AN: Not mine, no money, no sue.
Talking in Her Sleep
I couldn't really tell you when it all started. Maybe after the injury. So much medicine, honey and food was forced into him after his amputation. That could have started it. I certainly didn't notice, not then.
The dragon peace was getting a lot of attention from our neighbours, and so we set up 'Dragon Diplomats'. His idea. There was one to Freezing-To-Death, one to Thick, one to Hopeless, one to Phlock, and one to Brass Monkey. You've never been there have you? It's west of Freezing-To-Death. Even colder than Berk. You'd hate it.
They sent Hiccup to Brass Monkey. As chief's son, and as the hero of the village, he had to convince them to make peace with the dragons. He sailed away a summer ago with Toothless, Stoick, Gobber and many gifts for the Brassies, including two Nightmare eggs and a sweet little trained Terror called Bugeyes. When he sailed, he was still mostly the Hiccup I remember. Mostly…
Okay, so he'd been getting taller. Like I mentioned, the whole village kept forcing remedies and whatnot into him, they were all so proud of him. He was still rake-thin and weedy, and I still could have snapped him with one hand, but he was finally taller than me. He didn't hide how happy he was about it, either. Still shorter than Ruff and Tuff at that stage though.
That, though, that was the only warning we got.
He came back two days ago. Winter. It's a miserable time to travel. Toothless was torpid with the cold when the longship pulled back into the harbour, and he caught my attention first. I leapt onto the ship as it docked and ran to the black lump huddled under a swathe of furs. He didn't even stir.
"Toothless?" I murmured, stroking the silky jet of his protruding ear. "Oh, poor dragon. Is he okay?" I asked, looking around for Hiccup, for where Toothless was, Hiccup was never far away.
"He's two steps from hibernating fully," said a voice I knew, and didn't. "We've got to get him inside quickly. He's been trying to put it off, but he's just not winning."
I turned, and my stomach clenched painfully. It really did.
I'd kissed this boy. Suddenly it seemed like the bravest thing I'd ever done.
He was even taller. I had to tilt my head up to see his face. He was around shoulder-height on his father now. His rusty hair had grown slightly and now fell in thick waves to his jaw, which had slightly broadened. His face had always been a bit longish; his adult jaw gave the impression that he'd grown into it. All that messy red-brown hair made his eyes stand out all the more. A shadow on his cheeks indicated that he was clean-shaven by choice now and not by nature, though his sideburns were quite a bit longer than they had been.
Not that those were the only changes. He was only wearing a green sleeveless tunic and brown leggings, and his arms shone with sweat. He'd been helping with the rigging, judging from the coil of rope at his feet. Foot.
He'd always been such a toothpick. He still was. It had never seemed… attractive before.
His arms were still slim, but long flat muscles moved under the sweat in… interesting ways. His skinny torso was a collection of equally interesting planes, fine, straight shoulders narrowing to still-narrow hips in a perfect triangle. And his legs…
They were so long. They gave me ideas. They made my face burn.
"Hiccup…?" was all I could manage. My breath was stolen away. This… wasn't Hiccup Haddock. This was a stranger from Brass Monkey. But there, poking out of the leggings, was a wood-and-metal contraption instead of a foot. It was different too, and carved over with reliefs of Night Furies.
"Astrid?" he asked, in that not-familiar, so-familiar voice. It was deeper, more resonant. And worried. His thick eyebrows were knitting slightly as he peered at me in concern. "You okay?"
"Ahh…" I hedged, leaning back to try and get some air, some air….
"You've gone all red," he said, tipping his head. I noticed that reddish shadow extended along his jaw and throat. His throat, oh, that collarbone, mmmm.
"Fine!" I squeaked. "I'm fine, just… ah, hi, Hiccup, er, hi there. Hiccup. Good to… see you," I finished lamely. Kill me now.
"You too," he beamed warmly at me. Even the little gap in his teeth looked attractive. I felt faint and hot all over. "You look beautiful."
I looked…? "You look…" I swallowed. Hard. Good enough to eat? my mind piped. "Different," I croaked. "Taller!" I hastily added, in case I hadn't embarrassed myself enough.
"Finally," he snorted, and ran a hand through his hair. It made me notice burn marks and calluses on those long, clever fingers. Unf. "I had to redesign my foot twice while I was in Brass Monkey, my other leg kept getting too long! And these are the only clothes I have that fit now. I think the tunic is Spitelout's, actually. I think I've stopped growing though. Hope so, I'm sick of splitting clothes."
I made a noise like a Terror being stepped on. Hiccup seemed to take it for agreement.
"I know! Right in the middle of presenting Bugeyes to their chieftain. I was so embarrassed. Hiccup the Useless strikes again. But she was really… er, nice about that."
Bet she was. "They have a female chieftain?"
"Yeah. Oglaranna the Aggressive. She's… erm." Hiccup looked skywards. "Look, let me tell you about it while we get Toothless up the hill. He's going to need some convincing."
"Fish?" I guessed, still burning with curiosity about this fierce chieftess.
"As much as possible," Hiccup smoothed his hand over Toothless' head. The dragon gave a small groan. "We agreed that he wouldn't eat on the longship until he got home – that way he'd be less likely to go into full hibernation. He's very hungry and very sleepy. We get two baskets of fish up on our hearth and he'll get himself there. But he'll be asleep two seconds later."
We agreed…? I wondered. Hiccup always could communicate with Toothless in an almost uncanny fashion. As he pulled the heavy furs from the dozing dragon, I ran to the dock where men and women were heaving barrels and bales from the longship, and spotted Ruffnut.
"Ruff!" I yelled. "We need fish! Two baskets! Can you help?"
Ruffnut was folding sailcloth, a gritty, icy job she dropped with distaste. "You are, like, my best friend ever," she moaned to me, looking at her reddened hands. "Why all the fish, then?"
"Toothless is about to go into hibernation, but he needs bait to get up to the chief's lodge. Hiccup and he agreed not to let him eat on the voyage, so he's starving," I explained as we trudged to the fishing boats where the baskets were.
"Hiccup… and the dragon agreed," Ruff raised an eyebrow sardonically. "Shyeah. If it wasn't Hiccup, I don't think I'd…" she broke off.
"Ruff?" I asked.
"I don't believe it," she breathed. "It isn't Hiccup."
I turned. Sure enough, the new and improved Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third was leaping down from the ship and talking seriously to Gobber and Spitelout. The late afternoon sun was hitting his hair and turning it to flames. The sight forced all my breath away again.
"He's Baldur, Freyr and oh dear gods, look at those legs. He's got Honir's legs. They reach to the sky!" Ruffnut's eyes were glinting.
I gritted my teeth. Ruff was not supposed to notice Hiccup's legs. She was not supposed to notice him at all!
"He's still Hiccup," I said a little too forcefully.
"Girl. That's not just Hiccup," Ruff purred. "That's Sigurd in Berk. And I fully intend to be his Brynhild."
I was not hearing this.
"If by that, you plan to watch him marry someone else and then kill yourself," I seethed, "perhaps you'd better pick another?"
"He'd soooo be worth it," she drawled languorously. "Just one night wrapped up in those legs…"
I shoved a basket of fish towards her and hoisted the other myself. I was suddenly aware of my sodden winter cloak, my hair plastered to my head, my threadbare leggings. "Let's get these to Stoick's lodge," I grumbled, snagging a lantern and leading the trudge up the icy hill.
To be honest, I knew why I was suddenly fixating on my shabby clothes. Ruff and Tuff's mother was the village seamstress, and the twins were always kitted out in immaculate fashion. My mother's a shieldmaiden, like me. She can sew an arm together, but not a shirt. I had been dressed in armour from a young age simply because my mother didn't know how to make anything else.
Now, it seemed, I had competition for Hiccup where there was never any before. Well-dressed, wealthy and pretty competition.
I grimly gripped the basket of fish and tuned out Ruffnut's dreamy prattling.
Stoick's lodge was cold and dark, and had been for six months. I put my fish by the unlit firepit and began to stack it with wood. Ruff shivered as she looked around the empty house.
"I wonder if I could convince him to live at my family lodge…?" she mused. "This is totally last generation, all this. And drafty. And imagine sharing a lodge with the chief…? Eurgh. Like sharing with Odin, always knowing what you're up to."
I poured a little too much oil over the unlit logs. "It's Hiccup's home," I bit.
"Hiccup could do with way less gloom in his life, y'know," Ruffnut picked up a statuette of one of the Haddock ancestors.
"All his work is up there," I jerked my head up toward the loft where I knew Hiccup usually kept his sketches and prototypes. "You'd make him leave it?"
"Like I could," Ruffnut snorted. "I'd make him move it. We've got that old stable going free. Of course, he'd have to share with a zippleback, but she's sleeping right now anyway. Heaps of room."
"Toothless, too?" I grabbed the lantern and carefully lit a branch from it, before throwing it into the firepit. The plume of oil smoke rose like a mushroom. I whirled away from it in disgust. "You know he's Hiccup's best friend. You know he's treated like family here. You'd put him in a stable?"
"Duh," Ruffnut rolled her eyes. "He's a dragon. Anyway, I'd be Hiccup's best friend after that… well, after the wedding night, anyway!"
"Wedding," I said tonelessly.
"What did you think we were talking about, Astrid? The weather?" Ruff sniggered. "I am so marrying those legs. 'Lout and his family's offer can go to Hel."
"Snotlout's father offered for you, then," I said as casually as I could manage.
"And Fishlegs' father. Like, no way, everrrr. Anyway, it doesn't matter now that chief-in-waiting Hiccup the Hero has become chief-in-waiting Hiccup the Phwoar. Why, haven't you got any offers, Astrid?"
My hands clenched. "No." And everyone knew it. Just as everyone, everyone knew that Hiccup was mine, and I was Hiccup's. They'd known it for years. Promised in front of everyone the day he woke up, with a kiss in front of his father. No offer required.
But if Hiccup married someone else…
I would have nothing. No offers, because I had promised myself to a man who had not accepted. I would be nothing in the village at all. Best to hope for would be a clean and early death in battle, so as not to harm my little brother's reputation when he came of age. Not to drain my family's resources, meagre as they were.
Strangely, that was the part that concerned me the least if Hiccup married someone else. Because the part which concerned me the most was the bit where someone else had married Hiccup.
Oh, Ruff. It was so on.
"Let's stop playing, Ruff," I threw back my winter cloak and gripped the haft of my axe. "Hiccup is mine. He's been mine since he had two feet. He's been mine since you could see the top of his head. Hel, he was mine even before I gave him the time of day! Go marry Snotlout or Fishlegs, but if you try for Hiccup, it'll cost you." I smirked. "Badly."
Ruff's eyes widened, then narrowed. "You haven't got a father to speak for you, Astrid. You've lost this already."
"I don't need a father to speak for me!" I hissed, and my axe was suddenly in my hands, pressed against her throat. "I can speak for myself! Can you, Ruffnut Thorston?"
"Anything you can do, I am automatically queen of!" Ruff retorted, and I could feel another blade pressed against my stomach.
"Prove it!" I barked. "No families! No offers! Nothing but you, me and Hiccup, and we'll see who wins!"
Ruff's face slackened in shock. "No-one's ever done that before!"
"No-one rode a dragon before Hiccup, either," I jerked my axe against her. "We're a village of firsts. Get used to it, or get out of the way!"
"Never," Ruff grinned viciously at me. "Hofferson, you're on. And may the best Thorston win."
"I don't intend to stay a Hofferson for long, Ruffnut," I smiled acidly. "So, up to him?"
She nodded, careful of my axe. "Up to him."
"What in Hel's name is going on here?"
Hiccup's voice threw us both for a loop. I whipped my axe behind my back, noticing Ruff tucking her hatchet away at the same time. "Er… practise?" I managed.
He tilted his head at me with a quizzical look in his eyes. Those big, green eyes… stop that. "Riiiiight, because everyone knows you need more practise, Astrid," he said in his old, dry way, and the familiarity in that gave me hope. This beautiful stranger was still sarcastic, clever, witty Hiccup Haddock after all. "Anyway, Toothless is mostly up the hill, but I was coming to see if you wanted help?"
"No, no, Ruff here…"
"I offered," Ruffnut interrupted in a sweet, little-girl tone so unlike her normal drawl that both Hiccup and I stared at her in astonishment. "It's Toothless, after all."
"I didn't know you liked Toothless!" Hiccup smiled warmly, as he had always done at the mention of his first and best friend.
At that smile, both Ruff and I stifled a sigh.
"Oh, yeah, for sure… I mean, he saved our village and all," Ruffnut lowered her eyes artfully. My hands were white around my axe handle behind my back by then, I knew it. "And he saved you." And then she looked up through her lashes.
My axe handle broke between my fists with a loud crack!
"What was that?" Hiccup and Ruff both jumped. I stuffed the now much-shorter axe under my cloak as Hiccup looked suspiciously at the fire and Ruffnut looked suspiciously at me.
"Must have been the fire," I said brightly. "I put a lot of oil on, wanted it to be warm for Toothless. Should we go help him?"
"Since you're all good, yeah," Hiccup nodded, then walked to a fish basket and helped himself to two cod. "Bait," he explained, before disappearing back out into the fog, still bare-armed.
"Wait!" I said suddenly, grabbed a sleeping fur and a large turbot and followed him. "Wait up!"
His new foot was incredible. It seemed impossible that only seven months before he had limped slightly and always had to catch up. Now, his long legs ate up distance and the firm clack of the metal was evenly paced with the dull thump of his boot. "That's…" I struggled with the sleeping fur, "that's some foot, Hiccup! I can barely keep up!"
"You always were on the small side, weren't you, Astrid?" Ruffnut said with insincere commiseration as she walked easily on Hiccup's other side.
"Well, so was I, until recently," Hiccup said without inflection, looking critically at Ruff. I felt a pang of triumph. "What's the skin for?" he turned to me again.
"You," I fumbled with fish and blanket. "You're only wearing a woollen tunic, you must be freezing! How have you not gotten frostbite on that longship? Put it around your shoulders."
"Thanks, Astrid!" he seemed surprised and pleased. "But, ah, kinda got my hands full here. Could you…?"
"Here," Ruffnut grabbed it from me and lovingly draped it all over him. I'm sure she took the opportunity to feel up those shoulders, too. "Better?"
"Thanks, guys!" he gave us that quirked half-grin I recognised so well. "I'd forgotten all about the weather. It's colder in Brass Monkey than here, I just sort of got used to it, especially as my clothes kept on not-fitting. Here he is!"
I could make out a black shape in the snow, labouring wearily against the heaviness of his limbs and the drooping of his eyelids. He was accompanied by two blocky shapes – Stoick and Gobber. They were leading the practically dormant dragon up the hill.
"Toothless!" I exclaimed, and stumbled forward to pat his shiny black hide. He gave me a plaintive grumble, and then nosed the fish I was carrying by the gills.
"You can have it when we get up the hill, bud," Hiccup said soothingly. "It's a turbot, Astrid brought you a turbot. You like them, right?"
Toothless swung his head blindly to where Hiccup's voice came from, and he quieted when the long-fingered hand settled against his nose. "He's got to keep moving," Gobber insisted. "He'll be asleep before he gets t' the fish at this rate."
"Come on, buddy," Hiccup pushed his two cod against the black nose, and an interested, questioning noise signalled Toothless' renewed movement. "We're almost there, I promise. Fifty more feet or so. There's a fire, and two baskets of fish, and once you've eaten you can sleep and be warm and no-one will move you. Will they?" Hiccup squinted at his father who looked embarrassed.
Stoick the Vast scratched his beard. "Ah, no, son. Not this winter. Learned m'lesson."
Toothless gave a huff that, though immeasurably tired, indicated a certain amount of draconic amusement.
"But Toothless, please don't go burning people's beards if they stumble over you, or something," Hiccup added diplomatically. Gobber sniggered.
It was somehow sad to watch the normally fantastically agile Night Fury stumble blindly up the hill, following Hiccup's encouraging voice. I knew it's only because of the winter sleep – I mean, you're asleep right now, aren't you, darling? – but he's always been, well, bigger than life. Bigger than that. A bigger personality than even the Nightmares. Not as pretty as you though, my girl.
It seemed to take forever to get him there, but finally we had him laid out in front of the fire. He barely had the effort to feed himself, so we fed him the fish, Hiccup, Ruff and I. Stoick and Gobber nodded briefly to us, and then went back to supervise the unloading of the ship.
Poor Toothless. Ruff kept cooing insistently at him, which obviously irritated but had the benefit of keeping him slightly awake.
Eventually he'd finished the lot, except for that first turbot I offered him. I raised it enticingly and his large eyes blinked at it, before he opened his mouth slowly, teeth retracted. Hiccup laid a hand on his soft haunch as Toothless chewed twice and swallowed.
"He has to eat this much," he said softly, "before the long sleep, or he'll never wake up. We cut it too close here, buddy. You're not convincing me again, y'hear?"
Toothless moaned low in his throat, then eyed me, then Ruffnut (who was hushing him and singing children's night songs). I smiled at him.
"Yeah he will," I replied to Hiccup, still watching the almost dormant dragon. "Remember, you never could stop him from spinning if he wanted to."
Toothless' pupils seemed to expand then, and I leaned forward to see what was wrong. In a few short racking hasping coughs, a turbot tail was deposited upon my lap in all its sticky, fishy glory.
"Ah," Hiccup said in a strange tone.
"Ew," said Ruffnut, her face twisted in disgust.
"Doesn't he need- don't you need this?" I redirected the question to Toothless. He gave a purling rumble, and nudged his blunt head against my crossed legs.
"He… he wants you to bite it, eat it," Hiccup said, still in that strange tone. He was looking at Toothless oddly. "You sure about this, buddy?"
I raised the tail section to my face. At least it had been a freshly caught fish, and so it didn't really smell, although I didn't like thinking about where it had been. I took a short breath, and bit down.
Raw turbot isn't really too bad, you know? Actually, I lie, it was awful. But you'd have liked it, wouldn't you girl?
Toothless watched me bite, chew and then swallow, before glancing between me and Ruff (who was looking a little green) again, and nodded once with sleepy satisfaction. Then he pushed his head against Hiccup with a mighty effort, purring and crooning his love against the boy's shoulder.
Hiccup threw his arms around Toothless' head. "Sleep well, Toothless," he said thickly. "We'll see you in the morning."
The long tail with its one fin gave a last thump, and then it was still. The Night Fury was curled up before the fire for the three-month nap.
I looked down at my turbot; well, it seemed I had someone's approval, at least.