Nightmares plague Hiccup. During the day, they rest and plot and prepare, and at night they strike, over and over, relentlessly, combing through attack plan after attack plan. But no matter what, they never really leave.
The nights are pretty hard for him. Because during the day, he can be the problem solver and the hero and whoever else everyone makes him out to be. But at night… his thoughts throw him into solitary confinement and he’s left alone and restless while they take up the position of prison guards.
He’s always had pretty bad night terrors—for as long as he can remember at least. (Funny that there’s a dragon named after them now. They’re not nearly as terrifying though, he figures.) He fucked up his sleep schedule from his early teens when he began drafting and building things, rewriting formula after formula, testing and retesting and all the like. He’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning, and finally, when his head thumped against the desk, someone would burst into his room—likely, his father—announcing an auditory to-do list for the day.
Toothless is always there, so that's nice. And before he was... well... Hiccup doesn’t really like to revisit those times. Not when he spent his life feeling inadequate... worthless. Everyone respects him now and that’s great and fine and dandy but he remembers a time where people whispered behind his back as he hunched further over a welding station—sinking into himself and trying desperately to keep focus.
Life has a sense of humour, apparently. He was always pretty scared of ending up like Gobber: missing limbs and all. Little did he know...
Prepubescent years were not great for Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. And instead of nightmares of battles and killings and endangered loved ones... they were of his future... one where he was shunned and empty. And others, where he was great and brave but dragon heads lined his front steps and blood dripped from his fingers. They were graphic… innards and their marred shells sprinkled throughout dreamland… not unlike visions that terrorize him now.
Hiccup sits up in a frenzy, throwing off the scratchy blanket from his lap and stalking to his drawing desk. If his body refuses to sleep, then he might as well put his mind to good use. Good use, in fact, is certainly not overthinking the odd footprints on the front lawn or pitying your delicate, vivid memory.
He really doesn’t have the stomach for any of this. He didn’t back then and he still doesn’t now.
He’d like to have said Toothless woke up with him—joined him in his scientific pursuits—or at the very least, stirred, but the dragon does no such thing. Hiccup supposes he should count himself grateful; Toothless has never been one to snore; always just sleeps soundless in his makeshift bed. Hiccup wonders if he ever dreams. That’s a lie—he knows he does. He just wonders what kind, and how they look from the dragon's perspective. Maybe they’re of flying and maybe he’s in them… Maybe they're of fish.
...Maybe he should invent a universal translator. How crazy would it be if Toothless could talk? They already have a more than substantial sense of communication, he’d say, but the idea still makes him laugh.
Gods, he’s gotta stop eating mutton so late. Thor knows it’s messing with him.
He sits there for a little while, with the small desk lantern lit and thick squares of blank paper in front of him. Every time he blinks, severed dragon parts flash in the darkness behind his eyelids, vivid and gruesome as always. Eventually, little droplets make their way onto the freshly scrawled ink and any work he’s done for the night is as good as lost. He sighs, slowly tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling of his hut and all its wooden glory. He remembers the day he built it, reinforcing it over and over, terrified of an attack on the island. He’d seen Astrid from his roof, carrying various supplies onto the slab of land where her perfect little hut was now built. And of course there were the twins, who’d had to rebuild their place four times over and with the help of friends. And Snoutlout and Fishlegs who’d fought over material and design techniques and eventually each resigned to their own unique hut.
They're all pretty different, come to think of it. So much personality in each of their homes and so much space allotted to be whoever it is they want to.
Not much more than sniffles escape him and he’s glad for that at least. But his dragon wakes up anyway, nuzzling his snout into Hiccup’s lap and he pats him on the head. Good dragon.
So much for the leader he’s supposed to be. He feels pretty pathetic right now, he’s not going to lie.
“Go to sleep,” he mutters, brushing over his ears and watching as they flop back. Toothless gives a purring sound, curling up right next to the desk, not even bothering with his heat circle and, somehow, it makes Hiccup feel that much better. Nothing like a bond between a boy and his dragon. Or something like that.
Things are good right now. Seriously, they’re okay. And isn’t it when things are okay that people are at their most vulnerable… Maybe because they’re not expecting it, or maybe because they have something to lose. Or in Hiccup’s case, maybe because he’s spent so long with things not being okay and now that they are… well, he’s not really sure what to make of it. Someone must be out there, strategizing, watching for a chink in his armour, waiting for that inevitable slip-up. Planning out every meticulous move and just the right moment to strike the faithful blow.
He nearly wishes they would just do it already, he’s tired of playing games. But that’s what Hiccup does best—he uses his head, he plans. And just how many plans can he work over until some kind of detail slips his mind, until he doesn’t run the numbers enough and someone ends up dead? The gruff voice of his father echoes in his ears, reciting a line he’s heard over and over about leadership not being an easy feat, but he’s tired of hearing it so he shoos it away, promising he’ll revisit the thought when he’s in a better headspace. Still, Hiccup doesn’t think he could handle someone’s blood on his hands—let alone one of his friends (please see aforementioned stomach problem).
He goes back to drafting but the numbers don’t come to him and the sketches are all wonky; he’s shaking. So he tries to breathe, slowly and deliberately before deciding, fuck it, and lifting his garage door as soundlessly as he can, putting a finger to his smiling lips when Toothless perks up, ready to follow.
It’s cool out, brisk but not biting, just enough to dry the sweat pooling at the base of his neck. He breathes again, so much deeper this time, heart rate already slowing. Then, he finds himself at the top of a hill looking out over the island, the stars bright out tonight, even through the mild presence of clouds. The night he almost shot Toothless resurfaces in his mind, but he does his best to burry it back down because it feels like it’s more out of sheer habit than necessity. Why dwell on a certainty so unequivocal that not even the universe’s will itself could have changed the outcome? Instead, he tries to map out constellations, clusters of stars Gobber had pointed out to him when he was younger, giving them names and telling their stories. Or legends, really—Hiccup was pretty sure most of those were made up. But they made for good campfire entertainment. Either way, he thinks they hold up at least a smidgen of truth, which he’s pretty sure is why Gobber tells them in the first place. How else do you offer subliminal wisdom to the masses? And if he doesn’t wish he could hear some of those stories now. Maybe some of that erudition would find its way into his subconscious, curing his insomnia for good.
Things don't work that way, though. Life has never handed him things and it isn't going to start now. He’d have to figure this one out on his own, and he would, eventually. It’s easy to say, effortless to convince himself so, but there’s some latent part of his intuition that keeps up this persistent, exasperating knocking. It's quiet, almost imperceptible, except it is. Because it’s always there, at all hours of the day, a tiny Hiccup Haddock knocks in the corner of his mind, whispering that this is finally the one he can’t solve. Can't twist or writhe or plan his way out of.
Because he knows all his own secrets. Knows his strategies and calculative methods and little Hiccup isn't letting him get away that easy. They have matters to discuss, problems to resolve.
(Try having a fight with yourself, you’ll find that it ends in a draw. Perpetually.)
So discuss, they do. They stay awake together—little Hiccup and big Hiccup—watching the sunrise over the hillside cliff and playing a game of tug of war that neither of them really want to be participants in. Still, he keeps a steady grip on the rope, trying to understand and work through his own problems because, gods, he misses sleep.
Stoick’s voice comes booming in his mind this time, like he’s cupping his mouth and shouting over a ridge.
Hiccup was maybe fourteen or fifteen at the time and he hadn’t been the model son, he’d known that. And sure, it would all change after Toothless, but for a little while, he was a disappointment. He was a failure and he was a hiccup and...
“Why can’t you be like the other hunters? I know you have it in you, son.”
But he didn’t. Hiccup couldn’t hurt a fly and Stoick the Vast knew that as well as the next person.
And then he’d wave him off to bed and Hiccup could never even get a word in, let alone his thoughts across.
They didn’t talk about Mom and they didn’t say I love you and no one ever said much of anything, actually, unless it was about chief duties or Gobber. It was miserable, and he never wants to have that kind of relationship with his father ever again. Never wants to be that son. But it’s sort of engrained in him at this point, this inferior feeling of isolation. He's used to being on his own and used to feeling worthless and now that he isn’t…
Little Hiccup is having a hard time catching up with it.
Marvellous shades of pink fill the sky overhead, the first rays of sun peaking through. It gives him shivers, that or the morning dew condensing on the blades of grass. It’s breathtaking, really, but his body chooses this time to betray him, eyelids heavy and muscles weary.
Astrid finds him on the hill, offering some enquiry about not being able to sleep. Hiccup nods while otherwise remaining still, eyes glued to the sky. The clouds above him glow golden, shadows of periwinkle balancing their counterpart.
“Pretty,” Astrid says softly.
He nods again.
No matter how often they’re up before the sun, it’s a sight that continuously takes their breath away. She lies with him for a bit, sensing that he’s not exactly in a conversing mood but decides that he’d at least let her know if he wanted to be alone.
Eventually, his eyes fall shut and it’s a shame, really, because watching the world prepare itself for a new day is enough to put her guarded nature at ease. But then soft snores come from the boy with the shaggy hair and overthinking problem and Astrid decides the world will have to get ready without him today.