Prodigal Son 41

So… First of all, this is a very long and dense chapter. Perhaps the longest I have ever published. There was a lot of meat to chew through, but I didn't want to split it into two chapters because there was no place to split it which felt completely right. It's a turning point for our heroes, and they had a lot of things to see through before they could get back to Berk.

Second of all, and consider this a warning: there is sex ahead.

I am not a smut writer, and I originally wanted to avoid including sex in this story. Not out of prudishness, but rather because too many times, especially in fan fiction, sex is often a distraction from the point of the story and can easily overshadow other important emotional and thematic elements. I've no doubt that there is plenty of lemony Hiccstrid content out there on the interwebs already, and I wanted this story to be about other things, so I avoided it. This story is not porn.

But the fact is that the heart of this story is still two young, beautiful, lonely people with a LOT of baggage and pent-up emotions and romantic interest in each other, both being repeatedly pushed to the breaking point and towards each other.

I do not feel I can portray their relationship with the depth it deserves without showing them at their most intimate and vulnerable moments with each other. That includes sex and sexuality.

Besides, in this story, I've already fried a small child to a blackened crisp. Not to mention the dozen or people so slain by dragons, or Hiccup's own hand, and the hundreds more who died in the battle sequences. An entire city was destroyed, so God forbid I take a moment to explore two people enjoying the better side of life. Even so, if it seems awkward or weird, please keep in mind this is literally the first time I've ever tried to flex this particular literary muscle. It seemed right for the characters, but it's a big step both for them, and for me.

Regardless, I've tried to keep it tasteful, but it's here now, and if you don't like it, skip it.

The scent of sizzling bacon hooked Astrid and pulled her up from the depths of slumber. She slowly opened her eyes to stare up at the ceiling, her mind absolutely and contentedly blank.

She blinked; the roof above her head was stone, not thatch.

Where on earth was there a stone ceili- Astrid sat bolt upright and immediately the muscles in her lower back, shoulders, butt, abdomen, and legs sent her stinging rebukes. It was the price of hours of riding, of having her muscles constantly tensed, yet she ignored them, hunting frantically for her axe and shield; that life-long and marrow-deep panic welling up within her. Where were they? They were always on hand. They were always on hand!

"Over there."

She looked over her shoulder to see Hiccup emerging from one of the countless side passages, with a steaming platter in each hand. He nodded across the chamber to where her axe and shield were lying on a work bench.

The memories came flooding in, and she relaxed. Oh, right!

Then she remembered exactly what they had been doing together seconds before she had fallen asleep, and she tensed back up again, trying to suppress a goofy smile. She watched him as he approached, searching his freckled face for… everything. Regret, pride, bashfulness, lust… Did he want to do it again? She hoped so. Already she ached to run her fingers through his hair and feel his warm lips meld to hers, his hands on her hips and running up and down her back, and -

The two cast-iron skillets in his gloved hands landed softly upon the table, heaped with eggs, bacon, hashed potatoes, and some slices of fresh bread which were soaked in the bacon grease. The delectable scents were quite distracting.

"You took my axe?!" Even as she asked the question, Astrid realized how ludicrously confrontational she sounded, and she immediately regretted it; she didn't want to put him off!

Yet the warrior within also couldn't remember the last time she had woken without her weapons in hand. On Berk it was a matter of life and death.

And his face was still carefully, impassively blank, damn him!

Hiccup stared at her in stunned silence, and she feared momentarily that he had taken offence, but then he spoke, "Yes, I confess: I did it! I, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, with great malice aforethought, kidnapped your precious axe and shield!" Astrid burst out laughing; she couldn't help it; she felt… giddy. And he was still going… "They now reside alllll the way in the distant unreachable lands of…" his voice and bearing changed in an instant to incredibly flat and unemotional. His shoulders drooped, "…my workbench. Across the room."

He pointed. They were indeed, right across the room, cleaned, oiled, sharpened and well-cared for.

She glared at him in mock fury, "you heinous fiend!"

He shrugged, unable to keep himself from smiling, "the axe needed sharpening. And oiling. And polishing. And the handle was damaged which is funny because it was recently replaced... and some of the studs in your shield were loose. And the front was pretty badly scored…and burned…"

"Where in Hel's realm did you even find the time?" she stared at him, "didn't you sleep last night?"

He shrugged awkwardly, "…well given what happened last night, I… wanted to make sure you wouldn't kill me at least until after breakfast."

Astrid stared at him, nonplussed, "why would I kil- oh."


He was as worried about her as she was about him. For some reason that was very reassuring. She turned scarlet, but he was blushing too, so at least they could be embarrassed together. Yet the feeling of his lips on her, his hands on her body, was seared across her mind, and she wanted to feel him again, to force more of those quiet noises out of him which he'd made when she had pressed her body against his.

"I'm sorry," he added quickly, "for all of that. For the record, I mean. I was… you were… you were tired and I was not in good shape so …look – ahahaha if you uuuh… want to… just… pretend nothing happened I'd completely understand. I won't say a word. And… if you're going to kill me you might as well do it on a full stomach, sooo…" He gave the skillets a vague, careful wave, watching her as if she would explode at any moment.

Astrid licked her lips slowly, rolling everything over in her mind. She had been very tired, it was true. And Hiccup had been – well not tired as such, but absolutely not in a good place for rational decision-making. It probably wouldn't have happened any other way, though, and she definitely didn't mind…

Yet a conservative part of her was rebelling. It was not that she had never felt lonely, or wondered what the other side of life held, or ached for the happiness she had seen on the faces of her sisters and brothers and other various couples over the years, but… well… Astrid's back had been turned to every wedding she had ever attended, weapons in hand, and piercing eyes skyward. She had never actually seen the ceremonies, only vaguely heard the vows and proclamations and happy cheering of those behind her while she scanned the sky for the telltale winged silhouettes. Never had she imagined herself anywhere else, doing anything else than standing guard.

Life was for others. Duty was hers.

Astrid had sworn oaths to the gods themselves, oaths she had kept since childhood, to let nothing in the world come before the protection of Berk. How could she pursue the sort of personal devotion shared by Iona and her husband Styr, and still value every life in the village equally? Still be willing to put herself in harm's way so easily?

There was no way to do it, so she didn't. That was the sacrifice. The Warrior's Path, as Stoick had put it. As Uncle Finn had taught her. Suitor after suitor had been driven off. Her marriage to Snotlout - especially that - was an act of self-sacrifice for the village, no different than losing a limb to a gronkle. It wasn't something she wanted. It was just… duty.

But, as always, Hiccup was different. She felt angry at herself for showing such weakness the previous night and wondered if she had betrayed her oaths by engaging with him that way, even for a single breathless, ambrosial moment.

Hiccup had swooped down upon her and touched her in ways which made her ache and thirst and tingle, gave her goosebumps and made her weak at the knees, and she… by Thor's beard, she had basically thrown herself at him, but it wasn't as if it had all just come from nowhere. If in truth she had betrayed her oaths, it had happened long before last night. Astrid had felt …things… for Hiccup since pretty much the moment he had first taken off his helmet, even if she had refused to acknowledge it or try to understand any of it.

The very fact that Astrid had, until that moment, attempted to deliberately ignore her own feelings meant she could not be honest with herself if she tried to deny their very existence. She had wanted to kiss him for a long time. Even now, she wanted to do it again, and more besides.

As for Hiccup… well, she had read his journal. She had seen his sketch of The Most Beautiful Girl in Midgard. She knew how he felt. The two of them had been dancing around each other the entire time. But …why him? Why him, when there were dozens of suitors on Berk who would have jumped at the chance? Why him, when she had turned down and refused so many worthy men? Why him? Why now?

Because he was unlike anyone she had ever met, and what he brought into her world was like nothing she would ever have dreamt of in his absence. Every person on Berk, including the suitors, already had a place; a defined role in her world: either Warrior or Civilian. Either on The Wall, or behind it. Not flying above it on gods-damned dragonback, let alone soaring through the open air next to his dragon! As a youth he had run around destroying everything on Berk by accident and she had thought him a fool. And now here he was eight years later, doing it again, but this time… this time… with purpose, poise, inestimable intelligence, benevolent intention, and those soulful green eyes and the jawline and the long, flat muscles…

He was staring right back at her, "You …okay?"

Astrid blinked and looked down at the skillet.

Hiccup, as was his way, had torn down yet another wall: Astrid Hofferson's Stalwart Oaths. He simply couldn't fucking help himself and that made her absolutely furious with him, and with herself for letting it happen. Yet, like all the other barriers he had ever felled, what lay behind it wasn't worse than how she had been living before. In fact it was better. It felt better. The same way partnering with Stormfly was better. But it was also different and new and…

…And why was that bad?

Had she betrayed her oaths? Was it a betrayal if the man she chose was the only person who seemed to be able to keep up with her? Exceed her, even? Besides, Hiccup's knowledge held the key to fulfilling her oath: protecting Berk. Maybe even saving it. So… how could choosing him, partnering with him, be a betrayal? Wasn't that, in a way, a method to further her goals?

Or was she just telling herself another lie to justify a moment of indulgence so she could keep her pride intact?

She realized he was waiting anxiously for a declaration of some kind – and also that the food he had cooked smelled incredible, and was slowly cooling, and that she was very, very hungry.

Astrid settled on a truth she couldn't deny and quietly said, "I… I wanted it to happen. I guess."

Hiccup flinched, and she immediately felt horrible. "Hiccup – no! That's not how I meant it! I'm just… I need… I wanted – I want you." She looked him dead in the eye, "I want you." She looked back down at her food, poking at it with a fork. "I'm just dealing with a lot of …stuff…"

"Sorry…" he took a quick breath his voice nothing but well-meaning concern, "look if you really don't want to, I can…" he bit his lip, looking distraught, "I can say it never happe-"

"Shut up!" her fork clattered to the plate and she ran her hands over her face and up into her hair, "This was supposed to be simple! I was going to fight and fight and fight and one day I was going to get torn in half by a nightmare or spiked by a nadder and that was supposed to be that; another name in the scrolls; more bones for the pyre. I am a warrior, Hiccup!"

He stared.

"I had a plan!" she declared proudly. Hiccup for his part looked completely flummoxed, and his absolute confusion only made her giggle, "and then you had to come along and wreck it by being… you! You… bastard!"

The bemused shock on Hiccup's face had only grown, but that mischievous twinkle had returned to his eyes. "Well… that's a terrible plan, so... you're welcome?" He shrugged modestly.

"Shut up!" she smiled down at her plate, unable to contain the sudden giddiness which had overtaken her, or the blush in her cheeks.

Hiccup's face lit up in the happiest, goofiest smile she had ever seen, and her heart suddenly melted into a soppy puddle. She couldn't help but grin back, feeling like a complete fool.

Uh oh. The warrior within was suddenly screaming; she was vulnerable. Not physically, but emotionally. He had torn down that wall too. Or was it the same wall? Regardless, he had power over her. He could make her anxious or worried or joyful second by second; the things he said mattered, the little minute expressions – the little smiles and frowns all held so much weight. He could hurt her so easily… if he really wanted to.

But this was Hiccup, she reminded herself, not a Jorgenson – damn them – but a Haddock. The Haddock. And he had held feelings for her looong before she had even noticed his existence. Astrid was absolutely sure that he did not want to hurt her. The thought that he even could hurt her probably hadn't crossed his mind.

The realization that she could hurt him crossed hers, though. He had the same vulnerability. She could see it in how he studied her face, always anxious, always wanting her to be smiling. She knew she could hurt him with just a look. Astrid wondered if that meant she was a bad person. She stared down at her knees, suddenly unable to meet his gaze.

And yet… it was that very distance which had caused so many problems to start. It was the Berkian way. Stoick's way. Astrid knew she couldn't close up emotionally like that if they were going to work together to solve the tribe's problems. Not if she was going to keep Hiccup's trust. Certainly not if he was going to keep kissing her like that. Yet that meant she also had to trust him, and it felt like she was throwing herself off of a cliff and simply hoping, praying that he would catch her on the way down.

What if he didn't?

Well, Astrid supposed, she was a Viking. Getting hurt was an occupational hazard and perhaps a wounded heart was less trouble than a wounded arm or leg.

So why did she fear it more?

Because no physical injury she had ever felt hurt her as much as Uncle Finn's death. Nothing could feel worse than watching little Sigerich Hrolfson teetering out of his family's burning home, understanding that the child was already charred beyond recognition, wounded beyond salvation and in pain beyond imagination. There was nothing in existence worse than knowing she could have woken up ten seconds earlier; got out the door ten seconds sooner and nocked an arrow or thrown her axe or somethinganything! Odin curse her, she should have done something!

The same went for Brynyolf Barrason. And all the rest. Astrid knew she would be tormenting herself for her failures until the end of her days.

Yet here she was, grinning like an idiot at the goofy boy across the table from her, and feeling things little Sigerich was never going to feel because Astrid Hofferson had slept a few seconds too long, had been a few seconds too slow.

None of this was fair!

Her grin faded.

Hiccup seemed to sense her distress, and his smile vanished. He slid one skillet across to her and set down a fork and knife, taking a seat on the far side for himself after retrieving a chair.

"Have a bite, at least." He prompted. The gentleness and care in his voice only made her feel worse.

All the same, Astrid had to admit, it all smelled absolutely amazing, and she hadn't eaten anything since before yesterday's training session. Her ravenous stomach checked in, and she immediately speared a piece of bacon with a fork and plunged it into her mouth, followed by an entire forkful of the potatoes. It had all been soaking in the bacon grease and gods above, it tasted divine!

"Are you feeling okay this morning?" he asked politely. She noticed his portion was far smaller than hers, "I mean… physically. You were riding for a while."

"- Hurts - " she said, in the midst of chewing.

A few bits fell from her mouth back onto the plate, but she scooped it all up with her fork and crammed it messily back in. Over the course of her life, Astrid had learned to eat fast; far too many times, the beasts had attacked while she was halfway through a bowl of stew on the night watch. From there on it was battle and then cleanup and then rebuilding and rearming. One exhausted raid a few years back had been three days of constant combat – she had hardly had time to gulp down a mug of ale between the waves of dragons which all seemed hellbent on slaughter. And Berk's heavy, calorie-rich ale seemed the only thing the warriors could drink fast enough for their bodies to maintain the pace of combat. Rumor had it the Gothi had spiked the drinks with some sort of mushroom to keep them awake and alert, but Astrid did not believe them.

Even so… one never truly knew when the next meal was going to be. Eat fast, eat well, be thankful.

Hiccup nodded and spoke before neatly spearing a chunk of potato, "yeah I figured. I remember the early days. Riding takes a while for your body to get used to it. Stretching before and after helps a lot. Also taking breaks. There's little islands and sea stacks and stuff everywhere. You can't go half an hour around this archipelago without finding a place to set down and rest, but it's much easier to find them in the daytime."

"I didn't know…I wish we had stopped."

"So do I." Hiccup said, "Stormfly loves you, but Nadders aren't built for that kind of distance. She's as sore as you are. Probably more. They move really fast in short hops and jumps. She tuckered herself out. I had to feed her a sedative to keep her down so she could rest and heal. She won't be up and about for another day at least."

"I… I didn't meant to hurt her!" Astrid said wretchedly, staring at him in horror, "we needed to find you!" her heart filled with sorrow and dread. Stormfly's well-being was her responsibility! The dragon was too innocent to care for herself, and Astrid had taken advantage of her! Had hurt her!

"It's okay, Astrid." Hiccup assured her, "Dragons know their limits. She's okay. And she wanted to help you, or she wouldn't have done it. It's a sign she sensed how important it was to you to -" he swallowed, blushing, "to …find me." His hesitation vanished, and his face was gleeful, enthusiastic! "I never dreamed you of all people would bond so deeply with a dragon!"

Astrid felt a burst of warmth towards both him and the nadder, and with it came more guilt. She made a mental note to get the dragon something tastier than fish – perhaps chicken or duck.

"Oh! One second!" Hiccup slapped his forehead. He shot up to his feet, vanishing through one of the countless curtains, only to reemerge with two mugs of fresh, cold mountain water from the glacial melt above them. She gulped hers down immediately and so he passed her the other, grabbing the first to refill.

Once she had slaked her thirst, Astrid said, "we still gotta ride back today."

"We'll take Toothless. It's not yet noon, but the sun is well up, so if we want to get back in time to talk to Sirnir, we'll need to go faster than Stormfly can manage. I think Toothless could easily take us both back in about a half-hour."

Astrid froze, staring across the table at him. Her students! She had missed dragon training! She had also not checked in with anyone this morning. The village would have noticed her absence…

It was too late. The choice had been made, but her stomach twisted as she considered the difficulties ahead. The anger of the Jorgensons. The questions. It was tempting – very tempting – to simply...


…What if she didn't come back? They could just stay there on the island together. There would be no politics, no Jorgensons, no rumors, no confrontations. Simply sunny days with her and Hiccup and Toothless and Stormfly doing whatever they damned-well pleased! She could kiss him as much as she liked, whenever she liked and no one could say a Hel-damned thing!

The urge was strong; like an undertow, sucking at her foundation and threatening to pull her out to sea. It would be so easy to reach across the table and drag him into the bed she was seated upon; feel his hands and mouth on her again… They could just stay there, wrapped in each other's arms and let the rest of the world fade away. She liked that idea. She liked it a lot. She didn't have to go back. She didn't have to face the Jorgensons, or the village's judgement. Hiccup wouldn't resist, she knew. Not if she kissed him like she did last night.

She could be free. She was free… if she wanted it.

Astrid bit her lip and stared down into her plate.

And yet…

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, green eyes full of concern.

And yet… Berk would decay and die.

Astrid couldn't allow that.

She slowly chewed her last mouthful and gave him a sympathetic look, "the longer I deal with all of this, the more I understand why you left."

He bit his lip, his shoulder's drooping, "I didn't want to leave… I left because I couldn't have stayed. They would have killed Toothless and I…" he slowly shook his head.

Astrid graced him with a sad smile, "I'm sorry."

Hiccup shrugged awkwardly.

"I mean it," Astrid said, "I barely noticed you existed back then. I was busy training."

"I remember," hiccup said somberly, "I made you your first battle axe."

Astrid stared. Her eyes flickered between his face and the double-bladed tool lying on the workbench behind him.

"Not that thing!" Hiccup laughed, jabbing his thumb at it over his shoulder, "that's a classic Gobber Special. How often do you have to sharpen it?"

Astrid chuckled, "All the godsdamned time."

Hiccup nodded, grinning, "yep, blacksmithing is a science, but Gobber… Gobber treats like an art. He'll mix random stuff into his iron - spices and things which he figures Thor or Odin like, and he'll leave the project sitting too long in the forge just because he's feeling like it needs it that day. All it does is weaken the metal and lead to inferior product. Then there's just the general degradation of the materials; there isn't a single weapon on berk which wasn't at some point a plowshare, which wasn't at some point a bin of nails which wasn't at some point another weapon… he's working with impure materials and…" He sighed and shook his head, "I told him for years and he never listened. I remember I begged him to let me make your axe."

She smiled, "because you wanted to be the one to hand it to me?"

Hiccup sat back, looking genuinely hurt and a little offended, "because I knew I could do it better and that a sharper blade might be the difference between your life and death, mainly." He seemed to deflate and then added, grudgingly, "also yes, so I could give it to you, yes."

Astrid grinned as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. She tried to remember… "which axe was it?"

"The double-bladed one. Sized for your height. I engraved runes on it. I think you lost it in a week. Planted it in a gronkle and the dragon just flew away with it. We were …ten?"

She gave him a blank stare, old memories flooding back into her mind.

Hiccup stared back in shock, "you… don't even remember, do you?"


"You don't remember the axe."


"Wow…" he shook his head in mock disappointment, "just… wow, Hofferson."

"I don't remember much of anything besides… crying." Astrid told him. The word had just… slipped out. So much of her life had been dredged up over the past few weeks… the old wounds in her soul had bubbled to the surface, seeping pain.

The triumphant teasing grin on his face vanished. Instantly he was all sorrow and worry.

She blinked and stared down into her food, chasing some potato chunks around the plate, "I'd just watched my uncle Finn die, and it felt like… like my guts had been ripped out. I remember crying and screaming and my mum holding me. I wished so badly that he'd just… just walk through the door and I knew it didn't make any sense and I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I wanted it anyway... I tried to… to will him back to life. I was just praying the universe would somehow change back to the way it was." She remembered the funeral, back when Berk still did full funerals; grey faces offering meaningless words to her family. Hiccup had been amongst them, probably. Maybe he'd given her the axe then, but it hadn't mattered. Nothing had mattered except Finn's lessons and The Oath.

"Astrid… I'm so sorry." Hiccup murmured, full of sympathy.

She said, "I had just… I was trying to cope with the fact that Uncle Finn wasn't coming back because the dragons had taken him from me; that everything he had ever taught me was because his war was mine too. Because he'd lost family the same way. Because we all had. It was all suddenly real, and I was scared and hurting and angry... I thought Odin had marked me." She looked hiccup straight in the eyes, "I hated them, Hiccup. I wanted to kill them all. To avenge him. To make myself feel better. To save Berk. To – to stop anyone else from ever having to feel like I did."

He was silent for a moment, but in his eyes there was no judgement. Only sadness and sympathy. Then he said, "Did it make you feel better?"


"Killing them?"

Astrid shook her head slowly, "sort of… but it didn't bring him back. Eventually I realized that Finn had been trying to teach me how to fight them so I could survive and protect others. Dragons were – are a hazard. Like the weather, and we just have to take our hits and persevere."

Hiccup shifted uncomfortably, "I'm sorry,"

"For what?"

"Well I just…" he rubbed the back of his neck, "back then, I looked up to you. I idolized you and I admired you so much! I mean I still do today of course,"

"You better," she shot playfully, smirking at him.

Hiccup blinked at her and turned crimson, his eyes flickering back down to her mouth again. She was already learning what that meant.

All the same he shifted in his seat and took a breath before he soldiered on, stumbling over his own tongue. "but… but you were everything I wanted."

Astrid raised a teasing eyebrow.

"To be!" he corrected, looked absolutely mortified, "everything I wanted to be: The Viking Berk needed." The moment seemed to pass and his face grew sombre, "I never really wondered what was going on in your world. In your head. It's just how you were. You were Astrid Hofferson: Our generation's badass Viking warrior. I didn't realize you were hurting so much…" He chewed his lip and looked away shamefully, "I'm sorry. I was just a kid."

"We both were." She murmured. It was such a stupid thing to apologize for. Why had he even thought it? She set her fork down and sighed, "you know, sometimes when Stormfly does things – when she flames, or screeches or flicks her tail spines, all I see is the shield-brothers and civilians I've lost over the years. I can't help it… it's all still in there. I know it's not her fault but it's just… I spent almost all my life training to kill her and all that is still in here too," she tapped the side of her head, "and now I have to fight myself and everything else. I know it's wrong to kill them now. I know it won't save Berk or bring us peace. I know it's not the way forward anymore, but… the old ways? They got us this far, you know? It's hard to change."

"You've already done more than almost anyone I've ever met." He told her quietly.

Astrid sat back in her chair and stared across the table at him, feeling relief; she had feared he'd somehow think less of her. She added, "I just… I hope you understand that everyone on Berk feels like this, you know? Just… be patient with us, Hiccup. It still all hurts. It'll be the same for everyone on Berk. Fishlegs. Sirnir. My mum. All of us. Berkians are warriors at our core. Killing dragons and persevering is all we do. It's all we know. I don't know how you escaped it…"

Hiccup glanced up at her but couldn't seem to meet her eyes. He said, "I never got hurt by them the way you did. They took my mum, but I was a baby and never knew her, so that didn't hurt me the way it hurt dad."

He sighed, "Besides, I… have a similar problem. I had time to fix your axe and shield last night because I don't get much sleep. I have bad dreams."

"I'm sorry." Astrid hoped she sounded as sympathetic and caring as he had. She did care. She wanted him to be happy. To banter with her and be awkward so she could laugh. To comfort her and be a companion when Berk was being its worst. She needed him to be okay for his sake too. He had chosen a horribly lonely way to live, and from everything he had said, he had chosen from experience. After everything he had seen, he felt like there wasn't a choice at all. It was heartbreaking and she wanted to wrap her arms around him.

He wasn't alone. Astrid wanted him to understand that.

"I dream that I'm back in the shield wall at Nessebar." He stared sightlessly through his mug of water, his eyes hazy and full of pain. "I see burning villages and screaming, crying civilians we had orders to kill. Homes destroyed. Families ripped apart. All by people. Human beings."

His voice caught in his throat and he blinked, returning a little from wherever he had gone. He said, "that thing that happens to you when Stormfly gets aggressive? I get that around warriors and shields and blades. It just brings back a lot of bad memories." He shrugged, the movement lacking in his usual enthusiasm, "at least Berk has a better reason than most for acting the way they do. I still couldn't be a part of it, though."

Astrid said, "I'm sorry for how we – how I treated you."

Hiccup's head snapped up so fast that she heard his neck crack. He gaped at her, "huh?"

"You were ours to lose. Look at all of this…" Astrid waved around the chamber, "look what you built! We've spent so much time and energy swinging axes that there's practically nothing else left. But you… you do amazing things!"

"Swinging axes has kept Berk alive." He admitted grudgingly.

"Yeah but I mean… there's more to the world and you were the one person who could have helped us and we just… drove you away. Your dad, the other warriors, the other kids… me. I'm sorry you never felt like you could share Toothless with us. I'm sorry you felt closer to him than to your own tribe. I'm sorry that it was so easy to leave."

"It wasn't. It was the hardest – the second-hardest thing I've ever done." he corrected himself pedantically, and she couldn't help but smile.


Hiccup chewed his lip, considering for a moment, and then nodded. But he didn't clarify.

She opened her mouth to ask, and hesitated. Was it even her place? The correction had been more of a tick than anything else… a compulsion to be accurate and do the right thing the right way. Had he meant for it to slip out? Did he want to share? Something terrible had happened to him. She knew it was all wrapped up in the sketches on his walls, in the inventions which were scattered across his home, and in the scrolls and stories which he was copying, page by page. But for all her intense curiosity, Astrid knew that if she made him recount the tale it would hurt him, and she didn't want to hurt him, so she just sat there, caught in a moment of indecision.

Hiccup quietly and abruptly rose to his feet, his face grey. "Come find me when you're done eating." He nodded at one of the many curtained exits at the far end of the room, "Stormfly is down the tunnel, in the stables. I'll be up in the sunroom when you're ready."

"The sunroom?"

But he was already on his way out, his shoulders tense, and a dark cloud following him.

She found the tunnels at the far end of his storage area. It was a steeply sloped, dark corridor with bright sunlight pouring in through an opening down to her left, and also up to her right. She headed down first, as it caused her aching muscles to hurt a little less, and she wanted to see Stormfly. She felt her knees, thighs, calves, hamstrings, and her butt all throb and twinge and protest with every step, but she reached the bottom of the passage and found that it ended in the wide, open mouth of a cave. They were at the edge of a sheer cliff which looked out upon the forest at the center of the island. It was a gorgeous, breathtaking view. The dark, heavy evergreens held a rare shine in the morning sun, and a hazy rainbow arced above, caused by a slim glacial waterfall beside the cave entrance. The fresh, moist air and steady wash of noise was soothing to the soul.

Around Astrid were a half-dozen open dragon pens. Toothless was there, lounging on his back while a few terrible terrors nuzzled him and clambered around on him. He trilled a greeting and gave her a half-lidded, lazy smile, sticking his tongue out with a gummy grin. She did the same, not quite sure if she was teasing him like she teased his rider, but she intended it as a friendly gesture, and he seemed to take in with good humor.

There were a few other dragons there; an old one-eyed gronckle and some terrible terrors with nests built into the heavy wooden trunks which separated each pen. Astrid noted that the old gronckle was heavy scarred with axe and arrow wounds. It had survived an attack on Berk. Perhaps one of the gashes had been left by Astrid herself in a moment of triumphant, violent idiocy. The thought pained her.

Buckets, bags and baskets were scattered around the pen, all stinking of fish. A primitive, but sturdy cabinet took up a small nook, and Astrid didn't have to look to know it was full of supplies and tools Hiccup used to care for the beasts.

But her eye was drawn to Stormfly, who was resting in the nearest stable, eyes half-closed and tongue lolling out.

Astrid rushed to her dragon's side. The nadder's breathing was steady, but her wings and tail lay limp around her.

"Hey girl…" Astrid said gently, laying a hand on her nadder's snout, "hey…"

Stormfly opened a groggy eye and made a soft noise. Her rough tongue gently flickered out and licked Astrid's hand. "I'm sorry!" Astrid settled beside her dragon, resting her head in the crook of her friend's neck. She shut her eyes and flung her arm over the dragon's back. "I didn't know I was hurting you. Thanks for letting me push us last night. I needed to find him."

In the stall across from them, Toothless let out a sound which could only be described as laughter. It was a harsh, parping noise, which nevertheless carried a frankly stunning amount of suggestive subtext. He gave Astrid a lewd, gummy smile.

"Shut. Up!" she glared at the dragon, but that only seemed to amuse him more. "you know we're riding you back to Berk, right? It'll be my knobby knees in your back the whole way there!"

The dragon huffed, puffs of vapor curling from his nostrils as he rolled his eyes.

Astrid deflated, "yeah… I guess if Hiccup's your rider that's something you're used to…"

To her shock, the dragon nodded – or had she imagined it? How intelligent was the night fury?

She sighed and kept rubbing Stormfly's flanks. The dragon had gone back to sleep. There was an empty bucket in the stall beside them, and it stank of fish like the rest, but also some other foul concoction. Astrid wondered what Hiccup had mixed into the food to put a Nadder out like this. How deep did his knowledge of the world really go?

Yet she also felt thankful; he had taken the time to care for her best friend and allow Stormfly the rest she needed. Astrid resolved to learn more about Nadders so that she could be as good a caregiver as Hiccup was.

It was something to add to the ever-growing list.

She barely made it the last few yards up to what Hiccup had termed the Sunroom. Astrid's muscles protested and her legs felt as though they would give out from under her, but she gritted her teeth and stumbled the last few steps into his… room?

She stared across the wide, low-ceilinged space at the sunlight pouring in through… stone? Glittering, Transparent stone? Or some kind of clear ice? The wall opposite her was completely, stunningly transparent. Astrid stared in wonder through the panels. She could see the white of the glacial fields below them, beyond that, the green outline of the somber forest, and the deep blue of the ocean, but it was all fuzzy and warped, and seemed a distant abstraction. The shapes wobbled and shifted as she moved.

Astrid limped forwards, arm outstretched. Her feet barely registered passing across finely oiled, flat wooden floorboards. She nearly tripped into a sandpit, and more wooden floorboards before she reached the ethereal wall. It was a grid – dozens of squares of the mysterious material. It felt like stone. Each square was twice the length of her hand, very thick, and wedged into a wood and metal lattice using rope and gummy glue. Yet unlike stone, the sunlight poured through it, and the light itself was warped as it passed through, causing it to dance across her hand.

The light played upon her palm, glittering and shining as it did upon the sand of a shallow beach, or the bed of a clear, calm river. Except the material was solid.

"It's called glass." She heard Hiccup's voice from the corner of the room as she brushed her fingertips across the surface. The light played upon the palm of her hand, glittering and shining as it did upon the sandy floor of a shallow beach. Astrid stared in wonderment through the panels. She could see the outline of the forest and the surrounding ocean through it, but it was all fuzzy and warped, and felt like a distant otherwhere.

The glass was cold, but the room itself was pleasantly warm. Vents opened and closed, pumping hot air at her feet. Astrid turned to look at Hiccup, her eyes wide.

"I had the same reaction when I first saw it." He told her, leaning casually against a desk at the far corner of the room, "it's somewhat common across the world, but Berk never had the technology to make it. It's just melted sand. If you find a pure enough source, the sand becomes clear when it melts and hardens into that…" he waved a hand at the wall.

"Sunroom…" she murmured. It was an appropriate name. The room had no windows, and four solid walls, but one of those walls was completely transparent, letting all the sunlight pour in. It gave the deceptively small space an airy, open feel. Not just literally but philosophically. As if all the world were at one's fingertips. If sand could be made clear, then perhaps so could everything else.

All the same, how could it not be magic? How could the natural world produce such strangeness? Such beauty?

Astrid remembered how, when the great monster at the dragon's nest had flamed, it had melted the ground at her feet to glass. The same material – far dirtier and abstract in form, but it was recognizably the same. It wasn't magic.

It wasn't magic… Astrid stared, her breath caught in her throat as she pondered the implications… the glass wasn't magic. The mechanical spider hadn't been magic. Hiccup's wings weren't magic. His understanding of dragons wasn't magic either. It was beyond her, the way that Gobber's skills as a blacksmith were beyond her. The way that her combat skills were beyond others in Berk.

Were the Gothi's healing abilities magic, or just some kind of natural recipe; shaping herbs the way Hiccup shaped glass and metal? Understanding their effects, even if the why of it all was still a mystery? Was anything magic, or was it all simply beyond her current understanding of the world?

Was the Valknut magic?

Her heart pounding, Astrid turned back to the sandpit and strode into the middle of it. Hiccup was talking, but his words were a background murmur to the storm within her mind. She knelt in the sand and hesitated, staring down at her fingers. Then she took a deep breath and drew the three triangles. That symbol which had called the Gods themselves down upon her.

She stared down at the symbol, expecting to feel the gates of Valhalla open. The intensity of Odin's gaze. The Gods' judgment. Just as she had in Gothi's hut, in the centre of Berk's village, and in the Arena not even a day ago.

And yet there it was: just three simple triangles traced in sand. Just a shape. No Gods. No fury. No judgement. Just… simple lines. Somehow the fact that Hiccup could turn sand into solid, clear water called Glass, seemed less mundane.

Yet Astrid felt injured, her world diminished. Hiccup sat down on the edge of the sandpit hands across his knees. Astrid swallowed and looked up at him.

He knew. She could see it in his eyes: he understood. He had always known. She felt… reborn. As if a layer of tattered skin had been shed from her world, revealing an unblemished and new understanding. A fresh, cloudless, sparkling dawn. A new paradigm from which she could move and see the universe.

And yet it was also a cold, uncertain, directionless place and she was not sure she liked it. Without the Gods, how was Berk to know what was Right, and what was Just?

Worse, had the presence of Gods even helped Berk with those questions in the first place?

She said, "is it all a lie?"

"No." he shook his head… "and yes. Maybe. Maybe Odin exists. But why would the All-father care what we scribble in the sand?"

"I took oaths!" Astrid said, wretchedly, "At Uppsala, I took oaths!" She remembered the power the statues held over her, with their judging stares. She had wanted so badly to be worthy and yet they too had been carved of wood, colored with simple paints. Had there been anything holy there, either? No god had spoken. Just the shamans.

Did the statues hold any power at all, beyond what Astrid had been raised to give them? Beyond what she had believed? Hiccup had displayed more artistic skill in his meandering experiments, so had their power come from Beyond, or just from Astrid's own imagination and the things she and all of Berk for Generations had been raised to believe were truth?

She curled her arms around her knees and stared down at the empty symbol, a hollow weight settling in her gut. Was this what Uncle Finn had died for, then? An absent God? Was this why Berk had suffered? It was widely believed on Berk that the dragon war continued despite the Gods' best efforts to help; that due only to the blessings and power of Thor and Odin were they still hanging on. Was the state of their little tribe instead a sign of the universe's indifference? Was there any force above watching out for them at all? Were they doomed to live and die in the silence of an uncaring void?

"What did it all mean?"

Hiccup frowned, watching her tentatively.

"If the Gods don't care if they - " she swallowed, "- if they aren't listening then… what is keeping us from… from simply disappearing? What's the point of fighting? If they aren't with us, aren't we destined to lose?"

"Aren't the Gods at Ragnarok?" Hiccup asked, gently as a lamb. He reached across the sandpit towards her and retracted his hand just as quickly. He wanted to embrace her, she could see it in his eyes, but Astrid was engulfed in the cold winds of fate which billowed around her and she couldn't muster the enthusiasm she wanted to feel.

The Rider said, "Thor will be killed by the World Serpent at the end of all things. Odin by Loki's Wolfspawn. All the Gods themselves are destined to die, yet they fight on."

"Yes, but we're fighting without them." Astrid exclaimed bitterly, her hands balling up into fists, "what good is any of it, Hiccup?! What good did we do? If I die in battle, do I get a seat at Odin's table or is he not even paying attention? If he is not listening, if life is meaningless, then why are we fighting? What are we fighting for?!"

Hiccup smiled. She let herself sink into his brilliant, bright green eyes; something good and cheerful in her woeful world. It gave her hope; he had been through this realization and come out the other side, somehow… though she could not see the light or any path forward.

He reached out and gently grasped her hands. She let him, uncurling her fists. He said, "you've saved so many lives, Astrid. You saved mine once."

She snorted, feeling lost in the maelstrom of emotions. All the training and all the Warrior's Discipline seemed to have fled with Thor and Odin's gaze, and she felt lost.

"Okay, maybe more than once…" he admitted wryly. His lopsided grin was like a sunbeam, breaking through an overcast sky. He squeezed her hands, "Astrid, you're the strongest person I know. You've always done the right thing. There are Berkians alive today because of you. Odin didn't do that. Thor didn't do that. That was you. Maybe Berk doesn't have Gods, but maybe Berk doesn't need Gods: It has Astrid Hofferson." The absolute strength of his conviction made her smile momentarily, but she felt herself sinking into despair just as quickly. She felt as if a trapdoor had opened beneath her feet, revealing the cold dark indifference of the universe where before there had been the comforting strength of Thor's merry gaze and mighty hammer. Astrid had intended to serve. She did not want the weight of the island to rest upon her own strength. She had not planned for that!

Hating how plaintive her voice sounded, she said, "what if I need Gods, Hiccup? I swore oaths! I swore oaths to… to nothing! It was a lie!"

Hiccup licked his lips and said, "did you mean to keep your oaths?"

"Of course!" she snarled.

"Then …where was the lie?"

"Berk lied tome!" she was roaring before she knew it: violently shouting at him, and he flinched, his Adam's apple bobbing. Astrid blinked back tears and stared down at the sand, "sorry…" she whispered.

After a moment's consideration, Hiccup said, "Berk lied to itself. For generations, Astrid. Because they had to. Everyone's a victim and no one is to blame. Astrid, everything you believed helped you protect people and do the right thing. I don't think for a second you're going to stop doing any of that just because you found out Odin and Thor might not always be paying attention. Did you really do it for them? Or did you do it for you, and for Berk?"

She stared at him, trying to recall and understand herself. He was trying to guide her, to help her out of the pit she had fallen into, and so blindly Astrid followed his words, trusting his conviction the way she had trusted Gothi's.

On her uncle Finn's name, Astrid had sworn oaths to the Gods, yes. But what had her goal been? To get into Valhalla? Or to prevent the old and the young and the sick from being devoured by dragons? Perhaps those were not conflicting goals, but which was the more important? Which was the true underlying motivation for her actions.

Astrid considered her own treatment of Stormfly all those weeks ago on the deserted island. If in letting Stormfly live, she had done as Odin wanted, then she had done right by the Gods, and was more likely to enter Valhalla. But if instead her mercy had been in defiance of Odin's will, then… well… she was considerably less likely to go to Valhalla.

But she had let Stormfly live. She had allied with the dragon even after Thor's hammer had struck her raft. Perhaps that in and of itself was the answer: she had spared Stormfly regardless of the gods' opinion, and simply hoped that she was doing the right thing. She had not turned to the Gods for guidance, but rather had made her choice and let the Gods make theirs.

If it came down to it; if it meant going to Hell, would she keep fighting for Berk? Would she protect Fridleif and the other children? Would she still put herself between others and harm? Allow the cruel waves of life's misfortunes to break upon her own strength and recede rather than wash away those who could not stand as she could?

Yes. Absolutely. Without question. She could trust that about herself, as Hiccup trusted her.

Astrid's smile was fragile, but genuine. She said, "Yeah I… I guess it was for Berk." She let out a long, relieved breath.

His smile widened, and she was relieved to once again see no judgment in his expression at all. He was on the other end of a long journey she was taking, and she felt grateful for his guidance and seemingly endless faith in her. He was a source of solidarity. A steady anchor in an ocean of philosophical and ethical quandaries.

Astrid studied his face; the slight shadow of stubble on his cheeks, the feathered auburn locks which fell across his forehead, his mischievous twinkling green eyes and cheeky half-smile. She felt that skittish lightness in the pit of her stomach again.

She should have been angry with him, she knew. She should have felt furious for the way his presence had unraveled her entire gods-damned life. But the truth was… the truth. It wasn't Hiccup's fault that the world was not the way Berk thought it was. He had just recognized reality long before she did, and there had been no one to guide him through, as he was guiding her. He was trying to help; she understood that. Because he truly cared. Because he saw her as no one else ever had, and because she saw him the same way and he knew that.

Not so long ago, though it felt an age, he had drawn the Valknut before the Gothi herself. Hiccup in that moment had held incredible power over the old woman. Not because the Gods were on his side and not hers, but because they weren't on anyone's side. Or didn't care. Or were happy to simply let him do what he wished, and it didn't even matter which option was true: they would not come to Gothi's aid. Hiccup had won that power struggle because he knew the world better than Gothi did. Better than Astrid did. Better than any of them did. And now she knew better too. Knowledge itself was a weapon.

And he had never tried to manipulate Astrid. Merely to help her. Hiccup's goal had never been to abuse his power, but rather to spread it to as many people as possible. To dilute and destroy it and in so doing make the world a more peaceful place. He wanted to help Berk. To give Berk that weapon, and Berk had resisted. Refused to see what was before their very eyes.

It was a bitter pill to swallow; it was not Hiccup's fault that Berk – that Astrid – had taken and lived by oaths to silent idols. It was not Hiccup's fault that she had fought so hard for the blind, deaf and dumb of the village. For all of those people who had scapegoated her, closed all doors to her the moment her understanding of the world had evolved. Astrid had tried a change in tactics to better reflect reality, and every door had slammed shut in her face. She knew that going back now, after having spent the night away with him, things would get even worse.

And yet… what did she owe them? Her loyalty? Her life? Her honor? Every promise and every vow – Hel, her marriage to Snotlout! She had given all of it willingly for them. On the understanding that Berkians were all children of Ash and Elm. The All-Father's chosen people. There was a higher purpose which united them all. That she was part of the Struggle.

Gothi, Stoick, Spitelout and all the rest – all of Berk's leaders for as long as Berk had existed had sworn that it was all worth it, to live and die as a part of that family, for that higher cause. Was it all just… a way to make the warriors fight? To make the Fishermen fish and the farmers plow their fields year after year, keeping Berk's leadership happy and wealthy and well-fed, even as the Dragons whittled the island all away to nothing, child by child? Was it even fair to blame Stoick and the Gothi or were they blind too, as Hiccup had suggested? Just more victims of the same ancestral choices? Everyone on Berk was living as they had always lived, believing what they had always believed. Perhaps they were all in so deep that they could no longer differentiate between belief, and fact. Perhaps, after generations of pain, belief was all Berk had left.

But what weight, then, could be placed upon the moral judgement of the blind? Astrid wanted to protect her people, but what did she owe them? What of being a Skoldmo? What of her purpose as a Pure and True Defender? Why did she have to give up things she wanted not for their safety, but for their approval? Why, when she knew better than they did? No wonder Hiccup's opinion of the world had grown so dim; how much useless, preventable suffering had he witnessed in the name of absent gods and other lies?

How much suffering would be inflicted upon the two of them if they tried to change Berk's mind? If there was just one thing even more difficult to alter about the island than its hatred of Dragons, it was the average Berkian's belief in the Gods.

"This might destroy the Island, Hiccup. They believe. If they can't trust the Gods, how can they trust anything at all?"

Hiccup scrunched his face up, considering her statement, and she smiled at the way he wiggled his nose. He tilted his head to the side and asked, "when could we trust the Gods? Hel, when could the Gods ever trust each other, for that matter?"

Despite herself, Astrid chuckled. She reached up with her sleeve and wiped her off cheeks. He said, "Personally I don't trust Odin one bit. And I'm very relieved I met you before he did."

Astrid burst out laughing. She couldn't help it. The Gods weren't listening. Or didn't care. It was just the two of them alone. He could make all the jokes he wanted, and she would laugh at them as much as she wanted.

Hiccup kept talking, "you know he has a …reputation… as a bit… a bit of a… scoundrel."

She grinned playfully, "a rake."

"A womanizer." He observed.

She sucked her lower lip into her mouth, staring into his bewitching green eyes as she recognized… jealousy? Possessiveness? It was unlike Hiccup, and yet such an honest human foible. It was ridiculous, but… cute: Hiccup feared he would somehow lose her affections to a God he barely believed existed? But Astrid liked it. She liked that he wanted her, and that he didn't want to share. She liked that he feared her eye turning towards someone else, in part because it seemed so absurd. She leaned forward teasingly and said, "you think he would have seduced me?"

"Oh… I'm pretty sure he would try…" Hiccup said. His voice was playful, but with an intriguing edge in it she hadn't heard before, "but I've met you. One kick and the All-father himself would be limping away."

Astrid smiled playfully, "you don't think he could have me if he wanted?"

"I doubt it." His chuckle was genuine, but a little strained. And he couldn't take his eyes off of her, kneeling in the sand before him, her blonde braid fallen loose, tangled curls of hair hanging around her face and her shoulders. He shifted slightly as he tried to hide the interesting shape which was appearing in his trousers.

Suddenly they were back where they had been the night before: dancing on the edge of something dangerous and exciting. It felt good. She felt a blush spreading across her cheeks, just as it was across his. She wanted to push him further. To make him break his composure and pounce upon her like he had last night.

It was just the two of them, after all. Berk might care, but not even the Gods were watching, so who were they to judge?

Astrid pushed a little further, "what if he talked me into it? Met me in the forest and told me tales of travel and war and glory?" she pursed her lips and raised a teasing eyebrow at him.

She had challenged him. Hiccup's green eyes flashed with excitement; they were playing a game now, and it was a lot more interesting for him than King's Table. Suck it, Fishlegs!

To her mild disappointment, Hiccup shook his head, smirking at her, "Astrid Hofferson would turn him down and call him a fool for wandering where a dragon would get him. She'd tell him to shut up. She'd say she needed to get back to training."

She nodded slowly. A minor setback. Time to attack from another angle, "and what if he wooed me in the village? Brought me flowers and wrote me poems?" she spoke softly, as she imagined Odin would.

Hiccup's face was flushed, but he shook his head, "not a chance. Astrid would tell him her axe is all she needs. She'd tell him to go give the trinkets to the bar maids."

She pouted, but Hiccup's hands had balled into fists. His face was blank, but his knuckles were white. His knee was bouncing restlessly. He was filled with energy, like one of his wind-up spring toys. She licked her lips and leaned forward, hands on her knees, and watched his eyes steal a guilty glance down the front of her loose tunic at the swell of her breasts, and that alone was a delicious victory.

She pouted and said, "and if he came to me as a sorcerer? Cast a spell on me so that I couldn't resist him?" gods… she felt drunk. She was already having wicked thoughts about what he could do with his lips and fingers; how he could touch her. She could tell by the hazy look in Hiccup's eyes that he was much the same. Astrid wanted his lips on her neck, his hands on her chest. She wanted him between her legs; she could feel a warm slickness growing between her thighs.

To her frustration, Hiccup managed to keep his composure this time; no more sly glances where they both knew his eyes shouldn't wander. "Impossible." he challenged, leaning forward, "Astrid would remember her first duty was to the village, and then she'd pull out her axe. He'd call Thor for backup... I wish them luck."

Gods… he was so close… she could practically hear his heart pounding in his chest. She could count every freckle on his face. Astrid watched his lips part slightly, his adam's apple bobbing in his throat, and the only thing which stopped her from slipping her hands into his hair and bringing his mouth to hers was her own damned stubborn, stupid determination to win this stupid game she had stupidly started. It shouldn't have mattered who made the first move; she would reach her goal either way. They were both falling into each other, she could feel it. But it was more fun this way; tempting him, teasing him.

A wicked thought occurred to her, and she said, "and what if he took the form of a young wandering Viking prince with red hair and green eyes who swooped out of the sky on a night fury?" she leaned into him until their lips were an inch apart and whispered, "do you think I'd say no?"

Hiccup's eyes widened, and Astrid knew instantly she had won.

The breathless moment stretched into eternity as she watched his veneer of control finally shatter. The rush of victory was nothing next to the way he moved; pouncing upon her. She let him push her back into the soft, warm sand, putting up just enough resistance to feel his eagerness, to entice him with her body; a promise of the experience they were about to share.

Suddenly they were tangled up in each other. Suddenly, they were lovers.

Sex was like fighting, in a way. It was action and reaction. Pure and primal and Astrid loved it for that! It was a place – an experience – where she was his equal, regardless of intellect or experience.

But combat was a skill. Learned and trained for. Lost if not practiced and honed. This was …different… it wasn't knowledge, but instinct alone. It was fitting, somehow: a sign that the world had a moral foundation: Destruction had to be trained. Taught. Beaten into recruits. Gentleness, pleasure, and that sublime act of creation was something which came naturally to all beings as it did to her. She did not have to think about it, or rely on carefully honed, trained responses. She could just bewith him.

And that was fortunate because the truth was that Astrid could barely think at all, her mind was hazy with lust and overwhelmed by the sensation of his hungry lips upon her mouth, her neck, that sensitive spot where her jaw met her ear, and his hands were running up and down her body. The heavy breaths and moans and soft cries he drew from her lips weren't something she planned at all, and yet she knew her reactions were driving him into euphoric madness, as his touches and kisses and caresses were doing to her. It was becoming a cycle; an uroboros of pleasure ensnaring them both in a delectable trap of touch and taste and sound. Each new sensation only drew the blind explorers further in, pushing them to new heights.

Astrid's shirt was pulled up above her breasts and his lips and hands were exploring her soft skin. It happened so fast she couldn't even have pinpointed the moment her breast wraps had vanished; they were simply lost somewhere in the haze, along with all of her self-control and his shirt too. She reacted by pushing her chest into his hands, and letting his warm lips and tongue and long fingers explore. It all felt so good, so right. Astrid spread her legs wider, letting him fall between them so that they were joined at the hips. She couldn't tell where instinct ended and choice began. She just knew that was where he had to be. The primal way he ground against her electrified her, and the need to be closer, to shed the last barriers between them was driving her into a frenzy.

Hiccup's lips were wet against her jaw, his breath hot upon her neck as his fingers laced through her hair, gently but firmly tilting her head back so he could taste her. She could feel his hardness against her core and the thought that he was hard for her – wanted her, was desperate for her touch made her head spin. She slid one hand under her pants, between her legs to sate the warm ache which gnawed at her, moving in slow circles against herself as she had in past stolen, secluded, lonely moments.

She let out a sudden sharp gasp as the young prince's long, clever fingers were suddenly entwined hers. He was touching her, and she stared up into his piercing green eyes as he followed the swirling motions of her moist fingertips with his own, exploring the folds between her legs, and learning from her. Letting her teach him how to touch her – the subtle rhythm and pressure which she needed.

Hiccup was a fast learner. A very fast learner! Astrid gently, carefully withdrew her own hand as he matched her. Her fingers shone with her own need as she laid her hand upon his cheek, spreading her legs to let him touch her as he pleased.

She stared up into his eyes, watching as every iota of his incredible intellect, always spread across horizons she couldn't fathom, was focused entirely on her pleasure, studying every twitch of her lips, every faintest gasp, the haze in her eyes. Meeting his brilliant, passionate green eyes was like staring into the sun, and she kissed him, throwing all of her passion into the act as she threw her arms around his shoulders and bucked against his hand, surrendering herself completely to his explorations as his fingers sank into her core.

She felt him moan against her lips and the rhythm of his fingers within her suddenly picked up speed. It was… it was the best thing she had ever felt. Unbidden tears came to her as she realized how alien the experience was; that no-one on Berk had ever touched her like this. That no one until him ever would. She had never imagined anyone ever being with her like this. She had never wanted anyone to share this… until him.

She found herself suddenly awash in emotion; passion and lust for him, but a sense of sudden loss as well; when was the last time she had even been hugged by someone who hadn't raised her? When in her warrior's life had there been gentleness? When had she ever let down her walls and allowed herself this kind of vulnerability with another? When had there ever been even an opportunity for this kind of shared pleasure?

It was forbidden territory. A departure from the path she had chosen to walk. A delicious indulgence for which her own people would crucify her. Snotlout would lose his fucking mind; the thought made Astrid smile, even as she clenched around his fingers and cried out in ecstasy.

Fuck all of them. Fuck the entire island. Hiccup was touching her, and she was happy – really happy in a way her duty and obligations could never allow. Astrid was debauching herself; throwing her honor and reputation all away and giving herself freely to the careless, wayward prince, but that was okay. She did not want to be the pure shield maiden anymore. She did not want to live as Berk expected. She did not want her life to be devoid of this blissful joy. Especially not because of other people's opinions. Her life, her pleasure, happiness, wasn't any of their godsdamned business!

It was Hiccup's. Astrid wanted him to be inside her. She needed him! There was nothing in the world she craved more. She reached down to his manhood and growled as she discovered his pants were still around his waist.

Gritting her teeth with frustration at the fact he wasn't keeping up, she ripped clumsily at his belt until it came loose and plunged her hand inside, wrapping her fingers around his throbbing warmth and squeezing gently. She could suddenly feel his warm heartbeat in her hand, and against her chest at the same time. She touched him, exploring him as he had done for her, rubbing her fingertips gently around the tender tip of him, and watching gleefully as his lips parted and green eyes grew unfocused and fluttered closed. The motions of his hand grew unsteady as she distracted him, and she relished the feeling of power it gave her.

"Astrid…" Hiccup moaned, his breath catching in his throat.

She smiled up at him, tugging his pants and undergarments down to his ankles and kicking them away. Still gripping him, her heart pounding, Astrid wrapped her legs around the back of his thighs and lifted her hips, bringing them together, watching his rapt expression, and hazy green eyes.

They touched, and he blinked several times, concern momentarily breaking through the pleasure. "Wait…" be breathed, "Are you sur-uuuh!"

Astrid ignored him, and then he was hilted inside her.

It hurt. She hadn't expected that, after everything which had led up to it. Yet even as she hissed, she recognized that it wasn't the pain of a wound, but rather a good pain; the soreness of exercise. All the same she reflexively wrapped her arms and legs around him, unwilling to let him go, and locking the two of them together so that he couldn't move until she had a moment ot adjust. She squeezed them tighter, reveling in the fact of their closeness; she could feel as much of his skin as possible, he was around her and inside her, his heart pounding against her chest, lungs pumping-

"Gah!" Hiccup wheezed, tapping her on the shoulder, "…Astrid… can't breath…"

She let him go immediately, laying under him, her cheeks streaked with tears. Hiccup pulled out, leaving a dull, empty, unsatisfied ache between her legs. He stared down at her, utterly mortified as he noted her tears.

"I am so sorry – did I – are you - I didn't hurt you?! …did I?" His eyes were wide with terror that he had somehow ruined the moment for her.

The pleasure which had been steadily, building, rapidly faded, and Astrid sniffed, wiping her nose on her hand, "sorry."

"I'm sorry!" Hiccup said.

She smiled up at him, "it wasn't you, idiot." He raised a skeptical eyebrow, and she laughed, stroking his cheek and running the pad of her thumb across his lips "I'm happy."

'But you-"

"Just… slow. Start slow, okay?"

His other eyebrow shot up to join the first and she giggled harder, punching him lightly in the stomach. His protest died immediately as her hand slid down his abdomen and encircled his length.

She kissed him again. Lightly, but with a challenge. She smirked and watched his eyelashes flutter as she slid him back into her, carefully. She watched the momentary dazed look which had washed across his face, and felt that same pleasure for herself.

Hiccup brought them together as close as they could be, his chest against hers, arms around each other's shoulders and legs, tangled together. He held them there for a soft, quiet moment so that they could simply feel each other, his face buried against her neck.

Astrid kissed his ear, ran her fingers through his thick auburn hair, and whispered, "keep going."

Whellp… that got R-rated very fast. This is the first time I've ever attempted anything even remotely this explicit. I don't know if this is moving too fast for the story, but it felt right for the characters in the moment. They really were alone together in a number of ways, and the tension was always there for as long as they knew about eachother. Now they're together, but no longer alone!

Also… Hiccup and Astrid young. Younger than I am now, and I remember how fast things could move at that age. How easy it was to keep going and going when you felt truly comfortable around THAT person. And by the time you realized how far things had gone, well…

Also, I scanned through most of the movie again to double-check, and could find no evidence of glass windows on Berk. There is evidence of glass in real norse settlements as early as the 790s, but given how utterly isolated Berk is, and how regularly things get destroyed, and the general slow decay of their society, it is very likely that even if they at some point knew about glass, that knowledge had been forgotten as the island's state deteriorated. Whatever. Even if I'm wrong, it wouldn't be the first liberty I've taken, and a glass wall would be such a strange thing to see for the first time, for someone who had never seen it before that I can see it shaking up Astrid's worldview. Imagine that your entire life, every solid material you've ever seen was either wood, stone, dirt, metal, bone, leather… and then you encounter transparent glass. It breaks the rules just by existing.

Anyway, next chapter is their return to Berk.