(A/N: Ah, the terrible struggles of writing. It's so hard to make it sound put together and intricate while not making it sound awkward. Maybe one day I'll evolve into a more decent writer. Like a Pokemon, but not really.
I'm doing this on my other story, but here's a music recommendation for anyone who shares my tastes. Lately I've been obsessed with Fake It by Bastille. Songs with heavy bass/snapping/clapping as the beat get me HOOKED. It's an unhealthy addiction. Also Dan Smith's voice, because... You know, it's Dan Smith.)
There were so many people filing in and out of the Great Hall that it felt like the dinner was tonight instead. The Irenics wandered around in groups, occasionally offering a hand to villager that was bringing materials inside. For the most part, they seemed to keep to themselves, quietly talking as they watched the commotion whisk by. A few Terrible Terrors were excitedly weaving between the people's feet as if playing a small game of Tag. The Berkians paid no mind when they felt a tail brush against their feet, but I spotted a lot of Irenics jumping in surprise before frantically glancing at their feet. It was actually pretty amusing.
"I wonder where my dad is..." Gunnar only gave the scampering Terrors a few seconds of his attention before facing forward once more. Occasionally, he glanced back, as if to make sure I was still behind him and not getting tramped to the ground. The gesture was both appreciated and unnecessary.
I walked a bit faster to keep up with Gunnar's long strides. "He's probably inside with my dad." Gunnar was already headed there anyway, so there wasn't much need for my input. For a little bit, I almost felt like a Terrible Terror myself—a small frame like mine narrowly dodging the passing bodies as we made our way to the entrance. I usually didn't really like these crowds, but something inside me felt a bit more at ease when there were more people around me. All those months isolated from anyone besides Erland and a couple Frenetics probably affected me more than I realized.
We finally made it through the doors, the peaceful clamor outside nothing compared to the roaring chaos happening in the Great Hall. Almost nobody was standing still, either busy setting up something or walking while they socialized with each other. I caught a glimpse of Astrid and the teens up ahead, discussing something animatedly around a table.
Someone tapped my shoulder, and I caught Gunnar pointing towards a corner before gesturing for me to come with. He must have found his dad. I followed his lead past the throng of people, trying to pinpoint where the teens were so I could go back to them later.
My dad stood out heads above most of the Vikings, so it was easy to pick him out. As I thought, Chief Steinn was by his side, both of them jovially chatting over something before they burst into hearty laughter. The smile on my dad's face grew when he caught sight of Gunnar and I. He set down the scroll he was holding, waving us over.
"Hiccup! Gunnar! Good to see you two!" My dad gestured me closer until he could put a large hand around my shoulders, tugging me against his side. He made it seem so natural, like it was how we always greeted each other. I reminded myself not to stiffen up and to relax instead.
Chief Steinn patted Gunnar on the back, the grin not faltering from his face either. "It looks like preparations for the dinner are going splendidly! We're looking forward to a great feast tomorrow."
"Oh, you won't be disappointed." My dad responded; I could feel his voice vibrating through his body. Somehow, being cushioned against his side felt a lot more comforting that it should have been, the muscles in my arms loosening up almost reflexively.
"Ah, speaking of which," Chief Steinn continued, turning his attention towards me. One of his hands lifted and rested against the hilt of the sword attached to his belt. "I wanted to commend you for the fine work you've done on my sword, Hiccup."
I blinked. That's right, I'd been the one who worked on his sword, albeit unknowingly. "Oh, uh, you're welcome. It wasn't much really."
"It was very impressive, boy!" Without another thought, the Chief unsheathed his sword, the metal glinting against the fire of a nearby torch. I subconsciously took a step back, further against my dad and further away from the weapon. My dad didn't seem to notice. "I admit it was looking a bit shabby, but now it looks like it came straight out of the shop! I presume you've worked a lot with swords?"
"He's being mentored by Gobber, our blacksmith." My dad supplied proudly.
Chief Steinn nodded, sheathing his sword with a grin. "It's no wonder. The boy has a gift! I'd love to see you working in the shop, maybe get a few pointers."
I grinned slightly, my stomach loosening with relief. The Chief seemed relaxing to talk to, more than I'd expected. "That sounds good. We could visit together the day after the dinner, if you want."
The Chief laughed. "Maybe so, maybe so."
Gunnar tapped at the Chief's arm, shifting his weight every once in a while. "Dad, is there anything else that needs to be done for the dinner?"
Chief Steinn shook his head, ruffling Gunnar's hair. "No. We're almost finished with the set-up, and then all that's left will be the cooking tomorrow. Everyone's done their share, so rest easy." He glanced to the side, eyeing the bustle of Irenics crowded around a table. "Although, it might be time for my people to eat before it gets too late."
The hand on my shoulder tightened for a split second before it disappeared. "Oh, I'll start getting my men to clear about and give you your space." My dad sounded sheepish, already turning around and waving away the few Vikings he saw in his sights.
"Oh no, take your time. We'll be fine. Preparations are important, after all." With a nod of his head, Chief Steinn bid us goodnight before heading towards the mass of Irenics, Gunnar in tow.
After calling over a Berkian and whispering in his ear, my dad turned back towards me as the villager scurried off, presumably to dismiss the rest of the village from the Hall. "I'll be heading home after I make sure things are wrapped up here. Do you want to walk back together?"
The refusal was about to roll off my tongue when I caught myself. An image flashed through my brain, when I was hiding out in the forge when my dad and Gobber had walked in. When I'd heard him worrying about me not opening up around him.
"You're not important enough to be worried over, dragon runt." Erland chuckled, his voice grating against my mind.
Still, I couldn't bring myself to say no when I saw my dad wringing his hands, looking like I did when I felt like I'd done something wrong. At that point, there was no going back. "Sure. I'll wait outside down the steps."
He visibly brightened at my response, nodding and affectionately patting Toothless' head before melting into the crowd. The Hall was already noticeably quieter than before, word getting around fast. It made it a lot easier for me to get back outside. While we navigated back towards the doors, I chanced a glance back to where I'd first spotted the teens on the way in. The table was there, but with no one to occupy its seats. I wasn't too sullen; it wasn't like I'd asked them to stay there or anything. I could talk to them tomorrow.
The air outside had gotten cooler, pricking at my skin now that the sun had started to set. Small crowds of people were making their way down the steps, dispersing as they went to their respective homes. Toothless crooned and bounded down the steps, careful not to knock anyone out of the way. I started to follow when I heard a sharp squawk from the side. A Deadly Nadder.
I turned, catching Stormfly swiftly hop towards Toothless and exchange of series of animated growls and roars. Astrid must still be inside the Hall, maybe with the others. I considered turning back and checking on them, but decided against it. A few more steps and I was in front of the pair, Stormfly finally moving her eyes in my direction. I reached out a hand, feeling something in me relax when the Nadder easily brought her snout onto my palm.
"I missed you, girl." I said quietly, scratching her under the chin. Stormfly purred, flapping her wings in delight. It was a quiet reunion that I didn't realize I needed, my chest loosening at the close contact.
Toothless perked up at the sound of footsteps behind us, turning around with a drawn out coo. From his reaction, I could already wager a guess as to who it was.
"Hiccup, ready to go?" My dad's voice was light, free of the uncertain awkwardness that had been there before.
I gave Stormfly one last rub. "Yup. Ready as can be."
My dad led the way, Toothless and I close behind as Stormfly ducked back around the side of the Hall. Most likely to wait for Astrid. The remaining villagers on the streets were quick to bid us good night, grinning and ducking their heads out of respect.
"Anything specific you want for dinner?" My dad spoke even as he waved at the people passing by.
"Not really. Whatever you eat is fine."
"Hmm. How about boar? You love that, don't you?"
I was glad I was walking behind my dad; he didn't catch the frown that touched my face at the word. Used to love is probably the better term. Granted, I did still appreciate boar, yet the thought of eating it again had my stomach clenching in distaste. It felt like it would be a while before I could get over the taste of that stale and rotten boar strips I'd had to live off of on Frenetic Island.
"...Actually, what about some soup? I haven't had that in a while." I said, looking at the sky. It was still darkening, streaks of orange and yellow being the last few bits of color left. Gods, I wanted to fly.
My dad made a noise of appreciation, stretching out his arms. "Soup sounds good! It won't take long to make."
We reached our house in no time, my dad opening the door and ushering us both in before he followed. He and Toothless moved instantaneously, one for the kitchen and the other for the basket sitting in the corner. I was surprised there was still fish left in the basket for Toothless. Did dad come back during the day to refill it? That was the only sensible explanation, since Toothless was never one to skimp on eating fish.
"So," my dad started, filling a pot with water and hanging it over the fire-pit. "How was your day?"
I moved towards a chair, settling into it as comfortably as I could. "It was okay. I took Toothless flying, then hung out at the Arena for a bit." While getting bombarded with unnecessary memories.
"It looks like you and Gunnar are getting along well." My dad said.
I traced my finger along the ridges in the table, feeling each smooth bump as I went. "I guess so."
A chopping sound filled the room as my dad got to work on the vegetables, a methodic noise that almost sounded soothing. "...How are you doing?"
My finger stopped and I looked up. "What?"
From my view, I could only see his back, yet I could almost feel his eyes boring into my insistently.
"I meant, how are you yourself doing? Are you starting to get used to being back? Is anything hurting?"
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I was getting used to it... right? Nothing was hurting anymore, at least physically.
"You don't belong there anymore, Hiccup." Erland whispered gleefully. "Just an outsider. Only a burden."
"I... No, I'm fine. It's getting better." My words sounded automatic, completely devoid of feeling.
The vegetables splashed as they were dropped into the water. My dad still hadn't turned around, busy stirring the pot as he kindled the flames. "Are you sure? I don't want you to be holding in anything painful to yourself."
The air in the room seemed to get sucked away, the thumping in my ears drowning out the crackling of the fire and Toothless loud chomping. He was worried. Of course he was. But I wasn't ready. Not for this conversation. Not with him, at least. I should just say "yes, I'm fine". Those three words would probably end the conversation. But the words wouldn't come. There was too much I could say, and too much I didn't want to say.
"If you tell him, he'll definitely be disappointed. That you're so weak and fragile."
"I can't..." I whispered. I knew my dad didn't hear me, and he gave no indication that he did. The ladle clanged against the pot, still stirring.
"What a weak excuse of a boy he had. Pathetic little Hiccup. Can't fight, can't do anything you Vikings should be capable of."
The chair clattered, falling to the ground as I stood up. My dad finally turned around, eyes wide, ladle in hand. I could even feel Toothless' gaze on me, bright and peering from the corner.
"Hiccup?" My dad asked, a shade of worry starting to darken his face when he saw me. The ladle abandoned, he straightened up to move closer.
I shook my head quickly. The motion froze my dad in his tracks, the concern now clearly apparent on his expression.
"Son, what's wrong?" He sounded uncertain again, the light atmosphere that had filled the room completely drained away. Thanks to me.
Everything was wrong, I thought. I'm so weak that I can't even control my emotions around my own father. This was all wrong. The words caught in my throat, choking it with tears.
Oh, no. Definitely not. There was no way I was going to start crying in front of my dad.
"You're weak. Too weak for Berk." Erland's voice was getting louder, drowning out anything else in my head.
"I'm sorry." My voice was starting to shake, but I swallowed it down. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" My dad took a step, freezing when I took a step back in response. His expression looked so pained. "Hiccup, I-"
I didn't let him finish, turning around and bolting up the stairs. I heard him call my name again, but I didn't stop. Not until I'd reached my room and shut the door behind me.
I'd blown it. I'd completely blown it. I sunk to the ground, back still against the door. I couldn't hear footsteps following me upstairs, to my relief. It was completely silent.
What was my dad thinking? He was probably disappointed. There was no way he wasn't. What kind of son runs away from his father like that?
"What a pitiful sight you are, brat." Erland sounded so close he could practically be next to me.
It was frustrating that I couldn't tell the voice to shut up. Even if I did, it wouldn't listen. I tucked my knees closer to my chest, working on evening out my breathing. I didn't even notice I'd started crying until I looked down and saw them dripping onto my shirt, dark spots smudging the otherwise clean fabric. I wiped them away; at least he didn't see this sorry sight.
The house creaked then, the stairs groaning under the weight of someone walking on its planks. I stiffened, pressing myself further against the door. This really was a bad time.
"I reckon he's angry with you. Very angry. Very disappointed." Erland cackled.
And then I heard it. A low noise through the door, almost inaudible. But I recognized it instantly. Without another thought, I scrambled to my feet and opened the door slightly. Toothless looked hesitant, waiting until I'd opened the door long enough as an invitation that he was allowed in. I peeked behind him, part of me wanting to see if my dad had followed him up. He didn't.
Toothless purred, a quiet rumble in his throat as he curled around me. I sunk to the ground, letting Toothless rest his head in my lap as he let out another growl. It became infinitely easier to breathe with Toothless here.
"That was embarrassing." I mumbled, running a hand across Toothless' head.
Toothless cooed, snuggling his body closer against my back. He was really warm, almost like a toasted blanket. I sighed, reveling in the comforting sensation. We stayed there for a few more seconds— me petting Toothless and him warming me up. I wished we could've stayed like that a long time, yet I knew we couldn't. The last thing I wanted to do was see my dad again, but I felt terrible for what I did.
I couldn't put it off any longer. I had to go back down.
"Alright," I whispered, patting Toothless' head and moving to get back up. Toothless took the cue, unfurling himself and silently waiting for me to get onto my feet. He waited, and I couldn't feel more grateful to have him there. Toothless was like a rock I could fall back on anytime. I didn't deserve him.
For the second time, I creaked open the door, peeking my head out reluctantly. It was still silent, save for the occasional crackling of the fire-pit. Part of me wondered if he was still even down there.
Toothless clung to my side as I stepped onto the stairs. They creaked loudly, to my dismay. If he was downstairs, my dad would definitely know by now. I kept going, my eyes trained on the steps until I hit solid ground. Then I looked up.
My dad was still standing in the same spot, almost as if glued to it. His eyes widened when they met mine, but he made no other indication that he saw me. He looked sad, really sad. And it hurt that I was the one who made him look that way.
"Um," I looked back down at my feet, almost guiltily. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
"Why?" His voice sounded so pained that I couldn't help but glance up again. "Why are you apologizing? I don't understand."
I gripped my fists. And then unclenched them. Then gripped them again. "For being weak, I guess."
My dad looked surprised at my words, mouth opening and closing over and over. "Weak? What in Thor's name made you think you were weak?"
"I am. I'm small. I'm a runt. I can't lift a war hammer easily like normal Vikings." I took a breath, feeling it rattle in my lungs. "I can't even have a serious conversation without running out the room."
His expression was pained again, but also sad. "Son, you're not weak. I'm sorry if anyone ever made you feel that way. Especially if I did in the past. I'm so sorry. You're one of the strongest Vikings I know." He frowned when I snorted weakly at the last sentence. "You took down a dragon the size of an island and survived. You tamed a Night Fury all by yourself without anyone knowing. You were the first in this village to fly on a dragon. You may be many things, but weak is not one of them. You're irreplaceable, Hiccup. And I couldn't be prouder that you're my son."
"You're lying." I shook my head slightly, my breathing growing ragged. "That's not true."
"That's right, he's lying. You're weak. So weak."
"It is true, and I will tell you as much as I have to." My dad straightened up to his full stature, his form illuminated from behind by the flames of the fire. He looked incredibly huge. And powerful.
"You're not weak, Hiccup." He repeated.
"You're my son, and I wouldn't want it any other way."
"They don't care."
"I'm sorry for what I did earlier. I was being too nosy. We don't have to talk about anything you're not ready for. Just please don't think of yourself that way, Hiccup." My dad's voice was almost a whisper, but I caught every one of his words. I didn't know what to believe anymore. More than anything, I wanted to believe him. Those sweetened words that drew me in, away from all the dark voices and memories that plagued my brain. That maybe I could belong in this brighter world, out of the shadows.
I wanted to believe him.
"... Sorry, I'll try not to." I managed.
His expression scrunched up. "And stop apologizing. You've done nothing wrong to say sorry for."
I caught myself too late, ducking my head when he stared at me, eyebrow cocked.
"... I'll stop."
I heard him chuckle, a bit of the tension escaping the room. Toothless purred, rubbing against my leg affectionately.
"Do you still want dinner?" My dad asked hesitantly, glancing over his shoulder at the boiling pot. "The soup's almost done."
I took a breath. "Yeah, I would."
He smiled, turning to grab some bowls from the sink as I fixed the chair and sat back down.
It was a start.