By the end of dessert all that was left of Hilda's coconut cream pie were some pitiful crumbs on the bottom of the pie dish. Hiccup and Astrid made quick work of the dishes and because it was indeed a cool night decided to walk to the apartment.
"I really am sorry for Scott's behavior," he said for the second or third time that night. "I know you don't want me to do anything but honestly, I've seen the way he treats women and I don't trust him as far as I could throw him."
Astrid squeezed his hand, "Thank you and again, his behavior is not your responsibility. And seriously, don't worry about me, I may have been a beauty queen but my dad was a Marine who made sure I could defend myself against jerks like that."
Hiccup stopped and leaned against a fence post, "Oh, I have no doubt about that," he said rubbing his shoulder in remembrance, "and I think Cole would agree too."
She leaned back against him and smiled when he playfully took her hands and turned her around so that they were face to face. "Well, he's the one who wouldn't stop teasing me about my pink kickboxing gloves, saying that I took powder puff classes. He had it coming."
"Oh, I completely agree and watching you take him down was a moment I will never forget. I don't think he will either." Hiccup still couldn't help but chuckle as he remembered that night. Astrid and Cole had a tendency to tease each other so Cole starting in on Astrid's pink gloves was nothing out of the ordinary. When Cole offered to spar with her Hiccup had considered warning him but selfishly stayed quiet. Once on the mats Cole continued his good natured teasing, bouncing around and lightly tapping Astrid's arms, saying he could never hit a girl. As someone who had already underestimated his sweet girlfriend and experienced the smack-down that followed, Hiccup had known what was about to happen. This time he happily observed as Astrid sized up her opponent for the right moment to strike. When Cole grabbed her arm Hiccup couldn't help but wince knowing just how much the next part hurt.
"Yes, well my dad and my uncle taught me well." She looked up at him and smiled, "You're getting pretty good. You almost had me the other night."
Hiccup couldn't help his gutter brain remembering a different, but extremely memorable evening, "Why yes, I did," he smirked as his hands wandered her curves.
She couldn't help the swat to his backside, "Perv."
"Guilty." He knew he was going to get his butt handed to him the next time she wanted a sparring partner, but he just didn't care at the moment.
After a nice long walk out to one of the northern pastures they made their way to the loft to get ready for bed. Astrid looked around the little apartment that was starting to look very lived in. "Are we officially living here or what?"
Hiccup looked around, "It's just a few things so I wouldn't say live as much as use it for convenience. Not to be repetitive, but I do own that big house down the road. You know the one with five bedrooms, six bathrooms, great living room and a massive pool with a Jacuzzi I'd love for us to spend some quality time in."
She tossed a pillow at him. He knew that conversation was off the table and she really didn't feel like arguing about it, so she rolled her eyes. "Well, we sleep here every night, we have barn and gym clothes, bathroom stuff, hell we'd probably even have night clothes here if we wore any."
Hiccup pulled back the neatly made bed covers and climbed in, "They're just going to end up on the floor," he said smoothly as he reached over and pulled her close, "Why bother."
The next morning Astrid couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief when they got to breakfast, "No Scott," she asked, trying to sound casual.
Hiccup looked upstairs at the quiet hallway, "If he follows his same routine he probably didn't get home till about two am so he'll sleep late, make himself a weird protein shake, and then spend the morning working out."
They looked upstairs when they heard a door and footsteps and smiled when Stoick and Val appeared at the top of the steps.
"Good Morn," boomed Stoick, "Isn't Scott joining us?"
Hiccup shrugged, "He was never much of a breakfast person Dad."
"Ah, right," he recalled with a frown but then couldn't help but smile with pride at his hardworking son and his equally hard working girlfriend, "Well, eat up. Animals need fed and this morning is grain delivery," he scrolled through the calendar on his phone, "Which should be here by eight. Hiccup, are you attending the Ranchers Council this morning? We'll be going over some new zoning issues."
"No Sir," he looked intently at his father, relieved when a look of understanding crossed his face. "I'll be working with a few of the men setting up for hay day. It looks like we should be able to fill the hay barn and both main lofts to capacity so I want to make sure all the balers are ready to go."
"Good man," said Stoick with a pleased nod. "I'll be sure to put your word in at council. As usual, a few of us are heading over to Betty Sue's for lunch so I'll be able to help this afternoon."
Astrid looked up from her computer when she heard someone walk by her office, again. She had been quietly working for a few hours trying to get some invoices out and though he wasn't interrupting her she was really starting to get annoyed. When it happened again she stood up and followed him.
"If you don't get yourself out to the garage and start working on those balers, Carlos is going to be pissed at you."
Hiccup stopped in his tracks and turned around. "I've been out there already, there fine."
She gave him "the look," she knew he was full of it.
"Ok, so I've only checked on two of them, but I'm almost certain the other two are fine."
She looked at him again.
He tried to "look" back, but failed miserably. "Ok, ok, I'm going."
Astrid walked up to him, at first looking serious but then smiled and gave him a quick kiss. "Yes, your cousin is a bit of a jerk and hit on my last night right in front of you. Yes, that is a pretty slimy thing to do but I am sure now that he knows we are together he will lay off. Besides, he is probably still sleeping off his hangover. So scram."
"It's just that I've seen him do this before and Astrid if he…," he tried but stopped at her look of annoyance.
"Babe, the caveman joke was funny last night, but I really thought you were kidding. I've never pegged you for the jealous type and honestly it annoys the crap out of me so knock it the hell off or your cousin hitting on me again will be the least of your worries."
Hiccup opened his mouth to respond but stopped when he thought better of it. He bent down and kissed her cheek. "You are right and I'm sorry."
Astrid smiled, "Thank you. Now go before Carlos comes after you and blames me for distracting you again. I just got that stubborn old man to start talking to me and I don't need you screwing up what little ground I've gained."
Hiccup couldn't help but chuckle, "He thinks you've corrupted me?"
"Haha, very funny, now go!" She insisted as she pushed him towards the exit then headed back to her office before he could distract her again.
Astrid was out in the barn giving late-morning hay when she felt someone watching her and a chill go up her spine. "Dammit," she muttered. She had really been hoping this wouldn't happen.
She stood up from the bale she'd been splitting, put on a great big smile and turned, "Good morning, Scott," she said sweetly. "Come to help out?"
She could immediately tell what he was up to by his cocky smirk and macho-ish strut. "Hey baby," he drawled, making her skin crawl even more.
Her demeanor immediately changed from pleasant to stern, "I'm not your baby."
He eyed her up and down, appraising her figure, "Not yet."
She shook her head in disbelief and took a deep breath. "Not ever, Scott," she replied coldly as she turned and continued with her task. "You do realize that Hiccup and I are in a relationship, right?"
He gave a hollow chuckle, "I'll have to admit, that was a huge shock. I mean, I know the guy is loaded since he'll be inheriting this whole place, but seriously, why are you and your extremely hot self with that complete loser? Money isn't everything ya know."
Astrid rolled her eyes as she opened the hatch door and filled then next stall's hay feeder, he really was an idiot. "Don't go there Scott. I'm trying to be nice and hold my tongue but you go and say stuff like that and it makes it real hard for me to keep my temper."
"I like 'em feisty," he said with a cocky grin as he continued to move towards her. "Come on, Hiccup is a complete wimp who can barely talk to girls. Besides being rich, I have no idea what he could possibly have done to convince you to go out with him. Trust me baby, he's got nothing on me."
This really pissed her off. She took another deep breath and turned around, someone needed to put this prick in his place. "You mean you're also a best-selling author with a Doctorate in Animal Behavioral Science who has a wildly successful horse training business and a waiting list of clients?" His look of shock let her know that he obviously hadn't been keeping tabs on his very successful cousin. "Scott, Hiccup is an amazing person who I happen to be in love with. We are very happy together and you have no business coming on to me so stop right where you are. I let last night go because I figured you didn't know. Now you do, so back off."
Unbelievably, he took another step toward her, "Does the Scott-man getting close, get you all hot and bothered? My cousin can't do that for you I am sure. "
She clenched her fists, "It's none of your damn business what your cousin does for me. You should realize right now that I don't want you to come any closer."
"Please," he guffawed as he took yet another step, "A pretty little thing like you needs a man like me." He flexed his overdeveloped pecs and biceps which rippled under his tight t-shirt, then whispered huskily, "The Scott-man is gifted in the art of pleasing women, I could make you forget your own name."
They were now standing toe to toe, and almost eye to eye. She was several inches taller but with his massive girth he stood an intimidating figure.
Astrid planted her feet and braced herself, "Scott, I'm going to ask you nicely for the last time. Please. Back. Off." She quickly looked past him and noticed Hiccup had arrived and was watching them from the doorway. She gave a slight nod, letting him know that she had it all under control, though she could tell he wasn't moving till the threat was gone.
Then it happened. Scott grabbed her waist to pull her in for a kiss but before he could blink he was down onto his knees holding his crotch where her knee had firmly landed.
"YOU BITCH!" he groaned in pain as he bent forward trying to find relief.
Hiccup had almost reached them when Scott lashed out again.
In a well-practiced move Astrid grabbed his hand, pinched the pressure point and bent it at a painful angle using his own weight against him and forcing him down on his back, she then stomped the sole of her heavy duty work boot down onto his crotch.
Scott tried to flail out of it but with his arm bent at that angle and Astrid's boot firmly in place he wasn't going anywhere. He finally spotted Hiccup and grunted out, "You asshole, get this crazy bitch off me!"
"You move and I will crush them," she threatened, her boot digging a little harder into him, "Though I would probably be doing the world a favor if you couldn't reproduce."
"You all right, Sweetheart?" asked Hiccup, still amazed at what she had done. The unnatural angle of her hold looked extremely painful, almost as if Scott's arm would break at any moment.
"Just fine, Honey," she said with a satisfied smile, her adrenaline still pumping, "Damn that felt good."
"YOU BITCH!" yelled Scott as he tried to get up again but then yelped in pain.
"Stay down cupcake," she demanded as she pushed down on his crotch again causing him to wince and stay still. "You touch me again and I will damage you beyond repair."
"Hiccup!" yelled Scott in desperation.
Hiccup squatted down so that he could talk to him. "Did I fail to mention that my girlfriend could kick your ass without breaking a sweat? No? Sorry." He looked down at his prone cousin and couldn't help the satisfied chuckle, "If I were you I would learn some manners around women. I've never seen Astrid quite this pissed off before and she's very capable of breaking your arm."
He looked over at Astrid, "Want to let him up sweetheart? He's starting to look a bit pale and if he passes out we'll have to take him to the hospital and I really don't need the insurance hassle."
"Never again," she threatened Scott with a menacing glare then released her hold and moved her foot so that he could scramble up off the ground. She couldn't help but smile at his hunched posture and the fact that he was now furiously rubbing his arm. He needn't bother; he won't be getting the feeling back for at least an hour or so.
Hiccup adjusted his shoulders and stood to his full height, towering over is pitiful cousin and backing him up against the stall door. "You know, I had been really hopeful that when your dad was carted off to prison for fraud you would see it as a wake-up call and straighten yourself out. But here you are, still the bully who thinks the world should bend at his whim."
Astrid was amazed at the transformation of her boyfriend. Gone was his normal warm smile and gentle voice and in its place was a man with a piercing stare and commanding tone. He seemed to have grown to the size of Stoick and had every ounce of Scott's attention.
"Unfortunately for you a few things have changed since the last time you were here. I guess, I finally grew that backbone you kept telling me I didn't' have. I'll protect the ones I love Scott. Sure Astrid can take care of herself. I enjoyed watching her kick your ass," he smirked, "It was kind of hot actually. But I am sure she's hurt your pride and you're probably trying to work that thick skull of yours around some type of revenge, maybe sneak up on her or send someone after her like you low life thugs have a thing for. But let me warn you. You even think of harming one blond strand and I'll make sure all kinds of information makes its way to the police. As it so happens I've trained several of their horses and their pretty grateful for my help; said I could call on them anytime."
With this Hiccup handed him back his phone. "Should have thought twice before using this nerdy little math geek as a punching bag all those years ago, Scott. We nerds are pretty smart and real great with technology. Oh, and if you ever sneak another picture of Astrid I'm going to show them to her and then sit back and laugh as she grinds your nuts into powder." He looked over at her, "Don't worry Honey after I downloaded everything to an encrypted drive I wiped his phone clean. The only thing on it now is Candy Crush and a speed dial for 911."
He watched Scott turn a sick shade of white and his shoulders slump.
Hiccup glared at him, "You make me sick Scott and it frightens me that we share the same gene pool. So I suggest you shape up, get a real job and do some community service or something. Just stay the hell off of my ranch and away from my family." He watched Scott nod and then square his shoulder and head back to the house to collect his things.
Astrid jumped up into his arms, "My hero!"
"I should be saying that to you. You're the one who made him sing soprano."
"Oh, that was easy. You were right that he would probably try and get me back. That's what my ex did and that's why I…" she stopped as the realization of what she just said hit her. Her adrenaline was still pumping and her mouth got loose. "Shit," she mumbled.
"What was that?" he asked as he pulled her over to a hay bale and sat them down.
"It's nothing Babe," she tried as she looked away. She knew where this was heading. One look in those deep green eyes and she was done for.
"Astrid," he said calmly as he turned her to face him putting their foreheads together and rubbing her back. "What ex and what did he do to you?" he quietly asked.
'Damn man should be called the Girlfriend Whisperer,' she thought. "Hiccup," she tried but he gave her that look that said this wasn't going to drop.
"What happened?" he asked gently. "Normally I wouldn't pry. We all have skeletons in our closets but the thought of this just scares me too much to let it go."
Astrid looked at his kind eyes and gentle soul, how could she help but be in love with him? She took a deep breath, "It was a few years ago," she whispered and turned away again. She couldn't look at him when she told him. It was too embarrassing.
"You know how I did that Broadway musical for two years? Well, the first few months were great. There were rehearsals and the cast got to know each other real well, like one big family." She looked at him again. It was always hard to talk about past boyfriends, no matter what the circumstances. "The man playing Sky was Ethan Crawford. He was straight off of the "How to Succeed in Business" tour company and we hit it off right away." She looked at him and awkwardly smiled.
"You started seeing each other?" he asked.
She nodded. "At first it was great. He was fun and we sounded great together, our chemistry on stage was fantastic. Then a few months later he started getting suspicious."
Hiccup couldn't help but look shocked. Astrid was not the type of girl to play the field. What could he have been suspicious of?
"Thank you," she giggled nervously. "You're right. He had nothing to be suspicious of. But any time we went out he got clingy and mad if another guy tried to talk to me. He was always upset with me for wearing too much make-up or anything that was too flattering, thinking that I was trying to get some other guys attention. Finally, one day he told me he didn't want me going to parties anymore or even the post-performance talks with the fans. I found myself sneaking out after he went to sleep and when he caught me he was furious."
She took a deep breath and got real quiet. "That was the first time he really screamed at me. It probably lasted an hour. It would have lasted longer but he was afraid of ruining his voice."
She looked up and saw a look of sympathy on his face. She hated that look. She took another deep breath and continued.
"The yelling got worse and soon I started getting jumpy and any type of outburst would put me into tears. I was a hot mess. I know I should have ended it with him but I was a different person back then. I may have won tiaras and titles and had a job that most people could only dream about, but I was still insecure and afraid of being a failure. If I had called my mother and told her that I wanted out because of a boyfriend she would have just told me to deal with it. I was too embarrassed to call my aunt and uncle. How would someone yelling at you be abusive?"
"But it is," he said quietly.
She nodded through her tears, "It is."
They sat there for a few minutes until she could get the strength to continue. "I knew it wasn't true, all the things he said to me. But you hear them long enough and you start to believe them. Pretty soon his was the only voice I was hearing. My friends tried to talk to me but I refused to listen. All I knew was what he was telling me, screaming at me. I was worthless and he was the only one that cared for me. The only reason," at this she started to tear up, "The only reason I had my job was because I was with him and I was pretty. I wasn't as talented as he was."
Hiccup couldn't help himself. He pulled her into his lap and started to rock her back and forth, "I am so sorry sweetheart," he murmured into her hair. "You are so much more than that."
"I know that now," she said with teary eyed pride. "But back then, not so much," she choked out a laugh. "Can you believe I let it get worse," she said in her own horrifying disbelief, mad at herself for believing all his lies. "I hadn't heard from my aunt or my cousin in weeks and I was so sure they were angry at me for still being with Ethan that I was afraid to call them. Then one day I called to change my cell plan and they asked me if I wanted to continue to block certain numbers. I was furious. Ethan had gone online and put the blocks in place. I was so mad that I snuck out again. When I got back he didn't even give me a second to explain and he punched me."
Hiccup couldn't help but gasp in shock and she looked at him. "I'm ok," he ground out. "I'm going to wait till you finish your story before I decide if he deserves to live or not."
Astrid couldn't help the chuckle. "Thank you. The thought of it still stings. I was more shocked than anything else, though I did end up with a shiner that took a ton of make-up to cover. That ass even blamed me for it." She looked at Hiccup as he tried to control his breathing and clenched his fist into the hay bale they were sitting on. "Calm down killer, it gets better," she said as she pat his chest and pecked his cheek.
"So where was I, oh, yes, I was in shock. I think the punch sort of knocked some sense into me. I broke up with him, moved in with some friends and started living my life again. About two weeks later I went backstage to my dressing room after a show and found Ethan going through my phone. I could tell he was mad so I tried to calmly ask for my phone back, hoping that I wouldn't set him off. I was getting stronger but he still scared me and I just wanted him to give me my phone and leave. He was furious and for the first time his calm and cool demeanor shattered and he started screaming at me in front our friends and cast mates, calling me a slut and all kinds of nasty things. One of his friends tried to calm him down but he just got worse. He swung at me again but this time I was ready. It was if all the training from my dad and my uncle had come screaming back and I hit him so hard that I broke his nose and had him pinned to the ground in less than a minute." She had to laugh at Hiccup's smile. "A few of my friends actually broke out into applause while the others just watched in shock."
"That's my girl," he said with a huge shit eating grin.
"You can imagine the rest of the story. He tried to file assault charges but several of my friends testified to my black eye and the abuse that I had tried so hard to hide. My attack on him was ruled as self-defense. Last I heard, he had been black-listed and couldn't get a job in another show. Theater Black Lists have long memories."
"Serves him right," added Hiccup as he linked their fingers and kissed her temple.
"Once my contract was up, I returned to Texas and spent the next few years on my Aunt and Uncle's ranch helping out. Rachel knew everything and was determined to build me back up so she enrolled us both in kickboxing classes and helped me find a great therapist. I knew I had won but still, something like that does horrible things to you. I spent a lot of time talking to my therapist and figuring myself out."
Finally, Hiccup couldn't help but ask something that he'd been wondering about for a while, "Do you miss it at all. Broadway I mean."
"No, not really. Am I glad I did it? Yes. It was an amazing experience that few get to have but really, it's just not me. It took a while but I finally realized that I did it to please my mom. All of it, the pageants, the competitions, even some of the shows, it was all for her. I was all she had and even though we never got along I still felt guilty, like her happiness was my responsibility. Even Ethan, well I don't blame her because that was always my choice but I really believe that I was so accustomed to having my mother control my life that when he came along it was just familiar so I went with it. It took him punching me to snap me out of it and in a sick way I am grateful. I will never let anyone treat me that way again."
She looked at him and chuckled, "Why do you look so shocked?"
"Because it's so hard to see this as real," he tried to explain. "I know it is and it's horrible but that just seems like such a different person than who I know. You're Astrid, strong and brave and determined. You take charge and do things your own way." He looked deep in her eyes and smiled, "I've always admired that about you. You never have problems dealing with people and you seem to know exactly who you are and damn anyone who tries to tell you differently."
She laughed, "Thank you. It feels good to hear you say that. I'm happy that you like that part of me, because to tell you the truth, I never want to be that other girl again. I love who I am and I love my life."
Thank you JasmineDragon the WonderBeta!