Hiccup inhaled deeply, too tired to focus on anything other than the simple activity of breathing.
Goodness gracious, he felt like he could collapse any moment.
"Why are we doing this?" he asked rhetorically, resting his hands on his knees and bowing his head, hoping the dizziness would go away before he lost his balance; he really needed a rest.
"I've been asking you this ever since we started working here," Snotlout decided to answer from his chair, where he was sitting lazily, drinking his soda, and yet grimacing as if he had been the most miserable man in the entire world. "In fact, I've been asking you this ever since you first thought of working here. But of course, you never listened."
Hiccup straightened up, and shook his head in disbelief. "You've never said it was a bad idea, either."
"I've never said it was a good one."
"You make it sound like I dragged you here by force and made you start this job with me." He approached his cousin in a brisk step, and not bothering to ask for permission, he took the can out of his hands, and took a long sip. "Besides, we really need the money."
"You need the money," Snotlout retorted, yanking the soda can back. "I mean, sure, I could use some cash, but let's face it, none of us would be here if it weren't for your stupid studies."
Hiccup rolled his eyes. "Again, you didn't have to come here with me; I can take care of myself."
"Yeah, I bet you can."
Hiccup didn't respond, his gaze fixed on the wide field on the other side of the window. He didn't have to look at Snotlout to know that he was glaring at his prosthetic, as if trying to prove his point; he had got used to it long ago.
"Come on, admit it. You hate working here just as much as I do."
The taller man sighed and finally, he flopped on the chair, leaning back and relaxing to the point when his body was almost completely limp. That resulted in him nearly slipping down on the floor, but truth be told, he wouldn't even mind.
He covered his face with his hands.
Why are we doing this? He wondered for the thousandth time that day, knowing that the excuses he'd just presented to Snotlout were less than satisfactory. Of course they needed money, but heck, there were so many other ways to earn it. Why not give extra lessons to some of the many kids in the neighbourhood? Why not find a job in a small, ordinary store? Why not work in a magazine, a pet shop, a zoo.
Why the scrapyard?
"It was so terribly awful," he said out loud after a moment, massaging his temples with his fingers. "First, the can crusher broke, and of course, I was the one who had to fix i t– screw it that I have never meddled with this kind of machinery. I burned my fingers at least twice, got hit in the head three times, and don't even get me started on all the cuts I got in the process. Anyway, after that was over, Gobber announced there was a new delivery we needed to take care of, and since it's raining, it was more painful than ever before. And then, he decided it was a good time to finally clean up the mess in that old shack he calls his office -" he stopped to yawn widely, "which gave us another thirty minutes of slouching and heaving. Fuck – I hate this job."
The only answer he received in acknowledgement of his complaint was a laugh Snotlout didn't even try to suppress. Hiccup glanced sideways at him, unamused.
"You think that's funny?" he mumbled in an offended voice.
"It sure is," Snotlout cackled. "Mostly because it's probably the first time ever that we've been sitting here together, and you are the one whining."
"That's probably because unlike you, I spent the morning doing my job. Where have you been anyway?"
Snotlout shrugged. "And where should I be? Walking among all this junk in such a rain? Thanks, but I'll pass."
"Isn't it what you're paid for?"
"I, my dear Hiccup, am hired here as a driver. I don't need to do your dirty work."
"Gobber doesn't hire drivers. You're in general labour like each and every of us – our licenses are just an additional perk."
Before Snotlout had found the right words, the door opened with a squeak, and in came Gobber, grinning and cheering, causing both men two raise their brows in surprise. Their employer – if that was what they could call him – was soaking wet, just like Hiccup had been just a half an hour ago, but he didn't seem to notice.
He slapped his hand against his lap, and somehow managing to smile even more widely, he cried out: "Ah, there ya are!" and not wasting another second, he made his way towards them.
The two friends exchanged their casual, sceptic looks, and shifted their gazes back to Gobber.
"I come with good news, lads. Well, good for Hiccup, at least," the old man explained, patting his godson on the back; Hiccup almost fell over under the stroke. "We've got a new worker starting today, and I want you to show her around, with all the explaining and things. That's all you have to do for today, so make sure you make that tour useful, alright?"
Hiccup frowned, but nodded in agreement before standing up from his chair and waiting for the further instructions. Snotlout however, had a much longer comment to pronounce.
"Hold on a second -" he chimed in, also jumping to his feet, miraculously avoiding spilling his drink all around. "Did you say she? You hired a girl here?"
"Aye. A very smart and strong girl," Gobber answered teasingly. "I don't know what brought her here, but I'm ready to bet she'll beat you both when it comes to productiveness. But you know Astrid Hofferson, don't you?"
Both of his interlocutors froze for a second.
"No way," Snotlout bared his teeth in a wide grin, and chuckled again. "Astrid's gonna work here now? The Astrid, for whom Hiccup has been pining since we were all fifteen, but never had a guts to talk to? Come on, he'll never pull this off. He's even blushing now!"
"Shut up, Snotlout," Hiccup mumbled, fighting the urge to touch his cheeks with his fingers and check if they really were as hot as he feared. To absolutely nobody's surprise, Snotlout ignored his demand completely.
"Oh yes, he is! Well, Gobber, that may not be such a great idea to make him a guide after all. I don't think Hiccup can even talk when Astrid Hofferson is around. But hey, I can sub him just fine!"
"No you can't," Gobber waved his prosthetic at him, and then pointed it at the other man. "Hiccup knows this place better than I do, and I want Astrid to learn as much as possible. He is exactly the specialist I need. Come on, boy, you can handle this, can't you?"
"Yeah," Hiccup's voice wavered, which obviously caused his short companion to smirk at him even more; he cleared his throat and more firmly, he stated, "Of course I can. Where is she?"
"In my office. Come – and you Snotlout… I want to see you there in fifteen minutes. Not a second sooner."
Snotlout saluted carelessly, and sat down again. He followed his companions with his gaze, nodding absent-mindedly, still inwardly laughing at the memory of Hiccup's terrified expression.
"Hiccup Haddock -" he mused to himself, "some scrap metal expert you are."
Somehow, even in her big, unfitting, ugly working uniform, Astrid Hofferson still managed to look absolutely gorgeous.
Hiccup swallowed. He was in so much trouble.
Get it together, he chanted in his thoughts, holding tightly to what was left of his usual faith in his skills as an employee. He knew this place – every path between the buildings, every machine either working or broken, every little secret a scrapyard could have. Now all he had to do was to convey some of this knowledge to Astrid – or at least the part of it which she would find useful.
It couldn't be too bad.
"Hiccup!" she cried out in greeting, her smile broadening significantly at the sight of him.
She remembers me.
Of course she remembered him, they had known each other for over six years now, and that was excluding the little interactions they had had before high school. They had never really been friends, but they were never enemies, either, and if his memory was serving him well, there had been times when they had exchanged more that the casual "hellos" and "byes".
Still, they had never made it beyond being colleagues; neitherof them had been particularly surprised or heartbroken when they'd realised that the beginning of the university also meant the end of their acquaintance.
Well, maybe he had been. A very little.
He approached her quickly, praying that his stupid heart would stop pounding in his chest, making him completely unable to focus on anything else than this fast and furious train of thoughts. He cleared his throat, and plastered on his best professional smile.
"Good day to you, Astrid," he said simply, determined to pay no mind to Gobber and his wiggling eyebrows, immediately deciding that the best he could do was take Astrid away and do the sightseeing on his own terms. "Welcome to the Meridian of Misery, where we make dreams of scrap come true."
Astrid's grin widened even more, making Hiccup's heart skip a beat. Again.
"It can't be that bad, can it?" she asked with an amused look.
"Oh yes, it can," he admitted decidedly, and crossed his arms on his chest.
"Really. Come and see it for yourself?"
He waved his hand at the exit in an inviting gesture, deaf to the sounds of suppressed laugh that were coming from his employer's spot. Astrid didn't lag behind, and soon they were outside, both equally relieved to get rid of Gobber's charming presence, even if each of them had their own reasons for it. Hiccup quickly resolved not to let his usual anxiety kick in, and focused on showing the girl around, pretending to believe she was just another greenhorn who happened to need his more experienced self.
To his astonishment, Astrid proved to be more interested about the little details than he had initially imagined. He had been sure he'd have to hold back from telling her everything he knew – the scrap metal nerd he was – however, it soon turned out that she was the one asking questions, as if determined to learn everything she could in the few hours they had.
She surely was something else.
"Can I ask you a question?" he inquired after answering six queries in a row; Astrid shot him a quick glance and nodded. "Why work here?"
"No, seriously," Hiccup insisted. "You have always been the top student, in all of the subjects… and from what I've heard, it didn't really change after high school. You could easily get any job you'd like, but instead, you chose to work with this junk. Why?"
Astrid looked up at him, and shrugged again. "There really isn't much reasoning behind it. Being a good student, the best student, requires lots and lots of intellectual work, and after nine months of pushing myself with the studying, I just wanted to have a job that would not need me to think much about what I'm doing. I've never minded physical work, and this place is just as good as any other. Plus, Gobber's in charge, so I don't have to worry about my boss surprising me with something unexpected."
Hiccup smiled at her. "Everything Gobber does is unexpected."
"True," she chuckled. "But at least I know what sort of unexpected it is."
Hiccup opened his mouth to answer, when his phone buzzed, announcing a call from Edward "Fishlegs" Ingerman, his co-worker and best friend. He apologised quickly before answering, and pressed the device against his ear.
"Hey, Fish, what's up?"
"Hiccup, you're late!"
Not exactly the thing he'd been expecting to hear.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, glancing sideways at Astrid, only to find her focused on one of the machineshe'd described to her a moment earlier. "Late for what?"
"We were supposed to get another batch of junk to Johann, remember?"
"Another one? Hasn't he bought half of the stock already?"
"He has. Look, I don't know what he needs it all for, but the point is, we've got an unhappy client over there, and as harmless as Johann is in general, I don't feel like listening to his ridiculous monologues any more. Also, how is it possible you missed the course?"
"I didn't miss it," Hiccup rubbed his tired eyes with his fingers. "Snotlout was supposed to take over today, I'm kinda busy being a scrapyard guide again."
"You mean, someone's joining the team? Who is it?"
"Funny thing. It's Astrid."
Fishlegs gasped in shock, but Hiccup was sure what sort of expression appeared on his friend's face in the following moment.
"Fishlegs, don't," he bid him, picturing the silly grin that was no doubt spreading across the other man's face. "It's just work."
"Sure it is."
Hiccup sighed heavily, earning a curious look from the blonde girl standing nearby, and shook his head helplessly.
"I still need you to make that delivery, though."
"But Snotlout -"
"Snotlout walked into a wall again, and now he's waiting to have his head stitched. I can't leave the office, besides, I don't even have the driving license. Just… Bring Astrid with you for the ride? She'll get to see you in action."
"Exactly what I needed her to see," the brunet muttered. "Fine, we'll be there soon. Just call Johann and tell him that, alright?"
"You got this."
Hiccup sighed again, and ended the call, however, he kept his gaze fixed on the screen, wondering how Astrid would react to the offer he was about to make. There was only one way to find out.
He looked up at her and grinned lopsidedly.
"So -" he asked. "wanna deliver some scrap metal?"
Author's note: It happened. I wrote a scrap metal fic. Or a scrapcup fic. Or a scrapcupstrid fic. And you know what?
I regret nothing.
I totally blame QueenoftheWilderwest and Wikelia because they are mostly responsible for the whole scrap metal craziness, or at least for my dedication to it.
I hope you liked the story at least half as much as we did - either way, I'll be very, very happy t know all of your thoughts.
Say safe and God bless you,