, and very proud."
Anna let out a strangled noise and burst into tears again. Well, so much for that.
"I wanted to stay with you…" Anna said amid her barely controlled sobs. "I wanted to stay by your side with Hiccup and Gertrude but I couldn't and I wanted to and please don't be mad, I was here as much as I could-"
"Stop this nonsense," Elsa admonished. "If I get mad about anything it's that you pushed yourself to this extent. I was unconscious, I couldn't appreciate it. You know the doctors are skilled, I was in good hands."
Anna nodded slowly. "But-"
"No buts. Don't tire yourself to death on my account."
"Don't say that word!"
Elsa sighed at Anna's shriek. It seemed that her near-death experience had a terrible effect on her sister. She'd have to work on that. For the moment, a change of subject.
"You say Hiccup was here?"
Grasping at the question with both metaphorical hands, Anna nodded vigorously. The sheet would definitely need changing after this.
"The maids would kick him out at night but I'd find him here in the morning and I'm not sure how he did it maybe from the window and then he-"
"Slower, Anna. Breathe."
Her sister took a second to breathe as instructed, then continued. "He's been with you since he brought you back, except when he went over to to room down the hall, which he turned into some kind of laboratory to build your, well, the arm. I've had to beat him off to bathe and sleep, that chair can't be comfortable. There was the incident with Alroff."
"Geno Alroff? The clerk?"
"He's acting as interim Minister of Finance."
"Well, he talked with Hiccup four days ago about something. A trade agreement of some sort that you apparently cooked up. You should have seen his look when it was brought up, Elsa! I thought he was going to murder the poor guy."
"Well, no. He ended up following Alroff. I hear it took them the better part of six hours to finalize things."
Elsa understood where Alroff was coming from. At such a time of crisis, trade was important for many reasons. The alliance with Berk had to be finalized, a show of normal operations needed to be displayed and the trade itself with Berk's minerals would be more useful than ever, at this time.
Doubtlessly, Hiccup had understood the same.
"Ernie told me he came here straight after. Poor lad has to make sure he eats. Hiccup has barely said a word to anyone except Alroff in a week. I'd never seen him afraid before this. Oh Elsa, he loves you so!"
Elsa was beginning to see that. The feeling was quite mutual. It ached her that she was not having this conversation with him.
She shook her head. Now was not yet the time to sink into that bundle of despair.
"How much is known about what happened?"
"Nothing! All people can talk about is the firestorm- we could see it from the castle! A firestorm in a blizzard, how is that even possible?"
"It is possible with magic."
Anna's breath hitched. "So it's true? Another sorcerer?"
"He won't trouble us anymore. I will not speak his name."
Perhaps it was a testament to all the things Anna was worrying over that she chose to accept that with a nod of relief and ask nothing else.
"Do you think you'll be able to walk around tomorrow? It would really help everyone to see you up and about. But only if you're up for it!"
Her little sister, already weighing someone's pain against the well-being of the kingdom. It made Elsa swell with pride.
"I can do that now, I think."
"No! Tomorrow. No earlier."
Elsa would have argued, but she could feel the weight of all this excitement. She felt rather sleepy. Perhaps a little more rest.
Anna kissed her on the forehead, and Elsa let herself fall deeper into the cushions and exhale.
"I'll have something brought up for you to eat when you wake. Rest well, sister," she vaguely heard Anna say. "Don't worry, I'll find Hiccup."
Elsa went to sleep with a smile.
Hiccup surveyed his room. It looked spotless, after the morning's cleaning, excluding the deep gashes on the marble floor; there was no saving those. Toothless lay in the center of the room, curled around himself but fully geared with the saddle and the bags, wherein Hiccup had gathered his possessions.
On the bed waited his flying rig, the suit he'd wear for the journey, and his last gift to Elsa Ellesmyre, face-down.
With a sigh, he walked to the balcony door and looked outside. It was getting late, the sun was going down. They'd have to camp in the woods somewhere for the night. That'd be fine. He needed to shake off the luxury of the last few weeks anyway.
A sudden knock on the door interrupted his musings. "Hiccup?" he heard Anna's voice, and froze. "Hiccup?"
He didn't speak, he didn't move beyond motioning for Toothless to stay silent. Hopefully she'd assume he was sleeping and go on her way.
"I'm coming in."
Had he locked?
He saw the knob turn and the door gently open.
Both the doors were opened to allow Anna, Kristoff and even Sven the reindeer past the threshold.
"Hiccup, are you sleeping? I wanted … to …" he speech trailed as her found the empty bed, then Toothless' large form, then finally landed on him, by the balcony. Her eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed.
"What's the meaning of this?"
Hiccup sighed. "Anna…"
"No!" she cut him off, stomping forward. Kristoff stayed by Sven, who was even now giving Toothless a wide berth.
When Anna came up to Toothless, who was blocking her path laying between the bed and the desk, she kicked him in one claw with her foot.
"Out of the way, Toothless!"
With an offended warble, the Night Fury let out a misty snort and shuffled aside.
"Wait, don't!-" Hiccup tried to say but too late; Toothless had already made way and now Anna was coming straight for him. His betrayed look was met with a look of annoyance and a disgruntled warble from the dragon.
"Traitor," was all Hiccup had time to mumble before Anna was on him, eyes narrowed and finger going straight for the chest poke. "Ouch, hey!"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"You know I have to leave."
"Yes, eventually. Not right now! Not when Elsa is still-"
"Physically! What are you thinking?"
"Look, this is none of your business, really."
"The fuck it isn't!"
Hiccup blinked in surprise. Anna didn't curse often. He was over a head taller than her but he still backed up, back flush against the balcony door, at her furious expression.
"Look, Anna, I've already stayed way too long-"
"No excuses! You were fine waiting while Elsa was unconscious, but now that she's awake you can't wait to bolt? What's up with that?"
"You know, for such a selfless person you're really fucking selfish."
Now that stung, no less because it was true. Hiccup scowled and intercepted her finger before it had a chance to poke him again. "Stop that."
"You're not going."
"It's not up to you."
"I swear to god Hiccup, if you try I will have you shot down."
An empty threat … surely? Her current expression left him uncertain.
"What do you want me to say? That I can't handle goodbyes? That I don't know what to tell her? That I'm ashamed of being unable to help her? That I'd rather leave without having her watch me do it and knowing that she's right there?"
Anna's eyes softened just so, but her glare did not abate. "So it's gonna hurt. That's goodbye. That's love. You love her and she loves you. I don't know how you deal with that and I don't honestly care at this point. She's my priority. If Elsa wakes up tomorrow and finds out you skipped town, it's gonna shatter her."
"But I will leave her."
"Not like this. I won't let you break her heart. You're going nowhere until you two have a good talk. Don't you dare fucking lie to her, either."
Hiccup sighed, moving around and up to the desk, where a half-empty glass of wine lay, before taking a sip. She didn't get it.
"I wasn't going to," he replied. "I can't. That's why I wanted to … go. Make it quick and painless."
"You are really fucking stupid, and you're not doing that. You're staying one more day. Alright?"
Hiccup rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Yes, okay."
"Good," her pursed lips trembled. Her fury seemed to melt and physically tax her. She moved forward and Hiccup expected more violence, but she instead wrapped her arms around him. He stood there frozen, unsure of what to do with his hands.
"Don't just go without letting us say goodbye, moron," he heard her say from his chest. His shirt was getting wet. Was she crying? By Odin. "That's just cruel."
"I … I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking," he admitted. He hadn't done much of that since seeing Elsa's broken body on the ground that day. Hadn't managed to sleep since, either.
With another sniffle Anna pushed off him and determinedly walked back to the door. "We'll say our goodbyes at the proper time. With you as well, Toothless!"
The dragon barked something in return that Anna correctly took as a positive statement.
"And I wasn't kidding about shooting you down," he heard her say as she walked out the door and vanished from his sight. "Guards!"
With another sigh, Hiccup turned to look at Kristoff and Sven, walking closer to them.
"You want a go at me, too?"
The blond man shared a look with his reindeer and nodded. "You're right," he told Sven before turning to Hiccup. "No, I think she covered everything. Sven is very disappointed."
Hiccup threw his hands in the air. "Great. First a lizard, then a girl, now a reindeer are disappointed in me. Just great!"
"Look, Lord Haddock-"
Hiccup threw a dark look his way that made him stop mid-sentence. "For fuck's sake Kristoff, I thought we were past that."
The man shared another look with his reindeer friend. "Yeah, but … you've been kind of scary these last few days. Dunno."
Hiccup waved it away. "What were you gonna say?"
"I wanted to offer my view on the situation. If you'd like to hear it?"
Great, more insight from the peanut gallery. Hiccup took a deep breath, stopping himself before saying something he'd regret later. He needed to get a grip. "Fine, yes. But you'll have to accept some advice in return. Okay?"
Kristoff brought his hand up to rub at the back of his head. "Look, you're a good guy."
"What I mean to say is … you're a good guy. Anna likes you. The Queen loves you. That aide of yours, you know. The people in the barracks, the other servants-"
Sven chose that moment to let out keen.
"And you give Sven food sometimes."
"Is there a point to this?"
"We won't be mad at you because you have to go," Kristoff said. "You're a friend. A lot more to the Queen. We'll understand. You don't have to go like a thief in the night to break ties. Let the ties remain. Ties are good."
Hiccup took a deep breath, processing the blond's words.
"It's okay," Kristoff concluded. "It's gonna be okay. One way or another."
Well, wasn't that a ray of sunshine.
"No worries. Now you."
Hiccup blinked, momentarily confused, before recalling his earlier words. "Advice, right. Don't wait. She's not going to wake up one day and decided that loving you was a mistake. It's never gonna happen. Don't be afraid to more forward."
Kristoff's eyes widened and he shifted his weight awkwardly. "Hiccup …"
Hiccup laughed. "Nuh-uh. I know exactly what it means to put the woman you love on a pedestal to the detriment of both of you. But Anna deserves to be happy and you make her happy. Get your act straight and go for it, because you never know when you might suddenly no longer be able to."
Kristoff seemed to deflate. Hiccup knew that he had defended Anna from the intruders during the incursion. Brave, but it surely must have given him some perspective on the frailty of human life.
"I'll … think on your words."
Hiccup patted him on the shoulder. "Good man. And I on yours. Thanks for not jumping at my face. I … I know it would have been a shitty thing to do."
Kristoff smiled at him. "You're a good man, Hiccup," he repeated. "Wanna come for dinner?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Toothless, get up."
Hiccup slept in his room for the first time that week. Now that Elsa had awakened and was on the mend, the burning desire to stand vigil by her side felt inexcusable. Similarly, crafting the prototype mechanical hand had dropped in the list of priorities, so he couldn't work himself to a few hours of exhausted, restless sleep.
Not that he slept much. Whenever he closed his eyes he'd seen Elsa charred and motionless and wake up just as quickly. Sometimes it was the image he saw in reality; Elsa disheveled with her entire left side crisped, her arm a mess of pungent flesh, half-melted ice sloughing off it and taking chunks of flesh along.
Other times, he saw a more … symmetrical vision. He'd seen that effect enough times in his life to know what it would look like and smell like; he could make a good educated guess.
After giving up on sleep, he washed and dressed and left the room, leaving Toothless to his rest. It would be dawn soon, but he knew the harbor would already be full of life. He made his way to the trade ship -which he'd learned were called fluijt- that was almost ready to make the long sail all the way to the Viking Archipelago. Hiccup had spent quite a while with its captain, explaining the map he'd made and giving other instructions such as places to avoid, treacherous waters and the likes.
At this final stage, all that was left was to make a final count of the goods that were being transported, to make sure that nothing was missing or miscatalogued. Hiccup spent some hours doing that with the help of a few deckhands.
He did not leave the ship even when most of the other workers headed towards the castle. Apparently the Queen was going to address the people in the Courtyard, and everyone was excited to make sure she was alive.
Some time after that, when people began flooding out of the castle again, a servant found him on the ship and politely invited him to attend the Queen's impromptu court session, the first since before the attack in the castle. Hiccup -equally politely- refused and continued his work on the ship.
It was evening by the time Ernie tracked him down, up in the middle mast of the ship gazing out at the fjord. At this all the work had been done. The ship was ready and was set to sail the next morning. Hiccup had no more excuses. With a sigh he climbed down, joining his young aide on the deck.
In opposition to his fears, the blond man had no chastisement or words of caution to offer. Hiccup surveyed him. The bruises were gone and the cuts were healing nicely. Ernie actually looked rugged now, in a way. Any Viking would approve. Where was the fun without scars, after all?
"There is something I'd like to discuss with the Queen. Would you come with me?"
Hiccup blinked, not having expected such a request. "What's it about?"
"I'll explain in her office; I'd rather not say everything twice, if that's alright. I'd like you there."
Hiccup nodded. "Alright then."
"Can we go now? I was waiting for you to return but the appointment is coming up soon."
"Okay. Can I get changed before?"
"If you're fast."
They made their way back to the castle from the port. Hiccup did not miss the fact that people were staring at him as he passed. That in itself was unusual; he'd been given similar attention during the first weeks of his stay in Arendelle but lately -and especially without Toothless following him- that had receded to simple recognition.
Familiarity breeds acceptance, after all.
And yet now they looked as if they'd never seen him before, turning to talk to their fellows and point at him excitedly. It didn't look or sound malicious, Hiccup could tell when a crowd was being judgmental, but it was still weird and unexpected.
"Don't mind them," Ernie advised as they headed into the castle gates. The guards gave them a respectful bow as they passed. "They just heard the news today."
"That you're the reason our Queen is alive."
Hiccup had to bite his tongue to quell the immediate, harsh response the threatened to burst out. He did so hard enough to taste blood. He took a few seconds to clear his head and smooth his features from the dark glare they'd adopted.
Let them think what they want, he told himself as he slowed his breathing and calmed himself. Let them think he'd had any hand in Elsa's fate, if Elsa herself wanted them to think that. Those who mattered knew the truth.
It made sense, in a way. She clearly wanted to play him up as a useful ally to Arendelle. People on the cusp of war needed all they good news they could get.
They made their way back to Hiccup's quarters. Toothless was sunning himself out in the balcony and barely raised his head to greet him. Lazy ass.
To his surprise, the quarters were not empty. Sitting in a chair by a table was the wizened form of the castle's Head Supervisor, Alicia Gertrude.
"Lady," he spoke. "You find me unprepared."
"A thousand apologies for the intrusion," she as she rose to her feet -not without difficulty, Hiccup noted. She offered him a bow. "I wanted a word in private."
"Of course. Would you like refreshment?" he asked, motioning towards the number of bottles over the other side of the room. She waved him off.
"I abstain, these days. I don't have the tolerance or kidneys that I once had."
"I was Head Courtier at one point, you know."
No, he hadn't. The woman was smiling at him, as if guessing his disbelieving thoughts. He tried to picture this kindly presence, younger, in the role that Elai Marina now performed. He came up blank.
"A long time ago."
Hiccup motioned to a pair of chair but she shook her head. "I won't keep you," she said. "Just a quick word and a goodbye, since you're leaving tomorrow."
She bowed again, this time very deeply. Such that Hiccup moved forward in case he needed to help her stand again. She straightened very easily, making him feel silly for the thought.
"Thank you. You have brought much change and wrought much good in your short time here. You have been kind to the Princess and the Queen. You have taught the Queen much. I will be forever grateful. It shames me that I can think of no way of repaying you."
Hiccup pursed his lips, unsure how to take this. He didn't feel like she was mocking him. Indeed, he could read nothing but sincerity from her wrinkled smile. She truly meant it. For her sake, at least, he wouldn't make this a discussion.
"Okay," he said.
"I will miss you. I know the Queen will too, but we will both be grateful for your time here. Thank you for all you have done for her."
"I will miss your tea," Hiccup noted, remembering it fondly. "And our conversations."
"I hope to have them again, in this life or the next." She offered another respectful bow, and made with deliberate steps for the door.
She stopped at the threshold, turning to him with a questioning look.
"You don't have to keep your distance," he said. "If you trust my judgement, trust this. The Queen loves you as well. She had nothing but admiring words for you and General Mertok. You did as good a job as you could, after the accident. It didn't go unnoticed. She doesn't blame you. Neither of them do."
Her eyes had watered, but there was a smile forming on her face. She sniffed, bringing her hand up to her eyes, before excusing herself and leaving the room.
Ernie entered as she left, frowning at her retreating back.
"Did you make the Head Supervisor cry, Hiccup?"
"They were happy tears you dolt. Not that it's your business."
"Bullying the elderly is unbecoming."
"Bet you wouldn't say that to her face."
Ernie paused for a moment, before shrugging. "True enough."
Hiccup washed himself of the salt, grime and sweat, dressed in the clothes Ernie had set out for him, rolled up the Queen's gift and together the two left, heading for her office.
Hiccup noted the looks from the servants and steady nods the guards they passed gave him with a strange feeling in his chest.
Acceptance. Even after all these years, it still felt equal parts weird and exhilarating.
He did not protest when Ernie stopped him outside the door and stepped in to announce him, deciding to indulge him for this last time. The guards stepped aside to let him in, opening the doors wide as they did so.
He had prepared himself, but his breath still hitched in his throat as he walked in. There she was, sitting on her high chair, sparkling dress in place, gloved hands placed on the desk in front of her. Her hair was braided, her skin pale and smooth. He wanted to run the last bit of distance and touch her.
The bandages peeking out over the neckline of her dress drew him away towards more somber thoughts, visions of the nightmares that kept him up at night flashing before his eyes. He shook his head once to clear it.
She smiled, and he smiled back without meaning to.
"Chief Hiccup, Arnod, welcome," she said. She turned to the two guards standing in corners inside the office. "Leave us, please."
Hiccup might have expected a protest or hesitation, like before, but the guards only bowed and obeyed, giving him a nod as they passed, as well.
That would never not be strange.
The door closed behind them, leaving the three of them in her office.
"Ernie, just on time. I wasn't told you'd bring Hiccup to our appointment. This is a pleasant surprise."
"Apologies, your Majesty. I might have been refused."
She nodded, before turning to Hiccup and smiling again. "I'd half-thought I wasn't going to see you today. You've been avoiding me."
A stab of guilt. He hadn't meant to; really he hadn't. It was just … "I'm done with public hand-waving, court, or whatever else," he said. "I have time for you of course, if you wish it, but I'm officially done in Arendelle."
Her smile did not waver. "Of course, I understand. I had half a mind to arrange a feast in honor of your departure but circumstances and -I think- your own preferences do not permit."
He flashed a quick grin. "You know me well."
"I'm glad," she replied. "But let's not forget …" and she turned to Ernie. "You wanted to talk to me, master Sherner?"
Ernie pursed his lips, before offering another bow. "Yes, my Queen. Let me preface this with an apology, but I have a request."
"Well, don't apologize before telling me what you want. I'll do what I can. How can I help?"
"I would like to be relieved of my service."
As one, Hiccup and Elsa blinked, surprised. He hadn't expected that; clearly she hadn't either.
Ernie's head remained bowed, and he flinched. "I'm very sorry. But yes. I know I should be discussing this with my supervisor, or madam Gertrude, bit I felt it had to be you. If my Queen would allow me, I would like to pursue a different course."
Elsa didn't speak for a few moments and Hiccup noticed how she was worrying her bottom lip, obviously deep in thought. In the end, she let out a soft sigh.
"Well, I can't very well stop you, can I?"
"If my Queen says-"
"Oh stop it," she said, waving a dismissive hand. "If that's what you want to do, by all means. I suppose I should have expected that you'd want to return to your parents eventually. I'm sure they'll be happy to have you."
Upon remembering Sarah and Bermount Sherner Hiccup smiled. Yes, they would be happy. And Ernie would be, too, doubtless.
"I would like for what funds I have accumulated over my years of service to be sent over to them, but I do not intend to join my parents on the mountains. I hope that, in the fullness of time, they will forgive me."
Elsa's brow furrowed, mirroring Hiccup's own confusion.
"What is this about, then?" she asked. Before Ernie had a chance to answer she clicked her tongue in irritation. "Look up, Ernie. Look at me."
He did, straightening from his slight bow for the first time. Under the fading light from the Queen's balcony, his serrated scars seemed to highlight.
"Your Majesty will always be my queen but if he would have me, I would like to join Hiccup on the island of Berk."
When two pairs of eyes turned to look at him, Hiccup realized that he'd said that out loud. He cleared his throat. "Excuse me. Let me rephrase that. What?"
"I love my country, and appreciate my work in the castle, but I feel a calling I cannot explain. I wish to stay by Hiccup's side in the times to come."
Hiccup brought his fingers up the bridge of his nose, rubbing. What in Thor's name…
"Ernie I swear, if this is about Ruff, I will send you back one limb at a time."
The blond man frowned at him, before shaking his head. "I won't lie and say it won't be nice to see her again, but it's not about that. Really."
"Do not ask me to explain," Ernie said, his steady tone belying the uncertainty of his words. "I feel that my place should remain at your side. I feel I can be of more use, there."
"You still consider yourself my subject," Elsa noted, "and yet you would have to answer to him. Can you not see the conflict of interests?"
Ernie smiled, looking from Hiccup to Elsa and back again. "With all due respect, my Queen, I see no conflict here."
Hiccup turned to Elsa with a groan. "I promise you I had no idea he was planning this, nor did I encourage or suggest such an action in any way."
"I believe you," she replied. Hiccup thought she was taking this rather well. "And despite what Ernie seems to be thinking, he's a free man. He can go as he pleases. Even abroad, since we'll be aware of his whereabouts and I trust him not to betray us."
"I can't believe you're letting him do this!" Hiccup cried. "This is … this is a phase! He'll regret it a month in when he's freezes his d-"
"I won't," Ernie cut him off. "I would appreciate your permission to join you in your lands, and I thought you'd know me enough to not think I'd make that decision lightly."
Hiccup huffed. "You want to be a Viking?"
Ernie hesitated, and Hiccup recognized the hope shining under the veneer of manners. "Is there no place for foreigners in the tribes?" he said, in place of the yes Hiccup saw written all over his face.
Hiccup run a hand through his hair.
"Let us think of the more practical side, rather," the Queen queried. "How would you reach Berk?"
"I will withhold enough gold from my salaries to book passage on the Stary Ocean. I will do what work they deem me fit for on the ship until we eventually reach-"
"Oh, cut the crap," Hiccup cut him, irritation bleeding into his voice as once again rubbed at his eyes. Yup, definitely a headache.
"Don't excuse me. If you're coming, you know damn well that you're not going by ship. If you're going to do this, you're riding on Toothless with me. Let's see if you'll want to ride the ship back to Arendelle after a couple weeks of straight flying, eh?"
Ernie's face bloomed into a wide smile despite the youth's best effort, and Hiccup felt the immense urge to somehow wipe it off.
"I'm not saying it's not a stupid thing to do, nor am I saying that I'll necessarily allow it. We're at war, if you'll remember. The ice will melt soon and that war will resume. It won't be a picnic. The archipelago is nothing like Arendelle- and I mean no offense, Elsa. In fact, this is the opposite of offensive. You'll be much better off here."
"I am aware of the situation, I have not forgotten," Ernie said, steadily. "I still wish to come. Perhaps I might even be of use. Will you permit it?"
Hiccup turned to Elsa again, pleading for some sanity in this madness. When he saw her smile, he realized that there was none to be found in this office today.
Certainly not from him.
"I can't guarantee you'll survive the year."
"I'm not asking you to."
"Hel, I can't guarantee you'll survive Ruffnut."
"I'm sure I'll make do."
"If you're dreaming about a dragon of your own, it might not even happen. There's no saying for certain."
"I … I actually hadn't thought about that," Ernie admitted. "A dragon of my own? You're saying it could be possible?" his eyes had grown wide, excited and hopeful, and Hiccup realized his mistake.
"Okay. Okay fine and will you stop smiling?" he all but shouted as he pointed an accusatory finger at Elsa's smug expression. "I'm stealing your employee here! He's stealing himself. Stop him or something!"
"I think not. You said it yourself, after all. If you fly him there, he'll have a few weeks to decide if he wants to stay or head back with the ship, no?"
Hiccup's eyes went wide, his fingers flexing uncomfortably. "You-... stop using my words against me! Whose side are you on?"
"The fun side."
"Wha-, since when am I not the fun side?"
Ernie cleared his throat and Elsa's retort died in her mouth as they both turned to him.
"If I could be excused, I'd like to go pack my things, procure what I am missing and prepare my letter and package to my parents."
"Yes, yes. Excused."
"Thank you, your Grace. Hiccup," with a bow to each of them, Ernie turned and left, closing the door behind him and leaving them alone. With a long-suffering sigh, Hiccup plopped himself on the chair in front of her desk and burying his head in his hands in a way he hoped was rather dramatic.
"Oh, don't be such a baby."
"This is your fault!" Hiccup accused, not raising his head. "You planned this somehow."
"Drama doesn't suit you."
At this he did raise his head to give her an indignant look. "My middle name is drama!"
"Mine is Jean."
Whatever Hiccup was about to stay never left his throat. He stared for a second, before narrowing his eyes. "You're messing with me."
She smiled, examining her fingernails. They must be so interesting at such a time; and she called him dramatic!
"You must be. There was no mention of a middle name in the records I read."
"Jean Anayreene Klovo, to be precise."
Hiccup blinked. Her smile could mean anything. Surely she was fucking with him?
Still unsure, Hiccup started laughing, unable to hold it back. The melodious sound of her own laughter joined his. He felt himself lighter as the unexplained bout died down, and found a soft smile remain without effort.
Elsa got up from her chair, pushing it back, and walked around her desk. She took him by the hand he rose, following her to the small, comfortable couch along the left length of her office, where they sat next to each other.
The silence stayed for a minute, or perhaps longer. Elsa leaned on his shoulder, he wrapped his arm around her and she placed hers -magical, unnatural, perfect- on his torso. All he had to do was lean just a bit forward to place kiss to the top of her head. It was comfortable. It was nice. They stayed like that for a few minutes. Hiccup didn't want to break the silence, content to bask in her presence. Perhaps she felt the same.
"I'm sorry I didn't show up today," he spoke eventually, softly enough that it was barely heard over her hair.
"I did miss you."
"Yeah. Me too."
"Ernie loves you," she told him. "He believes in you. Wants to protect you. It's admirable."
"It's stupid," Hiccup said with a sigh. "He won't be able to help himself, never mind me."
"He learns quickly, he'll be fine. Besides, I'm sure you'll protect him."
"Then he will be fine."
Hiccup couldn't the frustrated growl. "Why do people think I can protect them?" he complained, not particularly to Elsa herself. "I keep failing, and yet they keep thinking I can somehow work miracles."
"But you do. Sometimes small ones, and sometimes much, much larger."
He shook his head. "I can't protect anyone, Elsa. You're wrong to trust me. Gods know, I've tried."
Elsa sighed again into his chest.
"Drama really doesn't suit you, love." And she looked up, pushing herself just so and letting their lips touch.
Well, he wasn't going to continue that line of conversation after that.
They kissed for a while and Hiccup let the moment take over, washing away thoughts, worries or hopes. It felt nice. Besides the act itself, to hold Elsa there and to know that she was safe. That in this moment, she was his and he was hers.
Anna had been right. If he'd left without sharing such a moment with her he would have regretted it all his life.
A while later, when Elsa was fixing her braid, he watched as she finally turned her eyes to the rolled up parchment he'd brought and placed by the desk.
"And what is that?" she asked him.
"Remember that day in the garden?"
She nodded, eyes widening slightly. "This is my gift?"
"It is. And it's ready. Take a look."
Rather than getting up to get it, he watched as Elsa extended her gloved left hand. A slither of hard frost looped around the parchment, floating it over until she deftly caught it.
"Neat," he noted, which went ignored as she unfurled the long parchment, slowly revealing his work.
He watched like a hawk for her reaction. Eyes wide, mouth opening slightly in shock. Hiccup smiled. That was more like it.
"Hiccup … this is…"
She ran her right hand slowly over the surface, and Hiccup looked down at it, too. There they were, the two of them, drawn on parchment a meter long. Hiccup's image wearing the riding gear, Elsa's counterpart in her favorite icy dress, arms wrapped around each other in a gentle hug, foreheads touching just so, content smiles on both their faces.
He'd had to go the extra mile to seek out the proper craftsmen for the colored ink that he needed for this, as neither charcoal nor monochrome black ink would do. He'd almost never worked with colors before, but he was very satisfied with the outcome.
"This is amazing," she breathed, and Hiccup couldn't help the smug, proud smile at her awed tone. She still slowly run her fingers over it, as if to confirm that it was really there.
"It took a lot of work. I'd like you to keep it, as a reminder that no matter what happens, this here?" As he said this, he gently took her right hand in both of his, and Elsa's eyes finally turned to look at him, expression earnest and shocked.
"This moment? No matter what, we've had these moments together and nothing can take that away from us. I want you to keep this, and remember."
With trembling hands Elsa reverently picked up the artwork and got to her feet. Hiccup followed as she gently laid it on her desk, as if it were made of crystal and could break at any moment.
"I will treasure this always."
She turned to him, revealing misty eyes and trembling lips. He heard her sniff, and couldn't hold back a laugh as she hugged him, squeezing. As if she couldn't stand the distance between them. He gladly reciprocated.
"Will you stay with me tonight?" she whispered into his chest.
Hiccup hummed, as if in consideration. "I would ask for a song in return."
She looked up at him, as if surprised that he asked. It made little sense to him. She had a beautiful singing voice; he'd hear as many as she could handle to sing before he left.
With another sniff, Elsa nodded. Though her eyes were watering, she was smiling widely. Her smile was infectious.
"There's yet some time for making memories."
She woke up slowly, roused by sense of wrongness. Of something … missing. Her hands -flesh and magic both- patted around the sheets even before her eyes opened or her mind realized what they were looking for.
"Rise and shine."
The voice plunged her to wakefulness, and she let out a groan as she sat up against the pillows, rubbing at her bleary eyes with the back of her warm right palm.
"Hiccup?" she mumbled.
"Not quite, sister."
She froze, ceasing her rubbing as she finally filtered Anna's voice. She opened her eyes and saw her sister, fully dressed, by her bedside. Anna smiled wanly. "Good morning."
Elsa turned to her left where she had last seen him, sleeping besides her. Nothing. She scanned the room. No clothes, no sign. Nothing.
A horrible sensation gripped her, not unlike what she'd felt when she was falling from the heavens to her death.
Her fingers reflexively gripped the sheet tight. It started gaining a white, frosty hue.
"No," she breathed. "No no no-"
"Calm yourself," she heard Anna's rather distracting voice, even as her hand came in front of her eyes and waved this way and that. She turned to look at the redhead. "He hasn't left yet."
Elsa hadn't realized that she'd been holding her breath until that moment, when her chest finally started moving and she took in air. Her heart threatened to burst out from her chest.
"Where is he?"
"In the top tower. They're ready. Waiting, now."
Elsa took a few more moments to collect herself, clear her mind of cobwebs and think. What had happened? They returned to her quarters. She had … she had sang. Then again. And then she had exacted her price for the performance.
She shook her head once.
"Send them in. I'll prepare. In the meantime, I want you to go to my office and bring me Hiccup's drawing from the table."
"What's it look like?"
"You can't miss it. Be careful with it though."
"Alright. And you … you might want to put something on."
Looking down, Elsa sighed. Of course she was naked.
"Just … go."
Chuckling, her sister left her quarters. Elsa had enough time to get up, wash her before doing as suggested and wearing something. Her handmaidens entered and helped her bathe, dress and do her hair. For the occasion, Elsa chose her favorite dress, the one Hiccup had depicted her in.
One last memory to be had, perhaps.
When she was ready she left her quarters, finding Anna outside, holding onto the art piece very gently.
"You should have this framed."
"I plan to," she replied as the two started heading toward the staircase. As they passed the corridors, Elsa would look outside the window. Over north, the mountains looked, white and inviting.
"Not that look again."
Elsa shook her head, before turning back to Anna. "Once this war business is done, I'll have to go there," she said. "There are aspects of my powers that I need to explore, and I can't do that here."
"Can we not talk about that right now? You looked outside, but you didn't really see. Take your mind off the clouds and look down."
Elsa did, leaning forward to do so. Far below, in the courtyard, what she saw surprised her. The courtyard was filled to the brim with people. Over half of Arendelle must have been gathered there.
"It's barely dawn," she muttered as she stepped back and they resumed their walk. "What's going on? What's everyone doing?"
"Rumors say that the Chief is leaving today. They're here to say goodbye."
Elsa's eyes immediately narrowed. Anna had the worst poker face.
"Rumors say, huh?" she repeated, disbelieving. Anna smiled, the picture of innocence, and thus revealed her hand.
"Does it matter?"
Elsa shook her head. If her people wanted to show gratitude, far be it for her to stop them.
The higher one goes up the main staircase of Arendelle Castle, the smaller the staircase became. As one went up the floors became smaller, less populated, mainly servant quarters for those stationed to the upper floors, storage facilities, or empty rooms and corridors ready to be manned in case of a siege.
At the very top of the castle a solitary turret soars far above its larger brethren. Its purpose is naught but the view, and a commanding, magnificent view it is, granting clear sight all through the plans and the edge of fjords. To get there, one must leave the main staircase on the last floor it reaches and take a smaller, winder one that goes up the inside of the turret.
Elsa rather doubted that Toothless could fit in there. Surely they had not walked to such a spot.
The ascension was not easy, and they had to take a small break to catch their breaths halfway. Finally, mercifully, they found the door that led to the top.
Elsa opened it, a smile already forming, only to dissipate at the sight of empty cobblestone and clear skies.
She couldn't help the small cry as she took a step forward. Surely … surely they weren't too late?
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it."
She exhaled in relief at the familiar voice, the smile returning as she turned to face him. He'd been leaning against the wall that formed the doorway, just outside of her vision. The passage similarly blocked Toothless' form, who was taking up half the tower top as he lay there, fully equipped in his saddlebags and gear.
"Well," she said, "all of Arendelle has gathered to say their farewells. It would be inappropriate for the Queen to be missing."
He looked so similar to when she first saw him, that fateful day. Same leather armor, helmet tucked under his arm, sword at his waist and bow unstrung and tightly set into the backpack he carried. Similar, yet different. More scars lined his face; reminders of the dangers he'd faced while under her protection. Still dangerous, but no longer threatening. A welcome sight rather than a strange one.
Before much more could be said, Anna flung herself forward and hugged him, crying openly. Hiccup laughed as he took several steps backwards from her momentum. He took some time to pat her back as Anna tearfully exclaimed words and feelings without hesitation or thought. Elsa envied her that ability.
She tuned out her sister's tearful goodbye, focusing her attention on steeling herself. This was it. This was the final goodbye. Anything that should be said, now was the time. How could she put everything that she felt and wanted to convey in words? Would words even help, at this point?
Down below, the city gathered in the courtyard steered. Over by the harbor, the Starry Ocean slowly meandered its way towards the openings of the fjord.
She had a war on her doorstep, and he had another to face back home. Distractions would not help either endeavor. And yet …
She was broken out of her thoughts by something nudging her side, causing her to jolt in surprise. She laid eyes on the dragon Toothless, earflaps flat on his head, poking her gently with his snout and crooning.
She regarded him carefully. They had never seen eye to eye. The beast had given her nightmares for weeks. And yet, he was Hiccup's lifelong companion. He had saved her sister. Had saved her, if Anna was to be believed.
Most importantly, they both loved the same person, albeit in different ways. There was a bond to be found there, if she cared to look for it.
Tentatively, she placed her gloved left hand on his snout, receiving a soft snort in response.
"You take care of him," she said. "Alright?"
"No more falling out of the sky for fun, agreed?"
A huff. Elsa pursed her lips. She might have been tempted to insist, but Anna chose that moment to return her side, make-up absolutely ruined by tears. She pulled Elsa into a quick hug, before withdrawing just as quickly. She pushed the furled artwork in Elsa's hands before wiping at her eyes.
"I'll just … wait over there." Then she turned to Toothless, who was looking at her wide-eyed, clearly confused at seeing her distraught. At the edge of control Anna lost it again, wrapping her arms around Toothless' neck with the same cry as she had Hiccup, earlier.
Funnily enough, it had the same effect of making the dragon backtrack, though more out of bewilderment than anything. Elsa smiled. Calmer now, she walked to join Hiccup.
Their hands linked and for a while they said nothing, looking at each other and affirming something that she was hard-pressed to put into words.
"I'm pants at this," Hiccup admitted with a wince. "I don't do goodbyes."
"They're very conductive to empty promises, and I hate those. They assume that everything will go according to plan, which it never does. Moreover, they assume that our minds will never change, of which there is no guarantee."
She placed a palm on his chest, and he stopped talking only to let out a sigh.
"Alright," he said eventually. "Maybe some, small promises."
"I can't predict what will happen, but I can tell you what I'll try to do."
Elsa waited in silence, faint smile remaining. She liked the look he got when he was deep in thought; as if the world around him was a distraction from the real issue at hand.
"I'll do my best to win my war. If I do I'll do my best to see you again, in whatever capacity circumstances allow us. And …"
Elsa didn't like the frown on his face, or his pursed lips. She reached a hand up, running her fingers to the side of his scarred cheek. Hiccup cupped her hand in his.
"And I will never, ever forget you." He nodded, as if to himself. "I think that these promises I can safely make."
Her smile widened, and she was pleased to see that he mirrored her. "Those three vows I can also take," she said. "It seems our interest are aligned."
He kissed her then, and she accepted it gladly, putting her free hand in his hair.
They let go not long after; the time for such expressions had come and gone.
"It occurs to me," Elsa said when the silence stretched, "that while I have this to remember you by," she lightly shook the furled drawing of the two of them, "you have nothing of mine."
"I won't need it."
"Regardless, I have something to offer." She opened the parchment, revealing Hiccup's masterpiece to the dawn sunlight. "Hold this, please."
Clearly confused, Hiccup held the edges and she let go. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, removed her gloves and placed her left -ice and magic- hand over their depictions.
Reaching to the oceans of magic within her felt easier now. More familiar. Possibilities stretched endless, and yet it was one particular effect; however accidental, that she sought to recreate and at the same time tweak.
She heard Hiccup's gasp and opened her eyes. Her hand of ice was glowing a faint blue. Frost was swirling in lazy currents over the surface of the drawing, before gather beneath her palm, embedding itself in the drawing and outlining a figure.
Feeling the sorcery take, Elsa slowly raised her hand. Her malleable ice obeyed, forming small shapes beneath her palm as it moved. The swirling frost sped up before sticking to the form, even as they coalesced and shaped themselves.
After a few seconds, the process was completed and Elsa took in a deep breath.
Lightly standing on the spread out parchment was an ice sculpture of her, perfectly recreated from Hiccup's masterpiece, barely ten centimeters high.
Hiccup's gobsmacked expression made her snicker despite herself, which in turn seemed to snap him out of his daze.
Then, then sculpture moved. Her little copy blinked, looked down at herself, and did a little turn. Her tiny, pupil-less eyes eventually found Elsa.
There was an understanding between them.
They spent a few more seconds watching the ice copy. It did not speak, and moved little beyond its initial assessment of her new state.
"Is she… alive? Like Olaf?"
"Not quite," she replied. "She is a reflection. Like a moment, captured in a mirror or depicted in art, given life. She is … what you drew."
She extended her hand, palm up, next to the sculpture. It turned to look at her hand, before ice-Elsa climbed on her open palm. Carefully, Elsa deposited her copy on Hiccup's shoulder.
Her copy turned to Hiccup, whose face was staring at her from just a few centimeters away. Ice-Elsa extended her hand, touching it to his cheek, eliciting a hitched breath. Her sculpture smiled, then, and settled more comfortably on his shoulder.
Hiccup turned towards her, finally looking away from the moving ice sculpture on his shoulder.
"Remember, she is a reflection, as we are on this moment. Like your painting, only moving."
Hiccup processed this, then eventually gave a nod. She could tell the display of magic unnerved him, and she recalled his initial reaction to learning that she could grant life, create beings like Olaf. Had she made a mistake?
"I suppose I'll keep a literal part of you with me."
She chuckled. "Call it vain if you must, but hopefully this way you'll remember me … more clearly."
Their hands twined. "Yeah," he muttered.
Perhaps either of them might have said something more eventually, but the silence was broken from the door opening again. Elsa turned to see, and for a moment did not recognize the newcomer.
Dressed in hard leather, large backpack shouldered and hair cut even shorter than before, Ernie was almost unrecognizable. She had been so used to seeing him in a servant's uniform and stance, that she was surprised by how … taller, he looked. Broader, perhaps. Her mind was playing tricks on her.
Ernie surveyed the scene and sighed. "I have the worst timing."
Elsa shook her head. "It's fine," she said, though it pained her to do so. She turned to look back at Hiccup. "We were about done, no?"
Hiccup smiled; a sad little thing. "Yeah," he muttered.
He kissed her, then. None of the fiery, passionate kisses they'd shared before that sheared her flesh and emptied her mind. This was slow and comparatively tame, and yet it conveyed what neither of them had the courage to say.
It tasted like goodbye.
"Stay safe, yeah?" he muttered once their lips parts but their foreheads still touched. She pursed her lips, tasting the mint; a familiar taste by now.
"You as well."
Hiccup took a step back and after another lingering look, broken only by Anna's quiet crying, tore his gaze away from hers.
"Get on, Ernie."
He moved around her and Elsa let him, not turning, too numb to move even as he left her line of vision. This was happening. This was it.
She heard, from behind her, the sound of shuffling as Hiccup instructed Ernie on proper positioning and tied him to the harness. She heard the clip that she knew signified Hiccup's prosthetic sliding into position.
Anna's arms wrapped around her shoulders. Elsa watched the tears stream down Anna's face, surprised that she herself had kept her cool as she had.
Shadow covered her as Toothless spread his wings. Then silence. She didn't turn.
She heard the scraping of claws on cobblestone a moment before the gust of wind hit them, flapping their dresses and hair as Toothless went airborne.
"Elsa?" Anna queried, hesitantly. Elsa did not respond, but she was startled out of her thoughts when she heard the first blast of fireworks go off. They both turned and moved to the edge of the tower to peer down.
Far below, from the courtyard, the people of Arendelle were setting off fireworks of all shapes and colors, lighting up the morning sky and creating a racket of noise. Amid the flashes of colors she saw the shape of Toothless and the glint of light on Hiccup's armor as they gained altitude.
As if in response to the fireworks, a roar the likes of which she'd heard only once before filled the valley. A blue fireball was launched from the darting blackness which rocketed skyward for a few seconds before exploding in blue and purple flames, Toothless' own form of salute.
Elsa watched, arms wrapped around herself and her sister holding her close as Hiccup and Toothless grew smaller and smaller.
The fireworks petered out, then stopped entirely. Far below, the people began to disperse. The Starry Ocean cleared the fjords, sailing steadily.
The only sound still remaining were Anna's harsh breaths as collected herself. Her reaction had surprised Elsa; she hadn't quite realized that they'd been such good friends already. Then again, Anna had always been quick to love and be loved.
Far in the distance, the shape vanished among the white mountains.
Elsa let out a heavy exhale. She would allow herself a few more moments up here; but then she had to get down. Find her council. Brief herself on the situation. There was a war to be won. Lessons to be taught.
There was an excitement bubbling in her stomach. A future, glimmering in the distance. The road would be long and harsh, yet ...
"Elsa?" Anna's query drew her wandering gaze to her sister.
Elsa blinked. "Am I?"
Elsa did not respond, only wrapped her arms around herself a bit tighter.
"We will see him again," she said, surprising herself with the confidence she exuded. "I know it."
Anna's puffy eyes narrowed slightly.
"I know that look," her sister accused. "You're having crazy thoughts, aren't you?"
Elsa's gaze turned northward as the light of the dawn crept over the valley and the mountains, far in the distance. The view from up here was something else.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Not crazy." When was the last time she'd done something crazy?
At this, Elsa smiled.
~A Chance Encounter~
Many thanks to everyone who has been along for the journey, especially to those few who were especially helpful, as well as the the one without which this story would be nothing like what you see today. You know who you are.
This fic, in many ways, has seen me through many stages of my life, and reflects some of my first attempts at a long, serious story. I have written -and finished- others in the time between this fic starting and ending, but my thoughts would always return to this, and to the conclusion I'd envisioned. I hope I've done it justice.
It's been a fun four years. Our story ends here, but Hiccup and Elsa's stories are, in many ways, just beginning.