The icy grip of death was more then Hiccup could deal with. He assumed that everything would be warm and inviting when he got to Valhalla, not a frozen wasteland. The chilling thought of actually ending up in Niflheim made him uneasy. Oh, what would he have done to deserve that?!
Through the snow, Hiccup made out a large wooden door carved into the mountain side. He approached the magnificent piece and stared at the massive panels, encrusted with bronze quatrefoils, each immaculately emblazoned with stories of old.
He knocked with hesitation.
The huge doors rolled open, and from inside burned the sweet smell of bread and wine. Light poured out, washing his face and warming his skin.
A man stood at the door. A helmet upon his head, decorated with not horns, but wings. His mighty beard was white and his armor was fashioned with jewels and precious metals. One eye scrutinized the boy, as the other lay hidden behind a patch.
"Odin?" Hiccup asked meekly.
The god smiled at him before raising his arms. "Hiccup! My son! Welcome!"
"So I have died," he stated, his shoulders sinking.
The king moved aside and whisked the young warrior inside. This hall was grand. The walls of gold, lined with silver, and alight with diamonds.
A hand fell on his back and guided him down another hall.
"For years, your people have been at odds with the dragons. These magnificent creatures that are gifts of Tyr." Odin gestured to a tapestry that lined the walls. Ornate detail was given to the warriors represented on the wall, along with accomplishments. Hiccup knew the stories of all these men well, as his father told them all to him as a child.
"All of the greatest men that have lived on the earth are shown here, Hiccup. The ones that ended wars, the victors in impossible situations, even the smallest betterments. All these men have a seat at my table." He stopped him. "The greatest of them all is in this room."
Hiccup's eyebrows rose as he was guided to the end of the tapestry, where a tall figure was painted, proud and victorious, and...old. "I don't understand, this isn't me..."
"Not yet." The king pointed to the list under the figure, where only half of the words were legible. "This is what you will look like when you reach your greatest achievement. What it is, I cannot tell."
"So...I can't be dead..." He stared to smile.
"No, only mostly dead." The king smirked. "You've been here once before, when you were mostly dead, and I gave you the same speech that I give now. You will not remember it when you go back to the mortal world."
"Then why tell me at all?"
The giant laughed. "Why indeed!" Then he turned somber. "You need a reason to want to live. You've got friends, family, and now, you know you will do great things to come."
Hiccup looked up at the king, unsure of what to do with this information.
"Hiccup, this is only a dream, induced by raging fever and overwhelming pain. Pain that you have been through only once."
"When I lost my leg." Hiccup finished.
"Yes, I brought you here then as well, to avoid it all. You'll need comfort, something from far back in your mind."
He opened his mouth to retort before Odin finished, "Astrid and Toothless are on the surface. We need a memory to help."
Odin guided him along the long hallway, pass pottery and other expertly crafted artworks, until they reached a room on the far end.
"You have a visitor." The king spoke into the dim room.
A figure sat by the fire, the only light in the room, rocking slowly with sewing in her hand. She turned at looked at the duo who had come.
Hiccup suddenly felt very small and vulnerable.
She was how he remembered her. Strong and mighty, but not without grace and poise. Her rich sandstone hair was braided back, framing her tan face and high cheek bones. Her leaf green eyes, like his, were large and brilliant.
"Hello, Hiccup." She said tenderly, her voice soft like silk.
She held out her arms to him. "Don't be shy."
He ran to her and hugged her close. "Mom!" Unable to hold anything back, he wept against her. "I miss you." He spoke just above a whisper.
"I'm sorry." She smoothed his hair. "I didn't mean to go, no one ever plans that. Your father is a good man, but he doesn't always know how to show his love." But then she smiled as she pulled him to sit on her lap. "I like Astrid, and I love Toothless. You have some pretty astounding friends."
He curled against her; seeking comfort that was promised. "I'm hurt, mom."
"I've been lying to everyone."
"I'm so lost."
"It's okay." She cradled his head to her chest and tucked his legs around her. It was if he was just a boy all over again, slight in size and cowardly in nature.
"Do you remember those nightmares about dragons I used to have?" He whispered.
"Yes." She smiled tenderly. "You would climb into bed with us and demand protection."
"Then you would carry me back to bed, saying that you would always protect me."
"Then I would gather you up into my arms, just like this."
"And sing that lullaby."
She rocked him back and forth and started to sing to him. An aria from so long ago.
"Baby mine, don't you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part, baby of mine."
Her voice was sweet like honey. Her hands, callous as ever, held a soothing touch.
"Little one, when you play,
Don't you mind what they say.
Let your eyes sparkle and shine,
never a tear, baby of mine.
If they knew all about you,
they'd end up loving you too.
All those same people who scold you,
What they'd give just for the right to hold you.
From your head down to your toes,
You're not much, goodness knows.
But, you're so precious to me,
Sweet as can be, baby of mine."
"Mom..." He whispered against her, unable to say anything else.
"Hush, my son." She kissed his head as he slowly drifted off.
"I want to stay here with you." He whispered.
"Now, if you do that, you won't be able to go back. Is that what you want?"
His eyes, filled with a childlike innocence, looked up to his mother. Memories of childhood surfaced, as he remembered all of her stories of bravery and sacrifice. This place was a paradise, but home was far away. Odin's words rang strong in his ears.
You will do great things.
"I have to go back."
"It won't last forever. Someday, everyone will be together. But until then, you must be the best man you can be, and carry on."
He nodded against her as he buried himself further into her shoulder.
"And never forget, I love you." Her hand danced through his tresses as his consciousness entered a limbo. "And I'm so proud of you."
The light singing sound of a wind chime was the first thing he heard, the first indication that he was alive. He moved his fingers and toes, counting his appendages. All accounted for, well, by his standards. One hand rested against fur, the other on cold, moving scales. A smile split over his face. Slowly, he cracked open his crusty eyes to take in his surroundings. His hand had rested on Toothless' snout, the reptile was awake and wide-eyed, but was trying very hard to stay still. He scratched his nose, a gesture to appease the ever growing excitement in the reptile. The dragon curled all the way around him, until his tail rested near the boy's good foot.
It was then that Hiccup realized he slept on a pillow, soft, but not like the feather one he was used to. Craning his head back, he discovered that his head was actually resting on Astrid's lap. Toothless was frozen because she slumped against him. He grinned and reached over. As soon as his hand touched her face, she sat up straight in surprise. The blonde recovered quickly and caught his hand. Lovingly, she looked over him and cupped his grizzly face.
"I know your face." His voice was soft, almost nonexistent.
Her's was just as tender. "You made me cry again."
"I'm sorry." He smiled wistfully. "I think I'm out of people that want to kill me now."
"We can only hope." Unwilling to tell him the discovery his father made last night.
He looked at her with wide eyes. "Aren't you a shining ray of sunshine!"
"I didn't mean it." She smiled. Carefully, she leaned forward and kissed him affectionately, in a way that made his head buzz and his toes curl.
"I will never get tired of that."
"I hope not." She grinned. "Don't you do that again." She scolded. "Scared me half to death."
"No, you don't." She insisted. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him possessively, cradling his head against her chest. "You need to quit this habit of dying. It's freaking me out."
"I promise you, I don't do it intentionally."
"Still, be more careful okay?" Her eyes strayed down to his torso where tell-tale signs of his recklessness manifested his skin.
He sighed as he patted her arms.
"You don't still feel like that, do you?"
"Hmm?" He asked confused, as once again, she was being vague.
"Like…you still want to...die?" Her voice was shaking ever so slightly, but he didn't miss it.
"Why would I want a thing like that?" He looked up at her with a tender smile. "I have no fear in death, but I will not give up the gift of life that I have been given, especially now that I am able to treasure it."
"I love you." She kissed the crown of his head. "I will make that known until the day I die."
"And I love you."
There was a knock on the post by the stairs and the couple turned to look.
"I hope I em not interru'tin'." Mwaba smiled.
Hiccup strained to sit up, his muscles burning. "Nothing you haven't seen before." He joked. Astrid leaned against him to help counter his balance.
"'Ere, I daught you might want des." He tossed him a soft green shirt and his helmet. "I ran into de chief coming tru town, said he'd be up to visit soon."
"Good thing you got here first then." He stuck his arms through the sleeves as Astrid pulled down the back for him, thankful to hide his scars.
"How are yoo feelin'?"
"Ugh, I feel like I was punched in the stomach, recently. How long was I asleep?" The question finally entered his mind.
"Two days." Said Astrid.
"Huh, only two? Not bad."
"At least not as bad as the Red Death incident." Astrid rolled her eyes, and then added in. "Or your fight with Dagur."
"Ha, you heard about that?"
"Going into a fight with a deranged murderer, and you don't bring a weapon? I'll never understand your methods."
"It worked, didn't it?"
"Thank Odin's skivvies." She mumbled.
A loud rumble broke into the conversation, grabbing their attention.
Hiccup looked to Toothless, who had wide, dilated eyes. "Was that you?" He chuckled.
"He's been with you the whole time, I suppose he would be hungry."
"Aw, I'm sorry, Toothless! You must be starving!"
"I cun get hem some food." Mwaba raised.
"Go on Bud, I'll be fine."
The dragon uncurled from behind his back. Before he left, he made sure to give his best friend a sound lick across the face, and then went out onto the porch. Despite the friendship developed between the giant and dragon, Mwaba still refused to ride on Toothless. So the giant went down the stairs, at the same time, Goði came up, brandishing a bowl of…something.
After wiping off dragon saliva, Hiccup smiled at the old woman, thanking her for her hospitality. She did not return the look, instead glanced at his helmet.
"I know, I know…" He started. But before he could finish, she had whacked his head with her staff. "Ouch!" Hiccup hissed.
Satisfied, the woman put the bowl down next to him, and then grabbed his chin. She stared deeply into his eyes, going so far as to hold one lid open. Then she pried his mouth open with two fingers, checking something.
"Ahhhh…" He unwillingly said.
She allowed him to close his mouth as she tugged on the hem of his shirt. The wound that had been festering earlier seemed to have calmed down, but it was still infected. Hiccup looked at the wound with a disgusted look on his face.
"Oh, trust me," Astrid's eyebrow twitched. "It was worse."
"You saw it?"
"Yeah, I helped Goði sew you up."
He gulped. "Thank you."
"Like I wouldn't help." She rolled her eyes.
Whatever substance Goði had brought in was starting to smell. She applied it to the wound, making it sting, burn, and bubble. Hiccup looked sick.
"It's probably an ointment made vinegar, beeswax, and olive oil. Probably has some cinnamon and comfrey in it, too." Astrid replied, when she saw his face.
"Then why does it smell like rotting maggot juice?"
"That's your flesh, love." She smirked at the mortified look on his face. "I was worried about you, but now, seeing you so animated, I feel much better."
"At least someone does." He gagged as he got another whiff of himself.
Goði patched up his now healing wound, stifling the stench a bit. And it was just in time too, because the door to her hut opened and Stoick called up, "Goði? Astrid?"
Slightly panicked, Hiccup shoved his helmet on quickly. "How do I look?"
"Like an invalid with a leather sack on his head." She grinned. "Up here, Stoick! He's awake!"
Hiccup whispered back, "No!" But it was too late, as heavy steps came up the stairs.
Like a heavy curtain, an air of unbridled tension fell on the room. It was suffocating and made the three sweat.
An unsettled look was on Stoick's face. "You're up." He acknowledged.
"Ah, yes, not that long ago, actually."
"It hurts, but I'll get over it." There was a smile in his voice.
"Good, good…" The chief scratched his head for something to say. Obviously, Hiccup didn't know that he had found out his identity, but he wasn't sure how to tell him. 'Oh, you know, I know you're actually Hiccup, you don't need to wear your helmet anymore?' A bit too casual.
"How are my men?" Wart asked, switching more completely into his chieftain personality.
My men. Stoick had to hide a sharp intake of breath. "Uh, fine, fine, most of them are helping us with the final harvest."
"Oh, that's nice." He amended.
The older chief sighed. "Astrid, could you give…Wart and I a moment to speak in private?"
She didn't argue, instead, went from the room without a word.
Stoick sat on the floor, cross-legged, being at eye level with his son. "Look, this…" He stopped, then started again, "The treaty…"
Hiccup defensively raised his hands. "I know you must be concerned, but my men are good, and honest. Yes, they made mistakes in the past, but they all are hoping for a second chance. Savage was just the exception."
"No, I know very well that the Outcasts are all the same, they can't change."
"But they can. You just need to give them a chance! I swear!"
"You can't just cancel the treaty, Stoick! We've made a pact, a deal! We could go to war over this!"
"Do you want that?"
"No, but my men might." He warned.
"That's exactly what I mean."
Wart exasperated, "don't you trust me? We've conducted business these past two weeks, and I never gave you a reason to distrust me, right?"
"No Wart, I trust you very much."
"Then you can trust my people!"
Stoick huffed. "Those aren't your people."
He chuckled darkly, "I know it's ironic, commanding the same people who enslaved me, but I have a responsibility to them."
"You belong here, on Berk." Stoick stated firmly.
"What, just because I seem young?" Hiccup looked away from the man and sighed, "My friend, you gravely misunderstand. Berk is the last place I belong. I am an Outcast."
Stoick released an irritated huff and seized the boy's arm. Hiccup's head swiveled so fast it could have snapped his neck. With a red face, and a hard frown pulling at his skin, the large man boomed, "I am fed up with this charade! Hiccup, you are leaving this behind and coming home, do you understand?!"
The boy was silent as he stared at the chief. Moments passed before he removed his helmet.
Stoick was emotionally compromised as he looked at the face of the boy who had haunted his dreams. He looked so…old now. The scars, the bruises, and the blatant earring, an indication of his time spent in the thrall. What he missed out on, what he drove away, it all came back full force, and hit him like a torrential rain storm. His grip went limp as Hiccup retreated a few inches.
"So, you knew?" Hiccup's voice was the same as ever, begging to be heard.
"I had hunches, but I found out for sure last night. I saw you while you were still sleeping." He said contrite. "Why do you always feel the need to hide things from me?"
Hiccup was silent, as he had no answer.
"Did you think I wouldn't let you stay?"
Still, silence. Hiccup pursed his lips.
"Don't tell me you were putting those…criminals' well being before ours. Don't tell me it's because of that stupid treaty!" He gestured outside.
"Are you mad?"
"OF COURSE I'M MAD!" And there was the explosion. "You lied to my face, Hiccup. You've been lying for weeks now. What on earth possessed you to put on this elaborate masquerade?"
Hiccup clenched his fists.
"Astrid said you were scared of me, but you should have known you could have come back! You didn't need to do all of this!" His brows furrowed. "I didn't realize you were so sensitive."
At that, Hiccup had to retort. "Is that really what you're going to say? Put the blame on me again? I felt like absolute garbage when I left. There was no indication that you would care if I was gone! You weren't even inconvenienced, since you gave my position as heir away to Astrid. I was fully and completely was ready to die that night I left. But instead, I survived through impossible circumstances, and brought you everything you ever wanted. I brought an heir, I'm getting married, and I brought peace between our greatest enemies, and yet you still think I'm a disappointment! I'm trying to be the son you want, but all I seem to do is anger you!" Tears were spilling down his rosy cheeks. He planted his hands on the floor and transferred his weight, raising himself up.
"Now wait!" Stoick tried to stop him.
"No!" Hiccup balanced on his stable leg and then stood fully, despite the pain. He wanted Stoick to look at him, as he was. Not as the snout-nosed, crying baby that he knew his father saw instead. "I'm not a child anymore." He said, despite the tears still rolling. "Don't patronize me. I am capable of great things, as I have all ready done the impossible." A heavy sob raked through his body. "Why can't you just…love me, dad?"
Stoick stared, his anger gone. This behavior was unheard of, especially from his shy son. "I do love you, Hiccup."
"You never said it before. How was I supposed to know?"
"I thought you would just…know. Since, you're my son and all."
"I guess I was just distracted by the fact I was such an embarrassment." He looked down and kicked his helmet, feeling totally vulnerable.
"You really feel like that? After all you've been through?"
"Only when I'm around you; do I feel like I always need to prove something." He met his eyes.
Stoick released another sigh, finally calming down, and trying to understand his wayward son. "You know, when you said that you had died…I was terrified. I was so sure that my son was just going through a phase, and that he would come back. But then, when you announced that 'Hiccup' wasn't coming home…I realized I had lost my only family, and I was the one that drove him away." He stood.
"You weren't the only one. It was mostly Darla's fault actually." Hiccup intervened.
"I understand though, what you said. That part wasn't a true lie. I can see it, and it was the main reason why I wasn't sure if you were back for real. A part of you has died, I'm sure during your journey, you have looked death in the face many times. And each time, you have risen to the occasion. You have changed, Hiccup."
"In more ways then one." He stated, resolutely.
"You have always made me proud, and I have always loved you. I tried to push you to do your best, but I forgot to celebrate the small victories with you." He reached his hand out and placed it on Hiccup's shoulder.
Hiccup turned his back on Stoick, hugging his arms to his chest. "Chief—…" He began heartlessly. "I have been dealt a blow. I'm afraid that if I just say, 'you're forgiven' everything will just go back to the way it was."
"I thought you would want to go back to that…"
"I would want to— no! Go back to having you rule my life with an iron fist, making executive decisions without my consent, and treating me like—…" Dare he say it, "like your slave?!"
Stoick pursed his lips. "That's what my dad did for me."
"But I'm not you, dad. I can't just do whatever you want. I can't bend over backwards to appease you, I already have tried that, with limited success."
"What do you mean?"
"Like I said way back then, I wanted to prove my worth by something else, and yet, you didn't accept me until I killed a dragon." He wavered for a moment before using the wall for support. "I still had fulfill tradition."
"No, Hiccup." Stoick shook his head heavily. "I was proud of you before all that. You came, even thought I told you otherwise. You were ready to take on that monster for the good of the people. That's what made you a hero. I'm sorry I made you feel like you had to prove your worth."
"—But," Interjected the chief, "I am only human, and I make mistakes. You had a long awkward streak in there, and Odin, it was frustrating. I guess I was trying to help you in some convoluted way."
"Well, I didn't appreciate it."
"I know that now."
Hiccup's strength was depleted as he slowly slid to the floor. Stoick reached out and helped him down. "Dad, our…relationship, if you even want to call it that, is very strained."
"I know. And that's my fault. I'm not so good with loving people."
"Mom told me." Hiccup shrugged. "In a dream." He then elaborated after the bewildered look he got. "Dad, you're an amazing chief." He smiled. "But a lousy father."
Stoick laughed heartily. "I think you summed that up nicely!"
Hiccup grew more solemn, "You didn't tell anyone did you? After you found out?"
Stoick shook his head. "Thor almighty I wanted to, but I respected that you wanted to keep it a secret. It's not anyone's business yet."
"You didn't kill Savage, did you?" He asked with wider eyes.
"No, well, let's just not talk about him right now."
A downcast silence fell over them as Hiccup tried to get more comfortable. His wound was throbbing, but he showed no outward indignation.
"It was my fault." Stoick said, looking down at his hands. "You can blame everyone else, Astrid, Darla, the whole village, but fact of the matter remains, if I hadn't arranged a marriage for you, this never would have happened."
"I see your point of view too, dad." Hiccup intervened, not liking the guilty look on his father's face. "You wanted me to get married, and have an heir. If this experience has said anything, it's that I'm reckless and unlucky…and I may not last very long."
Stoick was silent as a grave as his eyebrows furrowed. Then he spoke, gravelly. "I just wanted what was best for my people."
"I know, dad."
"I'm so—so…" A pained looked came over the older man as he reached out and grabbed his boy by the shoulders, lifted him off the ground, and looked at him hard in the eyes. "I am…so sorry. I know it will take time to mend those wounds, but I'm willing to do what it takes." At this point, the tiniest of tears were leaking from his eyes. "Could you ever forgive me?"
Hiccup smirked helplessly, "Do I really have a choice?"
A wide, proud smile appeared on Stoick's face as he pulled his son into a gentle hug. His mustache tickled the boys forehead as the chief kissed him. A large hand cradled Hiccup's head as the boy rested his head on his father's shoulder. It was the first true embrace they had and the teen was elated that they finally reached an understanding.
"I love you, dad."
"I love you too, Hiccup."
"UGH!" Astrid sobbed from the stairs, after stifling all of her 'aw's.
"You can come out now." Said Stoick with a chuckle.
"I'm sorry, it's just so precious. Can I get in on that?"
Hiccup held his arm out with a smile as she ran to him. Stoick enveloped her into the hug, grinning widely.
"You're basically a part of this family, we just need a ceremony to make it official." Then as the realization donned on him, he lifted the two teens in joy. "Marriage! By Odin's beard! You're getting married!" He set them down, "Now, you should know that I actually approve this union now."
Astrid smiled. "I told you, sir, I knew what I was doing."
Stoick chuckled. "I'm sorry I doubted you."
Just then, the steps to the loft creaked and everyone turned to the new presence. Gobber's gaze darted between the three and then landed on Hiccup.
"I knew it!"