A:N: Sorry for the delay in posting this. I got hit with a bout of anxiety before I was going to post it, because like, this is it. This is the end. Have I wrapped everything up? Is it good enough of an endcap? Have I left anything out? And then there was another scene I wanted to add, and then I was dealing with stuff because of my car wreck (I do have a new car! By some miracle we found a good used Blue Beetle in our price range, one model year newer than my old one. It feels like my old car and I love it.) So I kept putting this off, because I almost didn't want it to be over. I have poured so much time and love into this, and now it's gonna be done, and I don't know how to feel about that.
That said, I'm also like OH MY GOD I FINALLY FINISHED IT.I hope the wrap-up was good enough because at this point I'm not changing anything. Maybe one day I'll go back and re-edit the earlier chapters so there is more consistency and so I can fix some things that I wasn't clear enough on the first time around, but that'll be awhile. I just want to bask in the relief and accomplishment of this monster finally being done.
Thank you so so SO much to everyone who has gone on this crazy journey with me. Thank you to those who have been so supportive and so understanding, and so patient, even in the aftermath of my losing my patience with some of you.
Chapter 43: Epilogue: General Hofferson
Hiccup was still sleeping most of the time, but at least he was lucid when he was awake. He was still mostly confined to bed, both by his missing limb and his lack of energy. He was improving, albeit slowly, and getting better and better with his prosthetic, but he had still yet to venture out of his house.
That was disappointing, but his confinement meant he was getting to see first-hand the changing dynamics of his family. His mother and father sang to each other all the time, and broke into dancing with little warning. He'd heard his mother sing before, but never his father, not like this. There was a joyousness in both of them he had never seen before, and a softness in his father's demeanor he could not remember seeing since he was small. For the first time in a very long time, he felt no stress at being around either of them.
He and his father talked, and talked, and cried, and talked more, every conversation leaving him feeling lighter and lighter. His mother doted on him as she always had, but with an underlying panic he kept soothing by holding her hand and assuring her he was okay. She hadn't come immediately after hearing what had happened, so afraid of what she might witness, too scared to watch her son die. He understood the paralyzing fear. It was her old flaw, and they soon moved past it.
Astrid and his parents got on fantastically, which was bizarre to watch. Astrid and his mother, well, she had sought out Valka once before when they had fought, but her growing camaraderie with his father was surreal. They were a lot alike in many ways, and as he watched Astrid stand next to his father, leaned over a map of the village and discussing the locations of future water towers and patrol routes, he was shocked to find that it looked so...right. He would expect it to be surreal, the chief and the sacrificial lamb discussing village infrastructure and defenses, but Astrid had never looked so natural. His heart clenched. Astrid was born to be a leader.
He awoke one day after a long afternoon nap to see a very strange sight indeed. Ingrid Hofferson and his mother were sitting at the table as his father hovered in the doorway. his mother's hair was unbound and hanging to the floor, parts of it in neat braids, obviously the work of Astrid, who was seated in a chair behind her, and other parts in messy, uneven braids, ostensibly the work of Brenna, who had abandoned the chair next to Astrid in favor of hiding behind her mother. Toothless had also wrapped himself protectively around the two of them, and was letting Brenna cling to a nub.
Stoick crouched down and tried to catch a glimpse of the little girl. "Are you frightened of me, wee lass?" He said gently.
Ingrid gave him a hard look and said evenly. "She isn't without reason to be." Hiccup watched Astrid's expression grow angry and Valka's confused.
Stoick sighed heavily. "That she isn't," he admitted. He leaned over, trying to catch the cowering little girl's eye. "Hey," he began, "Your mother's right, I gave you a good scare before. I was very mean to you. You knew something I wanted to know, and I lost my temper and yelled at you for keeping a secret. I shouldn't have done that. I should never have yelled at a little girl."
Brenna grew brave enough to peek out from behind her mother's skirt. Hiccup noted she looked a little older than he remembered. She frowned at his father.
"You shouldn't yell at anyone," she told him firmly. "It isn't nice."
Stoick nodded. "Aye, you're right. Sometimes a chief has to yell at people, though. But only people who deserve it and never little girls who are just keeping very important secrets." He gave her a very serious look. "I'm very sorry, Brenna. I promise I won't ever be mean to you like that again. Do you think you could ever forgive me?"
Brenna shuffled her feet and leaned in to Toothless, whispering something to him. The dragon looked at her, then at Stoick, then rumbled softly and gave her a small lick on the cheek. Brenna giggled, then sighed. "Well," she said, looking up at Stoick, "Sissy says you're not so bad once you get to know you, and Valka says you can be stupid sometimes but you're mostly good, and Toothless likes you, so I guess I can give you another chance."
Stoick beamed at her. "A chance I most appreciate, miss Brenna. I hope I can make up for my past behavior."
Brenna stepped out of the protective circle of her mother's chair and Toothless's tail and carefully approached Stoick. She contemplated him for a second and then asked, "Can I braid your beard?"
Stoick's laughter boomed through the house. "Of course you can! Thor knows I'm rubbish at braiding it myself!"
And so Hiccup watched, drowsy and unnoticed, as his father had his beard messily braided by a little girl barely as tall as his knees.
Astrid had been waiting weeks for the moment Hiccup finally made it to that door. He made a joke about not seeing sunlight in a month, and then hauled open the door.
His smile melted off his face, replaced by stunned awe. "What—where am I, because there's no way this is Berk."
Astrid laughed and joined him on the porch, helping Toothless to hold him up, as walking was still a challenge.
"It really is Berk. New and improved."
Valka joined them. "I can hardly believe it myself most days." She chuckled warmly. "I never dared to dream this village could change this much."
"It's amazing," Hiccup breathed. "Are those feeding troughs?"
"We've still got to work on odor control for those," Stoick said, stepping outside. "But we had to get something up." He placed a hand on Hiccup's shoulder. Hiccup looked at his father and Astrid could see the longing and admiration in his eyes. Slowly but surely, the Haddock men were repairing their relationship. For all Hiccup had claimed to want nothing more to do with his father, he was clearly reveling in his parents' love and pride. Deep down, Astrid knew, he was still that boy longing for his father's approval, and they had finally stopped yelling at each other long enough to talk.
"I can probably come up with something," Hiccup said, smiling.
"I don't doubt you can," Stoick replied, returning the smile.
Hiccup looked out over the village and shook his head. "I just…you said the war was over, you didn't tell me about all this."
Astrid shrugged. "I wanted you to see all your hard work pay off in person."
"All my hard work?" Hiccup turned to her, frowning. "Astrid, this is all amazing, I mean…" His words faltered as he again took in the vista of Vikings and dragons living in harmony. "You did this," he said, awed, and Astrid was surprised to find him looking at her. Behind them, she heard Valka gently pull Stoick back into the house, whispering something about leaving the young lovers alone.
"I—no, I mean, Hiccup, you're the one who ended the war. Without you, none of this would be possible."
Hiccup just shook his head, a smile growing on his lips. "Astrid, I may have killed a giant dragon, but I didn't do any of this." He gestured out at the village. "I've been out cold for a month, remember? All this? All of those people and dragons learning how to live together; those people learning how to ride dragons? That's all you, babe." He beamed at her. "And if it weren't for you I never would have been able to fight that battle and win. And Berk…" He laughed, gleeful. "Astrid, don't give me credit for your amazing accomplishments. If anyone would be able to drag Viking society kicking and screaming into a new way of life, it's you."
Astrid didn't answer. She looked out at Berk, at people and dragons going about their days, all living peaceful lives. She had done this. She hadn't even thought about it that way. She'd been so caught up with caring for everyone else, with simply playing her part in what she'd seen as Hiccup's plan, Hiccup's story, that she'd failed to notice when it became her plan, her story. She could laugh at herself. She'd always considered herself a loyal fighter, a soldier following orders. She wasn't the plans person. She was the one who followed plans; maybe the person who executed plans. But she was pretty damn good at getting people to do things.
Astrid crossed her arms over her chest and smiled smugly. "You know, I'm gonna make a damn good chief's wife."
Hiccup wrapped an arm around her, Toothless adjusting to help him keep his balance. "You definitely will." He sighed. "That's still a weird thought. Months ago my dad was disowning me; now I'm gonna be the fucking chief."
Astrid smirked at him. "And I'm gonna be fucking the chief."
Hiccup winced. "Not for a while, though, apparently."
"Because we're stuck living in the same house as your parents?"
"Well, that, and," Hiccup grimaced, "According to Gobber part of the long term recovery of amputation is uh, well, apparently it can uh, interfere with the raising of the mast for a while."
Astrid thought about that for a moment, then shrugged and pecked him on the cheek. "You still have hands, don't you?" Hiccup blushed.
"I suppose so." He wrapped an arm around her waist. "So. You and me changing the world; does that still sound good to you, Lady Haddock?"
"General Hofferson," she corrected. Astrid smiled. "Your dad and I decided. I'm the new leader of Berk's army. The Guard, the Armada, the newly-formed Air Corps, after the chief, they all answer to me."
Her mother was crying again. Brenna kept asking why and getting no real answer except to be told to sit still so her mother could braid her hair. Her father was nervously pacing the room and muttering to himself as he went over his to-do list.
Someone knocked on the door and Ingrid wiped at her eyes, tucked the last errant hairs into Brenna's braid and dragged her out the door.
Astrid laughed and looked in the mirror to straighten her crown. A few minutes later there was another knock at the door and her father came to her. "Well," he said with a watery smile, "It's time."
Astrid took his arm and they stepped out the door into the sunlight.
It was much smaller than any wedding for a son of a chief should be, though it was still sizeable. It didn't matter really. This was all a formality, symbolic. A parade for chiefs of other tribes. Astrid's bridal crown was made of flowers rather than gold this time. But her gown, that was anything but subtle. Her dress was made of the finest red silk, dyed with the most expensive madder dye to be found in the entire Northern Sea. Gold threads and intricate embroidery in her favorite shades of blues and teals decorated the neckline, hem, and sleeves.
The former sacrificial lamb now stepped out before all of Berk and the leaders of several prominent allies as the bride of a future chief. Across the village center she could see Hiccup, dressed in Haddock red and fine furs, looking every bit the chief he would one day be. His mouth had fallen open upon seeing her, resplendent in the most expensive wedding dress the Barbaric Archipelago had ever seen. She and her mother had sewn for hours to finish the embroidery; even her father had been roped in to helping, and by the end had gotten rather good at it.
Stoick had spared no expense. The wedding had been somewhat thrown together; there was only so much time before her stomach started showing after all. But every effort had been made to get the point across: the most feared man and woman in the archipelago were now to be the most respected, because they were changing the world.
Getting to have a real wedding was just a fun bonus.
And it was nice, really. Nothing like any wedding she'd ever dreamed she might have as a child, but far better than she'd dared imagine. There were dragons in attendance; Toothless and Stormfly were decorated in ornamental saddles and flowers were woven around Stormfly's spiked crown. The race to the reception was done on dragon back, and Hiccup won because of course he did, but he also bowed to his wife and served the mead in her stead. Toothless's new saddle rig was adapted to fit Hiccup's prosthetic leg, and after a slight learning curve, they were as impressive in the skies as ever. Valka and Stoick, her new in-laws, were capturing everyone's attention as they danced to a song that had played at their wedding. Hiccup danced with her baby sister, still a little clumsy on his wooden leg. A drunken well-wisher spilled the tiniest bit of wine on the hem of Astrid's dress, and Brenna scolded him because "I'm gonna wear it when I get married one day!" The wine-spiller was rescued when Valka swept in and promised the little girl she could practice braiding on her hair.
Chiefs of villages that had feared her bowed before her and offered her gifts and congratulations. She overheard a drunk Snotlout and Ruffnut cornering Eret and informing him that they had a proposition for him, if he was interested. There was a tense moment when Camicazi arrived and punched Hiccup square in the jaw for letting her go so many years thinking her friend was dead. However she then hugged him and Astrid as well, and by the end of the night had declared her the coolest non-Bog girl she'd ever met. There was still a drunken custody battle over one of Cami's stolen skirts, but they eventually settled it on the promise of dragon-riding lessons.
The adoration and the party and the festivities were all wonderful, but when the day was over and she and Hiccup collapsed beside each other in their new bed in their new house, their dragons asleep in the loft above them and all the world at peace around them, Astrid felt more at peace than she had all day.
There was still so much to do and so far to go, but gods, how far they had all come. There was still work to be done. Peace to be built, peace to be kept, people to be convinced. The world would not change overnight.
Change, however, it would. This was an island of people who proved just how much people could change and grow and learn from their mistakes. Peace was possible, hope was real, and love surrounded her. Come what may; Astrid had never been less afraid.
Xx End xX
A/N: I hope this was a good enough ending. I don't think there is enough left in me to write more. Just a final couple of notes and a final thank you. The first is that madder red dye was the most expensive dye in the viking world, and the second is that I could not pass up the opportunity for drunken Rufflout trying to talk Eret into a threesome. And that first chunk of this chapter is very important to me. I always wondered why, in HTTYD1, when Hiccup first sees Berk after he wakes back up, a reprise of Astrid's theme is playing. For a long time I thought it was just because it's a nice musical theme for the scene and she does kiss him in it, and then one day it hit me: Hiccup has been out cold, so who has been the only other person on Berk with enough friendly experience with dragons to start integrating them? Astrid. Her theme is playing because she's the one who has been working and changing Berk while Hiccup has been recovering. It may have happened because of Hiccup, but we're seeing her work. No one ever realizes or appreciates that in fandom, so I wanted to make it more obvious and celebrate the role she played.
And so it ends. Thank you for everything, truly, it's been a roller coaster. -Megan