The thick oak hull sliced through the rolling waves like a freshly sharpened blade. A ship sailed, nine men aboard. Six rowing, Savage, the previous captain of the guard, leading them, and a large man with dark skin controlled the rudder, taking directions from the chief. A man stood at the stern, clad in thick leather and iron armor. His boots had a thick soles, making him taller. One boot was insulated to give the illusion of two whole legs. A mask covered his face, also made of leather, held shut by metal clasps on the left of his face. The leather was two tone, black on one side, red on the right. The man's bright green eyes shone out from behind the mask, but all other parts of his identity were hidden. Outside, the new chief of the Outcasts looked twice as threatening as the previous, the very image of him invoked the sound of violins and drums. But on the inside, there was an insecure teenage boy on his way home.
Home. He smiled, no one seeing it.
"Shida sana zenye msisimko yako, naona." Barely containing your excitement, I see. The man at the steer board spoke.
"Kama tu ungeliweza kuona uso wangu." If only you could see my face. He replied, hiding the joy in his voice.
The other men didn't really like it when the chief and general spoke in that foreign language, but they learned to accept it. Savage, Alvin's right hand man, was asked to step down from his roll of general, but begged to serve the chief, as he was loyal to the tribe. Hiccup allowed him to stay, but put another man above him in rank. This man, this slave, to be his general. But after all the good the chief had done, the men all declared they would follow him anywhere.
This new leader was quite the change from Alvin, a breath of fresh air. His first meeting was a general sit down with the troops. If anyone wanted to go back to the Atolls with their families, they were allowed to go. The conquest of Berk was cancelled, instead, there would be a treaty and trade opened between the two islands. And he said that the dragon problem would be taken care of as well. Pacified, two-thirds of the company left. Those who stayed said they would dismantle the camps and then go home. He choose six men out of the many that volunteered, to go to Berk. No weapons were to be taken, and they would fly the white flag of surrender. Only one ship, just to delegate the peace treaty, would sail. Savage was watched carefully. If there was anyone that would try to start a war with Berk, it would be him. But, so far, Savage followed every order faithfully. Hiccup secretly knew that he was afraid of losing his position. It was all he had.
"Dragons ride towards us, Sir!" Savage called from the bow.
Oh gods, this was it. Savage made his way over for instructions. "What do we do?"
"With what? We've brought no weapons!"
Wart rolled his eyes. "I mean literally greet them. Never mind. Mwaba!" He called over. The Zambian looked up expectantly. "Savage will relieve you, it seems he's forgotten his manners. Please greet these incoming dragons and their riders."
Two dragons rode towards them. A Nadder and a Gronkle, and they were the most welcoming sight he had ever seen.
"JAMBO!" Mwaba called in his deep, penetrating voice.
"Outcasts!" Astrid shouted back. "It's been a while! State your business or we will set your boat on fire."
Mwaba looked over to Hiccup with a wide smirk. "Is dat her?"
"You bet your buttons it is."
"She es…a wild one."
"Oh, you have no idea." The teen laughed back.
"Speak up!" Astrid called back.
"Weh kum en peace!" Mwaba shouted back.
"Peace? The Outcasts? Sounds like a trap to me."
"No trap, we 'ave no waapons." He called as the dragons circled the ship. "Dere es only us. Weh fly de white flag of surrenda."
Astrid looked up at the mast and sure enough it was flying.
"Where is Alvin?" She demanded. "Too much of a coward to come?"
"Alvin…" Wart finally spoke, masking his voice with a rough husky sound, "Is no longer of your concern."
That got Fishlegs' and Astrid's attention. The two turned and started to discuss something, then turned back. "We will prepare your arrival, and know that if this is a trick, you'll be sorry."
How many times had he been threatened like that? He was just glad it wasn't a trick.
"As long as we are welcome, no harm will come to anyone." Wart spoke dangerously, but indicating that he and his shipmates would be the ones in trouble if they weren't welcomed.
The two scouts flew back towards Berk and Hiccup let out a shaky breath. They hadn't noticed. Well, that was the point of all the armor. He clasped his hands behind his back as Berk grew nearer. He would not hesitate to admit he was nervous. That's why he decided to hide his identity until the time was right.
"I'm fine." He replied, his voice dangerously calm. "You get off the boat first, and introduce us."
"Can I call yoo Kwikwi?"
The teen laughed. "No, they need to respect me."
The man rolled his eyes. "Kwa sababu 'Wart' ni kuheshimika…" Because Wart is so respectable.
"You never told me what title you were going by." Hiccup pointed out.
"Ef I will be makin' de intaductions, t'wil be a surprise."
Hiccup shrugged. He wasn't going to argue with the man.
Soon, the ship pulled into port. On the dock awaited a group of large vikings, Gobber, Spitelout and all of the friendly faces he had come to love. Well, they weren't exactly friendly at the moment. And Stoick the Vast was at the head of them all. His father.
Hiccup was thankful for the mask, as he couldn't contain his tears. The man had aged. In just nine months, wrinkles had formed from restless nights, and gray hairs strayed into his beard. The great chief was suffering from grief from losing his only son, after losing his wife many years ago.
"Outcasts." The chief stated. "What brings you to Berk, with no warning?"
Mwaba was the first off the boat, his size intimidating, but his smile disarming. "Please fo'give ah intrusion, weh could spa'e no men to bring a message." He brought a hand to his chest and lowered his head in respect. "Me Lord, me name es Mwaba de Rock, captain of de guard."
The Rock. Of course he would have picked that. It was so obvious.
"An' dis es our new chief, Wart de Enslaved."
Wart walked with heavy steps off the boat, determined to walk with purpose, but inside sweating like a dog and shaking in nerves.
"New chief?" Stoick rose in shock and amazement. "Where is Alvin?"
Savage blurted from the boat. "He was killed in his sleep."
Wart raised a hand to stop him. "Savage, I beseech you, hold your tongue. You lack finesse which is needed in a delicate situation like this. Do you want to kill us?" All this was said with a chillingly calm voice.
"Sorry, my lord…."
Wart extended a hand towards the other chief. "Stoick the Vast, I have heard many things of you. Unfortunately, not many of them were good…you can understand though, right?"
He met him with a heavy handshake. "Yes, but I'm afraid I have never heard of you…"
"I'm sure you wouldn't have." He smirked. "As my…soldier has pointed out, yes, Alvin was killed in his sleep. But I was the one who found him, and he appointed me as his heir, not having any children of his own."
Stoick raised his head, processing this information. "Then what brings you here? Are you surveying so that you can continue where he left off?"
A chuckle poured from the leather mask. "No sir. I am a peaceful man. I come to make amends with Berk. My warriors are home with their wives and children. We have dragons to worry about, why would we want enemies?"
This was quite the shock to the Viking, but he hid it. "If you come in peace, why do you wear a mask? Are you going to sell us all off as your name implies?"
"I'm sure you are confused. Mwaba's accent can be difficult to understand sometimes. My name is Wart, the Enslaved, not the Enslaver. Stoick, if you know anything about slaves, they are stripped of their identities when put into the Thrall. The case is the same for me. When I took up the role of chief, I was still slave to Alvin. This is my identity. What lies under the mask is nothing."
A smile cracked on the hard man's face. "Well, if this is all true, then I see no reason that we can't ally. But know that if this is a trick…"
"That I will be sorry? Yes, the threat has already been made by the young girl on the Nadder. I assure you, there is no deceit here. If you wish to check our ship for weapons, you may, if it would make you feel better."
Gobber spoke up next, "What do we get out of it?"
"Well," Wart mulled it over. "First and foremost you would have our protection. Especially from the Berserkers. They are our allies, but that can be dissolved the moment they try to strike."
"And what do you get out of it?"
Wart let some emotion of excitement show. Hiccup kept up his act. "Well, we have a dragon problem, as you know, and I've heard so many stories of the Dragon Whisperer…I was hoping he would could come and teach us to train our dragons, as you have, to help us farm and hunt. There would be considerable compensation and he could bring a long anyone he wished-…"
"I'm afraid that's not possible."
"Oh…well, I can understand, after all, you're probably still wary of us, and that makes sense-…"
"No, it's not just that…it's…my son, Hiccup….he's been missing for months now. He ran away…" He man ended it there and just sighed.
"My deepest apologies." Wart replied. Hiccup was torn up inside, seeing his father still so emotionally raw from his disappearance. "I won't speak of it again."
Ever the intervener, Gobber spoke up. "Let's go up to the great hall and discuss the details of this treaty, shall we?"
The group traveled up the ramps together, the men idly chatting. Even Savage and Mwaba were talking, but Hiccup couldn't speak. Too much bare emotions were riding right on the surface. As they trekked through the village, Hiccup spotted his friends sitting on their dragons, staring the men down. Seeing Astrid there, looking even more heavenly then he imagined, he just had to talk to her. So as Gobber was gabbing to him, he raised a hand. "Excuse me for just a moment, please." Then he stepped over to the teens.
All of the dragons recognized him immediately. Even with the heavy leather, his scent was not covered. Each of the beasts came closer to him. The riders assumed they were going to attack and held them at bay. He smirked at the action and continued over to Astrid.
"Hello, girl. I didn't catch your name."
"It's Astrid." She bit back at him.
"I see, lovely name." His knees were shaking as his mind was on autopilot. Just being around her was enough to turn him into goo. "Well, Astrid. I see your distrust in your eyes. If I ever give you a reason to hate me, I give you permission to throw the first stone. Or axe, as the case may be." He smiled with his voice.
Then he addressed the others. "It's so fascinating to see you all on dragons. I would love to learn, when time allows. I shall see you later."
As he left, Astrid spoke up. "I don't trust that guy."
Snotlout huffed. "Well, yeah! The dude wears a mask and is the leader of the Outcasts! I don't know why Stoick's even bothering to listen to him."
Fishlegs spoke up. "Maybe he sees something we don't. You know, if there's a chance of peace with the Outcasts, I think he would look into it."
"I wonder what's under that mask." Tuffnut asked. "It's so mysterious…"
"Maybe half of his face is burnt off…or maybe he doesn't have any skin at all!" Ruffnut spoke.
"Maybe he's actually Hiccup." Tuff pondered.
The group collectively thought it over for a few seconds then laughed it off. "There's no way that's Hiccup. Did you forget what he was like? There's just no way!" Snotlout laughed.
"Yeah, the Outcasts probably killed him."
There was a very long, painfully awkward silence.
"Let's talk about something else..." Astrid said quietly.
As the men approached the great hall, a black blur slithered out of the house next to the doors.
Hiccup panicked. Of course he was elated to see Toothless, but if the dragon pounced on him, everything would be spoiled. Toothless inched closer to the ground, catching Hiccup's scent.
"By the gods…is that a Nightfury?" Wart asked in interest.
Toothless perked up as he heard his voice. Hiccup did a hand signal to keep him at bay, and Toothless obediently stayed, but he was raring to go.
"Aye, that's Hiccup's dragon. The first dragon to be trained."
"Can…can I touch him?"
"Mmm, I don't know. He doesn't take well to strangers."
Gobber smiled. "Oh, let him try Stoick."
Hiccup signed to Toothless again, to stay still. Wart approached him carefully, hand outstretched. When he reached the dragon, he laid the hand on his head and gently rubbed it. The sweet touch of the cold scales indicted tears to fall. Very quietly he whispered, "Play along, I'm a stranger. We'll go flying later." Then he brought another hand to scratch under his chin. "I missed you bud."
Toothless understood and rigidly let him scratch him before darting off.
"What an amazing creature!" Wart exclaimed looking back to the group, a stream of invisible tears falling behind his mask. There was nothing he would rather do then just hold his best friend for a while.
"It's surprising that he let you even touch him. Maybe you remind him of Hiccup."
"I'm sure he misses him." He spoke tenderly. He looked back to the lizard that sat perched on top of the Haddock house. Their eyes met and they stared at each other for a nice long time. Toothless let out a sad roar and ducked away. Hiccup rejoined the group, ashamed.
Later that evening, after a very long discussion on the treaty, Stoick allowed Wart and Mwaba to use to house on the hill while they were there. Hiccup and Astrid's house. Just entering it, Hiccup could feel like he belonged there. His sketches were all over the walls, a bed for Toothless in the corner, everything that he could have wanted.
"This was originally going to be my son's house when he got married…no one else has lived here, but…"
"We'll take care of it." He assured the man. With that, Stoick left the two alone. As soon as the door closed, Hiccup took off his helmet and breathed a sigh of content.
"I can breathe!" He popped the clasps on his jacket to let cool air in.
"Dat es de longest time yoo have gone wit it on, yea?"
"Yeah, and it is good to be free. After being naked for seven months it's strange to wear clothes."
Mwaba laughed as he completely agreed.
Then there was a knock at the door. Hiccup's shoulders dropped as he slicked back his sweaty hair. "Just a minute." He secured the leather and went to the door.
Five teens had piled into his doorframe. He was taken back in shock for a moment as he realized that he was not on a step above them, he was literally taller than all, except Fishlegs, but they were matched.
"Oh, hey, guys."
Fishlegs initiated contact. "So you said you wanted to know more about dragons so we were wondering if you wanted to come with us tomorrow when we have class so we can teach you about them!" He was obviously excited.
"Wow, that's…that's really nice of you guys to think of me, but I've still got some details to finalize with the chief…" He saw the dejected looks on everyone's faces. "But maybe the next day! I would love to learn anything!"
"Sweet! But you've got to teach us some Outcast fighting techniques." Snotlout demanded.
Mwaba laughed from inside the house. Hiccup glanced at him in warning.
"Sure, I could teach you some."
"Awesome! See ya later, Wart!" And the teens ran off, all but one, that is.
"Uh…Astrid, right?" He looked down at her as the blonde crossed her arms. She was even more beautiful up close. He could just reach out and touch her.
"Don't get too comfortable." She narrowed her eyes.
"I know, you don't trust me." He raised his hands in defense.
"No, I don't. But more importantly, this house is not yours, it's his. And I'll be damned before you ruin it. You will never take his place!"
"That was never my intention, my lady." He reached out and tilted her chin.
He saw her eyes widen minutely as her lip quivered.
"Goodnight, Astrid." He prompted her.
"G-Goodnight." She blushed and stormed off.
He closed the door and removed his helmet again. "That was weird."
"She likes yoo." Mwaba explained.
"What? No, that's how she treated me before the whole Toothless incident."
"Tink aboot what she said. She said yoo would never replace…weh...yoo. I tink she es startin' to like yoo and fee's guilty."
"You think so?"
"I dunt knoo, but maybee."
"I'll have to figure out a way to test it."
"Latea, yoo 'ave 'ad a long day, yoo must rest."
He took his jacket off completely and hung it up to air out. "Not yet, I promised Toothless we'd go flying together tonight."
Mwaba smiled broadly. "'Oo am I to keep a boy from 'is dragoon?"
"More like, who are you to keep a dragon from his boy?" He removed the sweaty shirt he had been wearing under his armor. "I better wash up while I have the chance."
"I go to sleep den." Mwaba started, getting up. "Dere es only one bed."
"You take it. I'll be fine on the bench down here."
"Ah yoo sure?"
"Yeah, I don't think I'll sleep much anyways."
"Kubakia na afya." Stay healthy.
The teen smiled at the giant as he headed over to the wash basin. A mirror hung in front of it. By the light of the fire, Hiccup examined at himself. He certainly had changed since he had left. His face had thinned out, his jaw becoming more chiseled, his cheek bones more defined. His eyes were narrow and dare he say, brighter? His hair was longer, starting to sprout from his jaw, all the way up to his ears. He kept his upper lip clean shaven though, not liking the look. His nose had stayed the same though, round and large, but in the comparison of the rest of his face, it wasn't dorky looking. His smart-ass grin was vaguely there, but not so genuine as he had seen too much to be cocky anymore. He splashed water onto his face, letting the water drip over his knotted knuckles and long fingers. He looked up, and noticing the visible bags from many sleepless nights leading up to this trip. With a sigh, he realized there were more to come. A saturated wash cloth was rung out and used to dab the sweat away from his newly formed muscles, from all that hard work he had done before. It was times like this when his gaze drifted over his scars and the dragon tattoo painted on his chest. It didn't matter if he was home, he still had been marked from his time gone.
Yes, he had changed. With a short grin, he believed it was for the better. He was smart and mature for his age, but he needed to grow. He could just imagine Snotlout teasing him, calling him the 'Butterfly Man'. It really was rather funny and he started to laugh out loud.
"Wat es so funny?" Mwaba's tenor called from above.
He snorted and replied. "I am the Butterfly Man!"
There was a huff in response before Mwaba added. "Ajabu." Weirdo.
That night, Hiccup was fortunate that there was no moon for him to be spotted. He snuck out of his house and crept over to the forge. It was empty, and he took up his saddle from the back. He then crept back to his father's house and climbed the side of the house to look in the skylight. He peered in, ready to call to Toothless, but stopped short as his breath hitched.
Astrid was sleeping in his bed, cuddling one of his shirts. He felt sick. How long had she been doing that? Deftly, he pulled himself into the room and touched the floor softly. Toothless heard the noise and looked up. Hiccup held a finger up to hush him.
The boy leaned over Astrid and took in her beauty for the first time in nine months, without the restraints of a mask or pretending not to look at her. She had aged as well, but in a good way. Her hair was longer, her bangs not so sharp, but sweeping. Her dark lashes laid against pale cheeks as she slept soundly. Her pink satin lips parted ever so gently to breathe.
Hiccup's eyes drifted over to see a ring on her finger, one of rose gold, cloisonné. Tears welled up unconsciously as guilt riddled his soul. She was missing him substantially. He would have to do something to make it up. He kissed the top of her head very delicately, and then beckoned for Toothless.
Boy and Dragon slipped off into the night, like a shadow completely unseen.
Hiccup, for the first time since the idea of marriage was even brought up, finally felt free. Even if there were secrets being kept now, he still was more pleased with his position.
"Aw bud, I've missed this way too much."
The dragon went into a spiral in response.
Hours passed before Hiccup decided to land and go to bed. Outside of the Haddock house, Toothless was hesitant to let Hiccup leave as he enveloped him in a tight squeeze, putting even his wings and tail into it.
"Toothless…" He hugged the reptile in response. "I swear, I won't ever leave again. If I must, you will come too. I promise."
This seemed to sedate the dragon as he let him go, but first lathered him with saliva from a lick. Hiccup sent him back to bed, his heart swelling with emotion. At least someone hadn't been sore about him leaving.
Hiccup retired to his cabin, laying on a bench in the main room. But sleep was far from his mind, as he stared at the burning embers of the fire until morning.