Knock Knock Knock.
For a moment, it was impossible for him to diffuse the sound through the roar that started as a hot, numb mass from behind his eyes and trickled into his ears.
It could have just been his heart after all, thrown into a panic that didn't reflect the unprecedented heaviness in his limbs. Hiccup had struggled, quite a lot actually, but an abrupt bite of icy fingers in his wrists which had more than certainly bruised with no effort or even acknowledgement on Jack's part?
That had seized his body like a dip into the arctic ocean, including a muted little scream. All strength and resilience was ripped away at the shocking undertow of Jack's icy tide.
It wasn't like he wanted to surrender, it went against how he was raised, with a father that soldiered on through every brick life threw at him: how could his son not have absorbed some dregs of a warrior's spirit?
Because Hiccup's bones were brittle, and still looked far better nestled under his shuddering flesh instead of poking through it, glistening white and red.
So, here he lay, vision unfocused as the remains of his top were pushed aside by the careless hands that reduced it to shreds. Hiccup felt painfully warm in comparison to the frozen skin that pressed and slid against his, when wind chipped lips latched and sucked at his jumping pulse, draining the heat from it.
The spot seemed to be one Jack was fond of returning to, like he could taste life in that rhythm: an addictive flavour indeed to someone with a heart as still as his.
Knock knock KNOCKKNOCK.
It came again, the sound which now certainly wasn't a hallucination, even through this ungodly haze. Jack took no notice, seemingly captivated by the colours and spasms left behind by his attention. Dust agitation burned and dispersed as Hiccup remembered how to blink, but remained oddly focused on the black above him, desperate to listen over the subsiding noise.
The knocks continued, dulled by travel through hard wood and distance. They grew faster, more urgent, until an unmistakable voice crashed through any wall of doubt.
A mitten wrapped fist pounded three more times, Astrid's rosy lips drawn thin.
The snowfall hadn't taken a single break throughout the day, so its depth had approximately doubled since that morning. This meant that after their initial stint of awe inspired paralysis, it had taken both Astrid and Fishlegs far longer to labour up the steep, slippery hill than they could ever have anticipated.
Burgess had seen some winters in its time and was certainly no stranger to blizzards, but never had snow and ice held their town hostage so quickly.
Sweat soaked the woolen brim of Astrid's beanie, flaxen fringe curled beneath as she turned to Fishlegs. The poor boy had collected quite a ruddy sheen over his face, too, the fog of his breath almost pure white in contrast to the cutting air. His huge shoulders heaved as he fought to regain his composure, torn between shedding his thick outer jacket and not developing hypothermia in the following fifteen seconds.
Astrid grimaced in sympathy as she regarded her panting companion. Although he was large, and heavy with muscle, Fishlegs had always been quite delicate on the allergy front. To top it off, asthma had a tendency to rear its ugly head in extreme weather. This hike from Hell was strenuous even for healthy chests, so Astrid winced a tad when he proceeded to nearly hack a lung up.
"Hey, Fish, are you OK?" She asked, smoothing the panic from her voice to mild concern after she watched the great lad convulse in an attempt to recover. "Do you need your medicine or...?"
"I'm good. Just a-"
Fishlegs gasped as he raised a hand, turned and coughed a few more times into his other.
It took another moment or two, but the rattle subsided from his breathing, calming the skip in Astrid's pulse.
Fishlegs pulled his scarf up over his mouth and nose to warm the air as he took it in, and reminded Astrid of an old fashioned bandit from the Spaghetti Westerns her Dad indulged in on Sunday afternoons, usually after some Father/ Daughter shooting at the range earlier the same morning. A smile lit on the Girl's cheeks despite herself, and she turned back to the door when a sausage sized thumb was finally raised towards her.
Her padded knuckles rapped on the thick wood again, but they were still sore from the earlier pounding. Hiccup didn't own a door bell, but instead had an old brass knocker which Astrid now grabbed and proceeded to slam against its anvil as if actually striking iron.
On a normal afternoon, she might have been worried to draw attention from curtain twitchers in the neighbourhood watch, but the streets were eerily silent as white flakes carpeted them for miles around.
"HADDOCK: YOU ALIVE?"
Still nothing. The pair had tried Hiccup's phone in turn before, but were sent to a voicemail after they rang off. His land line was also down, due to unknown technical difficulties according to the robotic message.
"This is ridiculous. He has to be here, Fish." The alternatives weren't useful things to consider, since there were so many possibly awful outcomes. Astrid swallowed quietly and looked up at her ponderous partner.
"So come on, we've been here tons of times before? Break it down. There has to be some way in."
Fishlegs' eyes flickered from door to ledges, a hum filtering through his scarf.
There were no open windows in reach, neither Father nor son believed in keeping keys under the mat. Drainpipes were too far away from said locked windows and would be too slippery to climb anyway, even with a shoulder boost from him and Astrid's athletic talents.
The house was terraced, meaning that they would have to get around from one side of the long street which was an ordeal by itself. Then they would be faced with the looming brick wall back there and try to get in through an equally fortified back door. Knowing the Haddock family's paranoia when it came to the protection of their little castle, it would most likely be locked there, too.
Analysis complete, Fishlegs licked his dry lips behind the scarf and turned to Astrid with a shrug and sloping eyes that widened the girl's in turn, pupils tiny black dots in Caribbean drowning pools. They narrowed in the next instant, her little jaw clenched so tight that the words that followed were minced into a growl.
"Bullshit. BULLSHIT." She snarled, whipping around. "No, Hiccup! Get your scrawny ass down here, or..." A cursory scan, and a decorative iron lantern from the porch was wrenched up and onto her shoulder. "Or I'm coming I-"
Trivial things were pleasantly thrown into obscurity, unimportant for the time being. Jack was happy, even more so that Hiccup was starting to see things his way, which, in all honestly, benefited both parties in the end. It was so curious, the way he instinctively slotted in, drinking the divine heat of his friend's wonderful skin with his own as he felt the body below him become more pliable and limp after that silly struggle. That had stopped after the silvery boy had securely anchored his squirming partner down, and physically assured him that there was no need for thrashing because no one was in danger.
Bruise coloured lids remained low, twitched above a wrinkled nose and giddy lips, lost only to touch, taste and temperature.
Hiccup's body stiffened, a new taste pressed to bared, pearly teeth as the freckled skin went strangely cool under a nervous bloom of sweat. Jack could feel the arrhythmic pulse evenwhere he paused, the abrupt yet quickly aborted hitch in the other's chest.
The little ghost frowned. He knew this, how the human's body jerked, shook and now even refused to draw breath. Hiccup was panicking. Frightened again in some way, which was preposterous because here he was perfectly safe-
A muffled banging prickled the point of Jack's ear, snapped him upright and turned his head with avian sharpness. Marble eyes widened and pierced the dusk of the room. Mr Haddock was miles away, the doors were locked.
Someone was trying to get in, an intruder. The sheer audacity, the nerve, for them to attempt a break into Hiccup's house, with Jack around? The passion washed away in an instant, replaced with cold, righteous fury.
"Not if I have something to say about it." Jack muttered out loud, lips curled back into a sneer as he made to jump off of his charge. A hand darted out and held him in place, fingers sweaty and trembling as they held on tightly. Luminous blues blinked back at Hiccup, who looked peaky, even as he shook his dishevelled head in alarm. A muted upturn of Jack's lips hid the majority of his teeth away, eyes smiling as he reached to gently pluck the childish little hand on his wrist away.
"Hey, shhh, don't worry…. I won't let them get-"
Hiccup's grip increased around the practical iron bar he held on to, and once more gave a sharp jerk with his chin.
"I know them, Jack, It's. It's Astrid, and Fishlegs. You remember them, right?" The boy gave a brittle smile, his dry throat tickling a cough out of him.
"My friends? The ones who... The ones who care for me, kinda -" Wheeze. "-Kinda like you do?"
Crooked teeth peeked nervously from between Hiccup's lips as the spectre stared down at him, puzzled. He didn't blink, only turning his head to look thoughtfully out of the window. Jack's brow furrowed, head tilted further to the left, ear angled to register the shift in sound. A conversation, two voices, one high but strong, the other not much lower, but timid. They seemed to fit, even distorted through brick and glass.
The pull to leave softened and eventually stopped altogether, which allowed Hiccup to finally relinquish his grip. Jack stood for a moment more, motionless, face a touch glazed over. He'd forgotten that people knocked on doors to enter: Most of his visits into homes occurred under the blanket of night, when the occupants tended to be curled up under their own quilts.
A nod to signal he'd finally caught up with himself, and Jack gestured towards the ever increasing hubbub from downstairs.
"Maybe we should let them in, then, yeah?" A white smile didn't quite reach his eyes, especially when Hiccup sat back, awkwardly cradling the rags around his stomach. The grin faded as Jack studied his friend for a second and almost smacked his own head for his stupidity.
"Silly me! I, er, got a little... Um." He cleared his throat sheepishly.
"Here, I don't need this, and I meant to give it back anyway." The olive hoodie's zip whispered down and was divested in a fluid motion, held out to a shivering Hiccup, who looked from the hoodie to Jack and back again. A few beats passed before his shaky fingers grasped the oddly dewy fabric.
Rail thin arms prickled with a new wave of goose flesh when they filled each sleeve, reminiscent of the dampness felt when snow finally melted on a person's clothes after they came indoors.
Autonomously, Hiccup managed to make himself decent, and the buzz in his brain allowed him ignore the shivers. His attention gravitated back towards his belly, rags numbly pulled from around his waist: Not a single stitch was left intact to offer resistance.
A slow blink, and he found the zip's teeth together at his collarbone, decent at last. Palms planted themselves in the mattress to lever Hiccup up onto his shaky legs. He cringed when he tried to walk, the awkward heat in the pit of his stomach lingering for just another step until it had cooled off completely under the dire weight of his circumstances.
The ghost hadn't looked away for an instant, curious to his friend's slowness, especially with the now subdued commotion outside. He, on the other hand, was spryer than ever, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet, going up on the points of his discoloured toes as they sank into the carpet and back again. Jack was two seconds from humming when he saw Hiccup flinch a tad, and darted forward to stabilise him.
"Hey, Hic, go easy-"
Hiccup's hand darted out and lodged itself against a bare, icy shoulder before the ghost could get any closer. His heart stuttered once, but his lip curled into a quick, nervous smile.
"It's- I'm fine. Just a little... Blood rushing to my head."
Before Jack could get his fingers around Hiccup's little waist, the boy backed up and raised his palms, elbows consummately crooked as a demonstration of his stability.
"See? Just fine. Fine, fine, fine." He gabbled, stepping out in front of the ghost into the dark hall.
There was no need for a light to navigate the landing, but Hiccup still wished he had some: Having someone like Jack at his back, after... After that…? It left every hair on his body stood in a stiff regiment. Maybe it was the dull but prominent ache he'd only become aware of now at the back of his skull, or perhaps the sheer shock of what had just been done with such ease that pushed every fight-or-flight fibre in his being down into his little toe.
All Hiccup knew was that even though his feet planted themselves one in front of the other down each plush step, he couldn't run, even as the dip in conversation outside his door spiked into an abrupt yell.
It was Astrid, for certain. His brow pinched to match the pursed lips and the scrunched eyes. Clammy fingers reached towards the latch and flicked it open. Hiccup was distantly thankful that their heavy door didn't require keys to open it from the inside at least, but any sort of relief was sapped by the awful rimy chill that proceeded the claw up his back. It intensified as Jack pulled into his peripheral, eager to meet the source of noise outside.
A freckled wrist habitually rotated and tugged to heave the blasted thing inwards. Jack's eyes were round, blue blazes above his thousand watt grin.
"OR I'M COMING I-"
Hiccup didn't even have the energy to recoil from the lantern that threatened to break his nose before Astrid pulled the throw, and yanked it back into her own chest: Rust rubbed off on her immaculate ski jacket, ruining the teal stripes with a blood dark smudge.
No one, least of all her, gave any indication that they noticed.
"...In." Astrid finished, voice immediately adjusted for indoors.
Not that any of the mortals could know, but in the next moment they each swallowed simultaneously. Fishlegs and Astrid were determined to stare at their closest friend, and not at the shimmering specimen that practically crackled with excitement at his side. Before the cadaverous tint of his skin was visible, the pair caught side long glimmers of frost that shone over Jack's shoulders and hair, but valiantly looked ahead.
"Uh, hey guys."
"How's it going?"
"Um, OK. What are you. Doing here-?"
Bare feet fluttered forward, and Astrid barely had time to catch herself before she was nose to nose with Jack. His features blurred as she continued to focus on where Hiccup had once been, his head tilted as he was all too happy to look her over, concentrating on Hiccup's queasy question. She resisted the urge to lick the bloom of sweat from her upper lip.
"Well, Fish and I were leaving and found your stuff in the yard, so we figured you'd be missing it."
A fresh bead of sweat soaked into the brim of her hat as Jack leant around to look at her sides, inched in a fraction and closed his eyes. She reigned in a wince when she heard the stomach turning sound of an inhale, her voice chiding but bright.
"Kinda weird you didn't notice it was gone, with all that school junk in it. I swear, you bring every text book, whatever we have that day, you magnificent dork, you."
Her sight was once again full of blue and grey that jumped and shifted, so close that when it spoke her cheeks rouged in the freezing fog.
"Hey Hiccup, did you know that she uses the same shampoo as you? Talk about being on the same wave length. Speaking of which-"
Jack didn't bother to try and lift a piece of her hair when he rounded to a shoulder, because he knew his hand would just pass through. But he did gesture to the golden cascade that spilled over Astrid's scarf, grinning from ear to ear.
"It's so pretty, just look how it flows. Curls and braids are nice and all, but wavy hair just looks just like rivers, she should definitely wear it down more often-"
Over Jack's stream of babble, Hiccup's fingers dug themselves white into the door, nail grooves left in the varnish. Lips that grew pale with cold and anxiety strained and stretched into a sheepish simper.
How dare he- How can he NOT know that it isn't OK-
"Well, you knew how I was today. I'd have forgotten my head if it wasn't screwed on."
Jack cocked his own head, but moved now to examine Fishlegs, whose body was so still, it looked as though the air had frozen him already.
Hiccup's heart stuttered again, and lodged itself in his throat. The poor guy was bad enough at getting through a horror film with his fingers in front of his eyes the entire time.
Disproportionally tiny knees began to tremble and knock below Fishlegs' hulking frame as Jack silently perused him, focus flicking this way and that in fascination.
"Woah... And you. You're built like a tank walking on tooth picks. How do you get around on those things?" Jack paused his shark circle, and bent to chuckle at the boy's spindly legs. "They're like little twigs!"
Astrid raised her brows at Hiccup as terror choked the beginnings of a squeak from Fishlegs' thick neck. Hiccup opened his mouth again.
"Seriously though, you shouldn't have come all this way, guys." He announced loudly, to drown out the sound. The ghost craned back around, a squint blotting the blue from his eyes with black, black lashes.
"I mean, it's really terrible weather, and pretty sure Fish there is gonna shatter if he stays out in the cold any longer."
The realisation he was being spoken about managed to draw his attention away from the very-real-life-not-fiction Jack Frost who twisted on the spot, twitching with energy. Even muffled through through layers of wool, Hiccup could still decipher Fishlegs' anxious falsetto. A thickly gloved hand made a dismissive wave.
"No problem, it'd be a crime to watch all those books turn to mulch in the snow. We'd both be in pieces, then."
Breathing through her nose, Astrid managed to keep her focus when Jack returned to Hiccup's side and regarded her with a certain fondness, chin tilted as he playfully drummed his fingers over her best friend's skinny hip. Hiccup just about contained shudder.
"Besides all that, it's not like we could call you. Your stupid cell was apparently in space, and the house line number keeps saying it's disconnected."
Despite his discomfort, Hiccup blanked for a moment. Dad never missed bills, so the only way they could have have had their line cut was if-
"Ah. That could be...My bad."
Hiccup glanced sidelong to a penitent face, but any merit was lost when Jack's damned near icicle fingers absently squeezed a prominent hip bone, flooding him with despicable heat. The spirit's spare hand reached up to scrub at the back of his snowy head, eyes guiltily averted to a distant telephone pole.
"See, I sometimes like to walk on the wires like I'm in a circus, just for fun, you know? Aaaaand last night I may have landed a little too hard on one and kinda. Sorta. Snapped it."
Sure enough, a lone wire hung drably from the post, swaying a little in the wind when Hiccup's grave gaze finally found it.
"Well, what do you know, the line connected to my place is down." He announced stiffly, granting permission for his friends to finally look at the damage they already learned about from Jack.
Any guilt the ghost might have had however vanished in the next moment when his hands finally pulled away and clapped together instead.
"It doesn't really matter though, since you guys are here already! No need to call them over: Just invite them in, get the hot cocoa bubbling and then you'll have all your friends in one place."
Jack radiated enthusiasm, smiling from ear to ear as he waited for Hiccup to weigh in on his foolproof plan.
"... I really appreciate you both coming over to drop off my bag. But I think it's in everyone's best interests if you get going before the weather gets worse." Hiccup kept his eyes hard as he felt the intangible vandal deflate at his side.
"What?! But- But why not?" Jack whined, a freezing breeze soaking into the trio's bones. Hiccup kept going, not daring to look to the tantrum on his right. Astrid looked as if she might object too, but the green eyes boring into hers kept heavy, snow soaked shoes in their place.
"This blizzard wasn't forecast today, and I'd hate it for you two to become caught in another flurry, or get sick from staying out too long. I promise to go find my cell now, and if anything is up, I'll text you."
Jack was set to complain until a strangely quiet but powerful feeling tied him up inside and held his tongue. Guilt, came a gentle reminder, floating around in his skull. Hiccup was just scared for his friends getting ill in the cold, since this all happened so fast and they might not have been ready...
Hic really was kind and considerate, Jack decided, and was why he liked him so much, amongst other things.
On the other hand, Astrid and Fishlegs were far from sentimental. Their pleading stares threatened to wear a dent in Hiccup's forehead.
"Are you sure?" Fishlegs asked softly, squaring up best as he could manage to make the most of his size, and perhaps... Convince his little friend he could protect him.
Hiccup smiled wanly back, a sardonic drip in his voice, blinking twice, hard, as if trying to clear some grit.
"Honestly, I know you two are the tough ones, but I'm sure I'll be fine until morning."
Astrid chuckled back, but it didn't crinkle her eyes. "I'll text you anyway, to be safe. And you'll shoot one back to make sure we got back home OK. Sound like a plan?"
Hiccup rolled his eyes, before he grunted and blinked hard again, kneading his eye with a knuckle. Some of the tension dropped from her shoulders, even as Jack broke his unnatural stillness to look into her friend's frowning face.
"Just dust." Hiccup assured, before Jack could open his mouth. Fishlegs shoved his hands deep into his pockets, watching Astrid's back straighten.
"You two are so serious…" A strained little laugh came from the freckled boy, who met Fishleg's wool framed eyes and silently thanked him for trying.
"Trust me, everything is going to be fine. It'll be over before we know it."
The girl waited until the end of Hiccup's unfounded positivity to speak once again, making sure their eyes met.
"Are you scared, at all?"
"God no." Blink.
"Need our help with anything...?"
Blink. Knead. "I said I'll live for one measly night. Thanks for the concern, though, really."
"And you have reliable ways of reaching us?"
Blink blink. Eye roll.
"Like I said, I'll find my phone. Anything else before you freeze your butt off, my good Lady Worry Wart?"
A grim determination replaced the strained nerves that lined her face before.
"Are you sure you want us to leave?"
The humour drained a little from Hiccup, the false confidence filled in with just a drop of the real thing.
Eyes scrunched tight, so much they wrinkled his nose before he let them open again, a touch more watery than before.
"...Heh. I better close this door, before I lose a few toes to the cold."
A genuine smile crossed both of their faces, and a little nod caused Astrid's hair to shimmer in the way he (and now apparently, Jack) was so fond of. Fishlegs, unsure as to why his friends seemed so relaxed now, followed the girl's lead after waving weakly, and turned to head down the steps into the shin deep snow. Neither had dared to look back at Jack, who had already began to move in as they tossed farewells over their shoulders.
"See you tomorrow." Hiccup called, and shut the door, staring into the grain. It was quiet for a beat, until Jack crackled up to his side, giddy.
"They really are great friends, you know? Coming all this way, just to check in and bring your stuff."
The human didn't move, even as he felt the cold draw ever closer.
"Hey, do you think they'd want to come over tomorrow? I could make sure that the school is still shut overnight, so we have all the time in the world to hang out. It's a shame that they can't see me like you can, yet, but maybe when we become better friends, they'll get to?"
Jack reached and brushed his fingers through auburn locks.
"I really hope Astrid gets to, some day. I want to tell her how pretty her hair is."
Hiccup's jaw creaked with grinding teeth.
"I see why you like walking to class with her every morning, seeing her up close like that… She seems like she'd make you feel braver, just by being by her side. Like nothing could ever get to you if you were together."
Pondering consumed energy, so idle fingers stopped their lazy tangling in warm hair. Hiccup's shoulders grew a fraction more square. Still, he didn't look at Jack.
"I mean, even though Fishlegs looks the strongest, it's pretty obvious he's a nervous guy under all that size. But Astrid… "
The Spirit paused for a moment, his arms now folded as he thought.
"Geez. She's beauty and braun, I'm surprised that she isn't spoken for by some equally tough, pretty guy."
A jolt snapped his head up, a sickly bruise colour coming to his cheeks.
"Not that you're not pretty, Hic." He corrected himself, chuckling nervously as he casually wrapped his arms around Hiccup's waist. "You're the most wonderful, most beautiful person I know."
Despite the crooning in his ear, and the icy trap around his stomach, Hiccup just kept studying the wood in front of him. His jaw slackened, shoulders sloped, and he allowed himself to exhale, the air whitened by the permanent chill Jack now carried with him wherever he went.
"You believe me, don't you, Hic?" Jack implored, nuzzling the warm neck in front of him. "That you're my best friend in the whole world…. That you're my favourite?"
Hiccup remained silent, but gave a nod.
Unsatisfied, Jack squeezed a little tighter, forearms pushing into the skinny boy's ribs. "Are you sure you're not mad?"
A pause, then another nod, with warm hands settling over the icy forearms locked over his stomach. Hiccup pushed at them as a gentle prompt, and much to Jack's reluctance, he released him.
"You are mad." It was a quiet, sulking statement, at which Hiccup couldn't help but cringe dully. Composing himself, he pivoted and began to walk past his guest, towards the stairs, unhurried.
Jack was about to whip around like a gale, and cause just as much fuss, when he met quite unexpectedly with a blank green stare, and an equally flat voice.
"I'm not mad.," He said, sternly. His pursuer didn't take another step, but instead, took one back.
"Stay down here for a few minutes, Please? Get a snack, watch some TV, play a game. Whatever. I just. Need to sort myself out."
For once, Jack had nothing to say. Hiccup was already heading up the steps, and he didn't bother to look back.
Happy new year, everyone! I'm sorry this was such a bloody wait... Life has been sort of crappy over the last two years, but I'm finally getting back into this thing. I promise the next chapter won't be such an age.
Thanks for your patience, and I love you all.