If Tables Should Turn
a/n: You guys are my food and water, and you sustain me as I wearily drag my ass from school to track to piano to home and back again. God bless. Things to expect: swearing, mentions of blood and injury, fucking dumb politics, mentions of dragon abuse.
Hundreds of teeth.
Odin, he was about to swoon.
Her breastplate had been cast not in the dull iron Berk possessed in spades, but a queerly lustrous metal that was almost reflective. As intriguing as it was, his attention remained fixed on the teeth studding her armor. Each had been sharpened and then sun-bleached white as virgin snow. He ogled at her considerable collection with grotesque fascination, aware only of his throbbing lip and the delirious pounding of blood behind his eardrums. Gods, there were so many. So many dragons to have been pinned and tortured. All for a single tooth.
A sound above his own galloping pulse: a growl.
The Night Fury was crouched low to the ground, ears flattened and lips peeled back in his most intimidating snarl. He appeared to be no fan of the armor either. Before the chief of Ronan could become the next victim of a plasma bolt, Hiccup gently cuffed the dragon, an intimation of restraint. Toothless recoiled, but only slightly, and continued to regard the woman like she was the slimiest of eels.
Well, Hiccup thought bitterly, we're off to a great start.
The large, muscular woman eyed Toothless suspiciously and allowed one hand to rest on the ivory handle of the sword cinched to her belt. Hiccup had a sudden premonition of the woman slitting his dragon's throat with one skilled slash of the blade. He seized Astrid's shoulder with surprising force, alerting her to the weapon and steadying himself before he could pass out in the eyes of his father, this chief, and Odin above.
"Freyja…" Stoick tentatively lifted his hand for the woman to shake; she furrowed her brow before relenting.
"Stoick. You know why we're here. I hope you know a handshake isn't going to cut it." Hiccup cut his eyes to Astrid, who did the same, and communicated what needn't be said: Did she just back-talk the chief of the tribe?
"I understand, Freyja, and I hope you know I want to handle this peacefully as possible," he replied, his tone teetering precariously between amicable and inhospitable. "If you'd be so kind to call off your soldiers… this is a village square, after all. I won't have my people thinking we're seconds away from war."
Freyja scrutinized her adversary with grey, flinty eyes and permanently pursed lips. After about a century of consideration, she snapped her fingers; the small militia standing at attention behind her dispersed, although their daunting expressions failed to soften.
She then removed her helmet, a gesture of courtesy when in the presence of another chief and their kin. Her Night Fury-black tresses had been plaited and pinned back into a single, regal bun at the nape of her neck. Beneath her armor and intimidating stance was an unmistakable air of nobility, of majesty. As if she were a queen instead of a chief.
"Son." A meaty hand closed over Hiccup's shoulder. "Take Astrid home and do the same with yourself. This isn't any of your business anymore."
Before he could insist that any woman who wore dragon fangs and used his friends for target practice was entirely his business, Freyja uttered a harsh laugh. "Sending yer boy off, Stoick? Sounds a bit yellow-bellied to me. He'll be the chief soon, won't he?"
Freyja had struck a nerve. Stoick's thick fingers tightened unconsciously around the boy's collar, nearly cleaving the bone in two. "Fine. You can come along, son. Astrid, I'd like for you to run ahead to the Hall and clear out anyone who's not on the council. Send a few of the younger lads to fetch Gothi."
"Yes, sir." Astrid took a dutiful step forward before stealing an oddly romantic glance at Hiccup. In spite of the day's events, her blonde bangs were still pearly and straight. He recalled the silky softness of her braid beneath his fingers and longed to touch her, to feel her body against his own. I'll be back, she mouthed in such a way that made him desire those rose petal lips with knee-weakening intensity.
Women tended to have such an effect on Haddock men.
Toothless nosed his way between Hiccup and Stoick, as if reminding Freyja he would be defended from any tooth-stealing by both. The woman stared at the dragon with vague disinterest. She knew she would be caught red-handed if she attempted to add a new fang to her collection. Besides, Berk was positively crawling with dragons. Why attack the pet of the Dragon Trainer himself when there was a Nadder on every street corner?
Stoick uncapped his head and shielded himself with the helmet as he began to whisper in his son's ear. "Walk Toothless ahead of us. The two of you keep walking to the Great Hall- - do not turn around or talk to anybody. Act normal."
"Exactly how am I gonna act normal in this situation?" Hiccup quipped. His father's stern expression quickly drained the sarcasm out of his tone. "Dad, what about the other dragons? What if one of her guys try to take out one of ours?"
"We'll worry about that when the time comes. Now go."
Hiccup started forward and beckoned for Toothless to follow him. The Night Fury threw one last snarl at Freyja before trotting after his master, tail swishing angrily. They walked together, a single thought plaguing them.
What in Thor's name are we going to do?
Astrid's swiftness was admirable. By the time the visiting party reached the Great Hall, she had already gathered the members of Stoick's trusted council and deployed Mulch and Bucket to fetch Gothi. The councilmen and women's voices rose to a concerned din that only augmented Astrid's fear. Freyja seemed to be a formidable threat against Berk; those dragon teeth were evidence enough. She thought poor Hiccup would keel over at the sight of them.
Astrid was seated at one of the dining tables, buffing her nails with the fish oil-soaked stone Ruff had given her for Snoggletog. Not that she was particularly concerned with cuticle care: the mere act of buffing was just so soothing. Certainly, it was a might less intimidating than blade-sharpening, but one could only grind a dagger so much before the point dulled. She just needed to detach from the situation at hand. Separate herself from potential war and fangs. Sojourn to her own island of isolation.
A silhouette fell over her. Astrid closed her eyes and assembled his presence in her mind: Creaking prosthetic. Scent of sea salt and plasma. Refulgent eyes. She remembered the shivery sensation in her chest when his fingers ghosted past her plait, how it made her feel both weak and empowered. Feel. He always made her feel.
"They want to have some kind of peace conference."
Astrid snorted derisively and scoured away at her left thumb. "Sure. That's why she started with all the arrow-shooting and soldier stuff."
"She knows his weak spots. I don't know how, but she does. It's… weird. And I think she'd know how to get him to go to war. And you know what a war would do to Berk."
Orphans. Widows. Vacated huts. Even with the advantage of dragons, Ronan was a larger, more virulent clan and, if hell-bent on obliterating Berk, would do so without a second thought. They were the most dominant nation on the Barbaric Archipelago, after all. A few causalities on their side was inconsequential.
"Astrid, I'm scared."
The stone slipped between her fingers and struck the floor with a harsh click that sent Toothless into a fit. He snapped his wingspan to its entirety, nearly taking out his rider, and crouched low to the ground. It took a great deal of head-scratching and cooing to unwind the Night Fury's nerves.
Astrid compelled herself to finally glance up at Hiccup. The fear in his expression, which had taken root back on the beach (Thor, that seemed like a century ago), was prominent, sharp. She despised it. If she had to face off against the Ronanians herself, she would, just to lighten the dark circles underscoring his eyes and extirpate that ugly bite wound from his lip.
Odin. Love made her such a sap.
"Hiccup…" She rose to her feet and had her arms around him in an instant. The physical contact was reassuring, but the nervous gallop of his heart against her collar was not. Astrid raked her slender fingers through his auburn mane, which was silkier than twice-spun yak fur and just as shaggy. If this conference passed without ruffling any feathers, she'd have to give him a good trim.
"It's so frustrating," he mumbled into her ear as his hands traveled down the slope of her extruding spine. "I don't want any of this. I don't want a war. I'm not ready."
"I'm not ready to be a leader."
Surprised, the blonde drew back from the embrace, arms still strung over his bony shoulders. "Are you kidding? Hiccup, you're already a leader. Everything you do for the Academy and Berk- - that's being a leader. I know being chief is going to take a lot of work. And you're probably going to struggle some. But you can't say that you're not ready to be a leader when you are one."
Hiccup stared into her cerulean eyes, finally shocked into silence. Astrid had attested her loyalty to him and Berk on several occasions, but she had never waxed poetic about his maturing leadership abilities. The mere fact she had such faith in him, that she believed he was capable, made his heart swell. Those words, though spoken with Astrid's customary ferocity, confirmed that she was more than just a cohort or, dare he think it, a girlfriend.
She was his partner.
Astrid watched as her words were comprehended and smiled when his freckled visage brightened. "You've got this," she whispered.
A light rush of courage deluged him. Cradling her head, Hiccup brought Astrid forward and, for the first instance in their relationship, initiated the kiss. She tensed for just a moment before melting into it. "Starting the kiss" hadn't been included in her miniature speech, but Astrid quickly decided she liked what he had gotten out of it.
When they finally detached, both gasping for breath, Hiccup grinned and tentatively touched her cheek. "We've got this."
As it turned out, neither of them truly "got this".
They had been banished to the furthermost corner of the hall by Stoick, who insisted that the teenagers not get heavily involved in the discussion. While Hiccup was infinite in his respect for his father, he had to believe it was a poor decision and expressed it with what Astrid referred to as his "dragon pout".
"You're dragon-pouting again," she sang as the hall's stone centerpiece was covered in past treaties and documents. At its helm stood Stoick and Freyja, both staring levelly at one another as if expecting the other to break at any moment.
Hiccup crossed his arms and struggled to retract his childishly protruding lip. He had been troubled at the prospect of stepping up alongside his father, but now that Freyja was striking nerves, he longed to be included. After all, Freyja's army had deliberately assaulted one of his good friends- - his father would never be able to understand that like he did. This issue should have been addressed by both Haddock men- - or, at least, that was what Hiccup believed.
"I'm not," he finally muttered, well aware that he was.
"Leaders usually don't pout in a way that bears a frightening resemblance to their dragon." Toothless, who was curled at their feet like a third member of the party, glanced up at the mere word. The Night Fury then launched himself out of his reclined position, a pitch maelstrom of wings and claws, and attempted to unfurl his massive form across Hiccup's own.
"Odin, bud, you're not a Terrible Terror." Still, the boy couldn't help but smile. He rubbed Toothless's snout, fingers expertly avoiding the scars left by the multiple muzzles he'd encountered since first being discovered by Hiccup. The dragon purred with satisfaction as he was lavished with attention. Thank you for protecting me from the dragon teeth lady, he expressed in a series of nuzzlings against his owner's leg. I'll make sure she won't try to hurt you either.
"Hiccup, look! They're starting!" Astrid said in a voice mere notches above a whisper. Toothless reluctantly returned to his spot and rested his head on his folded forelegs.
"This peace conference is called between the clans of Berk and Ronan! Stand and remove yer helmets!" Gobber declared, his prosthetic limb replaced with a scroll. The presence of written word surprised Hiccup. Vikings were typically not ones to be burdened by such tasks as reading or writing.
The Vikings present obliged, removing their headgear and holding it to their hips. Freyja was the last to comply. She placed the shiny helmet at the center of the table, proudly displaying the two fangs protruding from either side. Her lips were quirked into something that was scant inches away from being a boastful smirk.
The torch-lit hall, doubtlessly the largest structure on the island, seemed oddly claustrophobic to Stoick. His men and women had allowed him a great deal of space, yet he felt as though he were surrounded by them. Freyja's condescending gaze did little to comfort him. With the opening respect complete, the chief cleared his throat and set both meaty hands on the tabletop. "This conference is about our clans, Freyja- - nothing else."
"Are you sure, Stoick? I thought there was much more you'd like to discuss. Perhaps those soldiers that went missing?"
Hiccup was suddenly and acutely aware of his own heartbeat. Even though very few of the people present knew what she was indicating, he felt as though everyone did and that they were about to panic. The citizens of Berk had a penchant for panicking (not to mention their knack for mobbing, too). He watched his father draw back slightly, a sight that deeply saddened him. Stoick would have to confess to the tribe about the bodies; he held himself accountable to be honest to his people.
Astrid whispered in a tremulous voice: "Is she talking about the dead soldier?"
Her hand latched onto his own and squeezed. The pressure was soothing.
"Yes, Freyja, those are things we can discuss. Perhaps we can also discuss the fact one of your men shot an arrow at an innocent girl?" Stoick relished the shadow of horror that passed over Freyja's visage like quicksilver before her smug façade returned.
"I can't be held responsible for all my men, Stoick. After all, didn't your Neanderthals murder four of my men? Innocent men, who hadn't done so much as stepped on a twig in your forests?"
Astrid realized she had been holding her breath and exhaled forcefully. He had almost pinned Freyja, but the woman was stocked with underhanded tactics. Was she just going to turn around each of Stoick's accusations until they went to war on the spot? Berk and Ronan had crossed paths before, each instance resulting in more causalities in the last: Who was to say this wasn't the dawn of another battle?
"C'mon, chief," she hissed through clenched teeth, "you've got this."
"I don't appreciate you calling my people 'Neanderthals'. After all, the murders were only in self-defense. I don't suppose you'd just invite a man who tried to break into your home and trespass on your land in for tea. Besides, that's not why you're here, Freyja, and that's not what this is about. It's about doing whatever it takes to keep our tribes from going to war."
The woman seemed mollified, humbled even. She finally broke her eye contact and stared down at the treaties instead, which was why everyone in the audience flinched when Freyja drew her magnificent sword. It sliced the air with a metallic shiver and landed just hairs from Stoick's forehead.
"Get 'er!" someone hollered from Stoick's counsel. The group didn't hesitate in rushing forward to protect their chief; Gobber led them, his scroll replaced with a blade.
"STOP!" Stoick roared in a voice that could have toppled mountains. The counsel halted in their tracks, caught a glimpse of the man's enraged expression, and slunk back like whipped dragons.
Freyja gave a merry chuckle and sheathed her weapon, evidently pleased by the anarchy she had instigated. "Very good, Stoick. Very good. You really don't want anything to happen to your precious clan. You don't want war at all. You didn't even want your men to keep me from slicing that beard off your face. I'm impressed, really, and I'm usually not impressed."
"What do you want out of this, Freyja?" The man's voice was strained, almost brittle. It sounded as if he were dedicating the entirety of his willpower to not pleading her for relieve.
"I came because I wanted to remind you who's in charge here. You can't forget that we're the most powerful, that we could come at any time and take what's rightfully ours: the land. The livestock. The dragons."
Toothless growled and would have lunged had Hiccup not secured his arms around the dragon's neck. What tranquilized the dragon was not the restraint, but the sensation of tremors wracking his boy's body. He could not leave his master now, not with him in such a state.
"You need to be reminded, Stoick. You can put on the helmet and the cloak and act like you're king of the archipelago, but you'll always run from the thought of war. You'll always be a coward- - maybe a good coward, a strong coward, but a coward nonetheless. I can only hope your son becomes a better chief than you."
Astrid tightened her grip on Hiccup's hand until her knuckles were pale as virgin snow, but she didn't dare to say a word. There were no words for what they were witnessing.
Stoick stared Freyja dead in the eye, his expression free of cowardice. Never before had a chief directly insulted him or his leadership qualities: he had always been the hero of his tribe. The toughest, noblest, wisest man on the island. He could take these jibes in stride- - they were merely thorns- - but to drag his son into the situation was beyond what Stoick could tolerate. "You have a choice, Freyja: we can handle this peacefully or we can summon our armadas."
"And what, may I ask, do you propose to get this peace you're after?"
As if he had been dying to utter the word since first awakening this morning, Stoick unsheathed his prized Gronckle Iron dagger, thrust it into the tabletop, and spoke: "Bloodlines".
Freyja examined the treaty Stoick had staked. It had been drawn up over a century ago, during Stoick's grandfather's era of power. The document included a rather long-winded soliloquy about the benefits of tribes having strong bloodlines (his grandfather had not been a very succinct man). Upon being signed, Stoick's great-aunt and Freyja's great-uncle had married and the two tribes were pacified.
"Bloodlines…" she repeated, hoping her surprise was not obvious. Freyja had not expected Stoick to spring such a solution on her, especially after the coward business. She quickly composed herself and wedged the dagger out of the table. "Fine, Stoick. What a brilliant idea. Who do you offer? It looks to me like your son is taken."
Hiccup would have traded his other leg to have vanished at that very moment in time.
"My son will be allowed to marry whoever he pleases," Stoick announced, eliciting quite a few relieved sighs from the Hooligans present. Nearly everyone on Berk was anticipating the day the Haddock boy and Hofferson girl finally tied the knot. "Instead, I offer my nephew: Snotlout Jorgenson."
Spitelout did not possess as good a poker face as his brother-in-law and was not subtle about the announcement. "My boy?! Marry a Ronan girl?!"
"Spitelout, think about it. Your son will be the clan's saving grace. He'll live his life in luxury and power, and he'll be valued as a hero by both tribes. Snotlout is our only hope."
There's a sentence I never though my dad would say, Hiccup thought in the midst of his agonizing humiliation.
"Very well. The nephew of a chief is as good as a son of a chief, I suppose. I do not have any nieces and nephews to offer. If you'll remember, your father was responsible for the death of my brother. But let's let bygones be bygones, right?" Freyja shot her opponent a venomous look before spinning his dagger between her thick, but nimble, fingers. "I have only my daughter to offer you, Stoick. She's of the noblest blood in our village and I'm sure she'll be delighted to be our- - what was your word, 'saving grace'?"
"If you want your daughter to be your offering, so be it. If you agree to have our kin married, do you agree to stave off this declaration of war?"
Astrid dug her nails into Hiccup's palm, not bothering to be tender. They had just narrowly avoided being cornered into an arranged marriage, one of the most feared traditions in history. If Freyja didn't accept his offer, they would be at each other's throats again. She heard Hiccup wince and then realized, a bit too soon, she had begun to draw blood. "Sorry."
"It's fine. Just slap me and get me out of this nightmare."
"Hey, they're not sacrificing you out there like a piece of lamb. They're selling Snotlout to some crazy, deranged daughter of a chief. He's our saving grace."
"Don't remind me."
Stoick extended his hand to the woman, in spite of the loathing that deluged him at the sight of her. "Freyja. When our families come together, you'll see there's no need for this. We understand your clan is powerful. Let us come together and be powerful as a unit. Do you accept this offer?"
The raven-haired woman, sturdy as a yak and stealthy as a Night Fury, beamed. Her thin lips curled back to reveal a set of teeth that, unlike those clinging to her armor, were vaguely yellow and crooked. After an eternity of silence, she closed her hand over Stoick's. "I accept it, Stoick. But I won't sign any treaties until I return with my daughter. Do you understand? Berk isn't safe until our families come together. There's nothing protecting you from us until I see my daughter holding hands with your nephew."
The man shook her hand once. "I understand."
Freyja replaced her helmet and snapped her fingers; at once, her men assembled. "We'll return in a matter of days! Expect us! I don't like when people forget things!"
It wasn't until she was nearly at the threshold of the hall's massive doors did Stoick remember she was still clutching his dagger. Freyja noticed it in her grip as well and stepped forward as if intending to return it to him. With a deft flick of her wrist, the weapon went spinning across the hall, aimed directly at Stoick. The blade struck his helmet with a dull plunk before landing back on the table.
"Always a coward!" Freyja shrieked. She laughed and laughed until she sounded completely deranged, and her cackling resonated across the hall like a malevolent spirit, clinging to the ears of those who wished least to hear it.
She was still laughing when she plucked an unsuspecting Terrible Terror off the street and handed it off to one of her men. How exotic to have teeth from Berk! How grand!
Back in the Great Hall, Hiccup touched his mouth and shuddered.
a/n: I literally just sat here and pounded out like three-fourths of this chapter without thinking about it, holy shit, it just kind of exploded out of me. Thanks for all your support, you guys, and I hope you'll stay tuned because things are about to get fucking insane.