Hiccup and Stoick have both learned a lot about dragons since Hiccup and Toothless brought down the Red Death. Since the peace with, no, the partnership between dragons and Vikings began.
Most importantly, they've learned that Toothless needs to sleep on the ground floor, since his weight makes the upper level creak threateningly. Which means that Hiccup's things have likewise moved to the ground floor, since they've also learned that Toothless refuses to allow Hiccup more than 10 feet away from him. A nervous dragon is a dangerous dragon, after all, so they make changes.
Hiccup apologizes to his dad for the sudden rearrangement of living conditions, but Stoick shakes it off and, in typical Stoick fashion, goes further than he really needs to, tearing a hole in the side of the house and building a Toothless-sized addition (now without blankets, after Toothless nearly set the whole house on fire with his nightly settling-in routine). He even widens the entrance to the house, and even though he claims it's to accommodate his own (increasing) girth, Toothless whuffs in disbelief, and Hiccup can't hide his grin.
It's a good arrangement for all of them, really. Even if Toothless didn't insist on staying by Hiccup's side all the time, stairs are harder to manage than they used to be. Going up is one thing. Going down when one foot no longer responds the way he expects it to is harrowing. He doesn't need to break a limb, or worse, not now that his injuries from the battle with the Red Death have finally healed. Well. Y'know. Mostly.
So if the rafters groan with discomfort when Stoick settles down each night, and if Toothless snores when he's dreaming, and the light from the fire just on the other side of the supporting pillar sometimes keeps Hiccup awake thinking about things he'd rather not remember, it's not really a problem. It's just something to get used to.
Kind of like he has to get used to the fact that he never gets to sleep in anymore. Not that the early morning, enthusiastic, fishy-smelling dragon-pouncings are bad, exactly. They're immensely better than early morning dragon attacks, after all. They're just constant and. And early.
Before sunrise early.
But he gets used to that, too, the same way he's gotten used to everything else around him changing. (“Hiccup the Flexible,” Astrid sometimes calls him, with a look in her eyes that makes his words catch in his throat and his face turn redder than his hair.)
So when he wakes one morning to the glow of sunrise inching in through the skylight and the soft crackling of a dying fire instead of to Toothless' nose in his face, Hiccup's first reaction isn't relief, but fear. Toothless hasn't broken his routine in months. Toothless wouldn't break his routine without good reason. And Hiccup can't think of a single good reason for there to be no Toothless annoying him awake right now. So he rolls onto his side, sits up, and plants his feet (one flesh, one metal, and he'll never get used to that) firmly on the ground. Two breaths later and he's up, and he considers it a personal triumph that he only trips once on his way into Toothless' addition.
There's no skylight in the addition, the the dying embers in the fire can't cast their light this far. There's no movement in the darkness, but Hiccup thinks he can just hear quiet, even breathing. The shape of the sound is right, but the size is all—all wrong.
“Toothless?” No answer. He tries again.
This time, there's a response in the form of movement. Looking carefully, Hiccup can almost make out something in a far corner shifting. The shadow feels right, somehow, so he chances it, braces himself with a hand on the wall, and takes several steps closer. The shadow mimics the movement, slow and just as unsteady. He can hear the rustle and chime of leather and metal close by, and the shadow flops to the ground near his feet, stumbling over something on the floor.
“Hey, buddy,” he says and kneels by Toothless carefully. “You feeling okay? I didn't get my usual morning greeting today.” Hiccup reaches out to rub his partner's nose and stops, his eyes finally adjusting to the barely-there light.
“Oh gods,” says Hiccup.
“Wurrrr,” says Toothless, and buries his face in Hiccup's neck. His breathing evens out into sleep, and all Hiccup can do is sit with him, back to the wall, a hand in his hair.
When Toothless wakes again, it's far less gently than before. The head on Hiccup's shoulder lifts, and even if he can't see clearly, he can feel the sharp movement of Toothless looking around. The arms curled around his waist tighten; he can almost feel the sudden waves of anxiety coming off his partner. Close as they are, he can feel Toothless tensing, the same way he does before taking flight.
Toothless lunges to his feet before Hiccup can stop him. There's a panicked howl in the darkness, and the dull thud of Toothless stumbling into the wall. Going from four legs to two is no easier than from two to one.
“Toothless!” He tries not to sound scared, but it's obviously not working, because Toothless shrieks again, and Hiccup can hear nails clawing at wood and packed earth. They're feeding into each other's fears, and Hiccup knows it, but he can't seem to calm himself down, much less his friend. He wishes suddenly that he'd brought a torch or something for light, and squashes the thought just as fast. He's not sure how Toothless will react once he can see himself properly. He's not sure how he will react.
In the end, it's Hiccup's prosthesis that saves them both, sharp metal jabbing into still sensitive flesh. Hiccup yelps, pain stabbing all the way up to his hip, and his leg gives out under him. Toothless' reaction is predictable and immediate; Toothless wraps his arms around Hiccup and falls with him, rolling so Hiccup lands on top, with no injury other than a slight ding to his pride (and by now, he's pretty used to those). Hiccup lies there for several long heartbeats, eyes squeezed tightly shut. When he finally gathers the nerve to open them again, Toothless huffs. A hand pats him on the back, warm, reassuring, and unmistakably human; he can feel nails catching on wool and wonders just how much Toothless has changed.
“Okay there, buddy?” he asks.
“Whrf,” says Toothless. He sounds exhausted.
Hiccup laughs, breathless. “Yeah, I know just how you feel.”
They stay where they are, sprawled on the floor, for a few minutes more, until Hiccup's curiosity finally bests his fear. Getting up isn't easy, though, not when Toothless growls and yanks him back down every time he tries.
“C'mon, Toothless, let me up. I'm fine, and I want to make sure you're fine, too.” The “rrrr” that answers him doesn't sound convinced, but Toothless lets him up at last.
Getting to his feet is a struggle. Toothless may have let him up, but he hasn't let Hiccup loose, and trying to stand while Toothless sits, clinging to his arm, is awkward, to say the least. When he's finally up, he still feels less than stable. Toothless, it seems, is worse off. They suffer several false starts trying to get the dragon up, and after a while, he resists Hiccup's efforts with a frustrated hiss.
Hiccup shakes his head. “Don't give up now. It's just standing up. You've done harder things.” They both have, but Toothless still seems reluctant. Hiccup thinks for a moment. “...There's fish out there. Cod. Salmon. There might even be some snapper left.”
He can almost see the shadow of something on Toothless' head lift, and the movement is familiar. Now he has his partner's full attention. The mention of fish is enough to get Toothless to try once more and this time they manage to get him to his feet. He wavers and chirrs, uncertain, and leans on Hiccup a little too heavily, but he's up and that's what counts. Hiccup grins; somehow, he has the feeling Toothless can see it.
It still takes them a full candlemark to get from Toothless' addition back into the house proper, but they manage. Slowly. Hiccup glances at the hands curled around his arm, and can't help but marvel at the ink-black skin, the spots of tiny, shining scales covering wrists and finger-joints. He feels like he should be more unnerved by Toothless' sudden change than he is. Maybe he's just getting good at getting used to things. Riding dragons instead of killing them used to be out of the ordinary, too.
“Wrrr,” says Toothless, looking toward the stairs. Hiccup is suddenly glad that his dad is an even earlier riser than the dragon and has been gone hours now.
“It's okay, buddy.” He reaches up (up! Shorter than everyone!) to rub Toothless' forehead and tries not to laugh at the disheveled mess of hair on his head. Toothless' ears lift, and he huffs, his pupils wide. “Dad's been gone a while. You know that.” The light coming in through the skylight is bright enough that he suspects it's late morning at least, which means Stoick will be coming back soon, if only to see that his son is awake. Which in turn means they can't stay. Not when Toothless looks like...this.
Toothless is sniffing at the air now, not paying attention to Hiccup. There are still some fish on the small table near the fire after all; Toothless trills, low in his throat, and heads for it, two quick steps and a stumble, but he makes it. Watching him pick through the slimy carcasses, Hiccup realizes it's not only the shift in balance that has Toothless so unsteady. Three of the toes on his left foot are conspicuously missing. Hiccup feels his heart constrict. There's guilt there, mixed with fascination. Toothless pauses mid-bite and peers over his shoulder at Hiccup, one ear sticking straight up, quizzical. Hiccup waves him off.
“I'm okay, I'm just gonna get a few things.”
The answer seems to be good enough for Toothless; he goes back to the fish, tearing at it noisily. It's enough to make Hiccup's stomach turn.
Fortunately, Hiccup finds a spare set of his dad's trousers downstairs. They're clean, at least, and Toothless looks tall enough that they won't drag on the ground too much. Not enough to trip on anyway. He hopes. He gives up on the idea of a tunic. Anything Stoick wears is large enough that Toothless will swim in it, and Hiccup doubts anything of his will fit over Toothless' arms. It figures that his dragon-turned-human is built more like a Viking than he is. He stuffs a few more things into a basket, his notebook, a few sticks of charcoal, a blanket, and turns back to Toothless who has, by now, finished off a second and third fish.
Toothless whuffs at him, licking his fingers clean of congealed blood and gods only know what else. He cocks his head and the motion makes his ears flop to one side. Hiccup offers him the pants.
“We're going outside, buddy, and you can't go out like that.”
To his relief, Toothless doesn't fight it, though he takes the trousers and holds them upside down thoughtfully for a while. Hiccup can hear him sniffing at the hem, though he can't see it, hidden as Toothless is behind the swath of wool. Toothless sneezes, the same, unimpressed sneeze Hiccup has heard a hundred times before, and wiggles awkwardly into the trousers. He falls over once in the process, and growls at the offending floor, but manages eventually, though he has to hold the pants in place until Hiccup loops a belt around him. As he thought it might, the material puddles around Toothless' feet, and the trousers are baggy enough to look completely ridiculous, but it's better than nothing. The weather's still warm enough that the lack of a tunic won't make a difference.
Dragon mostly clothed, Hiccup peers out the back door. Behind him, Toothless warbles at something, and there's the clatter of wood on wood as he knocks something over. “Toothless!” he hisses over his shoulder. “Stop it!” There's an insulted sniff, but no more noise.
Hiccup doesn't see anyone outside, which is a relief. Even if everyone in the village should be working, Hiccup included, doesn't mean everyone is. At least if anyone is skipping work or training, they're not doing it anywhere near the chief's house. Small mercies. They might as well leave for the cove now, while the coast is clear, and before Stoick shows up.
Toothless peers out over Hiccup's shoulder and huffs. Hiccup grins at him. “Yeah, we're going. C'mon.”
The trek up the hill behind Hiccup's home is harder than he remembers it being in the past. He feels like he's fighting with his prosthesis every step of the way, and Toothless stumbles with the effort of balancing on a set of unfamiliar, compromised legs. By the time they're comfortably inside the forest, he and Toothless are both panting, and Toothless' ears are laid flat against his head. He whines at Hiccup, and Hiccup has to fight the urge to whine back. Instead, he sits on the nearest, lowest rock he can find. Toothless settles behind him and rests his chin on Hiccup's shoulder, purring. His breath tickles. Hiccup bats at him to make him stop; Toothless ignores him.
“Halfway there,” Hiccup says, as much to himself as to Toothless.
Toothless growls and shoves him off the rock.
The second half of the journey is just as slow as the first, and more than once Toothless flops gracelessly on the ground and hisses at Hiccup. He's tired. Hiccup can read it in the slump of his shoulders and the way he pants, open-mouthed, his tongue and sharp, white teeth standing in stark contrast to the rest of him. Hiccup checks the trail; they're not far from the cove, but daylight is fading fast. He wishes, not for the first time, that Toothless still had wings.
When they finally do reach the cove, Hiccup's legs are aching and the only thing he wants is to sit down, but he doesn't dare, not yet. Spending a night here with self-heating Toothless-the-dragon is one thing. Spending a night here with less-self-heating Toothless-the-human is something very different. So while Toothless strips off his too large trousers and hisses alarmingly at his bare-arsed reflection in the lake, Hiccup gathers a good pile of tinder outside a rocky lean-to they've used before and digs his tinderbox out of the traveling basket.
The tinderbox is uncooperative, of course, so Hiccup is forced to squint to see what he's doing, fighting as much with the thin light as with the tinder and flint. He's so focused on it that he jumps in surprise when Toothless “wrrrs” in his ear (where'd he come from?).
“You don't happen to still have fire breath, do you?”
“Hrruff,” says Toothless, and he retreats to the back of the little cave, limping slightly. Hiccup takes that as a no.
Hiccup fights with the tinder a little while longer, until he's completely lost the light, but he's forced to give up in the end. Blankets and body heat will have to do for tonight.
He stumbles through the darkness (and isn't this familiar?), trailing blankets behind him, using the sound of Toothless purring as a guide. A hand grabs his and tugs. Hiccup yelps and stumbles, falling onto Toothless, sending the blankets flying. Toothless curls around him, helps him arrange the blankets over them both, and huffs in his ear. He doesn't sound apologetic in the least for the scare he gave Hiccup.
It's been long enough since he stayed in the cove that he's almost forgotten how quiet it is. But it's nice, really, to doze off with a familiar presence at his back and the quiet chirp of birds settling in for the night in his ears.
If sleep comes easy, though, it doesn't stay that way. Hiccup dreams, dreams in a way he wishes he couldn't, with the heat of fire in his lungs, wind ripping at his hair, and Toothless howling, trying to catch him, save him--
He wakes, screaming, hands grabbing at air, and it still feels like he's falling, and he can feel teeth--teeth--sunk into his foot, his left foot, the one that isn't there anymore--
And then Toothless is on top of him, flattening him into the earth, grounding him, petting at his shoulders, so frantic that Hiccup feels a stab of guilt break through the blind panic that woke him. He reaches out, buries his hands in Toothless' hair, his face in Toothless' throat and just--
They stay like that until Hiccup's breathing goes back to normal, and Toothless' heart stops rabbiting in his chest, and dawn peeks hesitantly into the little cave.
It's not the easiest nightmare he's been woken from, but it's not the worst, either.