The duo stay up in the cliff side house for the rest of the afternoon. The teens had always respected Goði, but now, there was a connection that made her seem more human. Finally, dinner time rolled around, and the healer demanded that they go back.
"You need to face them." She said. "Avoidance will not help."
And she was right, of course. Still, the Great Hall seemed so cold despite the warm atmosphere. The two walked passed tables, the occupants defiantly avoiding them. They sat by Stoick and Gobber, who were alone at the table.
"And where have you two been all afta-noon?"
"We went to Goði's." Hiccup replied.
"Ah!" Stoick snapped. "Great idea! And?"
"Everything will be fine." Astrid answered, sincerely.
"Wonderful!" He cheered.
"So you missed et, lad…" Gobber started. He was off telling Hiccup a story of something in the forge. Once he started mentioning tools and equipment, Astrid's mind began to wonder away. She snagged onto a conversation from another table, unfortunately. It was a bad habit and she needed to stop.
"So, you think he did it?"
"Why else is Stoick being all calm about it?"
"Tis a shame, the boy had such a bright future."
"What a pig!"
"That girl has always been such a problem. I never liked her. I betcha, she started it."
"Boys will be boys, after all."
"I bet the only reason Stoick is keeping her around is because of her skills with fighting and the dragons. Odin knows we can't afford to lose warriors."
"I bet the kid planned it. He wanted her."
"But why? He's the chief son, I know they're close."
"Who knows what goes on in that kid's brain. He's a lunatic."
Astrid had it. She pounded her fist on the table. "ENOUGH!" She cried.
The room came to attention as she stood on the table. Her three table mates looked terrified. "Listen up you spineless urchins! You disgust me! What has happened to you? I didn't think our village would resort to gossip! You should be ashamed! You want to know the truth? Fine. You can blame everything on me. I don't care. You can slander my name, you could brand me with scandal and disgrace. But, you will not— you can not talk about my Hiccup that way. He has done nothing but what is right and he deserves your respect! He saved Berk, he deserves enough respect for that alone for a lifetime! Why do you have to be so hateful!? Why can't you all just mind your own damned business!?" With that, she bolted from the room.
The blonde sat heavily on the steps. Ashamed, she kept a fist to her forehead. Her emotions had taken over, and she caused more embarrassment to herself and Hiccup. That wasn't fair to the boy.
She should have ignored it.
But she didn't.
It was raining harder now, and behind the clouds, the sun was setting. Another day had passed. Tomorrow, at this same time, she would be married. It was a strange enough thought, but she was still trying to sort out her feelings for the freckled boy.
"I'm such a mess." She bemoaned.
"I'll give you that much." Hiccup answered, standing behind her. "But, you have a pretty good excuse."
"I'm sorry…" She sighed.
In a few steps, he was in front of her, kneeling to meet her eyes. "I'm not mad." He grinned. "Thank you, for standing up for me."
"About time I did."
He grimaced and pushed her hair from her face. "I mean it, Astrid. I've put up with it for years. I'm used to it. You didn't have to stand up for me…but thank you. Really."
She smirked up at him.
His smile grew. "So…my Hiccup?"
Her face turned sour as she punched his shoulder. "I'll be marrying you tomorrow, so I basically own your sorry ass."
He chuckled and then dropped down on the step to sit, facing away from her. "I guess that is true."
Idly, Astrid took some of the boy's maroon locks and began to braid them. "So, I guess I made things worse."
"Nah. Just…um…it'll last longer?"
"I wish there was something I could do!" She whined, tugging on the plait.
"Maybe…" He paused. "Maybe you could regain your honor."
"I don't know." He shrugged. "There might be someway."
"Wouldn't marrying you do that?"
"Yeah…but, I feel like that's not enough."
"Like I need to prove myself?"
"Maybe. You know what? Nevermind, I don't know what I'm talking about." He wiped his bangs away from his face. He was now soaked, sitting out in the rain.
"No, no." She stopped him. "I think you're on to something…"
"Well, let's think about it inside, we'll get sick if we stay wet out here." He shivered.
"I'm not going back in there." She was adamant.
"Okay, then let's go to the forge. Get warmed up while we're at it."
She slipped her hand into his and they hurried along.
"Hey Astrid, I know that since our wedding is tomorrow, we can't do a lot of the traditional stuff. And that's cool with me…I'm not a traditional guy…but I'd like to at least make you a ring."
She looked up at him. "You would?"
"Yeah, I mean…it's still marriage. Even if we aren't prepared." At this point, they had reached the glowing shack and the duo removed their soaked outer wear. Hiccup slipped into the back room and grabbed a blanket. "Here." He tossed it to Astrid.
She wrapped up in it gratefully.
"Do you mind if I remove my shirt?" He asked the blonde. "I'm soaked through."
She smirked. "Go ahead."
He grasped the hem but then looked back at her. "This is going to sound silly, but please hear me out."
"I'm—…I'm really self conscience about…my body." He licked his lips. "I wear a lot of furs and long fitting tunics to cover it…but I…" He sighed and slowly removed the wet fabric. He threw the wet shirt over a rack hanging by the fire to dry. He never finished his sentence as he went around and collected different tools he would need to make the ring. As he moved, her eyes never left him.
Astrid knew the boy was skinny. It was a fact of life. But she didn't expect the muscle that was hiding. It wasn't viking-like muscle, the beefy arms and budging chest of a man that lugged weight around for the fun of it. But the brawn of one that used his body with purpose. His shoulders were wider then she had noticed, the mountainous flesh peaking at his neck, his clavicle was broad and left a divot in his shoulders. His arms were long, but defined with ridges that danced when he flexed. The veins in his arms and hands spread like spiderwebs, as she was reminded of the kindness and compassion that flowed through them. His ribs were visible, as she knew they would be, since she could feel the individual bones when she hugged him. But his chest had a pleasant cushion to it, as it rose and fell with each nervous breath he took. His abdomen was tight and artistically chiseled, obviously being worked from riding. A trail of fine hair led from his naval to past his belt.
He turned his back to her, bringing up the fires in the forge. With each pump of the bellows, his shoulder blade cut with swiftness, resembling the wings of his beloved Nightfury. Astrid's eyes raked over his pale, sun-deprived skin, littered with freckles and dozens of scars, and she realized that he had aged. It should have kicked in when he stood taller then her, but now…he was no longer the awkward boy of fifteen, who was asking her to trust him and climb on the back of a dragon. This new, older Hiccup, was preparing to make her wedding ring…
And still, he was asking for her to trust him.
Hiccup turned back around and caught her staring at him intently. Immediately, he blushed. "I tell you that I'm embarrassed, and you're studying me."
Astrid grinned at the sight of his blush creeping down his body. "I don't see why you're embarrassed." She shrugged.
His eyes widened. "Do you need to get your eyes checked? Look at me!" He put his hands on his chest. "I'm skinny!"
Oh, I am looking at you…She snorted, "So? Would you rather be fat?"
"Well, yeah." He shrugged. "Maybe not like Fishleg's size, but I would like some fat! No matter how much I eat, I'm just skin and bone!" He sighed. "I know this must be hard for you to understand. You have a perfect figure, and with what happened…" He stopped.
"Hiccup, you really have nothing to be ashamed of. You look good."
"I don't need you to reassure me. I just took off my shirt because I was soaked. You don't need to say all that."
She stood and draped the blanket on the counter. "But I mean it! You look fine! I mean, mighty fine." She bit her lip.
His eyebrows furrowed. "Whoa, wait, what? Are you saying…I'm attractive?"
"Maybe not tall, dark, and handsome, but easy on the eyes, for sure." She stepped closer.
He scoffed. "You're just saying that."
"Why would I lie about it?" And being daringly bold, she reached out a hand and rested it on his chest.
He drew back. "Cold! Cold hands!"
"Oh, come on Hiccup." She teased, grasping his waist and pulling him closer. "I just want to show you what a big boy you are."
He flushed more, and Astrid grinned. She got a certain sort of satisfaction watching him fluster, and even though it was mean, she pursued it. "You're such a man." Her hand slid over his abs and up to his chest.
Hiccup gulped heavily as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. What in Thor's name was she doing? "Astrid, I-I'd really appreciate it if…if you removed your hands."
She stepped closer and kept one hand on his back while the other groped at his chest. "Just savor the moment…" She whispered, her breath skirted across his throat.
Was it hot in the forge? Maybe. He couldn't tell under the blood rush. His eyes fluttered closed as he whimpered at her touch. "As-Astr-Asssttr…" He couldn't form her name. His hands clamped into fists. "Stop…Stop please."
She cupped his rib cage as one thumb rubbed circles on his skin, her other hand trailed up his spine, her finger nails trailing softly. "A little longer."
Her ministrations were doing bad things to him and he worried for his sanity. This had to stop or else he might do something stupid, like grab her and kiss her. He was trying to be a gentlemen, especially with what happened.
He forced his eyes open and looked at her. He wanted to be firm, but his voice was a whisper. A desperate plea. "Astrid, please stop."
Like she had been slapped, the blonde recoiled from her friend and held her hands to her chest. Her breaths were staggering as tears pricked her eyes. "Hiccup, I'm so— I'm so sorry!" She moaned. "Oh, I'm such an idiot! I can't believe!" She covered her face with her hands. "I'm just like him…I'm dirty just like him…" She whispered. Then she looked up at Hiccup, who held a face of shock and confusion. "I didn't mean to force you into that…I don't ever want to do anything without your permission…you told me to stop and I didn't…I'm just—…" Her eyes squeezed shut. "I'm just like Fragonard!"
"WHOA!" Hiccup shouted, jolting her from her self-loathing. "Far from it, milady!" He tried to smile to put her at ease. "It's not like I didn't want it. I just…hmm." How to say it without making an absolute fool out of himself. "Well, I didn't want to...be tempted."
Astrid peered up at him. "What?"
"The touching was…hmm…well, it was…nice, but you know…"
She was tentative. "Arousing?"
"Yeah, that's the word." He pursed his lips. "And I didn't think it was appropriate."
"Oh." Was her soft reply.
They stood silently for a few awkward moments, but occasionally snuck glances at the other. Finally, Hiccup sighed in defeat. "You know what? If you like it, and it makes you happy, then go ahead. I'll bare with it." He took her hands and placed them on his chest. "Go ahead."
She smirked as she patted his skin. "I did it to get a rise out of you. It's not fun if you don't care."
"You're cute when you're embarrassed." She grinned.
Despite his best efforts, he flushed crimson. "I am not cute. I'm manly as Thor." He flexed.
She cackled. "You're adorable!"
He groaned. "Fine, have it your way. But if you're going to humiliate me, just…try to keep your hands off of me. At least until we're married."
She smirked brighter. "Whatever you say, lover boy."
At this point, his entire torso was red. He muttered obscenities under his breath.
As the fires were growing, he took out a paper and a ribbon. Hiccup cleared his throat. "Alright, let's get to work. First, I need to size your finger."
She agreed, holding out her hand for him to inspect.
He rested her palm across his fingertips. "Woop, this won't do." And he curled his fingers around hers. "Your hand is cold."
She rolled her eyes. "Real smooth, Hiccup."
"No, I'm serious! Your fingers need to be room temperature when I measure."
She shrugged, allowing him to rub her digits and breathe warmth back into them. Unknowingly, they came closer together, almost touching foreheads. He wrapped the ribbon around and marked where it overlapped. "There we are." He smiled, and then looked up.
Their eyes met and Hiccup felt his heart clench. Her eyes were always so beautiful, and in this night, he could see the glowing fires of the forge reflecting in them. What was wrong with him today?
"Uh…" He started.
"Do it." She commanded.
"Whatever you're thinking, I dare you to do it. Right now."
He blinked once. And then blinked again. "I'm not thinking anything."
"I can see it, you're thinking something." She insisted.
"I was thinking about your pretty eyes, but that's it!"
"You weren't going to kiss me?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Do you want to?"
"Do you want me to want to?"
"Stop it! Are you going to kiss me or what?!" She barked.
He stared at her. "Are you sure?"
She sighed, and tugged his hand so he came closer. "I…We'll have to kiss tomorrow, in front of people. And…I guess…I've missed it." She swallowed hard. "Just a little one, to prepare me for later."
"Yes." She nodded.
It was merely a peck. It didn't even last a second. But it made Astrid shiver in a delightful way. She smiled at his shyness, blushed at his kindness, and reveled in his tenderness. If Fragonard had an exact opposite, that's what Hiccup would be. "Thank you." She said softly.
"No, thank you." He scrunched his nose at her, grinning toothily and still redder then wine.
His smile was contagious.
A moment later, a large black dragon sauntered into the forge, shaking the rain from his back.
"Well, well, and where have you been, young sir?" Hiccup asked, his hands on his hips. His elated mood was evident in his voice.
Toothless gave a dragon-like shrug and shouldered passed him, curling up by the fire.
Hiccup shook his head in good humor and took a seat at the bench, drawing up a simple ring design on the paper. "So," he began, "I was thinking of a cloisonné ring, using some of Stormfly's scales?"
Astrid grinned. "Depends, what's cloisonné?"
"It's a way to decorate metal. I would inlay the scales into the gold or silver to create colorful designs…like…" He thought of an analogy. "Like a brick wall with mortar."
"Oh, I see…" She nodded slowly.
"Would you like that?"
"Sure!" She wrapped the blanket tighter and moved towards him. She rested her head on his shoulder and watched him.
He carefully sketched a simple design onto the paper. Something that would make her ring unique.
He felt her yawn. "You know, I can walk you back home." He offered.
She shook her head and pulled away. "Nah, I'll just wait here until you're done for the night." And she curled up on top of Toothless. "Wake me up when you're done."
He regarded her, shrugged and continued working.
He was planning on working the whole night through. His nightmares had kept him up, and he planned on pushing them away by burning the midnight oil. He glanced over to Astrid, who slept peacefully upon his best friend. Toothless wouldn't stay there all night, and she would regret sleeping like that for long. He finished his sketch and approached the girl.
"Astrid?" He whispered.
She hummed in reply.
Hiccup sighed as he didn't have the heart to wake her. Instead, he reached around her and pulled her up into his arms. He wobbled a bit, still not very strong, but he held firm.
"Toothless, pst!" He nudged his dragon with his foot. Why was it easier to wake up a two ton dragon than a fragile girl?
The world may never know.
Toothless stood up and stretched. "Come on, bud. Let's go home."
The dragon whined in the prospect of going out in the rain, but then perked up in joy of his slate. He held out his wing to shield the couple from the down pour and out they went.
As stated earlier, Hiccup was not very strong. But he could hold his own, and he was getting better. He was lucky that Astrid was light as his leg only slipped a few times, never actually taking him down.
He arrived at his home to see that his father was still gone. He creaked upstairs and genteelly rested Astrid in his bed. She instantly curled around his pillow and breathed a deep sigh. He rid her of her muddy boots before tucking her in.
"Sleep tight." He cupped her cheek. Then he turned to his faithful companion who was making himself comfortable. "I'm going to keep working. Stay with Astrid, okay?"
The dragon had no argument as he rested his head on his paws.
Astrid waited until she heard the click of his prosthetic going down the stairs before she opened her eyes. A great smile came over her face that she hid the whole time he carried her. He was so smitten. But, she considered it far from weak, but really adorable. He was much too kind and sweet for his own good.
Astrid pulled his pillow closer, soaking in his scent. Maybe, just maybe…
She was smitten too.
Hiccup arrived back at the forge, not much more wet then he had been. It was time to get down to business. First, he would melt down the metal needed for the filigree, then he would go retrieve the scattered scales from Stormfly's old shelter. Gobber kept a chest of raw gold up in the attic for filigree purposes. So the boy pulled down the ladder and climbed up. It took some hunting, but he found a nice sized piece for the base and another for the crevasses. He climbed back down and set the raw ore on the table.
He glanced up and suddenly jumped in surprise as Fragonard stood menacingly nearby, his brothers behind him.
"What do you want?" Hiccup asked, calm but irked.
Fragonard didn't answer.
"You have no business here." The teen urged. "Please leave."
"We're in a forge full of weapons. Do you really need me to spell it out?" He really hoped Fragonard would just take the hint. It was likely the older teen was more proficient in weapons then Hiccup, but he masked his panic.
"I told you this wasn't over. I just needed to get that stupid dragon away from you." He took up an all metal shovel that was hanging from the wall.
For the slightest moment, Hiccup was thankful that he grabbed a dull weapon, and not a blade. Though, he cursed internally for leaving Toothless and Stormfly behind. "Guaranteed, Toothless has a higher IQ then you do." He backed away carefully.
"I would be begging for forgiveness, if I were you." The older boy smacked the flat of the shovel against his hand.
"You obviously know nothing about me." A handle caught Hiccup's eye as he reached back and grabbed the weapon that rested in the fires. "I don't beg, and I don't cave under threats." He swung his arm foreword, brandishing the weapon with a loud swooping sound. The bright orange metal sizzled as he pointed the sword at his opponent. "Get. Out." He bit.
Fragonard laughed. "You think that scares me? You don't have the guts."
It didn't matter that the blade was dull, Hiccup stepped foreword and pressed the scalding tip into the boy's arm.
Fragonard recoiled, foaming at the mouth. "You son of a—" He shrieked and swung the shovel at his face. Hiccup parried the attack, sending sparks off the metal.
"If you leave now, I won't tell your dad, and I may leave your other limbs intact." Hiccup warned.
"You're so full of yourself!" He flourished the metal once again, only to be blocked. "You ruined my life! You're going to pay!"
"You had it coming! You ruined Astrid's life!" Hiccup pushed the tool away and attacked.
"I don't know why you care about that whore!"
"You wouldn't! You heartless bastard!" And he aimed to stab Frag in the shoulder, but was met with air.
He just made a critical mistake. He left himself wide open. Fragonard sent a swift kick between his legs, making him curl into himself before he careened the shovel into the side of his face.
Hiccup crumbled on the ground, holding his throbbing head and ringing ears. Frag stepped on his wrist and disarmed him. Hiccup winced at the cleated boot.
"Stupid little shit." He kicked him in the stomach. "You're going to pay. I'll make your death long and miserable."
"You can't...death is an instantaneous thing…" He breathed. Sometimes his sarcasm was a curse.
"You're going to wish you never opened your mouth." And he slammed a kick into the side of his head. Hiccup saw spots, his head full of cotton.
"If you apologize, I'll make it quick."
Hiccup spat out blood as he fought to sit up. His hands trembled as he reached to brace himself on the table. "I'm sorry…" He whispered. Then he looked at him. "Sorry you're such an ass."
It was like facing a dragon for the first time all over again. The night he knocked Toothless out of the sky and he was chased by the Nightmare around the village. Only this time, he couldn't run. He was outsized and out numbered. He was weak and defenseless. For once in a few years, he felt true fear for his life when he looked his attacker in the face.
"So, what's it going to be?" He muttered.
Like a snake, a great hand coiled around his neck and prevented him from breathing. As Hiccup choked, he flailed his arms and legs in vain trying to break free. Fragonard landed three heavy punches to his face.
"Get his legs." Frag commanded his brothers. "Let's go."
Before he faced his doom, he hoped that Astrid would at least stay safe.
Because all of you guys love my plot twists. :)