AN: Just to warn you, most of this was written before I saw any of the TV is based solely on the two movies.
"What do you think?"
Astrid turned the wooden leg back and forth in her hands numbly. She knew nothing about design and construction. Hiccup knew that. Goober was the town blacksmith. He knew more than she ever would. So why was he asking for her opinion? Did he think that Hiccup had trained her? "I think he'll wake up, and have the whole thing redesigned in his head by the time he reaches the front door."
"He probably will at that."
Gobber was fearless at any speed, like most Vikings, but he kept ducking away from the bed... and the big black Dragon parked next to it. He excused himself soon after, bustling off, though Astrid could tell that he just wanted to be away from Toothless.
The Chief could see it too. "So. How do we do this?"
"Do what?" Astrid asked without thinking.
"What Hiccup did. Because we can't do everything he did, but we've got to do some of it. I'm asking, as someone who knew about the Fury before I did... What's your plan?"
It was surreal. The Chief was talking to her like a member of his council. Like a member of his own family. Clearly, she was dreaming.
Stoick glared at her. "I'm really asking here, girl. Don't stammer when the Chief asks you a question."
"Nosir." She nodded immediately.
"Hiccup is going to wake up. I've got a lot of amends to make, and by Odin, I promise you this: When he wakes up, he won't find that we've taken this thing he did and ruined it. A number of people on the other side of that door think that we should skin the Night Fury before he wakes up."
"Toothless." Astrid put in. "That's his name."
"My son named a Night Fury... 'Toothless'?" Stoick's eyebrows raised into his hairline. "He's aware how many people have been bitten in half by Night Fury, right?"
Astrid gave a very Hiccup-like shurg, as though that explained everything.
Stoick changed suddenly before her eyes. He seemed to shrink into himself. He looked older now, smaller.
Weak. The word filtered into her mind, and she pushed it away savagely. Vikings do not break.
"How did I not see it?" Stoick asked suddenly. "How did I not see that my son had all of this knowledge, all of this work... How did I just not notice?"
"You were away a lot of the time."
"You were here." Stoick said, as though reminding her.
Astrid suddenly felt a thrill of panic go through her. Stoick was looking for her opinion of his son. He was seeking her confidence. He was... what? Recruiting her? Did he think that she and his son were an item? Did The Chief look at her as... as his son's girlfriend?
Is he wrong? A little voice answered the thought, and she pushed that way too. And then she remembered how Gobber had asked her advice about Hiccup's new limb, and it hit her: Hiccup had kept this enormous secret from everyone, but when the moment came, she had known before the rest of the town. His father had no idea when she'd found out, and naturally assumed she'd been part of Hiccup's secret life long enough to know what he would want.
So how much do I tell him? She asked herself. Do I tell him that I only found out a few days ago? Do I tell him I was against it too, at first?
"I was scared of it. Him." Astrid heard her voice say. "I reacted the way everyone else did. I tried to kill Toothless on sight. Hiccup stopped me, and... well; bad wing or not, Night Fury are damn fast. Death by Darkness."
"But you came around." Stoick nodded. "How do we do that?"
"Same way you teach us to stand and fight." Astrid decided. "In early training, when we're little kids? You make us stand nose to nose with the Dragon until we cry. And then you make us stay there until we stop crying." She took a shuddering breath. "It was the same with Toothless. Your son's dragon snatched me up and tossed me around the sky until I screamed, and then he kept going until I stopped screaming."
"How do we keep the Dragons under control?"
"You're asking me?" Astrid almost laughed.
"You were riding one." He reminded her. "You all were. All Hiccup's friends. He had to have taught you how."
"We weren't controlling anything." Astrid sighed. "Hiccup had ropes and hides, and we wrapped them around Dragon-Necks. Then we just held on for grim death."
"If you can't control them-" Stoick was about to say, when the sounds of chaos came from outside. With a glance at the sleeping Hiccup, they both hurried to see what it was.
Outside, a small war was breaking out. There was a flock of baby Gronckle ripping apart the fishmongers. There was a group of Dragon-Slayers trying to fight them back. Two of the larger Whispering Nightmare were snapping at the sheep. Every Viking they could see were looking for the class of trainees, or swinging their swords.
Stoick roared for silence, and he got it for half a second. The dragons took no notice of him, and if the Dragons were still screaming, then the people were too.
BOOM! A sudden blast of white fire exploded directly over the village. The Viking's all dropped by instinct. The Dragons all froze, mid-movement. The whole town of Berk was frozen like a painting, mid-warzone.
Stoick and Astrid looked up to see that the blast had come from Toothless. He was perched on the roof of the Chief's house, proud as any Viking Warrior-King. His wings spread out like black clouds, and he spat lightning from one end of Berk to the other.
The dragons settled at once, landing around the Chief's house. The Chief puffed out his chest and folded his massive arms, recognizing a show of force when he saw one. "There will be a meeting in ten minutes in the Great Hall, and all villagers are to attend. Those that flew Dragons during the battle will report to the Training Grounds instead."
Astrid tried to inch away from everyone staring at them, but a glance from Stoick made her freeze. The humans all started moving, the Dragons did not. As she looked out at the village, she saw the dragons were organized. They were perched according to type, and the types according to age. Toothless glided down to ground level and walked, not flew, along each of them. The dragons wouldn't look him in the eye. Astrid had been around enough wild animals to know a show of dominance in any pack.
"Wow. It was never us." Astrid whispered, realizing. "We didn't control the dragons we were riding, it was Toothless. They followed him, even into battle with crazy screaming teenagers on their necks."
"Splendid. Then Toothless will handle the dragons. You handle the Riders, and I'll handle the village." Stoick said tightly to her.
"Me?" Astrid swallowed. "Chief Stoick, I don't know how you think it worked, but I'm not a leader. I just swing a big axe and scream at the other kids."
"We're Vikings, Miss Astrid." Stoick said with a grin. "That's what leadership is all about."
"Now listen up, you worthless maggots!" Astrid roared at her class. "Hiccup would be disgusted!"
None of the Dragonriders could meet her gaze, and she strode up and down the length of them, giving them all her worst glare. It was oddly identical to the way the wild dragons had been around Toothless, and she fought down the comparison in her mind. "Hiccup is lying in a bed, beaten senseless! And what were you lot doing? Hiding under a marketplace table while baby Gronckle fought over fish heads. Are we Vikings or not?"
Snotlout bravely raised a hand. "It's not like we knew-"
"Knew what? Knew what to do?" Astrid barked at him. "None of us knew what to do! The only guy in this village who had a clue what was going on was Hiccup! The class wimp had all of us looking like idiots! You know why? Because we are idiots! We were so obsessed with swinging a damn axe that none of us stopped to think for thirty seconds!"
On the other side of town, Stoick was prowling the length of the Great Hall, having the same 'conversation' with the rest of the townsfolk.
"And I was leading the charge! If my son had been that closed minded, we'd all be dead right now! If I took half a second to listen to someone, we would still have a harbor full of ships!"
"You can't expect us to change every damn thing in the village overnight!" Someone shouted. "We've spent generations killing Dragons! How do we-"
"That's exactly what I expect!" Stoick roared over them. "There was a time when we used stone axes, but them someone like Hiccup came along and put some thought into it, and we had Iron! Is original thought really so much to ask?"
"I'm not saying it's going to be easy!" Astrid raged at them. "But if Hiccup can swallow his fear long enough to sit and have dinner with a damn Night Fury, you better believe we can! And like it or not... We're the only Dragonriders in the world! At least, the only ones that we know about! The only people that have ever ridden a Dragon are in this pit right now, so like it or not, the whole village is going to be looking to us for an idea of what to do!"
"Like, us?" Snotlout snorted, nose dripping. "Whoa."
"Vikings are not so stupid as to believe that there's nothing for them to learn. And I'd like to think that they aren't so cold that they cannot learn to trust." Stoick made his pitch. "We're big. We've got great big shields, and great big swords, and great big muscles. My son had none of those things. But he had a great big heart! The single heart of the smallest Viking in Berk was able to turn a Night Fury from a Death God to a loved and trusted partner! If a Night Fury can stand up to a monster like that Red thing, and my son can stand up to me... Then you better believe that every single person in this village can stand up and do a fraction of what he did."
There was a rumble of agreement.
"And what he did, first and foremost... was not kill a dragon when I flat out screamed at him to do it! And if I had taken a moment to wonder why he hesitated... I might have saved his leg."
"So here we are." Astrid declared. "Dragnoriders of Berk. The one guy who knows what to do next is laying comatose, and we've got to pick up the slack before someone in the village takes out a Whispering Nightmare and tips off another war." She hefted her axe and rested it on her shoulder, ready to swing. "I'm not so good with the trusting and the appealing to people's better natures. So until Hiccup wakes up, I'll make this easy for you: Be sweet to the Dragons, and set a good example, or I WILL KILL YOU ALL!"
"So, I will make this easy for you." Stoick finished. "When my son wakes up, he will either see a village made a million times stronger and wiser, or he will see a lot of dead people and dragons. Given that the only one who's done anything worth a damn for him is a Night Fury; I know which one I'd rather have him see." He stared them all down. "Your Chief commands you to do as much to help rebuild and protect this village as a bunch of battle-green teenagers have done. Your Chief commands you to show as much consideration for the Dragons, as a wounded Night Fury has shown for the humans that had him caged up. Anyone think that this is an unreasonable idea?"
"Chief, Odin knows that I'd rather have the Dragons as friends rather than enemies. If only because half the village has lost limbs at some point. Speaking for myself, I'm rather attached to my limbs."
There was a rumble of agreement to that.
"But that said... they're dragons, not puppies! How exactly do we do this?"
"We have a lot of work to do." Stoick admitted.
"I don't have those answers. Yet." Astrid told them. "Hiccup knows how to tame dragons. We've all seen him do it. For now, we can fake it until he wakes up. And since this is Hiccup we're talking about, he probably left notes somewhere-" She broke off, suddenly beaming. "Actually, yeah! He would have made notes somewhere! So let's find them and figure out how to-" She turned to run back to the Chief's house, coming nose to nose with a big Dragon beak. "YAAAH!" She jumped back into a combat crouch on instinct, almost falling on her rear.
The Dragon squealed too, jumping back.
Astrid was frozen. She knew she should get up, but the realization that Toothless had kept the dragons tame during the battle had rattled her. She'd only spent a few minutes with this Nadder, and most of that was in the Arena, trading blows and dragonfire.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her classmates scrambling for cover, some of them grabbing weapons.
Okay, Dragonrider. She told herself, fighting panic. Put your money where your mouth is.
Swallowing hard, she rose to her feet, and didn't run. She planted her feet and stared hard at the Nadder. "Okay." She said softly. "I'm..." Her voice cracked. "Listen, you don't have a name yet. But I'm Astrid, and if you promise not to eat my arm, we can be friends, okay?"
The Nadder blinked slowly. Astrid raised a hand, and held it out to the Dragon, palm down. It took all her will to keep her fingers from trembling. The Dragon considered her fingers... And leaned forward, nuzzling into her hand.
"Far out!" Snotlout whispered from somewhere safer.
Astrid turned to face the others as though she had expected that all along. "So. Any questions?" She demanded, hefting her axe again. "So go find your dragons." She watched them for a moment. "MOVE IT!"
Half an hour later, she was back in the Chief's room, going through Hiccup's clothes. They smelled of smoke and sulfur. It was the smell of dragonfire, and part of her shuddered.
His clothes had blood on them too. A lot of it. Enough for a lost limb.
Toothless was perched in the eaves, tail coiled around the heaviest support pole. He trilled at her a little, and she looked up at him. "We nearly lost him, didn't we?"
Toothless's flat head tilted a bit. His tail uncoiled from the pole, and instead flicked around her forearm, as though holding her hand. She was still holding Hiccup's flight jacket in her other hand. She sent a glance at the door, still shut... and without letting herself think about it, she pulled his collar up to her nose.
Her first flight was suddenly magical. She could reach out and touch the clouds... and it was all because of Hiccup. She'd spent most of the year ignoring him, or hating him. But put him with Toothless, and he was suddenly so... amazing.
Up among the clouds, racing the wind, it felt like a glorious dream. She suddenly found she was resting her chin on his shoulder, drinking it all in...
She came out of the memory and found she could still smell his hair on the collar, just faintly over the ashes.
The door opened, and she quickly put the jacket down. Chief Stoick came upstairs and found Astrid, with Toothless' tail still holding her hand. "Mind if I join you?"
"It's your house." Astrid reminded him. The Chief came over and sat beside the bed. He looked tired. "So."
"So." Astrid nodded.
Toothless trilled a little. The three of them gathered around the bed. Her on the right, him on the left, and the Dragon above, wings hooded over them protectively.
"Interesting little family we're making here." Stoick commented.
Astrid turned so red she almost glowed. "No! Not... Actually, I was looking for Hiccup's... um... wait, I'll think of it. Notes! I was looking for his journal! I figure he had to have written down the things he knew about Dragons!"
"Great minds, indeed." Stoick commented. "I came back for the same thing. If we're going to get our people to be friendly with Dragons, the first step is to teach them about dragons. But you won't find it in his pockets." He reached under his son's mattress and pulled out the leather-bound book. "His mother, rest her soul, kept a journal like this. She had three books like this. Hiccup asked if he could have them when he turned ten years old. I never used them, and..." He swallowed. "His mother would be so proud of him."
"Everyone is." Astrid offered.
"No, not for saving the village." Stoick shook his head. "She would have been proud of him for not killing the Night Fury. She had the same idea, you know? Taming dragons, making them part of our life here..."
"What always happened when you got too close." Stoick sighed. "Well, until a week ago, anyway." He gave Toothless a sad smile. "You've changed everything about this village, just by being my son's friend. Every. Single. Thing."
Astrid and Stoick pored over Hiccup's journal for the entire night. When dawn broke, classes began. Some of it, they knew already. Some of it, they'd seen Hiccup do in the Arena. Taming the baby Gronckle was easy, making them chase the lights. Most of the Dragons stayed out around the edge of the village, since the sky was getting crowded over Berk. The ones that came in closer to the people were mollified with a belly scratch.
The Dragonriders led the way. The Twins and Fishlegs were naturals. All they did was keep shoveling food into the dragons until they passed out. When they woke up, the flying reptiles were in love.
"It's the same way our mom's got us to love them, so why shouldn't it work on dragons?" Fishlegs said, as though it made perfect sense.
Toothless rarely left Hiccup's side, but seemed to sense when he was needed. Every now and then, some of the newer dragons came closer and got a little too excited. Toothless made a quick flight around the village once a day, stretching his wings, and the Dragonriders flocked together with him, letting everyone see them together.
Most of the villagers got over their fear after the first few flights, and Astrid noticed a few envious stares following her around.
Once the twins had shown Berk that they could earn Dragon Love with food, taming them became immensely easier. The Vikings may have lived on an island, but most of them knew basic animal husbandry for their working animals. Training dragons to carry loads was no different. Training the smaller ones to hunt vermin or catch fish was like training falcons. The Vikings of Berk put their skills to work.
There was coexistance, more than friendship. The fear was fading slowly.
"We're doing something wrong." Astrid said one night. Her Nadder was beside her, and the Chief sat on the front step of his house. Astrid had been given a standing invitation to come over whenever she wanted. She hadn't taken him up on it nearly as often as she could have... and if she was honest with herself, she wanted to come by more often and sit with Hiccup.
"Wrong? It seems to be going well." Stoick offered.
"No. This isn't right." Astrid said honestly. She gestured at the Nadder. "Look. She's willing to come by when I call, but if you'd seen Hiccup with Toothless? They wrestle like brothers, they play like little kids... We're doing something wrong."
"Animals are more intuitive than people." Stoick offered. "They can tell when they're not really wanted somewhere."
"Well, how can we convince them?"
"I don't know." Stoick sighed. "You make the invitation, but they stay out at arm's length. You can see the affection in their eyes, you can see that they want to come closer; but for whatever reason, they stay away longer than they want to."
We're not talking about Dragons. Astrid realized, and she turned red again.
"Hiccup's awake." The Chief said quietly. "He came out of it for a few minutes, then dropped off again. The Healers say that by morning, he'll be awake and clear again."
Astrid felt her knees go weak. "He's okay." The Nadder came over and nudged her from behind. She leaned back into it, and the dragon propped her up for a moment. She forced herself to stand upright and gave the Chief an unconcerned shrug. "I wasn't worried for a moment."
Stoick smirked. "Nor was I."
"I should go." Astrid turned on her heel and started to walk.
"Astrid." The Chief's voice stopped her. "He was pretty out of it, but the first thing he asked about was Toothless. The second thing he asked about was you."
"...oh, heck." Astrid breathed, but she didn't turn. A moment later she was running.
She was proud of herself. She made it all the way home before she broke down. The Deadly Nadder, always a source of fear, curled a wing around her shaking shoulders, and Astrid leaned into her gratefully.
Stormfly. Astrid thought to herself. That's what I'll call you.
Classes began a week later. Hiccup had some catching up to do, and his father filled him in. But once that was done; there was plenty of work ahead.
The Dragonriders were assembled early the next day. As always, whenever Hiccup and Toothless took off, the Dragonriders squadron was quick to follow. They flew laps around Berk, and everyone stopped to look.
After another day, the Dragonriders started taking flights of their own, without Toothless to wrangle the rest of the flock.
Astrid loved it far more than she would admit to, high above everything. Her Dragon was learning too. Stormfly had more or less learned how to handle her Rider, which turns were too tight, which way Astrid would lean, and what that meant... Astrid was slowly gaining control, and spent more time flying than she did on the ground.
But on the third night, Stormfly suddenly swung around hard and flew away from Berk.
"What? Hey, girl; what are you doing? Home is that way! Left!" She told her dragon. "Your other left! Okay, this is the opposite of left! Where are you taking us?!"
She was just starting to panic when they came out of the clouds. At night, the ocean was like a reflection of the stars, and in the moonlight, she could see the island. There were hundreds of small islands around Berk. This one had a few huge trees... And sitting on the edge of the island, with a tree behind him, and a sheer drop in front, was a familiar shape.
"Oh." Astrid sighed, digging a knee into Stormfly. "Traitor."
Stormfly rumbled, as though laughing at her; and came in to land.
Toothless was curled up in a half circle, asleep. Hiccup was reclining in that half-circle shape, as though his dragon was a comfortable chair, legs dangling over the side.
Astrid just looked for a while, when Stormfly nudged her hard from behind, propelling the young woman forward. She sent an outraged look over her shoulder, but went over to Hiccup anyway. "Hey."
Hiccup shifted over, making room for her. She didn't take it, electing instead to stand, resting herself against Toothless's tail, high enough for her to lean back on. The young man in question was chewing on a blade of grass, with his journal across a knee. He was sketching a new leg for himself. "Hey." Hiccup nodded. "So, um... Nice night."
"Are we okay?" Hiccup asked finally. "It feels like you've been avoiding me, since I woke up. Well, except for that first morning of course." He slowly smirked. "You know, when you kis-"
She punched him in the mouth and went back to admiring the view.
Hiccup nodded, trying to count his teeth. "Right. No need to talk about that."
Astrid grunted. Why are you acting like this? She raged at herself.
Hiccup held out a retractable telescope, and she took it. "What am I looking at?"
He pointed, and she looked. A nest of Dragons was down below. Young ones, just a few months from hatching. They were writhing against the rocks and broken shell fragments. "Wow. Never seen ones this young before." She whispered.
"See them rubbing on the rocks? They're scratching." Hiccup explained to her. "They do that, because as they grow up, their skin flakes. Scales, see? Their skin cracks open, and new scales grow underneath to fill in the cracks. That's why their hide is so soft as they grow up, because their scales haven't hardened yet."
Astrid nodded. "What about after they grow, though?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Ruffnut and Tuffnut were asking about Barf. Seems that where the necks join-"
"Barf? They named their dragon Barf?" Hiccup winced.
"Barf and Belch. Each head got their own name. It's Ruffnut and Tuffnut. They're Nuts." Astrid excused. "But anyway, they told me that their dragon has been chewing at its own skin. Not enough to draw blood, but the skin is getting cracked and flaky. The twins are actually a little worried they did something."
Hiccup didn't seem surprised. He lifted Toothless' paw gently. His skin was flaking too. "I took a look at some of the dragon hides from the successful hunts? They have the same thing around the joints. I think it's a natural effect of having armored hides. Not flexible, so the surface layer cracks. Stormfly will probably have the same thing."
"I have been avoiding you." Astrid suddenly confessed. She had changed subjects so fast, Hiccup almost didn't know what she was talking about. "I'm sorry."
"Was it something I did?"
"Well, yes. If you include laying comatose after saving all our lives, and nearly dying, then yeah; it's all your fault." Astrid growled. "I thought you were dead, Hiccup! And then your dad goes and starts treating me like your girlfriend, and he did everything short of welcoming me to the family, and the whole thing just freaked me out!" She got all the words out in a rush.
Hiccup seemed stunned. "Girlfriend?"
"THAT'S what you take from all that?" She nearly screamed.
The screech woke Toothless up from his nap and the Dragon lurched upright, sending Hiccup to the ground with a thump. Toothless tilted his head, looking at Astrid in surprise, tongue lolling out a bit.
"The whole 'nearly dying' part is the problem, Hiccup! If you-" She cut herself off. "No, I don't care. Just..." She punched him again, really hard. "Don't ever do that again, alright?"
Hiccup rubbed his bruised shoulder smiled warmly, being all sweet and kind in a way that made Astrid's teeth hurt. "I'm sorry I scared you." He said gently. "I promise, I plan to do as little 'almost dying' as possible."
"Good." She said shortly. She gave Toothless a look. "That goes for you too, y'know. He gets brave when you're around."
Toothless nodded obediently. She was never sure how much he understood.
Astrid returned to Stormfly. Hiccup kept pace with her. "Y'know, the reverse is also true." He reminded her. "We both know that of the two of us, you're the one more likely to volunteer when something dangerous happens. I don't want you to die either."
"Deal." Astrid nodded. "I should go." She slung a leg over her dragon's neck. "Class tomorrow?"
"Yeah, though I have no idea what I'm meant to teach you." Hiccup sighed. "Too bad."
Astrid paused, half seated on her Dragon. "Too bad? What do you mean?"
Hiccup gave her a cocky smirk that he didn't really feel. "Well, usually after you're done telling me that I had you worried, and after punching me, I get your tongue down my throat."
Toothless found that to be very funny. Stormfly craned her neck back to give her rider a look. Is that a challenge? She seemed to be asking.
Astrid set her jaw, stepped down from her dragon, strode two feet over to Hiccup, and proceeded to plant a swift kiss square on his mouth. He responded instantly, arms going around her. Astrid kept going a lot longer than she had planned to. She started to pull away when the now-familiar feeling of Stormfly's beak pressing into her back kept her where she was... and after a moment, she didn't care.
At last, they broke for oxygen, lips bruised, eyes dark. Hiccup had a big goofy smile on his face. "Wow."
Astrid pushed him away. "Right." She said firmly. "That's what happens when I think one of us is about to die. And we agreed we're not doing that any more. No more almost dying."
"Right. We agreed." Hiccup said, still a little dazed.
"See you tomorrow."
"Right. Tomorrow is good."
Astrid quickly jumped back into the saddle and Stormfly took off. She craned her neck back to look at her rider with a gleam in her eye.
"Shut up." Astrid told her, flushing. "Watch the road... clouds. Whatever."
The Arena had been converted. The pens had been made more comfortable, the dorms were now a barracks; and the classrooms were all being redesigned. Astrid wondered if Stoick was seeing the future of the Drangonriders as a combat team.
Most of the Riders slept there. Hiccup still had his room at the Cheif's house. Astrid was the only one that knew for a fact that his father expected him to be here. Hiccup spent his nights out on the island that she had visited the night before, observing the wild dragons. Just him and Toothless. The thought made her sad, and even a little jealous.
"There!" Ruffnut shouted, searching the sky. Astrid looked, and saw a small black blur shooting across the ocean, powering straight for them. Toothless came in like a lightning strike and flew along the ground so fast they couldn't make him out. When he touched ground, he kicked up a cloud of dust so thick that the entire squadron was covered and blinded.
Once she got the dust out of her eyes, Astrid couldn't help the snicker at the sight of Hiccup. His eyes were pasted shut from the wind and his hair was pointing in all directions. He also had a few bugs splattered across his face and chest.
Tuffnut busted a gut laughing at him as he tried to get his hair to lay flat, spitting out bugs. "Right. Toothless, that may have been a touch too fast." He forced his eyes open blearily. "Astrid, is it me, or is the ground spinning?"
"It's you." She told him. He wasn't making any reference to the night before, and she was glad for it.
After several minutes, he managed to get himself cleaned up, and considered his attentive audience. Four young humans, three dragons. Four, if you counted the Twin Headed Zippleback twice. "So." Hiccup said nervously. "I'm meant to teach you all about dragons. What do you want to know?"
"I'm serious, guys. There's a lot of ground to cover!" Hiccup insisted. "Where do we start? Because there's us riding them, and there's everyone else in town being friends with them, and there's crews wanting to put them to work. You tell me, where do we start?"
"Fine, I'll go first." Astrid rolled her eyes. "Let's start here, then." She declared, waving Stormfly over. "What do you think of my harness?"
"Problems?" Hiccup looked closely at Stormfly.
"Gobber made it while you were out. He based it on the one you made for Toothless, but it's only half working. Stormfly doesn't respond to the reins, only to my balance. Stormfly isn't a Night Fury, so-"
"Yeah." Hiccup was suddenly 'at work'. He gently took the harness of Stornmfly, and started pulling the buckles apart. "The problem is that Hiccup's harness wasn't just to give me a place to sit; it was also to take over the job of his tail fin. You don't have any control, because Stormfly's an entirely different dragon, with a full tail, no need for pedals at all..."
Astrid didn't bother to say anything. Hiccup was in that strange zone he fell into whenever he was working a project. He stopped blinking, if he was even aware that he was talking, he wouldn't remember what he said. His hands were working like a tireless machine, back and forth across the harness, adjusting things to fit the design in his head.
Astrid couldn't help the stare. He became an entirely different person. No doubts, no self-deprecation, no nerves. Just total focus. She sometimes wondered if she looked that way during training.
Hiccup suddenly looked up at the rest of them. "All right. Everyone get measuring tape, paper, pens, and plenty of that calfskin that they make leather from. I'm going to give you guys a lesson in making Dragonrider saddles. They have to be custom made, and I nearly hit the drink when my harness failed mid-flight, so you need to know how to repair them on your own."
"What do you think?" Hiccup called across to her.
"Feels good!" She called back. She had lined the underside of the harness with calfskin, making it softer against the Nadder neck. The reins were responsive. She tugged gently, and her dragon turned gracefully. "Nothing like riding a horse, though."
This was true. A horse responded to the reins, but couldn't fly. Flying a dragon required an entirely different set of commands, since they moved in three dimensions.
After helping them with their harnesses, Hiccup had taken everyone for a flight to test them out. Each one had to be custom made, since each dragon was individual in size and shape.
"I still can't believe Fishlegs' harness works." Astrid called back. "He's bigger than Meatlug, and somehow they can keep up with the rest of us."
"And they say people don't look like their pets." Hiccup joked.
She laughed. It was the third time she had laughed in her life. Somehow, up here, keeping a steely gaze on her face seemed impossible, and unnecessary. Far above the ground, she was above it's problems too.
After the flight, Hiccup had talked them through what to do in emergencies. Astrid had volunteered to demonstrate an emergency and pulled one of the straps on her harness, dropping from her saddle mid-flight. Stormfly had caught her, of course, and everyone watched while she repaired her harness and resumed flight, all without pausing to land.
It had been a harrowing day, as every Rider insisted on doing the same thing. They'd nearly lost Fishlegs, but his skull was harder than the rock he'd landed on, and he quickly did it again, this time getting it right.
It had taken them half the day, but they'd figured out what they needed. After lunch, they had returned to the village, and taught villagers to create working harnesses for the dragons carrying loads. It made the trained dragons far more comfortable, and they worked all the better for it.
But now, as the sun set, class was dismissed for everyone. Hiccup had returned to the sky, and Astrid went with him, more to keep flying than to spend time with him, though that was more enjoyable than she'd admit.
They returned to the island.
As soon as they'd landed, Hiccup released the harness, and Toothless wriggled free. An instant later, he had pounced, knocking Hiccup flat. Astrid would have been quick to attack a week before, but Toothless did nothing but give him a playful lick across the face. Hiccup was giggling before rolling them both over. Astrid knew that the dragon had let him do it.
Stormfly was watching them with bright eyes. Astrid was watching too. It was impossible not to be amused, but... She glanced over at Stormfly. Her own dragon had never been like that with her. She remembered herself then, and stopped staring, setting up a small campfire.
Toothless was up a moment later, flapping his big black wings. He reached the high branches of the trees in two flaps, and stretched out flat along it like a panther. An instant later, he was asleep.
"I... um..." Astrid gestured, but gave up quickly. "No, never mind."
Hiccup looked at her earnestly. "Something wrong?"
What are you going to say? She dared herself. You're not loved enough by dragons? Are you really worried about that? How did you become like this?
"How did you do it?" She asked quietly. "We fought wars with dragons. We grew up hearing horror stories, and none of us has a family that hasn't lost at least one limb. How did you do it? How did you make an honest to Valhalla Night Fury turn?"
Hiccup shrugged. "Well, that right there is the mistake everyone made." He explained, heading over to Stormfly. "I didn't turn him. I just made the offer. He accepted."
She heard the word and her stomach did a flip. "I'm not someone who has an easy time with that." She confessed. "I'm better at punching people than caring about them."
"Really? I hadn't noticed." He said sweetly.
She punched him again.
Stormfly swooped back down next to them, and gave Astrid a winning nudge. Astrid glanced at Hiccup, and went for it, taking the large head in a gentle hold. She could feel the warmth of the Nadder coming through her, and suddenly realized the dragon was purring. "They can purr?"
"Warble, really." Hiccup explained, giving the two of them space. "They hit a pitch that humans don't really hear, but you can feel it vibrating."
Astrid took a deep breath and laid her ear against Stormfly, listening. And then she heard the dragon gag. Astrid pulled back swiftly. "Something's wrong."
Hiccup was watching. "What happens next, just remember that you're the one being invited right now."
Astrid was about to ask for details, when Stormfly bent her head low and coughed up half a fish. Astrid stared. Stormfly nudged the fish head forward, toward Astrid. Her eyes were big and hopeful and kind. Astrid realized instantly what was happening. Her dragon was offering her a gift. She didn't glance at Hiccup. She didn't dare. She knew what Hiccup would say anyway.
Without blinking, she picked up the fish head, toasted Stormfly with it, and took a bite.
The two dragons had flown around the sky in circles, wheeling and gliding with each other. Their riders had found a place where they could look up, but after several minutes, it started to strain. Hiccup lay flat, looking up at the sky. After a moment, she lay down too, feet pointed in the opposite direction.
"You did better with the fish test than I did." Hiccup told her after the two dragons settled in for sleep.
"My gran had cats, to protect her grain stores from rodents." Astrid said. "One day, I was staying with her, and one of the cats brought a dead mouse into my room while I was sleeping and put it on my bed right in front of me. I yelled at the cat for bringing it into the house. But my gran, she told me off the whole morning. She said when an animal presents you with a kill that it could have eaten for itself, its an act of loyalty. The cat was earning his keep." She smirked. "I told gran that maybe the cat brought rats because it figured that I'd never be able to catch one on my own. The cat was making sure I didn't starve, which was the most affection that cats have for people."
"Dragons aren't like other animals." He said. "They're smarter about who they side with. That loyalty isn't based on imprinting, or pack mentality, or mating habits; or anything else that makes animals protect each other. That's something they have in common with humans. That's the key. Understanding that is the key."
"They think like we do?"
"I don't think so. But even if you don't understand how their mind works; if you can understand their heart, you can offer them unconditional love."
They were both still laying on their backs in the grass, hands behind their heads, gazing up at the sky as it turned from sundown into nightfall. "Why can't humans do that, Hiccup?" She asked reflectively, far more philosophical than usual. "Why don't humans give each other unconditional love like that? Do we just not understand each other?"
"I'm not so sure we don't." Hiccup rolled to one elbow so that he could look down at her. "My dad, he's still in love with my mom, even fifteen years after she's gone. Is that bad, or just..."
She said it with him. "Unconditional? I don't know. Maybe." She sat up, half looking at him, half at the stars.
"What are you thinking?" He asked quietly, sitting up to look at her.
"I..." She licked her lips. "I was thinking that I don't understand how your mind works. The things you do, the things you see when you look at the world. But I think I understand your heart." She sniffed. "I spent all my life training to be a warrior. I never trained my heart to do anything at all. I'm sorry."
He seemed surprised. "Sorry? For what?"
"I think, sometimes, you'd have managed better with someone more like you." Astrid sighed, showing vulnerability for the first time. "All the effort I put into becoming a dragonslayer. I made myself someone who would kill monsters, and we needed someone who could love one."
Hiccup lifted a hand, fingers out, palm down. She watched his hand, and recognized it. It was the same gesture the riders made when first reaching for their Dragons, wondering if the gesture would be received well, wondering if they'd get bitten instead.
Astrid craned her head forward and leaned into it, resting his fingers against her hair.
"I don't think you're lacking at all." He said gently. "And I think we're managing just fine with what we've got." He smiled. "And as for the dragons, well... They were the enemy for a lot of years. There's going to be fear. Even hate. But would you let anyone hurt Stormfly?"
"Never." Astrid said instantly, actually a little surprised at how naturally the answer came.
"So if the perfect Dragonslayer can say that, and my father can say the same... I think we're okay." Hiccup promised. "In fact-"
She craned her neck and kissed him quickly. She pulled back a moment later, watching him for a reaction.
"First time you've done that without punching me first." He commented.
She punched him.
"That's better." He leaned in and kissed her again.
Classes worked in stages. First, Hiccup would teach Astrid, then they would both teach the Dragonriders. Then the Dragonriders would teach the villagers.
Every day, the village was being remade with new information. Hatcheries were set up, barns and perches were incorporated into the town designs.
Every night, Asrtid and Hiccup would meet at the island, and compare notes for the next day. Neither of their families were waiting for them, since the rest of the Riders slept at the Arena, now the home base for the Dragons and their riders.
But every so often, The Chief went looking for his son.
"GAAAH!" Hiccup jumped out of his skin. He'd been trying to sneak into his room, but his father had been sitting in the dark beside his bed. "I thought we had a deal about the lurking."
"Viking's don't lurk. They lie in wait." Stoick said lightly. "How is Astrid?"
"What makes you think I know where she is?" Hiccup tried vainly.
"One, I am not an idiot." Stoick listed on his fingers. "Two, Stormfly is not on her usual perch, which means she was out there somewhere, and if she didn't go with you, then odds are your Toothless found her quick smart just to show off that he could... and three, you've got her lipstick all over you."
"Astrid doesn't wear lipstick." His son shot back with dignity. "There are maybe two people in the whole village that do, and warpaint doesn't count."
"That's right." Stoick grinned. "Number three was a test. You can be smart and still be gullible; and I'm glad to see you're not." He rose to his feet. "She's a fine girl, Hiccup. Pretty, too."
"Nothing happened." Hiccup promised. "At least, nothing that-"
"Son, if it wasn't for teenage vikings slipping off to have time away from their parents, half the village wouldn't be here; includin' yourself. You're a man now; and even with the blood of so many Viking Chieftains in your veins, I've never known you to be the brawling, drinking and wenching type. Astrid's something special."
"She is." Hiccup agreed.
"She'd make you a fine wife."
Hiccup gagged on his own tongue. "Dad, I can't even get within three feet of her without her punching me first."
"If you can't pay for every kiss and smile with a swift punch to the jaw; then you're not fit to marry a viking bride." Stoick said grandly. "But that's not why I'm here."
"I know I'm out late..."
"With a Night Fury along? You're probably safer out there than in here." Stoick chuckled. "No, I wanted to speak with you about the villagers." He stroked his beard. "We need to get the others involved."
"I agree." Hiccup nodded. "Waiting for us to say something isn't going to work. They have to do it themselves. They have to be involved."
Stoick nodded. "How do we do that? Because some of the men are looking for Dragon Mounts, now that their ships are destroyed. But that's only half the villagers. I don't want a split. This whole village was geared toward Dragon Defenses. If they weren't fighters, they were making weapons, or providing food, or testing readiness. We need something for everyone."
"I have a few ideas. Let me get on it tomorrow." Hiccup nodded.
Hiccup paused on the stairs. "You really like her?"
"Like her? Son, she's my great new hope!" Stoick grinned. "After all this, you'd never be with anyone who didn't ride a Dragon too, and that narrows it down to Astrid and Ruffnut."
Hiccup choked on his tongue again, and Stoick left him alone.
AN: Read and Review!