Ok, guys. Be excited. I like this chapter too much. But it is a long one.

00000

Astrid stands carefully on two even feet, stretching her right knee blissfully straight and leaning her hips forward against the marble counter top. She can't remember the last time that she made pancakes from a recipe, because she's normally moving too fast and her stomach is growling too loud to stop and measure, but something about this feels…deserving of perfection. She smiles, a bit giddy, and crosses the kitchen on those two semi-capable feet.

Walking is blissful.

It was arguably in the top ten best moments of her life when she rolled out of bed this morning and stood, stiff but absolutely ignoring her crutches.

Walking is…enough for now.

After last night, and all of its likely leg stretching benefits, she thinks that she has a decent chance talking Hiccup into this ridiculous ad campaign. She wouldn't have to rush back into shape. She could take her time and somehow still magically have that money and all of the ties to her future.

Hiccup is doing the absolute opposite of holding her back, and she's trying to figure out a way to say it without being naked.

Not that being naked wasn't nice. Being naked was very nice.

She plans to be naked again now that she can stand properly. For hours.

After dumping a quarter cup of oil into the still thick batter, she stirs the last ingredient into the paste with a rubber spatula, smiling to herself at the slightly lumpy consistency. It's perfect for pancakes, even with those seeming imperfections, and if she were to spend any more time whipping it into shape it would end up tough and chewy and there would be no fixing it.

She'll run again. She knows she will just like there's some primal place inside of her that knows the sun will rise tomorrow. But it's oddly freeing to be out from under that ticking clock thumb, to relish in the current almost stability underneath her.

No, it doesn't feel right. She feels strange and too dense, floating above a joint that remains unsure whether it will continue to act like one, but there's a sort of promise to the position, like the bad first test grades that Hiccup forced her to eventually see as room for improvement. This will get better. She will build it back until she can't tell that it was ever hurt.

The pancake batter sizzles when it hits the pan and she hums to herself, dropping chocolate chips into the still gooey side and watching them spread and melt against the creamy base. Toothless's wet nose bumps against her thigh, discernible from Spike's only by its height, and she looks down into bright eyes, patting the top of his head with an open palm.

"Good morning," she greets, popping a chocolate chip into her mouth and frowning slightly at his envious stare. "No chocolate for you. I like you too much." By the time he's momentarily satisfied with her rubbing of his ears, the pancakes are bubbling in the center and Astrid flips them, drooling a bit at the sweet smell of chocolate searing against the hot pan. "So, not sleeping in with Hiccup this morning, eh?"

She's as crazy as her boyfriend, chatting with a dog.

Toothless sits at her feet, chin on the side of her hip as he thumps a long bushy tail against the floor, staring at the half full bowl of batter expectantly. Astrid sighs and scoops some onto her finger, holding it out for the wolf to lovingly lick off.

"Don't tell Hiccup, alright? You're supposed to be on a diet," she scoffs and eats a handful of the chocolate, carefully checking the edge of a pancake with her spatula and flipping them out onto a plate on the counter. "Then again, I'm supposed to be on a diet too." The wolf wags again, drooling a single gooey rivulet down his chin as she pours the final batch of batter into the pan and sprinkles with chocolate chips, taking another few for herself. After a moment of silent deliberation, she sets the bowl on the floor and smiles as Toothless tucks in, cleaning it with a vigorous tongue. "Now you can't tell Spike either. I always let her lick the bowl, but I guess she chose to sleep in this morning. Not that I can blame her, Hiccup's bed is the most comfortable," she nudges the bowl closer to Toothless with a blissfully functional foot when he jars from his easy reach. "Tonight, right? I get to sleep there tonight—and don't even start with me. Your bed on the floor is plenty comfortable, and you always sneak back up by morning."

His look is anything but understanding and he looks at the bowl like it's absolutely unacceptable that it hasn't refilled itself. She picks it up off of the ground with an eye roll that the dog surely understands and sets it in the sink.

"Spoiled. I keep telling Hiccup that you're crazy spoiled," Astrid nudges him away from the handle of her spatula with a refreshingly fluid right hip. "And you're a menace. Yeah, really, a menace. Don't look at me like that," she shakes her head, reaching out and flipping the pancakes for a final cook, shoving past Toothless as gently as she can to pull the butter out of the fridge and smear a streak across the still warm pancakes on the plate. "You take up half the kitchen with those paws," she nudges at his lone set of front toes and grins at his dopey look that almost nears embarrassment. "I like your huge paws. They just…manage to take up a lot of floor, alright?" After stacking the remaining pancakes onto the plates and turning off the stove, she tucks the syrup under an armpit and looks levelly down at the wolf. "You're going to let me carry this, and not trip me all the way down the hallway, ok? Ok, you got me."

Toothless left Hiccup's door wide open and Astrid traipses inside, steps even but slow, before pausing by the foot of his bed. Spike is curled up, boxy head on his shoulder in Astrid's favorite spot to rest her own, eyes squinting and twitching in the midst of some mysterious doggy dream. Hiccup is somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, an idle sloppy hand patting Spike's grey haunch in an uneven rhythm.

Toothless shatters the calm with a leaping bound onto the bed, punching Hiccup in the ribs and scaring Spike awake with an ear shattering yelp. Hiccup groans and hugs the wolf's head to his throbbing stomach, coughing into the thick fur at the back of his neck.

"Bud. Bud, down. Come on," he pats the dog on the side of his ribs, patting the bed beside his shortened leg and letting out a final deep wheeze when the wolf flops down. He squints eyes shut and lays back against his pillow, sighing happily to himself as Spike curls back up against his side, tail thumping while she stares at Astrid.

"Good morning," she greets after a moment and Hiccup props himself back up onto sleepy elbows, grinning at the plates in her hands.

"Oh, crap, good morning," he sits up fully and gives Toothless a stern silent look until the wolf jumps down onto the floor. Spike leaves the bed willingly, wagging around Astrid's feet and licking at her bare calves. "You made breakfast?"

"I was craving some pancakes, and I can walk today," she shrugs and it's wonderful to not feel the need to act nonchalant.

"Toothless, down," Hiccup orders, pointing at the floor and engaging in a nearly futile staring contest with the wolf. After a defiant fifteen seconds, he slinks to the floor and offers a half-hearted apology to a still moping Spike before the two dogs curl up at opposite ends of their padded bed on the floor. "Sit," he directs this command at Astrid, patting the bed beside him and she steps close with a fond roll of her eyes.

She's not a dog, but it doesn't feel like the time to bring it up.

They juggle the plates and bottle of syrup as Astrid climbs into bed beside him in front of her normal pillow, stiff leg stretched out in front of them.

"When do you have class today?" She asks, gently nudging his shoulder with hers and checking the clock. Eight thirty doesn't seem early to her, but it might as well still be dark out considering Hiccup's usual schedule.

"Not until eleven," he shrugs, smiling at the clock. "And for once, I'm not in a hurry, so thank you." He frowns and rubs at the probably bruising Toothless punch on his stomach. "But that was quite the wake up."

"I had something gentler planned," Astrid laughs, using the syrup and setting the bottle aside on his bedside table.

"Next time make him promise not to do that."

"He'd already promised not to trip me down the hallway," she grins, "I opted not to push my luck."

"Good point, but I don't think my pancreas is ever going to be the same," he stops to take a big bite of the pancakes and hums appreciatively. "These are good, thank you."

"It's no big deal. I was excited to walk somewhere, even if it was just the kitchen."

"How's it feeling?" He glances towards her still wrapped knee, relieved at the lack of visible swelling.

"Good," she wiggles her toes and flexes her heel as far as she can with the currently stiff, tight joint. "A little…stubborn, but it doesn't hurt."

"I'm glad. Don't go crazy on it while I'm gone, alright?" He tries to keep his tone light, but she can tell he's genuinely nervous and frowns.

"I'm thinking a short walk with the dogs, they could use the exercise," her face cracks into a sheepish grin. "Toothless broke his diet this morning."

"He did?" Hiccup snorts.

"I had no choice, he used the huge, shiny eye technique on me."

"The old huge, shiny eye defense. I'm shocked you're still breathing," he shakes his head at the wolf and Astrid nudges him again with her shoulder, lingering for a warm second.

"It was a close one."

They sit in silence for a few moments then set their plates aside, hopefully out of range of searching canines with surprisingly long reach. Astrid slumps down into the blankets on her side of his bed, wiggling her feet under the comforter and getting comfortable. Hiccup yawns just looking at her.

"So, what was breakfast really about?" He asks, smiling to himself as her hand sneaks over to lace with his.

"You never held me back," she admits quietly, maintaining almost cautious eye contact. "You were just being…reasonable. I was being crazy."

"You did think that Ruff was right."

"I wanted her to be right," Astrid curls in on herself, good knee curling to her midsection as Hiccup's fingers tighten around hers. "Because she was so confident about all of this, about me, but I knew she wasn't."

"I wish she were right too," Hiccup nods, setting his jaw forward and remaining resolute. "But you need time."

"Which is why you're doing this with me," she manages a smile, scooting a little closer and resting her temple on his thigh through the blankets. He brushes tangled bed head back from her face with his free hand and she sighs. "I know it's not your favorite idea—"

"That's not it," he cuts her off, fingers drumming lightly on her scalp as he thinks. "It's—It's all about my leg, isn't it?"

"If you don't want to…" Astrid frowns, biting her lip. "I hadn't thought about it that way."

"I don't—I mean," he sighs, the words difficult to find and slower than normal. "I don't know how I feel about all of these parallels they're—you're not like me."

He thought about it a lot the night before, struggling to go to sleep even though he should have been thoroughly exhausted. This entire scheme is based on some incorrect foundation that he and Astrid share something damaged and in his case cemented.

She's going to get better and he's not.

It's not necessarily jealousy, but it's something close to it. The feeling he gets when she goes to bed early and he's stuck staying up late doing homework.

He's so unbelievably happy for her that this is going to work out, that her entire life isn't going to be altered by this bad luck injury, but all he can think is that everything changed for him with one misstep. One step to the right or left and he would have been fine. Three feet away from the curb and Astrid would be untouched.

"What do you mean I'm not like you?" She frowns, drawing slow circles and long lines on his good knee, tickling his skin even through layers of blankets. "Because I—we're sort of in the same boat right now. No one else asks me how my knee is doing today, it's just how's it doing period. Everyone else thinks it's some continuous upslope when it's really—"

"A day to day thing," he finishes the sentence, hand sliding down to grip her shoulder and fiddle with the soft sleeve of her shirt. "I know—I'm not going to get better, Astrid."

"I'd rather be permanently broken than fixed and not as good as before," she admits. "At least you're—everything you do is more than people expect. Everyone—I used to be great, and I want to be great again but what if I can't?"

"So you're saying you'd rather be on crutches forever than never run some insane five minute mile again?" The question hangs in the air, the answer indefinably crucial.

"Absolutely," she glowers at his mismatched feet under the covers. "And I'm not trying to belittle your leg, not at all, I just—"

"It's an excuse," he attempts to understand, chocolate taste still sweet and incongruous on the back of his tongue. She nods slowly against him, good knee curling closer to her chest. "But it's not—"

"If you could choose—If you could go back and never lose your leg, would you?"

"Of course—I—" he starts before faltering unexpectedly, mouth flapping a few times before he stops to think. "By never lose my leg, what do you mean? As in, not save Spike or somehow land three feet to the left?"

"Either? Both?" She shrugs, staring at the feet and trying to remember what it looked like when he had two.

Less original. Less Hiccup. More…normal.

"I don't regret running in there, but I do wish I'd landed somewhere else. I wish that rock hadn't hit me, I—" he reaches up and fingers the scar, now flat and shiny against his forehead, hidden by his hair.

"I don't know if you'd still be you," Astrid admits, drumming her fingers against his leg before stretching her arm out and cupping the edge of his stump. "I don't know if you would have…"

"Filled out?" He laughs, staring at her fingers curled around that space that seems so natural and so wrong at the same time.

"No-I don't know if you would be so determined. I don't know if you would have…" she swallows hard and smoothes a thumb over the edge of his shortened shin. "I don't know if we would have made it, if you would have stuck it out when I was…dealing with things. You became this guy who doesn't—No matter how upset I am about something, you're stable and—You're different because of it. I don't know if it's better, but it's different."

"You can't know that."

"I can guess it," Astrid nods. "You're different, and I love you. So I'd be really disappointed if you hadn't…changed."

"You can't blame me for thinking about it," Hiccup sighs, still mesmerized by her fingers, so lovingly curled around him.

"I can't," she nods, giving his leg one last stroke and pulling her arm back respectfully. "But if you don't want to do this thing with me, I understand." She sits up, grinning at him. "No matter how much time I spent convincing you yesterday."

"Oh, I'll still do it with you," he smiles. "Because you're going to take your time, and get better, and be great again."

"Because of you," she admits with a resolute nod.

"Thanks, Astrid."

"Hey, you can always talk to me about this stuff."

He thinks of when he didn't used to be able to, when there was that wall of misunderstanding between them, and is unbelievably glad for the clear air between them now.

"Thanks anyway."

"Well, we gimps have to stick together."

Astrid never thought she'd see the day that Hiccup would roll his eyes at one of her dumb leg jokes.

00000

It's a window to an alternate universe, watching Hiccup suit clad and devious, bent over an open laptop perusing a set of carefully compiled talking points. She imagines how proud his father would be and is a little infuriated with the fact that this really is so unbelievably easy for him.

The arguing just comes naturally.

She's glad to have him on her side, but she can't say she's particularly overjoyed to be sitting here feeling demure. He's still determined to win, to argue that unused contract further, to get something else for her. She's sure that he just wants to be right, that some deep-seated competitive instinct is keeping him from lying down until someone changes their mind.

Not to mention that he and Fishlegs spent hours last weekend pouring over NCAA records and compiling a series of statistics.

He pulls up a spreadsheet of their findings that practically deters her eyes with its dense numbers, and rifles through a column of numbers, annotating beside them in green text. She reads over his shoulder for a minute before she reconciles the '80% chance of returning to pre-fall condition' with herself.

80% seems low.

It's his strategy to postpone a necessary race until Spring, where that 80% becomes significant, but right now it feels like doubt. She looks down at the scar on her knee, still stiff even after a week off of bed-rest. The knobby pink tissue peeks out from her skirt like a monster in a child's closet

She should feel strong showing it off, but it seems more like leaving a raw, naked wound exposed to the air, daring some brat to rub salt in it.

The chances of her racing in September aren't great.

40%, according to some formula Fishlegs seemed confident about, grinning down at records sprawled across their dining room table in front of him. Using actual college athletes who messed up a knee, 40% were back to competing within six months.

And somehow, that includes sprains and osteohematomas and all of those nothing injuries that Astrid has always ignored and brushed off. Although a sprain at the wrong time did almost do her in.

The back of her knee throbs, reminding her that it's still pulpy, not yet frozen solid and trustworthy beneath her.

She's never had to worry about being in the top 40% of anything until now.

Well, except height.

But beyond all of these doubts, she's feeling very average, and she can't say that she likes it. Of course it makes sense, they have access to a lot of data on average college athletes and their average recovery times, and the only way they can come up with some magically influential number is to treat her as one of them. She hates it.

She's not unlucky or special or lazy, she's just an average twenty two year old healthy female, and that's how she's going to heal.

And if she's average, she's fiftieth percentile, and there's was absolutely no chance that she would have raced in September anyway.

No matter what Fishlegs would critique in that line of logic, she hurt Hiccup and her knee over something impossible. It's like stepping on his face to jump and grab the moon.

Futile and embarrassing .

Hiccup is murmuring to himself around a battered ballpoint clamped between white, gapped teeth, and he hums emphatically before dipping back down to an unmistakably shy mutter. She recognizes the sound of him practicing a presentation and filling in the audience's crowed replies.

"Having both sides of the conversation?" She asks, setting her hand on his on the keyboard.

"Just trying to guess what they're going to say," he sighs with the pen now in his hand, tapping against the opposite armrest.

"They'll say that they want you to do the shoe ad with me."

"Because of my leg," Hiccup scoffs like a random stranger saw his freckles and told him to put on sunscreen.

His reservations from the week before are gone, and he's back to his normal self. Physical freckles, that's what his leg is to him, and she wishes she were half as strong.

"Because we match."

"For now," he nods sympathetically, squeezing her fingers and turning back to his screen. "Honestly, I'm waiting for you to realize how sappy this whole idea is and go back to racing in September."

"I'm not betting everything on 40%, Hiccup, I'm not an idiot."

"Aw, come on, don't listen to that," he smiles and points to a column that contains a formula she's never seen before. "Fish sent it through a filter that statistics guys use for extra conservative estimates. The actual chance is something like 62%, if you go by historical values."

"So you're playing hardball with these guys…" Astrid smiles to herself, somehow enjoying the idea. "Why? We already know we're going the other way here."

"I'm hoping I can get them to offer us more to do the whole…love shoes thing," he uses her name for the unfortunate circumstance, unable to find a suitable synonym. "Plus, I started out with hardball, I can't exactly backtrack now."

"You started out—" She starts to ask him, realizing that she never paused to really talk to him about his previous meeting.

"Mr. Haddock, Miss Hofferson? They'll see you in the conference room now," the receptionist cuts them off, alternating her too piercing eyes between Hiccup's metal foot clacking on the marble floor and his stoic face. Astrid squeezes his hand and catches up to his loping gait with a hop on her good foot.

They walk into the conference room, centered around a long table half filled with men in crisp grey suits. Mr. Ryan is at one head of the table, grinning at Astrid and gesturing towards the seats next to another man. The seating arrangement appears to be purposefully lopsided, leaving two seats to be filled and make the room symmetrical.

Hiccup adjusts his grip on his sleek laptop, calmly striding to the edge of the room and sitting at the other head of the table, staring at Mr. Ryan with unfamiliar and incredibly steely green eyes. Astrid wavers for a millisecond before following and sitting on his right, hands folded on the edge of the shiny tabletop.

"Now, let's get this over with," Hiccup grins, pulling a thick brown file from under his laptop and producing a crisp, notably unsigned copy of the last revision of Astrid's contract. "I still don't like it."

He thumps a disappointed thumb on the stack of papers and slides them slightly towards the center of the table, eyes mischievously serious.

Astrid's tongue goes dry in her mouth and she licks her lips as discretely as possible, hands clenching together.

Wow.

That's…ok, wow.

She likes that. She likes that a little too much.

"We wrote in the changes that you requested," Mr. Ryan frowns, nervously gesturing to the man on his right, who flicks on a projector with a shiny, silver remote. "And we threw in a five year merchandising contract." Astrid raises her eyebrows at that, nudging Hiccup's good foot under the table with nervous toes.

She'd barely gotten one look at the contract through all of his scheming with Fish, and this is all starting to seem more pomp than useful. If they play it safe, maybe they can get the merchandising contract with the other idea.

That means free stuff, doesn't it?

"I saw that," Hiccup pretends to peruse the stack of papers, flipping through them too fast to possibly read before shoving them aside. "I still don't like it. You're getting a lot more than a spokesperson with Astrid Hofferson's support, and your deal should reflect that."

Has her name ever been sexy before? Because right now, she can't think of a better way to describe it. Or at least the way Hiccup says it.

She wants to make him say it.

It takes an irrational amount of resolve to keep her hands on the table, together, rather than letting one slide underneath to find his knee. Or thigh.

Or something higher up.

What? Where is this coming from?

"She's a first time candidate-"

"And she's the best candidate that you're going to get. You need to woo her just like you would some household name ," he nods, and the confidence is magnetic.

She...She shouldn't be into this, should she? The fact that Hiccup is controlling, practically bullying, this room should be infuriating, given how she feels about her nearly sacred control.

But he's on her side, he's fighting for her with those clever words. And there's something about the glint in his eye, similar to the expression that lights up when he fixes something, or figures out a difficult problem, but more devious. This is fun for him, he's enjoying dribbling these grown men like they're toys.

He's normally so gentle with her, and she appreciates it, really. It's respectful and kind, and so wonderfully Hiccup. But he doesn't need to be that way all the time, does he? She knows he respects her, just listening to him makes it obvious. He loves her and respects her and is going to do everything he can to make this work.

So maybe it's not strange that she wants to see more of this side of him...all of this side of him without those pesky clothes in the way. She trusts him, and she wants to explore this new, hard-eyed Hiccup. She wants him to explore her too, it's a two sided thing.

Unless he has different ideas. She's open to all of his ideas.

It wouldn't be hard to climb onto his lap and rip off his shirt. Maybe in the car. Maybe in the handicapped bathroom stall.

"We would like to show you a better…visualized concept of the other idea," Mr. Ryan starts, standing to hover beside the projector screen, looking at Astrid with a warm smile. "I'm sure that Henry—"

"Mr. Haddock," Hiccup corrects the man, shoulders erect under his blazer as he sits up straight in his chair.

Astrid fidgets, suddenly far too hot.

Maybe she wants him to rip off her shirt.

"Anyway," Mr. Ryan chortles, awkward like a teenager in a too big frame, too soon, unfamiliar with wide shoulders, "I'm sure you've heard all about it, Astrid, and we're hoping to convince you two to give it some thought."

"I hope it's worth thinking about," she nods and smiles, and can feel Hiccup's muted grin on the side of her neck like a diffuse sun. Hardball. She can play hardball, then they can both go out to the car and continue playing hardball.

They're parked in a far corner of the parking garage, aren't they?

She tries to decide how much she cares as the projector clicks all of the way to life, white waiting screen replaced with a red Nike symbol on a black background.

"We'll start off with some of your Worlds footage, Astrid," Mr. Ryan speaks only to her and she keeps her face placid, nodding pleasantly as her mind fixates on the likely imagined warmth radiating from Hiccup's leg. The reel plays, tastefully grainy as though they're trying to echo some other, long ago time, and it all feels like yesterday. She recognizes herself breaking that winning tape, grinning and stumbling forward towards a cheering Hiccup.

She'd never realized that they caught him on film before, but it makes her feel better. It doesn't hurt nearly as bad to see herself earning that gold knowing that she has his support even now.

She's supported far beyond this room, even outside of the strangely enthralling man sitting beside her. Not quite Hiccup, more Henry Haddock, and what he could be if he wanted the power within his reach. Not the boy cheering in the video, but the man that she fully plans to ravage in the parking lot, privacy or no.

Similar and hers.

"Then, we're going to move into the story of your injury…" It's the CU newspaper, that Worlds medal shot on the front page next to a headline romanticizing her injury into something tragic. 'Star Runner out for Season' like people are going to be disappointed, or missing her. "And then we're going to need some work from you Astrid, we're going to interview Hen—Mr. Haddock," a tingle shoots down Astrid's spine and she sits up even straighter, refocusing her eyes. "And we're going to talk about how you met, why you two are such an obviously dynamic couple…"

Dynamic in a bed. Dynamic in the front seat of his car, steering wheel against her back while she grinds up against hot, hard—

"…focus too much on me," Hiccup is leaning forward on interested elbows, oblivious to the strong line of his jaw, thrown into delicious shadow by the gleaming white projector screen. "I have nothing to do with Astrid's fantastic running career, you don't need me to impress people."

Astrid's toes curl in her shoes, pulling at the tight cords of her knee and temporarily bringing her closer to reality.

She doesn't like reality. In reality, Mr. Haddock is wearing far too many clothes.

"There's no contest here that Astrid's career has been amazing," when Mr. Ryan compliments her, no matter how slick his haircut or suit, it's just not satisfying as when Hiccup does. No, not Hiccup. Mr. Haddock.

She's never been into the control thing, maybe sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it's thrilling when he flips them over or tickles her into teasing submission. But now? She wants this strange Mr. Haddock character to yank up her skirt and bend her over the table.

She wants him hard-balling with her in the morning, hands clamped on her waist as he whispers in her ear, stroking into her from behind.

She wants—

"Then why do you need me and my fancy foot to sell something when you already have her?" He compliments, gesturing towards her with long, surprisingly elegant fingers.

She can think of far better uses for those hands.

"This isn't about selling something," And Mr. Ryan's eyes light up for the first time since they've entered the room, drawing Astrid temporarily from her hazy existence. "This is about telling a story, the story of your support and love and—"

"Shoes?" Hiccup snorts, arching an eyebrow and leaning back in his chair, too snarky to really be professional and all the hotter for it.

Did someone crank up the thermostat in here? Because it feels like she's about to pass out.

"We'd like to be a part of Astrid's recovery." Mr. Ryan smiles and the other exec's nod in agreement, a quiet backdrop.

"Whatever you would pay me, I want it to go to Astrid," Hiccup nods, done with the problem. "All of it. And she wants that merchandising contract," Mr. Ryan falters and Hiccup's blazing eyes narrow as he starts to tap his metal foot against the leg of his chair. Click. Click. Click, click, click, click—

She can realize the genius. He's reminding them of what they're looking at, what they want and what they're never going to get again. Astrid senses her shot and reaches across the table to grab his hand, shivering at the contact.

His hands are warm, scalding against the pads of her fingers and addictive like a campfire on a crisp fall night.

He smiles, lacing his fingers with hers and ceasing the infernal tapping of his foot, leaving the room in baited silence.

"When Astrid returns to professional racing, we have full rights," Mr. Ryan counters, a surprisingly level negotiator, and Hiccup turns to her with a quirked eyebrow, asking her permission.

"I'll agree to that," she answers for herself, and when his fingers squeeze hers, she wonders how quickly she can get naked.

But then again, how naked does she really need to get?

Well, it's up to him.

Somehow that thought is absolutely thrilling and she swallows, throat quavering against the back of her tongue. The dogs are spending the night in her bedroom. They're shutting the door. All night.

As long as she can keep that fire in his eyes.

"We'll send the contract your way," Mr. Ryan grins, clapping one of his executives on the shoulder with an open palm and remaining standing. Hiccup pushes himself up, gently letting go of Astrid's hand and reaching out to shake the other man's, nodding solemnly.

"Looking forward to it," his eyes harden one last time as he lets go, tucking his laptop under his arm and leaving the rejected contract on the table. "And I'm hoping you won't make me discuss numbers." Hiccup's voice dips into his last sentence and Astrid locks her knees to stay upright.

Far too many clothes. There are far too many clothes between them.

She wishes that all of the men would leave first, and they could make use of the conference table.

And the chairs.

Mr. Ryan pauses to shake her hand, warm and almost apologetic, as if he wishes he'd given her a true deal to start with and avoided dealing with Hiccup—Mr. Haddock—entirely.

Astrid can't wait to deal with Mr. Haddock. Just the thought of it makes her inappropriately giddy and she swallows a grin like a bitter pill, following Hiccup out of the room and down the hallway, clicking on the floor in a strange rhythm, three high heels and one muffled dress shoe.

A strange sort of nervousness blooms in her chest as they stride into the parking garage, footsteps falling to quieter echoes off the concrete ceiling. Hiccup is talking, excited and driven, still oozing that nearly dangerous charm as his free hand dances through the air, animated and energetic.

"…went better than I hoped. I think I scared them, I honestly—wow, that was crazy," he smoothes that hand over the stark line of his jaw and she quivers, fingers trembling against the sides of her thigh.

How does she…maintain this? Why does she want to so badly?

She wants…she wants him looking at her like he meant all of those nearly callus compliments. Like she really is something special and fantastic, and like he wants to show her, like he wants to take care of her and give her what he knows she wants, rather than what she asks for. She wants his hands claiming her like they claimed everything in that room, strong and brave and confident and—

He lets go of her fingers and unlocks the car, grinning to himself as he sets the laptop in the backseat.

"And I didn't even need the math! They just…listened. Why doesn't anyone else listen like that?" He laughs to himself, running a hand back through his combed slick hair, leaving an auburn mop in its place. "Why don't you listen like that?" He snarks, reaching for the front door handle.

"Make me," she mumbles, fiddling with the blonde hair tickling at her collarbone, resisting some strange urge to twirl it around her fingers.

"Huh?" He turns to look at her with those blazing eyes and she falters, blushing and stepping back onto a stiff knee with a barely there wince.

"Nothing," she laughs, staring at her feet and strangely almost enjoying the mystery of the situation. She wants to poke Mr. Haddock with a stick and test out the bull's horns.

She wishes the car were bigger, or that she could justify dragging him to the bench in front of the elevator. She wishes he'd drag her over there, tell her how to thank him, how to—

"Coming?" Hiccup laughs at her hovering three feet from the door, poised and nervous. "Or do we need to stand here longer?"

"No, no, I'm coming," she steps forward and opens the passenger door, fingers uncharacteristically leaden and useless. It takes a fidgety moment before she realizes that comfortable is impossible in her current state of mind. She'd be more comfortable with less clothes. Less clothes and more hands, and that commandeering layer of snark blanketing her from head to toe— "Hey Hiccup?" Astrid asks almost meekly, both knees wobbly and rattling her feet against the rubber floor mat in a hectic staccato.

"Hmm?" He fumbles with his seatbelt, and her hand darts out to stop him, grabbing his wrist and squeezing just enough to be alarming. The clasp thunks against the door and he looks down at her, alarmed.

"You seriously made them call you Mr. Haddock," her voice shakes against her racing pulse as her hand slides off of his wrist to grope at his thigh, high enough to send deep auburn eyebrows towards his hairline.

"Too much?" He smiles, not quite sheepish enough to dispel the veil of still delicious authority still orbiting around him.

"Not at all," she bites her lip, watching his long pale fingers fall from the steering wheel back to his lap. "It was pretty hot actually."

"Er, it was?" He pauses and frowns and Astrid quells a strange shyness, determined to keep him inflated and demanding.

"You had them eating out of your hand," she laughs, cheeks flushing as he sits up a little straighter, accepting the compliment. "And this new deal?" She's looking at him like he's the last glass of lemonade on a hot summer day, his own personal sauna, and he reaches up to loosen his tie. "Damn," she purrs, licking her lips and leaning towards him, fingers gripping at his inner thigh.

"I'm just glad that you let me help," he fights against a stutter under her downright predatory gaze. She shrugs and draws far too much attention to the v-neck of her blouse.

Was it always that revealing? Because it seemed perfectly demure ten minutes ago.

"Me too," and her grin is momentarily genuine before falling back into something steamy. Her hand slides from his leg up his waist, gripping his ribs through far too many layers of clothes. "Mr. Haddock."

A strange rush pulses through her veins, biting and empowering near desperate fingers to slide under his suit coat, gentle and searching across his chest. He shivers, teeth clamping together audibly, and she smiles.

"What are you doing?" He clears his throat and laughs almost nervously, threatening that domineering energy by pressing himself back into the seat. She takes the opportunity to slide over the center console, sitting sideways in his lap with her feet in the bucket of the passenger seat.

"You weren't nervous in there," she purrs into his ear, lips brushing softly against the shell of his ear and sending electric tingles down her spine. Her fingers grip at his lapel and pull her closer, "Mr. Haddock."

"Public parking lot," he reminds her, blush deliciously disappearing underneath his collar as Astrid's lips find the ticklish skin behind his hear. Her hand slides up his chest and yanks his tie entirely loose, starting in on the top button of his shirt.

"I don't care," she kisses along the clean shaven line of his jaw, inhaling the combined scent of Hiccup and musky shaving soap.

"Astrid…" he pouts, adjusting his seat and trying to hide his interest. She grabs his hand and slides it up her thigh, under her skirt.

"You can't do that," she grinds her hips down purposefully against him and he bites back a groan, short fingernails biting into the skin of her leg. "You can't get all demanding like that and leave me hanging."

"How long have you been planning this?" He asks, peering around the lot and searching for any people among the cars. It's empty and his hand grips her leg, pulling her unconsciously closer to his chest.

"Ever since you took over the meeting," she laughs into his ear, fingers tangling into his hair and ruining whatever order he'd managed to create that morning. "And it didn't hurt anything when you told them to pay me everything."

"You liked that?" He asks with a laugh that's far too light for the atmosphere of the car. "It just seemed fair."

"Stop being so humble," Astrid grumbles, kissing him and getting a bit lost against his lips when his fingers slide up and toy with the edge of her underwear, maddening and flirtatious. He breaks the kiss with a grin that's almost cocky and sits back against his seat, checking for an audience only one more time before peering down at her through careful eyes, like he's afraid of going too far.

"So that-that actually turned you on?"

"Yes," she nods slowly, pressing her hips down against his and biting her lip. "I wasn't just kidding around when I said that it was hot," she attempts to snap, but the glint is back in his eyes, tempering her tone and threatening to melt her entirely.

"Huh," he shrugs, nuzzling against her neck and pushing her hair out of the way. She can feel his upturned lips, blazing and somehow notably confident against her skin. "That's interesting."

"Interesting?" She gasps as his hand slides the rest of the way under her underwear, massaging a handful of her rear and pulling her closer to him with a capable second hand on her waist.

"You liked it when I took control," he comments, tone almost innocent as he dives back into her neck, sucking an obvious patch of skin beneath her ear until her fingers are trembling slightly, struggling with the next button of his shirt. "That's interesting."

His hand slides back around her leg, knuckles hot and callused against her inner thigh as his thumb flicks across her clit. She whimpers and slides a hand around to the back of his neck, holding herself upright as he starts to rub her through her underwear, firm and precise.

"Hiccup…" she moans into his ear and he pulls her closer with the hand not busy under her skirt, fingers tight and demanding on her ribcage even as his thumb smoothes over her blazer, soothing and sweet. There are still too many clothes, far far too many clothes.

"Funny, I thought all of this was about Mr. Haddock," he laughs, capturing her lips with his and cradling the back of her head with a gentle, firm hand and stroking her tongue with his. Two fingers slip past her underwear and slide smoothly inside of her and he neatly swallows her moan, pulling away and breathing hard against the side of her face. "God, you're worked up."

His fingers curl inside of her and she leans against his neck, hands slipping down between them and unbuckling his belt.

"Backseat?"

"No, here," he insists, pulling out of her and dragging her underwear down and abandoning them on the passenger seat before diving back in, stroking her carefully and arching his hips in an attempt to help her with his pants. "Take off your jacket."

"Just a second...your pants are being stubborn-"

"Now," he snaps, reaching down and popping his button free with the hand that's not busy driving her crazy with feather light touches up and down her thighs. "Take it off." Her face splits into a broad grin as she shrugs out of it, elbow knocking against the steering wheel as she frees her final hand and throws it into the backseat. "Better," he pulls his hand from under her skirt and starts unbuttoning her shirt, stopping halfway down and dragging her bra straps off of her shoulders and tugging the bra down around her waist. "Much, much better." He cups her chest with a warm hand and pulls her mouth back to his.

He doesn't seem too concerned about people anymore.

She moans into his mouth as he rolls a pebbled nipple between gentle fingers, and her hands are shaking as she struggles with his pants, wiggling them off of his hips far enough to free him through the flap of his boxers. He groans and bucks up into her hand, reaching back up under her skirt and resuming his flighty stroking.

"How? How?" She asks against his lips, trying to rock against his hand even though it won't give her enough substance to be satisfying.

"Here," he grabs the back of her right knee with a gentle grip and moves to swing it across his lap, but she winces as it bends between them. "Never mind," he sets her foot gently back on the seat and turns to her, fingers drumming thoughtfully on the inside of her thigh. "We could-I mean-"

"Just do it," Astrid cuts off his babbling and he falls back into character, eyes bright and scanning her disheveled form.

"Right," he nods, grabbing her waist and lifting her until her head just brushes the ceiling and turning her to face him. "Does your leg fit between the chair and the door?" He puffs, voice slightly strained from the weight and odd angle.

"Hmm…" she carefully lines up her toes, shrugging in a futile attempt to displace the bra strap wrapped and binding around her arm. "I think," she slides her ankle through the gap and nods, bracing her hands against his shoulders in an attempt to lower herself down slowly. He pulls her tight against his chest, shoving the rest of her leg through the tight fit a little faster than intended. She winces at the cool plastic handle of the backdoor against her knees and his eyes widen apologetically.

"Are you ok? I'm sorry, is your knee?" His panicked tone is almost enough to kill the mood. Almost.

She grinds forward against him, moaning at the contact of their exposed skin beneath her mostly rucked up skirt and he tightens his hands on her hips, looking worried.

"I'm good, it doesn't hurt, see?" She goes to pull her leg out of the gap and frowns as her knee catches on the seatbelt's plastic housing. A sharper tug makes her wince and Hiccup stops her from trying again with a gentle hand on her thigh. "It's stuck," she peers down at her leg, trying to wiggle it down. "I could probably get it out if-"

"Hmm," his hands slide up to cup her waist and pull her into a kiss as his hips nudge against hers. "If it doesn't hurt, I like this."

"It doesn't hurt," she barely recognizes her own breathless voice as his hand slips back inside of her shirt to caress her bare skin, hips pressing his hardness against her. "But I can't…" She demonstrates, trying to lean up enough to slide onto him and failing with a frustrated huff. His hand slips under her skirt and resumes toying with her.

"We're still in the car," he reminds her, fingers sliding back inside of her, gasping when she bucks simultaneously against him. "In public."

"Don't care," she gasps, kissing the side of his neck and struggling to free her knee with a wince. "I really don't care."

"Astrid," he warns, head lolling to the side as his hand starts to churn against her. She bites his earlobe and rocks forward against him, pressing against his shaft enough to make him groan. "Get...how do we get your knee out?" He gives in with a grunt as she nudges her hips against his again, biting her lip as his thumb presses against her.

"Maybe…oh yeah, there?" Her eyes flutter at the expert curling of his fingers inside of her, hands clamping harder on his shoulders. "Ok, ok…umm, scoot—scoot your seat forward?" She suggests, trying to free her knee again and whining as he flicks his thumb across her.

"Ok," he nods, free hand sliding down her thigh to grab his seat's adjustment handle and yanking it upwards. She grinds forward against him again, kissing his neck and burying her face in his shoulder as her movement distills into a slow, purposeful rhythm.

It's practically torture, being so close to her, so impossibly near to being inside of her. His fingers curl purposefully against that textured spot on her warm channel and she rocks against him, lips colliding sloppily and near desperately with his. She's panting against his mouth, fingers sliding down his chest, suddenly nimble as she opens his shirt the rest of the way, groping at his chest and writhing against him.

He slams the seat forward harder than he'd intended, her leg popping free from its plastic cage with a squeak as his knees slam into the dash. Astrid's back knocks against the horn with a blaring ring and she tosses her head back, hips jerking against his hand near frantically.

"Yes yes yes," she groans, head falling back against the steering wheel and ignoring the horn as his hand finally starts to tip her over that edge.

"Off the horn," he warns, hand clasping around her back and attempting to lift her. She moans even louder, stiffening around his fingers and rocking madly against his hardness.

"Fuck," she squeaks, still bucking.

"Dammit," he lets go of her back, and it's his imagination that the earsplitting sound gets louder as he feels around under the steering column for the one crucial wire. Astrid pants in his ear, cooing softly as her body starts to relax, pinned so soft and enticing between him and the wheel. His crotch gives an indignant throb, warm and wet and so utterly left out at the same time.

He finds the wire and pulls, filling the car with a near deafening silence.

"Holy…holy…I—wow," Astrid falls limp against the steering wheel as Hiccup scoots his seat back to its normal position. His member slides out from under her skirt, painfully erect and wet enough from her fun to cool dramatically in the still air. Astrid's half open shirt, bra contorted around her remarkably flushed stomach, isn't helping anything.

He wants to grab her and slam her down onto him, driving her against that now silent horn until she can't remember her own name. Until she falls apart around him, hands clutching at his shoulders while she moans in his ear.

That horn was a thirty second scream, and they can't have that long until someone comes to investigate.

Does he care?

He looks at her appraisingly one last time, thighs spread lazy and satisfied on either side of his knees as she pushes her sweaty hair out of her face, still panting.

He should care. Indecent exposure…all those dumb laws that don't bear thinking about. God, he wants her. This isn't fair. This is…

His body wails in protest as he reaches down and shoves his revving engine back into his pants, wincing as it presses against his zipper. He pats her thighs and scoops her delightfully limp body from his lap, depositing it unceremoniously in the passenger seat and buckling his seatbelt.

"Come on, we should probably get out of here," he looks both ways, half expecting to see a stern security-man jogging down sloped concrete floor.

"But you didn't," she glances towards the tent in his pants and licks her lips, absent-minded and so impossibly tempting.

"The entire building could hear that horn," he tries to sound stern, but his face breaks into a broad grin as he catches sight of her shrugging her bra back into place and hurrying to fasten her buttons. "But that—"

"That was insane," Astrid laughs, off balance as she tries to fix her skirt, propped on only her good foot. "Did you seriously rip something out of the steering wheel?"

"I couldn't get you off the horn," he grimaces at the wire hanging down and the hour he'll spend fixing it. But Astrid's flushed and elated face is absolutely worth it and he's grinning as he slams the car into gear and pulls out of the spot, sending her reeling for her seatbelt.

"It was hot," she shrugs, laughing and adjusting her mishandled bra-straps with a shimmy. "It was—"

"I'm driving," he punches the accelerator, whipping the wheel around a turn and surging out onto the road. "We'll be home in twenty, alright?"

"Looking forward to it," she sighs, crossing her legs. "Can you make it fifteen?" His crotch throbs at the mention and his foot sinks deeper towards the floor .

00000

I don't know what I like more, Toothless the sous chef, leg talk, intimidating Hiccup…or Astrid's reaction to intimidating Hiccup. And the smut. This really does cover the bases.

Thank you for last chapter's reviews, I'll be responding to them soon, and please don't forget to drop one for this chapter? I have to know if I'm crazy, or if this was actually the best lemon I've ever written. Because I think it's up there.

Thanks for reading.