Hiccup spends most of the week after he wakes up, well, sleeping. Not straight through, but pretty close. He wakes up a few times a day for an hour or two to take a Toothless-assisted stroll around the village and eat something, or talk to his dad or Astrid or Gobber or any of the surprisingly large number of people who come to visit.
(And, seriously, it hasn't been that long since he was Hiccup, that kid to stay away from in case disaster is contagious. And then there was his brief celebrity status, which was actually really tense seeing as it was also when he was telling the biggest, fattest, pants-on-fire-est lies of his life. It's been a busy couple months, is what he's saying, and there are a lot of people who are acting very differently towards him and it's an adjustment.)
Toothless pretty much doesn't leave his side, which is kind of nice sometimes and kind of annoying other times. This is one of the annoying times.
"Toothless, I am eating. I am eating this soup, and if I'm not eating fast enough for you, that's your problem," says Hiccup, after the tenth time Toothless nudges Hiccup's hand around the spoon.
Toothless gives him a wide-eyed look, then rubs his nose against Hiccup's hand, and Hiccup's irritation dissolves like snow in boiling water.
"I know, buddy," says Hiccup, crossing his free hand over to rub the flat of skin between Toothless's eyes. "I'm not exactly thrilled about being an invalid, either."
Toothless blinks, and his wings move in a very, very careful flap that nevertheless scatters papers all over the floor of Hiccup's room.
"And then we'll be able to go flying again," Hiccup promises, although his stomach sinks a little bit.
Because the thing is, Hiccup thinks part of the reason he's been sleeping so much is because he never gets any rest, and he hasn't gotten any rest because of the dreams. His last memories before waking up are of falling, feeling only the scorching heat against his back and watching Toothless dive towards him in what seemed at the time to be a futile effort, but he doesn't remember the catching part. Which might be part of why he relives the falling every night, the dream ending right when he should hit ground, only he doesn't always wake up – sometimes it just starts again.
And Hiccup loves flying, he really does, but right now he's not too excited about the falling part. The flying he used to do with Toothless was a lot of looping, a lot of tempting fate, and all he can think about now is that in his dream, he knows the sensation of hitting the ground and he does not like it at all.
But this is Toothless, and he wants to fly, and he can't without Hiccup. And Hiccup, well, Hiccup is well aware of the fact that it's his fault that Toothless can't fly.
"Soon, buddy," says Hiccup, his fingers curling slightly against Toothless's hide. "We'll go flying soon."
When Stoick isn't busy being the tribe's chief, he's going out of his way to be extra really nice to his son, which is just weird. But it means that Stoick is so distracted trying to be nice that he doesn't notice how Hiccup's doing. Astrid, on the other hand, has no such distractions.
"Are you okay?" she asks on one of her visits. Hiccup's been awake almost all day, and even though he’s tired, he's pretty sure he’ll be able to get Stoick to let him leave the house for more than an hour at a time soon.
"What, me? I'm just...admiring my scars," says Hiccup. "I should be downright irresistible to the ladies by now, right? I mean, who wouldn't want a piece of aaaaaaall this?"
Astrid rolls her eyes, but her lips curve in what might be a hint of a smile, if Hiccup squints. "You seem tired, still, that's all."
Toothless makes a small noise, and since his head is resting on Hiccup's lap, Hiccup feels the vibration in the top of his leg. The sensation stops just below the knee, although he swears that sometimes he can feel the rest of his leg down there, too. It's really, really weird.
"Well, I did single-handedly defeat a giant evil dragon, risking my life heroically in the process and nearly getting myself killed," says Hiccup. "It kind of takes it out of you."
Astrid still looks worried. "I don't know why you ever doubted you were a real Viking," she says. "You've got the bravado down pat."
"That may be the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," says Hiccup, only half-joking. “Anyway, you were saying...?”
“Right,” says Astrid, her face settling back into the determined warrior of the arena. “Your dad says that the Meathead tribe is going to come for Thor’s Day Thursday again this year, and I was thinking that since last year Thuggory and the Meathead boys kept trying to mess with us, we could get back at them this year. With dragons! I’ve been practicing my dragonback axe-throwing, and I’m getting really good at it.”
Hiccup takes a moment to imagine it, Astrid on her Nadder’s back, silhouetted by the sun like a Valkyrie, throwing an axe inches from Thuggory’s nose and saying in a voice filled with the grace of the gods, and that’s for calling him “Hiccup the Useless!”
"But we’ll need to practice,” Astrid continues, “so I'm trying to convince your dad to let you come flying tomorrow," and there's that sinking feeling again. It feels a lot like falling. That is not a helpful thought. "Maybe with me on Stormfly - I thought he might like that better than you flying alone."
Hiccup can feel Toothless bristle with offense, and he lays a hand on Toothless's neck to reassure him. "You named your dragon 'Stormfly'?" says Hiccup. "Don't you think it's a little overdramatic?"
"Don't you think 'Toothless' is a little underdramatic? They're dragons, not puppies," says Astrid.
Toothless growls, and Hiccup pats him. "Hey, see what you're doing? You're irritating my dragon, you...dragon-irritator."
"He has teeth," says Astrid, and really, it's hard to argue with that.
"I think I'm gonna hold out for Toothless anyway, but thanks," says Hiccup, and Toothless instantly relaxes. "I'm not the only one cooped up – in – heeeeeeereeeeee...." The word gets stretched over a yawn, and the concern is immediately back in Astrid's eyes.
"Maybe I should let you get some rest...?" she says, looking very uncertain.
Hiccup would argue, but he can feel his eyelids actually drooping, which is just not fair. "Probably," he mutters. "Sleep is so annoying."
Astrid really does smile at that, and she gives Hiccup and Toothless identical pats on the head before she goes, which is even less fair, and then everything is so boring in the same room that Hiccup's been in for weeks now that there's nothing for it but to go to sleep.
For some reason, Hiccup decides that the best way to get over this ridiculous sudden fear is by beating it into submission. With a Night Fury.
"Okay, buddy," says Hiccup, past the tightness in his stomach and his lungs and really all of him now that he's thinking about it, "let's see what this new leg can do."
This new leg can do about three feet and a nose dive.
"Okay," says Hiccup, into the dirt he faceplanted in, "someone obviously forgot to clip in, and someone else obviously forgot that they don't have an ankle to angle anymore, and both of those someones are obviously me."
"Uhhh, Hiccup?" At least that's Fishlegs's voice and not Snotlout. Or one of the twins. That would be really embarrassing.
“Was that supposed to be some new dragon-flying trick?”
"What's he doing, eating dirt?"
"What do you know about eating dirt?"
"I happen to be a dirt-eating expert."
"I've eaten way more dirt than you have!"
Not only Snotlout, but both of the twins as well. Great. Hiccup carefully keeps his thoughts away from Astrid, just in case.
"Hiccup?" comes Fishlegs's voice again, closer this time. "What are you doing?"
"Wishing the earth would open up and swallow me whole," says Hiccup.
Hiccup raises his head to find Toothless's face about two inches from his. "Having some technical difficulties," Hiccup says, and Toothless snorts, but helps him up anyway.
All of the others are on their dragons, just hovering there, but thank the gods that Astrid isn't with them. "Looks like there are still a few kinks in the old – well, new – leg to work out," says Hiccup, leaning on Toothless. There's an ache beginning to settle in his bad leg, despite the fact that it's gone – Gobber warned him about this, but Hiccup isn't exactly pleased about it. "Guess it's back to the drawing board."
Toothless helps him back to Gobber's workshop. Toothless is, in fact, being so nice that it borders on the suspicious. He even watches patiently, settled down in a corner, while Hiccup examines the tail rig.
The main problem with it is that it's based on Hiccup's old design, which just doesn't work anymore. If Hiccup still had an ankle to pivot, they wouldn't be having any issues, but, well, he doesn't. Now he needs to think of a way to move his whole leg, pressing down or moving it backwards and forwards, instead of rotating to do something.
Toothless inches forward as Hiccup works until he's only a few feet from Hiccup, and of course he leaves destruction in his wake. He snorts out a breath to get Hiccup's attention, and Hiccup looks down at him.
Toothless snorts again, pointing his nose at Hiccup's left leg.
"I've just got a few adjustments to make," says Hiccup, putting down the rig. "It might be a couple days before we can go flying, but – we'll make it back up there."
Toothless looks at Hiccup, then back at Hiccup's leg, one of his ears twitching minutely down at the same time that his eyes go round with sadness – but when he looks up again, it's gone.
"I'm sorry, bud," says Hiccup. "I know it must be tough to be grounded - "
Toothless sits up and gives a low, rumbling growl as he tosses his head.
" - and I'll work on this as fast as I can, okay?"
Toothless's gaze flits down to Hiccup's leg, just for a second, and then he curls up at Hiccup's side. Hiccup can't help but reach out to scratch his head, and this time Toothless's growl is a reverberating, contented one.
"Now if I can work on this without anyone bugging me, we'll be good," Hiccup says, "but it'll still be at least a couple days to get this all finished, okay?"
Toothless's eyes are wide when he looks up, but he just blinks a few times before settling himself back down. Hiccup takes a deep breath, and tries to push down the sick sense of relief he feels at his best friend being stuck on the ground for another couple of days.
Toothless growls at everyone who tries to come into Gobber's workshop for the next couple of days. Including Gobber, who takes it surprisingly well.
"Ah, so he wants some privacy while you mess with all my hard work, is it?" says Gobber, even as Toothless's eyes stay on him, pupils narrowed to slits. "Well, who am I to argue with a dragon?"
"Sorry!" Hiccup calls after Gobber as he leaves. Then he turns to Toothless. "You could be nicer, you know."
Toothless's ears flap unconcernedly, and he makes a short harumphing noise.
"Right, next time I'll be careful what I wish for," says Hiccup, fitting in the last component of the new rig. He sets it down and looks at the result. He can feel the familiar clench in his gut at the thought of flying with Toothless again, of soaring over the ocean, so very far down -
This is for Toothless, though. He can do this for Toothless.
"Looks like it's time for a test drive," he forces out, and Toothless instantly sits up, ears perked. He looks so excited, but – "It's pretty different," Hiccup adds, trying to push enthusiasm into his voice. "We may want to stay close at first."
Toothless's idea of staying close, it turns out, doesn't match up with Hiccup's.
"Toothless, we gotta slow down," babbles Hiccup. He broke out in a cold sweat about when Toothless threw them off the cliff, and he's been clinging to Toothless like – well, like Toothless is the only thing between him and way too many feet of death. "Buddy, this is way more complicated than the other one – aaaugh!" Hiccup jerks his leg, but it only drives them closer to the giant rock outcropping. Toothless banks away just in time, but Hiccup's leg is moving all wrong and the tail is reacting to his every twitch, and there's a lot of twitching right now because even though Toothless is doing his best, his best is very, very jerky.
"Should've done a cheat sheet," Hiccup gasps, and Toothless banks again. Hiccup only manages to bite back a shout by slamming his jaw shut entirely. He's pretty sure he's shaking. A lot.
The trip back to land is a blur, and the next thing he knows, Hiccup is off Toothless's back, standing next to him and leaning heavily on his knees. Toothless is staring at him, and he tries to think of something to say as he sucks in air.
"Okay," he manages to say, "this could use some adjustments."
He unhooks the saddle and the rig from Toothless as quickly as he can, to hide the trembling in his hands, and he folds the whole thing up. "I'll just," says Hiccup, motioning with the bundle. "I'll just get this back and start working on it."
He hesitates, just for a second, because Toothless is giving him a look that's just desolate – but Toothless doesn't move to help him, and Hiccup's been doing so much standing in the forge these days that he manages to walk back on his own.
He can feel Toothless's eyes on him until he passes over one of the many hills of Berk, sinking below Toothless's sight.
In his workroom, he dumps the rig by the door and pulls out a fresh piece of drawing paper. Drawing his thoughts always helps him think, and maybe he can think of some way to fix this that doesn't involve Toothless staying on the ground or Hiccup half-dying of fear every time they fly.
Maybe if he adds more safeties to the rig he won't get as scared. Maybe he can convince Toothless to really stay close at first, and try to do it step by step, working his way up higher until he's back to dashing through clouds without wanting to vomit everywhere.
But then he'd have to tell Toothless, and then what? Then Toothless gets to shuttle him around in baby steps while all the other dragons fly as high as they want, because Hiccup's scared? That's not fair.
Nothing about this is fair.
Hiccup lays his head on the paper, idly flicking his pencil. What if he can't make himself fly again? What if it doesn't go away? What then?
The worst part is, he can still remember what it was like to fly with Toothless before, when it was just them and the sky. When doing a dive made him shout with exhilaration, not terror. He knows how much Toothless loves that kind of flying, and if Hiccup can't give it to him, then...
He turns his head and squeezes his eyes shut against the thought. He'll think of something. He always does.
The worst part about the falling is the knowing that the ground is just waiting. There's nowhere to go but down, and no matter how short the fall is, it feels like forever, because it's all that's left – long seconds of regret and fear and knowing exactly what's coming and that there's nothing you can do to stop it.
Toothless is above him, but he's so far away, there's no way to get back on the saddle and they're at the wrong angle anyway – Toothless is stretching his neck out, his mouth open, but Hiccup can't hear him roar over the all-consuming sound of the fire beneath him, and he doesn't look so toothless now -
Hiccup jerks upright, all his muscles seizing up with tension. Astrid jumps back, startled, drawing her hand off his shoulder.
"Oh," says Hiccup, and wipes some drool off his mouth. "Hi, Astrid. I, uh, guess I fell asleep."
"You were stiff as a board," says Astrid. "What's going on?"
"It's a new exercise that you can do while you're sleeping?" tries Hiccup. Astrid just stares at him flatly, and crosses her arms. “It was nothing, really.”
“Hiccup, you were twitching,” says Astrid, pulling out the extra stool and sitting on it. “And the noise you were making - I thought there was a wounded animal in here!”
“Oh, thanks,” says Hiccup. “That’s really - ”
“You’ve been acting weird ever since you woke up - ”
Hiccup doesn’t think before he snaps, “And how would you know? You never paid attention to me before!”
Astrid’s eyes widen with surprise, and Hiccup looks down. He wants to take the words back, but...they’re kind of true.
“All of a sudden,” he says instead, “everyone’s treating me like some big hero, but I’m still the same Hiccup I was before, and I’m supposed to forget all the times everyone told me to get inside and stop making things worse just because they’re being nice now.”
Astrid slouches a bit on the stool, and Hiccup wonders if she heard “you” instead of “everyone.”
“I know,” she says. “And I’m sorry. We underestimated you - I underestimated you.” She looks down, and rubs the palm of one hand with the thumb of the other. “I think - I think everyone in Berk expects strength to look a certain way, and you’re not really Viking-strong. You’re Hiccup-strong. I don’t think anyone really got that before seeing you in the Kill Ring.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” says Hiccup.
“You should,” says Astrid, with surprising vehemence. “Did you know that you were the first person to really stand up to me? That’s why I didn’t go running to your dad about the dragon’s island when you asked me not to - I mean, part of it was Toothless, but it was mostly you.”
Hiccup frowns. “No one ever stood up to you?”
Astrid shrugs, but it’s a this-totally-doesn’t-bother-me-it’s-no-big-deal shrug that means exactly the opposite. “After my parents died, all the adults in the village just pitied me, and everyone our age looked at me like I was already a proven warrior just because I could hit the knot of a tree with an axe at fifty paces. But you...you were willing to stand up for what you thought was right, against me, against the whole village - even against your dad. In some ways, I think that makes you braver than the rest of us.”
Hiccup takes a moment to bask in the praise. Then it occurs to him that he might be able to take this conversation in a kissing-direction instead of an asking-questions direction. “Well, you’re pretty brave yourself, so...”
Astrid shrugs. “It’s easy to be brave when you’ve got an axe.”
“It is a very nice axe,” he assures her.
Astrid smiles. “Thanks.” Then her expression turns sober again. “So were you dreaming, just then, or...?”
Hiccup lets out a frustrated groan. “Gods, you’re like a dog with a bone! I bet you poke at your bruises and pick at all your scars, too.”
“Well, it’s only fun - ”
“ - if you get a scar out of it,” Hiccup finishes with her. He tries to smile, to change the subject with a joke, but Astrid just looks at him expectantly.
Eventually he gives up. "I..." He hangs his head. "It was a nightmare."
"A nightmare? About what?"
Hiccup picks up his pencil and fiddles with it, to keep his hands busy. "Falling." Astrid doesn't say anything, and Hiccup says, "I don't think I can fly with Toothless anymore."
Out of the corner of his eye, Hiccup can see Astrid tense. "You're afraid of Toothless?"
"What? No! Why would I be afraid of Toothless?”
“You wouldn’t be! I mean, you shouldn’t be – I mean - ” Astrid falters, then gentles. “You’re afraid of…falling?”
Hiccup lets his head hang forward until it hits his workbench with a solid thud. “I don’t know where it came from,” he says, and gods, his voice is hoarse. “Well, I do, but I don’t know why - when Toothless and I were figuring out the rig, we must’ve fallen a hundred times, and it wasn’t – I mean, it was scary, but it wasn’t this scary, and I don’t know why I can’t...”
He can hear Astrid coming closer to him. She clears her throat, softly, and says, “I used to be afraid of fire.”
Hiccup looks up, frowning. “Now you’re just trying to make me feel better,” he says.
“Well, yeah,” says Astrid, “but it’s true. After my mom died…”
Something tugs in Hiccup’s heart. Astrid lost both parents in the same dragon raid: her father was carried off by a Monstrous Nightmare, and her mother was burned trying to bring it down. Hiccup was stuck in the house the whole time and missed it all, but two days later he heard Stoick and Gobber talking, and Astrid’s mother had only just died. Hiccup had thought about those two days a lot, every time Stoick sailed out to slay dragons, and understood a lot better why the traditional Viking farewell was wishing for a glorious death in battle. Those were probably quick.
“Every time I saw a fire I thought of her,” Astrid continues. “And – what happened to her.”
After a moment, Hiccup says, “But you joined the firefighters.”
“That’s why I did it,” says Astrid. “To show myself that fire was something that I could beat, that I could control, instead of something that could control me.”
“So, step one: take control of gravity. I’ll get on that.”
Astrid gives a look that is less sympathy than thinly-wearing patience. “No,” she says, and Hiccup can hear the pause where she left out calling him stupid, “you have to remind yourself that you can beat it. You have to keep flying until you can remember that it’s not scary. Start small and build your way up until you’re back to normal.”
“Right,” says Hiccup. “Normal. Because I’m so very good at normal.”
Astrid gives him an unamused look that isn’t without sympathy. “You’re a Viking, Hiccup. You have a problem. Now you just have to solve it. And nobody in Berk is better at that than you.”
Hiccup’s personal theory is that that’s because nobody in Berk has as many problems as he does, but he doesn’t say it. He has a feeling that will result in Astrid punching his arm again, and he’s really hoping that they can move past that stage in their relationship because she always manages to get him right where the bruise from the last time was, even if she never punches him that hard. And it’s worth it for the kissing, and the general Astrid-ness. But still, he’d like the kissing part without feeling like he keeps flying into rock spires.
“Maybe…” says Hiccup, and then frowns. “Huh. Maybe if…”
Astrid smiles. “Got an idea?”
The look Hiccup gives her back might even be a ghost of a smile. “I think I might.” Then he looks down at the rig and wrinkles his nose. “But first, this really does need some work.”
“I’ll let you get to it, then,” says Astrid.
“Oh, wait – why’d you come over?”
Astrid pauses in the doorway. “Oh, right,” she says. “I saw Toothless waiting by your dad’s house, and this is the first time you’ve gone somewhere without him, and I wanted to see what was up.”
Hiccup feels a sharp tug of guilt. “He’s just waiting there? Isn’t it…kind of cold tonight?”
“It’s always cold,” says Astrid, and, well, she’s got a point.
Hiccup makes his adjustments quickly – the best thing to do, he figures, is to slim down the whole design and just move his leg instead of trying to mimic a foot. He ends up closer to Gobber’s original design, actually, but as long as it works, he doesn’t really care.
Toothless is indeed waiting in front of Hiccup’s house, curled by the door. He lifts his head when he sees Hiccup, his ears standing bolt up as Hiccup approaches.
Hiccup pauses a few feet from Toothless, who’s looking at him with unusual inscrutability. There’s a moment where Hiccup nearly spills the whole truth, but then Toothless glances down at the rig and shifts his legs beneath him like an impatient dog.
Instead, Hiccup says, “I think I’ve got it figured out,” and Toothless does stand up, leaping forward and just catching himself before he would’ve knocked Hiccup clean over. “I changed the design a little bit, and I think this one should be a lot easier to use,” Hiccup continues, looking out over the ocean – and the sunset.
“Uh,” says Hiccup. “Maybe tomorrow?”
Toothless sags a bit, but paces around Hiccup and thrusts his head into the crook of Hiccup’s arm anyway. Hiccup takes the hint and lays his arm across Toothless’s shoulders and allows his dragon to help him inside.
That night, Hiccup has nightmares so violent that he literally falls out of bed.
Right onto Toothless.
It’s the middle of the night and Toothless is fast asleep – or is until Hiccup lands on him. Then he darts up, staring wildly around for Hiccup.
“Down here, buddy,” says Hiccup, letting one arm fall across his eyes.
Toothless makes a questioning noise.
“The floor just looked so much more comfortable,” says Hiccup.
Toothless snorts in disbelief, but after a moment, Hiccup finds himself surrounded on all sides by warm, smooth dragon as Toothless curls himself around him. He even closes a wing across Hiccup’s chest and legs, like a blanket, and his snuffling breaths ruffle Hiccup’s hair.
“I’ve got a bed, you know,” says Hiccup, and Toothless tucks his tail against Hiccup’s far side with a quiet whuff. Dragons, it turns out, are very, very warm, which is something that Hiccup hasn’t felt much on the island of Berk, and it doesn’t take long for Hiccup to drift off into a calm, quiet sleep.
When he wakes up, all he can remember of his dreams are pastel clouds and the rhythmic rumbling of the wind, which sounds suspiciously like a dragon snoring. Hiccup chooses to take this as a sign, and he and Toothless head for the ocean.
“I’ve got an idea for today, buddy,” says Hiccup, leading Toothless down the cliffside path to Berk’s one sea-level beach. It’s long and winding, but plenty wide, and Toothless is protective enough to maneuver Hiccup onto the inside of the path without any prompting. Which is usually the kind of thing that would annoy Hiccup to no end, but today, he’s pathetically grateful for it, even though he’s feeling more optimistic than he has since the nightmares started. “We can do height anytime, height isn’t hard, but we’ve got to work on maneuvering again. That’s what’s really tough with this leg. So I say we try to go through the rocks as low as we can, so we can really focus on getting the turns down again.”
It’s an excuse that he’s particularly proud of, even though Astrid gave him the idea. Kind of. The rock spires just off the coast are difficult enough to fly through to keep Toothless’s attention and be a challenge, and this kind of fast, low flying should be exciting enough to remind Hiccup’s body how much his mind loves flying, too. And the rocks are tall and varied enough that they can fly through them a hundred times and never repeat a turn, which means they can do this as many times as they need to, going higher and higher each time until Hiccup’s back to normal.
And, really, they do need to work on maneuvering. So it’s a win-win.
Toothless looks back anxiously as Hiccup sets up the rig, and Hiccup is in high enough spirits to give him several good scratches behind his ear-flap.
“Okay,” he says, once everything is set up. He climbs onto Toothless and hooks himself in with a minimum of trembling, which at this point he’s going to consider a win. Then he pats Toothless’s neck. “Ready?”
Toothless gives a roar in reply, and they set off.
This test flight, at least, is much better than their first attempt through the rocks, what feels like ages ago. They don’t fly straight into a single spire, although there are a couple close calls and, yes, all right, maybe even a few scrapes. They even stay low enough that Hiccup ends up just about drenched from ocean spray. By the fifth round through, Hiccup’s feeling good enough that the trembling has all but stopped and tipping his head back to see the tops of the spires doesn’t give him vertigo. By the tenth, it’s like nothing ever happened – he and Toothless are moving in sync again, and they go all the way through without a single problem.
“Yeah!” says Hiccup, pumping his arms.
Toothless roars, snapping his jaws happily, and pumps his wings harder than ever.
“Whoa – ” says Hiccup, pulling his arms down to cling on Toothless’s back as they start to gain altitude. “Toothless, buddy, what are you – no, we’re staying down, remember, what – oh, gods – ”
Toothless gives another contented roar and keeps climbing, clearly thinking this is a treat for Hiccup. Who is at this moment breaking out in a cold sweat. He makes the mistake of looking down and immediately presses his forehead to the leather of his saddle – which is entirely too close, since Toothless is rapidly approaching vertical in his climb.
“Toothless,” says Hiccup, his voice barely a croak, “come on, don’t – this isn’t – ”
Toothless levels out, straining to look over his back to see Hiccup. He hovers as Hiccup takes long, deep breaths, his limbs locked up with fear and his eyes and throat burning with tension.
The sound Toothless makes is confused, and Hiccup manages to pull his head away from the saddle to meet Toothless’s wide, round eyes.
It takes a lot of effort to push the words “Get us down” past the tight knot in his throat, and Toothless hovers for another moment before narrowing his wings in a dive.
Oh, gods, thinks Hiccup, I should’ve said slowly.
Toothless sets them down on solid ground, away from the parts of the island with people in them, and Hiccup slides off his back bonelessly. Toothless doesn’t move as Hiccup sits on the ground, his back against Toothless’s side, and twists his fingers into the dirt to feel its solidity. They sit like that for a few minutes, Hiccup hanging his head, until he can’t avoid talking any longer.
“Toothless, buddy…” he says, feeling his throat tighten up again, this time not with fear. “I don’t – ” He has to force the words out in a rush. “I think you should fly with someone else for a while.”
Hiccup is sitting close enough that he can feel Toothless go very still, and hear the noise he makes even though it’s very quiet and very sad.
“I’ve been trying,” he keeps going, a little bit desperately, “but I just – every time we get up there I can’t move, I just freeze up and – ” His voice cracks, and he clears it before saying with defeat, “I get scared.”
This time Toothless’s low growl is mournful, and Hiccup feels the motion in his muscles and sits up so Toothless can move around to face him. His head is low and his ears are further down than Hiccup’s ever seen them, hanging like a guilty dog’s.
Toothless makes a short, aborted motion with his head, and then slowly uses it to nudge Hiccup’s metal foot.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with my leg,” says Hiccup. “It was – I guess it was the fall, but I – what’s wrong?”
Toothless looks guiltier than Hiccup knew he even could look, and he doesn’t meet his eyes as he opens his mouth. With toothless gums, he closes his jaw around Hiccup’s bad leg, then draws back again, his eyes glimmering with sadness.
Hiccup takes a deep breath to fight off the rising – he can’t even tell what feeling it is - and lets it out again. “I know, buddy. I kind of figured.” Toothless slumps, and Hiccup continues, “But you saved my life, and I’d rather have my life than my leg.” He moves forward and pulls Toothless into a hug. “Seriously. Thank you.”
Toothless lets Hiccup hug him for a moment, then makes a puzzled crooning noise. Hiccup pulls back, looking down.
“It’s…falling,” he says. “Every time we get up there all I can think about is how high up we are and how long it would take to hit the ground, even though I know you’ve got me, and – and you deserve better than a…a coward like me.”
Toothless huffs out an indignant snort.
“You do!” says Hiccup. “You deserve someone who can really take you flying, not someone who can’t even go over the ocean without freezing up! Someone brave, someone like Astrid, who can look fear in the eyes and say, take that, fire! Or…falling…”
Toothless cocks his head as Hiccup trails off.
“I can’t take control of gravity,” says Hiccup slowly, looking at Toothless. “So maybe what I need…is someone who can.” His face sets in determination. “Toothless, how do you feel about doing something really, really stupid?”
“Oh, gods,” says Hiccup. “Oh, gods, okay, this is…this is definitely high enough.” He peeks over Toothless and immediately pulls back. Berk is just a speck below him. “Definitely high enough, Odin help me. Okay. You ready, bud?”
Toothless answers with a reassuring roar.
“All right,” says Hiccup. “Here we go. I’m unclipping my leg now,” says Hiccup, and takes a moment to gather his courage before he does so. “And, uh - ” He swallows reflexively - “and now I’m unclipping the rest of me.” His hands shake violently as he unhooks his safety tether, and he tries to convince himself it’s because of the cold that always comes from being this high up.
“Loki, Thor, and all the gods of people making really bad decisions protect me,” says Hiccup, before taking another panicked breath. “Okay, I’m standing up now.”
His legs won’t move.
“Standing up…right now.”
Fear locks up all of his muscles, and he feels a bone-deep certainty that he’ll never be able to move, right up until the moment that he does.
“Really standing up now,” he says as he braces his metal foot against the saddle, and then starts to put weight on it, pushing himself up.
And then it slips.
Hiccup overbalances trying to right himself, and even though Toothless tilts to try to help him, Hiccup goes tumbling off him towards the sea below.
He’s too seized by terror to even shout as he falls, backwards and headfirst, but he sees Toothless dive after him, a light of panic in his eyes. Hiccup’s stomach is doing somersaults, and all he can think is this was a terrible idea -
And then Toothless is close enough to nudge Hiccup’s bad leg, and Hiccup begins spinning around his stomach.
“Whoa – ” he manages to choke out, as he throws out his arms and legs to right himself, and now he’s falling stomach-first in a giant bellyflop, but he’s stable again, and even being able to see where’s he’s headed, even if it’s in a direction he doesn’t particularly like, makes something in him ease.
“Toothless, get over here – ”
But Toothless is already there, falling in the same spread-eagle position as Hiccup, although not with as much stability. Toothless pulls his wings in a bit to get lower than Hiccup, and then banks in and furls them out again and –
Hiccup lands really pretty painfully on Toothless’s saddle, but he doesn’t waste a moment in hooking his leg into the rig. Then they’re gliding again, well over the sea surface, and Toothless is craning his head to try to see Hiccup.
Who ruffled and shaky, yes, but also beginning to realize that the reality of the fall wasn’t nearly as bad as the dreams.
“Buddy,” says Hiccup, through panting breaths. His whole body is shaking, but as Hiccup leans down to hug Toothless – or as close as he can with a dragon twice his size – it feels a lot closer to exhilaration than to terror. “We gotta practice that.”
Toothless’s roar is loud and overjoyed, and he even lets out a celebratory fireball.
“Oh, come on,” says Hiccup as they fly through it.
They don’t do any more jumping, but they stay airborne for a good few hours, testing the limits of Hiccup’s recovery. The results are promising – now when Hiccup feels a shiver of fear and reminds himself that Toothless will always catch him, it sticks.
When they finally land close to lunchtime, they’ve collected an audience of humans and dragons alike.
“Impressive flying,” says Stoick, beaming with pride.
“Very,” agrees Astrid, from atop Stormfly. She nudges Stormfly closer to where Toothless and Hiccup landed, and says quietly, “Impressive height, too.”
“It was nothing,” says Hiccup with fake modesty, patting Toothless on the neck. Toothless lifts his head, basking in the attention. “Well, no, it was all Toothless.”
“Hey, Hiccup’s flying again!” Fishlegs and his Gronckle make a skidding landing just to the side of Hiccup and Toothless. “Ruffnut and Tuffnut are trying to make a race track around the village.”
“Through the village,” Astrid says, rolling her eyes.
“Snotlout said he’d beat everyone at it,” says Fishlegs, looking at Hiccup with wide, expectant eyes.
“Did he now,” says Hiccup, looking around. The crowd is dissipating, since the show seems to be over, and Hiccup reflexively works the pedal of the rig, pulling out the fake tail fin. “Guess that means we’d better show him we’ve still got it, right, Toothless?”
Toothless’s laugh sounds kind of like a seal, kind of like a creaky wheel, and entirely like a very fast dragon with a competitive streak.
Hiccup meets Astrid’s eyes, and they share a smile. “You ready?” Hiccup asks Toothless, and Toothless bites at the air with anticipation.
They take off, and Toothless, the showoff, adds all sorts of loop-the-loops and unnecessary flourishes. Hiccup, for his part, lets out whoops of excitement, feeling the deep certainty that Toothless will keep him safe settle into his spine.
When Toothless takes them on a dive off one of Berk’s many cliffs after Stormfly, Hiccup can’t feel even the slightest rumbling of fear over the sheer joy and exhilaration, and he lets out a shout of triumph.
It doesn’t take long for Fishlegs, the twins, and Snotlout to catch up to them, but once they do, Hiccup leans in towards Toothless.
“Let’s show them what we’ve got, buddy,” he says, and Toothless takes them spiraling towards the sun, leaving everyone else behind.