A/N: And that's it, folks. No sequel planned so this is likely the last I'll dabble in this little universe.
See if you can spot the homage to a great Christmas special - incidentally one that's got a passage from the Bible, but the joke is more about the Christmas special. Also, I know a lot of you are watching and reading but not reviewing and now that it's over, I'd love to know what you think of it!
It's the Great Spirit Sleigh, Hiccup Haddock
Chapter 4: It's a Wonderful Life
Hiccup had never had a friend before, which meant he'd never had a friend in danger before, which in turn meant he'd never felt such overpowering terror for a friend's well-being before. He didn't like it and therefore decided he needed to rectify the situation as quickly as possible, preferably before Jack went into an incoherent panic.
"How - how deep is it?" Jack asked.
"Uuuuh, it kinda goes down to where the underground water is. The reason it's called Dead Man's Hole is because so many Vikings have drowned here because they didn't realize how deep it was, so that their bodies were found floating later in a gruesome -"
"Hiccup," Jack said sharply, his voice sounding like it had been shoved through the auditory equivalent of a cheese grater. "Can you can the Viking dramatic thing for now? Not the time."
"Sorry, force of habit," apologized Hiccup. "Can you swim?"
"No. I can fly and freeze water. I never needed to learn."
"Do you need to breathe?"
"Yeah. Like I told you, I'm not really your typical spirit."
"And you don't think you can fly at all?"
Jack flailed his arms a little and it did nothing at all to change his position in relation to the ice. "I'm tapped."
The ice creaked again, ominously and Jack closed his eyes tight, clutching his staff in a white knuckled grip.
"I can't - I can't do this again." Jack's voice was high and frightened and his words came out in huffed breaths. "I can't do this again. I can't."
Hiccup couldn't even imagine the fear he was feeling. Coming close to death was scary enough, but to die, to actually die, cold and alone and suffocated by the dark, it had to have been terrifying. There had to have been a moment when he thought 'this is it,' where he'd realized all he was going to miss out on. There had to have been a moment where he felt his life starting to slip away and then there'd only been the black.
To face the prospect of that again…
Hiccup moved to take a cautious step out onto the ice to get closer but Jack opened his eyes right then, and even though they were glistening with unshed, he held up his hand.
"Don't you dare! Stay on the bank!"
"But - "
"I'm a Guardian, Hiccup. I'm supposed to protect you, not the other way around. If you try to come out here, I swear I'll jump to break it on purpose."
"That's not fair!" Hiccup insisted, staying at the bank.
"What's not fair is a kid risking his life for somebody who's already lived more than three hundred years. You have your whole life ahead of you - I've already lived plenty of mine."
The ice groaned again and the jagged cracks started spreading out farther. Jack's hitched breaths increased in frequency. He was close to hyperventilating now and very nearly crying, though he was making an admirable attempt to reign in his fear.
There had to be a way out of this, Hiccup thought, casting about for ideas. He had no rope, there were no vines this time of year to toss out to pull him in if he fell in. The other kids weren't nearby and even if they had been, convincing them to believe in Jack quickly enough to help him fly would have been impossible, given their attitudes. They needed help, they needed -
"Tooth!" Hiccup suddenly yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Tooth! Sandy! Help! Jack needs help!"
Picking up on that line of thought, Jack started yelling, too. "North! Bunny!"
If one of the others heard them, even if they weren't one of the fliers, they could get the fliers. Even though they yelled for several minutes, there was no answer, though. They were too far off. Even if Bunny heard them with his sensitive ears, it'd take him time to hippity hop over to them at his current size.
Jack tried to take a light, ginger step forward, but cracks radiated out from where he placed his foot, so he stopped, freezing in place. All of a sudden he started to seem calmer, but it wasn't actual calm, maybe something more like resignation.
"If you run, you might be able to get one of them in time," Jack said, in a tone of voice that was very hollow.
"No I won't," Hiccup said, looking at how sorry a state the ice was in. Gesturing at it, he said, "Look at it!"
"Then if you run, at least - at least you won't be here to see," said Jack, voice hitched. He looked haunted by the idea, as if he'd rather be alone if he happened, and then it occurred to Hiccup that if he'd died saving his sister's life that his sister must have been there when he drowned. The thought that he'd rather die alone than someone be traumatized by seeing his death made Hiccup's throat constrict.
Jack was even trying to die unselfishly.
As Hiccup looked into glistening blue eyes, so very human and full of fear, he was struck by just how human they were. Jack was a spirit, but he was also a boy just like Hiccup, and the thought of leaving him alone was unbearable.
"I'm not leaving you."
Jack smiled a bright smile through his tears. It was forced because he was scared but at the same time, it wasn't, because it was a smile at Hiccup, for him, to show that he cared.
"You have a race to win," Jack said. "You need to go and – and fix things for yourself. Because this – this is happening either way, and I'd rather know that you're going to get what you need to be happy."
"I'm not leaving you," Hiccup insisted, in a tone of voice that made it clear that there was no force on the planet that could move him.
The Viking looked down at the ice, lips pressing together in deep thought. Then he saw how the cracks radiated out from Jack's feet, his brows furrowed, and he looked up at Jack with sudden realization.
"Jack, look at me. I know you're scared, but you told me that I was good at seeing things a different way, right? Right now, I see a way out of this. Do you trust me?"
Jack nodded a fragile little nod.
"Lay down on the ice on your stomach."
"But all my weight will be -"
"All your weight's already on the ice, but it's concentrated on your feet. You need to spread it out."
Jack nodded and carefully, very carefully, lowered himself down on the ice, trying not to cringe at the creaking noises of protest it made as he did it. Now on his stomach, he looked to Hiccup.
"Now shimmy like you've never shimmied before. Try to keep as much of your body spread out as possible so there aren't any particular points of it pressing down."
Jack nodded shakily and started to do as Hiccup said, sliding himself along the ice away from the weak spot, towards the bank. It seemed to be working. He was starting to get away from where the ice was cracked and more towards where it was solid. Unfortunately, when he dug a toe into the ice to help propel himself along, it was finally too much.
There was a loud crack, his eyes went wide, and then the ice collapsed under him.
Hiccup had never felt himself move as fast as he did when he dove forward, sliding along the ice and grabbing Jack's staff. Even as he went under, Jack was still holding it and when he noticed tension on the other end, he used it to pull his head above water. For a moment, Hiccup was terrified the ice would crack under him, too, but it didn't even creak.
For the very first time in his thirteen years of life, being a hiccup had paid off. Jack was just a wisp of a thing but Hiccup was even lighter and it was like the ice wasn't even registering the extra weight.
"I've got you - Jack! Jack, calm down!"
His flailing movements were just breaking the ice up more and making him slip in again.
Deciding that yelling wasn't helping, he said quietly, "Jack, it's okay. It's okay. I promise you, I'm gonna get you out of this. Calm down. It's okay."
It was the kind of soothing voice that one might use on a wild animal, but miraculously, it did the trick. Hiccup felt almost as if he was some kind of animal trainer, taming his friend's wild fear.
"It's okay. Just hold on, pull your head up, and calm down."
Jack did just that, spitting out water and pulling his head above the surface farther above the surface. Hiccup kept the staff pinned down with his body weight to give Jack some leverage.
"The worst thing people have to worry about this is freezing to death. Not a problem with you."
"But I can't – I can't –" Jack sputtered.
"Here's what we're gonna do. You need to climb up the staff and onto the ice again like before, on your stomach. This side looks sturdier, so do it here."
"What if it breaks?"
"If the ice breaks, then I'll just keep sliding back and either we'll reach ice that can support your weight or you'll break through it until you reach shore. See? We have a plan. That's more than we had a few minutes ago, right? You just have to stay calm."
Jack nodded and started to use the staff to pull himself onto the ice. More of it cracked and snapped beneath him, sending him back into the water and into a panic, but he managed to keep it under control, using the staff to keep his head above the water.
Hiccup did exactly as promised, sliding further back on the ice towards the shore, keeping the staff in Jack's grip but moving him towards more solid ice.
With Hiccup digging the toes of his boots into the ice to keep the staff steady, Jack was able to heave himself up onto the ice by kicking the water furiously. It cracked underneath him, but held, and the two of them kept sliding back carefully, Hiccup holding onto one end of the staff and Jack onto the other, just in case the ice cracked under him again. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Hiccup's boot met the solid dirt of the shore.
Sitting back on his rump and giving the staff one last tug, he pulled the exhausted Jack bodily onto the shore with him, where Jack immediately curled up in a ball in the snow and basically had a meltdown, sobbing silently, shoulders shaking, trying to suppress his crying out of what looked like embarrassment.
"It's okay. Jack, it's okay," said Hiccup and he pulled his friend into his arms. "It's okay. You're okay."
Jack's breath came in ragged gasps at Hiccup's ear as the Viking held him, ignoring how blisteringly cold he was after taking his dip in the water.
"There's nothing wrong with being afraid," Hiccup said quietly. "It's not really the Viking way, letting it all out but it probably should be, so you don't have to hold it in."
Jack started crying openly now and Hiccup rubbed his hand comfortingly along the wet fabric at his back, even taking a moment to push his wet hair out of his eyes. Finally, Jack took several shuddering, gasping breaths and managed to start the process of calming himself down.
"Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou," he gasped out. "You shouldn't have put yourself in danger like that, though."
"Well, you know, I'm a Viking. Danger's kind of – um – " Hiccup searched for the right words and then stumbled on ones he was fairly sure he'd heard his father say once or twice: "It's an occupational hazard."
Jack laughed, seeming amused at how blithe Hiccup was being over the whole thing, as if saving someone's life was all in a day's work.
"And here you said you weren't the type to save somebody," Jack pointed out, apparently remembering what Hiccup had said when they'd been talking about Jack saving his sister.
"I guess maybe I didn't know myself as well as I thought."
Jack smiled at Hiccup and Hiccup smiled back warmly.
Right then, they heard the caterwauling cries of the other teens on the race course in the distance. Both their eyes went wide.
"The race!" Jack said, standing, grabbing his staff with one hand and dragging Hiccup to his feet with the other. "You have to get back in the race!"
"But what about –"
"I'll be fine! I'm not hurt. How do we get out of here without falling down any more holes?" Jack asked.
"This way." Hiccup led the way around Dead Man's Hole and up a little slope to the trail they'd been on.
The two boys ran to the edge of the forest, where Hiccup's sled still lay on the path. In one swooping movement, Hiccup darted in and picked it up, running out of the woods to look over in the distance. The other teens were just getting out of the other copse of trees their trail went through and they looked like Sandy and Tooth had given them hell in the forest. Leaves and sticks were sticking out of their hair.
"The trees are alive!" Snotlout was screaming. "The trees are aliiiive!"
"You still have a chance!" Jack cried. "Go!"
Hiccup held his sled in front of him and raced forward to give himself a running start, then dove forward onto it. He suddenly felt Jack's hands on his boots, pushing him along even faster to give him a better start and then there was a flump behind him and he looked back over his shoulder to see that Jack had collapsed belly first in the snow after the sled started to go too fast for him to keep up.
Then his eyes were fixed on the finish line in the distance. For once, he was going to win something, and strangely, he didn't want to do it for himself. Right now, he wanted to do it because his friend – the very first person he could ever call a friend – had just nearly died trying to help him and he didn't want Jack's efforts to be in vain.
The Viking teens all careened towards the finish line, converging on the final track of the race.
"Hey, where'd you even come from?!" Snotlout shouted when Hiccup joined them.
"Sorry Snotlout, I can't hear you over the sound of me taking the lead."
With his sleeker, faster sled, that was indeed what was happening.
What he didn't see was Snotlout glowering behind him and picking up a large rock as he swept by it in the snow. He definitely didn't see Snotlout throw it, which meant that when it landed in his path, he didn't veer out of the way in time. One of the sled's runners hit the rock and he was going so fast that that half of his sled launched into the air, sending him tumbling over and over in the snow. He only just managed to avoid slamming into a boulder jutting out of the snow, but his sled wasn't so lucky. It smashed right into it. Hiccup climbed out of the snow to examine his sled, only to find that one of the runners was now bent and mangled, and the wood was cracked. There was no way it'd make it to the finish line – and it didn't matter, because in the time it took Hiccup to recover, the other teens had all already crossed it.
"And it's an unprecedented five-way tie!" Gobber called out in the distance. "The judges are now tabulatin' the points from any instances of cheating seen by the bystanders."
Hiccup walked ahead, dragged his busted sleigh with him, only to see Snotlout pointing up the trail towards him.
"You saw how I made Hiccup wipe out, right?" he called to the judges. "I should totally get points for that."
Hidden by the forest, beyond the treeline, the Guardians gathered.
"Jack, what happened to you?" asked Tooth, concerned. "Why are you all wet?"
"It's a long story," Jack said, looking out of the woods at the lonely figure standing there examining his broken down sleigh.
"He did not win?" North asked, looking out at the crowd.
"I ran out of juice and he wouldn't leave me. It held him up and he lost his lead," said Jack, leaving out the whole truth so the others wouldn't be worried. He curled up his hand and pressed his knuckles against his mouth as if he was only just resisting biting them. It was with great resignation that he said, "We need to go."
"Why?" asked Bunny.
"He's not going to believe in us after this," Jack said in a hollow voice.
"How can you be sure?" asked North.
"Because with how many times I let him down, I wouldn't believe in me, either," Jack sighed miserably, and with that, he turned to walk back in the direction of the sleigh. After casting sad looks at the lone boy, cast apart, the others all turned and did the same, quietly lamenting their failure.
Tuffnut, Ruffnut, Astrid, Snotlout, and Fishlegs were fighting. This was nothing new, but in terms of viciousness, this was pretty much the worst Hiccup had ever seen it, partly because the entire village had gotten involved.
"I'm telling you," said Mulch, "we've tabulated the results five times now and it's still a five-way tie."
"The Ham is mine!" called out Ruffnut.
"No, it's mine!" yelled Snotlout.
"You're all wrong, I was the one that cheated the most," bragged Astrid, elbowing Snotlout in the face.
"My boy is clearly the winner!" Spitelout was arguing with Fishlegs' mother.
"He most certainly is not!"
This was the problem with Vikings sometimes, Hiccup reflected. They got a little crazy about their competitions and their cured meats.
For once, his father couldn't seem to get a handle on the situation, if only because so many parties were involved. Everyone from the teens, to their parents, to people concerned about upholding the fine tradition of unfair competition wanted to get a word in edgewise. For once, his father was overwhelmed.
Hiccup surprised himself when the word came out of his mouth, but it didn't seem to surprise everyone else. They hadn't even heard him.
Hiccup jumped up on the makeshift table that had been set up for lunch for those waiting for the race to end, grabbed a metal spoon and clanged it against a metal pot that had once been full of stew. He did as loudly as possible, repeatedly, until everyone had stopped fighting to pay attention.
"What are you all doing?" he asked them, looking around at the familiar faces he'd grown up with all his life. Instead of looking at him with disappointment for once, they were looking at him with surprise.
"In case everyone's forgotten, it's still Snoggletog. Has everyone here forgotten what Snoggletog is all about?"
"Winning?" suggested Snotlout.
"No," said Hiccup, taking a step up onto the table to look out at them all. "Let me tell you what Snoggletog is all about. Your attention, please."
He drew in a deep breath and recited: "'And there were in the same country Vikings abiding in the field, keeping watch over their herd of yaks by night. And, lo, a dragon came upon them, and the flames of its maw shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And their leader Horth the Haggard said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all Vikings, for unto you on this day, there is a blacksmith who will bring you sharper weapons with which to slay thine enemies. And this shall be a sign unto you that Ye shall find great axes and broadswords and maces, with which to drench the fields with your enemies' blood. And suddenly there was with Horth a multitude of the Vikingly host praising the gods, and saying, Glory to the gods in the highest, and on earth death towards thine enemies most foul. And saying these prayers, rivers of gore poured forth and every dragon was slain and many were even dismembered and made into hats, and the Vikings did gather around one another in warmth and companionship for a great feast in celebration, to stave off the cold night and give thanks that they all did live for one winter more.'"
Hiccup paused to look out at them all. To his surprise, some of them were sniffling. Gobber was even wiping a tear from his eye.
"So there you have it. That's the true meaning of Snoggletog." Hiccup shook his head. "We shouldn't be fighting. We should be coming together and - and celebrating surviving yet another cold winter together when the dragons – and the elements – have tried their hardest to make sure we don't. Here, someone hand me a knife."
Stoick stepped forward and handed Hiccup a small metal knife of a good make. Very solid, very nice heft for someone with such a small grip. It was like it was almost made for him.
"Thanks – oh hey, this is a nice knife." Deciding to forgo the distraction, though, he stepped forward towards the Winner's Ham and started to cut it up.
"Hey, hey, that's my ham!" Snotlout protested.
"You're right, it is," Hiccup said, tossing him a piece. Then he cut another one and tossed it to Astrid, who was looking at him with wide eyes.
"And it's Astrid's too."
He cut the rest of the pieces up and handed them to Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Fishlegs.
"It's everyone's ham. Think of it as part of the Snoggletog spirit. We share everything else in the village, so you can share a victory. It's something you can all give to each other."
The teens all reflected on that and looked at their ham chunks which were remarkably even in size (Hiccup had done that on purpose to keep them from fighting about it).
"Sounds good to me," said Astrid with a shrug.
"Yeah, I guess that's okay," said Snotlout, his face breaking into a beaming grin. "If it means I get to share with Astriiid."
Astrid punched him over that, but only once this time.
Fishlegs was already eating his chunk of ham and the twins were busy squabbling over each other's chunks of ham, but they didn't bother trying to go for the other teens' chunks, at least.
"See, everyone's a winner," said Hiccup.
"Except for you," Snotlout put in.
Hiccup let out a long-suffering sigh. "Except for me."
With that, the group started to break up, pack up, and go back to the village, the teens crowing about their victory and how spectacularly victorious each of them were. To Hiccup's surprise, he got a few smiles and pats on the back by various Vikings, and a few saying things like, "Well done, lad, we thought they were going to fight all day."
But that was all he got. The crowd still parted ways with him, leaving him on the outside as always. His moment in the sun was just that – a moment.
His father was the last straggler. Hiccup cleaned off the knife on his tunic, walked over, and handed it back to him, handle first.
"Here, dad. Thanks for letting me borrow it."
Stoick shook his head. "It's, ah. It's yours. I got it for you for Snoggletog."
Hiccup perked up. "Really?"
"Originally, I was going to give it to whoever won the sled race instead of you as punishment for what you did to the tree…"
Hiccup deflated. "Oh."
"But you've been kicking yourself enough and in the end, no harm was done. So it's yours. You should have a proper Viking weapon anyway, at your age. Even if it's, ah, a small one."
Even despite the circumstances around it, his father had still thought of the gesture well ahead of the holidays, so Hiccup was touched. He smiled at his father and tucked it into his belt proudly.
"Yer welcome. By the way, what you did just now, with that little speech -" There was a pause and then Stoick didn't smile at him, but he did pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, hard enough to nearly knock him over. "You did good, son. That would've been a nightmare to deal with otherwise."
With that, he turned to go, sauntering along after the others.
It wasn't exactly what Hiccup was hoping for, but maybe this hadn't turned out that awful, after all.
"So, I was wondering," came a voice at the tree-line and he turned to see that Astrid had doubled back. "How exactly did you get through the right side of the pass? And Widow's Forest?"
"That's funny, because I've been practicing for the race and I've never seen you here practicing, too," said said, stepping away from the tree she was leaning on and walking towards him with a gleam in here eye that was almost predatory.
"Does it really matter?" said Hiccup. "I still lost."
"You did," she said, looking down at her chunk of ham. "Yet you still gave that speech anyway and tried to get everyone to stop fighting."
"Well, you know, it looked like a vein was about to pop in my dad's head."
"So it was just for your dad, huh?"
Hiccup just shrugged, and Astrid took something small and shiny out of the pouch on her belt: one of the ornaments from the tree.
"Did you make these just for your dad, too? Or were they for all of us?" she asked.
"I – I didn't make those," Hiccup lied. "You heard…everyone."
"If all of that was made by Odin, there wouldn't have been tool marks on some of it. You're the only one in the village that could have made these, Hiccup. And it had to have taken a lot of work to do it."
At that, Hiccup just looked at the snow, not sure what to say.
"I know somebody else had to have helped you. There's no way you could have done it all on your own – and that thing about spirits was stupid. You should have just said whoever helped wanted to stay anonymous." She went on, "But between this and that speech...I think I was maybe wrong about you being selfish."
With that, she placed her chunk of ham into his hand.
"I guess you're not entirely awful."
"From you," said Hiccup, astonished, "I'm going to take that as a glowing endorsement."
Astrid tossed the ornament up in the air, then caught it again, before putting it away in her little pouch.
Punching him on the shoulder – in a way that was more friendly than painful - Astrid sauntered away, hips swaying confidently in a way that should have been criminal as far as Hiccup was concerned.
As soon as she was out of sight, Hiccup did a little dance in place, hissing, "Yesss."
She'd talked to him! She'd actually talked to him in a way that wasn't full of loathing! She gave him her piece of the Winner's Ham!
He turned to look in the woods for where the Guardians were supposed to meet up with him after the race...only to find that they weren't there. Why weren't they...?
"Oh no," Hiccup muttered to himself, figuring out what might have happened. "Jack, sometimes you're an idiot."
As Bunny dug up the piece of the moon and Sandy and Tooth rigged up the reindeer to the sleigh, Jack sat in the snow, staring blankly at the tree line.
North came over and gingerly sat on the stump next to him.
"You are so sure he will stop believing?"
"We've got minutes, maybe."
"Perhaps then, you should have waited? Talked to him after race?"
Jack was silent.
"You are afraid to face him then. Afraid of what he will say."
Jack drew his knees up to his chin.
"I let him down," he said. "I let him down and we're going to leave and nothing will be able to help him. We're going to leave him like this, stuck being alone."
"That is presuming much," said North. "And now that I think about it, there is one thing you may be missing."
"Oh yeah, what's that?"
"That Hiccup is very strong boy. He is very kind boy. And he is boy who I have heard stories about. In stories, the children who are strong and brave and kind, they always find their happy ending. Maybe he is not needing to be helped by us. Maybe, whatever happens, he will be able to help himself."
Jack looked up at North, mulling all that over.
"We still have to leave now, in case he stops believing."
"If we leave now, you will not be able to say goodbye."
"If we don't leave now, we might fizzle out of existence."
"Hmm," North said thoughtfully. "You expect him to believe in you...but you don't believe in him."
"Hey, that's not -"
Jack was silent again.
"Or maybe…maybe it is just you do not want to have to say goodbye. Maybe is mix of both." North shrugged. "Who knows? But in any case, I am thinking we should leave when you think we should leave, Jack. You know him best."
Jack looked up at North in alarm, mulling it over.
"That's a tough call there," he said.
"We are Guardians. Making tough calls is, how you say, 'occupational hazard.'"
For a moment, surprise flashed on Jack's face at the wording, but he could tell it was just a happy accident, a coincidence that just happened to mean something.
And it did mean something. Danger, for a Guardian, was an occupational hazard, and he had a choice to make.
They weren't in the cabin. That meant they were at the sleigh or maybe even gone already.
If they'd left without saying goodbye, he was going to be so angry. He wasn't an angry type of person, which was partly why he butted heads with other Vikings (or more why he didn't butt heads with other Vikings) but that would make him mad, and sad, if they left without saying goodbye.
If Jack left without saying goodbye.
But they'd had a huge head start and the only way they would still be there was if they chose to wait in the clearing, if they were just standing around…
Waiting for him. They were waiting for him. As he hopped through the bushes, he saw that they were still gathered around the sleigh.
"Way to give me a heart attack here," Hiccup complained, throwing his hands in the air and gesturing wildly with a chunk of ham clenched in his fist. "I thought you left completely! You were supposed to wait in the trees."
"Sorry," Jack said. "It's just I thought –"
"You thought I'd stop believing in you, prob'ly. 'Cause you're an idiot – here, does anyone want this ham? I'm not a big pork person."
Sandy looked at it consideringly and then shrugged and held out his hand. Hiccup handed it to him and wiped his hand on his tunic, and Sandy immediately started munching on it.
"I will not deny the idiot thing," said Jack, getting up from where he was sitting in the snow and leaning against his staff. "I'm so sorry, Hiccup."
"For almost running off without saying goodbye?"
"For everything. For giving you false hope. For setting you up for even more teasing. Just...for everything. We failed you."
"Nooo, you didn't," Hiccup said with a slight flail. "Even aside from the fact that I was put in a position to do something nice for the village by getting them to stop arguing, and my dad patted me on the back and said I did a good job and gave me this pretty cool knife - and Astrid believed me about at least some of the decorations and said I wasn't awful...even aside from all that, you didn't fail me. If none of that had even happened, you wouldn't have failed me."
"But we couldn't –"
"You couldn't have fixed this in a day, spirits or not. Or a week. Or even a year. Trust me, I've been trying for pretty much most of my life. You're spirits but you're also only human." He looked at Bunny and Tooth. "Sort of."
"I didn't ask for a miracle. I asked for a sign. I asked for a sign that my life could change. I asked for a sign that I could be accepted by the village someday – and that there was a chance maybe, just maybe, someday I wouldn't be as lonely, that maybe I could have friends."
There were tears in his eyes now, as he looked specifically at Jack. "And Odin sent you."
Jack was speechless.
"Even if you can't stay," Hiccup went on, "Now I know I'm not so awful that I don't deserve friends. Even if I can't find them here in Berk, it's a big world out there, right?"
Jack stepped forward. "Of course you deserve friends. You've always deserved friends, Hiccup."
Tooth beat Jack to the punch on the hugging, zipping in with a cheerful laugh of delight and pulling Hiccup gently into her arms.
"I have happy memories now, you know."
"I'm so glad," she said, beaming at him, briefly hugging him again before letting go. She adjusted his crooked hat on impulse, one last time. "You deserve all the happy memories in the world."
"And I have hope, too," said Hiccup, kneeling down to scritch Bunny behind the ear.
The rabbit didn't protest a bit, thumping his foot, and then beaming up at Hiccup happily when he stopped scritching.
"Glad to be of service, mate."
Smiling broadly, Sandy made several images appear, rapid-fire, over his head, but Hiccup couldn't follow.
"What's he saying?" he asked North.
"He is saying that he gives you dreams for a reason, Hiccup," said North, and Sandy nodded in agreement, smiling at the Viking.
"And that he is thinking - as we all think - that you have the brightest of futures ahead of you." North got up from his tree stump, hand against his aching back. "And of course you do! Such wonder always in your eyes! My magic sack kicked out something for you before it went kaput. Here."
North reached inside his coat and pulled out a book. Hiccup took it eagerly in his hands.
"'Brakker's Guide to Physical Forces,'" he said, reading the runes on the front, and then flipping through. His eyes went wide as he saw diagrams outlining facts and calculations about centripetal forces and the like. "Hey, thanks!"
North grabbed Hiccup and squeezed him tight. Even though the old man was weaker than usual, it was a little too tight. "Aim high, my young friend. Always aim high!"
North released him and stepped aside and that left him face to face with Jack, still damp from his dip in the pond.
Jack reached into the pocket of his hoodie and took out a piece of paper. He said haltingly, "I saved all your stuff. Your papers and all."
"I thought it was a little abnormally windy the other day."
"Yeah, well...I knew you might regret it later," said Jack, shrugging awkwardly. "The others are in that crate in the cabin, but this one...this one I wanted to show you. It's the picture you drew of us. I wanted…I wanted to add you in, like you're part of the group. But...I thought we were leaving and you drew it, so I wanted to..."
He'd wanted to keep it, which was why he'd picked it up on the way to the sleigh, to take home with him, since now he didn't think he'd have a chance to show Hiccup. He'd wanted something drawn by Hiccup's hand. He handed the picture over to Hiccup, who had to bite back a laugh when he saw it.
Alongside the immaculately drawn Guardians was Jack's rendition of Hiccup. It was very badly-drawn, barely more than a stick figure, and he was snub-nosed and wearing a horned helmet. Hiccup supposed that was so that it was clear he was a Viking.
"Frost on windows aside, I'm nooot really much of an artist," Jack admitted.
"No no," Hiccup said, tilting his head to look at it. He said generously, "I think it, ah...captures my essence."
Rolling it up, he tucked it inside one of the inner pockets of his vest, close to his heart.
"I also...I also wanted to give you this," Jack said, taking something else out of his pocket and putting it in Hiccup's hand, closing his fingers around it.
It was the little, painted wooden doll, the one that was supposed to be Jack's center.
Behind Jack, Hiccup saw North smiling. He looked down at the figure in his hand then back up at Jack. "I can't take this. It's – I can tell it's something important to you."
"It is," Jack said, "but that's all the more reason I want you to have it. It represents me, so it'll be like I'm always here with you. And it also represents something important...and I want you to look at it and remember that, too. I want you to remember everything I said about your center – although after that business with the ice, I think you might want to broaden all that stuff about who you are to include the courage that's there, too."
Hiccup looked down at the little figure with eyes that were welling up with tears. Then he looked up at Jack, slightly panicked.
"I don't have anything to give to you – wait." He'd thought of something. "Yes I do."
With that, he took off his silly green hat and put it on Jack's head.
"It's getting too small for my big head anyway," said Hiccup.
"Hand-me-downs," Jack joked. "I love me some hand-me-downs."
Hiccup shoved him just slightly, but then that shove turned into something else as he threw his arms around him, pulling him in close. Jack practically tossed his staff to the ground to return the hug with both arms. Then they were both crying, not caring about how it looked to anyone because the other was crying, too.
"I'll always be here, Hiccup. Maybe not in the way we both would like, but I'll be here."
"I know. I'm – I'm never going to forget you," Hiccup said slowly. "I think - I think sometimes the Norns mean for something to happen but there are problems and it can't. I think you were supposed to be my best friend. I think maybe it was just too important for you to live somewhere else, at another time, maybe so you could be a Guardian."
"You might be right. I feel like – it's not even like I've known you forever. It's more like it's always felt like I was supposed to know you for forever."
Jack pulled away just enough to look Hiccup in the eyes. "But just because it didn't happen with us, that doesn't mean you're never going to find a best friend. Hiccup, I promise you, someday you're going to have someone just...fall into your life, and when they do you just have to reach out. That's what I did. I had to let go of the fear and distrust and – and that's how these guys came into the picture," the frost spirit said, jerking his head in the direction of the others. "And when you find them, when you find that person, you're going to have so much fun together."
With that, Jack pulled Hiccup in for one last hug and then pulled away, reaching up to brush away his tears with his thumb, entirely neglecting his own. Finally, he let go, to snatch his staff up off the ground and join the others as they climbed onto the sleigh. It rumbled and came to life, wings stretching out, engine sputtering. An astonished Hiccup looked on as the reindeer started running, and then flying, and it took to the air.
"Goodbye!" called out Hiccup, and his eyes looked upward. "Just, uh, make you don't run into any dragons on the way up there, okay? It'd be a pretty short trip if you did."
The sleigh started to fly away and Hiccup ran after it, following it through the woods all the way to the cliff-side, where he stood, waving as it flew off into the distance. Despite the risk from not being able to fly, Jack hopped over the edge and stood on the back runner, so that he could get one last look at the young Viking as they went.
Blue eyes locked with green and Hiccup stopped mid-wave to share in one last smile, before Jack became too small to see.
Jack watched as the tiny figure at the cliff-side disappeared into the difference and then jumped back into the sleigh. It was a bit of a shaky ride, given that North had barely any power left.
As North combined the moon stone with the snowglobe, it beamed out a tremendously bright light, but Jack was barely paying attention, instead looking back at the rocky island receding into the distance. North noticed and gave him a gentle smile.
"Have no fear, Jack. I told you, I know his story."
"Is it a good one?" Jack asked as he looked out into the distance.
"Is a great one! Is the kind of story that teaches one very important thing."
"What's that?" Jack asked, looking at North.
"That you don't have to become what we are to become legend."
North smiled even wider, a twinkle in his eyes, and even despite his melancholy Jack could do nothing less than smile back.
"Now hang on everyone!" said North, shaking the snowglobe in his hand. "Manny said we must get sleigh to eighty-eight miles per hour and then throw globe. Then we will be back in our own time, probably in middle of fight with fairies."
"Why eighty-eight miles per hour?" asked Bunny, huddling next to Tooth.
"Yeah, that seems kind of arbitrary," Jack put in.
"No idea. Is just what Manny said." North shrugged. "Seems slow. Anyway, get ready for fighting!"
At that, the Guardians all stood ready in the sleigh, grins on their faces and they prepared to do what they did best.
"And awaaay we gooo!"
North threw the globe in front of them, there was a flash of light, and the Guardians leapt forward into the future that awaited them.
Back at the cliff-side, Hiccup saw the light flash in the distance and he turned to walk away, back into the woods.
Far be it from feeling empty with them gone, his life felt fuller for having had them in it. Despite his sadness, Hiccup simply wiped the tears from his eye. Putting the little wooden doll in the pocket close to his heart, he headed back to Mildew's old cabin, his new book clutched in hand.
So maybe he hadn't gotten some kind of magical happy ending, but that wasn't how life worked. You had to work hard for happy endings. You had to change things for yourself, change your world around you. Hiccup still wasn't sure how to do that, but what he knew now was that he just had to keep trying until something stuck.
He wasn't some kind of terrible, awful person. He just had to figure out the right way to show the village that.
All his papers were in the crate just as Jack had said and Hiccup looked through them, accepting them all back as part of himself, eccentric as some of them were. With renewed purpose, he picked up one particular sheet of drawings and looked at them closely. Then he flipped through his new book to some of the diagrams with one hand.
"Looks like I might be able to finally work out the kinks in this one," he said to himself, as he held up his plans for his bola-thrower.
"Aim high, right?" That was what North had said. Hiccup raised both his eyebrows and shrugged to himself. "Can't aim any higher than a Night Fury..."
The battle was won. The children were safely returned home. The fairies had been properly threatened and smacked into giving up on their kidnapping spree. After it was all said and done, the Guardians returned to the North Pole, victorious.
The mood was largely celebratory, but Jack found himself having trouble celebrating. There was an edge of melancholy inside him that didn't seem to want to go away anytime soon.
The others noticed.
Tooth gently wrapped her arms around him and pulled him in close, without a word. Initially surprised, Jack leaned into her touch, resting his forehead against hers.
"I need to go back and make sure that Baby Tooth handled everything okay while I was gone, but you can come by the Tooth Palace later," she offered. "If you need to talk. Or...or if you just need to spend time with someone."
"I, uh..." Jack swallowed thickly. "I might take you up on that."
With that, she smiled a sad smile at him and pulled away to head back to her duties. The others were just as kind, Bunny patting Jack on the shoulder comfortingly, and Sandy giving him a smile and asking with his pictograms if Jack would be alright.
"I'll be fine, Sandy. I just...I just feel like he's worth being a little sad over," Jack said. Sandy nodded in understanding and briefly took Jack's hand in his own, squeezing it and letting go.
That left Jack and North alone in the main hall of his workshop.
"Jack," said North softly. "Come with me. I want you to see something."
Jack followed, walking along, distracted.
"You are sad about him."
"He's...he's gone. In this time. He's been gone for...for longer than I've even been alive. An hour ago, he was alive and I was talking to him, and now he's...now he's dead. Just like that. And I'm never going to see him again."
"Ah, but time is time. Every moment happening at once," said North. "This is how some of us hedge the rules a bit, traveling as fast as we do to do our jobs. Time is, how you say...relative."
They got into a little elevator.
"I guess it's less sad when you look at it that way."
"That way is not sad at all. But there is something else I will show you, something that may give you comfort."
The elevator stopped on a level of the workshop Jack had never seen before, despite all his poking around, and they got off, walked through a massive set of dark, wooden doors, and found themselves in...
"You have a library." Jack's eyes went wide. "You have a really, really big library."
He had never seen that many books before, all lined up over countless shelves, winding their way around the walls in impossible waves and spiral shapes.
"You've…never really struck me as much of a reader," Jack said, cocking an eyebrow and tilting his head to the side as he looked at North.
"Ah, but these are not just any books. Every book here is a book of adventure, stories that might otherwise be lost to time!"
"You've read them all?"
"Sometimes toys are already designed, new production lines starting. Busy busy busy but nothing for me to do other than give orders and sign papers and tell yetis what to do. Is slow day here at workshop, but too busy for me to get out for adventure of my own. Is next best thing, reading about someone else's."
North walked over to a very stern-looking elf librarian, whispered something in his ear and the elf ran off to look for whatever North had asked him to look for.
"Why did you bring me here?" Jack started to ask, his suspicions aroused.
"You want to know his story, Jack," said North. "So I will give you his story, and you can see the man he will become. The man he became."
The elf came back and held out the book to North but Jack snatched it out of its hands before North could even reach for it, looking at the cover. It was in some Nordic language – maybe Icelandic?
"'Hiksti and the Dragon'?"
"Look closer at name. Is in Old Norse. Takes moment longer for text to translate."
The word changed in front of his eyes. "Hiccup. Hiccup and the Dragon," Jack said, a wide grin forming on his face.
"There are comfy chairs over there."
Jack flew over to one of the comfy chairs, plopped down and got started. While he could read and speak fluently in any language like the other Guardians, that magic hadn't ever seemed to kick in for his native tongue and he'd never seemed to have gotten over the need to read aloud and follow along with his finger – probably a byproduct of learning to read in the time that the hornbook was considered a major advancement in education.
"'On an island called Berk, a frozen place that was a twelve days North of Hopelessness and a few degrees south of the Frozen Wastes of Death, there lived a boy named Hiccup…'"
Jack read along and he saw Hiccup's life spread out in pictures in his mind. He read about the things he already knew, like the village not accepting him. He read about the shame in his father's eyes that he'd already seen. He read about the life Hiccup had when they left him behind, not much better than it had been.
Then he read about how it all changed.
"'The dragon thus struck down by Hiccup's weapon lay there on the forest floor and the boy raised his knife to strike it dead, but...something stayed his hand...'"
He remembered. Hiccup remembered eyes that he'd looked into, the blue eyes of a spirit that had been so much like his own. He remembered the fear he saw in them as Jack stood there on the ice. The other boy had been a spirit, something like Hiccup, but also utterly alien.
He saw that same fear now in the dragon's eyes as it lay before him, waiting to die.
Just like he had once before, he looked at another living being and he saw himself.
And just like that, his will to kill the dragon was gone. It had to be in pain as it laid there, the ropes digging into its skin. He could see the places where the scales had been scraped away, leaving behind raw welts.
"I did this," Hiccup said regretfully.
Jack had once said compassion was at his center, right? What kind of compassion was this, hurting a living being this way, even if it was an enemy?
Hiccup tried to turn away, tried to leave, but found that he couldn't. He just couldn't leave the dragon here like this, where it would likely starve and die if it wasn't freed.
So he turned, took his knife and started cutting the ropes that bound it, knowing that it might try to attack him, but also knowing that it was the right thing to do.
It was like dancing. He was dancing a dance that didn't make sense and yet had more meaning than just about anything else he'd done in his entire life. Step by step, he made his way through the lines scratched into the dirt, until finally he felt a presence at his back and felt the warm breath of the dragon blowing against his hair
Hiccup turned around to face it, slowly holding out his hand. The dragon growled and he recoiled, afraid that his arm was going to get bitten off.
This was crazy. This was absolutely crazy, but he still felt as if he was standing on some sort of crumbling precipice, and the only way he'd reach solid ground again was if he jumped. Either he'd reach somewhere new or he'd fall into the abyss, but he couldn't just stay where he was.
It was the eyes that made him do it. Its eyes were so intelligent, so warm and curious. There had been times earlier where it had even looked annoyed, like a human would look if someone was prodding at them.
Right now, those eyes were looking at him with something that almost looked like understanding, even if the creature was still afraid.
The Viking felt like he was nearly vibrating out of his skin with fear, but he had to make the jump and see where he landed.
What was it that Jack had said?
"Hiccup, I promise you, someday you're going to have someone just…fall into your life, and when they do you just have to reach out."
Hiccup closed his eyes and slowly held out a hand towards the dragon, keeping it completely still. It felt like an eternity was passing, as if time had stopped and left everything frozen in place but him.
Then he felt a scaly nose butt his hand and he was filled with a feeling he'd felt only once before, another time that he realized that he'd made a friend: elation.
Jack flipped through the pages, looking ahead a little, but trying not to read too much in depth to avoid spoiling himself
"This thing is loooong," he said, looking over at North, who was sitting in another comfy chair, apparently reading some kind of pirate novel, judging by the cover. "Does it cover his whole life?"
"Most of it. Where are you at now?" North asked.
"The bit where he's got to kill the other dragon as a coming-of-age thing."
"Ah, now you're getting to good parts!"
Jack went back to reading. "'Hiccup entered the kill ring, and with a clang the door to the pen was opened and the Monstrous Nightmare burst into the ring, setting itself on fire as it darted around the cage. Hiccup was filled with fear, but he knew what he had to do.'"
The Monstrous Nightmare finally stopped running around the ring in a panic, the flames going out, and he noticed Hiccup, craning his neck to look down at him. Stepping down to the floor of the ring, the dragon started to advance on the boy, clearly ready to go in for the kill.
Hiccup started walking backwards, matching the dragon's pace, dropping his shield and knife, feeling as if each gesture was the same as discarding parts of his old self, as if all the parts of him that had once held doubt and felt weak were sloughing off.
"What do you see?"
"Flexibility. I see compassion and someone that sees the world a different way from most people. I see someone that tries to see it in new ways."
They had gone three hundred years fighting dragons and it needed to change. Hiccup hoped Jack was right about him, because then it meant he might be the kind of person who could change it.
"Hey, it's okay, it's okay," Hiccup said, in a voice he had used long ago when calming a friend standing on thin ice. His hands were held out in a placating gesture; trying to soothe the dragon by showing he was unarmed. He reached up for his helmet and took it off, throwing it to the ground. The clang it made when it hit the ground was something definitive, like a door closing so another could open.
"I'm not one of them," Hiccup said, finally defining himself rather than letting the village decide who and what he was.
It was harsh, but the truth. He had never really been one of them, even though he cared about them, even though he was trying to do this to save them from a pointless war as much as he was trying to save the dragons from the same. Hiccup knew he was something strange and different, that he saw the world in a different way, because a friend had told him that once, told him that he explored things and explored people.
And maybe not being one of them was a good thing. Maybe seeing the world a different way meant he could see a way it could be better.
Maybe, just maybe, that same friend that had told him being different was a good thing was right about him being able to change the world for the better.
He hoped so. At the very least, he had to try.
"Stop the fight!" his father called out.
"No! I need you all to see this," Hiccup said decisively. "They're not what we think they are… We don't have to kill them."
The moment was perfect. The dragon was visibly calming down and all eyes were on him.
"I said STOP THE FIGHT!"
His father's hammer thundered against the metal cage of the kill ring and just like that, the moment was ruined.
"Oh, come on!" Jack yelled at the book. He was upside down now, legs up against the back of the comfy chair. "Listen to your kid! He knows what he's talking about! Stoick, you're an idiot.
Jack looked over at North and pointed to the book. "His dad's an idiot. He's an idiot. Oh hey, cookies. Thanks."
The elves came by then with a plate of cookies and Jack reached out and snagged one, almost putting it in his mouth before he took a good look at it. Then he looked over at the plate.
"Did you chew on some of these and then spit them out or something?"
The two elves looked at each other with stricken expressions then looked back at Jack and shook their heads, grinning wide, very-obviously-guilty grins.
Jack put the cookie back on the plate.
"Sometimes you guys are so gross."
Back to reading, though. There was a lot more book to get through and Jack was mesmerized.
"For once in your life, would you please just listen to me?!" Hiccup cried out, pulling on his father's arm, trying to get him to stop
To Hiccup's great shock, his father, who had never been physical with him before in his life, elbowed him hard enough to knock him backwards off his feet.
Stoick turned to face him.
"You've thrown your lot in with them. You're not a Viking. You're not my son."
It might as well have been a physical blow. It hurt worse than any physical blow ever could.
His father stalked out of the Great Hall, slamming the door so hard that instead of shutting, it bounced back open again, leaving Hiccup sitting cast in shadow with only a sliver of light from the outside shining over his face.
He didn't weep. He didn't curse his fate. He didn't decide to try to change it. He only sat with his expression blank and his heart hollowed out, feeling more alone than he ever had in his life.
"Boo!" Jack cried out, enraged, sitting up so abruptly he nearly fell out of his chair. "Boo, Hiccup's dad, you suck! You suck! You are the head chief of sucking!"
How could he? How dare he?
Fortunately, it didn't end there, with Hiccup demoralized and alone, his world fallen apart. It didn't end there because Hiccup was Hiccup and North was right about the children they told stories about, the ones who were brave and strong and kind.
"Hiccup! I'm sorry. For everything."
"Yeah, me too."
"You don't have to go up there."
Hiccup grinned, remembering something he'd said to a friend once, something he was sure he'd heard his father saying more than once.
"We're Vikings," he said. "It's an occupational hazard."
"I'm proud to call you my son."
Hiccup's eyes widened slightly. "Thanks, dad."
Courage was not the absence of fear. It was overcoming it. It was looking down at the ice cracking under you, looking at death come again, and not freezing up. It was trusting in your friends to help you do the impossible and risking your life leaching away to help someone that needed you.
Nothing else mattered anymore. It didn't matter how the village saw him, it didn't matter who or what he was. All that mattered was that he could be the kind of person Jack had seen him as. All that mattered was that his center was what he had said it was – and that he was what Hiccup wanted it to be.
He had to be brave, he had to use his brain and all the things he'd observed about the world to pull this off. To do it all, he had to care enough about the people he was trying to save to risk it all.
"And here you said you weren't the type to save somebody…"
But I am, thought Hiccup. And I will.
And even thought it came at a price, he did.
Jack sat up, looking at the book, at the end of the first story, eyes wide and expression full of empathetic hurt, and looked over to North.
"He...he lost his leg?"
North nodded with a sympathetic look on his face.
"But look at how thick the book is, Jack. So many adventures, so many accomplishments, so many joys. He lived a full life, a full and wonderful life, full of love and triumph and selflessness. All the rest of his adventures are there for you to read, and you can have book if you want."
Jack clutched the book to his chest. "Thanks, North. I'm gonna, um. I think I should read the rest alone."
If he got soppy at any points, he didn't really want anyone else to see.
"One thing you need to pay attention, too, though," said North. "Read the afterword. There are what you call 'spoilers' but the story is story, some may not be completely true. That part is fact."
Jack flipped to the end, to read the afterword.
"'Not much is known for sure about the real man behind the myth, but surviving historical records indicate that Hiccup the Dragon Conqueror was possibly one of the unsung heroes of the Viking age. Trade agreements with mainland Vikings and other European cultures indicate that as chief, he established fair trade practices with much of Europe and curtailed raiding on other countries by the island tribes that were allied with his people. Some historical records that have been brought to light in recent years show that his influence may have even led to a decline in the use of slaves among mainland Vikings as the dominance over trade routes by the island Vikings, and trade embargoes levied towards those communities that used thralls, led to not-so-subtle economic pressure to curtail the use of thralls in many Viking communities' – this is great. I love this."
Jack kept reading, "Hiccup is now thought to have been responsible for other major advances in the Nordic societies. For instance, there is some proof that his wife Astrid' – Hiccup, you dog, you – 'actually ruled by his side, with equal power and responsibilities. This and other indications of Viking women in important social and government roles during his rule suggest that women during Hiccup's reign as chief experienced rights that were unprecedented for the time, and practically unknown in other European societies.'"
Of course, knowing the women of Hiccup's tribe, anyone that tried to take away their rights would have gotten an axe to the face, so it wasn't something that could be entirely credited to him.
"'It is also believed that advances in science and medicine prompted by Hiccup's instigation are partly responsible for sparing the Nordic island peoples from the Black Death, particularly regulations regarding the quarantine of sea-faring vessels. These regulations were thought to have been prompted by an incident in which a trade vessel brought a poison substance to the island of Berk that made many of the residents ill.' Geez, is there anything he didn't do?"
He went on, "'Recent archaeological findings are showing that the island chief known as Hiccup had a much greater role in ancient Norse society than once thought, making it clearer and clearer that he may have been one of the defining historical figures responsible for shaping the ancient Nordic peoples into what became the modern Nords of today.'"
He smiled at the next part. "'As for the stories about Hiccup taming dragons, it is, of course, impossible for them to be true.' No, it isn't. 'However, it is thought that a dangerous nearby tribe, with a name that translates to a word similar to 'dragon' is what is referred to in the surviving records and those later stories took on a literal and more fantastical interpretation. In this case, it is entirely possible that Hiccup struck up peaceful accord with them, and one surviving record indicates that the enemy-turned-friend known as No-Tooth was Hiccup's lifelong companion, even until his...his death of old age.'"
Jack swallowed thickly.
"As I said, time is relative, Jack," North said, putting a comforting hand on Jack's shoulder. "It means he lives now, in his moments in the past, every moment of his life, just as you live every moment of yours. Side by side."
Jack nodded slowly.
"Read footnotes, though. This is why I took interest in this book and remembered when we were there," said North. "I kept planning to tell you, since I thought you might find it of note, but never had a chance to."
Jack skimmed over the footnotes, until he saw what North was talking about. There was one particular footnote that referred back to the third story, chapter three, that had something that caught his eye.
"'In all surviving stories Hiccup is known to thank a – a Jokul Frosti,'" said Jack, smiling a wide grin as the Norse name translated to his own name before his eyes, "'for favorable winter weather conditions for his people and for unfavorable winter weather conditions for enemies. The Hiksti stories are, in fact, one of the first recorded instances of the expression –"
Jack's eyes went wide and he suddenly looked up at North.
"Astrid. Astrid, c'mon, let me up."
"You were gone. For months. Nope."
Hiccup found it difficult to really protest the fact that his wife was clinging to him like a limpet. Very very difficult. All he wanted to do was curl up against her and lay there in a tangle of limbs for, oh, the rest of his life? But there was chiefin' to be done, and the house was likely going to erupt into pure chaos shortly, and he needed a bath, and –
Annnd her hand was sliding down his side.
"No no, nononono, I know where this is going and much as I'd love for it to go there, it can't go there when we're due at a convocation with every chief in the surrounding islands in an hour."
Hiccup managed to finally successfully squirm away, and he crawled over to the edge of the bed, taking a deep breath and nearly failing a check of his willpower, before reaching out for his false leg.
He felt fingers trailing against his back.
"I'm not turning around. I'm not even looking."
"Why not?" asked Astrid in a playful voice.
"Because if I turn around, you're going to be lying there sprawled out like some magnificent nude portrait and then I'm going to have to explain to twelve chiefs why we're late."
Astrid finally let out a grumbling noise of frustration. "I'm not sprawled out. I'm covered by a blanket."
"You're lying and I know how you work."
"Really, I'm not. There's a blanket over me. Come on, Hiccup, I want to see your face when you talk to me. I missed that face."
Because of the sincerity in her voice, Hiccup chanced a glance back, only to find out he was right, she was lying. He covered his eyes.
"Woman, cover your glory!" he said in the same scandalized tones someone else might say 'cover your shame!'
That prompted peals of laughter from Astrid, but he still didn't fall for it, opting to get up and go over to the bath to get it started.
"Fine, fine," she grumbled when the laughing stopped. "But you're mine tonight."
"After I spend some time with Toothless, because if I don't, he's going to pick a fight with you and I wouldn't know which side to root for – or bet on."
"Then you're mine tonight after you spend time with Toothless."
The pipes creaked as the water was pumped through, but it was freezing cold when it come out. Hiccup went over to the door, cracking it open just a crack, keeping his lower body away from it. He pounded on it three times to get the attention of the others in the house.
"Aggi, I know you're awake!" Aggi was always awake this early. "Can you get Cinder to heat up the water cask?"
Cinder, was of course, his youngest daughter's Terrible Terror, who never minded helping out with household chores.
There was a high-pitched scream of delight and then the sound of multiple sets of feet pounding through the hallways of the house, and Hiccup quickly shut and locked the door. It wasn't a moment too soon because the second after he did it, the latch jangled and various fists pounded against the door. The zombie movie wasn't going to be created for quite a few centuries yet but if Hiccup were to live to see it, he'd have known what to compare the horde to.
"Daddy daddy daddy daddy!" squealed his youngest, his daughter Snotra, Snotty for short. Named after Snotlout, initially reluctantly, and then enthusiastically after he saved her live when she was a newborn.
"Dad, like, oh my gods, you would not believe all the stuff that happened with my friend Bekki while you were away -" That was Disa, who Hiccup realized, with a pang, had had her fourteenth birthday while he was gone.
"Hey, dad, I totally learned this new flying trick –" That was Aggi.
And of course, his oldest, Grai was in full enthusiasm mode. "Dadddaaaay! I can bench my own weight in rocks now, it's totally cool –"
So where was Ubbi?
"Kids, can one of you go get Cinder to heat up the water?"
He was totally ignored.
"- daddy daddy, I learned how to use the potty, daddy -"
"- she is totally not my friend anymore, but, like, she won't give me my riding harness back, so I'm not giving her the bracers back that she lent me –"
"- sort of all swoosh, upside down, but then you shoot straight down and up again into a barrel roll –"
"- I've been trying to eat more meat because Snotlout says meat builds muscle, but I don't want to bulk up too much because the chicks are digging more of a leaner look nowadays, kind of a V-shape -"
"Kids, daddy will be out in a minute, but I could really use - and you're not listening, at all, are you."
They were all still jabbering over him through the door in their excitement.
"Can you help me wrangle the horde here?" Hiccup asked Astrid, where she lay on the bed.
She was always better at snapping them to attention.
"Oh no no no, they're your kids."
"Yet you're the one that wanted your own army."
"When they listen, they're mine," joked Astrid, sitting up in bed, finally covering herself with the blankets. "When they're an excitable, uncontrollable horde of grabby hands and chattering tongues, they're yours."
Right then, there was a loud explosion from the attic, which made them all go silent.
Then a small voice called out, "I'm okay!"
"Ubbi's up," said Astrid.
Hiccup took advantage of the moment of perplexed silence. "Kids, the first one to get Cinder to heat up the water cask so your dad can get a bath gets the first hug!"
At that, there was a loud scramble in the hallway as they all ran off to try to be the first.
"Resorting to bribery, tsk tsk," said Astrid.
Hiccup tilted his head at her with a grin. "Don't knock it; it works, doesn't it?"
With that, he went over to the bath, gave it a minute, and then finally when he turned the tap again and the downstairs pump started chugging away, hot water came out. Mixing the water from both taps until it was pleasantly warm; he took his false leg off again and used the bars attached to the tub to guide himself in. Astrid walked over, blanket gathered around her, and sat down next to the tub, reaching her hand in to help wash him. The tub, unfortunately, didn't have enough room for both of them to fit – especially since Astrid had bulked up over the years to Amazonian proportions. She now had a whole head on Hiccup in height, the kind of muscles that made it possible for her to throw men around like rag dolls, and a healthy layer of fat over top it all that rounded out her figure. There was no way that she could look anything but matronly after having several kids, but Hiccup adored it. Whenever she held him in her arms, it was like he was being absorbed into her and he couldn't imagine feeling closer to another human being.
Because they didn't fit in the tub together, sometimes when one of them was taking a bath, the other would sit next to the tub and help the other get all sudsy – while getting a little handsy in the process.
"So, you never got to tell me how it went with William. I'm assuming with you not being dead and me not currently on a quest for bloody revenge that it went well."
"You never let me get the chance to talk last night," Hiccup pointed out wryly, as Astrid rubbed her hand against Hiccup's fuzzy beard. (He'd never really managed to grow a proper one.) "But it went as well as it could have. First, they introduced me as 'The Barbarian King' of the Northern Islands..."
Hiccup rolled his eyes at that and Astrid laughed.
"Then they harped on the news they'd heard of the fact that we share the chiefdom, about being ruled by my woman - the women there are practically sold and traded like things, y'see, so it pretty much blew their little brains that we do things differently here. So I pointed out how barbaric we were, yes indeedy, treating our women like people and how they were hardly barbaric at all in slaughtering anyone that disagreed with them and selling and trading their women like cattle, and how they were lucky they were insulting you when I had come for the proceedings instead of you, because then they'd see real barbarism. That got a bug up ol' Willy's nose."
Astrid laughed as she pushed a soapy hand through Hiccup's hair. "If I'd gone, he'd be dead, but that's why you handle all the diplomacy in the Mainlands and I handle so much of it up here. Go on, though, this is getting good."
"So then he tried to play up the fact that he's descended from Viking raiders to show how tough he is. Like being descended from raiders even means anything." Hiccup held up his hands in an 'I'm sooo scared' gesture. "Ooh, so tough, people that kill innocent villagers that barely fight back – when we spent how many centuries fighting dragons or other hostile Vikings instead of hapless villagers?"
"How'd he take your offer?"
"He didn't like it, implied he'd take what he wanted by force and that he had his gaze set north. Then I gave the signal and had the dragons do their flyby and made it abundantly clear he wasn't welcome in the north and that King Olaf was in agreement with me, and was willing to violate his ceasefire if England got too hostile. But I told him if he wanted to still try, he could go ahead, and to be prepared to have his ships sent home heaped with the ash that used to be his soldiers. I told him that any of his soldiers the dragons missed, our people would finish off, seeing as every one of them is a fierce and ruthless warrior – the women included."
Now Astrid laughed uproariously, and she grabbed Hiccup's head and pulled him in for a kiss.
"I love it when you get homicidally threatening."
"Well, it is what it is. I hate fighting as much as the next – uh, I can't say 'next Viking' since they all love fighting - but if he wants to start something, we'll finish it. We don't have to worry about it, though. By then, he was nearly wetting himself so he signed the treaty and the trade agreement and unless he's feeling crazy, England will prob'ly be staying out of our hair. Worst comes to worst, Olaf's not keen on him coming north and the Danes won't be either. In fact, there's a chance they're considering an attempted invasion of England, but we'll see how that pans out. We don't want to get mired down by a mess like that, we need to just stick to a defensive stance or they're going to try to drag us into every mess they make."
Hiccup rinsed his hair and then Astrid helped him out of the tub to the little bench next to it, handing him one of the tattered pieces of old sheets they used as towels, then picked up the blanket and went over to sit on the bed again, wrapping herself up. It was a bit too cold to lounge around like a glorious artistic nude, truth be told, and he wasn't letting himself be lured in this morning.
"I wish I'd been there."
"If you'd been there, the King of England would be dead – and rightfully so, because he's a jerk," Hiccup said, getting dressed.
"Exactly. I wish I'd been there."
Hiccup laughed, and finally pulled his leg beg on, doing up the straps with a well-practiced deftness. Then he went over, leaned over the bed and kissed her soundly.
"We can't go killing all our enemies."
"I know, I know, just the really horrible ones. (He sounds horrible, though.)"
"He is, but he's out of our hair for now. How'd it go here?"
"Little skirmish with the Berserkers near Hopeless, but we sent them running with their tails between their legs. No casualities. The meeting with the Chief of the Shivering Shores went well; he liked the gift I thought up for him. Got the spring harvest in and the fishing fleets out. The usual. Next time, I get to go on the diplomatic mission, if you're just going to resort to laying down creative threats anyway."
"Okay, okay, next time you get to go. You are better at threatening people than I am."
With one last kiss, Hiccup finally stood up straight and walked over and got his fur cloak – the one that had belonged to his father when he was alive – off the hook near the door, putting it on with his usual wistfulness. Astrid had one like it to mark her as co-chief, the one she'd made out bearskin she'd gotten from the bear she'd killed with a rock and her bare hands during that crazy adventure they'd had in Norway.
"While you get ready, I'll get the kids fed and out for the day; they're champing at the bit to see me, anyway."
"Good luck and go with the grace of the gods," Astrid said with mock solemnity. "I'll be praying for you to survive, since you're probably going to get trampled and smothered to death with hugs."
Hiccup laughed as he opened the door. "That's a little dramatic, don't you thin –"
It was right as he closed it that he was literally tackled to the floor by multiple crushing hugs. His youngest was clinging to his chest and squealing a deafening squeal of delight in his ear. Even Ubbi had come down out of his room, his face still blackened with soot from the explosion he'd caused from whatever experiment he'd been working on, his hair standing on end.
The Haddock household was its usual circus as he tried to listen to all of them simultaneously, as he tried to talk to all of them simultaneously, and as he told them about his recent adventure (and given the pirates, water dragons, and sea monster, it had indeed been adventure). Toothless basked in his attention as well, at his usual place next to the table. A minor injury to the shoulder meant that Hiccup had taken Stormfly on the trip to see the king so the Night Fury could recover and according to what Astrid had said the night before, it had taken the entire time Hiccup had been away for Toothless to get less resentful of the fact.
Breakfast was eaten, hugs were given, and then it was time to get them out the door to play for the day.
As rowdy a group as they were, Hiccup wouldn't have given it up for the world.
Though sometimes, they did drive him slightly nuts.
"Hey, hey, who was playing with the stuff on our trophy shelf?" There was a shelf in their main living area that held trophies he and Astrid had picked up during their travels and adventures. Nothing dangerous – swords and other weapons of their enemies were kept in a trunk under their beds since they weren't exactly what you'd call childsafe.
But little baubles and gifts of thanks from people's they'd helped, the mask of an assassin they'd brought down, things like that were up on the shelf.
Something was missing, though, something very important.
Hiccup turned around, hands on his hips. "Where is it?"
"Where's what?" asked Snotty, looking the picture of innocence. The others weren't even paying attention – they were getting their boots on to go outside.
Hiccup wasn't buying the innocence.
"The little wooden figure."
"The blue one."
"There was a blue one?"
"The blue one that's probably sitting with your other dolls right now having a picnic," Hiccup clarified and her eyes went wide as she realized she was caught. "Go bring it back."
The three-year-old sighed an exaggerated sigh as she trundled off. "It's not fair, daddy, it's a toy, you're supposed to play with toys."
"It's daddy's toy and daddy wants to keep it safe on the shelf."
She brought it back and handed it to her father.
"Sorry, peapod, but this is something important to daddy," he said gently, kissing her on the forehead, patting her head, and turning to put it back on the shelf. The paint had long since worn off in some places, where Hiccup's fingers had rubbed against it for good luck during times of nervousness, but it still smiled down from its place on the shelf with sparkling blue eyes filled with joy.
Hiccup looked on it fondly. "It's all I have left of an old friend."
With that, he gathered them all up and got them headed out the door. Toothless bounded along with them out into the snow. While the two eldest would run around with the other teens, Toothless was the one that always minded the younger ones.
On the island of Berk, kids didn't just have a mommy and daddy. They usually had Mommy and Daddy and Dragon.
Hiccup gave his dragon a pat on the nose. "Thanks for keeping an eye on them; it's going to be a crazy day. Have them back late afternoon for lunch and lessons? I'll have a big basket of fish waiting for you. And tonight, we'll go night-flying. The moon should be full so we'll have plenty of light with it reflecting off the snow."
The dragon nosed against his neck and chuffed out a sound that meant 'We'd better go flying,' before trundling off with the Ubbi and Aggi. (Hiccup and Astrid still brought Snotty around with them if both of them had to go somewhere, because she was still so little.)
"Wait! Ubbi, get back here."
Ubbi trundled back through the snow towards his father, as he ducked back inside and came out again, something blue and woolly clutched in his hand.
"You forgot your hat."
"I don't need a hat, dad, it's not that cold," Ubbi insisted.
"It's cold enough to give your liver frostbite. Hat."
Hiccup put the hat on his son's head and realizing it was crooked, adjusted it compulsively.
"You've gotta keep a hat on when it's this cold. After all," he beeped his son's nose, making him smile, and went on, "You don't want Jack Frost nipping at your nose."
"I always wondered where it came from," Jack said, the words on the page blurring as he looked at them again. "No one could see me, no one could hear me, I didn't know how they knew my name if nothing was getting through. It says here it spread to the US from Nordic immigrants. It makes sense, that's when I started to hear it, when a lot of immigrants came into the country."
He looked up at North. "He's the one that started it. There were times I almost gave up hope, but people knew my name. They somehow knew my name and I knew if they at least knew that, maybe someday..." Maybe someday, they'd believe. And they had. "If Jamie hadn't heard that phrase…"
North just smiled at him. "Now it all makes sense, after our adventure. A gift to you like the one you gave to him, Jack. Treasure it."
"I'm gonna… I'm gonna go, um." He held up the book. He wanted to read the rest and he wanted to read it alone. "And North…thanks."
"Is no problem, my friend."
With that, Jack flew away, and out through one of the entrances, which was opened for him by the yetis as he passed.
Looking out at the night sky with tears in his eyes, he saw familiar constellations looking down at him. Hurg the Hunter, Bjorn the Batterer, and the Neely the Voluptuous – whose story Jack never got to hear – gazed down on him just as they'd looked down on Hiccup long ago.
Only, North was right, time was relative. It was just a hop, skip, and a magical jump away, apparently. That meant Hiccup lived just as Jack lived. It meant he'd always live the same times that Jack lived, in his time in the past.
Smiling, Jack adjusted the hat Hiccup had given him, and flew off into the night.
In the coming years, and decades, and then centuries, Jack's other clothes always changed with the times as they always had, but that odd, mismatched hat never went away. Jack was certainly one of the most fun myths running around, but no one would ever really make the argument that he was one of the best-dressed.
They landed on a cliff – the same cliff, in fact, that Hiccup had once looked out from and said a prayer to Odin - and got ready for a proper dive and an attempt at a trick they hadn't managed to perfect before Hiccup'd gone away on his little mission to England.
"Oh, bud, you have no idea how much I missed you," Hiccup said, leaning down and hugging the dragon's head tightly. Toothless chuffed out a delighted noise back that Hiccup read as 'Right back at'cha, tinybro.'
"You sure that shoulder is feeling better?"
The noise Toothless made in response to that was so comical Hiccup laughed.
"Well, neither of us is getting any younger, bud. We both need to take it easy when we get hurt. I'll take that as a yes, though. Anyway, ready?"
Toothless let out a rumble in agreement and then wiggled on his haunches, ready to jump into a dive.
With that, the dragon jumped into the air and into a dive towards the snow-covered ground. The snow and ice were nearly phosphorescent in the light of the moon, meaning that the world had a strange glow to it, like it was only twilight, almost. The snowy tree-tops were shaken by the wind from Toothless's wings as they came up out of the dive and Hiccup let out a whoop of joy as they soared back up into the cold night air.
It felt good to do this again after his long journey south.
He and his best friend always had fun together, and now that he and Astrid were always busy chiefing, it was hard to sneak that in sometimes.
Down below, the village – no, now it was more like a city, a colony – sprawled out in over the island, torches flickering in the night.
This was Berk, crown jewel of the Northern Tribes. Though to call it a jewel was perhaps too generous; it was more like coal - valuable, useful, and like its residents, capable of leaving a grimy residue on everything it touched. It was a prosperous land with a hard-working, generous people that lived in relative peace with the rest of the world, despite a slight propensity to headbutt others into submission.
Berk had been shaped into what it was because of the vision and dreams of a boy who had looked for warmth and kindness when he needed it most and found it in the form of five spirits that had fallen from the sky one cold Snoggletog night a very long time ago. In one of those spirits, he'd even found a friend when he'd never had one before.
As Hiccup flew with his best friend over a snowy expanse that reflected the moonlight, he thought of his first friend, never knowing that he'd given him hope and saved him from loneliness, and always grateful that, for him, Jack had done the same.