A gentle breeze ruffled his hair as he stood at the edge of a cliff, watching the sun set slowly, hiding its golden face behind the line of the horizon.
The horizon he was never meant to cross again.
It was a lovely afternoon, warm and dry, and quiet – or at least as quiet as a Viking territory inhabited by dragons could be. The ocean glimmered with thousands of colours, from blue, to purple, to red, to gold. There was not a cloud passing above his head, no sign of enemy approaching his island. The Chief should be happy, or calm at least. There should be a gentle smile tugging at his lips and the sound of his steady breathing should resonate in the air.
There should be peace in his heart.
There was none.
Hiccup inhaled sharply, blinking away the tears that had managed to well up in his eyes again, trying not to give in to the sobs that were threatening to take over him. He was a grown up man, a leader, a Viking… he should not let the sorrow overwhelm him, making him weak and indecisive. His people needed him to be strong – and strong he would be.
"Not today," he whispered, not sure whether his words were an announcement or a request, a silent prayer to the gods to give him a few more days to grieve. He needed time, and yet, he fully realised that he couldn't be given any.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few.
"This really isn't helping, Dad," he muttered, kicking a pebble that lay before him. He watched it roll to the border and fall down into the water, its fall long and as quiet as the world around him. There was nothing except those few little noises caused by the bouncing, the steady whistle of the shard going down and a barely audible splash as it finally reached the surface of the sea. If he had jumped, it would have been just the same. Just a step further and he'd be falling as well, still and helpless like the stone he had booted just mere seconds earlier.
Of course, he wouldn't do that. He didn't want to do that. But no matter how many times he reminded himself that, each time he realised that his reasoning was of no meaning. It didn't matter if he jumped or not – but that there was no one to catch him if he did.
He smiled mirthlessly, trying with all his might to convince himself that this wasn't final, that it wasn't the end he was so afraid to face. Berk was still there and still in need of his help. It was destroyed, and changed, different from what they had used to call home. But it was home, and his people would still see it as one, determined and hopeful to bring it back to its former state.
And honestly, why wouldn't they?
It was only his world that had ended that day.
He sniffed and wiped the tears away, glad that for once, there was nobody to see him. He would get back to the village later, assuming the role of the rational Chief the Berkians needed him to be. Hiccup the Wise, that was what they called him, completely ignoring the irony hidden behind it.
"More like Hiccup the Wild, as Astrid would say," he mumbled, lowering his head and smiling a little more sincerely at the thought of his General, so mercilessly mocking of the title he had gained; his grin faltered when he comprehended that right now, the name she had chosen was equally unsuited as the official one.
He wasn't wild. He couldn't be on his own.
"How about we just settle for Hiccup Haddock for now?"
Hiccup jerked up his head and spun on his heel, surprised by the answer he hadn't been expecting to receive. He was greeted by a nod and a smile, which he couldn't help but return, especially seeing how hesitant his visitor was about disturbing him in his solitude. His eyes flickered behind her and he frowned, noticing the lack of the blue-scaled dragon he supposed would be accompanying her.
Seeing Astrid there wasn't much of a shock. Seeing her alone definitely was.
"How did you get here?" he asked, stepping away from the cliff's end and shifting his gaze back on her. "Where is Stormfly?"
The girl shrugged before putting her hands on her hips and answering him directly, "She's back in the village, resting after our little trip. The Berserkers might be our closest neighbours, but it doesn't necessarily mean an easy flight back. Especially in weather like this."
"Weather? It's the sunniest day Berk has seen in a year."
"It is here. As to the Berserker Island, it's horribly windy, and they might even get a storm later on."
"So you just left Stormfly to rest and walked on foot all this way here?"
"Hey, I wasn't the one flapping my wings all the way back home. She needs her beauty sleep, and I don't mind strolling around the island once in a while; there was a time when I did that every day and I don't think my condition is any worse than it was back then."
Astrid fell silent and looked down, weighing her words, wondering if what she was going to say would make Hiccup feel any more uncomfortable. Confusion showed on his face as he watched her.
"Besides," she added eventually with a sigh, glancing up at him. "I came here to see you and figured that you wouldn't be exactly happy to see her right now."
Hiccup held his breath at her words and turned his head to the sea, shutting his eyes closed as if he couldn't have her see the suffering that undoubtedly reflected in them.
Why did she have to know him so well?
He heard her walk towards the edge and take her place next to him. He raised his eyelids ever so slightly and glanced sideways at her, waiting impatiently for the words that were about to come.
He saw her inhale and open her mouth, and all of the sudden he realised he didn't want to hear anything she intended to say – so he just turned back to her and asked first: "It's about the village, isn't it? Something happened and you need me to come back there?"
"No," she responded firmly, confirming his fears. "It's about you staying here all alone for so many hours straight. I haven't seen you since yesterday, and Val said the last time she had seen you was sometime around noon. Call me a dope, but I got a little worried."
"I'd never dare to call you that," he said with one eyebrow raised, and then returned to his previous seriousness. "But Astrid… I need… time. And space. There are things I still need to sort out and maybe the only way I can do it is by staying here alone. No matter how much I hate to."
Astrid nodded. "I know that. I just thought I should come, so you actually have a choice."
It was Hiccup's turn to try and speak, and Astrid's to interrupt him before he did.
"Do you want me to go?" She asked calmly, watching his face, looking for any sign of reluctance. She knew that he needed her, and that in a time like this, he shouldn't be left on his own, regardless of how appealing the possibility might have seemed; yet, the last thing she wanted was to impose her presence on him. So she had asked – and now she waited, praying to the gods that they wouldn't let Hiccup's stubbornness take over his brain.
Hiccup only shook his head.
"Of course not," he answered her quietly, mustering a small smile which she willingly returned. "You're the only person in the Archipelago whom I can bear to see right now. I'd be a fool to drive you off."
He reached out his hand to grasp hers, their fingers intertwining in this simple, yet still most meaningful gesture. There were so many things he wanted to tell her, but each and every one of them seemed too overwhelming to even be mentioned. But he wanted, needed her to understand; and that required more than a brief explanation.
"I always thought that if the dragons were to leave, it would have to be caused by something huge," he stuttered eventually, tightening his grasp on her hand. "Something that would wipe them out from the surface of the earth, or scare them so much that they would flee to a place where they would never be found again. It was obvious to me that we would witness the biggest migration in history, and I only ever thought of how Berk would go on with all of its dragons gone. All this time, it has never occurred to me that it could -" he closed his eyes and swallowed. "That it could be just him."
Astrid raised her hand and cupped Hiccup's cheek, using her thumb to wipe away the tear that had escaped against his will. He leaned into it, as if the girl was the last pillar he could rely on.
Who knows, maybe she really was.
"It was the right thing to do, Hiccup," she assured him quietly, never ceasing to stroke his freckled skin. "The bravest, wisest, noblest thing to do."
Hiccup sighed. "I know it was. But it doesn't make the outcome any less painful."
She smiled more widely, even as she knew he wasn't looking.
"He would've stayed if you'd asked him to."
"That's exactly why I couldn't do it."
"Weren't you tempted to?"
"Obviously. But in the end, what right did I have to stop him? Keeping him here would be like enslaving him – I would be no better than the trappers we fought. And after some time… he would begin to hate me. I know he would. And that's the one thing I really couldn't bear."
Astrid shook her head. "He could never hate you, not after everything you have been through. But he would be unhappy, and it would make both of you suffer anyway."
"I guess it would."
"That Light Fury will take good care of him, Hiccup, that you can be sure of. And she needs him too, maybe even more than you ever have. You really chose the best way. The only way."
"I know that. I just -"
"Toothless is in good hands," she interrupted and then corrected herself: "Well, good claws at least."
"You're right," Hiccup agreed with the smallest of chuckles, and took the hand she had still been pressing to his skin. He tightened his fingers on it, moved it to his lips, and kissed it softly.
"I guess I could say the same for me," he whispered with a smile. "I could definitely name a pair of hands that have been keeping me safe for the last… Well, for quite some time now."
Astrid rolled her eyes.
"Broken, grieving, and still corny."
"I'm not corny. More like, I'm holding onto the only thing that's still keeping me here."
"Isn't your sense of duty strong enough to do that?"
"I swear to gods, Astrid, if it wasn't for you, I would have jumped off this cliff five hours ago. Or last week, even. I'm not kidding. You are the only thing that's keeping me sane."
"And I'll do that as long as you will allow me to," the girl admitted cheerfully. "Just promise me not to jump off anything. Now, do you have any other plans for this lovely evening or can I just drag you back to the village so you can get some of that rest you need so much?"
For the first time in many days Hiccup laughed for real. In a second he let go of both of her hands and instead, he pulled her close in a tight embrace, pressing a long kiss on her forehead. His smile widened when he felt her hug him back, while the tears of sorrow mixed with those of joy and finally, finally he felt that maybe he still had a chance in this cruel, unforgiving world.
He had cursed the gods for being unjust – now he realised that in a truly fair world, he couldn't even dream of deserving someone like her. He knew he would still be hurting, and he would still miss his best friend, whom no one else could ever replace, but he also knew that in no way was he to go through that pain alone. There was a gap in his heart, curved in a shape of the very special Night Fury, which couldn't be filled even with all of Astrid's love and compassion for him. But he didn't need her to do that. He never wanted Astrid to take Toothless's place – he wanted stand by his side on her own.
He took a deep breath, suddenly making up his mind, asking her the question he'd been rehearsing since long before the heart-shattering events of the last month.
"Astrid Hofferson," he began, his voice resonating with finality. "Will you marry me?"
Author's note: I'm sorry. If you came here expecting another fluffy one shot, I'm sorry. If you hoped to see Toothless appear, I'm sorry.
If you thought I would spare your feelings in any way - I'm sorry. But that's not what I do.
The truth is, the latest updates from DWA about the final film made me wonder and when I wonder, I usually get ideas. I've decided to write this one down for you, and hopefully, you won't start to hate me for it. This story is nothing more than a lose headcanon, which will probably find no confirmation in the actual film, so let's just enjoy the wait together :)
Oh, of course, this fic ignores the last two seasons of RTTE, because hey, the betrothal. There's no point in going into details as for why I do or don't like the idea. I needed Hiccup to propose here, so... Yeah. Hope you're not disappointed.
Huge thank-you to QueenoftheWilderwest for being not-at-all-mean to people and still patiently proofreading my fics. You're great.
Thank you for your attention, guys and God bless you all