Tony took a week to heal before Obie set up the interview. During that week, his hair was cut - and he nearly wept as his Viking hair was cut down to a good-American-boy kind of cut, although he kept his braids - a tailor came and had a suit altered for him, as well as some everyday clothes, the doctor came twice more, and Obie brought him some leather cut the way he asked and the metal the way he needed it.
The flight rig was beautiful. Once he finished sewing it together and put it on Toothless, Tony stood back to admire it. Vikings didn't care about things particularly stylish. They just needed it to work. So Toothless's flight rig had always been simple, light brown leather that did what it was supposed to and nothing else. This rig was a gorgeous, rich brown - dyed with natural oils that didn't bother Toothless - that blended gorgeously with Toothless's gleaming black scales. The metal shoulder stirrups shined even in the unnatural lights of the indoors.
The tailfin was the only part that had given Tony trouble. He couldn't put Berk's crest on it for obvious reasons, and he wanted it to make a statement, so he didn't want plain brown. Obie had suggested Stark Industries's insignia, but Tony shot that down right away. Toothless was his, not the company's. He was going to do his damndest to ensure people saw Toothless as a living, breathing creature with needs and thoughts and a personality, not a weapon that belonged to SI. So the tailfin was red and gold -
his colors during the dragon races on Berk
- with arrow shaped patterns -
the pattern painted onto Toothless's scales and Tony's skin in the races
It had nothing to do with Berk, he told himself. Toothless was stunning in red, and the gold brought out Tony's eyes -
Astrid had said so
- and there was no reason he had to hide this part of himself. While he might not be among Vikings anymore, he was still a Viking.
Sure, he'd cut his hair, but he still had the braids. He was wearing jeans instead of leather pants, but he still had his metal foot that Gobber made him. Toothless's flight rig was gleaming and fancier than it really needed to be, but it was still the same basic design as the one he'd made on Berk three years ago.
He told himself it didn't matter what he looked like on the outside. Astrid had told him that he was a Viking at heart -
Stoick, mouth tight, eyes filled with betrayal, "He is not a Viking-"
And he always would be one, no matter what he wore or how he styled his hair -
"- and it was wrong of me to think he could become one."
Toothless warbled softly and nosed Tony's face. Tony realized his cheeks were wet. He sniffed angrily and rubbed his face dry before giving Toothless a scratch on the chin that had the dragon's third eyelids partly showing and his tongue lolling out in a goofy smile.
Tony smiled and stretched out his back with a groan. Toothless cocked his head at the pops in Tony's spine. The apartment was quiet. It was late, and Jarvis was sleeping.
"Come on, bud," Tony whispered, gesturing to the fire escape. Toothless's ear plates stood up and he bounded over to the door to wait, grinning gummily. Tony grinned back and grabbed the jacket Jarvis had given him, joining his dragon. Together, they winged their way into the dark sky, arrowing straight up, above the light of the city.
It had been 5 days since he'd shown up in Jarvis's apartment. This was their first night with the new rig, and Tony hated being grounded with a burning passion. Toothless wasn't much better. The dragon had treated everyone with harsh suspicion ever since they arrived - even Jarvis got growled at when he tried to touch Tony without invitation - but the dragon's temper had noticeable soured with each passing day stuck inside. He seemed to have a particular problem with Obie. The older man couldn't even be in the room without Toothless growling, and if he tried to come close Toothless wouldn't fail to drop into a spread-footed stance, snarling so loud Tony was afraid the neighbors would hear. Thankfully, Obie had enough of a survival instinct that he never tried to touch Tony without telling him first so Tony could quite Toothless. Even then, the dragon's nose would be wrinkled in obvious - obvious to Tony anyway - irritation, and the Night Fury's eyes tracked every movement Obie made.
It was difficult re-adjusting to living in New York. The constant noise kept him awake, and he always felt like something was missing without hearing the crackle of a fire; without the crash of waves hitting Berk's cliffs. Jarvis bought him a machine that played the sounds of water lapping on a beach, but it couldn't compare to the loud crash of icy waves striking rock. And it couldn't drown out the sounds of the city. Every horn honk, every screech of brakes, every siren, made Tony nearly jump out of his skin. Toothless wasn't any better. They spent their nights huddled on the floor together, comforting each other through the noise that shouldn't have been as strange and foreign as it was.
And that was another thing. He couldn't sleep in a bed. The mattress was too soft, and Tony was too used to his wood, mattress-less bed he had on Berk. He felt like he was sinking, suffocating. So he stayed on the floor, curled under Toothless's wing. He and Toothless were both happier like that. Jarvis didn't know of course. Tony and Toothless kept odd sleeping hours, partly during the day and partly at night. But old habits die hard, and when the sun came up, Tony was always up with it. Jarvis got up at 8am no matter what, but Tony and Toothless were always waiting in the kitchen.
Jarvis had been spending way too much money on organic, fresh meat for Toothless. The butler never complained, but Tony felt bad. That high quality meat was expensive, and Toothless needed a lot of it. But soon, Tony would have more money than he knew what to do with and he could fill Jarvis's pockets. Toothless had been eating the meat, but Tony knew he wasn't happy about it. Toothless liked his food very, very fresh. Usually he preferred to hunt it himself, although he typically wouldn't turn down a free meal.
Toothless and Tony climbed high above the lights of the city, above the suffocating smog. Tony inhaled the thin, but clean air and let out a sigh of relief. Toothless purred under him, as happy as Tony to be back in the air. Tony's back was still healing, but thanks to Toothless the wounds were closed. The skin that grew back was pink and tender, and Tony could already see the outlines of the harsh, ropey scars that were forming. Still, it was healed enough that as long as they were careful, they could probably do some fishing.
They flew a few miles out over the water, far from any wandering eyes and hopefully out of any supervised areas. Their fishing wasn't overly successful, since Toothless refused to dive deeper than a few inches into the water and was reluctant to move too fast. Tony was careful not to bend too far over Toothless's neck and not to strain his healing back too much. Although it was a relatively slow flight, it was wonderful to be back in the air. And New York was pretty at night, all lit up. It was ugly and smelly during the day, but it wasn't too bad at night.
Tony sighed and carefully laid back against Toothless. He missed Berk. He missed the cold, icy air. He missed the gorgeous scenery. He missed the grass. He missed the roar of dragons, the shouting of Vikings. He even missed the smell of Gobber's socks when he took them off in the forge to let the sweat dry.
He missed being Hiccup.
How the hell had his letters made it South?
Sure, Obie sent the 'rescue team.' He could wrap his head around how that whole mess started. But how had the letters made it South to begin with? Obie had said the letters were given to his secretary, by a man dressed in leather and fur. That fit the description of a Viking. But who? Certainly, no one on Berk had gone South. He also said he was huge. Most Vikings had larger builds than the typical Southerner, but Obie was a large man himself. So if his secretary called him huge, especially while looking at Obie, he must have been big even for a Viking. And he had dark hair.
That really didn't narrow it down much, but Tony's breath caught. Because he remembered how Alvin had been absent lately. For the majority of the summer, there had been no sign of him. His tribe had still attacked of course, but Alvin himself hadn't been there. Instead, Savage and Dagur had led both the Berserkers and the Outcasts. When Tony had killed that Outcast over a year ago, Alvin hadn't been there.
It made sense. But there was no way Alvin would have even known about Tony's letters, let alone gotten his hands on them. And if he'd forced Trader Johann to give them to him, or stolen them, Johann would have said something.
Someone from Berk must have gotten the letters from Johann, given them to Alvin. And as soon as the thought entered his head, Tony bolted upright, eyes wide. Toothless startled under him, but Tony barely noticed.
That snake! It had to have been him! He was the only Berkian to still call Tony a Southerner to his face and had made it clear he wanted Tony gone, along with the dragons. He was also the only one to have sneaky, detailed plans about things. Vikings tend to beat problems with their heads until it broke, but Mildew had always been a coward, and liked plans that didn't involve him having to face the issue head on. This was a more complicated plan than his usual little schemes but was still a very Mildew thing to do.
And if Tony put it together…
His friends might as well.
They were smart, dedicated. And they had Mildew right there on the island. It wouldn't take long before they thought to look into him. And Mildew had always been a coward. When faced with an angry dragon, he never failed to fold.
So Berk might still learn the truth. And when they did, Stoick had to ask Tony to come home. He'd realize he was wrong, send a Terror Mail. Those little dragons might not be the smartest, but they could track a scent across the world.
Tony might still get to go home.
His heart was pounding with joy and excitement, his hands shook. Toothless crooned, and Tony leaned down to wrap his arms around his dragon's head, grinning like a fool. Toothless snorted, shaking off Tony's grip before he could unbalance the dragon, but Tony's excitement couldn't be dampened.
Berk might not be out of his reach forever.
He would cheer out loud if he wasn't worried about getting caught.
Toothless picked up on his mood, and roared as they soared higher, spinning smoothly and dropping again. Tony rolled his eyes at the noise they couldn't afford, but couldn't stop grinning. They had to cut their flight short after that, since Tony was worried that Toothless's roar may have caught someone's attention.
They landed lightly in Jarvis's apartment, closing the fire escape behind them. Tony was still grinning as he unsaddled Toothless and wrapped the saddle and rig around the tailfin then tucked it away in the guest room. His dragon followed after him as Tony walked back out into the living room. Toothless had been extremely reluctant to let Tony out of his sight ever since they'd fled Berk.
Tony grabbed his helmet from where it was still on the counter and collected his journal and herbalist book. He took them back to the guest room, set them next to Toothless's gear. It would certainly take time for a Terror to make its way South, and there was no telling when they'd figure out what had happened. But Tony wanted to be ready, just in case.
He let out a deep breath as he sat lightly on the edge of the bed. He would still follow their original plan, until he got word from Berk. He would still announce that he was back to the world, would still re-apply to MIT. Until Stoick sent him a Terror Mail, Tony could work on Southerners' opinions on Vikings, maybe prevent another tragedy in the future. And he could upgrade his foot and Toothless's gear.
He also wanted to make sure he got a sample of Jarvis's scent to use to train a Terror. He remembered how Jarvis had acted when he first showed up and he didn't want to do that to him again. So once the Terror from Berk arrived, Tony would make sure to talk to Jarvis before he left, and once he got a few minutes alone in Jarvis's apartment, he'd swipe one of his shirts or something.
Tony took off his metal foot, dragged a throw off the foot of the bed and curled up in his usual place under Toothless's wing. Toothless purred softly, burying his nose in Tony's hair. Tony felt the breeze as Toothless snuffled at Tony's new haircut.
Tony snuggled into Toothless's neck and fell asleep with a smile.
The reporter Obie chose was young and fresh-faced, still believing she could save the world. Tony forgot her name as soon as it passed her lips. He gave a tight smile as they shook hands. Her fingernails were ridiculously long, expensively painted. Southerners. Those nails wouldn't make it ten minutes on Berk. She was wearing stupidly high heels. She would fall on her face after two steps on ground that wasn't covered in cement. Her hair was long and loose, just asking to be blown in her face and caught on branches. Her muscles were soft, arms thin. It was hard to believe anyone could find her attractive. He remembered how Astrid could heft a hundred pound sheep over her shoulder without help. That was far sexier than some Southerner whose hands were as soft as her muscles.
She would have never made it on Berk. Tony could barely keep from curling his lip as she baby talked at Toothless, who stared flatly at her.
Tony could hardly wait until Stoick sent him that Terror Mail and got him out of there.
When had Tony started seeing Southerners the same way Stoick had first looked at him?
Obie had only told her who he was and about Toothless and the Vikings. She claimed she wanted her reactions during the interview to be genuine, so she didn't want specifics yet. Obie had also told her - on Tony's request - not to wear anything scented. No perfume or deodorant, and not to take a shower that day. Her clothes were dry cleaned with natural ingredients. Tony really needed Toothless to come off well on camera.
They set up by the window, about five feet apart. They were in chairs sitting opposite of each other, Toothless sitting next to Tony. The camera was on, and Tony watched as the soft Southerner pulled on her camera mask and offered up a professional smile.
She was appropriately suspicious of his claims of being Tony Stark, and she had clearly done her research when she demanded who his third grade teacher was.
It would have been easier and more credible if Obie was part of the interview, but Toothless still didn't like Obie and Tony needed Toothless's initial introduction to the world to go well. They went through the whole Night Furies aren't real thing, had Toothless show his fire in a slow burn.
"So," she finally said. "What happened to you?"
Tony took a deep breath. He was going to avoid lying as much as possible. "Well," he said. "It's a …. long story." She waited for him to continue.
"The ship sank," Tony said. "I was the only one to get off. I made it onto a rescue raft. I don't know how long I was stuck at sea. Eventually, I passed out and woke up in a Healer hut on a Viking island."
"Vikings?" she asked, even though Tony knew she knew this part. "They didn't kill you?"
Tony shook his head quickly, a sharp denial. "No. Vikings get a bad rep. They're good people. I mean, they have some rough edges. If I was an adult, they almost certainly would have left me to die. They're pretty suspicious of Southerners -"
"Southerners?" she interrupted.
He blinked at her, not understanding. "Yeah, you know, people from the Southern continents."
She tipped her head. "Is that a Viking term?"
He stared blankly at her. "I - I guess so." How had he not noticed that he'd started saying that?
'Sorry for interrupting," she said with a smile. "Please, continue."
He nodded. "Like I was saying, Vikings are pretty suspicious of Sout - Americans. Or anyone from the Southern nations. And you can't say it's without reason. America has a pretty nasty reputation for pushing themselves into other cultures and ripping them apart. But they took me in anyway."
"Did you meet your friend there?" she asked, smiling at Toothless.
He nodded again. "Yes, but not how you think. The Vikings were at war with the dragons. I spend a year forging weapons at the forge under the instruction of the blacksmith, for Vikings to kill the dragons."
She blinked at him startled. She didn't know this part of the story. "You killed them?"
Quickly, he shook his head. "No, I didn't. I didn't know how to fight, and was too young anyway. I just made the swords." Toothless gave a bored sigh and carefully balanced one side of his jaw on Tony's shoulder. Tony smiled and laid a hand on Toothless's nose as the reporter cooed at them.
"So how did you end up with him?" she asked.
"I shot him down," Tony said simply. She blinked, startled, but Tony was annoyed with the interruptions and continued before she could speak. "I didn't know anything about dragons, and thought they were mindless killers. I intended to kill him. But I couldn't. So I let him go, but he couldn't fly. His left tailfin was gone." At Tony's soft murmurer, Toothless swung his tail around to show off his prosthetic.
Tony was purposely keeping it short and to the point. He talked about the Red Death, about how the riders came together as a team to protect the village. He didn't mention anything personal, and didn't say Berk's name. He didn't know if anyone knew the names of the tribes, but he wasn't going to take the chance.
Finally, she asked "So why did you leave?"
Tony could barely keep from flinching. He was out of practice with hiding his emotions, with the mask he had to wear when dealing with people in the South.
He shrugged, hoping it looked casual. "They knew how to handle the dragons at that point. They didn't need me anymore. So I thought it was time I came back."
He dealt with the conclusion of the interview, petting Toothless's nose the whole time.
As soon as the camera was off, Tony and Toothless vanished into the guest room, leaving Obie to deal with the reporter. His patience was running thin.
He sighed deeply and sat down on the floor, leaning his still-slightly-tender back against the bed. The ball was rolling. Obie would be dealing with lawyers to officially bring Tony back to life, and they'd be fighting to keep Toothless too. He'd have to apply to MIT. Hopefully, Stoick would contact him before he went, but if the freeze came before Stoick sent the letter, Tony might as well get some education before going back home.
Things were in motion. Hopefully, most of it would be irrelevant soon.
Tony watched the window, picturing the day a Terror appeared outside, a letter strapped to its leg.