Astrid bore him back against the bench. Flailing, Hiccup knocked the table as he went down. The cup of charcoal rattled and fell, spilling. Hiccup thought of noting the metaphor, then discarded it: Astrid had knotted her hands in his tunic and dragged him up again to kiss.
Her tongue rolled fat and sweet against the roof of his mouth, and Hiccup tipped his head back to let her. She sat heavy in his lap, her hips pinching his thighs, her knees rising beside him like mountain peaks. He clasped her calves for balance; the world spun dizzy and reckless about him.
Astrid pulled at his tunic, dragging the ties loose across his chest. Their teeth clacked, clumsy against each other, but oh, her fingernail scraping his nipple through the thin summer cloth, her knees clenched at his ribs, the heat and weight of her butt fitted to his lap-- He didn't mind.
He stroked her calves: lean but strong, the muscles corded and hard beneath his hands. He slid his hands down them, cupping the taut swells, one to each hand. Astrid tightened her legs, her thighs hard against his sides. She wriggled closer, filling his hips, his hands, all the world he could see. Something like rapture opened wide in his breast.
"You're so amazing," he said, kissing her again and again between words. "You could probably break me in half. I love your hair," he said reverently.
"You're not making any sense," Astrid said. "I mean, less than usual." But her face was red, and the corners of her mouth pulled up; her smile struck him as fiercely as her hand at his heart.
"Anything you want," he said, "anything you want, I'll give it to you, I'll build you a boat, a house, a castle," and Astrid hooked her ankles together at his back and said, "Why would I want a castle?"
"Okay," he said, "a fortress."
"I don't need it," she said, and she drew him close and kissed him, licking into his mouth until he shivered boneless against her. "But thanks for the offer."
"Well, if you ever change your mind," he said, tipping his face up to her, "my services come with a ten-year warranty."
Astrid tweaked his nipple, and Hiccup shrieked, overcome with laughter. The bench shifted ominously beneath them.
"Maybe we should move somewhere a little sturdier?" he said, half-breathless.
"Nah," she said. She licked his mouth, tracing his lower lip. "Here's fine. I like it."
"Sure," he said, now fully breathless. "Yeah. Here is great. I love here," he said fervently as Astrid wound her toned arms about his neck.
Astrid twisted his arm back against his shoulder and tossed him facedown into the dirt. Hiccup fell, graceless and yelping. She followed him, planting her knee in the small of his back.
"Three," she said. She shook her braid back.
Hiccup tried to rise, then went limp again beneath her knee. "Okay," he said, "okay, I surrender. You win. Again. I can't feel my wrist, so whenever you want to let me up..."
She eased off. Hiccup pushed up, groaning as he turned over onto his back. Astrid thumped down beside him. His face was pale, his mouth screwed and trembling. Sweat beaded his temples.
"You really are terrible at this," she said.
"Very encouraging, thank you," he said.
He arched his back, grinding his shoulders into the dirt. He lapsed, boneless. "Why did I ever agree to do that?"
Astrid studied his thickly freckled neck, the minute quaking of each breath in his throat. She leaned over him. A loose length of her hair unfolded between them.
"You didn't think I'd go easy on you, did you?"
"Well, I hoped," he said, "but past experience has taught me not to expect mercy from the likes of Astrid Hofferson. I think you sprained my elbow." He flexed his arm and made a face.
"You'll get over it," she said. "I didn't pull hard enough to do any real damage. Probably," she added.
"That was very thoughtful of you," he said, "not ripping my arm clean out of its socket." He rotated his arm, stretching out.
Astrid slithered down to lay flat upon her back beside him. Their elbows bumped; their knees, too. His prosthetic foot nudged her ankle. Astrid folded her arms across her chest and looked up to the sky opening wide and blue through the trees. Hiccup settled, quieting.
Her heart boomed in her ears. She ached throughout, stretched and wired, her muscles thrumming with inactivity. She shifted, restless.
Hiccup touched her ear, his finger light on her skin.
She turned, looking to him. Hiccup froze, hand outstretched. His eyes were huge and darkly green. He licked his lips, tongue darting wet across them.
"Sorry," he said. "Your hair was loose. So I thought--"
Astrid pressed near, her shoulder to his shoulder, her bare arm flush with his. She kissed him once. His lips were dry, chapped, and he tasted of jerky and stale spice bread.
"One," she said.
Hiccup lit. That half shy, half outrageously cocky smile flashed like lightning across his face. The corners of his eyes squinched.
"You're gonna have to do better than that to beat me," he told her.
So Astrid flung her leg over him and rolled upright. She straddled his waist and curled down to kiss him again, long and searching, dragging at his lip until he sighed and tipped his head and his breath spilled warm and hot across her tongue. His hands framed her hips.
"Two," she said into his mouth.
His lashes fluttered down over his eyes. "Oh, I'm still," and he swallowed. "I'm still fighting. Is that the worst you can do? 'Cause I gotta tell you--"
She licked at his teeth, opening his mouth to her. His tongue fanned beneath hers, and under her hand, his heart quickened in its step. She shifted, sliding low. Astrid drew on his tongue, nipping at it. He grabbed at her hips and rose, his shoulders lean and strong against her.
She broke away.
"Three," she said.
"It's working," he said.
She plucked at his collar. "Are you going to surrender?"
"I'm thinking about it," he said.
"All right," she said, "no mercy," and she took her victory from his warm mouth, his throat, his long hands sliding in offering up her sides.
Noise filled the great hall, for Berk had gathered again to celebrate the breaking of the new year as snow fell silent without the thick walls. Dragons walked amongst them or hung in the rafters, luxuriating in the smoke and the fires roaring in their hearths. Toothless cat-napped, a dark shadow ringing a smaller fire set to the side.
Feasting gave way to singing and singing led way to dancing, and Hiccup turned to seek out Astrid in the crowd. A flash of blonde hair, a suggestion of blue, a laugh like a bruise-- He slid through the crowd, searching.
She caught him by his shoulder. Hiccup started. He fumbled his mug, and it spilled out across the floor.
"Astrid!" he said.
She smiled at him. She'd pulled her hair back, loose but for two small braids knotted to carry the rest. Her circlet gleamed, the leather well-oiled, and in the brass light of the fires her pale eyes shone like stones.
Astrid hitched her head. "Come on. Let's sit."
She took his hand and he followed her, his nape pricking with heat, his fingers itching from her touch. Her hand was dry, her grip strong, and he traced the line of her wrist to her elbow, up then to her shoulder. Her tunic, winter-thick and knit in blues, fluttered from her elbow.
Pipes sang loud and sharp in thanks to the gods, and the wail ran down to his feet. Smoke wettened his eyes and through the film Astrid glimmered, otherworldly, no longer a woman but a valkyrie come to usher him through the worlds. But he hadn't fallen in battle, and her hand on his was simply human. The air filling his head was just air.
She led him to a corner of a bench tucked away in a small nook of the hall. He sat at the end as a courtesy. Astrid thunked down beside him. A loop of her hair spilled across her cheek and she tucked it back behind the braids. Her sleeve gaped, dripping from her wrist. Hiccup thought if he had fallen in battle, this would be worthy recompense.
"You, uh," he said. "You look ... great." He grimaced at the wall.
Astrid touched her neck. "Thanks," she said. "You look okay, too."
He puffed up beneath his overcoat, a new affair sewn from bear hide, then he shrank again. The coat was loose, made to fit for three years more. Okay was the nicest thing to be said of it.
Astrid fiddled her fingers. "So," she said, then she turned on him, her hair flashing like a curtain of lightning. "Happy new year," she said, and she kissed the corner of his mouth. Hiccup caught his breath, and she dropped another kiss on the far corner of his mouth.
She sat back, shoulders straight, her chin high. Color filled her cheeks, from the heat or perhaps the nearness of him. He cleared his throat. His voice stuck in his nose.
"Happy new year," he said, and he leaned forward to return what she had given.
Astrid met him, her teeth hard between her lips, her tongue soft between her teeth. Hiccup folded into her. His hand fluttered at her thigh. Astrid stroked his jaw, following his neck.
The pipes howled for joy, and Astrid laughed into their kiss and threw her arms about his shoulders and so fitted herself to him.
Out in the vastness of the hall, the great warriors sang an ode to the goddess Freyja. Stoick's bass rolled like thunder, Gobber's baritone the crack before. Astrid's mother's polished mezzo-soprano sounded as stones dropped into an empty barrel. A dragon in the rafters took up a low keen in counterpoint; three more joined the first.
Astrid rolled her tongue over his. She tasted of mead and sweet meats and the rich festival bread. Hiccup smoothed his hand down her long, strong back and bent to taste.
"Now we come to new year's hour," the warriors sang, and the dragons sang with them, and Astrid sang to Hiccup, her fingers pecking notes out along his spine. "And spring shall come, and spring shall come."
"Don't worry," Snotlout said, "I'm not gonna disrespect you by going easy on you," and he swung. Astrid blocked, knocking his swing wide, and punched him square between the eyes. He staggered back, clutching his face.
Hiccup clapped politely, seated in the stands. "Good hustle, Lout! You almost got, you know. Close to her. Abouts."
"I went easy on you, that's all," Snotlout grumbled.
Astrid held her hand out to him. "I thought you weren't going easy on me."
She helped him up, and he made a show of dropping her hand and patting his legs. Astrid looked to Hiccup and jabbed her thumb at Snotlout, now readjusting his vest. Hiccup shrugged.
Fireworm slithered out to them, her tail flicking at her back. She nosed Snotlout, huffing as she checked him for bruises, blood. "I'm all right, I'm all right," he said. "It's just practice."
"Don't swing so wide," Astrid told him. "You show off too much. It's too easy to read what you're going to do. You're almost as bad as Hiccup."
"I heard that," Hiccup called. "I'm right here. Hi."
Astrid rubbed at her mouth to hide her smile. She turned, crossing the small arena to the stands where Hiccup sat, curled in on himself with his sketchbook opened across his thighs. Toothless perked up, coiled along the steps beside Hiccup. Behind her, Snotlout murmured reassurances to Fireworm, who wound about him in bristling, graceful loops.
"I'm not that bad," Hiccup said. He made room for her, kicking his bag to the next step down.
"Yesterday, you tripped over your own feet," she said, "while you were sitting."
"Maybe I'm that bad," he admitted. "But hey, what I lack in brute agility, I make up for in heart." He posed. Toothless snorted and turned his head away.
"You'd better not be throwing your heart around," she said. "That's mine." Astrid snaked forward, thumping his chest. He oofed and clapped a hand to his breast. "Property of Astrid," she said, satisfied.
"I don't remember agreeing to that," he said. He massaged his chest and made a face disgustingly close to a pout.
"I thought it was implied," she said. She scooted closer, lining her hip up with his. Their shoulders bumped and Hiccup rubbed harder at his chest, as if his heart pained him. "You kind of stare at me a lot."
"You stare at me, too," he said. He frowned. "Or glare. I seem to recall an awful lot of glowering on your end."
"Maybe because you talk too much," she said.
Hiccup's brow wrinkled. What an idiot, she thought, but she kissed him anyway. His eyes rounded, then fluttered shut; he melted into her. Astrid hooked a finger in his collar and dragged him closer. The arena was clear, Snotlout and Fireworm gone. Toothless looked studiously away, his frill flattened.
"You have no idea the forces you're tangling with," Hiccup said. His eyes gleamed, half-lidded.
"No, I've got a couple ideas," she said, and she pushed him down onto his back.
The first faint trickles of rain fell, spattering in the trees. Hiccup stepped back, not far. Astrid looked up; a drop of rain struck her cheek. He kissed her throat, because it was there.
"We should go in," she said.
"My dad won't be home for another hour?" Hiccup said. "Probably."
Astrid frowned. Her brow pinched. He wanted to lick the creases out. "I'm not making out with you where your dad can see us," she said. "Ever."
They went back to her place instead, racing through the thickening downpour.
"My mom's on sea patrol," Astrid shouted to him as thunder pealed like a splitting mountain. "She won't be home until tomorrow."
"That's a significantly better idea than, hey, let's make out in the forest while a stormfront moves in!" Hiccup shouted back. "Why didn't you say that before!"
Astrid threw her head back and laughed. The rain fogged on her skin, refracting light and shrouding her in a thin mist. He reached out and caught her hand, and he knit their fingers together, rain slicking down their wrists. Mud splashed up about their feet, and his tunic stuck to his back, plastered to his skin.
She threw the door open and tossed him in. The door closed, thumping into place; rain drummed against the roof, and Astrid shoved Hiccup back against the door. Bibi, roosting in the loft and out of the rain, made a querulous noise, then quieted again.
Astrid gleamed, wet and slick with it. Her mouth was warm on his, a heat to chase away the chill driving through him. He ran his hand down her back. Her hair, sodden and heavy, swayed ponderously as a pendulum.
The cold struck him then, and he shivered. Astrid plucked at his shirt; it dragged, clinging to his skin.
"Come on," she said. "Let's get out of this stuff before we freeze."
"Too late for that," he managed, but he followed her away from the door.
Hiccup struggled with his tunic, then with his trousers, the latter catching on the spring-loaded hook at the end of his right leg, and he sat to tug the trousers leg free without ripping a hole in it. Astrid stripped with rather more efficiency, shucking sweater and skirt and trousers with economical ferocity. Naked but for her underthings, wool and close to dry, she fell upon him.
"Wait," he said, "my trousers--"
She shrugged. "Mostly off is good enough."
He didn't think it polite to argue the point, seeing as she'd her hand on his bared thigh. Her fingers spread wide and each callus burned him as hotly as any spark. He shivered and Astrid dragged two furs across them, blacking out the world. She was cool as well as he, but her touch still burned, and when she coiled about him he felt as if he'd ignited.
He kissed her then and she pressed against him, all hard angles and sudden soft curves. Her leg brushed his; she slung it over his thigh.
In the shadows beneath the furs, he skated his fingers across her side, following the lean musculature up her ribs to her breasts. They were small and firm, and he cupped one in his hand, covering the puckered nipple with his thumb. Her breast filled his palm perfectly. Astrid breathed out and tucked her leg higher about his waist. Her hips fitted to his.
Outside, it rained. Astrid combed her fingers through his wet hair, spackling water down his back. Her own hair pooled water onto the floor. She'd wrung it out before diving in beside him, but wet it remained, and wet it was beneath his hand. Her lips were wet, her tongue warm. She smelled of rain and wet grass and her own peculiar oils, a unique perfume that was uniquely Astrid.
Tomorrow, she'd said. That might be enough. Hiccup sighed and closed his eyes, and he folded into her arms.