Well, I know the last thing I need to be doing is starting a new story, but I swear I'm almost done with this one. The idea has been stewing in my head for a while (and yes, it was spurred from the events of "Fixing Things") and I originally intended for it to be a one-shot, but then it started getting a bit long so I decided to divide it up. I'm anticipating it to be about three parts - maybe even two. We'll see.
NOTE: As usual, I am not quite sure how strong of a warning to put on this, but please be aware of the fact that there are brief but somewhat graphic descriptions of injury. So if you're bothered by gore at all, proceed with caution.
Hiccup was having a hard time. And that was highly unusual. But, for the life of him, he could not figure out why this particular Monstrous Nightmare was being so difficult. Dealing with testy dragons was never really a problem. A few scratches in the right places, maybe some soothing words and a fish or two, and the reptiles would always calm down enough for him to approach safely.
But not this time.
He'd been in the arena with this one for almost half an hour after it had chased him in from the forest (subsequent to, he'd admit, a stupid decision to approach it from behind) and it was still going after him with a vengeful tenacity that, in his opinion, went further than a mere irritation at being touched.
But, as always, his inherited Viking stubbornness drove him to keep at it. He was going to tame this Nightmare, no matter how many times he had to dive to the ground to avoid being scorched by a tongue of hot red flame.
It was doing a number on his chest, though.
Another "oof!" escaped his mouth as he dropped onto his stomach in the dirt beneath the fire's heat and proceeded to roll into a crouch in order to dodge a powerful snap of the beast's jaws.
"Ooh, he almost got you that time, Hiccup!" came a call from the sidelines.
Snotlout. Brilliant. As if he wasn't already humiliated enough by his inability to quell the dragon's nasty temper without an audience. A quick glance to the top of the arena revealed a small crowd consisting of his friends, save for Fishlegs. Toothless's obsidian head was visible behind the group.
He groaned in annoyance. "You know, you could come and help me instead of just standing there and giving useless and unwanted commentary."
"And get in there with that dragon? No thanks!" came the reply. "Besides, you're the Dragon Conqueror. One little Nightmare shouldn't be a problem."
"If you haven't noticed, it's not exactly little," Hiccup retorted as he ducked another burst of fire. He didn't like having to ask for help, but the dragon was really proving to be a handful.
What had gotten it so worked up?
"Hiccup, maybe you should let this one go," Astrid's voice shouted. "It seems pretty wild."
As usual, she was probably right. It had been chasing him around for ages and he was really starting to get tired. But at the same time, it was so rare for a dragon to present such a challenge. Two years of training dragons had ensured his mastery of the art, so it seemed almost like child's play now. And Nightmares were trainable. Why would this one be any different? No, he needed to prove—to himself mostly—that this one was no different. Just difficult. And stubborn. And angry.
"Come on, if anyone can train it, Hiccup can," Tuffnut commented. Then, a little less surely, "Right?"
"Right," Hiccup affirmed. He was determined now. For the sake of his reputation, this dragon would be tame by the end of the afternoon.
His breathing was labored and sweat trickled down from his temple as he reached out a hand toward the Nightmare's snout for the umpteenth time. And, for the umpteenth time, its eyes narrowed with a threatening hiss right before another jet of flame streamed from its throat.
Hiccup jerked back just a second too late, his movements slowed by weariness. The fire seared the front of the loose white tunic he wore, along with a good bit of his upper left arm. An unwarranted cry of pain escaped him before he could stop it.
"Hiccup!" Astrid yelled.
"Fine, I'm fine!" he answered even as his clothes smoldered and his arm throbbed with scorching pain. It was hard to move it. Oh, this was just what he needed. An overly aggressive dragon and only one arm functioning correctly.
"You should get out of there!" the blonde Viking called. "That thing is dangerous! Just come back tomorrow and try again after its calmed down."
"Just give me one more second!"
He didn't exactly know what good one more second would do, but it seemed cowardly to give up now. And he'd probably spend the rest of his life trying to prove he wasn't a coward. Also, he really didn't want a Nightmare, of all dragons, to go down in history as the one Hiccup the Dragon Trainer couldn't train.
The smell of burnt hair and skin reached his nose as he backed up slowly, uttering calm, placating words to the angry reptile that was currently glaring at him through pupils narrowed to slits, obviously preparing to execute his murder. His left arm hung limply against his side while his right was extended toward the beast in mollification.
"It's okay, it's all right," he murmured. "Something's got you pretty upset, huh? Probably my fault…"
The Nightmare slowly took a few more menacing steps toward him. He continued to back up.
"But it's okay now. I'm not going to hurt you. And you already got the hurting me part out of the way, so why don't we be friends?"
"You're gonna get torched!"
Hiccup gritted his teeth. "Thank you, Snotlout."
Snotlout said something else he couldn't quite make out, but it was something along the lines of, "Hey, I aim to serve."
Hiccup just rolled his eyes and turned all of his attention to the dragon. "Just you and me here, pal," he said softly. "Why don't you calm down?"
Maybe it was his imagination, but the Nightmare's eyes seemed to round out just the slightest bit. It halted in its encroachment, mere feet from Hiccup, and tilted its head a fraction of a degree.
"That's it," the Viking boy cooed. "That's it. Just take it easy."
His aching chest heaved as he tried to slow his breathing and the arm he held out trembled slightly with strain. It was obvious he wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer. His limbs felt weak and wobbly from running around so much, and the burns on his arm had gone numb—which, he knew from experience, was not good. He could feel his hair clinging to his sweat-soaked face. He must look like a wreck.
Best to get this over with as soon as possible.
Hand still extended, he turned his head away respectfully and reached forward just the slightest bit. This was it—he'd done it. It had to submit now.
Finally, his palm met the Nightmare's rough scales. A breath of relief released itself from his lungs—
—until he heard the low growl building in the reptile's throat.
He looked up just in time to jerk his hand away when razor sharp teeth clamped down again with an unreal strength, whatever trust or tranquility that might've been instilled in the dragon instantly vanishing.
With a cry of alarm, Hiccup scrambled backward. Long, wicked claws suddenly slashed out and an enraged, deafening roar filled the air. Hiccup's ears buzzed as it reverberated inside his head, disorienting him.
And that was the moment he knew he had to get out.
This dragon was crazy. And beyond saving.
It was also the same moment that his back hit the wall of the arena. Green eyes widened with fear at the dawning realization of his predicament. A stone wall in one direction…and a feral, out-of-control monster in the other. He'd been wrong to attempt this. Suddenly he was thrown back into his fifteen-year-old body on the first day of dragon training, staring up into the gaping maw of a Gronckle and a lava blast building up to incinerate his prone form. Only Gobber wasn't here to hook this dragon in the mouth.
It was up to Hiccup this time.
The Nightmare reared up in what looked very much like blind, mindless rage, its unearthly shrieking never stopping, and slashed downward again.
Hiccup's sharp eye quickly pinpointed the opening beneath the dragon's belly and he dove for it.
He cleared it just in time, judging from the rush of air that whizzed past his back. His body hit the ground and he somersaulted forward, escaping the corner he'd accidentally backed into. The gate to the arena was suddenly in his line of sight. He wasted no time in sprinting for it.
He'd crossed almost half the distance before he let himself feel relief again. So maybe he had failed to tame this dragon, but it certainly wasn't something worth risking his life over. The sound of his friends shouting at him registered vaguely in the back of his mind, but all he was focused on was getting out of there.
That's when a set of razor-edged claws suddenly raked across his back.
His vision went white.
The breath was sucked from his lungs as his body collapsed unceremoniously onto the ground. Everything in him wanted to scream. His mouth was open, but no sound came from it. There was only the sound of ripping fabric and flesh, the slicing of skin and muscle, the immediate flow of blood plastering cloth to his back.
And the pain.
It hit him about two seconds after he fell.
And then it exploded like Zippleback gas all throughout his torso, leaving him gasping desperately and clawing at the ground.
Gods, there was so much pain.
A face full of dirt and gravel, hands gripping at stone, teeth clenching in agony, moans elicited from unbearable, stabbing torment. Excruciating shocks radiated through his torso over and over. This was it. He was going to die. He was going to be killed training a dragon—the only thing he was good at doing. Seemed appropriate.
The pain was so blinding that he wasn't aware of much else, but the presence of the Nightmare looming over him registered well enough. He squeezed his eyes shut as he waited for his inevitable fiery death. Maybe he should try to get up and run again, but an experimental shift of limbs ensured that that was definitely not going to happen. Agony pressed on his back like a two-ton boulder, pinning him to the ground with knives. It was hard to breathe. The smallest inflation of his lungs might as well have been someone taking a hatchet to his back. Perhaps death was better.
But the attack he was waiting to deliver it never came. Through the ringing in his ears, he heard another furious roar from the Nightmare, but this time it wasn't directly on top of him. It sounded further away, toward the back of the arena. And he could've been mistaken, but he thought he heard another dragon's roar joining the Nightmare's. It sounded like the shriek of a Night Fury. He didn't have the strength to lift his head to see for sure. Warning bells went off in the back of his mind, insisting that he should be concerned about that, but it was becoming so hard to think straight that he couldn't remember why it would be important.
His vision suddenly faded a bit, blackness creeping in around the edges. Whether the cause was pain or blood loss or oxygen deprivation, Hiccup couldn't tell. But no matter the cause, unconsciousness would be welcome if it relieved him from the merciless spasms of pain tearing through his back.
The sound of approaching footsteps pounding on the dirt reached his ears, but he still couldn't lift his head. All he could do was struggle to breathe in what little air he could manage and endure the shallow, pained gasps racking his chest like hiccups. His fingers dug into the ground, dirt collecting under his fingernails, and the blackness claimed a little bit more of his sight.
Was that Astrid?
Yeah, that was Astrid.
"Are you all right?" she demanded, her voice overhead and heightened in evident alarm. He didn't know if he'd ever heard such a frightened tone come from her.
He was unable to answer. Actually, his silence was probably a better and more effective reply than any he could've verbalized. He was aware of Astrid kneeling beside him and bending over to get a good look at his injuries. The slight sensation of her fingers gingerly touching his shoulder blade sent a twinge of pain shuddering through his muscles and he hissed through gritted teeth.
"Oh, my gods," she breathed, seemingly at a loss for words for the first time in her life. "Hiccup? Hiccup, listen to me. You're going to be okay. Just hold on, all right? Everything's gonna be okay."
He moaned miserably in response.
Then Astrid was yelling ardently at Ruffnut to get over there right that second before turning her attention back to him, gently placing a hand on the side of his face and begging him to keep his eyes open.
Hiccup coughed, the jolt like murder to his body. "Wh—what happened t'—"
"The Nightmare? Don't worry, we got it taken care of." Her fingers gently brushed back his dampened chestnut bangs. "Now be quiet. Try not to move."
Seconds later, another pair of feet—presumably Ruffnut's—was heard running in their direction. The closer the footfalls grew, the slower they became. Upon reaching the spot that Hiccup laid, they stopped completely.
"Whoa," the girl uttered softly.
Maybe it was just the blood singing in his ears, but Hiccup could've sworn there was actual unease—rather than awe—in her voice at what must be a pretty impressive mess the beast had made of his back. He didn't need to see it in order to know that sizable chunks of muscle and flesh had been torn from his torso.
"Help me stop the bleeding," Astrid ordered, but it sounded more like a desperate plea than her usually strict commands.
The next moment, his shirt was being stripped away by quick hands. No words were exchanged, but that was just as well. Hiccup's head was beginning to pound.
The silence vanished, however, when the hands began pressing wads of cloth to his back to staunch what had to be a heavy blood flow. He couldn't stop himself from screaming in pain, no matter how hard he tried to keep quiet.
Stop. Stop! Stop it, please! THAT HURTS! he wanted to shout, but his lips refused to cooperate.
"It's all right," Astrid murmured, breathless voice belying her words. "It's all right, just hang on. Your dad's coming."
He didn't even have sense enough left to feel embarrassed at the prospect of his father seeing him like this. His consciousness was fading rapidly with each round of pressure applied to his wounds, and consequently, the renewed waves of agony. Soon the screaming died down to long, thin whines, and then to nothing at all because it hurt too much.
Time was hard to keep track of while lying in the dirt and enduring the stinging, fiery torment of having cloth pressed to open gashes, so he didn't bother with it. But it still felt like an eternity before a mass of voices became audible in the direction of the arena's gate. Stoick's was among them, but Hiccup didn't even care. He just wanted to pass out already.
As the voices approached, he noticed they sounded alarmed and panicked, but their words were muffled behind the pounding in his ears. More pressure on his back caused the arena to blur in front of his eyes. It didn't take long at all before the blackness finally took his vision and his mind.