'I found a girl, beautiful and sweet
I never knew you were the someone waiting for me'
"You look perfect."
The girl winced at the sound of the familiar voice, surprised by his presence. She rose her head from above a book and looked backwards, though still not changing her initial position. She sent the newcomer a welcoming gaze and almost unnoticeably raised her right brow.
He was standing at the entrance, at the very place where the door was – where the door used to be – watching his fair-haired friend with amusement. He saw the question flickering in her eyes, but he ignored it, laughing softly underneath his breath and shaking his head in disbelief. The girl rolled her eyes and went back to her former occupation.
With his arm leaned on the empty frame, Hiccup stayed put for a few more seconds and then, not waiting for an invitation, he walked ahead. He went past his lost-in-thoughts companion saying nothing. As he reached a window, he turned around and, resting his hips on a low sill, he took up his previous observation, the slightly derisive smile not leaving his face for a moment.
The room, where they were staying wasn't big, but it didn't seem cramped either; quite the opposite, one could think that everything above that small metric area would be a superfluous whim. Of course, the young architect-to-be was perfectly aware where that feeling came from – a relatively wide southern window provided the best lighting for almost an entire day, while the recently painted green walls made it appear shipshape and clean. And the most obvious of things – in connection with the still on-going redecoration of the room, there was not a single piece of furniture left in it. Only paints, brushes and old newspapers sprawled in all possible directions. And a gold-haired girl sitting in the very middle of it.
Still hanging on the sill, the boy decided to break the silence.
"When you messaged me about spending the whole day painting, I imagined it a little differently–" he said casually, not taking his eyes off her. "You know, I am no artist, but I don't think you can do much with a book here."
The blonde raised her hand in response, constantly focused on the text. She was sitting cross-legged, with a tick volume rested on her calves, staring at the paper stubbornly, as if she was trying to find a meaning hidden between the lines. At the same time, her whole silhouette bore marks of her artistic struggles, that had undoubtedly been taking place just a moment earlier. Hiccup couldn't have not notice the multicoloured stains spread over her light shirt – over her tight, knee-high jeans – over her bare forearms. He saw how the girl used her tinted fingers to brush away the unruly wisps of hair, sloppily bound in a big bun, and realised that the hair itself was as much affected by the gooey substance as were her clothes.
'That is so Rapunzel...' he thought, beaming.
He was ready to bet that her face was covered with an equal amount of paint.
With a nimble move, he pushed away from his support and approached his friend, taking a seat right next to her and still waiting for an answer; all in vain. Now it was for him to roll his eyes before he gently bent towards her and pointed:
"You'll smear the pages with that paint."
"Hmm." She murmured in answer. Not breaking her gaze on the book, she reached behind her back, and without the smallest difficulty, she found a stack of papers that was laid there. She caught it and put it down in front of her.
"Look, I've been thinking..."
"...that maybe you'd find a moment..."
He stopped as he felt her hand on his lips. Before he'd managed to protest, she pressed it even harder and exclaimed:
"Thirty seconds, Hiccup. I need thirty seconds of peace."
He narrowed his eyes and gave her what in his opinion was a murderous death-stare; which, she obviously didn't even notice. Freeing him from her hand, she touched the sheets laying on the floor and took them. She turned her eyes on them and then shifted her gaze on the wall in front of her; she repeated the action more than once, raising her brows and frowning more times that anyone could think necessary. Eventually, she fixed her sight on the flat surface and sighed deeply.
"Do you think it will work?"
She turned towards him, with anxiety reflecting on her face. He looked at her doubtingly.
"What are you even talking about?"
"This catastrophe in front of me. Do you think I may succeed?"
"Was there ever a day you didn't?"
"Lots of times." She sighed again. "Lots and lots of times."
"No, that's how many times you thought so, and then you found a solution anyway."
"Maybe? Once… I guess." The girl stuttered, glancing at the wall again. "But this is a nightmare. The format scares me, the technique kills me, and the more I work on it, the more pointless it seems! It would've been better to give it up when I was still tinkering with that wretched project, which, by the way, was screaming that it was not a good idea. Plus, I spilt the paint and… ugh!"
She bent back rapidly and dropped onto her shoulder blades, her face instantly being covered with her hands. Nothing went as planned.
"Sorry, Hiccup. I'm a mess."
The young man watched her with a joy more and more distinctly reflecting in his eyes. His smiled widened, as he listened to the young artist's desperate tirade – and it had cost him a lot not to give a snort of laughter, when Rapunzel's back met the floor. He reached a hand in her direction and tickled her softly on the stomach. She twitched.
"You really are over thinking it. It's your room, your wall, no one has to look at it."
"I will look at it!"
"Oh, I see. Wounded pride."
"Wounded sense of beauty! I won't be able to focus on anything, having such a monster here, right before my eyes."
"Put the wardrobe there."
"What, is the wardrobe against your sense of beauty, too?" He peeked at her and saw that the girl had been observing him through her fingers. When they eyes met, she shaded them again.
She sighed, resigned.
"It's all your fault." She declared, lifting, and pulled her legs to her chin. She embraced them with her arms and transfixed, her forehead leaned on her knees.
"My fault." The boy bridled, "Sure, all the blame's on Hiccup. What have I done to you this time?"
"You told me to paint that wall."
"I beg your pardon. All I did was suggesting putting some bright element on it. I didn't mean you to wear yourself out, trying to reconstruct some half-magical symbols of a kingdom that has never really existed."
"No?" She glanced at him. Very, very sceptically.
"Of course I -"
"But just think of it! A fresh, empty, green wall and a huge White Tree on it!" The blonde girl quoted with spite, gesticulating energetically. "The White Tree of Gondor! I mean, how cool would that be?"
"I was kidding! I never thought you might take it seriously!"
"Yeah, sure, and that enthusiasm of yours was all for show, too?"
"I do not dramatise." She interrupted him. "And for your information, I usually try to take your ideas seriously."
There still was a note of pertness and feigned indignation in her voice; but the corners of her lips were twitching and her eyes laughed quite openly. She closed them and took another deep breath. It was seconds later, when they were both sitting still, staring at the common spot in front of them.
"You really must stop that." Hiccup spoke after a while. "This constant sighing can't end up well."
"I have my reasons. One of them is right ahead of you."
"Let's say so."
"Maybe you're right? About the wardrobe."
"Oh, come on."
"Seriously. I've painted so little that a chest of drawers would be enough to hide it."
The dark-haired man tilted his head, adopting a role of an expert, judging the latest work of a promising artist. He compressed his lips.
"That would be a shame. You've created a very pretty trunk."
Both of them laughed, relieved. Rapunzel got up from her place and made her way to the started picture, mildly dabbing the already dry paint with her fingers. It was good to feel at least a little bit more confident.
"Will you tell me what it's really about?" He asked, examining the papers she'd left on the floor. "It's been ages since I saw you that frustrated about your art."
"I just can't visualize this. I can't download a template from the Net and rescale it because that simply won't look good here. This tree isn't…"
"...effuse enough?" Her companion hinted, studying the printouts.
"Exactly. I need to alter it, but I have no idea how."
"And that's why you're splashing the paint on The Return of the King?"
She shrugged slightly.
"I'm looking for inspiration. Trying not to diverge from the original."
She bowed her head, fastening her eyes on the floor between her bare – as always – feet. Hiccup rose slowly and stood next to her, perfectly understanding, that the fateful painting was only one of many reasons of her current mood. And that it was probably the least important of them all.
"I think professor Tolkien would be touched by your investment."
"If so, then I guess it's worth the pain." She smiled weakly and glimpsed at him fleetingly, before she fixed her gaze on the ground again. She refrained from another sigh. "It was supposed to help me rest. You know, to drag me away from everything that has happened lately, all that nervousness and confusion, which had tired me so much. And what could be better than re-painting the room on my own in the very first week of holidays?"
He looked at her more attentively.
"You're saying it as if was about your exams."
"Because it was."
"I wished I could believe that."
"You can. I love this course, but the last weeks were worse than awful. Really." She added after seeing her friend's doubtful expression. "And to run away from the pseudo-intellectual linguistic gobbledegook, I moved the furniture out of the room and started the cleaning."
"All by yourself?"
"The girls helped me with the equipment before they left." She answered flatly, turning on her heel and walking back to the bedroom's centre. "I managed with the rest myself. And you know, I really did rest for the first couple of days. Looks like the solitude is doing me well."
Her voice trembled a little, while pronouncing the last sentence, although she still hoped that her momentary weakness remained unnoticed. She sent Hiccup a friendly smile, as if she wanted to assure him that she was all right. She sat down on the floor.
The boy kept an eye on her all along, wondering how he should provoke a conversation his friend unquestionably needed. With his hands inside his pockets, he weighed up a few potential strategies and finally, he tried: "But it's not like you've quarrelled with them?"
Her eyes widened in sudden astonishment.
"What? No, I haven't. Why would I..."
"I don't know, I'm only asking. Ruling out the possibilities."
"No, no, really." She contradicted, shaking the light wisps. "Everything's fine. I just wanted… needed… to stay alone for a while. Without them."
"Don't get me wrong. They're wonderful, both of them. Heather can be the sweetest confidant and Astrid…"
At this point her voice failed her, cracking at the least appropriate time. She bit her lip in embarrassment and finished quietly:
"Astrid is just as kind."
Hiccup frowned, not understanding the fair-haired girl's unexpected hesitation.
"So Astrid's the problem?"
She shook her head.
"I thought you adored her."
"And I do!" She cried eagerly, like if she was afraid Hiccup would misunderstand her words. "I think she's fantastic, even though we differ so much… I have always said so and I'm not going to change my mind about it now. I'll tell you more – if I had to choose between the two of them, I'd choose Astrid. She's an excellent friend and she has never, ever let me down… she would never hurt me. But even friendships like this one need a break from time to time. We both agreed that this is the moment when we should take that break."
She was staring at him stubbornly, trying to convince him not only of her telling the truth but also of believing in what she'd just said. Then she knelt on the flooring and began to collect the newspapers which lay on it, even though she wasn't entirely sure why she was doing it.
She just felt very, very tired.
"I don't like it." She heard a moment later. "You're not telling me everything and I can't help you, until you do."
"You won't do much here anyway. Not this time."
"What? You expect me to have a cry on your shoulder? Besides, since when you're using my real name?"
"No. Just, no." He approached her, grasped her elbows and with a dapper move, he pulled her up, making her stand on her feet. "What the heck is going on here? Stop wriggling, Rapunzel, I will not let you go until you explain all that mess and why it's affecting you so much. I'm not kidding."
She glanced at him with irritation, but seeing that he was not going to give up, she turned away. She could sense his anticipating gaze, but she was still unable to look straight at him. Eventually, all she did was mumbling: "Eugene."
"Sorry?" He asked, as he hadn't heard her lowered voice.
"Eugene." She repeated.
"What about him?"
"Eugene and Astrid. Astrid and Eugene. Nothing more."
She felt her friend's grip loosening, and she took her chance to free herself from it. She stepped back, waiting for his reaction.
Hiccup, on the other hand, looked as if someone had just declared the state of emergency in the whole country and he didn't have the slightest idea what could be a cause of it.
"You must be joking."
"Astrid Hofferson is dating Eugene?"
"About a month, I suppose."
"Please, Hiccup, don't."
"A month? And for all this time you haven't said a word?"
"Why should I?" She threw in at last, annoyed. "What would it change? Nothing, Hiccup, absolutely nothing. I told you, you can't help me this time and as much as I regret it, it is true."
Her eyes sparkled with tears, of which she'd been so afraid coming. She didn't want to cry, didn't want to show how much she cared, how much it all still meant to her. She felt that after all the months that had passed, she should no longer react in this way; moreover, for most of the time, she truly managed to believe, that she'd already obtained all the emotions whirling inside of her.
Once again she was forced to admit how very mistaken she had been.
When Hiccup first heard the news of Astrid's new conquest – for he didn't doubt for a moment, which of the two caught the other's attention first – he wanted to snort with disbelief and then burst into laughter, seeing the absurdity of the entire situation. But it was enough for him to glimpse at the young woman standing in front of him – to notice her lips, trembling more and more intensely – to forget about all the sarcastic comments that were springing to his mouth and focus his entire attention on her and her only. As he saw the tears, he moved towards her without hesitation and, putting his arms around her frail figure, he pulled her close in a tender embrace.
"I'm so, so sorry..." She sobbed faintly, her face snuggled against his chest. "I thought I was done with it but..."
"Shhhh." He muttered. He was keeping her close, as if he wanted to convince her, that her apology is not at all necessary – and that she herself was in the most proper place to be. He rested his lips on her hair, fighting an urge to kiss it. "There's nothing to be sorry for."
"So much time..."
"Time means nothing."
"I thought I was over it."
"Everyone thinks so; and everyone's equally wrong."
He stood still for some time, allowing her to have a good cry and let go of everything that was bothering her. After the first twenty seconds, he started to sense, that her weeping was slowly dying, replaced by the quiet tears, slipping from under the girl's closed eyes. Her breath calmed down and only a regular sniffing reminded of her present condition.
He cleared his throat.
"Look, how about this. I'll pop out for some coffee, get the Chinese food, we'll sit down at the table, and you'll tell me everything I need to know. And if not, we can just sit silent together over the chicken and caffeine."
"I don't like Chinese food." She answered, raising her head and wiping her eyes with a hand. But she was smiling at him, and her sight was fulfilled with enormous gratitude. "And I have my own excellent coffee. But I like the idea."
"Alright, then we may agree that I'll take care of coffee and lunch… and you will take care of this–" he nodded his head at the started painting, releasing her from his clasp. "Deal?"
"Deal. On the one condition that I won't regret your culinary show-off."
"Hiccup, you can't cook."
"I can't bake." He emphasised, waving a finger before her nose. "And that, Your Highness, makes a huge difference."
She rolled her eyes.
"Wonderful. Now I need to see you working. Oh, come on." He added, seeing she had second-thoughts. "You know you can finish it. Besides, you really can't leave it like that. What will you say if someone actually asks about it? That on your wall you have a great and mighty White Trunk of Gondor?"
Author's note: And I'm here! With another Hiccunzel story ready to share with you. And unless you treat its being a Modern AU a bad thing, then I have nothing but the good news for you.
First of all, this is not a one-shot. So if you liked the story so far, you may be sure to get more of it.
Second! The updates. Those of you, who know me already - and who had a chance to follow my other story, Once Mine - are most probably aware that I'm not the best when it comes to quick updates. But this time, I was wiser. I can tell you that the story is already written and mostly translated. And since I have a few days off, I'll make sure to work on it. I won't spoil you with the daily updates, but I won't make you wait for a month (or more). How about... Next Saturday?
Now, I'd like to mention three of my amazing friends. First of all, Pretty Snowflake, a video-editor, a writer, a co-shipper. This story was written as a gift for her, but I cannot say it didn't give me any pleasure. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have written it. But I'm very glad I did.
Second, my amazing editors and authors of their own, KTMB17 and water-star. Thank you for your readiness to correct my still imperfect English. I can't thank you enough. And you, my dear readers, can find them both here, on fanfiction. Their works are really worth checking.
I hope you liked that first chapter - please don't forget to share your thoughts with me! Reviews are a very important feedback and we all need it.
Take care, Margaret