A/N: This has been eating at my head and I wanted to at least get the first chapter up before Christmas and use it as a way of working through my HTTYD writer's block so that I can crank out the next chapter of How to Foil an Outcast's Plan.
This takes place in a separate continuity than HTFAOP and the Guardian of Screwing Up series and if you look very carefully, you might find little injokes about various holiday movies and specials threaded in. Enjoy and Happy Snoggletog to all!
It's the Great Spirit Sleigh, Hiccup Haddock
Chapter One: The Village Without a Snoggletog Tree
It was official: Snoggletog was ruined. Hiccup had ruined it just like he ruined just about everything.
"Hiccup." The disappointment in his father's voice was overwhelming this time, somehow worse than the countless times he'd heard disappointment in his voice before.
"I was just trying to make it better. Only, uh, that resulted in setting it on fire. Not exactlyhow I was envisioning it going, but you know, combining the Snoggletog tree with a weapon to take down a dragon wasn't a bad idea in principle, given that they burn it down just about every yea -"
"Hiccup," his father interrupted, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose, "go back to the house."
Hiccup looked up at the annoyed and disappointed faces of the villagers standing around in the snow. There was another mild explosion behind them that made them all pause their glaring enough to wince, but they quickly went back to glaring again. Even Gobber was shaking his head at him. Turning away, shoulders drooping, head hanging, Hiccup started stomping back to the house, leaving his father behind to clean up his mess.
He heard the disappointed mutterings of the other villagers behind him as he left.
"That boy is alwaysmaking a mess of things - "
"- Can't walk two steps without ruining something-"
"Mommy, what if Odin isn't happy about not having an offering and a tree? What if he doesn't bring presents this year?"
"Don't get your hopes up, dear. Hopefully, he'll come next year. That boy, I swear he's just about useless..."
Hiccup sighed, briefly closing his eyes. Because of it, he didn't notice the shoulder that was shoved towards him, causing him to fall over and barrel face first into the snow. Wiping snow off his face, he looked up to see an angry Snotlout standing there, with Fishlegs, the twins, and Astrid standing right behind him. For once, he didn't really try to protest the usual epithets and insults, because he pretty much 100% deserved them.
"I know you're used to messing things up, like, every day, but you couldn't let it rest for oneSnoggletog?" shouted Snotlout, waving his arms.
"Without a tree and the Snoggletog offering, Odin's going to skip us this year and it's all your fault," said Ruffnut scathingly.
"Way to go at messing stuff up for everybody instead of just youthis time," said Tuffnut.
Fishlegs didn't have any insults to offer, but he did give Hiccup an upset look, making it clear how angry and disappointed he was.
Snotlout moved to possibly kick Hiccup or punch him, but Astrid grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"Snotlout," was all she said in a warning tone of voice. Generally speaking, she didn't interfere in how the others treated Hiccup but she wouldn't tolerate it if it went too far, especially when he was so much weaker than the rest of them.
The teens turned to walk away, leaving Astrid to face Hiccup, sitting in the snow.
Even though she'd stopped the others, she wasn't letting him off the hook without saying something herself.
"Astrid, I just -"
"You could have just sat back and let us all have a good holiday, but no, as usual, you had to mess it up for everyone because you never think things through. Thanks a lot," she said, crossing her arms. "You're selfish, Hiccup. You're always selfish and it's all the more disappointing because this time of the year is when people aren't supposedto be."
The disappointment in her voice hurt more than anything else. It was almost like she thought he was capable of better. Almost.
With that, she turned and stomped away to help clean up the wreckage from the fire caused by Hiccup's latest attempt to "improve" things in the village and take down a dragon.
Lifting himself out of the snow, Hiccup headed back to his house just long enough to duck in and get his wooly hat, then started walking out in the snow. He knew it was dangerous, he knew he shouldn't be heading out this late at night, especially when it was this cold, but he was dressed warmly and he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep for a good while.
Besides, the moon was full and bright tonight, reflecting off the ice and snow. It was peaceful, at least, which made it a relief to walk out into its light away from the chaos he'd caused in the village. As he walked out into the forest and up the trail into the mountains, wiggling his toes in both boots to keep them warm as he walked, Hiccup couldn't stop himself from stewing in his thoughts.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, rigging up the Snoggletog tree with a mini-catapult. Dragons came around this time of the year to attack Berk as reliably as the sun rose in the morning. He thought it might help to have the tree itself thoroughly defended. If there was the added bonus of downing a dragon and changing his reputation in the village, all the better. He just hadn't banked on the demonstration leading to a fire that destroyed the tree, the altar that had the winter offering to Odin, and the cart with most of the food for the winter Snoggletog feast all in one go.
It took him awhile before he reached the high point on the cliffs that he was aiming for, the highest point he could reach safely tonight without getting too exhausted. Looking out on Berk, on the snow-dusted forests below, on the cold ocean reflecting the moonlight on the water, he spoke to the air, looking up at the moon and stars.
"Odin, I know I'm not really the type to pray. Sorry about that, I - I usually assume I'm the last person you want to hear from. But if you're up there and you can hear me...I'm kind of at the end of my rope here. If there's anything I can do to fix Snoggletog, could you just show me somehow? Show me how?"
He shook his head.
"I'd even appreciate just a sign that it can even be done. Because, I - " his voice cracked, "- I just don't know if I can do another Snoggletog where everyone hates me and I don't know if I can go another year with my dad being disappointed in just about everything I do. I'm so close to just...giving up. Because if it's never going to work, if I'm never going to prove myself to them, I might as well stop digging the hole deeper. I might as well just keep apprenticing under Gobber and, I dunno, fix pots for the rest of my life, living up alone in a cabin somewhere with only sheep for friends."
Wiping at his eyes, which had started watering a bit - surely just from the cold - Hiccup said, "I need to know now if I should keep trying to make something of myself or accept that I'm going to take over being the village hermit from Mildew someday. So, if you are listening, if there's any chance at all I can fix things, I need to know now. I just need some kind of sign."
He kept looking out over the sky.
"Anything at all."
The night sky and landscape stayed pristine, with no change. There was no storm, there was no crack of thunder, no lightning bolt out of the blue. There was only the pale light of the moon, the sparkling stars, and the faint light coming up from the village as they cleaned up his mess.
"I guess it's time to face the facts," Hiccup said to himself, his voice dry and toneless. "I should probably start coming up with good sheep names."
It was right then that there was a clap of thunder and a bright light appeared in the sky. Something bright went streaking down from it, crashing into the forest. There wasn't an explosion, so the background noise from the village probably blocked out the sound to everyone in Berk, but from Hiccup's vantage point he could tell this was something big.
Hiccup raised both eyebrows and nodded his head to the side.
"Okay, as far as signs go, not bad," he said to the sky. "I'll take it."
With that, he went running down the trail in the direction of the fallen...whatever it was. Naturally. Running right into trouble was just what he did.
It had not been a good day for the Guardians. The fairies had started stealing children again, leaving fetches in their place, the Guardians had gotten a tip-off from the Leprechaun and well, the rest was history - provided, at of course, that your definition of history involved ferocious battles and lots of people shouting at each other about their respective ideologies. (Mostwould consider that part of history).
The fairies wanted to preserve childhood by keeping children the same age forever. The Guardians understood that childhood had to come to its end. What they tried to affect was how it did, whether or not that hope and fun and wonder could be preserved, carried on into adulthood.
The fight had actually been turning in their favor until Maeve herself had jumped in. North had tossed one of his snow globes at the worst possible time, it had combined with whatever banishing spell she'd been working on and then there'd been a clap of thunder, a bright light, and they'd found themselves careening out of control into a forest. The crash into a clearing hadn't been devastating, but it certainly hadn't been pleasant.
"I haven't eaten anything in about a year and I still feel like I'm going to throw it up," Jack groaned from where he was collapsed in the bottom of the sleigh. "Everyone okay?"
There was more groaning as the other Guardians untangled themselves from the heap they'd found themselves in and checked themselves to figure out the answer to Jack's question. None of them had been thrown from the sleigh at the very least.
"I'm fine, just a few feathers out of place," said Tooth, trying to fix the ones on her head.
Sandy gave an okay sign with his hand, even though he was rubbing his rear with the other.
"I'll let you know when the world stops spinning," groaned Bunny, who still hadn't moved from where he was sprawled across the seats. He was still apparently trying to keep his lunch down.
"I am right as rain," said North, leaning over the side of the sleigh, "but the sleigh, she is not looking so good."
He hopped out to get a better look, and Jack took to the air to make sure there weren't any fairies nearby, ready to attack. There weren't, but what he found instead astounded him. The air had felt wonderfully cool but he sure hadn't been expecting snow.
"It was summer where we just were," he pointed out. "Did we get tossed to the southern hemisphere somehow?"
"Is possible," said North, eying the wings of the sleigh with concern. That was going to be difficult to fix. "Snow globe hit fairy spell. Who knows where magic took us."
"Wherever it is, it's ruddy freezing," said Bunny, finally sitting up, rubbing his arms.
Sandy waved to get the attention of the others and pointed up.
"Good idea, Sandy!" said North. "We can ask Man in Moon to tell us where we are."
North looked up at the moon. "Man in Moon!" He waved. "Hallooo!"
Moonlight was suddenly focused on them like a spotlight.
"Man in Moon, we are needing your help. Sleigh is broken and we don't know where we are -"
North broke off, looking alarmed. "What do you mean, you don't know who I am? I am Nicholas St. North."
North listened. "You only know Sandy and Tooth? How is this?"
He listened some more then turned to the others in alarm. "He says he does not know Jack, Bunny, and I. How can this be?"
"Don't you remember choosing them?" Tooth asked the Man in the Moon, concerned. When she got her answer, her eyes went wide. Then something occurred to her and she asked slowly, "What year is it to you?"
Tooth looked around at the others, darting around in place in the air. "Uh, guys, it looks like that magical explosion didn't just send us to a different place. We maybe got sent to a slightlydifferent time, too."
"How different?" asked Bunny.
"About a thousand years different." Tooth winced. "Apparently, It's 1012."
"What?!" Bunny practically exploded. "Crikey, are you serious?"
"Which makes sense, if Sandy and I are the only ones Manny recognizes."
"Manny, what should we do?" asked North.
A globe of light shot down from the moon like a shooting star, slowing down as it approached them. Filling the entire clearing with hauntingly pale light, it alighted gently in North's outstretched hands. It was bright and beautiful, like a little mini-moon.
"Manny says we should bury this for seven days and then it will be ready to use. He says to combine with one of my snowglobes and we will be taken home to right time."
"What is it?" Jacked asked, craning his neck to peer at it.
"That's a piece of the moon itself!" explained Tooth.
"Possesses very old, very powerful magic," said North. "Not ripe yet, though."
"It has to be ripe?" asked Jack. "It's a rock. This isn't a banana we're talking about here."
"This is old magic, Jack. It must be in touch with the Earth for a time to become even more powerful. Strong enough to take us home," explained North. He looked up. "Thank you, Manny. But what of our powers? Tooth and Sandy have believers in this time but the rest of us do not."
North clucked in concern at the answer.
"Manny says we have some time, but not a week, before our powers fade."
"So what are we supposed to do?" asked Bunny.
"Manny says we must find a child who believes in us," answered North. "At least if we don't want to be very weak before the end."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Again?" He threw up his arms. "Okay, sure, it only took me three hundred years the last time."
North looked back up the moon, listening. "Manny is wondering why future him chose Guardian with attitude," he relayed, amused.
Jack shook his finger up at the moon, his expression one that screamed 'oh no you didn't." "Oh no no no no no, don't you even start. I know you're a giant celestial orb, but if you did have legs, you wouldn't have any to stand on there. You'll eventually pick me for a host of reasons, not the least of which is my infinitepatience with you."
North smiled. "Now he is laughing."
Jack waved his hand airily. "Glad to know my sass is appreciated."
North looked up. "We will let you know if we have any more questions. Thank you, Manny. I know this situation is strange, especially since three of us are strangers to you."
"Hand over that orb and I'll get that little beauty underground," said Bunny and North tossed him it. He immediately started digging.
"We need to figure out where we are and if there are any people nearby," said Tooth.
"And find some shelter," said Bunny as snow and then dirt started to fly. After burying the orb, he stamped his foot over the dirt. "I know some of you are comfortable in the cold, but I can't stand it. Jack, mark this with a little ice statue, would you? We need to remember where it was."
Jack pointed his staff over the mound of dirt and created a little pedestal out of ice, with a little crescent moon at the top.
Right then, something snapped in the underbrush nearby. Jack turned towards the edge of the clearing, staff pointed ahead.
"Guys, we were just in a fight with some fairies. We might not have been the only ones thrown back," he pointed out.
Those that had weapons got them out and advanced towards the woods. There was another crack of a twig, then the rustling of leaves, and then noise that made it abundantly clear that someone was running away. Thudding footsteps crunched through the snow. The group surged forward through the trees, Jack, Sandy, and Tooth taking to the air.
Jack saw a shape flit between two trees and zipped down towards it.
The shape was small, and Jack only got a brief flash of a weird green hat and fur, before he snagged at the figure with his staff. He caught an ankle and the person tumbled into the snow.
The voice was young, male, and scared. Jack got a closer look now and saw that it was just a boy, maybe in his teens. The voice put him at thirteen or fourteen but he was either very small for his age or younger than he sounded. His auburn hair had fallen over his face as he lay there on the ground.
What was strange to see were his clothes, but then they werein the year 1012. Jack supposed fur vests, tunics, leggings were all the rage back then - and the Ugg boots were still a thing during their time in the future. (Unfortunately.)
"It's just a kid," he said to the others as they caught up, and he lowered his staff, then leaned on it so it would be clear he was harmless.
"Pleasepleasedon'teatme." He was saying the words so fast that the magic that allowed them to understand any language took a moment to kick in. Underneath the meaning of the words, the language sounded quite old, as if something in their heads had to shake off the dust first before it would let them understand.
"We're not going to eat you," said Jack. "What even gave you that idea?"
The boy peeked out from between his fingers.
"On account of the whole frost giant thing. I saw you make that ice statue."
Jack laughed. "Do I look like a giant to you? I barely break five-four."
"Frost giants, despite the name, aren't all giants, and even if you were the giant kind, you could just be a baby one," the boy pointed out logically.
"None of us are frost giants, I promise. We're not going to hurt you."
The boy uncurled out of his fetal position and looked at the group of them. His fear seemed to fade and slowly transform itself into something like excitement.
"...A bird lady, a giant rabbit, and three weirdly dressed guys." He looked skywards. "Well, I can definitely tell you came from the gods, because I can't think of where else you could be from."
"We're not from the -" Jack paused. "Wait, you can see me? You can see North and Bunny, too?"
Had they found a believer that quickly?
The boy nodded. "I've been expecting you," he added, excitedly.
Jack turned to look at the others and their quizzical expressions mirrored his own. How could someone expect them if they hadn't know this would happen themselves?
"You were sent by the gods, right? I was just praying to them, for help to fix things, for - for a sign - and - and here you are. A bunch of...whatever you are's, crashing down to the earth from the sky. Spirits, I guess? I'm not really sure how you'd be classified in the whole, y'know, pantheon here, but - "
"My boy, what is needing to be fixed?" North asked, deciding that was the issue they needed to address the most.
The boy picked himself up out of the snow, dusting it off of himself.
"Snoggletog," he said earnestly, and then he looked skywards again. "Didn't Odin at least tell you guys why he was sending you down here?"
"Details were a bit fuzzy," said North. He seemed to be thinking carefully. "Snoggletog is your…your winter holiday, yes?"
The boy nodded.
"Ah, because you are...Norse?" said North, looking as if he was thinking carefully, mining his memory for winter holidays in history that crossed wires with his own.
"Viking, yep," said the boy, adjusting his hat, though it was just as crooked afterward.
"The name's Hiccup."
That name seemed to give North a bit of a pause but Jack was too occupied with the name itself to wonder why.
"Hiccup? Your parents named you after a bodily function?" Jack laughed.
"It's an old Viking tradition. Ugly names scare off gnomes and trolls." He paused. "Odin really gave you nothing to go on, didn't he. Are you spirits from other parts of the world or something?"
"You could say that," said Tooth sweetly, and she darted in and gently adjusted his hat so that it was on straight. It was instinct. "So tell us, Hiccup, what's wrong with Snoggletog?"
"Oh, just the fact that I ruined it," he said glibly. "Which is kind of what I do. With everything. Every year, around Snoggletog, the dragons come, and some years they've wrecked the tree, so this year I tried to rig it up with a catapult, that you could fire from the ground by pulling on a rope. Only, um, there were some mild issues with calibration and accuracy, and I accidentally wrecked the tree."
"And our offering altar to Odin."
"Annnnd the cart that had all the food for the winter feast."
Hiccup twiddled his hands. "Everyone knows Odin doesn't come to deliver the presents without an offering, so I prayed to the gods earlier to send help or some kind of sign it could be fixed." He held out his hands, his face bright. "And here you are. Go Odin."
"How did you wreck that much stuff in one go?" Jack asked.
"Jack," Bunny said, when he saw the rueful look on Hiccup's face. The boy's mouth was a thin, little line.
"What? Look, I have thoroughly enjoyed a destructive prank or two in the past. I'm not being critical, it's genuinely impressive."
"The village doesn't really think so," said Hiccup. He shrugged. "I'm used to it by now, but I just - I don't want their Snoggletog to be ruined. And for one year, it'd be nice if everyone wasn't mad at me, but peer approval isn't exactly the kind of Snoggletog present you can ask Odin to leave giftwrapped in your helmet."
Jack's amusement over Hiccup being a walking catastrophe faded. He saw something familiar in the look in his eyes, heard something ring with familiarity in his voice. What kind of person said they were used to being considered a failure? How could anyone be okay with making a child even feel that way?
Now that he was looking for it, even the way the boy carried himself, gangly and awkward and self-conscious made it look as if he ached with loneliness.
"Hey, uh, we need a little rest because we came from a fight with some bad, uh –" Did they have fairies in this kid's culture? "- spirits. Do you think you could help us out? Then maybe we can sit down and talk about helping you with Snoggletog."
"Actually, I know of a place, but it'll probably smell like sheep and smelly old guy, fair warning," said Hiccup, waving for them to follow. "It's not far from here."
"So...dragons?" said Jack, looking at the others. "Someone want to fill me in on that? Like the whole 'they exist' thing?"
"Dragons have been around for ages, Jack," explained Tooth. "It's just whe - wherewe're from, they've gone underground to avoid humans."
Ah, so that's where the myth had come from. Reality. Dragons had existed, but then gone underground, and been relegated to the status of myth.
"And that means, naturally, people think they're imaginary now," said Bunny. Looking sidelong at Hiccup, he said, "At least in those places."
"I wish that'd happen here," chimed in Hiccup, looking back as he skipped along. "We're constantly fighting them because they're always stealing our food. That's part of my whole problem, everyone in the village fights them, and it's part of being a Viking here."
"Why's that a problem for you?" Jack asked.
"In case you haven't noticed, my physique doesn't exactly predispose itself towards fighting giant, fire-spewing lizards," Hiccup pointed out. "Maybe towards, I don't know, lifting very small objects, knitting, and fainting very elegantly, but not so much with the throwing axes twenty feet in the air."
"Why is this problem?" North asked. "Not everyone is cut out to be warrior. This is why it is good that there are many other professions, all just as important as being warrior."
After all, he was a fighter, but his primary trade was making toys. It was building and designing and carving and creating. As much as he enjoyed a good adventure, that was his passion.
"Not here," said Hiccup. "Everyone fights here, alongside whatever else they do, and they practically do it from birth. My dad, for instance, supposedly tore a dragon's head clean off his shoulders when he was just a baby. They say he confused it for a rattle. In the day-to-day, he's the chief. That's why it's so disappointing to everyone that I'm, well...me."
Behind him the Guardians all shared concerned glances. It was an awful thing to hear coming from the mouth of a child, that they thought they were a disappointment. Hiccup's casual delivery was even more alarming; it was as if he'd simply accepted the reality of it, and decided that dry, self-effacing sarcasm was the only appropriate response.
The woods opened up to a little wooden house. It was run-down but serviceable, the roof and walls intact, even if they were starting to rot.
"This used to be Mildew's place. He kept coming into town too often, though, so they built him one even farther away from the village."
"Mildew?" said Jack, still boggling over the names in this place.
"He's just as pleasant as he sounds," Hiccup assured him, shoved the door of the place open and peeking around. "I don't think any animals have taken up residence. The sheep and old man smell probably kept them away."
Hiccup was right about the smell. It was pretty pungent, but opening the doors and windows let them air out the place and before long, North had gathered some wood from outside and there was a pleasant fire roaring in the fire pit. With the doors and windows closed again to keep out the cold, the heat from the crackling fire made the place fairly cozy. It made Jack a little drowsy but wasn't intolerable.
"Anyone got any chestnuts?" Jack asked.
"No. Why?" asked Bunny, holding his feet up to the fire to warm them up.
"Because between that and me being here for some nose-nipping, we'd be living in a Christmas song."
North laughed but Bunny just rolled his eyes.
"Is funny because it's true!" North insisted.
"Ignore him, North, he just can't grasp the finer points of Christmas-based humor."
Hiccup, where he was sitting on a broken-down bench next to the fire, just looked confused.
"I don't get it," he said. "What's Christmas?"
"It's a long story," said Jack, expression furtive, hoping he hadn't just accidentally introduced Christianity to a pre-Christian pagan culture.
"Christmas, Christmas… Does it have to do with that Christ guy?" The way he pronounced it rhymed with the word 'grist.' "I read about the people that believe in him in a book. They're, uh, not so happy about that whole thing with Lindisfarne, but we're not like the Mainland Vikings here. More with the colonizing and trading, less with the raiding…and murdering."
"That's good," said Jack, looking awkwardly to the others at the mention of murdering. Their expressions were all a bit awkward. Dark things like people raiding and razing and salting the earth weren't exactly their area. "I guess. About the lack of murder."
Hiccup, sensing that he'd tripped over something awkward in the conversation, cast about for another subject, tapping his fingers against his knees.
"Soo, what exactly is it that spirits like you do? When you're not, you know, helping people like me?"
Seizing the opportunity to change the subject to something more pleasant, Tooth said, "We're always helping kids like you. That's what we do, protect the children of the world as best as we can from the things that want to hurt them. We each have our own individual duties when we're not working together to do that, though. My job is to collect the baby teeth kids lose when their adult teeth come in."
Hiccup raised both eyebrows. "That's…slightly, uh. I mean, collecting old body parts is a little…well." He tilted his head and added generously, "Then again, Vikings sometimes have a thing for collecting the ears of enemies and all that."
"I don't do it just for the sake of it."
"Yes you do," Jack said in sing-song, and Tooth shoved him, making him nearly fall off the chair he was perched on.
"Okay, I'll admit that I think they're beautiful," she said, glaring at Jack, "but teeth hold the most important memories of childhood. When someone is sad or troubled, my fairies and I help them remember the happiest times they had growing up. I collect the teeth of everyone in the world – I even have yours, Hiccup."
"Why did you take mine?" Hiccup asked, looking confused.
"What do you mean?" Tooth asked, tilting her head.
"If the point is to keep everyone's happy memories of childhood safe, why do you take the teeth of the kids that don't have any?"
The shocked silence of the group made Hiccup look self-conscious again.
"It was just a question."
"Hiccup, don't you have any happy memories at all?" She asked, wondering if, in her fortress here in the past - and in the future - there was a puzzle box full of teeth that were devoid of memories of joy.
Hiccup sat there, thinking very hard. "One time, my dad almostsmiled at me. I think. It might have just been gas, though. Come to think of it, it probably was, the salted herring had been a little off that night."
Tooth took a place in front of him, kneeling and looking up into his face. She took his hands in her own and at first he seemed shy about the physical contact, but then he relaxed, fingers curling around her hands.
"What about your friends?" she asked.
Hiccup shrugged. "Don't have any."
"No one you ever played with growing up?"
"Does being shoved in the river by Snotlout count as 'playing'? Or, you know, being locked in various places? Like woodsheds? Or outhouses? Or, you know, barrels that were used to cure fish? I guess that can kinda count as a form of hide and seek. As in, they're trying to hide you by force and you seek a way of getting out of it."
"Why do they treat you this way?" Tooth asked, upset now, and bewildered.
"Because…well, look at me. I'm not a proper Viking. I'm a hiccup."
"I thought that was your name," Jack asked, realizing now that it maybe had a different meaning.
"It is, but it's also what Vikings call the runt of the litter. Hiccups are bad luck; most of them don't survive to adulthood."
"Your parents actually named you 'Runt'?" Jack said, voice cracking just a bit because it couldn't contain all the outrage. He hopped down from where he'd been perched on the back of a chair to land on his feet.
"Could've been worse. I heard that on the Mainland they usually leave babies like I was out to die of exposure. So when you look at it, I'm actually pretty lucky. Dad doesn't want me hurt or dead; he just thinks I'm a crushing disappointment and wishes he had someone else as his son."
Now, all the Guardians could do was stare. Jack felt something squeezing in his chest, something that was a mix of compassion and sympathetic understanding. He knew what it was like to feel unwanted and alone, but this ran far deeper for Hiccup than it ever had for him. For him, what he was, who he was, and whether or not he was worthwhile had always been a question he never got an answer for, no matter how many times he'd asked the Moon. For Hiccup, it seemed like the answer to that question from his village and father was that he wasn't worthwhile at all. It was harsh and heart-breaking and above all else, definitive.
"I – I don't know why I'm even telling you all this," said Hiccup faintly, as he looked at the expressions on their faces. "I'm a Viking, we don't do – we don't do things like, you know,feelings, or…"
He had to take a moment to squeeze his eyes shut.
"It's just…you're here now. You're spirits. You can maybe do the impossible," Hiccup went on, his voice very, very fragile. He opened his eyes and they were the kind of glassy that usually only happened in children who didn't want to be seen sad and only did it when no one else was watching. "Can you help me change it? I really just…want it all to change."
At that, Tooth swept Hiccup into her arms and hugged him tight and the expression on his face made it abundantly clear that hugs were something of an alien thing for him. Jack certainly knew what thatfelt like.
"Of course we will," said Jack. "We're Guardians, that's what we're here for. First things first, we're going to do something about those memories of yours. Then we're going to take a day or two to come up with a good plan and we'll make sure your village has the best Snoggletog ever."
"What are you going to do about my memories?" asked Hiccup, looking a bit overwhelmed by the hug he'd just gotten.
Jack slung his staff over his shoulders and grinned. "We're going to have a little fun."
"Are you sure about this?" asked Hiccup, clinging to Tooth.
"People do it all the time where I'm from," said Jack.
"I promise I won't let you fall," Tooth reassured Hiccup.
Jack had transformed a clearing outside into something of an impromptu ice rink, putting down a plane of ice over the ground, flattening out the snow. Then he'd fashioned some ice skates for Hiccup's boots out of actual ice. He'd made some for North, too, who was now casually gliding around like he was born to ice skate.
Hiccup took his first few awkward shuffles onto the ice and Tooth flitted around him, making sure she was close enough to dart in if he stumbled. The Viking shuffled about a foot or two before slipping back so that Tooth had to dart in and help push him upright again.
"How exactly is this supposed to work?"
"Your movements have to be fluid," said Jack, demonstrating by taking several gliding steps on the ice.
"Says the barefoot guy using ice magic," Hiccup pointed out.
Jack laughed. "Okay, okay, point."
He fashioned ice skates for himself, pausing for a just a moment in quiet reflection as he did it, before moving on, showing Hiccup the kind of gliding movements necessary to ice skate properly.
"Like that, see?"
"I wonder how this even works," Hiccup said, looking down at the skates. "To glide that smoothly, I mean. Maybe the pressure from the blade is melting the ice underneath or something, like when you rub twigs together and it makes them warm…"
"Tooth, just shove him," said an impatient Jack and smiling, she complied, pushing Hiccup gently forward so that he started gliding over the ice.
"Whoa, whoa, hey, going a little too fast -"
"There's no such thing as too fast," said Jack when Hiccup glided up to him and he turned him around slowly and shoved him towards Bunny.
"Technically speaking, there is – whoa."
Hiccup moved his legs, a little more smoothly now and found that he could imitate the movements that Jack and North had been doing and finding his stride a bit, he smiled.
"There you go, mate, you're getting the hang of it," said Bunny gently and he smiled back at him and turned him around gently, giving Hiccup some momentum as he glided over towards North, who had stopped to join in the game of Viking ice catch.
By the time he reached North, the boy's smile was even broader and the great big bear of a man took Hiccup by the hand, wearing a smile that matched, leading him in a circle around him to give him even more momentum and send him sailing towards Tooth.
"Your head needs to be up, Tooth!" said North.
Hiccup finally laughed now as the speed picked up, and to Jack it sounded like the laugh of a child who wasn't used to laughing. The laughter escaped from the place it was locked in, joyously bubbling its way out to freedom.
As they shoved him back and forth, he found that he was able to get more and more used to making the right movements to skate along by himself, and before long, he didn't need much shoving – or as many saves by Tooth and Sandman. He wasn't exactly skating like a pro, but he was careening along, almost in control, able to catch himself whenever he stumbled, and now they started to skate and fly around with him.
"Sandy, why don't you put on a little light show?" Jack suggested. "Let's make this whole thing more of an experience, huh?"
Grinning, Sandy complied, sending out trails of sand through the little ice rink.
"Wow, that, uh," said Hiccup. "That's…strange."
The sand started to take shapes around Hiccup, birds flitting to and fro, frogs hopping over the ice, fish swimming through the air, and Hiccup skated after them, playing tag with them, his expression aglow with the light from the dreamsand, the light from the moon, and above all else, the light of his own visible sense of wonder.
They made a game of it, chasing after the shapes and each other and before long, the clearing was filled with the sounds of their laughter – Hiccup's laughter, most of all – until one moment of distraction caused by a dreamsand butterfly sent Hiccup head first into a snow bank alongside the rink. He was still grinning as he turned over.
"You okay?" asked Jack as he glided up.
Hiccup just lay there in the snow.
"Better than okay. I didn't even know this was possible."
"Sandy's dreams, you mean?"
"Having this much fun," said Hiccup, grinning up at Jack. "It's new. Definitely interesting. I think my face is starting to hurt from laughing. Never had that happen before."
Jack smiled back but it was covering up the fact that his heart was breaking all over again.
"I have to get home soon, though," said Hiccup ruefully. "It's getting late. My dad probably figured I was just out walking, but if I take much longer, he'll start to worry. The last thing I need is him gathering a search party and me walking back perfectly fine. He's already annoyed as it is, it'll be even worse if he worries and I turn up alive and un-maimed."
Yep, there went Jack's heart again. He waved his staff and Hiccup's ice skates dissolved.
"How about I walk you home?"
"So how exactly does the flying work?" Hiccup asked, trotting along as Jack floated through the air next to him.
He was pretty much an endless fount of questions, not all of which Jack had answers for.
"And the ice magic?"
"Also no idea. The most I've figured out is that the power's inside me but I need the staff to channel it."
"Where exactly do you come from? Like which if the worlds do you live in normally? Niflheim?"
"We mostly live in the world itself, alongside all the people, hidden away. I come from a place way, waaay over the ocean."
...And one thousand years in the future, but Jack decided to leave that little detail out so Hiccup's head didn't just explode from the information overload.
"How old are you?" Hiccup asked. "You look a little bit older than me, but you're spirits, right? Are you as old as the world?"
"We're all different ages. I'm the youngest – I'm just three hundred and eighteen."
"How did you – how did you come to be?" Hiccup asked. "Did the gods create you?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you ask too many questions?"
"Pretty much all the time."
There went Jack's heart again.
"I used to be human once," he said quietly, deciding to answer Hiccup's question instead of making him feel bad for asking it. "We all did."
Hiccup looked surprised at that and looked over at Jack curiously. "How did you become a spirit?"
Jack was quiet for a moment, reflective, but decided to answer that one, too. It was still something he was coming to grips with but the past was past, and it was as much a source of strength as a source of sadness.
"My sister and I were ice-skating on a pond and the ice started to crack under her feet. I managed to keep her calm and get her away from it, with this –" He held up the staff "- but it meant I was the one that moved over the thin ice."
"What happened?" Hiccup asked.
"I fell in," said Jack, "and I died –"
Hiccup immediately jumped two feet back away from Jack. "Wait, you're dead? You're a draugr?"
"A draugr, like – like a spirit corpse-monster that –"
"No! No, I'm not like a walking corpse or anything." Jack hoped. He'd never really given it much thought, but he still breathed and his heart still beat, even if his blood was as cold as glacial water. "See the moon?"
Jack pointed up with his pointer finger.
"There's a spirit in the moon that watches over the world, especially all the kids in it. He saw that I saved my sister and he thought it was brave, so he made me into a spirit too, so I could help watch over all the kids in the world."
Hiccup relaxed now, his fears of being eaten by undead revenants seemingly assuaged.
"I'm sorry," was the first thing he said.
"For what?" asked Jack.
"That you died. Even if you got a second chance, that must have been horrible."
Jack thought about it. "I didn't remember living for a long time, so at the very least I didn't go looking for my family. Mostly, I just enjoyed the ice thing and – just made my own way, I guess. The only part that was bad was that no one could see me. With us spirits, at least the kind that me and the others are, no one can see or hear us if they don't believe we're real, which, of course, makes it hard to convince them we're real. I was stuck that way for a long time."
Jack let out a little puff of air. "Three hundred years, give or take?"
Hiccup stopped dead in the snow. "Let me get this straight. You drowned – which is a fairly terrifying way to go – then got reanimated with no memories of your life, then spent three hundred years entirely alone?"
"Thank you for summing that up," Jack said a mite sarcastically. "Yes, why?"
"I thought Ihad it bad," said Hiccup, eyes wide, starting to walk again.
Jack couldn't help but laugh at the way he said it, all wide-eyed astonishment, but the laughter faded, and he said, "It sounds like you have it bad in a different way. Me, I got mired down in my own mistakes, but I never really had anyone telling me I was a disappointment or anything like that, even if I thought it about myself sometimes. I just never got the answers I needed about what I was."
"Yeah, well, we're not so different with the getting mired in our mistakes thing. At least saving your sister is a big deal, though. Getting chosen by some great moon spirit for that shows that there's a lot of good in you. Even how you've been treating me, that's –"
He broke off, looking unsure what words to put to that, as if being treated like someone enjoyed his company was too alien a concept.
"I'm not like that," Hiccup finally said. "I'm not really the kind of person that could save somebody else. Sometimes I get into trouble and can't even save myself; my dad has to jump in and go a little crazy with the business end of his hammer. So, really, I understand why everyone sees me the way they do. I just have to – I have to do something to prove to them I can be – that I can be something worthwhile."
"Why?" asked Jack, wanting to poke and prod at that line of thinking.
"Why do you have to prove it? Do you really think the only thing to someone is their ability to smack a dragon in the head with an axe? Don't you think there's a problem if that's all your people care about?"
"It's the Viking way and I'm a Viking."
"Sometimes the best way to be something you want to be is to go at it from a different angle, to be that thing as yourself." Jack snagged Hiccup's arm with the crook of his staff and landed next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Look at you: Running right into trouble when our sleigh crashed, not even knowing what we were - that takes guts. Asking all these questions because you want to know about the world shows you've got a good brain. Wanting to fix things for your village - I know part of it is wanting them to not be mad at you, but you said you also just wanted them to have a good holiday, too."
Hiccup nodded. "They worked hard the whole year and – I mean, people like Astrid deserve …"
He broke off.
"I want them to be happy. I just … I just also want them to be happy with me. The problem is I can't ever seem to make that work and every time I try, something goes wrong."
"You want them to be happy even when they don't accept you. Do you know what that makes you?" Jack asked, leaning down to look Hiccup in the face.
"A good person. Someone who feels stuck on the outside looking in who still wants the best for people, rather than being bitter and angry – that's a good person. There are people who don't turn out that way, you know. There are people that just let all that loneliness turn to bitterness, that want to take it out on other people."
"So I get points for not being evil. Go me," Hiccup said flatly.
"Hiccup," Jack said just as flatly.
Hiccup pressed his lips together, shrugged, and said quietly, "Sarcasm's really all I've got here. I'm not used to this. I'm not used to someone talking to me like this, actually listening to what I have to say, saying things that are actually nice. Gobber's like that sometimes, but mostly affectionately annoyed. It's almost like…"
"Almost like what?"
"Having a friend?" Hiccup ventured, looking as if he was waiting for the rebuttal, for Jack to tell him they were nothing of the sort.
"I could use another friend," said Jack with a smile. "Especially one like you. I don't have that many myself."
Hiccup's eyes went wide with something akin to awe. "Okay," he finally said, turning away to keep stomping towards his house. "I know it's mostly pity, but I'll take it. I'm fine with pity-friendings."
"Hiccup, trust me. It's not pity."
Hiccup glanced back at Jack and there was a smile in his eyes even if there wasn't one anywhere else.
The trees got thinner and Jack could see an expanse of snow beyond them. Nearby, there was a fairly large wooden house on a hill, with ornate carvings all over it, and beyond that was a hilly town with smaller houses that looks very similar. They all looked fairly new.
"How long has your colony been here?" Jack asked curiously.
"Why do all the houses look new?"
"Dragons breathe fire."
"That's my house over there," Hiccup pointed, waving his arms awkwardly, clapping his hands together. "You're all still going to be here tomorrow, right?"
"We'll be here, Hiccup," said Jack. "I promise. We'll help you as best as we can and we'll work out a plan of attack tomorrow."
"Right, soo, I guess I'm gonna, uh, go face the music and get to bed then." He moved towards Jack as if he was going to do something, then took a step toward the house, then turned back to Jack, then dithered again…
Jack just looked amused.
"Do you want a hug? You're doing that dance that kids do sometimes when they want a hug but they feel like they're too grown up for one but don't realize the grown up thing is to get hugs whenever they want."
"I was – I was just –"
Jack darted forward and wrapped his arms around the boy, pulling him in close with the hand that wasn't holding his staff. Hiccup was tense at first, teenage standoffishness clashing with a desire for affection, but relaxed in Jack's arms. Apparently, it was okay to want hugs if they were coming from a spirit that had just offered to be his friend.
"Wow," Hiccup breathed out. "Two hugs in one day and an actual friend. I should've done this prayer thing yearsago."
"Go to bed. We've got a long day tomorrow."
With that, he finally pulled away, and grinning at Jack one last time, he stomped off through the snow to the back door of the house. Jack stood there, leaning against his staff, smiling as Hiccup went. He was just about to turn back and fly to the others when he heard a loud voice bellowing from inside the house.
"Hiccup, where in Odin's name were you?!"
There was a quiet answer that was just a murmur through the walls and Jack flew over to the house, concerned, landing on the outside wall. There were no windows for him to look through to see inside, but now that he was closer, he could hear the thundering voice of Hiccup's father and Hiccup's quiet replies.
For a moment, he wondered if he should be listening in, but the way Hiccup talked about his father, he had some slight concerns that maybe something worse than disappointment was going on. If these Vikings were all so violent and brutal, and his father saw him as such a burden, what if he was hurting him or something? He just wanted to make sure it wasn't worse than Hiccup said. The verbal stuff was bad enough.
"Out walking where?" Stoick thundered.
"Just out walking. I felt like getting away for a while."
"I told you to come back to the house. Instead you're out wandering who knows where into the wee hours of the night. I was this close to waking everyone up and getting a search party together -"
"Oh yeah, I'm sure they would've gotten out of bed for that."
"This isn't a joke, Hiccup! You never listen. I told you not to touch the tree, the altar, and the cart with the food and you set fireto all three."
"To be fair, with the food cart, you could just say I was cooking the feast a little early."
"Why can't you take responsibility for yourself? You ignore every order, anytime there's something that's important, you set fire to it or break it or blow it up, you're always underfoot –"
"Dad, I get it."
"- always running into danger so you have to be pulled out of it –"
"Dad. I get it."
"I don't have enough fingers to count the number of times you've – where are you going?"
"I'm not finished with you yet!"
"And yet I'm still going to bed. Funny how that works."
"Well then - then go to bed!"
"That was what I was already doing. You can't turn it into you telling me to do it after the fact."
There was the sound of something creaking and then slamming shut, maybe some kind of hatched door, and Jack floated up the wall to the second floor, ear pressed against the wall.
There were no sounds of crying or anything like that, just the sounds of Hiccup getting settled for the night, but somehow that just made things worse. It was the kind of silence that came of a child holding it all in. The silence lasted almost enough for Jack to fly away but then he heard Hiccup's voice whispering in the dark.
"Hey, Odin, uh, you were listening before so I'm gonna try this again. Please, please let this work. Thank you for sending the spirits, especially that Jack guy? Weird name, but having a friend is nice. Very novel. But I'm just tossing in a bonus prayer here since I figure it can't hurt: I just really, really need this to work, because I don't know what I'm going to do if it doesn't."
Jack heard him suck in a breath and when he let it out his voice was a little shaky.
"I'm tired of making a mess of everything."
Eyes wide, Jack instinctually held a hand over his heart as he perched there on the wall of Hiccup's house. When silence finally fell, he flew back to the others under the light of the moon, wondering it was fate rather than circumstance that had seen them sent back to this particular time and this particular village.
Whatever the case, they had to set things right.