(Snotlout struggles to find control)
DISCLAIMER: Kinda still wish I'd left it as a one-shot, to be honest, but… here we are.
Morning comes early, the sun rising before it feels like Snotlout's had time to rest, but he doesn't mind.
He's eager for the day. He does his workout faster and harder than normal, working up a glistening sweat, and bounds up the stairs to greet his parents more enthusiastically than he has in a week.
Today is the day. Last night was the night, but now they make it official.
He's done the math, of course. He knows what people will probably say, when he names dragons as weapons. Going up against the Dragon Trainer with dragons? It sounds stupid, and now he's more awake and not so… whatever he was last night, he does think it might not have been his smartest decision.
But, he decides as he spit-styles his hair, it's actually an awesome idea.
He did just win Thawfest on dragon-back, after all. So what if Hiccup trained a Nightfury? Snotlout rides a Monstrous Nightmare, and his dragon isn't all wishy-washy loyal like Toothless is. Hookfang is still a wild beast, and Snotlout enforces respect, not this trust nonsense. He commands obedience. And that is what an heir is supposed to do. Not… do it with niceness, or whatever.
Hiccup might be the Dragon Trainer, but he's no heir. He's not going to be having an easy time of this challenge, no-siree.
In fact, now he's thinking about it logically, Snotlout realises he'll probably still win this thing. He might have to chain the kid after all. And the look that'll be on his face… on everyone's faces…
Snotlout spends the morning with his father, announcing his intention to challenge Hiccup as soon as he can. It's fun, now. To brag. To feel the crowd's adoring gaze.
At least… it's fun until a full-bodied bellow makes everyone look up at the chief's house.
For a moment, silence reigns, everyone straining to hear just in case it's one of the chief's no-longer regular lectures at his son, or if Toothless is going to burn down the house, or if Hiccup has been doing another experiment that might risk the village's safety. But after that first explosion, the house is silent. Whatever's happening up there is too quiet to hear from here.
It does make Snotlout hesitate a little, though, his mind filling the silence with reminders of what Chief Stoick is like. If he wins… if he beats Hiccup and becomes heir… he'll have to answer to Stoick. Sometimes, he'll even have to stand up to Stoick. Tell him things he doesn't want to hear.
As the crowd begins to speak again, and Spitelout laughs, going back to his boasting, Snotlout finds himself thinking of Hiccup, and all the times he's screwed up over the years, and how he always manages to meet the chief's anger head-on, often with an eye-roll and a joke.
Snotlout can't even stand up to his own father, but Hiccup faced a dragon the size of a mountain without flinching once.
No, more than that… he freed a Nightfury, when dragons were merciless killers, without even pausing to think about what it might do to him.
And he was the first to ride dragons, and still the best.
The thought rocks Snotlout out of his shock, and he beams at the crowd, setting his fists on his hips. "It's about time we got an heir worth following, don't you think?"
He does his best to ignore a very audible scoff from what he thinks might be one of the twins, and focuses his attention on his adoring public. He gets swept up in the excitement easily, and it's all too soon that his father spots Hiccup near the smithy.
And suddenly, this is it.
This… is his moment. When everyone will look at him, hear his challenge, and think 'that Snotlout… that's a strong boy. That could one amazing chief, one day'. Win or lose, he will always have this moment.
He adjusts his belt, draws in a breath, and strides up the hill, envisioning his grand challenge, where Hiccup will cringe, and Snotlout will be strong, and impressive, and there really will be no comparison. He doesn't even look as he swings out his arm and calls, "There you are, Hiccup!"
A yelp and a thump makes Snotlout look down, to where Hiccup is sprawled in the dirt for some reason, with Toothless sitting on him, who looks very proud for an equally unobvious reason. It is just about the most perfect image Snotlout has ever seen.
Really. It is. Because here he is… great, powerful, defiant, everything an heir should be, and there is Hiccup, dirty and helpless, crushed underfoot. For his challenge, for Snotlout's dignity, this moment truly could not be better.
"Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third!" he says grandly.
"Snotlout Jorgenson," Hiccup greets, and Snotlout ignores him like the dirt he's sprawled in.
"Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third, I hereby challenge you, in front of all these good people! I challenge you, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third, for your title as Hope and Heir of Berk! I issue an Heir Challenge!"
"Yeah." It's so casual that Snotlout is startled out of his moment to stare again. Hiccup pushes Toothless off him and gets to his feet with a bored-sounding breath. "Yeah, I got that."
It's only the knowledge that everyone's staring at them that keeps Snotlout from gaping at him. Hiccup just looks back, bland and bored and there's something in his eyes that makes Snotlout feel like he's the one doing something wrong.
His moment suddenly doesn't feel so great anymore.
"Son!" his father hisses, and Snotlout jerks, dragged back to what he's doing. He draws himself up with a breath.
"As challenger, I pick the weapons!" he reminds the crowd. "And I pick dragons!"
"You what?" Spitelout snaps, and Snotlout turns, preparing the speech he's been telling himself all morning. About how he can do this. He'll prove he's better than Hiccup, no matter the method. But his father isn't given time to demand explanations, and Snotlout's thoughts are cut off as he is abruptly yanked around until he's staring into a pair of icy blue eyes.
"Say that again," commands Astrid.
It takes two days to organise the race.
They are, hands down, the worst two days of Snotlout's life, and they are more than enough to make him think he should have picked swords.
Hiccup doesn't help. He doesn't speak to anyone about Snotlout's choice of weapons, just looks to him with those weird, pointy looks he gets sometimes. The only person Hiccup does explain things to is Astrid, leading her away by the hand and speaking in a dark overhang while Snotlout is left alone to face his father.
His friends desert him. Fishlegs avoids him like the plague, and the twins are even worse than usual, Tuffnut pulling prank after prank, Ruffnut making her usual backward comments that she thinks no one notices. He tells Hiccup to talk to them, but he just shakes his head.
"I can't help out with this, Snotlout. No matter what happens, we've gotta find our own way until this is over. Or it won't mean anything."
Ugh. Why does he have to be so smug all the time? "Well, maybe I don't think it'll mean anything if you come out of this looking like some tragic hero! You know, I'm doing you a favour here, Hiccup! The least you could do is show a little gratitude!"
"Gratitude," he repeats, slowly, like he doesn't get it. "We're only having this challenge because the tribe thinks you want to kill me."
"Yeah, and now I'm giving you a chance to survive," he points out, and then, just because it kind of hurts that Hiccup hasn't been helping him with any of this, he adds, "Slim as it is."
Hiccup just stares at him for a long moment, his jaw clenching, before he smiles that sharp, angry smile Snotlout suddenly realises he hasn't seen for a while. It kind of makes him feel bad, but honestly, he's just too sick of everyone's attitude to care. The adults all think he's doing the right thing – once he explained things, even his father said it was the best challenge he could have made. But he's still being treated like the bad guy.
He doesn't regret choosing dragons, but… but when it's announced that the race will be that in name only, and the winner will be declared when one of the fliers can't race anymore, he thinks long and hard about artificial legs and tailfins and Hookfang's fire.
At he thinks that at least no one can say he didn't give Hiccup a chance.
The day of the challenge comes none too soon, and Gobber outlines the course with none of his usual smiles or jokes.
Spitelout decided on the rules, and Gobber on the track. There are long sections of flying channels, each leading to an 'arena' where the tribe can watch them fight. The 'race' doesn't end until one of the dragons can't fly.
Toothless has a new tailfin, with more metal that looks like it weighs him down. It still stands out, too, so Snotlout's not sure what the point is. His eyes drop to Hiccup's leg, and the pedal it's designed to hook into, and wonders if he'll need to melt it or just warp it out of shape, until something makes him look up again. Hiccup is looking at him. He looks like he knows what Snotlout is thinking, but like he doesn't quite understand it.
As they move toward their dragons and the starting line, he wonders why Hiccup's made everything so hard. Why couldn't he just… play along? Act like his usual weakling self, then put up a good fight anyone would be proud of, no matter how it ended? Why's he gotta be all stoic and practical and… and seriously, why can't anything ever go the way Snotlout expects it to, anymore?
It's so quiet, he almost doesn't hear Hiccup under the buzz of the crowd. But he does, and looks up with narrowed eyes. "What?"
For a moment, Hiccup just looks at him with a weird expression. Snotlout's got no idea how to explain it – it kind of looks a little annoyed, a little sad, a little confused, but there's something in it that makes him think Hiccup actually knows everything ever. It's a look that has never failed to annoy Snotlout, and his fists clench as he climbs into Hookfang's saddle. "What do you want, Hiccup?"
He hesitates, and Snotlout scoffs, looking away. "Aside from ruining everything, I mean."
"Ruin-" Hiccup moves toward him, disbelieving. "Snotlout, all we have to do is –"
"I know what I have to do, Hiccup," he snaps. "All I have to do is beat you. And then everything will go back to the way it should be."
Hiccup stops again, falling back on his good foot. "Snotlout, I –"
He looks at him now, and Hiccup looks back with that same look. Then something in him seems to shift, and he clenches his jaw before turning and getting up onto Toothless. "If that's how you want it."
He almost echoes himself at Thawfest, but holds himself back at the last second, because he refuses to admit that this moment feels exactly the same. He refuses to admit that all he can think of is how much he feels like he's on a cliff, with Hiccup behind him, able to push or save him, and Snotlout having no idea which he'll do.
He tries to remind himself that this is different to Thawfest. He made this situation. He made this challenge.
This time, he's in control.
Stoick steps up in front of them, and Snotlout steels himself for the speech. The chief has always been good at speeches. They rile you up, get you excited, make the blood pump fast and hot.
But even though he's expecting it… the speech doesn't come. Stoick just says what needs to be said: "We are here to decide the Hope and Heir of Berk and the Hooligan Tribe. Challenger, come forth and name your weapon."
That's right. He's the challenger. He made this. He's in control. "I am… I am Snotlout Jorgenson. And I name the dragon Hookfang as my weapon."
His voice is quieter than he thought it would be. He feels breathless.
"Defender, come forth and…" Stoick trails off, and suddenly, the crowd goes silent. Stoick visibly swallows before quietly finishing, "come forth and name your weapon."
Snotlout doesn't see, because he does it too, but he can feel everyone—the whole tribe—look at Hiccup. And finally, Snotlout sees what he wants to – he sees tiny, weak, insignificant Hiccup, who has never won anything in his life, who lost his leg, who is riding one of the smallest dragons in Berk and the only one that can't fly alone.
But then Hiccup nudges Toothless, and they step forward into the reflected light of the glacier, Hiccup's shoulders rolling back and his eyes gaining that edge they get around Alvin. His voice is stronger than Snotlout has ever heard it. "I am Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third, son of Stoick the Vast, and as defender, I name my weapon. I name the Nightfury, the offspring of lightning and death! I name Toothless!"
He ends on a shout as Toothless roars, echoed by Astrid's excited cheer and Fishlegs' whoop, and all around, the crowd ripples as they break into furious applause. Stoick rocks back on his heels, then beams and claps his hands, breaking into an energetic, inspiring speech that's barely heard over the tribe's excitement.
But Snotlout barely notices. He's still staring at Hiccup. At weak, tiny, insignificant Hiccup… who is humiliating him. Again.
And all Snotlout's reservations leave him far behind.
Hiccup is asking for this.
Stoick barely gives the go-ahead before Snotlout orders an attack, but Toothless is already in the air. Hookfang's jaws clamp down on nothing, an instant before he has to pull back to avoid a plasma blast.
Snotlout looks up, and is furious to see Hiccup isn't even looking at him – he's eyeing off the crowd, and when he does look down, his expression doesn't match his cocky statement, "I still don't know the Nightfury shot limit. Should we find out what it is?"
"You won't get the chance!" he snaps back, and urges Hookfang up. He'll do this with teeth and claws if he has to.
Snotlout's never really paid much attention to Hiccup's lessons on communication, preferring his own method of shouting, but now he wishes he had. He's always known that Hiccup doesn't direct Toothless with words as much as he does… something else, and they're all kind of aware that Hiccup mostly gives verbal orders to Toothless for their own benefit. But today there's no 'evasive manoeuvres', or 'give him a warning shot', or anything. Just "Alright buddy, let's go," before he suddenly shoots up and into the clouds, leaving Snotlout and Hookfang alone with the tribe.
He clenches his teeth and jerks on Hookfang's horns. "Fly, Hookfang! We'll take them out at the first arena!"
That's the plan. It's how it should have happened. But he's only halfway up the island pass when he's almost knocked out of the saddle by Toothless zooming up out of the ocean, so close his wings smack Hookfang's head. His dragon roars in response and lunges for the tailfin, but Toothless only flips mid-flight and looses another plasma blast, this one close enough to singe Snotlout's boots.
It's terrifying enough to stop him for a second, which is why Toothless can pause long enough for Hiccup to look at Snotlout properly. "This thing doesn't end until one of us can't fly anymore. We've –"
"I know that!" he yells, still too shocked from his near-miss to think properly. "And you know what else I know? That tailfin of yours is an easy target! Hookfang, annihilate!"
They barely dodge the blast and Snotlout feels a horrible spike of pleasure when Hiccup cries out. Serve him right. Serve all of them right!
"Okay, wow, so, um," Hiccup leans forward to continue shouting as Toothless flaps a few yards higher, and maybe he doesn't realise he's just putting his tailfin at a better angle to shoot, "are you putting on a really good show just in case someone sees us on their way to the arena, or have you actually managed to forget what we're doing here?"
"What we're doing here if I'm showing everyone just how much better I am than you!" he shouts. "Hookfang!"
Hookfang rockets up, and Toothless has to spin, wings tight in to his body, to avoid the collision. The move brings Hiccup's back into reaching distance, and Snotlout slams his fist into his shoulder for good measure as they slam past.
"Don't go kidding yourself, Hiccup!" he calls as they straighten and Hiccup glares up at him, holding his shoulder as if that might dull the pain. "The only reason you've made it this long is because I was gracious enough to give you a challenge you wouldn't totally screw up."
"What are you talking about?" he demands. "I thought we had an understanding!"
No. They had a deal. Hiccup got to live, maybe even got to keep his title, because Snotlout let him. And Hiccup was supposed to be grateful. He and the whole village were supposed to see Snotlout for the great hero he was.
And then, sure… sure, then Hiccup could win, and everything could go back to normal. But Hiccup just had to… It's just…
He didn't even have one day—one day—of being Thawfest champion before it became all about Hiccup. They should have been celebrating his win all week. They should've been talking about how great he was going to be when he was fully grown. What a future he had. What he could do for the tribe.
It's just like the last six months, and how all he's heard, every damn day…
And now this, his big challenge, his moment of glory…
He was grand. He was gracious. He was going to be such a graceful loser that for once, everyone would say 'It might not have been the Viking thing to do, but Snotlout sure did the right thing! What a hero!' That was how it was supposed to go.
But instead, all anyone's been saying is how strong Hiccup is being, how brave he is to face it. How prepared and poised and amazing Hiccup is.
They barely notice Snotlout at all.
"What I understand," he grinds out through clenched teeth, "is that you don't deserve this. And I'm going to prove it!"
Hiccup's eyes flare wide for a split-second before he drops against Toothless and they spiral down into a dive, out of the way of Hookfang's next shot. They swoop down and away, out of range, and Snotlout urges Hookfang after them, but it's too late. They're already working their way back up, and in seconds, they've disappeared into the clouds.
Snotlout roars in frustration, and then flinches as he realises what's happening. He's seen Hiccup and Toothless do this before. He's heard Hiccup rant about it endlessly in his tactics and trust lessons. "When you're in the air, you're not in our world, you're in theirs. You need to think like a dragon. Some rely on power, some on speed, some on tactics. A striker is most dangerous when you can't see them. They hide, and then hit hard. You won't see them coming."
"Hookfang," he says, staring everywhere and seeing nothing. "Hookfang, we need to get out of here. Go. Move!"
Hookfang bolts through the sky, heading for the arena ahead, but Snotlout knows he won't make it. The weird thing is that he almost feels calmer for knowing it. In control. He's gonna get hit by a plasma blast. Gonna fall. Maybe he'll get a scar. A hero's trophy…
He's jerked out of those thoughts by a strike to the back of his head. It feels like a fist, with practically no strength to it, but it's still surprising enough that he falls forward onto Hookfang's head. That shocks them both enough that neither can react as short, stubby claws snatch at Snotlout's belt and yank him out of the saddle.
He gapes as he's lifted up and away, unable to do anything but watch as Hiccup drops into Hookfang's saddle with a satisfied grunt.
Hookfang, the traitor, only looks mildly bewildered until Hiccup scratches his jaw, at which point he apparently stops caring and continues flying without complaint. Hiccup then looks up at Snotlout, who can do nothing but stare back.
"Wha – how?" He looks up at Toothless, who looks nervous but focussed. A glance at the tailfin shows it's out straighter than usual, and isn't moving with tiny adjustments the way it usually is. Because Hiccup's locked it, he realises. He's locked it so Toothless can glide.
"Okay, bud, just like we practiced," Hiccup coaches. "Just angle yourself toward the water and I'll be back for you as soon as I can."
"What?" Snotlout demands. "What's going on?"
Hiccup actually glares at him, hot and heated like that night in the forge, which suddenly seems so long ago. "This ends when one of us can't fly anymore. I'll fight you in your stupid challenge when you figure out how to fly my dragon," he says furiously, but then leans down to scratch Hookfang's jaw again with a smile. "Hey, Hookfang. Ready to win an Heir Challenge?"
The traitorous lizard roars, and Hiccup nods to Toothless. That's the last Snotlout sees before he's taken away, out of control, down to the ocean below.
It's bad enough that he gets dumped in the water as Toothless all but crashes into the ocean. Bad enough that he's forced to swim, panicked and freezing, to a rock more than a hundred yards away, with Toothless scrambling up beside him. Bad enough that he's been humiliated, a dozen times over, in the space of half an hour, much less the million times in the last six months.
But somehow all of that is nothing compared to the humiliation of Hiccup riding Hookfang down to him less an hour later, with Astrid following behind on Stormfly.
Snotlout has been ignoring Toothless for ages, so it's easy to ignore them, too.
"Hey, buddy," Hiccup greets Toothless before he's even off Hookfang, and as soon as he is, Toothless is nuzzling into his stomach, needy and affectionate. Something Hookfang is not, Snotlout notes as Hiccup checks Toothless' tail. "How'd you go? Everything work out okay? You are going to get so much salmon tonight."
Toothless licks him excitedly, but Hiccup only laughs softly before turning his attention to Snotlout. He sighs as he scratches Toothless' plates. "That wasn't the way I wanted things to go."
"Of yeah?" he snaps. "Seems like you got exactly what you wanted. To humiliate me. Again."
"You made the challenge, Snotlout," he points out. "Your dad was the one who made the rules."
"He expected a fight!"
"What, you wanted me to blast you?" he asks. "You could've gotten really hurt!"
"At least that would've had some dignity! Geez, Hiccup, what is wrong with you?"
"Wrong with me?" he repeats incredulously. "You think getting dumped in the ocean is worse than being blasted by plasma over a hundred-foot drop?"
"Oh, you're just so –"
They both jump. Normally Astrid is so hard to ignore, wherever she goes, but up until now he's almost forgotten she's there. He stares at her, surprised to discover she's not frowning at him for once, but Hiccup.
"Go back to the celebration, Hiccup. Your father wanted you back as soon as you got Toothless."
It's even more surprising when Hiccup scowls at her. "I'm not going to –"
"Hiccup?" she says, holding out a hand, "Don't. Just go, okay?"
"Go," she says again, and for a moment, they're both very still, gazing at each other silently. But in the end, Hiccup inclines his head and gestures to Toothless. In one smooth movement, he gets in the saddle and Toothless leaps into the air, leaving Snotlout alone with Astrid and the dragons.
He can't help but scoff. "Great chief we've decided on there. Lets a woman push him around."
"You wanna rethink that statement before you hurt yourself?" Astrid offers, her tone dangerous and look even more so. He considers it, because he's in the mood for a little pain, but he's never been one to hit girls and that's the only way this can end. So instead he just looks away, and Astrid lets out an angry breath before walking toward him. "I'm not going to say this again, so I hope you're listening. You did good today."
He frowns, sure he must have heard wrong, but doesn't look up as Astrid sits down beside him.
"You know… back in Dragon Training, it drove me nuts, hearing everyone talk about how great Hiccup was," she says evenly. "How he was going to win dragon training. How he was so amazing. So great. How he was better than I was. I hated it. Hated him."
"Yeah, that really lasted," he mutters, and is amazed when she doesn't hit him.
"Everything changed when he took me on that flight. Me, him… the whole world. It all changed around me. And after that, I was okay with everything," she continues quietly. "I was okay with it, because I realised that it wasn't that he was better, he was just – it was all just different."
"Yeah, he's the big hero. I really needed that reminder."
She finally starts glaring at him. "You made that challenge. You picked the weapons."
He doesn't say anything. He has nothing to say, because she's right. Her glare lessens as the silence continues, and she asks, "Why did you do it? Why challenge Hiccup to dragons?"
She won't accept the story he gave his father, he already knows. But right now, sitting here, humiliated, angry, wet and cold and miserable… he can't remember the real reason either.
"I think it's because you wanted him to win," she says softly. "You like the changes he's made, and you want to see what else he can do."
"No, I don't," he snaps, and then wonders if that's true.
"It's harder now, isn't it?" she asks, her voice hard for all its quietness. "Things used to make more sense when it was all about being strong. We understood how everything worked. Now, everything's different."
"It wouldn't have to be if he didn't change everything all the time!" he says furiously. "Why can't he do anything like I expect?"
"I don't know. Because he's the village hiccup, I guess," she says, and he scowls, but says nothing. Astrid continues looking at him expectantly for a few moments, then sighs and gets back to her feet. "At least he's easier to crack than you are. I'm done trying to get through to you."
"What?" he asks, and she raises her eyebrows, setting a hand on her hip.
"I'm not a talker, Snotlout. I tried the honey, now this is the hatchet. Things aren't going back to the way they were. We have dragons now, and our future won't be made on the edge of a sword. Now, you can stay here on this rock. Cling to what was and play your little strength games; that's fine. You can even challenge Hiccup again in a few months, but I promise you that even if your weapons are hammers he can't lift, nothing will change. Whatever the challenge, Hiccup will meet it, and you'll lose. He's too smart to just roll over and die, whatever he says.
"But if you want to stop wallowing in your own self-pity, you can get up and come back with me to the celebration. You can admit the world is changing, stand alongside us as a Dragon Rider, and face the future like a man. Because as far as I'm concerned, Snotlout, a real man—a real Viking—always faces forward. And he does what's best for the tribe, no matter what that means." She pauses, looking at him for a moment. "And you know, for just a little while, when you made that challenge, it's what I actually thought you were doing."
He frowns, not following, and she extends her hand.
"So are you coming with me, or not?"
For a long moment, he just looks at the offer. It's not really about helping him to his feet, he knows. So he doesn't take it. He just gets up, and meets her gaze, and she narrows her eyes in silent challenge.
They were pretty words. Almost sound inviting. But she forgot to mention that they come along with a heavy helping of just ponying up to follow Hiccup's lead. No honour, no glory, just… doing what you're told.
But… but didn't he only make this challenge because everyone told him it was what he was supposed to do?
Now he thinks about it… no wonder he hasn't felt in control since before Thawfest.
Except when he chose weapons.
He made that challenge. He made the situation he's in now.
That was definitely some control.
He smirks and saunters over to Hookfang before looking back at Astrid. "You know, I made that challenge because it was something Hiccup had a chance of winning."
"Yeah," she says slowly, walking back to Stormfly and watching him carefully. "And he did."
"Yeah. Just like I wanted him to. This whole thing? Just like I planned."
Astrid's mouth slowly opens as she stares at him, but she says nothing, and he climbs into Hookfang's saddle, repeating his own words in his head.
This was his challenge. His day. He decided this was going to happen. It could have gone differently, no matter what Astrid says.
He nudges Hookfang into the air, and doesn't look back as Astrid watches him go. If he goes to the celebration, it's to be the graceful winner he planned to be. The hero on the sidelines. Exactly like he wanted.
The world may be changing, but Snotlout at least has that measure of control.
Okay, so, this isn't really a happy ending… But it occurs to me that given that Snotlout's general story-arc is his struggle with right and wrong, I'm okay with that. How about you?