Toothless woke me up with a low rumble, licking me in the face. I slowly returned to consciousness to find Astrid still asleep at the table with her face buried in her arms. Stormfly was four feet away from her, breathing rhythmically.
"Mm. All right, bud," I whispered. Toothless nuzzled against the side of my face, asking for attention. He pulled back and looked at me with his deep yellow-green eyes. This time though, I didn't feel that connection between us. There was something else in his gaze. Like he was worried.
"Is the sun up yet?" I whispered to no one in particular, getting up and walking toward the door. Toothless followed me, nearly colliding with my feet from being so close. I quietly opened the door and saw some dancing shadows from fire light around the plaza. The sky was completely dark; not even starlight reached my eyes. Cloudy, possibly with some more rain coming. I shut the door quietly to keep Astrid and Stormfly from waking and walked back to the hearth. Toothless followed every step of the way.
"What are you so worried about?" I asked. Sat down on the floor and looked at him. He pushed his snout gently into my left shoulder. Toothless was being too persistent to just ask for my attention. If that were the case, I could ignore him for a few minutes and he'd get the message. But now was totally different. Toothless was begging to stay close. Something was definitely getting to him, and it was apparently up to me to protect him.
"It's okay, bud," I said to him. Stroked across his right cheek. He lay down with a short huff and put his head in my lap, looking up at me. I continued petting him, just hoping he'd calm down within the near future. I was exhausted from being stranded and having all of those arguments with Mildew. But when Toothless was worried, he made sure to let me know about it.
I had never seen Toothless this preoccupied. Granted, he had only been a part of my life for about a year. But he never calmed down, never relaxed, no matter how much attention and comfort I could give him. I was afraid he'd suddenly lash out at something or someone just for startling him. Or he'd panic and end up hurting himself like however many nights ago that ball of lightning happened.
I continued stroking his head and neck, but I didn't say anything to him. I had run out of things to say. Not to mention I was tired. I made occasional eye contact with Toothless to let him know I was paying attention to him.
A low rumble from outside told me another storm was headed our way. Just for once, I hoped we'd get lucky and have mostly rain. I doubted it though, thanks to the statue and perches that weren't just going to disappear on their own. I sighed a little, trying to keep Toothless from feeling my irritation. I didn't care how we were going to do it, but I wanted the statue and perches out of Berk by tomorrow's end. So that Mildew wouldn't have any more reason to complain…
Mildew. Toothless must have been worried about him. And rightfully so; Mildew had made several attempts to either get rid of him or kill him. Luckily, he was going to be crippled for a while. Which wasn't too far removed from his normal state. I chuckled on the inside, imagining the pain and suffering he was having to go through now. It felt so good to think about it too.
Toothless brushed his snout against my chest again. I had stopped giving him my undivided attention. "I'm about to fall asleep, buddy," I whispered to him. "What are you gonna do then?" I tried to sound a little playful, hopefully easing Toothless’ state of mind.
A light patter started outside, which was normal for a storm around Berk. I simply continued petting Toothless. I wasn't going anywhere, especially now that Mildew was seemingly bedridden. I had a strong hunch that his followers weren't going to be so eager in their quest to find and kill a Night Fury anymore.
As the patter of the rain intensified, I hugged Toothless lightly and whispered, "We're gonna be fine, bud. I'm gonna protect you." And slowly fell asleep holding onto him.
I awoke again to Toothless licking my face. I didn't mind it at all. He had other, more…drastic…ways to wake me up, and I was thankful he didn't use them.
"All right, all right! I'm awake!" I said to him. Sat up with my hips creaking from soreness and blearily opened my eyes. The air around me smelled a little bit like fish that had been sitting in the open for a little too long, thanks to Toothless. He pulled back a little and stared at me like he did in the middle of the night. He was still worried.
I looked around my house, noticing Astrid and Stormfly were gone. If they had already left, morning had to be somewhere near Berk. I stood up slowly and shuffled to the door, Toothless just behind my feet. I wasn't going to apologize to him if my heel or peg collided with his chin. Well, maybe I'd feel a little sorry. He was my dragon after all.
I pulled the door open to find the village bathed in morning light. It was just barely starting to lose the characteristic orange color the sunrise typically has. A few clouds were peppering the sky, but none of them looked like rain clouds. Thank goodness. Thinking back to last night, I only heard a distant thunderclap or two. The storm was mostly rain because there was a moist sheen of water on the ground. Somehow, I felt validated. I knew it was pure coincidence, but Toothless and me arriving back home last night seemed to have an effect on the weather.
As I looked around, I saw a girl running my way. It was Astrid coming from the plaza. She sprinted up the hill. When she was about twenty feet away, Toothless hunched and began growling at her. Immediately, Astrid stopped and looked at him. She began walking slowly to me and asked, "What's gotten into him?"
"I think he's still worried about Mildew," I said, glancing at Toothless. "He probably feels the entire world is out to get him." I put my hand on the back of Toothless’ neck. His skin was mostly healed now. It didn't feel like it was going to shred to ribbons if I touched it.
Toothless slowly took his eyes off Astrid and turned in my direction, glaring defiantly at me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Astrid walk cautiously toward Toothless. He must have seen her too because he tensed and began growling again.
"Would you stop!?" I asked him.
Astrid didn't give him a choice anyway. She stopped maybe a foot in front of his snout and held her hand in front of his face. He sniffed at it for a couple of seconds and held still, continuing to hold eye contact with Astrid. She slowly moved her hand to his chin and scratched gently. Toothless’ eyes lost focus. And I started breathing again.
"I think he'll be fine," Astrid noted. "Stormfly does this sometimes."
"I'm just afraid he's gonna attack someone soon. Wouldn't that be ironic…" I mumbled under my breath.
"C'mon, let's eat breakfast before we start your plan with the statue," Astrid said, totally ignoring my concern about Toothless hurting someone.
I rolled my eyes as she turned toward the great hall, but didn't object. I was hungry, and Toothless was probably starving. "C'mon, buddy," I said to him. I turned assertively toward the great hall and began walking. After about two seconds, Toothless grunted and loped toward me. This time, though, he stayed by my left side. I put my hand on his back as we walked toward the great hall. I knew Toothless and I should have been afraid of what might be on the other side of the doors after what happened recently, but I also knew I couldn't show that fear. Toothless would pick up on it immediately and go into a defensive state of mind, trying to protect me.
Astrid reached the double doors first and opened them. She walked inside, me and Toothless not long after her. As we entered, I lost every bit of self-control I had and tensed. My breath caught because I just knew someone was going to attack Toothless. And I knew Toothless could sense my anxiety.
Predictably, Toothless stopped three-quarters of the way through the door. His tail was still outside, bathed in sunlight. And I knew exactly what he was telling me. I shouldn't go any further, lest I get injured. He was trying to protect me without hurting anyone. Or more accurately, he was trying to protect me from any future injury by getting me away from here.
I glanced around, noticing people were looking at me and Toothless, wondering about our odd behavior. Great, I thought. Why can't I just act like nothing's wrong?
"Hiccup?" Astrid asked, turning around.
I took a deep breath, trying desperately to keep from showing everyone. Turned and looked at Toothless. He had a concerned expression behind his eyes. Without saying a word, I turned again, facing Astrid and began walking forward. Toothless stayed in his spot, trying to tell me I shouldn't have been in the great hall.
Astrid and I were maybe halfway between the entrance and back of the hall when Toothless grunted and sprinted past us. He stopped at a table ten feet in front of me and turned around with an excited look in his eyes. I realized he had noticed there was an unopened basket where he stopped. And he saw it all the way from the entrance. And somehow he knew it was for him.
"Told ya he'd be fine," Astrid said smugly. She must have planted it there earlier.
I didn't have any good replies, so I kept my mouth shut and walked over to Toothless. He was wriggling in excitement about the prospect of food and hopefully a return to normal life. Well, as normal as you can get when dragons are part of your life.
I flipped the lid open and Toothless stuck his head into the basket. He grunted eagerly, and pulled out a fish with his mouth. Looked at me as he swallowed it whole. And returned to the basket, resuming his meal in peace. Just like normal.
I sat down to find a salmon in front of me. Astrid was on my right side. But before eating, I glanced around the great hall. Noticed people were generally getting on with their lives. Some were still glaring at me and Toothless, but most of them didn't seem to care about the Night Fury nearby. I looked at Astrid, took a deep breath and said, "Thanks for all your help. Toothless and I wouldn't be here without you."
"That's why we're here, right?" she said. "To pick each other up." She paused before wrapping her left arm around me.
I sat there, the salmon in front of me growing colder by the second, and I didn't care. Both Astrid and Toothless had this…this magic that made me forget about any problems I had. Maybe that's why I wanted to be around them.
"HEY, ASTRID!" a voice echoed throughout the great hall. I winced slightly, knowing Snotlout could have been heard all the way to Dragon Island. "WHATCHA DOIN'!?" Astrid rolled her eyes with a quiet groan.
I had mostly gotten over the childish embarrassment I had when Astrid and I were inching too close to each other. Today, I didn't care one bit about Snotlout. Unfortunately, he did a great job of getting everybody's attention focused on us.
I broke off from our hug and looked at Snotlout, who was probably thirty feet away from us. No wonder he had to yell. Responding from here would have been exactly what he wanted. So I stayed mute, not giving anything away with my expression.
The great hall had gone deathly quiet. Even Toothless was focusing on Snotlout, ready to attack him.
Snotlout glanced around the great hall, finally noticing everyone was riveted to him. "Wh-what? Why is everyone staring at me?"
"If you're gonna scream at the top of your lungs, then do it outside!" Gobber shouted to him. He pushed Snotlout toward the double doors, Snotlout protesting the entire way. They left the great hall, and people slowly resumed their activities before Snotlout interrupted them.
"Good riddance," I mumbled. And started eating. The magic of that moment before Snotlout barged in was gone. I wished it wasn't so fleeting and spontaneous. But maybe that's why we called it "magic."
I finished my salmon with Toothless impatiently waiting on me. Took the dish to the back of the hall to be cleaned. Returned and found Toothless staring intently in my direction, probably itching for a flight. I wasn't going to tease him about it, not when I had to make a new saddle, stirrup, connecting rods and tail fin. This was going to be a long day. Especially because Toothless didn't understand everything had been destroyed by the lightning bolt we took a few days ago.
Astrid and I exited the great hall side-by-side with Toothless in tow. He grunted almost every step of the way, nudging my left hand several times with his snout.
"Okay, what is it, bud?" I asked him. Turned around and saw that I-want-something look behind his eyes. Definitely a flight. I had no idea how to quell his desire to get airborne. Toothless just didn't understand that making a saddle among other pieces of equipment took a lot of time.
Astrid inferred what Toothless was after and said, "I think he wants-"
"Don't say it," I interrupted. "He'll throw a fit once he finds out he can't." Astrid looked at me with a confused face, then realized I was being serious. "Somehow, I've got to keep him occupied for the day while I remake his saddle and tail fin." I sighed and plodded my way to the forge. Toothless followed me in and lay down near my study. Maybe keeping him occupied was going to be easier than I thought.
"I'll help you keep an eye on him," Astrid said as I walked toward my study.
"Thanks," I said. She left and joined a small crowd of Vikings surrounding my dad. He looked like he was giving instructions to the group.
"Glad you could join us, Hiccup," Gobber said to me from near the vista. "You're just on time to help us turn the perches back into scrap iron."
"One moment," I said. I ducked into my study and rummaged around the sheets of parchment I had strewn about. I found the saddle and tail fin sketches quickly. Near the bottom of a stack of designs was the connecting rods sketch. And tacked to the wall was the stirrup. I was ready.
I exited my study and faced Gobber. "Can I please do something else? Toothless needs a new saddle and tail fin." I held up the designs I had scribbled onto the parchment sheets as if they would help Gobber understand.
He stared at me for a few seconds, then said in resignation, "Okay. But once you get Toothless ready, you're recruiting your own help for moving the statue."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Got it. Thanks." And without further delay, I started gathering the scrap iron and leather for the tail fin.
It was different working around other people coming and going from the forge. Normally, I could go wherever I pleased, and do whatever I wanted. When I needed iron melted or heated, I never had to wait. Gobber and I were the only people in Berk allowed to use the entire forge. But today, there were several times I had to wait my turn for heating iron. Or wait my turn to use the anvil. Because Gobber and several other Vikings were either cutting iron or melting small pieces back into scrap metal. Somehow, I never complained, but I realized just how impatient I was when working in the forge. I was completely used to making things now. Not waiting to make them later.
Throughout the day, I kept an eye on Toothless, making sure he didn't become destructive or obnoxious out of boredom. He simply kept his eyes shut, and his head on his paws, generally ignoring people around him. For a moment, I wondered how in the world he knew to keep calm in the forge.
Every so often, I walked up to him and gently stroked his head. And every time was the same. He groaned softly, opened his eyes and looked at me. I wasn't sure if he understood what I was doing, but I certainly appreciated his patience. I really enjoyed listening to him murmur as I scratched under his chin or massaged under his wings. Until the storms had lain siege to Berk, I generally took petting Toothless for granted. But now, paying attention to his croons seemed like the best music I had ever heard. It definitely helped keep me relaxed through the day.
Every time I fitted a new piece of equipment to Toothless, I stopped to reward him for his patience with my attention. I started with his tail fin, completing and fitting it to Toothless within an hour. The saddle and stirrup were next, which took about six hours to make. Even though I had plans and numbers to work with, saddles were always tricky because there were no premade frames. Same with the stirrup. The sketches simply made it easier to get to the final product, not quicker. The connecting rods were unbelievably simple compared to everything else. Just before I started trying to make them, I realized I had several spares in my study.
By the time the sky was turning light orange, I had Toothless outfitted with a new saddle, stirrup, connecting rods and a tail fin. I really liked the one Gobber had made after our fight against the Red Death, so I simply made another fin with red leather and a caricature of a skull painted in white.
As soon as I connected the stirrup to the rods leading to the fin, Toothless jumped up and almost tackled me in anticipation.
"All right, bud," I said to him. "Yes, I know you're happy." I hugged him gently around his neck, thankful the process today had gone smoothly. I was hungry, and Toothless probably was too, but we had more important things on the schedule.
I pulled away from Toothless and looked into his eyes. I knew he couldn't wait any longer, so I said quietly, "Let's go flying, bud."
Toothless lunged forward, wriggling in excitement and anticipation. I climbed onto the saddle and hooked in with my peg. And hoped all my hard work wouldn't have to be redone soon.
Toothless bounded out of the forge and leapt into the air without waiting for me to be ready. And I didn't blame him. He deserved to fly again. And I wanted to keep the Night Fury in Berk happy.
I listened to the air whistling past my ears. The ground, where most of our problems were, was below. Nothing could catch up to us here. I let Toothless decide the course we were going to take for our flight and how long he wanted to stay airborne. I simply followed his lead, remembering how amazing it felt to be soaring through the sky like this again. I didn't care if Toothless never came down to earth. Being in the air was almost an addiction for us. And I didn't want it any other way. There were several pleasures I had taken for granted until recently, and it felt like I was experiencing them for the first time again.
Toothless finally landed, panting slightly. I couldn't remember where we went or how long the flight lasted. Didn't care. I dismounted his saddle and hugged him tightly around his neck. Pulled back and saw something in his eyes I hadn't seen for what seemed like ages.
I soaked up the feelings in the air around me in a deep breath. Being around Toothless like this was infinitely better than getting revenge on Mildew. I scratched underneath his chin just before we headed home, listening to him murmur in happiness.
I only had one thought as we entered my house for the night.
I love my dragon.