Challenge

(Snotlout stumbles on a spinning axis)

DISCLAIMER: Just stopping by after watching too much Dragons. Don't mind me…


Despite the conflict of Thawfest and Hiccup's momentary lapse into arrogant jerkishness, the celebrations are going well, with everyone laughing and cheering. Even Snotlout knows the celebration isn't really for him so much as the thaw itself, but they congratulate him constantly anyway, and he feels the warm glow of pride.

Now that it's over, he's almost glad this year was so close. It's been the most exciting Thawfest ever, even better than the year Astrid had refused to stand beside Fishlegs or Hiccup and so ended up unhindered. She'd won an event that year, but everything being designed around upper body strength rather than speed or agility had crushed her chances anyway.

So he's sitting happily with arm around Hiccup, boasting loudly and pretending to cheer him up. "You did good, Hiccup. Well, that's a lie, you did lousy, and if you didn't have such an awesome dragon, you wouldn't have had a chance no matter what the events were, but you did okay! You know, for a hiccup."

"Yup," Hiccup says blandly, barely reacting to Snotlout tugging him around like a ragdoll. "Thanks, Snotlout. I guess you were just the uh, better –"

"The better viking, that's right. Me."

He does see Astrid smirk at Hiccup, her eyes dark and knowing, and he's vaguely aware of Hiccup meeting her gaze with an equally weird look, but it cuts off when Snotlout yanks him to the side, raising his tankard in an impromptu toast.

"I would just like to remind everyone what this really means," he continues, ignoring the rolling of Ruffnut's eyes and how Fishlegs doesn't even look up from his meal. "It means that no matter how cool dragons are, or how much the village has changed, being a viking is still about strength, and coolness, and raw, physical po-wah! Which I have in spades, and Dragon-boy Hiccup does not. I am still the best viking of our age. That's right: me. Oh yeah."

It's supposed to end there, with Astrid and Hiccup exchanging their weird looks again, maybe Ruffnut and Tuffnut will snap and tell him to shut it, or retribution coming from Toothless in the form of a tail to the head, but all of that is cut off by a heavy hand on his back.

"That's right!" his father announces, voice cutting through the laughter of the great hall like an axe. "My boy is the best viking of his age! Soon, he'll be ready to claim his rightful place, Stoick!"

And just like that, everything stops.

All the laughter, all the celebrations. It's still and silent and Snotlout has never, ever wanted to be anywhere else so much in his life.

"I'd say we have a few years to go before I have need to take challengers, Spitelout," Stoick says coolly, from the other side of the fire. "But if your son does want to challenge me for my home, I'll stand."

But that isn't the challenge his father means, and they all know it. Snotlout hunches his shoulders and peeks at Hiccup sideways, who swallows hard but has always been man enough to meet his glance. It's an awkward kind of camaraderie, new and strange, but Snotlout takes a little comfort in it anyway.

Gobber, beautiful, wonderful Gobber, breaks the tension with a dry laugh. "Aye, and we'll be peeling our reigning Thawfest champion from the walls. Let's give him a few days to bask in his glory before we go scraping up his remains, eh?"

The vikings laugh, harsh and forced, but it's enough of an excuse for everyone to go back to their conversations.

But it's too late. Everyone is now glancing at their table. Toothless senses the tension and hurries up close to Hiccup, who smiles and slings an arm over his dragon's neck before clearing his throat. "So… Anyone up for flying?"

"Totally," Ruffnut says, and Tuffnut nods.

"Let's get out of here before Spitelout puts you two in a ring," he says, and then yelps as both Ruffnut and Astrid elbow him hard. "What? That's why we're leaving, right?"

"Urgh… Let's just go," Hiccup says, and they all do.

Thawfest suddenly feels kinda lame.


It annoys Snotlout how nice Hiccup is about losing. He's not bitter, he's not angry. He just smiles and sighs and exchanges little glances with Astrid, the same way he does about everything. It's annoying.

"It's Hiccup," Fishlegs points out, and Snotlout glares at him.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He does that funny face he does sometimes, the one that a year ago would have been him whimpering apologies, but now occasionally turns into a judging scowl. Fishlegs has really grown a backbone now they ride dragons.

"You think after all we've done to him since we were kids holds a candle to one stupid Thawfest competition?" he asks, and raises his eyebrows as he goes back to scrubbing Meatlug's toes. "It's not like it ended any differently to any other year."

Snotlout glares, but all his arguments fail before they even make it to the back of his throat. Fishlegs is right, same as he always is, because Snotlout always wins Thawfest. The only difference is that this time, it wasn't a clean sweep.

He realises now that even through his panic in the second half of Thawfest, he was kind of relieved when Hiccup talked back to him. He hated having his cage rattled, but there was something… good about Hiccup finally showing some – some – not nice-ness. After sixteen years, finally, Hiccup is –

Wait, what?

"Hey, whaddaya mean after all we've done?" Snotlout demanded, and Fishlegs stares at him blankly. It's been almost five minutes since they last spoke, focussed on washing the grime from their dragons, and Snotlout's been lost in his thoughts. He scowls at Fishlegs for his short attention span. "We haven't done anything to Hiccup that everyone else didn't do."

"Duh," he says. "That's the point."

"What? What's the point?"

"Like Hiccup's gonna care about losing Thawfest. He's been a loser our whole lives," he explains impatiently. It's aggravating, and normally Snotlout would punch him for treating him like an idiot, but right now he's got more pressing concerns, so he lets Fishlegs continue. "What, you think just because he's good with dragons now, he's going to care about not being good at the other stuff?"

It takes Snotlout a little while to understand that theory—the other stuff is more important than anything, and it's why Snotlout's so proud of his Thawfest streak—and it's days before he makes the rest of the connection.

Hiccup's been so stupidly nice, even since the whole dragon thing started. He's always been nice. A smart-alec, and sarcastic, and occasionally he'll talk like they're all idiots, but mostly nice.

And that's just stupid.

If it was Snotlout who had been treated like a waste of space—like an embarrassment—for any time, let alone his entire life, he wouldn't be taking this whole thing lying down. He'd be making sure everyone knew how stupid they'd been to treat him so bad. He'd be wanting tribute. He'd be making sure everyone knew he was mad, and he wasn't forgiving, and he sure wasn't going to be forgetting any time soon.

If he had the power over the dragons that Hiccup does, with the history Hiccup has, he would be making sure everyone knew how good they needed to treat him to stop him raining literal fire and brimstone down from his perch up on the unholy offspring of lightning and death.

But Hiccup doesn't. Even when the tribe looks to him, all begging him for help and advice, he just nods thoughtfully and gets on with it. Like he doesn't remember last year, or any of the years before.

It's a stupid way to do things, and for some reason it makes Snotlout feel even worse about everything that's going to happen.


Days. It takes days before his dad stops crowing over Thawfest.

At home, in the great hall, in the square, everywhere. He's not quiet about it. Stoick looks like he's about ready to tie him to an anchor and go for a long sail. But Spitelout doesn't care, telling everyone about how his son won the games, how his son is the best young viking, how his son will be the next chief.

It's nothing new. He does it every year. Normally, Snotlout would be bursting with pride, preening under his father's arm and adding his own spin when Spitelout stops for air.

But this year it's different.

"Just think about it, son," Spitelout says urgently over the hearth one night. "All you have to do is challenge Hiccup, and it's done."

This year, they're old enough to do something about it.

Last year, it was a given. As soon as their generation came of age, either Snotlout or Astrid would challenge Hiccup, and a new heir would be named. Chances were it would be Snotlout, because his father was head of the boats, while Astrid's family were just warriors. He was bred to lead. Hiccup would be gone, and finally, their tribe would prosper.

Last year, they were just waiting for the next thaw, when the teenagers would hit the midway point, and everyone could officially give up on Hiccup becoming something worthwhile.

Snotlout isn't as excited as he thought he'd be.

He skulks around in the shadows, watching his father pretend to inspect the half-filled armoury, when Gobber finally snaps. "Oh, aye, he's old enough to challenge, and he'd win, too. Challenger picks the weapon, and it wouldn't matter if he picked feather pillows; Hiccup'd be down for the count in less than a minute."

Spitelout smirks and puts down the sword he's been looking at, but Gobber's not finished.

"The problem is that Hofferson girl. Devoted to Hiccup, she is. Practically promised, as I'm sure everyone in the village knows right well."

Snotlout rolls his eyes at that stupid idea – Astrid is going to realise what she's missing soon enough.

"Y'know what'll come of that, don't ye Spitelout? The moment Snotlout becomes heir, she'll challenge him. And that girl's a proper viking, she won't even give him time to get comfortable before she's wanting to fight," Gobber says, as casual as an axe-blade. "I was there for their dragon training, Spitelout. How well do you think your boy'll go against Astrid?"

Spitelout pauses, and Snotlout has to cringe. Thawfest is one thing. A fight, against Astrid, who would be scary even if she wasn't a girl, is something else.

And Gobber's right. Astrid would do it. Not that Hiccup ever uses it, but being hope and heir to the Hooligan tribe means he does have the right to order people around. Last year, no one would have taken him seriously, and this year he gets authority mostly because he only uses it with his father's backing on dragon problems, but Snotlout knows he and Astrid wouldn't leave it there.

If Astrid becomes hope and heir, her first order of business would be chaining the new exile to her side. Sure, it would be demeaning and emasculating as Hel's own business, but slavery would keep Hiccup around.

"Stoick wouldn't allow it," Spitelout says finally. "We all know what she'd be doing to keep that boy around, and Stoick wouldn't have it."

"I dunno about that, Spitelout. There're other things to think about if Hiccup was in exile, after all," Gobber points out. "If he became an outcast, so to speak."

It takes a few seconds before the words sink in and click. Exile does mean outcast. Outcast. Alvin. If Alvin found out Hiccup was exiled, it wouldn't take long before…

Oh, snap.

Gobber and Fishlegs know all about dragons, but Hiccup understands them. The rest of them have their own dragons, and cautiously approach the others, but Hiccup can ride any dragon in the village with just a quick smile and pat on the head. Snotlout's pretty sure Hiccup could train any dragon he met, given enough time.

Alvin knows that. Everyone knows that.

A glint in the shadows makes Snotlout look up and across to the door behind Gobber and Spitelout, and just for a second, he sees Hiccup with a basket of daggers. There's no way to tell whether he's heard the conversation, because all he does is put down the basket and leave, only the quiet clack of his leg making any sound in the silence.

Snotlout wraps his arms around himself and finds he's having trouble breathing.


He could do it.

It's a good plan.

Simple, even.

Go to Astrid first, make the deal. Then challenge Hiccup. Win. Talk very fast to Stoick. Chain Hiccup before he gets to the boats. Easy.

Easy.

So why does he feel so uneasy?

He can feel Hookfang's eyes on his back as he stares out over the archipelago. He's not sure what either of them are looking at, but Snotlout can't get his mind off the race he won last week. For some reason, he just can't help thinking…

How did he win?

Hiccup's the best flyer. Nightfuries are the fastest dragons they've ever encountered. Even with all the delays he had, Hiccup was beating him, right up until…

What happened? Did the tailfin break, or something? Toothless wanted to win as much as Hiccup, so it's not like he would have gone on one of his random side trips.

Snotlout can't breathe.

He should have lost.

He should have lost Thawfest.

But – but Hiccup wouldn't have let him win. Not with everything that happened. Not… Hiccup… no one is that stupid.

Wait. Of course no one's that stupid. Not even Hiccup. Him being such a jerk during most of the dragon events proved it. So – so even if Hiccup did… Snotlout was supposed to win. He was the best viking. He was supposed to win.

Hiccup knows that. Hiccup knows he's the better viking.

Hiccup will go along with the plan.

"I – I can just tell him," he says, and turns to Hookfang with eyes that feel just a little too wide. "I can tell him the plan, and Hiccup will go along with it. Right? So it's not like – it's not like I'm doing anything wrong. I'm doing what's best for the tribe. Right?"

Amazingly, Hookfang is actually paying attention, but has nothing to say in response. He just blinks back, like he's waiting for something.

Which he is, Snotlout realises wildly. Waiting for him to get on. Waiting for him to ride to the smithy, where Hiccup is, where he can tell Hiccup the plan. Hiccup will go along with it. Hiccup will tell him what to d- no, uh, agree with what he has to do. Because it's his plan, and it's a good plan, and…

Hiccup. He needs to talk to – he needs to tell Hiccup.


He lands near the smithy just as Astrid is storming out of it, yelling wordlessly over her shoulder, and for a moment, Hookfang stumbles back and Snotlout lets him. An angry Astrid scares them all.

But then she's gone and he's free to climb down and head over, and he most definitely does not peek around the doorway because that would be cowardly. He is, however, okay with flinching back when all he sees is Toothless' snarl telling him to get out. Toothless is a Nightfury.

"What? What, Astrid? What else did you want to say?" Hiccup's voice is shorter, sharper and angrier than Snotlout's ever heard before, and Snotlout leans back against the wall with wide eyes, not sure if he wants to go in now. But Hiccup falters and it makes it easier. "Astrid? Toothless, what…?"

"Uh, yeah," Snotlout calls, and allows Hiccup a moment to register his voice before standing straight again. If it delays him having to face Toothless for another few seconds, he'll do it. "Yeah, it's me. Snotlout. Jorgenson. Snotlout Jorgenson," he adds, just in case.

There's a pause, before Hiccup sighs loudly. "You know what? Whatever. Go away."

He still sounds angry, but it's the version Snotlout's more familiar with – the tired, frustrated angry that Hiccup has been for sixteen years. So Snotlout swings around the doorframe, confident right up until he realises Toothless hasn't moved, and is still baring his teeth.

"Uh, Hiccup? You wanna… wanna do something about him?"

Hiccup is standing at Toothless' flank, just in front of the door to his room. It suddenly occurs to Snotlout that he's only been in there a couple of times, and never long enough to know anything about it beyond the fact it's Hiccup's and filled with paper. But he knows he's only looking at the door to avoid looking at Hiccup, so he mans up and turns his gaze. Hiccup stares back without an expression.

"No," he says finally, and turns away. "Smithy's locked down for the night and he's security. You want a sword, come back in the morning."

Toothless immediately snarls again, surging forward and making Snotlout backpedal.

"Whoa, hey, whoa, Hiccup!"

His voice does not crack. Or squeak. And he isn't relieved when Hiccup turns back again, somehow making Toothless stop without any other movement or word.

Snotlout calms his breathing and looks between dragon and rider silently, waiting. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't remember what he came here for. But he needs to – Hiccup needs – he can't leave now, either. Not until he's won or Hiccup's not-lost.

"What do you want, Snotlout?" Hiccup asks flatly. No one can make their voice as flat as Hiccup can.

"I – I came – I…" He looks over his shoulder, but Hookfang is neck-deep in a feeding bowl now, and everyone's in the great hall or at home. He wonders where Astrid went. "What… what was Astrid doing here?"

For a long time, Hiccup doesn't say anything. When Snotlout looks back, Hiccup continues to frown at him for a minute, before it's like something breaks in his back. His shoulders slump and he suddenly becomes the Hiccup Snotlout remembers from last year – beaten and tired and so far beyond frustration that even caring is hard.

"Same thing as you, I imagine," he says, flinging a hand at him. "Getting all riled up about the Heir Challenge that's probably gonna happen soon."

He disappears into his room, and Snotlout looks down at Toothless. The dragon hesitates, caught between trying to follow Hiccup and keeping anyone else from coming in. Eventually, he gives up and just lies down, glaring at Snotlout but allowing him to creep past and peer into the smaller room.

"I know, okay? I know how this works," Hiccup says the moment Snotlout steps into the doorway. He's sitting at the weird angled plank thing that's usually covered in paper and charcoal, but he's facing away from it for once, massaging his knee. "I'm not going to be chief. Astrid is the only one who wants me to be. Everyone's been waiting for you to challenge me since we were like five. It's old news."

Snotlout rubs the back of his neck, because he's not really sure what to say.

"I've been waiting my whole life for that challenge," Hiccup says quietly. "Just… waiting. Everything I've ever done has been just making sure I have some… some reason for Dad to just exile me, instead of letting me get killed."

Snotlout looks up from the floor he hadn't realised he was watching, realising that a few years ago, Stoick probably would've preferred his son died in an Heir Challenge. There was honour in that, at least. The one honourable thing Hiccup would have done in his life. Snotlout would've done it, too. But when the chief's wife died, it didn't seem right anymore.

But Hiccup is still talking. "And of course I screw that up too! I finally do something right, finally do something to make my dad proud of me, and it turns out to be the one thing that means I can never be exiled!" he cries, his chest heaving as bad as Snotlout's. "The one thing the village can't afford to let anyone else have. So I can't leave the village. I either stay, or I die. Of course this is how it ends."

Oh yeah. Snotlout drops his gaze back to the floor. The Hooligans haven't been a part of the slave trade for a hundred years. Killing Hiccup is probably the better plan.

He could…

He could do that, right?

He's a viking. Vikings kill all the time. He's killed sheep before. Yaks. Boars. All sorts of things. He could kill a person. He's sure of it. He could kill…

He can't breathe again.

"Thing is," Hiccup drawls, forcing him to look up again, "me dying is kind of not an option here. I am not letting Toothless stay downed, so I'm gonna remake his automatic tailfin before I accept any challenge. And without me, he'd…"

They both look back out the door, to the unholy offspring of lightning and death. They think of all those years where Toothless was unseen and unknown, a silent killer that watched over all the other dragons. They think what he would do if he could fly alone and knew what happened to his rider.

There's an odd kind of relief with the knowledge that killing Hiccup is a bad idea.

"So here's the deal, Snotlout," Hiccup continues, suddenly business-like, and Snotlout flinches back to face him again. Hiccup is looking at him directly, determined as he only is when Toothless is on the line.

But it's not Toothless on the line, this time. It's Hiccup. Hiccup and Snotlout and the whole tribe. Snotlout wants so badly to cut him off, but this is what he came here for, right?

"You go ahead and challenge me. Do it in front of everyone – big crowd. Whatever. I won't even put up a fight, so long as you put the challenge in the dragon arena, and you win by shoving me in a cage. And the first thing you do as heir is announce that that's where I'm gonna stay for the rest of my life."

He can't move. "What?"

"You heard me," he says coldly. "You win and you chain me. You keep me where I do the most good with my dragons, and I won't even argue."

In the back of his mind, Snotlout knows that if he was smart, he'd snort and smirk and point out that it's good he didn't have to explain what was going to happen. He'd stride over, grab Hiccup's hand and force him to spit on it to seal the deal. He'd be magnanimous in victory, offering him outings to come back to the smithy every now and then, so he could make saddles. He'd even let Astrid visit him, not that she'd want to for long, what with Snotlout as heir and Hiccup being a slave, and all.

Instead, he feels frozen, and his mind is cutting between all these heroic images and…

What's going to happen the next time Alvin shows up? What's going to happen the next time there's a snowstorm and there are still people or livestock outside? What's going to happen the next time they get in over their heads and can't tell Stoick?

When everything goes bad, and everyone's all crazy and violent and not thinking straight, and Stoick can't do anything because he's got to think of the tribe, not the consequences, and Hiccup's not there… who is Snotlout supposed to look to for answers?

When his silence goes on too long, Hiccup frowns and leans forward, his eyes narrowing. "What? What, that's not good enough for you? I'll be out of the village! I'll be with the dragons, no one will ever see me except when you say so! What more do you want?" He suddenly stands up, and there's a flare of something in his face, but he bites down on his lip and it disappears as he takes a couple of steps forward. They're surprisingly shaky, and Snotlout would wonder about that except that he's having trouble thinking or breathing or doing anything, and Hiccup is right up in his face now. "Well too bad, Snotlout. I am not gonna just roll over and die. You can have my father, you can have my title, you can have everything else, but you do not get my life and you do not get to decide what happens to me. So you take this deal, or I will fight you, and you know I don't fight alone!"

Toothless snarls his agreement, but for some reason Snotlout barely hears it. He's not quite… here, in the smithy. He's somewhere else, like in the fire caves when they were looking for Hamish's treasure, or on Dragon Island facing down Alvin, or in the air, circling the Red Death and even though Hiccup is right in front of him, pale and shaking and sweating and defiant, he's not there. He's locked away. Everyone is looking to Snotlout and he doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want them to look to him. He wants… he wants…

"Just get out, Snotlout!" Hiccup suddenly snaps, and he flinches. "Challenge me tomorrow, go ahead, take everything away, but that's tomorrow, not today! Today, this is my shop, and you shouldn't be here!"

He spins away and almost makes it back to his seat before he abruptly drops to one knee. His knuckles are white on the stool, and he breathes hard, his other hand shaking as he reaches for a few papers that Snotlout didn't previously notice on the ground.

"I've got work to do before you kick me out."

Snotlout… is lost. He has no idea what to do now. Part of him wants to leave. Hiccup told him to leave, and he feels like he should.

But he can't. He… he has to…

His father won't leave this alone. The tribe won't leave this alone. They've been waiting for this for what feels like forever, and even though it all feels wrong, now, it's…

"I… I challenge… you."

He hears the words. He's got no idea who said them. Hiccup slowly looks around, and Hel herself is in his glare. But he says nothing, and Snotlout finds his jaw working, though he knows he can't possibly be speaking.

"I challenge you for your birthright."

Hiccup uses the stool to push himself up, his weight unsteady but eyes strong enough to tilt the world to catch him. Snotlout mentally staggers with it, and feels everything go still.

Hiccup. Who is weak and scrawny and could never win a fight. Who has been waiting for years for Snotlout to challenge him and fighting every single day to make sure he lives through it. Who is currently literally unable to stand on his own two legs, but is still upright and still fighting.

Hiccup has spun their whole world on its axis this year, and changed the world to suit himself. To suit what he can do. He fights in his own way. He fights with dragons.

And suddenly Snotlout knows what he needs.

"As challenger, I pick the weapons. And I pick dragons."

Hiccup blinks, and Snotlout grins, his eyes a little wide again as he stumbles forward. Yes. Yes, this is what they need. What they all need.

"I challenge you to a no-holds barred race on dragon-back. Winner takes your birthright."

Hiccup slowly lowers himself onto his stool, just staring at him, but Snotlout can see his mind racing, thinking it through, thinking everything through, as only Hiccup can do.

After a second that feels like hours, a crooked smile splits his face, and he extends a hand that Snotlout snatches up, sealing the contract.

Hiccup accepts his challenge, and Snotlout feels the world begin to realign.


Snotlout is fun to write around. Incredibly frustrating, but fun to write around. I may do the other side at some point, but for now, I'll let you read between the lines.