A/N: I really don't know. This idea popped into my head while I was listening to music earlier this week. I didn't really plan on writing it, but it kept coming into my head and I knew I'd need to release it into the wild before it grew rabid. SO. Enjoy.
He was four years old, and everything was an adventure.
With swordfighting, a busy shipyard, and fire-breathing dragons at every turn, Berk was the sort of island that never left adventurers wanting. But to a young boy whose mother had largely sheltered him from the dangers of everyday Viking life, (a feat in and of itself for four years) the Berkian brand of adventure came with different perks. Perks which, in their quieter appeal, were often lost on the rest of the population, and bound to be seen as a wee bit odd. But then, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III had always been a bit odd.
To say that Hiccup was small and willowy would be an insult to small willows. He'd been small on the day he was born, and he was small four years later, and anyone with any eyes at all could tell you he'd probably be small for many years to come. It was odd that he was small, because his parents were not. His father Stoick had been a hulking boulder of muscle and red hair since the time he could walk. His mother Valhallarama was just as brave and almost as strong, and although she was large, it was all muscle. Anyone who mistook her bulk for anything else would find themselves corrected rather quickly - by a rather quick fist to the face, that is. And so, when Stoick and Valhallarama finally had a child of their own, everyone was shocked when he ended up being the runt of the village. That's why they'd called him Hiccup.
Valhallarama didn't care. With her fierce reputation and high status, no one on the island would have expected it of her, but she wasn't one to cling to niceties about how someone looked. Her own mother had been a petite, demure person, as had been her older brother, who was the smartest person she knew. So when her own son turned up a bit on the small side, (a lot on that side, really) she laughed in that loud, merry way of hers, bundled up the small body in huge, loving arms, and knew without a second thought that she'd love him if he didn't grow another inch in his life.
Stoick was, at best, flustered around his son. It was as though he'd been told to expect someone to bring him a new ox, and had been believing them for so long that, when the person appeared with a small sheep instead, he wasn't sure what to do. He tried, he really did. Especially in Hiccup's earliest days, he didn't find it all that hard to love his son just as dearly as Valhallarama did. After he overcame his fear that he'd somehow break Hiccup just by touching him, he became just as doting and happy as Valhallarama was. But as time wore on and age began to preach more and more loudly that Hiccup would never be anything close to what a Viking was supposed to be, Stoick found himself floating into an arena he knew nothing about, and the formidable, fire-haired boulder of a chief was suddenly the most awkward man on earth.
Valhallarama helped. She didn't understand everything about her son, but she didn't have to. She'd let him just be, and not push him one way or another too hard, and when he learned to use enough words to explain himself, she would listen with a kind ear. It was odd to Stoick, but touching, too, how his wife could swagger in, covered in ash and smoke and leaning on a bloodied axe from the day's raid, and somehow soften her hands to hold their weakling of a son, and smile as though she just knew he'd be just as great one day. Stoick wanted to believe her, and more often than not, laid his own worries to rest and let his wife do the thinking about their son. She was better at it than he was.
But people were beginning to talk. Hiccup was four, now, and still so small, his cousin Snotlout outweighed him twofold. Even Astrid, the thin toddler from the Hofferson household, was taller than Hiccup despite being six months younger. The fiery red hair that had marked Hiccup as a Haddock for four years was beginning to show signs of fading, brown encroaching across ginger in a way that made him look eternally dirty. He could read, but didn't talk much, liked pencils in a messy way, didn't play enough with the other children to know how much they teased him, and didn't realize for a second that half the village gossiped about him where they thought his parents wouldn't hear. But they did hear. Valhallarama was hurt by it, but wouldn't let anyone know. Stoick was enraged – half because of the things they said and half because he knew they were all true.
Hiccup was strange.
If you asked, neither of his parents would've been able to tell you what, exactly, their son enjoyed. They'd tried to introduce him to the smallest, tamest of weapons, as all good Viking parents did for their children around his age, but if he'd set eyes on them more than once, Stoick had yet to hear about it. Hiccup didn't like warfare, didn't like stuffing his face, didn't like rough housing, or fighting, or bickering, or racing, or competition, not even things like cooking or fishing took his fancy. What on earth then, some of the village mothers would ask Valhallarama on the rare play date, did Hiccup like?
Simply put, he liked things. What things, no one was entirely sure. His fancy was so unpredictable to outsiders that there was no other way to classify his interests. He would simply pick up things – a leaf, a box, bowl – and stare at it, fiddle with it. Sometimes he'd be at it for hours, and Valhallarama would find him sitting plop in the middle of his room with stuff all around him, confiscated from various parts of the house for no apparent goal in mind. He wouldn't talk when he was doing it, maybe small noises that only he could understand, but nothing else. He'd run his small fingers around edges, turn joints, bend flexible bits, sometimes break things like twigs or bird's nests. He'd laugh occasionally at some unheard joke, and jump up and down when something, Odin knew what, excited him about his things. He liked stacking them, rolling them, tossing them, and, as of late, scribbling all over them with pencils. Hiccup liked things, and he had a toy shelf full of disparate junk that his mother didn't make him throw away. A house full of things was enough to keep him occupied on even the most boring, rainy of days, but some days, on good days, Hiccup was allowed to explore the things outside. Sometimes, on the very best of days, his parents would take him out into the forest behind the village. There was a whole world of things out there, and for Hiccup, it was the adventure to end all adventures.
He couldn't keep still if he wanted to, and every single tooth was shining from his mouth as he bounded alongside his mother.
"Calm down there, little fish," She laughed at his exuberance, "we're not even to the edge of the forest yet." She trotted a little faster to keep him happy, and Stoick shook his head before matching their pace.
"Do you do you think there'll be trolls, mama? Can we see some? Gobber says I can see trolls if I go into the forest and give them socks."
"Gobber makes up those stories, son," Stoick cut in with good intent, but ended up giving Hiccup a frown.
"Oh," the boy said, disappointed for a single second before perking back up again. "And what about dragons? Are there dragons? Are they scary, mama? Do you think there's ever been a not-scary dragon? Maybe it doesn't have wings. Or maybe there are dragons that have four wings, or wings instead of legs, and maybe some of them don't even have claws, or teeth. Have you ever seen a dragon without teeth, mama? I bet it would look really silly. Do dragons make nests like birds? Can we see a dragon's nest? If a dragon builds a next in a tree, does the tree burn down? Is that why there's no trees in the village, because of the dragons?"
As Hiccup quizzed on, Valhallarama looked back around at Stoick with a longsuffering look. She was on the verge of rolling her eyes, but her smile couldn't be contained. She didn't understand where Hiccup's curiosity came from, but hearing him so happy made her happy, too. Stoick smiled too, more slightly, and jogged up beside her.
They managed to walk together in a somewhat normal fashion until they were about twenty yards into the forest itself, and Hiccup was giggling with excitement, pulling at his mother's arm.
"Oh, alright, alright!" Val let go of him. "Don't wander, Hiccup Haddock, you hear me?"
He giggled in response, and the echo sent a family of chickadees spewing from their hollow tree. He tripped over a small rut and fell flat on his face, but bounced back up just as quickly, unfazed as he ran through the woody trails. Val shook her head, hands on her hips.
"You think that's a good idea, Val?" Stoick asked, watching anxiously as his son knelt down to peer into a dark burrow that housed Thor only knew. A rabbit popped its head out, and Hiccup screamed it excitement, notwithstanding that he'd scared the creature half to death.
"Oh, let him be, dear," his wife said, "let him like this as much as he does. Besides," She took his hand, "leaves us a few minutes without him bouncing about underfoot." Stoick had to smile, because it was true.
Hiccup probably didn't even realize how far he'd wandered from his parents. They weren't that far away, but to a four year old, it could've been miles. Hiccup crouched and peered and picked and bent and broke and stopped and smeared dirt around every which way he pleased. When a huge raven flew into the tree next to him, he made sure to be extra quiet so he could get a good look at it. He got to see it preen and caw for a few minutes, before he sneezed and scared it away. He wiped his nose on his sleeve, which left more dirt on his face, and clambered up so he could keep exploring.
He wasn't old enough to understand that it was too quiet, and too wrapped up in studying the plants and the dirt to notice the rustling that was unnatural behind him. He'd found himself in a widened patch of earth, without undergrowth or trees, and a few rocks. Something shined up at him from the ground, and he bent to pick it up. It was flat, and black, and very smooth and rounded. He touched it, and held it close to his face, and dug at the dirt with it. It was hard. It was almost as big as his palm. It was pure black on both sides, but shined up at him with a blue-y purple. He broke into a grin, and turned to show his mother the thing he'd found.
His eyes shot so wide so quickly that he probably didn't even feel it. His hands jerked up to tuck against his chest, to keep himself small, but he couldn't move, not an inch, because he was looking at something he hadn't expected to find that day, even if part of him had always wanted to.
It was a dragon. Hiccup knew that it was a dragon, even though it didn't look like any dragon he'd ever heard about on Berk. It was black, and big, and very quiet. It had big ears that made Hiccup think of a rabbit, and eyes that were green, and a small, flat nose that twitched. It was watching him, perfectly still. It tilted its head after a moment, and Hiccup had never felt his small heart beat like that in all his four years. It made a funny noise, and sniffed the air, and moved one giant leg forward, just a little, as if it was trying to decide what to do. Then, it froze, and shot up its head so fast it made Hiccup gasp. It made a bubbly sort of growl, and put its ears down flat against its head. It looked at Hiccup, and back up, and back at Hiccup, and then, before the boy could have another thought, it was gone.
"There you are, little fish," Valhallarama tromped into view, stepping carefully over roots and stones to get to her boy. "I thought I told you not to wander."
Hiccup was still staring at the spot where the dragon had gone, where a sapling still swayed in the rush of air that the beast had left behind. He'd dropped the black round thing – a dragon scale, although he'd never find out that that's what it had been. He stayed like he was, hands near his chest, legs frozen, until his mother was right next to him.
"Are you alright, Hiccup? What are you looking at, love?" Val crouched next to him, peering over at the trees where his eyes were glued, but there was nothing to see.
"I saw a dragon," He said, excitement suddenly returning, and louder, "A dragon, mama, a dragon, dragon!" He bounced and giggled. Stoick arrived around that time, and was somewhat confused, but mostly amused at the games his son was playing. A dragon, in the forest, at midday, with Vikings going noisily about? The idea seemed laughable. Still, he was in a good mood from the relaxing warmth of the day, and Val was having fun indulging their son's imagination by asking what the dragon looked like as they walked back.
"It was big, and black," Hiccup told them, hanging off his mother's arm once again. "It had funny ears, and big, big eyes." Stoick sent an incredulous look at his wife. A dragon? With ears? Val didn't notice, because she was nodding seriously down at her son.
"And did it have wings for legs, dear?" she asked.
"No. It had legs. And wings. But not for each other."
Valhallarama nodded again, sagely. "Probably good for them, too. And what of the teeth, did you get a look at them?"
Hiccup tilted his head in thought. Now that he thought about it, no, he hadn't seen any teeth. It hadn't opened its mouth, but then, most dragons he'd seen pictures of had teeth that showed on the outside of their mouths, too. "Nu-uh," he told his mother, "I don't know. I couldn't see."
And that made Valhallarama frown and pause, just for a moment, because she'd never played an imagination game with her son where he refused to make up an answer.
"Maybe it didn't have teeth at all," Hiccup said, turning back to his excitable 'imagination voice', "maybe it just had giant gums instead," And Valhallarama's smile came back. That was more like it.
He was four and a half years old now, but not as adventurous as he'd once been.
Two months ago, he'd wandered out during a raid for the first time by accident. He'd been out of harm's way the entire time, it turned out, but he saw more that day than any four year old should have. All at once, dragons were no longer interesting, or adventuresome. They were terrifying.
He'd been having horrible nightmares ever since, and Val and Stoick had been squabbling over whose fault it was that he'd gotten out in the first place, and how they should go about trying to make sure the lad wasn't scarred for life. "He can't stay afraid of dragons forever," was Stoick's argument, "He has to kill them one day!" And Val knew he was right, but knew that Hiccup would require a more roundabout solution than the Viking fallback of lots of comfort food and a good slap on the back.
She'd been putting him to bed when she got the idea. His shelf of stuff was cluttered as ever, and spread out beneath it was a bed of parchment and charcoal pencils, and a few scribbled works he'd pinned up on the wall to admire. She'd seen most of them before, when Hiccup had come parading them up to her like they were made of gold, and with the way his mother had beamed at him when he showed her, to him, they might've been made up of the stars and the moon itself. She'd pinned them up for him, disproportionate things that depicted Stoick, Val and Hiccup together, Stoick distinguishable only by the huge horned helmet, and Hiccup only by his smaller size. There was one of a Valhallarama with an axe, one of Hiccup holding his mother's hand. There were several of dragons, Val knew, or at least, there used to be. They were decent for a four-year-old, recognizable as a nightmare and adder and gronkle, but Hiccup's recent terror had driven him to scribble over all of them, blacking out the figures so he didn't have to look at them. She frowned sadly, and shuffled through the stacks on the ground. They were all either meaningless scribbles, or human figures. All but one. She picked it up and looked at it, recognizing wings and legs, but not much else.
It had funny ears, she suddenly remembered him saying. Is that what those were, those odd, long shapes on top? And big, big eyes. Two big circles on the big round face must've been eyes. She glanced back at Hiccup, who snoozed soundly in his bed, and back at the drawing. Had he missed this one? Had he intended to scribble it out, too? She hoped not. The nadders, the nightmares, the gronkles, those were all the reasons for his terror. But this… thing, whatever it was, was Hiccup's game, a creation of his own mind. Surely it wouldn't scare him, too? She tucked the drawing under her belt and tiptoed back down the stairs, a new idea forming in her mind. She went to the chest at the foot of their bed for a needle, thread, and scrap cloth before joining Stoick at the hearth.
"No! No, I don' wan' it!" Hiccup was crying. Not the blubbing, sobbing, attention-seeking kind that small children were experts at, but the throat-wrenching, real, terrified tears that his four-and-a-half-year-old self-restraint couldn't' stop. "I don't wan' it!" He screamed again, trying to get away.
Vahallarama looked crushed. She'd spent hours making it, and even though it wasn't much work at all for an experienced Viking woman, it was the failed intent that really stung. "Come along, love, it's just a little toy, a stuffed pillow thing," She said weakly, wanting to encourage, but unable to keep her son's tears from hurting her, because they were different than his tantrums. He was afraid, and she was there. She was used to fixing his fears, not forcing them on him.
Hiccup was shaking his head so hard his hair tossed side to side, and moaned when she tried to move it closer to him. It was as close to Hiccup's description as she could manage. She hadn't had any black fabric at hand, but the dark green would suffice for most of it. She'd only had yellow left after that, but she didn't think he would mind the color. It had big button eyes and four funny, floppy ears, and wings and legs separate from each other, just like he'd said, and no teeth in sight. And he hated it.
"Hiccup, dearheart, what's the matter?" Val lowered he toy away, unable to torture her son any more.
"Why, love?" She knew already.
"It's a dragon!" He said, and it should've explained everything, he thought.
"But it's your dragon," She told him with a smile, "just like you saw in the woods, remember?"
"No!" Hiccup insisted, scooting further away, wiping his eyes angrily. "I hate it! It's not my dragon, I hate it!" He sniffed and wiped his nose, and Valhallrama sighed, setting aside the toy so that she could apologize and comfort her son.
She would try again later, when Stoick asked how the plan had gone, and insist that obviously, she hadn't given him a proper chance to warm up to the thing. Val demonstrated Hiccup's negative reaction as quickly as possible, and scooped him up in a hug afterward to make up for it. But Stoick obviously wasn't convinced. Not truly wanting to upset his son further, but knowing that he had to learn somehow, he'd picked up the plush and tried himself.
Hiccup wailed as before, slowly and rising in volume the longer it went on. He cowered in his mother's arms away from the dragon toy, but did not look away from it the whole time.
"Just don't look at," she told him, even as she was yelling at her husband to stop, for the love of heaven.
"No," Hiccup told her in his terror, "if I stop looking at it, it'll eat me!"
"It won't," Stoick told him, trying his best to be gentle but really failing at it entirely. "Come on now, just touch it, just a touch," He gestured with the toy, and Hiccup screamed.
"It'll eat me!" And in a burst, he wriggled out of Val's arms and ran for his life up the stairs and into his room. His stunned parents watched him go, and listened to his adrenaline-fueled sobs as they echoed downstairs. Stoick's shoulders slumped, and part of him felt guilty, but a larger part felt annoyed. Couldn't things be easy for their son, just once?
"I told you he wouldn't take it," Val said quietly, not accusing, but not sparing.
"He can't just stay afraid of dragons," Stoick said.
"I know, I thought it would help," Val looked down at the toy in her hands and sighed. "He's a sensitive boy," she said, tucking the toy away. "I'll leave it around, maybe he'll warm up to it…" She trailed off, and set it on their family table before heading up after Hiccup to make sure he was alright. Stoick sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. His son, a future Viking chief, afraid of dragons. Terrified of dragons – small, toy, stuffed dragons that were made to look like a make believe dragon.
"Odin help you, Hiccup. You can't stay away from them forever."
The toy was doomed from the beginning of its cotton-stuffed life, and the poor thing took quite a beating at Hiccup's behest. It was tossed, stomped on, screamed at, hit, and almost set fire to, but each time, Valhallrama rescued it in the hopes that one day, it would serve its purpose of accustoming Hiccup to dragons once again after he'd seen their true rage in battle. Stoick never made another comment about it, but sometimes Val would catch him watching Hiccup with a sort of concerned, helpless look on his face, like he wanted to help his son, somehow, but didn't know how to start without hurting him.
She probably should've guessed that the toy would eventually go missing. It shouldn't have been a surprise when Stoick came back that day, grumpily tramping in with Hiccup wet and sulking. Hiccup had tossed the thing into the lake, Stoick would tell her, and it'd floated away downstream. He hadn't even bothered to try fishing. Hiccup didn't look remorseful over losing the toy, only over how grumpy and unpleasant Stoick had been after the fact. Valahallrama had scolded him for good measure, but immediately set herself to make a new toy once she acquired some better materials.
None of the Haddocks would have been able to know it then, but she would never get the chance.
Fourteen Years Later…
It'd been a quiet evening in the Haddock house, and Stoick was reclining comfortably by the fire after dinner.
"Hey, dad?" Hiccup called, and Stoick jerked awake, having not realized he was so close to sleep. Hiccup's uneven gate thumped on the stairs and he appeared in the firelight a moment later.
"Hmm?" Stoick asked him, clearing his throat from the sleep that'd been creeping in. Hiccup came over.
"I was just doing some sketches," he came to stand closer, and Stoick had to turn his head to look up at him, "you know, for the book," yes, Hiccup's own book. How to Train Your Dragon, he'd titled it, "And I found this again, by my sketchbooks." He was smiling as he held out a small, battered dragon plush. The green was scorched in places, and the yellow was nasty looking, but something about it remained charming.
"Oh," Stoick grinned in recognition. They'd recovered the memento years ago, in Hiccup's early teens, but seeing it still brought a smile to Stoick's face.
"I was wondering if you knew, what dragon mom was thinking of when she made it?" Hiccup asked, turning the plush over in caring hands.
Stoick had to think for a moment, but when he remembered, he blinked. "Oh," he said, suddenly, "Well… do you remember? It was a dragon you told her about, when you were young. A game of yours, I think." He said, remembering somewhat awkwardly. Hiccup smiled lopsidedly.
"Really?" He seemed amused by the idea, because he couldn't remember a second of it. "Huh. Well, okay," He sounded a bit disappointed – at very least, unsatisfied.
"What's wrong?" Stoick asked him.
"Oh, nothing, really," Hiccup assured him, tossing his hand dismissively. "I just… I was looking at it, and… I know there is no way that mom could've possibly meant it, but… parts of it look a lot like a night fury."
Stoick's face froze, and his mind zoomed back in time, to remember those days with as much clarity as he could muster, because something, he didn't know what, but something was screaming at him that this was all too weird, too close, too familiar but different in the most ironic of ways. He'd said it was black. And had… ears? And big eyes. But… no. It couldn't be, surely.
It was irony enough that Hiccup had once been afraid of dragons. But for him to be afraid of this dragon…
"I don't know. I couldn't see." Stoick remembered thinking, just as Val had, how strange the response was.
"Toothless…" He said to himself, remembering. To Hiccup, it was a name.
"Hmm?" He looked up from the toy. "What? No, he's out back, dad. Enjoying the warm weather while it sticks around." He started fiddling with the toy again, not noticing how Stoick was staring at him like he'd grown antlers, mouth agape. "Well, anyway," He breathed in, smiling slightly, "I must've had a crazy imagination, huh? Thanks, though. I need to set this up my shelf somewhere so I don't lose it again…" His voice trailed away and he thumped back upstairs. Stoick could hear the chair legs groan against the floorboards as his son sat back down to work on his masterpiece, his life's work in written form, and he imagined Hiccup setting that ancient toy to watch over the process.
At this point, he wasn't even sure ironic quite covered it. And for reasons he couldn't quite put to words, that made Stoick smile.
Somewhere in the halls of Valhalla, his wife was laughing her loud, merry laugh.