The house was empty.

Stoick laughed softly to himself. Of course it was empty. He should have expected the return home and the bellowing of Hiccup's name with no response. Not that Hiccup had ever really been home at convenient times, but now it made sense. The delightful irony was how much Stoick wanted to see him. Oh, he had always liked seeing Hiccup, of course. But this was different.

Stoick and Hiccup had never really… talked. It wasn't that Stoick had never wanted to talk to Hiccup, but conversation had never been of any particular importance to him and there hadn't been much to talk about anyway. Dragons attacked, things happened in the village… was that all necessary for conversation? There had been times when Stoick had felt more should be said, but nothing had come of that and the desire had crumbled over the years.

Still… Stoick had nothing against conversation. Maybe it would be nice.

But of course the tough young Viking was elsewhere causing mayhem. Stoick had never been so proud. All these years of his son being who he was and now this. A Viking. A young Viking not even full grown who had managed to make himself celebrated by the entire village.

Stoick should have known. He loved the fact that he should have known. He wanted to find Hiccup and tell him all of that and make everything end up just wonderfully. Maybe Hiccup could explain why all this talent had remained so hidden. Maybe Stoick could tell him how proud he was of him. It would be wonderful. More than wonderful.

Maybe he should give Hiccup a gift. He had the perfect idea, something he had kept half-forgotten in storage.

The helmet had never been meant as a gift per say. A good helmet was necessary to the life of a warrior and it was only common sense that anyone doing anything dangerous wear one. Vikings weren't stupid. Stoick had actually made the helmet several years ago, no particular thought intended, just something that Hiccup would need when he entered dragon training.

Of course that was before Stoick had doubted his son's abilities in dragon training. How foolish of him. Maybe if he had just given the helmet to Hiccup at the time this miracle of Hiccup's talent would have emerged sooner. Ah well. No sense fighting the past.

Helmet under his arm, he headed back outside. The afternoon was finishing up and the air was growing hazy. So Hiccup disappeared most afternoons. And when did he return? Stoick had never felt so impatient. He had never felt so excited to his son.

So where did he go in the afternoons? Hiccup had always loved playing outside, running off into the woods… and trees covered so much of the island that Stoick wasn't about to go tramping through them looking for Hiccup. Though he supposed he could try Raven's Point. The thought was originally a joke that Stoick quietly laughed at, but it did get him thinking.

Maybe he shouldn't have been so quick to deny that Hiccup had managed to shoot down a Night Fury. Hiccup was smart. He could have done anything. If only it weren't for all those other… incidents… where Hiccup had claimed the exact same thing. The boy who cried dragon.

Stoick stared up into the trees… wondering. Could it be? Could Hiccup have really managed to shoot down a Night Fury? Something no one else had done? The idea was impossible, laughable. And yet…

He wasn't sure what made him go. Sheer fatherly pride, the excitement of seeing Hiccup, the fact that he had something to make him forget the disaster that had been that journey to find the dragon nest, maybe the desire to finally answer that question from weeks ago. He had never gone into the woods for many things beyond hunting. It felt… good. Daylight was fading, but Stoick's eyes were sharp.

Raven's Point. To think that Hiccup could even predict where the dragon had fallen.

Perhaps it was too late in the day to look for anything. What was he looking for? If Hiccup had killed a dragon, what would be left of it? Stoick had always suspected the dragons as scavengers who wouldn't turn up their noses at the flesh of their own kind. And was Stoick's eyesight good enough to spot a dragon in the darkness? Or what was left of one?

He was still excited for Hiccup. Definitely excited. If there were proof of what Hiccup had done, if Stoick could find that Night Fury, he could… say that he believed him. They could take its skull and show off Hiccup's talent to everyone. But the trees were thick and blocked the moonlight.

It was well into night by the time Stoick returned to the village. Still no Hiccup in the house, but someone did mention seeing him heading towards the blacksmith stall. Stoick had to smile at that. Hiccup and his inventions.

So he had the boy cornered at last. Stoick could hardly contain his enthusiasm. He had to play this right. This was… going to be fun.

According to Gobber, Hiccup had long set up his own little niche in the stall, a tiny slot in the corner where Gobber could send the boy to be out of the way. Stoick was sure Hiccup was there, and once entering the stall the tell-tale candlelight was visible. As he came closer, he could see Hiccup at his desk, fiddling with a stick of charcoal and looking bored out of his mind. Then again, it was hard to find other things exciting after getting oneself involved in dragon killing. Oh, Hiccup.

Stoick approached with enough noise to startle Hiccup to his feet. Hiccup jumped up, eyes full of panic, and began pushing back those silly drawings of his like Stoick actually cared what was on them. "Dad! You're back!"

That much was clear. Stoick kept his face grim. He had to play this well.

"Uh, Gobber's not here, so…" Hiccup continued in a shrill, panicked voice. It was so hard to think of this boy as the new sensation of Berk.

"I know," Stoick replied grimly as he shoved his way inside and took in the sight of Hiccup's space. Drawings, diagrams, models… very boring. Not to mention small. But at least it showed Hiccup was smart. "I came looking for you."

Hiccup looked ready to faint. "You did?"

"You've been keeping secrets." Oh, but this was fun.

Hiccup seemed at a loss for words and could barely get the next two out. "I… I have?" He leaned onto his elbow, which was set on top of some book.

Now to bring out the big weapons. Stoick summoned the strictest face he could and made his voice deadly cold. "Just how long did you think you could hide it from me?"

Hiccup dissolved all eye contact and returned to fiddling with books and papers. "I… I… I don't know what you're…"

So humble, so modest. But he was Stoick, chief and not to mention father. "Nothing happens on this island without me hearing about it."

"Oh?" Hiccup returned eye contact, but looked sick.

"So…" Stoick continued, "Let's talk… about that dragon." He moved closer to Hiccup, and noticed how quickly Hiccup slunk away.

Hiccup seemed to emotionally collapse, and fell against the desk with a muttered "Oh gods." He took a deep breath. "Dad, I'm so sorry. I… I … was going to tell you." All his actions were nervous. "I just didn't know how to, uh…"

It was like Hiccup thought he was in trouble. Stoick couldn't refrain from laughing. Which seemed to make Hiccup even more uncomfortable.

"You're… you're not upset?" Hiccup managed.

"What?" That was the furthest thing from Stoick's mind. "I was hoping for this!"

"Uh… you were?" Now Hiccup just looked confused, but Stoick didn't have time to think about that. All that came out was everything he had ever wanted to tell a son about dragons. He heard the enthusiasm in his own voice and it didn't matter that Hiccup did not seem to care. This was it. This was what they had always needed.

And then he stopped. And waited.

Hiccup stared at him.

Well? Wasn't this how conversation was supposed to start? Stoick broadened his smile and scooted closer. He wanted to talk. They could talk about this. Stoick had already said plenty, he had to have made Hiccup feel better.

Hiccup gave a nervous sigh.

Stoick scooted closer.

Time trudged forward. This wasn't fun. Nothing was happening. No bonding was taking place. Now to fix this new mess. "Oh, uh. Here. I brought you something." He pulled out the helmet, and Hiccup's eyes lit up. "To keep you safe. In the ring." Like Hiccup wouldn't know what a helmet was for. He handed it over.

Hiccup looked happy for the first time that night. "Thanks," he said softly as he looked the helmet over.

"Ah, your mother would have wanted you to have it."

Hiccup smiled at that.

"It's half of her breastplate."

There went Hiccup's smile. Gone. Suddenly the helmet was no longer desirable. As if metal couldn't be recycled and made useful again. Stoick had to do something with the armor. He pointed to his own helmet. "Matching set. Keeps her close, you know."

Hiccup just looked even more uncomfortable. Well, this was just sad. They couldn't even bond over a departed loved one. Oh, well. Teenage boys were weird. "Wear it proudly. You deserve it. You've held up your end of the deal." More than Stoick had expected. And here he had been thinking Hiccup would get himself killed.

But Hiccup didn't seem to have any response. He just set the helmet aside and yawned.

Tired. Of course. Stoick could accept that.

Maybe it had been too much bonding for one day.