Hey, another chapter for your pleasure. :) I noticed that the reviews for the last chapter were much lower than for the others, so I'm going to try to offer an incentive. The author of the 180th review gets a gift-fic from me. A HTTYD oneshot. Anything you want, provided it's not a lemon. It could be genfic, character-centric. Any genre, or any pairing. If you so chose, it could be set in the Death Line universe, or complete separate. I'll do the same for the 200th reviewer as well. :)

The Death Line by SilverstarsEbonyskies

Ch. 12: Introspection

Fang had no problem getting back to his house without being seen. Compared to the rest of the people in his village, he was a master of stealth. His father also was blissfully ignorant of his return, still sunk deep into sleep. It was just so easy; he knew he could do this, be friends with Hiccup without anyone being the wiser, at least if Hiccup obeyed and didn't attempt to visit him at his own house again. Hiccup, Fang surmised, would probably have a harder time of it. He was probably a terribly liar and his clumsiness wouldn't allow him the greatest degree of secrecy when he left the village.

Fang shook his head wildly and collapsed into the chair by his desk. He stared at the melted blob that was all that was left of the candle. He and Hiccup had been talking nearly the whole night, he knew. Fang just couldn't figure out why by the gods he was doing this. This...this scared him, almost. What by the gods was he doing? Why had he agreed? This was insane. Beyond insane. They barely knew each other! They'd only met days ago, and then only as enemies. He was risking —they both were risking —everything. Why had Fang agreed to this? His mind had been so conflicted, but the words, his agreement, had slipped so easily from him. Too easily.

He stared at his fingers as they shook, his mind chasing itself in circles, seeking the ever elusive answer to his question. Why was he doing this? Around and around his thoughts went, and Fang began to have the disquieting sense that the reason he couldn't find the answer wasn't because there wasn't one, but because he didn't really want to find it. But Fang was nothing if not stubborn, even against himself, and he wrestled his tangled thoughts into order, straightened them, and peered deeply into himself because if he was going to do something so foolhardy, so dangerous, than he needed to know, needed to have a reason that was important, a reason that mattered.

The truth struck him then, and he realized exactly how strange and how obvious the answer was. He was doing this because he wanted to. For perhaps the first time in his life, this was something he honestly wanted to do, not for respect or admiration of people who didn't really give a damn about him. This...this was because he...he wanted to be friends with Hiccup.

The trembling in his fingers stopped. There were still so many things left unanswered, problems to overcome, uncertainties that might never go away. That was okay; Fang would learn to live with the unpredictable.

Besides training, Hiccup didn't have any duties or responsibilities. He'd occasionally help Gobber in the smithy, grinding axes and swords into razor sharpness or assisting in the creation of new weapons, but Gobber had said that he had it under control. Hiccup had the distinct impression that Gobber wanted Hiccup out of the smithy for a reason. Hiccup would have normally been bothered by that, but he had other things on his mind.

No one would miss him, Hiccup was sure. He usually stayed in his room during this time of day, not that anyone would be searching. Hiccup had even been able to sleep in this morning, meaning that his father was preoccupied with something. Something, Hiccup ruminated bitterly, more important than him. Although in this case that wasn't too bad a thing. It had allowed him a decent snatch at sleep despite how late he'd been up.

And that was good, because Hiccup was determined to cross the Death Line again. It had only been some odd hours since he'd seen Toothless, but Hiccup wanted desperately to see his new, and only, friend. He wanted to be awake, alert, and ready to enjoy the novelty of someone actually wanting to be around him. The thought brought a bright, goofy smile to his face.

So he walked out of the village, trying simultaneously to be sneaky and act casually, which worked even less well than it sounded. He almost got out unobserved regardless, but just as he reached the tree line, Astrid surprised him.

"What are you doing?" She asked pointedly, her voice making it clear that she wouldn't like his answer, no matter what he replied.

"Uh, heh heh," Hiccup said, fidgeting under her scrutiny, "I was just bored I guess. I...felt like walking around."

"Whatever," She said, scornfully uninterested. She fell into temporary silence, and Hiccup wondered why she was suddenly so aware of Hiccup's comings and goings. It was beginning to creep him out, even through Hiccup's affection for her. "Hey," She spoke suddenly, "Have you...have you noticed anything weird about Snotlout?"

"Weird?" Hiccup asked, clearing his throat nervously, forcing himself to steer clear of his memories of cruel, hard eyes and the feeling of falling. "Uh, no, not really, why?"

"Oh," She said flatly. She fiddled with the belt at her waist. "It's just...Snotlout hasn't been hitting on me, or trying to impress me by doing stupid things. It's strange."

"Yeah," Hiccup heard himself say, "He has been a bit closed off lately, I think. You might want to pay attention to how he acts in training later today. Maybe ask him if something's up."

"Hm," She said, regarding Hiccup thoughtfully, "I might."

Without any further questions or any goodbyes, she turned away and headed back into the village, walking with that confident sway that Hiccup had always admired. On one hand, Hiccup felt a little disoriented, maybe a little jilted, on the other, Hiccup felt a little thrilled. She'd asked him. Why she'd asked him, he couldn't figure out. That was, he convinced himself, the reason he felt uneasy. It wasn't because Astrid had been watching him. That would make him happy, right? She was paying attention to him. That was a good thing. She couldn't possibly guess at the reasons for Hiccup's comings and goings, so it was okay.

But worry still gnawed at him as he continued on to the Death Line, and he had to wonder if he'd rather have Toothless' friendship or Astrid's gaze fixed upon him.

Fang told himself he was being ridiculous. Hiccup wouldn't possibly want to visit him this soon. And yet here Fang was, at the place he'd told Hiccup to come if he wanted to find him. It wasn't like he was there because he thought Hiccup might look for him. This was Fang's place. It was where he always was, if not at the village. He came here to train, to think, to eat sometimes, to listen to the sound of the water, and feel the fleeting peace that nature offered him. So it wasn't strange that Fang was here, he told himself. What was strange, he had to admit, was that he was worrying obsessively about it.

He could justify part of his worry with the fact that he was doing something seditious, something his clan would punish him severely for. After all, traitors were not treated kindly. Fang, however, was surprised to discover that he was becoming less and less concerned with the possible retribution of his clan. He was still worried about that, to be sure, but it felt less like an impending and inevitable doom than it did a far-off thing, a darkness off in the distance beyond the horizon.

The rest of his worry, the majority, wasn't so easy explained away, and this bothered Fang like nothing else ever had. Fang paced around, heedless to the ruckus his feet made crunching the fallen twigs and debris. He should be doing something constructive. Instead, he was doing this. Why did he care so much that Hiccup might or might not come to see him? It shouldn't —didn't –matter.

He'd never had a friend before. It was...difficult for him to comprehend having one now. Fang tried not to care, but he knew he didn't have the greatest personality in the world. He knew he was difficult to get along with. His own father had no end of troubles with him. What if he didn't make a good impression? What if Hiccup got fed up with him? It was ridiculous, stupid, idiotic to be so worked up over something so infantile, but Fang couldn't help it. He finally realized that he'd been missing something, that he really wanted a friend at last, and he was acutely aware that he could screw this up irreparably, since his social skills were likely in the negatives.

And what if Hiccup changed his mind? What if he'd come to his senses and realized just how risky this was, how much he could lose? What if he never came? The gods knew Fang had just been contemplating these very questions for himself just hours ago. He knew it was only fair that Hiccup consider these things seriously as well.

Soft steps and undisguised breathing interrupted Fang's never-ending cycle of thoughts and he swung back behind him, posture defensive and guarded. A mop of reddish-brown hair and smiling eyes popped up into view, mounting the edge of the the Death Line a couple yards away.

It was Hiccup. He came. Fang let out a breath, releasing the tension. He couldn't, however, keep his palms from sweating, and he understood with no small amount of horror that he was nervous. This made him irritated, which only made him more afraid he was going to act badly, which in turn irritated him even further. Fang felt on the verge of disaster.

"Hey," Hiccup spoke, grinning unrestrained, "What's up?"