A/N: This story is a cocktail of ideas that came into being after I had a very strange, involved, and lengthy dream involving Hiccup becoming a slave in continental Europe. I told AvannaK on tumblr about it, and we bounced ideas off each other (and she drew some heart-wrenching fanart) and I brainstormed an entire storyline and promised to write it –eventually- aaaannnd here we are.
I will not make any promises at all about updates on this story, because I have to finish Umbreytingu first and then I might get to this one more, maybe, if I have time. But know that it's on my to do list.
No one said anything to him when he came ashore with his father. There was staring involved. Whispering. But no conversation, no 'weclome home's. He didn't seem to notice or care. His eyes were fixed on the village itself, the buildings, the pathways, the docks and the ships he hadn't seen for half a lifetime. His eyes were wide, scared, but like steel. Stoick had taken his arm to help him off the boat, and he hadn't let go. Under the cover of the cloak the Scots had given him, his hand dug white-knuckled into his father's arm. Only Stoick could hear that he'd begun to breathe faster.
"Gods above…" they whispered.
"…been doing to him?"
"…didn't even recognize-"
"…around his neck,"
If he heard anything they said, he didn't react. His eyes were darting back and forth, scanning, picking, recognizing, remembering. About halfway through the village, as their house on the hill came into view, his emotionless gaze finally began to shine with tears. Stoick knew they ought to make this last leg of their journey fast, but before he could quicken his pace, Gobber appeared. He was the first one who didn't say anything, and the first one who Hiccup noticed. A small noise in the back of his throat tried to give voice to the recognition, but he couldn't make his mouth work.
Gobber's mouth fell open, and he almost said something, but at the last second he swallowed the urge, inhaled shakily, and came up beside father and son.
"Help me get him to the house," Stoick said. Gobber nodded, shooing people away as they walked briskly up the path. He put his hand on Hiccup's shoulder to steady him, but the boy –no, man – flinched away like he'd been struck. Gobber whispered a half apology and replaced his hand very, very gently. Hiccup was shivering beneath his warm clothes.
The door swung open. Stoick had expected a bigger reaction. Hiccup just stood there in the door, not a word, not a movement. They ushered him in and set him down in Stoick's own chair. They blanketed him and stoked the fire up, hoping he'd stop shivering, but knowing it wasn't for the cold. He stared like a dead man at the trappings around him, hearth, shields, stairs, rafters. Gobber offered to go find some food and cider. Hiccup did not move.
Then, suddenly, he sucked in a breath and it came out as a whimper. Silently, in the way he'd trained himself over the better part of a decade, he ducked his head and cried.
"Hiccup?" Stoick called quietly, completely unsure of what to do, how to proceed. Hiccup shook his head because he hadn't been Hiccup in many long years. Stoick interpreted it as something else. With the urgency of a father who'd been mourning for too long and the gracelessness to match, he stepped forward and laid a hand on his son's head gently, drawing it to himself. Hiccup flinched away and stiffened. Stoick backed off, unsure. Hiccup's chest shook with another shuddering sob, but he swallowed it like the last so his throat only whimpered quietly. He curled his one leg onto the chair and dug his kneecap into his eyes, hiding, protecting. The crying continued silently, and Stoick could only watch.
He was twenty one, now. Nearly twenty two. He'd grown up tall, but he was too skinny. He was all ribs and joints and scars, old scars and red scars and calluses so thick on his wrists and his neck it broke Stoick's heart twice over just to look at them. He had bruises, too, from the trip from the continent. His hair was shorn off in a jagged cut, so close to his scalp Stoick could see the shape of his skull. And then, there was his left leg, which was even less of a leg than when Stoick had last seen it, amputated mid-thigh with a very crude prosthetic to compensate.
So here was Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Here was the long-lost heir of the Hooligan tribe. The Dragon Rider, the Sea Dragon's Bane, the Hero of Berk himself. Broken, scarred, maimed, and crying like a child who couldn't help it. Cowering like a lamb for the slaughter. Hugging his one leg, bruised and knobby, hiding his face and his shorn-haired head in a quivering, terrified ball, because somehow, this was all he knew anymore.
Here was his son.
Stoick fell into a chair and watched helplessly as Hiccup shook, and keened, and hid. He wondered, with a heart so heavy Thor himself couldn't have lifted it, what the world had done to the man who'd once been his boy Hiccup.