Astrid and Ruffnut had been friends ever since they were young. To be fair, it had started more as a matter of practicality than anything -- Astrid was pretty much the only girl in the village who could keep up with the twins' frantic energy level. Mrs. Thorston, the village's leading florist/pastry maker, had been worried about the effect playing exclusively with a group of roughhousing boys was having on her young daughter, so Mrs. Hofferson agreed to a play date. Mrs. Thorston had probably regretted that decision when the first thing Astrid did upon arriving was run out in the backyard with the twins and helped them build a mud fort and protect it against marauding trolls, but it was too late. From then on Astrid and Ruffnut were together all the time.

Back then, it was either the twins and a group of rowdy boys, or the twins and Astrid. It was rarely just Ruffnut and Astrid, because as much as the constant fighting made it look like she and Tuff couldn't stand each other's presence, the fact of the matter was they were usually joined at the hip. Even so, it was always implicitly understood that Astrid was Ruffnut's best friend, and any time Tuffnut spent with them was on account of his sister, not out of any particular longing for Astrid's company.

Then they got a little older and the kids naturally started separating into groups of boys and girls. This meant Astrid got a lot more one-on-one time with Ruff, for which she was grateful, because while she liked Tuff and all, the near-constant bickering between the two was tiring, even when she wasn't inadvertently drawn into it herself. Solo, Ruffnut had a rather goofy sense of humor and a tendency to blurt out anything that popped into her head, especially if it was inappropriate.

She and Astrid would often run off into the forest surrounding the village, where they weren't likely to be found and interrupted. Sometimes Astrid would bring her weapons and spend hours practicing while Ruffnut climbed the tallest tree she could find, any conversation between the two shouted back and forth between the canopy. Other times Astrid would practice her Gobber impression, while Ruffnut, who usually spurned any and all feminine trappings, would braid flowers in her hair and sing nonsense songs because she said she liked to hear Astrid laugh.

Then they got older still and suddenly the boys wanted to be around them again, but not like before. Astrid in particular found her at the center of an influx of unwanted attention from the bolder boys in the village, and even some of the not so bold ones. She didn't know what to do about it, and hereditary Viking stubbornness made some of the boys very resistant to hearing, "No." She soon perfected her Ice Queen attitude, and used it often. At least Tuffnut never seemed to see her as anything other than his sister's friend, and for that she was grateful. At that point the forest became not just a hiding place, but an escape, somewhere she and Ruff could regroup and spend time together like they always had, just the two of them.

She didn't really consider the attention anything but disconcerting and annoying until one day she walked past a trio of the kind of vapid, shallow girls she tried at all times to avoid, and heard one whisper to the others, "Look at her. So full of herself just because the boys come running whenever she lifts a finger."

Now, Astrid couldn't care less what girls like that thought. It wasn't even worth it to confront them (although she did grab the edge of the bench they were sitting on as she passed and flipped it over, just for the personal satisfaction). But it occurred to her that was the kind of thing teenage girls got upset over, and Ruffnut both talked significantly more about boys than Astrid did, and received significantly less attention. Astrid could put up with the boys if she had to, but not if it came between her and her best friend.

Ruffnut, however, never seemed anything less than perfectly happy for her friend. She laughed when Astrid got flustered and blushed, encouraged her when something promising came along, and, when it got to be too much and Astrid had had enough, was more than willing to throw a punch for her, which was rarely needed but always appreciated. More than one person said a boy would have to be crazy to go after the Thorston girl, and Ruffnut, rather than being offended, seemed delighted by the idea. Well, Astrid had known her long enough to know she had odd tastes.

On this particular day though, as she and Astrid sat at the base of a tree in the middle of a thicket, Ruffnut wasn't talking about boys. Quite the opposite, and Astrid wasn't sure what to make of it.

"I'm just saying, I think girls are pretty," Ruffnut said.

"Like, girls in general?" Astrid asked, her face scrunched in concentration as she tried to follow what Ruffnut was trying to tell her.

"In general, yes. Girls are, are soft, you know? And just the line of their bodies. I mean, guys are pretty much just straight lines, but girls are..." Ruffnut waved in hands in two symmetrical sinuous lines, vaguely simulating the curves of the female form. "It's nice, you know? And as for specifically, well, some more than others, obviously."

"Obviously," Astrid echoed dimly. "But Ruffnut, I like boys."

Ruffnut shrugged. "I can like both."

The idea didn't make any sense to Astrid, but there wasn't much she could say to counter it, so she just said, "Okay, if you say so."

"Come on, Astrid." Ruffnut reached out to tap her lightly on the knee. "Don't tell me you've never looked at another girl and thought, 'Man, she's gorgeous.'"

"Well, yeah," Astrid said, but who hadn't?

Ruffnut nodded as though Astrid's agreement closed the argument. "That's all I'm saying."

"Okay," Astrid said, her thoughts racing, "but you can think a girl's pretty without liking her."

Ruffnut didn't agree or disagree. Instead she said, "I think you're pretty."

A rush of heat covered Astrid's face before she could help it, and she tried desperately not to think about the implications their previous conversation gave that statement. "You're my best friend, you have to say that."

"Mm, nope," Ruffnut said, regarding Astrid through half-closed eyes. "Best friend privileges give me the right to tell it like it is, and you're gorgeous."

"Ruff -- " Astrid started to say, but she was interrupted when Ruffnut suddenly leaned forward and kissed her.

Astrid gasped, and Ruffnut withdrew slowly, her eyes locked on Astrid's face. Astrid sat as though paralyzed. There were any number of things she knew she should be feeling right now -- shocked, scared, maybe even offended -- but all she felt was slightly confused. She couldn't even bring herself to feel surprised. Ruffnut's face was similarly devoid of the emotions Astrid would expect. She didn't look nervous, or predatory, or defiant, or anything but cautiously happy and hopeful. There wasn't even the weight of expectation in her expression, which is what Astrid was probably most afraid of, and that more than anything allowed her to relax.

"Ruffnut," she said, and her voice held only amazement, "why did you do that?"

The caution in Ruffnut's face melted away into pure delight, so simple and infectious that Astrid found herself smiling back before she could help it. Ruffnut scooted closer, and Astrid leaned back on her hands, but didn't move away. "Because it was fun."

"Well, stop -- " Ruffnut darted forward and stole another quick kiss. "Ruff!" Astrid cried, laughing. Ruffnut leaned forward for a third, but Astrid dodged and scrambled to her feet.

Ruffnut quickly stood up, grinning widely. "Oh, there's no way you're getting out of this one that easily, Astrid."

They stared at each other for an instant, then Astrid turned sprinted for the cover of the trees, laughing. Ruffnut growled as she gave chase. They darted in and out of the brush, Astrid always a step ahead, Ruffnut occasionally getting close enough to run a hand over Astrid's arm or waist, but never enough to get a good hold. She finally lunged and wrapped her arms around Astrid's waist, bodily lifting her as she shrieked in surprise.

Ruffnut put Astrid down on the soft grass, then quickly climbed on top of her before she could escape. "Gotcha," she said.

"Oh?" Astrid said through her giggles. "And what now?"

Ruffnut kissed her, again and again and again, until Astrid lost count and the kisses became both longer and much more involved then the first couple had been. After immeasurable time, Ruffnut finally pulled back, both girls breathing heavily.

"Well," Astrid said when she had caught her breath, "you were right."

"What?" Ruffnut looked distinctly out of it.

"That was fun."

Ruffnut snorted and dropped her head onto Astrid's shoulder. "See, you should just trust me on these things."

"Obviously." Astrid began running her hands over Ruffnut's white-blond hair.

Ruffnut shifted so that she wasn't directly on top of Astrid, although she kept an arm across Astrid' chest and their legs closely entwined. "I don't want to move."

"Then don't."

"Sounds like a plan." Ruffnut snuggled closer, and Astrid wrapped her fingers in her hair and watched the clouds pass above them.