Disclaimer: How to Train Your Dragon remains the property of Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks (more's the pity...)


I heard the footsteps first, the uneven sounds of a limp. It sounded far enough away to make a break if the owner came close. Then I hefted my backpack on my shoulders: who was I kidding? No one hanging around here in the dark could have any benign intent. And I was alone in the dark winter evening on my way back to my apartment.

I tensed, my fists balling. It was reasonably well lit between the converted warehouses at the old docks but most of the units weren't taken yet: it was what they call an 'up and coming' area. But that means not so many people to come if I screamed blue murder. And the few alleys were deep in darkness and sinister-even for someone with my combat skills and solid martial arts training.

The limp came closer and it sounded bad. The owner was really struggling, the irregularity of the steps striking. Part of me was curious: what had caused the limp? My mind automatically flicked down the possibilities and I had to blink to pull myself back to the present: there were more important things to consider. I jumped back and peered into the shadowed passage. There was someone there, a single figure moving unsteadily. Great. A drunk or a junkie: just what I need! Not that I had much worth mugging on me: I had come from my shift via the gym and had only my purse with a couple of low-limit cards and a handful of coins for a coffee. And I hardly looked affluent: I was sweaty and dishevelled in grey sweat pants, sky blue hoodie and trainers. Not a designer label or top end accessory in sight! I had headed home for my shower and wished now I had taken it there-maybe I could have missed this person.

He stumbled forward, almost into the light and I could make him out. Tall and skinny were the first impressions, with messy brown or dark auburn hair and a very lopsided gait. He saw me and paused, then recoiled a step: he seemed alarmed to see me. I felt a little more confident and took a pace towards him. He backed off another pace and I could see his face in a chink of light: he was young, my age I guess and he looked…scared? I came closer.

"Who are you?" I asked him bluntly. "What are you doing here?" He cringed away.

"N-nothing," he murmured and his voice was definitely scared. He backed off and his left leg gave way, pitching him sideways into the wall. It was almost in slow motion, his lanky shape jerking sideways, his head hitting the wall with a dull thud, his skinny shape folding and sliding down to land in a crumpled heap on the floor. He gave a groan that deteriorated into a harsh cough. I turned and backed away. Definitely a junkie, I thought as I turned towards my apartment. I would call the security patrol and they could pick him up and move him along-or whatever they did to vagrants. And then he coughed again.

I stopped, my shoulders tensing. This was wrong. This man had fallen, hit his head and seemed to have a nasty cough. Whether he had an alcohol or substance misuse problem, I owed him at least a check to make sure he hadn't done himself some serious harm-a concussion or worse-when he collapsed. With a sigh, I turned round and walked back towards him.

He was blinking, his expression puzzled, as if he couldn't recall how he ended on the ground. I approached slowly because I still wasn't sure if he would try to do me any harm. He could be concussed, withdrawing, having the DTs…anything. He just tried to make himself look smaller and he looked scared to death. I could see him clearly now and his hair was a very dark auburn, his face was pale with a little scattering of freckles over the skin and bright emerald eyes. Too bright, in fact. His skin was flushed over the cheeks and he looked unwell and was breathing fast. I crouched down.

"I don't mean you any harm," I said gently. He swallowed: his lips were dry and his breaths, close to, sounded harsh. "You hit your head. Are you okay?" He frowned and gently lifted a hand to the back of his head.

"Ow," he murmured. He blinked again, almost in slow motion. He still looked as if he might be on drugs, but his eyes focussed briefly on me. "'m fine," he murmured. His voice was clear and pleasant and he was definitely my age. He was really skinny, his cheek bones hard against his skin, the faint stubble on the angular line of his jaw emphasising his lack of substance. Then he coughed again, doubling up and hacking as of he'd cough up both lungs. I leaned forward and winced. Probably got TB as well, I thought and laid a gentle hand on his. His skin was dry and scorching hot. He looked up, alarmed. "Please," he rasped. And he sounded ghastly as well.

"You're really sick," I told him softly. "You have a fever and probably a chest infection. And a horrible limp…" He attempted a lopsided smile.

"Yeah, that's a long story," he muttered roughly.

"You need medical help!" I urged him. His eyes popped wide open and he recoiled, his face filled with fear.

"No! No doctors. No hospitals. No authorities!" he said with surprising firmness. I was mildly offended but rose smoothly.

"Do you have somewhere to go?" I asked coolly. He coughed again then shook his head.

"I'm fine," he murmured, his mouth tightening with stubbornness. I turned and then stared back at him. He hadn't moved, still breathing fast and harshly, the cough bubbling at the back of his throat. I sighed. It was already approaching freezing and I knew he would die if I left him out here.

"You could come with me," I suggested, mentally kicking myself for being an idiot as soon as the words left my lips. "At least have some aspirin, a warm drink and a rest." He glanced up and his brilliant green eyes brightened.

"A warm drink sounds like a great idea," he admitted roughly and he tried to get to his feet. And then I saw it: his left foot wasn't there, replaced by some metal contraption that looked like the bottom end of one of those high tech prostheses you see on Paralympic athletes. The guy only had one leg: that explained the limp. He tried to get to his feet but as soon as he tried to put weight on the metal leg, he groaned and it collapsed. The grimace on his face was painful to watch. So I leaned forward and offered a hand.

"Let me help," I offered and he looked up, as if seeing me for the first time. He nodded and gave a slight smile.

"Thanks," he murmured and I felt the sudden pressure of his left hand on my shoulder. He rose to his feet but the left leg just wasn't able to carry any weight. I lent him my shoulder and he leaned heavily on me as we made our precarious way to the door of my block. His hand was scorching and I noticed the long fingers, carefully trying not to dig into my shoulder. He was tall but he must weigh next to nothing because I supported him easily. I know I'm strong-all the training will do that-but I was surprised how easily I dragged him along. I punched in my code and the automated door opened. We manoeuvred in and I called the lift.

"You're not a rapist or mugger are you?" I asked him lightly. His head dipped and I thought he would collapse again but he gave a low, hoarse chuckle.

"No, Milady," he murmured. "You're safe from me." The doors opened and we limped in. Then I stabbed the '2' button to get to my home. The doors closed.

He was tense-I could tell that. He felt vulnerable and sick and probably embarrassed. His hair was really messy, a choppy style that had it shaggy around his head. His pale skin with the flushed cheeks was close to mine, his patched leather jacket and stained black jeans had seen better days and he was trembling. I wondered what his story was-and hoped I hadn't made a huge mistake.

"I'm Astrid," I said by way of greeting. He winced.

"My name is Hiccup," he said in a vaguely embarrassed tone.


"Oh…that's…interesting…" I managed. He sighed.

"Oh, that's not the worst of it," he muttered. "It means the runt of the litter-a mistake." He shrugged and managed to gesture to his lanky shape. "Great, huh?" I smile.

"At least you don't have to worry about any mistaken identity," I reminded him. "And as for identity fraud…" He managed a small smile at my attempt at humour.

"Yeah, I'm always being mistaken for all those other Hiccups…" he managed before another bout of coughing doubled him over and I could feel the heaving gasps through his body. He staggered and I had to struggle as the lift opened and I reached my door. I fumbled the key and the door opened. We staggered in and I kicked the door closed behind me, fumbling at the lights and turning the deadlock.

Hiccup was blinking and looking disorientated. He was starting to shiver and I guessed his temperature was climbing. I stared into his anxious face and he ghosted a small smile.

"Thanks," he said softly as he fainted and collapsed onto my floor.