Whoever had called Astrid Hofferson stubborn had never met Toothless the dragon.
In spite of being hurt and hungry, he refused to budge. And considering that he'd realized Astrid could take care of Hiccup, he refused to let her do the same. Every attempt she made at getting out from under the dragon's massive wing had been thwarted by either a tail or a nose that effectively stopped her from running. She had been comparing the black wing to a tent in her head but as she sat there, effectively trapped, Astrid decided she was going to have to think of the place as a living, breathing, cave. There was just no escaping from where she was. Toothless was determined to keep Hiccup safe and, for better or worse, he had decided that the boy's safety was directly tied to Astrid and as long as they were around what he deemed a threat, she wasn't going anywhere.
"This is ridiculous," Astrid let out a frustrated breath, leaning back against Toothless's wing as his tail slid around to prevent her from escaping, "you're hurt too you know!" she called to the dragon who answered with a huff, "don't make that sound. You are!"
A low sound reached her ears. Astrid looked over at the dragon through the darkness in his wing. The boat suddenly pitched to one side. Astrid lunged forward, holding Hiccup down as the boat rocked. Toothless tightened around them, continuing to growl at something she could not see. Astrid pressed her hands to Hiccup, one to his chest and the other to his thigh, silently praying that the dragon wouldn't curl tightly enough to open Hiccup's injuries-or add to them. The growl pitched, rising in volume and intensity and Astrid realized that it wasn't just one dragon growling. Toothless was the loudest but there was a high pitched one just underneath his. Pressing an ear to his wing in hopes of hearing it better, Astrid listened as the growl dissolved into a series of clicks and whistles before a long, high pitch sound echoed through Toothless's wing and the boat rocked as something dropped heavily onto the deck and continued to wail.
There was only one type of dragon that made whistles like that and had such a heightened sense of smell: The Deadly Nadder. From the sniffing and whistling, the Nadder seemed to be looking for something. Something or someone. Astrid sucked in her breath as the realization crashed in on her that the Nadder was looking for her. The other thumps had probably been the other dragons they had ridden in the battle. The Nadder continued to wail miserably. Astrid flattened her hands again Toothless's wing but the dragon refused to move from his protective position.
"Toothless-Toothless!" Astrid pressed her hands to the skin of his wing, "you've gotta let me out!"
Suddenly the wing was pressed inwards. Astrid lost her balance, landing squarely on her behind as the Nadder's nose pressed against Toothless's wing. She heard the sound of nostrils expanding before the wing retracted and another loud whine was heard before the nudging resumed. Astrid had a feeling that the only reason Toothless hadn't eaten the dragon nudging him was because he wanted to keep her and Hiccup safe. Astrid flattened her hand against the skin of the dragon's wing as the nudging nose pressed against the wing where her hand was. This time though it did not retract, it remained there as the dragon sniffed to confirm who she was. Astrid kept her and there as the dragon sniffed at her before letting out a sharp sound. Toothless echoed the noise with a loud one of his own, growling at the dragon who was sniffing at his wing and the girl underneath it.
"Toothless, please!" Astrid cried, her voice interrupting the two dragons, "I know the boat looks big but its really not. You've got to let me out-Hiccup's alright, I promise. No-one's going to hurt him-him or me," Astrid touched the dragon's wing, "just let me out for a second okay?"
Slowly the wing rose as light streamed in. Astrid glanced back at Hiccup who was still pale and still alive. She let out a breath of relief. He was okay, or as okay as he could be. Suddenly the light was blotted out by a shape and that was all the warning Astrid got as something hooked underneath her belt and dragged her out from under Toothless's wing.
Astrid cried out before she could stop herself as the boat lurched. She was dangling from something-something living and breathing and sniffing her. Twisting around, Astrid realized that she was being held up by the Nadder, the dragon's horn hooked clean through her belt. Unfortunately that meant she was dangling square in the dragon's blind spot and though the Nadder had seen her, it was confused as to what to do next. As it turned his head from side to side Astrid found she was helpless to react or to move or to really do anything but dangle in front of the Nadder's blind her head, Astrid looked around. Toothless had grabbed Hiccup and was refusing to let anyone near him and the rest of the boat had erupted into chaos as dragons found the humans they had bonded with. More chaos and Astrid knew they're chance of getting home in one piece was going to be non-existant. So she did the only thing she could think of. She tried to get the Nadder's attention.
"Hey-hey!" she called out, "over here!" the Nadder twisted its head, trying to find her, "I'm right-" Astrid stopped as the Nadder tried and failed to locate her, "here," Astrid finished, blowing her bangs out of her eyes, "damn it," she swore, knowing the situation was going to get worse before it got better.
Her fingers quickly found the buckle of her belt and undid it, dropping to the ground.
Landing on her feet, Astrid turned around and looked up. The dragon had turned her head and one luminous gold eye was fixed on the girl and suddenly Astrid found it impossible to move. She still had a bruise on her arm from when her shield had been slammed against the joint by the Nadder's blast. Now the Nadder was not blasting her, it was staring at her, its one bright gold eye locked on her face. Behind her she heard Toothless let out a low sound of warning but she could look nowhere but the Nadder's eye. The dragon made no move to sniff her or to even confirm it was her, it just looked at her. Astrid forced herself to hold eye contact with the dragon, though she wanted nothing more than to get the nearest weapon and cut it down.
Except, that it didn't look quite as deadly as it should have with her belt dangling from its nose horn.
Shakily, Astrid moved her hand forward. The Nadder jerked back at the movement, the gold eye leaving her and locking on the hand. The Nadder's head dove before she could snatch her hand back. Instead of eating her hand, however, the Nadder batted her nose against it, sniffing her before rubbing back and forth. It felt so strange and looked so weird that Astrid couldn't help but smile at the gestures of the Nadder. The dragon's head flew up abruptly, moving back to Astrid before dipping down. Astrid moved with the dragon and the Nadder let out a huff of frustration. She realized that the dragon was inspecting her for injuries. Swallowing her fear down, Astrid held herself still and let the dragon perform its inspection of her.
Toothless let out a low sound, glaring at the pair of them. With a guilty jolt, Astrid realized that the dragon was probably still hungry, definitely still hurt and clearly still untrusting of everyone on the boat. Astrid looked over at the Nadder beside her before looking back at Toothless. The black dragon glared at her, his tail tightening around Hiccup. Astrid moved forward, towards the Night Fury, only to ind herself blocked by the Nadder who positioned itself so that one of its eyes was fixed on her, the other fixed on Toothless. Astrid stared as she realized that the dragon was protecting her from the Night Fury.
"Oh crap," she muttered, looking between them before fixing her eyes on the Nadder, "look my friend there is hurt and I need to get to him-now okay?" the Nadder didn't move, "so you need to move," Astrid said, garnering no response from the Nadder, "you can't even understand me, can you?" she sighed, crossing her arms.
The Nadder let out an outraged squawk, its head flying up as it looked at her. Astrid stared at the dragon, getting the oddly certain impression that the dragon was offended at what she had said. Astrid moved forward and while the Nadder followed her with its sharp gaze, her belt still dangling ridiculously from its nose, it did not stop her from approaching Toothless. Unfortunately Toothless was not as forgiving of her being pulled away from Hiccup. Keeping her eyes on the dragon, Astrid moved over to the side of the boat where the other vikings were standing.
"I need fish," she said, turning to the first viking she saw.
"Fish?" Gobber stepped over to her, "they eat sheep, don't they?"
"No," she said with a shake of her head, "Hiccup said that-" she swallowed, "he eats fish."
Gobber looked at her before shrugging his shoulders, obviously willing to go along with what the girl had said. He walked towards the back of the boat, pushing people gently aside as he did. Astrid quickly trotted after him, watching as he opened one of the baskets and inspected its contents before hefting it and carrying it back over to the dragon in the center. Toothless growled low in his throat at the sight of the pair of them, his eyes narrowing at the Nadder voiced its own outrage.
"No need to get all upset," Gobber said, as if it was perfectly natural to talk to dragons rather than kill them, "nothing like fighting dragons to work up an appetite," he tipped the basket over, revealing the fish to Toothless, "here you go."
Toothless sniffed at the fish and then looked at Gobber, before looking down. Unlike most of the vikings, Gobber did not seem to need to apologize to the dragon but as she looked at the blacksmith, Astrid realized that Gobber was the only viking who had never stopped believing in Hiccup. How Toothless knew that, Astrid had no idea but the dragon leaned forward and grabbed the first of the fish, not releasing his hold on Hiccup as he did.
"His tail," Astrid began, looking at dragon, "we have to fix his tail-" she looked up at Gobber, "he's hurt."
"Hold on," Gobber said, pulling off his pack and grabbing a roll of bandages and a small jar, "I don't think he's going to let me do it."
"No, I can," she said, taking them from him and turning back to the dragon, "hey," she said approaching the dragon, "i'm going to fix your tail now, okay?"
Toothless's head swung towards her, his eyes inspecting the ointment before he turned back to the fish, not removing his paws from Hiccup. Astrid moved forward towards the dragon's tail. The buckle had left a shiny burn of skin but it didn't seem too bad. Astrid put the ointment on the bandage and carefully began to put it on the dragon's wound. Toothless ignored her, focusing on the fish in front of him.
When Astrid had tied off the bandage, she leaned back from the dragon, not even feeling it when her weight took her heavily to the wood of the boat. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, as if she was in a a dream.
Astrid still felt dazed as they got off the boat.
Those who had stayed behind were all shocked, but none were foolish enough to ask what had happened as Stoick carried his son towards the great hall. It was the closest building, one that had been used as a makeshift hospital many times before. Like the rest of the people who had been on the boat, Astrid followed him. No-one spoke, not even to whisper to their friends. All were silent as they moved into the building itself. They all filed silently in, members of the tribe surrounding a wounded friend. If he'd been awake, Astrid knew Hiccup would have been surprised but happy to, for once, just be treated like any other member of the Tribe.
Stoick laid Hiccup out on the long wooden table. Astrid couldn't help but think how impossibly small he looked laying there on the wood. The boy who had just saved their lives, who had saved them all, and yet he barely took up the space of a large dinner platter on the viking's massive table. People began to crowd in, elders and vikings all with ideas of what to do. Astrid felt her pelvis bump the table as she was jostled but she gripped the edges of the wood, refusing to be moved anywhere. With the light of the fire she could see just how pale was. The blood that had soaked his pants was still damp and tacky, her headband somehow strangely stark against the wet fabric. She heard people around her but she could not bring herself to look anywhere but Hiccup's white features.
"Alright," Gobber said, his tone struggling to be cheerful, "lets see what we've got here," he said, reaching out and carefully peeling back the edge of the green fabric.
If she had not already been sick, Astrid was certain she would have been at the sight of the mangled flesh. Like the rest of Hiccup, the light made it seem much worse. But of what she was seeing, the worst part was the jagged edges and the blackened flesh. He had barely lost past his ankle but she could see the damaged flesh went past his knee. The worst of it was below. His skin was spotted with burns so deep that the flesh around them was white and brown. In a few places she thought she could see the shine of muscle, the white of bone but she couldn't be sure. Clenching her eyes, she turned her face away, forcing back the roll of her stomach.
"Well we're gonna need to do something about that," Gobber said, shaking his head.
"How much?" Stoick asked, his voice a deep rumble.
"I'd say to here," Gobber said moving his hand up higher on Hiccup's leg.
The Chief was silent as he looked down at the mangled limb. Astrid desperately wished that she knew what he was thinking-what any of them were thinking. Gobber was proof that Viking's survived loosing limbs all the time, but she knew he had been older when that happened. Like the rest of them, Hiccup was barely through being a child. Suddenly Astrid felt incredibly young. They all were young and yet now Hiccup was going to be like this for the rest of his life. The thought alone was enough to make it hard to breath as tears threatened her eyes once more. Even the knowledge that Toothless was there did nothing to make her feel better. Hiccup didn't deserve this, not after the wonderfully brave, stupid-heroic thing he had done.
She was so lost in her thoughts that when the tide of people began to leave, she was surprised.
They pushed against her like an invisible force, separating her from Hiccup. Through the gaps in the people she could see Gobber turn towards the fire, moving things around as Stoick clasped his hands by his head near his son. They were going to cut through Hiccup, they were going to make the wound a clean cut. Hiccup was delirious but he wasn't fully unconscious. He had woken up when she had put the tourniquet on his leg. He was going to wake up when they cut through his flesh. But he wouldn't have Toothless or her there. It was his father's privilege, his father's right to be the one by his son, but all that Astrid knew was that if Hiccup opened his eyes without Toothless there he was going to be much worse off.
"No-" she fought against the men, but they were huge, "wait-I have to-" she tried to get through, "Hiccup!"
The doors slammed shut.
"Hiccup!" Astrid slammed her hand on the door.
The men departed, moving aside. There was nothing that they could do now. The cool breeze outside the hall was like a slap in the face. Pressing her cheek to the cold wood of the door, Astrid strained to hear what was going on inside. She thought she hard the sound of blades being sharpened but she couldn't be certain. The door had not been designed to be heard through, quite the opposite, though every child in Berk had tried to hear through it.
A whine drew her eyes over to the Night Fury. Toothless whined and scratched at the wall. After all the protectiveness that the dragon had shown towards Hiccup, to see him out there with her was surprising, but Astrid knew it was for the best. Toothless had barely tolerated it when Hiccup had screamed once. She didn't know how he would take it when the young viking was having his leg cut off.
The dragon let out another mournful sound before turning and looking at her. Something hot and shameful pricked at the back of her eyes as she looked at the dragon with a bandage tied around the burn mark on his tail. He didn't deserve this, none of them deserved what was happening to them, least of all Toothless and Hiccup. Astrid bit her bottom lip, fighting back the tightness in her throat. Toothless took a step forward, sniffing at her, his warm breath brushing her face as he looked at her curiously.
A strangled yell drew both their eyes back to the doors.
Horror flooded Astrid's system. She had heard men scream before when they were being healed but this was different. This wasn't the scream of a hardened warrior, who had known for years that he would loose a limb in the line of duty. Hiccup was a kid, a kid who had no business loosing a limb, much less to the very creatures he had done his best to protect. She heard a hiss as Toothless flattened his ears in an effort to tune the sound out. Astrid leaned back against the door. It hurt to hear the suffering of the boy on the other side but there was nothing that could drown out those sounds.
And nothing that could make her leave her spot.
Even if it was nothing that she could do, leaving was unfathomable. Another sound came from inside the room, loud enough to make it through the doors. Even in his delirium, Hiccup still tried to hold back the sounds of his torture. Astrid slid down the door, sitting on the smooth stone in front of the imposing facade. Drawing her legs up to her chest, Astrid wrapped her arms around them and buried her forehead in her knees.
She felt something brush her arm. Lifting her head, she looked over to see Toothless lean his head against her, his tale coming around behind her. The dragon looked as miserable as she felt, his large eyes sad as he rested his head on the ground next to her. A whistle sounded beside her. Astrid looked in the other direction to see the Nadder peer around the side of the building, obviously not liking where she was. But the dragon moved forward, one of its gold eyes locking on her curiously.
Belatedly Astrid realized that neither dragon had seen a human so close to tears before.
The thought of that and the realization that she was close to tears only made it harder to keep them at bay. Hiccup cried out again and she heard the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. She could almost see the sight of Stoick jumping to his feet quickly enough to knock over the bench as he held his son down so that Gobber could make a clean cut. Miserably Astrid wished that the young viking would just pass out, so that his suffering would end. But for all his faults, Hiccup was stubborn and Astrid knew he'd stay conscious for longer than it even made sense.
Biting her lip harder, Astrid looked at the stone between her feet. In moments the grey was lost to the tears that threatened her eyes. Astrid let out a shaky breath, fighting the urge to cry. She hadn't cried since she was a child and her father hadn't come back from a hunting mission. Pressing her lips together she tried to fight against the overwhelming desire to sob. But so much had changed in the past two days, the entire world had been turned upside down and the only person who knew how to make sense of anything was screaming on the other side of the door. Suddenly it was too hard to hold in the tightness in her chest and the burning in her eyes.
For the first time since she was a little girl, Astrid Hofferson buried her face in her knees and wept.