The crowd was still cheering.
Stoick the Vast was not.
He wasn't sure his emotions had ever taken such turns until that day. He'd been through the rage, the guilt, the joy, the anxiety, the devastation, the relief, and now, Stoick knew fear.
He'd been so terrified that Hiccup was dead that after he found out he was alive, he hadn't bothered to look down. He'd been drowning in relief and tears, and paid no mind to anything but the steady beat of his son's heart and the forgiveness in the Night Fury's eyes. So when Gobber came over to take a look and gave a sad, resigned, "Well, you know, most of 'im", it hadn't been what Stoick had expected.
That was when he'd looked down.
It was between one heartbeat and the next when he found his voice again, loudly. "Get the medic!" He roared to anyone who would listen. "The medic!" When the crowd took too long to hear him, Gobber stepped into action.
"Di'in you hear yer own chief? Where's tha physician? I know we brough' one, I packed 'im on the boat meself!" He scanned the crowd, and turned his head to watch a shiver of movement growing nearer and louder to the front. A wiry Viking, slightly smaller than most, came elbowing his way through the crowd, jostling a slightly-burnt bag in his arms.
"Here, Gobber," he breathed.
"Go," the smith directed in a tone so serious it didn't sound quite right on him, "it's his leg," he told the medic quietly. The other man nodded and jogged to where Stoick still knelt over his son. As Gobber went to go join them, a hand grabbed his arm and he turned.
"Gobber, what's happened? What's wrong with Hiccup?" Astrid looked equal amounts hopeful and worried.
"He's hurt," was all he said, brushing her hand off and going over to where the medic was working and talking to Stoick quietly.
From where she stood, Astrid craned her neck in a hope to see what was happening. The other teens looked worried as well, but they stayed where they were. Astrid inched a bit closer, but wasn't sure if she should cross the empty space between the crowd and the downed dragon. She watched the chief, the medic, and the blacksmith as they spoke words she couldn't hear over a boy she couldn't see. After a while, the medic sighed and stood. Stoick looked up to him, and the medic sadly shook his head. He turned to walk back to the crowd, maybe for help, maybe for supplies, Astrid wasn't sure. There was blood on his hands. On his hands, his arms, his lap. Blood. Unable to think twice, Astrid ran over the scene.
At the sound, Gobber and Stoick turned. Gobber, who was standing, stepped to intercept her. "No, Astrid, don't get any closer, ye don't wan' ta-"
But she did get closer, and she froze at what she saw. Hanging off Stoick's lap, Hiccup's legs weren't right. His right leg was stained with blood. His left leg… it wasn't a leg anymore. It was red, very red, liquidy, stringy red, with rips and a glimpse of hard whiteness that, when Astrid realized what she was looking at, made her go sick. Ruined leggings clung to the blood, and what skin she could see was smeared pink.
She didn't realize that she wasn't moving until Gobber came around and physically pulled her away.
"I told you you don't want ta see, lass," he sighed.
"Wha-what happened?" She asked, voice more helpless that she could ever remember before. "What happened to him?" She desperately tried to look over her shoulder, but Gobber kept pushing her back toward the crowd.
"I don't know, yet. Now stay back. We don' need any more people over there seein' tha' if we can help it." Gobber deposited Astrid by the rest of her classmates, who had been watching the exchange worriedly. As Gobber turned back, Astrid shot back at him,
"Well are you going to be able to help him?"
"I reckon so, bu'…" he looked over toward Hiccup, then back at the teens. "We won't be able ta save it." His eyes were saddened by memories of someone who knew doubly well what that meant. Astrid felt a shot of fear for Hiccup.
"What happened?" Snotlout.
"Did he get hurt?" "Will it scar?" The twins asked at the same time.
"Astrid, what was Gobber talking about, not saving 'it'?" Fishlegs was wringing his hands, and shot Astrid a worried look.
She watched the medic walk back towards the chief and his bloodied son. He was carrying a different bag than before, this one larger than the first. She wondered exactly what kind of instruments waited inside. "Get a fire going," she heard him yell to someone.
She remembered that she'd been asked a question. "His leg," she said suddenly, "they're going to have to cut off his leg."
Stoick had never been squeamish. It simply wasn't the Viking way. He'd chopped dragons to bits and enjoyed it, he'd seen men killed, wounded, and bleed. Sometimes, if the wound wasn't fatal, he'd laugh and slap them on the shoulder, congratulating them. But this? This made his blood run cold.
He hadn't realized how much his son meant to him, not really, until that day. And now here he was, bleeding out on Stoick's lap, unconscious with a leg waiting on its appointment with the chopping block.
Truly, he felt bad about the leg. There was no question about it, it would have to come off. The bone was snapped clean off, exposed. There were gaping wounds from where it looked like something had grabbed and twisted, and anyone with any medical knowledge could realize that to try and treat it would be to sign a death warrant – death by infection. No, although the leg was an unfortunate tragedy, it wasn't the leg that Stoick was worried about – it was the blood. There was a lot of it, too much. This was the real problem with wounds. Not the pain, or the damage done, but the blood loss, the risk of infection. Stoick cursed himself for having not noticed Hiccup's pallor straightaway. The medic had given Stoick a thick pad of bandages in his absence, and the chief had been staunching the flow as best he could from the largest and most dangerous of the wounds.
"Still," Gobber said as he returned to the scene, another wad of bandages in his hands as he knelt to care to the smaller gashes up near Hiccup's knee, "It's a wonder how he managed it. I mean, wha' with tha mountain o' fire tha went up afterward, I thought for sure he'd be burnt to a crisp, bu' this," He gestured with the stone hammer still drilled into his wrist. (And suddenly, Stoick could help but wonder if his son would opt for interchangeable limbs).
"He was wrapped up in the beast's wings," Stoick told him, eyeing Toothless. Come to think of it, he wasn't entirely sure how Hiccup gotten there. He rode on the dragon's back, strapped in. So how in the Nine Realms had he climbed into his claws while freefalling through a curtain of fire?
As if to answer his question, Gobber began peering closely at the wounds he was treating.
"Are these…" He removed his wad of bandages and looked, and dabbed a few times to clear away the blood temporarily for a better view. "Are these tooth marks?" He asked.
His eyes met Stoick's, an idea clicking in both of their minds. As one, they turned to look at the Night Fury. With one hand, Stoick reached out and touched the beast's snout, near its lips. He drew his hand back and rubbed forefinger and thumb near to his face.
Faint. Diluted with saliva, but still red. Blood.
He looked between his boy and the dragon, and Gobber must've figured out what he'd already concluded, exactly how this flying devil had saved his son's life. Simultaneously, awe and rage overcame him, and Stoick had to close his eyes and bow his head to contain himself. Gobber sensed it, and put a comforting hand on Stoick's shoulder.
"So that's 'ow he didn't burn to a crisp," He said solemnly. "Well done, then, you black lightning," Gobber came around and patted the dragon gently on the brow. Toothless, near to unconsciousness as he was, gave a labored trill. Gobber reached out and fingered the ends of Hiccup's hair, the charred ends suddenly making sense. "Looks like you grabbed 'im just in time, too." He patted Hiccup very gently on the head, and stepped away to assist the medic who'd returned with the amputation kit.
Paying the other men no heed, Stoick looked slowly toward Toothless' face, almost wishing the dragon would open its eyes again so he could see him properly. He'd bought his son's life by taking his leg. It was a fair trade, perhaps. If only they could keep him alive long enough to complete the exchange.
"Most of him, indeed," Stoick said quietly. He heard a fire crackle to life beside him, and the clanking of metal tools. The sound seemed to draw Toothless away from the edge of sleep, and Stoick was forced to move away as Toothless lurched to right himself. He only managed to get onto his belly. Making sad whining noises, the night fury brought his head around to sniff at Hiccup. He prodded his shoulder just once before he seemed to realize that the human was unconscious. Eyeing Stoick, Toothless moaned pitifully and nuzzled Hiccup's stomach, resting his warm head across most of the small torso.
"We'll have to move him somewhere stable," the healer told Stoick as he readied his tools. "Don't want him moving around too much."
The medic washed his tools with a bottle of brandy while Stoick and Gobber moved Hiccup to a slab of rock that'd been cleared for the purpose of operating table. They'd wrapped his leg in a fold of cloth for transport, and already it was beginning to show red. Toothless was trilling helplessly from the ground, and he stood with some difficulty to follow his broken human, mangled flying gear trailing noisily after him. The healers tried to push him away, but he was having none of it, and after he started growing and baring teeth (some of which still showed a bit pink, Stoick noticed) the Vikings stopped trying. They weren't ready to risk whatever tenable peace they had with the beasts, and so Toothless stayed at Hiccup's side the entire time.
There were people that had gathered to watch, Stoick knew. Or at least, they tried to watch. Gobber shooed most of them away. Whether it was for his own sanity, Hiccup's dignity, or the concentration of the medic, he wasn't sure. He didn't actually care. He could hear Astrid asking questions, and Gobber trying to placate her. There was Snotlout, too, and Stoick almost wanted to smile because he'd never once heard his nephew express any concern over Hiccup until now.
The medic had gathered his tools and bandages and laid them out at the ready. They were wicked looking things, with edges so sharp they wouldn't last an hour in a battle, but made for a cleaner job on the medic table. There were saws and clippers, and a set of needles with suture thread on a spool. Stoick had known to expect all of it, but suddenly, when the mental images of those things hurting his boy came into his head, they were all steel demons. Necessary, life-saving demons.
"Right then," The medic said seriously, rolling up his sleeves. "Gobber! Get back over here, we'll need another set of hands."
"For what?" Stoick demanded.
The man looked hesitant to answer. "He's out now, but he might… thrash a bit. They sometimes do." The thought hadn't occurred to Stoick, but he numbly obeyed when he was directed to hold Hiccup down by the shoulders. His son was so small, Stoick thought he might crush him if he pressed down too hard. Gobber laid a massive arm over the boy's thighs, and the medic took a long strip of leather and tied it right above the kneecap of Hiccup's injured leg, to a tightness that made Stoick wince.
"Ready, lads?" The medic asked.
"Just do it," Stoick snapped.
The operation was meant to be swift. With the damage already there, the medic found his job halfway done to begin with. But it was a messy job, and it took time to clean up.
"The bones are a clean break," he told the chief and Gobber, "it's how the muscle's been torn about that's done it in for him. If I had to guess, I'd say he broke his leg before that beast o' his got a hold of it."
Stoick thought on the idea, and looked over at Toothless. He'd been surprised when the dragon made no move to interfere when the medic started the amputation. The species must have been more intelligent that Stoick had ever given it credit for, because Toothless seemed to understand the whole situation with a grim clarity. He did not interfere, but watched with a sharp eye, and occasionally made high-pitched whines in his throat that reminded Stoick of a pining hound. Once in a while, when he wasn't eying his Hiccup, Toothless would shoot the father an expressive look.
I'm sorry, it always seemed to say. Stoick might have began wondering how it was that he'd come to understand a dragon's facial expressions, but he was torn from his thoughts when Hiccup moved.
He'd been warned about the thrashing. They'd never said anything about screaming.
It was mostly nonsense, words muddled by the intense pain that'd brought Hiccup out from unconsciousness. Toothless was roaring in panic, and Gobber had to lean his entire weight against Hiccup's legs to keep the medic's work steady. Stoick felt like the worst, most evil man in the world as he had to hold down his son and listen to his cries, worse still when Hiccup somehow realized who was hovering over him, and managed to get out the words,
"Make it stop, Dad, please… wanna go home. Dad, I wanna go home. Wanna go home." The words were slurred to the point that Stoick thought he, the father, might be the only one who understood. Still, Gobber must have understood the gist of them, because when Hiccup passed out again a few moments later, he sent his friend the most understanding, comforting look he'd mustered in years. Stoick looked away and tried to check the tears that'd appeared in his eyes.
"Worst is done," He heard the medic report from the end of the makeshift table, "Just to sew it up, now, and that should stop the bleeding, too."
Taking this announcement as this release from restraining duty, Gobber rose from his place, wiping his hands of some residual blood, and went to go dispel Astrid once again (and this time Fishlegs, too) who'd come forward when Hiccup began screaming. There were older, more experienced Vikings among the crowd who did not appear overexcited, but only grim and understanding.
"Don't take it to heart, Sir," the medic told him, "they never remember any of the pain when they wake up. Human memory takes small mercies like that." His hand was bobbing skillfully up and down in Stoick's peripheral as he stitched up the end of what would be Hiccup's permanent stump. "He might not even remember the fire, or the fall. Only time will tell. But I can promise you, he won't remember that just now."
It was kind of him to say so, but that didn't change how much it hurt to watch.
Once the sutures were in place, the last of the cleaning brandy was poured over the seam for good measure, and the stump was wrapped in clean linen bandages. Afterward, some of the women healers among the crowd came forward and helped wipe away the excess blood, smear salve over the small scuffs and burns, and make sure there weren't any stray injuries festering unseen.
The dismembered leg, or what was left of it, was burned. The last thing they needed was dead flesh drawing animals. Dragons were nothing to worry about, Stoick had found – contrary to what he'd been taught in the stories he'd been told as a boy, every single dragon he passed on the way to the fire turned nose up and away from human flesh. The smell of it burning was sickly sweet. Without wood and tar to mask the odor, it was even more pronounced even than a funeral ship. If there was anyone there who hadn't known what had happened to the Chief's son, they knew now.
After that, things began to blur together as the adrenaline fell. Camps were pitched. Cloaks were pulled out. The evening drew darker. Berkians going into war were nothing if not prepared, and Hiccup was bundled up in a camping bed so luxurious, even an outsider walking in would realize that he must've been the hero of the hour. Stoick sat mulling on a rock some metres away, wanting to sleep but knowing it would be next to impossible. There was too much to process.
A limping, tapping gait warned him when Gobber approached.
"Here," he said, and a bowl of stew appeared under Stoick's nose, "I know how you are on an empty stomach, and no one 'round here will benefit from a cranky chief."
Stoick took the bowl but didn't touch it. After watching the man for a moment, Gobber sat down next to him.
"He'll be alright, Stoick."
"So will you."
"I've been a horrible father, Gobber."
Gobber actually chuckled. "Maybe, maybe. But Hiccup's not been an easy son for you, either. I don' think either of you are bad at being father or son. You're just… not that good at doing it with each other."
Somehow, it didn't make Stoick feel any better.
"But you know, if a twig like tha' can tame a night fury with nothin' but a soft hand, and end up changin' the whole bloomin' world," he waved his hammer at Hiccup, "then how hard can bein' a family possibly be?"
"Really really hard," was Stoick's response. Gobber laughed again.
"Oh, he's gone and set tha bar rather high, I'll give ya that. But he's smashed your ideas of the impossible to bits once, all I'm sayin' is tha he might be inclined to do it again." Gobber patted his friend on the back and stood. "Now eat tha stew. Looks like we'll be here for the night."
That was another thing, Stoick thought, mood shifting. The Green Death, as the men were already calling it, had torched all of their ships. There was at least one, maybe two that they could salvage, but the repairs were going to take time. Time that Stoick wasn't sure that they had. He glanced over at Hiccup. Toothless had found his way to his human shortly after they'd put him there, and was now curled tightly around him, tail across his lap, face resting on his chest. Even from where he sat, Stoick could see the remaining pallor in Hiccup's face, and the strange, laborsome breathing of his sleep. I wanna go home, the words echoed painfully in his head. They needed to get back to Berk. But how?
Sighing tiredly, Stoick began spooning stew into his mouth. They'd already killed one behemoth that day. The next one would have to wait until morning.
A/N: I want to continue this, hopefully I'll have time. I recently published a story, 'Stump Day' (which is infinitely cheerier than this little ray of sunshine) where I mention my headcanon of how Hiccup lost his leg. After I wrote that, my brain started filling in a headcanon for everything else about the battle's aftermath, how they got back, etc. So, I plan on writing that here. Hopefully y'all will enjoy it!