Most people forgot that Hiccup did not have a mother.
Of course, it was easy to remember that Stoick's wife was dead. Everyone knew that Hiccup was the chief's only son (a fact that many Berkians resented), and having put two and two together, it was obvious that the two males lived alone. It was harder, however, to remember what that actually meant.
Normally, if the mother of a household died, she would have daughters who could take over for her, or else her husband would remarry. But Hiccup was an only child, and Stoick had never remarried. Both of these facts were oddities in and of themselves - in a society where big families were the norm and remarriages were often born of necessity, the chief's household broke all of the rules. There was no mistress of the Haddock house. On Berk, this was peculiar indeed.
Hiccup was completely oblivious to how odd his family was in this way. He knew that he was different by nature of being Hiccup, but it never crossed his thirteen-year-old mind that his family was so different. He never realized that because he was the son of the chief, because he was an only child, because his mother was dead and he had no siblings and his father never remarried, his household was one of the most unconventional households on Berk.
However, in Hiccup's defense, most of Berk had grown aloof to the weirdness of it all. No one had ever actually had to think it through, how these facts all added together to create a very unconventional reality for the Chief's house. No one, that is, except for Stoick himself. Hiccup had grown up in the oddness. It was all he'd ever known, he never batted an eyelid. But Stoick knew how different his house truly was. Because Stoick was chief, he and his son had the biggest house on the island. It had multiple rooms and luxuries and privacies that no one else on the island would ever know. However, this had been true of the chief's house for generations. The one integral fact that separated Stoick's house from all former convention was, when said, rather simple: there was not a woman in the house.
Viking women were not merely strong. They were skilled in ways that the men would never have to think about until their women left them. They cooked, they cleaned, they managed and ordered and healed and cared for, and taught each other how to do all of this from the cradle. Of course, with not a single female to its name, the Haddock household had always lacked a woman's touch. But as chief, as the leading example of the tribe, Stoick had to make sure his household was just as well-run as any. To this end, the feminine jobs of the house had always fallen on Hiccup's shoulders. From the day he was first able, Hiccup adopted the womanly chores and responsibilities of the house in place of the mother he did not have.
Hiccup's peers might've been surprised to hear that he didn't actually mind doing the 'woman's work'. He'd been raised into it, so he knew no different, and he didn't think it was odd, so he never complained. He did not know that sons did not normally do the laundry on washing day, he did not realize that it was a woman's job to clean the dishes and make sure the cooking fire was hot enough at mealtimes. He had no mother and no sisters, so he'd never been taught that cooking could mean more than sticking a fish on a spit and roasting it until it was safe to eat. His grandmother Gothi had taught him how to treat fevers, cuts, bruises and ailments when he was still very young, but she hadn't told him that he was the only boy she'd ever taught. Hiccup would not realize it for many years, but so long as he was inside the four walls of his house, his actions were that of a boy and a girl at once. He had become the family's matron, because his mother was dead, and had left him no sisters.
He didn't mind, really. It was all he knew, and what he did in his own house was his own business. None of his peers would notice, much less point out his bizarre domesticity to him until he was a teenager. When he was thirteen, a dragon raid (big surprise) brought down a large number of houses in the village. Most of the evicted Viking families would stay in the Mead Hall until repairs could be made, but one family's house had only been half-burned; it was still livable, but there was no longer enough room for the entire family. So, leaving the mother and the younger siblings to their own house and what comforts it'd kept safe from the fire, the father and his eldest became the personal guests of the chief for the time being.
When Stoick told his son who would be staying with him, Hiccup had choked on his breakfast and turned very, very red. Sven Hofferson and his daughter, Astrid.
Now, at this point in his young life, Hiccup had just reached the age where it was socially acceptable for boys to start expressing interest in their female peers. However, because Hiccup was the walking definition of not socially acceptable, it was imperative to a life-and-death degree that he never let anyone know about his completely uncontrollable crush on Astrid I'll-Kick-You-In-The-Teeth-If-You-Look-At-Me-Wrong Hofferson.
But now she was going to be living in his house for gods knew how long, and things would surely get worse than ever. So, in an attempt to distract himself and pretend that Astrid Hofferson did not exist, Hiccup stayed out of the way and devoted himself to his chores.
Stoick and Sven had left very early in the morning, along with every other able-bodied Viking in Berk, to begin repairs on the burned houses. Were she a year or two older, Astrid would've been allowed to help, but she was still in the stage of life where she was useless at heavy lifting, and would have only been in the way on a busy building site. Hiccup, of course, was resigned that he'd never be able to help with anything, because no sane person on the isle of Berk would ever want Hiccup's brand of 'help'. So, the two remained at the chief's house for the day, Astrid sulking, Hiccup trying very hard not to panic.
Hiccup walked on eggshells everywhere he went, trying to forget Astrid and trying not to sweat whenever she glared at the back of his neck. She didn't say a single word for hours, which he was fine with. He had actually successfully forgotten that Astrid was there for a full fifteen seconds before she asked him,
"What are you doing?"
Hiccup jumped and splashed water on himself in the process. He flicked the soap back into the washing tub and looked back at her, confused. "Um," he swallowed, knowing he was red in the face. "Washing the dishes?"
Astrid frowned, looked at the dishes in the tub, and back up at Hiccup. "Why?"
Hiccup frowned at her disgusted tone. "Because they're dirty."
"But that's a girl's job," And despite the fact that she was, in fact, a girl, Astrid sounded disgusted.
Hiccup blinked at her, because this sounded absurd to him. One would think that, over the years, he would have noticed, that someone would have told him that certain jobs were meant for menfolk, and certain jobs were meant for womenfolk. However, by some fluke or by Hiccup's own distractibility, he'd lived thirteen years without realizing the basic societal structures that defined Viking gender roles. And so, Hiccup blinked once because he was confused, twice because he was embarrassed, and thrice because Astrid's disgust made him just a touch angry.
"Um," he frowned a bit deeper, "No, it's a someone-who-doesn't-want-eat-off-of-dirty-plates' job."
Astrid looked at him, flustered and flecked with water as he was, and ticked an eyebrow. "…Right," she said, and turned away. He watched her for a moment, and went back to work.
From a seat around the hearth, Astrid studied Hiccup. He went about his chores like a pro; like her mother or any other woman she knew. Rinse, scrub, rinse, scrub, rinse, dry, stack. He hardly had to look as he worked.
"Why do you use your left hand?" Astrid asked. Truth be told, at this odd stage between girl and woman, Astrid's tone could become incredibly patronizing. Hiccup picked up on it, and was beginning to grow annoyed. He looked at her over his shoulder as he set down a stack of bowls.
"I don't know. It's a hand. I need hands to work. I use my hands."
"But why your left one?"
"I don't know! I'm better with my left hand."
Hiccup rolled his eyes and put the dishes away. "Thank you for summing that up."
Watching Hiccup try to lift the bucket of dirty water up and out of the house was almost comical. Astrid would have been able to lift it with one hand, but Hiccup had to strain both of his arms to their furthest extent just to lift it off the floor, and Astrid thought it looked like his back was about to crack in half. After the long journey to the door and back, he returned with the empty bucket. He still had to use both hands.
Astrid watched him while she pretended to study her grammar book as Hiccup picked up a broom and began sweeping. She frowned further. What on earth was wrong with this kid? Sweeping? Washing dishes? She was confused and almost insulted – it was clear he'd never been taught how to do any of the chores properly. Astrid held her tongue on the matter until he began making lunch. Or, rather, until he skewered a fish on a stick and stuck it over a fire that was too hot. Astrid slammed her book shut, and Hiccup jumped like he'd awoken a bear.
"What are you doing?" She demanded. He shrunk, eyes wide, and mustered out: "Uhhh… lunch?" he pointed vaguely at the trout. She glanced at it.
"You'll burn it. Fire's too hot."
"O-oh. I-um… well, I always do it like this, so…" Hiccup glanced at the floor, playing with his hands nervously.
"Always?" She asked, perplexed, "What, you always cook? What is wrong with you? You don't even know how to cook, or sweep right, you can hardly lift a washing tub, why do you even bother? Just let it be and leave it to your m-" but as soon as the word appeared on her tongue, Astrid cut herself off sharply in realization. Hiccup did not realize what she'd almost said. Astrid, however, was mortified.
Leave it to your mother. Oh, Odin, just let the earth swallow her.
She almost wanted to smack herself for her stupidity. Of course he had to do the chores, he had no mother or sisters. And of course he wouldn't know how to do any of it right, there had been no one to teach him. Astrid was lucky enough to have both of her parents, and had always had her mother to show her how to run a household and keep things tidy. Her brothers and father, of course, never had to worry about it, and whenever they tried to help, they made things worse. Hiccup, she now realized, did not have her brothers' luxury.
Astrid bit her lip and her expression softened, almost guiltily. Hiccup was watching her with wide, terrified eyes still, oblivious to her inner revelation nor her sudden guilt. She sighed. "I… I'm sorry," She said, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Here, um… let me help you."
They were words that Hiccup had never expected to hear from Astrid Hofferson, and his jaw was nearly to the ground as she got up and went over to the fireside with him. She helped him prepare lunch, and then they re-swept the floors, and mopped them, too. (She fetched the washing water so he wouldn't have to). Hiccup was hardly a help at any of this; not for lack of skill, but he was rendered completely red-faced and useless whenever Astrid came up beside him to explain something or show him how to do something. Once, she'd reached around him and grabbed his hand when he'd been about to burn himself. The contact only lasted half a second, but he'd nearly choked on his own tongue.
As they ate their food (which was more tender and delicious than whenever Hiccup tried to cook it), Astrid gave him tips on spices and stews and actual meals rather than just burnt fish, and Hiccup did his best to listen attentively. In the two weeks or so that Astrid and her father stayed at the Haddock house, Astrid helped Hiccup learn all of the finesse and skills that he'd never properly learned, that normally, he wouldn't have to. Of course, in his ignorance of how a house would normally work, Hiccup did not fully understand why Astrid felt so obligated to impart her knowledge to him, but he was incredibly grateful. Unfortunately, he would mull over this phenomenon for weeks afterward and wonder if she, by some miracle of the gods, liked him. Then, after a dragon raid where he ruined everything (again), she'd smack him with the butt of her axe and yell at him, and his perception of reality would go back to normal. Still, he now knew of a new side of Astrid that, for better or worse, made his crush all the harder to kill: she could be incredibly kind to him, if she wanted to be.
In the years to come, Hiccup's not-secret of being the Haddock family matron got out. Hiccup himself was incredibly confused at first, because he didn't see what the big deal was. But, as the surprised expressions appeared, as the sniggering started amongst the men and boys, the embarrassment came full-force. Many of the women in the village seemed sympathetic, because they'd always wondered, and oh, yes, that made sense. Stoick only sighed, and Gobber shrugged it off. But the boys of the village (and some of the girls) made Hiccup's life hel because of it. They teased, they poked fun, they sung stupid songs and made Hiccup more unwelcome as usual. Snotlout even made Hiccup a bright, floral pink apron.
Hiccup grew to resent his chores, and that his father had never bothered to mention that it wasn't normal. He would grow red-faced with embarrassment whenever he washed the laundry, or cooked the meals. Stoick did actually apologize once, but Hiccup brushed it off. He couldn't just give up the chores, or else, they wouldn't get done. But he was bitter.
But then, once the worst of the teasing wore off, once life was (relatively) normal again, Hiccup remembered the grace and understanding with which Astrid had helped him improve. How she'd showed him how to sweep and mop without a hint of judgment, how she was so open and helpful in teaching him how to cook. Astrid was the most beautiful, accomplished, fierce, and all-around amazing person that Hiccup had ever met in his life. If she never teased him about doing womens' work, if all of these chores were as important and artful as she made them seem when she showed him, then surely, cooking and washing were some of the most noble of his daily duties. He himself take heart in the memory (even when she yelled at him along with everyone else), and decided he would try to be as good as Astrid had showed him to be.
Ten years later…
"You still use your left hand," Astrid said, appearing behind him. Hiccup jumped, and spilled soapy water on himself. He resumed scrubbing.
"Of course I do, I'm left handed."
"Mmmhmm," Astrid said, idly scratching his back and playing with the tips of his hair. He stopped scrubbing. "Oi, back to work, Haddock."
"You're distracting me," he said, putting down his brush and wiping his hands on an old, bizarre pink apron.
"Men," Astrid huffed overdramatically, "utterly useless."
"Well, I did learn from the best," He turned and flashed her his most winning grin. She smacked him on the arm, and he flicked soap bubbles at her. She shrieked and smacked him again. He grabbed both of her hands to stop her from hitting him. "I did learn from the best," he told her, more seriously. She smiled smugly at him.
"Damn right you did."
"Humble," he remarked, and leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead. She came up beside him and helped him finish the dishes. Working on either side of the bucket so their respective left and right hands didn't bump into each other, the duo worked well and the task went by quickly. After it was all dried and stacked away, he carried the tub out and dumped the water (he could carry with one hand, now). When he returned, Astrid was at the fire, preparing fish, potatoes, and veggies. As soon as she touched the large iron pot, Hiccup darted to her side.
"No, no, no, and no, don't even think about it," he said with authority, removing her hands from the iron handle.
She rolled her eyes. "You're such a baby," she griped at him.
"No, that's a baby," he said, poking her very pregnant belly, "one who is depending on you to not crack your back in half. For now, this is all my job," he said, grabbing hold of the pot handle. She sighed.
Of course, Hiccup took far longer about heaving the pot up onto the crane than Astrid ever did, and groaned about it so that his wife rolled her eyes twice more in the space of one minute. But in the end, it was his consideration that counted. After he'd set the stew to cook, he sat down with his wife and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"You know," she mused, inhaling the pleasant aromas wafting from the fire, rubbing her feet gratefully against their well-kept floors, looking over across their organized, well-aired house. She turned her head to peer up at him like an old teacher to her pupil. "I think I may have taught the best," she said. He looked genuinely surprised for a moment, but then he turned his head and gave a dimpled smile. After an eyebrow tick and a sniff, he very smugly said,
"Damn right you did."
She laughed out of surprise and punched him. Then, as per tradition, she kissed him.