Hiccup nestled against Toothless's stomach—curled into the heated scales—and soaked in the sounds of his surroundings. A vibrato of crickets and hoots weaved through the Highland winds and popping kindle. A wolf howled in the distance. A moderate fire constructed out of driftwood flickered sharply against the blue-black setting.
It was after a lengthy aerial trek—nearly a full day's flight to the southernmost island from of Berk—that Hiccup found himself stretched beneath the stars on an uncharted island. He didn't worry about being followed. Not immediately. It would take days for a ship to reach their point, what with the numerous low-hanging crags and rock stacks acting as obstacles. And that was if the Hooligans knew where to look in the first place.
Flying was a hard mode of travel to track.
Hiccup inhaled and released. Relaxation was impossible; even when fed, warm, and waiting only for the pull of sleep to take him in. His eyelids dipped with the weight of the day, but his mind raced and his stomach suspended.
Talk about Hero to Zero.
The past three weeks were a dream. He, Hiccup the Useless, had been accepted as a Viking among his tribe. He achieved everything he had worked for since he first recognized an anomaly within himself… only to have it taken prematurely. The gratification, the prestige, the option of actually becoming chief… Gone.
Granted, he had built it on falsehoods and deception, but at least people listened to him. At least people looked at him and saw potential. That was all he needed to get his feet off the ground.
Or so he told himself.
Hiccup closed his eyes and tried to immerse his mind into a life where he hadn't been chosen to kill the Nightmare. If he continued as he had, with the eyes and ears of his village open to his methods. Hooligans would eventually take his inventions seriously. They would see him at face value and accept what he was, who he was. Despite not being brawny and boorish, they would listen to his alternatives to fighting...
Toothless sneezed. Hiccup's eyes opened.
Or not. In all honesty, it was too soon to tell how far his newfound fame would have gotten him. If it would have ended in happiness or tragedy. With Toothless accepted or killed.
None of it mattered at this point anyway. He left. He made his choice. There was no point in reminiscing on what could have been.
Then, without prompting, Hiccup thought of his father. Of the pride he heard in Stoick's voice—booming and bragging across the Kill Ring as Hiccup was hoisted over the crowd. The boy could not remember a time when he'd heard that tone... a tone he'd waited to be directed at him for years. A taste of utopia, cruelly snatched away. He would be forever taunted with the phantasm of what their relationship should have been had he only been born "right".
Emotion welled; not just at his own loss but also at the subjugation and scrutiny his father would endure because of him.
He turned his eyes toward the blinking stars above and mumbled, "I hope my Dad's okay..."
Toothless lifted his head and the great reptile's eyes flashed in the bright moonlight. Through forces unknown, Hiccup could completely understand the dragon's opinion of the involuntary remark.
"He's not that bad," he felt the need to say. "He's a good guy."
"No, really! He's just...the chief, you know? He's so Viking that he couldn't possibly understand someone who's..." Hiccup paused to look down at himself, "uh, not so-Viking. Which I guess is why it's good that only Vikings live this far north..." For all his complaints, even Hiccup had to chime in on jibes against Southerners. "And for his own son to be, well, like me… that must have been hard on him. I know he probably had a rough time facing other tribes and seeing their perfect heirs..."
Bitterness crept into his voice before he could stop it. He swallowed back the ugly feeling.
"Sorry," Hiccup muttered, rubbing a hand over his face.
The part that hurt the most, more than leaving his father childless, more than smothering that far-but-bright glint of a possible future on Berk, was the cold, unarguable truth that everyone's lives would be better now that he was out of their hair.
His father could focus on running the village and Snotlout was the obvious next heir (there was even the possibility he would have taken over with Hiccup around). Hiccup wouldn't be there to aggravate Astrid, or for the twins to pull pranks on, and there were tons of candidates who would be a better apprentice in the smithy than he was...
"I made the right choice," he whispered to himself and he found little comfort in making the announcement. Toothless chuffed against his hair like some draconic show of moral support.
Hiccup smiled and brushed the dislodged bangs from his eyes.
It was hard to smile. It was difficult to stay optimistic. Hiccup was scared. He closed a door behind him and there was no safety net beneath. There was no going back—an option he may have had had no one seen Toothless, but that opportunity was wiped from the table the moment they encountered Astrid.
Gods! If it were anyone else—Fishlegs, perhaps—things might have played out different. But it was Astrid. Astrid, who was so gung-ho about killing dragons she had perfected a war cry by the time she was nine. Astrid, who hated Hiccup. He wasn't stupid. He saw the hostility she directed at him over the past week. She didn't like being upstaged and she certainly didn't like being upstaged by him. Seeing Toothless was the final straw.
The look she last gave him… Hiccup would never forget. Utter disgust twisted her face, eyes hard with the promise retribution for his choices.
Gods and she would have killed Toothless! Hiccup could see it again. The glint of sun against her axe. The energy, the fear, the terror that stung his gut in the hours that followed… He had thrown his body at her before the situation fully registered and he would thank Odin every day for that.
Hiccup shoved down the rancor bubbling towards the girl and tilted his head back at Toothless.
"So, where do you want to go?" he asked.
Toothless whirred and directed his triangular head southeast in accordance to the stars.
"That way, huh?" Hiccup pointed in the same direction with his arm. "Yeah…that's heading towards Jutland. Hey! If we keep heading in that direction we should eventually reach Miklagard! My mother lived there for a bit—dad told me so. She said it's the largest city ever built! They have this really big wall to keep Vikings from sailing in there, but that won't be a problem for us, will it buddy?"
Toothless crooned his agreement like a human would wave off a child's enthusiasm. The dragon instead motioned towards the axe that Hiccup decided to drag along seconds before their departure. The weapon lay amongst Hiccup's meager belongings, its blade gleaming in the quivering firelight, majestic and mocking.
Toothless did not like that axe for many reasons. For one, it belonged to the awful girl who hurt his sweet boy (because who in their right mind would try to hurt Hiccup? Why not just kick dragon eggs!). The second being that it was one more sharp object just waiting for a chance mishap with the boy. Not that Hiccup was the walking disaster his people seemed to believe him as; Toothless had seen Hiccup move and run and play with grace only seen in dragons.
Lastly, it implied that he was not enough protection for Hiccup. Insulting.
Hiccup, for his part, felt a sudden and inadvertent need to defend himself from the dragon's stare.
"Hey, don't judge me! I just couldn't leave it there!"
You could have.
"It would be a waste to have a perfectly good blade destroyed by the elements."
She would have returned for it.
"It could come in handy if I get in trouble."
How dare you.
"Okay… and maybe I wanted to piss her off a little."
Toothless cocked his head to the side.
"It's just..." Hiccup ran a tense hand through his hair. "It's just that I had this whole "escape plan" sort of formulated, you know? I left this… this note for my dad…playing up my, ah, inability to fit in. I sort of hinted that I had been outsmarting the dragons rather than defeating them, which was kind of a confession, right? Oh, and I mentioned how I simply could not kill a dragon—which also played into my 'not-fitting-in' thing. And said that I'm choosing the life of an outcast."
Gods, he was an outlaw. Fjörbaugsgarður. He couldn't return to Berk for at least three years.
Hiccup took another breath.
"I… I tried to make it look like a self-exile. But with Astrid finding out my real reason for leaving and tattling—oh come on, you know she did! You saw her—that'll make me look like a traitor too. Which, I am, I guess...
"I just… I just wanted my dad to feel more… more disappointment than betrayal about this."
Hiccup lowered his head to his hands and moaned.
"I really buggered this one up, didn't I bud? I don't know what I was doing. I guess I messed up my life the moment I let you…"
The Night Fury nudged Hiccup's thigh with his nose and moaned. Gaze trained on the fire, Hiccup reached over and inattentively scratched the scales just over Toothless' left eye.
"Maybe it's unfair of me to pin all my anger on Astrid...but she didn't even give me a chance to explain! There was no...no curiosity. Like nothing in her head told her to hear me out." He couldn't understand it. He hoped to never understand it. "She was just another mindless slave to the Viking code. If she had just waited a few moments—listened for a bit—she would have seen...she could have realized..."
Hiccup dropped his head back and closed his eyes.
"And now everything is so messed up..."
His human's distress tinged the salted air and Toothless's jaw fins rippled. He shifted his weight to curl his heavy tail across Hiccup's lap to further draw the boy in warmth.
Hiccup smiled at the gesture.
"I guess I should sleep on this, shouldn't I, Bud?"
Toothless gurgled shortly.
"Right. We'll head out first thing tomorrow. I don't know what I'd do without you," Hiccup yawned as the drain hit him. "You keep me sane..."
Watching as the thin eyelids slipped closed, Toothless accepted Hiccup's bid goodnight. The dragon remained awake for much longer than his human, with ears twitching at every sound in protectiveness bordering on paranoia, all the while sending the inert axe looks of the deepest loathing.
When Stoick entered his home it was for the purpose of escaping the questioning stares of his people, the accusing glower of that girl, and to enjoy the comfort of his favorite chair while he waited for his son to return and sort things out.
He had not anticipated The Letter. The stained parchment that terrified and agitate him, that drove him to order Astrid Hofferson to lead a number of his warriors to search the cove she spoke of.
"Self exile..." Stoick muttered, scanning the letter for the hundredth time. It was formal, tersely worded, and addressed to "The Chief" — not to "father". Though the writing was unmistakably Hiccup's.
In it spoke of Hiccup's inability to embrace the Viking lifestyle and the overall benefit for both parties of his leaving. It was signed Hiccup. No Haddock. No III. Just Hiccup.
Self-imposed exile indeed.
Stoick's eyes lingered on certain phrases for his mind to interpret.
"…used methods to give the illusion of taking down dragons…"
"…renounce any birthrights…"
He tried to make sense of it all, but Stoick could not have foreseen this. Hiccup would have spoken to him first if it were simply a feeling of displacement. Outlaw was a serious thing—even lesser outlaw. Anyone who held a grudge against the boy would now be entitled to kill him on sight and gain status for it.
No, Hiccup was smarter than that. There had to be more to it.
Stoick thought of Astrid and her wild tales of betrayal.
If the reason for Hiccup's absence were of another nature, a more sinister nature...
Stoick shook his head. It couldn't be—not his Hiccup. The boy was a nuisance on a good day, but he was far too innocent and frank to engage in such deceitful ventures.
Yet, doubt returned again.
Astrid mentioned Raven Point and a Night Fury of all creatures. Just as Hiccup had weeks earlier. While it could have been a coincidence on either point—
"Stoick!" a deep voice boomed from the other side of his home's door. The wood rattled under heavy banging. His brother.
Stoick wrenched the door open to see a remorseful Spitelout and Hoark.
"Well?" Stoick prompted. "What'd yeh find?"
His impatience wasn't justified; he would have known himself had he gone with them. But the letter stole the steadiness from Stoick's legs. He'd rather the village believed it was confidence in his own son that kept him at home, but he suspected his brother saw through the farce if his stark-white knuckles gripping the door were any reflection of his complexion.
Hoark stepped forward and held out a handful of perfect and gleaming black dragon scales.
"They were everywhere," Hoark reported. "Undeniably dragon, and none we've ever seen. They definitely match that of the girl's description of a Night Fury."
Stoick opened his mouth to give his old friend an angry thrashing for even suggesting the wild story was true when Spitelout cut in.
"There was evidence of human habitation as well. A scorched campfire with burnt kindle, sharpened sticks, several footprints and body prints—some barely even a day old...and not all of which were human. And the human prints...the size...well, there's just no getting around it, Stoick."
Spitelout spoke in an unusually slow, low voice, as though he were trying to soothe the chief while simultaneously delivering incriminating evidence about Stoick's son.
The chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe could feel his entire world crumble. A certain sort of misery he had not felt since his wife left resurfaced; a misery of isolation and loss. A child's wild story he could discredit, but only a fool would refute the hard proof in Hoark's hand and Spitelout's expert tracking skills. And no fool had ever made a half-decent chief.
His title was the only thing he had left in his life. He had no family, no heir, but he had his tribe.
"Chief," Hoark tried after a long moment of silence on Stoick's part, "the evidence is overwhelming...what the Hofferson girl said about your son—"
Stoick crushed the letter in his hand.
"I have no son," he hashed out in a strangled undertone. Hiccup had betrayed them. The letter was a ruse; an excuse a devil-sympathizer used to escape having to kill one.
Admitting his only son had gone rogue in the worst sort of fashion was no simple task, so Stoick focused on his last comfort.
A surprising passion ignited within him. Angry, hurt, and still fighting off the natural pull of denial, Stoick wanted war. He wanted to hit something, to tear it apart and to commit grisly kills. The dragons would pay for enchanting his son away from him, and he looked forward to the next raid. Unfortunately, the ice would be setting in within the next couple of months and leaving on another empowered Nest-excursion was unwise.
Come spring, the dragons wouldn't know what hit them.
The village had learned of what transpired in the cove before the next morning sun could fully separate from the horizon.
Stoick the Vast's son was in league with the dragons.
Shock rippled through the morning gossip.
"I knew it!" cropped up around high noon.
By nattmál a majority of "good riddance" became the village consensus, with a healthy dose of sympathy for their chief.
Of course Hiccup the Useless would find a way to turn himself against their village. Several villagers agreed they had seen it coming, that the boy was touched by the hand of Loki himself and doomed to bring misfortune.
Some villagers, particularly his former classmates, were in varying states of dubiety.
Fishlegs was openly disheartened; crushed that someone he grew to admire would betray them. Seeing Hiccup's rise to fame gave the nerdy Viking hope that one day he too could impress the village. Learning that it was a fluke destroyed that cautious optimism.
Ruffnut was too focused on Astrid's actions to belie Hiccup for his.
"What I can't believe is that you would see a dragon—a Night Fury of all things—with a saddle on and not try to ride it," she argued for the umpteenth time.
"Why would I ever want to ride a dragon?" Astrid snapped back, and she looked rather close to striking the other blonde. "It's disgusting. Disgraceful! I kill dragons. I like killing dragons—love it—I don't ride them!"
"There was a saddle already on the Thor-damn dragon!" Ruffnut badgered. "That's practically a sign from Odin saying 'Hey! Ride me!'"
"I'd rather ride a Roman horse!"
Tuffnut felt at a loss to see his sister fighting with someone other than himself.
Snotlout was caught between outrage and glee. While he was one of the last in his class to be impressed by Hiccup—second only to Astrid—and finding his cousin's success suspicious for most of their training, he eventually joined the masses in their admiration for the boy's effective handling of the beasts. That Hiccup had chosen the dragons' side was a bit of a slap in the face for everyone, and Snotlout did not take kindly to being upstaged by posers.
At the same time, he was now next in line to be chief and the most eligible suitor for Astrid—provided she didn't get married off before he became of age. Other than a bruised pride, Hiccup's decision to ride off into the sunset on the back of a Night Fury provided more pros than cons as far as he was concerned.
Astrid was pleased, overall—aside from constantly having to defend herself from the psycho Thorson twin. She had her reputation back while getting rid of her competition at the same time.
Sometimes, when she would see the chief's disparaging scowls he tried to hide, or the empty spot at the Mead Hall where Hiccup used to sit, she would question her brash actions. Any and all feelings of doubt would be dealt with quickly and swiftly, in the same manner she handled everything else in her life. In the end, she knew she made the right decision. Vikings were upfront, no-nonsense people. It was how they kept their government from falling corrupt. Allowing Hiccup to continue his charade would only begin the plague of lies and deceit that had destroyed countless cultures before. This was her way of preserving the peace. Nothing to feel ashamed of, at all.
Besides, she could never forgive him for stealing her axe.
A/N: I've gotten enough feedback on this to inspire me to add another installment sooner than I intended, so I hope you enjoyed it! I hope I kept the characters "in-character", so to speak. I'm trying to stay true to the personalities that were displayed before the village discovered Toothless, but I'm also going for a very psychological standpoint.
I'm making this so Berk is settled within the Faroe Islands.
Let me know what you think! Thank you for the reviews :)