Hi! If you follow me on Tumblr, you already know the premise of this story. I'm following an AU deviation of how things might have been if Valka had been able to take Hiccup with her when Cloudjumper kidnapped her from Berk. Hiccup would have grown up completely surrounded by dragons and away from the village of his birth. This AU was created and brought to life by the brilliant avannak of Tumblr (known as The Antic Repartee here on FF). It's only because of her graciousness that I have the opportunity to write this story. Here, Hiccup returns to Berk years later to find out more about humans, his family, and his origins. Aaaaand he makes new friends. I can't guarantee that chapters will be regular. But I'll do my best not to leave anybody with unanswered questions. Hope you enjoy~
She couldn't shake the feeling that something in the deep fog was watching her. Hatchet held in her secure grip, Astrid glanced down at the list of ingredients Gothi had scribbled on parchment before shoving her toward the treeline. She'd have been better off with Fishlegs- botany was his thing- but with the increasing number of raids and wild dragons seen about the island lately... Well. Astrid and her hatchet would have to do.
These woods shouldn't have bothered her like they did. She'd grown up in that forest, gone on her first hunt in that forest. She knew it like she knew the scars sliced and burned and bitten across her body. But her eyes kept wandering to the thick curls of mist that seemed to creep around trees and melt to the mossy ground. If there was one thing she trusted, it was her instincts. And her instincts told her she wasn't alone.
She decided to focus on gathering the items on the list. If anything jumped out to attack, she'd be ready. That was one thing she'd learned after the first Nightmare caught her from behind. Always be ready.
For a while, all was calm. She carried out her task as quickly as possible, not wanting to be far from the village for too long. When she came to one item, though- a kind of berry she knew to grow in a cove close by- the feeling of being watched prickled her spine once more.
"Paranoia," she swore to herself, her brow set in irritated determination. She adjusted the satchel over her shoulder and started towards the cove. Her eighteenth birthday had just passed. She was too old for the heebie-jeebies.
Astrid lifted her chin as she walked, keeping her eyes straight ahead despite the urge to check over her shoulder.
And then something moved in the trees.
It was too large to be a bird, and the sound it made as it moved from branch to branch was too heavy. She stopped. Widened her stance. Raised her hatchet just slightly.
Nothing. Silence. Not even a chipmunk scurrying to break the tension. She couldn't even pinpoint which tree exactly the noise had come from. So with longer, drawn out steps, she kept her gaze high as she continued forward.
A few moments later, there was a sound of scraping bark to her left. Her head whipped around to look, but then another quick pouncing shook the tree to her right. Astrid glared. She lifted a foot to take a step, but then she heard the whistling sound of a projectile. Her somersault landed her just feet from the spine that thwacked into the soft earth. Right where her foot would've landed.
"I didn't think you beasts played games!" she called out, daring the dragon to show itself. "I'm not dinner, and you're sure as Hel not getting a show." Her voice echoed through the misty woods, but she knew it heard.
After standing still for a long moment, she attempted to advance again. Just like the time before, when she reached the spine from before, another shot out in warning. She could see the cove in the distance, hear the sound of trickling water.
"Am I getting close to your nest?" she asked with a sneer. Her eyes scanned the trees, but the weapons seemed to be coming from lower, closer to the ground. "If you want to fight, let's fight, dragon."
A faint hissing sound reached her ears. She narrowed her gaze in the direction. All at once, a flurry of spines were spat her way, and she had to employ a variety of evasive tumbling techniques to avoid being hit. In the middle of a handspring, her hand slipped on a patch of damp leaves, and she went sprawling to the ground. Annoyance bothered her more than fear, but she laughed a little as she righted herself. The ground was littered with spines, but she smiled.
It'd given away its position.
"Guess we'll find out who has the better aim," she whispered to herself. Her grip flexed on her hatchet. For a long, quiet moment, she stood and listened. Astrid took a step forward. And then another. Then, just as she lifted her foot, she saw it- horns sprouting from the formation of bushes just ahead.
She didn't have a great visual, but she knew she could make up for it with her other senses. The dragon lifted something, likely its tail, in preparation to attack once more, but as soon as the rustling sounded, she was on it. Her arm whipped out like a bow from an arrow, her hatchet flying towards its target.
She quickly removed her dagger from her boot and rolled to the side. And then she heard a sound that made her heart sink.
A metal blade splintering wood.
The dragon gave an angry snarl. Astrid's pulse raced. She'd been sure- so sure. But there was no time to be afraid. She'd just thrown away her best weapon, and her best chance now was forcing the dragon from its hiding place. With a battle cry and a prayer to Thor, she sprinted as fast as she could to the foggy corner and leapt into the bushes.
She'd expected to scrape past rough scales. She'd expected the swipe of talons or the gnash of teeth. She'd expected pain.
She hadn't been expecting to barrel into a very warm, very human figure.
Astrid shrieked, but wrestled the creature to the ground. It was tall- larger than her by at least a foot and fifty pounds, but hand to hand combat was her specialty. Her eyes drank in as many details as she could while deflecting blows and struggling to maintain her position of dominance. It roared and bucked beneath her, covered in a combination of scales, fur and leather. And the face that looked up at her wasn't a face- but a mask.
A wooden mask, painted with a grotesque dragon's face, and split straight down the middle by a hatchet.
Blood rushing through her ears, she took the risk of losing her grip on the creature to reach for the handle of the hatchet. It was the best decision- the wood crackled as she removed it, and the moment she pressed the blade to its neck, the dragon-man-beast stilled. She stared into its false eyes, the scrape of air through her labored lungs almost deafening in the following quiet. Beneath her, the creature's chest rose and fell as heavily as hers.
After a few long moments, her curiosity got the best of her. Her free hand wrenched from its grip- hands, ten fingers wrapped in leather gloves- and inched towards the mask. Astrid thought it might growl, protest, but its body seemed to go slack in defeat. Trying not to tremble, she wet her lower lip and brushed her fingertips over the chin of the horrible mask. She ripped it away.
Eyes. Wide, beautiful eyes stared up into hers. Green eyes. Human eyes.
Astrid snatched her hand back, and the boy beneath her used her shock to twist her off of him. She fell numbly into a defensive position, and he backed into a crouch a few feet away. Her hand went to cover her mouth in a mixture of awe and horror.
"Who-" she tried to speak, but her voice shook. Swallowing, she tried again. "Who are you?"
The boy- not a boy, she corrected herself. The human was approximately her age, with bronze hair braided back into a half ponytail and a short, scruffy beard. His jawline was hard, the planes of his face narrow and masculine. A line of blood was blossoming on his cheek- exactly where her hatchet had buried in his mask. No, this was no boy. This creature was a man.
The man didn't answer. He narrowed those eyes at her and sidestepped, walking on all fours the way the dragons did just before they struck. Astrid tightened her grip on her hatchet but suddenly she wasn't sure she could use it.
She tried again. "Are you an Outcast? Do you work for Alvin?"
Again, she was met with silence. This time, though, he cocked his head at her, evaluating her.
Swallowing, Astrid absently wondered where her dagger had fallen in their tussle. She'd feel more confident with more than one weapon. "Do you- do you speak? Do you speak Norse?"
Then the young man made an interesting move forward. His back foot slid forward, turning him almost sideways, and only then did his hands follow in step. It was a terrible move, tactically speaking. It exposed his side. A perfectly good and fleshy target. But then he spoke.
"You're a villager." The tenor voice surprised her. She'd been expecting a low growl, something deep and intimidating to match the horned mask and furry costume. His single sentence wasn't a question, but a statement.
"Yes," Astrid answered slowly. Warily. "You're not. Where did you come from?"
She noticed his eyes flash quickly over his shoulder, but then he pinned her once again beneath a curious gaze. He took another strange sideways step towards her. And then, when she didn't run or attack, he took another.
"Don't touch me," she barely stammered out, taking a step back.
He seemed to be considering retreating, leaning backwards into his crouch, but then he did something she never could have anticipated. The boy took off one glove. He eased another step closer, extended a bare palm towards her, and then turned his face away.
Astrid stared at the hand, her heart thudding painfully against her ribcage. What was this? A gesture of submission? Trust? Could she accept such a thing from this feral man, armed with dragon weapons and eyes that gleamed like precious stones? He didn't look at her. He didn't move. He waited.
First, she attempted to even her breathing, taking one long, deep breath. Then she slid one hesitant foot forward. Then the other. And then, with a white-knuckled grip on her hatchet, Astrid lifted a trembling hand and brushed her fingertips across his palm. The skin she found there was creased with lines, rough with callouses, and so warm that a swell of emotion squeezed her chest.
The wild thing shifted his eyes to her, only slightly twisting his neck to gauge her reaction. She wondered how she must look- sweaty and more terrified than she'd ever been before any dragon, cheeks red from exertion. Her lips felt so dry, no matter how many times she licked them, and her braid felt frizzy and loose over her shoulder. His hand pressed gently into her fingertips. She didn't pull back.
"My name is Hiccup." She was struck again by the oddness of his voice, the nonthreatening timbre that comforted her as much as it baffled her. The name wriggled in her brain with a strange familiarity, but it was nothing she could place. "You?"
"Astrid," she whispered. Her eyes dropped to their hands, still connected by her fingertips.
Slowly, probably as not to startle her, he gently closed his fingers over hers. Her breath hitched, and she was strangely hypnotized as he reached out his other hand to wrap around hers. He pulled it closer, uncurled her stiff digits. She tried to resist the urge to clench it in a fist. Tilting his head this way and that, he traced the shape of her palm, the length of her fingers, all the while examining the appendage with focus. Then he held it flat and lined his hand up with hers so that their palms were pressed together. His fingers laced between hers.
Astrid suddenly snatched her hand away, holding it to her chest as if she'd been burned. It certainly felt like that, tingling and vibrating with little lightning shocks up her arm. She pointed the hatchet at him, and though he rocked back on the balls of his feet, he didn't step back. "What are you doing in our forest? How did you get here?"
"I'm sorry," he began, crouching low. His head dipped a little bit. "I've only known one other...person. You have- I didn't think you would be so...small."
Her expression twisted with indignation. "I'm not small! I'm perfectly average!"
The corner of his mouth twitched almost hesitantly. "I've watched the village. Seen the people. You are small." There was a strange lilt to his voice. Not quite an accent, but a subtle fluidity to his consonants. It sounded bizarre to her ears.
She leveled the hatchet. He didn't seem threatened, but she wanted him to remember who held the weapon. "You didn't answer my questions. Who are you?"
The young man- Hiccup- straightened a little at that. He came to her shoulders while hunched over. It made her wonder how much taller he was than her standing up. "There's a war," he began. "Between the dragons and the humans."
Nodding, Astrid flicked her suspicious gaze over to his dragon mask, and then back to his face. His expression was solemn.
Hiccup didn't break eye contact with her when he told her, "I came to end it."