Stop. Before you read further, I want to make something crystal clear. This thing is silly, it's my emotions dump while I write other, serious things. It's funny and goofy and a little angsty, but nothing that isn't overshadowed by the smut. It's an AU, and I've really scrambled everyone around, and I'm having so much fun with it.
So now that you know what you're signing yourself up for, read on.
Chapter 1: Whack
Hugo Haddock's dad thought it would be a good idea to get out of his comfort zone a bit, away from systematic deterioration due to osteoporosis and the pediatric spinal discontinuities that he's far too familiar with. Taking on a few sports patients would be a reprieve, a chance to talk to people his own age, as his dad put it. It's been quiet since medical school, a bit slow, horribly local, and at first the quiet was nice, it was nice to have the same bed every night, to know the way to the bathroom every morning without turning on the light.
But now, staring down at Astrid Hofferson's extremely typical file, he feels like he's reading a chiropractic text book. Lacrosse player, twenty two, hard hit from the right side followed by nerve pain in her lumbar spine. Knocked out of alignment, she probably has asymmetrical musculature from holding her lacrosse stick on one side, if she had her arms lifted it'd leave her wide open.
He feels like he's going to get a check mark rather than a smile or a co-pay or an insurance company pay out. This is…
The patient is twenty-two, what is he going to have to talk about with a twenty-two year old? She's in college, she's a jock in college. He knows that his dad just wants him to make friends, but the more he thinks about it, the more this seems like a self-serving set up. If he does make any friends, they'll be rehabilitated athletes, won't they? Referring all of their athlete friends and drowning him in the second largest reason he ever left Berk.
He didn't fit in with the football culture there, and he's not going to have any better luck with obvious cases of college kids who spend their time sleeping on crappy beds and throwing away perfect spines.
God, maybe he does need to have a chat with a twenty-two year old. He sounds like he's closer to seventy-two than twenty-seven.
Or maybe he needs to refer her to one of the many sports chiropractors in the vast network of business compatriots that he doesn't have yet. Of course. He stares up at the degree on the exam room wall, dated nine months ago, and wondering how he got in so far over his head.
He needs to start looking before he leaps.
His exhausted looking receptionist, Kathy, opens the door of the exam room and peeks in, breathing a little harder than she was a week ago. She's starting to look genuinely pregnant now, and it just adds to the stress, because he's going to need to find someone else in three months or less. Probably less, given his luck.
"Your three o'clock is here, doctor."
"Thanks Kathy," he smiles at her and runs a hand back through his hair, standing up a little straighter and following her out into the hallway, obvious patient file in his hand. It'll be an easy one, and his four o'clock is just Mrs. Jenkins who seems to need someone to listen about her cats more than anything. He likes hearing about her cats though, but she probably guessed that from the fact that there's a cat post in the waiting room.
He hopes that his new patient didn't see the post's tenant, because Toothless was in a real mood this morning and probably shouldn't have even come to the office today. He almost bit Gustav's little brother that morning, he's been such a brat today, this whole week really. Maybe switching brands of food? Hiccup swears he talks to the nice old lady who owns the organic pet food store more than almost anyone else, figuring out the dumb cat's hyper sensitive stomach—
He stops short as soon as he looks up.
Toothless is curled up and purring loudly in a young, blonde woman's lap. She's obviously in pain, grimacing and sitting with her back perfectly vertical, rigid and barely moving her shoulder to stroke the little black cat's fur. He couldn't have guessed just how beautiful she would be.
"Dr. Haddock?" She asks, almost cocking her head and wincing as soon as her chin twitches. Toothless rumbles like a pinpoint earthquake and pushes his head against her stomach, seeking out attention as much as comforting her. She idly rests her hand in his thick black fur and Hiccup cracks half of a nervous smile.
"He doesn't normally like strangers."
"Yeah, he just hopped up here," she tries to shrug and grimaces again, and it plucks something sensitive in the base of his chest.
"Toothless, get down. Yes, down—don't sass me right now, down. Sorry about him, that's about as trained as cats get."
Kathy laughs from behind the desk as Toothless jumps up and traipses across her computer keyboard, dragging his tail against her chin.
"Toothless?" His patient asks through subtly gritted teeth, pushing to her feet while bending her back as little as possible. "What kind of name is Toothless?"
"He's missing a couple of teeth," Hiccup shrugs, swallowing an unexpected nervous laugh as she hobbles towards him, chin confidently parallel with the floor. Her eyes are so blue that he might as well be seventeen again, staring at the cheerleading captain and hoping.
Twenty-seven, seventy-two, seventeen. His internal calendar is having a rough go of it today.
"No offense, but you aren't an intern or something, right?" She looks him up and down and it feels like he might burn his clothes off of his skin. "You just don't look old enough to be a doctor and…"
"First time at a chiropractor?" He asks and she pauses, probably thinking about nodding again. "You look like you're in pain, let's just go check it out and talk about where to go from there. I promise it'll be feeling better by the time you leave, alright?"
Yes, she's in pain. She's a patient and she's in pain, and he's got the file in his slightly sweaty hand that says she's twenty-two. And he's her doctor, not a clammy seventeen year old kid with hands clenched around his crutch handles, thinking about the prom that seems important for some reason.
"Fine," she crosses her arms, gingerly, her muscles pivoting slowly around her shoulders, moving in one jerky degree of freedom at a time.
"And we'll be right back here in exam room three-" he's mostly talking to himself, because she's not paying attention, and he has to remind himself to slow down. She's swearing under her breath and scuffing well-worn athletic shoes on his dingy carpet, frustrated like his father with a cold. She's used to being capable and it's a strange change of pace from his usual patients.
He makes the horrible mistake of glancing down at the seat of her pants and drops her file on the floor, accidentally biting the side of his tongue as he throws himself forward at the waist to pick it up. His own back twinges and he stands up more cautiously, peering at her attempting to jump and sit on the edge of the table and failing with a wince that echoes in his ribs again.
"Do—Do you have a step to get up on the table or something?" She scowls at him and her hands are shaking slightly. It hurts more than she's letting on.
"You can stay standing for now, let's see if I can help with the pain any," and in the moment that's all he wants to do. He wants to make her stop hurting, to fix that pinched and nervous expression on her face, to make her hands stop shaking. He walks up behind her and gestures for her to spin around and she listens, slow and lurching.
His hands land against her shoulders and she flinches, back completely rigid. He can feel it here, the athleticism, the fact that she's usually graceful and upright and capable. This is different than helping someone, it's fixing someone, and there's something wonderful about that. He can actually fix this, and she'll be better, it's not a maintenance problem.
He traces down either side of her spine and swallows hard when his hands brush against the swoop of her waist through her shirt. This isn't fair. There's something wrong about this, isn't there? He's enjoying this too much, it's like his nerve endings are sure that this is more than an adjustment. He probes a knot in her muscle, rubbing slowly closer to her spine and finding the kink, the entire time feeling like he's flirting with an exposed wire.
She flinches and hisses and his hands tingle, finding the out of place vertebrae. He plants his thumb against the spot and she twitches, hands clenching into tight fists at her sides.
"Yeah, that hurts."
"It's just what I thought, you're a bit out of line at your third lumbar vertebrae, deep breath," he waits for her to inhale before cupping her shoulder and tugging back at the same time as pressing his knuckles into the misalignment. It pops, muted and lame and she sighs relieved, slumping forward slightly and rolling her head side to side.
He yanks his hands away from her back as though he's been burned and she looks over her shoulder at him.
It's like a week and a half of miserable tension is suddenly gone with that one little pop and she can move and breathe and think again without some invisible malevolent being jabbing a hot poker into her back. She looks over her shoulder, expecting to say thank you. Maybe even apologize for asking if the guy was an intern, she can't help it if she's not necessarily keen on someone who's new at this messing with her spine.
But the doctor who met her in the waiting room was twice as awkward and not nearly half as attractive as the one currently hovering behind her.
Shit. How did she not notice…that? Her back must have hurt more than she gave it credit for, because Dr. Haddock is something worth noticing. None of the gray hair, bad jokes and fatherly presence she was expecting when she saw the cat. She smiles and turns to face him, stretching her arms over her head in relief and wincing slightly when her back still tugs.
"How's it feeling?" He asks, taking a step back and setting her file on a nearby counter.
"Better, not perfect. It's still sort of—"
"Tight?" He waves towards the table with an asymmetrical quirk of thin, freckled lips. "I'm not done yet, that was just to help you get on the table. I forgot my stool today."
"Oh," she can't tell if she's nervous or relieved. As much as she does feel better after that first initial pop, she doesn't necessarily look forward to it happening again. But she's not entirely fixed either, and she'd like to leave without her straight-backed hobble. "There's more."
"There's more," he agrees, nodding and staring at her with impossibly green eyes. He's tall, a nice wiry sort of lean that's not normally her type, but seems to be doing something at the moment. He blinks at her and she glances towards the table.
"So, should I sit down?"
"Oh. Right. Yeah, I'll sit down—No, you sit down," he runs his hand through his hair and stands up a little straighter, gesturing again towards the table. "If you could just go ahead and sit down on the table, Ms. Hofferson."
Ms. Hofferson. That's her. She suddenly feels older than she is and puffs out a bit, pushing her girlish fascination with Dr. Haddock's razor blade of a jaw aside and nimbly jumping to sit on the edge of the tall table. Maybe this won't be so bad, she already feels impossibly more capable than when she came in.
Dr. Haddock walks around behind her, standing on the other side of the narrow, padded table and resting his hands on her shoulders with an electric jolt. She stares hard at the wall ahead of her and bites her lip, flinching when he pokes the sensitive spot on her lower back again.
"It still hurts. Just a bit, not too bad."
"I think—yeah, it's still a bit out of line," he grabs either side of her waist and she jolts, frowning when her back reminds her it's still not better. Lazy, stupid back. "You…ok, your shoulders are angled, if you could lay down on your front." He lets go of her and the room is suddenly cold, invisible drafts glancing across the impossibly hot areas he just touched.
She shivers and listens, placing her face in a padded cradle like a massage parlor. This is better than the handful of massages that her mother dragged her to as a teen, with the uncomfortably dark room and ambient soft jazz while someone tried to rub the ever present kinks out of her shoulders. Dr. Haddock walks up beside her and presses two big hands flat against the small of her back, pressing down like he's addressing the chest of a CPR dummy and her back snaps back into place with a firecracker pop. She sighs and winces as he touches the still tense muscles around the recent contortion and she tenses up.
"Loosen up," he urges, low doctor voice impossibly far from the almost nervous tone before. He can't have been doing this very long, he doesn't look a day over twenty-five, but she's been further off on guessing before. He could be forty.
A small part of her blurts that she doesn't care and she swallows hard, trying to relax.
"I've never had this done before."
"I can tell," his hand slides up to the back of her neck and squeezes absurdly gently. She twitches. "Your neck is a mess, this…" He fades out and it makes her nervous, like he's being delicate with her.
"What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing's wrong, it's just…If I had time or if you wanted-if you weren't here for a sports injury, I'd realign you fully. Your back should be fine, but I can't guarantee it won't happen again, your neck is twisted a bit and it's leaving your back open for another hit."
"It is?" She turns her head to look at him and he grabs the back of her skull, facing her back towards the floor and setting her gently in place. "I've taken hits before and this hasn't ever happened."
"It's something that happened over time, you hold your stick on your right side, right?" He walks to the base of the table and tugs briefly on the toes of her shoes. "Can you roll over?"
"Alright," she settles into the padded table and looks down at him, curiously popping onto one elbow as he grabs her heels and tries to square them with the edge of the table. "What are you doing?"
"Lay back," he gives her a wry look that's all green eyes and deep furrowed eyebrows, almost managing to distract her.
"What are you doing?"
As soon as her shoulders settle against the table he starts messing with her feet again, tugging them even with each other.
"I'm checking your overall alignment."
"Like a car?" She's a little offended but equally curious, staying as still as possible as he walks up to stand behind her head. The view is anything but unpleasant and she blinks, staring up the straight lined buttons of his shirt to that damn distracting jaw.
He places his hands against either side of her ears and starts rocking her head slowly side to side. The top of her hair brushes against the front bottom of his shirt and either she's crazy, or she gets a waft of warmth from beneath it, tickling the back of her neck.
She sighs and he jerks her head abruptly to the side, and it sounds like she's been shot.
"Fuck!" She swears, bolting upright and cupping the back of her neck with a trembling hand.
"Did I hurt you?" He panics and places a hand on her shoulder, and she shrugs it off, turning to glare at him.
"What are you—hey! That feels better."
He grins at her and her mind goes horribly, embarrassingly blank for a moment.
"Lay back down and I can do the other side."
"I didn't even know there was anything wrong with it, but now it's…" she trails off, shaking her head back and forth, up and down.
"I can't have you leaving asymmetrical." He grabs her shoulder, gentle but oddly convincing as he tugs her back down, taking her temples between his palms again and resuming rocking her head.
"So you're just going to jerk my head to the side again?"
"Are you always this curious?" He laughs, and she tenses against the movement, wringing her hands on her lap.
"I can't do it until you relax." His thumb twitches against her temple and she jolts, holding stiff.
"Maybe I don't want you doing it at all, that was terrify—shocking." She glares up at him and he pauses for a moment.
"You're going to be lopsided if you leave now, and if you're not coming back—"
"Who said I'm not coming back?"
"I got the impression that this was a sport consult."
"You said I'm out of alignment and susceptible to another hit," she crosses her arms across her chest and he reaches down, nudging them until she unfolds them to lay by her sides. He starts rocking her head again. "How many visits would it take to fix that?"
"I can't say for sure, I'll have to see how you feel after this. I will want you to come back tomorrow, for a second adjustment, just because this might readjust tonight while you uh, sleep."
Something about the pause brings her eyes back to his face, to the glint of big green eyes, big enough to make him look boyish, despite that sharp jaw. How did she not notice that at first? Seriously, she's always been one to cue on her target in a room, and she completely missed him.
He snaps her head in the other direction and two loud pops echo through the room.
She freezes and waits for her toes to go numb, every instinct pointing towards her neck being broken. He laughs.
"The neck is hard to get used to." He comforts her, and she scowls at him.
"I don't want to ever be used to that. That's horrible."
He steps away from the table and she sits up, rubbing the back of her neck and making sure it's still straight up and down like it should be. He sets about folding her arms across her chest, so that her hands are holding onto opposite shoulders.
"It's looking better already. I think I can get a little more out of your upper back here though."
He walks up behind her and reaches around to grab her elbows, breath suddenly distracting on the side of her neck. He smells like hand sanitizer and copier toner, with an undercurrent of something electric and distracting, Old Spice laced with lightning.
He pulls her arms slowly to one side and her spine releases two slow pops from right between her shoulder blades, and it's like she can breathe better than ever before. The other direction yields a fizzle and a crack and she exhales as he lets go, her entire back warm and tingling where he touched her.
"How does that feel?"
"Better," she nods, stretching her arms above her head and sighing as sore muscles finally move after being locked into position for too long. "Much better."
He walks around in front of her and scribbles something in her file. She wonders if he has doctor handwriting, scrawled and illegible. She wonders if he's closer to twenty-five or forty, and if it's ok to ask. There are rules against dating coaches and TA's and teachers, she knows, and doctor flirts with that hard drawn line in her mind.
It wouldn't really be dating anyway, if she were only after that ass—Jesus, she somehow didn't notice that? Next time she'll accept the trainer's Advil if she was in so much pain she somehow missed the fantastically appealing curve of Dr. Haddock's ass underneath the tails of his white button up shirt. The sleeves are rolled halfway up his forearms, crisp and clean and setting off constellations of freckles.
He's got to be under thirty. Not that it really matters, legal is legal and everything is alright. She's just curious.
And like she told him earlier, she's never just curious.
Maybe it's something leftover from missing her initial assessment of the room. She was trying not to seem exhausted from her short bike ride over, breathing too hard through her teeth as she climbed the stairs, back twinging every time her shoe touched the carpet. And then the little black cat came out of nowhere, winding between her ankles and trying to trip her as she checked in with the receptionist. Her insurance card didn't make sense the first time, and she was nervous about calling her parents and explaining the whole situation. They worry more than they really need to, and it's not something she wants to bring up. They'd have a specialist all lined up by the time she was home for spring break and-
"Any soreness?" Dr. Haddock closes her file and looking at her, rinsing her mind with all that piercing green. She stretches again, and it feels like showing off. She's not sure yet if showing off is a good thing or not, so many blurry lines of etiquette are whirling around her brain.
"Maybe," she wrinkles her nose, leaning slightly right. "It's not bad, it's just a little…loose?"
"That can happen," he nods and offers her a hand. She doesn't take it, instead sliding to her feet and taking a minute to get her balance, hand clamped on the edge of the table. "All the tendons in the area are loosened from your muscles clenching to hold your spine in place. Now it's in the right place and everything is relaxing at once." He reaches out like he's going to steady her she wonders if her back is really ok, because she's oddly lightheaded.
"It might get sore later. If it does, ice it, but no more than fifteen minutes an hour, but I'm sure you know that." He glances at the clock and she follows his gaze. It's barely 3:30 but it feels like she's been here five minutes. "And make an appointment for tomorrow at the front desk, if it works for you."
"What about practice?" She thinks about how much easier it's going to be to ride her bike when she can reach the handlebars without tearing up.
"I'd rather you didn't, at least until I get another look at you," he says it like a recommendation and it makes her trust him. Most doctors tell her what to do, what pills to take, but he's almost asking. "And like I said earlier, your back might be better off with a few more adjustments."
"So no practice today, come back tomorrow?" She clarifies, letting go of the bed and smiling slightly when her feet take the weight without complaint. "Alright, I can do that."
"It was nice, uh, meeting you, Ms. Hofferson," he offers his hand for a moment but pulls it back before she manages to shake it, wiping his palm on the hip of his pants and shrugging towards the door.
"Nice meeting you, too."
She doesn't realize that the sentiment is genuine until she's halfway back to the waiting room, stifling a smile that doesn't make much sense in the first place. The receptionist is sorting through a stack of papers and Astrid sighs relieved when she notices the woman's large, pregnant belly.
She didn't notice that either. She was just in pain, she didn't go soft and unreceptive somewhere along the way.
"Feeling better?" The young woman asks from behind the desk, abandoning her stack of papers to stand in front of the computer.
"Much," Astrid nods, trying not to stare at her stomach. It's fascinating, because the woman is probably three or four years older than her, but in such a different place, so far away from life-changing tournaments and the thirst to prove herself at a first job. "He said to come back tomorrow."
"Of course he did," she shakes her head and starts tapping away on the keyboard, mild smile on her exhausted face. "Is later in the afternoon best for you?"
"Yeah, after two," Astrid leans against the desk and scrapes her fingernail over a dirty roll of paint stuck to the laminate. The front desk is a little shabbier than the rest of the office even though the waiting room chairs and exam table still smelled like new car.
"I have another three o'clock, would that work for you?"
Astrid nods and the woman starts tapping again, glancing up with a practiced smile. "What was wrong? You didn't seem so chatty when you walked in."
"My back was out of whack, or something. But I guess my neck was the real problem, it sounded like a gunshot when it went off," she shudders and grabs it again, still somehow expecting to find it bent and broken.
"That's my favorite part!" The receptionist rubs a hand over her bulging stomach. "He can't help me with my back anymore, now that I can't lay on the table, but I still get him to do my neck every morning."
"It needs it every morning?" Astrid grimaces and the woman laughs, clicking one last key and finalizing the appointment before turning back to the stack of papers that need to be sorted.
"Even if it doesn't, it still feels good." She hums, sounding tired and shaking her head, and it all hits Astrid at once.
Everything about this building reeks of family practice, the pictures of smiling kids pinned to the bulletin board above the counter. Probably cousins and nieces and nephews. A man with kind eyes who could be the receptionist's father, holding a little boy's hand. This has to be Dr. Haddock's wife, it's the only thing that makes sense. It makes too much sense.
The realization hits a little harder than it probably should and Astrid stands away from the counter, swallowing a flinch as her back starts to complain about being manipulated. Of course he's married.
The last bit of the tingle in her spine fades to nothing and she clears her throat, pointing towards the door.
"Am I good to go?"
"Oh, I still need your co-pay," she checks the screen again. "It looks like forty dollars."
"Right, co-pay," Astrid rummages in her wallet for a moment, searching for forty dollars in the small stack of the bills. "Can you break a hundred?"
The intrigue. The mother-flipping intrigue y'all.
I'll be updating this weekly, so you can expect chapter 2 next Tuesday. Thanks!