Title: Dark Horse
Fandom: How to train your dragon/ Dreamworks Dragons
Characters: Astrid/Hiccup (Hiccstrid), Stoick, Snotlout
Word Count: ~7000
Summary: She's a warrior; he's a peacemaker. And good relationships are symbiotic.
The end of childhood is a lot less glamorous than the gang had imagined. Sure, technically they can do whatever they want once they are officially adults. But being expected to take full responsibility for themselves is rather daunting, even if they've been taking steps toward it their whole lives.
The Jorgensons are particularly set on getting Snotlout to help out in the family business of shipbuilding and fishing- Hookfang weighs (and eats) the most of all their dragons, and his strength and size is a huge asset in the shipyard. It's all very well having a prestigiously fearsome dragon as a pet, but even better when he helps earn his own keep.
The Ingermans likewise have been keeping Fishlegs and Meatlug busier in the woodlot or pulp mill, while the Thorstons have been slowly getting Barf and Belch used to herding sheep without setting them on fire and the twins processing wool into homespun. Ruff and Tuff take better to the business than anybody had anticipated- they actually have a good eye for color and design, and the noise of the looms clacking is something they both enjoy immensely.
Astrid also takes the transition in stride- she's been collecting fresh herbs and produce from other islands to sell at the marketplace for months to help out at home. They're such a welcome change from Berk's tough and tasteless fare that she gets good prices, and they're easy enough to procure on dragonback. Becoming an adult just means that she saddles up Stomfly with more baskets and spends more time foraging than hanging out with the others.
Hiccup's skills are also very marketable, to his father's delight (and his own chagrin). Since dragon riding paraphernalia and dragon training lessons are growing in demand on Berk, he's been spending more time in the Forge constructing saddles and familiarizing new immigrants to the local pets in the Hanger. Toothless is allowed to hang around, but he starts spending more time with the other dragons rather than curled up while Hiccup works.
They all look forward to rides and rest days, when they can escape the new responsibilities and finally have a bit of fun.
Handing over the Dragon Training Academy to Gustav and his friends feels a bit sad- it's the end of an era. Their final lessons are serious and sobering and not even about dragons: the Chief himself teaches them to shoot burning arrows with longbows so they can help send off the dead. But there are certain benefits to growing up as well, one of which Astrid has been striving towards her entire life.
Hiccup can't believe what he's hearing, and he sets down his tools before facing her. "You want to what?"
Astrid sits on the worktable, picking up a stirrup to admire the craftsmanship. "I want to represent the Hairy Hooligans at the All Viking Tournament next spring. I can now that I'm of age. My uncle was the last champion from Berk, and that was fourteen years ago. The prizes for even fifth place would set me and Stormfly up for the next few years, and my dad's been wanting to get the roof redone. I think I stand a good shot, especially if we could convince your dad to help me train. How awesome would it be just to make Winner's Circle?"
"Yeah but-" he gestures wildly, baffled. "How about the chance of, you know, horrific maiming and death? Most -if not all- competitors come out with injuries. It's… barbaric!"
She looks up at him, irked. "Well, we're Vikings. So I get a scar or two. It's not like I have no battle experience. Besides, it's all blunted weapons."
"Yeah, but you've always had dragon backup in a real fight. And blunted edges still do a lot of damage, especially if the typical, you know, Godrick the Giant types have got their weight behind them. Don't tell me your dad approves."
Astrid juts out her chin stubbornly, glaring. "I'm an adult now and I make my own decisions. I've been training for this my whole life, Hiccup, and I've got the entire winter to get into top shape. This is one of the things I'm really good at- you know that." Her eyes are reproachful. "I thought you'd be supportive."
"Supportive. Of my girlfriend possibly losing a limb. Or eye. Or both."
"Oh come on, that eye thing was a freak accident! Who would've guessed that sword would shatter like that? Besides, I know a guy who can fix me up a decent peg leg."
Hiccup shakes his head, reeling, and gestures at his leg. "You think this is funny?"
She gives him an outraged look. "I think- that it's not a big deal! That the payoff is worth the risk! I have what- maybe five years to put my name out there before I'll be having babies?" She slides off the table and stalks toward the door before turning back. "Not all of us have the luxury of making a good living even in bad weather. Or having titles just waiting for us to grow into."
But she's already gone.
As usual, Toothless is eager for a ride after his shift is done. But this afternoon Hiccup rides rather recklessly, as through the wind screaming past his ears and numbing his hands will tear his frustrations away.
Eventually, Toothless complains about the relentless pace and Hiccup is immediately contrite, pulling him into a more sedate glide. "I'm sorry, bud. I shouldn't be taking this out on you. It's just- she's just- insane! Why would anybody purposely wade into an arena with a bunch of violent goons with weapons? For a few gold medallions and a bit of renown? She's just such a- Viking sometimes!"
Toothless eyes him and rumbles reassuringly.
"…I know she'll probably survive. Doesn't make it any easier to stand by and watch giant Vikings hacking at her. Aw, maybe I can talk her out of it once she calms down."
Toothless mutters, narrowing his eyes.
"Fine. Once we both calm down. Happy?"
He spends more time in Toothless' sympathetic presence once they're back- giving him a good scratch and wash and watching as Toothless eats his fill at the feeding station they recently put up. He's feeling a lot better by the time they go home.
But he stops short when he opens the door and sees Astrid sitting across from his Dad in the front room. They fall silent and she gives him a guilty look.
Toothless pokes his head in, rolls his eyes and slinks back out again.
Wishing he could turn tail like his dragon, Hiccup enters warily. "Why do I get the feeling you guys were just talking about me?"
Stoick ignores the question. "Astrid was just telling me her goal to represent Berk at the next Tournament. And I'm thrilled to see a young Hooligan with such initiative- she's put in a lot of training, and I know she's already quite a shieldmaiden. She's asked me to help her train."
Hiccup sighs, resigned. "Of course she has."
"So I've proposed a trade: This winter I will make arrangements to train her. And in return, Astrid will train you how to use at least one short-range weapon. Hammer, axe, spear- whatever."
Hiccup's mouth falls open. "What is it with people making absurd suggestions today? Astrid, you remember the first time I went through the old style Dragon Training. What a marvellous failure I was at all the Stop, Drop and Shield or the Hack and Roll." He turns to his dad. " I have my shield. More importantly, I have Toothless. I thought you'd accepted that I'm not a hammer kind of guy, Dad."
Stoick nods, holding a hand out to keep him from protesting further. "Hiccup. I know it's not your nature. You're a peacemaker, and Berk has never been more prosperous thanks to that. But not every tribe is content with trade when they see a land with plenty- Viking tribes especially. You'll be chief one day, son. It'll be your responsibility to protect our people. And you need to be ready to lead them into battle if -Odin forbid- there's ever a war. You're older now and you've finally started to… muscle up. You're able to wield a proper weapon, and it's past time you learned how."
Hiccup listens, eyes troubled.
Stoick continues. "Now Gobber's given it his best shot, and I know we'd only argue if I tried to do it myself. But it hasn't escaped my notice that there is one person on this island you do listen to. Astrid can teach you the way we can't."
Hiccup screws up his face skeptically. "So you're going to ask my girlfriend to hit me with weapons on a regular basis. Wow, thanks Dad. I'm sure this will do wonders for our relationship."
Astrid gives him an exasperated look. "Come on, Hiccup. You taught me to train dragons. Let me return the favor." She smiles tentatively. "You get time off when we train, and we haven't had a lot of time to spend together since we graduated. It might even be fun."
He looks at her and sighs before giving her a wry smile. "Aren't you supposed to do the honey part before the hatchet?"
Satisfied, Stoick stands and grips Hiccup's shoulder. "Good. That's settled, then. I've got to do some Chiefing at the docks- another boat of settlers was spotted earlier and they should be almost here. Hiccup- there's smoked fish stew, bread and pie from the Larsons on the table. Plenty there if you'd like to stay, Astrid."
Stoick strides out and Astrid throws Hiccup an apologetic look once the door shuts behind him. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this. I just wanted the best warrior in our village to train me and well- I can't really say no to the Chief."
He shakes his head, waving her towards the table. "Aw- don't worry about it. He's right. That title just waiting for me comes with a whole list of prerequisites and responsibilities."
She looks contrite as she helps move the place settings. "I'm sorry I said that, too."
He shrugs and starts serving the stew. "Well it isn't fair. Look at this- free dinner even though I didn't do a thing. I know how lucky I am, even if I'd rather be, I don't know, inventing things or doing small home repair. But I guess… we all just have to do our best with what the Gods deal us. Anyway, I'm glad it's you doing the weapons training rather than say, Snotlout."
She snorts. "Well, with that glowing stamp of approval, I can't wait for our first training session."
He sighs. "You sure I can't talk you out of going for this? I… care- about you and we are talking almost guaranteed injury here."
She meets his eye. "I'm not afraid of a little injury. You already have a badass scar- it's time I show everybody what I'm made of."
He gives her an appalled look. "You know what I remember about being a badass? Not beating the Red Death- no, no- I was blacked out. When I came to, it was delirium and chills, the reek of poultices and infection. The best part was the screaming while my Dad held me down so that the Elder could cut the rot out. And finally, passing out again when she held a brand to it topped off the whole heroic adventure."
She's gone pale and her eyes are wet, but she remains steadfast. "I remember. I was there, outside that whole time- who do you think was holding Toothless back? I'm not- trying to make light of how much you suffered. But you got through it, and I'd hope I could do the same if I ever had to. I mean, I don't even notice you're missing a leg most of the time. You can walk and run and dance. And that peg leg helps you fly better than the rest of us."
She covers his hand with hers, needing him to understand. "You really want to know what your leg means to me? It's the price you paid to end the war for all of us, Hiccup. You won a war. You're the Hope and Heir, the Dragon Conqueror. You want to know who I am? I'm the girl who came in second in Dragon Training that year. I'm the girl who didn't even place at Thawfest last year. I'm the girl who is going to have zero income all winter besides what I get from mending nets and splitting fish. So yeah, I want to turn this one thing I'm good at into something. And the opportunity is right there. So I need your support in this, okay?"
He's not totally convinced, but he gives a reluctant nod. "…Okay. But- you know that you're good at more than just fighting, right?"
"I know. But come on, Hiccup! This is the All Viking Tournament. All the tribes, fantastic displays of fighting prowess, former champions, goods from across the isles, dancing and feasts- I've been dreaming of participating my whole life. I have to at least try."
"Well, with my dad's help you might do better than try," he admits. "He's-"
"-a three time champion. I know. He trained my Uncle Finn, too."
Her eyes go sad with remembrance so Hiccup changes the subject and gets up to grab a knife for the bread. "Want to hear about the custom order that came in? You won't believe what they want engraved."
She looks at him gratefully and smiles. And the rest of the evening goes the way it normally does when two young people who like each other an awful lot share a meal.
Stoick officially re-designates the arena for training, and Astrid pores through weapons training manuals and re-familiarizes herself with the moves whenever she has time to spare. As autumn turns to winter, good flying weather becomes less and less common and everything besides the pines begins to go brown and dry. She has to admit that foraging season is done when she comes back empty handed three days in a row. She asks Hiccup to report to the arena the next morning to start training, and when he arrives she's already there sorting through a big crate of weapons.
Astrid gives him a bright smile. "First things first. We choose a weapon for you to try out."
Hiccup gamely reaches in and grabs the first weapon: a mace. She makes a face and gives her head a half-shake. "…Maybe let's start with the lighter weapons."
Hiccup sighs and shoves it back in the crate, fervently hoping this won't be too humiliating.
She smacks him on the shoulder. "Hey! Stop that. The reason I agreed to do this is because I think the Chief is right."
He looks up skeptically and she explains. "I've always been slim and short and you're a Hiccup. So we can't just... smash our way to victory the same way most Vikings do. But I've always been able to win fights anyway, and so can you. Think of it as…fighting like Loki instead of Thor. Dodge and distract, and strike like an adder when you spot your opening. Use your opponent's weight and strength against them; know where all the weak points are. It works."
He smiles slowly as he thinks back over the way he's seen her move against Alvin, Snotlout- anybody. "That…makes…so much sense." He gives her a look of pure admiration. "You're a genius."
She grins back, shrugging modestly before continuing breezily. "Well, it's not like it's going to be easy. You're still clumsy and undisciplined, and your endurance and strength need some major work."
He raises his eyebrows wryly. "…And then with the honesty."
She deflates slightly. "Hiccup."
But he smiles reassuringly. "No, you're right. So was my dad. If anybody can teach me, it's you."
She takes heart with that statement, eyes brightening. Then she briskly picks up a spear and steps a couple feet back. She gives it a whirl in her hands, stopping it mid-spin to stab forward. "So the spear is good if you want to keep enemies at a further distance than with say, an axe or a sword. Plus you can throw it in a pinch. If you want to carry a shield you won't be able to use it two handed though. Give it a try?"
He hefts it experimentally, giving it a slow spin and stab the way she had. She shrugs and moves on.
"The sword is pretty basic- if you want to use a shield too, this would probably be the easiest to coordinate with it." She slashes and steps forward through to the next slash fluidly.
He swaps his spear for a sword and imitates her, and she nods approval. "Good. But aren't you left handed?"
He blinks. "Uh- everybody else holds a sword this way."
She smiles. "Well, yeah. But it'll be easier for you if you swing left-handed, just…" She switches hands and adjusts her grip and stance, then walks through the first two slashes again. It looks a little awkward on her, but he after he tries it, he has to admit that it feels more natural.
"Might actually give you an advantage- most people won't have trained against a lefty."
He nods, feeling encouraged. "Sounds like my kind of advantage."
She grins. "Great. We can start with sword training then. Well, let's move this stuff to the side and we can start with the drills."
Stoick stops by a couple hours later, observing as Astrid patiently adjusts Hiccup's posture. "I know it's getting heavy. But you need get used to keeping the tip up- you're not resting it on a grindstone anytime soon."
He does his manful best despite the aching in his arms and shoulders, a glint of stubbornness in his eye. When he spots his dad, he gives a wry smile and shrug and Stoick smiles and nods in acknowledgement.
It's never been easy to father this son of his. But they both know when he's got something right.
A few months later, Hiccup is used to the bruises.
Maybe it's a Viking thing, but having his girlfriend hit him with weapons actually is good for their relationship.
It's not just the extra time spent together- he might not have her endurance or flexibility or sheer level of skill, but it's satisfying for both of them to see him improving. And it's actually really fun when they practice tumble dodging with Stormfly and Toothless- there's no better incentive than a Nadder spine or light plasma blast threatening to bite you in the ass if you're too slow. There's a kind of camaraderie too- comparing bruises and talking about techniques and footwork is a lot like the friendly competition of the Dragon Training Academy again.
He doesn't mind the changes in his physique either- he might never be brawny, but that admiring way Astrid looks at his body now sure give his confidence a jolt.
Astrid wasn't kidding when she said violence was communication: she's also been training him to observe closely so he can tell when she's feinting, which way she's about to lunge or where she's decided to slash. "You're good at this with dragons. You have to be good at this with people. The bad thing about being built like this is that we can't wear heavy armor- it's more burden than help. So one hit and we're usually done- you have to stay alert and ahead of your opponent."
Every bruise and missed hit is a lesson, and he knows he's making progress- the movements are becoming muscle memory and he can actually dodge some of her hits now.
It becomes even clearer when Snotlout decides to pay them a visit while they're training. "So this is what the great Dragon Conqueror has been up to? I know you've never been much of a Viking, Hiccup. But learning to fight from a girl? Really?"
Astrid throws him a withering look. "Don't you have ships to build? Or some other people to annoy?"
Snotlout grins, leaning back against the wall. "Just completed a sale. Twenty foot longship and a full complement of oars. With all the trade pouring in the family coffers for that one, I thought I'd take the rest of the morning off and have a little stroll around town."
"Such an unexpected pleasure for us," Hiccup says dryly. "Did you need something from the arena?"
"Naw. Just wanted to watch Astrid kick your ass."
They both tilt their heads and glare at him, words unneeded. It's not that they don't get the occasional spectator, but one doing his utmost to be obnoxious and intrusive is hardly welcome.
"This isn't a show, Snotlout. Get out," Astrid says, stepping in front of Hiccup and waving her sword towards the door.
"Or what? You'll strike down an unarmed man? Not very Viking-like of you."
She glowers, but Hiccup places a hand on her shoulder. "You know, I've got a better idea. You want to see me fight like a girl? Fine. Why don't you try me on?"
Snotlout's sneer becomes downright gleeful, and he pushes away from the wall to stride over to the weapons crate. "Welllll, I wouldn't want to be accused of bullying." (Hiccup and Astrid both roll their eyes.) "But since you're issuing a challenge, I guess I can show Astrid what a real man is capable of…"
Astrid gives Hiccup a worried look, but he shrugs it off, explaining quietly. "If I lose, he'll leave knowing he's still able to beat me up. One or two more bruises won't be a big deal. It'll get him out of our hair, at any rate."
Snotlout chooses a double-handed sword, swinging it experimentally before nodding with satisfaction, moving into the sparring area chalked into the center of the arena. Hiccup takes up the customary position on the opposite side and Astrid backs out, frowning.
She knows the resentment there is pretty deep seated- he'd basically lost the Chiefdom by default when Hiccup was born. And despite all the growing pains, Hiccup had not only beaten all the odds against him making it out of childhood alive, he'd more than proven his worth in the last two years. All of those triumphs have to stick in the craw a bit, even with the truce of sorts struck during their Academy years. Her and Hiccup's openly acknowledged relationship is just the newest bone of contention to add to the pile- Snotlout had been hitting on her for years.
They both watch him advance, a satisfied sneer on his face. Hiccup stands lightly, waiting, gauging.
Snotlout's body language is easy to read- that first blow is going to come heavily from the left, across the exposed midsection under the light leather armor Hiccup's designed. He obviously expects Hiccup to try –and fail—to parry.
When it comes, he's ready- Hiccup pivots back and the sword hisses harmlessly past. Snotlout can only gawp over his exposed shoulder as Hiccup brings his sword down on Snotlout's left wrist guard.
Snotlout howls and his sword clatters to the ground.
"Well, that's going to be a nice bruise," Astrid observes, smirking. "Looks like fighting like a girl isn't completely ineffective."
"That's- not- proper technique!"
"You'd have preferred it in the ribs?" Hiccup asks dryly. He knows better than to smirk, but it's a nice feeling finally getting one up on his cousin at a physical contest.
Snotlout examines his arm gingerly before stalking toward the exit. "Whatever. It's just because you get every morning off to train. I'm a working man and I don't have time for childish games. In fact, you know those nets that needed mending, Astrid? Yeah, don't bother coming to the docks later- you aren't needed."
Her eyes widen and she goes pale before bright spots of color appear in her cheeks. "What? But that's completely unfair!"
Hiccup is just as incensed. "Snotlout! That's uncalled for!"
Snotlout shrugs. "Tell it to someone who cares." And he saunters out with his head held high, pride apparently salvaged.
Astrid mutters an oath and hurls her sword into the ground, bringing her hands up to her temples.
Hiccup goes to her, feeling useless and guilty. There isn't much to do around Berk once winter sets in, and she's been taking what menial work she can find- helping split and dry the fish her Dad brings in only takes up a couple afternoons a week and he usually does it himself anyway. They all know she'd relied on the Jorgenson job for extra income.
"I'm sorry, Astrid. I should have just let him whack me."
She scrubs a hand over her eyes, shakes her head and swallows. "Whatever. He's just a muttonhead sore loser. And you dodged and disarmed perfectly, so you know? I'm doing something right. He can mend his stupid nets himself- I need to read up on what to teach you next anyway."
He tentatively slides an arm around her, and she sighs and leans into him, accepting the comfort until her eyes and nose stop stinging at the unfairness of it. Then she pulls back and punches his arm lightly. "Well we better stop wasting training time, babe. We can relax when I can't kick your ass."
Winter on Berk is long, and rest days seem few and far between now that they're adults. But every once in awhile, even during Devastating Winter, the weather dawns clear on a rest day, and the air above Berk fills with a cacophony of dragons and riders as soon as breakfast is done.
They're Hooligans. Making noise is a way of life.
Hiccup and Astrid usually start with a spiralling climb straight out of Berk, giving Stormfly and Toothless free rein to stretch their wings. It's hard to care about the bone deep chill when the horizon is beckoning, the day so full of infinite possibilities.
They rarely take off with any sort of agenda- date day is an adventure. Stampeding boars, breathtaking scenery, majestic Timberjack encounters, screaming farmers- Viking dating isn't for the faint of heart, especially when you throw dragons into the mix.
So they're not particularly perturbed when they end up in some cave taking shelter from a squall one frosty afternoon, unable to take off due to damage to Toothless' tail fin rigging. They have food, a blanket, Astrid's axe and Hiccup's new emergency torch, plus their dragons- the only thing that worries Hiccup is that he'll probably have to use the drawstring from his pants to temporarily repair the line.
Boy, that's going to be awkward to explain when they get home.
Astrid holds the torch so Hiccup can inspect the damage with both hands, and he sighs as he examines the snapped and frayed cord. "Must have gotten caught on something while they were horsing around in the forest. Looks like I'll need a new piece of rope about a foot long. I can use my drawstring, but well…" he gestures at his pants and raises his brows.
Astrid laughs, imagining the looks on people's faces. She looks down at herself. "Well, how about these?" She shows him the leather straps holding on her fur wrist guards.
Hiccup sighs with relief. "Thanks- so much better. Just need to find something to cut a piece off."
He waves his hand and shakes his head when she starts to untie one. "We can't go until this squall blows over anyway. Should try to stay as warm as possible until then."
She squints at the entrance of the cave. "Shouldn't be more than a couple hours, right?"
"If it's a typical winter squall." Hiccup grabs the blanket off Stormfly and smiles. "Might as well get comfortable while we wait it out."
She sets the torch down carefully on the ground and they wrap themselves in the blanket while the dragons settle on either side of them. "Remember what Fishlegs said about being caught in the cold?" she asks.
He smirks, sliding an arm around her. "Oh, I remember."
She cuddles close, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Well, this is actually kind of nice."
He shifts, pulling her closer. "You know, I'd like to test an idea about producing more body heat," he says, frowning with mock seriousness.
She laughs and nods, pretending to frown. "I see. Well we should get on that."
"Always a pleasure to see how dedicated you are."
They conduct their "little experiment" for a couple minutes before Hiccup pulls back. "Just a second. Don't want to set the blanket on fire by accident."
There's also no need to waste the Monstrous Nightmare saliva that fuels the torch. It's easily available on Berk compared to imported sulfur and lime thanks to Gobber's dental practice, but still- they'll need the light when he's doing the actual repairs.
Hiccup picks up the torch, waving it to gauge how much saliva is still inside.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees both dragon heads wave in unison and he looks up, worried. Dragon senses are far more acute than theirs- if there's a Whispering Death or Changewing in the area, Toothless and Stormfly will know first.
But they're calm- a little too calm.
"Huh. Look at that." Hiccup watches closely as he waves the torch slowly and both Toothless and Stormfly tilt their heads with it as if mesmerized.
"Huh. So dragons like fire. Not surprising, considering," Astrid says.
He tilts the torch to the side, and they both smile as both dragons' pupils dilate and their jaws drop open.
And then he starts considering the possibilities.
"Hey, you know how you were saying I should start carrying a sword? That I'm not half bad at using it now and what-not."
She frowns, confused by the sudden change in subject. "Yeah. But what-" She stops when she sees the look on his face and laughs, exasperated. "Seriously?"
He grins at her. "C'mon. You know you love a bit of Hiccup flair."
"You're going to Hiccup flair a- a- flaming sword?!"
"A dragon training tool. Which happens to be a flaming sword," he corrects her, and she just groans.
"Set yourself on fire and I will laugh at you forever."
He grins. How can an idea this cool possibly be bad?
As spring approaches, Astrid upgrades her estimation of Hiccup's sword skills from fair to good. It's frustrating that she's still better though, if only due to her agility- he has the endurance to chase her around the arena now and the skill to fend off her attacks and land hits. But actually getting her to the yielding point before she slips past his defenses with a critical hit is an achievement that hovers just out of reach for weeks.
And then one day, pressing forward with a flurry of attacks, Hiccup finally manages to send Astrid's sword clattering to the ground.
They both stop, panting and stunned.
Then she whoops and leaps up to kiss him, heedless of her throbbing wrist and the shield on her other arm. "You did it! Oh, Hiccup!"
He laughs and twirls her around, pulling her close for another kiss.
Her cheeks are pink and her eyes glowing with pride as she laughs. He's not sure he's ever seen her more excited, so incredibly happy for him. Flushed with exultation and appreciation, the words just seem to tumble out of his mouth.
"I love you."
Her eyes go round, and she gives a little gasp. He can see the vulnerability in her eyes before she smiles at him tremulously. "Hiccup… I… Me too."
He grins teasingly, raising his brows. "I me too?"
She looks away, punching him half-heartedly. "You can't just- you know what I mean." She hugs him, seeming to wrestle with her emotions. "Just kiss me, okay?" she mumbles against his chest.
Feeling more triumphant than ever, he drops sword and shield so he can cup her face in his hands. He can see all that emotion reflected in her eyes, and the way she sighs and surrenders herself to the kiss tells him everything he needs to know.
The moment is so perfect, a culmination of the feelings that have been growing between them- he doesn't even care how sweaty they are, that they smell of steel and dust.
He would have been perfectly happy kissing her the rest of the morning, but there's an awkward harrumph of a cough.
They break apart immediately, flustered.
"Chief!" Astrid gulps, flushing crimson and hastily brushing her bangs back. "Is something wrong?"
"Change of plan. We leave tonight, by boat. Trader Johann's just delivered a message saying our dragons won't be welcome. Security concerns with so many Chiefs expected."
Hiccup is dismayed. "But it adds days to the journey if we go by boat- it's just hours on dragonback. You went last year on Thornado."
Stoick shakes his head. "We respect the wishes of our host. Don't blame him, considering. Astrid- you and me in the ring, then you both go home to pack."
She nods and runs to get her axe, and Hiccup hustles to pick up their discarded swords and his shield. He usually prefers not to watch- she trains on a totally different level, with stakes that are far higher. It's hard enough not to wince when she shows up with an arm in a sling or when he finds livid bruises under her clothing when they're making out. Actually watching her take a hit makes his stomach lurch into his mouth.
Astrid shrugs it off, of course- she's determined to become the best. Hel, sometimes she's grinning at the sheer fun of it when she's on the offensive. And he can't help but admire her grit when she manages to keep on coming after a hit. The axe she wields is like a lethal extension of her arm, and he can tell why she prefers it to the sword- despite her build, she can give it enough momentum to shatter a shield.
Stoick obviously has high hopes for her- he regularly boasts about her successes. Throughout winter he'd arranged for her to face off against at least half the village to get her used to the variation in competitors while he coaches her through the bouts. Astrid's been sporting fewer of the gruesome bruises nowadays, and he knows she's feeling very optimistic about her chances. Seeing her actually go up against his dad though?
He's pretty sure it'll be both awe inspiring and horrible.
They start slowly, pacing in a circle and twirling their axes in that casually menacing way before his Dad suddenly moves, a wall of strength and certainty, swinging his axe at Astrid.
Astrid tumbles to the side, comes up on her feet and ventures onto the offensive while Stoick is still turning, trying to hook his knee with her axe and send him to the ground.
She misses, but uses the momentum to dance out of range when Stoick swings defensively.
Loki instead of Thor. It's never been as clear as it is now- his dad is fast for a man his size, but Astrid is far more agile and he can practically hear her thinking while she's on the move.
"Good. Bolder next time. Second chances are rare," Stoick comments.
"Yes, sir," she says, and the dance is back on- Stoick advances, whirling his axe double handed and she skips sideways, a mosquito before a mountain, before unexpectedly jumping back with a strike to the wrist after his axe whirls past.
He grunts but doesn't drop his weapon, and she has to scramble out of the way- she's too close, and she just barely escapes a flat bladed swat and the follow up slice.
Hiccup cringes until she's back on her feet. He is never going to get used to this.
But she's dancing around again, albeit a little dusty from the tumbles, and his dad nods approvingly, continuing on the offense.
Stoick's increase in aggressive tactics means Astrid is on the run for the next few minutes- she doesn't even try to parry the strokes or block with her shield, merely ensuring that they always miss. She keeps one eye on his dad and the other on their position in the arena. Each time he comes close to pinning her, she slips to the side, sleek as an eel.
He stops eventually though, smiling as he puffs. "I see what you're doing, young lady."
She grins impishly. She's still light on her feet and alert, whereas he's visibly slowing, breathing heavily.
He plants his feet and waits, jerking his chin up, and she nods and comes closer warily. His reach is far beyond hers- Hiccup has no idea how this will play out in anything but stalemate or a loss if she takes him head on.
She seems to be testing his range, dancing closer and then jumping back when he takes a swing or step or both. Stoick seems puzzled too, watching her intensely.
Hoping to surprise her, he bulls forward suddenly. But her eyes narrow and she slides under the swipe of his axe, bringing her axe around to hook the back of his knee and yanking.
For the first time in his life, Hiccup watches his dad lose his footing.
And it's all the opening she needs- her teeth are gritted as she surges upward to hook his axe out of his right hand, spinning it several feet away even as he grabs her reflexively and brings her crashing down with him.
By tournament rules, she's won the bout, but Hiccup doesn't relax until he sees her uncurl from her defensive position and sit up, grinning with giddy disbelief at her success. For one stomach clenching moment he'd just watched her desperately try to avoid being crushed.
Stoick roars with laughter as he clambers to his feet, slapping her on the back. "Well played! By Thor, what a Valkyrie you are, Astrid! You'll do us Hooligans proud!"
"Thank you, Chief. I suppose it's a day for firsts," she gasps, smiling tenderly at Hiccup.
He smiles back, relieved and humbled. She might just win this after all.