Read Hitchups first. I repeat: Read Hitchups first. Or you will read this and think, "what, what, what?"
To those who have read Hitchups:
Without A Hitch is a series of one-shots capturing moments of Hiccup's life. Some occur many, many years after Hitchups, some occur as off-screen Hitchups scenes, and some occur during his childhood before he made that fateful decision. Some will follow Hiccup and Toothless exclusively and some may deviate into the lives of other Berkians. There is no particular order that the chapters come, you'll have to look at the title for some guidance and the date before each chapter.
But for now I will start this story at the end.
P.R. (Post Ragnarök)
That's what they called it—those lucky few with the opportunity to prepare for death. Those who were lucid in their last breaths, who knew when death was inevitable, spent their final thoughts reflecting on their lives. From silent eulogies conducted in the privacy of their hearts to loud laments directed at their chosen faith, humans wanted to find meaning in their lives and deaths.
Not Hiccup. He had every intention of clearing his head and rushing straight into the afterlife. No lamentation necessary. No nostalgia. He harbored no fear for what awaited him on the Other Side and held no attachment to this world. He was ready to let go.
Unfortunately for Hiccup, his mind had a mind of its own.
Humans weren't meant to live forever.
His head dropped against the wall. Dull pain resonated through his skull but he couldn't feel it—not really. Not amongst the throbbing and the numbing blood loss that kept his wits at bay, and certainly not with the sting of countless abrasions and the thirst that clawed his throat and tongue.
He didn't remember sliding down the bricks, or the ache in his knees as they buckled under his dead weight, but somehow Hiccup ended up seated on stained tarmac. A bloated body of a soldier lay next to him, the silhouette of another just feet beyond—and another, and another, all trailing to the mouth of the alley where yet more bodies dotted the smoke stricken streets. Only the body at his side called for Hiccup's attention, its state of decay fouling the air. In truth, Hiccup couldn't tell if it were a soldier that accompanied him or a civilian; the line had been blurred back when the human population first dropped into the millions.
The ground beneath his neighbor was black with dried blood—caked and flaky compared to the moist, rotting flesh it once seeped from and a stark contrast his own blood creeping along the pitch. Hiccup watched the warm, bright red roll over the stone and slide between cracks.
He was draining and he would do nothing to staunch it. Why would he?
Because humans weren't meant to live forever.
Hiccup hated the vibrant, healthy hue of his blood: the blood of a younger man, from a body no older than half-a-century. He wanted black blood. Thick and dead and sluggish, like the boy next to him. He wanted his blood to match his mind and to match his soul.
His irritation flickered and cooled. Young blood ran quicker, and this blood fled from his body and soaked his clothes. The faster he drained, the sooner he could rest.
His breath came shallow now—partly to suffer the stench of his surroundings and partly because he lacked the strength to manage a full lungful of air. His head pounded. His tongue ached for drink. His eyelids dipped and closed. There was nothing pretty to look at anyway; nothing worth effort against the sweet pull of death.
Hiccup would die in this alley, alone and filthy, and the thought appealed to him. Eternal sleep had eluded him for too long.
He should have died years ago. Decades ago. Centuries. His mind had broken time and again and it was impossible to desensitize himself enough not to care. Every woman that had grown old without him, every child that passed before him...it tore at his mentality like the poisoned claws of a Nightshade. Manticores and unicorns. Mermaids, sea serpents and dragons. Gods. They were meant to live forever. Not men. Not him.
Hiccup swallowed dryly. He heard a rasping noise and wondered if it were his own voice. Was he laughing? Was he breathing? He couldn't tell. The world sounded as though his ears were stuffed with cotton and the air tasted of pestilence.
Is this the taste he would die with in his mouth? Would it matter? Which memories followed in death—if any did at all: those final, agonizing breaths and surreal visuals? Or just those of the beginning, when he felt truly alive?
Hiccup peered again at the body beside him. It was male, young by the hair roots and muscle tone, but it was impossible to tell how handsome the lad had once been with a swollen face crawling with maggots and ants. Hiccup was more interested in the bulging pockets of the cargo pants. His passing was too slow and his mind too active. He needed something more than blood loss to numb him.
Pity his arms felt too heavy to bother searching the body.
"Got a light?" Hiccup croaked to his alley partner. A fly ran from the man's sunken nose cavity to his forehead.
Hiccup snorted. Cigarettes were more rare than money; he had seen men killed over a pack. The likelihood that the young soldier had any on his person was bordering impossible, but Hiccup could not deny that he wouldn't mind dying with one in his mouth. A disgusting habit that churned bad breath and bad skin, but he lost his care for such things when he had less and less to live for.
"How 'bout a—" Hiccup coughed, blood speckled his bottom lip. "...drink?"
Hiccup missed alcohol more than smoking. It had become a crutch periodically throughout his life and had sourced a number of memorable mistakes, but the need to numb his senses was ever present in his life. More so now than in recent memory. He heard they'd begun production again.
First alcohol would come back. Then civilization. Then government. Then corruption. That's usually how it worked.
Maybe it was because he sat in a ruined city, grayed in every sense but body—maybe it was because he suddenly wanted to remember something other than the man he was these last few years, but cameras flew to Hiccup's mind as he struggled with his final inhalations.
He had not seen a camera in nearly five years. A pity: that was one of his favorite inventions. The hearts of humans could fall in love over and over again, the phantom sensations left by deep emotions would imprint on the soul for eternity, but faces would always fade from memory. Pictures captured a moment, actions and stories and faces, so that even years later he could ignite a shadow of the stirrings someone once gave him. A wife. A child. A hope. A regret.
Hiccup hummed an old tune as he attempted to recreate in his mind the last photo he ever saw. He couldn't.
Even pictures lost their effect when senility settled in. He tried to grasp onto memories but they slipped through his lumbering attempts at organizing his thoughts. His mind was overripe like the fruit that had past its prime on the branch and was left to shrivel and perish feet above the earth, held captive by the tree and unable to join the earth in its decay. It worked like the hands of a centenarian with bone-cancer: clumsy, sluggish and frustratingly brittle. The longer he lived, the less he remembered.
The less he cared.
Oh. The apathy.
Hiccup sent two, silent curses towards the heavens—one to the gods, and one to that loathsome Night Fury. They were supposed to do this together. Live together and die together. But Hiccup had gone fourteen years without his familiar, and that took a far greater toll on his mind than anything else. He could deal with tragedies and heartbreak. He still knew how to cry before Toothless died, and crying was one of the greatest reliefs humans had at their disposal. There was a reason they cried out of emotion; it was for the same reason they laughed and screamed, murdered and sacrificed. It was a human necessity of release.
His grip on reality slipped faster and faster with every day he was forced to suffer Midgard without his other half. The others could see it too.
Hiccup started. The movement ripped pain through his obliques.
Those were her words. Suffer Midgard. And suffer he did.
Hiccup grinned. Blood colored his teeth red but no one was around to admire his smile.
The words of the tune he hummed came to him. "My body is a cage... we take what we are given..."
He was done living. He was done suffering. He lived through enough—through his great loves and great regrets and many, many should-have-been deaths. Through the children he learned long ago not to have because watching them die hurt too much, a lesson he took too long to learn and the scars upon his heart would never fade.
Instead, he learned to make everyone his child. He learned to imprint on lives, to see potential in each generation and help it come to pass. He learned that the young and inexperienced had wisdom of their own. He learned to listen to them because too much confidence in ones own experience stopped growth. Then he learned to stop growing.
Now he really needed that drink. He could drink to he lives he saved and the lives he'd taken. To the life he wanted to give up for centuries.
But that lead straight back to the problem.
"Just because you've forgotten...doesn't mean you're forgiven."
Humans didn't just die because their bodies had an expiration date on them. They died because their minds earned the reward of eternal rest. They died because the heart was too stupid to know when it had too much.
So today he would die.
Any moment now.
"I'm living in an age," Hiccup's voice dipped to a whisper. His eyes lowered. He didn't want to look at the bodies around him.
He could have gotten out of here earlier, out of this town, but he didn't. Maybe he knew. Maybe somewhere, through instincts or forethought, he knew he would find a way out by staying. A final out. There wasn't anything left for him to do in this world. They had no choice but to let him die.
His blood continued to stream outward like the growing branches of a tree. His stomach was hot and sticky. His shirt was ruined.
The world was soon to find its upswing. Rebirth was upon Midgard, Hiccup didn't need to see it come to pass.
They couldn't ask anything more of him. They wouldn't dare.
"Just because you've forgotten, doesn't mean you're forgiven."
Hiccup's ear twitched. A steady thud of feet marched upon the earth. They were coming. He could hear them in their uniformity and terror, and they would pass him. This he knew. He was just another body on a side street. All he had to do was wait for death to take him, pale, with a blood crusted beard and eyes as grey as the city walls. It would be peaceful; the pain had dulled enough to ignore and he had nothing left to addle his mind with. Hiccup did more than fight in Ragnarök; he trained those who would continue to fight for the future. He touched the world. He served his purpose. He just wanted to sleep.
His eyes closed.
His eyes were green once. Like his soul used to be. A fresh green, as fresh as his mind had been. Eyes that matched his body.
Death had to be earned, someone told him. Death in one world foretold the paths of the next.
Who told him that?
Hiccup bit his lip. All he wanted to do was sleep. He was old and he was tired.
But who told him that?
Death had to be earned. An old voice with no gender that he could recall told Hiccup this. He was young when the advice came to him. There were others around him.
Hiccup scowled. He hated senior citizens. He hated the special treatment they received simply because their bodies had given out along with their minds. He wanted that.
Yet his eyes reopened to stare at the wall that had faced him. Chipped bricks darkened by fire. Beneath that, graffiti. Hiccup tried to picture those bricks centuries ago, when they were bright and heavy and stacked one upon the other by the hands of immigrants.
Hiccup had been civilized and removed from the Viking way early in his life; his birth culture had all but vanished as the world spun new religions and power shifted about the globe with child-like flitting, and he let it. He welcomed innovation and progress. He spitefully ignored the traditions of his forefathers, and then the seas swallowed the islands and coasts of the world, burying the lands of his forefathers for eternity, Hiccup allowed it.
He never cared for the Viking way. He had his way.
Strange. The faintest touches of bitterness touched the back of his throat, tainting the coppery coating with a sour bite. He hadn't felt anything but indifference towards Berk for a very long time. He was a boy when he last let his childhood bother him. How queer that such a feeling revisited him on the moment of his death.
Green eyes. Death had to be earned.
He wanted to sleep, but he couldn't die sleeping. He could not sit and let death take him. Not if he could hear them coming. Not when his death was guaranteed, anyway.
Death in one world foretells the paths of the next. Doubtless, Viking mentality.
"Damn," Hiccup whispered. What was he doing? All he had to do was sit there. It was time for his eternal rest. It was time for him to find Toothless again.
Yet a groan pushed passed his lips as he leaned sideways and reached for the pack on the soldier's hip. His fingers fumbled, slow and heavy in his fading conscious, until he grasped the smooth glass of a vial.
He remembered now. Moments away from peace and Hiccup had to remember sitting with his peers in the Meade Hall. He remembered having to kneel on the bench to properly see over the table and listening to the gyðja give a lesson on the old customs.
Even then she marked his life. Dead for eons and he still let her.
Hiccup's heart felt light and jumpy even before he injected the adrenaline into his body.
He never cared for Vikings in his life; he could never live as one.
Perhaps he would die as one.
And with that, the first chapter of Without a Hitch is FINALLY done. This is particular chapter is part one of two. The final chapter will be placed at the end of this story...like an AU one-shot sandwhich, beginning and ending on the same note...but that's a long way off. The title 'The Lesson' is from Maya Angelou's poem, which I thought was a beautiful fit for this story.
The ball has started rolling on this little project. If there's anything you guys are curious about in the Hitchups AU universe, anything that was alluded to in that story or this one, just let me know in a review and I'll see about making a one-shot about it.
It was a bit of a mess being the introspection of an old man and all. I only wanted to hint at the situation the world was in and let your imaginations fill in the blanks; the same goes for the life Hiccup led. To be honest I wasn't very confident in it until I got some good feedback on DA.
So what do you think? Did it drag on too long? Too confusing? Where is Toothless?
P.S. If you're reading this and you have not read Hitchups: shame on you!