A/N: Wow. This is our last chapter, guys! Thank you so much for sticking with me all this way, and I just cannot express my gratitude for all the support you've given me and this story. Did you know that as of posting this, this is the #7 reviewed story for this fandom?! That's just...wow, you guys. My mind cannot even begin to comprehend. Over 400 reviews? That's insane!
And with that, here is the final chapter. For the feel of this chapter, I tried to capture the emotion from Mumford and Sons' "Not With Haste". It's very much a "we've overcome so much, and we have so much to look forward to" kind of song. I think it's perfect here. (note that it's the same melody and chorus as "Learn Me Right", the closing song from Brave :) Love that movie, the characters were intriguing, and the animation was gorgeous!) THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for everything, my lovely readers. I hope you like the closing of the story, please leave any feedback you like, thoughts on the chapter, the characters, or the story as a whole. You guys are amazing.
Now, since As The Skies Open is finished after this chapter...can I ask for a birthday present from you guys? (my birthday is shortly after the posting of this last chapter) If you guys could break the 500 mark for the reviews on this story, that would just be the single best way to end ATSO and a fantastic birthday present! (it shouldn't be too big a deal, Chapter 32 had almost 30 reviews, and we need exactly 30 on this chapter to break 500!) Please? Pretty, pretty please? (hey, I didn't leave you hanging by not finishing ATSO) ;)
This has been a wonderful experience, but I'll spill my feels more after you actually read the content of this chapter, hahaha :D
Keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, which I shall start as soon as I can!
Chapter Thirty-Three: As The Skies Open
As Hiccup slid from the saddle, her world spun and her eyes threatened to slide shut. Only the flaring, hot pain in her leg kept her from falling asleep then and there. Toothless swooped in, catching her weight on his neck once again and pulling her rather limp form upright.
"Hiccup?" Astren called anxiously from a short distance away. She squinted against the setting sun, and saw him hastily dismounting from his Nadder, having landed beside her and Toothless. He rushed over to her, aiding the Night Fury in standing her up. "Oh, Odin, I think you've overexerted yourself. Why didn't you say anything? We've been flying for hours!" he exclaimed, worry clouding his voice.
"I wanted to fly again. And I couldn't let Toothless be stuck on the ground any longer," she protested weakly, fighting against the exhaustion. "He's been grounded for..." she trailed off and frowned. "Exactly how long was I out for?"
Astren shifted, as if afraid his answer would upset her.
"Three weeks," he admitted finally. Hiccup gaped.
"Three weeks!" she echoed in disbelief. She'd missed almost an entire month! How had she not noticed the steep slant of the sun, or the early sunset, or the new chill tinging the evenings?
"Come on, we should get you home before you fall over," Astren said in an attempt to distract her. Hiccup frowned at him, but otherwise did not resist. Her warm, soft bed sounded incredibly appealing at the moment. With him helping her on one side, and Toothless as an ever-present support on the other, she thought she might just be able to walk home.
Three steps later, her bad leg buckled underneath her; Hiccup collapsed, but Toothless was once again able to catch her before her recovering body hit the ground.
"Oh Gods, your dad and your dragon are going to kill me," Astren muttered. The air was cooling, and with it Hiccup started to grow chill, although she wasn't shivering yet. "Alright, up you go," the blonde ordered, covering his worry with gruffness. He lifted the half-crumpled Hiccup off of Toothless, opting instead to settle her into the saddle on the Night Fury's back. "Forgive me, Toothless?"
The dragon gave a happy chortle, his laugh rumbling across the hill behind her house. Astren smiled, patting his scaled black head, and led them down to Hiccup's home. As they went, Hiccup watched the orange light glimmer off the ocean. Despite her pain and tiredness, she was happy. This was the first of many days to come, a new chapter not only for Berk, bur for her and Toothless as well. And Astren too, she thought, and blushed as she recalled how he'd kissed her earlier that day. Absorbed in her thoughts, she didn't realize they'd reached her home until Astren was rapping on the door with his knuckles.
A slight pang of trepidation raced through her heart. For all that her father had been happy to see her earlier – she was still amazed by the public display of affection he'd given when hugging her – almost ten years of an unhappy relationship with her father still made her a bit uneasy about coming home. What if nothing had changed, and now, or in the morning, or the day after that, or the day after that, he went back to normal? What if he was disappointed with her all over again? What if she couldn't live up to the expectations for the new town hero?
The door was flung open, and Stoick's massive silhouette filled the frame.
"There ye are! I was startin' to worry," he rumbled, standing aside.
"Sorry for keeping her out flying so long, Chief," Astren apologized hastily.
"I imagine if it's anyone's fault, it's the Fury's. And I can hardly blame him," Stoick replied, waving off the teen's words. He gestured for the dragon, with it's tired burden, to come inside. "Thank ye for getting her home. Although," the chief paused, glancing between his daughter and the blonde boy at the door, "perhaps we'll have a talk some time. Man to man," he added.
Astren nodded. "Of course, sir," he said respectfully, but Hiccup noticed that he suddenly looked a little intimidated. "Have a good night. And, er...you to, Hiccup," the boy added hastily, uncertainty about whether or not the Chief would allow him to address Hiccup coloring both his face and voice.
"Bye," she called as Stoick shut the door and Astren turned back to his Nadder, who waited at the base of the steps to her house. Hiccup couldn't decide whether or not to be mortified at her father's behavior. Part of her was embarrassed that he was acting like this toward Astren, and part of her was thrilled to see that he cared.
Maybe that should have been evident to her, between their short but so very important conversation at the Nest and their exchange earlier today...but she still couldn't quite believe it.
"How...how are ye doing, Hiccup?" her father asked, striding back towards her.
"Um, I'm really tired, and my leg hurts. But I'm alright," she responded, still sitting in the saddle. She found herself unable to summon the energy to get off.
"Ye shouldn't have stayed out so late. Ye only just woke up!" Stoick scolded, although his tone was gentle. Although his expression was already concerned, his brows pulled together even further as Hiccup made no move to dismount. "Why aren't ye getting down? Ye should get to bed and rest," he suggested.
"Um, well," she stuttered, flushing with embarrassment. She still hated to show weakness to her father. "I, um... I can't get off. My leg is too tired," she blurted quickly, ducking her head.
"Ya should have said so sooner, Hiccup," he replied, stepping closer. He reached forward, lifting her out of the saddle as easily as if she were still a toddler.
"Thanks, Dad," she said quietly as he placed her on the ground. She swayed where she stood, a grimace crossing her face as her leg threatened to give out again. It was almost unbearable to even stand at this point.
"Odin!" Stoick cried, picking her up again before she could topple over. "Alright, to bed with ye. Yer mother would kill me if she could see us now, me lettin' ye fly only moment after ye'd woken up," he muttered, scolding himself as her carried Hiccup to her bed.
She felt very small, and memories of her father carrying her as a little girl stirred in her mind. Her father set her down at the edge of her bed, and pulled up a stool so that he could sit beside her.
"Gobber told me yer...yer prosthetic needs to be removed at night, so yer leg can heal. It'll help with the pain too, although taking it off might hurt," he added, watching her carefully. Hiccup gritted her teeth and nodded, signaling she was ready. Carefully, her dad pulled at the strap that was tightened around the top of the prosthetic, securing it to her leg. Hiccup hissed, trying not to flinch as the change in pressure made her stump scream in protest.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," Stoick apologized, still working to remove the wood-and-metal contraption from his daughter's leg. Finally, the strap came free, and he carefully pulled the prosthetic away. Hiccup whimpered as the movement jostled her bandaged leg, and Toothless hastily drew alongside father and daughter, crooning at the girl and nudging her shoulder in an attempt to soothe her.
"S'okay, Toothless," she tried to reassure the dragon between gritted teeth, but still leaned into the his warm, scaly hide for strength as her dad removed the wrapping of bandages around her leg.
"Hiccup, ye may want to look away. I need to put fresh salve and bandages on yer leg so it doesn't get infected," Stoick said quietly. Hiccup nodded, closing her eyes and hiding her face against Toothless' scales. The Fury would croon soothingly every time she cringed or yelped while Stoick was tending to her leg, and despite the pain, an overwhelming sense of family settled on her.
As her father secured the muslin bandage, Hiccup felt her eyes closing of their own accord. He must have noticed, for she felt Stoick grasping her shoulders and shifting her lengthwise on her bed. She couldn't muster the energy to move on her own, but he didn't seem to mind as he pulled the blankets over her.
"Goodnight, Hiccup. I love ye," her dad murmured quietly. Even as she dozed off, she felt him kiss her forehead and ruffle her hair.
Hiccup fell asleep with a smile on her face.
She was screaming. Screaming and screaming and screaming and falling.
Her leg was burning, too. Hot like fire and so painful. Why wouldn't it stop?
She kept screaming.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought she heard someone shout her name, distant and muffled.
Then there was a much closer noise, a mix between a croon and a roar. Toothless!
An abrupt nudge startled Hiccup out of her nightmare. She opened her eyes, breathing hard and covered in cold sweat, and met a pair of yellow-green eyes. Toothless nudged her again, concern clear on his reptilian face. She burst into tears, leg throbbing and painful, and threw her shaking arms around his long neck.
"Hiccup! Are ye okay?" Stoick's voice came from the second level of their house, where he leaned over the railing.
"Y-yeah," she hiccuped, trying to calm her sobs. "Just...just had a bad dream. I'll be fine, Toothless is with me," she sniffled.
"Alright. If yer sure. Hiccup, call me if ye need anything, okay?" he responded.
"Yes. Thank you, Daddy," she nodded, her childhood name for her father slipping out before she realized it. And although she couldn't see it, a fond smile spread across the chief's face at the nickname.
"Good girl. Try to get some rest," he added as he retreated back to his room.
Hiccup clung to her dragon for several minutes before she was calm enough to not panic upon letting him go. Toothless had settled patiently on her bed, careful not to squish her. Once she let go, the Fury rolled to his side and opened his wings, inviting her to fall asleep against him. Hiccup scooted over until she was pressed against the warmth of his scales, and Toothless let his wings fall again, creating a warm cocoon around the girl.
Hiccup fell asleep within moments, and the rest of her dreams were free of pain and terror, for even unconscious the steady, slow beat of Toothless' heart told her she was safe.
She awoke the next morning as Toothless shifted, raising his wings and letting some of the early light reach Hiccup. She groaned and stretched, fighting a wince as the soreness in her leg registered.
A knock sounded at the front door, and Hiccup realized that was why Toothless had moved. Already, the dragon had leapt from her bed, trotting over to the door and gently tugging it open.
Gobber stood there, grinning.
"Well, c'mon ye lazy lump!" he called cheerfully, waving at her with his mechanical arm.
Hiccup blinked. "What's going on?" she asked, tossing aside her blankets as she scooted to the edge of her bed, reaching for her prosthetic.
"Got a surprise for ye! From yer dad, of course. But from all of us, really," he beamed, looking proud of himself as he walked inside. She noticed, as she began to attach her fake leg, that he seemed completely unfazed by Toothless, who watched their interaction curiously and trailed the large blacksmith.
"What is it?" she asked, a little wary. Gobber's suprises weren't always...pleasant, even if they intended them to be. For that matter, neither were her father's.
"Can't tell ye, or yer father would skin me alive. C'mon, get yer leg on and off we go!" he replied, waving his arms and urging her on. Hiccup frowned, but continued to secure her prosthetic, wincing a few times before she managed to finish with it.
"Don't dawdle now," her mentor called as he headed back out the door, waiting at the bottom of the steps for her. Hiccup took a few painful, slow steps to Toothless before clambering into the saddle. He carried them both out the door, into the mid-morning – apparently she had overslept, underestimating the time when she first woke up.
Gobber quickly went back up the steps, closing the front door to her house, and promptly took off down the hill, Toothless trailing closely behind. Hiccup didn't waste her breath prying; if Gobber was not going to tell her anything, she knew he'd give her not further information no matter how much she needled him. As they made their way through the streets of Berk, she noted how curiously empty they were – hardly anyone was in sight. Gobber simply continued, and with a pang of anxiety, she realized they were on their way towards the center of town, where the Ring was. True, she knew that Berk had welcomed dragons into its midst...but the Ring was a source of such bad memories for her that her stomach automatically knotted in anxiety.
Then they rounded the final turn into the center of the town, and had Hiccup been walking, she would have frozen on the spot.
Hundreds and hundreds of Vikings were gathered here, perhaps the entire village. She saw wounded warriors, still recovering from the battle with the Queen, present, as well as children and elders and everyone in between. But instead of being gathered around the Ring, the entire crowd stood before Champion's Tower. At the base, slightly raised from the crowd, her friends stood next to their dragons, wreaths of bright yellow flowers on their heads as a sign Berk's honor to its warriors. But in front of her and Gobber, the crowd parted to allow a straight path up to the grand stone staircase. On the very top of the Tower, she could make out her father and the village elder.
Emotion swelled within her, and a great lump settled in her throat. Her friends had been honored for their crucial part in the battle, but this...everyone...
Berk was gathered to honor her.
Hiccup gulped, hands tightening on the saddle as Gobber led her and Toothless forward, his demeanor much more solemn and formal now. The crowd watched in quiet respect as their great victor proceeded towards the tower, nodding and bowing to her. Hiccup struggled to keep her emotions in check as they slowly made their way forward. Toothless seemed to fully understand the event, his head held proud and straight and high.
They reached the base of the tower, and Hiccup's friends smiled at her. She noticed that Snotlout's expression was a little hesitant, for now they were both acceptable candidates for the chiefdom, but Hiccup spent only a moment worrying about that. She didn't know what would happen in the future, and right now her father still had plenty of time ahead of him; she didn't even know if she wanted to be chief!
But she smiled back at her peers, and gave a tiny nod to Snotlout to acknowledge his struggle. He hesitated for a moment, but nodded back at her. Hiccup gave a small sigh of happiness – at least for now, the animosity between her and her cousin was over.
"Up ye go," Gobber told her quietly, gesturing to the top. Toothless went to take the first step up the staircase.
"Wait!" Hiccup stopped the dragon, who looked over his shoulder at her, pausing. Slowly, carefully, for her leg still ached from healing and from the nightmare, she dismounted. Gobber stayed back, letting her to do this for herself.
With one hand resting on Toothless' shoulder, using him as support, Hiccup stepped forward onto the first stair. Toothless moved with her, unerring as he let her put much of her weight on him. Step by slow step, Hiccup and Toothless made their way up the Champion's Tower. Though her footsteps were uneven, and she limped heavily, Hiccup held her head high. The people of Berk watched quietly and patiently as their wounded champion ascended to the top of the Tower.
When they reached the top, Hiccup found both her dad and the Elder beaming at her. In her hands, the Elder held two yellow-flowered wreaths – one normally sized, and one about triple the first one. Moisture rushed to Hiccup's eyes as she realized they were honoring both her and Toothless, that they'd both become an accepted part of the village. She blinked rapidly, fighting off the tears as the Elder gestured for them to spin around.
As Hiccup turned to face the crowd, Toothless alongside her as always, her father drew up on her other side. He wore bear hide cloak, carved shoulder-pads freshly cleaned, helmet gleaming as he stood tall with a smile stretching his face. She'd never seen him so proud; not yesterday, not when she was about to fight the Queen, not even when she was about to face the Nightmare.
"Thank ye all fer coming here today!" he bellowed, his voice ringing loud and clear across the crowd. "We honor Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, and Toothless the Night Fury, fer saving the warriors and the people of Berk from the Green Death. They risked life and limb for us, even though neither owed us anything. They've showed us a new way of life, one that will let our pastures and fields and children prosper!"
The crowd ceased its silence then, a great cheer echoing across the village.
"As a sign of our undying thanks, we give both of ye the yellow wreaths, an honor saved for our greatest warriors!"
The Elder came forth, and Hiccup stooped so that the tiny old woman could place the smaller wreath on her head. The woman raised an eyebrow at the Night Fury, waiting expectantly for Toothless to do the same. Toothless complied, and Hiccup admired the Elder's ability to earn his cooperation so swiftly. The stooped old woman placed the small wreath atop Hiccup's head head and the large one around Toothless' neck, and smiled at both girl and dragon as they rose again.
"To Toothless, we pledge our undying peace towards ye and yer kind – we will never again try to shoot ye from the skies, and ye and yer kin are always welcome in our village," Stoick continued, his voice still carrying even as he gave the Night Fury a formal bow.
"To Hiccup, we bestow a bearskin cape to ye as a sign of honor to our best warriors!" The people cheered again, and the Elder bore a pile of fur that Hiccup failed to notice before. She held it out to Stoick, who raised it up to reveal a full-length cloak, very similar to his own. It was cut to Hiccup's approximate height, and instead of being secured with two shoulder-pads like her father's, an intricately carved clasp about the size of her palm served to fasten it.
Even as she gasped, unable to fully comprehend the enormity of this final honor, she was grateful that she'd left her fur vest behind. The cape stood out starkly against her plain tunic and leggings.
Her father moved behind her, settling the cloak over her and then shifted again so that he could fasten it. She looked up at him as he smoothed the bearskin over her shoulders, and through the moisture in her eyes, she could see some gathering in her father's.
"I am so proud of ye, Hiccup. Yer mother would be too. Yer everything we could have asked fer, and I'm sorry I forgot that fer so long," he whispered, stooping to press another quick kiss to her forehead. She nodded, her face unable to contain her smile, but she didn't trust herself to speak just yet.
"Berk, I present to ye yer champions!" Stoick cried, clasping Hiccup's wrist, raising it up as he raised both of his arms over his head. The crowd broke out in cheers and shouts, raising their arms in salute.
Hiccup surveyed the scene, very nearly overwhelmed. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined herself here, receiving the highest honor atop Champion's Tower as all of Berk looked on with cheers. The jubilant shouts continued on for minutes, until her arm ached and would have fallen had her dad not kept his grip and helped her.
Finally, he dropped his hands to his sides, releasing Hiccup.
"Alright," he grinned at her, "why don't ye remind us why we've accepted the dragons into Berk?" her father suggested.
Hiccup beamed in return, fully understanding the hint. She swung herself into the saddle, her prosthetic clicking into the left stirrup, and made sure not to sit on her new bearskin cape. As soon as she was settled, Toothless crouched.
Then he gave a great leap, launching them into the sky. Hiccup's cape flew out behind her, and one hand rushed to push her wreath more securely around her brow. Beneath them, Berk roared in approval, the villagers voices ringing clearly in the morning air.
Hiccup threw back her head and laughed, a sound borne of pure joy. With her village applauding below, burdens that had plagued her for years lifted and got lost in the wind. She and Toothless would forever have a home here.
They rose higher and higher, Toothless' wings pulsing steadily as the skies opened before them.
I can't believe it. Simply said, this has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I know I've said it over and over, but I simply cannot express enough my appreciation for you lovely readers. For those of you who have stuck with me since the beginning, thank you! You're support motivated me to really take this whole thing on. To those of you who have joined somewhere in the middle, thank you! Seriously, you all helped me to keep going when it got tough, and the support that continued to build for this story is just astounding. I hope you don't mind leaving me a review, telling me what you think of the now-complete As The Skies Open? Please? :) (ps: how'd you like that last line?)
I hope you enjoyed every moment of this story as much as I have. Hiccup and Toothless are so much a part of my writing, I doubt it will be long before I start working on the sequel!
Again, you guys are the best. All the PMs, all the reviews, all the likes, favs, and encouragement...it was simply heartwarming. I couldn't ask for more supportive readers. Take this chapter as an expression of my gratitude to you all, not much angst, but hopefully you enjoyed Hiccup's chance to finally be happy!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this a wonderful experience! I'm so sad it's over...but I'm sure I won't be able to stay away long! Leave suggestions for the sequel in a PM or a review, you guys already know how much I love feedback in any and every form.
With much love, some tears, and infinite thanks,
Rays of Color