Special thanks again to EvaninEreska; you know why. :)
And to Dominosowner, who reviewed probably every chapter. It really means a lot.
And to Eienvine, my very first reviewer; your encouragement was what actually prompted me to go on writing the 2nd chapter.
And to everyone else who reviewed, I can't list everyone out here but I really appreciate all the comments and the advice. Thanks for being patient with my mistakes.
Finally, the last chapter.
Fluffiness abound. Let's just assume that Astrid's being OOC is a temporary result of her utter relief at having Hiccup back again.
Flying on Toothless was perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences of Hiccup's life. But he found out that flying on Toothless with his friends – when they weren't hurrying to stop one suicide mission or another- was even better. It ranked right up there among the first five on his new list of enjoyable experiences, just a little below kissing Astrid on the mouth.
Odin, she had kissed him on the mouth. Twice. The first time, he had just woken up from what felt like a century-long sleep, his muscles had been screaming, his head as heavy as a rock, and his leg throbbing; he hadn't even had time to figure out where he was before she had leaned over him and kissed him right on the mouth. And it was nothing like that kiss their shared during their wedding ceremony. It was warm and great and felt so right. And it beat being kissed on the cheek. And she had done it again after they went outside; right in front of the entire village. She had actually been jealous of the fangirls he now had.
And he knew he had that goofy look on his face again.
Toothless peered at him and sniggered knowingly. He nudged the snorting dragon aside. 'What are you looking at?'
They had landed in the cove - Hiccup liked to think of it as Toothless' Cove – after winning a race with the others. It had been a little difficult at first, as Hiccup was still learning how to control the tailfin with his new metal leg. But then instinct had taken over, and he and Toothless had won the race easily.
Now, in the serenity of the cove, he sat down and looked at his metal leg. It still gave him a shock to see it, and a twinge of sadness. He wondered if things would be any different if his father had not forced him to marry Astrid. Would he still be here? He probably would have left on that 'vacation forever' with Toothless when he had had to kill that Nightmare. Then he wouldn't have found out about the Red Death and he wouldn't have lost his leg.
But then, he also wouldn't have what he had now. His tribe was safe, the dragons were safe; and they were all living peacefully together just as he wanted. And he was a great hero now. A missing leg seemed a small price to pay for all that.
And he had Astrid. That was the best part of all. What was a missing foot compared to not having Astrid in his life?
Besides, missing limbs were common among warrior Vikings. It helped that one of the people he most respected had a missing foot and a missing hand. His metal leg worked about as fine as his old flesh-and-bone one did anyway; and he was only about as clumsy as ever.
It hurt a little when he stayed on it too long, though. Oh who was he kidding. It hurt like Hel. But Gobber had said that was normal, and that he'd get used to it in time. Hiccup privately thought he would never get used to looking down at his foot and seeing metal instead of flesh.
As though sensing his mood, Toothless came over and laid his head on his knee, whining a little. Smiling, he scratched his best friend's head. 'Thanks bud, I'm alright,'
Toothless closed his eyes and purred. There was a deep, fresh scar on the side of his neck, a healing pink; Toothless had not escaped unscathed from the battle either.
A shadow flew overhead. Both he and Toothless looked up. Hiccup grinned stupidly when he saw that it was Astrid on her Nadder – Astrid had named her Stormfly, it was somehow appropriate that the dragon of the only non-hideously-named Viking had the only non-hideous dragon name. Toothless growled a little and seemed resigned that their little secret retreat was not so secret anymore.
'Hi Astrid,' somehow, he had overcome the urge to stammer whenever she was around.
'I took my eyes off you for one second and you were gone,' she said accusingly, getting off her dragon, who went immediately to the water to preen herself. Astrid came over, giving Toothless a meaningful look. Toothless snorted in disgust and moved away, and Astrid took his place beside Hiccup. Defiantly, Toothless curled up behind Hiccup, and when he automatically used the dragon as a backrest, Toothless sniggered smugly at Astrid.
'Yes, you're very useful and Hiccup can't do without you,' Astrid told him with a roll of her eyes, then focused on Hiccup. 'You okay?'
'I just got a little tired,' Hiccup grinned stupidly at her as she sat down beside him.
'You just got up today,' she said simply, 'you'll get your strength back,'
'Yeah…' he said. But she was peering at him with her trademark piercing gaze, the one that seemed to look right through him.
'Is that all? You're just tired?' she said sternly.
He flushed. 'Well… um. My leg hurts a little,' he admitted reluctantly, then yelped when she reached over and roll up his trouser leg. 'Astrid! Wait! What are you doing?'
She looked up, her hand stilling underneath his restraining ones. 'I've seen it before,' she said simply.
'You haven't seen it while I'm awake,' he said shortly.
Her eyes narrowed. 'It's part of you, Hiccup,' she said.
'Yeah. But it's really weird and ugly,' he said, 'Don't get me wrong, I like a scar as much as the next person, but…' he looked down at his leg, 'I just thought my first battle scar would be smaller, you know,'
Toothless whined in sympathy.
'It was a huge dragon,' Astrid said, 'Huge dragon, huge scar. It's a mark of valor,' she looked at him seriously. 'You saved our lives, Hiccup,'
'Yeah. Who would've thought, right?' he smiled a little. Toothless snorted, very loudly. 'Yeah, yeah. We know you did all the work,' Hiccup said, rolling his eyes.
Astrid laid her hand on his metal leg and looked at him quietly. 'Let me,'
He wanted to jerk away, but he felt as though this was something important, like another milestone in his and Astrid's life together. He was actually thinking about a life with Astrid now; it didn't seem too out-of-reach anymore. And if they were going to live with each other, his leg could not remain an issue between them, right?
He swallowed. 'Okay,'
She unfastened the metal with quick, practiced skill. She wasn't lying, she had seen his leg –stump- and she must have even helped put the metal parts on him too, while he had been asleep. She put the metal aside, and sat with his stump in her lap. Gently, almost absent-mindedly, she ran her fingers slowly over his healing scar. 'Does it hurt too badly?' she asked.
Something swelled in his chest; he rather thought it was his heart, and he thought it wouldn't be able to contain all the warmth he was feeling. 'No,' he said, his voice hoarse.
She nodded, not looking at him, focusing instead on her fingers as she traced random patterns on his knee. 'You'll tell me when the pain gets too bad, right?'
'Sure,' Hiccup said slowly, looking at her. She was too quiet, and looked too pensive. She wasn't going to start bawling, right? He had had enough of that when his mother-in-law had grabbed him and wept all over his shoulder in relief. While it had felt really nice to be appreciated, it was not an experience he was in a hurry to repeat.
'Astrid? Are you okay?'
'I'm fine,' she said, very quickly.
This was probably a girl thing; when a girl said I'm fine in that hurried way while avoiding your eyes; she usually meant the opposite. Hiccup wondered if it was wise to keep probing.
'It's just… I just…' she stammered. Since when did Astrid stammered when she spoke to him?
'It's okay. You don't have to say it if you don't want to,' Hiccup assured her.
I saw Toothless' tailfin on fire,' she said quickly, as though wanting the words out before she lost her nerve, 'I saw you go down. And then… for the longest time… you didn't wake up. And I thought, that was it; I'd never have the chance. I'd never be able to tell you that… that…'
She looked at him then, and her eyes were over-bright. Concerned, he leaned forward. 'Hey, are you crying?'
'No,' she said quickly. 'I'm…' she faltered, 'I'm just…' then, very quietly, 'I'm just really cold,'
Cold? It was summer in Berk – well, as summer as Berk would ever hope to get- and it was almost evening; it was warm enough for Hiccup to shed his fur coat. He looked at her, not comprehending. She wasn't shivering. A pretty flush was creeping up her cheeks. She still wasn't looking at him, and she looked faintly embarrassed.
He shot Toothless a look, but the dragon crooked his head to one side and shrugged an unmistakable don't look at me, you deal with it.
Hesitatingly, wondering if he had interpreted Astrid correctly, he opened his arms. Hey, the worst that could happen was that she'd hit him for suggesting it, and getting punched by Astrid was nothing new. 'Come here,' he said.
She scooted forward at once and buried her face in his shoulder. He didn't misinterpret her after all, he thought dizzily as he wrapped his arms around her.
'You scared me,' she said, without heat.
'I'm sorry,' he said, closing his eyes and just savoring the feeling of having her so close. His heart was swelling again; it could be a sign of heart disease, but it felt so nice he didn't care. 'What were you going to tell me?' he asked. When she didn't reply, he opened his eyes, looked at her, and found that she was blushing.
'I… I wanted to tell you… I want…' she stammered, and went redder. 'I just… never mind,'
'I went down in the battle,' he teased, 'I almost died. You nearly lost your chance of telling me. And now you're wasting time?'
She glared daggers, punched him on the shoulder, and everything was back to normal. 'That's not funny,'
'Right. Sorry. Bad joke,' he grinned. He rubbed her back as his heart seemed to turn slowly around in his chest. This felt warm and right. This was the tough, fierce Viking girl he had fallen for, and she was here with him, holding on to him like she would never let go. His dream was coming true in a way he had never dared hope. So this was what it felt like, to have the wish of an entire lifetime coming true. The world was sunnier, the sounds clearer; the very air seemed to sing; everything was vibrant and bright and beautiful, and the center of it all was Astrid.
'You were wrong, you know. I don't want a divorce,' Astrid said, voice muffled. 'You just… you make me happy,'
He made her happy. He had spent half his life trying to figure out what made her happy; and here was his answer. He made her happy. He wrapped his arms tighter around her and just breathed her in. She smelled like honeysuckle and fresh grass and the wind. His Astrid.
Then, just when he thought things couldn't get any better than this, she turned her head, brought her mouth close to his ear, and whispered three, very meaningful little words.
The last piece of his world clicked softly into place. And his heart was so full he couldn't speak. Instead, he dipped his head, and found her lips waiting.
He had been so afraid to ask her for anything, but now he found there was nothing he couldn't ask.
Toothless snorted in disgust and stalked off; but either of them cared.
Later, much later, Astrid snuggled back into his side.
'You should sleep,' he told her, 'You look like you haven't been sleeping well,'
'And whose fault was that?' she said, her eyes closed. She buried her face into his neck with a little sigh. The pull on his heart was immediate, and very sweet.
'Don't leave me alone,' she said.
He closed his eyes, kissed her head, and just clung. 'I'm not going anywhere,'
In his mind he thanked his father over and over for giving him the push in the right direction; hey, forcing him into marriage had turned out to be a great idea. The greatest. Apparently, parents did know what was best for their kids.
But it was still the one thing he would not subject his own children to.
And so he sat there, with the girl he loved and his best friend the Night Fury – who had returned now that the kissing session was over. And he thought of his father and his tribe and their new, scaly pets. In the words of Tuffnut Thorston, all was well in the world of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third.
Hey, if he were ever asked to tell his story, he already knew how to begin.
It all started with a boy who was weak, and scrawny, and different; who then made a choice –the choice- of being just himself.