Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize here, the things that belong to Cressida Cowell, Dreamworks, and Disney-Pixar.
The majority of what's here is based on the two movies. I took a few details from the HTTYD wiki, but I've not read the books nor seen more than one or two episodes of the show, so don't expect anything to be consistent with those.
This fic contains selective use of historical facts and abuse of a language I don't actually know. Please forgive any mistakes I've made.
Thanks to Mel for enduring my screaming about this one. I hope you guys like it!
Updated 30 March 2014: no new content, just better formatting.
Toothless wheeled, turning to follow the coastline. Rumors of raiders crossing the seas to pillage had reached Berk, and the dragon riders were devoting extra time to watching the horizon. They'd learned to live with the dragons and had enjoyed three years of calm together—well, relative calm; there were lots of small fires and fights between young dragons, especially at first, but none of it could compare with the terror of the raids at night. And now they were all preparing for visits from two-legged raiders. Some of them were preparing with a little too much glee: Snotlout's axe had never been shinier or sharper, and Hiccup wondered if anticipation could literally drive a person insane. But for now all was quiet. The line between water and sky looked much as it usually did—blank, hazy, uninspiring—but something else had caught Hiccup's attention. On the rocky shore, just outside the trees, was an orange glow, bright in the day's gloom. He lost sight of it as the dragon turned.
There it was again: a blaze like a burning ember. From this height, and surrounded by patches of late-spring snow as it was, it was like a beacon. Or a warning, he thought, though a warning of what he had no idea. As he urged Toothless lower Hiccup saw that it was not a fire at all. Whatever it was, it wasn't moving. Though it didn't look threatening, he guided the dragon to a clear spot to land: Hiccup had to check it out—that was the point of patrolling, after all—but he also needed to satisfy his own curiosity. The flare of color represented a small mystery. The idea brought a smile to Hiccup's face; nothing much had sparked his curiosity lately. Between working in the smithy, patrolling and training, and studying the law with the elders, he hadn't had time for creativity. His father would probably lecture him if he knew what was in Hiccup's head as he slid from the saddle on Toothless' back. He could hear Stoick's voice already, demanding to know where his weapon was and what he planned to do if he found himself under attack, and he took pleasure in ignoring the voice. Still, though he wasn't expecting danger, he approached carefully.
It was a person—a girl, to judge from the blaze of her hair, snarled and dusty. She lay on the ground, a rough cloak wrapped around her, and she was shivering. Hiccup wasn't sure anyone could pretend to shiver so convincingly, and he couldn't imagine she was a threat or a scout or anything other than in need of help. He crouched a bit awkwardly, within arm's reach, but not too close. "Hey," he said, and then louder, "Hey!" putting a hand on her shoulder and jostling it slightly. There was no response from the shaking stranger. Hiccup watched her breathe, thinking, wondering what his father would do, what the others in the village would do.
Then he felt Toothless' eyes on him, alert and bright, and any hesitation he had disappeared. As carefully as he could he picked up the girl. She was not heavy, but his leg squeaked a bit at the extra weight all the same. He set the girl on Toothless' back, just in front of the saddle; he looped a length of rope loosely around the dragon's middle and then paused, considering. If she woke up mid-flight there was no telling what her reaction might be, and the last thing he wanted was for her to fall. With an apologetic expression that she didn't see, Hiccup wrapped the free end of the rope around her, trapping her arms. Once he'd climbed on and secured himself, he pulled the girl close, hoping his body heat would warm her somewhat.
"Gently," he said, and Toothless rose into the air with enviable grace.
His father would likely be in the great hall, attending to the village's business, but the forge would be warmer. Gobber had two young apprentices now, a pair of cousins who were already better smiths than Hiccup ever would have been, if the word of their master was to be believed. The fires would be roaring, with one of the boys swinging on the bellows and the other fetching wood and water as Gobber directed them over the din. He'd take her to the smithy. Gobber would know what to do.
Toothless landed in front of the building, and even from outside Hiccup could feel the warmth. He unbuckled and slid down, untying the rope that encircled the girl, thanking whoever was listening that she hadn't woken up and done anything crazy on the way there. He trusted Toothless to catch her if she fell, but Hiccup wasn't sure if she was hurt, and people in pain were unpredictable. He staggered a bit as the dead weight flopped against him and made a less-than-heroic entrance into the smithy.
"Hiccup, what're you doin' here?" Gobber bellowed above the hissing and clanging. He wiped sweat from his forehead and then noticed Hiccup's burden. "What's goin' on?"
"She needs help."
Gobber's expression was one of exasperation mixed with concern. He shouted for the boys to shut up while motioning for Hiccup to come in. "We found her near the cliffs on the northeast coast. She's breathing, but she's cold and she won't wake up."
"Brought her to the right place, then," Gobber said briskly. "Set her near the fire—not too near, though, don't want to get her too warm too fast. Squatwiggle, fetch some wine; Wart, water. In clean cups, mind." Hiccup set the girl down on a low workbench as the boys scurried to fulfill their tasks. With a delicacy usually only applied to his workmanship Gobber drew the cloak away from her. "No blood. That's good."
"Nothing felt broken when I moved her. And she hasn't made any noise, so I think she's not hurt." Hiccup looked down at the girl's face, pale and streaked with dirt. "Just really, really cold."
"She must not be from around here, then." Gobber laid the back of his hand against the girl's forehead and cheeks; then he lifted one limp arm and felt the vein at the inside of her wrist. Hiccup studied her. The girl seemed to be about the same age as him. He wondered what color her eyes were—would be, whenever she opened them. Now it was obvious that she was not a Viking: the dress she wore, though snagged and stained, was nicer than any he'd ever seen, made of some fine, expensive fabric, bordered with gold embroidery in complicated knots. He traced the twists absently with a fingertip as Gobber wiped the girl's face with a dampened rag.
When the boys returned they were went on more errands: for blankets and to ask that a broth be made and to inform the chieftain of the presence of a sick stranger in Berk.
"Lift her up, Hiccup." At the smith's command he slipped his arm around her shoulders and lifted her up; Gobber tilted the cup of honey wine at her lips. When she swallowed, Hiccup let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"Will she be okay?"
Gobber shrugged. "We don't know how strong she is or if she's sick," he said. "All we've done is all we can do. We'll have to wait and see." He dropped a heavy hand on Hiccup's shoulder, the most comfort he seemed able to offer.
The door creaked open, and his father's voice called "Gobber?" from the doorway. The smith clomped to the front of the forge and the two spoke in relatively quiet voices, but Hiccup heard them nonetheless.
"Maybe one day that son of yours will stop bringing home strays," Gobber joked.
"I doubt it. He's his mother's son as well as mine." Stoick's even tread approached, and he greeted his son calmly. "Hiccup."
He looked up at the bulk of his father. "Hey, Dad."
Stoick studied the girl impassively for a moment, eyes flicking from her hair to the cloak to the trim of her gown and then back to her hair. Hiccup had no idea what he was thinking. Probably that his son was more trouble than he was worth.
Finally Stoick looked at his son. "Well, this one's much prettier than the last one," he said, smirking. Hiccup felt his face flush.
"That's not why I did it!" Hiccup leaned as far back from the girl as he could manage without falling over, waving his hands. Stoick's smirk widened at the overreaction, and Hiccup covered his face with one splayed hand.
"I know, son. Now come on."
"I don't want to leave," he mumbled between his fingers, embarrassed to admit it.
"I know that, too. And I know that if I dragged you home you'd sneak out in the middle of the night to watch over her. We're taking her home. You can fret over her there." As Stoick bent to lift the girl he added in a loud whisper, "You don't really think I want her to wake up here, do you?"
Hiccup grinned. "Thanks, Dad."
They set the girl on a low couch in front of the fire. It was lined with fur rugs and piled with blankets, a cosy nest; there was water nearby and an empty bucket, in case she suddenly took a turn for the worse.
Hiccup settled himself at the table, his sketchbook open in front of him and charcoal at hand. On the page before him there were designs to perfect, problems to solve, if only he could focus on them. But his attention kept wandering away to the figure on the couch until it was pointless to even pretend he was doing work.
His father paused at the foot of the stairs. "Good night, son."
Ruff and/or Tuff would snigger and call him a stalker if they could see him staring across the room, watching the steady rise and fall of her breathing. Worse, he'd be unable to explain, to them or anyone else, why he was so concerned. It wasn't as if the girl meant anything to them; she wasn't important or special or even one of them. She was just...a mystery. Alone. A lost creature.
All the things he couldn't resist.