Chapter 17
A true, unquestionable blessing

Oh you're in my veins
And I cannot get you out
Oh you're all I taste
At night inside of my mouth


If there was one thing Hiccup hated about himself in particular, it was his memory.

The same memory of which he had always been so proud, which had so increased his value in the eyes of those with whom he'd had to deal; astounded with the skills of a boy capable of remembering – and recalling, when need be – the tiniest of details, to which no one else had thought to pay any mind.

It calmed his allies whilst it drove his enemies mad, serving Hiccup as a tool equally useful as his almost legendary creativity and decisiveness.

This remarkably sensitive memory came in handy not only in situations as extreme as defending their home from their enemies' attacks or conducting inter-tribal negotiations – it was of just as much use here, within the borders of Berk; whether it would be mediating between two neighbours who were suddenly antagonised because of a small scrap of land, or even to the playful bickering and word games shared with the closest of his friends.

For many years it had been the only quality of his which he had counted as a true, unquestionable blessing.

And yet in these months of darkness, even that feature had become a problem which he had been less and less able to manage. With every passing day the young Chief grew more confident in his belief that had his power of summoning the past been at least a little closer to what was vastly considered normal, it would have been easier for him to accept the changes resulting from the events from a year and a half back. He would have forgotten, he would have calmed down; and then he would have focused on what he had been given presently.

Still, he could not. In everything he came across he found a reference, a connection to one event or another, engraved in his memory for all time, not only suggesting the general shape of the situation but all those details that were so indispensably bound to them. It wasn't even what he had jokingly called 'a pathological memory for quotes' only few weeks before, for it were not just words he was able to reconstruct. He could recall the timbre and the tone of the people with whom he had talked, the gesturing and facial expressions that had accompanied their speech. Each time, before his eyes he saw entire scenes, as if they had been played to him solely on this occasion – he could see them, and therefore, he had to.

Maybe that was why time had never been of any help to him.

What did not help, either, was the fact that – to absolutely no one's surprise – the memories that found their way to his mind most willingly and thus most often as well, were the ones he could not wish to watch any less, reminding him of people of whom it had been the hardest for him to think.

If he was lucky, the choice was on his father. In such case, the only thing Hiccup had to bear was the natural wave of sadness, joined by a no longer searing sense of guilt. Stoick's death could have been avoided; his loss was bitter and unwanted. However, his heir understood that it had indeed fallen into the natural order of things and even though Hiccup still couldn't fully accept it at this point, he also realised that revolting against it would have been even more irrational.

Alas, those 'lucky' days were far less numerous than Hiccup could have wished for. In most cases his mind made nothing of its owner's resolutions and pleas, mercilessly bringing in the images relating to no one but his beloved, longed for fiancée. Someone in his surroundings mentioned a Flightmare – he immediately remembered Astrid, pushing Snotlout against the wall in response to his comments about Finn Hofferson. Someone else was told to have injured their leg – and his mind was filled with memories of the mission in which she had willingly taken the arrow meant for her faithful dragon friend.

Oh, and speaking of: the sight of Stormfly did not cheer him up in particular, either.

"Bloody memory," he muttered, pushing away his hair which, wet from the falling rain, kept falling over his eyes, decreasing his already weakened vision even further. "As if there wasn't enough trouble without adding to it. And no, Astrid, you're surely not helping the matters, either."

It was almost as if Astrid had somehow cut across his body, got into his circulation and stayed there, impossible to exile differently than by his own death.

There will always be a Hiccup and Astrid.

Maybe that was what his oath from years afore truly meant, and his present struggle was nothing else but a fulfilment of the promise made so long ago?

Good gods, and they weren't even married.

Stop it, he told himself, feeling a new ache spreading over his heart, as if someone had caught the worn out muscle and clenched it in his fist in a perfectly literal sense, to the point where Hiccup hardly managed to take another breath.

What would be happening to him if they had made it in time with the ceremony? How would he have dealt with losing not a fiancée, but a wife? Would it be even harder to part with her after they had tasted the happiness behind the married, family life or on the contrary, it would have allowed him to face the cruelty of fate with greater understanding?

I said, stop it!

After all, both of his parents had lived through a tragedy of this kind. Years ago Stoick had erroneously assumed his fair, young wife to be gone – two decades later Valka had witnessed his very real, very painful death. And yet despite all sorrow, all apparent hopelessness of their situations, neither had let themselves succumb to despair, raising and loving their only son like each of them could.

"Enough!"

As for himself, he was sure he was no longer capable of loving anyone.

"Why are you doing this to me?" he groaned with irritation, resting his forehead against a wet pole of the woodshed which he had been trying to restore, recklessly and stubbornly continuing his work despite the growing deluge.

And it wasn't even his woodshed. Why, some elderly widow had mentioned that the most recent storm had destroyed the simple structure, and having no children of her own, she could do nothing about it. The young Chief could have delegated anyone to take care of this job, like the older recruits of the Dragon Academy – he had, however, at least two reasons for which he should abandon the idea and look into the matter personally.

First of all, even entrusting the task to the kids from the Academy still would have required him to appoint at least one older attendant, and consequently meeting with one of his companions, whom he certainly did not wish to see after everything that had occurred on the preceding day.

Second, having to put these few planks was the only excuse he had for leaving his own hat, in which he would have been compelled to stay otherwise, taking care of the paperwork he had abandoned the night before.

And he simply had to get out of there.

Once again, Hiccup combed his wet locks with his fingers, before bending down for more nails, ready to put another wooden element up in its place. He heard discontented murmuring coming from a pouting Toothless, and smiled weakly; it was clear that the dragon had not yet forgiven him for his decision to forego their chance to stay by the fire and bask in its warmth in a cosy yet spacious – and most of all, dry – room of their shared hut, and causing him to get soaked through while he accompanied the young Chief in his so very absurd job.

"Don't look at me like that, it's not my fault you chose to sit here with me," was all Hiccup cared to say in his answer to this non-verbal complaint as he returned to his work. "I told you that you could stay at home, you're not of much use, anyway."

Toothless narrowed his eyes, offended, and then whacked his rider on the head without much hesitation.

Fine talk coming from you.

Hiccup chuckled quietly; hardly ever did Toothless fail to lighten his mood, especially when he chose to assume this particular attitude of an offended eminence. He threw his friend a tender glance and sighed.

"Don't worry, Bud, I still can appreciate some good company. That being said, I'm afraid that yours will be the only one I may count on for a time now; everyone else seems to be completely done with me as it is."

The Night Fury snorted again, as if giving him to understand that, all in all, he pretty much agreed with everyone's opinion. Hadn't the Viking known his companion as well as he did, it might have hurt him a little; however, they'd been through too much together for him to think that, even under such a heavy coat of sourness, lay any serious allegation targeted at him.

If there was a creature on whose support he could always count, it was Toothless – and Hiccup truly couldn't tell what he would have done if that anchor had been taken away from him, too.

Even though it was only about an hour left until noon and they were staying almost in the centre of their village, Hiccup still hadn't had a chance to talk to anyone except his loyal mount and the elderly lady who had given them this thankless task. It looked like the heavy rainfall was a reason enough to keep the Vikings in their houses – a case as interesting as rare on the island of Berk. Most of the time, it took far more than a rain to make his fellow women and men abandon their usual, daily routine.

Then again, wasn't that for the best? After all, he still hadn't gained full control over his emotions, and the last thing he wanted was to repulse more people who on their part could accidentally hit the wrong nerve in their conversation, no matter how civil it might be. And regardless of how lonely he felt, he surely felt no need to share his thoughts about the matter with anyone.

Before he reached out for the last of the planks, Hiccup decided to give a quick look at his hand, making sure that the bandages he'd put on it that morning still did their job decently. They were completely wet, of course – they were bound to be, given the weather in which he was working – and yet, he was glad to see that the small stain of red had not grown in size, not even after he'd used his hand so intensely.

"See? Healing in no time, just as I said," he pointed out to Toothless, but seeing his sceptical glare, he added peaceably, "Come on. It's not even my dominant hand."

Having no reasons to maintain the discussion, Hiccup took up his work without further delay, almost regretful of the fact that he was nearing to its end. He understood perfectly well that as soon as it was done, he would have to commit himself to another of his jobs, one he'd been trying so hard to avoid since the very dawn that day.

He had no wish to return to his hut, the place where he felt naked and vulnerable, exposed to the haunting memories of his past in a way he wasn't anywhere else – and certainly not after what had happened in there last night.

Not realising that he was willingly walking into the trap of his own memory, the same whose cruelty he had becalled only a few moments earlier, the young Chief guided his thoughts not so much towards his nightly experiences but towards the events that had preceded, and in a way, caused them. Not even twenty hours now, it was too short a time for him to forget the indignant expressions of his friends, while their accusations rang in his ears as loudly as they had on the previous afternoon. And now he, being the fool he was, was summoning these events himself.

Well, he thought, it was too late to successfully push those thoughts away now, anyway – perhaps it was better to let them echo with full force, listen to them and chime in, only to push them aside the next moment, throwing them out of his interest with his conscience well and clear.

Unfortunately for him, it was the said conscience that bothered him most.

"Worried? About Whisper?"

"You're prejudiced against her and you blame every trifle on her!"

"It sure will be better if Hiccup doesn't come here at all."

Good gods, they really thought he hated her.

On the other hand, could he blame her? Furthermore, could he refute such accusations as false, with firm belief that what he was saying was true? Ever since Whisper had found herself on the shore of their home island, he had not given them a reason to think that his intentions were those of kindness, once. The early moments of their first meeting might have been an exception to that – but then again, even that encounter had ended in a fiasco when, vexed with his own failure, the young Chief had shouted his objections right in the strange girl's face.

He hesitated then. He had never assumed that his ride towards her would evolve into reluctance so strong that even he would start to call it hatred in his thoughts. It was true that their relationship had been more than unfriendly from the start, that Whisper's behaviour had always vexed him, that he'd been equally unhappy with her attempts to participate in the life of Berk and with the distance she'd kept towards some of its matters. However, none of this had seemed to matter much – just as he had said in his chat with Heather two weeks before, he simply did not like that girl.

Just that and nothing more.

That had been the case until now, when suddenly her actions had grown in his eyes to the size of sabotage, and yet, that wasn't even the most important part of it all. What hurt him most was the disloyalty of his own friends, acting behind his back, already perceiving him as the monster he'd fought so hard not to become.

Their lectures, which he might have seen as reasonable in other circumstances, could result in nothing but his impatience and ire.

"She is the best thing that has happened to us since Astrid passed away!"

They wanted to stand for Whisper, but at the same time they couldn't understand that such comparisons could only do her harm.

He inhaled heavily, trying the last of the nails in its place. He knew that all of the pain he'd carried with him still didn't give him the right to cause even the slightest pain to the others. His allegation had been great and not fully grounded, indeed – he had no doubt that the best he could do right now was to pocket his pride and apologise to his friends for that unchecked outburst.

Something stopped him from taking that step, however, and it was not even the sense of that cursed dignity of his that might have appeared as the biggest obstacle. Hiccup had wronged his friends, just as they had wronged him before, and being friends, they should have ended the nasty business with mutual forgiveness and never speak of it again.

To the misfortune of all, it was not the only relationship bounding them now. For a year and a half now, Hiccup had also been their Chief, in the same he was a Chief to dozens of Berkians, with whom he wasn't – couldn't be – in a relation as intimate as he'd used to be with his friends. Had he given in to his peers' ideas and let it of, how could he demand obedience from the rest of his folk?

No, that wasn't an option. Even if his own, personal relationships were to be put at stake (not that they were in a particularly good condition to begin with), he could not sacrifice the well-being of their village in order to protected them – and maybe it was foolish of him, but he still believed that Berk's prosperity was closely connected to his already weakened position. He wanted to serve Berk – but he could only do it as long as his people saw him as a leader he was trying to be.

And that was why he needed to be stern.

Besides, as he had already remarked earlier, his friends could hardly be called innocent, and the only thing he could be apologising for was his overly violent reaction to the settings he had come across. The only person whose forgiveness he should seek was Whisper herself; but again, such apology would only make sense if the girl had been aware of all the accusations he had made towards her, while Hiccup was certain that she had left the place of events long before he'd made his appearance – the Twins had been so sure of her absence that they had easily convinced him, as well.

Surely, none of the Vikings was going to recount his visit to her.

He felt another gush of wind on his back and shivered at the unpleasant, icy stroke. Even though he'd been standing under the roof he'd put together before, it could not count for much – his clothes had been soaked long before the woodshed had begun to as much as resemble a shelter. Now, as he came close to the end of his work, he was tired and cold, and yet strangely satisfied with having at least one task done properly.

He could almost say that, despite all physical discomfort he felt, he was doing great in general – if not for that wretched cough that had bothered him more and more in the course of the past few days, and which now shook his body again, and with a force that caused Hiccup to lean against a wall to keep his balance at all.

Toothless found his way to his side in a second, but the young man only shook his head at him, pointing his finger at the water bag strapped to the saddle. The dragon understood his clue and moved, allowing Hiccup to reach for the precious liquid; the latter opened the container quickly, swallowed a few gulps and with a relief reflecting on his face, put it away eventually.

"I'm… fine… rea-lly..." he panted, trying to colour his voice with a careless tone, while deep down he prayed for the attack not to repeat itself. "My throat… My throat has gone completely dry and that's the consequences of it."

Toothless didn't even get the time to let out his usual, sceptical snort when something had crashed against the thin roof above their heads, breaking one of the planks with its weight. They both jumped away immediately, though thankfully, the impact of the fall of that unknown object was not great enough to make it come inside the shed.

Having calmed down a little, Hiccup approached the place where the roof had collapsed to take a better look at the damage.

"It takes more than a little branch to do something of this kind," he summed up after a moment. "I better go up and throw it down before it falls on someone's head on its own accord. Then we'll only have to rip off that broken board, put another one in its place and then we can go home. Come on, you'll help me get up there."

In a few confident steps he made his way out of the shed, once again putting himself on the mercy of the deluge and gale. Toothless didn't understand his companion's intentions at first; however, as soon as the true idea behind Hiccup's plan had occurred to him, his eyes widened in concern and he threw himself in his direction, grabbing the sleeve of his wet tunic and attempting to drag the reckless Chief inside their temporary shelter again.

"Toothless, what on earth are you doing? I'm not trying anything special here. I'm just going to get up there, throw down whatever is lying on the roof now and get back down right after; it will take two minutes at most," Hiccup explained impatiently and, ignoring the dragon, rested both of his hands on the edge of the low, slippery roof. "You don't want to help, fine – but at least don't hinder me when I'm trying to work myself. Come on, you really think I could hurt myself at such a poor altitude?"

And not waiting for an answer, he pushed himself from the ground and pulled his body with with one, skilled move.

Not a moment later, he was up.


Had the decision been left to her, Whisper probably wouldn't have left the hut at all that day.

Goodness, she wouldn't have put her nose from under the blanket if only she could have.

She had not slept badly – such a statement suggested that, despite some difficulty, her body had managed to get at least a little rest, while in reality the girl had not as much as got a wink of sleep the previous night. As she had laid in bed, she'd heard some of the guarded whispering between Ruff and Tuff, who as per usual went to their own later than she did; turning on her side, she gazed into the dying flame of the fire they had kindled before; and finally she fixed her gaze on the window, longingly staring at the world that stretched beyond it, no longer sure if she was willing to see the dawn or if she was afraid of it coming after all.

Throughout the night, there was only one question that rang in her mind.

What have I done to him?

She'd disobeyed him, that's what. She might not have been the one to come up with the idea of rebuilding Mildew's hut, she was, however, the one who had accepted it and then had done all in her might to make the plan come into life – and now she needed to face the consequences of her untimely show of independence.

She had made a mistake; and one must be ready to pay for those.

Besides, her friends were undoubtedly convinced that she only knew about the entire incident thanks to their highly succinct explanation, and thus had no idea about the insults thrown at her by their wrathful Chief. Whisper had not put them right on the facts. If the Vikings would rather pretend that nothing of any importance had happened, then she was ready to help them out in that regard.

However, keeping up appearances always meant a certain degree of sacrifice – in this case meaning that she had to forego her chance to lock herself away and wallow in self-pity. Then again, maybe it really was for the best that such an opportunity had been taken away from her, or who knows what state it would have led her to.

So she got up and got dressed, saying both a hello and a goodbye to the Twins with the same smile summoned on her lips, explaining her early leave with the necessity to talk some things over with Gustav as soon as she could. She couldn't tell whether her hosts had truly believed in her excuse, even though neither had said a word about it, either, answering with a single nod of their fair heads.

They had no wish to touch upon the subject of the yesterday's events, either.

Not wanting to risk her friends changing their mind as she waited, she left the hut and set off towards Gobber's workshop in a brisk step, determined not to give in to the sadness and fear that had haunted her constantly since the previous afternoon. After all, the smithy was a perfect place to keep up her zeal – she could not imagine a territory on which she felt safer, not to mention that, as those who weren't directly related to their unsuccessful scheme, the smiths were in all probability still ignorant of everything that had occurred on the distant plaza.

When she had arrived at her destination, her hair and shirt were wet from the slowly starting rain. She'd come ready to laugh and chat, convinced however that all would remain but a play on her part… and then understood that her companions, unaware of how low her spirits were, were more than capable of lifting it, while still having no idea of their own achievement. They made her sit by the forge; they'd made sure she had got a cover to wrap around her damp figure; and then they spent the rest of their time together entertaining her with their own oratory, teasing and bickering in the exactly same way they'd done every other time.

As if nothing had happened.

Nothing has, Whisper realised, feeling a wistful yet abstract resignation take over her. However, that was the truth: even if the events of the preceding day still was a point as important as it was sore in her eyes, could she really assume that they would make the same impression on the average inhabitants of Berk?

No. Her problems concerned her alone and those of her companions who'd persisted on worrying about them.

She could disappear from the isle of Berk for good, and save for this little group of friends, no one would have noticed the change.

And that's exactly how it should be, she added in her thoughts after a while. They can't get attached to someone who spends each day wondering when she'll be given the possibility of going back to where she came from.

If only she'd known where that place was.

Never before had she wished to regain her memories so dearly, memories that could perhaps allow her to find her way home – real home. She had never accepted her amnesia completely, not for a second stopping to dream of the moment when the memory that had been taken away from her so violently would be returned to her at last; and yet, until now, she had been ready to wait, making a living in the best way she could think of.

Now all she wanted was to run away; something that would remain impossible until the day when she would learn who – or what – she truly was.

She spent most of the forenoon in the forge, and she would have spent the other half of the day in a similar way gladly, however, fate seemed to have different plans for her. As soon as the rain began to grow stronger, Gustav ceased his work and declared to an astonished Gobber that the roof of his family house was in an absolutely terrible state and therefore he must rush to the place and aid his parents, who may not have been able to tackle the problem on their own. The old smith raised his eyebrows in disbelief but made no objections anyway – he well realised that trying to work in such a weather would be pointless and assumed he might as well send his apprentice home without delay.

When the boy had left the workshop at last, Gobber gathered his tools, tidied their work stand a little, before turning to Whisper again.

"You know what, kid, I think you should try to get yourself home as well. I've got business in the village to take care of and this place can get really draughty. You stay here and you'll catch a cold, and it's the last thing we need right now."

"I'm not as fragile as you think I am," she answered laughingly. "But you're right, it's better not to tempt fate – besides, sitting here all alone is hardly a pleasure for me. I think I'll wait for a break in the storm and run home then. Who knows, maybe I'll manage to get there and not get soaked through completely."

"Whatever you say, lass. You may take one of those blankets with you, if you keep it above your head you do have a chance of reaching the Thorston hut at least partially dry. Well, until later then, little one. See you in a better weather, I hope."

And then he walked away, disappearing behind the curtain of a falling rain which beat harder and harder against the not so thirsty earth. Whisper stood by the entrance of the smithy, holding a thin bundle of material in her hands, patiently awaiting the moment in which she could leave this respectable temple of work.

The break she had wished for came at last and the girl used it to the best of her abilities. She spread the ready fabric over her head and set off running in the chosen direction, with some difficulty avoiding the many puddles that now covered more and more space on the narrow streets of Berk. However, after her sleepless night even such a short distance proved to be too great a challenge for her, and willingly or not, she had to admit that she indeed needed at least a few moments of rest, if only to calm down her uneven breath before she would take up her race again.

A short but effuse tree came into her view right after she had covered the first half of her way home, and she took refuge under its branches without any further hesitation.

While her body regained its lost strength, Whisper focused on her new favourite pastime and began her usual attentive observation of the world around her. The rain really had eased off, improving the visibility greatly, allowing her to notice more than the blurry contours of huts and stables, even if, truth be told, there wasn't much more to look at there in the first place.

Her attention was caught by movement occurring next to one of the houses, looming a good few dozens feet away from her. Hidden inside a small shack was no other than the young Chief of Berk, with his appearance causing the so well known feeling of unpleasant astonishment that she did not even care to fight anymore. She spotted Toothless pull on his rider's sleeve before she saw Hiccup shoo him away – and yet, that was not the important part.

The only thing that mattered to her was the fact that both leaders were occupied with one another, and to a degree that should allow her to sneak away from her own hiding spot without driving the attention she had no need for.

She looked away, focusing on the road ahead of her and almost accidentally – and only in the corner of her eye – did she see Hiccup climbing on top of the delicate structure. Driven by her curiosity, she decided to grant the young man one last glance before she ran away. She saw him straighten up and step forward carelessly, only to wrap his hands around his head and lurch dangerously a moment later.

And then he slipped.

Toothless didn't manage to catch him in time.


Author's note: Now see who finally decided to show up for work.

So, yeah, it's been a while. Again. And I know that again, the place I left you last time wasn't the greatest one - and neither is this one. I'm sorry for leaving you hanging for so long; I do hope I'll manage to do better in the future but for many reasons, I can't make any promises about that.

I've told you many times that I didn't want to abandon this story, that I wasn't going to. I still don't want to. I still hope that I won't. But if I am to be honest, I'm just not sure if I can continue with it.

I'm not saying my goodbye yet. This story still means a lot to me and I know it does to you, too (receiving reviews so long after the last update really warms my heart, even if they're not entirely positive), so I promise I will try to continue to the best of my abilities. I also have two more chapters written that only need translating, so you can be pretty sure that you will get those at least - and hopefully, I'll manage to create more by the time those two are posted.

Once again, thank you for all your support. I hope I've managed to justify Hiccup's actions at least a little in this chapter and that he no longer feels so much out of character for you. As always, I will be more than grateful for any of your reviews.

Until next time my friends, which I hope will be soon.

Love, Margaret