As promised, here's an update! Wahooooo!

If you're reading this, I give you the biggest of hugs the and the most epic of high-fives. I appreciate the small following I have obtained with this story and all the encouraging and supportive reviews and messages I have received lately. Truly! This is surreal, man. I have people who like my story! I think it's really cool. I've never had that and I've always dreamed of it. Super cool!

Here's a music suggestion I haven't done in awhile that fits this chapter to a T: The Darkest Side by The Middle East. Seriously such a beautiful song, it breaks my heart (especially since it reminds me of Book Three in the Game of Thrones book series, sob sob) It's also my top played in my iTunes. Listen to it! It's incredibly enchanting and melodic. Beautiful.


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Hands on Sunshine

Chapter Twenty-One

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Astrid blew out the rest of the candles in her room and crawled into bed beside her little niece. She kicked around to fix the old straw underneath the layers of sheets and made a mental note to change the rushes soon, but the kicking made Ragna giggle and do the same.

"Alright, alright, time to relax," Astrid said with a faint smile still on her face. She sighed and stared at the dark ceiling and the rafters across it, thinking deeply. She turned on her side and watched her niece curl into her blankets and pillow, her freckled pudgy cheeks flattened cutely. "I'm going to sing you a lullaby someday, okay? I promise you," Astrid said in a whisper, pulling her hand out from the covers to rest on Ragna's cheek comfortingly. Ragna opened her eyes and smiled, even more squished.

"Okay. I love you, Auntie," she said quietly and shut her eyes again.

Astrid smiled. "I love you too." And she meant it.

The two woke early the next morning due to loud bangs from the kitchen and loud voices, namely Ingrid and Auda. Astrid rolled out of bed and stretched and started rustling through her chest of clothes. Ragna sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.

"Morning, Ragna," Astrid said lightly, pulling out a pale green knee-length tunic with brown knots embroidered around the bottom hem. She slipped it on over her undertunic and when Ragna was out of bed, she sat her on the stool in front of her vanity to brush her hair.

Once they both had dressed and Astrid had pulled the brush through her thick hair, they went downstairs to see what all the noise was about, and were kindly greeted with the smell of guts, blood and fish. Ragna made a disgusted noise and made a face and covered her mouth and nose with the neck of her dress when she walked into the kitchen. Ingrid and Auda were cleaning fish while Brandan was emptying a huge elk on the table, nearly ready to be skinned. Suddenly Ragna began to cry at the sight of the dead animal, balking at the blood up to Brandan's elbows and buckets full of entrails and organs at his feet on the floor.

"Well, good morning to you too!" Brandan said with a smile, trying to make light of the situation.

"It's a dead elk, Brandan," Auda said dully. "of course she's going to cry. She's three."

Ragna cried into Astrid's legs while she shushed her, telling her it was nothing to cry about. "Well, these things happen. It'll be our dinner for a good long while in winter and she won't be crying then," Ingrid said with a certain happy-go-lucky tone to her voice as she sliced off the skin of a good-sized salmon. "Astrid, put an apron on and help your sister and I. We have two baskets to go and we still have to smoke and salt and pickle them."

"Just let me go feed Spike first," Astrid said, taking Ragna by the hand and leading her out of the back door.

"Alright, just be quick," Ingrid said. Passing the table, Ragna turned her head and sniffled a little.

Astrid made sure Spike cheered up Ragna plenty, squawking and purring and chortling, rubbing her nose horn against the little girl's brown head after eating her fill of fish. Astrid lifted her up once so she could sit on her back and although Spike wasn't too partial to having a squiggly three-year-old on her back, she tolerated it well enough and walked around the barn to Ragna's immense delight. Afterward, she threw Astrid a rather apprehending glare before the two girls left to back inside the house. Ragna entertained herself with Snare and Alhildr while Astrid went to cleaning and boning fish with her mother and sister. She learned that Brandan had returned early this morning from his three-day hunting trip with his friends with the elk, a doe, and a dozen squirrels. Arnheim came home to help Brandan skin the elk and quarter it to dry and salt the meat while the women made quick work of the fish. Once the elk and deer and a few of the squirrels were skinned and quartered and emptied, Arnheim went out to the backyard to start building a smoker.

Astrid started early on salting the fish because she was getting bored and wanting to see Hiccup. She continued salting, noticing small cuts on her fingers for the first time from the stinging. She was constantly looking for an escape. Once Auda and Ingrid had laid out the fish on a board to bring out to smoke, Astrid found her chance. Grabbing an apple, she started inching her way toward the other room.

"Hey, Astrid, will you—hey, young lady!" Ingrid started to say until she saw her daughter duck out the door. "Astrid!"

She bounded out the door and up the street, laughing and eating the perfect apple. On her way to the forge, she caught Snotlout in the corner of her eye, laughing loudly in the pen of cattle and horses, and when she stopped to see what he was laughing about, Hiccup stood up from behind a cow, rubbing his head. She already knew what happened, so she ran over to the fence and climbed up to sit down on the top log. "Hey, guys. How's your head?" Astrid asked and bit into her apple.

Snotlout guffawed, his fists on his hips. "Hey, Ast. Hiccup just got kicked in the head by this beauty," he tapped a hand on the horses back and she whinnied back like she was proud of herself.

"I know, but that's why I asked Hiccup. Stupid," Astrid replied back with a quirk of her eyebrow. Snotlout made a face back at her.

"Feels great!" Hiccup answered, flashing a thumbs up. "Only shoeing Snotlout's horses, is all."

"Have you been swimming in fish guts all day, Ast? I can smell you from here, even through all this manure," Snotlout asked as he leaned against the fence next to her.

"No, but you'll be swimming in manure soon enough," Astrid retorted with a sly smile and Hiccup chuckled from behind the horse's belly. "Thor's beard, when are you going to milk your cows? They're about to burst, 'Lout," Astrid said, feeding the core of her apple to one of Snotlout's family herding dogs.

"My mom and sister are about to do that once Hiccup's done shoeing the ox and horses," Snotlout replied.

"Only sixteen more hooves to go," Hiccup said with false excitement and stood up, slapping the horse lightly on the behind to get her to move into the stable with the rest of the few work horses the Jorgenson's owned. He took his bucket of newly-wrought shoes and went to the ox standing nearest to Snotlout and Astrid.

Snotlout clicked his tongue, getting the ox to move from the bale of hay attached to the fence. "Aw, it's not that bad. You only got kicked once. And this guy's not so bad, he's getting old," he sniggered. "and more cranky."

Hiccup groaned. "You try getting kicked in the head by an annoyed horse. It might knock some sense into you,"

"That might be true. He might think twice about flaunting his muscles so he could actually get a date," Astrid said, laughing when Snotlout threw her a reprimanding look with a reddish tint to his cheeks.

"Oh, right, because Hiccup got kicked in the head so many times he somehow landed you," Snotlout snapped back with a cocky look to his face. Astrid and Hiccup both laughed.

Well, I know who kicked him in the head, Astrid thought. "Eh," she shrugged. "A couple more kicks couldn't do him any harm either,"

"Hey!" Hiccup chuckled while he hit some nails into a hoof, holding the ox's ankle between his knees. "You could use some, too,"

"Ouch!" Snotlout jumped in.

"Pfft. I don't shoe cows," Astrid kicked her feet and smiled.

The three of them bantered back and forth for an hour or so until Hiccup was done shoeing. He narrowly avoided one more hoof the head but he got a loud angry grunt as a warning, unlike the first time, so he dodged it just in the time, but other than that, he animals didn't pay Hiccup much mind. Snotlout led the oxen and a few cows into the stables with a little help from Hiccup and a Terrible Terror that helped herd alongside the dogs. Astrid played with a few dogs outside the fence while she waited, roughhousing with them a bit, letting them nibble on her forearms and hands. It didn't take long for the oxen to be all inside the stables so Snotlout's mother and sister could milk them. Hiccup hopped over the fence and landed right next to Astrid so he startled her, letting out a yelp, and the dog jumped a little in surprise as well. He grinned at her but she punched him in the arm.

They walked back to the forge together so Hiccup could drop off his bucket of old shoes and nails with his hammer inside. Just as they were walking out, Hiccup had brushed his hair aside along his brow and Astrid caught a glimpse of a purple-ish bruise right above his left brow next to his temple. She gasped lightly and pulled his hand from his side and led him out the door.

"What's wrong?" Hiccup said with an alarmed voice, taken aback by her suddenness.

"There's a huge freakin' bruise on your forehead. Horses kick hard. I'm taking you to the healer's to see if you have a concussion," Astrid replied sternly, leaving no room for debate, but being Hiccup, he was quite aloof.

"I don't feel concussed at all," Hiccup said, though he didn't resist her hand in his. She looked over her shoulder to avoid a passing wayn and Hiccup saw she had her Determined Face on. He sighed. She really needed to relax sometimes, but his head did hurt a little. At least she showed she cared, and it was nice to be cared about.

"Doesn't matter. You probably need your head checked again anyway, from the Brawl. And your side could use a check-up. You're a walking mess, Hiccup."

"I didn't know I was going in for a physical."

"You're not."

"Good. Because I'd rather you do that anyway than an older woman."

Astrid seemed to stop all train of thought to register what he said for a moment, and looked up at him with the most unamused expression he had ever seen. "Alright. You're concussed."

Just as he was done sniggering, he said, "I was only kidding. I wanted to see your reaction."

"You saw it."

"It wasn't what I was expecting though. I thought you would be more entertained," Hiccup said, sounding like he was explaining his models to her.

"No, I think Snotlout rubbed off on you today. You could do better," Astrid smirked.

"I'm a lot more tactful than Snotlout, if you asked me."

"Not just then. You were really obvious, pervert."

"Because it was an opportune moment to say something smutty. Can't help that I'm a man with impulses and needs," Hiccup laughed when Astrid snorted and he squeezed her hand.

At the healers, Astrid and Hiccup sat on a bench by the door to wait for Svala to finish up wrapping a child's broken arm. Hiccup remembered breaking his arm when he was around this boys' age; something like ten. Snotlout dared him to climb a pine tree and throw a cone down from the top like he and Tuffnut had done. Hiccup only got about halfway up and before a branch broke and he tumbled to the ground. It was Fishlegs who had got the healer first, but it was Astrid who told him to shut up because he was crying like a baby, but she sat next to him until Svala came to take him back here. She just sat there, not saying anything while he sniffled and tried his best to ignore his numb and stinging arm. He liked her for doing that.

Hiccup smiled and put his hand on her knee, looking at her round and open face. She smiled back and looked away a few seconds later.

There were a few curtained off sections of the large room where the sick and injured laid, but most of the beds were empty because it wasn't the sick season. When the boy and his father left, Svala waved Hiccup and Astrid over to the elevated bench where she still remained, sitting on a high stool. She greeted them both kindly but Astrid only said a cold 'hello'. She apparently still held a grudge for Svala embarrassing her, but Hiccup supposed it was just for the sake of holding a grudge with nothing held behind it. In any case, he smiled warmly enough for both of them.

"So what are you here for?" Svala asked, sitting with her hands in her lap. Hiccup lifted himself up onto the bench about the height of a counter and explained to her what Astrid wanted checked out (he made his point to her that she thought he was totally concussed and this was all her idea). Svala laughed and proceeded to check out his head.

While Hiccup was being examined, Astrid strode around the room and looked at all the funny plants hanging from the ceiling, dried in bundles, opened some jars, smelled some powders, and rubbed a little bit of ointment between her fingers to test them out. She couldn't read all the labels, but even if she could, the names on them were scribbled hastily in a messy hand. Soon enough, after Svala inspected Hiccup's healing side and gave him the okay that he was perfectly healthy, both Astrid and Hiccup left the longhouse.

"See, I told you, I wasn't concussed," Hiccup said proudly, taking Astrid's hand again.

Astrid rolled her eyes and shrugged, "You could have easily been. At least we got it checked out."

Hiccup liked the way she said 'we'. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. Both the forge and Hallbera's are closed today, huh. Oh, well. We'll find something to do."

Together, they ended up lying under a tree in the far end of someone's yard behind their garden, talking about senseless things like current village gossip that neither really cared about. Hiccup explained some of his ideas for dragon saddles and equipment, which Astrid was interested for a time until Hiccup went on a ridiculous tangent about some of his inventions and math-related things that made Astrid doze off. They went on a tour around the village they had both seen a hundred times and tried to see what Ruffnut and Tuffnut were up to but they were both busy in the barley fields. Fishlegs was out fishing and mapping the fish migration routes, and, coincidentally, Toothless and Spike were out and nowhere to be found, probably on a hunting round with a group of dragons.

Finding themselves at an utter dead end, Hiccup suggested, "Do you want to help clean my room? I've been meaning to do it."

Astrid burst out laughing. "Sounds better than cleaning fish."

So that's what they did. They went back to his house and started taming the mess that was Hiccup's Room. Astrid helped Hiccup pull out old parchment from boxes behind his desk and sort them out from stupid knick knacks and useful things and models and good ideas. There were some broken or unfinished toys and figures and such things that Hiccup didn't want anymore and told Astrid that he'd rather gift them to people. Astrid said she would take the old clothes and bring them to Hallbera's to sell.

"These can still be worn and used," and some to keep, she thought.

"Okay, that's fine, you can take them. I don't really mind," Hiccup said absentmindedly, flipping through an old and weathered book with patches of metal on the spine and corners.

Quite a bit later when a good portion of his room was clean, while Hiccup was sitting on the floor by his desk and surrounded by sketchbooks and scrolls, Astrid found a flat, closed box under his bed across the room. It was covered by a thick layer of dusk and partially hidden under a hundred things. Furrowing her brows and getting increasingly curious, she pulled the box out and things with it, and lifted the lid off the wooden box and was only a little surprised to find four dusty leather-bound journals inside.

Hiccup looked up from looking through a sketchbook to see her looking at the journals he had intentionally hidden and forgotten about. "Astrid, don't…," he started to say but she was already reading.

"I found her again today, my mom. But only it wasn't her. I really thought it was her, I really did, but when I saw it wasn't her I almost cried. I hid and cried behind a tree and Tuffnut found me and made fun of me and laughed. I threw a rock at him after I got so mad and I hit him on the head, and he finally left, but it didn't make me feel any better. It's been 2 years…

"I accidentally opened a sheep pen today during a dragon raid. I was protecting it, really, at least until a Nadder came to eat my head off. Dad saved me, as usual, but a good portion of the sheep were carried off and it's almost winter. He hardly looked at me at all he was so angry.

"Why can't they just leave me alone? Snotlout is supposed me nice to me because he's my cousin but he's still a jerk! And Tuffnut's the same way. Do they not have anything nice to say? Mom told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all. I'm always the one to be picked on. They can't ever leave me alone, and I see them all the time. I hate this village, this island. I just want to be left alone…"

There were more entries about anger and loneliness and sadness that left Astrid feeling disorientated. She didn't know this side of Hiccup. Maybe because she didn't care enough to find out when they were younger, and it made her feel guilty. She could taste his words like they were ashes in her mouth. Her stomach turned.

She closed the first journal and picked up a second, and this one was mostly consumed of ripped out pages and angrily scratched out doodles and thick, loud words that expressed his deeply interred frustration. She read an entry that told about his thoughts and confused feelings on her. He said he liked her but hated her at the same time because she would always stand around and do nothing to stop his daily taunts and terrors, and he went into great detail about how that was almost as worse as being the bully, and when she did speak to him, she never said a nice word either. Astrid could place how she felt, but… she blinked away tears in her eyes and felt a profound tightness in her throat.

She picked up a third journal gingerly and thought twice about reading it but she opened it and read the first entry she saw, about his mother. As she was reading, Hiccup came over and sat next to her on the bed with his elbows on his knees and his head bent so he looked at the top of the journals he had forsaken.

Astrid read through tear-stained works and read in chopped words but she read. Hiccup took the journal from her hands very gently, his cold fingers brushing hers, and he skimmed over the passage, however his eyes stayed dry. He remembered writing this, every word. He remembered the smell of the burning sheep fat candle next to him. He remembered exactly how he felt, exactly what was running through his head, filled with thoughts of a long and dark night, and exactly how much his heart hurt.

"I can't even remember what she looked like."

Hiccup squeezed his eyes shut against the tears and the book dropped from his hand to thud on the floor with the pages flayed between his foot and peg. Hiccup looked at his empty hands with blurry vision and felt all the same things well into him like a flooding lake. It flowed and continued and soon he was engulfed and consumed. It was cold and sent needle pricks down his spine and settled deep in his bones.

"Half of my life I've been missing someone who I hardly know. I'm still so angry because I can't remember what my mother looks like," he said with thick words. "My father was absent. I had no one after she left. I still miss her so much."

Astrid blinked away hot tears, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder as she turned her knees towards him. His face was screwed up and red and wet and he kept crying fat globs of tears that ran down his nose and into his mouth and down his chin. She listened to him as attentively as she ever had and felt his pain. She felt it. She had never known what he had been through, nor would she ever, but she hated it. She hated seeing him so sad and agonized it felt as if her heart had been cinched too tight.

"I'm sorry," Astrid whispered between his blubbering words.

Hiccup glanced at her through the corner of his eye, but quickly hid his face with his hand, utterly ashamed. "I can't do this anymore, Astrid. I can't still feel this way. I can't," he started shaking his head. "I can't…."

Hiccup bottled it up deep, these feelings about his mother. He hardly spoke about her at all. Astrid had never had an inkling about his complicated and twisted feelings. Hiccup swallowed and shut his eyes. He looked at her just for a second and she could feel her heart break little by little.

She pulled his head to her and tucked it just under her chin, wrapping him in her arms. He buried his face in her chest and she held him close and tight as he did for her once, running her hand over his hair and down his back soothingly. She felt a few tears of her own spill past her notice as he sobbed into her tunic. He was secretly broken and she never knew. What kind of girlfriend is she? She never knew.

However, she did know that she wasn't going to let this continue, him keeping all these things and feelings like forbidden secrets. She didn't want him to feel shattered anymore, to feel sad, to feel lonesome, because she wanted to be there. He especially needed that, to just know that she was there whenever he felt like shrinking in on himself like discarded things. He wasn't as hard-willed and she was, and nor could he simply ignore his feelings like Astrid had taken up very young. She wanted him to be okay, to not feel this hurt anymore, even if it meant taking it onto herself. She could bear it easier than him, she would bear the whole world if it meant that Hiccup wouldn't be like this.

You feel all their problems should be put before yours because you care about them so much.

All of a sudden, forelsket made sense. She felt it down to her bones and at the top of her skin and in the roots of her hair. So this is love?

Astrid squeezed Hiccup tighter, knowing now that she did indeed love him and then she felt something lifted off her shoulders that she didn't know was there. Other than that, she didn't feel any different, didn't see a shining beacon off in the distance, didn't hear any twittering birds or felt any zinging tingles down to her toes. She was still Astrid, and he was still Hiccup, but now she knew and understood the depths of her feelings—and how much further they can go—and now she had to help him.

Astrid kissed the top of his head and rocked him gently while she smoothed down his hair, not saying anything as the poor boy sobbed into her. He seemed a child, so small and broken, but yet so weathered and tempered. Exhausted, maybe. Astrid let him pour it all out while she simply cradled him.

After a long, long while, Hiccup pulled his head out from her grasp and unwound his arms from her waist and sat up, wiping his tears from his vibrant red and green eyes (she did notice how his eyes looked like the greenest colored grass). Astrid offered a comforting smile with wet eyes of her own and placed a hand on his cheek to direct his eyes towards hers because he looked away. Hiccup bit his lip and looked at her deeply, and Astrid could only hope he could see the love and care and sympathy in her eyes as she couldn't speak about such fresh discoveries just yet. She kissed a tear trail on his cheek, tasting the salty bitterness, and stroked his face, just looking at him contentedly for a bit.

"Here, lets lay down," Astrid said lightly and crawled to the head of the bed where she welcomed him with wide arms. He came to her and laid his head on her shoulder quietly without a word.

Astrid sighed and waited a minute to get her thoughts in order. "Your mother and mine were good friends, I remember. She asked me to call her Auntie Val and I did. She was a strong woman, physically and mentally. I remember she always had a big braided bun at the back of her head and I could only image the length of her hair."

"It was really long. And soft. It reached almost to her waist. She would ask me to brush it sometimes," Hiccup said in a tired voice, breathing in the smell of Astrid's skin.

"I can see it. And, I remember her eyes being just like yours. As green as emeralds from the faraway lands she would travel to. She brought me back a bronze brooch once; she said it was from some desert land along a vast blue sea. She told me it was the head of a lion or something, but of course I had no idea what that was—and still do, really—so she told me it was like a big yellow cat with great big paws and a golden mane," Astrid explained with an illustrating voice. "She said she once saw a lion take down ten men in a ring, swatting at them like they were flies with spears, and she told me its roar could awake all the animals to fight for valor and honor," Astrid snorted and paused to laugh. "I thought Auntie Val was the coolest. I wore that brooch all the time because she told me that the brooch reminded her of me. She told me that I could be a lion, take down ten men, and roar to waken all the souls to fight… that was one thing your mother was good at, Hiccup—it was making people feel good. She would come over to talk to my mom when my dad hit her and while they were talking I could hear my mom crying… but once they were done with all the mushy stuff, they laughed so loud and shook the rafters. My mom would smile like nothing had been different or better.

"The sad thing is, though, is that I lost that brooch. I was wrestling with Snotlout with it on and went home and it wasn't there. I looked for it until long after night had fallen and Aislin had to come and walk me home while I cried. I loved that brooch. But… I miss your mom, too, Hiccup. She was a wonderful lady. I always knew when she was over because I could hear her laughing from outside."

Hiccup chuckled a bit. "She did laugh really loud."

"And—whoo!—I bet that woman could fight, too. Odin's eye, I feared for those she fought, even the dragons, poor things. Everyone loved Auntie Val, and I always looked up to her. It was obvious your dad loved her just by the way he would look at her sometimes, everyone saw it. They hardly even hid that they were married, I think. He misses her too, though, Hiccup, everyone does. I'm sure not a day goes by where he doesn't think about Auntie Val," Astrid felt Hiccup swallow against her shoulder. "So it's okay, Hiccup. She's still here. Don't forget that."

Hiccup didn't say anything, only buried his head into her hair and sniffed.

Later that night, the two of them brought the four journals and the box downstairs to burn them in the hearth. Hiccup tore out the page resolutely and quietly while Astrid sat by and watched him burn his frustration and lonesome past away. He wouldn't show it yet, but soon he would look like a cloud was off his shoulders, and he would smile with the sun on his face. Hiccup was like that. He would bounce back and return to his old self.

Soon happened to be a week.

His father the chief came home a few days after the makeshift ceremonial book burning but Astrid never saw Hiccup talk to him at all. He didn't really talk to anybody, truthfully. He worked at the forge all day and night and when Astrid brought him supper a few times, the forge had an eerie quiet feel to it, though the forge was never quiet. It was still noisy, with the bellows and crackling of the fire and Hiccup doing his smith work—it just didn't feel the same. Astrid did most of the talking, brief as her visits were because she felt like he needed and wanted space, like he just wanted to be alone. It made Astrid a little depressed knowing that he didn't want to see her at the moment, and that was okay. Sometimes she didn't want to see Ruffnut's face, or even Auda's, on some days. She was just starting to worry.

Astrid began losing the little sleep she had with her rampant thoughts. She buried herself in her last dress at Hallbera's for her apprenticeship trial but it wasn't working out right; a stitch wasn't perfect, the fabric snagged, she pricked her finger and stained the fabric. Even Hallbera's witty comments hardly lifted her spirits and after a few days she stopped trying to cheer her up. In the little time she was home, Ragna clung to her and asked her questions on why she was 'sad', why there were 'shadows' underneath her eyes, and one night Astrid yelled at her and said things she didn't mean that left the poor three-year-old running upstairs crying. Astrid felt the hard stares from her family, she didn't even have to look at them.

"What?! She's driving me crazy!" Astrid exclaimed.

After a pause, Auda spoke. "You didn't have to yell at her like that. She's only three."

Astrid coldly guffawed. "Like you're a sweet sugar queen to her? Please!"

"Astrid, you know what you said to Ragna was unnecessary," Arnheim interjected before his daughters would start another Brawl.

"Don't talk to me about saying unnecessary things, dad, O God of Kind Words and Kisses," Arnheim reddened, ashamed because she was right on that account. "But you know how she clings to me! I can't do this right now, with everyone criticizing me," Astrid stormed out of the kitchen through the back door in a flurry of yellow and blue and went to Spike where she cried in the dragon's neck for most of the night. She sobbed and heaved and wiped away mixed tears and snot, allowing herself to look and sound ugly like she couldn't with anyone else.

"Gods, I'm a disgusting crier. I'm sorry if I've scared you to death with all the whines I just did," Astrid sighed and smiled, sitting back on her heels. Spike made a chortle that sounded like 'it's okay'.

"I was really mean to Ragna, wasn't I. She probably thinks I hate her," Astrid said quietly and just then, there was a knock on the door frame of the barn, and when she looked to the source of the intrusion, she saw Ingrid standing against it.

She looked tired. "Ragna needs to be tucked in. Do you want to do it or should I? I've already talked to her and she's really upset, Astrid. You have to apologize."

Astrid thought about it even though she already knew the answer. "I'll do it. Just give me a minute," Ingrid left and Astrid stood up to hug Spike's head in full, rubbing her cheek against her cold nasal horn and scratching some scales before she said goodnight and left.

Astrid quietly walked into her room, a few candles still lit, with Ragna sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her rag doll and looking down at it forlornly. The little girl looked up but looked back down quickly with furrowed and angry brows. Astrid sat next to her a good foot away and quietly told her she was sorry and that she didn't mean most of the things she said. She assured her that she was okay but that she would like some space from her every once and awhile. She told her that she was just worried about Hiccup but she was going to be okay.

"I love you, Ragna, and I'm sorry," Astrid said to her knees, but Ragna threw her face into her stomach to hug her aunt with teary eyes.

"I thought you hated me!" Ragna said into Astrid's roughspun tunic, and she had to chuckle knowing that she totally knew it.

"I could never hate you. You're too cute and too adorable for me to ever hate you, sweetheart," Astrid pulled the little girls arms from around her waist so she could lift her up from her armpits and set her on her lap to hold close and tight. "I could never hate you," Astrid said into Ragna's soft brown hair that smelled of child.

"I love you too, Aunt Diddy," Ragna said in a small voice that nearly broke Astrid's heart.

The next day, Astrid put some bread and butter and cheese into a basket to bring to Hiccup for a mid-afternoon dinner since she had seen the smoke when she had left for Hallbera's in the early hours of morning. It was a chilly and cloudy day, so she put her mother's shawl around her shoulders and set out. She could hear the metal clangs nearly half a block before she arrived at the front door. The forge felt much the same as of recent, and suddenly Astrid thought with a frightened sinking feeling that it would always be like this, but today Hiccup greeted her with a grunty 'hello'.

"I brought you some bread and cheese," Astrid said mildly to start a conversation, but she only got a 'thank you' in return, and that was okay, but a little more talk would have been nice. She missed talking to him.

She set the basket on the counter for when he was ready to eat it, and heaved herself up to sit on the counter next to it. She swung her feet quietly for a few minutes and watched him mold out a few chunky links for a chain of some sort. She became lost in thought so deeply, she hardly noticed Hiccup stopping his work and pulling up a chair to sit in front of her, albeit a foot lower. She blinked and saw him looking up at her with deep eyes, trying to find some meaning on her face.

"Are you okay?" Hiccup asked, swallowing. Astrid wanted to yell at him. Why would he ask if she was okay? She had been worrying about him for nearly a week! She should be asking him that question! It made her angry, him acting all oblivious to what he had been putting her through with his moody, brooding attitude. But… Astrid couldn't muster up the energy to be angry—a first for her. She was just so tired.

"Yeah. I'm fine," But she wasn't. I'm not okay, Hiccup, you fool. Say 'no you're not'. Say it. Prove me wrong. "Just tired." More than that.

Hiccup lowered his gaze to his hands that he held between his legs. He looked at his dirty, calloused palms and exhaled a long breath. "I can see it on your face, Astrid. You've been worried sick," he said slowly without looking up, and it surprised her that he could know that just by her face through the exasperation. Through her plain face, he knew. It made her feel vulnerable and open and exposed; revealed. She meant to hide that from him so he wouldn't know, but thinking on it, it would have been useless anyway, she realized. She just didn't want to worry him because she knew he would. Well, that worked out, didn't it? Stupid, Astrid thought.

"And I'm sorry for that. For making you worry," Hiccup looked up at her through his mussy hair, but looked back down to his hands in shame. "I've been too selfish in my own world to realize what I had been doing. I was just so… I don't know. Focused? Deep in thought? I was just thinking about what you had said and what had happened and everything, and I'm sorry, Astrid. I shouldn't have done that to you. You deserve better from me."

Astrid's anger and disappointment was gone. He was honest and repented suitably, though it still made Astrid sad he didn't explain—elaborate. "It's okay, I guess. Just don't do it again. I'm half dead on my feet because of you," she offered a small half smile and he returned it, but both fell once Hiccup looked back down. Astrid reached forward and picked up his chin.

"Look at me," Astrid said sternly. "It's okay to hole yourself up every now and then. I get it. You need your space. Hiccup Time. But you have to tell me what's going through your head during Hiccup Time. I'm not going to let you stew in your dark thoughts alone. I want you to know I'm here to listen all the time; every day, every night. Okay? I'm here for you, Hiccup. All the time. I'm here for you…," By the time she was done, Astrid had descended into deep torrents of sobs after trying to hold back. Hiccup stood up swiftly and embraced her and she cried into his smoky apron as he ran his hand down her hair.

"I felt left in the dark. You just didn't want to talk to me anymore and I felt so hurt. I was worried and scared that it would always be like that," Astrid Hofferson admitted that she was scared. Not of feral dragons or wolves or bears—of being shut out and forgotten by Hiccup. Gods, how strange was that? She hadn't realized what she had said until she said it and grew slightly embarrassed, but Hel, who would she be if she insisted Hiccup told her his feelings if she didn't tell him her own? A bloody hypocrite, that's what. "Don't do that again, Hiccup, please."

Hiccup bent and kissed away her tears while some of his own fell, muttering "I'm sorry" against her skin and in her hair over and over. He held her close for a long while until a light rain started falling outside. They both grew cold next to the window despite the heat of the fires and each others bodies, so Hiccup brought Astrid over to the hearth and sat in another chair and pulled her down with him without a word into his lap. Astrid held onto him and breathed in the smell of his skin, content she was with Hiccup again.

"I've missed this," Hiccup said quietly while he twirled a ribbon of her blond hair around his finger.

"Me too. I don't want to leave," Astrid muttered into the muscle between his neck and shoulder.

"No one said you have to," Hiccup said gently with a smile.

"I suppose you're right," Astrid agreed. Just then, Hiccup's stomach rumbled. "But you should really eat some of that bread and cheese. I'm sure the only times you've eaten the last few days were when I brought you food."

"Did I mention you're a goddess?"

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