Having been in a relationship with, and then betrothed to, Hiccup for such a long time, Astrid was used to walking into the Haddock hall at (mostly) any time of the day like it was her own home. And correspondingly, none of the inhabitants of the house ever batted an eye at her unannounced presence; as far as they were all concerned, Astrid was one of them, so she had every right to come and go as she pleased.
It was because of that familiarity that she barely spared a thought to walking up the steps to their front door. In fact, her only moment of hesitation was when she looked up at the wooden dwelling and wondered what it would look like when it was finished— as fast as Berkians were when it came to building, it had only been a few days since they arrived in this new island, and most houses were still works in progress. The Haddock hall, being the Chief's house, was meant to be the largest, tallest, biggest living edifice in the village apart from the Great Hall, but currently only the basic structure of the ground floor was up. They had a long time to go before it looked anything like it used to look in Old Berk.
She didn't dwell on it for more than a second, though; what was up was just enough for the Haddocks to be able to cook and sleep with a decent roof over their heads, so there was little to complain about. She lifted her hand and knocked on the door, not even pausing before pushing it open. "Hiccup?"
She hadn't been expecting to find Valka sitting by the fire— ostensibly cooking dinner, it seemed, but by the way she jumped up when she heard Astrid's voice, turning around abruptly and raising her hand to wipe at her eyes from an angle where Astrid couldn't see it directly, she knew the older woman had to have been crying. Astrid immediately felt terrible. "Oh!" she exclaimed in surprise. "I'm so sorry, Valka. I shouldn't have just come in..."
She was just about to turn around and leave when she saw Valka— her cheeks now clean of tears even though her red eyes told a different story— wave her closer. "Nonsense, child, you have every right. You're practically family," the woman insisted, giving Astrid a warm, if a little tremulous, smile.
Astrid moved closer, only a little hesitantly, but before she could say anything, Valka continued speaking. "Hiccup's in the back. He's been laying on his cot all afternoon, the poor soul. You go on ahead, dear. I'm sure it'll do him good to spend some time with you, given everything that's happened."
Astrid nodded silently, her heart aching to go to Hiccup, eager to make him feel better and to find comfort for her own pain in his arms. With a few steady steps she crossed the wide and mostly empty antechamber of the half-finished house on her way to her betrothed's improvised room, but just as she was about to cross the threshold that separated the front of the house from the back, she looked back at Valka once more, noting the woman was again looking into the flames of the hearth with a disheartened expression on her face.
Astrid's feet halted almost on their own. "Valka," she started, "are you... will you be okay?" As Valka turned her head to the side so she could look at her, the light from the fire illuminated her face, the glow from the flames dancing over her cheeks and emphasizing the darker circles under her eyes; whether those were from crying or from exhaustion, Astrid couldn't tell, but her heart went out to the woman. If Astrid herself felt like she'd lost a part of her being now that Stormfly had gone onto the Hidden World, she couldn't even begin to imagine how Valka must be feeling right at that moment. Cloudjumper had been her companion for over twenty years. She was putting up a strong front for her son, for her fellow villagers, but Astrid knew she had to be hurting, perhaps even more than everyone else. "If there's anything I can do..."
Valka smiled at her again, and this time the sadness she'd been hiding all day showed very clearly in the gesture. "I appreciate the sentiment, dear lass," she said, sounding grateful, and it made Astrid feel a little bit better about bringing up the topic when Valka clearly wasn't eager to talk about it. "But I'm all right. I do believe we're all going to be a little sad for a while, and that's the way it should be."
"But your case is... different," Astrid insisted, and she recognized in the other woman's expression that Valka understood what she meant.
Valka turned so that her whole body was facing Astrid, rather than the fire. "That it is," she agreed with her assessment, "but I've been through many a hardship in my life and come out the other side just fine." She leaned forward a little, as if adding emphasis to her words. "You don't need to worry about me, dear heart. I'll be okay. I would feel better, however," she added, sounding a little amused, "if someone could make sure that son of mine deals with his grief properly and doesn't retreat into that head of his, as he's wont to do."
Astrid had to chuckle; that did sound like Hiccup. It felt weird to smile after everything that had happened last week, and she was grateful to Valka for giving her something to smile about amidst their collective mourning. "I can do that," she assured the woman and received a satisfied nod in return. When Valka turned back to the fire, Astrid spun on her heel and made her way to the back of the house.
She found him just as Valka had described: Stretched out on his cot, hands under his head, staring at the ceiling like it could somehow reveal to him the meaning of life. It was such a quintessential 'Hiccup' posture that at any other point in their lives she might've chuckled. "Hey," she called out instead, leaning her shoulder against the wide-open entrance to the back room.
Her voice very obviously startled him away from his thoughts. "Oh, hey," he said, sounding surprised. He immediately pushed himself up to a sitting position and then turned so that his legs were hanging off the side of the cot. He was still wearing one of his prototype prosthetic legs, she noticed— and had forgotten to take it off when he decided to lay there for hours. "How are you doing?" he asked in a concerned tone.
She had to smile at that one, because oh, the irony: she'd come to the Haddock hall to check how he was doing, but he was the one who asked first. Someone looking at them from the outside might say they were made for each other or something. "I'm okay," she answered with a sigh. It was true for the most part. "Feeling a little lonely, I guess," she confessed. It was the kind of thing she would only ever say to him.
He echoed her small smile encouragingly. "I think I can help with that," he said, stretching a hand out to her gallantly.
"You better," she said teasingly, taking his offered hand and letting herself be pulled closer until she was sitting beside him on the cot. She nudged him with her shoulder. "Your mother said you've been in here all day," she said. "Thinking about Toothless?"
Hiccup frowned and looked down at his knees for a moment. "A little, but... not really?" He finished the sentence almost like a question, like he was bothered by the fact that he was feeling this way. "I just... I don't think it's really hit me quite yet," he admitted, a little frustrated.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," she said, pulling her hand out of his grasp so she could softly push some of his hair away from his forehead. And she really did understand how he was feeling: A big part of why she had wanted to see Hiccup was because when she was outside supervising construction, or even when she was on her own at home, she kept expecting Stormfly to peek her colorful head from behind every corner. Worrying about him gave her something else to focus on, at least.
He nodded, recognizing without her having to say it that she was probably feeling the same. Everyone who'd had a dragon partner was, probably. But he still moved to answer her real question. "Actually, I've been mostly thinking about... us, I guess," he said, with a somewhat uncertain half-shrug.
That surprised her. Of all the things he had to worry about at the moment, she would think their relationship was close to the bottom of the list. "What about us?" she asked, curious.
"It's just..." He cut himself off with a sharp sigh as he did sometimes when he was trying to figure out some complex problem in his head and just couldn't quite nail it down. Then he looked at her and she could see that he was hesitant to say what he was about to say. "I don't... know if you saw everything that went down last week," he started again in a somber tone. "I mean, you were still back at the ships when I went after Grimmel, so I don't know when exactly you and all the others actually got close enough that you could see..."
"I saw you fall," Astrid revealed, reaching out for his hand again. He took it, entwining his fingers with hers. "I didn't know it was you— I was too far to be able to tell, but I pushed Stormfly as hard as I could, just in case..."
"I didn't fall," Hiccup admitted, dodging her immediately startled gaze. "Grimmel had knocked Toothless out midflight, and the light fury was the only one who could get to him before he hit the water, so... I told her to save Toothless, and I let go." He risked a look at her out of the corner of his eye, probably afraid she'd be sad or scared.
Instead, she pulled her hand from his abruptly and smacked him on the shoulder. "Did you just conveniently forget that your dragon-scale armor has wings?!" she asked, glaring at him.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, rubbing at the place where she hit as if it really hurt. Astrid rolled her eyes. Big baby. "It was more complicated than that—" he started, in a feeble attempt to defend his actions. "Grimmel was hanging— And then he pulled—" He cut himself off with a growl. "It was just a complex situation, okay? I had to do something without any time to really think about it, and..." He sighed. "I guess that's the thing, though."
"What do you mean?" she asked, not really following. If she was a little short, it was because she was still annoyed that he'd spent so much time designing and building and testing and selling the rest of them on the stupid wings, and then he didn't even use them when the time came.
"I mean that... I wouldn't hesitate even for a second to put my life on the line if it meant saving Toothless," he said, and she nodded. Of course he wouldn't; Toothless was his best friend. Astrid understood that more than anyone. "But I realize now that... everything happened so fast that I didn't even have time to think of what that decision would mean... for you."
There was a pregnant silence as Astrid let that sit for a moment and Hiccup looked at her expectantly. She'd be lying if she said it didn't hurt a little, knowing that he didn't take her into consideration when making a life-or-death decision. But she understood that it was a split-second thing, and she didn't begrudge him the decision he made in the end, ridiculousness with the wings notwithstanding. She would do the same herself.
And sure, sometimes it felt a bit like she was competing with Toothless for Hiccup's already limited time, but she'd never resent either of them for it. She loved Toothless, too, and already missed him almost as much as she did Stormfly. Plus, Hiccup wouldn't be the man she loved if he wasn't willing to put his life on the line for the people (and dragons) he loved. It was just who he was.
Hiccup was still waiting for her to say something, even if she didn't quite know what to say. "I would..." she started tentatively. She didn't want to make it seem like she was taking this too lightly, especially since she knew now that he could have well died just last week, and that changed things for her. "I would move on somehow, I guess," was what she settled on. "It would be really hard, but... everyone has to, right?" she added, thinking back to Valka and all the tragedy that marked her relationship with Stoick. Astrid didn't know if she could be that strong if she was put in similar circumstances. As it was, it hurt to even think about the possibility of losing him.
Hiccup nodded, understanding. "I know. And you should," he said, giving her a small but sincere smile as if saying that's what he would want for her, too. But then he sobered up again. "Because it's a real possibility, you know. I hadn't really thought much about it, but— I'm the chief now," he said, as if she could forget. "Yes, I would give my life to save Toothless, or you, or Mom. But the truth is, I might have to sacrifice myself for anyone on Berk. We're not a dragon sanctuary anymore, but that doesn't mean we won't ever be attacked. And if we are, it's up to me to protect everyone, even if it costs me my life. It's my job. A chief protects his own."
He was speaking very solemnly, and Astrid hung onto his every word, because frankly, he was right. She knew he was. She had probably known that longer than he ever had— as smart as he was, Hiccup had a tendency to focus on the trees rather than the forest, but Astrid was a warrior. Part of her job was to prepare for these kinds of attacks, with or without dragons. She saw being Chief as an immense honor, and no one deserved that title more than Hiccup, but she would never delude herself into thinking that there was no risk to it.
"So all of a sudden, that possibility seems very real. And all I can think about right now," Hiccup continued, gaze fixed on a point on the wall across from his bed, but not really looking at it, "is that if I had died last week, the one thing I would regret would be... not marrying you."
Her breath caught in her throat. She hadn't expected this conversation to turn in that direction. She didn't know if either of them were in the right frame of mind to be talking about this. "Hiccup..." she murmured warily, causing him to turn his head toward her again, eyes wide.
"No, I know," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "I know that you don't think we're ready to get married. And that you want us to get married for the right reasons, and not because Gobber says we have to. I totally get that," he assured her, gesturing with his hands as if to underline the point. "Although I will admit that it stings a little how insistent you are— I mean, do you have to be so blunt about it—"
Astrid rolled her eyes again. "Gods, your whining—"
"—But," he continued, expertly ignoring her exasperated interjection, "to be honest, I kind of felt that way, too. And I hadn't really given much thought to how I would know that I was ready to get married, anyway, so I was fine with putting it off for as long as you wanted. But still... you know I want to, right?" He rearranged his position so that he was facing her rather than the two of them sitting side by side, and then he took hold of her hands— both of them this time.
He brought one of her hands up to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "Astrid, there is no future I could ever envision for myself where you aren't right there by my side." He was looking at her softly with those big, earnest green eyes of his that never failed to make her heart melt, and this time was no exception.
She wasn't the type of girl to get weepy about romantic speeches, but sweet Thor, this boy did things to her. Her eyes were starting to tear up, though she would never admit it. "I know," she said softly, squeezing his hands. She leaned forward to press a quick kiss on his lips. "And I feel the same way, babe, but you being afraid that you're going to die tomorrow is the very definition of a bad reason to get married. You know that, right?" She had to point it out. She didn't want to bring him down or anything, but she had to say it. She prided herself on always being honest with him, even if it wasn't necessarily what he wanted to hear, and this was an important conversation.
"Right, but that's not why I— ugh, this is coming out all wrong, I'm sorry—" He shook his head as if ridding it of all the bad thoughts. Clearly he could see that he was being a bit of a downer himself. "I don't mean to sound morbid, I swear," he started again with a chuckle, "that's just how I figured it out, you know? That if something were to happen to me—"
"Which it won't, because you are never going to do anything like that stunt you pulled last week ever again," she threw in because all this talk about death was starting to get to her.
"—Which I will try my hardest to avoid," he sidestepped her helpful suggestion instead, and she let him have that. She knew he couldn't exactly promise not to die. No one could promise that. "I fully intend to live a long, prosperous life. I mean it. But if something were to happen," he added, looking down at their joined hands, his thumb caressing the back of her hand lightly, "I want everyone to know that that you are the one they should turn to. I want everyone in the village to know that you are the one I trust to protect them if I'm not here. That you're the one I trust to... continue my legacy."
He leaned his forehead against hers. "I don't want to marry you because I might die tomorrow. I want to marry you because I would never have made it this far without you," he added, and though he sounded heartfelt, there was also an undertone of amusement to his words. It made her chuckle because it was true: she had saved his cute butt so many times through the years that she'd almost lost count, and pushed him to keep going when he thought he couldn't. But then again, he had saved her many times, too, and supported her just as much as she had him. They were a team that way.
His voice grew quieter as he continued, almost like the sentiments he was expressing were too personal, too intimate for extraneous ears. "Astrid, you are the most important person to me. You're so strong that even just standing beside you makes me feel more confident than I ever would on my own. You support me even when you don't agree with me. You understand my crazy plans without me even having to explain them sometimes. You're the only one who can... set me straight when my head is all over the place. You know me better than anyone else, and yet you still like me. It kind of blows my mind, even to this day."
Godsdamn it, he really was going to make her cry. That wouldn't do. "Well, it's not like it's a high bar," she said, matching his low tone, her lips pressed together in impish mirth. "All our other friends are nutjobs."
That drew a loud bark of laughter from him, so incongruent with their earlier softer tone but equally heartwarming to her. "That is true," he conceded, still chuckling. "But even then I can't help but wonder how I got so lucky."
Astrid shook her head, as she always did whenever he was being self-deprecating. "It wasn't luck," she insisted, for the umpteenth time. Hiccup had gotten more confident over the years, that was true. But even after a year of being Chief, he still had a hard time seeing how special he was, how amazing he was. He had earned every bit of her love, her support, her admiration, but he still struggled to believe that because of all those years of being the "runt" of the tribe. So she would keep reminding him, every day if she had to.
"I know," he agreed, though the one-shouldered shrug he added didn't exactly speak highly of his level of confidence in that assertion. "It's just hard not to feel that way sometimes." He lifted a hand to cup her cheek delicately, and she leaned into it. "I love you so much, Astrid. You're my partner in... life. In everything," he told her, unwittingly echoing her earlier thoughts about them being a team. It was significant, too, because their dragons were their partners as well— even if they weren't around anymore. But this, what he was describing, was a different kind of partnership. It was a conscious choice of committing their lives to one another, of facing whatever the world threw at them together, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Because they brought out the best in each other.
But they had made that commitment ages ago, hadn't they? They'd been betrothed for years now, and like Hiccup had said before, whenever she imagined what her life would be like in the future, the one constant was that she and Hiccup were always together. So why was she so sure that they weren't ready to get married yet? At times it almost seemed like it would make things easier. Like after what happened the previous week— or even just that day, knowing how close she came to really losing him— it was almost physically painful to separate from him to go to their respective halls for the night. So why was she so hesitant?
"You're my right hand. Wait, no, let's be real: you've been leading the village as my equal this entire time," Hiccup continued speaking, unaware of where her thoughts had drifted off to. He rubbed the pad of his thumb against the apple of her cheek, and that pulled her attention back to what he was saying. "I just think... I think it's time you get the title you've more than earned by now."
Because she'd been distracted, she only really caught the second half of what he said there, and for a brief moment she was confused. A title? What was he talking about? But then, of course, she understood.
It's not that it hadn't occurred to her that if she married Hiccup, she'd become the chieftess of Berk. Obviously, she knew— people loved reminding her of it. It was just that Hiccup's noble bloodline and eventually his title were never something that had factored into her feelings for him. She'd fallen in love with him back when he was still "the Useless," when the mere idea of him ever becoming a "proper" Viking was laughable, let alone him ever inheriting the chieftainship from Stoick the Vast. She'd seen who he really was then, and his title didn't really change that. She was proud of him, happy that he had come into his own and become the leader he was always meant to be. But he'd be that with or without the title, and she'd love him and be proud of him just as much with or without the title. And the same was true of her, she knew, which is why she'd never given much thought to the practical implications of becoming Chieftess.
But there were practical implications of her taking the title on officially, and it made complete sense that Hiccup would be thinking about them after everything that happened the previous week. If the chief was unavailable (like, say, on an extended trip of some kind), or if, gods forbid, he died, the chieftess would be the one left in charge of the village. Astrid knew the people of Berk respected her, and even if she and Hiccup weren't married, if something happened to him (which it wouldn't), she was fairly certain the vast majority of the villagers would turn to her as his obvious successor. But fairly certain was not the same as completely certain, and the lack of an official title left her position open to usurpers and power grabs and instability that were best avoided for the sake of their people.
She didn't want to get married out of political pressure, and she knew that's not what Hiccup was trying to say. But it would be stupid to ignore the fact that there was a crucial political component to her relationship with Hiccup. And to be honest, it would be an incredible honor to become Chieftess. She'd be damn good at it, too. She loved Berk, she loved their people, and she had always carried her duty to her village close to her heart; this would just be an extension of that. So why shouldn't they just get married already, then?
He was looking at her expectantly. "Astrid?" he asked. "Can you... I don't know, say something?" He sounded so tentative that she almost wondered if she'd zoned out again and missed something important. But no, he was just nervous. Nervous that she'd turn him down. Nervous that she really wouldn't want to marry him.
She cupped his face in her hands and leaned in, pressing her lips to his softly, delicately. She had to kiss him; she just had to. Her silly, silly boy. "I love you, too," she said as they pulled back, giving him a smile as his eyes opened slowly, almost like he didn't want to let go of the sensation. She could see the breathless hope in those green irises and loved him all the more for it.
"And I'm not saying no..." She knew him so well that she could see it the second his shoulders started to sag at her words. She shook her head emphatically. "Hiccup. I'm not saying no," she insisted, looking him straight in the eye to show him she was 100% serious. "I'm just saying... ask me again when we're not grieving for our dragons?"
The disappointed look remained for a beat longer than she would've wanted, and for a while there she was worried that she'd really hurt him. That was the last thing she wanted to do. She just wanted to make sure they weren't doing this in a reactionary manner; she wanted both of them to be in the right state of mind if they were going to make such a crucial decision. To her relief, slowly but surely his let down expression began to relax. He didn't say anything, but she could see that he understood the point she was trying to make, or at the very least resigned himself to waiting just a little bit longer.
He nodded with an acquiescent sigh and moved to press a kiss on her forehead. "Will you say yes if I do?" he asked in a whisper.
She pulled back just enough that she could rub his nose with hers. "What do you think?" she whispered back with a smile before moving in to kiss him again. That response seemed to be good enough for him because he didn't comment any further. Of course, that could be because his lips were otherwise occupied.
They stayed like that for a few minutes, just kissing and savoring the fact that they were still together despite all the danger they faced just the week before and the sense of loss in their hearts that would probably take more than a few days to fade. Astrid cherished this moment because it reminded her that at least there was one thing they could always be certain of, and that was each other. Always. For the rest of their lives.
Eventually they separated, and Astrid patted Hiccup's knee, signaling that he should take off his prosthetic. "Come on, we should sleep," she said, kicking off her boots quickly and scooting back so she could sit properly on the cot. It was late and all she wanted was to rest peacefully with his arms around her. Gods knew they both needed some cuddles after everything they'd been through recently.
"Oh, you're staying the night?" Hiccup asked, surprised, but he moved to remove his prototype leg either way. "But we, um— my mother's going to be here soon." He signaled toward the wide-open doorway that separated the back room from the front of the main floor. They hadn't even put up curtains yet; not that it would matter, of course, because in the current state of construction, all the inhabitants of the Haddock hall had to share the same sleeping quarters— Valka's empty cot was right there, across the room from Hiccup's.
She waited for him to prop his artificial leg on the wall beside his cot before pulling him by the arm so he was laying down beside her. "If it's your mother's disapproval you're worried about, I'm pretty sure she knows we've shared a cot on more than one occasion," she informed him matter-of-factly.
She had to giggle at the shocked expression on his face. Really, she didn't doubt that Valka knew. Astrid liked to think of herself as stealthy, but Valka was no fool; she had lived in the wilderness for years and could probably tell fairly easily whenever Astrid snuck in or out through Hiccup's window at odd hours of the night... or morning, as it might be. If she had any opinions about it, however, she had yet to make them known, and Astrid generally took that to mean that she didn't mind. Her future mother-in-law was a very progressive woman.
Hiccup's wide-eyed expression told her the thought hadn't even crossed his mind. "Sh-she does? Oh. Wow. Um, okay..."
That was Hiccup for you: So smart when it came to certain things, but so completely oblivious when it came to others. It was endearing, though; he looked so flabbergasted that she had to laugh. "Yep," Astrid confirmed teasingly, chuckling at the hilarious expression on his face one last time before turning around on the bed so that her back was to his front. "Besides, it's not like we're going to be doing anything indecent. I just want you to hold me," she added, pulling his arm so that it wrapped around her waist. "So get your head out of the gutter, Haddock."
He laughed huskily and pressed a kiss to the side of her neck that almost— almost!— made her take back her prior "no indecent behavior" statement. "As you wish, milady," he said, pulling her closer. She closed her eyes and let herself be wrapped in his warmth and comfort.
"You know," she heard him whisper in her ear, "we wouldn't have to keep sneaking around if we just got married." She couldn't see his expression, but she could tell from his voice that he was teasing.
It drew a complementary smile to her face, not just because of his insistence, which she found adorable, but also because it was good to hear some of his dry humor come back. That had been understandably missing for the past week, but she missed it. "Hmm. You make a compelling argument, good sir," she concurred in a breathy tone, as soft as the light caress of her fingers on the back of his hand where it pressed against her middle.
That was the last they spoke that night, and Astrid let herself drift off to sleep in the arms of the man she loved. The man she was going to marry.