A/N: It's Halloween so I had to think of something. Though it's not your usual ghost story…more a Halloween-themed story featuring our favourite couple.
As usual, I don't own How To Train Your Dragon. Rights remain with Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks. Maybe in a parallel universe….
It was a stupid thing to do but seventeen year old Astrid Hofferson was running late for the Berk High School Halloween Dance or she would never have taken the short-cut.
It was all Heather's fault, of course, since Astrid had promised to help her with her hair before she went home to fix her own outfit. And Heather, though Astrid loved her bestie, had kept changing her mind as a female vampire until Astrid had taken an executive decision, sprayed a huge white stripe down one side and back-combed the Helheim out of it. Heather had been delighted at the effect but it meant that Astrid was running insanely late, even though she had run all the way, to her parents' neat house in the new estate to the far side of Raven Point. She had flung on her outfit, glad she didn't have any stupid make-up like everyone who was being a ghost, ghoul or vampire, before checking herself int he mirror.
Astrid was slender, very athletic and determined with steely ocean-blue eyes, sun-blonde hair braided over her left shoulder and a pretty face with a couple of freckles. She planted her hand on her hip and glared at the image. She was wearing a sleeveless sky blue top, arm binders, a leather studded above knee skirt, skull belt and leggings with boots, leather headband and iron shoulder guards. In fact, she was every inch a Viking Maiden from Berk's long-distant past.
So here she was, dressed as a Viking, walking through the darkness of Raven Point Forest because it cut over fifteen minutes off the walk down to the High School. Astrid's parents were away-again-and she didn't have her license yet so walking was her only option. The fact it was cold and gloomy only made things worse-but Astrid was wearing a replica axe and was trained in Judo so she was fairly confident. And she did not, under any circumstances, believe in ghosts.
An owl hooted and the shadowy shape swooped on the limits of her vision. The breeze suddenly sprang up, chilling her and prickling goosebumps along her exposed arms, making her regret not bringing a coat-but Astrid was nothing if not a perfectionist. And no one in Viking times, a thousand years earlier, would have been wearing an insulated waterproof jacket for a short walk back to the village. But her fists tightened and every sense was on edge as she heard rustling. She accelerated but the rustling followed her-so she stopped, turning towards the sounds of disturbed leaves and glared, her fists balled.
"Who's there?" she snapped. "Come on out!"
There was a long moment…and then a shape emerged from the darkness. Her eyes widened but she didn't lower her guard-though it was a boy that she had never seen before. He looked her age, a little taller than she was and skinny, his face framed with tousled dark auburn hair and dominated by bright green eyes. He had a sharp jaw, a few freckles and a shy smile. And like her, he was wearing Viking dress. Astrid glared at him.
"I asked who you were!" she demanded and he backed up an inch.
"Um…promise not to laugh?" he asked and she scowled. "Oh-kay…I'll take it as a yes. My name is Hiccup Haddock."
She muffled a snigger and slapped a hand to her mouth as his head dipped.
"Gods, I'm sorry," she said instantly. "That was unpardonably rude. I'm so sorry." He shook his head with a shy and self-deprecating smile, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
"No, it's okay," he said softly. "You're not the only one. In fact, you're kind of going with the general consensus…" That stopped her short, feeling dreadful. It was clear this young man was teased constantly about his name-and possibly other things, if his manner was anything to go by. Astrid wasn't bullied as school because she was ferocious and very self-confident but she saw kids who were and knew some kids who bullied…and this boy was definitely a victim. But…she narrowed her eyes.
"I don't recognise you," she said accusingly. "Are you in my year? At school?" He looked suddenly wary.
"Um…no…" he murmured as she inspected him. He was in a long olive green tunic that reached his hips, laced messily at the neck with patches on the elbows. He had brownish leggings and heavy brown boots with a simple belt bearing a knife. She sighed.
"It's a good outfit," she commented and his eyes widened comically.
"Um…is it?" he asked in shock. "I-I'm always being told I look like a mess…" She smiled then.
"Actually…you're kinda cute," she admitted and his cheeks heated with shock. "Look…I'm Astrid. Astrid Hofferson…"
"Divine beauty," he murmured and smiled. "Couldn't get a more fitting name…" She stared at him. "And…I said that aloud, didn't I?" She nodded, her eyes widening at the simple compliment, said with complete sincerity. "Um…are you going to punch me?" he added worriedly but she suddenly smiled and advanced towards him.
"Have you got anything planned for this evening?" she asked and he swallowed and then shook his head.
"N-nothing important," he said hastily. "Um…why…?" She reached down and took his hand, feeling roughened callouses on his skin from hard manual work but his warm skin almost sent electric shocks through her.
"Then you can be my date at the dance," she said and his stiffened.
"Dance?" he gulped, looking terrified. "Oh Thor…I'm not sure that is a good idea." He sighed. "Just imagine I'm useless at everything…" Her hand tightened around his and she smiled, gently pulling him along.
"Hiccup Haddock," she said firmly. "You are coming with me and you are gonna wow those idiots…" Then she winced. "And we're really late!" she added and hauled him along.
"What…you really want me to come?" he asked in shock and she paused and nodded.
"Yeah," she admitted, her eyes suddenly uncertain. "Unless-you don't want to come with me?" His hand tightened around her and his face lit with his slightly lopsided smile.
"Milady-the honour is all mine," he told her and gently kissed her hand. She blushed and felt something flutter in her chest…but she raised her stern expression and smiled.
"Then come along and let's get to the dance!" she smiled.
No one argued that Astrid had brought a date from outside the school for some of the other Juniors had dates from neighbouring islands or other years. The Sports Hall was decorated traditionally with pumpkins, bat bunting and ghosts and ghouls while everyone was dressed as a witch, wizard, ghoul, zombie or mummy apart from Astrid and Hiccup. Amid the polite amusement at their choice of costume-though Astrid pointedly out sharply that the invitation had asked for 'fancy dress' and had not specified what type-Hiccup had certainly garnered some attention-both from the girls who realised he was exceptionally cute and the boys who instantly teased the outsider. And it was as she watched him, seeing him sass back a reply with an almost imperceptible rigidity in his body that she realised his sarcasm was his defence mechanism-that usually failed and resulted in his tormentors harming him. So she stepped up and punched out Simon 'Snotlout' Jorgensen, the class jock and ass who imagined Astrid loved him. He had been vile to Hiccup and taunted the young man for being skinny and unimpressive and the wounded expression in Hiccup's expressive eyes had infuriated the girl. And he had been astonished that anyone would stand up for him, his expression flooding with gratitude.
So once Snotlout had been helped away by a couple of his friends, she had taken Hiccup to get a plateful of food-and she had been struck how he had been almost confused by the array on offer. He had lifted a slice of pizza and actually poked it as if it was a dangerous beast before taking a tiny nubble…and the expression of wonder on his face had been priceless.
"Have you never seen pizza?" she asked him casually, sloshing them out juice into paper cups and he shrugged.
"Not really a thing in the village," he admitted, grabbing four chicken legs. "But we have these." When he bit into one, the expression of delight was touching and she realised that he had been starving as well. She grabbed a couple more and dumped them on his plate, along with sandwiches, bread and a slice of pizza.
"Wow-where is the village?" she asked him interestedly and he shrugged, sipping his juice and staring at the little cup in astonishment.
"Close by," he admitted. "Not far at all…" She led them to a seat on the side, away from her friends. She could see Snotlout grumbling to the twins and Fishlegs and Heather listening sympathetically-but there was something about Hiccup that just made her want to spend time with him. He was very different to anyone she knew.
"So tell me about yourself," she invited him and he chewed on his chicken leg and thought hard…and then he began. For the whole of the dance, they sat talking, sharing tales of their childhood and family. She learned he had lost his mother as a child and had a father who was pretty overbearing and had impossibly high expectations. That their village was beset with raiders and there were lots of shortages. And that he was generally known as 'useless' for his clumsiness. He didn't go to school but he worked in a blacksmith's and had for years. He learned that her parents were away for prolonged periods, leaving her with neighbours and latterly, on her own. That she had had a sister when she was young but she had died in the same crash that had killed her Uncle Finn. And that she was determined and brave, a real go-getter who wanted to improve people's lives by becoming a teacher.
They had shared one dance, an awkward affair where he had finally realised that resting his hands on her waist and swaying to the music was really all that was expected…and he had proved surprisingly good at it. He had ended twirling her around and then gently pulling her towards him and pecking a chaste kiss on her cheek.
"Thank you, Astrid," he murmured, still holding her close. "This has been the most magical evening." She leaned closer and nodded.
"Completely," she murmured then stared up into his kind emerald eyes. "Will you walk me home?" He nodded and laced his fingers with hers, leading her to the door.
"It would be my pleasure, Milady," he murmured, his voice genuine with affection as they walked out into the cold evening. "You know, it feels like I've known you forever," he admitted as they walked, hand in hand, up the hill towards the forest. He seemed a lot less tense as they approached the woods and left the brilliant lights of the school and town behind. "I-I can talk to you like no one else in the village. And-and you don't treat me like I'm not even worth anything. I-I…" He stuttered to silence and smiled. "Thank you," he said genuinely.
She blushed and realised she had done that rather a lot during the evening. Hiccup was charming, shy, self-deprecating and sarcastic. He wasn't pushy and had let her talk, sympathising when he should and asking her what she wanted to do rather than assuming she would do what he preferred. He was unlike anyone she knew-and the change was very welcome.
"I should thank you," she admitted. "I was going to spend an evening fending off Snotlout who really doesn't understand the word 'no'! He just pushes and pushes until I feel completely trapped and I know he's hoping to wear me down so I will eventually be his girlfriend but honestly…yuk!" She looked up into his eyes. "You understand. You listen…and I-I…" He leaned close, then leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips, the brief contact zinging electricity through her.
"Sorry," he mumbled against her lips.
"S'okay," she mumbled back and kissed him back. Her hand slid through his messy but soft hair and she finally pulled away, breathing hard. "Do you have to go?" she added. He gave a rueful nod.
"I think my father may think I've dropped off the edge of Midgard," he admitted. "You?"
"School tomorrow," she sighed. "I-I ought to be going." His hand tightened on hers and there was a pause.
"Could I see you? Tomorrow?" he asked suddenly, the plaintive longing in his voice enough to have her nodding. "After dusk? Here, just inside the forest?" She nodded.
"It's a date!" she grinned and pecked a final kiss on his lips, then turned and ran down the well-lit path back to her home while he stared after her, lifting a hand to his lips. Then he heard a sound behind him, a kind of warble and he grinned and turned, vanishing back into the woods and the darkness.
"Hey, bud-I wondered where you got to," he said cheerfully. "You'll never guess what I've been doing…"
The next evening, Astrid came prepared with a warm jacket, a flash lamp and a bag of snacks…but when she settled down to wait just inside the forest, she felt a strange sense of uneasiness. Unlike the previous evening, the forest seemed lighter, with reflections of the street lamps visible through the trees and the sounds of traffic audible. And though she waited for two hours, Hiccup never came.
But she wasn't even mad, because she was worried. Hiccup had some pretty mean bullies and it was possible they could have ambushed him or hurt him. So she let it pass and went home, had a warm shower and finished her homework. It was only when he failed to show for the next four nights that she realised he wasn't coming. Somehow, no matter what he had meant-and she was sure he had wanted to see her-he wasn't coming.
She ignored Heather's questions about her date, except to say that she wasn't in contact with the guy anymore-and Heather, being the good friend she was, didn't push it. She could tell that Astrid, who was exceptionally poor in expressing her emotions most of the time, was upset and her words indicated that she had really liked 'Hiccup'. But somehow, Snotlout and the twins had found out and they had teased Astrid about the stranger who had let her down-leading to Astrid breaking his nose and getting a suspension. But she was unrepentant and felt vindicated when Snotlout got two days suspension as well for harassing her.
Yet there was no sign of Hiccup or his village, no matter how thoroughly she checked the forest and its surroundings. And all she could conclude was that Hiccup had lied to her…even though her heart told her he had been telling the truth.
But she never stopped looking, every time she took a walk in the woods.