Astrid never came back for her things, but she left a note on Hiccup's door, telling him to just give Merida the clothes, and burn whatever he didn't want to keep. As the days went on, Merida and her family were getting used to Berk.
The days turned to weeks, and suddenly a month had passed with no word, or search ships from Dun'broch. Every night, Merida would sit on the dock, looking out over the rolling waves as the sun set on the horizon. After it disappeared, she'd make her way through the town to the arena and take a sword, or bow and arrow, and train until she couldn't move her body anymore. She'd take an hour or so to let her body rest before she made her way back to Hiccup's house. She thought that no one knew about any of it, but one night Hiccup was out on a late night patrol with Toothless when they spotted her, fiery hair licking her face as it glowed in the dim torchlight of the arena. They landed behind the doors and watched as Merida tired herself out, yelling and screaming. Some nights she would collapse, others she would fall to her knees, body trembling as sobs overtook her body.
Tonight was one of the body trembling nights. Hiccup watched Merida, and his heart clenched. He couldn't just watch her anymore. Silently and quickly, Hiccup made his way to Merida. He sat on his knees and pulled her to his chest as he ran a comforting hand along her back.
Merida was never one for touchy, sappy contact like this, but, in this moment, she didn't care. She threw her arms around Hiccup's waist and cried into his chest. She gripped the leather of his riding uniform tight as the tears fell down her cheeks. She buried her face in his shoulder and screamed. She beat against his chest, crying.
"Why? Why, why why?" She repeated, over and over. Hiccup sat there silent, tracing reassuring circles on her back.
When Merida was finished, she looked up into his sparkling eyes. She wiped her nose and sniffed.
"Thank yew." Merida said, a blush creeping up her cheeks.
"It's not a problem." Hiccup smiled down at her.
"You don't have to explain anything. I get it." Hiccup said softly as he pulled her to her feet. Merida gave him a soft smile.
"Would you like a ride back home?"
"Aye." Merida said, finding her fur boots to be particularly interesting tonight. Hiccup nodded and walked with her to Toothless. They dropped her off and continued their patrol. When they got home, Merida was asleep on the couch. Hiccup smiled and grabbed a blanket, draping it across her and making sure the fire was high enough to last the rest of the night.
The next morning Merida woke up sore and tired. She padded into her room and sighed. She stripped off her clothes and wrapped herself in a towel and made her way to the bathroom. She ran the hot water from the reserve outside and filled the tub. Curls of steam floated into the air and Merida slipped beneath the surface, sighing in contentment. Her head disappeared under the water and popped back up a minute later, her curls straight. She wiped the water from her eyes and began to clean herself. Merida rinsed herself off and wrapped the towel back around herself. She opened the door and ran face first into a hard chest. She looked up, mortified, into the emerald eyes she'd become accustomed to.
"H-Hiccup!" Merida squeaked, pulling her towel closer to her chest.
"Oh!" Hiccup said, covering his eyes. "I'll just, yeah, I'll-" he said, backing up and bumping into a chair. Merida scurried to her room and when she slammed the door Hiccup removed his hands. He let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and went into the bathroom, clothes in hand.
Merida sat on her bed panting. Her heart was racing a million miles an hour. Over the past month, her and Hiccup had been spending more, and more time together. They had shared all of their stories and trials. They had been getting closer, and she couldn't help but feel a strange twitch in her chest whenever he smiled, or feel a jolt when he touched her. When she saw him shirtless the other morning, her stomach filled with butterflies, and her heart leapt to her throat. She knew what the feelings were, but she couldn't, could not, like Hiccup. Could she?
Merida let out a deep sigh and stood up, pulling on her underwear and strapping on her bra. She rummaged through the closet and pulled out a pair of cream arm warmers, a teal, high collared, tank top, and a brown wrap. She tied the wrap tight around her body, over one shoulder and around her waist, and held it together with a leather belt with a small sliver pendant. She slipped on a pair of tight, black, leather pants and knee-high grey boots. She tied the mass of curls into a braid that hung down her back. She grabbed a headband and put it on, like she would her tiara, and left the room.
Hiccup exited the bathroom, wearing his normal riding outfit. Merida smiled at him shyly before throwing a bowl of oatmeal on the coals. Hiccup sat at the table behind her.
"Dae yah want one?"
"Yeah, thanks." Hiccup said as Merida put another bowl on the coals. She sat down across from him, her face determined.
"How long would et take ta get ta Dun'broch from here?"
"About, five hours, give or take, why?"
"A need ta find out what happened ta mah family." Merida slammed her fists against the table, her blue eyes hard with determination.
"I can understand that."
"Will yah help me Hiccup?
"Yes, I-" Three pairs of feet carried the boys to the table.
"If yer going home, we're goin' with yew!" Hamish said, hands on his hips.
"No, yer not." Merida stood on her knees and looked at her brothers. They had grown quite a bit over the month that they'd been there, and they were getting stronger. But there's no training in the world that would prepare them for what Merida had to see, and she didn't want them to go through it.
"But Mer! We want to go! Et's not fair that you're going, and we have to stay here!" Hubert spoke up.
"And, where would we stay?" Harris added, a small victory smirk spread across his face when Merida didn't have an answer.
"I have just the person to look after you boys." Hiccup said, a mischievous smile spread across his face.
"Thanks mom, it's really appreciated." Valka smiled and waved her hand.
"S'no trouble dear. A'll be glad ta watch these wee angels for you." The word angels drew a snort from Merida, who got a jab in the ribs from Hiccup.
"Now, be good for Val. A'll be back tonight." Merida hugged each of her brothers and gave them each a kiss on the forehead.
"We should be back before dinner, but if the weather takes a turn for the worse we'll be staying the night. I love you mom."
"A love yew too Hiccup. Now, off yah go!" Val waved the two off, who were mounting Toothless. She smiled and waved at the duo as the darted into the sky. Val turned to the triplets.
"Now, what trouble can we cause?"
Three hours had passed, and Merida was beginning to get restless.
"How much longer, Hiccup?"
"About two more hours." Merida groaned and Hiccup leaned down to Toothless.
"Let's take a rest, what do yah say bud?" Toothless groaned in agreement as he landed them on the shore of a small island. Toothless instantly took off, looking for whatever he could play with and Hiccup and Merida were left to fend for themselves.
"Well, that's just great. Thanks bud, means a lot! Great to know I'm replacable with a butterfly!" Hiccup yelled after the playful dragon. Merida smiled behind her hand and sniggered. She walked to the edge of the trees and snapped a limb off of one of the trees. She looked at Hiccup expectantly, and when he didn't get the hint she walked to him, pressed a button on his suit, and snatched the spike from his foot. Hiccup then fell onto his bottom and looked at her like she was crazy.
"What? A'm makin' a spear. A'm hungry." Merida finished widdling the end of the spear and then untied her brown wrap. She wrapped it around her waist and used the belt to keep her makeshift skirt in place. She took off her arm warmers, pants, and her boots and went out, about knee deep, into the ocean.
Hiccup watched as Merida stood still as a statue as she waited for the perfect moment to strike, and about five minutes of waiting, like a crane, Merida struck with precision. She took the fish off the spear and waiting another five minutes before collecting another, and five more minutes before she got a third. She made her way out of the waters, fish and hand and broke down the wood some more to make a fire.
Soon the fish was cooked, and Toothless was back. Merida shook her head and threw him the fish, which he greedily ate. Merida and Hiccup ate their fish in silence before Merida put her clothes back on. The two of them climbed back on Toothless and were on their way.
The two hours that passed didn't seem that long, and Merida closed her eyes as she breathed in the thick, Scotland air. It smelled like rain, and earth, and dirt, but most of all, it smelled like home.
"Where's the castle?" Hiccup asked as they flew above the forest. Merida spotted the clearing with the stones and nodded.
"North from here. The castle will be about two minutes distance from here." Hiccup nodded and pulled Toothless in the direction.
A clearing was visible from the sky, where the forest had been cleared for the town and castle. But when they got closer, the once proud, dominate castle was not in view. What met Merida's eyes was hell. The great stone walls, once tall and strong, were now reduced to rubble. The tall towers were knocked to the ground, pebbles among the dirt. Tapestries were unraveled, and blood stained the scorched ground.
Toothless landed and Merida flew off his back. She ran as fast as she could and she traced her hands over the stone. Scars were dug into the walls, and soot coated them in layers. Merida walked through what was left of the doorway and into the place where the main entrance room would have been, memories flooding her mind.
'A tiny Merida ran through the halls and into the main entrance room, her mother hot on her trail. Merida ducked behind a ceramic pot, giggles erupting from her small frame. Elinor scanned the room and smiled, the small blue pot looked mighty strange with those ginger locks sticking up at all angles. Elinor quietly tiptoed toward the pot, spinning around as she pretended to search for the princess.
"Now, where'd Merida go?" More giggles from behind the pot. Elinor smiled and went to the tapestry. "Is she," She grabbed the tapestry and moved it, "behind here? No…" She smiled and ran to the pot.
"Oh! A found mah princess!" Merida erupted in laughter when Elinor blew raspberries on her cheeks. Fergus burst through the door and Merida wriggled her way out of her mother's grasp.
"Daddy!" Fergus grinned and hoisted the small girl onto his shoulders.
"Princess! A brought yah something." Fergus smiled at Elinor, who gave him 'the look', but Fergus was oblivious.
"What'd yah get me?" Merida said as she bounced on her father's shoulders. Fergus set her down in front of him.
"Okay, close yer eyes, an' no peeking!" Merida covered her eyes with her hands, giggling. Fergus went outside and came back in. He set it in front of Merida.
"Okay, open em!" There, standing on wobbly legs, was a Clydesdale foul. Merida gasped and ran to the small horse.
"A love him!" Merida said, burying her face into his fur. "A'm gonna' take care of him, and feed him, and water him, and brush him!"
"And when he gets bigger, yah can ride 'im!" Merida's eyes grew and she turned to her mother. Elinor sighed and bent down to the foul, lightly scratching behind his ears.
"He is cute." Merida grinned and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"A'm gonna' call yah Angus! Come on, Angus! A'll show yah my room!"
"Merida, no!" '
Merida made her way into the throne room and great hall. Many memories came to her but the strongest was,
' "Merida! Put that bow down! Et's time for yer lesson!"
"Princesses do not whine Merida." Elinor scolded. Merida groaned and threw her bow. "Princesses do not throw things either!"
Merida trying to walk the distance of the room with a book on her head, Merida reading countless books, sewing countless tapestries. Merida learning how to drink tea, and set plates, and host parties. '
Merida stopped when her feet met resistance and she looked down. Her eyes widened, and she let out a blood curdling scream. Hiccup came rushing in to her. He grabbed her and buried her face into his chest. On the floor was a charred body of a small, stout man. Tufts of white hair were barely sticking to his scalp, and his skin was peeled away, or covered in blisters. Maggots had already gotten to the bodies, and so had the flies and other insects. It took all Hiccup had not to vomit.
"Is ey mah da'?"
"Was your dad short?" Merida shook her head. "Then no." They stayed like that for a while before Merida pushed off of Hiccup.
"Yeah." Merida breathed out. She made her way slowly over debris, and around charred bodies. Then she found him. His large body was lifeless, and untouched. A large slash across his chest was the only marring feature. Merida fell to her knees.
"No. No. NO!" Hiccup made his way to her, and for the second time in twenty four hours, pulled her into his chest to cry. Hiccup led Merida out of the castle and let her calm down. About ten minutes later she was done.
"Where do you want his grave?" Merida sniffed and looked to the large hill that once overlooked the village.
"Up there." Hiccup nodded and left Merida alone as he and Toothless went to dig the grave, and put Fergus in it. After he was done Merida walked to him. Clouds rolled in the sky, and thunder rumbled from above.
"Valhalla has welcomed a new man." Hiccup said quietly. Merida remained silent, staring at the small, makeshift, cross that marked the grave. The rain came down, pelting the two, but Merida remained still. Hiccup went to move, get out of the rain, when Merida grabbed his hand. She didn't look up, she didn't say a word, but Hiccup understood. He stayed there with her, fingers entwined, as they both looked at the grave. He looked at Merida, and couldn't tell if it was rain rolling down her cheeks, or tears dripping like liquid diamonds to the ground.
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