Hi there. I wrote a thing. I hope you enjoy it. Also it's a modern AU, just in case there was some confusion. Yep.

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The following is a work of derivative fiction. The author of this work claims no ownership over the characters and settings associated with How to Train Your Dragon and Rise of the Guardians, nor does the author claim ownership of the associated source material therein. The material found on through this work is not intended to infringe upon copyright, and the aforementioned titles are the sole legal property of their respective Copyright Holders. Please support the official release.



Chapter 1

Rough Sketch


Cresting over the distant horizon was a bright, vivid glimmer, peeking above the surface of the cold Atlantic sea as it shed its light across the slowly awakening town of white. The rising sun climbed steadily at first, only daring to share a sparse few of its rays with the sleeping world, but then it was as though its progress could not be more expedient, and the golden disc shot up past the dark blues on the horizon and lit up the world with its full glory, causing the blanket of fresh snow that covered homes, businesses, sidewalks and streets to glisten with a breathtaking radiance. Pity that there were so few awake to appreciate it just yet. Among the many structures cloaked in white and now bathed in glow was a large, sturdy-looking home, though in spite of its appearance, which seemed to assure it could withstand the elements with no difficulty, it also boasted a certain elegance to it, a finely designed character that may have suggested money, or status, though not without a fair share in humility as evidenced by the mostly subdued architecture. The house overlooked an average lawn, though its usual green verdure was currently draped in a soft screen of white, and also laid claim to a driveway of decent size, easily capable of playing host to an automobile or two. Up in one of the home's second story windows, a curtain could be seen fluttering open as a Burmese feline propped itself up on the windowsill, eyes narrowing in apparent relaxation at the feel of the sun's rays on its face.

Turning away from the window, the cat let out a mighty 'meow' at a mass of something or other that was presently huddled up in a mess of blankets on a nearby bed. As it turned out, the mass was a person, who groaned in response.

"Toothless come on, not right now."

The cat, Toothless, was not having any of this nonsense.

It leaped from the windowsill to the bed, jumping on the boy and sinking its claws in through the sheets, kneading the boy like dough in a most uncomfortable fashion.

"A-ah, ow! What, Toothless! No!" This seemed to be all the motivation necessary to get the boy beneath the sheets to sit up, pushing the black cat away with a huff. "Alright, I'm up!" He called, running a hand over his freckled face and shooting the Burmese a glare. Shaking it off the boy stood up and stretched, releasing a mighty yawn and scratching his stomach a bit before immediately curling in on himself and rubbing his arms against each other. "Yeesh, it's cold," he muttered to himself, stepping over to the window Toothless had reclaimed his perch upon and glancing outside.

He smiled when he saw the winter wonderland that waited for him, the rays of the sun lighting it up with an uncanny sparkle that he found to be incredibly beautiful. However, his expression immediately fell when he remembered what this much snow meant for later – shoveling, and lots of it. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the beautiful, bathing rays of the sun were quickly being stifled by the presence of more clouds that were moving into the sky, which threatened to drop yet more frozen stars upon the world below.

He pulled his gaze away from the window, glancing over at his bedside calendar. "Only Tuesday." he sighed, wishing it could at least be nearer to the weekend. Oh, but wait! No. The weekend wasn't going to be that great either, so. Never mind to that. Letting out a breath and flapping his lips a bit, he shuffled his way into the bathroom and ran a hand through auburn hair, giving himself a once-over in the mirror. A little run-down looking, but hey, that comes with waking up, right? Hair was messy, green eyes were a little puffy, skin looking a little pale – the freckles stood out more because of that. What he needed was a shower. Clean himself up, let the warm water soak in and brighten him like a chipper little spring flower. Right?

Without wasting another moment, he set about the task of his morning ritual, jumping into the shower and giving his body a cleaning, along with washing his hair (followed by at least seven minutes of just prolonged soaking under the shower head) before hopping out. He toweled off, brushed his teeth, gargled with mouth wash – the whole nine yards.

And then he stepped back into the biting chill of his room, with only a towel wrapped around his waist. Smart move. Seventeen winters in Berk and still, he would never be quite used to that cold that seemed to be everywhere year-round. It was honestly a little ridiculous. The temperature everywhere else in Maine seemed a hell of lot more moderated than here, in this cozy little piece of heaven, where a frost hung in the air across nine months of the year, the prelude to a powerful snow that buried the town for the other three. But hey, he certainly couldn't complain about it. After all, wouldn't wanna give the big, rough, tough Viking residents another reason to roll their eyes at him, or chuckle at his expense, right? After all, if they could handle the cold, why couldn't he? Come on, Hiccup, do your Norwegian Settler ancestors proud, why don't you.

He laughed dryly at himself and shook his head, tossing some stray drops of water about as he moved to his dresser and rifled for a pair of clean clothes. As he searched, a warm, furry mass moved between his legs, bringing a bit of welcome heat to the exposed limbs, though the sensation on the left side was partially missed. He smiled down at the large, purplish-black Burmese, reaching down to scratch at its ears.

"And a proper good morning to you too, Toothless." He might have described his greeting as a chirp, but it was a little too tired-sounding to really count. Turning his attention back to his wardrobe, he found a shirt he liked, figuring it'd go decently enough with a pair of those comfy jeans. He wasn't exactly an expert at coordinating fashion or anything, but he certainly wasn't hopeless. He made quick work of getting dressed, tossing on some undergarments, pants, a sleeveless black shirt beneath his T-shirt (Winter was settling in fast! Layers were kinda necessary), and popped on some socks. He then made his way to his closet to grab his coziest, comfiest, and most understated hooded sweatshirt, colored in a dull, olive green, and wasted no time in wrapping himself up in it. Ah, warmth at last.

Grabbing his wallet and phone off of the nightstand and pocketing them, he made his way over to his desk. A myriad of notebooks lay scattered about, as well as scraps of writing, sketches, and text books. Toothless hopped up on the desk and let his gaze wander around, seemingly enraptured in whatever it was his human was looking at. Hiccup was currently admiring something he'd drawn just last night in an insomnia-fueled quest to satisfy his latest stroke of inspiration. A broad, black dragon with a proud countenance decorated the page, detailed to the last stroke with scales, a measured wingspan, and fierce, intelligent eyes. Eyes that were almost a mirror image of the feline that gazed upon the creature, seemingly proudly. Toothless sat back on his haunches and puffed the fur of his chest out a touch, his eyes closing in apparent bliss. Hiccup smiled and gave the cat a few pets.

"Yes, you're a ferocious little monster, Toothless. Now can you move please, bud? I need that notebook you're sitting on."

Toothless didn't seem as though he wanted to acquiesce, but after a few gentle prods from the boy, the cat took the hint and plucked itself up, stretching languidly and taking his sweet time before finally hopping off the desk. Hiccup rolled his eyes and began to gather the notebooks, text books, and a few of the drawings, placing them into a book bag he had procured from beside his desk.

"I've gotta start getting more organized when I work on this stuff…" he muttered to himself, noting the orderly state that he kept the rest of his room in and inwardly criticizing his carelessness at the messy workspace. His reverie was interrupted, though, as a voice called from downstairs, rather loudly.

"Hiccup! Are you comin' down any time soon, son? Your breakfast is gonna freeze, you know!"

Ah, dad, impatient as usual. Hiccup made quick work of gathering the rest of the belongings he'd need for today's assuredly lovely day of school, and made his way out the door, trudging down the steps at the end of the hallway and into his home's den. A quick left at the landing saw to his arrival in the kitchen – a rather ornately designed space, with some aesthetically pleasing tile and an impressively long table. It seemed that no matter how often Hiccup stepped foot in this kitchen, he'd never stop finding its extravagance a little absurd. It just didn't suit him, nor did it really suit his father, either, and they both knew it.

But hey, when your father is the great Stoick "The Vast" Haddock, mayor of this lovely town, you simply had to be prepared to entertain "important guests", no matter how much Stoick rather hated bumping elbows with the high and mighty bureaucrats of the surrounding government. He preferred to look at his position more as "chief", and as far as he was concerned, the measure of a good "chief" was in how well he looked out for his town, took care of his people, and helped directly with prosperity. It had nothing to do with how well one campaigned or what phony smiles one could give to government officials. But alas, appearances needed to be kept, and Hiccup could attribute his rather large home to such necessary charades. Still, he was glad that his parents had at least tried to pick something relatively subdued when determining how the kitchen ought to be decorated all those years ago. Looking at the nicely polished, but plainly-colored tiles and the basic oak countertops, he'd say they succeeded.

Speaking of his father, the large, large man (certainly gave honor to that title of his), was currently sitting at the head of the table, already half way into his meal when he noticed Hiccup's arrival and gave the boy a nod and a small smirk. "Morning."

"Mornin', dad." Hiccup murmured, taking the seat to his dad's right, where a plate of eggs and leftover fish sat waiting for him, its temperature having cooled from an assumed hot to a dull warm. Stoick had probably been cooking while Hiccup had been showering.

He began to eat his food silently, absently wishing he could maybe move a few seats over with Stoick somehow not noticing. He didn't like sitting so very close to the large man. It made him feel small – well, smaller – by comparison, and he could never shake the impression that his father was always silently scrutinizing him, trying to double check for any changes the boy may have gone through in the hours since he was last seen. Hmmm, hm, ah! Nope. Still the same old talking fishbone.

Stoick cleared his throat as he seemed to slow down in the pursuit of finishing his meal, making the silent air seem more awkward than it had been already. "So…" he tried, and Hiccup resisted the urge to sigh. Here we go. The Haddock men attempt to make small talk. Again.


"I'm going to be pretty occupied today." Stoick began, clapping his hands together as if he was telling some exciting news. "Got to oversee construction on the new storehouse down at the wharf. I swear those men are like chickens running around with their heads cut off without my guiding them," he explained, his thick accent making itself more apparent as his voice picked up luster. Hiccup had to give him credit for trying to sound chipper. He decided he would be pretty crummy if he didn't make an effort in return.

"That's, uh, that's great, dad!" he replied with a very obviously feigned excitement, though Stoick seemed as though he wasn't going to comment on it. "Uh, always, you know, glad to know how important and needed you are around here…" he trailed off, turning his attention back to his eggs.

Stoick nodded, coughing a tad. "Ah, yes, well. Can't be a proper chief without, ah, looking after the,"

"The people." Hiccup cut in, finishing the sentence with an understanding tone.

"The people, yes." Stoick replied quickly, his words stepping over the tail end of Hiccup's before diffusing into awkward silence once more. Stoick drummed his fingers on the table. Hiccup was willing to bet he wasn't done trying, though, and that's a bet he would win. "So! Are there, uh, any upcoming events at school I should know about?"

Hiccup managed a slow, agreeable nod (he thought, anyway) as he swallowed a bite of the cod. Had to hand it to his dad, most people couldn't make leftover fish taste quite as nice as it had been when it was first cooked, but that man sure could pull it off. "Yeah, there's a, uh, football game this weekend. I'm sort of on the news crew for it. Gonna be, you know, filming it and stuff, edit it together for the biweekly school news report."

"Ah, I see… Just, uh, just filming it then?" Stoick asked, his voice containing just the barest traces of hope, or perhaps just seeking an affirmation of hopelessness.


"Ah, alright then."

Hiccup could feel the poorly-concealed disappointment in the man's voice. It made Hiccup want to release the sigh to end all sighs. But, as with most things around his father, he held it in. I mean, come on, he'd survive, right? It was just yet another football game that Hiccup wasn't playing in. It's not like Stoick really expected his son to surprise him with a sudden announcement of 'Hey dad! I spontaneously got on the team! And I'm the star player! And I'll be winning this weekend's game!', did he? Hiccup certainly hoped not.

He gave some consideration to the idea of letting Stoick know about the upcoming art showcase that he was set to be featured in. It was actually a pretty unique affair, a large-scale event that would be passing through the Berk area – practically unheard of, considering the town's lack of, well, any artistic culture whatsoever. So that was something, wasn't it? But chancing a glance up at his dad, the man's eyes downcast dully at his plate as he quietly ate his meal changed Hiccup's mind immediately. He'd already had to disappoint his dad this morning with a reminder of his not-an-athlete son, he didn't suppose he was really looking for an also-I'm-an-artist revelation right now. That was basically the most stereotypically meek hobby Hiccup could think of, frankly, and he didn't think he'd need yet another idea planted in Stoick's head about how his toothpick of a son couldn't lift a hammer.

Not that that was true, of course. Hiccup honestly felt like he had plenty of muscle going for him, for someone of his frame at least. He'd done plenty of running for one lifetime, that was for sure, and it's not like he never did any manual labor. But, alas, when you lived in a town where most of the boys your age were twice your size or bigger, having a 'decent' amount of muscle just didn't quite cut it. Especially not when most of the people in this town had a habit of valuing brawn over anything else, and a man's worth was typically decided by what good he could do with his two hands. It was a pretty old-fashioned mindset, but one that had persisted in this town since it was first settled by their Viking Ancestors (supposedly), hundreds of years ago…

Hiccup took another look at his father's downtrodden features and felt his heart sink. He could honestly remember a time when he and Stoick had a much easier time of talking to one another. A time when things weren't so awkward, when Stoick had a better ability at understanding his son. And of course, when Hiccup had a better ability to understand Stoick. The understanding that his mother had fostered between them. Unfortunately, that seemed to have died on the same day she had, and things had never quite been the same since.

Finishing his meal, Stoick rose from the table, clearing his throat as he made to deposit his plate into the sink. "Hiccup, I've got to get an early start on work, gotta get down to the docks. But there's a package I need to have delivered to Gobber's. It's waiting at the rail station. I want you to go and pick it up for me, and have it delivered to Gobber's on your way to school. Can you do that for me?"

"Uh, yeah, sure dad, no problem." Well, it would mean getting an earlier start on leaving the house than he had hoped, but he was rather used to being sent out on errands like this now and then. "I'll handle it."

"Good." Stoick nodded, seemingly pleased, sniffing once audibly as he turned his gaze back onto his son and plucked up a large bag that had been leaning against the kitchen's butcher block, draping it over his shoulder. "I'll leave that in your hands then. It's gonna be snowin' all day, so, careful on your walk to school," he warned with that same trace of awkward, unsaid sentiments in his voice. Something akin to worry as well as despair that his son could be, admittedly, just a little clumsier than he would have liked (not that that was really Hiccup's fault, and they both knew it). "And don't forget to shovel the driveway for me when you get home from school."

"Sure thing." Hiccup nodded again, not looking up from his eggs.

Stoick nodded again and looked away, one hand on his hip as he seemed to search for something else to say. Hiccup couldn't really help with that, as he seemed to lack a closing sentiment as well. The large man scratched his nose a bit and finally settled on grunting out a "Well I'll be off then…" as Hiccup simultaneously muttered a "Yeah, have a good day…"

The two swapped a half-hearted wave as Stoick exited the kitchen, bulky frame barely fitting through the wide entrance. Hiccup heard the door open and close moments later, and the sound of an engine rumbling as his dad departed.

He let out a breath then, feeling like he could breathe more easily now, only to follow that realization with a swipe of his hand across his face. "I'm a terrible son." He puled to himself, dropping his fork and finding that he no longer had any desire to eat the meal his father had so generously prepared for him. Really, he never failed to feel awful with himself at times like this.

Stoick certainly wasn't the most understanding father in the world, sure, and could be a bit stubborn, stuck on his ways, pig-headed, and sometimes stepped all over Hiccup's dreams, yes. But he still made the effort. He sort of, kind of, in his own Stoick the Vast sort of way, tried to reach out? And Hiccup couldn't exactly say the same for himself. He couldn't honestly claim he made much of an effort to meet his father half way, though that may have had something to do with the fact that if Hiccup even started opening himself up… Well, he was pretty confident that Stoick's opinion of him would just decline to a point even lower than it had been previously.

Well, no sense in continuing to dwell on all of that right now. If he wanted to make sure and complete his father's errand and still make it to school on time, he'd probably need to get going pretty quickly. He got up from the table and brushed his unfinished meal into the garbage with a sigh, leaving the plate in the sink alongside Stoick's and made his way back into the den. His shoes waited for him at the door, and he pulled them on while hollering up the stairs. "Toothless! I'm headin' to school, bud!"

He received a loud meow in response and moments later the cat came rushing down the stairs, immediately pressing his nose into Hiccup's arm as if to urge him to drop what he was doing and pet him. Hiccup chuckled at his furry companion and gave the feline an affectionate rub behind the ears before returning to the task of putting on some shoes. "Gotta go, Toothless." He told the cat, standing up as he secured his shoelaces and opening the door. He muttered a small 'no' to the cat as it tried to follow him out, using his leg to block the opening as he slowly closed the wooden barrier. "Come on, buddy, get your face back indoors," he instructed with a laugh, amused at Toothless's attempts to keep as much of his face in Hiccup's sight as possible before the boy finally managed to close the ingress without catching any feline appendages in its wake. He fumbled about his coat pocket, procuring a set of keys which he used to lock the door behind him, still chuckling when he saw Toothless leap onto the adjacent window sill inside, getting comfortable as he assumed his standard 'seeing Hiccup off' vigil. The boy waved one last time at the cat before finally turning and heading out.

Now that he was outdoors, the amount of snow that had fallen overnight was much more apparent than it had been from his bedroom window. He inwardly groaned, remembering his father mentioning that the snow was going to persist throughout the day. There was already at least half a foot coating almost everything that hadn't been salted the night before, and he cursed his carelessness at having neglected the weather forecast yesterday. He could have perhaps avoided some of the work that the driveway was going to be later if he had had the foresight to coat it in the salty, ice-melting compound.

Still, as he trudged his way through the snow in the direction of Berk's lone rail station, he had to admit it wasn't all bad. He may have harbored a dislike for the work that came with the arrival of snow, but he never really got tired of the beauty of it. The freshly fallen coat held such a pure, untainted look to it, and the icicles hanging delicately from rooftops sparkled in the morning sunlight in the most subtle, pleasing of ways.

By all accounts, his spirits on this walk would probably have been higher if it weren't for his intended destination. "Ugh… of all the errands…" he groaned aloud, keen on talking to himself when no one was around. "I could have been sent to drop off some paperwork to city hall! Sure, it's about a mile out of the way, but who doesn't like a scenic walk?" he remarked sarcastically. "Or I could have been asked to review some of the new floor plans for the storehouses, which would basically entail doing a total revision and keeping me up all night worrying about correcting the flawed designs that Bucket is still somehow in charge of!" Hiccup lamented, throwing his arms into the air at the memory of the last time Stoick had awkwardly handed a set of blueprints to him, asking him if he could give them a look over as he felt that 'something was off' with the designs that Bucket, one of the workers down at the docks, had handed him. Oh, something had been off alright. It was a damned deathtrap waiting to be built. "But nooo, I had to get stuck with this…" he trailed off.

It wasn't a very long walk, unfortunately, and the rail station was in plain view already. Now, Hiccup had nothing against the rail station, really. After all, it was actually one of the few especially neat things about the town. A train that stopped in every day, picking up exports and dropping off imports, bringing new and exotic things with it and taking the mundane and the everyday that Hiccup was used to away with it. It was a central part of the town, really.

No, he didn't mind the rail station one bit. What he minded was the very idea of interacting with the man who ran it.

As he approached, he could already hear the cantankerous voice shouting orders at an unloading crew, whom were currently occupied carting several large boxes off of an open train car. The voice belonged to a gnarled, contemptuous-looking old man who rested his weight on an equally gnarled staff, clutching it in bony fingers attached to beanpole limbs. He was possessed of a shock of messy, white hair that stuck off his head on either side, flaying out at the tips, and a mustache that fell on either side of his cheeks, hanging low past his shoulders. The tip of his chin also sported a thin slip of a beard, though most of his chin was left bare save for the grizzled stubble that resided there.

"Oh come on then! Put ye backs into it ye bunch of layabowts!" he commanded of his crew, an accent thicker than Stoick's hanging off of his words. "Why when I was your age, I could lift three times me own weight wi'out battin' an eye, and woulda had this whole car unloaded by now!"

The working men all seemed to be muttering retorts to themselves as they went about their work, but the old man was apparently too wrapped up in his own tragic musings to take notice. "Moi, how the workin' class has declined in its work ethic." He clicked his tongue thrice, shaking his head at his men as if in pity. "Wot is a poor old man to do?"

But as he seemed prepared to drop his melancholy theatrics and launch into a new tirade of screams and shouts, a small noise caught his notice from behind.


Turning his attention like a bolt of lightning, the man's glassy eyes settled on Hiccup, who was rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "Ooooooh, well, isn't this a nice surprise." The old man crooned with a thickness of sarcasm that could even make Hiccup envious. "I see Stowick couldn't be bothered to grace me with his own presence, so he had to send the li'tle Hiccup, eh?" He spat with an unadulterated vitriol. "Pheh, just the very soight o' you is offensive to me eyes."

Hiccup's eyebrows drooped and his mouth adopted a thin, flat line. "Nice to see you too, Mildew."

The man moved faster than Hiccup would have given credit to any normal senior, getting up in his face and taking on a venomous tone as he dug his bony finger into Hiccup's chest. "I'll not have ye using that name at me, Hiccup. You address me properly now, or me and your father are gonna have us some words."

Hiccup regretted having said it as soon as it left his mouth – referring to the miserable old man as 'Mildew', based just on the smell he carried with him, was commonplace around Berk. But the man himself absolutely hated it, and Hiccup had unfortunately forgotten to check his sardonic tongue.

"Apologies, sir." Hiccup replied, trying to avoid breathing in too heavily with Mildew's face just inches from his own, glowering. "But I'm here to pick up the-"

"I know why you're here!" Mildew cut him off rather loudly, a bit of spit flying to hit the boy in the face. He finally turned to face away from him, giving Hiccup the opportunity to glare at his retreating back as he made his way toward a large, wooden crate. "Come to pick up this blasted thing…" Mildew trailed off, leaning heavily against his walking staff and muttering curses under his breath as he rifled through a variety of packages he had sitting on top of the crate. He finally plucked one up, a small parcel wrapped up in brown paper and tied with twine and turned to throw it at Hiccup, who thankfully managed to catch it. "Here! Now get out of me sight, ye worthless li'tle whelp. I've got a station to run and don't need ye hangin' about and makin' a nuisance of yourself. 'Course, suppose that's all you ever do anywhere you go," he added as he turned back to his workers, who hadn't ceased in their unloading. "Always runnin' about, makin' a mess of things, and then crying home to mummy to make it aaaall better," the old man decided to tack on with a mockingly sympathetic tone, glaring at Hiccup as he did. "Too bad she isn't around to cry to anymore, hmmm? Though I suppose she dodged a bullet, not havin' to witness wot a sorry mess you grew into."

Hiccup had heard enough, and feeling he was dangerously close to losing his temper with the old man, he turned to storm away, his face feeling red hot and words just dying to wrench themselves from his tightly sealed lips.

"Thaaaaat's roight, run along now Hiccup. I'd rather ye not embarrass the both of us by crying here in front o' me," Mildew spoke once more. He sounded sadistically amused at his own comment.

Hiccup turned to face him, his glare filled with hate as he angrily shot back, "Why don't you just drop dead!"

And without waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and rushed off, eager to leave that despicable place behind, though he could hear Mildew calling after him that he'd regret his words.



When Hiccup had put considerable distance between himself and the rail station, and had had some time to cool down, he realized Mildew was probably right about those regrets. Mildew was just a hateful old man who filled a paper-pushing, supervisional job that no one else in Berk seemed to want; though he claimed they simply weren't qualified. Everyone knew he was about as horrible as he was alone, and everyone was supposed to know not to take him seriously and to just move on with their lives when he went on the verbal offensive.

And now, Mildew would no doubt get ahold of Hiccup's father later and complain to him for about an hour about what a horrible, disrespectful, worthless son he had, and Stoick would then have a long talk with Hiccup about controlling his outbursts and about how he shouldn't treat Mildew the wrong way. And of course, the icing on the cake, Hiccup would just nod silently and hold his silence about what exactly Mildew had said to him because the very idea of bringing up his mother in Stoick's presence was practically taboo. The only time she was ever talked about was in brief mentions of fondness from his father, which Hiccup could then chime in on if he so pleased. But for Hiccup to bring it up? He'd chill the air to an icy temperature, harden Stoick's gaze, and make the tension between them thicker than usual. He hated that.

The auburn-haired boy sighed heavily and rubbed at his temples as he walked at a brisk pace, eager to complete this errand of his. He didn't want to think about this right now. He walked for a period of roughly ten minutes, lost in his thoughts and trying to invent excuses to tell his father later about why he flew off the handle at Mildew, and found almost too late that he was nearing his destination, his distractions in his own reverie seeing to it that he almost walked right past the place.

A large, brown, dome-shaped establishment lay before him, its making of old oak and metal boltwork giving it a very aged, rustic feel. A sign hung above the entrance to the place, stylized writing indicating the location as being 'Gobber's'. Well, at least this visit could be marginally more pleasant.

Shoving at the somewhat heavy door of the establishment, Hiccup pushed his way into the dimly-lit tavern/café/restaurant (it really depended on what mood Gobber was in at any given time of day), being greeted by the eponymous man who stood behind the counter, a cheery grin on his haggard face. "Heccup! Good to see you, lad."

"Hey there Gobber." Hiccup returned with a smile, approaching the counter and seating himself on a bar stool. "I came to give you this." The boy produced the small parcel which he had tucked into his book bag then, setting it on the countertop for the barkeep to inspect.

Gobber grinned at the package, the expression bringing more attention to the silver tooth which sat prominently in his lower jaw. "Ahh, Stoick send you by the station, did he?" the man asked, plucking the parcel up in his right hand and shaking it a tad, facing one ear toward it and chuckling like a kid at Christmas. "Been expecting this little goody!" The robust man then brought his left hand up above the counter, though it couldn't really be called a hand so much as a large, bludgeoning object of steel. Hiccup raised an eyebrow at Gobber's choice of prosthetic today, but as with most things Gobber-related, felt it was best not to ask questions. True to expectation, the barkeep brought the bludgeon down on the counter top, making a very loud thunking noise as he raised his voice over the music that was presently playing through the establishment.

There were only a few patrons present at the moment, what with the early hour of the day seeing the establishment in 'café mode'. Only a few men sat about, sipping at steaming mugs of coffee blacker than any night and probably just as tasteless as the men themselves. They didn't pay any mind to the loud ruckus Gobber was making, and just as well, as it wasn't directed at them.

"Oi, Phlegma!" Gobber called at a rather tall, somewhat intimidating woman whose face was decorated with a stern expression. "Bring Heccup here a hot cocoa, eh?"

"I'll be gettin' on that in a moment Gobber, just hold yer britches." She called back in a tone that seemed harsh, but that Hiccup had learned to associate with good-natured. At least, for her, anyhow.

Hiccup chuckled, shaking his head at the regularity of the exchange. "No, that's really okay Gobber. I've gotta get going anyhow, school and all, you know."

"Ah, nonsense Heccup, ye got plenty o' time yet. S'only seven-thirty!" Gobber reassured him, hobbling over to the other end of the counter on one leg of flesh and another of wood to set his package down on a low-hanging shelf before turning his attention back to Hiccup and stroking his long, braided mustache contemplatively. "Now, I can tell you've got somethin' on your mind, lad, so why don't you let me lend you an ear?"

Hiccup laughed nervously as he rubbed the back of his neck, looking away from Gobber. "How, how do you always do that?"

"Oh now come on Heccup, I've known ye since you were in diapers. I think I can tell when you're bein' bothered by somethin'! And not just the usual bits, mind you."

"Oh, ha ha ha ha ha…" Hiccup put as much insincerity into the sound as possible. Gobber was of course referring to Hiccup's usual troubles – you know, not fitting in, general troubles with his father, stress over school, all of that common tripe that no one should give two hoots about.

"Can the sarcasm. Spill." Gobber instructed unamusedly.

"Ah, it's nothing, really Gobber. You know, usual stuff, like you said, not worth hearing about. How are you?"


"No, I mean, really now, why would you want to bog yourself down listening to my woes? You've got a lot more important affairs to deal with, you know? Like, minding the tavern, or supervising the wharf – you know they're building a new storehouse down there today, shouldn't you be there? – or you know, opening up that package that I braved a tongue-lashing to obtain for you, or maybe-"

"Ahhh, so it's about Mildew then, isn't it?"

"Mildew?" came the sound of Phlegma's strong-willed voice as she approached, setting a steaming mug down in front of Hiccup that just smelled heavenly. "What's that old geezer gone and done now?"

Hiccup groaned and rolled his eyes. "It's, it's nothing guys! Just Mildew being his normal self, you know how it is." The boy tried to wave the situation off with a casual wave of his hand. "Not worth dwelling on it, really."

"Heccup, now if this were just some run-o'-the-mill run-in with Mildew and his wicked tongue then I don't think you'da been coming in here with that walkin' dead look you were carryin' about when I saw you."

"Walking dead? Come on, Gobber, I-"

"No, he's right Hiccup, you look awful. Worse than usual, you know." Phlegma tossed in as she bustled about the counters, collecting discarded mugs that had possibly been left by earlier tenants.

"Thank you, Phlegma, for that charming observation." He deadpanned, before heaving a heavy sigh for the umpteenth time that morning. "You guys are not gonna let this go, are you?"

"Nope." They both chimed in unison, fixing Hiccup with stern looks.

"Look, Mildew just got exceptionally nasty today, and I got kind of mad and-"

"Oh, you didn't go and say somethin' you shoulna have, did you?" Phlegma asked with a raised, stern brow, stopping mid-collection in her current task of placing some steaming mugs of coffee on a tray.

"…I may have told him to drop dead?"

"Oi." Gobber responded, rubbing a hand against his face.

"Oh, Hiccup, you know how that old fool gets!" Phlegma admonished him from over her shoulder as she made her away from the bar, toward some new tenants waiting near the back of the establishment.

"Aye, and you know Stoick is gonna be hearin' about this." Gobber added, resting his weight on his elbow and leveling Hiccup with as stern a look as Gobber could muster. "I certainly hope the coot said somethin' to deserve it, Heccup."

"Gobber, when does he ever not deserve it?"

The surly man raised his prosthetic, wagging it in Hiccup's direction. "You know wo'I'mean."

Hiccup rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat, arms falling loosely to his side and grimacing at the idea of talking about it. But Gobber had that somewhat nosy nature of his at times like this, and he wouldn't let it drop at this point. Besides, maybe if he knew the circumstances, he could talk to Stoick later and forewarn him, so that Hiccup himself wouldn't have to explain it and risk that awkward tension he so dreaded. "He started talking about my mom, about how she was gone and how I couldn't 'go running and crying to her' anymore."

The news seemed almost physically painful to Gobber, emphasized by the "Oof," he made in response, shaking his head and causing the blonde braids hanging from his face to swish about. "That old bastard was really diggin' deep this time, eh?"

Hiccup nodded. "Yeah, but you're right, I still shouldn't have said anything. He's just going to go and make trouble for everyone now…" The boy rested against the bar, cradling his face in one hand as he absently reached for the still steaming mug Phlegma had left for him. His mood instantly seemed to pick up as he took a sip, humming in contentment. "Gobber, you need to give that woman a raise, because this stuff just gets better and better every time I come in here."

"I'm with Hiccup," said woman chimed in cheekily as she returned, setting about more seemingly menial tasks. Hiccup got the impression she was just trying to linger.

"Aye, be off with ye, ya harpy, you're already squeezing a pretty penny out of me as it is!" Gobber responded with a mock brashness, which was met by a powerful glare from the sturdy woman.

"And just who're you callin' a harpy, ya grizzled old troll?"

"Guys, guys," Hiccup spoke up. "Much as I hate to interrupt this lovers quarrel, I really do think I should be going."

"Have you told your father about the art showcase, Hiccup?" Phlegma asked in a commanding tone, ignoring the boy's comment.

"Art showcase? What art showcase would that be?" Gobber asked, this clearly being news to him.

"Ahh-ah, that's, that's a very good question Gobber! And one, uh, that I will not be answering. How much do I owe for the cocoa?" He asked, trying to quickly change the subject.

Phlegma huffed in irritation, but shook her head. "On the house. Now get on with you." She commanded, giving the boy a glare before turning to get back to work.

Hiccup gave her an appreciative smile as he made for the exit, Gobber's voice sounding behind him as he went.

"Art showcase? What art showcase! Phlegma! Get back here and talk to me ya bride of Grendel or I'm dockin' your pay!"

Hiccup breathed out in temporary relief as he made his way back into the cold. Great. Now Gobber was probably going to bring that up to Stoick, as if the man wasn't going to have enough Hiccup-related problems brought to his attention today. Well, best get the most out of today, then, Hiccup figured, shrugging and finally resuming his path toward his school. The morning had barely started and he already felt run-down, as though he'd already had to deal with an entire day's events. Oh how his life just loved to throw difficulties at him at every turn.

As the hour for the start of school drew closer, though, Hiccup noted the presence of more people milling about the sidewalks now compared to earlier. On the one hand, it made him feel a little less alone to be among a crowd of commuting students, but on the other, trying to navigate among small groups of Viking-blooded high school teenagers wasn't exactly the easiest feat when you weren't quite on par with the muscle mass of most of the guys around you, and when most of the girls even stood an inch or so higher than you. Again, not that Hiccup particularly minded his height – hey, five-nine was a perfectly reasonable height for a seventeen-year-old boy to stand at! – it was more that everyone else just seemed so much taller by comparison that Hiccup couldn't help feeling just a smidge maybe, possibly, sort of inadequate.

He grunted in annoyance as a few people shoved past him, not paying any particularly notable regard of attention to their faces or names, if he knew them. It's not like knowing the identities of those who disregarded him was going to help him make them stop.

However, he was called out of his mildly irritated train of thought as a voice called for his attention somewhere behind him. "Hiccup!"

Recognizing the voice, he stopped and pulled a quick one-eighty, scanning the growing sea of faces for the familiar blonde head of Astrid Hofferson, whom he spotted jogging toward him and waving. He offered her a soft smiled and returned the wave. "Astrid, hey, hi."

As the girl reached Hiccup's closer proximity, she offered him a light jab on the shoulder by way of greeting, along with a quick smirk and a small laugh. "You weren't at our usual spot, so I was wondering what's up," she said as she took stride beside him, the two resuming their leisurely walk to the looming school building ahead.

"Ah, yeah, I had some errands to run this morning. Had to go by the rail station and get a package from Mildew."

Astrid took a sharp inward hiss and screwed her face up in pain. "Ouch. That couldn't have been very pleasant."

"Oh, believe me, it wasn't. Anyway, had to drop it off down at Gobber's when I was done with that, so I got a little caught up there talking with him."

"Aren't they building a new storehouse down at the wharf today? I would have thought Gobber would need to be there for that."

"Hah, that's what I said!" Hiccup made a bit of wide gesticulation with his hands, giving the girl his perplexed smile before dropping his arms to the side again, moving one up to the strap on his shoulder to adjust his bag. "I'll still never quite understand how the guy manages to balance managing things down there, running that tavern, and also basically being my dad's adviser."

"Hey, speaking of that," Astrid cut in.

"Oh boy…"

"Did you tell him about the showcase?"

"Why is everyone so interested in that suddenly? I say one word about it to Phlegma and even she's suddenly asking about it and getting Gobber to ask questions-"

"Well Hiccup it's probably because it's a big deal and she thinks your dad ought to know about it. And come on what's the deal, you told me you were going to tell him yesterday!"

"Well, yeah, yes Astrid, I was. But then, you know, stuff happened, and the timing just seemed all off, and," Astrid was not buying his excuses; he could see it on her face. He flailed his hands just slightly before bringing one up to knot in his hair. "H-You-Ah, graagh, he's the chief, Astrid,"


"Whatever! He's got other things to worry about then whatever non-physical activity his tiny son is doing to pass his time while he is off making the town a better place."

Astrid grooooooooaned, clearly exasperated with the boy before driving her knuckles into the boy's shoulder again, this time none too lightly. She then immediately cut across his protests with a roll of her eyes and a sharp tongue. "Listen, Hiccup, I know I've said this before but maybe try and make sure it doesn't just go out the other ear this time?" she asked while he nursed his aching shoulder, pouting. "Look, maybe you're not some star athlete, alright? But the biggest gathering of fine art that this town is probably ever going to see is coming up, and your work was recommended to be featured. There are gonna be top critics there, Hiccup! This could make a huge world of difference for you and getting you to where you want to be!"

"Oh, yeah, and I'll just casually tell my dad that I want to get out of this town, be a fancy-shmancy artist, or writer, or something else he'll disapprove of, and while I'm at it, just go and make him look at me like I punched him in the gut – and it actually hurt – by confirming to him that I've got no interest in taking over as mayor someday. I mean what kind of backwards town doesn't even have proper elections for mayor…" he mumbled the last bit, seemingly off on a tangent now.

Astrid grunted in annoyance. "You know, you can be just as stubborn as he can, Hiccup," she griped, shaking her head. "But you know something else? You should count yourself lucky. At least your dad tries to understand you."

Ooooh, ouch. He had just hit a sore spot without meaning to. Oooh, he was gonna pay for that later, he was sure of it.

"Anyway," she muttered, irritably blowing a strand of hair out of her face and tucking some of it behind an ear. "I've gotta go see my track coach, said he needed to talk to me before school."

And without a further word, she was jogging off, leaving Hiccup behind to stew in his own self-afflicted pool of 'Well I was just an asshole again, great'. He really seemed to have a bad habit of making the people who cared about him feel crummy. "Oh to have the power to tame this tongue of mine…" he mused to himself scathingly, adjusting his book bag again as he made to weave his way through the remaining crowd of students milling around him.

Crossing the threshold of the front gate, the boy stepped onto the Berk High School grounds with a sigh and looked up at the building that, in a lot of ways, felt to him like a daily prison he just kept coming back to, like he had Stockholm's syndrome or something. He made his way up the front steps and into the front doors, taking in the perpetually lemony scent of the hallways. The janitorial staff of this place really seemed to take a great deal of pride in their work. A cacophony of chatter surrounded him on all sides now that he was inside the building, made up of bits and pieces of laughter, gossip, shouts, challenges, and all manner of other things that your typical teenager seems to enthrall themselves in talking about.

"Well, I've still got a few minutes before bell," Hiccup stated conversationally, though he was the only listener. "Guess I could get to my locker real quick…"

The trip to locker 1216 was a fairly uneventful one, Hiccup's mind wandering as his feet guided themselves down the familiar route of hallways to reach it. Unfortunately, if he had been paying any greater degree of attention, he might have noticed the larger figure of someone approaching from the front, seemingly intent on a collision course. But nooooo, Hiccup's head was too wrapped up in thinking about what kinds of trolls might live in lockers when no one was around to see them, and-

Oof! Well, down he went.

Hiccup found himself flat on his rear end, rubbing soothing circles around his left shoulder now (come ooooon, wasn't the right one that Astrid had felt the need to punch enough for one day?) as he shot a glare behind him. Just as expected, there was good ol' Snorri Jorgenson, chortling to himself over his success of smacking into Hiccup and knocking him down as he strutted down the halls, oozing self-satisfaction.

"Ha ha ha ha, good one, Snotlout!" Hiccup called after him irritably. Like this day wasn't already off to a just wonderful start.

The other boy seemed to not care about Hiccup's venom, as usual, as he simply gave a lazy wave without turning to even look. "I know, I try!"

Hiccup figured he could keep sitting there grousing to himself, nursing his sore shoulder and aching behind, or he could just hurry the hell up and get his things so that he could go to class. As appealing as the former seemed, he decided the latter was probably a better choice in the long run.

However, there was no reason he couldn't multitask, so he continued to grumble and groan as he loaded books in and out of his quickly-opened locker, mumbling profanities to himself and making odd gestures with his hands. "Stupid snotface Snotlout grumblegrumblegrumble Damn it piece of grumblegrumblegrumble Stupid art showcase grumblegrumble Stupid old me grumblegrumble."

Now, Hiccup wouldn't go so far as to say he was bullied, exactly. Because honestly, he wasn't. Well, not to the point that one might immediately imagine when they think of the term 'bullying'. No, he didn't find himself coming home with bruises, or getting roped into fights, or taunted mercilessly about how he'd never, ever be a supermodel so he should just go home and cry right now, Betty. Whoa, okay, where did that come from? Hiccup shook his head. Moving on.

But no, bullying? Hiccup wouldn't really call it that. Being socially awkward in a school full of people whom he mostly didn't fit in with while also being taunted on a fairly average basis by his ass-for-brains cousin? Yeah, that was more like it. In a manner of speaking, however, Hiccup supposed he ought to be grateful to Snotlout. While the Jorgenson boy may have been steadfast and merciless in his bothering of Hiccup, he was also easily one of the toughest guys in the entire school.

And whether it was because his father ordered him not to or for his own reasons altogether, Snotlout never seemed to get truly violent with the boy, beyond a few shoves or smacks here and there, and Hiccup had it on good authority that by order of the Football Star Jorgenson, there was basically a 'hands-off' policy regarding Hiccup that was in effect for just about any other muscle-headed giant who decided that they didn't like the way the small boy looked at them.

Hiccup always found it weird to consider that he might have had some sort of protection on account of Snotlout. Though he also had his suspicions that it wouldn't last forever. Whatever it was that kept Snotlout in check, and thus held back anyone else who wanted to pick a fight with the Haddock boy, it probably wasn't going to hold forever. Hiccup felt like he was walking on ice cracks every time he shot back a retort at his cousin over some offense.

But alas, Hiccup was a stubborn fool. He couldn't exactly stop himself or his smart mouth when it came to Snotlout.

And ooooh, he really did need to stop being so distracted when he was walking places, didn't he? Hiccup was snapped out of his thoughts by the blaring sound of a loud ringing from just above, finding he had the unfortunate pleasure of having stopped right under one of the school's bells. A bell that was ringing. Which meant that Hiccup had a minute to get to class and wasn't even half way across the school from his locker yet.

Sometimes he wondered if schools intentionally gave every student a locker that was placed across the damn campus from their first class just to torment them. He wouldn't be surprised! He grit his teeth and picked his feet up into a brisk run, not wanting to be tardy to one of the few classes he actually enjoyed participating in. Especially because, as nice as his Home Room teacher may be, she was a pretty stiff stickler when it came to the rules. He preferred avoiding tardy slips. Especially seeing as how he already had a couple, and getting another would mean a detention. Yeah, no.

He dashed and dodged and weaved his way skillfully around throngs of students who somehow still felt it appropriate to linger, some of whom made immature comments after him such as the classic 'Run Forest, run!' and others of whom decided to hold their feet out as he came by in an obvious manner, probably positive that he'd just jump over them (he did), but still finding it just hilarious ('Hurhur, did you see how I made like I was gonna trip him?' 'Yeah man that was aces.').

Finally, taking a sharp right at the end of the hall, he managed to duck his way into his classroom, breathing a sigh of relief as he had just seconds to spare before the bell sounded, resisting the urge to raise his arms in triumph at his success as he was all too conscious of the several pairs of eyes that were already on him for arriving when he did.

The bell rang as a few other people shoved their way in from behind him, pushing him out of the way to make their way to their individual desks. A soft, airy voice sounded from the front of the classroom as they entered, though, belonging to a woman who was, seemingly carelessly, filing her nails. "Tardy, tardy, tardy, you're tardy," she spoke each time a student entered her classroom, ignoring their groans or sighs or what have you as she just giggled at their expense. She gave Hiccup a look, one eyebrow raised with a quirk, which seemed to indicate 'Hey, you should probably take your seat now.'

Hiccup chuckled lightly, still catching his breath a bit, and made his way for his own desk which he immediately slouched into.

One more student stepped into the classroom just as the teacher stood from her desk, and she immediately huffed in an almost childish fashion, sticking out her lower lip and screwing up her brow. "Ooh! You're tardy too! Come on guys, what is up with you today, that's five tardies." She shook her head in apparent disappointment.

"Aww, come on Ms. Zabek, can't you let this one go? My locker is like, way over there!" the hapless student tried to reason, gesturing widely with his arm.

But Ms. Zabek wouldn't have any of it, shaking her head resolutely as she ran a finger exasperatedly through her eccentric, rainbow-hued hair which she had styled into her signature updo that she was known for on this campus. "Nope, can't do it! Deadlines are important, you know? Even ones as simple as being in a classroom at a certain time. Now how am I gonna prepare you kids for the real world if I let tardies slide, hm?" she asked good-naturedly, her many bracelets jingling on her thin wrists as she pointed at the student with a sense of conviction. Though, watching the display, Hiccup found it wasn't the easiest feat in the world to take the woman seriously when she looked like she was barely restraining a grin, the corners of her eyes (which were colored with flayed yellows and reds) crinkling in apparent delight.

But she seemed to hold it together, probably saving the giggle fit for later, as she hustled over to her desk drawer and pulled out a book of pink slips, tearing out five of them. "See, now look what you guys have made me do. Gotta use up all my nice, fancy ink from my glorious new pen that I like, just bought, guys, to write you up some tardy slips. Come on, have some consideration for your poor teacher!"

Hiccup held in his chuckles as she flitted about the classroom rapidly, handing out the slips to the tardy parties who, in spite of the situation, seemed to be smiling. Of course, most students found it difficult not to smile around Ms. Zabek. Hiccup stood by the assertion that the day she transferred into this school from whatever city she had hailed from was probably the best day that Berk High had ever seen. Though, he still hadn't the foggiest idea why some big city academic like her with several teaching degrees would have settled on a dead-end town like Berk.

"Well, now that that's settled, let's go ahead and start English, hm? Who's here?" she asked. A storm of hands were raised up into the air then, and Ms. Zabek's eyes instantly narrowed as she proceeded to speed count them all, her lips moving swiftly as she recited what Hiccup imagined must be names. He would never be sure how she managed to do that so quickly. "Aaaaalright, looks like we're only missing a couple, I'll just scratch that down here…" she spoke mostly to herself, quickly writing something down on a sheet of paper she kept on her desk. "Well, let's get right to it then! Who read the Hamlet pages last night?"



The proceedings of the class were best described by Hiccup as uneventful. Fairly straightforward, a few questions asked about the chapters of assigned reading, some writing exercises that Hiccup didn't really need to partake in. Definitely not one of Ms. Zabek's more creative days. Before long the bell was ringing again and signaling the class's conclusion, and Ms. Zabek was calling loudly over it to reach the quickly retreating students. "Don't forget, the next twenty pages need to be read tonight! I might be quiiiiiiiizing~!" she singsonged as the students groaned, but otherwise resumed their exodus.

Hiccup was among the last to head out, but was stopped as she called after him. "Oh, and Hiccup, hang back for a sec? I'll write you an excuse if you're late to your next class!"

Hiccup stopped and turned to face the bubbly woman, rather confident his next class's teacher wouldn't give a hoot the same way Ms. Zabek did, but nodded anyway. "Alright, sounds fair, what's up?"

She seemed to be barely controlling her excitement as the last of the students milled out of the class, hopping up and down before zooming over to him, taking his hands in hers and proceeding to engage in more hopping, pulling Hiccup along with her. "You'll never guess what I did!"

"Ahhhh, I'm sure you're gonna tell me?"

She released his hands then and instead thrust her arms up as if in victory, biting at the bottom of her lip for a moment before bursting out loud. "I got you a center display!"

Hiccup's eyes widened at that. "Wh-wha, are you, oh my, are you serious!?" he asked, a huge grin jumping to his face at the first good news he'd had all the day. He took a couple of steps back in a theatrical display of being rather overcome with joy, one hand raised to tangle in his locks as the other braced his weight against a table. "Ooooh my goodness, oh gosh, of my god, Anna this, this is just-!"

"I know!" she squealed back, quickly pulling the boy into a hug before any new students entered her class to see the brazen lack of propriety she and Hiccup tended to display when in private.

"This is huge! My painting, my art, is gonna be in the center display at the showcase? Ooooooh this, this is just…" His eyes widened. "Terrible. No, no no no, Anna, yo-you've gotta get them to change their minds, no, this can't-"

"Whoa whoa whoa whoa, what? What are you talking about Hiccup, this is a good thing, you, you were just so excited like, a second ago!"

But now Hiccup was thinking of the worst case scenario, shaking his head. "No, no, Anna, this… Art that makes it to the center display always gets graded the most harshly, you've said so yourself! And some of the biggest critics that ever even give Berk a glance are gonna be there, and this, ahhh no, no no, this is my first entry to any showcase ever, Anna! I'm, I'm gonna be laughed at, they're gonna call my stuff amateurish, or pedestrian, or lacking in experience because I am lacking in experience, and then it's gonna be in the paper and-" Ooooooooh boy, he paled at his next realization. "It'll be in the paper and my dad will see it, and he'll read all about how his son's work amounted to nothing, and. Oh man, this is so messed up, why would you do this?"

Anna F. Zabek couldn't honestly say she was at a loss for words too often, but here she was, blinking at Hiccup with the most perplexed expression he had ever seen her wear. The sound of the ringing bell filled the classroom as second period commenced. "Hiccup, you're worried that it's not good enough, really?"


"Oi, Hiccup…" At this she raised one delicate hand to her brow, bracelets jingling as she massaged the bridge of her elegant nose gently. "Hiccup, what class do you have for fourth period?"


"Art. And who teaches that class, Hiccup?"

"You do."

"I do. And what degree was it, again, that I have a master's in?"


"Art again, yes. So tell me, Hiccup, who here would be more qualified to tell you that your art is amateurish, or pedestrian, you? Or me?"

Hiccup sighed. "You."

"And, ah, who's the one who thought it was so good that they recommended it for center display?"

"You did," Hiccup added, sounding defeated.

"You bet your ass I did." The woman gave him a spunky look as she boldly placed one fist on her hips and jabbed him in the chest with her other hand. "Hiccup, that painting is incredible, and the critics are going to love it, alright? Trust me on that. It'll make your dad proud!"

Right. His dad. His dad who still didn't know that his son was even in a showcase. Or that his son even seriously pursued 'those little doodles' he did. "Yeah. Proud. Right."

Anna blew out a long breath and cocked her head to the side a bit, eyeing the boy sympathetically. "It'll all work out Hiccup, you'll see. You'll take off, get big and famous! And then you can meet more people who share common ground with you, and do what you love!" she insisted cheerily, hopping over to her desk to write Hiccup a note of excusal for his tardiness. "Now, you better be off to your next class," she instructed, handing him the note.

Hiccup took it and nodded. "Yeah, sure." His mouth was pursed and screwed to the side a bit in an evident display of lingering doubt, but he nodded, making for the door. "Thanks, Anna."

She simply nodded and waved, giving a reassuring grin before he was out the door.



"Center? Are you serious!?" Bright eyes seemed to somehow get brighter as a slightly chubby face pulled at the seams with the biggest, most appreciative grin Hiccup had seen all day. The large-framed boy sitting across from him raised a set of powerful-looking fingers to brush some straw-like blonde hair from his face as he bounced in his seat in avid excitement and approval. "She actually got you a spot in center display! That is like, the hugest thing I've heard all day! All week, even!"

"Glad you feel that way, Fishlegs." Hiccup mumbled in response, lazily dipping a french fry into a pool of ketchup and mayonnaise and swirling it around listlessly.

"Well, someone has to," Astrid spoke up from beside Hiccup, her brow ruffled at him and clearly demonstrating a lack of amusement at the brunet's less-than-enthused attitude.

"Wait, hang on, I don't understand," Fishlegs said, his own expression starting to mirror Astrid's as he looked at Hiccup's downcast expression. "Isn't that supposed to be, you know, good?"

"Yeah, it is," Astrid affirmed, shaking her head. "Hiccup's just being a baby about it."

"I am not being a baby!" he shot back.

Astrid just rolled her eyes. "He'll get over it, Fishlegs, don't worry about it."

Fishlegs screwed up his lip in apparent confusion, but simply shrugged. "Alright then. So, uh, Astrid! Any news on the dog show?"

"Dog show?" Hiccup asked, interest piqued as he glanced up from his french fry pool.

Astrid made a hissing sound as she glanced wildly around her, making sure no one else in the cafeteria had heard that. "Would you keep your voice down when you talk about that!" she whisper-shouted.

Fishlegs raised his hands up disarmingly, smiling. "Sorry, sorry!"

"Astrid what's he talking about?"

At this the girl let her shoulders sag and she blew a golden bang out of her eyes, a habit Hiccup had learned to associate with nerves and irritability from the girl. "Okay, so, you know how I've been grooming Stormfly a lot more lately?"

"Uh huh?"

"Well, I… I sort of saw this flyer for a dog show, and-"

"Yeah, she saw it online," Fishlegs cut in with a smile. "So I guess you wouldn't really call it a flyer…"

Hiccup smirked. "So you searched for it online."

Astrid huffed. "Yes, I searched for it online. But, you know, just out of curiosity! It's out of town, so I thought I'd enter Stormfly, since it judges based on grooming and stuff, and you know, I've been making that homemade original formula for her food and I thought maybe I could have it looked at while I'm there… it'd be pretty cool, you know, for Stormfly, if she got one of those fancy ribbons…"

"You want to win a grooming contest," Hiccup stated matter-of-factly.

"Alright, fine, yes. I do. But you can't tell anyone about it. Either of you," she warned with an extra serious touch at Fishlegs. "I don't need this getting back to my dad."

"I, hah, I don't believe this," Hiccup remarked incredulously. "You're giving me grief because I won't tell my dad about the showcase, but you, you're basically doing the same thing with this dog show of yours!"

"It's completely different, Hiccup."

"It sounds the same to me."

"Well it's not."

Fishlegs glanced between the two of them with a smirk dancing at his lips. "You two are really funny, you know that?"

They both let out a simultaneous grumble.

"It just seems silly to me, I'm sorry!" Fishlegs laughed. "I mean you both have these dreams and things you're passionate about but you just refuse to let other people know about it! That's gotta be unhealthy, you know." He then proceeded to devour the remainder of his pasta, which had gone cold with all this talking, though he didn't seem to mind. "I mean if I were either of you guys I'd just go for it."

"Yeah, well, it can't always be that simple, Fishlegs," Hiccup responded lethargically, resting his chin in his hand.

"I'm pretty sure it can."

"No, it can't."

Fishlegs giggled. "Yes it can."

"No, it can't!" both Astrid and Hiccup half-shouted in unison. Fishlegs widened his eyes a bit and held his hands up in surrender, going back to his meal.

Hiccup really envied Fishlegs, honestly. As far as the people in Berk went, he was pretty sure the Ingerman house was probably one of the most laid back in the town. Fishlegs seemed to be allowed to do virtually anything his heart was set on and his parents didn't mind in the slightest. Fishlegs wanted to be a writer, and his mother and his father both were just so perfectly proud of their son. Neither of them seemed to think he was inadequate for lacking any desire for some labor position, or for something that relied on grit, or a position of leadership. Of course, with the boy's large frame and huge limbs, Hiccup was pretty confident that his parents were probably plenty satisfied with his aptitude for brawn. In any case, the boy just didn't have anything he needed to prove. Not like Hiccup. Not like Astrid.

"Oi, Hiccup!"

"Oh, perfect, this is just what I needed," Hiccup stated dryly as the sounds of footsteps approached. Astrid sighed.

A thwack on the back of his head (causing the brunet to immediately raise a hand to the injured spot, rubbing at it) signaled the arrival of Snotlout, who immediately invited himself to sit next to Hiccup and sneered at him. Across the table, a pair of blonde twins sat themselves on either side of Fishlegs, chuckling at Hiccup's expense.

"Hit him again," the male, Tuffnut, urged. "He makes like, this weird face every time you do it, it's funny."

Snotlout seemed to ignore him. "So, Hiccup, just heard that you're one of the people on the news crew for this Saturday's game."

Hiccup rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and?"

"Just thought I'd come by to remind you to make sure and catch my good side for the instant replays." The black-haired teen leaned back with his eyes closed as if basking in his own glory. "It's the left."

Astrid could be heard groaning from beside Hiccup as the boy replied. "You know, Snotlout, I would just love to catch your good side on film, I really would, but see, there's that whole minor issue that I'm pretty sure you don't have a good side."

Fishlegs raised his hands to his mouth, laughing into them.

Snotlout processed the comment for a second before his expression turned to a glower and he released a sarcastic laugh. "Oh, that's a good one Hiccup. But you know, I'm pretty sure that whatever I've got is about a hundred times better than whatever you're limping to the barn with."

"Oooooh," Ruffnut, the female Thorston twin, cooed in mocking appreciation of the remark, sharing a smirk with her brother. She barely seemed like her heart was in it, honestly.

"Don't you have anything better you could be doing?" Astrid asked her with mild annoyance.

"You might be surprised, but I really don't," Ruffnut replied casually. Astrid responded with a quiet 'Ah'.

"Astriiiid, hey," Snotlout piped in again, seemingly overlooking Hiccup for the moment as though he'd just noticed the girl. "Hey, you know, the game this weekend is a pretty important one, but there's no doubt we're gonna win it. So I wanted to know if you'd wanna get some dinner with me this-"

"I'm washing my hair that night."

Snotlout blinked. "I didn't tell you what night yet."

"Pick one."

Hiccup decided he'd join Fishlegs now in his chuckling. Snotlout was rather obviously miffed by this, getting up and shoving at the smaller boy's shoulder. "Something funny, Hiccup?"

"I think your obvious strikeout would qualify, Snotlout."

The large, glowering teen looked as though he was ready to say something else until Astrid suddenly interjected, smacking her hands on the table. "Okay, can we not do this? Because I don't feel like listening to you two go at each other's throats for the umpteenth time. Snotlout, you're not gonna do anything and we both know it, so why don't you just get lost."

Snotlout turned his angry gaze on Astrid, only for his eyes to soften once he did, adopting an almost sad look. "Yeah, whatever, fine. Come on, guys," he called to the twins, seemingly having enough of attempting to ruffle Hiccup's feathers and striding away. Ruff and Tuff glanced at one another before exchanging a shrug, Ruff tossing a wave at Astrid as she and her brother followed after their friend.

"Seriously, I don't understand that guy," Astrid lamented, watching them go.

"Snotlout's just the aggressive type," Fishlegs supplied. "You know, needs an outlet for his anger. Hiccup's just a convenient target I guess."

"Gee, I sure do feel good hearing that, Fishlegs!" The false joy in Hiccup's tone was palpable.

"Well I mean did you ever do anything to upset him, growing up?"

"You've asked me that before, and I've told you no, I never did a thing to him."

"Didn't you guys used to play together when you were little?" Astrid asked.

"Yeah when we were like, five. And even then he pushed me around."

"Well his dad and your dad don't get along, right?"

"Mmhm." Hiccup hummed in a non-committal fashion, as though he had answered all of this before to too many different people.

"Do you know why that is?" Fishlegs asked him, eager for the information.

"No, Fishlegs, I don't. All I know is that they had a falling out before Snotlout and I were even born, and they barely speak now."

"Is that why Snotlout's dad changed his family's name to Jorgenson?"

"I don't know," Hiccup was once again beginning to feel exasperated. This day just felt like it was dragging on and on for whatever reason, and everything that had happened up until now was just working to stress him out. He was probably being lousy company to his friends, which didn't sit well with him considering they were basically the only friends he had in the first place. And here they were using their lunch period sitting with him instead of any of the other people they knew and got along with, and he was probably just giving them a miserable time of it.

He abruptly stood up. "I'm gonna go, guys."

Astrid glanced up at him, raising her brow in concern. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just a little tired. Think I'm gonna go lie down in the nurse's office until lunch is over. Maybe lament my misfortune at having to keep a camera trained on Snotlout this weekend. You know, usual stuff."

Astrid and Fishlegs exchanged a glance. "Well, you won't be alone at least," she called after him. "I'll keep you company in the stands on game day, alright?"

Hiccup turned and gave her a weak smile. "Thanks, Astrid."

And defeated though he sounded, he meant it.



True to the forecast's predictions, snow was still falling when Hiccup exited the school building, classes having come to an end for the day. He was still feeling lousy, and while the pretty white flakes were nice to look at, they didn't fill him with any greater sense of joy knowing that he was going to have a hell of a driveway to shovel when he got home.

Students all departed for their cars or buses around him, making their way home in whatever fashion worked best for them, but Hiccup remained on foot, not owning a car to shield himself from the cold but never liking the social suffocation that came from taking the bus. Fishlegs lived a little further uptown than Hiccup did, so he took the bus home, but normally Astrid would at least be walking with him. Unfortunately, she had apparently had gym practice to get to today, and couldn't offer him her company.

"Honestly it's more amazing that she's a part of two different athletic teams than it is that they'd make her practice on a day like today," he mumbled as he kicked at the clumps of snow dotting the sidewalk. Or perhaps the bigger surprise was that Astrid associated with him at all. Or maybe it would have been, if he hadn't known their history.

But busy as she was, Astrid really was a great friend, even if she could be pushy with Hiccup at times. And for a long while, before he had met Fishlegs, she had been his only friend. Among all the people in Berk, she'd definitely rank up there among the few people who actually understood him exceptionally well. In fact, the amount of time the two spent together had, at one point, generated a lot of rumors about them. Those rumors had long since died down, though. Mostly.

But Hiccup didn't especially care about rumors. Astrid knew where they stood. Seeing as how she was one of only two people in the entire town who knew that he... ah, well. Beside the point.

He started to let his mind wander then, entertaining himself with thoughts of playing with Toothless when he got home, or what he was going to draw tonight, which only caused him to spiral into a stress ball again when he was reminded about the center display and what he was going to do about that.

But true to form, his wandering thoughts had once again distracted him from reality, and it was only belatedly that he realized that there was some sort of commotion up ahead. Bringing his vision back into focus, he noticed that there were several people, cars, and a red and white truck gathered around the road that he would have traveled to reach the rail station…

His heart sank when he saw his father among the men who were gathered there, giving out orders to the others and pointing in various directions. The man looked exceptionally tired as he dragged a hand down across his face, stopping in front of his mouth as he shook his head. His eyes darted in Hiccup's direction as he noticed his son approaching.

"Hiccup? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in school?"

"Ah, no dad, school just let out a bit ago, actually. What, uh, what happened here?" he asked, his voice oozing trepidation.

Stoick nodded a few times, as if processing the current time, before casting his gaze down the road toward the station, and several burly men who were dressed in white outfits. They were pushing a long, wheeled table, and a sheet was draped over the top to hide whatever it was the table was carrying. "It's Mildew," the man said at last, sadly. "Seems he slipped on some of the ice today, broke his back. He's passed on, son."

Hiccup paled and his jaw dropped open. No, no, no no no. That couldn't be. This couldn't be happening. Immediately, completely unbidden, his mind raced back to that morning and the last words he had said to the old man. He wanted to vomit with the sudden guilt that weighed on him, but more than that, he felt sick with himself because of the horrible feeling of relief that had taken a hold of him for just a couple of moments, right then. Relief that a man had died. Hiccup didn't care how horrible he was, that was inexcusable.

"Are you okay, son? You don't look well."

"J-just… Just feeling, a little sick," Hiccup managed to spit out. It wasn't a lie.

Concern decorated the broad man's features, but he chose not to press further at his son's behavior. "Yes, well, he was a miserable old coot, to be sure. But a death is a tragedy all the same. And Berk will be needing a new station manager, now…" That last statement was mumbled like more of an afterthought, and he turned his attention back behind him once again, watching as the men in white loaded the wheeled table into the back of the ambulance and closed the doors. "We only ever had the one, and he's gone now. Commercial import and export is a cornerstone of this town's livelihood, so we won't be able to do without someone who knows the paperwork for too long. Gobber's already puttin' in calls to other stations."

"Y-yeah, right, ah…" Hiccup couldn't even really process the information right now. His mind was too busy reeling.

"Get on home, Hiccup," Stoick told him gruffly. "I'll see you at the house."

Hiccup nodded, mutely, and turned to head back the way he came, not saying another word.



Thick black boots thumped down heavily in repeated, thunderous steps as a very large and rather burly man shoved his way through throngs of smaller, somewhat fearful men and women, who took one look at his determined features and did their level best to leap out of his way. Several paper-pushing faces poked above the walls of their cubicles to observe the commotion, wondering what the hubbub was about as the large man with the snow-white beard made his way toward the back of the expansive floor space.

"Hey, North, where's the fire?" one of them called jokingly from the safety of his office chair.

The man took no pause in his pursuit toward the tall, fine door that waited for him at the far wall, merely calling over his shoulder in a thick, Russian accent: "No fire! Just got to see Manny!"

And without sparing a thought for knocking or announcing his arrival, the man simply pulled the door wide open and stepped into the office waiting beyond, closing the door behind him as he did. "Mr. Moony."

Before him, sitting at a polished desk of mahogany and apparently just getting off of the phone with someone was a man whose most distinctive feature could be stated to be his exceptionally round head. He smiled charmingly up at the bearded man, hands neatly folding at his desk behind a decorative, silver plaque emblazoned with the name 'Manford Moony'.

"Nicholas, hello. How good to see you," he greeted welcomingly.

Nicholas St. North leveled the round-headed man with an earnest stare as he set his hands flat on the man's desk. "Is it true what they say, Mr. Moony? Is there position opening for new station manager?"

Moony nodded, his smile faltering. "Just opened up not a few hours ago, actually. The previous manager met an unfortunate end, I'm afraid, but the town he managed is in dire need of a new manager as quickly as possible."

"Because this man was only station manager in town, yes?"

"Now, Nicholas, how might I ask you came across this information?" Moony asked, a mild amusement in his eyes.

North merely waved a hand dismissively, a small smile adorning his features. "Word through grapevine. News travels fast, Manny, especially when news is important to me."

"Ah, I see. So then might I be of the assumption that you have come here to request this open position?"

"If you say this town has only one position for manager, then that means no more transfers, yes?"

Moony nodded. "Yes. The previous holder of the position had held it for nearly sixty years. No one else living in the town is quite qualified for the position, so whomever would be working it would, I presume, be holding it for as long as they wished. I can tell that this is pertinent news for you, Nicholas."

At this news the man's eyes widened like a child's at Christmas, a huge grin taking over his features as he leaped happily up and down and whooped. "Finally an end to all this moving around!"

Moony smiled warmly at him. "I have tried my hardest to ensure that you could be stationed as permanently as possible, Nicholas. But as you know, it wasn't always in the stars. I am deeply sorry for that, both to you and to your children who have had to endure so many moves. But, if they are up for just one more, I can have you sent to Berk post haste to fill the vacancy, and I can offer you my assurances that you will not be moved again."

North, in all his joy, stepped around Moony's desk and plucked the smaller man right out of his seat, squeezing him in a titanic bear hug. Moony made a few struggled gasps of laughter and patted at the man's arms, urging that he be set down. North complied with a hardy chuckle. "This town, Berk. Is nice town?"

"To the best of my knowledge, yes," Moony affirmed as he took his seat again, catching his breath. "It has a rather rich Norwegian culture, having supposedly been settled by Vikings, generations ago."

"Supposedly?" North asked, curious.

Moony nodded, gesturing at a map of the United States he kept behind his chair, and pointed up at Maine. "They say that Vikings sailed there, to the northern tip of the state of Maine, back before it was a state, of course, and built a settlement there that gradually expanded. Apparently, as the ages passed and the states were colonized, the Viking settlement was eventually made an official town, and the rest is history. Of course, the only issue is that there's been no historical evidence whatsoever to suggest that the story is true, and most known evidence contradicts the notion that Viking settlements in the United States were ever permanent." Moony turned back to face North again, laughing into his folded hands. "But these people swear by the tale, and honestly, given their demeanor and culture, I've never had reason to doubt it!"

North laughed along with the man. "But good for my kids, you think?"

"Oh, well, I don't see why not. As I understand, the younger population in the town has certainly taken to more modern trends compared to the older generations, and I am told there's no shortage of ways to pass the time."

"Then if it's permanent, I take," North decided, nodding stoutly. This could finally be what he was looking for. The roots he had been longing to offer his children, roots that had been denied to them for far too long.

"If you truly want it, Nicholas, then it is yours." Moony beamed up at him. "I can put in the call immediately to let them know and have you sent up as soon as you are able."

"Is tomorrow good?"

Creased lines appeared in Moony's forehead as he looked positively fuddled. "Tomorrow? Why, will that be enough time to get your family's things all together?"

"Many of our things are in storage already. Many moves we have taken mean traveling light."

Moony looked downcast at this. "Nicholas, once again, I am so very sorry for that."

"Is fine, Manny." North gave the man his jolliest smile. "For is problem no more, eh? Is real estate good in Berk?"

The man smiled again. "I was told they do have a few houses available, if the replacement manager would want to purchase one. They're actually rather reasonably priced. I'd say it's on account of the town being a might bit smaller than many of the others in the state."

"Then my savings should be more than enough. Hohoh! I'll finally be able to have things shipped from storage! Thank you Manny." North leaned across the desk, holding his hand out. Moony nodded and shook the man's hand warmly.

"I am happy to be of service if it brings a smile to your childrens' faces," he replied.

"I cannot wait to be telling them!" And with that, North turned and barreled out of the office, laughing loudly as he plowed his way through the throngs of people once more.

Moony merely shook his head and grinned.



The sound of the door slamming shut is what brought Hiccup back into the realm of consciousness. He blinked a few times, trying to figure out where he was for a moment and what he had been doing before it came back to him. His dad had sent him home, that's right. And Hiccup had been feeling so lousy when he got there that he immediately went up to his room and collapsed onto his bed. Toothless had approached him, curling up on him and trying to comfort him while Hiccup let his thoughts tear themselves apart over the guilt of what he'd said to Mildew, the guilt of the kind of son he was, the guilt of taking his mood out on his friends, and it all ran full circle and devoured itself like an ouroboros of anxiety and crippling self-deprecation.

He had fallen asleep then, a blissfully dreamless sleep, until just moments ago when he opened his eyes to the dark ceiling of his room. As heavy footfalls thundered up the stairs, he glanced at his bedside clock to see it was already eleven-thirty. Looks like dad was home late…

Oh hell, dad

His bedroom door opened and the light flicked on quickly, temporarily blinding the boy as he sat up and covered his face, grunting at the sudden brightness.

"Hiccup, do you know what I just came home to?" Stoick asked, clearly upset.

Hiccup, eyes still a little spotty, glanced up at his father and blinked. "Uuuhhhm."

"Snow, Hiccup."


"Snow that you were supposed to shovel," he added with a glare.

"Oh, OH, oooooooh, oh man, dad, I'm so sorry, I just-"

"And I don't suppose you even had yourself any dinner?"

"Well, er, no, not exactly, I-"

"Hiccup, you know that's not good for you!" Honestly, Stoick seemed to be angrier over the fact that his son wasn't eating than he was about the snow. Hiccup found himself thinking, somewhat immaturely, that he was probably upset because not eating meant not growing any beefier.

A moment of silence passed between them during which Stoick's tense shoulders seemed to slacken a bit and his expression just looked so very tired. "Well, no sense worrying over it now. I wanted to let you know that we've already got a replacement lined up for the station manager. The company that owns the town's rail service found a volunteer to fill the position. He should be arrivin' within the next couple of days."

"O-Oh…" Hiccup nodded, swallowing. "That's, uh, good news for Berk then."

"Yes, it is."

"Look, dad… I'm sorry about the snow. I promise you, I'll wake up extra early in the morning and shovel whatever is still there, all of it, and I'll salt the driveway and everything."

But Stoick held his hand up and shook his head. "Don't worry about it. I've already handled it. Just… Get you some rest. You weren't looking well earlier. And make sure you eat all of your breakfast in the morning." Then, somewhat mirroring his actions from that morning, he sniffed as he seemed to contemplate any further words to share with his son, before deciding to simply nod at the wall, apparently satisfied. "Goodnight."

"G'night, dad…" Hiccup replied, still feeling lousy as Stoick flicked the light back off and closed the door. As soon as he was gone, Hiccup felt Toothless nosing at his palm, getting his attention. He glanced down with a light smile at the Burmese, giving him an affectionate rub. "Thanks bud. I'm sure things will be alright."

Pulling off his hoodie finally, which he had been wearing basically all day now, as well as his shirts, he tossed the garments across the room and made quick work of nestling himself beneath the covers of his bed, Toothless following him and getting comfortable beneath the heavy sheet, curling into Hiccup's side. It was a warm comfort on the cold winter night, and Hiccup absently scratched at the cat's ears as he stared at his ceiling, digesting information and letting himself drift back off.

"So, a new arrival in town, huh." He held himself back from voicing the thought that whomever it was would probably be better than Mildew. Though it seemed pointless, as it had already run through his head. Wondering what the next few days would bring were his last thoughts before drifting off to slumber.



"Jack! Mary!" The voice of Nicholas St. North boomed throughout the moderately-sized apartment as he stepped inside and shut the door firmly behind him, his voice alight with good news.

It wasn't exactly late, per se, but it certainly didn't seem like it was early enough in the night for such loud shouting. Or so were the thoughts of a lanky youth, roused by the sound of the man's loud bellow, and who was now scratching himself in odd locations as he made his way out of his room and into the hallway, crystal blue eyes blinking owlishly at his adoptive father. "What's up, North?" he asked sleepily.

Behind him he could hear the soft patter of his sister's feet as she came down the hall from her own room, sensing her stop just behind him.

North crossed his arms and gave them a coy grin, stroking his long white beard as if in deep thought. "We are moving," he finally said, nodding.

The boy's face fell. "Oh. Okay."

Behind him, his sister sighed, pushing her curtain of chestnut hair to the side as she nodded, apparently crestfallen but accepting this all the same. "Where are we going this time?"

"Yeah, and why is that good news?" the brother added, slightly bothered. "It's pretty par for the course for us, North."

North stared at the two with amusement for a moment before erupting into a fit of laughter. "Why, Jack? I tell you why! Because this time, is permanent!" And he emphasized this point with a dramatic upward gesture of his index finger, his long, extravagant red coat billowing about him as he moved.

Jack could hear his sister's voice pick up from behind him, the smile audible in her words. "Really dad? It's really permanent this time?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes, Mary!" North exclaimed, dropping down to one knee as she ran down the hall to meet him, throwing her arms as far around him as she could muster.

Jack did not seem convinced. "North, with all due respect, you've said that before."

North looked up from his happy little girl and nodded at Jack solemnly. "Yes, I know. And I am sorry. But I truly mean it this time. There is no chance for move, Jack! This town, Berk, has only one station manager. Only one! No one else in town is having experience or qualification for the job, and vacancy has opened!"

At this, Jack's eyebrows raised a touch, the dark browns nearly making contact with the shock of white he had sitting on his head. "Just one guy? Like, ever?"

"Yes Jack," North said, his words mixed with small bubbles of laughter as Mary grinned at him. "Only one, and this town depends on station manager, Jack. And with no one else in town to do job, the company cannot risk transferring me again now that I have claimed position. No more transfers, no more moves!"

"No more moves…" the boy echoed back, as if wrapping his head around the idea seemed absurd. No more jumping around from place to place, no more saying goodbye to people he'd just barely met… "You're… You're serious? Like, totally, completely serious?" he asked, tentatively.

North nodded. "Jack, we are getting house this time, not apartment. And all our things are coming out of storage."

Jack stared for at least five seconds as a small twitch began to tug at the corners of his lips, gradually blossoming into a full-fledged smile as laughter began to well up inside him, the teen bouncing on the balls of his feet almost hyperactively. North's booming laughter filled the living room at the display, Mary joining in as the large man held out of his arms, inviting Jack in.

The boy took the invitation, running in and joining his sister in hugging the man as tightly as he could. "This is cool," he mumbled excitedly into North's shoulder, burying his face into the soft red of the man's coat. One of his arms snaked down to his sister, whom he pulled against him tightly.

A house. All his stuff! Permanence. It all sounded too good to be true. Which is exactly why a part of him still didn't believe it. A part of him was maintaining a cynical outlook that this was all gonna blow up in their faces. He tried to shake it off.

"Now, you two rest, because tomorrow, we pack! We leave! To our new home!" North spoke magnanimously as he stood from the group embrace, making wide, grand gestures at his children.

Mary bounced around, a giggling mess, tugging at Jack's shirt. "Home, Jack!"

He smiled back at her. "Yeah, Mary. Home."

He hoped.



Welp, that sure was a thing I did right there. Yep. Anyway, thoughts, reviews, questions, they are all appreciated!