Welcome to chapter 13! Lucky number 13. Oh boy.
So I didn't think it was possible, but this one actually managed to be almost exactly as long as the previous one. How about that, right? I wanted to have it up a couple days ago, but life happened. But it's here now so that's the important thing.
The lovely cover art this time is by Mumnim on Tumblr.
As always, do feel free to leave a review after reading, as they give me X-Ray vision.
Waking up the day after Christmas was an odd sensation. Or perhaps, it would have been more accurate to describe it as a lack of sensation altogether. Green eyes cast into a cloudy hue by the weight of memory opened only halfway, settling vacantly on the wooden nightstand for simple lack of anywhere else to look. Freckled limbs seemed heavy and unwilling to move, though it wasn't as though any particular effort was being put toward that. Hiccup lay still, eyes blank and body unresponsive, as all of the events of the previous night came back to him with stunning clarity, every detail sticking out perfectly in his mind when it would have been far, far preferable if the memories could have just been numbed into dull recognition. Still, even as each memory came back to him, every misspoken word, every overstep, he didn't react. His features remained listless, passive.
He could feel that Toothless had climbed on top of him now. The cat was attempting to rouse the boy, kneading his flesh through the blanket with his sharp little claws in an effort to elicit some kind of reaction, but Hiccup didn't seem to mind today. He remained rooted where he lay, ignoring the somewhat painful pricks from his cat and letting him do as he wished. Toothless didn't seem to like this reaction, and his kneading eventually came to a stop. Deciding on a different tactic, the feline stepped up toward Hiccup's face, buried on its side into his pillow. Toothless tapped his cheek with a paw, mewing lightly for attention, and tapping his cold, wet nose against Hiccup's.
"I'll feed you soon."
It was the only response Toothless received. Hiccup remained immobile otherwise, barely blinking and never opening his eyelids more than half way. The animal sat down and simply watched, tail twitching in an agitated fashion at his human's behavior. This was concerning. He hadn't seen Hiccup this way in a long, long time. A soft, somewhat mournful cry echoed in the cat's chest, but Hiccup continued to ignore him.
Hiccup wasn't sure how long he'd spent in bed, just lying there. He hadn't been looking at the clock, too preoccupied with putting his memories on endless repeat as some kind of sick means of self-torture, trying to pinpoint the moment he'd fucked up the most. And yet as much as he thought about it, as much as the waves of emotion threatened to bubble up and overwhelm him each time… he simply stamped them down. Because he'd already decided it last night. He wasn't going to let this break him. He wasn't going to let it touch him. He'd learned his lesson for the last time, and even if it meant shutting down his emotions, he was determined to not let this hurt him anymore.
Slowly, he finally sat up. Toothless watched him carefully. A despairing sense of nihilism was creeping over the freckled teenager, but he didn't intend to fight it. At this point, all he felt like doing was accepting whatever came his way as inevitable. It didn't seem like his efforts ever amounted to much, anymore, right?
Accepting this new, empty sort of feeling, he absently reached for his phone and decided he'd finally look over the messages he'd ignored last night. Still nothing from Jack, he noted, sweeping his thumb along his screen and examining his message threads. That might have still stung, somewhere, but he wasn't noticing it if so. A text from Fishlegs, tinged with obvious worry, asked him where he was, and also asked if he had spoken to Jack – Astrid had said she saw something go down with him. Hiccup ignored this text and moved on. Ruffnut's text echoed Fishlegs in asking where he was, stating that they were looking for him. She didn't say much else, so Hiccup skipped past this one as well. He must have been right in assuming that the unknown number he'd received a message from was Tuffnut, because it said essentially the same thing – 'where are you, we're looking for you, you're pissing off my sister', that sort of thing.
Hiccup moved on to Astrid's texts – three of them.
'Hiccup where did you go? I just looked outside and didnt see you.'
'Hiccup something big just went down with North and Jack. Jack seemed really upset. Where are you?'
The third text came much later than the first two.
'Hiccup I really need to talk to you. Please answer me. North let slip about the dog show and my dad is pissed.'
He blinked at the messages. He had already guessed that whatever that had been last night, with Jack, it was probably related to his family based just on Jack's statements. Astrid's second message seemed to lend confirmation, though, that it had been some kind of fight with North. He almost wondered about it. But as though recoiling from a sting, he shook it out of his head immediately. He didn't need to think about that. The third text had more of his attention. He could see how Astrid's father could be a big deal, after all. It was a little unsettling that he couldn't seem to work up much genuine empathy for the situation, but he figured he owed Astrid a call if nothing else.
He pressed the call button without much thought, raising the receiver to his ear and waiting while the electric purr of ringing sounded in his ear, a steady metronome that he found strangely soothing to listen to at the moment. It didn't last long, though, the rings quickly giving way to a hushed, almost urgent-sounding voice.
"Oh thank the gods!" she exclaimed, though her voice still remained quiet through her audible relief. "You dumbass, do you know how worried we all were? Where on earth were you?"
"Sorry," he mumbled. He didn't offer much else, and Astrid paused as though waiting for him to say more. She didn't wait too long, however, and was moving on a moment later with a brief sigh.
"I've gotta be careful, and stay quiet while I talk to you. My dad already grounded me. Last thing I need is for him to hear me on the phone and remember to take it away," she explained with a bitter tone.
"Tell me what happened." His request was flat and calm, and he got the impression that on the other line, Astrid may have started to pick up on the fact that he wasn't behaving normally. He knew she would, and he was certain she would ask about it, though he didn't find himself caring too much. As long as she told him about her own situation, it didn't matter.
"…Right." Yeah, she definitely seemed a little off-guard by the blank quality he was speaking in. She pressed on, regardless. "North was talking to my parents last night and I guess he wasn't really thinking. He congratulated me on how I did in the show, thinking they'd be proud or something. He didn't seem to get that my dad still didn't know until he was yelling at me and asking what North was talking about. He was like ridiculously upset, Hiccup, I never imagined it'd be this bad."
There was a sharp breath in his ear. Astrid was probably giving him a disgruntled look that he couldn't see. "Right, well. He was quiet on the drive home. Wouldn't talk or answer me. As soon as we got back, he said I was grounded. I think I've heard my mom talking to him and trying to explain the situation, but I can't really tell what's being said."
At this the girl seemed to snap, sounding as angry and annoyed as she could while preventing her voice from rising. "Okay what the hell is with you? Do you even care, Hiccup? Because this is kind of a big deal!"
Hiccup had to think about his answer for a lot longer than he should have. Did he care? Yeah, he supposed he did. He didn't want Astrid to be unhappy, after all. "Yeah, I do. But there's nothing I can do about it."
"You could, oh, I dunno, try and support me at least? Offer some kind of encouraging comment, or maybe a smart-ass remark? Like seriously what the hell!"
The line went quiet again. Well, quieter. Astrid calmed down after a few seconds, and Hiccup already knew she had realized something was very wrong. "Hiccup, what's going on with you? What happened?"
"Don't give me that crap, Haddock. What is wrong?" she demanded.
"I already told you. Nothing."
She spoke again after only a brief moment, hesitation reading through the static sound waves in the brunet's ear. "This is about Jack, isn't it? Something happened with you two."
A pang in his chest. No, he thought forcefully, determined. Go away. The feeling numbed in mere seconds. "Astrid, there's nothing wrong. Jack and I are nothing. So there's nothing to talk about."
"Wait, what?" she demanded, surprised enough that her voice actually picked up in volume for a moment until she remembered herself, quieting down again before continuing with "What the hell are you talking about, Hiccup? You just told me yesterday you two were an item!"
"Yeah, well, now we're not. And that's all that needs to be said about it. I have to go, Astrid," he said, pulling his phone away from his ear. He was done with this conversation. He could hear Astrid faintly protesting as he did so, but he ignored it, like he was choosing to ignore most things right now. His thumb pressed down on the 'End Call' button without a moment's hesitation.
He put the device on silent, for good measure.
Stoick found that he was only half paying attention to the television as he sat slouched on the large couch situated in the living room, his face still appearing tired even after a long night's rest. He was supposed to have gone in to the office today – there was a lot of business to attend to, after all, including organizing the New Year's celebration in the town square, reviewing the end-of-year finance reports from Berk's many businesses, taxation issues, and the list went on. But Gobber had advised – insisted more like – that Stoick remain home today, assuring him that he could handle managing the town for one day. 'What good is an adviser if he can't give th'chief a li'l break now'n'then, eh?' he'd said, and Stoick had eventually given in when it was apparent that his friend wouldn't budge.
Still, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with his time. He felt useless, sitting around the house like this. Hiccup hadn't made an appearance yet, and Stoick had the impression that he shouldn't go intruding into his son's room right now. The house was still fully decorated in Christmas fashion, and while this wouldn't seem strange any other year (it was only the 26th, after all), it just felt off now, given the circumstances.
He sighed as he failed for the hundredth time to focus on whatever plotline was happening in his favorite crime show, picking up the remote and turning the television off. Maybe he could find something in the house to fix, that might keep his mind off things. He was just a little surprised, upon standing from the couch, when he turned to see Hiccup reaching the bottom of the stairs, making for the door with a strangely hesitant-looking Toothless trailing behind him.
His son halted and turned to look at him, eyes downcast and lips in a neutral state. "Hey."
Stoick looked the teenager up and down, noting that he was dressed for the day and had clearly been on his way out. "Where are you off to?"
Well. That was an oddly clipped reply. "Going out where?"
Now Stoick furrowed his brows, a little put-off. His son tended to have a habit of being a lot more… verbose, than this. Certainly not the type to frequently rely on responses of a few words or less. "Didn't I just buy you a whole slew of supplies for Christmas?"
Oh. He was planning on crafting something in the garage. This normally wouldn't seem like any sort of odd behavior to Stoick, not at all. Hiccup dabbled in his gadgets all the time, after all, and Stoick had even had to put some restrictions on it over the years when the boy had started developing a penchant for making potentially dangerous weapons for no particular reason. It had sort of been the last straw when he'd dinged Stoick's car by accident using a sort of stationary crossbow, stammering about 'calibration issues' and whatnot.
Still, it wasn't so much what Hiccup was doing as much as his attitude that bothered Stoick. He refused to make eye contact, he was answering in monotone, and his face never abandoned its neutral expression. It was like all the life had been sucked out of him, and Stoick didn't like it.
He kept his tone measured and somewhat concerned as he spoke. "Son, you came home last night seeming upset about something. What's on your mind?" he asked, approaching and contemplating laying a hand on his son's shoulder.
Hiccup shrugged. "Nothing."
Oh, Loki be cursed, Hiccup was not about to pull this on him, was he? "Hiccup. Talk to me."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Is this about Spitelout? Are you still worried about last night?"
He saw the boy's shoulders flinch, just barely. "I don't care about Spitelout." It was the first trace of emotion he'd heard in Hiccup's voice so far, and he wasn't sure how he felt about the fact that that emotion had clearly been somewhat venomous in nature. But his face continued to betray nothing.
Stoick was beginning to grow upset. "Hiccup, stop. Stop this. We just got through this, son, what did I tell you! No more secrets. If there's somethin' bothering you, you need to tell me. Don't put up all of…" he gestured vaguely at Hiccup's person, "this again."
The brunet held his silence, eyes fixed on the floor and apparently deciding that that statement didn't require a response. Stoick was getting angry. He tried to remind himself of Phlegma's constant warnings not to lose his temper, though, as it wouldn't get him anywhere with Hiccup. He took a deep breath, and a new thought occurred to him.
"…This wouldn't be about… the other thing? The thing you said you still needed to talk about but weren't ready to yet?"
Stoick still had no idea what that other thing was. He'd started having suspicions last night, though, that it had something to do with Astrid and that dog show business he'd found out about, or something about Jack considering what else had gone on last night. Something that they were all keeping from their parents.
He might have been right, because Hiccup reacted again, just like he had at the mention of Spitelout, only this time the reaction was a slight hardening of his gaze, as though he wanted the carpet to wither at his stare. Stoick might have missed it if he hadn't had so much past experience watching Val's eyes for subtle changes in her mood. The boy had his mother's eyes, after all.
"That's not worth talking about," Hiccup spoke up suddenly, his voice more firm this time.
And then he was off. Not waiting for any sort of dismissal he turned away from his father, making for the door again with an increased pace.
"Hiccup!" Stoick called after him, offended at the lack of respect he was being shown.
"What?" Hiccup snapped out, hand on the doorknob with his back facing Stoick's flickering gaze. This attitude was so… so unlike what he was used to with Hiccup. He shamefully admitted to himself that he'd always thought the boy could use a little more backbone, but to see him finally showing it like this.
The large man aimed a stormy look at the back of an auburn head, unsure what to say. And then he found his eyes wandering to Toothless, and oddly enough, he almost felt as though the damn cat was giving him a strangely pleading expression. Stoick hesitated. That cat had always been a strange one, and he and the boy had been exceptionally close ever since the day Stoick found them huddled together in that cove, half frozen to death and barely functioning. He'd learned years ago that if something was troubling Toothless, then something was probably troubling Hiccup.
He watched the feline for a moment more before sliding his hand down his face, weary. "Be safe," he finally said, and Hiccup hesitated for only a moment before opening the door and leaving, with Toothless following after him.
Stoick would give him more room to cool off, for now. It was clear that he wasn't going to get anywhere with him at the moment, and he could probably use the time for himself as well. He needed to think of a different way to approach this. Either way, he was all but certain that this had to have been about Astrid or Jack in some way – the both of them were close friends of Hiccup's, and they'd both encountered a lot of hardship last night. What this meant for Hiccup, though, and why he was so reluctant to talk about it with Stoick… that, he had no idea about.
Goodbyes were almost always a bittersweet sort of thing, but under the circumstances, North was especially saddened to have Aster go.
The tall man's train had come in moments ago, a steel behemoth puffing steam into the cold air. North watched it with mild interest – trains in general could always enthrall him, ever since he was young. But this one was taking his good friend back home, and though he hated to admit it aloud, North would have much preferred that the man stick around for a while. He could use the support.
"Guess this is me," Aster remarked with a dampened tenor. To be perfectly honest, he wasn't exactly crazy about leaving either. Not right now, at least. He turned to Mary, bundled up and tucked against North's leg like a shy toddler. She'd seemed to have retreated into her shell ever since last night's fiasco, and the man couldn't blame her for being concerned. He squatted in front of her, resting his arms over the knees of his slacks and not minding the way his coattails skirted the dirty, slushy ground. "Hey there, li'l tyke," he said with a more pleasant lilt, eyebrows turning up disarmingly toward his hairline. "Hate to leave you and your pop, but I got an orphanage to look after. Gotta make sure more kids find themselves a home, just like you n' Jack did."
The girl nodded mutely, and Aster wondered if maybe he shouldn't have mentioned 'Jack' and 'Home' in the same sentence right then. Still, she managed a shaky smile, releasing North's hand and moving forward to offer Aster a quick hug. "Yeah. Have a safe trip, Bunny."
Aster might have scowled at the nickname if it had come out of Jack's mouth. From Mary though, he decided it was a lot more endearing. He gave her a brief squeeze back, patting her head, before standing again to exchange glances with North. "Sorry about how things turned out, mate. You keep in contact though, make sure and let me know about any changes to the situation. I've always got my phone on me."
The old man nodded at his friend, mimicking Mary's actions and yanking Aster unexpectedly into a tight hug that probably crushed the breath out of him for a moment. He set him down a moment later, chuckling heartily in spite of his poor spirits at the complaints Aster immediately started spewing.
"I will be in touch, my friend," he stated then, his expression sobering again. "You should board train. Will be departing soon."
Silently nodding, Aster plucked up his single bag and turned around, stepping aboard the train car with one more glance back at the Norths before disappearing inside. North and Mary stood by dutifully even after the door closed, waiting the few minutes until the train finally started to move and watching as it vanished down the tracks.
North's sad gaze fell upon Mary, her eyes far too uncertain and devoid of joy than should have been appropriate for a child her age. "Hey, buck up, eh?" he tried, forcing a smile for her sake. "It will be alright, little one."
The sound of a ringing phone caught their attention, and North's hopes immediately picked up as he quickly searched his pockets for the little device, eyes looking for the caller ID. His expression fell only slightly when he saw 'Stoick Haddock' flashing on his screen.
"Stoick?" he greeted curiously. Neither Stoick nor North honestly preferred telephone contact – carrying a cell phone was more for necessity than anything. Stoick would normally speak with him in person whenever possible, so he had to admit he was curious as to what would have the man giving him a ring.
"Ah, North, er. Hello," said Stoick. "Hope this isn't a bad time."
"No, no, is fine. Have just seen Aster off back home. What can I do for you?"
"I was actually calling to ask if you'd heard anything from Jack yet," the other man explained, speaking somewhat slowly.
It felt like a coil winding itself in his belly to think about, and he heaved a deep sigh at the feeling. "No. No word at all. But…" His voice managed to pick up a hint of hope. "I checked his room this morning. Clothes from yesterday were on the floor, and his bed had been slept in. He must have come home at least."
"But he's gone again?"
"Ahh… yes, it would seem so."
Stoick cleared his throat on the other line. "I can put the police out on a search for him, if you like."
At this North stood a little straight, shaking his head without a thought for whether it could be seen or not. "No, no, that will not be necessary."
"Are you sure about that?" Stoick asked, and North could definitely hear the concern there.
"Yes," he replied, his voice dropping. "Right now Jack does not want to be found. He needs time to be left alone. When he wants to be found, he will come back. I will trust in that."
North wasn't sure he believed his own voice, and he could tell by Stoick's pause that his conviction was likely under scrutiny. But the man relented. "Very well. I'll keep my nose out of it for now."
"Thank you Stoick."
"There is another thing, though." The gravelly voice that could intimidate men with a growl seemed to soften, growing uncertain as he pursued this new line of questioning. "Is there, er. Would there be anything else that Hiccup, and Jack… and their friends… anything else they have gotten up to that you might know about and have been keeping to yourself?"
At first, North thought he might feel offended at the suggestion, but considering that he had already been caught covering the lie Astrid and Hiccup had told, he supposed it was only fair for Stoick to ask. Though at the same time, he wasn't quite sure what to make of the question itself. "No," he stated slowly, confused. "Nothing else I can think of. Did something happen?"
A low sigh crackled through the receiver. "There's something going on with my son, and I have no idea what. I don't think it's about his uncle's behavior last night, seems much worse. He won't talk about it. I was hoping you might have a clue."
"I am sorry to be hearing that," North responded, frowning deeply. "And sorrier that I cannot offer any help here. I am not aware of anything else that might be troubling him."
"Alright then," Stoick replied, sounding disappointed. "Make sure to call if you need me to put out a search for your son. Take care."
"And you too."
The two men hung up then, North staring at his phone with a deeply furrowed brow. He turned back toward his daughter as he pocketed it, only for her to arrest him with an inquiring glance. "Is something wrong?" she asked.
North sighed and shrugged. "Stoick says that Hiccup is having some kind of trouble now. I could not help much."
Curiously, the girl tossed a glance to her shoes, lips pursing as though she was contemplating something. North regarded the behavior as odd, but she didn't say anything further afterward, just humming to herself. North decided that the last thing he needed to do now was grill his daughter on top of everything, so he chose not to push the issue as they headed back for the car.
Smartly dressed men and women ambled along the sidewalks, bunched up in their coats and sharing smiles and laughs as groups of people made their way inside the warm, classy establishment, while others headed out, their meals finished. Jack had only been inside 'The Great Hall' once, dining with his family, and he figured that he must simply not have noticed at the time just how fancily-dressed the people who came here looked. He also hadn't noticed before that the place seemed to be a hotspot for couples; he'd seen more smiling pairs of people coming into the restaurant tonight than any other type of group. The sight put a knot deep in his stomach.
From his vantage point on the roof of the establishment, he had an all-too-clear view of every person who gave the place even a passing glance, not to mention being able to see the plaza on the horizon. He listlessly dug his hand into a small bag of potato chips, chewing thoughtlessly and staring, unseen by the people below. He'd felt like people-watching, sure. But he might have thought better of his decision if he'd known there would be this many people out on dates.
What are they all even doing out here, he thought bitterly. It's two days after Christmas. What kind of occasion is that for a big date night? He was honestly just tired of looking at them, but he couldn't very well scale back down the restaurant in plain view of everyone. He'd get chewed out if he was seen. He'd already had to show up here early enough that the area was underpopulated just to be able to climb up without drawing attention.
His stomach suddenly growled at the aroma of the food drifting up from within the establishment, and he stuffed more chips in his mouth in an effort to sate it. He was hardly living very glamorously right now, hm? Two days out of his house now, only stopping in to sneak a change of clothes or catch a brief nap when he was sure North wasn't around. Otherwise he'd been hanging out on his own roof, well out of sight of his family or his neighbors, or he'd been loitering around on rooftops all over town. There was something oddly comforting about rooftops, he decided. A vantage point. Somewhere where he could see everyone but they couldn't see him. A place he could be alone without being completely separated from people.
Still, this was taking its toll on him and he knew it, whether or not he'd admit it. He hadn't spoken to anyone since Christmas night, except in situations where he absolutely had to (such as during the acquisition of meager provisions, like potato chips from convenience stores, with whatever change he could scrounge up), he clearly hadn't been eating well, and frankly? Catching only an hour's worth of brief naps, give or take a minute, in his own bed for fear of being discovered if he slept for too long was having a negative effect on his mental health.
You look like a mess, a voice in his head pointed out. He was beginning to wonder if that was really his subconscious constantly being negative or if he was actually going crazy and imagining it. Either way, it was right. His clothes, which he had changed into yesterday morning, were dirty and probably smelled, his hair felt like it had dirt and gravel in it from sleeping on roof shingles, he was pretty sure he'd caught a cold by being outside so much, he had bags under his eyes from sleep deprivation… His stomach rumbled again, and his hand sought purchase for more chips in his greasy little plastic bag, only to come up empty. He groaned, tossing the bag aside. And now, he was out of food and still hungry.
He could have just gone home. He could just go back to his nice, warm house, wash up, put on a pair of fresh clothes, eat some actual food, sleep in an actual bed… But he wouldn't. He pulled his knees to his chest and huddled in on himself, scooting further away from the edge of the rooftop and completely losing sight of the people below in favor of tucking himself against a ventilation shaft. Warm air blew out in a steady stream, a byproduct of the heating system currently active inside. Jack wondered to himself if they'd leave it on after the place closed.
He'd had two days for his temper to cool, and it had. That wasn't the issue. The issue is that you have no right to go back to that house after everything you said, he reminded himself. Or maybe it was that voice he kept imagining. It was getting hard to distinguish between the two, honestly. After everything North has done for you, after all the secrets you've kept from Mary… He was a bad son and a bad brother, and no one was about to tell him otherwise.
He was just plain ashamed of himself. And shame in and of itself could also act as a type of pride – a pride that insisted he make amends by not coming back. Yes, somehow hiding from his family and refusing to face the problems he'd sewn seemed like the rational, normal thing to do. His eyes drooped, a peaceful lull hitting him at the feel of the hot air on his clothed back. As he began to drift off, he also thought of Hiccup, which he was doing his best to avoid whenever fully conscious. There had been a moment earlier that day when he'd almost decided to text Hiccup… but then he realized, upon looking at his phone, that it was dead from having gone uncharged for two solid days.
Probably for the best, he thought as he continued to drift. I wouldn't be able to face him either.
The night of December 28th found Hiccup crouched in the garage, a messy apron tied in a half-assed fashion around him while his bangs had been lazily pinned back. He sat in easy reach of a plethora of tools, all lying around him in disorganized piles. His left hand currently gripped a large wrench, which he was making use of to tighten bolts along an angular object that was taking shape before him. To be perfectly honest, he wasn't even completely aware of what he was building. His expression was almost entirely vapid; the lights were on upstairs, but no one was home. He was able to register what he was doing, immediately recognizing what tasks needed to be completed as he arrived at them and what steps to take to complete those tasks, but his thoughts never tarried long enough to consider what was actually being assembled. He simply let his hands move on memory, creating something he'd clearly assembled many times in the past and thus didn't need a blueprint for.
It wasn't until maybe ten or fifteen minutes that he finally recognized the shape and mechanism of the object, realizing with dulled interest that he was building a catapult. Huh. Yet another weapon, hm? A cursory glance to the corner of the garage revealed several other such items – a couple crossbows, an unenthusiastic attempt at some kind of grappling cable that didn't even work right, and a strange-looking contraption that was supposed to function as a cheesy, spring-loaded trap that struck out against anyone who set it off with some sort of projectile. Hiccup hadn't bothered testing any of them too much, more intent on the actual building than anything else.
It kept him busy.
He had even started running low on some of the materials he needed for these pointless gadgets, and had scrapped other items he'd created without a second thought just to get more. The scattered cat food all over the garage floor, along with a few disassembled and unsalvageable remains of Toothless's automatic feeder in the corner, were testament to that.
As he worked, a quiet audience had been watching for some time now – roughly for the last twenty minutes or so, standing there in stony silence – but it was easy to forget that he was standing there when he wasn't talking. However, Stoick had clearly had enough of holding his tongue and being ignored as he stood there with a glare on his intimidating features and his arms crossed firmly across his chest. His patience with Hiccup was wearing dangerously thin.
"It's been three days," he said in a low, disgruntled rumble. "I'm going to give you three seconds to start talkin' to me. If you don't, there are going to be consequences."
Hiccup remained passive and unresponsive, continuing to work as though he hadn't heard Stoick at all. Frustrated and at his wit's end, Stoick growled and stomped forward, grabbing the boy's wrist and pulling the wrench from his grasp. He threw the item across the garage and it struck the wall with a noisy clatter. Stoick glowered down at the freckled teen with heaving, angry breaths and balled fists, but Hiccup had simply placed his hands in his lap after having the wrench taken from him, staring at the ground and saying nothing.
Stoick gave him another three seconds, and when that had expired he was prepared to start shouting, but Hiccup chose that moment to speak up. It was sudden, not loud and not quiet. Plain and conversational, though lacking any life behind the words. "I'm thinking of taking over as Berk's mayor someday, after all."
This had managed to put silence and confusion into his father. His clenched fists relaxed for an instant as he stared perplexedly down at the boy who had been the source of many a woe over the years, all of those woes rooted in misunderstanding. And here when they were finally supposed to be understanding each other, Stoick found his son's behavior more confusing than he could ever recall it being in all his seventeen years of life.
"What are you talking about?" Stoick asked him, bewildered. His voice had lost the volume he had been prepared to launch into.
Hiccup shrugged, still not looking up. "Just tired of disappointing you, I guess." He said it like it was the tiniest, most insignificant matter in the world, as though he'd just rolled out of bed this morning and decided 'Hey, I'm gonna change my mind about this life-changing issue.'
Stoick's temper flared back to life. "Hiccup, how many times do we have to go through this!? Ah'm not disappointed in you for doin' whatchu wanna do! Right now ah'm only disappointed in the way you've been actin'!" he shouted, his accent growing thicker in his temper. He took a few staggered breaths when Hiccup didn't immediately reply. He couldn't stand this. Every time he and Hiccup had ever had an argument, or disagreement, or even when he was just yelling at Hiccup about something he'd done wrong, his son had always responded in kind. He'd shouted back if he was angry, or spoke some smart-assed quip, or even had the decency to look ashamed and timid over his rebuking.
He'd never just sat there. His face had never sat so still and unchanged, expression completely neutral, like he was dead or something. And this had been going on for three days now, Stoick reminded himself. In spite of how hotly angry he was at his son's behavior, it was masking a deep and severe worry. There was something seriously wrong here, and he was even starting to consider seeking professional help if this kept up.
"Hiccup," he stated slowly, trying to bring his voice under control with another deep breath. "I don't know what you've gotten into your head since Christmas, but I am proud of your work." He tried squatting down and resting his thick arms against his knees, so that he wasn't looking so far down at the boy. "I am proud that you told me who you wanted to be as a person, and I wanted you to stick to that. You heard all of this. So why the sudden change? What about your art? I thought that was important to you."
"Don't feel like drawing," he replied blandly.
Stoick tried waiting, but that was the only response he got. Hiccup would say nothing else on the matter. Wearily, the giant of a man hung his face into his palm and sighed. "Go to your room," he calmly ordered.
Hiccup complied wordlessly, yanking the clip from his hair and dropping it on the ground with his apron, and left the garage without a second's pause. Stoick watched him go, eyeing his expression carefully, but there was no change. The man sat alone in the garage for a few minutes afterward, completely at a loss for what he could do anymore.
"He's still got you on lock-down?"
Fishlegs's voice was pulled thin with clear distress, as though he couldn't fathom how a parent could possibly be so stubborn. Astrid was pretty sure the boy had never been grounded in his life, though, because really, four days was not that long. What surprised Astrid wasn't so much the length of time for her punishment so much as the fact that her dad refused to say a word to her.
"Yeah," she replied quietly, reclining on her bed with her phone to her ear. She warily kept an eye on her door and one ear opened at all times, ever vigilant for her father to come barging in and see the device. "He doesn't seem to want to let up."
"Is he really that upset about the dog show?"
"Fishlegs to be perfectly honest, I have no idea how he feels about the dog show because he won't talk to me. All he gave me when we got home was that he was furious with me that I'd lied to him – nothing about the show, or anything like that. Just the lie. He wouldn't hear me out or give me room to speak either, just flat out grounded me then and there and hasn't spoken to me since."
There was quiet on the other line while the boy weighed thoughts in his head. "Well I guess, I mean, it's not technically unreasonable for a parent to be mad that you lied to them, at least."
"No, it's not," she begrudgingly agreed. "That, I understand. But total non-communication and refusal to talk about the actual issue is a lot less reasonable, Fishlegs."
He sighed. "I know."
Astrid replied with a sigh of her own, her eyes cast down to her loyal canine. Stormfly was laid by her side on the bed, seeming relaxed, but her round eyes were wide open and fixed on Astrid, as though constantly waiting for some cue to take action. Astrid carded her fingers through the Collie's long fur, a silent apology that they hadn't been outside in ages. Stormfly could have always been let out on her own, but she seemed adamant about remaining by Astrid's house-arrested side for as long as possible.
"My mom told me she's trying to work on my dad," Astrid murmured. "But I guess he's being really stubborn. Big surprise."
There was a lull in the conversation in which Astrid's eyes blankly searched the ceiling and continued to offer Stormfly affection, her mind wandering to other worrying territories. Maybe Fishlegs read her mind, because it was a moment later that he stated "So... have you heard anything else from Hiccup?"
"…No more than usual," was the girl's somber reply. "I call him just about every day and try to talk to him. It's all the same though. He talks like he doesn't care about anything, even seems like it. I'm worried, Fish. I thought I'd be able to rely on him right now with everything that's happening, but he seems so completely disinterested and it's just… it's not him."
"I know what you mean." Fishlegs spoke with an uncharacteristic sobered tone, the two clearly sharing in their increasingly severe worry for their friend. "I've talked to him once or twice and that's… that's basically how I'd describe it. I don't feel like I'm talking to Hiccup, my friend, at all. I feel like I'm talking to someone who's just using his voice. Even the couple texts I've gotten are totally detached, and he never explains anything about what's the matter."
"That's basically it, yep," Astrid replied, her lips pressed thin. "Having a conversation with him is almost like just talking at him, and he barely responds."
"Do you have any idea why he's like this?"
Her teeth worried at her lip, head flipped to one side to shift the flaxen fringe of her bangs. Should she tell Fishlegs about Hiccup and Jack's relationship? He already knew that Hiccup liked Jack, didn't he? Besides, Hiccup certainly wasn't going to tell him right now.
Softly, a breath slipped between pursed lips. Somehow, it just didn't feel right to expose that kind of information. "I think we both know it's about Jack," she said instead. "I mean what else could it be?"
"No one's even heard from him in four days," Fishlegs mumbled. "You think maybe Hiccup's just really worried about him? I mean… I know I am."
"I can't say for sure," she lied. "I just… yeah. I've got a good feeling it's related to that."
The conversation didn't last much longer after that, Astrid deciding she shouldn't risk staying on the phone for too long – it would only be a matter of time before her dad overheard her murmurs through the wall. Feeling as though virtually nothing had really been accomplished, Astrid and Fishlegs reluctantly said goodbye.
She let herself lie there for a long time, Stormfly's head resting fitfully on her lap, and her mind ran in circles. Everything was falling apart. Jack was gone, and she kept trying not to think about that because it honestly scared her that no one had seen him. Hiccup was lifeless, and that scared her even more. Her dad had her on lock-down, and as if all of that wasn't enough, she was still supposed to be arranging a meeting with Ms. Katherine, the dog show judge she'd been in contact with, to discuss her future plans before her winter break was over. And right now, she didn't see how that would be possible.
It was getting late, but sleep was the last thing on the blonde's marathon mind. She felt stifled and suffocated and useless and couldn't stand it. Her phone buzzed beside her, and she curiously peered at the screen. A message from Ruffnut.
'want me to bust u out?'
Astrid blinked and noticed for the first time that her otherwise darkened room was being slightly illuminated – a light source was shining in from her window, and upon sitting up to look outside, she could see a familiar green car idling.
She knew she shouldn't, she could get in way more trouble than she was already in if she was caught.
"Forget this," she decided. She pushed the window up and open and beckoned to Stormfly, the animal eagerly joining her human as they made their escape.
With the passenger window rolled down, Astrid let the cold, cold wind billow in her face as she and Ruffnut drove, smiling at the feeling of actually being free. Stormfly was quiet in the back seat, lying down with no complaint, and Ruffnut joked that between the two, Astrid was the one acting like a dog.
The shorter girl laughed and swatted the driver's arm. She rolled her window back up and leaned back in her seat, feeling at ease.
"I'm honestly sorta surprised you decided to come out."
Astrid rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I could get in heaps more crap because of it but I don't care anymore. Maybe my dad will actually talk to me if I get caught."
"Yeah, maybe," the driver agreed placidly. That's what Astrid liked about Ruffnut – she didn't have to expect a discussion with her, or reprimands for behaving recklessly. That's what she had Hiccup for. But then again, Hiccup wasn't himself anymore, so maybe a discussion with Ruffnut wouldn't have been the worst thing. "We're getting burgers. Sound good?"
Astrid turned to face her friend and realized she did feel pretty hungry. "That sounds great, yeah."
Ruffnut tore off rather suddenly into a right turn, bumping up her speed. Astrid might have been worried if not for the fact that there was no one out and about at this time of night, and if not also for Ruffnut's very practiced ease when it came to driving on icy roads. She could hear the grind of the chains on the tires as they sliced the ice and snow and gained traction, keeping the vehicle steady. Astrid was pretty sure that you weren't supposed to drive too quickly with tire chains – couldn't they ruin the wheels that way? – but it was pretty obvious that Ruffnut hardly cared.
They were pulled in front of Berk's only twenty-four hour fast food restaurant in a matter of moments. The girls headed inside, Stormfly trotting behind Astrid – she'd be damned if she was going to just leave the dog in the car or outside. They found a table quickly enough, Stormfly edging herself beneath it and curling up. If the single waitress by the register had seen the canine, she didn't say anything.
"So, let's talk," Ruffnut casually decided as she took her seat, having just placed their orders. She had a drink in one hand which she lazily sipped from.
Astrid shrugged and abided. She told the other blonde all about her situation with her father and his silent treatment, her dilemma with the judge, and of course, her worries about Hiccup. The boy was a wreck, cleverly disguised as the walking dead. Ruffnut digested it all with an enviable sort of calm.
"It's bullshit," she decided, nodding.
"That's one way of putting it."
"And nothing from Jack either? I hear from Fishlegs he's still MIA."
"Nope," Astrid replied sadly. "Fish is the one who told me, too, a few days ago. My dad had me leaving the party in such a hurry that I kinda missed the details."
"Must have been one hell of a fight he and his old man had if he up and ran way."
Astrid's fist was braced heavily against her chin, her mood dropping further. Their waitress came to their table then and briefly deposited their tray of food onto the table, leaving without a word. Ruffnut wasted no time in digging in, but Astrid felt a bit too distracted.
"I'm really scared for him, Ruff," she admitted, almost scared she'd be made fun of for it.
The other girl, though, seemed honestly sympathetic. Her thin brows creased, burger held loosely in one hand. "Yeah."
Astrid leveled a questioning glance at her.
"I tried sending him a couple of messages myself," Ruffnut went on. "Nothing, obviously. I can't really pretend I'm all that close with him, but it's not like I'm not concerned. This whole situation is bugging me."
"You're not the only one," Astrid commented. "It's a mess. Everything's been screwed up since Christmas. And if something happened to Jack, I can understand why Hiccup would be…" She trailed off then, as though she'd caught herself saying something she shouldn't have.
It didn't go unnoticed by Ruffnut, who raised an eyebrow and fixed Astrid with a stare that the girl always noted seemed a lot more perceptive than what Ruff might have wanted others to believe. However, the tall girl didn't say anything about the remark, even though her face seemed as though it might have been deciphering some kind of puzzle.
She chewed thoughtfully on another bite of her sandwich. "How do you think Mary's handling it?"
Astrid's belly dropped a little. "I can't imagine she's doing well. I haven't seen her since Christmas night, but knowing her, she's worried sick." Astrid's voice hardened a little then. "Doesn't Jack have any idea what he's doing to her by disappearing like that?"
Astrid tried to stifle her sudden anger by biting into her burger with gusto. The girls let the conversation stop there while they ate for a spell, and Ruffnut waited until she'd finished before leaning on her elbows with a resigned air about her.
"So, ready for me to drop more bad news on the pile?"
"As I'll ever be," Astrid muttered, already wondering what else could possibly be wrong.
"Tuffnut's been acting weird too. He got something in the mail after Christmas that he wouldn't let me see, and he's been on edge ever since. So now that's happening and it's pissing me off. Really just needed to get away from him."
"Wonderful." Astrid blew some hair out of her face. Another thought occurred, and she figured that she might as well ask simply to be a good friend, even if she didn't care too much personally. "So did you guys end up getting to talk to Snotlout? I know you were worried about him."
Much to her surprise, however, Ruffnut's expression became one of visible concern, and Astrid realized that it might have been the first time she'd ever seen the girl make such a strong expression. She was usually pretty good at showing her emotions only subtly; the only times she usually let a great deal of it show was when she found something really funny. This, though. This was new.
"I don't think Snotlout's been home since Christmas."
Astrid's fair brows shot up. "Are you kidding? Don't tell me he's missing too?"
"I wouldn't call it missing exactly," Ruffnut responded with a sigh. "Like I can still call him and text him. But he's… I guess I'd say he's pulling a Hiccup. He won't talk to me much and never wants to meet up. At first I thought maybe he's just still pissed at me and Tuff, but I got suspicious. So I tried calling his home phone, and got his dad. He was trying to not say anything directly, but he basically implied that Snotlout wasn't allowed back home until he apologized for something."
"Whoa…" Astrid had to admit, that was more worrying. She certainly couldn't say Snotlout was her favorite person in the world, but to be kicked out of his home? Even she couldn't turn a blind eye to that. And upon thinking about it, she could remember standing near Hiccup when Spitelout and Stoick had been talking, and she remembered the look on Snotlout's face the entire time. He had been clearly uncomfortable, and right at the end had even seemed dismayed.
Ruffnut fiddled with her food tray while Astrid nibbled her own cheek. "Maybe we should try to find him," she suggested.
"Now?" Ruffnut asked, though it didn't sound like she was objecting.
"Why not? It doesn't have to be now, though. Just. We should look for him is all."
Ruffnut didn't say a word. She simply grabbed her keys and stood from the table. Astrid stood after her, Stormfly emerging from beneath the table, and the trio made their exit.
What might have surprised Astrid was that Jack was now fully aware of exactly what his absence was causing.
Quietly and with no small sense of shame, the teen pushed himself back up in the seat of his booth, staring down at his empty tray of cheap fries and gripping his knees. He slowly turned his head toward the booth Ruffnut and Astrid had just vacated, as though to assure himself that they were indeed gone.
They hadn't seen him.
Cold and starving, he had thought he could chance a visit to this place after finding enough discarded change to purchase a few orders of fries. It was late, and empty, and he hardly expected he'd see anyone he knew. He was understandably quite surprised when fifteen minutes later, Astrid and Ruffnut came bustling into the restaurant with Stormfly, both of them too occupied with watching either their feet or the door to have noticed him.
Jack reacted on impulse and shrunk in his seat, slouching as far down as he could manage and trying to keep his head out of sight – it would give him away more than anything. He could only hope they wouldn't walk past his booth, or that Stormfly wouldn't sniff him out. Luck had appeared to be on his side, though, as the two girls apparently did fail to notice him, and neither had gotten up to use the restroom or anything like that, allowing him to remain undiscovered.
Unfortunately, this also meant that they carried on conversing, no more than a few booths away, perfectly loudly enough for him to hear them whether he'd wanted to or not. And he did not like what he heard. Finding out that Astrid was in trouble and that it was North's fault almost made him want to be angry at the man again, but any heat he had left for that had left him days ago. But the point remained that misfortune on Astrid was hardly what he wanted. He hadn't meant for the actions of that night to affect her. And now he felt responsible for it.
Of course, he felt about a million times worse when Astrid began to describe Hiccup's current condition. Because everything she'd been saying – you know, emotionally dead, detached, listless – made Jack feel as though a vice was squeezing the life out of his chest. She described him as being like someone else, and Jack would have agreed. The Hiccup he knew was supposed to be funny, and sarcastic, bit of an ass sometimes, but warm and loving. He was not supposed to be a zombie.
Jack barely managed to choke down a sudden sob when Astrid mentioned Mary. He had been trying very hard not to think about how she was feeling right now. Because he knew her, and he knew how unbelievably and unreasonably selfless and forgiving that girl was. She should be angry at Jack for doing this, or hate him for hurting their father so badly, but he knew damn well she was probably sitting at home right now just wishing for him to come back.
He held it together through the rest of the girls' conversation, part of him managing to pay attention and care about what he was hearing about Snot and Tuff, but as soon as they had finally finished their conversation and moved on, he quietly let loose into his dirty jacket sleeve. The burger waitress was still here, and he still didn't want to be seen or heard by her.
He shakily stood up and checked around again, assuring himself that the restaurant was empty aside from the disinterested woman at the register. The coast was clear outside, no sign of Ruffnut's car in sight. He quietly left the establishment, head hung low as he waged war with himself. His desire to make this right and his desire to cave to his fears and stay hidden forever conflicted powerfully, and there was no clear indication of which would win.
Snow crunched noisily beneath a steady gait, considerably hardened in the days since there had been fresh snowfall. The shining sun in Berk's currently clear skies melted surface layers, only for them to freeze over again come nightfall. The result was considerably more difficult for Hiccup to step through without falling over than fresh, soft snow would have been. On any normal day he might have glowered at the walking conditions, but as was the norm for him lately, he simply accepted it without reaction, doing his best just to stay upright.
The sun was still clear in the sky, though it was beginning to dip on the horizon. The onset of sunset wasn't far, signaling the passing of yet another day, and Hiccup dully noted that it would be New Year's Eve tomorrow. And to think, a few short months ago he had actually had high hopes for the new year – he'd start his final year of high school next year, the art showcase would be happening in January, and he might have finally been offered some kind of opportunity to get out of Berk for good (and quickly, making any separation from his father or news-breaking less painful). And in the time that had passed since then, he found out his painting would be on center display, exposing it to harsh criticism and significantly lowering his chances at positive recognition and of getting out of town. But then he'd had the audacity to think maybe that wasn't so bad, seeing as how he met a great guy and even managed to have his artistic ambitions accepted by his father.
That had all ended on Christmas night, of course. He'd seen what his disappointment had caused for his father's reputation, and what his mere existence had caused for his cousin. And then there was Jack, who'd planted hopes in his heart and had given him the means of helping Astrid prepare for the dog show that landed her in her current predicament. Jack, who had embroiled Hiccup's emotions into a trap they couldn't escape from and that he didn't want to escape anyway. And Jack, who had then turned Hiccup loose and decided he wasn't worth bothering with after all. And of course, Hiccup was partially to blame for all of that.
He carried a small shopping bag in one hand, loaded up with nuts and bolts, metal bits, tubing, and wire – he'd been on another run to The Timberjack to buy more work supplies he could throw himself into. He'd gone ahead and sold some of his old books to the Plaza's bookstore to get the cash together. After all, his father certainly wasn't going to give him any money, and he'd basically bankrupted himself buying that stupid present for Jack.
A present that was still sitting buried in his closet, because for some ungodly reason, Hiccup couldn't seem to muster the want to get rid of it.
As he continued to trudge through the snow, thoughts devouring themselves and repeating over and over again across Jack's useless present, Hiccup's crushed hopes, and the current state he'd found himself in as a result of it all, his grip on the bag began to tighten and his footsteps grew more firm. For the first time in days, a trace of bitterness was seeping into his mood, the neutral expression of his face slowly giving way to a very slightly annoyed one. His thick brows pulled together, the skin between his eyes creasing ever so slightly while his eyelids dropped by a fraction. The barest traces of a frown began to pull at the corners of his lips.
He'd managed to stop paying attention to where he was going, too preoccupied on suddenly feeling something, and it wasn't until he was passing a large, familiar tree that he realized where he was. He cast his gaze around him, taking in the typical, well-trimmed trees that surrounded the large, carefully landscaped pond. Bits of vibrant green grass peeked out from the snow here and there where it had started to melt, and a pleasant bench sat near the pond's edge. He'd somehow walked himself to the park without realizing.
Unbidden, memories began to backtrack several weeks, until they finally landed on the day he was looking for – the day that he had first laid eyes on Jack. That day, standing alone in the cold park, waiting for Astrid even though she would never come, Hiccup had gazed out across the water and his eyes had landed on a young man with shocking white hair. Jack, just a stranger then, had looked back, and the two had seemed to have a sort of staring contest from opposite ends of the park. He had left not long afterward, and Hiccup almost thought nothing more of the encounter. He'd had no idea at the time how much everything would be affected, later, when he was properly introduced to Jack.
He thought of Anna then, and his thoughts turned bitter once more.
"Why couldn't he have just been assigned to someone else?" he muttered. "Why did he have to get my class for homeroom?" He glared softly at the water's surface, a new feeling of regret surfacing now as well. "Why couldn't I just have never met him in the first place? It would have been better, for everyone…"
In the wake of the brief resurgence of resentment and regret, he could feel a wave of other feelings, pressed down for days, threatening to finally break past the surface again. Hiccup wasn't about to allow this, catching himself before it was too late and quashing them down again. He steeled his expression and closed his eyes, forcing everything he was feeling back to the farmost recesses of his mind. Building supplies, he reminded himself. The weight of his shopping bag hung heavy in his hand as his breathing calmed. That's right, he was just going to go home and work and forget any of this had happened. With his face once again fixed into a nihilistic state of calm, he turned away from the water, intent on leaving.
He was evidently surprised when his eyes fell upon Old Gothi, standing there with a far-seeing gaze settled upon him. She was leaning heavily on a thick walking stick that was taller than she was, and was about as thick as a small tree branch, and her usual bag hung loose around her shoulder. Hiccup hadn't seen the woman in… quite a long while, now that he thought of it. And it only took him a moment to realize what she was here for – she wanted him to talk. She wanted to try and make him feel better with more of her useless riddles that didn't actually get him anywhere.
Wordlessly, he walked past her. He wasn't going to bother engaging her, oh no. He was going straight home and-
"Agh!" he cried, dropping his bag and clutching the back of his head. He turned upon Gothi to see her glaring at him, her walking stick held as though she had just swung it at him and bonked him on the head. Clearly, she wasn't happy to be ignored. And while Hiccup wasn't happy about being hit, he would have thought it'd be something he could just ignore (grudgingly) and move on from.
And yet for some reason, his response was to boil with rage. A simple hit to the head seemed to be all it took to make the floodgates holding his emotions back burst open, and he gave the woman a powerful scowl at the hot feeling. "What the hell did you do that for!?" he demanded.
The old woman was unfazed, her own expression indicating that she was not impressed with his attitude. She pointed forcefully at the park bench.
"No!" Hiccup yelled back. "No, I will not sit with you, and you can stay out of my damn business and leave me alone for once!" He was mad. He was so, so mad, and he wasn't even sure if he was really mad at her, but that didn't matter. She was an outlet, placed conveniently right in front of him, and she had hit him. The fact that he was feeling more furious with her than should have been normal didn't matter.
The woman stooped down briefly and clutched up a pile of snow. It was strangely soft and powdery in her palm, a stark contrast to the frozen snow that seemed everywhere else. But when she clenched her hand tightly around it, her fist shaking from the force of her grip, her opened palm revealed it to now be a hard, compressed little ball.
She tossed it forward, lightly smacking the boy in the chest with it. It failed to crumble on impact, simply falling to the ground. While he wouldn't admit it, he was intrigued by what she was trying to convey to him, though his breath remained thick with his aggression. The woman plucked the hardened ball up again, and this time she gently rubbed her fingers at it, carving gradual grooves into the compacted, icy snow, and little by little it began to fall away in small clumps, returning to a powdery texture as it made contact with the ground.
Gothi glared conspicuously at Hiccup then.
He wasn't certain he had understood, but he had a guess – something about him, and the way he was acting. Maybe she was saying he was supposed to be soft, but he was being firm and unyielding instead. She had squeezed the delicate snow with such a tight pressure that even throwing it wouldn't break it, but a gentle touch dissolved it.
"Is that supposed to be an analogy for me?"
She rolled her eyes. She wasn't having any of this nonsense today, and she immediately pointed again at the park bench. The message was clear. 'Sit, you little brat.'
Hiccup wanted to defy her again, wanted to decide this was stupid and leave, but just the way she looked at him… It was different than ever before. Gothi had always given him knowing glances, or looked amused, insightful, and above all kind and understanding. This time, though, with her pale eyes trained firmly upon him, there was something else. There was a strange sense of power on this old, frail woman.
Begrudgingly, Hiccup complied and sat himself down on the bench, glaring at the water's surface and crossing his arms in a guarded fashion. Gothi sighed and sat next to him.
Hiccup took the offensive route immediately. "Why are you doing this? Why did you ever meddle with me in the first place? Do you have any idea the crap I've been through because of you?"
The elder sighed. Oh here we go. Being blamed for someone else's problems was fairly common, in her experience. She'd let him have at it.
"So many times, you've given me advice, and it's almost never actually helpful," A lie. "You show up out of nowhere to tell me to do something I should have just ignored," Gothi only ever came when she was wanted, and Hiccup knew that. "And you're the one who suggested I go ahead and move forward with Jack, and that ended in disaster!" Actually, that's not how that meeting had gone at all. Not to mention, Hiccup was the one who had made the decision to move forward, and he had made that judgment all on his own.
Gothi knew all of these things, and she knew that he did as well, whether he was refusing to believe it or not. She stared at him as though to say 'Are you done?'
Hiccup seethed. "What do you even want?"
The woman easily scooped another handful of snow, and tossed it into the pond, just as she had done on the day he first met Jack. Ripples spread out from where the snow made contact, disturbing the glassy calm.
"Yeah, Jack's arrival would cause a chain reaction of events, I got that the last time, thanks," the boy spat. "And in case you haven't noticed, that didn't go well."
With a mock questioning glance, the old woman shrugged.
"'How?'" Hiccup asked, incredulous. "You want to know how? Because for the first time in a long time, I got my damn hopes up! I met someone great, and thanks to you, I thought things could work out there! We became close friends, and he helped everyone, and brought us closer together…" His voice was starting to lose some of its venom as he spoke, and he could feel his throat tightening. "And then everything was ruined. Astrid is in severe trouble with her dad, and I can't even find it in me to care. Me and my friends drove a wedge between the twins and Snotlout, and made him even more miserable for losing them, misery that I made worse by never realizing how hard he had it. I made that stupid fight between him and Jack happen on that first game night, starting it all, and Astrid really hurt him because of it. But I can't make myself care about any of that anymore either. I've tattered my dad's reputation in town and let him down continuously by never giving anything for the last several years, only to finally tell him I didn't want to take after him, and now my uncle had to go and make that worse. But big surprise! I don't care. I can't make myself care about any of this crap, because if I do for even one second… if I turn that back on…"
Gothi watched him as he struggled to find words now. The heat in his voice had died down while he spoke. His words gradually started to shake. She could see his cheeks turning red and his eyes fighting themselves. The woman sighed. Being blamed for someone else's problems was inevitable, but she was fine with it – all she had to do was let them run their course with their accusations, and eventually, they'd just destroy themselves with their argument. And it was then that Gothi could step in and help them rebuild.
Hiccup had reached that point.
"If I let myself care, I'll open that dam up," he stated at last, barely above a whisper. "I'll be forced to care about the fact that the greatest person I've ever met brushed me aside, after everything, after how strongly I felt, after how far we came… I'll be forced to feel all of that again, and I don't want to, Gothi."
She nodded silently, failing to point out that merely by his recounting of this, he was already reawakening those emotions. He'd dropped the betrayal, and the rage. He'd accepted the situation. His shoulders started to shake and Gothi rested her bony hand on his forearm and rubbed.
Despite his best efforts not to, Hiccup was feeling again. He tried to push it down, just like he'd been doing these past several days, but he couldn't anymore. With all of his emotions balled up inside him, he'd become volatile. He'd become like the hardened ball of snow Gothi had showed him, hardened and waiting to lash out underneath an icy exterior. But she had already forced him to come unraveled – his anger dissipated like the powder that the ice ball had been made from, and everything he'd been holding back was flooding into him now.
His eyes were buried in his free hand. He did his best to hide the tears, to quell his shaking shoulders, and to not make a sound, but it was hard to do that when he was so overcome as he was now. He'd always heard it wasn't healthy to bottle up emotions, and he could see why. He couldn't blame Gothi and he knew it. She was trying to help, just like she always did, and Hiccup needed to face the fact that anything that had come about was his fault, not hers.
As if she had somehow detected this thought, Gothi gently bopped him on the head with her stick again. He turned his red-rimmed eyes upon her. "Why did you do that?" he asked shakily, feeling at the tender spot where she had already hit him earlier.
Hiccup had this wrong. He wanted someone to blame, someone to demonize, and he was internalizing that want. He had turned himself into the villain. Gothi shook her head at this folly, and stood. Hiccup stood with her and she grasped his wrist as he did, dragging him over to the edge of the pond and staring down. A moment of deep contemplation took the woman as she evaluated the next course of action. Conveying this idea would be… difficult, without the aid of speech.
Hiccup watched her carefully, unsure what she was trying to show him. The lack of certainty on her own face was also new to him, unfamiliar territory when it came to the elder. At last, she gestured for him to look at his reflection, and he did so. He was neither surprised nor impressed by the site. His eyes were puffy, his hair was disheveled from days of not bothering to even attempt caring for it, and his irises seemed void and vacant, though the light was beginning to return to them, even if only with sadness, from the looks of things. He was frowning deeply and uncertainly, and he looked, frankly, pathetic.
"Is this supposed to be some sort of metaphor for looking inside myself or something?" he tried asking, shrugging listlessly. That idea was pretty tired, wasn't it? Gothi glanced at him as though impressed he'd managed to glean that much, but Hiccup had had enough experience with her symbolic instructions to have made the guess. "Gothi, myself is the problem."
And here she shook her head, adamantly. It was clear denial of this declaration.
"Yes, Gothi, it is. I brought these issues onto myself."
The woman appeared downright exasperated at this point. And that's when she did something Hiccup could never have expected. The slight, bony woman dipped her stick into the water, touching on Hiccup's reflection with a determined set of her jaw. And before Hiccup's eyes, the image of his reflection rolled and changed.
"What the…" He stared, transfixed and confused by the sight, but when the ripples had settled, it was still him looking back at himself. But it was a different him. The Hiccup in his reflection had bright eyes, a confident (though mildly reserved) smile, and looked like he was staring right back at his real-world source with an appraising expression. It looked to Hiccup as though his own reflection was sizing him up. And as the boy in the water sighed, rolled his shoulders, rested his forehead against his fingers and shook his head back and forth, it was clear that the reflection didn't like what it saw.
Somehow, Hiccup managed to feel offended. He ignored (for a moment) the strange, seeming impossibility that his reflection was moving and acting on its own, in favor of wondering how this doppelganger had the nerve to look at Hiccup with such a disappointed countenance. That reflection was him after all, and not even the real him at that, so what made him so confiden-
Hiccup blinked as he stared down, and he realized what he had thought. That was him. That was the person who he was supposed to be, wasn't it? That was a person who used sarcasm and a dry wit as both a shield when necessary, and as a simple tool for overcoming life's curve balls. That was the him who, months ago, had managed to confidently believe he was good enough to make it on his own, as an artist, and who had volunteered his work for a showcase of fine art in the hopes of being recognized. That was the him who rolled with the punches, got back on his feet, and never let his cousin's douchebag moves keep him down. That was the him that was fully aware of the many, many pressures he did indeed have to live with, the him that had been well aware of how little he fit in with others his age, but didn't care. That was the Hiccup Haddock who dealt with his adversity by simply trying to be himself. And yeah, maybe he hid things, maybe he had more than his fair share of doubts, but he didn't let it define who he was.
That was the Hiccup who had been the one to tell Jack that his parents' death and the life he was leading was not his fault, even though Jack had seemed to want to believe above all else that it was.
His reflection looked back at him again, this time with a knowing look, and Hiccup knew that that boy in the water wasn't just the person he had been. This was the person Hiccup still was, deep down inside, and he simply needed to find him again. The boy who could be emotional but could always use reason to find the right solution. The boy who could turn hearts, if he tried hard enough, with empathy alone.
When the hell had he allowed himself to become someone to give up so easily?
Of course, the event with Jack still hurt. It hurt terribly and there was no point in trying to pretend that it didn't. But that was okay. That was natural. What wasn't natural was shutting himself away and becoming overwhelmed by the pain. What wasn't natural for Hiccup was to simply turn tail and run away from his problems when he should have been trying to come up with solutions for them.
Gothi saw all of this as it played out on the boy's freckled face, seeing as clear as day that the message had sunk in. All the boy had needed was to be reminded of who he was. But, just for safety…
She dipped her stick into the water once more. This time, more reflections rolled across the water, Hiccup watching them with enraptured fascination. His friends. His family. Astrid, Fishlegs, Gobber, Phlegma, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, even Snotlout, and of course, Stoick, Jack, and Toothless. They were all standing there with his reflection, smiling warmly with him, Toothless in his arms. Hiccup felt warmth touch down, somewhere deep in his chest, for the first time in days.
A moment later and the image was gone. The waters had returned to normal, and the only reflection in the water anymore had returned to the expected – Hiccup's own face, exactly as it was, mirroring his expression and staring back. The illusion had ended. The brunet turned wildly to look at Gothi, to ask her how she had done that, but she was no longer there. He blinked in confusion, looking all around him, but she was nowhere to be seen. The woman had apparently vanished with her show on the water. And the boy was left thinking who on earth is she?
Hiccup was left alone in the park, in the setting sun and the increasing chill, but he felt so much warmer inside. And he'd had more than a few epiphanies. The first, of course, was the much-needed reminder he had needed. When he'd seen the sight of himself, in his current state, morph into the person he had been not long ago, it was a serious wakeup call. For as long as he had been alive, he had always wanted, more than anything, to be able to just be himself for once, with no pretense, no faked images to hide behind. And yet somehow, in spite of that wish, he lost himself on Christmas night. Well, that was going to end here.
His second realization, one that came to him after several prolonged minutes of standing by himself and allowing his rational mind to finally have a say in things again was that it was most certainly not all his fault, everything that had happened. And frankly that should have been obvious from the get-go and he wanted to slap the shit out of himself for falling into the pit he had dug. The only one who had been blaming him had been himself. Astrid was worried about him. All she wanted was for him to be okay, and he knew deep down that there was no way she would blame him for her situation. All he had to do was remember how grateful she'd been. The memory of how tightly she hugged him after her dog show, and how she had thanked him so much for believing in her came to him. It wouldn't have been possible without him, she had said. And if Astrid could turn back time, he knew she'd have done it the same way all over again.
And Snotlout? Hiccup felt terrible for him, he really did. He had been so completely wrong about his cousin, about all of the troubles he had to endure, all of the pressure, and Hiccup wondered why they couldn't have just found some solidarity over the years instead of being at each other's throats. But to put all of the blame on Hiccup was absurd, and thinking about it again, he almost wanted to punch Snotlout for some of the claims his cousin had made. Because Snotlout didn't know what Hiccup had had to live through. And he didn't know how much Hiccup was still keeping hidden, even today. Snotlout turned Hiccup into the source of blame for his problems, citing Hiccup's 'perfect little life' as his grounds for it, but that wasn't fair.
"And maybe it's high time I set that straight with him," Hiccup spoke, his own voice surprising him. He spoke in a firm, lively tone, and the fact that that had become a foreign sound to his own ears was kind of embarrassing, honestly.
The third and final thing Hiccup had become sure of, though, was that it wasn't, and couldn't be, enough for him to acknowledge and recognize his problems, his shortcomings, and what was important. It was high time he started doing something about these things, even if that meant doing something stupid, or crazy.
It was realizing that he had been a shitty friend and a shittier son over the last six days, and that he needed to apologize dearly to the people who mattered.
It was realizing that the last image Gothi had shown him was a message. A message that he shouldn't be shouldering his burdens alone, and that he should be gaining strength and support from the people he knew cared about him.
It was realizing that every word Stoick had spoken was more sincere than Hiccup ever wanted to give him credit for, and that more than anything, Hiccup needed to learn to just start putting faith in his father, and to trust that the man truly cared.
And it was realizing that that faith should also be paid forward to someone else as well. Because one of the things he and Jack had in common was a tendency to internalize turmoil and blame oneself for life's many pitfalls.
It was realizing that Jack didn't have a malicious bone in his body, and if he had hurt Hiccup on Christmas night, he probably hadn't wanted to. And right now, Jack probably needed to have the record set straight more so than anyone else.
Maybe I should go home and try to sneak a shower, Jack considered as he looked at the stars, just beginning to peek into the sky as the sun's light slowly receded. He almost didn't want to get up – the view was nice, it had been a decently warm day, and the rooftop of The Blank Canvas was probably one of the more comfortable places he had camped out on in the plaza. He couldn't tell though if it was really because the concrete here was somehow softer than the tops of other buildings, or if it was just because the place made him think of Hiccup and thus made him feel more at ease. That latter option was probably sappy and pathetic, but whatever. It was also highly probable.
In any case, the fact remained that he hadn't had a shower in two days, unable to find an opening to sneak in each time he'd dared to check his home. He was also feeling pretty hungry, which was hardly a surprise considering he'd been living off fries and chips the past six days. If he could somehow sneak into the kitchen and grab a bite without being seen…
He sighed as he sat up, dangling one leg over the edge of the roof somewhat carelessly. He felt awful, that was the bottom line. Every last bit of common sense he possessed had been telling him to just suck it up and go home. And sure, he wanted to. He wanted to badly. But sometimes, when someone told a lie, that lie tended to snowball. And the longer one went without coming out with the truth, the worse it got, until eventually that person was too terrified to come forward at all, the consequences unfathomable.
Jack felt that that was roughly similar to his situation – not so much in telling lies, but in how he had behaved. Maybe if he'd had the sense to come back the very next day and apologize, everything could be fine right now. But instead, he'd been gone since Christmas night, and hadn't said a word to anyone the entire time. His phone was dead and he hadn't charged it, meaning he'd probably missed about a million messages. Each day that he'd been too scared to come home and face the music, he only made it worse for himself. And now, he was downright avoiding being seen by anyone, especially after last night's close encounter with Astrid and Ruffnut. And more particularly because he'd heard what they were saying about everyone.
Jack couldn't face them, he couldn't make himself do it, and each day that he didn't only made him more and more apprehensive about dealing with the consequences of his actions. The irony wasn't lost on him, of course – this had all started because North didn't think he was grown up enough to handle a trust fund. And if Jack couldn't even be an adult and face his mistakes, well. North was probably right.
"Jack? Is that you…?"
A familiar, airy voice rose from below and sent a jolt of panic up Jack's spine. He carefully glanced over the edge of the building into the side alley below, suspicions confirmed when he saw that distinguishing head of up-styled, rainbow-streaked hair. Anna Zabek was staring at him questioningly, her eyes brightening when she met Jack's own.
"Oh, it is!" she cried, seeming pleased. "I had sort of thought, when I saw your foot hanging over the edge, but I wasn't sure, so I tried calling out," she babbled, a giggle in her voice. She was holding a shopping back full of what Jack could only guess were art supplies; must have just come out of the store that Jack had thought it was a good idea to camp out on top of. Crap. "What are you doing, anyway?" she asked. "I'm sure you shouldn't be up there. Besides, it's dangerous, so come down!"
"I, uh…" Jack stared nervously. He was pretty sure Anna wasn't exactly in the know about, well, anything going on with him. She hadn't been at the party, and he couldn't imagine why his dad or anyone else might have asked her to keep an eye out for him. Still, how could he be sure she hadn't been looking for him and would drag him back home as soon as he came down?
"Jackson Overland," she called again, this time with a joking sort of warning in her voice. "I mean it now. You get down from there, before I call the fire brigade."
He sighed. "Guess I don't have a choice then," he replied, and it didn't sound nearly as light as he'd hoped it would. He stood up on the roof, looking across the narrow alley at the protruding bricks that lined the opposite wall. He'd used those to get up here to begin with, so he figured he could get back down with them. With a brief running start he jumped, feet making contact with the brick, and he heard Anna gasp below him. He quickly used the momentum of his impact to spring off the brick then, turning ninety degrees and letting his foot make contact with the other wall once he approached. His stomach dropped when he felt his legs almost buckle and slip from the wall jump, severely overtaxed, but he managed to press his weight down firmly enough to awkwardly slide to the alley floor, only getting a little hurt when he fell on his rear end.
Anna was running over to him quickly, her boots clicking noisily on the pavement as she reached his side and quickly began checking him for injuries. He assured her he was fine, though he knew that that could have been really bad – that was the first time in recent memory he could recall screwing that move up. He'd jumped off walls plenty of times before, it came with the whole parkour territory. But he also noted, bitterly, that he'd never done anything like that on five days of malnourishment and sleep deprivation before.
"Jack, are you sure you're alright?" Anna was asking as he started weakly getting to his feet. "You looked like you landed really hard!"
"I'm okay, Ms. Zabek, promise," he assured with a wan smile. "Just a slight hiccup, don't worry…" It took him a second to catch his own choice of words, and he wanted to grumble at himself for it.
Despite his assurances, he could tell that the woman was looking him up and down, and hey, he couldn't really blame her. He probably looked like shit; his clothes were filthy, he was unshowered, bruised from jumping off rooftops, scratched up from climbing them, and he probably smelled a bit.
"Jack…" And here it comes, just as he expected it would. "Is everything alright? I don't mean just from the fall."
"Peachy." His eyes were averted, his posture defensive. He absently noted that this conversation was the most he'd spoken to anyone since the night he left.
"Jack, I'm not dumb," she replied, this time with more firmness in her voice. For a moment he was reminded of any time she caught someone not paying attention in class, and how serious she could get about it. "You look terrible. No offense," she added, her voice softening again.
She wasn't going to leave him alone, nor was she going to stop asking about his condition. He wanted to be irritated with her, but one look at her genuine, concerned expression and he knew he didn't have the heart for it.
"Tell you what," Anna spoke up quickly, cutting off any response Jack may have been thinking about giving. "You… you look like you could use something to eat. So why don't you let me take you to get some lunch, my treat, and you can tell me all about it afterward." He looked at her with a strange mix of instant appreciation and apprehension, still seeming hesitant, but the way his eyes had lit up at the mention of food almost broke Anna's heart. She must have been right about him being hungry, but now she was starting to seriously wonder when his last meal had been. She tried not to let her worries creep into her smile, but decided she definitely needed to add a little something. "I'll even get you some chocolate!"
In his normal state of mind, he'd probably have made a joke about how an older woman was trying to lure her underage student in with promises of candy, but as things stood now it was the last thing on his mind. She had promised him food and chocolate and damn it, he was taking the offer.
Jack had never seen this place before, which was surprising considering that in all the time he had spent in Berk, he'd done quite a fair bit of random exploration. Hiccup had never mentioned the place either, come to think of it – a tiny little shopping area along a single, small street. It was tucked further inland than the Plaza was, in an area of Berk that Jack had clearly not given much notice toward. Although, one did have to go past the high school to get into this part of town, and Jack did have a habit to avoid that route altogether unless he actually had to, you know, go to school.
Anna had taken him to a small teahouse on this shopping street, assuring him that he'd love the place and that it was one of her favorite shops in town. It was quiet, that was the first thing Jack noted, which was likely on account of the fact that no one else was present when he and his teacher entered the place.
Well, almost no one.
A short, serene-looking man stood behind the counter near the register, noting their arrival with a pleasant, dreamy smile and offering them a wave of greeting. The little man was almost entirely quaint from head to toe, but one trait that stood out was the interesting way his golden hair stood up and off of his head in a variety of tall, wavy spikes. Certainly not an everyday sort of look.
"Sandy, can I get a couple of cakes here please? Chocolate," Anna requested, and the man gave her a silent nod before disappearing into the back room. She jerked a thumb after him, turning to Jack as she did so. "That's Sandy. He doesn't talk."
Jack nodded, unsure what to make of that. "Oh. Alright."
"Come on, come on, let's sit!" The woman didn't seem interested in wasting any more time on introductions, ushering Jack toward the nearest table in the peaceful, quiet teahouse.
He had to admit, he was still pretty uncomfortable with the situation. A nagging fear continually lingered, a feeling that this was all some big ruse and Anna was going to hand him over to, to… to the authorities, or something, Jack didn't know. But he tried to will himself to relax. "Uh… so, uhm, thanks for the cake…" he managed, and though he sounded unsure, he'd be lying if he said that even the mention of the incoming confection didn't have him just a little excited.
Anna smiled at him. "Don't worry about it. Do you want anything to drink as well? This place is a teahouse, and I could recommend some good ones!"
Jack had never been much of a tea person. Hot cocoa was always his preferred hot drink. However, he wasn't about to turn down the offer of something to drink that wasn't weird-tasting water from a fast food restaurant tap.
"Uh, sure. You can get me whatever. Like, anything is okay," he mumbled. He didn't know teas, and he wasn't feeling picky.
Anna nodded pleasantly while Sandy made a reappearance from the back, carrying two slices of cake, one in each hand on its own little plate. Jack's eyes widened at the tantalizing sight. They even looked fresh! The plates were set down in front of him and his teacher, and he hardly blinked before he was picking up his fork and digging in while Anna gave some tea orders to Sandy. Although, Jack could tell that the short man was watching him out of the corner of his eye with amusement, seeming to appreciate how much Jack was enjoying the cake.
As soon as he'd walked away, Anna asked the most obvious question of the century. "You like it?"
"I love it!" he cried back, feeling the first pangs of genuine happiness in days, and it was this damn cake that was doing it. It was so good.
"Sandy seems happy about it. He makes them, you know," she explained, and Jack could only nod enthusiastically as he took another bite. The woman didn't touch her own cake, seeming content to watch Jack enjoy his. When Sandy made another return with two steaming cups of tea, though, she was happy to indulge in that with a few pleasured sips.
Jack eyed his own cup thoughtfully and gave it a sip as well. It tasted like spiced fruit, and while it was no hot cocoa, he decided it would do. "Well Sandy's a brilliant baker then," Jack belatedly replied to Anna's earlier statement, making sure to say it loud enough that the little man could easily hear him from his position of waiting patiently at the counter. "He should have more customers."
"Oh, he does," Anna assured with a smile. "But it's not too busy at this hour. I like coming here at this time just for that. Even I need a place to calm down a take a break once in a while!" Jack managed a smirk at that, conscious of his teacher's habit of making herself busy all the time. Her tone sobered somewhat not a moment later, though, and he knew the questioning was coming. "Jack, do you want to maybe tell me why you were out by yourself, looking so… worse for wear?"
The teen sighed and slumped in his seat. "I haven't been at home for a while," he answered plainly. He then wondered why he told her that.
A new face of concern greeted him, and Anna leaned forward in her seat a bit while Jack ate the last of his cake. "…Why not? Did something happen?"
Jack didn't look up from his plate while he chewed thoughtfully. "I had a fight with my dad, and said terrible things to him. Now I'm ashamed to face him." He paused before speaking again, without much thought. "And I also managed to screw things up with…" It was only then that he caught himself, aware of what might constitute 'too much information.'
Boy, it was just coming out, wasn't it?
"Oh, Jack, it couldn't be that bad, could it?" the woman asked, perplexed and worried. "Any fight you had with your father couldn't have been severe enough that you'd need to do this. I'm sure he must be worried about you!"
"I know he's worried about me." Jack drooped further in his seat, a deep frown pulling at his lips. "He definitely is. And that's exactly why I shouldn't get to be around him. After everything he's given me and all that he's done for me, I said that crap to him. He didn't deserve that."
Anna's vivid blue irises practically glowed with sympathy as she mirrored the boy's frown, a feeling of deep understanding and a desire to help etched firmly into her features. Wordlessly, she pushed her untouched cake toward Jack and he started to eat it without missing a beat. The woman glanced to the side and signaled for Sandy to get ready to bring more. Sandy shrugged good-naturedly and trotted off.
"Jack," she spoke softly. "Tell me what happened."
The boy looked up from his cake and met his teacher's stare, still wavering. And yet again, though unsure why, Jack simply found that there was something about Anna, something that was so… open. Inviting. Comforting, and sincere, and with no hint of ulterior motives on a single inch of her brightly-colored face. This woman seemed genuinely to just want to help him, in any way she possibly could.
And he started to tell her everything.
He started with how he was adopted, and how after North picked him and his sister up, they'd been moving around their whole lives. He explained the recently discovered trust fund, which led to the fight he and his father had in which he had said so many uncalled for things, and that led to his current predicament – fleeing his loved ones out of anger and now being afraid to return out of shame.
Anna sat quietly and listened to it all, not a trace of judgment in her expression while Jack just continued to let himself talk, finding he was unable to stop after so many days of silence.
"And it's just not fair to North, you know?" he was saying, sounding incredibly upset with himself. "Yeah, I've had bad experiences, I know, and I guess it makes sense to be mad about it, but I mean, aside from getting to stay in one place, North has always given me and Mary everything we could ever want or need. He's always been there for us, and I basically threw all of that in his face. And I just feel so damn guilty, Ms. Zabek, because," he floundered for words, seeming to struggle with this admission. "As much as I've hated it – and I have definitely hated it, having to move so much – I also can't really say that I haven't enjoyed getting to see new places all the time and meet new people."
And that was true. As much as Jack hated the fact that he could never pin down his roots anywhere, there was no denying that, objectively speaking, he was damn lucky to have gotten to see everything he had. He'd been all over the United States, seen so many wonderful sights, and met so many people… But obviously, it had its toll.
"But I never got to connect with anyone," he intoned, feeling like he might give out under the weight of the loneliness he remembered. "We never stayed in more than one place for more than a few months or so, tops. Getting through school was hell. I even had to switch to home-schooling for one of my middle school years because we were barely staying put for more than a couple weeks that year."
"Oh, Jack…" said Anna. It didn't have any major purpose as an interjection, and Jack knew it. She was simply trying to comfort him, feeling sympathy as he described his situation. He appreciated the support, honestly.
"I… I never really got to even think about what I wanted to do with my future, because I never thought I really had the time to. Even if I had, what would be the point? I'd try looking for something I could do at school or around wherever I was living to get better at it, or learn more about it, or take a class on it, but then we'd just end up moving and it would all be for nothing. I just didn't have anything or anyone I could really call myself attached to other than my sister," he finished, realizing how possibly lame that sounded. Anna nodded, and he was relieved to see that she seemed to understand his feelings. She wasn't tearing into him, or yelling at him, or telling him he was wrong. Jack sighed as he cupped his tea in both hands, staring at the cooling liquid. "It was all the same until I got here. Then I met Hiccup."
There was definitely more to say on that subject, but he refrained from doing so, surprised he'd even said what he had. He glanced up quickly to find Anna giving him a soft smile, and he wasn't sure if he was just imagining the knowing expression she gave him or not.
"I'm happy you two met. On the day you got put in my class, I knew it was the right move to put the two of you together. You might not know this Jack, but I think Hiccup really needed a friend like you to come into his life, for a number of reasons. I guess now I know that you probably needed him just as much."
He blinked at that, feeling himself flush from embarrassment. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, you said you never made a connection with anyone, right? You could never get to know anyone long enough, or didn't want to try. It sounds like you made that connection with Hiccup, though. And just based on what I've seen, I'd say that I'm right, aren't I?" She looked at the boy questioningly, watching him as he lowered his eyes and started to bite at his lip. "So what happened then? Earlier, you said that you managed to 'screw things up' with someone. Did you do something to make Hiccup mad?"
"Something like that," he answered.
Anna's expression softened. "Jack, Hiccup is a very forgiving person. I know personally, trust me," she added, something of a sheepish look on her face that suggested there was probably a story there that Jack might want to ask about some time. "I'm sure that whatever it was, you didn't mess things up."
"Ms. Za-, ugh. Anna," he said, glancing at her for approval. She simply nodded, and he made the note to himself that he could drop the formality in the future. "You don't, uh. You don't fully understand."
Delicately, the colorful woman folded her hands in front of her and gave the boy a cheery smile. "So make me understand, then."
Another long pause. "…You have to swear to keep this a secret, okay?"
Anna was already getting the idea, but she nodded all the same. "I promise. Not a word."
"Hiccup and I, uh." He sighed quietly. "…We had feelings for each other." A quick look at his teacher informed him that she didn't seem at all surprised by this – at least, maybe not now, when he'd already been hinting at it the entire conversation – so he continued. "And it really freaked me out because I've never had a connection like that before, with anyone, and I just-, fuck, I don't know. I started getting scared. I was starting to worry that we could just end up moving again, like we always have, and it freaked me out how much it would hurt to have that happen, so I thought I'd end it on my terms."
He was speaking quickly, red-faced and unbelievably embarrassed to be sharing these secrets and spilling out his emotions in front of someone who, honestly, he didn't know nearly as well as other people that he'd have never breathed a word of any of this to.
"You ended it?" she asked calmly, and maybe that was why he was doing it. He was reminded again that for once, he was dealing with someone who seemed to harbor no judgments toward him, and whom he had no reason to fear some kind of rejection from. Talking to Anna just felt easy.
"Yeah," he answered sadly. "And I hated myself for doing it. I ended up saying more crap to him that I shouldn't have said, just like with North, and I'm scared that I hurt him a lot more than my moving away ever would have. I've… I've heard he's not doing well. But I just can't make myself go face him. It doesn't feel possible."
He fell silent as he nibbled on more of the cake Sandy had brought out to him. He was still hungry as hell, and the cake was delicious, yes, but it was hard to eat it as enthusiastically as earlier when he was feeling this down. Not to mention he was still abashed about having Anna feed him.
"Jack? Do you maybe think I could give you some advice?"
Jack looked up from the half-eaten confection and blinked, mildly surprised. Was she actually asking him? If he told her no, would she seriously let up? Looking at her earnest expression, he found himself believing that she would. "…I think that could help, maybe."
Her painted lips pulled upward at that, pleased and also relieved that Jack was willing to let her in. She drummed finely-manicured nails against the surface of the table and straightened in her seat. Jack almost felt like he was seeing a psychiatrist, except without the stereotypical 'how does that make you feel' questions. If Anna was a psychiatrist, he decided, she would definitely be one of the good ones.
"Firstly, Jack, I want you to know that your feelings are entirely valid," she began. "I get the impression you were ridiculing yourself for what you felt, but your fears are perfectly real, and you shouldn't feel like they aren't. You also shouldn't feel like your frustrated feelings towards your father are invalidated by everything he's done for you – everyone gets angry, Jack, and even the kindest people can be unfair sometimes."
A thoughtful frown and knitted brows tugged at the teen's pale features. "That doesn't excuse what I said to him."
"I didn't say that it did," Anna replied easily. "I said it was perfectly normal for you to feel the way you did. The things you said, on the other hand, could have used some work. But we're all human, Jack, and sometimes we slip up and say things that we shouldn't when we're upset. It happens."
"I guess so," he replied, not entirely convinced.
"And again, the fears you're feeling? That's normal too. I think anyone in your situation who's been through what you have would be reacting the same way. You're afraid of connecting to someone who you don't think you'll be able to stay with, and I understand that. You're also afraid of making amends now, held back by your fears of what you said and how your loved ones might react when they see you. Am I summing that up right?"
Jack sighed and nodded.
"Well Jack, I can't tell you if your fears have any real basis to them – they're valid and understandable fears, but whether or not you really need to worry about it, I can't say. That's for you to decide. But my opinion? Jack, part of living life is learning to accept and move through fear. You have to be able to stare it in the face, and even overcome it when you have to! Because if you don't…" Her expression softened a touch. "You'll miss out on the things that are most important."
The way she spoke gave Jack the impression that she might have been speaking through experience. There was a brief, far-off look in her eyes, but he saw her smile almost wistfully. Still, thus far all she'd really said was 'your feelings make sense but you need to suck it up', and he wasn't sure he was feeling so motivated just yet.
"Let me ask you something, Jack," she spoke again, returning her gaze to the present. "I want you to think back and remember all of the good times you have had since you've been here. Think about all the things you've done with your friends and the fun you've had. And I also want you to remember all of the time you've spent with your father, think of your happiest memories."
"Um… okay." Jack heaved a breath but did as he was told. He lost himself in thought for a moment and tried to think of his happiest memories with North; being taught to drive (crazily), his first Christmas with him, that time North dropped everything he was doing to play basketball with Jack, to help him practice for tryouts at his school – he never ended up actually going to them, deciding in the end that he wasn't interested, and did North complain? Not even once. He was just happy to have spent the time with his son. Jack frowned as he thought of it. Then he also tried to think of his best memories here in Berk, and unsurprisingly, he found that Hiccup dominated most of them.
"Now tell me something. Did you let yourself feel afraid during these situations you're thinking of?"
"That's a dumb question," he said, lifting his eyebrows at her.
"No it's not!" she replied, eyes conveying the importance of what she was trying to say. "Jack, it's the most important question. Think about your time with Hiccup. If the two of you had the kind of bond I'm guessing you did, then tell me, were you afraid during the best moments?"
There were plenty of times I was afraid, he thought. But during the best moments? He could feel his face getting hot as he thought about the two of them. Sledding down a hill together only to land in a tangle of limbs and laughter, sharing whispers and smiles in a darkened movie theater while they threw their popcorn at the screen, feeling so completely warm and trusted as he listened to the brunet spill the story of his mother to him, later to be followed by the story of how he lost feeling in a leg but gained a furry companion. He thought of their close, close proximity in the hallways of his house that night when they were bathing Stormfly, realizing belatedly how close he had been to changing their relationship then and there. He thought of his own stories that he'd given Hiccup, the only full disclosure on his parents' death that he'd ever given to anyone. And he thought of their first kiss, that night building the model. And the second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and…
"Of course I didn't," he finally answered, saddened by his own recognition of that and what it meant for him. Because she was right, during all of the best moments he had shared with the boy, there was never an ounce of fear or doubt. There was plenty of that before and after the facts, depending on the situation, sure. But the moments themselves? All of those precious moments he'd gotten to share with Hiccup never left him afraid. If anything, they quieted the nagging voice he was pretty sure he was crazy to be hearing all the time.
"And with your family?" she asked then. "Were you afraid during all of your happiest memories with your dad and Mary?"
He hardly even needed to think about that answer. One thought of Mary's smiling face was enough. "No."
The woman across the table slapped her hands against its surface, startling the teen slightly as she fixed him with a bright, toothy smile, as well as a tiny giggle. "And that is where your strength should come from, Jack!"
"Jack, that's the triumph of fear!" she went on, speaking as though she was urging him to grasp a simple concept. "That's how we, as human beings, can move forward. It's the power of our memories, Jack, to recall the best of times, and all of our best moments that filled us with hope and happiness, that gives us the strength to overcome our fears. The ability to remember what's important during the bad times is what helps us make it through them and toward more good times!"
"O-oh…" Jack blinked at her. He felt oddly entranced by this explanation, and the enthusiasm the woman had for this subject seemed to shake away any stubborn insistence he may have had about doubting her words.
Anna continued to smile warmly at her student, relaxing in her seat. "From memories comes hope, Jack. And from hope, we can dream. In our dreams, we can see wonders. And if we can splash in a bit of fun? All of that will carry you past your fears, toward a brighter future. It's how we can stay strong when things get tough, and stand in the face of any adversity," the woman emphasized this point with a comical pump of her fist, and then laughed at her own actions.
Jack couldn't help but chuckle along with her. He couldn't find much else to say, though – the teacher had left him almost speechless. Everything she was saying, however unlikely he found the idea initially, was resonating with him. It all sounded like it was so easy when she said it that way. And why shouldn't it be easy? he had to ask himself.
An easy silence filled the span of a few moments, and Anna finished her now tepid cup of tea before speaking again. "Please believe me, Jack," she asked softly. "I've had… my own fair share of hurdles to overcome. And there were definitely times when I just wanted to give up, and other times when I almost did. But…" She smirked. "Someone once told me the same things I'm telling you. So I kept going, and I managed to eventually make a pretty great life for myself, if I do say so! And I think it's high time, as a teacher, that I passed that knowledge on."
Looking outside, Jack could see that the sun had long since gone down. The stars and moon were bright tonight, and he couldn't even begin to describe everything he was feeling. But a few things stood out clearly to him. And it was with renewed resolve that he stood from the table.
"Thank you very much for the cake, Anna. And, uh, everything else, too," he said, nodding his head quickly. "I've got to go."
Anna remained seated and simply watched as he tossed an appreciative look toward Sandy as well and then stepped out the doors into Berk's chilly air. This time, Anna wasn't worried. She'd seen the look on Jack's face, and didn't believe for a moment that he'd be returning to his cold solitude.
"What do you think, Sandy? Did I do a good job?"
Looking over at the man at the counter, she saw a coy sort of smirk on his face.
"I think it's a little better with actual words," she laughed, and the short man rolled his eyes. At the very least, she hadn't had to keep Jack for a few hours trying to get him to interpret visual messages, so it was certainly more expedient. She smiled fondly at her little friend, all the same. The time that Sandy had spent with her, those years ago, making her understand exactly what she'd just told Jack, was one of her most precious memories, and she used it to overcome her own hardships.
Sandy approached and left a hand lightly on her forearm, smiling serenely as he looked out the window.
"Mm," she hummed. "I think he's gonna be alright."
Hiccup arrived home quietly that night, racing upstairs before he could draw any notice and quickly heading to his room. The first thing he did was dig through his trash can, searching for a familiar piece of crumpled paper and fishing it out. He set it down on his desk, carefully unrolling it and smoothing it out with a look of sadness. And there it was, the little ticket Jack had printed out for him, worse for wear but still intact. He turned his gaze back to his slightly ajar closet door, where he knew Jack's unclaimed board was still waiting.
With Gothi's therapy fresh in his mind and his own sense of self finally restored, Hiccup allowed himself to do something he'd been adamantly forbidding since the night that this shitstorm unfolded. He forgot his shame, deciding not to care how it would make him look if someone saw him, rested his head against his folded arms, and he cried. Because damn it all, he needed to.
He couldn't say how long it went on for, only that it was probably longer than he could recall having done so in any recent memory. Somewhere along the lines, Toothless crept into his lap to offer the boy some comfort, and he gladly accepted it by squeezing the cat to his chest. Toothless didn't seem to mind getting tears on his fur, and Hiccup was glad for that. When he was done, he did the cat the good service of at least patting down the parts of his fur that had gotten wet.
"We speak of this to no one," he said, smiling through his puffy eyes and chuckling a little at the look of feline sardonicism that the statement earned.
As he looked again at his wrinkled carnival ticket and at the closet door, he was reminded of what he'd decided to do here. Hiccup picked up his phone and sent a single text message.
It was late at night when Jack snuck back into his home, the darkened windows indicating that his family was probably asleep. It felt incredibly relieving to shuck off his gross clothes and slip into a pair of clean ones, even if he still needed a shower, and he'd almost forgotten how wonderful it felt to lay down on his bed.
He could have fallen asleep right then and there.
But he urged himself to stay awake, plugging his phone in for the first time in days and watching the screen light up as the battery gradually charged. After a few minutes of this he was able to turn it on, though he kept it plugged in to continue recharging while his phone went through its usual startup process.
He really couldn't say he was surprised when a plethora of text messages immediately assailed him, his phone vibrating practically nonstop as the messages came in one after another. A wave of missed calls made themselves known as well, but what got his attention was the voicemail notification. Jack almost never got voice mail, not from anyone.
When all of his missed notifications had finally finished loading, he decided to give the message a listen. On the other line, the prerecorded voice of his father greeted him, and he almost recoiled at the sound.
"Jack, eh… I know you are not wanting to answer the phone. You don't want to speak to me, and I understand. I am sorry, Jack. I wish that this situation had not… ahh…" There was a long pause, and a sigh, and Jack was surprised to hear North sounding choked up when he resumed speaking. "I am so very sorry for all that you blame me for. All I have ever wanted was to bring you and Mary happiness, and I have regretted every day that I could not give you two what you needed most. But we have," there was a sort of shuffling noise, perhaps North switching ears or something. "We have a chance here, Jack. Things can be better, I know they can. But please, come home. Your sister and I, we are worried. We just want you home, and safe, and I want to say I am sorry and to be telling you this in person. We will work this out. Please come home, Jack. We love you."
Tears rolled down pale cheeks as he listened to the message, his back against the wall and shoulders hunched and shaking. He'd been terrified of coming home to face North, and sure, he'd known North was probably worried. But this? He hadn't expected this. And right now, all he really wanted was to run down the hall to North's room, wake him up, hug him, and tell him he was home.
But he stopped himself from acting on this. He knew there was something else he needed to do first, and that reminder came in the form a new text message, this one having arrived just as he hung up on his voicemail. Jack already had a ton of unread texts to go through, and he was certain he'd get to them eventually. But this one was new, someone who had been trying to reach him right at that moment. So he checked it, eyes widened to see Hiccup's name on his screen.
'I need to see you. Tomorrow. Please.'
That was all there was to it. Jack reread the message four or five times and took a deep breath. Tomorrow would be a big day, wouldn't it?
December 31, 2013
Hiccup stared at the date, brightly illuminated on his phone's screen, almost with a sense of shock. The span of time seemed both entirely too long and too short all at once. It was strange. These several days had felt like an eternity to Hiccup, wandering around in a listless haze that he had only just last night snapped out of. But by contrast, the entire year preceding it – every day from the first of January to Christmas – didn't honestly seem like that much time in retrospect. He could swear it wasn't that long ago that 2013 was just arriving, bringing with it a variety of uncertainties.
And now here he was on New Year's Eve, standing in his room and still seeming uncertain, though for entirely different reasons. Jack had never responded last night, and Hiccup found his phone still bereft of any new messages this morning. Or rather, this afternoon, seeing as how he had kind of been a useless piece of crap and slept in till three, but hey. He had just come off of a major emotional turning point last night, so shut up.
Still, he sighed. He supposed it was entirely possible that Jack didn't have his phone on him – he was supposedly missing, after all. Oddly, Hiccup wasn't too worried about that. If he knew Jack as well as he thought he did, then it definitely wasn't a serious case of disappearance; he was probably just hiding around town somewhere. That's probably why North had yet to issue any kind of police search for him yet.
Okay, maybe he was lying when he thought it wasn't worrying, because frankly it really was, but the point was that he could at least rest assured knowing that Jack hadn't, like, been kidnapped or anything. So, if Jack didn't have a means of receiving Hiccup's messages, there was really only one logical thing to do. He would have to go out and search for the irritating, white-haired jerkoff himself. And he'd be damned if he wasn't going to succeed.
"Toothless," he called, and the cat was immediately to attention on the windowsill, ears up and at alert. "We're going to look for Jack today. I'll need your help, soldier. You up to it?" The freckled boy spoke in a mock serious fashion, affecting a disciplined persona in an effort to keep himself at ease with the situation.
Toothless meowed back smartly, puffing his chest out with pride.
"Good," Hiccup said, nodding firmly. But first… a bit of unfinished business. He grabbed for his phone again, heart hammering with nervous guilt, and took a deep breath.
'To: Astrid, Fishlegs, Ruffnut, Tuffnut
Hey guys. So I've basically been kind of an ass these last six days and all. And I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell any of you that. So. I got better? Anyway I just want to say I'm sorry for how I acted, and for now, let's leave it at that. If you want, I can talk more about this to each of you later. But yeah, you know. Sorry and all. Especially you, Astrid.'
He blew out a heavy breath and fell back on his bed as he hit the send button, letting the mass text do its job and waiting for the inevitable responses. The first one came faster than he thought it would, and he was completely unsurprised at the sender.
'You ad damn well BETTER be sorry Hadoock and youd better explain everything l8r I SWEAR'
Hiccup felt a mixture of shame and humor. Astrid had made a couple typos in her apparent haste, and he was pretty sure he'd never once seen her use 'l8r' in a text. It was maybe a minute later that he got another one from her, this one more composed.
'Look apology accepted though. So are you okay? Im guessing youre okay. And if so Im glad.'
He sheepishly typed a reply. 'Yeah I'm doing waaaaay better, I'd say. I mean it's only been hours but, you know. I'm not whatever the hell I was before, so I think that automatically counts as improvement. I promise I'll talk later though, alright? I've got to take care of some things.'
He got another response from her a moment later, indicating that she was okay with this, and it was immediately followed by several texts from Tuffnut.
'oh uh okay
glad to hear that i guess
not really sure wut was goin on w/ u so dont worry bout explainin
but if u kno anything about snotlout can u maybe tell me that
ruff says to tell u he hasnt been at home
and he keeps not tellin us stuff
but i kno he talked 2 u on christmas'
Hiccup watched with mild amusement as the texts rolled in, Tuffnut seeming to treat it like more of an instant messaging program, but he furrowed his brow in confusion at the bit about Snotlout. He remembered his cousin mentioning that he 'probably wasn't allowed home' when they'd had their little argument, but it surprised him to think that he had actually never gone back home after that. Though apparently he was fine and was still in contact with the twins, albeit without him communicating much from the looks of things.
'Sure Tuff. But later, okay? Tell Ruffnut I'll let you guys know what I know tomorrow.'
Ruffnut herself hadn't responded, but he guessed she was probably communicating through Tuff based on the male twin's messages, confirming that he'd let her know and also that she apparently said 'welcome back 2 the land of the living also i smell funny'.
Hiccup was pretty sure she didn't actually say that second part.
Fishlegs's message came last.
'So does that mean you're back to normal then? Because I've been really worried about you, we all have. I guess I probably don't need to tell you that though. Astrid is probably gonna let you have it…'
'Yes Fish, I'm about as normal as I ever get. And don't worry, I talked to Astrid already. Again, really sorry to make you all worry.'
'Hey, don't sweat it! The important thing is that you're doing okay now, and hey, I'm always here if you wanna talk about what was wrong. :)'
Sometimes Hiccup was pretty sure he took Fishlegs for granted. Because seriously, the kid was so damn understanding and kind all the time, Hiccup seriously wondered how he did it. He'd probably been worried sick about Hiccup this entire time, driving himself crazy over everyone's unfortunate situations, and here he was brushing it off now like it was nothing, accepting Hiccup's apology just like that and lending his support.
'Thank you Fishlegs. That means a lot.'
That didn't honestly begin to describe it, but hey, it's not like Hiccup was gonna dump all of his appreciation out in text-based words. In any case, Hiccup determined that, for the time being, his friends had been handled. He'd be able to finish his business with them later. For now, he had a quest ahead of him. A quest to mend a broken relationship that shouldn't have broken in the first place because he and Jack were clearly both being giant fuckups. Hiccup had realized that, anyway, and it was high time he made Jack realize it too. You know, assuming he hadn't already.
But before that, there was still one more thing to do. Hiccup threw on his zip-up green hoodie, his favorite comfort against the cold, some jeans, and a pair of light boots – enough to give him some traction on the ice and hardened snow without being too heavy to walk in. He jammed his phone into his pocket, took a deep breath and a gulp, and gestured to Toothless to follow him downstairs.
He found his dad in the living room, eyes on the TV but seeming somewhat spaced out. Hiccup decided it was both lucky and unlucky that his dad had finished work early today. Lucky because it meant Stoick could be here for Hiccup to talk to. Unlucky, though, for kind of the same reason. The teen nervously cleared his throat, and Stoick immediately looked over toward the stairs to see his son perched on the bottom step, fingers drumming against the banister and an uncertain look on his face.
This had Stoick's full attention. It didn't matter what it was, any expression that wasn't the vacant, uncaring one his son had been wearing over the last week meant something had changed.
"Uhhh, hey dad…"
Oh thank the gods, he was awkwardly drawing out his sentences again! Stoick stood from the couch, thundering across the room and yanking Hiccup into an entirely unexpected embrace. Hiccup had to cough and tap Stoick's arms a few times to remind him that he needed to breathe.
The enormous man put his son down firmly on the floor, Hiccup taking an exaggerated gasp as he did so, and looked at him with an earnest, imploring stare. "Hiccup. Are you… are you alright?"
"Well I might have a compound rib fracture, but otherwise yeah, peachy." Stoick couldn't help himself when he threw his head back and laughed. Even the wise-ass remarks were welcome at this point. Hiccup fixed his dad with an apologetic smile, arms crossed, and he took a brief moment to collect himself. "Listen, dad, I'm really sorry. I know you've been… well, you know, upset, and worried, and all that. I'm sorry about how I've been acting, and for not talking to you about it, or anything like that. It was shitty of me to do."
"Language," Stoick cut in automatically, blinking at his own reflex afterward. Should he really be giving a hoot about that right now?
"Right, sorry," Hiccup mumbled. Stoick couldn't honestly expect that his son never swore, but he at least preferred for them not to be directed at him. "Anyway, uh. That's done with, so…"
"And does this mean you are ready to talk to me about it?" Stoick asked, sounding more stern now that the initial shock of 'my son is back to normal' had worn off. "Because it's been drivin' me out of my mind, and I think you have a lot of explaining to do."
Oooh boy, there it was. And Hiccup knew he couldn't exactly avoid this forever. Still though…
He swallowed and steeled his nerves as he made eye contact. "Not yet." He could already see Stoick about to cut back in with some objection, but Hiccup cut him off quickly. "I will though. And soon, I mean it. I promise, dad, I'm gonna tell you, just… there's, uh, there's something I have to do first." He offered his father a pleading look then, hoping against hope that the man would accept that answer for now, because the alternative was dealing with something that Hiccup wasn't ready to deal with just yet.
Stoick's answering expression was equal parts confusion and suspicion, and Hiccup was almost certain that his ship was sunk. Surprisingly, Hiccup noted that Stoick's expression strayed to Toothless, as though silently questioning him, and he was pretty sure he'd never seen the man do that before. After a moment of contemplation, Stoick's answer came slow and deliberate.
"Sometimes… I suppose there are things you just have to do on your own, with no one's help."
Hiccup met his father's eyes again, hopeful.
Stoick nodded. "We've got a deal, Hiccup. Take care of your business. But when I see you again, I expect you to tell me everything."
He was really gonna agree to this, wasn't he? It scared him, but he was going to. So he nodded. "Deal, dad."
The brunet stepped around his father then, opening the door to step outside. He didn't say where he was going, and Stoick didn't ask. This was a matter for Hiccup to handle. His son and his cat vanished out the door, and Stoick was left by himself in the living room. Something told him that whatever this talk would be was going to be rather significant. And probably not something that would lend well to a festive atmosphere.
"Might as well try to enjoy the new year, at least," he reasoned to himself. The next time he and Hiccup saw each other could be tomorrow, then. Tonight, Stoick decided, he was heading to Gobber's to ring in the new year.
It had certainly been a long day of grappling with self-doubt and optimism. Jack felt as though he might get some kind of emotional whiplash from it all, constantly teetering between No way I can't do this, this was a dumb idea, why did I ever let Anna talk me into this, and This is gonna work, I know it, we'll talk, and everything will be better! Over the course of the night, he'd gotten his first full, comfortable rest in days, had himself a long a shower, put on another fresh set of clothes, and read through every text message he had missed in his absence, just to get a feeling for who all he had pissed off and who he needed to make amends with.
He'd had the good fortune that North must have had work today, since the man was gone when Jack had finally woken up (relieved that he had apparently not been discovered sleeping in his room by anyone), and even Mary wasn't around. Jack had a little trouble imagining where she could possibly be that wasn't at the house, but figured it was always possible that she was at her friend Hilde's house, or maybe even that North got her a babysitter, seeing as how Jack wasn't around to watch her.
There was a bit of regret that she hadn't been home, of course, because to be perfectly honest he missed her so damn much. It hadn't been that long since he hadn't seen her, but it still made him feel like the world's shittiest brother to know that she was probably wondering where he was every day. But despite the fact that he definitely wanted to see his family again, he also wasn't sure if he was ready to brave that encounter yet. As such, having an empty house where he could rest and get himself cleaned up was most certainly a welcome thing, for now.
He'd found the pantries to be sadly lacking in much to choose from though; North probably needed to do some grocery shopping and hadn't gotten around to it yet, making for some unfortunately bad timing on Jack's part. He sighed, but still managed to down about half a box of Ritz crackers and the rest of the milk in the fridge.
And then he'd set out onto the town, where he decided he'd figure out for sure what his day would entail. He still hadn't replied to Hiccup's text message. He thought of doing it last night, but he was sort of an emotional wreck and just wanted to sleep. He thought of doing it this morning when he'd awoken, but anxiety had him thinking about handling other matters, like showering, first. He'd kept himself distracted on snacking and playing video games by himself for a bit before again contemplating replying to Hiccup's message just as he was walking out the door.
And once again his thumb hovered hesitantly over his touch screen, not making a move toward any of the characters on the virtual keyboard, and eventually he put his phone away again. Seriously what was wrong with him? He knew he wanted to talk to Hiccup. He wanted to set things right between them, if at all possible. So why couldn't he just send the damn message?
Somehow, he'd managed to piss away hours just wandering around town, the same way he'd been doing the past week, though with significantly less roof-climbing and a more well-groomed appearance. He'd noticed in the mirror this morning that the browns of his roots were starting to show, so that kinda impacted the grooming thing, but there wasn't much he could do about that on short notice. And besides, it wasn't that noticeable. He was pretty sure, anyhow.
He spent an embarrassingly large amount of time checking out his reflection frequently in mirrors and shop windows, trying to check and make sure he looked alright, checking his skin for blotches or zits (he was sure he had to have a few after mucking around outside for a week), and criticizing his own choice of clothes; the jeans were fine, he supposed, but the yellow long-sleeved shirt paired with a loose black zip-up? He didn't really like the combination. But he had already grimed up his few more favored outfits, and it's not like he really had the time or presence of mind to do laundry that morning, so this would have to do. Besides, at this rate, did it even matter how he looked? He was clearly too chicken to text Hiccup anyway.
He found, though, whether consciously aware of it or not, that he kept bringing himself just outside of common haunts that he'd been to with Hiccup. He walked by the park and stopped at the bench on his way to the plaza, and at the plaza itself he lingered around The Blank Canvas, The Devious Snaptrapper, and even hung around in the arcade for a few minutes. He never sat still, though, as though afraid that if he stayed too long, Hiccup would actually show up, and that this was somehow as much a bad thing as it would be a good thing. Jack really couldn't make up his mind.
By the time the sun had fallen and the clock struck eight, the plaza had started getting a lot livelier – crowds were starting to pile up, food establishments were bringing on extra staff and opening their doors wide while other shops were closing altogether, and the large Christmas tree in the center of the square was lit up brightly. People were chatting and eating and simply having a sense of community, and Jack belatedly realized the day – it would be New Year's tonight, and these people were probably all gathered here to celebrate it.
It was at that point that Jack navigated away. Normally, at a time like this, losing himself in a crowd might have been exactly what he wanted. But somehow it just seemed less appealing at the moment. These people were all celebrating, after all, and Jack didn't have much to celebrate. Not to mention, he still sort of half-wanted to find a more specific someone. And yet he still refused to text.
Feeling like a scaredy loser, he left the plaza and arrived back onto the significantly less crowded streets – most people in town right now had either already gone to the square to celebrate, or were probably staying in their homes. Jack wondered what North and Mary might have been doing tonight. Or Hiccup for that matter. Or Astrid, even – would her dad even let her celebrate, what with her being on punishment?
Lost in thought, he began walking the route back toward his home, hoping that maybe North and Mary were out of the house, being happy somewhere, so that he could be alone and dwell on his cowardice. And as he walked by the park again, kicking at hardened snow, he didn't notice the head of auburn hair, seated on the park's bench calmly as if he was waiting. At least, not until he heard a loud meow.
Halting in his steps, Jack looked up to see a familiar cat jumping off the bench and staring directly at him. His owner took notice immediately, turning from his seated position with a surprised look on his face when he saw Jack standing there, not ten feet away.
"Hiccup," Jack stated quietly, staring as though transfixed.
The brunet quickly stood from the bench, eyes never leaving Jack as he attempted to make a beeline for him. The ground seemed to have other plans when Hiccup slipped, the second time in a seven day span, and fell back into the snow.
"Oh damn it all!" he shouted, and Jack couldn't help but smile, even as he raced to the boy's side and crouched down.
Hiccup looked surprised to have Jack's hands on him, not even seeming aware of it until he'd opened his eyes again and felt the pressure on his arms, helping him up. Jack offered him a slightly scared smile, and attempted a laugh. "We really have to stop meeting like this?"
To be honest, Jack was expecting to get hit. Or yelled at, at least, just like the last time he'd helped Hiccup up from a slip. What he wasn't expecting, once he'd gotten them both to their feet, was for Hiccup to launch himself forward and tightly wrap his arms around him, face pressed into the crook of Jack's neck like it belonged there (and you know what, Jack decided that it damn well did).
And after the shock wore away, Jack started to really notice how overwhelming the sensation felt. Hiccup was so damn warm and firm, pressed up against him, and Jack wound his arms around the brunet without a second though, squeezing right back as if his life depended on it. He hadn't even realized how much he'd missed this. He hadn't understood how practically desperate he was to feel any kind of contact whatsoever with Hiccup again, and he couldn't even be surprised by how much he never wanted to let go right now. Yeah, there was a shit ton of things to think about, and a lot that the two of them were going to need to address in a moment.
But right now?
Right now, the only thing that mattered to Jack was feeling Hiccup's warmth through his green jacket, his own face pressed against the freckled teen's shoulder and inhaling. Hiccup had started to slowly rock the two of them on their heels.
"You're cold," he mumbled, and Jack chuckled.
Neither pulled apart for a long while, both seeming afraid to break the contact. It was Hiccup who finally did it, albeit with a great deal of reluctance, and Jack was disappointed that he didn't maintain any kind of residual contact, having pulled himself completely away. The boy sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck.
"I think we need to talk."
There really wasn't any backing out of it now that it was happening, so Jack nodded. "Yeah. We do."
The two boys carefully stepped over to the vacated bench, sitting themselves back down upon it and maintaining a small opening between them. Toothless saw fit to occupy this space, hopping up to seat himself cozily between the boys. Jack tentatively offered the animal a rub, finding the action was appreciated.
Both parties were finding themselves lost for words, unsure where to begin or even who should go first. The freckled teen decided he might as well try, wringing his fingers and opening his mouth to speak, but Jack's head was suddenly hanging low in his seat when he looked over, his blue eyes closed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry, Hiccup. Like I am really, really sorry, okay? So sorry I don't even know how I can possibly say it enough, because I mean…" Hiccup noted the strained choke in the other boy's voice as he apologized repeatedly, admittedly a little shocked to hear Jack not only apologizing first, but seeming incredibly guilty over it. "I'm an idiot, and this was my fault, and you didn't deserve any of what I gave you, and—,"
"Whoa, Jack, whoa!" Hiccup interjected, raising his hands and stopping Jack from going any further. He shook his head for good measure, auburn bangs swinging about and scratching a bit at his cold cheeks. "Look, I really appreciate what you're doing here – trust me – but it's not like I'm blameless! I mean, I screwed up pretty badly too, and I don't want you pretending like I didn't."
"Hiccup, no, don't try to split this," Jack insisted. He was apparently dead set on a blame game. "You were right, okay? I should have been more open with you if I wanted this to go both ways, and I've been keeping stuff back because I was just too scared to come out with it—"
"Oh like you're the only one? Jack you know damn well I was hiding things too, and still haven't told you everything—"
"Look I could figure out what you were keeping a secret and I should have respected it, but I—"
"What are you trying to say, that I shouldn't have respected what you weren't telling me? That's not how this—"
"Oh my god Hiccup, stop, just accept that I fucked this up, alright?"
"But that's what I'm trying to tell you!" Hiccup almost shouted back, not angry but simply flustered. "You weren't alone in that!" Jack opened his mouth again but Hiccup quickly slapped a hand over it, surprising the pale boy considerably. "No, no shut up. Shut up and listen to me. I didn't come out here looking for you so that we could fight over who messed up worse or so that we could blame ourselves, okay? Because that's exactly what the problem has been this whole time. The whole reason I haven't even tried looking for you all week was because I was too busy throwing a pity party and blaming myself for everything wrong that was even remotely connected to me, and I figured out yesterday that that is not what I should have been doing, alright? And you definitely shouldn't be, either."
Hiccup withdrew his hand, and Jack had thankfully managed to resist the immature impulse to lick it while it lasted. Still, it was apparent that Hiccup didn't want to hear any more about whose fault it was or anything relating to it, and it left Jack curious.
"So then if you don't want me to apologize to you, what do you want me to do?"
"Oh for the love of—" Hiccup rested his face in his hands then, sighing forever. "Jack, I do want us to apologize. Both of us, because we both messed up. And then I want to move past it and just… do what we should have done in the first place. I want to tell you what's been bothering me that I've been keeping back, okay? Because you were also right that night; I should have been honest with you from the start, and I'm planning on doing that now."
"Oh," Jack replied, unsure how to feel. It was a sort of toss-up between apprehensive and deliriously happy. "So… you mean, like, right now right now?"
"Yes Jack, right now right now."
"Uh, okay then." Jack gripped his knees. He'd been holding this story back for a while now, and objectively it seemed kinda stupid; most people wouldn't have considered it nearly as big a deal as the death of his parents, and Jack had already told Hiccup about that. But no, this story held significance to Jack because speaking it out loud made the reality of his messed up emotions known to another party. It communicated the fact that he had been terrified of trying to forge anything more than a superficial friendship with anyone for years. If people knew that, they'd have avoided Jack altogether, and he would never have even had the pleasure of shallow friendships to distract himself with. He never wanted Hiccup to doubt how he felt about him, neither platonically nor, more recently, romantically. But hey, it was time for honesty, right?
"So I guess I'll go first…" Hiccup suddenly spoke up, drawing in a breath.
Jack sputtered uncontrollably for a second before stammering "A-wha-no! You can't!"
Hiccup eyed him strangely, seeing the way Jack had half-reached for him with dismay on his face. "Uh… why?"
Jack pulled his hands back to himself and coughed. "Sorry. It's just, uh… I was getting all geared up to tell you my side, and I, you know, wanted to go first." Hiccup continued to eye him. "Please, Hic. I dunno how long I can keep myself gung-ho about this."
At the mention of his nickname, something he hadn't heard in decidedly too long, the brunet instantly softened and he nodded his assent. "Alright. You go first then."
Jack sighed deeply. "Alright, so. You know that shepherd's stick I have in my room?"
Hiccup nodded slowly. "Yeah. I've always kinda wondered about it."
"I guess you'd call it a memento," Jack explained, his countenance downcast. "See, about seven years ago, after North adopted me and Mary… You remember how I told you that, for a while, I kinda kept my distance? I was being a brat and didn't want to be around Mary because my idiot self was blaming her for a while."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Well, while I spent a lot of time out playing by myself, I met this other kid. His name was Jamie, and for sort of… I dunno, no real reason, he just seemed to like me. He invited me to come play with his friends, and it was a nice distraction from how I was feeling at the time. I'd go out and play with Jamie pretty much every day, and he showed me around the city we'd moved to. He was kind of like my first real friend, you know?" Jack managed a smile as he recounted his tale, the memories bringing with them the feelings of happiness he'd felt back then. "Even before my parents died, I never had anyone who stuck with me like Jamie did. He made me feel better, always listened when I talked, even if it was about stupid stuff. It was actually kind of thanks to him that I turned my shit around and stopped blaming Mary for my problems. I introduced them, and she liked him too, right off the bat. We were inseparable, you know?"
Hiccup could already kind of tell where this was going, and understanding was taking root in his active mind. Especially with the way Jack said 'inseparable', sort of strained, like he knew that that word didn't actually hold the meaning that it should have.
"Jamie got that crook one day from his uncle. He told me he worked on a farm, and that he used that old-fashioned thing to herd the sheep. But I guess his uncle stopped finding it useful, or just decided it was a little too old-fashioned, so one day he gave it to Jamie and told him he could play with it. Jamie showed it to me and I thought it was the coolest thing. I'd pretend I was like, a sorcerer – like Jafar, from Aladin, except not evil (" Hiccup laughed here ") – and I'd cast like, spells and shit from it, right? Mary thought it was cool too. She said I should have ice powers because Jafar used fire, so we kinda went with that. The crook became the ice staff, and every time I was with Jamie, he'd always have it with him."
Hiccup's smile was tinged with amusement and sadness, and he figured Jack must have been reaching that part of his story now, since his own grin was starting to falter.
"I got to spend about a year and a half with Jamie, and he was my best and closest friend. Mary was five, and I was almost twelve, only one year into middle school, and then North comes home one day and is basically like," Jack's shoulders fell here, and his voice dropped into a half-assed affectation of North's voice. "'Bad news little ones. There has been a big change in plans at work. I'm afraid we have to move.'" His voice returned to normal, his eyes widening as though reliving the scene. "And I'm just sitting there like what the hell, right? I knew North's job had him moving around a lot before he got me and Mary, but he'd told us that we'd be staying put after he adopted us. He'd promised."
There was a small note of betrayal in the way he spoke. It was like Jack really was a kid again, hearing this news for the first time, and the dejected tenor of his voice and the way it sounded like he wanted to cry but wouldn't let himself just compounded Hiccup's understanding of how devastating that news must have been.
"So just like that, friendship over. I had to say goodbye to Jamie, and Mary cried her eyes out over it. I can remember pretty clearly that I wanted to. Guess I tried to keep it small, though. I remember sniffling a lot. But Jamie, that kid, he was trying to stay optimistic. He kept telling me I could call him as soon as we got our new house and our new phone number, or I could send him a letter, because he'd always wanted one of those. And then he gave me the crook. He said that I should have it to remind me, and that I used it better anyway," he explained with a hollow laugh. "We traveled by train when we left. Moving practically across the country. It took us a long time to get to our new place, and North kept apologizing about the move, saying he made sure there would be no changes this time, and I guess I managed to believe him. But between the time it took us to get to the new state, get our house, and get the phone set up, I guess I was too late."
Hiccup blinked and then frowned, picking up on the implication. "Don't tell me…"
"Jamie moved. It must have been pretty sudden, too, because he didn't know a thing about it when he was saying goodbye to me. I tried calling him, but a different family answered. A letter would have been pointless, because I didn't have his address anymore. And I mean, we were kids, Hic. Not like we had cell phones yet – parents didn't start outfitting their toddlers with cell phones till like 2008 or something, I dunno – and I was only allowed on the computer for homework most of time, not that I was even too interested in it at the time anyway. So the only way I had to contact Jamie – his home phone number – was gone now. And he obviously didn't have mine, because I didn't even know what it was."
"So… he was just, gone," Hiccup summed up, finding the notion incredibly unsettling. His situation was different from Jack's. He hadn't had many friends growing up, and after his mother's passing, there wasn't often anyone in the house to look after him if Stoick had to work. His father had gotten him a cell phone pretty early because of that, and Hiccup took to the internet really naturally. Growing up without a means of quick, easy communication had never really registered with him. And as he put himself in Jack's shoes, he realized how uncomfortable it made him. How horrible it would be to just be… disconnected from someone, just like that, for no reason other than distance. "Jack… I'm so sorry."
The paler boy shrugged, trying to seem indifferent and failing. "So I lost all contact with him. Never saw him again. My best friend in the world, who got me to open up and accept what happened to my mom and dad, and who fixed my relationship with my sister, and then he was just up and gone. All I had left to remember him was the crook he gave me. But I tried, always, to remember what he taught me, about keeping my head high, and I thought I could try again, you know? But North's promises of a permanent stay fell through on me, again. We moved, again, just when I was starting to make some new friends, so there went that. And then it just kept happening. We kept moving, again, and again, and again, and it seemed like it was getting more and more frequent for a time. Like his boss had just given up on trying to pretend we could stay anywhere permanently. I think I heard North on the phone once, yelling at someone about it. I guess I appreciate that it upset him, but I always found myself wishing he would just quit, you know?"
"Why didn't he?" Hiccup wondered aloud, legitimately confused. "If he was that upset about the transfers and wanted you guys to have a permanent home…"
"He told me the other night," Jack replied. "I was just too pissed to see reason. But it made sense. He told me he couldn't have risked doing that. He's been able to build a lot of money in savings to take care of us only because he kept that job, Hic. I'm pretty sure he even got a bunch of raises for accepting so many transfers. If he'd quit early like I wanted him to, it would have been a really risky move. He said he couldn't have possibly risked putting me and Mary in a situation where he couldn't give us the proper care." Jack rested his face in his hands then, breathing quietly. "And I flipped my lid at him for it. God, Hic, the things I said to him…"
"Is this about what happened on Christmas?" Hiccup asked.
Jack nodded. "Yeah. But I'll get to that in a bit. I gotta finish what I was already telling you."
"So, yeah. I guess you probably get the gist of my little sob story, huh? I lost my best friend, and then kept losing friends with every move, and eventually I stopped trying. Losing Jamie hurt, Hic." Jack's voice became strained again, composure slipping, and all Hiccup could think of wanting to do was comfort him as he recognized the choked up quality in his words. "It hurt me so fucking much, okay? I was torn apart by it, I admit it. And every time I lost another friend, all I could think of was how much that hurt too, and how much it was just going to keep on hurting over and over again because we'd never stop moving. So I stopped making friends. I just started, I dunno, being friendly. I'd get to a new place, meet new people, and I'd tell jokes and have fun, but I never meant any of it. It was just a distraction for me, and I never let myself get close to anyone."
"So…" Hiccup's voice was quiet. "You probably didn't… I mean, that is, uh…"
Jack caught on to what he was asking pretty quickly. "I never meant to get close to any of you," he admitted, ashamed. "It's stupid, I know it's fucking stupid, but I've been so paranoid… I was terrified, okay? I was scared of ever letting anyone in again because I couldn't keep handling what it felt like to have to leave them. And every time I even started to think I could maybe reach out again, something happened to knock me back down. And it scared the hell out of me, so I stopped altogether. And then I met you, Hiccup, and I just—I don't know how it fucking happened, alright? But you, and Astrid, and Fishlegs, you guys all just… you got under my skin, somehow. Before I'd even noticed what happened, you guys had become these awesome friends and I felt so damn lucky, it was ridiculous. But then I started worrying again. I started to realize how deep I'd gotten, especially with you, and I…"
"I started to realize how I felt about you Hic, and that freaked the hell out of me. You know, I meant it, when I said that I don't know what my life would be like without you, because I really don't, okay? You just—You're so—Fuck. You're important to me, Hiccup." His eyes were fixed firmly on the ground, his cheeks were bright red even in the dark evening, and Hiccup bit his lip. His heart had never beaten faster in his life. "You've become so unbelievably important. If I had to leave you, I didn't know what I'd do. I started to get scared of that, so scared and paranoid of losing you that I just couldn't deal with it anymore. The longer I kept up with it, the worse it was going to hurt, and it was already gonna fucking destroy me. So I thought… I thought maybe it'd be better if we stopped. I figured maybe if I did it myself, it'd hurt less."
A long pause hung in the air. "…Jack, over the last six days, you've been missing completely and I've basically been catatonic."
"And it probably still could have been even worse than that," Jack remarked without missing a beat. Hiccup had to give him that.
"Well, I can you tell you one thing." The pale teen looked up to meet Hiccup's gaze, and there was the impression of something that was still left unsaid there. Hiccup was positive that Jack was not finished. "You kept saying that you got paranoid, and that it was stupid. Well, it wasn't, alright? I know it affected you negatively, but it's not stupid. I think… I think that given the circumstances, it'd kind of be expected for you to feel that way," he mumbled. He toyed with the edges of his jacket sleeve. "I just wish I could have known. I wish I had understood what you were going through so that I wouldn't have been as insensitive as I was."
Jack groaned. "Hiccup, be that as it may, I shouldn't have hid it from you, okay?" His voice was still shaky, but after finally telling Hiccup how deathly afraid he had been of making contact with other human beings, he found it was easier to have a cleaner retrospection. "You trusted me a lot. I could tell. You told me things that I would have never dreamed I'd ever earned from you, Hic. And as scary as it might have been, I shoulda trusted you too. It was the least I could do."
"Jack, you had every reason not to—"
"Please don't tell me we're gonna do this again, Hic, come on."
Hiccup closed his mouth abruptly, and it actually managed to provoke a bit of genuine laughter out of the two of them. "Okay, okay. Point."
"You're damn right. And besides, you're kinda wrong. I had more reason to put my trust in you than I had reasons not to, okay?"
"Oh?" Hiccup asked, feeling like preening a little. "Like what, may I ask?"
But Jack was glancing off to the side now, not seeming to want to joke about it, and that left Hiccup even more confused. "…So with all that said, I think you should know what happened with North, on Christmas."
The other boy blinked rapidly. "O-oh. Okay. Sure." The way the boy had changed the subject so suddenly was honestly a bit suspect, but as a master of the craft himself, Hiccup didn't question that Jack had his reasons. And there was really no need to be nosy at this point.
Jack wasted no time in launching into his next tale, explaining the events of that night to Hiccup in as great detail as he could manage. Hiccup was shocked to learn of the trust fund, and Jack wondered if maybe his reaction had been as large as Hiccup's had when he learned the sum of the money. Hiccup had kinda flipped his top over it. And Jack went on to explain the nasty turn he and North's argument had gone.
"So not only did I manage to hurt him more than I probably even know," he was finishing, "but I also managed to take out my shit mood on you immediately afterward. And I shouldn't have done either of those things, Hiccup. I'm sorry."
Hiccup nodded along quietly. "So that's what was going on, huh?"
"Yeah. Neither of you guys deserved it."
Hiccup had a deep understanding of the situation now. He understood what had set Jack off, why he was so utterly upset with how he was treated, and why Hiccup's perceived lack of faith in him had meant that much to him on that night. It all made sense, really. He could also understand why that argument meant so much more fear for Jack. That money was like a way out to him. A security blanket. If North, gods forbid, ever had to move again, Jack could use that to stay where he was and try to find a place, or a job, or something. Having that money denied from him meant that the possibility of separation was still a very real fear to Jack. And it's probably why he lashed out at Hiccup.
Hiccup decided he could have observed that aloud, but he didn't really need to; there was no doubt in his mind that Jack had been over it a million times already with himself. Hiccup could also tell Jack that he accepted his apology, again, and that he didn't need to blame himself, again, but he decided that that wouldn't be necessary either.
What Hiccup did decide to do was to respond immediately with his own story.
Jack could only look on in apparent surprise as Hiccup, now petting Toothless in his lap, immediately dove into a description of what Stoick and Spitelout's argument in the kitchen had meant. He reminded Jack about the way that the town's mayoral position was like an inherited title here, but he also revealed that he had never wanted it. His plan, for the longest time, had always been to focus on art, earn a scholarship, and get the hell out of Berk as quickly as possible, where he could tell his father from a safe and unexpected distance all the things he was too cowardly to tell him in person. He told Jack about how he had always seen Berk as a dead end, and how escaping it was his only hope of living the kind of life he wanted, where he wouldn't constantly have a disapproving scowl fixed upon him by someone.
"It all seemed simple, cut and dry," he stated with a shrug. "I never gave it much thought beyond the basics. Give art my all, try my best, earn a scholarship, and get out of town. That was the big goal. But as of the tail end of this year… I dunno. I guess life had other plans for me."
"You guess?" Jack asked. He'd honestly been full of dread over what Hiccup had been telling him. To think that Hiccup had been planning to leave Berk all this time, when losing him was the biggest thing Jack was afraid of right now.
"Everything kind of changed when you got here," Hiccup sighed. But his smile, radiating a sincere fondness, indicated to the other boy how that wasn't really a bad thing in the slightest. "Seems like my life's been flipped around. Ever since you've gotten here, you've sort of… I dunno, you reminded me about a lot of the reasons this place actually isn't so bad," he confessed. "You were always so enthusiastic about everything; it was hard not to like the things I'd gotten used to and thought were dull. You also sort of helped me to get closure, on a couple of issues I'd never really dropped with myself…"
Hiccup laughed. "Yeah. Yeah, you did." His green pools lifted up to the sky then, his smile soft. "And recently, I even got to actually tell my dad what it was I wanted to do. I told him about how I didn't want to be the mayor, and I mean, if I'm being honest? I feel like a lot of the confidence I felt that night was on account of you. Yoooou, ahh, I guess… you reminded me, I think when I needed it most, that I wasn't as hopeless as I was starting to think."
Hiccup always spoke with a sort of nasal, maybe even raspy at times quality. But there was just something about the way the two combined in that sentence, as though the edges of his voice were chipping away and being swallowed by the wind. He spoke so tenderly that a newborn baby could probably have been soothed by his words, and Jack sure as hell knew that he was.
"And my dad actually accepted it!" he suddenly exclaimed, excited. "We reached an understanding that night. Which, by the way, was the night that you and I, uh… kissed, the first time."
Jack leaned forward. "Really?"
Hiccup chuckled. "Yeah, really. So I mean, after years of pressure and disappointment, I felt like things were finally okay, like we were finally somewhere where my dad could be happy with me. And I guess I got greedy about it. I was so scared of upsetting that, Jack," his voice was trailing again, his excitement trickling away. "I kept thinking to myself, maybe now I should tell him, maybe now, but I just… I couldn't. But little by little, I was starting to feel like I could, eventually. Until my uncle showed up at Christmas."
And then Hiccup explained that debacle. Everything about Spitelout's stupid little bet, and about how his father's choice to take a stand for Hiccup at the party had publicly exposed Hiccup's intentions prematurely, as well as how the whole town was going to be talking about it when they got home. It was, for Hiccup, a picture of just how much disappointment his decision may have caused, and how much it might have cost his father's reputation, which was a stupidly important thing in this town, but important all the same.
"So… yeah," he concluded, morose. "I've just… I already caused so much trouble for him, you know? I left him with so much disappointment my whole life, and I've always been afraid to reveal the nail in the coffin. I'm pretty sure my dad expects me to at least marry a pretty girl someday and pump out lots of grandchildren like some kind of heir-making machine. I just don't know how I'm supposed to tell him that that isn't going to happen. And so, like you guessed, that's why I… I was too much of a useless twerp to let things be real between us. And I'm sorry for giving you all of my excuses. Especially now knowing the emotional risk you took for yourself just for… for this."
The way he'd said 'this', aimed mostly at himself, almost made it sound like he wasn't thinking very well of himself at all, and it kinda made Jack want to smack the kid. But he held off. Instead, he decided to think. A lot, in fact. He and Hiccup appeared to mutually ruminate on their situations, both scratching Toothless in tandem as they did so, who was the only happy camper in the bunch.
"Hiccup I think we're a pair of idiots," Jack finally stated, bluntly. He certainly had the brunet's attention now. "And I don't think we've been giving our dads the credit they deserve."
"I'm kinda inclined to agree, Jack. But just for giggles, let's hear your take on this."
Jack rolled his eyes and swatted the other boy on the arm. Cheeky little shit. "It's just… I mean, it seems obvious when I think about it, even though I somehow managed to miss it a lot. But North has always wanted my happiness. For as long as I can remember he's always tried his best to give me and Mary everything, and he talked about us being like, his treasures, and that his greatest ambition in life was just for us to have happy lives. And I mean, I don't really stop to think a lot about how much he's sacrificed for us. The guy would have probably been loaded if he hadn't decided to pick up a couple of kids. And I'm sure it's no secret that he's kind of on the older side, Hic – who even decides to just pick up a couple orphans at his age and then shower them with everything he can? I know he loves traveling, too, and yet he's always tried to keep us in one place, every time we moved. Not for his own sake, but for us. And I feel like such an idiot that I never let myself think about that, or remember more often that yeah, he yelled at his fucking boss, the one who gives him his paychecks, and I really mean yelled Hiccup, like he was pissed! And he did that because he was unhappy about what me and Mary were dealing with. And all he ever wanted for me was to just have a little direction. A simple request, and it's not like it's for his sake – it's supposed to be for my own, and you know what? He's right!" Jack flailed his hands in the air, abruptly taking a stand from the bench to pace a bit in the frosty grass. "All my life that's been something I haven't had. I've literally never thought about what I wanted to do with my life because I've been living in fear for years. I never stopped to think about it because I never wanted to imagine that any plans I could make would just be derailed like friendships. All I ever did was just have fun. And I did it to lie to myself, alright?"
"I'm no stranger to lying to yourself," Hiccup agreed.
"Hush, I'm talking."
Hiccup smirked, and Jack gave him a placating, though strained smile. "Sorry," the brunet replied.
"Anyway," Jack continued. "That's all it really was. Shallow little lies. I goofed off and messed around and just spent my time with Mary because I figured that hey, if I'm having fun then I'm happy, right? And if I'm happy, then that means I'm fine on my own, and I don't need other people, so there's nothing to worry about. But it was stupid, Hic, it's always been stupid, because I knew how fake it all was. I've always known how alone I felt, and even Mary knew how alone I felt. You wanna know what she said to me, the first night we got here?"
"What?" Hiccup hardly needed to ask, but he knew Jack just needed the validation.
"She asked me if she thought I'd be happy here. Wasn't worried about herself at all. And no matter how easily she could see otherwise, I always insisted I was having a great time. I've spent my life investing in pointless bullshit, just so I could avoid thinking about the future because I thought that'd help me get by day to day. And you know, I think North just wanted me to see that."
Hiccup found himself nodding along. He didn't have as intimate an understanding of Jack's own emotions as Jack himself obviously did, no. But he had essentially started to figure out the same thing, the more the two talked about it with each other. "You're probably right, Jack."
"I feel like the biggest idiot in the world for not realizing that sooner," Jack added, and Hiccup knew he was once again teetering at the edge of tears. He'd been there several times already in this long conversation of theirs, and every time he managed to hold it back. Hiccup could appreciate that. He'd felt the same way, after all.
The two were just trying to be strong for each other. They needed stability right now, not to fall apart.
"And I'm not alone here," Jack added, recapturing Hiccup's attention. "Because I think you've been selling your dad short, too."
"And you really don't even need to tell me why," Hiccup followed that immediately. He got it. He had already gotten it.
"I'm just saying, Hic," Jack continued. "You keep talking about how you let him down, and about how you don't want to ruin things, but… I mean, we both saw that he was okay with it, wasn't he? He didn't care. I may not have understood what that argument was about at the time, but I watched him tell off your uncle and take a stand for you. He let his reputation take the hit, and I'll betcha he'd do it again if he could do it over."
Somehow, hearing it from Jack, no matter how often he'd thought the same thoughts himself… it lent some kind of confirmation to the matter. When it was in Hiccup's head, he could doubt himself. Even when it was spoken by Astrid, he could cast doubt on it because the cynical part of him could claim she was just comparing his relationship with Stoick to her relationship with her own father (and boy did he always feel like shit when he had that thought). But to have Jack say essentially the same thing, it got harder and harder for Hiccup to even kind of believe his own doubts.
"You told me," Jack spoke again, approaching the bench. "That he was proud of your art. That's what he told you, right? And he even put up pictures of your mom around the house, even though you told me that he used to keep them out of sight. I just… I think he loves you a lot, Hic." Then, as a quiet afterthought, he added, "They both love of us a lot. We're the ones who've been shitty."
"Neither of us have been giving them the credit they deserve," Hiccup echoed.
"Yeah." Jack bunched closer in on himself. Hiccup stood now as well, Toothless hopping off of his lap, and two stared at the pond that was almost entirely frozen in the night air. "…I get why you're scared, Hiccup."
"It makes sense. And if I were you, I can't pretend I wouldn't be scared too. But I just want to believe it won't be that bad." Because that's what Anna told me. That's what my dad told me, years ago on the ice. And Aster. And North. "We've gotta believe, Hic. It's all we've got."
"Both of us do," Hiccup agreed, glancing at Jack meaningfully. Jack understood the meaning. "No matter how scared either of us are of facing our problems… we can't keep shrugging them aside forever." Two sets of eyes gazed up at the bright stars above them. It was so quiet tonight, like there wasn't a soul nearby for miles. Hiccup's shoulders tensed further. "But I'm still scared."
"I know," Jack replied shakily. "I am too. Terrified. But… I got some good advice yesterday." The taller boy pulled a hand from his pocket and, carefully, interlaced his fingers with Hiccup's beside him. A rush of warmth ran through the both of them, forgetting all too easily how wonderful such a simple gesture as this could feel. "…We should remember the good things. We should remember that there are people who care about us, and stuff. And, uh, that's supposed to help, you know? It'll help us fight the fear." He hesitated for a moment while he stared at their locked hands, Hiccup quietly shrugging closer to his side. "And I… I mean, you know. I think that I can do it. If I have you."
Quiet. A thundering heartbeat.
"Jack, there's still something I need to be honest with you about."
The slightly shorter of the duo braced his nerves. He squeezed Jack's hand, but his eyes remained fixed on the ground. "When we told each other, about our feelings. You remember I said they'd been building for a while?"
"Jack, I… I didn't want to mess things up. I didn't want to freak you out, or anything, so I lied about needing to explore our feelings and see where this took us." The confession didn't seem to be getting much reaction. Not yet, anyhow. Hiccup pressed onward. "And I know now that you knew that. You understood that I was just scared. But, see, the thing is… what I was really scared of? …It was telling you how I really felt."
Jack's mind was a freeway and a million thoughts raced through it like speeding, inebriated drivers, rushing and crashing into one another as Jack tried to process the chaos that was his own enflamed nerves. His face felt hot. He was pretty sure he might start sweating.
"Hiccup?" He didn't know what he was asking. Probably for Hiccup to just continue.
"Jack, I trust you," the boy replied. "And I'm gonna… I'm gonna be honest with you about everything. I'm not gonna hide things, because… shit, why is this so hard…"
And to Jack, it was clear as day right then. He could feel the pang in his chest, the tightening of his throat, the wave and rush of emotion, and he could even hear the unspoken words in his head, words that put a brand new meaning to everything he was feeling. His memories came unbidden, every moment, every touch, every smile, and even a few dreams surfaced in his mind, dreams he hadn't even known until now that he'd forgotten about. He remembered telling Hiccup, on the night of their first kiss, that he had only recently realized his feelings, but that he thought, maybe, that they'd subconsciously been there all the time. He could feel the trust he had for Hiccup bubbling up in waves, and at that moment, he knew exactly why the thought of having to ever leave Hiccup was so unbearable for him.
The brunet ceased in his stammering, caught by Jack's eyes, and the white-haired youth managed to toss him an impish smile.
Jack choked on a breath.
Hiccup's pupils dilated.
Jack spoke. "I love you."
There followed a long, long silence in which Hiccup simply stared at Jack, his expression one of sheer disbelief.
And then, much to Jack's surprise, he actually looked angry.
"Are you KIDDING me with this!?" he shouted, surprising Jack enough into dropping his hand.
"Wha…?" Oh shit, oh shit, he'd fucked up, he'd totally misread this, he—
"Here I am, right next to you, getting ready to bare it all, finally feeling ready to say it after all this, and you actually waltz in and steal my big moment!? REALLY Jack?"
The reality of the situation sunk in slowly, Hiccup's shallow glare being irritable, sure, but it honestly looked more like a pout at this point than anything. Jack started to laugh, almost beside himself with the strange, euphoric feeling that was filling him up inside.
"Are you really upset about this?"
"Your damn right I'm upset!" Hiccup's face was so red at this point that Jack could almost make tomato comparisons. His hands flew to his head and started knotting in his hair, a familiar act of frustration. "Why would you do this to me? Why?" he demanded, and Jack could only keep laughing, stammering out his name. "Wasn't it enough that you got to make the first move in kissing me?"
"Hiccup," Jack tried again.
"But noooo, you just had to go and—Agh! I can't even…!"
Jack let his laughs subside as Hiccup stared at him expectantly. "You can still say it, you know." The suggestion actually came out almost a little fearful, as though Jack still held onto a nagging doubt that maybe Hiccup wouldn't actually say it, like maybe his whole indignant shpeel was a cover to get out of it.
He immediately reprimanded himself when he saw the brunet's face soften at last.
"You're a moron, you know that?" he said, and Jack almost wanted to object, but Hiccup stepped closer to him then. Jack realized with a start that for the first time all night, he could see the barest, tiniest tears in the other boy's eyes, and a smile on Hiccup's face that was so full of relief and something else altogether that it robbed words from Jack's throat. "I've been hopelessly, stupidly in love with you for weeks."
The kiss could have been expected by anyone. What came as a complete surprise was the way it felt. When Hiccup closed that gap, his lips pressing fervently against Jack's with unrestrained affections guiding his actions, Jack felt like he was on fire, and was all too happy to let it burn. Their arms encircled one another and there was no putting a stopper on the heady passion of the moment, the two of them feeling so completely in sync and, for the first time since they'd done this, like the both of them were completely committed to the act. No doubts, no fears, no bottled secrets.
It was magic, that was the only word for it. Jack would call the thought cheesy as hell later, sure, but that's how he'd describe it regardless. An experience that was impossible to replicate. A feeling that burned deep in his core. The insistent pull and brush of lips, the teasing push of a tongue that wasn't nearly as physically enticing as it was emotionally intensive.
When they had stopped and separated, sharing oxygen in deep, heavy breaths, Jack wasn't so sure he even knew who he was for the first seconds. He didn't need to know. All that mattered was the boy that was pressed against his chest, burying his face against Jack's shoulder. All that mattered was that Jack had Hiccup, and he loved him.
Almost directly after thinking the thought, he could hear Hiccup mumbling, muffled, into his jacket. "I love you," he said again, as if he needed to remind Jack.
Jack's face almost hurt from the strain of his grin, and he tightened his hold on the boy. Then he giggled at a dorky idea. "I know," he said.
Hiccup yanked himself back immediately, squinting. "Did you seriously just pull a Han Solo on me?" Jack was laughing openly now while Hiccup just reacted with incredulous disbelief. "Damn it Jack, read the room!"
Jack's chuckles persisted as he nudged his head forward, lightly butting it against Hiccup's. "I love you too."
The tender admission struck Hiccup in all the right places, and his indignation fell away like paper in water. "I love you," he said back. Jack laughed again.
"You just told me that."
"Yeah, well it just feels good to say it, okay?"
"…Yeah. You're right."
It would have been great if their perfect little moment could have lasted, but it seemed like Jack's stomach had other ideas. A low, mighty rumble ripped forth from its depths, interrupting the peaceful embrace. Hiccup stepped back with a look of wide-eyed shock that bordered on maybe-I'm-about-to-start-laughing-a-lot. Jack backed away then and looked off to the side, mumbling an apology, and Hiccup was about to make some kind of skeptical remark about how this kind of thing was only supposed to happen in cartoons, come on Jack, but then he noticed. Jack wasn't just looking slightly embarrassed at his stomach's outburst – he was actually looking a little ashamed. And then a troubling tidbit of information returned to Hiccup. Jack hadn't been at home for most of this week.
"Jack… have you been eating?"
"Well, now and then…" he answered slowly. "I mean, when I could afford to buy something, or maybe sneak something out of the pantry at home…"
"Oh jeez…" Hiccup dropped the slight mocking attitude instantly, taking a firm grasp on Jack's wrist and began pulling him away from the bench. Toothless, who had been watching the entire exchange with the good sense not to tangle himself in the two boys' legs while their faces were engaged, decided that this was probably a good moment to trot in front of them now. He led the way, Hiccup following quickly, and Jack being dragged behind.
"Uh… where are we going?" Jack asked.
"To my house to get some food in you. And don't even think about telling me no, you hear?"
Jack continued to let himself be dragged along, not an ounce of fight in him as he smiled wistfully at the back of Hiccup's head. "Wouldn't dream of it."
When the boys arrived at Hiccup's house, the sight that greeted them was an empty driveway and dim windows. Stoick was out. Hiccup, honestly, was relieved for that – bringing Jack home to feed him while his father was home would have probably been extremely awkward. Not to mention he had sort of promised to talk to his dad the next time they saw each other, and given Stoick's absence (which couldn't have just been coincidence), the man probably meant the literal next time they saw each other. He was doing Hiccup a kindness by giving him an extra night to collect his thoughts.
"Where's your dad at?" Jack asked, curious as Hiccup unlocked the door and led his friend and cat into the warm, inviting home. Jack seemed immediately relieved by the feeling.
"Probably somewhere where celebrating New Year's will be less depressing," Hiccup answered as they stepped into the kitchen. "Gobber's, maybe. I'm sure he didn't want to bum around here on his own."
"True, yeah." Jack gave the matter some thought of his own, sighing. "I hope North and Mary are somewhere having fun."
"Meanwhile, we'll just be a couple of losers who celebrate in a kitchen with cold food," Hiccup joked, gesturing at the fridge. "Help yourself, by the way."
"Hey, long as I'm with you, I'm not really complaining," Jack remarked with a grin, accepting Hiccup's invitation as he started rummaging through the fridge.
Hiccup heaved a theatrical sigh. "Please don't tell me we're gonna be one of those couples, Jack."
"What couplsh?" Jack asked around a mouthful of something. Hiccup was surprised he'd already managed to find something to jam down his gullet.
"The kind that make needlessly saccharine comments at each other every five minutes."
"If I goo tha', it'll onwee be becaush I gnow it bugsh you."
Hiccup laughed. "Would you swallow your damn food first?"
Jack said nothing, merely continuing to search the fridge and eat as he did so, rather than pulling things out like a rational human being. Hiccup leaned against the dining table, belatedly noticing a note there. Curious, he plucked the sheet up, his father's neat but somewhat blocky handwriting greeting him on the page.
First of all, I hope you're not seeing this unless it's New Year's Morning. I'd rather you found a more lively, enjoyable way to spend new year's eve than alone at the house.'
Well I'm not really alone, Hiccup mused, smirking.
'I'm probably still at Gobber's, if you're reading this. I went to his place to watch the ball drop, and should be back by noon. Happy New Year, Hiccup. I'm glad you're back into sorts, and starting with the new year, you and I are on a new leaf. Don't forget that you need to talk to me when I see you next. Take care in the meantime.
Hiccup released a heavy breath as he set the note back on the table. Jack stood up from the fridge with a few food items in hand, kicking the door shut as he stared. "Something up?"
"Sort of," Hiccup shrugged. "I basically promised my dad earlier that I was going to talk to him about the thing I've been keeping hidden from him. You know the one."
Jack made an 'O' with his mouth. Sure, they'd just been talking about giving their parents due credit and facing their issues, but he wasn't exactly anticipating this would happen so soon after the fact. "So, you, uh…"
"Yeah. I basically have no choice at this point. I did promise him after all. So next time I see him, I'm gonna have to tell him. And probably about us, too."
This, however, caught Jack by surprise. "…You'd also tell him about you and me?"
Hiccup managed a small chuckle. "Hey, if I'm gonna drop the gay bomb on him, I don't see the point in hiding the boyfriend."
Hiccup's mouth slapped shut with a clack the moment that word left his mouth, although he'd only just noticed his use of it and was mortified to have said it. His cheeks were bright red, but really, Jack didn't see what the big deal was.
That's what they were now, right?
Hiccup sent a searching look toward him, so Jack smiled as happily as he could manage, trying to make it clear without words that he had no problem with the term. Hiccup hesitated briefly before smiling back, seeming to relax considerably. Though another contemplative expression took him only moments later, and Jack left him to his thinking at least for now, while he focused on putting a simple sandwich together. He'd already eaten a bunch of leftover beef he'd found in the fridge, but a sandwich always hit the spot!
"Uhm, so, this might be an odd question to ask…" Hiccup started, getting the other boy's attention again. He seemed fidgety, still leaning against the table with his hands braced at the edges, though moving as though unable to stay comfortable.
"I guess I've kind of been wondering what exactly you, uh, are." Jack stared at him, confused. "You know, from an, er, orientation standpoint?"
Jack blew a raspberry into the air at that, his forehead creasing in though. "You know Hic, I've never honestly given it much thought. I never thought it mattered much anyway, seeing as how I never really bonded with anyone that way. Buuuut…" He chuckled here, and Hiccup could see his feet kicking fretfully at the ground. "I mean, I've found people attractive, plenty of times. And er, well. I'm a teenaged boy, as you once oh-so-observantly pointed out. And I have access to the internet."
Hiccup couldn't help himself when he giggled. "So you've perused naked people on the internet, at least. I'm so proud."
"Why do you have to say everything so weird like that?" Jack asked, laughing. "But yeah, I have. And I dunno, most of it looked pretty good to me, I guess? Dunno what I'd say about a specific preference. But I guess I apparently have a thing for skinny freckled guys with sassy attitudes," he finished, a roguish smile dancing at his lips.
Hiccup would actually admit that he flushed at that.
"Oooookay, so uhm. Next question then." Jack was back to standing at attention, munching thoughtfully at his complete sandwich. "Do you know how your family would feel about this?"
Jack stopped for a moment. "You mean, like, about us?"
"Well I think it goes without saying that Mary would probably be all smiles," he remarked fondly, and Hiccup shared in the little smile. "As for North… I don't know for sure, but I mean. I don't think he'd mind at all. I've never honestly talked to him about it, but he's always been kind of cavalier about the subject whenever some TV show we were watching brought it up, and he's even joked about it plenty of times, and I never got any sense of insecurity from him about it. To be honest, he and Mary even joked about you and me being a thing the day after we actually became one," he laughed. "If only they knew how right they were, huh?"
Hiccup nodded, still somewhat nervous. "So… you don't think there'd be any trouble for you, if you told him?"
Jack's expression softened at the clear worry on Hiccup's face. Something told him he was running worst case scenarios in his head about his own ordeal with his father. He sincerely hoped that Hiccup didn't think he could possibly be kicked out over this.
"Hiccup, I think if anything, they'd probably just rib me a lot and ask me when I was going to give North some Haddock grandbabies."
Sputtering laughter filled Jack's ears, and he was glad for the sound. Hiccup's fears about Stoick weren't going to just disappear, he knew, but he hoped he could at least offer some partial comfort in the meantime. A nudge at his ankle caused Jack to note how Toothless pawed at him, greedy eyes fixed on Jack's half-eaten sandwich.
"Hiccup, tell your demon cat to lay off, this is mine."
"Toothless, come on, let Jack eat, he needs it."
The cat was not listening. Jack wasn't the only one who hadn't eaten all day, and the salami in that sandwich smelled delightful. Toothless very casually raised his paw to rest against Jack's shin, his claws not-so-subtly sinking in and taking a grip on the boy's skin. Jack's eyes widened.
"Hiccup is your damn cat threatening me right now?"
Yes, Toothless is threatening you, the feline might have replied had it possessed speech. Consider this a small payback for making Hiccup sad.
"Jack you might want to give him the sandwich," Hiccup carefully advised.
Jack needn't be told twice. He dropped it on the floor immediately. Toothless released him not a moment later, attacking the food item without a moment's hesitation and an extremely satisfied aura. Jack might have glared daggers had he not feared possible repercussions.
Hiccup was holding his stomach at the sight. If it had been any cat other than Toothless, he would probably not have believed it.
"Oh, I'm so glad you enjoy my pain," Jack pouted.
The brunet shook his head and sighed happily. "Oh come off it. Come on, leave him to enjoy that. I just remembered something anyway," he said, gesturing for Jack to follow him.
"Huh? Where we going?" the other boy asked, doing as instructed.
"To get you your present. I still have it here, remember?"
Oh yeah, that's right… Jack frowned. "Yeah. I forgot that I left it here, after…" Hiccup heard him stop on the stairs behind him, and the auburn-haired boy stopped as well, facing him. "I'm sorry Hiccup," Jack mumbled, probably for the millionth time that evening.
"Jack, stop," the brunet replied with an eyeroll. "We're done with apologies, alright? We got that out of way." He wasn't sure how 'winning' his smile was with his slightly crooked teeth, but he gave Jack his best grin anyhow, advising softly that he "Stop worrying so much, okay?"
With that matter resolved, the two continued their upward trek, navigating the familiar hallway until reaching Hiccup's room at the end. It didn't take long for Hiccup to go fishing through his closet for the snowboard, still pristine with that distinctive 'new' smell. He offered the item back to its rightful recipient, and Jack accepted it graciously, sweeping his hands over the frame almost with a sense of reverence.
"I really can't thank you enough for this," he murmured.
"Don't mention it," Hiccup replied, grinning. "You're still taking me to the fair, after all."
But Jack shook his head with a soft grin. "I'm not just talking about the present, Hic. I meant all of this." He set the board down, letting it lean on the wall while keeping his gaze fixed on Hiccup. "Us. You being here for me. You still giving me the time of day after what I said. And… you know, saying you love me," he added, that last part quiet and sheepish. "I could never begin to thank you enough for it all."
"I should be thanking you, you know," Hiccup countered, feeling just as flustered. Jack simply rolled his eyes, apparently not in the mood to start a gratitude contest.
He took a step forward in the dim space, easily grabbing Hiccup's hand and pulling it toward him, letting their bonded palms swing between them lazily. He spoke quietly. "…So you're really gonna tell your dad?"
"…Yeah," the brunet answered. "I think I'm—, I'm just done hiding, I guess. I've been hiding my whole life. And I think we both need to stop."
A nod. "Yeah… You're right, huh…"
"I'm still scared," Hiccup pointed out once again, attention locked on the smooth, circular motions of Jack's thumb on his.
"Terrified," Jack agreed, and Hiccup could tell he was thinking of his own situation as well as Hiccup's, worried about how he was going to face his father and sister.
"But… I have to," Hiccup added. "You're, uh… well, you know." At Jack's inquiring glance, the shorter of the two sighed and mumbled. "You're too important to me to keep on lying about it."
Jack's staggered gaze locked with Hiccup's, taking in the sincerity that was openly displayed before him. He moved without thinking, joining their lips and proceeding to kiss Hiccup senseless. Hiccup was immediately compliant. His lips molded against Jack's easily and pressed back with eager, equal fervor. Jack's fingers found handfuls of auburn tresses, delicately carding through and gripping lightly. He tugged Hiccup's head back, exploiting the slight edge in height to angle himself further inward. And oh, hell, Hiccup barely managed to restrain a moan at the action, his chin tilting to better accommodate the push of lips and his hands moving across Jack's back, gripping at the thick cotton of his black jacket and finding himself oddly frustrated at how it obstructed his hands from really feeling the body it covered.
Jack seemed to detect his distress, and he reluctantly pulled his hands out of Hiccup's hair to shrug the thing off of his shoulders, the fabric falling away and leaving just the thin, long-sleeved tee he wore to separate his skin from Hiccup's hands. Their lips barely broke apart through the action, briefly pulling away with puckered smacks for bare instances only to rejoin immediately. As soon as his arms were free again, Jack returned one hand to running through brunet strands. His other hand followed Hiccup's renewed example, skating along the shorter boy's chest and feeling what he could through his shirt. Hiccup had mimicked Jack in tossing aside his green zip-up barely seconds after Jack had done so, and his fingers were already busying themselves at the hem of the pale teen's shirt, fingertips daring to dip underneath and taste skin. Even such a minor touch triggered a gasp from Jack, and he pulled away from Hiccup's lips at last only to attach his own pair to the brunet's jaw. They were moving. Pushing, shoving, touching, pressing, and gradually stumbling toward the single bed against the far fall.
This was getting out of hand. This was getting so completely out of hand. What had started as just a simple, though powerful, show of affection, a means of conveying love and trust when the other needed it, had somehow morphed into something else entirely. The two were lost to the moment, spellbound in each other and the enthralling, new feeling of touching another body. And how could they help themselves when they were both so willingly engaged?
They turned on their heels as they stumbled, kicking off shoes and toeing off socks along the way, losing balance briefly but always keeping each other upright, as though they were dancing the world's shittiest, most addicting waltz. When the backs of legs finally made contact with the edge of the mattress, it was Hiccup who happened to be facing the obstacle, falling onto his back with a soft bounce as Jack followed him down. The white-haired teen sat poised above Hiccup, straddling his hips and gazing down at him with cloudy eyes, the two finally managing to separate their faces from one another for longer than a moment.
Hiccup found the situation familiar. Except this time, he wasn't lying on the floor with Jack pinning him down. This time it was on the bed, you see, and that made all the difference to a lust-addled teenaged mind. But between their heaving breaths and prolonged stares, the haze managed to dissipate long enough for the two to at least fully observe their current state. Hiccup's arms were raised above his head, resting at ease on the mattress with upturned palms, and Jack's hands were braced on either side of them. His knees were pressed snugly against the brunet's thighs, pelvises barely making contact and sending a shared shiver between them.
Hiccup spoke first, his voice soft but not apprehensive. Inquisitive. "…Are we really doing what I think we're doing?"
Jack's half-mast lids opened up somewhat, thought process clear on his face. His bottom lip was pulled beneath those hypnotically perfect teeth of his, his nostrils flared for a moment, and Hiccup could see how his shoulders tensed and relaxed rhythmically under the clinging folds of his shirt.
"...Do you want to be doing this?"
The question hung in the air for the both of them to ponder. Slowly, a freckled wrist knocked against a pale one, and its owner complied by repositioning their palms together on the mattress, fingers locking themselves in. Hiccup lifted his other hand to cup Jack's cheek, scooting himself back and upward while Jack leaned down to meet him in a chaste kiss.
"Come on," Hiccup urged, the hint of a playful smile pressing into Jack's lips as he backed himself further up the bed, kicking the covers down. Jack followed after him with a tender grin, holding out his wrist for Hiccup to grasp when the brunet reached out to pull him along. They had slowed down, but it seemed apparent they weren't intent on stopping. Lips met and hands searched, exploring covered bodies and testing at the limits of the barriers. Neither was sure who had buckled first, but it wasn't long before shirts were tossed aside, and eager, enchanted eyes took in one another's forms. It was the first time either of them had seen the other shirtless, and the experience alone of sharing in this mutual discovery was enough to leave the two of them on bated breath.
Hiccup tentatively lifted dexterous fingertips to an enviably bare, unblemished chest, delicately tracing the shape of a prominent clavicle down the line of his pectoral muscles. The boy above him was all wire and trim, light but capable muscle packed tightly against his skin, and the twitch of these muscles under the curious pads of his fingertips had Hiccup inhaling sharply. Jack swallowed above him, and the bob of his adam's apple was oddly entrancing. Not giving it much thought, the brunet craned his head upward, planting a kiss against it and drawing more labored breath from Jack's nose.
Green eyes weren't alone in their wandering appraisal. While Jack braced himself against the gentle prod of Hiccup's digits, he'd been occupied on looking all up and down the boy's freckled body. They were literally everywhere, as far as he could tell, but not quite splattered in an obvious fashion so much as sprinkled in variable dustings across mildly tanned flesh. Some were so incredibly light that it was a miracle Jack could even make them out with only the dim light of Hiccup's desk lamp illuminating the place, while others were like little dots had been poked onto the skin with a sharpie. If Jack's neck wasn't currently under attack by an eager Viking, he would have found himself giggling at them. They were exactly what Jack had never realized he was imagining, coated lightly across toned shoulders (he probably had all of that garage work of his to thank for that) and down the concave dip of a lithe belly.
He released a shudder when he felt fingers pressing down at the base of his spine, running up and down his back afterward as though to map the expanse, and his crystal blues fell hazily onto the other boy's chest, zeroing in on the heavy rise and fall of his breath. His eyes couldn't help but be drawn to twin, dusky peaks, and though he was enjoying Hiccup's ministrations at his throat immensely, he made the decision to push the boy back gently into his pillow. Hiccup stared up with hooded eyes, and Jack answered his silent question by following him down and tenderly wrapping his lips around a nipple. Hiccup twitched drastically at the new sensation, unable to hold back an airy groan when Jack began to lap at the bit of flesh, his head falling back into the pillow while breathing grew more erratic.
Seconds rolled into minutes. Hiccup was almost positive he'd touched every inch of skin Jack had made available to him, and Jack had been trying, and failing, and trying again to count as many freckles as he could while he explored the brunet's torso, taking in scent and feel and sight and taste, and memorizing the sounds Hiccup could made at every stimulus.
Lips were brought together again after a seemingly interminable time, locking together and inviting tongues to tangle needily for a few moments before time seemed to slow down as Jack sat himself up. Hiccup met his dreamy gaze, his heart a warm, heavy thrum in his chest, and could barely come to grips with how absolutely head over fucking heels he was for this guy. It was heady and overwhelming, and he was pretty certain that right now he had to be the luckiest person on the planet. Jackson Overland was straddling his hips with a look of absolute adoration on his features, and it was Hiccup who caused that. It was Hiccup who got to see him this way, exposed both physically and emotionally. It was Hiccup who got to know him this way, got to know all of his little secrets and stories and ticks and charms and flaws and shortcomings and insecurities and love, all of which rolled together into a human being that Hiccup could only see as perfectly flawed, flawed perfection.
"I love you," he breathed, almost without realizing it, a surge of uncapped happiness coursing through him and maximizing when Jack's answer was the brightest grin he'd ever seen coupled with a brilliant shine in those gorgeous blue eyes.
Lips sought any surface they could attach to while frantic fingers worked at buttons and zippers and pulled at denim and the feelings they shared pulled them both down, down, down into their own little world. It was just the two of them and the bodies that they and only they could explore to their heart's content. Hands glided over legs, eyes adored the curvature of calves and shoulders, and tongues dared to taste at every bit of exposed skin.
"You know what you're doing, don't you?" a hushed, amused mumble filled the space between them, chuckling low against the hitch in the other's breath when his hand grasped at that most private piece of himself.
"I've got just about as much knowledge here as you probably do, Frosty," the other replied shakily, laughing quietly along with him as he began to return the favor. "I'm sure we've both been all across the dark avenues of the internet."
There was a purr of contentment, a long, pale body draping itself over the slightly shorter one, brushing their sensitive bits against each other with quieted gasps. "We probably don't have… the kind of preparation we'd need, for…"
Hiccup didn't need the other to finish the statement on his shaky lungfuls of air. He doubted either of them was ready for that anyway. "This is good," he stated, rolling himself along the length of Jack's body and drawing more sounds from the both of them. "Just like this is fine."
And it all became a blur from there. Bodies heaved and rolled and moved together carefully, daring and yet cautious all at once, hearts beating in tandem while breath fell completely out of sync, a broken rhythm of desperation and need coupled with the staccato drum of deep affection. Neither lasted long, and neither cared to remember who was spent first, one happening right after the other and bonding them irrevocably.
Jack collapsed onto the boy below him, instantly comforted to have thin arms wrapping around him and squeezing him close. Their legs were tangled and sweat lingered on them beneath the comforter that they had draped across themselves. Fulfilled. Completed. That was the best that Jack could come up with for what this felt like it, what it meant to him. He held a fistful of Hiccup's hair in a loose grasp, his nose buried against the other boy's neck, and he never wanted to move from this spot.
Hiccup's emotions were on overdrive as he relished in the same feeling, grappling with disbelief that this had actually happened and yet holding the very warm, exhausted proof of the event in his arms, against his chest.
And then Hiccup heard fireworks.
There's no way, he thought, eyes snapping open in the dark room. There's no way that that actually happens. That's the kind of thing you only read about in trashy romance novels or something! he rationalized, and yet he still heard them, zipping through the sky and bursting in midair. And then Jack was lifting his head, blinking blearily, and Hiccup realized he could hear them too.
And that's when he looked at the clock on his nightstand.
A breathy laugh escaped him as he looked back up at Jack, locking grins with the boy.
"Happy new year, Jack."
"And a very happy new year to you too, Hic."
They chuckled with each other then, Jack's eyebrows wagging suggestively while Hiccup simply let his head fall back and to the side, unable to pretend he didn't find Jack's antics funny for even one second.
"Would you just come here," Hiccup instructed, pulling the other boy back down to snuggle up next to him. He pulled the comforter more firmly around them as the warmth and the exhaustion began to creep up on them, lulling them into each other.
"Hiccup," Jack spoke, sleep-heavy but clear.
He felt lips press against his cheek. "I love you."
He could have sobbed right there, and he wouldn't have cared. But he didn't seem to have the energy even for that. He nestled the heat of his body more firmly against the other boy and hummed softly. "I love you too." Jack's arms tightening around him and the sound of fireworks in the distance were the last memories Hiccup registered before he drifted off to sleep.
They were going to be alright.
I'd say something witty and clever here but what would even be the point.