. . . . . .

AN: So I wrote this a few months ago and promptly forgot about it until today. I quite like it as an examination of two things I was thinking about after the second movie: first, how Hiccup is going to cope with suddenly having the chiefdom thrust on him, when what we see of him in Race to the Edge and large chunks of HTTYD2 indicates that he has little interest in settling down anytime soon; and second, why Valka never came back to Berk and how Hiccup seems to have inherited his restlessness from her.

Unfortunately (and I guess this paragraph might count as a spoiler?), I put off posting it for too long and now parts of it have been canonballed by a few things in the newest season of Race to the Edge (largely related to the seriousness of Astrid and Hiccup's relationship as of HTTYD2, because I really thought they were only dating and not anything more). But I still rather like it, and I wanted to post it, so I am. The point of all this is to say that I guess this is now technically an AU. So if you've seen season 5, forgive me for disregarding bits of canon.

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Hiccup wakes in the darkness with the murmuring wind outside singing sweet restlessness through his veins. For a moment he tries to fight it, but something primal takes over and he makes his way to the window. Outside, Berk is silent and almost alien in the gray light of predawn: the perfect moment to take a ride, before the villagers—and, with them, his responsibilities—awake.

He dresses by feel in the darkness of his room; it'd be a waste of a candle to get himself light when he can do this without looking, and besides he doesn't want the brightness to leak out the door and wake his mother, asleep in the next room.

(Sometimes he still can't understand why she chose that room, a room that's still filled with Stoick because the man was a large enough personality that even in death, he lingers in this house, and sometimes the memories are more than he can bear, of the father who was a better man than Hiccup ever understood, and now he'll never the chance to—he'll never—)

The young chief puts on his leg and leaves the house.

But Toothless is still tired from a long day yesterday, and his only response to Hiccup's greeting is to open one eye, viridiscent and reproachful, before going back to sleep. No amount of encouraging will rouse him, so with a sigh and a good-natured "Useless reptile," Hiccup leaves without his dragon, and instead walks under his own power to the edge of the village.

The ground falls away just inches past where he stands, down to the docks and the harbor. The place is still and silent; any early fishing boats have already left, and no one else is out and about—who would choose to rise this early? The sky is clear, though the light is dim, and he squints his eyes and imagines he can see as far as the Edge. There's nothing there now, but in his mind's eye he sees it in the height of its power: a shrine to teenaged vision and enthusiasm; a cherished memory from a time when the only voice he had to listen to was his own, and the only responsibility he had to fulfill was his own need to learn all he could from the Dragon Eye.

(He's romanticizing it, of course; things were more complicated than that. The threat of Viggo and the Dragon Hunters, the duty he had to keep his fellow riders safe and fed . . . things were never as simple as he wanted them to be, out on the Edge. But here in the hazy light of a quiet Berk morning, he elects to ignore that fact.)

"What are you looking for, son?"

"Mom!" Hiccup nearly jumps out of his boot, then turns to give his mother a reproachful look as she joins him on the edge of the cliff. Valka has re-acclimatized to life in Berk very well over the last two months, but some things haven't changed, and she still moves as stealthily as a cat. This is not the first time she's snuck up on him.

As usual, she simply smirks, amused at how easily Hiccup can be startled. "You expecting to see something out on that horizon?" she asks.

That's strangely profound, actually, and the look on her face says she knows perfectly well that her son will see a double meaning in her statement. He thinks about brushing it off, but something about the silence that surrounds them makes him feel like they're hiding under a blanket, whispering secrets, mother and son against the world. He loved Stoick—always did, even when things were so bad between them—but he never could have said to his father what he's about to say to his mother.

"Do you miss it?" he asks. "Being out there?"

A look of infinite understanding and love crosses her face: a mix of that ineffable maternal love as old as the world, and the bond that comes from both she and her son having the soul of a dragon. "Sometimes," she admits, her eyes fixed out on the horizon. "A world of endless discovery, endless opportunities." She glances at her son, a warm twinkle in her eyes. "A world with no weaving."

He chuckles at that; Valka never was much of a fan of the textile arts, and twenty years in hiding hasn't improved matters.

She looks sidelong at him. "I'd ask if you do, but the answer is right there on your face."

Hiccup sighs. "It's just—how much are we missing? How much is out there? More than we could see in a lifetime. And more—"

He breaks off, but Valka guesses what he didn't say (a mother, after all, always knows): "More than we'll ever be able to see if we stay here."

"It's not that I don't love Berk," he insists. "I do. I just—" He sighs. "I thought, when I was a kid, that all I wanted was to belong here—to finally be accepted. But once I was, then I wanted . . . more."

"See the world?" suggests his mother.

"Learn more about dragons," he agrees.

"Hold on to your freedom," she says, and he nods emphatically.

"You have a wandering spirit in many ways, my son, but this is the first time since I returned to Berk that you've been so restless." Valka is quiet a few moments, and then she says delicately, "How much of this mood is a result of the council meeting yesterday?"

"Maybe a little," he admits, a whisper of heat coming to his face. He admits Spitelout had been right, but he wishes his uncle hadn't felt the need to broach the topic in a council meeting. The man had probably been pleased at the thought of how embarrassed Hiccup would be.

At least Astrid wasn't there.

As if reading his thoughts, Valka smiles a little. "My half-brother will be both an asset and a challenge to you all his life. But his son may be a little better. You've tamed Snotlout, like you do the dragons."

Hiccup smiles at that image, and then his thoughts turn pensive. "He was right, though. I . . . need an heir. Which means I need a wife."

There's a moment of expansive silence, broken only by the distant call of a far-off bird. Valka looks back out at the horizon, but she shifts just a bit closer to her son. "We've never spoken of it," she says gently. "I've never wanted to press, so I've waited for the right time. But maybe this is it. What are your intentions, exactly, with Astrid? Do you . . . do you not want to marry her? Is that why you're so restless now?"

Something halfway between a memory and a feeling flashes through his mind: sunlit hair and ocean eyes, strength and fire, sky and sea and rock. If he has the soul of a dragon, Astrid has the soul of the island under his feet, and he's always loved her for it, even when he didn't know how to put any of this into words. The corner of his mouth turns up. "I've wanted to marry Astrid since I was old enough to know what marrying was."

A wistful little smile, fond and nostalgic, warms Valka's face, and Hiccup supposes she's remembering her own youthful romance with Stoick. But then her brow furrows. "Then why . . ."

Hiccup sighs. "If I get married . . . it really is over, isn't it? No more exploring. No more discovering new lands, new dragons—I'll have a family to think of. I won't be able to just disappear whenever I want."

"To be fair," says Valka gently, "those days ended when you became chief. But I do understand the sentiment."

"It's not that I don't want a family. And it's not that I'm not willing to sacrifice to be with Astrid. I made that choice a long time ago." He knows his mother will remember the story he told her about the end of the Dragon Eye, when Viggo made him choose between the Dragon Eye and his future—"All the wonderful years you have ahead of you," he'd said, with an axe to Astrid's throat. Hiccup hadn't even hesitated before destroying the Dragon Eye to save Astrid's life, and he'd do it again, a hundred times over, to keep her from harm. It's just . . . "I guess I wasn't quite prepared to say goodbye to my old life."

Valka's eyes are as warm as the glow that the sun, still buried just past the horizon, is casting on the clouds. "No one's saying you have to get married tomorrow," she points out with gentle humor. "And I can't think of another girl more willing and more suited to letting you live the way you want to—as much as will be possible, with your responsibilities. But Hiccup . . ." She falls quiet, her eyes on the ground, clearly deep in thought.

Finally she seems to get her words in order. "The freedom we all have to build our lives the way we choose—it is a wonderful and a terrible thing, because we have the potential to do so much good, and so much evil. But what we don't have is the ability to do everything, all in the same lifetime. Every choice you make opens certain doors, but it closes others, and that can be a hard thing to come to terms with. But it's a necessary fact of life. Choosing to settle down on Berk, to marry and raise a family and dedicate your life to being chief—that does mean sacrificing some of your freedom to ride the skies with Toothless, beholden to nothing but your own desires. But choosing a life of freedom with your dragon could mean sacrificing a sweet and happy life with your village, your friends . . . the people you love."

The lingering shadows of the night pool in her eyes, and Hiccup, guessing what bleak paths her thoughts tread, takes a hesitant step closer. "Are you thinking about you and Dad?"

She blinks hard as her attention returns to her son. "And you too, of course." She sighs. "I was certain that I was doing the right thing by staying away all those years, but there was an element of selfishness, too. I loved the freedom to learn and explore and discover; I loved flying; I loved the dragons. I always missed you both, but . . ." She bites her lip, gives him a sidelong look. "I'm ashamed to say it now, but you deserve to know. For a while—for too long—there was a part of me that didn't want to come back to Berk, and not only because I blamed the village for their blind hatred of the dragons. Deep down I was unwilling to give up my life of freedom, even if it meant staying away from my own son."

Hiccup takes in a slow, steadying breath. He's been wondering. And now he knows.

"I'm sorry Hiccup," breathes his mother, tears staining her words.

Without hesitation he grasps her hand. "I understand," he tells her. And he does.

"In time I came to regret staying away, to miss you two so badly it hurt. I missed the villagers, too, and the celebrations and the feasts and this view right here." She sighs. "But by that time it had been so long; I was certain your father would never forgive me if he knew I'd been alive and perfectly capable of returning to him for years. I thought that door was closed to me, so I stayed away." Her eyes glitter with unshed tears. "Seeing him again . . . knowing he still loved me, that he forgave me for staying away so long . . . and then to lose him immediately . . ."

And now Hiccup's eyes are stinging too.

"I could have had twenty years with him," she says quietly. "And I could have watched you grow into an extraordinary young man. I could have taught you that it's all right to be different from the others; I could have protected you. Losing all that . . . that's the sacrifice I made when I chose to stay with the dragons. And though I was pleased with my choice at the time, it is now a regret I will carry with me until I die."

"Mom," Hiccup whispers, knowing that speaking any louder will betray the shaking in his voice, the tears threatening to spill over.

She gives him a wry smile as she wipes at her eyes. "I'm trying to make a point, not just to make us both cry. This—" she makes a gesture that seems to take in the whole village— "is not the right choice for everyone. But it is a good and noble and admirable choice. And I know you do love the people of this village, and you love Astrid. Choosing them would require a sacrifice of some things you want. But I believe choosing otherwise might require a price higher than you are willing to pay." She gives him one of her ageless, maternal smiles. "Keep that in mind as you decide. And remember, you don't have to choose yet, but you will, someday, and soon."

She moves then as if to go, but there are still ghosts swimming behind her eyes, and he reaches out and pulls her into a hug. She hesitates, then wraps her arms around him so tightly that he knows she's still shaken from her confession. "Mom," he whispers, "I forgive you."

She gives a little choked half-sob. "That's the part of you that's like your father speaking." She pulls back to look him in the eyes. "He was a good man. And so are you."

For a moment they look at each other in the stillness of the dawn, and then Valka presses her lips to Hiccup's forehead like a benediction. He stands in silence long after she is gone, thinking, feeling, crying, aching, smiling.

And then he starts up the hill to the Hofferson home.

Astrid, as he expected, is out by Stormfly's pen, heaving a bucket of fish over the fence for her eager dragon's breakfast. She wears no armor, and that plus her loose braid give her a softer look than normal; the sun just peeking over the horizon behind her wreaths her hair in a golden halo. She's teasing Stormfly about her massive appetite, even as her free hand reaches out to pat the dragon's head fondly, and the moment reaffirms Hiccup's choice. Life is a series of choices and sacrifices, and he knows what he chooses, and what he isn't willing to sacrifice.

Wordlessly he steps forward and wraps his arms around her, burying his face in her neck; she laughs in surprise. "Good morning, Hiccup. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

He tightens his arms in response, enjoying the way she feels—it's not often that neither of them is wearing any armor and that they can get this close—and feeling the melancholy of earlier burn off like fog in the morning sun. She chuckles and hugs him back.

For a long time the only sound is Stormfly snuffling about in her pen and the distant calls of the seabirds. And then Hiccup lets out a long, contented sigh. "I love you," he says, clear and deliberate; it's the first time either of them has said it to the other, and he wants to be sure she hears and understands.

And she does, if the surprised way she pulls back and stares up at him is any indication. "Hiccup?"

"I love you," he repeats with a shy smile.

"Where's this coming from?" she asks curiously.

He shrugs as much as he can without knocking her arms from his shoulders. "I had a talk with my mom this morning, and it made me realize I've never said it. Which is silly, because it's been true for most of my life."

She tilts her head, fixing him with her considering blue gaze, and then she grins. "I love you too, Hiccup."

He smiles against her mouth as he pulls her into a kiss, and the last dregs of restlessness pulsing through his veins fall quiet in the face of Astrid Hofferson, his future.

Around them the village starts to wake: doors close, voices call, footsteps echo. In a moment he'll ask Astrid to join him on a morning ride, but when they return he'll be chief again, and spend the day settling petty squabbles and searching out lost sheep and discussing food storage for the winter, and the siren call of the horizon will have to fall on ears that can't let themselves hear, not just now, anyway.

But it'll be in service of the village he loves, the neighbors he's known since he was a child, and the memory of his beloved father. And he'll do it with the girl he loves by his side.

Hiccup knows now that this is a sacrifice he's willing to make.

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