The door opened before Hiccup could get out a witty response and the Hooligan chief's head appeared behind it.
"Hiccup?" His voice sounded oddly hopeful.
The boy craned his head as best he could to see the doorway. "Hey, Dad."
The wave of self-consciousness that seized Hiccup suddenly was a bit unexpected. Stoick was well past thinking him weak and useless, but the need to prove to his father that he wasn't inadequate, that he could be as tough as Vikings with more…well, conventional statures, hadn't quite gone away. And being in this state of vulnerability and impairment in front of him—in front of anyone, really, but especially him—was just humiliating.
But as Stoick came in and approached the bed, there was no trace of condescendence or disapproval in his expression. There was only concern. And that was something Hiccup had seen maybe once before in his life.
"Hey, Son," the man said in an unusually gentle tone as he dragged over a heavy wooden chair and sat down next to Astrid. "How're you feelin'?"
"Okay I guess," was Hiccup's only answer.
Unsurprisingly, Stoick frowned at him in obvious skepticism and then raised an inquisitive eyebrow in the blonde's direction.
"He still has a smidge of a fever," she told the chief, speaking as if Hiccup wasn't even in the room. "And he's been in a pretty good amount of pain, but considering the circumstances I think he's doing all right."
That seemed to satisfy Stoick. He gave a nod. "Well, that's good to hear."
Hiccup had to consciously stop himself from making a face. If his father considered the fact that he was feverish and in pain to be good news, he must've had an even rougher time of it than Astrid had let on. He was, however, infinitely thankful that she hadn't mentioned his little mishap earlier.
A few moments passed in which no one spoke. Stoick's gaze lingered on him, observant and intent, and Hiccup began to squirm under it. He cleared his throat as things became unbearably awkward. "Where's Toothless?"
"Outside." The chief's eyes finally moved to the door. "Didn't want to let him in until I saw how you were doin.' I'll get 'im."
He began to rise from the chair, but Astrid hopped up to stop him. "It's okay, sir. I'll get him. And I'll get the healer too, if you want."
"Thank you, Astrid," Stoick answered with a nod.
He waited until she'd disappeared behind the door before turning to Hiccup again with a disturbingly knowing expression. "You're not feeling well, are you?"
Hiccup blinked in surprise. Sometimes he was still caught off-guard by how well his father could read him. The way the question was phrased made it abundantly clear that it was too late to put up any kind of front. Not that he wanted to, really. His reluctance had more to do with the fact that he was just frustrated with the entire situation. But with Astrid out of the room, he decided to be transparent with his father. "Aaah…no, not really."
Stoick had apparently been expecting that answer. "You shouldn't be. Those wounds are impressive." His countenance assumed a more sobered look. "Astrid told me what happened. That she'd warned you to leave that Nightmare alone but you wouldn't listen."
Aaand there it was. Hiccup knew it would come at some point during this conversation…though it sounded a lot less angry than he thought it would. "Yeah, well, sure is a mystery where I get that from."
"Hiccup," Stoick asserted. "I don't think you realize how serious this is. We came dangerously close to…to losing you. Because you were being stubborn. And I realize that stubbornness can be a good trait sometimes, but, Hiccup—there's a fine line between stubbornness and stupidity. And you crossed it."
Stoick held up a halting hand. "You have to learn to discern between the two. I know you like pushing limits with dragons, but you have to know when enough is enough."
Hiccup bit down on a retort. In retrospect, the stupidity of his actions became evident even to him, but at the time it hadn't seemed foolish. It was just routine, something he'd done many times. This time just…happened to have a worse outcome than usual.
As if reading his thoughts, his father shook his head, beard swaying slightly with the motion, and said, "Really, it's a wonder you haven't been killed already. You have to be more careful, Son."
"I will." His eyes were trained on a knot in the wooden floorboards. He had never been particularly adept at judging when his actions crossed over from bravery to stupidity, but if this was how Stoick was going to react when his reckless decisions caused him harm, he would do his best to get better at it.
Usually the man came off as angry and irritated whenever Hiccup did something stupid, which was probably why he kept on doing it. Not to spite his father, necessarily, but merely because he was used to Stoick's anger. It was nothing new, and nothing particularly threatening. Stoick was angry a lot. That was just a commonly known fact. Hiccup had learned to roll his eyes and ignore the tirades.
He was aware of the fact that Stoick cared a lot for him, of course. Heck, the man's overprotectiveness almost smothered him at times. But usually, whenever Hiccup crossed a boundary, his dad would only scold him over and over—something the young Viking had never reacted to spectacularly well.
This, however, was something completely different.
There was no anger, no rebuke, no hostility whatsoever in Stoick's visage. But Hiccup almost wished there was. He knew how to deal with that. Not…this. Not the soft look of weariness and solicitude the fierce chief was aiming at him. Not the evidence of sleepless nights and constant vigils.
The concern in his father's eyes, the lines of worry etched into his face, and hints of what might be actual fear in his voice did not sit well with Hiccup. Stoick was a rock—unmovable, strong, constant—and seeing any wavering emotion in him perturbed the boy more than he'd like to admit. He wasn't supposed to look so worn-down and scared. Fear did not become Stoick the Vast. And Hiccup did not want to be the cause of it.
"I'm sorry, Dad. Really." The words were out of his mouth before he'd fully thought through them. But he did mean them. "I didn't—I didn't mean for things to get so out-of-hand, I just…" A huff of air left him. "I'll do better."
He wanted to say more, but a wave of drowsiness suddenly washed over him. Eyelids fluttered as it became a bit of a struggle not to succumb to immediate sleep—perhaps the effects of the leftover fever or blood loss.
Stoick's meaty hand reached out to gently ruffle his hair. "It's all right, Son. I'm just glad you're okay. But we're going to discuss this further when you're better."
Hiccup offered a mere huff in the way of acknowledgement and opened his mouth to give some halfhearted sarcastic reply when the door burst opened and one overly excited Night Fury came bounding inside.
The sleepiness abated just a bit at the sight of his best friend. "Toothless! Hey, bud."
He started to reach out for the dragon, but in the blink of an eye Stoick had risen from his chair and positioned himself between Hiccup and Toothless, a hand reached out to stop the reptile in his enthusiastic approach.
"Whoa, slow down there," he said, sidestepping to make sure Toothless didn't slip around him.
Hiccup's brow furrowed. "Dad, what are you doing?"
"I'm not going to risk him accidentally hurting you."
His eyes rolled subtly. "He's fine, Dad. Let him through."
Stoick hesitated for another moment, evidently thinking it over, before he finally stepped aside. "All right. But you be careful, dragon."
Toothless seemed to get the message. He calmed significantly and slinked over to Hiccup's bedside in an almost tentative manner, head reaching out to sniff at his rider's bandages before looking right at Hiccup and uttering a low, somber warble.
"Hey there, bud." The boy extended a hand to rest on the dragon's nose, wincing a bit at the twinge of pain the movement caused. Toothless crooned again, nuzzling into his palm. "'S good to see you."
His fingers scratched at obsidian scales, and while it was with less vigor than usual, Toothless seemed to appreciate it just as much and dragged his tongue against the young man's face, sending a clear message. It's good to see you too.
"Toothless, gross," Hiccup laughed, wiping the saliva away. It was amazing how the dragon was able to lift his spirits just by being there. The constant pain lingering in his back was almost forgotten.
The dragon and rider didn't get to enjoy the reunion much longer, because soon Astrid was entering the house again with the village healer in tow. Hiccup had never liked that woman very much. She was much like Gothi, but younger. And she spoke.
His eyelids fluttered drowsily again as his father and Astrid spoke to her, probably bringing her up-to-date about his condition. The flooring creaked as she made her way over to his bedside, but he didn't turn his head even when he felt her removing the bandages. She went about a routine checkup, observing the wounds, mixing a poultice, preparing to change the bandages, and so on. Her rough palm came to cradle his forehead, checking for fever, and then her face was in his face, pulling at his eyelids and prying open his mouth. Though what she could possibly find out from looking in there, he didn't know. But he supposed that was why he wasn't a healer.
He was only half awake for the entire routine. If it weren't for all the prodding and questioning, he would've definitely been asleep in seconds. It took all his energy and focus to answer the woman's questions coherently, and even then she often had to repeat them.
In fact, she might've been asking one at that very moment. He was too groggy to know for sure.
"Hiccup?" Stoick asked as if in response to his thoughts, voice suddenly right beside his head.
"Mmm," Hiccup murmured.
"She wants to know how your pain is."
Seemed like a stupid thing to ask. "It's pain. It hurts."
He could almost feel Stoick rolling his eyes.
After that, the healer went about a simpler way of gauging his pain by poking and pressing on him and measuring his discomfort by the intensity of his cries. The tactic effectively woke him up a bit. Toothless snuffled at his hair in concern every time he whimpered.
The healer also ended up having to redo a few stitches that had been mysteriously ruined. Hiccup wanted to beg to be knocked out before the procedure, but also didn't want to sound like a wimp. It was one of those instances when he asked himself what would my father do? and made his decision based on the answer.
He was given a cloth to place between his teeth. Stoick and Astrid flanked him on either side while Toothless remained by his head.
When the healer began pushing and pulling needle and thread through already agitated skin, it was all he could do to choke back a scream. Teeth sunk into the cloth and eyes squeezed shut. The sensation of it was worse than the actual pain, although there was plenty of that too. It wasn't until he felt Toothless's tongue on his cheek that he realized he was groaning. Astrid's hand was resting atop his fisted one and Stoick occasionally patted his arm for comfort.
It seemed an eternity passed before it was over with. The healer finished by covering the wounds in poultice and wrapping them with fresh bandages, and finally left the house with stern instructions to stay in bed until she gave the okay and to refrain from any strenuous activity.
"Like that'll happen," Astrid muttered under her breath. Hiccup wasn't sure if she had meant for him to hear it or not.
He had absolutely no intention of getting up again any time soon, though, and spent the next few days sleeping and regaining strength. But by the fourth day, he had come down with a rather severe case of cabin fever and was driving Stoick mad with incessant complaining because he was so bored and was constantly asking to get out of bed. The answer was always no, but it didn't seem to quite get though the boy's skull. By day five, he was concocting a plan to sneak out unnoticed to go for one quick flight—for Toothless's sake, of course, since the dragon had become just as restless without his rider. Astrid had been flying him in Hiccup's stead, but Hiccup knew it wasn't the same. Toothless needed him.
That was why he was currently struggling to pull on a shirt. The task was a challenge thanks to the fact that his back, though considerably better, still ached pretty fiercely. The pain was bearable though, and that was good enough. Once he'd gotten the loose tunic situated crookedly on himself, he made his way furtively to the front door even though the house was empty and Stoick wouldn't be back soon. It was midday, so avoiding any attention would be tricky, but Toothless was waiting on the far side of the shed where Hiccup kept his saddle. If he could make it to the shed without being seen, they'd be able to get away safely. A feeling of triumph was already beginning to build in his chest when he opened the door—
—and nearly crashed right into Astrid.
With a startled cry, he staggered back and supported himself against the doorframe. Astrid, however, didn't so much as flinch and simply stepped back, folded her arms over her chest, and raised a perturbingly disapproving eyebrow at him.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Ignoring the pain in his back, Hiccup drew himself up and pushed a hand through his hair. "Oh, you know, just taking a short walk to stretch the legs. And then right back to bed."
She shifted her weight onto her other hip. "You know you're not supposed to be walking around yet."
"Come on, I'm fine. And it's just a quick walk—"
A stern finger was jabbed toward the house's interior. "Bed. Now."
With an eye roll and a loud, dramatic huff, Hiccup turned and slunk back to the bed that still sat by the fireplace. But before he sat down, he looked longingly at the blonde Viking over his shoulder. "Please, Astrid? Think about if you were cooped up in here for days. Have mercy."
There was not even a flicker of pity in her cold blue eyes. "Not gonna work on me, Hiccup. Now sit down. I came to change your bandages."
He deflated as it became clear that he was definitely not going to get to fly today and plunked miserably onto his bed with a groan.
Astrid situated herself behind him and helped to pull off his shirt before beginning to unwrap the bandages with quick hands. "You're lucky I'm not going to tell your father about this."
Hiccup gave no reply besides turning his head further away.
"Don't be like that," she snapped. "I don't want you hurting yourself again when you're just starting to heal. I'm only looking out for you."
He could feel her tense up and instinctively braced himself for a punch, but none ever came. Seemed like he got a break from being beaten up while he was injured. At least one good thing came of this scenario.
"Why don't you take this opportunity to try listening to me for a change," she said, irritatingly smug. "Might do you some good."
"It would do me more good to get out of this Thor-forsaken house."
"You're such an idiot, Hiccup."
A small smile cracked across his face. "Can you really blame me?"
He heard the grin in her voice when she replied with an exasperated sigh and said, "No, I guess not."
The two lapsed into a comfortable silence after that as Astrid applied the healer's salve. She'd taken up tending to his injuries once the healer deemed them well enough, and Hiccup couldn't adequately express his gratefulness for that.
After a few quiet minutes had passed, Astrid spoke up. "Oh, I meant to tell you. Fishlegs went down to get a good look at that Nightmare a few days ago and said there are signs of abuse on it. Apparently it's had a bad run-in with people before, which could explain why it's so temperamental."
"That would make sense." His lips twisted in thought. A dragon that knew nothing but pain from humans was more dangerous than any wild one. That was common knowledge. "I didn't notice any damage on it, though."
Astrid's hands smoothed over his back. "That's probably because you were too busy trying not to get killed. And you still almost managed that."
"I guess." He made a mental note to go down and study the dragon himself before its fate was decided.
Another silence stretched between them while Astrid finished with his wounds. She was preparing to wrap them with clean bandages when he felt her hesitate, hand hovering over the lacerations. The ghost of her fingertips traced the sutures that bound them with an uncharacteristic gentleness. "You know, these are gonna leave some pretty impressive scars."
"Well, at least I'll have something to show for all this. As I remember someone saying once, it's only fun if you get a scar out of it." He twisted stiffly to toss her a crooked grin.
She sighed as her arms worked to wrap the bandages around his torso. "Yeah, well, this is one instance I would rather not have to be reminded of."
"Aw, c'mon." After the bandage was tied off, Hiccup pushed himself off the bed, snatched up his shirt, and darted toward the door. Before slipping out, he turned to the blonde Viking and smirked. "I'm a dragon trainer. It's an occupational hazard."
And with that, the boy was gone. Astrid raced out after him, but a dark shape zipping across the purple evening sky told her she was too late. She shook her head at the rapidly receding silhouette, but was surprisingly devoid of any irritation. She'd been expecting this, after all, because it was Hiccup, and something of the sort was bound to happen eventually.
And in a way, he was right.
So she would leave him be, for now. But he would most certainly return to an angry lecture.
"You are going to be the death of me, Hiccup Haddock."
Oh my gosh, I just finished my first multi-chapter fic. You guys should be proud of me even though it's not even 10k and was originally intended to be a one-shot. The ending's rushed, but I just didn't feel like playing with it any more. It took me so long to get this chapter up because...well...let's just say there is a certain scene in it that I had a REALLY hard time writing after HTTYD 2. But I managed somehow.
Also, there's a very subtle reference to a particular HTTYD 2 character when Hiccup and Astrid are talking about what happened to the Nightmare. So if that particular character came to mind while reading it, you are correct.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it!