It was probably the first time in her entire nineteen years long life when she regretted that trader Johann had stopped talking.
And it wasn't just that. As if Johann being silent wasn't bad enough, he actually decided to bid them adieu on his own account, without them having to suggest anything of the kind, thus leaving the two Dragon Riders alone. Of course, her betrothed wasn't the only person accompanying her, with the rest of the gang staying close behind, occupied with their own regular antics – but she realised all too well that it didn't change anything in Hiccup Haddock's eyes.
She knew what was about to come the moment he opened his mouth.
Good gods, why did he have to be so determined?
"Um, I need to check on Stormfly," she answered a little too quickly, turning around, and trying to walk away from him as far as she could in those few split seconds. He caught her arm almost immediately, ruining her plan of escape, still blissfully unaware of the reasons behind her act.
"No, no you don't," he contradicted her gently, in a tone that only assured her he was not treating her excuse seriously; he was probably smiling at her right now, and the thought of it only made her feel worse. He was so hopeful about this entire… situation. Who was she to ruin it for him?
"Yes, I do," the girl muttered, glancing at him, unable to return the smile he'd turned out to be wearing for real. She moved her shoulder, hoping Hiccup would get a clue, and let go of her – and as surprised as he was, he actually did. Astrid sighed, still looking at him apologetically, "I'm sorry."
She almost ran in order to prevent the boy from stopping her, even though he was probably too confused to do so anyway. She reached and mounted Stormfly in a record time, and forgetting her explanation on only checking on the dragon, she made the Nadder take off. They had been high in the sky before the Shield Maiden dared to look down, only to see the small figure of their leader, who was still following her with his gaze.
It was childish, and Astrid was well aware of that; but she really couldn't care less. All she wanted was to get out of that cursed market, and fly as far from it as possible, hoping against hope Hiccup would give the matter a rest, and not follow her trace. She leaned towards Stormfly's head, and whispered, "Take us away, girl. Please."
The dragon obeyed, assuming her Rider knew what she was doing; she sped up, raising and lowering the flight, weaving her way between the trees, doing her best to confuse the potential pursuit; she hung in the air for a moment when she spot the rocky formation they had encountered earlier that day. Astrid frowned, and looked down to eye the place, but agreed to land on it eventually.
As soon as Stormfly's claws touched the ground, her Rider slid off the saddle, and almost furiously marched towards the edge of the cliff. She didn't even care to look back into the infamous holes to make sure the Sandbuster wouldn't unexpectedly attack her at some point.
She just wished to reach that edge, sit on it, pull her legs to her chest, and hide her face in her knees, leaving the Sandbuster to the Nadder that was staying behind.
And that's exactly what she did.
"I'm useless," she murmured in a resigned voice after a few moments, feeling her loyal mount lie down by her side. "I mean... It seems so stupid, so unimportant, but at the same time, I'm so scared of messing it up. Because I will mess it up. I already have! I was so afraid of choosing wrong, that I ended up with nothing at all. Traditions! Besides, even if I miraculously come up with something, I can be sure Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third will amaze me with something a hundred times more appropriate. He just is that incredible gift-giver Fishlegs was talking about. His gifts are always so well-thought of, so astonishing and exciting, so precisely perfect. And mine are just... Mine," she concluded hopelessly, and raised her head a little, fixing her gaze on the horizon. Stormly purred reassuringly.
"I was always so confident, so sure of what to do or how to behave. Now... It's like that part of me is gone. It may be momentary, but if such a trifle can stir me up so much, what will I do when a real crisis come? Thor, Hiccup really deserves better than this."
The blonde Shield Maiden closed her eyes, and leaned back a little, resting her back and neck on Stormfly's blue, scaled skin. She took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly, believing it would help her calm her nerves a little – and gasped when she heard a throat being cleared behind her.
"Go away, Hiccup," she said, instinctively pulling her legs even closer to her chest, once again pressing her forehead against them, and resting her hands on her hair. "Please, just go."
"No," a determined response came right after she'd finished pronouncing the last word. "I won't. You can run away as much as you wish, but you know I'm not a type that gives up easily."
The blonde warrior sighed, but said no more. Hiccup walked up to her, and took a sit closely by her side.
"Hey, what's wrong? Is it anything I did?"
"It's not about you."
"Astrid, you've been avoiding me for most of the day. It's pretty hard to believe it's not about me."
"I've been searching for you for most of the day, mutton head. You have no idea how worried I was."
"It's always nice to know you care." He nudged her playfully, hoping to reduce the tension. "But it doesn't change the fact that right after you rescued us, you took the first opportunity to leave. Astrid, I haven't had a single moment with you for an entire day, and you can't expect me to like it. There's something I want… I must talk to you about, but I can't do it if you keep disappearing all the time."
His betrothed remained silent for a moment, before admitting, "I know what you're going to say, Hiccup. The point is, I don't think I'm ready to hear it."
The dark-haired Rider frowned, finally concerned with the girl's behaviour; however, he'd hardly managed to open his mouth when she beat him to it with another addition.
"I just need more time. We can afford that, right?"
Hiccup smiled gently at her, a little relieved.
"Well, technically, we can't," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. "Not if you're talking about this entire… betrothal tradition. That's why you've been avoiding me, isn't it? The betrothal gift exchange?"
Astrid had no idea how on earth he had figured that out, but nodded nevertheless.
"Look, I know it looks like a big deal, but is it really? I mean, it's not like we're going to change our minds. Well, I certainly am not." He tightened his embrace a little. "Plus, you must remember about that tiny detail of a rule saying that if we don't do it in the next forty hours, the betrothal will be cancelled. You wouldn't want that, would you?" he added laughingly.
The girl didn't answer. She didn't move, either, as if she hadn't at all heard the last question Hiccup had voiced… or as if she had, but couldn't bring herself to answer. Seriously alarmed for the first time that day, the young man couldn't help but loosen his grip on her, fixing the sternest of glares on his beloved Warrior's hair, praying to gods his sudden suspicions would turn out to be wrong.
He had to be wrong.
"Astrid?" he asked in a significantly less confident manner, feeling his voice tremble a little. "You don't want to back off, do you?"
She didn't respond, instead jerking her head up and almost jumping to her feet, leaving the confused Viking sitting alone on the ground. He followed her with his eyes, shocked – and more and more terrified – with her reaction, waiting for her to break the silence that seemed to have lasted for hours.
In fact, he hadn't waited long at all.
"It's not that simple!" she exclaimed almost immediately after she stood up, covering her face with her open hands. "It's… I mean… I don't how to… It's just so stupid! I am so stupid!"
Hiccup's fear could only grow.
"Is that it?" he inquired quietly. "You are having second thoughts?"
Astrid turned abruptly towards him, lowering both of her arms.
"What? Why would you -"
"Just be open with me, okay?" he insisted, determinately looking into her big, blue irises. "If you're having any doubts, I need to know about them. If it's too much, if you want to wait..."
Astrid's eyes widened in surprise. Surely, he couldn't have assumed…
"You seriously think I want to withdraw?" she asked; Hiccup set his teeth, and that only confirmed her assumption. "Good heavens, Hiccup, that's the last thing I want! How did you come up with that?"
"Then what does all of this mean?!"
"It – UGH!" She threw her arms in the air. "I thought we've already settled that! The betrothal gift exchange. We can't do this."
"Because I didn't get you a gift! Alright? I tried, Hiccup, I really did, but I failed. I don't know what to get, and now it's so late, and -"
"Oh my gods," Hiccup deadpanned right before standing up and taking the girls hands in his own, causing her too look at him with even bigger astonishment. "You can't be serious. You didn't make me go through all of this only because you don't have a piece of junk necessary to fulfil a meaningless custom?"
"A piece of junk?" she retorted. "Haven't you explained how the entire betrothal depends on that thing?"
"Only if you decide not to do give it, not if you can't pick one!" he answered, no longer able to hold back the grin that was springing onto his lips; then he eased the grasp on her fingers, and laughing, he pulled her into a tight hug instead. "Thor almighty, you've almost given me a heart attack."
"Definitely not the present I was willing to give," she laughed back, returning the embrace. "I'm sorry."
"Astrid, look," He muttered against hair blonde locks, breathing her in with each inhale. "ou got me the greatest gift in the world. You. You, being here, with me, facing the dangers, putting up with my quirks, putting up with me every single day. You being here by my side… it's the only gift I need."
The girl pulled back just enough to face him, and rolled her eyes.
"Nice try, Dragon Boy, but I could say exactly the same about you," she mocked.
"And I mean it."
"I know, Milady, and I'm honoured to hear that. Now… you know that I'm not the most traditional Viking in Berk's history, but I'd like to have this one thing done right, and since I actually do have something prepared for the occasion… Will you let me give it to you at last?"
Astrid nodded, fighting an urge to laugh at the sight of the Viking's relieved expression. She saw him reaching to a satchel, and pulling out… a necklace?
"This was my father's betrothal gift to my mother. And he gave it to me, to give to you," he explained, his features softening as he spoke. "It has absolutely no worth except the sentiment we both have for it, but -"
"It's perfect," she cut him off, before adding, "You're sure I'm worth wearing it?"
"I can't imagine anyone worthier wearing it."
He strung the pendant on her neck, not taking his eyes off her face for a second. She touched it with her fingers, her whole figure beaming with joy and relief – and Hiccup knew he himself looked exactly the same.
"I'll come up with something eventually," Astrid stated, shifting her gaze back on him. "And I promise you it will be as great as this."
"I have no doubts," the other Rider agreed, embracing her waist with one hand, and brushing her fringe with the other; he leaned in. "I love you, you know?"
"I figured," she whispered against his mouth, letting their breaths intermingle. "And I love you back, you stubborn mutton head."
The next moment the distance between them was gone, their mouth meeting, their lips smiling, their hearts beating together in the same steady, yet excited rhythm. As every other time, they got lost in each other completely, forgetting the world that swirled around them, too happy to think of anything except one another.
The gang could wait for them a little longer, couldn't they?
Author's note: Gooood moooorniiing, Dragon's Edge! (or whatever time it is for you!)
Did you miss me? I'm sure you did. Well, maybe not me, but Hiccstrid itself? Or RTTE? Yes? Well, I hope you did.
Anyway, it's been some time since I posted anything new, but now I'm back and hoping you've actually enjoyed this little story. It certainly isn't my best work, but hey, nobody's perfect! And I thought that even if you don't find it anything extraordinary, it will still brighten your day a little, and honestly, that's what it's all about.
Please let me know what you think in the review section! There's no bigger motivation for a writer than knowing that their works have been appreciated.
Huge thanks to QueenoftheWilderwest for making sure there are no stupid grammar/lexical mistakes.
God bless you all,