THE LOST BOY
Meetings, Past and Present
"You want me to what?"
Astrid's voice was low and hard, her eyes narrowed as she stood before her Chief. When young Belch Fjordson had told her that the Chief wanted to see her for a special task, she had expected something along the lines of planning a fight with the Green Death. Not… this.
Stoic sighed heavily, but never broke eye contact. Meeting her stare for stare, he blew a breath out through his beard.
"As I said. I want you to meet with Hiccup. Help him out with… whatever he needs. And, you know, keep an eye on him." He gestured vaguely with his hand.
"You want me to spy on him." Crossing her arms, she attempted to up her glare a notch. Alas, Stoic was Chief for a reason. She may as well have been glaring at a boulder for all the good it did.
"It's not spying!" He growled, lightly banging his fist on the table he sat behind. He glanced around the hall, lowering his voice. Not that it mattered. The dinning hall was more or less empty at this time of day. The excitement of Hiccup's… visit… had passed, and there was work to be done.
"It's not spying." He repeated a bit more calmly. "You'll just be a… link… between Hiccup and the village. You can pass along information. Both ways. It's important."
Astrid couldn't help but snort. Important to WHO? She asked herself. But regardless, Stoic was her Chief. And a good one at that. She would follow his orders, no matter how much she disliked being sent to spy on or baby sit the Chief's insane son.
That didn't mean she'd make it easy on him though.
"Why me?" She growled out, continuing with her ineffectual glare.
"Who ELSE am I supposed to send?" The red head growled, rolling his eyes and slamming his fist down in earnest this time. His tankard of mead jumped from the blow, but the sturdy wooden table weathered the blow unharmed as it had many times before..
"The older generation has already made up their minds about the boy, one way or the other." He growled, his frustration clear. "They'll see what they want to see, and not what's there." He shook his head sadly.
"And the younger generation hardly remember him. All they know are myths and stories." He ran one meaty hand down his face and spoke more softly. "And worse, not a one of them is truly ready to fight, should something.. go wrong."
Astrid had to agree with Stoic on that at least. The truth was, her generation had been the last to have proper dragon training. The younger Vikings were well trained, all things considered. But none of them had true hands on experience fighting dragons. And they were all green as saplings. Not to mention rash, impulsive, and absolutely convinced of their own immortality.
Odin, has she even been that young and stupid?
"So that just leaves your generation." Stoic continued tiredly. "And which of you am I supposed to send? Snotlout and Hiccup… Well, they've never gotten along."
THAT'S an understatement. Astrid thought to herself. Snotlout had never hidden his opinion about Hiccup. Picking on the scrawny red head had been one of his hobbies. He hadn't physically bullied the weaker boy much. At least not by Viking standards. He WAS the Chief's son. But he had been just as happy throwing insults as throwing stones.
"And I can hardly send Ruffnut along." Stoic cringed at the thought. "She's a fine fighter and a good Vikings, but…."
"But she's totally insane, bloodthirsty, and half a step away from a Berserker rage where dragons are concerned since Tuffnut died." Astrid finished for him, nodding in agreement. Sending HER to talk to Hiccup… No good could possible come from that. Between the two, Snotlout would be the better choice. He'd throw insults. Ruffnut would throw AXES.
"Out of the three of you that are left, you're the only one that ever showed Hiccup much kindness." He finished a bit more softly. "There's hardly anyone else I could send."
Astrid managed not to cringe at the Chief's words. He thought she had shown Hiccup kindness? Mostly she had just pretended he didn't exist. At least until Dragon Training. Unbidden her mind was drawn back into her memories…
She was angry. So very, VERY angry. Hiccup! HICCUP of all people! How in Odin's name had HICCUP beaten her at dragon training? It was impossible! It was unimaginable!
It had just happened.
All of her hard work. All of her training. The bumps and bruises. The hours spent perfecting her axe throwing. The days and nights spent learning about the various dragons. Their weaknesses and strengths. Where to strike a blow to kill or cripple. All of her focus and determination.
And then, out of nowhere, HICCUP comes along to show her up?
The only thing the red headed boy had going for him was the fact that he was the Chief's son! And even that was more or a bane than a boon, since it loaded the scrawny Viking with expectations he could not possible meet. He was weak and slow and clumsy and always distracted and oblivious to his surroundings. He could barely run without tripping, he couldn't jump to save his life, and was more likely to damage his own weapons than his opponent. He was a joke!
And somehow the joke was on HER.
It just didn't make sense! Hiccup didn't train! He didn't practice! He was still pretty clumsy and inattentive. Yet somehow he had become a master at defeating dragons! And as far as she could tell, all he did was run out into the forest after training each day!
And that had to be the key. No one got that good that fast. ESPECIALLY not Hiccup. Wherever he was running off to held the secret of his sudden success. And Astrid was going to uncover that secret.
Slipping silently from tree to tree, the blonde Viking focused on remaining unseen as she paralleled Hiccup's path through the forest. Stealth was not exactly Astrid's forte. She preferred direct confrontation. But she was also a fairly skilled hunter, and no slouch when it came to stalking prey.
Especially when said prey was a certain clumsy, clueless, victory stealing red headed boy. It didn't hurt that he seemed rather preoccupied. And trying to lug around that big wicker basket he was hauling seemed to take up most of his attention. Following him unnoticed had hardly been a challenge.
The trees had begun to thin out as the ground became harder and rockier. And looking ahead, Astrid could see a clearing along the path Hiccup was following. There would be no cover for her if she continued to follow him. But if she detoured around it, she would lose him! The hard packed rock and rocky outcroppings would hide his footprints if she allowed him to escape her line of sight, and that was unacceptable.
As oblivious as he was, Astrid MIGHT be able to follow him across open ground without being seen. But all he would have to do was turn around at an inopportune time, and she'd be caught. Losing to him in Dragon Training was humiliating enough. Being caught while stalking him… Well, Astrid might have to throw herself from one of Berk's many cliffs to cleanse the shame.
On the other hand, Hiccup was moving rather slowly with his burden. And there was still enough cover left for her to sneak up on him if she so desired. It would be child's play to get ahead of him and set up an ambush. Not that she was going to HURT him (badly) or anything. But she might be able to startle a few answers out of him. She wouldn't get to see where he was going… But successfully ambushing him NOW would be better than being discovered later.
Time was running out as she weighed her options. Take a chance, stay quiet, and try to track Hiccup to his final destination? Or go with the sure thing, pounce on him while they were out here, alone, far from the village, and demand some answers. The edge of the clearing was fast approaching.
Astrid tightened her grip on the shaft of her axe, and made her decision.
Blinking to clear away the old memories, Astrid's mind returned to the present. Staring back at the Chief, she forced her features into a blank expression, her voice toneless as she spoke.
"What makes you think I showed him kindness?"
Stoic just stared back at her, a small, sad smile hinted at through his thick beard.
Astrid grumbled to herself as she stalked through the forests of Berk towards her unknown, but likely dragon infested destination. Despite her irritation she covered the terrain with an instinctive silence and grace. She avoided twigs and fallen pinecones, dodged dry tree branches, and stuck to rocky areas to avoid leaving footprints, all without real conscious thought.
A good Viking should be able to hunt, stalk prey, and silently scout out unfamiliar terrain. It was true that sneaking had not been her forte in her youth, and it still wasn't. But Astrid was determined to be the best Viking possible, and that meant being the best at everything. Including stealth. The last six years had put more than a little polish on all of her skills.
Which was why she heard the muted sound of voices (or rather, a single voice and some growling) long before she was noticed in return.
Slowing her approach and ending her grumbling, Astrid slowly eased her way through the trees and up a small hill. As she neared the crest of the hill the sounds became clearer. And Astrid found herself blinking in surprise. It was undoubtedly Hiccup's voice, and that was hardly shocking. This WAS the area he said he would be camping in. It was what he was doing that startled her.
He was laughing.
And it wasn't evil laughter. Or bitter sounding. It wasn't even a light chuckle. This was full, deep laughter, filled with warmth and humor. Hardly a sound she would have expected to come from the man she had seen just a few hours earlier. It was difficult to imagine that cold, emotionless, imposing figure laughing like this. Astrid crouched low to the ground and inched her way up towards the top of the hill to listen, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"Did you see the looks on their faces? That was priceless! We definitely made an impression!" Hiccup's voice was filled with mirth as he spoke, and Astrid had to wonder who, exactly, he was speaking to. She strained her ears to pick up the other side of the conversation…
But all she heard was a chattering, growling sound.
"Oh, please! Don't start up on that whole cape business again! The armor was intimidating enough. Adding a cape would have just made me look silly."
Once again that strange growling, hissing sound returned. And once again Hiccup responded to it. Astrid could practically hear him rolling his eyes as he spoke.
"I don't care what you say. Having a cape billowing dramatically behind me MIGHT have been nice, but the whole effect would be ruined if I tripped over it. Besides, it would have made me look… I don't know… like some sort of melodramatic villain or something."
Astrid was nearing the top of the hill now, moving slowly and carefully as she raised her head to look over the crest and into the clearing below. The hissing and growing noises continued, and by now Astrid was beginning to realize that there was more than one beast down there making those sounds.
"You know you're crazy, right? Not to mention obsessed with capes. At least Toothless agrees with me!" Hiccup sounded smug and self satisfied. At least until a new 'voice' entered the 'conversation' with a series of growls. Whatever was 'said' it was enough to cause Hiccup to laugh happily once more, just as she got her first look into the encampment.
Astrid sucked a breath in through her teeth. On the other side of the hill the land sloped gentle downwards into an open clearing. A few boulders and protrusions of rock jutted out of the ground, but otherwise it was just a grassy field, ringed by trees at the edges. And currently filled with dragons.
The Gronkle at least seemed to be asleep, curled up on the grass and resting on its side, its wings occasionally fluttering at it snored. The two Nightmares on the other hand were wide awake. The badly scarred one Astrid had seen earlier was sitting upright and focused on Hiccup, growling and hissing at him. The other red scaled beast was stretched out on the ground, watching the… She supposed conversation would be the proper word.
The Night Fury was there as well of course, in all of its terrible black scaled glory. Though it didn't look quite so terrible calmly stretched out on the ground, its wings furled around it. Its head was turned around to look back at the scarred Nightmare, and at the most out of place member of the group.
Hiccup. Hiccup wearing not the ominous scaly armor he had worn earlier, but instead a simple cloth tunic and fur vest, long trousers, and hefty furred boots. Hiccup, sitting on the ground and leaning back up against the side of the black scaled beast, his hands behind his head, looking completely at ease. While surrounded by dragons. While practically using one of the most dangerous dragon known to Vikings as a pillow!
It was insane! And what was worse was how relaxed he looked! He almost seemed… content! As if he were in the main hall drinking ale, instead of an isolated field surrounded by deadly beasts!
"Fine, fine. I guess I'm crazy too." Hiccup laughed again, shrugging his shoulders expressively. "But at least I'm in good company around here. Anyway, the important thing is we made a proper impression on them."
As Astrid watched, the second Nightmare hissed and growled at the red headed young man, and his expression suddenly turned serious.
"Yes, it WAS necessary. Trust me, I used to live here." Hiccup snorted disdainfully. "The whole lot of them are violent, aggressive, and about as bright at a sack of hammers. They'll walk all over you, if you let them. Believe me. This way is better. Make them worried, keep them off balance, make them wary… And they might actually try to THINK before they do something stupid."
The Night Fury snorted and rolled its eyes at Hiccup's words, and the insane boy smiled, patting the beast on the nose like… like it was a dog or a sheep!
"Yeah, I know. That's expecting a lot from this bunch. But it's the best we can hope for. All we need is for them to stay out of the way and NOT start a fight. That way we can focus on that monster, put it down, and leave this miserable chunk of rock. We kill it, we collect our pay, and we LEAVE. The sooner we finish this, the happier EVERYONE will be."
Astrid narrowed her eyes in irritation at Hiccup's words. It was clear that he didn't have a very high opinion of Berk; his words practically dripped with derision when describing villagers.
I'd love to go down there and beat some respect into him. She closed her eyes to center herself, suppressing her anger. Bad idea. I should just show myself and walk down to show I mean no harm…
Astrid was just starting to stand to match deed to thought when a loud, angry squawk sounded behind her. RIGHT behind her. She froze for a moment, before slowly turning around, one thought running through her mind.
Ah, Hel! There was a Nadder with him too, wasn't there?
Hiccup leaned back against Toothless and sighed happily. His best friend's scales were warm and familiar against his back. The sky was overcast, but the clouds were beginning to break up, allowing more and more sunlight to escape their blockade. The clearing was quiet except for the sounds of himself and his friends. It was actually a pretty nice day.
It was almost enough to let him forget that he was on Berk.
The topic of conversation ruined the fantasy that he was still back at home. But he was happy to take a few minutes to sit in silence and relax, surrounded by the others, enjoying the peace and quiet.
So of course it couldn't last long.
Hiccup was on his feet in an instant at Frost's angry squawk. The human yelp of surprise that followed did not go unnoticed by himself or by his friends. An angry frown crossed his face as his eyes focused on the hill where the noises had originated.
I didn't think anyone would be stupid enough to cause trouble THIS soon. Hiccup frowned in anger and annoyance before schooling his features into a cold mask once more. I never should have returned to this place.
He didn't have long to wait before two figures appeared atop the hill. Frost was easily recognized of course, her spiky head and blue scales standing out against the backdrop of trees and grass. In front of her was a second figured. Female, blonde, and judging from her bearing, angry. Her head was turned to look behind her at the dragon nudging her forward, and at first Hiccup could not quite place her.
Then she turned to face him, looking down on him from the side of the hill. Looking down at him with bright blue eyes filled with anger and hatred. Just as she had looked down on him the last time he had been alone with her years ago…
"R…Really Astrid, I'm not doing anything." Hiccup sputtered nervously, taking another step back from the furious looking girl in front of him. Her axe had never seemed quite so threatening during training.
"You're up to SOMETHING, I know it!" The blonde growled, poking Hiccup in the chest with the head of her axe, forcing him back another step.
Hiccup had no idea where Astrid came from. One moment he'd been trudging through the forest towards the grotto, his mind awhirl with his plans to leave Berk forever… And the next moment Astrid was standing in front of him, axe in hand and anger in her eyes.
"No one just gets as good as you do… ESPECIALLY you. Start talking." It was clear that Astrid wasn't about to take no as an answer.
And did he even WANT to tell her no? Here he was, standing in front of the girl of his dreams, the girl he had had a crush on since he had been old enough to HAVE a crush! Maybe… maybe he could tell her the truth? Show her Toothless? Trust her with his greatest secret? Trust one of the only people his age not to actively mock him over the years?
Lost in his thoughts, he stopped backing away, his eyes drifting absently from Astrid's angry visage to the empty woods surrounding them. Noting his change in demeanor, the axe wielding young woman ceased her stalking, though she continued to rotate the weapon in her hand, letting the sunlight that trickled through the trees catch the blade just so…
He began to open his mouth, began to speak, began to tell her the truth. To trust the object of his one sided affection with his secret. A part of him wanted more than anything to speak up. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe things would turn out right for him for a change. Maybe he could get Astrid to understand. Maybe he wouldn't have to leave the village to avoid killing an innocent dragon. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
But after a moment, he closed his mouth and held his tongue. Because as much as he might hope, might want, might dream… the fact remained that it wasn't just HIS secret to share. It was between him and Toothless. If their secret got out, Hiccup might well be exiled. But Toothless…
Toothless would be killed.
And so it came down to that. Was he willing to bet the life of his first, best, and only true friend? Because after all they'd been through, that was what the Night Fury was to him. The useless reptile was no mere pet, that was certain. So, was he willing to endanger Toothless for a chance to connect with the girl of his dreams? A girl who embodied everything that a Viking was, that a Viking should be? A girl who, at the moment, was practically glowing with hatred and anger?
Hiccup's shoulders slumped and the wicker basket he had been carrying hung from limp arms as he sighed heavily. Closing his eyes for a moment, he bowed his head to stare unhappily at the ground. His decision was clear. He sighed as he spoke, mumbling his response.
Astrid seemed honestly stunned by his reply. The way Hiccup was behaving, she had been sure he was about to fold like a wet cloth and tell her what she wanted to know. That was normal Hiccup behavior. At worst he'd reply with some snarky half-understood comment before giving up.
"What did you say?" She asked incredulously, taking a menacing step closer.
Straightening his back, Hiccup lowered the wicker basket to the ground and looked Astrid in the eye.
Astrid's eyebrow rose in surprise at the change in Hiccup's demeanor. His entire posture and personality seemed to have changed as he stood tall and unbowed before her, refusing her demand with calm determination.
Under other circumstances, this might have earned him some grudging respect. But not this time. Not here and now. Not when his sudden possession of a spine stood between her and the information she desperately wanted, no NEEDED!
"No, Huh?" She narrowed her eyes at Hiccup, clenching her left hand until the knuckles cracked, while her right continued to twirl the axe with deadly precision. "Well, I'll just have to about changing your mind." She growled, beginning to advance once again.
Hiccup brought his thoughts back to the present. That had been a long time ago, and the last time he had spoken to Astrid. She hadn't really hurt him that day. Not badly at any rate. It was no worse than the roughing up the other teens would sometimes give him if they caught him alone. After giving him a few painful bruises she had given up on getting him to talk and had stalked off towards the village. She had failed to get any information from Hiccup, but she had unintentionally succeeded in two things.
She had prevented him from getting back to the grotto in time to sneak off the island. By the time he made it back to Toothless, it had grown too late to do more than take a quick, relaxing flight around the island. Though THAT had proven far from relaxing when they ran into that returning dragon raid…
And secondly, she had crushed any hopes Hiccup had had that she was different from the others. That she held her tongue when the rest of Berk mocked him because she had feeling for him, rather than because he wasn't worth the effort of mocking. She really was a true Viking. Just like everyone else on Berk. Everyone except him. Which just proved that he had been correct in keeping Toothless a secret from her.
Not that that secret had lasted much longer in any case.
He had stilled pined for her of course, in his foolish youth. Had dreamed of what might have been, if things had been different. But in truth his life had been busy after he cut ties with Berk. He had chosen a different path to follow, a different future to explore. And time had long since worn away the last vestiges of puppy love he had once felt.
So when the blond warrior approached under the eagle eyed guard of a Deadly Nadder, he had little difficulty maintaining his cool, aloof demeanor.
"So, Stoic has sent a spy."
Astrid was NOT happy.
This was embarrassing… no, humiliating! Being snuck up on by a dragon on her own home turf! Clearly she had been far too focused on the events in the clearing, and not focused enough on her own surroundings. Such an amateurish mistake!
And now she was being herded forward by an angry Nadder! She clenched her hands into fists, resisting the urge to draw her axe from its loop on her belt. She had been sent here to talk, not to fight. But it was not easy to ignore her instincts and training, not with a field full of dragons in front of her, and one squawking and prodding at her from behind.
Still, Astrid was a proud Viking, and she'd be damned to Hel if she was going to show even a hint of fear to these beasts. And so she fed her fear and uncertainty into the furnace of her soul, letting her anger burn her embarrassment and insecurities away. And so she turned her head forward to look at the Chief's son with an angry scowl on her face and fire in her eyes.
"So, Stoic has sent a spy." The words were spoken clearly and coolly, and looking down upon Hiccup Astrid had to resist the urge to swallow nervously. The happy, relaxed visage of mere moments ago was gone as if it had never been, replaced by the expressionless mask she recognized from his visits to the village.
But then his words reached her consciousness, and only fed her anger and irritation.
"I am NOT a spy." She growled, glaring at the young man. He was far less intimidating without his scaled armor, but he still had a strong presence about him. "Stoic sent me to keep an eye on you, and to get you anything you need."
"And exactly HOW is that different from spying?" He sounded almost amused, as he raised an eyebrow at her.
"If I were spying, I wouldn't TELL you that I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you." Astrid replied imperiously, looking down at him as if he were a none too bright child. She did her best to keep her attention focused on Hiccup. It helped her ignore the unfriendly stares of the observers. The Night Fury's green eyes were particularly disconcerting.
Hiccup seemed nonplussed by her response. Some of the harshness of his expression faded as stared back at her silently, tilting his head slightly as he mulled over her words. Finally, after the silence had stretched for an uncomfortably long time, he glanced at the Night Fury and shrugged slightly.
"Eh, fair enough I guess." Astrid let out a small sigh of relief at his casual acceptance. She glanced over her shoulder at the Nadder that was still uncomfortably close behind her, watching her. The beast let out an annoyed squawk, looking from her to Hiccup.
"But if you're going to stay around here, you need to lose the axe."
Astrid's head snapped forward as she stared incredulously at Hiccup.
"What? You expect me to go around unarmed and surrounded by dragons?" She spat out.
Hiccup merely crossed his arms. The smirk on his face could not be called friendly.
"No. I expect you to give up and leave. Either way, the axe goes. You're free to go with it. My friend's don't trust you around me."
Astrid narrowed her eyes at the smirking figure, fingering her axe.
"Oh? They don't trust me, but YOU do then?"
"I trust that you're too blunt and direct to do something sneaky and subtle like stab me in the back." There might have been the slightest hint of honest humor in Hiccup's smirk. Though his scar gave almost any expression a sinister air.
"Hey, I can be subtle and sneaky when I have to. I was subtle enough to get here unnoticed, wasn't I?" The moment the words had passed her lips, she realized how unwise they were. Astrid did not like having ANY of her skills derided, and her response had been as instinctive as it was unhelpful. She clamped her mouth shut in irritation, closing her eyes for a moment to center herself.
When she opened her eyes again, she was certain that there was some real amusement in Hiccup's grin. Malicious amusement, but still sincere.
"You know, you're absolutely right. It was foolish of me to underestimate you." His grin vanished and his expression turned serious. "So I suppose I don't trust you either. Lose the axe."
Growling to herself in aggravation, Astrid yanked her axe off of her belt. Given the way the beast behind her growled and the other dragons stood up and tensed, making such sudden moves was probably unwise. Not that she let that stop her. There was no way she was going to be cowed by a few dragons! Whipping her axe up, she slammed it into a tree, burying the blade several inches into the tough wood. An impressive e feat of strength, if she said so herself.
"There. Happy now?" she crossed her arms and glowered at Hiccup, ignoring the stares the dragons were giving her. She was already feeling uncomfortable without the familiar weight of a weapon on her belt or in her hands.
"Ecstatic." Hiccup deadpanned before turning towards the Night Fury at his side. "How about you Toothless?"
The Night Fury rolled its eyes and growled before snorting and laying its head back down. Its eyes continued to follow Astrid however, pupils narrowed into ominous slits.
"Toothless says he'd be happier if you dropped the knives in your boots and shirt. But he says he'll settle for the axe, and the fact that if you try to use one of those knives you won't even leave behind a pile of ash." He shrugged expressively, still smiling a tight, controlled smile.
As if there's any way I'd go around completely unarmed! Ha! Astrid snorted to herself as she ignored the content of the missive, instead focusing on its origins.
"So you really CAN talk to dragons." Despite her efforts to control her emotions there was a hint of fear and awe in her voice. If he truly COULD talk to the beasts… what might that mean for Berk?
"Any idiot can talk to a dragon." The Night Fury almost seemed to… laugh… at the red head's words. "The real trick is understanding what they say in return."
Astrid didn't really have a response to that, so she just stood her ground and stared back at the Chief's son. The beast behind her had stopped nudging her when she had reached the bottom of the kill, and there was still a good forty or fifty feet between herself and the center of the clearing where Hiccup and the Night Fury stood. After another few moments of silence, Hiccup beckoned her forward.
"You might as well come closer. My friends won't harm you. Well, not as long as you don't go for those daggers of yours. Or make any sudden moves really. You seem to make poor Frost a bit jumpy." He tiled his head slightly, looking past her at the Deadly Nadder at her back, still smirking. "Anyway, there's no need to be afraid. If it makes you feel any better, my friends can hit you just as easily at five feet as fifty. And Toothless here is an especially good shot."
The smug, challenging tone of Hiccup's voice was enough to make Astrid grind her teeth. The way the dragons seemed to be snickering at his comments just made it worse. There was no way she was going to back down from such an obvious challenge to her courage.
Mind you, she wasn't crazy either. She walked forward proudly and confidently, but she stoppd a good fifteen feet away from Hiccup and, more importantly, his pet Night Fury. The beast was eyeing her suspiciously. Plus the Nadder was following right behind her, and hissed when it seemed she was going to approach any closer to the red headed dragon rider.
"Toothless and Frost?" She asked once she had drawn closer. The Night Fury was obviously Toothless, and wasn't THAT a strange name for a creature that seemed so intent on showing her all of its teeth every time it looked at her. The other beasts were a mystery however.
"Oh, where are my manners? Allow me to make introductions." Hiccup made a broad gesture towards the dragons.
"These are my friends." He started with the Night Fury.
"Toothless." The green eyed dragon nodded his head at her.
"Iron Fang." He gestured at the Nightmare Astrid had yet to get a very clear look at. The dragon in question turned its head slightly, curling back its lip slightly to make the origin of its name clear. Now that she had a clear view of the beast, she could see that one of its large side fangs was not bone but polished steel. Fang showed off his dental work proudly for a few moments, letting the sunlight reflect off his false tooth.
"Sea Stone." He nodded towards the Gronkle. At the sound of its name, the lumpy looking dragon cracked one of its eyes open and surveyed the clearing. It clearly decided nothing important was going on, because it let out a low snort and turned its head away, closing it's eye and starting to snore once more.
"Paco." It seemed like an odd name for the heavily scarred Nightmare Astrid had viewed earlier in the day. The red scaled beast perked up when its name was called and grinned toothily at Astrid. She somehow got the impression that it was trying to be friendly, but with all those teeth all it could pull off was slightly less menacing.
"And behind you is Frost Belly." Astrid turned her head to look at the Nadder behind her. Which stared back at her rather belligerently, head cocked to the side to focus one large eye on her.
A surprised yelp from Hiccup brought Astrid's head back around, just in time to see a Terrible Terror pull itself up Hiccup's back, its green scaled head and oversized eyes peaking over his shoulder.
Hiccup sighed in exasperation.
"And THIS is Whisper. Who insists on being introduced, even when he should know better." The red head stated a bit sharply. Whisper seemed unaffected by his tone however, and just rubbed his head against Hiccup's cheek before turning towards Astrid and letting out a surprisingly quiet hiss.
"Guys, this is Astrid." He made a vague gestures towards her, letting the statement hang there for a few moments before adding "She's a Viking." in a dismissive tone.
Astrid turned her head back and forth, giving Hiccup and the assorted dragons a wary examination. She hardly took note of the growing silence as she tried to come to grips with just how surreal her situation was. She was standing in a field, surrounded by dragons, across from a man thought dead for years and the most mysterious, deadly beast known to Vikings. Her hands ITCHED for the comfort of her axe.
The behavior of the dragons helped her maintain her calm though. They were acting so very… un-dragon-like that she could ALMOST stop seeing them as an immediate threat. In all her days, she had never imagined seeing the beasts acting so… domesticated! They were just... lying around! Relaxing! Not growling or hissing or lunging at her. No pouncing or breathing fire or lashing out with their teeth or claws.
Really they were just staring at her. And while their stares felt far from friendly, they weren't filled with the naked aggression she would have expected from such dangerous animals. It was just enough to make it clear that she was a stranger here. An outsider. And not a welcome one at that.
And perhaps the strangest thing of all was how well Hiccup's eyes fit in with the dragons around him. How well Hiccup fit in with them in general! He had sounded perfectly relaxed before she had arrived. And now that she was here, he was watching her with the same suspicious, unwelcoming gaze as the dragons. Watching her as if she were the outsider here. As if SHE were the one who was different.
They were both Vikings, Loki take it! Viking surrounded by dragons! They were the same! The dragons were the one's who were different! Who didn't belong here!
And yet… And yet his every action, his every gesture, his every word… The way the dragons acted, the way they responded to him, the way they moved closer to protect him when she drew near… his very posture and his bearing… They all seemed to scream 'I'm one of THEM / He's one of US!'
It was the craziest thing she had ever seen, and it sent a chill down her spine.
"So, I assume Stoic choose to send YOU hoping that I'd get sentimental and not kick you out or have you set on fire?" After letting her mull over her thoughts for a few minutes, Hiccup choose to break the silence, raising a cynical eyebrow at her.
"More or less." It wasn't as if Stoic's reasoning wasn't obvious.
He's still not calling Stoic his father. I guess he took the disowning seriously. The vehemence with which Hiccup had shot down his father's outreach had been surprising. The Hiccup she remembered had obviously been desperate for attention from his father. And after the battle with the Red Death, Stoic had made it clear that he had not truly meant to disown his son. That he had spoken in haste and anger and had not meant the words he had said.
Though once Hiccup had been lost he rarely spoke of the boy. It was not a subject one brought up around the chief. Stoic had lived up to his name, and continued to execute his duties as chief with skill and strength. But it was clear that Hiccup's death, and the events leading up to it, were a massive blow to the red headed man.
The circumstances surrounding the battle and Hiccup's departure had never been quite clear either. There were tons of rumors and stories about the fight with the Red Death and its aftermath. Most were fueled by the older generation's recalcitrance when talking about such a miserable, terrible, unsuccessful battle. Plus all the conflicting opinions, stories, and explanations for Hiccup's actions during and after the fight.
Still, it was obvious that Stoic cared deeply for his son, and was still mourning his loss, all these years later.
Though perhaps no one has told HICCUP that.
"Huh. I would have expected him to send Fishlegs instead then."
I guess no one has told Hiccup lots of things. Astrid cringed slightly at Hiccup's statement. It was clear that he was not up on current events in Berk. How could he be? And she had never been very good at breaking bad news. Maybe she should break it gently…
"Fishlegs is dead." Then again, there was something to be said for Viking bluntness.
"Oh." Hiccup paused for a moment, then shrugged. "That's a shame. He was a nice guy." He didn't verbalize the 'unlike everyone else on Berk,' but his tone made clearly implied it.
"Was it the Green Death?" He asked nonchalantly. As if being informed of the death of a childhood friend was of no consequence. His attitude set Astrid's teeth on edge once again.
"Maybe. No one knows for sure. His ship just never came back."
"Ah. Oh well. What about Snotlout?" He asked casually.
"He's still alive. And doing fine too. He's bucking to be the next Chief. It looks like he'll make it too." Astrid gave him a slightly smug smile, waiting to see how he took that little tidbit. If she expected a reaction, she was sadly disappointed.
"Eh, good for him." He shrugged unconcernedly. "And the twins?"
"Its just Ruffnut now. That WAS the Green Death."
"Eh." Once again Hiccup just shrugged, turning slightly to scratch Toothless' head, and Astrid narrowed her eyes at him in aggravation.
Sure, Vikings were supposed to be stoic (no pun intended) but this was HICCUP! He had never really been a model Viking to begin with! And his ambivalence towards the deaths of his peers was really starting to rub her the wrong way.
"You don't seem too upset about the deaths of your friends." She said accusingly. Frost Belly hissed lowly at her from behind, but she ignored the shiver the sound sent down her back, focusing on Hiccup.
"Friends?" Hiccup turned his head back towards her long enough to give her a disbelieving look and a derisive snort before turning his attention to the Night Fury. Thin, nimble hands dances across the beast's scales, and it almost seemed to be... purring?
"People die. It happens." He stated blandly.
"The Hiccup I know wouldn't act so cold hearted." Astrid said coolly. THAT at least garnered her a more energetic response.
"Excuse me?" Hiccup turned back towards her, an incredulous look on his face. "The Hiccup YOU know? Perhaps you'd like to tell ME about this Hiccup. You see, I consider myself a bit of an expert on all things Hiccup related. And in the book of Hiccup's Life on Berk, I don't recall YOU being particularly involved. Not until those last few unpleasant chapters at any rate."
Astrid narrowed her eyes at the man before her, unwilling to back down.
"Just because I wasn't involved doesn't mean I wasn't paying attention." She growled back. Hiccup merely snorted in response.
"Paying attention?" He raised an eyebrow at her, crossing his arms. "I shot down a Night Fury, befriended it, and spent weeks fixing its tail and learning to help it fly again. Every minute that I wasn't sleeping, eating, or in dragon training was spent with my FRIEND or at the forge working on a prosthetic FOR my friend." He rolled his eyes. "Very observant of you lot to notice all that."
"I noticed enough to know that something strange and WRONG was going on with you." The dragons had all perked up at their sudden change in conversation. Six sets of reptilian eyes were focused on her, but all of HER attention was on Hiccup.
Anger and irritation flickered across his face, and it occurred to Astrid that his expressions were ridiculously easy to read when he was riled up and not consciously controlling his features.
"Yes, I guess you DID notice that, didn't you? Congratulations then. I guess you're the smartest Viking on Berk." The smirk on his face was openly mocking,
"I'd have thought you'd name YOURSELF the smartest Viking on Berk, since you're so full of yourself." She shot back.
And just like that the mask was back. His posture went from casual arrogance to stiff formality. His smirk vanished, his expressive features stilling. And his eyes were once again the cold, focused orbs she had glimpsed earlier in the day upon the village green. It took an act of will to keep herself from stepping back in surprise at the sudden transformation.
"I am no Viking." The words were crisp, clear, and cold as ice as his eyes bore into her. After a moment Toothless started nudging his side, causing him to take a deep breath and relax. But only slightly. His gaze remained cool and unfriendly as he watched her through narrow eyes.
"Be sure to tell Stoic and the rest of the clan heads that." His tone, while not quite as belligerent as the previous moment, was far from warm. "Tell them that I am here to do a job. And that's all that I'm here for."
And with that he turned towards the Night Fury, patting its neck and scratching its chin as the beast crouched down to ease his access to the saddle on his back.
"Come on Toothless. We've wasted enough daylight talking."
"Where are you going?" Astrid finally managed to ask, still a bit off balance from Hiccup's sudden change in behavior. He didn't answer immediately, mounting Toothless and sliding his feet into their stirrups before turning to face her.
"We need to scout for the Green Death and anywhere it may be nesting. The sooner we find that monster and kill it, the sooner we can leave this rock." He stared at her intently for another moment before speaking.
"If you truly want to be useful instead of just a spy, you can find me a map of where the Green Death has struck and when."
Astrid opened her mouth to reply, to tell him that she was NOT a spy, nor was she his errand boy. But Hiccup gave her no time to respond. (Which was just as well since, per Stoic's orders, she WAS more or less his errand boy.)
"Let's go guys. There's work to do." He patted Toothless' neck and the beast gave a growl of assent along with the other beasts in the field. A moment later all six dragons were airborne, the Terrible Terror still hanging off Hiccup's back as he vanished into the heavens.
Hiccup sighed in relief and closed his eyes, letting the wind caress his face. It wasn't as if he needed to see in order to work Toothless' tailfin. After all, he could sense his partner's intentions and desires from just the twitching of his muscles. Over the years of working together the two of them had reached a level of understanding that was just short of telepathy.
This was where he belonged. This was where he was happiest. Careening across the sky on Toothless' back, man and dragon working together in perfect harmony. His hair whipping behind him as the slipstream tugged at it. Up here, all of his problems seemed far away, left behind on the ground.
But… His problems would catch up with him eventually. And he was out here for a reason. A very good reason in fact. It would have to be a very good reason to draw him back here.
And so with a sigh he opened his eyes once again, and began surveying the landscape beneath him for signs of the Green Death. Not that he expected to find the beast so close to the village. But he had discussed it with his friends and decided that it would be best to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the island.
After all, Hiccup, Toothless, and Frost had not been here for years.
Not nearly long enough. Hiccup groused to himself.
Paco had only been to Berk once or twice in the past, and Stone, Fang, and Whisper had never seen the island before their arrival. Though Whisper at least was small enough and sneaky enough to explore the place on his own.
Not that that stopped him from tagging along with Hiccup and Toothless of course. The quiet little Terror was still hanging onto Hiccup's back, looking over his shoulder. He claimed he only rode along because he was too lazy to use his own wings, but everyone knew the green scaled dragon loved to hitch a ride along with Toothless for the acrobatics. Terrors had many talents, Whisper especially, but they simply weren't built for high speeds or sharp turns. And Whisper clearly loved both.
Looking to the left and right, Hiccup couldn't help but smile proudly at the way the rest of the flight was spread out in formation, eyes focused on the terrain below them. They were good, loyal friends and excellent fighters all. Working together with their usual skill and precision, Hiccup was confident that the six of them would be able to find and deal with the Green Death in no time at all.
There would be no mistakes, like last time. And no repeat of that first disastrous battle with the Red Death…
"Come on buddy, hold it together…" Hiccup croaked to Toothless as they dove through the clouds, the massive bulk of the Red Death bearing down on them.
His voice was raspy from the seawater he had inhaled, and he had to fight the urge to cough. At least the adrenaline rush of battle was washing away the pain of all the cuts, bruises, and abrasions he'd suffered over the last few days.
But not even adrenaline could dull the throbbing of his face. His left eye was painted crimson, and he was certain he could feel the skin of his cheek flapping in the wind as they dove. He found himself wondering if he was raining blood on the battered remnants of the Viking attack force below, and felt the urge to laugh at the macabre thought.
"Focus! Just a little more buddy!" He shouted, trying to keep his mind on the task at hand. He couldn't allow himself to think about his injuries. To wonder how bad they were, or consider how they were received. He needed to focus! But it was hard, so very hard. The world was growing dark and fuzzy, and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was going into shock.
Behind him, Toothless' artificial tail fin smoldered. Behind him, he left a thin stream of crimson droplets as blood and consciousness slipped away from him. And behind him, the Red Death roared and began inhaling loudly enough to be heard even over the roar of the wind and the pounding in his ears.
"NOW Toothless!" Hiccup shouted, working the pedals for all he was worth, responding to the dragon's cues on instinct as they cleared the clouds and the ground rushed up to meet them.
It was going to be close, and the response from Toothless' tailfin was growing loose and sloppy, but he could do this. He had to. It he failed he would not be the only one to die. He couldn't fail Toothless.
And then there was a monstrous, spiked tail filling his view…
No, it wouldn't be like that at all this time. Their victory that day had been little more than luck. Luck, some desperate last minute planning, and their opponent's arrogant belief in its absolute invulnerability. And even then it had come at a steep price. One worth paying, but steep none the less.
No, this time they would be ready. This time they knew what they were facing. This time it would not be left to luck.
Hiccup shook his head, refusing to dwell on the past. The memories wouldn't leave him alone though. It was being back on Berk again. It brought back memories of a life he had gladly left behind. People and places he had not thought of in years.
People like Astrid. The girl hadn't changed at all. Well, that wasn't quite true. She had certainly grown into an impressive woman and had clearly... developed quite a bit. But the important things had not changed. She was still very beautiful, and still very dangerous.
The difference is that the years have given me enough wisdom to pay attention to the latter, instead of being smitten by the former. He thought with a touch of bitterness.
And Fishlegs and Tuffnut were dead. That was certainly different. And sad as well. Fishlegs had always been a decent sort. And Tuffnut had been… Well, Tuffnut had been pretty horrible to him. Though in his defence, Tuffnut had been pretty horrible to EVERYONE, and just about everyone had been horrible to Hiccup. So really, Tuff had never singled him out for abuse.
"It's a shame about Fishlegs though." He said aloud, patting Toothless' neck. "You would have liked him I think. He wasn't the sort to swing an axe without giving it some thought first." That was a rare attribute in a Viking, and one he had felt he had shared with the oversized, trivia-obsessed boy.
Still, Hiccup had seen his fair share of violence and death. And he had long since learned that it did no good to dwell on it. Besides, the sad fact of the matter was he couldn't get too upset over the deaths of people who had long since moved outside the boundaries of his life. Six years ago he had left them behind, and had never expected to see them again. Death simply made that expectation a cold and unfortunate certainty.
"I think it's time to head back to camp Toothless. We're running out of daylight.
The Night Fury nodded his head and snorted in reply, making a slow, graceful turn back towards the clearing, the other dragons quickly following. The sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon, casting a myriad of colors across the heavens and reflecting them off the fluffy white clouds above them. It was a beautiful sight, but Hiccup felt he was missing something.
"Hmmmm.. What do you think Whisper? Do you think we can beat the others back to the camp?" He asked with a grin.
The Terror's soft but eager hiss was all the response he and Toothless needed. Hiccup's partner knew exactly what he was thinking, and in an instant they were shooting ahead of the others like an arrow fired from a bow.
The rest of the flight watched in consternation at their leader took off. But only for a moment. Seconds later pandemonium erupted across the skies of Berk, as Frost, Fang, Stone, and Paco gleeful started yet another game of 'Catch the Night Fury.' Roars of challenge and amusement bounced and echoed off the clouds as they played a cross between 'Tag' and 'Follow the Leader.' Amidst all of the growling, hissing, and chirping, one sound stood out.
Needless to say they were a bit late returning to the clearing.
Stoic the Vast stared into his mug of ale, a frown on his face and a distant look in his eyes.
Most evenings he'd be in the Great Hall right about now, drinking and arguing and merrily fighting with the men under his command. But some nights the Chief wanted nothing more than to remain at home with his private stash of drink, and spend the evening with old friends.
Besides, Stoic knew what the Hall would be like this time of evening. It would be filled with Vikings at every imaginable stage of inebriation and filled with noise and bluster. The clatter of mugs, the clank of weapons and armor, the chatter of conversation… And the whispers of rumors and stories. Most of them involving the Green Death or his son, he was certain.
Stoic had no desire to sit in the hall and listen to the rumors fly. Instead he sat alone in his empty house, and shared a drink with the ghosts of his past. There were many of them, and so it took a great deal of ale to ensure he had at least one mug with each one.
Though now at least there was one less spirit for him to toast.
"Hiccup…." He whispered before taking another swig of ale.
He had only seen the boy for a few minutes over the last two days, but oh how each moment warmed his heart with the knowledge that his son was ALIVE! And yet each word he spoke, each cold stare he delivered froze his soul.
"What should I have said, Valhallarama?" He wiped his hand across his mouth after a particularly long pull on his mug. "You always knew what to say to the boy, even when he was a babe. Fourteen years and I never figured it out…."
What could he say, when he knew next to nothing about the boy? How he survived on his own, what he had been doing for the past six years, where he had been… Not that he had known much about his son before his departure. Events had made THAT very clear.
"How could I have not seen what was happening? How could I have not known that those beasts were corrupting my son…" Maybe if he had not gone off to find the Nest. Maybe if he'd just spent more time with the boy. Maybe if he'd just seen the signs… they must have been there. Something like that could not have happened solely over the few short weeks he was away…
He shook himself from the grip of such thoughts. He needed to look on the bright side of things. After all, the day had not been a total loss. Yesterday he had learned that his son was alive. And today he had learned at least a little more about the boy, if only second hand.
When he had sent Astrid off to keep an eye on Hiccup, he had not made a secret of it. But he HAD hoped to keep it… quiet. In retrospect that was a lost cause. And by the time Astrid had returned half the village had been waiting eagerly to hear from her.
In the end he had given up any hope of privacy, and had Astrid give her report in the main hall. Though he had succeeded in limiting the head table to himself and a few other important clan heads and the like. And he had made it quite clear that they were the only ones allowed to speak and ask questions. He had been hoping to keep the chaos down to a dull road. And it had worked. More or less.
At least the girl had returned whole and unharmed and without a fight. And the information she passed on was… Well, it didn't paint his son in the best light, but it wasn't particularly damning either. Some of it might even help his cause. Astrid was a strong, talented, and well respected Viking and she had a reputation for not holding back her punches, be they physical or verbal. Whatever she said was likely to be taken seriously by the rest of Berk.
"Yes, I'm sure of it. He really CAN speak to the beasts. Though the way he said it, anyone can talk TO them. But HE can understand what they say in return." Astrid had been rather annoyed that her observations were being questioned…"For the love of Odin, how many times do I have to say it? YES he could talk with them, and YES they listened to him! And did what he asked!"
So, he really COULD communicate with dragons. That was… Well, Stoic honestly didn't know WHAT to think about that. Surely no good could come from talking to such monsters? Still, that didn't mean he was talking to the Green Death, or had set the creature upon them. Astrid had been of like mind when that accusation was brought up.
"No, I don't think he has anything to do with the Green Death. He didn't say much about it, but I got the feeling that he really hates the beast. He's very eager to find it and kill it. And leave. "
That was one of the less promising parts of Astrid's report, at least as far as Stoic was concerned. The boy had just found his way back home! How could he be thinking of leaving already? But Astrid had been quite clear on that point. Hiccup did not want to be here. In fact according to her…
"He said 'I am no Viking.'" Astrid had actually look uncomfortable as she recounted Hiccup's words. "And he said that he was here to do a job, and nothing else. He wanted me to tell you all that."
Those words struck a harsh blow against Stoic's heart each time he heard them. They had eaten at him mercilessly over the last six years when he believed they might have been the last statement his son had made. Now his boy was back, alive and well. And somehow they hurt even more now that they were freshly spoken.
"Not a Viking? Of course the boy is a Viking!" He growled angrily, punctuating his statement with his fist against the table before gulping down another mouthful of ale.
Of course Hiccup was a Viking! Sure, he had started off as a bit of a… physical underachiever. But he was the son of two great warriors! He himself was one of the most powerful fighters in the tribe and Vallhalarama, may the gods watch over her soul, had always been a force to be reckoned with. The boy had some problems, certainly. But he had just needed some time to grow into his heritage! Just another year or two perhaps…
But then he had been lost. Stolen away in truth. Led astray by that, that… BEAST. Dragged away by that demon, dragged away from his home and his family, dragged off to his death…
But he HADN'T died. Stoic had seen his son's injuries. He had wept over them long enough as the healers worked to save him. They were grievous, but with time and care and Odin's grace they were survivable. That he managed to survive despite not receiving the first two merely proved what a true Viking he was! Strong! Tough! Resilient! Able to not merely survive adversity, but thrive on it!
His thoughts wandered to the end of Astrid's report, as the questions and comments had wound down. The Elder had been present as well of course. But she had only asked one question there at the end…
"… So no, I don't think he's going attack the village." Astrid stated as she finished giving her opinion of Hiccup's intentions.
The young blonde had been rather stiff and formal during the entire conversation, but she had given a detailed and insightful review of everything she had seen and heard. It was exactly the sort of precise and skillful work the village had come to expect from her over the years. The girl was talented, of that there was no doubt.
The dozen or so Vikings at the main table with Stoic were about ready to disperse when the elder cleared her throat loudly. Supporting herself with her staff, she stared intently at Astrid for several seconds before speaking.
"So, are you saying that Hiccup is not dangerous?"
Astrid stood up straighter at the Elder's question, taking a moment to consider it. When she spoke, her voice was firm and filled with calm certainty.
"No. He is definitely dangerous. Very dangerous."
"You mean the dragons are dangerous?" Stoic had asked, seeking clarification. Astrid had met his eyes, staring back at him intently.
There was no doubt about it. Astrid, one of the best, most talented Vikings in the village, thought Stoic's son was dangerous. Not the beasts that were hanging about him, the boy himself. The very idea made Stoic feel…
"Ya hear that Gobber?" He whispered hoarsely, raising his mug to salute the spirit of a friend long gone. "The boy has finally come into his own. Ye would be proud too, I'm sure."
Now all he needed to do was figure out how to separate his son from the monstrosities that had stolen him away for the first place. And get him to realize that he still had a place here. A place on Berk. A place alongside his fellow Vikings. A place where he belonged.
A place beside his father.
Well, the movie finally came out on DVD, and it seems that that was enough to stir up my muse a little bit… So another part has finally been finished! And at last we start to get some hints as to what changed and where things went… I won't say WRONG, but they definitely went DIFFERENTLY. More or less starting with one little change, one slightly different decision by Astrid.
I've made a conscious decision not to show things from the dragon's point of view, or show their dialogue and speech. I think it might be more interesting to show Hiccup the way everyone else sees him; involved in a conversation they can only understand one side of. You'll just have to use your imagination to fill in the dragon's side of things. :)
Once again I'm shoving this out the door without giving it quite the polish I'd like to. But I just don't have the energy or ambition to go over it again. Additionally, I really think I need to choose a better way to differentiate between memories and thoughts. I fear using Italics for both I going to become confusing. Oh well. Hopefully there aren't too many errors or typos in this chapter. And hopefully you've read it through to get to these notes, and found it entertaining!