It felt like days. Hiccup sat on the floor, arms around his legs, forehead on his knees, berating himself. Stupid stupid stupid.
Toothless sat at his feet, crooning sadly as he attempted to console his boy. Ever since he reappeared, the human was acting strange. He did not ride him out in the sun, not that Toothless didn't like night rides, but it was strange. The boy acted differently. Was it the leather? Was it the kind, dark skin man? What happened while he was missing?
If Toothless ever found who broke his boy, surely, he would maul them.
The dragon's attention was returned to the teen as he shuddered. His fingers twitched, his breathing was harsh, but the dragon did not smell the salt of tears.
"Why am I so pathetic?" Hiccup whispered. A pathetic excuse for a man.
He grasped his head and frantically shook at his mahogany locks. "What am I supposed to tell her?" He asked his friend.
Toothless had a few words, but being a dragon, he could not say them.
A knock came from the door.
"Just a minute." He called, his heart racing. He stood to answer, but fear stopped him. Not yet. He stole the mask from the corner where he threw it, and secured it, fastening the clasps on his jacket as he went to the door.
It was Astrid. She looked dismal and incredibly small with slumped shoulders and somber mien. He smiled tenderly, but she didn't see it.
"Please, come in." He moved to the side.
She sauntered, all perk and fight gone. He saw the puffy eyelids, the bloodshot irises; she had been crying. The fact that he caused it made him feel sick.
"Oh, I'm-…" Before she could refuse, a ceramic mug was in her hands. "Thank you." She took a small sip. Astrid noticed the onyx dragon curled up peacefully by the fire, but didn't have a chance to think much about it.
Before anything else was said, Wart stated clearly. "I'm not the one responsible for it. Please don't blame me."
"I know, and it was wrong of me to accuse you." She said softly.
The overwhelming politeness scared the teen, she wasn't usually like this. It was just another example of all the damage he had done.
"But, the question of marriage is still out?"
"Why me?" She countered.
That was a good question. Obviously it was her beauty, her zest, her power, and the tiniest traces of kindness and love in between. He could have said that, but technically, he had only known her for a couple days, and he didn't want to come off creepy. He finally answered, "You were Hiccup's, and I wanted to make sure you were cared for." That sounded nice.
"Well, I'm flattered and that's kind of you, but just for the moment, you aren't my favorite person."
He laughed and then blurted. "I'm sure you'll be in my arms by the end of the night."
"What's that supposed to mean?" She narrowed her eyes.
Oops. "Nothing." He cleared his throat. "But, won't you please think about it?"
"I already have, and the answer is no. There is no good reason to say yes!"
"Not even for your tribe?"
She was silent, trying to think of a rebuttal.
"Stoick told me that he picked you to take up my-…er, Hiccup's place in case he never came back."
She nodded, indicating that he was right.
"If you and I were to marry, our children would be heirs to both tribes. The Hooligan and Outcast tribes would be united as one. Don't you want what's best for your people?"
She sighed. "This is why I turned down Hiccup." She looked hard into his eyes. "No matter how much I loved him, I couldn't stand the thought of him marrying me just because his dad told him to. I wanted it to be special, and while I usually don't care about those things, it's different when it comes to Hiccup. I understand what good it is for the tribe, but I'm too selfish for that."
He was about to comment back when the door swung open and Snotlout came in. "Astrid!"
The blonde whirled around. "Snotlout!? What are you doing here!?"
Hiccup set his mouth into a firm line. If he had had his mask off, and Snotlout had just barged in like that, things would have been very very bad. Calmly, he said, "We're having a quite personal, intimate moment here. So could you maybe come back at a slightly less awful time—"
"Is this guy giving you trouble? Because I'll punch him if he is! Even if he does have a flaming sword!"
Hiccup sighed. "I guess that's a no then, seeing as you're still here."
"Snotlout, I'm fine. Really, we're just talking."
"Okay…but if you need anything, don't hesitate to call for me." He flexed. "I'm all yours, babe."
Astrid rolled her eyes, but still, she was grateful that he came to check on her. "Get out of here." She spoke in a gentle tone. Thankfully the teen left without argument. Afterwards, a pregnant silence hung in the house.
"No feelings toward Snotlout?"
She scoffed. "Absolutely not."
"Why? He seems like a stocky, buff, raw manly type."
"And that is not my type. Even before I liked Hiccup, I held disgust towards Snotlout. Sometimes his heart is in the right place, but most of the time he's a selfish idiot."
"So…you're set on Hiccup, then."
"I'll die an old hag, if I have to."
"Pity." His heart was thundering. Just tell her. Take off the stupid mask! "Do you think he loved you?"
"I know he did. He said so, right before he left. He yelled it at me, really, along with things that no one has ever said to me before. He said I was beautiful. If anyone else would have said that, I would have taken their head off."
"I can vouch for that."
"Still—If he were to ask me again, to marry him, I would say yes without hesitation."
"Even though he's gone and someone else, with the ability to support you for a lifetime, has asked you instead?"
"So…you've asked yourself the most important question. Would you rather have a chief?" He slowly unclasped his mask. The thick leather slid over the tip of his nose and his forehead, before releasing his mop of hair to explode outward. He stared at her the same way he did the night he had shown her Toothless, the same look that confessed that he would forsake his tribe for his best friend. The look that harkened all of her attention, and every fiber of seriousness she could muster. He finished in a rich and vivid baritone. "Or a runt?"
A clay mug shattered as it slipped from Astrid's hands and hit the floor. Neither of them moved. He watched her, calculated her reaction as she stood dumbfounded, taking him in.
After many breathless moments she asked, in a much too small voice. "Hiccup?"
"Hi." He smiled ever so slightly.
She didn't know if she wanted to punch him or kiss him, but she did neither. Instead, she pointed a shaking finger at him and whispered, "You." She had meant to scream it, but her voice was strangely absent.
He nodded, letting her say whatever she needed.
"Wh-What's wrong with you?! Do you know how scared I was!? How scared all of us were!? You said you were dead! You faked your own death!"
"I know you're angry…"
"Of course I'm angry! I could kill you if I was over the fact that you're actually alive! Why did you say all that!? Why did you lie?!"
"So you just decided that you would run away and join the Outcasts!? Our sworn enemies!"
"You were gone for months! Months Hiccup! Without a word! The only thing we get is a baby and a message that says it's too dangerous for him with you! Do you know how much that freaked me out?!"
"Wait until your father hears about this! I can't believe you, of all people, would do such heinous things!" She stormed towards the door, ready to rampage out into town.
She couldn't though. His hand grabbed hers on the handle as he forcefully pushed her against the wood. Her anger was snuffed out as she took in how much he had changed. His face was so close, she could feel the heat in his cheeks. It was then that she noticed his earring, the nail that had punctured his lobe. He looked down at her with a mixed countenance of anger and pleading. "You can go tell everyone. My father, Gobber, the academy, but you're going to listen to what I have to say before you do. Understand?" His voice had an edge to it and she nodded shakily.
He released her, but locked the door, so there would be no more disturbances.
"Please, have a seat."
She sat heavily, and waited for him to explain. Her throat felt thick as she tried to swallow.
"I didn't lie. Not totally." He confessed. She looked at him, offended; was he questioning her intelligence? "When I ran away, my plan was to sail away and get lost at sea…and maybe even drift off the edge of the world. But, I washed up on the Outcast Atolls instead, and I was taken into the Thrall, as I said." He unclasped his jacket, took it off, and then removed the shirt underneath, baring his scarred torso to her gaze. "They marked me, beat me, abused me, and I soon regretted leaving Berk. Mwaba was the first and only friend I made while I was there…I think it was because he reminded me of Toothless in a way. He didn't speak Norse when I first met him." He simpered. "A girl was pregnant when I went in, and she did give birth, and I delivered him, that is all true."
"Why didn't you say on the note where you were?" She asked softly.
"I came to love that baby, just as if he was my own. I didn't care about myself when I sent him off, I just wanted him to be safe." His voice was splintered.
"Hiccup, Pippin's been in good hands," She twiddled her thumbs. "Mrs. Larson has been the wet nurse for him, but—…" she hesitated, "I've been taking care of him, my mom and I, really. I understand what you mean." She said nothing else and urged him to go on.
He smiled slightly as his shoulders just began to relax. "My mistress hated me, and for one reason or another, she wanted me to be destroyed. So, her husband took me back to the traders…and they were so angry. I was flogged, to the point where I could have died." He turned so she could see his back and the defects upon it. "They put me in a cage to be used as a dragon lure, but Alvin found me first, and took me as his own slave.
"I looked so different at the time, he didn't recognize me. Thankfully. I found that he was waiting for Hiccup to return to Berk before he attacked, so I stayed. As safety for all of you, I did my best to climb the ranks and get in on the inner workings. Alvin said, the night he was killed, that I was like a son to him, and so that's why I was given role as chief. I didn't feel like the man was a father figure, I was just scared of being killed." He shyly chuckled. "We still don't know who murdered Alvin, but I was grateful that I was not accused."
"So why did you say you died?" Her eyebrows furrowed.
"I did. The night I got your message back, the Hiccup that you remembered from those long months ago, died. I was so ashamed. I ran out on everyone for— what now seems like selfish reasons. I thought everyone would be angry with me, impatient. After all, I seceded, what place did I have? But when you wrote back, telling me to come home…I found that I had made the greatest mistake. You, of everyone else here, were telling me to come back, despite every awful word I said...you still wanted me to come home.
"I have changed Astrid. In someways good, and in others, bad. Either way, my old self is gone."
She sighed and nodded in understanding. She could visibly see change, inside and out, and she knew it wasn't to be avoided.
"I thought that maybe, if I brought the Outcasts as a token, maybe my father would take me back. It wasn't supposed to play out like this, Astrid. I wasn't supposed to hide my identity so long."
"Then why did you?"
He scratched his head shyly. "I was scared. You know how you reacted, I didn't know how everyone else would react."
"Does anyone else know?"
"Besides Mwaba and Toothless, no."
Astrid looked over to the slumbering dragon. "That's why he's here."
"I think he took it the hardest. I took him flying the night I came back, and he wouldn't let me go. He's been following me, even though I told him to pretend I was a stranger. I should be lucky I have such a loyal friend."
"He looked for you. Everyday, he would go flying to distance lands, sometimes not coming back for days on end. He was scared."
Hiccup looked over to his friend as well. "He doesn't need to be scared anymore."
There was a long amount of stillness before he said, "You don't need to be scared anymore either."
Astrid blurted out a cross between a sob and a laugh before resting her head on her hands.
Hiccup came and knelt in front of her, a hand tentatively resting on her knee.
Astrid was back to whispering, not wanting to hear the weakness in her voice. "I don't cry Hiccup, not for anything, or anyone. But I cried for you. I'm still crying for you. You've brought out a weakness in me I didn't know I had." She met his sympathetic gaze. "And I'm angry about it."
She narrowed her eyes.
"You cried for me. I can't explain how much I admire that." He took and held her hand, which felt petite and delicate compared to his callouses. "I'm sorry about how I treated you since I've been back. I was rude, and I'm sorry."
"I deserved it."
"I thought so at first, too." He gulped. "Mwaba said that I was bitter about everything that happened and so I took out my anger on you. I didn't mean to do it…there's so much that happened in the last few months, I can't even begin to explain it."
She sensed his frustration and answered. "It's okay."
"-But, there is something very important I need you to know." He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. "Astrid, darling, I have never stopped loving you. If anything, my love has grown. I understand if you are angry with me now, or if you hate me. I said awful things, did awful things, and—" He ducked his head. "I'm sorry."
Astrid felt more tears welling up in her eyes, as if she needed more crying.
"I'm here now. So, do with me as you see fit. Punch me, kick me, whatever you need to do. I'm yours." He spoke with his eyes closed. He waited, too, ready for the inevitable punch or slap that was to come, waiting for his head to snap back and the scent of blood to bubble in his nostrils. But it didn't. He waited even longer, for the probable kiss that usually followed her violence. That didn't come either. Instead, he was surprised by Astrid throwing her arms around his neck and crying into his chest.
"Oh gods…I'm so sorry Hiccup!"
He recovered quickly and hugged her back. "No, Astrid please, you've already apologized enough. I forgive you, I promise!"
She wasn't able to respond as she was overwhelmed with sobs. Then she finally choked out. "Don't ever leave me again! I've almost lost you twice, the next time, I'll surely die!"
"I'm not going anywhere. I promise, Astrid." He hugged her tight. "Anywhere I go, I'll let you go too."
Astrid was reduced to sobbing as she gripped him with all of her might. Her legs pressed against his sides as she fought to get close to him. Her fingers traced the scars on his back and her cheek laid upon his smooth shoulder.
"I told you you'd end up in my arms by the end of the night." He smiled.
She hit him, but it wasn't hard. "This isn't funny."
"Sorry, I just don't like seeing you cry." He pet her hair.
Finally, she pulled away, but never broke contact with him. Her fingers charted the edge of his jaw, taking in the change of shape.
Hiccup smiled back to her, touching her face as well. "You're even more beautiful then I remember." He swept her persistent bangs from her blushing face.
"As are you." She replied, dazed.
"Me? Beautiful?" He mockingly scoffed. "I could understand devilishly handsome, or even fine. But beautiful?"
"Yes," Her thumb skirted under his lids, on his cheek bones, and then dusted over his thick eyebrows. "You used to be baby faced, and had a big nose," she tapped it, "and goofy teeth," she titillated his lips. "But now you're…beautiful."
"Oh great, does this mean my name is changing to 'Hiccup the Beautiful?'"
"Only if you allow me to change my name too."
The stunned look on his face was priceless, and the small 'o' shape he made with his lips was a perfect invitation for her. Astrid crashed her lips upon his, like waves upon a rocky shore, as she gripped the nape of his neck and dove into his hair. Such a tender kiss, the boy was not used to. After the initial shock of pure ecstasy, his wide eyes rolled back in his head as a sloppy smile grew on his face. His lids drooped, his shoulders relaxed, and his hand tightened on the back of her head, pulling her closer still.
She allowed herself to he overwhelmed by his embrace, his scent, his heat, his taste. She took it all in, as she had been craving him for so long, just to be with him. One thought kept popping up in her head as she fought for total surrender with his mouth. Finally, she pulled back.
"I never took it off," she whispered, her lips still against his.
"What?" he was in a foggy state of mind. Astrid thought that it would be better to permit him oxygen, just so his big brain would process what she was saying.
"The ring you made me. From the moment you gave it to me, I never took it off."
His face was flushed, "Well, I made it for you…after all."
"Yes." She grinned, nudging his nose with her own.
"Yes, what, exactly?" He was still sort of dazed.
"I will marry you."
In his jubilation, he lifted her from her seat and spun her around. "Oh Astrid! Oh you wonderful woman!" He hooked her legs around his waist and kissed her again, so elated. "I haven't been this happy since-…" Then he set her gently back down. "There's so much to do! I have to tell my father! No, wait, Wart has to tell my father. And then there's the bride price, no need for a dowry…"
Astrid grabbed his arm and dragged him back to stand toe to toe with her. She had been taken by surprise when he had lifted her up. And now, seeing him look down on her, she was faced with the reality that Hiccup was older now. He grew up, but…just that frantic little outburst was a reminder that some things never changed.
"Hold on dragon boy." Her voice was seductive as she looped her arms around his waist. "Don't I get to have some time with you before duty calls?"
"Forgive me, my lady, I seem to go stupid when I'm around you."
"Only when you're around me?"
Everything else faded away as they were lost in each other's embraces.