"Haddock, Hofferson, you're working together on this one!"
Astrid looked up at her history teacher, confused about what the man had just said. He was glaring at her intensively, yet kindly, and the girl had to wonder what did she do to deserve such attention. She saw him smile gently, his right eyebrow rising a little in a slightly ironic manner, while some of her fellow students exchanged looks and whispers, by no doubt commenting on her unusual inattentiveness.
In a second, her mind was working on its highest speed, searching for a clue that could help her understand what on earth the teacher was talking about.
"Would you like to make an objection?" he asked, causing the more frivolous girls to giggle. "About your partner or the subject, maybe?"
The duo project.
"No, sir," she mumbled. "Of course not."
"Good," the man nodded, before adding, "Alright, people, you may leave now. Think of your presentations, and please, for once, don't make it a last-minute work!"
The group of students left the room hastily, most of them not even bothering to look back at their professor, already talking to their partners and arranging the dates for possible project related meetings. Astrid was the only one to take her time, and approach the teacher, hoping he would be kind enough to provide her with information she had missed.
"Anything I can do for you, Astrid?" he asked, packing his books and fastening his bag. "I hope you don't have any complaints about the project?"
"Actually, that's what I've been -"
"Because if you do, then I'm afraid it's too late to change anything. All the topics are now assigned for, and as you didn't declare the need to exchange yours with someone, it may be a little difficult to do it now."
"Yes. Of course."
He gave her a reassuring look.
"Astrid, you're a smart girl, and I'd say your assignment is rather an easy one, and in fact one that should be most interesting for young people like you. If I could, I'd gladly take it myself!" he grinned widely, to which Astrid responded with a forced smile, pretending that she'd found the line more amusing than it really was. "But jokes aside, I'm convinced that you'll do well without any additional help. Especially with Mister Haddock as your partner. He is not the problem, I presume?"
"No, but Professor Strick-"
"I don't want to hear another word. Work hard, don't procrastinate, and I'm sure you'll do excellent."
He put his infamous pen into his breast pocket and left, leaving her with the unaswered questions and a growing headache.
"Astrid? Hey, Astrid!"
The slightly nasal voice reached her ears seconds after she'd left the room, making her stop in her tracks and look around in search of its owner. She spotted him on the other side of the corridor a moment later.
He approached her quickly, probably wanting to discuss some details of the project – the project about which she knew less than nothing, not even the topic – and she understood that talking to him would only result in her making a fool of herself again. She was just so tired; and she couldn't even hope for a break.
To make matters worse, Astrid glanced at the wall clock exactly at the same time as Hiccup opened his mouth to speak, and she almost jumped at the realisation of how late she already was.
She glared at her astonished colleague, and exclaimed, "I've got to go. Like, right now."
He raised his eyebrows at her.
"Sorry," he responded in a somewhat offended voice. "I just assumed that if you left the class so much later than everyone else, you couldn't be that much in a rush."
"Well, I wasn't then but I am now," she said impatiently. "Look, of you're coming to the evening class, we can talk after them, but now I really have to go or I'll miss my bus and lose more time than I can afford."
"I'll be there," came a stern answer. "I always am."
"Sorry for not knowing that."
Before he had time to think of comeback, Astrid turned on her heel and set of towards the stairs, running down as if her live had depended on it.
Hiccup shook his head and headed towards the library, where he could at least use his time productively, taking care on the things that didn't require Astrid Hofferson's presence.
And to think that for a moment there he had been glad to be paired up with her.
"I'll be there, I always am."
She did know that. She knew that he had always been there on their evening classes, that is. Not that she took any particular interest in him – today was probably the first time when they held a conversation that lasted for more that three seconds altogether – however in the groups so small as theirs it was hard not to notice her fellow students absences. Hiccup was never absent – and that was also something that couldn't go unnoticed.
As he had earlier assured her, today wasn't any different. They met before the door, ignored each other's presence in the equally impolite way, came into the classroom – and ninety minutes later, they left it, both wanting to do nothing but go home, realising it was a pleasure they couldn't yet afford.
Astrid decided it was her turn to set the ball rolling.
"So, anything you'd like to discuss with me?" she offered, trying to sound as civilly as she possibly could.
"I wouldn't say I'd like to, but I don't think we have a choice." Her companion fixed his gaze on her; he didn't sound angry anymore, just… disappointed.
"Okay, I know what you're thinking," she tried again. "It was rather rude of me to run away like this, but I really needed to catch that bus, so I had even less time to explain anything. So if this once you could be the bigger man and just forget it -"
"It's okay," he waved his hand at her. "I live nearby, how about you come over and we try to at least work on an action plan?"
"Astrid, it's really not that bad. Fishlegs and Cami will be presenting the tactical plans and course of the battle of Gettysburg, you should be thankful our topic is so much easier."
They were in his flat now, trying to get a grip on the presentation that suddenly turned out to be too overwhelming for either of them to bear. Hiccup was sitting by his desk, ready to type the ideas they could use later on, or at least plan the schedule of their work, while Astrid slouched on the couch with a mug of tea in her hands, fighting the urge to lie flatly on it and take a nap she needed so much. If only her brain was working properly.
"Honestly, I wish I had got the Gettysburg one. It's way more interesting and you could actually learn something useful from it."
"Useful? Are you going to wage a battle one day?"
"Do you even know how much research they need to do for it?"
"At least they'll be talking about concrete." She shifted a little, reaching out her hand to caress Hiccup's black cat that was currently claiming attention. "here, look at the map. Here, there are the plans. Here, pay attention, and we'll explain to you what the plan was and why it did or didn't work. We'll be just bloviating about things we're neither good at or interested in."
"Speak for yourself, will you?"
"Do you really care about it?"
"Why wouldn't I? I've taken this course for a reason, you know. And what can be more interesting than habits and traditions of the country you call your home?"
"Good heavens," Astrid mumbled underneath her breath, hoping her host didn't hear it, and louder, she asked, "Is that how this subject goes? Like, literally?"
"Except for the home part, yes. Weren't you listening?"
"I had some trouble focusing in class today. And I've got plenty of ideas for what could be more interesting than the habits and traditions, especially when they relate to a place that couldn't feel less than a home for me. I'm an English with Scandinavian origins, Hiccup. I'm only here because… because of some family business that made us come here last year."
"Well, I'm a Polish with Jewish origins," her interlocutor answered, not missing a beat. "And I'm only here because my dad got a better job here twelve years ago. What does that have to do with it?"
He saw her eyes widen in shock, and he couldn't help but smile at the sight. Satisfaction reflected on his face, but he made sure not to make it too apparent; he really didn't feel like arguing with her again.
"What I'm trying to say is, it doesn't really matter. You don't have to know much to do a good presentation, you just need to make good research. We'll find the info, we'll learn to talk about it, and nobody will know whether you're actually into it or not – simply because nobody will care. And, no -" he added when Astrid opened her mouth, apparently willing to ask him a question. "You cannot call me Magneto."
They parted their ways half an hour later, having at last realised they were wasting their time and energy on meaningless disputes, that were neither amusing or productive. Astrid left the place with relief, forgetting the whole duo project the moment she set her foot on the pavement, too exhausted to ponder at the events of the dying day; all she wanted was to get back home, throw herself on the bed, and never wake up again.
There was much more going on on Hiccup's mind, but he also decided that getting some sleep was the best he could in a situation like this.
'Morning. Please let me know when you can talk? H. Haddock.'
That message was certainly the last thing Astrid expected to see after waking up on the following morning.
But she knew exactly who was to be blamed for it.
"What on Earth, Cami?" she inquired as soon as the other girl picked up her phone.
"Morning, cuz. And hey, whatever it is, it's not my fault."
"It's always your fault."
"Well, most of the times, yes. Still, not always."
Astrid fell silent for a moment.
"I just want to know why is Hiccup freaking Haddock texting me at seven in the morning, while there's absolutely no way I've ever given him my number. Why did you?"
"Because I wanted to spare the poor man additional trouble," Cami answered, and Astrid was sure she could hear her shrug. "He texted me this morning asking me if I could ask you, if you could meet him today for that history project you're doing. And I just thought it was easier to give him your number and tell him to arrange the date himself."
"I really hate you sometimes. Have a good day, weirdo."
She ended the call, and dialled Hiccup's number at once.
"Hey there," she opened in the politest manner she could assume at such an ungodly hour. "How are you doing, X-man?"
"Really? And you have a nerve to say Strickler's jokes are bad?"
The corners of her mouth twitched a little."At least I'm not laughing at mine."
"Now that's great. Listen, I didn't mean to remind you of my pathetic self so early, but I figured that since we don't have classes until after half past one today, maybe it would be a good idea to try and meet sometime earlier? We didn't really do anything last evening, and it's hard to do any research if I don't know what I'm looking for."
"That's both sad and true. So what do you propose? Do you want me to come over again?"
"That would be the easiest solution, I guess. I really wouldn't push it so much, but it's Wednesday. We've got less than a week until the presentation, and as you know, unlike other students in our group we won't have the weekend to work on it."
"It's not my fault I've got work," she blurted.
"I'm not saying it is, especially as I'll be rather busy then myself, and we both have that literature test coming on Friday. So I doubt we'll be able to meet up on Thursday evening." Hiccup explained patiently, ignoring the traces of aggression in her voice. "That's why we have to organise as much as we can now, so we can start research as soon as possible, and hopefully put it all together on Friday afternoon, after the classes but before your working hours. Then we'll have the weekend to think it through once more, make some cosmetic changes if necessary and only practice it together on Monday. How does that sound?"
Astrid sighed in a resigned manner.
"I guess it will have to do."
"Nothing. I'll meet you at ten?"
"So, you're determined to talk about only one custom?" Hiccup asked, handing her a glass of water, and taking the seat by his desk.
"I am," she said between the sips. "It's always easier to focus on one thing instead of scratching the surface of everything and not showing anything properly. I hope you don't mind."
"No, it's fine."
Only now they had to choose one.
Again, it was easier said than done. For a person so unwilling to work with that specific subject, Astrid could be extremely picky when it came to singling up the ones, not because she was trying to be nuisance, but because she wanted to get it right. They couldn't choose some random tradition, she said, or they'd have even more trouble developing the topic.
She rolled her eyes at Christmas, she shrugged at Thanksgiving, and he saw she had to stop herself from cringing at the mention of Valentine's Day.
"Halloween. Do you like Halloween?"
Who was he kidding, she would turn it down like everything else and Hell, he was right.
"No. It's dumb and immature, not to mention that the costumes can be disgusting - and I don't mean the zombies."
Hiccup sighed, heavily; he really was losing hope.
Astrid looked at him, and felt a wave of pity. The guy still annoyed her no doubt, but she didn't need much time to understand what a hard-working type he was, and how much he cared about not screwing their project up. Heck, she didn't even have to work with him in person to know it – there were more legends about Hiccup Haddock's uttermost nerdiness than there were in the history of both Americas, and probably some part of Europe, too. Plus, she knew she was not the best partner he or anyone else could dream of, and not only because the topic was so highly resenting.
"Well," she threw in after a moment, deciding to make it a little easier for the both of them. "I do like it more than you, so that's something."
He looked up at her, not fully comprehending of what she'd just said.
"I've never said that I didn't like -"
"No, you didn't quite understand," she interrupted him with a smirk. "I like Halloween more than I like you."
Hiccup stared at her for a little longer, and then shook his head.
"Well, I guess that's a start," he answered. "Now come on, we have lots of work to do."
"That was a disaster," Astrid dead panned after she'd left the class, the memories of the test still burning in her mind, making her want to slap herself on both cheeks for screwing up so much.
She had never done so badly in a test.
"At least it's over now, right?" a voice approached her from behind, and she turned around to see one Hiccup Haddock smiling at her weakly. "And even if you failed, you don't need to worry about it for at least two weeks, as there's no way we will get the results earlier."
"I'm afraid there are no ifs in my case. I failed. Most miserably."
She sighed and took out her phone to check the timetable for her bus, and saw she still had at least ten minutes left. She sighed again, relieved this time, and put the device back into her pocket.
At least something went well today.
"Hey, so are we meeting today?" she heard Hiccup ask a moment later, and immediately regretted her untimely enthusiasm; she'd completely forgotten about that particular arrangement.
"We… um… do we really have to?"
Hiccup's face dropped at once, and he looked away immediately, inwardly cursing his naivety in believing that they might have actually begun to get along at last. Heck, they really seemed to have got along at last – not in the friends-forever kind of way, just… Just the i-don't-necessarily-mind-staying-in-the-same-room-with-you kind of way.
Apparently, he had been wrong.
"Well, technically, we're supposed to be working together. That's why it is called the duo-project, you know."
"Hiccup, I'm just busy. Crazy busy. I-sleep-three-hours-a-night-and-still-don't-have-time busy."
"Sure, I get it."
"No, you don't. Look, I've got plenty of material gathered already. Can't we just make a Google doc file and put it all there? I can make the presentation when I get back home on Sunday, so you don't have to worry about it."
"Well, I suppose that's the way." He finally shifted his glare back at her, looking somewhat hurt. "Even if it kinda ruins the whole idea behind the team work and stuff."
Astrid wasn't sure why, but that offended, critical tone in his voice made something inside her break.
"Alright, listen to me, boy. I'm really sorry you were unfortunate enough to get me as your partner in this project, but believe it or not, I'd much rather be spending my evenings working on it with you than sitting by my mum's hospital bed, wondering how much worse her cancer will get before I get to see her for another time.
"I'd rather focus on my studies than use every "leisure" hour for working, trying to help my dad pay the bills that are brought to our doors faster than we can send them back.
"I am doing my best on the research, I'm ready to put the whole thing together on my own, so please, this once, forget about what this project is supposed to look like when, as you said yourself, as long as the final result is good, nobody will even care about how we got to it. Now excuse me, I've got a bus to catch."
She turned away and ran off, just like she had those few days back; only this time her eyes were filled with tears, and she didn't even have the strength to wipe them away.
It was half past eleven when she finally left the bar. She didn't exactly hate that job – the place was far more civil than any other bar she'd had a misfortune to work in, and there were more than a few on her list. The staff was generally kind, too, lacking the so undesired need to stick their noses into other people's business. She knew little about them, and they knew even less about her – and that was a status she was very willing to maintain.
Unfortunately, they were also ridiculously strict when it came to leaving work at specific hours, which meant she always, always missed her bus for exactly four minutes and a half.
She needed to wait for the next one for another twenty minutes.
"You need a ride?" Hiccup's voice reached her ears unexpectedly, and Astrid needed to cover her mouth to suppress the scream; he offered her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"Are you stalking me?" she asked with disbelief, unable to comprehend the absurdity of the situation.
"We've got a mutual friend who makes it unnecessary."
"Cami, you filthy little traitor."
She returned the smile, however, and fixed her gaze on the man in front of her, waiting for him to explain his presence. He understood the hint without problems.
"Ah, right, explanations. So after you left the university, leaving me all alone and feeling like a total ass, I went to the library and strangely enough, bumped into you wonderful cousin. We talked about some nonsense, and at some point she mentioned you, your job, and… She said something about you missing your bus every single Friday."
Astrid couldn't help but laugh at the image of Cami snuggling the information about her in what was supposed to be an innocent chat with their mutual acquaintance. She saw the relief twinkle in Hiccup's eyes, and decided that whatever the guy had prepared as a peace offering, she was going to accept it.
In the meantime, he went on. "I'm really sorry, Astrid, I had no idea what you were going through. I'd never have insisted so much on those meetings if I'd known what it is that's keeping you occupied. I promise we'll do it your way now."
She smiled at him, and nodded eagerly. He sighed theatrically.
"Good, there was a part of me that was still afraid you'd whack me on the head and leave."
"Hey, I don't whack people. Not unless they give me a good reason, at least."
"I saw what you did to Snotlout last month."
"That's because giving me more reasons than I have the time to answer."
"Right. So, may I offer you a ride back home, or would you prefer for that bus?"
Astrid rolled her eyes at him, but didn't stop smiling nevertheless.
When she came back home on Sunday evening, and opened her laptop to work on the presentation, she was surprised to be greeted with an e-mail from her partner, containing the perfectly polished PowerPoint file and just a few words:
'Go get some sleep.'
She opened the file only to see that there was hardly anything she could criticise, and almost screamed from the sudden rush of joy she felt. It was so little, and yet it was so much.
Of course, she couldn't refrain from teasing Hiccup a little, so before she let herself drown in the arms of Morpheus, she clasped her phone and tapped a short message.
'Got the file. Everything works. You're great.'
And a few seconds later.
'Still, you're a cheater.'
A few moments had passed before her phone buzzed.
'Thank you. And why is that?'
'Because you promised we'd do it my way.'
'Ah, right. I'll make it up to you another time.'
It was the first time in a long time when Astrid Hofferson fell asleep with a wide grin on her face.
Their meeting on Monday went smoothly, with them practising their lines, and exchanging comments that with every passing moment were becoming less related to the topic they were supposed to be focusing about. They ended up disputing about the Hitchcock's films, Austen's books, and Scandinavian dragons, because apparently, Hiccup Haddock was more than a nerd than Astrid had initially thought.
Both of them silently admitted that they wouldn't mind repeating those conversations after the project was over.
As to the presentation itself, it went even better than their Monday rehearsal – their hard worked had paid off, and nobody was surprised when the grey-haired history professor awarded them both with top marks.
When the class was dismissed, Hiccup and Astrid left the room together, both realising it was the very first time they ever did.
"That calls for a drink, you know," Hiccup said, resting his hands on his hips and glancing sideways at her. "I really didn't think we'd make it."
"I'm serious about the drink, though. Are you free tonight?"
He was surprised with how easy it was for him to voice that thought, probably more surprised than she was to hear it; however, there was no turning back now, and honestly, he was glad of it. If only she said yes.
"It would be great, but I'm working again," she answered, wearily.
"If that makes you feel better, I really wish I weren't?"
"What? Oh, no. That's okay. I mean, what about tomorrow?"
"You really want to keep it going?" she asked him, not even trying to hide the smile that blossomed on her pretty face, and grinning even more widely when she noticed the confusion reflecting on his face.
"Don't you?" he asked tentatively.
"Of course I do." she nudged him in the arms and laughed openly this time. "Only everything will be crowded tomorrow, and I think I've invaded your apartment enough already."
"And why would everything be crowded?"
"Because it's February 14th tomorrow. You actually asked me out on the Valentine's Day, Lehnsherr."
They stared at each other for a few more seconds, before bursting into laughter in a perfect unison, causing the other students to eye them suspiciously; but they couldn't care less.
"You know what? I may like you a little more than Halloween after all," Astrid threw in absently after a while, as if pretending the words meant less than they really did. "A very little."
"I mean, the holiday is still dumb and immature, the costumes still freak me out at times, and -"
"But hey, you've just beaten that, Lehnsherr."
He rolled his eyes, trying to suppress that idiotic grin that was springing on his lips.
"I've always related more to Xavier, I don't think it matters, does it? Also, I think I know the place we could go without showering in that pseudo-romantic Valentine's atmosphere. I just need to know if you're interested or not."
Astrid crossed her arms on her chest.
"Then read my mind, professor."
"Okay," he responded her with a grin. "I'll pick you up at ten."
I hope you're good with paintball.
Author's note: A four thousand words long modern Hiccstrid AU, all written and edited in less than 19 hours, with sleep and some other necessary activities included.
Now that's why it is so bad.
Still, I guess it's better than writing nothing, and if your'e reading this notes, it means you've somehow managed to get through this mess. I'm both proud of and disappointed with myself for creating it, so please, please review and let me know what you think of it. I promise to be grateful for the rest of my poor writing career.
Huge thanks to Water-Star for her help with editing.
Thanks from stopping by & God bless you all