A/N: Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous chapter. To clarify, no one's actually said anything mean on my other slash stories, so sorry if I made it sound that way. I just found it curious that so many people who said they didn't like slash clicked on a story explicitly labeled slash, then apparently liked it enough to comment. And I'm not going to stop writing it. I was just considering limiting the distribution to LiveJournal and deviantART, but you've convinced me to keep putting it here. :)
ETA: ...And now I have had someone say something rude about the slash! Thanks random jerk!
Five times Ruffnut was afraid, and one she was brave.
When they are six, Tuffnut tells Ruffnut that babies are made when two people kiss. She, in turn, tells Astrid, but Astrid doesn't believe her, and kisses Ruff to prove it.
Sure enough, Ruffnut's belly does not swell like she's seen on some of the women. Astrid takes this as a sign that Tuffnut is, once again, just being a stupid boy. Ruffnut kind of thinks Astrid did it wrong, but then they're off to the next game, and she forgets.
Later that evening though, she remembers. She gets nervous, and then she gets scared, because maybe it doesn't matter that Astrid's not a boy, and maybe she did it right after all, and Ruff doesn't want a baby. She's quiet and distracted during dinner, and when their father takes Tuff to the creek for a bath, their mother pulls Ruffnut to the side and asks her what's wrong. Because she scared and wants desperately for her mother to make it right, she tells her the whole story. For some reason her mother's eyes get hard, and she tells Ruff only grownups can have babies, but that she must never do that again. Then she sends her to her room, even though she hasn't done anything wrong.
Ruffnut is in a very bad mood when Tuffnut gets back, and they bicker for some time before their father appears in the doorway and gives them stern glare. Tuff falls asleep soon after that, but Ruff stays up pouting for some time.
When they are twelve, Ruffnut has discovered exactly how much she likes kissing. There's some other stuff the boys want to do, of course, but she just really, really likes the kissing, and if she gets to dash some boys' expectations along the way, that's just bonus.
Astrid doesn't seem to like kissing as much, or at least she doesn't talk about it. Ruffnut thinks it's just because she hasn't had a good one yet, and that she better get with the program if she ever wants to impress anyone. She likes to tease Astrid about it sometimes, because being annoying is as essential to friendship as anything else, and because there isn't much that Astrid doesn't do better than her. Astrid takes it more or less gracefully, but sometimes less. This is one of those times - Ruffnut can hear it in her voice - but she just can't help pushing Astrid's buttons.
"I bet you're not all that great," Astrid says when she's finally tired of hearing Ruffnut brag about her kissing skills.
"Jealous much?" Ruffnut asks, but she doesn't mean it. She laughs and says, "Seriously, I probably am pretty awesome."
She is completely unprepared when Astrid leans forward and kisses her, both because of the kiss and because of the way her stomach suddenly drops. This is not what she meant when she thought Astrid needed a good kiss, and even if it was some detached part of her realizes this isn't a good kiss anyway. Apparently Astrid thinks so too, because she pulls back.
"That wasn't good at all," she says, looking amused. "You didn't even do anything."
"You surprised me," Ruffnut says, shifting uncomfortably. It's stupid and confusing, because Astrid was just teasing her, but she's suddenly worried she's failed some kind of test, and Astrid's disappointed in her or something. The tension this thought causes in Ruffnut's stomach is annoyingly persistent, and she lets Astrid guide the conversation the rest of the afternoon.
When they are fourteen, Astrid spends the night, and wakes up the next morning in a very strange mood. She was fine last night when they went to bed, but this morning she's quiet, with an oddly sad expression, and won't meet Ruff's eyes. When it becomes clear this isn't just a case of staying up too late the night before, Ruffnut asks, "Did you have a bad dream?"
"No," Astrid says, and immediately looks as though she wishes she had said yes. And try as she might, Ruff can't get more than two words out of her the rest of the morning.
By the time Astrid heads home, Ruff is in a bit of a panic, because she's never seen Astrid like this before, and she thought she knew Astrid better than anyone. She carefully reviews her behavior the night before, but she can't think of anything she might have done, and anyway Astrid had fallen asleep chatting happily with her. They've shared a bed enough times at this point that she doesn't think she has some nighttime habit that might have annoyed her friend.
Not having any other ideas, she finally decides that Tuff must have done something while she was asleep, and promptly tears into him, even though he insists he's innocent and she's crazy. It gets so bad that their mother sends them to different rooms, like they're little kids or something, and won't let them out until dinner.
Ruffnut remains uneasy until the next day, when Astrid greets her with her usual grin, and then her relief is so great she almost forgets there was a problem at all. Almost.
When they are sixteen, Astrid corners Ruffnut behind a barn and tells her she kissed Hiccup. Ruffnut is surprised, and intrigued, because as far as she knows Astrid has still never gotten a kiss she wanted to talk about.
"I mean, it was only on the cheek," Astrid said.
"Oh," Ruffnut said, disappointed and now a little confused, because that doesn't seem to warrant mention at all. "That hardly even counts."
"I know," Astrid says.
It occurs to Ruff that the reason Astrid approached her in such a secluded spot isn't really to talk about the kiss, but to talk about what it might mean. Which, if that's the case, good for her, really. Hiccup's a decent guy. Why shouldn't Astrid kiss him? Ruffnut tells herself this, and is unsure why she doesn't really believe it. She tries to think of something encouraging to say, and gives up. "Well, big hero or no, I still think you could do better," she says, making a joke out of it, because it's closer to the truth than she would like.
"Do you?" Astrid asks, looking much too serious for Ruffnut's tone. Ruff looks at her in confusion, and Astrid kisses her, a real kiss. It's sloppy and unsure, but Ruffnut's stomach drops, and she realizes she's returning the kiss without even meaning to. She suddenly knows two things with absolute certainty: Whether she knew it or not, Astrid was not just teasing her with they were twelve, and this is why her mother punished her when she was six.
It's this last thought, combined with the unfamiliar racing of her heart that no previous kiss had inspired, that makes her pull away. She keeps her eyes firmly on the ground, because for some reason she can imagine the hurt, disappointed look on Astrid's face perfectly, as though she's already seen it. Soon enough Astrid walks away, and Ruffnut is alone.
When Astrid is nineteen, the day before her twentieth birthday, they take her out, nominally to get her drunk, actually to get drunk themselves. Ruffnut very much approaches it that way, and it should really be Astrid walking her home rather than the other way around, but it's Astrid's birthday and Ruff doesn't want her to walk home alone in the dark.
Astrid is quiet on the journey. Ruffnut doesn't mind, or even much notice. She keeps up a steady stream of conversation, most of it drunken rambles even she can't follow, but all of the emotion sincere. She's feeling a mead-fueled rush of affection for pretty much everyone, but for Astrid in particular. Ruffnut has known her since she was a young, adventurous child, through her awkward adolescence, and now she's a mature, beautiful woman. For some reason on this night that progression seems magical, and even if Astrid doesn't respond she can't help but talk about it.
Astrid suddenly stops, and Ruffnut doesn't quite know where they are, but she stops too. Astrid is staring at her strangely, but she's in much too good of a mood to mind, and much too drunk to understand when Astrid puts her hands on Ruff's cheeks and pulls her close. Then Astrid's lips touch hers and she understands everything.
This is nothing like the previous kisses. This is sure and forceful, and Ruffnut can only hold on and follow where Astrid leads. She's whimpering, clutching, and Astrid pulls away, and Ruffnut can only stare at her. It was one of the best kisses of her life, but Astrid does not look pleased. She looks, somehow, resolved. Ruffnut feels there is something she should do, something she should say, but Astrid is inside the house before she can pull her thoughts together enough to do anything.
Ruffnut stumbles her way home, thinking now only of the kiss, and the look on Astrid's face. The realization finally works its way through the alcoholic cloud in her mind when she's halfway through the dining room, and it sends her to the floor. It was a kiss goodbye. Astrid had been waiting for years, and when it became apparent Ruffnut wouldn't give herself, she had taken the kiss as a consolation prize. She had finally given up.
Oh, gods. Fear curdles in her stomach, because she finally understands everything, but Astrid has already given up on her. She has to do something, to make amends, but the effects of the mead are too strong, and blackness overtakes her.
The morning of Astrid's twentieth birthday, Ruffnut awakes with a gasp. She quickly sits up and bangs her head on the underside of the dining room table. Above her someone yelps in surprise, and then Tuffnut rolls off the table and hits the floor with a cry of pain.
She clambers over him, prompting more pained grunts and curses, but she has no time for him this morning. The only clear thought in her mind is that she has to see Astrid, now. Bits and pieces of the previous night filter back to her as she runs. The almost embarrassed smile on Astrid's face as all her friends toasted her. Her laugh as Snotlout and Tuffnut sang her a truly terrible song. The kiss Ruffnut will never, ever forget. And other, older memories on top of that: Astrid playing in the creek, dirt smudged on her face. Braiding Ruff's hair when she didn't want to do it herself. Climbing trees and skipping stones and comparing weapons and a million other moments that were important because they weren't really important at all.
She stops in front of Astrid's door, knocks, and realizes she has no idea what to do. She almost doesn't want to think about it, because thinking leads to questions she doesn't want to ask herself, like will Astrid forgive her even if she apologizes? After so long, does she even deserve it?
These are other fears gnaw at Ruff as Astrid takes her sweet time answering the door, but she's through being scared. If Astrid can be brave, why can't she?
Astrid finally opens the door, and there's so many things Ruffnut wants to say to her, but she promptly forgets them all and throws her arms around Astrid, kissing her. Astrid almost jerks away in surprise and confusion, and although Ruffnut now knows she could spend the rest of her life doing just this, there's something important to be done. She pulls back and whispers, "I'm sorry."
Astrid looks at her, touches her face, and then surges forward and with a touch of her lips forgives Ruffnut.
"Kiss me," Astrid whispers, and Ruffnut does.