Night, when the atmosphere takes up a foreboding disposition. It was one of those times when darkness fell like black, gelatinous soup, forbidding you from seeing five feet ahead. But when you've trained your senses in order to survive, it's almost comforting.
Hiccup walked Astrid back to his home after they were separated from Pippin. She was silent, not really having anything else to say to him, but still berating him in her mind. And he knew it.
The young woman looked exhausted. She didn't even fight him as he carried her up to bed, took off her shoes and tucked her in. He sat next to her for a while, running the back of his fingers over her cheek.
"You look like you have something on your mind." She said softly.
"I'm...not staying tonight." He stated with no inflection.
"Why? Afraid I'll hurt you?" She mocked.
"Don't let the sun set on your anger." He grinned ever so slightly.
"I was angry after the sun had set already." She sighed.
"And you have every right to be angry." He nodded.
"Then stay here so I can silently stew while I fall asleep."
He stood instead. "I'm afraid I can't."
She sighed again, her anger slowly dissipating. "Duty calls?"
He walked over to the chest he kept in the corner. Astrid didn't know all that was in there, and sometimes things were better left unknown. "Not this time."
This peeked her interest. "Oh?"
"Yeah." He took out black clothes, abandoning his leather attire. "It's something personal."
She sat up. "You aren't going to steal Pippin back, are you?"
He chuckled. "No, no. This has nothing to do with Peregrin." He slipped the long sleeved, high collar tunic on and then hooked a small bag onto his belt loop.
"Then what is it?" By now, Hiccup had completely disabled her frustration and turned it all into curiosity.
Now ready, he walked back to her and pushed her back to lay down. "Sleep tight, Astrid," and he kissed her.
As he pulled away, she gripped the back of his neck to keep him close. "How am I supposed to sleep with this giant hole in my chest?"
He smiled. "That's why you're sleeping here." He pecked her once more then stood up straight. "Mwaba will be downstairs if you need anything. I'll be back in the morning." He didn't give her the chance to respond as he hurried down the stairs and left.
Astrid sat staring at the door for a moment, trying to figure out what he was doing. Then, Astrid came to the miserable conclusion that he had changed and she had only known this new Hiccup for a week or so. There were things that happened that she would never understand.
And that was a burden he would carry alone.
Outside, Hiccup whistled for Toothless. Almost immediately, the dragon was bounding around him like an excited kitten. "Hey bud! Ready for some night flying?!"
In response, Toothless gave him a gratifying lick across the face.
Hiccup grimaced as he felt the saliva dripping off his chin. "I'll take that as a yes." From the bag, he withdrew a face cover that hid his jaw and nose from sight, a headband, and a pair of goggles he had fashioned from bronze, leather, and fitted with thin glass lenses. The lenses had been a trade with rome, as a lens maker had made them to be slightly convex to magnify distance. Of course, he was using it to keep the wind from watering his eyes. He mounted and off they went.
Anybody else would have needed a compass, but the young boy had the direction he needed to go memorized. The winter air nipped at his face, whipping his hair around, and even freezing the tips. Toothless prepared to bank northwest, but his rider kept his tail positioned to go northeast. Curious, the Nightfury looked up to his human, and Hiccup patted his mane. "We're going on a little trip tonight. Are you okay with a long flight?"
Did he really need to ask? He crooned happily and put on a burst of speed. In about an hour or so, the destination came into view.
The Outcast Atolls.
Toothless let out a whine, smelling the smoke still in the air from the three ring-like islands.
"It's okay Bud. There's nothing there." Though he said so, I wasn't sure if it was true or not. Above all else, he had come to this place for closure. To see if the place of his captivity had really been burned and destroyed.
They touched down in the town square, where he was sold. Ash covered the ground like snow but the air was still thick with heat and smoke. All the stalls in the town were empty; of wears and people. Buildings were charred, some barely standing. It was haunting.
Toothless stayed close to Hiccup, wanting above everything to keep him safe. Hiccup briefly glanced around, knowing that anything related to the Thrall had been disposed of since he had become chief. There was not much else to see but bloody marks on walls and the paved plaza. The town was absolutely dead.
The road to Ragnar's house was jolting at best. A little dirt road, riddled with rocks and potholes made the trek unbearable every time he travelled with them. Now, it was run smooth by fleeing foot falls. The houses and meager gardens that lined the road were gone, or reduced to piles of sticks. Hiccup remembered the first time he had gone down this road, the day he was bought to be a slave. It was the same day he met Mwaba. Scratch that, the same day he was impressed by Mwaba. The giant had instantly noticed his lack of limb and placed him on the cart effortlessly. He sat between a box of over-ripened apples and a chicken. Ragnar had taken up the seat on front of the cart as Mwaba lifted the handles.
"Don't eat those apples, boy. They're for the pigs. 'Sides, most of them are rotten and I'd hate to see you get sick before you start work."
The cart moved with a jerk and suddenly they were leaving.
Hiccup started down the familiar road, nothing but blackness awaiting to swallow him whole.
There sat a tree on the side of the road. The untouchable tree as he liked to call it. It always bore fat, juicy honey crisp apples, and for a starving child, it seemed like it was too good to be true. He recalled when he picked one, not realizing that the owner of the tree had been watching.
"Hey!" The old man had screeched.
Immediately, Hiccup bolted down the road as fast as his stump of a leg would allow, but he didn't get very far before the wooden prosthetic popped out of place and he fell face first in the dirt. The old man caught up to him and lifted him from the ground by his arm. Faced with fear, Hiccup only clenched his fist as the man raised his axe.
"The penalty for stealin' is your right hand!" He emphasized with a firm shake.
"No please! I'm sorry! I'm just so hungry! Here! Take it! I didn't even breathe on it!" He held out the fruit, begging with everything in him.
The man took note of his thin frame and missing leg. "Fine." He dropped the boy and swiped the apple back. "But if I catch you so much as looking at my tree, I'll have your other leg cut off!" He hissed. With that, he stormed off.
Now the tree was barren. It's branches were charred, but the trunk went undamaged. Hiccup preened some of the lower branches with a large pocket knife. Maybe it would bare fruit once summer came.
But it was unlikely that anyone would be here to enjoy it.
It was only a few minutes later that they arrived at the old farm house. Well, what was left of it. It was cracked open. Only the wall with the stairs remained, stairs that went no where, as the loft was gone. The wooden floor creaked under his feet as he kicked away some of the rubble. Louder creaking indicated that his faithful companion was not far behind. "This was the house of the woman who tormented me." He told Toothless. "Here, I spent my time, doing everything to make her happy and never succeeding."
The sounds of Ålman's shouting reverberated into his head. "You're so puny, I can't believe you haven't died yet." "Worthless." "Lazy germ." "Useless toothpick." "Spineless urchin." "I'll be better off when you die."
And though, she said awful and hateful things, he was only to reply, "Yes, Missus."
He spotted the sewing kit he had used everyday, protected by a fallen beam. The metal case was melted and bent, but regardless, he pocketed it. He surveyed the room once again, this time with a different eye. It was hard to believe that just a few days ago, people had lived in this home. This was a home…but now, a desolate pile of debris.
The fire pit was still there. A few stones were knocked out of place, but it could hold a fire. It was his duty every morning. He would come in and light the fire. When Pippin was around, he would lay a blanket close by and set the babe on it while he worked. He often caught Ragnar giving him affectionate glances, but Ålman would nudge him out of the way with her foot. One time, she was aggressive and Hiccup had to leap to protect him.
He turned to leave, but stopped in amazement as the mirror that hung next to the door was still there. Foggy and cracked, but still there. He hated the damn thing. Ever since he had entered the thrall, he had avoided his reflection like the plague. Thick vests and long tunics could hide his lanky form, but not so here. Everyday, he would walk passed that looking glass and see himself, and his slow progression towards death. The young man stretched like a tree reaching for the sun, the days work making his arms sinew and sturdy, but what little weight he had had spread all over and he wasn't gaining anymore. Then Pippin came along, and he almost stopped eating all together. That was the most finite image that burned in his head.
A walking skeleton.
The glass suddenly shattered as a rock collided with the surface. He breathed harshly through his teeth before Toothless snorted by his ear.
Hiccup settled a hand on his snout to calm himself down. "Sorry bud…I'm okay. I'm…okay…" Though the words came out, the meaning wasn't really there.
There was one last place he needed to go. And it still stood, untouched on the hill. The barn where he had lived. The hike was old and familiar, and yet, saturated with an unknown feeling. The field was still soft from the forgotten harvest, but the once straight mounts were dilapidated and mused. Weapons lay recklessly abandoned, if not by damage, then by death. So much carnage, Hiccup could practically hear the screams of war, the clang of iron and against iron, and blood falling to the ground. Bitter, it was. He made his way slowly up to the hill before tripping on something in the dark. With his eyes adjusting, he came to find an object that was mentally scarring if not the least bit ironic.
A left leg.
Instead of recoiling in disgust and fear, he merely shrugged and spoke to his companion. "At least I'm not the only one." Soberly, be used the head of a discarded axe nearby to dig a trench and buried the body part, in respect, whether it was Outcast or Berserker. Then he continued on.
The rusted hinges on the door howled like a ghost as Hiccup and Toothless entered the building. It hadn't changed in the slightest. Blankets were still strewn around the fire pit, miscellaneous objects laid around, and a few embers were slowly dying from the large fire that was always in place.
Hiccup rounded the corner and—
"AHH!" He jumped, not thinking there would be anything living around here. Toothless happily bounded over and nudged the frightened animal. He liked sheep, they were fun. Much too fuzzy to eat, but fun to play with. He especially enjoyed a good round of toss the sheep with Meatlug. Hiccup sighed as he watched them interact.
The barn was the same, so he supposed that he didn't need to climb the loft. Bitter memories awaited. Even thinking about it…
Pippin's first three months of life. The absolute surprise of the babe being able to recognize him, turning towards his voice, touching his face, and even smiling. That first exhilarating moment when he reached out and grabbed his finger and held onto it. To any other person, it wouldn't mean anything, but to the teen, it meant the world. He had seen that gurgling mass change and grow into a little person, with a spirit, a personality, all before he was even able to speak. All the effort to teach him, to raise him, to keep him alive…
"Why did I come here?" He bemoaned.
Hiccup fell to his knees in wretchedness. He assumed Aisling would give him back. He assumed that she would see how torn up Astrid was, how torn up he was, and be unable to do it. He assumed she would see that Pippin was better off with them.
Well, that's what he got for assuming. And now he was gone.
Water drops were suddenly on the floor, the source being his burning eyes. He stared ahead, looking beyond what was there, and saw the little babe in his minds eye. This trip had not helped his peace of mind, in fact, it brought back a lot of awful things that he had forgotten about in the rush of his new life.
"Pippin," He whispered. "I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…" He breathed in a long choking breath. "Daddy's sorry…"
In an attempt to get a hold of his emotions, the teen put his forehead to the ground, lightly tapping the back of his feet on the floor.
"I am pathetic." He wiped his eyes. "And no acting or masks will ever change that."
Toothless heard his berating and sat quietly beside him.
"So this is how I am be? My life is ruined, laid waste beyond repair? I don't mean to claim that none of it was my fault…but why did it have to end up like this? Why must I have eyes to see the damage that's been dealt? Why must I take one more breath to suffer through these thoughts?"
Toothless laid his head on his riders lap, and in his own way, comforted the boy, "Silly Hiccup. Can't you see the good that you've been given? You aren't alone, and you don't have to be alone ever again. Some things don't change, others do, but if you dwell on the past, you will miss the present. And that's where you belong."
But, being a dragon, all of this came out as a sympathetic whine.
"If that's to be my fate, then so be it." He sighed, resting a hand on his nose. "Let's get going." He had enough of this dismal place. But still, while he was here…"Bud, we're going to make one more stop."
A forlorn young woman sat at a table in the great hall. Anyone who looked at her could visibly see devastation rolling off of her in waves, yet only a select few knew why. It would only take a matter of time before it was spread through the village though.
Astrid pushed her oatmeal around with her spoon, her head resting on her hand. It was enough that she got out of bed and came out in public. She just hoped everyone would notice her closed off nature and leave her be.
Almost as soon as she hoped that, did the bench screech and four people sat down.
"Good morning, Astrid. You look as lovely as ever." Snotlout said, obviously oblivious to her woe.
She wanted the threaten him, to glare, to shake a fist, but she was so exhausted, she merely flicked a spoonful of oatmeal at his face. It landed with a splat and Tuffnut chuckled.
"That's a good look for you."
Astrid was only able to quirk up her lips the tiniest of smirks. She hadn't slept all night, her mind far too distracted.
"So, where's Hiccup?" The other twin asked, looking to the blonde.
"Odin knows." Astrid answered, despondent.
"Uh oh, honeymoon's over." Tuff chuckled.
"The wedding hasn't even happened." Laughed Ruffnut.
Oh, she had to go and rub salt in that wound. He went and did all this three days before their wedding.
"Did you guys get in a fight?" Fishlegs asked nervously.
"He promised me that he would treat you well! If he hurt you in any way, I'll cut off his good leg! With my face!" Snotlout pointed to himself emphatically.
"Like your face is going to do any damage." Fishlegs muttered.
"Another wise crack like that, and I'll punch you in the boob."
"I don't have boobs, these are pectorals." He gestured to his chest. WHACK. "Ow, my boobs!"
Astrid rolled her eyes. "You are a boob. And no, we didn't have a fight…per say. He—Well, he gave up Pippin."
"The baby?" The teens never really got acquainted to the child, and they figured it was because Hiccup was sure they'd be a bad influence on him. And they would, no denying that. "Why? To who?"
"Well, his birth mom was one of the survivors of the Berserker raid. She begged Hiccup for him, and he let her take him. I guess…because she needed a reason to live, and Hiccup knew that better then I did."
"So…where is he now?"
She shrugged. "He walked me home last night and said he was leaving. He should be back by now, but knowing him, he's just stalling to get some peace and quiet."
Just then, the doors to the great hall banged against the wall as someone kicked them open. The sound was followed by a quick, "Whoops" before a dark skinny figure came in, carrying a crate on one shoulder and a hammer on the other. "I found it!" He shouted, triumphantly. "I FOUND IT!" He swayed in each direction as he came over and dropped his load on the table.
"Uh…Hiccup?" Fishlegs asked. He had to ask, because he weren't exactly sure who this person was. They looked more like a giant insect, what with the face covering, hair wind whipped in every direction, and the magnified eyes.
Hiccup slid the goggles up onto his headband, but removed nothing else. Then he said, "Where's my dad?"
Astrid opened her mouth to answer before the chief himself came in and spotted them.
"Ah, when I saw Toothless in the square, I figured you had to be back. Where have you been, son?"
"I was out." He said pointedly. "It started as a personal expedition, but then I remembered that Sven had said that Alvin and Savage had a secret meeting place for only the highest of officials on Outcast island, so I went and did some exploring and I found it!" He said triumphantly.
Maybe it was just Astrid, but she could have sworn that Hiccup was trembling. Those myopic goggles did make his eyes huge, and she had definitely seen red around the edges. All in all, he was acting odd.
"Found what?!" Asked Snotlout, a bit impatient.
"I'm 97 percent sure that this is why Dagur attacked the Atolls." With that, he cracked open the crate and showed the contents inside.
"Rocks?" Asked Fishlegs.
Ruffnut huffed. "We've been through this before, Legs, these are dragon eggs."
"Exactly." Confirmed Hiccup.
Astrid pursed her lips. "These don't look like any type we've ever seen. What are they?"
Hiccup planted his hands on the table and met everyone's gazes, making sure they heard what he was saying. He had a crazed look in his eyes and it unnerved them. Then he said, in a frenzied way, "Nightfury eggs."
The group collectively gasped. "How could you tell?"
"Toothless found them. At first I thought they were rocks too, but Toothless took a couple into his mouth and just sat there with them, sadly." He sighed. "Nightfury's have retractable teeth because they carry their babies in their mouths. I figured that out when I came home to Pippin's head sticking out of his gums. That freaked me out a bit." He continued. "Toothless was trying to hatch these eggs, but he figured out what was wrong right away."
"Are they no good?" Asked Astrid sadly.
"Observe." He took an egg out and set it on the ground. Shouldering the hammer, he heaved it and sent it crashing down on the egg. The result was a loud cracking sound. He raised the hammer to show the giant dent in the metal, and the egg embedded in the stone floor. He picked it up and showed that it didn't have a scratch.
"Amazing..." Fishlegs whispered in awe.
"What does it mean?" Stoick finally asked.
It was then that a black dragon slithered into the great hall, something white and fuzzy in his mouth. Toothless scurried over and nudged his rider, trying to give him the sheep.
"No, Toothless, thank you." He scratched his nose. "Put Snowball with the other sheep."
Toothless decided he would do it later, as he dropped the poor animal and watched the goings on.
Hiccup smirked, getting back to business. "Now, it gets really cool." He placed the egg back on the table and took out a nail from his pocket. He placed the tip on the point of the egg and just tapped it ever so slightly with the hammer. The egg split right down the middle in a clean slice. Inside was a black crystal material.
"Petrified." Hiccup explained.
Fishlegs took one of the halves and studied it. Astrid held up the other to the light.
"So...what does that mean?" Asked Tuffnut.
"It means that all the organic material in these eggs have been replaced with mineral deposits. They are now egg shaped obsidian gems."
"How could these be obsidian? Onyx, I could see, but…" Fishlegs started.
"I thought so too, at first, but when I broke it open, I found that it fractured evenly, while onyx doesn't. And it's way too dense to be Onyx. My theory is that since Dragon eggs explode when they hatch, that a certain amount of heat is retained within the egg before the dragon is born. The minerals that petrified these eggs, mostly sand and limestone, got in and melted in the heat, creating a lava like glass that cooled, thus forming obsidian."
Astrid and the rest were baffled as Fishlegs nodded, approving. "That makes so much since!"
"Then if they aren't eggs, what are they good for?" Asked Stoick.
"Still very rare and very valuable, but I bet that Dagur would care less about them."
"Then why would he be looking for them?"
"I bet it's because he doesn't know that they're petrified. He wants a Nightfury, specifically my Nightfury. But if he could have a dozen? I guarantee you, he'd do anything."
"Including…" Started Astrid.
"Killing his allied chief to help someone commit mutiny." He huffed. "Not to mention he had an armada ready to attack Berk. I guess he got tired of waiting and took matters into his own hands."
"Do you think he'll come?"
Hiccup was silent for a long time. He took one of the halves on the table and spun it so it turn rhythmically on the table. Then he answered, "He knows what we're capable of, but I don't know how far he's willing to go. He's Dagur the Deranged, not Osvald the Agreeable." He shouldered the hammer anyways. "Just be ready for anything. I've got a crowd of people to rally." And with that, he left.
Astrid glanced at her friends. No one else seemed to notice his strange behavior. Could she blame them? They didn't know him like she did.
"I'm going to go check on him…" She said, standing up.
The teens paid no attention as they were enraptured by the eggs.
Stoick sided up to her. "So, you noticed it, too?"
"I don't know what it is. And it doesn't really matter, it's just the slightest change in behavior."
"I don't think it's anything to worry about." He shrugged. "Probably just exhaustion. Planning a wedding is hard work."
"Not to mention all the other stuff he has to deal with. And now with the Outcast tribe here, I'm afraid he's going to snap."
Stoick chortled. "Oh, he snapped a long time ago, when he befriended that dragon."
"That's not what I meant." She sighed. "I'm afraid we'll get a repeat of his farewell speech."
"What's he doing now?"
"Well, I told him last night that we didn't have enough housing for everyone, so we'd need to come up with a permanent solution before winter comes. I suppose he's getting everyone together to talk about it."
"But he just got back."
"I saw Mwaba telling people to meet in the square."
"Oh great." Astrid rolled her eyes. Never a dull moment.
"It gets easier lass."
"What?" She glanced at him.
"Chiefing. The more he does, the easier it will be for him. It'll be stressful for a while, but after he gets the hang of it, he'll be fine."
"I just hope he can survive it."
"Ah, he'll be fine, we'll be there to help him."
She grinned and opened the door.
Immediately, her smile fell as the crowd was bickering and shouting. She saw her betrothed trying to fight for attention in the middle of the group. He was losing badly, as well as being shoved around.
"Kwikwi!" Mwaba suddenly called. The giant pushed through the crowd and handed the helmet to the young chief, then lifted him to stand on the well.
"He's going to fall in, just watch." Astrid shook her head.
"Hello! Excuse me!" His voice called over the people.
"What's wrong with him?" Stoick pondered. "He's never had trouble getting attention before."
"Okay, after his return." He elaborated.
Astrid helped him. Two fingers in her mouth and she whistled. "HEY, SHUT UP!" She screamed.
The bickering calmed down and people turned to look at her.
"Go get em, babe!" She shouted, encouragingly.
He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Astrid."
Suddenly, the crowd went silent, not knowing that their chief had been right there. Whoops.
"Right, okay." He clapped his hands, rubbing his palms together. "Um…"
Astrid smacked her head. He had just gone back to square one of his self-esteem development.
He cleared his throat again. "As we found last night, we don't have enough housing from everyone. Especially with winter coming. The great hall will suffice for the time being, but the sooner we can get building, the better for everyone. There are many Berkians that have trained dragons for hauling and loading." He put his hands behind his back, starting to make a recovery from his false start. "And they are going to work with us to build our goal of ten large houses, able to house six people each. Come summer, we can build more to accommodate you that are currently sharing homes with others." He fumbled for a second, his prosthetic slipping, but he kept his balance.
He steadied his footing once again, and then continued. "Those who can work will help with the houses, those who can't will take over the jobs that Berk men would be doing for the winter season. Make sense?"
Nodding and murmuring came from the crowd.
"Good. One last thing." He cleared his throat once again and licked his lips. "It's going to be too difficult to keep two tribes in the same village, so, my fellow people, the Outcast tribe is officially dissolved. If you have any matters that need moderating, you can come to me or chief Stoick. Welcome to the Hooligan tribe."
Outrage. Disent. Violence. That was the response he got from that announcement. Hiccup drew up tense as the people shouted at him.
"This is unjust!"
"You can't just decide this!"
"Did you consider how we would feel about this?!"
"Did he clear this with you?" Astrid asked Stoick.
"No, but it makes sense. I think it's a good idea." The man shrugged.
But the once-named Outcasts begged to differ. Hiccup tried in vain to get them to calm down, but vikings would be vikings and humility was too bitter of a pill to swallow.
He wasn't sure how he heard it, but far to his right, a woman spoke to someone next to her. In a smug, and somewhat resentful voice, she said, "Look who's giving the orders now."
Everything until then had been building up to this moment. His violent anger once again reared it's ugly head as he swiveled around to find the person talking ill.
It was that ungrateful hag. She had survived. And just seeing her face added a whole new dimension to the ghosts of the past that had been constantly grating on his mind. He rolled his shoulders back and clenched his fists.
"Uh oh." Astrid stated, suddenly seeing his posture.
"What?" Asked Stoick. She didn't need to respond.
"YOU!" Hiccup shouted over everyone. "Say that to my face!"
The bickering started to fade as people noticed that someone had picked a fight with the chief.
Ålman was silent as he stared at her. She didn't intend for him to hear her.
"You have a problem with me? Go ahead and say it out loud. I'm sure everyone would like to hear what you have to say."
She shook her head, not willing to tell anyone that she used to torture the chief.
He hopped off the well and went to stand in front of her. "Get this right, you wench. I'm giving orders because I have to, not just because I can. I'm trying to do what's best for everyone. I'm trying to save your sorry ass! I don't get any pleasure out of this. And if you have a problem with how I do things, Odin knows I don't want you here!"
The indication was clear, and by those words, everybody understood the relationship between these two people. Ålman, the farmer's widow and Wart the Enslaved.
The surprise and irony of the situation set off a whole new round of whispering.
A boulder sized weight of doubt fell upon Hiccup. He instantly regretted what he had said and wished he could take it all back. "I-I…" He stuttered. "No, I didn't mean…" He turned around and everyone was looking at him, staring through him, judging him. "Stop…You don't understand…" He muttered. Still he glanced around, but he was trapped in a sea of hateful faces.
Even if they were only hateful in his mind.
Astrid couldn't stand it anymore. "Mwaba! Get him out of there!" She called.
The giant parted the crowd like Moses, grabbed Hiccup by the rib cage, and carried him out. Stoick was in his wake, ready to clear the situation. She heard the older man say, "Oh, he's still a young chief, you can't blame him for getting overwhelmed by everything that happened…" and he continued to talk about the new set up. Thankfully, Stoick had a way with words as a chief and the Outcasts were much more pleasant as he spoke.
Mwaba set Hiccup down by Astrid, up by the great hall doors.
She knelt by him, taking off his helmet. His face covering was still on, but she could see clear panic in his eyes. What exactly he was panicking about, she wasn't so sure.
She cupped his face. "Hey, Sweetheart, look at me."
Her soft and tender voice pulled him out of his despair, if only for a moment.
"Hey…" She smiled at him, in a comforting way. "What's wrong? What happened?"
His eyes darted away from her, in shame. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket and covered his eyes, put his face in his hands, and rested his forehead on his knees.
"Can you get him some water?" She asked the giant.
He nodded silently and headed down the steps.
She waited patiently for anything from him. He was quiet except for an occasional sob and heave of the shoulders. The teens that were in the hall came out and stopped when they saw him. With a glare and a point, Astrid sent them on their way.
Stoick came up not long after, sending the men and women to work. His concern for his son showed, but his subtlety was absent. "Are you crying?" He asked, squatting.
Hiccup's response came out as a bark, with a broken voice. "Only a little bit!"
"Maybe you should—…" Astrid raised.
"Yeah." Stoick nodded and quickly left, trusting Astrid to take care of him.
"Astrid…" Hiccup started.
"I'm here." She played with his hair.
"No, it's okay. You don't have to apologize. You had a panic attack Hiccup, you can't just stop it. No one can."
"Thank you for understanding." He spoke without lifting his head.
Astrid smoothed his hair down, only for it to pop right back up again. Then she asked, tentatively, "That was her, wasn't it? She…owned you?" She hesitated with the word.
"Yes." He sighed.
"Well, I think you had every right to be angry with her. She treated you like dirt, and now you have the ability to put her in her place."
"You don't think I went too far?"
"Absolutely not! You should have banned her!" Then she shrugged. "But if you banned everyone that ever hurt you, this island would be very empty."
"And lonely." He looked up at her, his eyes red and puffy.
"Yeah." She played with his hair again. "And that's why I'm not chief. I make brash decisions. I think with my heart, and just do what seems best at the time. You're level headed, and think things through. You are…amazing." She simpered. "And don't let ghosts of the past tell you otherwise."
"But I'm not, Astrid." He sat up a bit more, and pulled down his face cover. "Last night, I went back to the Atolls. I needed to see for myself that everything was gone…and yet, I came to realize that I've been making very bad decisions the whole time. If I had just stayed that night, if I had told you that I loved you sooner, if I had—…"
She placed two fingers over his mouth. "Keep thinking in 'what if's, and you'll be stuck like this forever."
Hiccup sighed and rested his chin on his knees.
"What if we think about this alternatively? What if you didn't save Pippin?"
"I wouldn't have fallen in love with him, and then I wouldn't have him ripped away from me."
"No, Hiccup. He would have died, and no one would have gotten to love him."
He watched her, digesting what she was saying.
"What if you hadn't come back to Berk? You would have been on the island when Dagur attacked."
That would have been bad.
"And Hiccup, if you hadn't given Pippin up…I fear that Aisling would have killed herself." She touched both of his arms, pulling in closer to rest her head on his. "You saw that, even when I didn't. I was angry, but I was selfish. Hiccup, you are amazing." She reiterated.
He tittered. "Do you know how much I'm worth? Three chickens."
"What?" She was outraged. "Oh come on! You're worth at least twelve!"
He rolled his eyes.
She pulled him into a hug, cradling his head to her shoulder. "There aren't enough chickens in the world to count your worth." She said seriously.
"That was cheesy."
"Work with me, comforting is not my thing."
"Well, it worked. I guess." Finally, he was coming around. "Thank you, Astrid." And he kissed her.
"Anytime." She smirked.
He sighed unconsciously, but stood, putting his helmet back on.
"It still hurts, doesn't it?" She asked.
"I can swear up and down the wall that it was the right thing to do, but I will always regret giving up my son."
Astrid linked their arms together. "I'll help ease the ache. I won't ever leave you." She stated proudly.
"I don't think you realize how relieving it is to hear that."
"Let's get you home, babe. You must be exhausted."
He feebly laughed. "Yeah, a bit."
As they went down the stairs, Astrid's brows furrowed slightly as she wondered, "Where did Mwaba go?"
"I thought the water thing was just to get me alone."
"Well, I thought you would actually want a drink, crying so much and all."
"You don't think of me weaker for that, do you?"
She punched him. "That's for assuming I would."
He rubbed his arm.
"Everyone is subject to their own weaknesses. Tears are a sign of heart, fear is a sign of weakness."
"When did you suddenly get so wise?"
"I'm marrying the chief, I have to give helpful advice!"
He chuckled and hugged her.
By this time, they had reached their house. Hiccup opened the door, and froze.
Aisling was sitting in his house, trying to look small. Mwaba leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.
Pippin was no where in sight.
"What happened?" Was his automatic response.
Aisling stood, miserable. "Chief, I'm so sorry…"
Absolute terror ran through him as he assumed the worst, but then she finished.
"All night, he was crying for you and his 'ma'." Her face looked puzzled for just a moment before she added, "And Tutu."
Hiccup urged her to go on.
"I couldn't stand it. Who was I to take a child away from those who raised him? I may have given birth to him, but I'm not his mother." She said sadly. "I'm so sorry I caused you all this grief."
Hiccup knew she was referring to what had just transpired an hour ago in the square.
"Where is he—…" He started, but was cut off by a huffing sound. He peered around the table in the back of the room to see a long black tail sticking out. With a smile, he waltzed over. Toothless had reunited with Pippin, who was pulling at his ear flaps.
"There you are!" He sang, relieved beyond all earth.
"Da!" Pippin chirped.
He swooped in and scooped up his son.
"Pippin!" Astrid joined as she hurried over and kissed him. Hiccup passed the boy off and then addressed Aisling. "Thank you for bringing him back." It took you long enough.
"Please, I just ask that you let me be a part of his life. If you ever need someone to watch him, or…"
"Aisling. You can come and see him anytime you want."
"Thank you." All the years of impurity seemed to melt away in that moment, as the young Irish girl finally felt redeemed.
Stoick entered the great hall after hearing a strange sound. His eyebrow twitched as he spotted the source of the noise.
"What on earth is a sheep doing in here?"