Stoick rubbed a hand down his face in frustration.
"What a mess!" Gobber voiced his thoughts.
"Aye," he looked over the Outcast men who looked unsure of what to do. "Who'd have thought it'd come to this?" He spoke up. "My friends, I don't know what the plans are, but you are welcome to stay here until we find out."
Mwaba returned to the group, his eyes teary. "We steh just long enough da find out what de chief wants us da do."
The men nodded and began to unpack the ship. Berk men helped.
"Dontcha think it's interestin' how protective Toothless was?" Gobber asked.
"I wasn't thinking about it."
"Well, you should."
"Gobber, the chief of the tribe we just came to peace with got stabbed by his general. The last thing I'm thinking about is the behavior of my son's dragon."
"If you're worried about Spitelout, I'm sure if he was going to kill you, he would have done it by now."
"Oh that just instills me with confidence." He began to make his way up the ramp, seeing the work under way. "Besides, if you wanted me to analyze Toothless' behavior, we can say that he has been so influenced by Hiccup, that he hates any kind of violence."
Gobber gave him a funny look. "You don't actually think that, do you?"
"What are you trying to say?"
"Well, I think you're turnin' a blind eye to a possibility in an effort to not be disappointed."
Stoick shook his head and hurried up the ramp. "I think you're getting your hopes up in an impossibility."
"So you're doubtin' all evidence?"
Stoick came closer and spoke in a hushed voice. "You think that Wart is Hiccup?"
"I'm fairly certain."
"Have you been paying attention? This man is the leader of the Outcasts. Before that, he was a slave."
"How long was he in slavery?"
"I don't know, a long time."
"And a long time could be many years or a few months."
"But this man is so much bigger then Hiccup."
"He acts different."
"You would too if you went through what he did."
"He has two legs!"
"I don't have an answer for that."
"Ha! You're just hoping that he's coming back!"
"I—..." Stoick stopped and swallowed. "What makes you so sure?"
"That boy 'as a way with metal and leather craft, did you see the chief's suit?"
"He may not have made that himself."
"He hasn't shown his identity."
"He already explained that, and even so, maybe he has other reasons. Maybe a scar or something."
Gobber nodded his head, agreeing to an extent. "Well, Toothless let him pet him."
"But if he was Hiccup, Toothless would have tackled him. You've seen him do it before."
"I didn't think about that."
"I'll admit, there is evidence that he is Hiccup, but that doesn't explain why he would have gone this long without revealing himself to us."
"I think Astrid knows. She said she loved Wart."
"What? But..." The wheels were turning in his head. "You really think it could be?"
"Why else have we been arguin' this whole time? I'm sure!"
"Then why hide this long?!"
"Revenge!" Gobber shook his fist.
"Really?" The chief deadpanned. "You do realize we're talking about my son, right? Not a single mean bone in his body?"
"Yeah, but he was pretty angry when he left."
"I don't think it would be revenge…besides, this is all speculation. If Wart really was Hiccup, why would he say he was dead?"
"I don't have an answer for that either." He scratched his beard. "Here, lets do this. We'll go up and see if we can catch a glimpse of Wart's face without his mask on, then we'll know for sure if it's him. If it is, then, well, answers will come someday. We can't begin to know why he he did all this."
"That is true. Even if Wart isn't really Hiccup, we still have a responsibility to his tribe to help as much as we can. He was injured on our land."
By this time they had reached the square, where people were looking at them with curiosity. "Stoick! what's happened to the chief?" A woman called.
Word sure did travel fast. "An accident. Don't worry about it."
"Is he going to be okay?"
"He'll be fine." A deep baritone spoke from behind them. Mwaba was coming up from the docks as well, a chest over his shoulder. "He won't let dis get him. Not wid everyting he has gone tru." He met the chief and clapped his arm. "We tank yoo for taking control of de sit'a'ion."
"I would want your tribe to do the same for me." Stoick returned the gesture.
Then Gobber spoke up. "Uh, Mwaba, we were wonderin'…well, I was wonderin'…do you know who Wart is? Like, under the mask?"
"A brave youn' man, deservin' more credit den given." He spoke solemnly.
Gobber gulped. "Well, ah...could ya tell us what 'e looks like?"
"I'm not at liberdy ta tell. Let us go."
The three headed up to Goði's, where the elder beckoned Mwaba to come, but the others to stay. The two Vikings sat waiting, before Stoick got impatient and started coming up the stairs.
"I can't just sit around here. I have to know!" He took three steps before Goði cut him off. She tossed him Wart's helmet and a rag.
"What am I supposed to do with this?!" He scowled indignantly.
She responded by throwing down the slashed jacket and a rag to Gobber, and pointed harshly to both of them.
Upon further examination, blood was clinging to the leather, and her suggestion was to clean them up. The men obliged silently, feeling guilty about throwing weight around.
It seemed like hours passed in minutes as they sat stiffly, waiting for a word of good. Instead, Wart's screams of pain echoed in the house.
"I sure hope the lad pulls through." Gobber said, finishing his cleaning job.
"As do I, for many reasons." As he said this, Astrid came down with a stricken look on her face. "What do you need lass?"
"Water. He needs water."
"I'll get it." Gobber stood, took the bucket from her, and went out hurriedly to the well.
Astrid took a moment to compose herself and catch her breath.
"Are you okay?" The chief asked.
"There's so much blood." She whispered.
Stoick came to her and grasped her shoulders. "Astrid, you're a viking. You've seen blood before, and in this life style, you will see much more. Just think about when Hiccup lost his leg! You traveled all those miles with him and his bloodied leg."
"This is different!" She pleaded. "I didn't have to operate on Hiccup, and he was unconscious for most of the ride back! I didn't have to look at it, or even touch it!"
As she said it, Stoick noticed that her hands were stained red, but it looked as though she had wiped off the excess.
"Oh." He sighed. "How does it look?"
She shook her head. "Not good. The knife hit something, and Hi— he won't stop bleeding."
"I'm sure once Goði patches the wound, he'll be fine."
"I just…I can't look at him. Not right now. I need a moment."
Stoick went back to his seat on tossed Wart's helmet to her. She caught it and hugged the leather to her chest.
"So, you're really okay with marrying this man?" Stoick attempted conversation.
She offered a sardonic smile. "I've been asked that question too many times, sir."
"Then I would think you would have an answer for it."
She bit her lip and replied. "I guess you had a great deal to do with it."
"Me? What did I do?"
"You told Hiccup to get a bride, and in turn he asked me. That was almost a year ago."
"From the moment he asked me, the thought of marriage had been tumbling in my mind. Sure, somewhere deep down I figured I would marry Hiccup someday, but later in life. When he asked me, I was still a girl, a child. I wasn't ready to be married. But then, after all this time, I kept thinking about it over and over, and now I'm ready. I hope."
"So…you're just marrying him because you want to get married?" Stoick asked, startled.
"No. It's— hard to say exactly." Really, it was, without revealing his secret. She debated with herself, whether she should tell or not, Hiccup was injured, and Stoick had a right to know…and yet, it was not her place. "He loves me, sir." She confessed.
"But do you love him? Truly? Lass, vikings rarely get to marry the ones they love, my wife didn't. I just want to make sure you aren't forcing yourself to love this man in an effort to quell what you felt for Hiccup. He deserved you. He loved you." He stated.
"Chief, I promise you, I have made poor decisions, and I have had my doubts, but marrying that young man is the surest and sanest thing I can do."
The man digested all of this information and then replied. "You know you can divorce him at any time."
"I won't. You'll see."
"Astrid." Stoick spoke firmly. Their eyes met, and Astrid became painfully aware that Hiccup had his father's eyes. "Is he really Hiccup?"
Her eyes widened. "What gave you that idea?"
"You." His gaze was hard. "And Gobber, but that's not the point. Tell me, lass."
She couldn't. Her lips wouldn't let her.
Fortunately, she was saved by a loud thump and Mwaba's call, "Astreed! We need yoo!"
She clamored up the steps. As soon as she was out of sight, Stoick heard ferocious shouts of pain and agony from the loft. It left a sinking feeling in his gut and he sat heavily back down to await the fate of the young chief.
His unknown son.
Night fell and Hiccup had not yet woken up. His brows were furrowed and he sweated profusely. Toothless kept his head tucked snuggly by his rider's neck while Astrid sat glued to the wall.
Mwaba climbed stairs and greeted her. "Gobber went ta get Kingsfoil for his fever."
"How's the chief?"
"He still sits an' waits. He 'as asked me how he es doin'."
"Mwaba…I'm scared." She admitted sheepishly.
"No need ta be. He 'as reason ta fight. And the last time he was stabbed, he was en a coma for tree days. Dis es notin'."
Her eyes were large as she replied, "The last time?"
"Yep, right en da face. I tink et was on da left side."
Astrid curiously examined his face, finding only smalls scars, then by his ear, the edge of a scar was visible, hiding under his hair. She combed it back to find a mark about the width of a toothpick spanning from the level of his eye to his hairline.
"How did that happen?" She gazed up to him in worry.
"Dagur asked for a duel, and said that it was customary when he visited da Outcasts. Kwikwi took en no weapons, and dealt no blows. He dodged all of Dagur's attacks, until de snake snuck a knife from behind his back and struck him en da face. De chief didn't even notice at first, but when he did, he took the weapon out and cut off Dagur's braid."
Astrid sat with her mouth open, stricken.
"He got Dagur's respect from dat at least."
Astrid watched in concern as Hiccup fought internally. His eyebrows twitched and his lips quivered.
"He's never been a fighter." She stated, pushing his bangs away from his forehead. "As long as I've ever known him, he's always been a pacifist. I'm just impressed that he can hold his own. I still think of him as the little shrimp that I have to protect. I can still hear him screaming like a girl as he's chased through the village by a Monstrous Nightmare."
"Dat was before he tamed Toothless?"
"Yes. But not long before." Astrid took a rag from a bucket, rung it out, and placed it on his forehead. "He's never been tough, never been a fighter. So, you can see why I'm…" She pursed her lips as the term refrained from coming forth.
"He has changed though, Astreed." He patted her head in comfort and then stood. "Et es getting late. I will go check on my men. Yoo should get some sleep, Astreed."
"Thank you, Mwaba, but I won't leave his side."
"I see…usiku mwema." And he left.
Astrid was exhausted, but she didn't want the giant to know. Grief had sucked whatever energy she had left after she had held his shoulders back as Goði had sewn up his wound. The girl had shed many tears as the boy squirmed and cried out in pain. It was something that would plague her forever.
She settled down so she laid mere inches from his side. Gingerly, she kissed Hiccup's cheek. "Please wake up."
Day break. A warm breeze caressed her cheek. Astrid blinked to wakefulness, only to find her hand resting on Hiccup's scalp, her fingers entangled in his hempen locks. She smiled, enjoying the idea of waking up next to him.
"Good morning," she whispered.
He did not respond.
Shaking the sleep from her eyes, she took him in. His ivory skin was pasty and bluish, his chest rose and fell erratically with each labored breath. He had gotten worse.
"Hiccup," she shook him. "Hiccup!" Still he didn't stir, but he let out a childlike whine from deep in his chest.
Terrified, she raised the blankets to check on his wound. The skin around the stitches was red and irritated. Pus emitted from the slash along with an ungodly smell.
"Goði! Help!" Astrid screamed.
At her shout, the dragon in the corner perked up and peered over to his friend. Worried, he nudged his head under his master's acting as a pillow. The girl thundered down the steps and searched the room. The elder was brewing something over a fire.
"The wound is infected." She stated with a heavy breath.
Her attention was redirected as Stoick woke up from the chair he had been sitting in last night.
"What? What happened?" He sat up in attention.
She ignored him as she continued with Goði. "Wart's not getting any better."
The old woman was already on the task as she drew up a bowl of some foul smelling liquid. Quickly, she made her way up the stairs, Astrid hot in pursuit.
Stoick was left at the main floor, in morbid curiosity. He moved the chair that he had previously occupied and sat by the stairs, straining his ears to listen for any indication to the boy's condition.
All that was heard was mute sounds of agony from the injured chief, and muffled sounds from Astrid. Soon, there was silence followed by scratching.
"Nothing more we can do? What does that mean?! I can't wait anymore!" Astrid shouted.
Goði came down the stairs, a pained look on her face. She shook her head.
From the loft, Stoick heard Astrid talking to him, even as he slept.
"Please get better...you promised me you would take me with you, don't go anywhere I can't follow..."
Stoick's hand reached out for the railing in a feeble attempt to console the young girl. In a moment of reckless abandon, he trudged up the stairs, not caring if the young man behind the mask was Hiccup or not, it didn't matter. Not right now.
That's what he had told himself the entire time he had climbed the stairs, but it was a different matter once he reached the threshold.
There, on the floor, lay the son who had died. The son who had always been a thorn in his side, always messed up, and even sacrificed his well being for everyone else. The son that had suddenly grown up to hate his father and flee in anguish. That son reclined battered and beaten, skinny and frail, covered in scars and the most terrifying of all...
A man that controlled a nation, that had vanquished his enemy, and a man that had come home from all his responsibilities to pay a debt to those who scorned him. Stoick was in that list of people that had harmed him, and yet he came back. A myriad of emotions flooded the chief in that single solitary moment. Guilt, sadness, happiness, pride, hurt, remorse...but above all:
"Hiccup." He breathed.
Astrid met his enlarged eyes with her teary ones. "Stoick..."
"You knew this the whole time?" His voice was even and harsh.
"I promised him..."
"I'm his father, gods damn it!" He punched the nearest beam. "Does that count for nothing now?!"
"Please sir, he was scared."
In a few steps, the massive man was leering over the boy and snatched his son's shoulders, pulling him off the ground, and shook him, Hiccup's head lolling back. "Wake up you lying bastard! Open your eyes and face me like a man! Don't you dare leave me!"
"Chief stop!" Astrid grabbed his arm. "You're making it worse!"
Toothless growled as well, tugging on the man's sleeve to get him to release the boy.
"I want answers! I need answers, damn it!"
"YOUR SON IS DYING! This is not about you!"
"Then you tell me!" He turned on her, boring his all too familiar eyes on her. "What was he so scared of that he had to hide his identity from me? From everyone?!"
Shaking, she took her husband-to-be away from the enraged man and laid him back on the mat. Without leaving his side, she looked up at Stoick with a borrowed austere expression. "He was afraid of you."
Hiccup's father took a deliberate step back, a knot in his stomach.
"He was afraid of your anger, my anger; he thought we would all turn him away since he seceded. He made the Outcast pact for you. He wanted so badly to make up his failures to you, Stoick."
The chief looked away to the beautiful face addressing him.
"Hasn't he proven that he's just enough of a Viking as you? As everyone else? Why can't you just let him be?"
Stoick said nothing as his nostrils flared. He had no reply, but only sneered. He was just so angry!
He turned on his heel and began to leave.
"Stoick, where are you going?"
"Goodnight Astrid." He said pointedly.
The girl wasn't sure, but she felt a distinct chill up her spine, and a fear in her heart for Savage. Of course, she wanted to kill the scoundrel, but if it was up to Stoick, no doubt his death would be long and torturous.