It looked like Eret had finally gathered the courage to ask Heather out. So what.

She was happy for him. For both of them, really. She had no right to be jealous or disappointed – after all, Eret had only been her best friend for like, her entire life. But hey, that did not mean the bond they had was going anywhere beyond that point, so it would be foolish of her to imagine any kind of romantic future with the bulky brunette by her side. Not that she hadn't done that, but again, that was not the point. She and Eret were just a pair of crazy friends, the born-together-die-together type, who could never built anything stronger than this weird, a bit flirtatious kind of relationship.

Besides, she cared for Heather even more than she did for him, and she was well aware that the two made in fact a perfect match. She was probably more sure of this than either of them was at the moment.

So why on earth did it hurt so much?

Astrid spluttered in irritation, and threw her books into her old, worn-out bag, trying to ignore the curious glances Ruffnut had been casting on her for the greatest part of the day. She knew she was rather rude ignoring her like she was, but honestly, she couldn't be bothered. The day had been way too long already, with more than ten hours spent at the university and with no gaps between their classes, and the last thing she needed was explaining her current state to the blonde girl beside her, no matter how well the latter meant.

She was ready to leave the minute her teacher said his goodbyes. She had no idea what he'd been telling them earlier, that however, was no different from her general oblivion to that particular day's events. She was weary, she was sick, she was completely unable to focus. She, the Astrid Hofferson, the most hard-working student the University of Berk had ever had a chance to teach, suddenly appeared to be perfectly indifferent to what was happening in there, literally. If anything, she wondered why she'd even bothered to get up from her bed that morning.

However determined she was to escape, she failed miserably, as Rachael Thorston once again proved she could conquer the laws of space and time, somehow managing to bar her way just a few steps from the entrance.

Astrid groaned.

"Ruff, I'm too tired for this."

"Oh, sure, and you think I'll just let you run away with it, missie? Well, I don't think so," the other girl snorted. "You've been acting like a beaten dog for the entire day, and that's not something that happens that often. The Astrid I know doesn't get all sullen for no reason."

"Ruffnut, please. Just let go."

"Let go? So you can walk alone in the night, in that weather, shambling like some sick, light-headed shadow? You won't even make it to that lousy flat of yours, and I'm certainly not going to scratch off your corpse from some lousy car after you drag your lousy butt on the street and are hit by it. You're not going anywhere."

Astrid sighed, praying to all the Saints she could think of that she'd find the strength to deal with her friend for a little bit longer.

"Okay, look," she started, hoping she would manage to be assertive enough, even though every fibre of her being wished to be anything but that. "First of all, my flat isn't lousy. Small, uncomfortable, boring maybe, yes, but otherwise it's fine. Second, my block of flats is literally three minutes away from here, and I only have to cross one narrow street, so I think my butt is pretty safe. Oh, and by the way, thank you for not wanting to deal with my dead body, I always knew I could count on you."

"You're not making any sense, Hofferson."

"Neither are you, Thorston." Astrid forced herself to smile weakly, not wanting to worry her companion more than she already had. "Listen, you've got one more class ahead of you, and we both know you can't skip this one. And I really don't feel like spending another hour and a half here, waiting until you'll be able to walk me home."

"Fine, then I'm gonna call Tuff," Ruffnut retorted.

"No! I mean… Oh gosh."

"What?"

"I don't need Tuff to walk me home. I don't need anyone to walk me home! Just let me get out of here, and I promise you I'll be in my room in no time. I can even text you so you know I've made it. Deal?"

Rachael raised her eyebrows in a disbelieving grimace, but nodded nevertheless. Her interlocutor sighed with relief.

"Only promise me you'll let me know if you need anything," the former added, relentlessly.

"All I need right now is to change into my pyjamas, get to my bed, and spend the rest of the evening curled up in it drinking tea, eating chocolate and probably mixing those with all the junk food I can find at my place. I'll be fine."

"You better be. See you tomorrow, you stubborn mutton head."

"I love you, too."

Astrid waved her hand carelessly, and grinned a bit more widely, seeing her friend shake her head in piteous disappointment. It was good to know at least one person cared.

The girl decided to waste no more time, and having turned on her heel, she crossed the threshold, making sure she didn't jog anyone she was forced to pass.

Even at such an ungodly hour, there were still quite a lot of students buzzing around.

She shivered when a chilly blast of the wind stroke her, and wrapped her long scarf around her head and neck. It really was cold, and rather windy too, and she couldn't help but think it would be a good idea to finally buy herself a hat, or earmuffs, or better, both. She could also use a jacket that would not be lacking a hood.

Oh, and gloves. She never remembered about gloves.

Either way, Astrid knew that the sooner she stopped pitying herself, the sooner she'd start walking, and as a result, the sooner she'd reach her own bedroom. Her evening plans might've been pathetic, but that didn't make them any less urgent, and if she wanted to make the best of them (however ironic that sounded), she had to hurry.

You couldn't call an evening special if you went to bed at the usual hour, right?

The young woman folded her arms on her chest, trying to keep as much warmth as possible, thinking about how worried Ruffnut had seemed that day. She understood she must have looked really bad to make her friends act the way she had – to the point when she'd been ready to call her brother and ask him to make sure Astrid's journey would not be interrupted by any unwanted adventures. She was almost surprised Ruffnut had not suggest asking Snotlout to do that.

'And that's another problem we'll have to deal with,' she mused inwardly, feeling an unpleasant twinge in her chest. She couldn't quite tell why watching her friends' relationship blossom was so unsettling, considering how much impressed she was to see it actually work. And yet, Ruff and Snot being a couple was one thing, them being a successful one was another… but Snotlout actually popping the question was something none of the girls had expected.

Although the poor guy had been turned down at first ("I'm not going to marry you now, idiot!") Astrid realised that he would not give up, eventually repeating the proposal – and she knew that when that would happen, Ruff would no longer play the unreachable and simply say yes.

To sum up: her best male friend had just started dating her roommate, her best girl friend was inches from being engaged, and from what she'd heard, even Tuff had managed to find someone strong – or crazy – enough to put up with him and his antics. She wasn't sure what the poor girl's name was (Cameron? Cambria? Camilla?), but the fact remained – she was the only one in the gang left behind as single.

Except Fishlegs, that is. It wasn't like he was an option, though.

She blinked repeatedly when a snowflake flew into her eye. It wasn't snowing too heavily yet, which was why she felt taken aback at first, however, it was enough to make her stumble. She balanced herself easily – unfortunately for her, her great physical skills could not prevent her bag's strap from falling off, which happened almost simultaneously. Had she not been busy focusing on the snow, she might have caught the bag in time – instead, all she could do was watch it hit the ground with a heavy thud, while its contents spilled all over the footpath, while she couldn't even fully comprehend the absurdity of the situation.

She snapped out of her stupefaction soon enough, seeing her papers being tossed by the heavy gust that seemed to be growing stronger and stronger with every passing second. She fell on her knees to grab her phone, which was lying just next to the bag, and reached for a notebook that had landed nearby; she was up again the next moment, trying to catch the loose sheets of paper, filled with her precious notes – and she would have succeeded, if not for a thin layer of ice under her shoe. She stumbled again, only this time her reflex didn't work, causing her to fall forwards, miraculously avoiding meeting the floor with her face.

Her bag hit the ground close to her right hand, once again allowing her belongings to be spread all around. Astrid raised her head a few inches, only to let it fall on the footpath again a moment later.

Now she really wanted to cry.

She felt someone crutch before her; at first, she wanted to jerk up her head and look up at the stranger, probably snapping at them to mind their own business and leave her the hell alone on the ground. Then she realised she didn't even have the strength to do that much. She was pathetic, and she knew it – but Thor strike her if there was anything she could do about it.

In her mind's eyes she could see her notes gliding above the pavement, twirling around her, or maybe just flying away in the direction she didn't even care to check.

She heard the other person clear their throat before her – she was pretty sure it was a man coughing, but then again, she really couldn't tell for sure; not with her face pressed to the ground, and her thoughts focused on everything but the reality she wanted to escape so badly. The next moment she felt the person shift, stand up and walk away in a hurried pace, as if disgusted by the thought of standing near her for another second. Even though she knew it wouldn't solve anything, Astrid couldn't help but groan.

It was probably the thousandth time she did that day.

'Go, go, hurry up,' she yelled inwardly at the stranger, feeling the tears well in her eyes for real. 'Run away before you get infected with that hopelessness of mine, before you get yourself a virus of being Berk's greatest loser. Leave me here, all alone, just like everybody else, and I'll just die, lonely and forgotten and -'

"Are you alright?"

Good Heaven, he hadn't left.

And yes, it definitely was a man speaking.

Her first reflex was to cover her head with her trembling, freezing arms, and block that part of reality that somehow still managed to get to her; and that's what she did, right before she realised how ridiculous she must have looked, and decided that if she couldn't make herself seem any more reasonable, at least she shouldn't do the opposite, and embarrass herself even further.

She took a deep breath, then another, and using all of the strength she had left, she lifted herself to a sitting position, wiping the tears away in what she hoped to be a discreet manner. She blinked a few times and, assuming the most peaceful expression she could afford, she finally turned towards the man in front of her.


Author's note: A new story! Well, not really. Because I wrote it in December.

But hey, it still is a newly published one, right? And I still hope you like it, no matter the reservations I had myself. There is a part two and three written for it and hopefully, there will be more - but I won't lie, it kind of depends on whether you'd like to see it continued in the first place.

Anyway, I really should be studying right now - so bye! See you soon, I hope!

God bless you,
Margaret