Before everything else there was void. Blank, dark void, that echoed through the young chief's brain, not quite knowing – or understanding – what the blonde Valkyrie in front of him has said to him.
The previous perfection of the moment was gone, because right now the 'them' had lost its importance and came crashing down to the purest and most cruel reality, that has caught up with Astrid. It was a wave of shock and uncertainty that went right through him and into the very edge of his being. Twisting and turning to bring him back to this very reality in front of him.
Only then, when his focus has returned, there were so many things going on in Hiccup's mind at that very exact moment, crashing the blankness from before. But he just couldn't collect them and piece them together, make one straight thought out of it, that would have led to one correct sentence, leaving his lips. His breathing and the beating of his heart were unsyncronised and the control of his body was lost.
And all he could do, was standing there, looking at Astrid, who just looked so forlorn and small with that parchment in her hand, that had suddenly changed everything in just a few seconds. And he could only guess, how she must be feeling in that very moment.
“The twins told us...” Eret finally said, now, that silence had reached all of them. “...and we thought, that you immediately wanted to know about it.”
The young woman wasn't saying something about that, just staring into the distance. The gang shared a concerned look, wondering, if it had been the wrong decision to bring her that letter. But Hiccup understood – he knew, that they had done the right thing. She just wasn't prepared for something like that. And he understood her better than everybody else, for he hadn't been prepared for Stoick's death either.
And still, there was a slight difference in their situations – she possibly had time to bid him goodbye – something, which he couldn't do to his own father. And without thinking twice, Hiccup immediately knew, that he would grand her the wish to go and see Hakon. Not because he liked her in a special way, but because everybody should have the opportunity to see their parents the last time, before they left Midgard to be embraced by the Valkyries.
“Would you guys give us one more moment, please?” He asked with a calm voice and gestured towards the inside of the cave, when she still hasn't said anything. “I guess, that my mother made something...eatable...If you are brave and hungry enough, you may eat something.”
They merely nodded at that, calmly asking their dragons to come along to give the two young Vikings some peace and quiet to have a needed conversation.
“Sorry, boss...“ Eret said once more, sadder this time and giving him a hearty clap on the back, before he left with Skullcrusher as well.
The young woman didn't even notice, that there friends left in the inside of the cave, for she still couldn't believe the things she has just read. Nothing. Not a word! There was just such a strange surreality to it – to this fact – that her powerful, strong father has gotten ill from an unknown disease. A man, who she has always believed in to be stronger than that and would only die, once his time had run out. Because he always was so unbreakable for her. So invulnerable.
The first time she noticed, that she was still standing in the middle of the cave's opening was, when Hiccup laid his steady hands on her shaking ones and his green eyes pulled her out of this emptiness, that she had creeped into.
“You can leave for Hranafall, once my mother has returned with the dragons...“ He calmly said, brushing with his thumbs over he icy, cold fingers.
“I can't...I mean... I am Berk's chieftess and-“
“I am their chief. I will explain it to them and they will understand. There is no reason for you to not go and see him.“
„If I had the chance to say father good-bye and tell him, what a great father he had been, than I would take it without hesitation and you should do. It might be your last opportunity to do so, Astrid. And I want you to take it...“
She bid her lip and lowered her eyes on their joined hands, laying them directly on his wedding ring, that came with the promise of always being there for her – understanding more and more the words behind their vows and understanding, why he would let her go so easily. Because he knew, that she eventually would return to him. Not because of that pact or any contracts. But because of him. And for the dragons and their friends. Because of Berk itself. And she would do that, without a doubt.
No – but to go alone seemed to be impossible now, especially when she thought about their nearly shared kiss, only minutes ago.
“Come with me?“ She asked in a whisper, understanding, if he would decline this, with the full package of duties he had to carry as the chief of the Hooligan Tribe.
And yet – without pausing or hesitating he said:
Surprised she looked back up again – her eyes wide and her mouth standing open to say something against it. But she just couldn't find her voice to do so and instead he explained:
“As said before - I am the chief, Astrid, and as that I need to make sure, that a fellow chief gets the last honor he needs, especially in these hard times. And more importantly – to be there for him as his son-in-law. Also our people will see it as an act of strengthening the contract between our islands. Plus – Berk is good with Gobber for now and if they really need me, then I will return. And you...you can return, to us, whenever the right moment has come to do so. No need to hurry then, because your father needs you there and your current duties can wait for that...I mean – it is your duty to be there for him in the first place!“
She gulped a little about that, really hoping, that it just was so easy for him to just make a visit to her home island as one of his duties and responsibilities. And seeing, that she still didn't seem too convinced by his words, he added:
“We might be chief and chieftess, Astrid. And our topmost duty is to take care about our people – that is true. But we are also humans and need to stay loyal to those we love as well. Especially in times of need. Your father needs you now. You should see him. And I will come, too. After all...you asked me to do so!“ At the end of his explanation he smiled a little, before he carefully pulled at her hands to pull her forward and against his chest, embracing her for the first time. He just wanted to show her, that he really cared about her, her feelings and family and that he would be there for her, no matter what. And – yes – he knew, that this was quite a bolt move to engage her in a hug, but it felt for him very right in that moment.
Astrid immediately stiffed upon noticing his intentions, when she came closer and closer to him – but there certainly was also something soothing about it, just as she felt the warmth of his body radiation through her, since there had been such a bitter cold, that had caught up with her. And she felt save and protected from the fact, that her father's condition was quite unknown for her and even let go for a moment about the thought of loosing him in the end.
Sure, this hug wouldn't replace the perfect moment from before or make up for it, but it still felt nice to have somebody, who understood her and would somehow get her through these hard times. And therefore she laid her arms around his waist and her head on his shoulder, holding onto Hiccup tightly and just hoping, that everything would work out well in the end. She even closed her eyes and just hoped, that this whole letter had been just a nightmare.
From afar they could hear the gang rambling and blabbering, though their words washed over them and it was unclear, what they were saying. Also, they could hear the screams and screeching noises from Valka's other dragons, making it clear, that they were returning from their feeding.
At least that meant, that they were able to get to Hranafall very soon. At least they didn't need to pack everything, since all they need for the journey was already packed. Maybe a little stock up on their on their food supplies...But they could depart as soon as Valka had returned to them.
The shouting of the dragons got louder and even without looking over to the Sanctuary, Hiccup immediately knew, that it was once again filled with life. And soon enough, he heard Valka with Toothless landing close to the entrance, followed by her trusty Cloudjumper and Astrid's Stormfly. The three hatchlings were still clinging tightly onto her arms and shoulders, but by the way they liked their small muzzles, it was clear, that they were able to eat something as well.
He still held onto Astrid and looked over her shoulder towards his mother, who had a wide smile on her lips, just as she saw the two young Vikings in a loving embrace. She even wanted to say something, parting her lips – but Hiccup interrupted her with a slight shake of his head, indicating, that this was not the right time to talk about them.
Valka's eyebrows furrowed in worry upon seeing that, dismounting the black dragon, before she started to watch the two closely, wondering, what exactly has happened. But once she heard the murmuring sounds from inside the cave from Hiccup's friends, she knew, that something bad must have happened, when they all have gathered here.
Therefore she nodded, before she walked inside, followed by Cloudjumper, while Toothless and Stormfly stayed behind – probably sensing the distress of their riders. They even were coming towards them, nuzzling their heads against against the two humans is comfort and thus making them finally part from each other.
“Bad news, buddy...“ Hiccup mumbled, patting the Night Fury with a sad smile on his lips “...Hakon is sick...We need to fly to Hranafall...“
“But don't worry, my people won't harm you...“ Astrid added, holding onto Stormfly tightly as well and sighing sadly. “It just would have been nice, if everything was perfect for once...“
“It will be, Astrid...don't worry. And if you like, we could consult Gothi and ask her about your father's disease...Maybe she does know a few things about it – and how to heal it!“
The young woman nodded and looked over to the young man by her side.
“And what about them?“ She asked, gesturing with her head towards he inside of the cave. Hiccup understood immediately. She was referring to the gang. “Do they want to come along?“
“Probably...they must be far too interested in Hranafall and in its dragon population. That is probably also the reason, on why they all came here...“ The young woman pressed her lips together, making him wonder, if she liked the thought of taking them along on this journey as well, or not. “I mean – if you don't want them to come with us, then I always could send them back to Berk.“
“I don't really mind, Hiccup...“ She mumbled “It is just...“
„Yeah...I mean – I still do not know, what she thinks off this whole situation. Of me riding dragons and accepting that I live one Berk. And also this whole friendship-thing, that she always wanted for me to be avoided. Sure, it had been months since she left and since she intended to get you killed...but...I am afraid, that she didn't change her mind, like I did...“
“I understand...“ He nodded.
“On the other side-“ She then added with the tiniest of smiles crossing her features “-it would be nice, if they all came along. I mean...for you to see our vast dragon variety. And for them to understand, why my parents brought me up to be this way...“
The young chief smiled back, understanding her intentions.
“Yeah...that would be nice...“
Sure – there still was the uncertainty of how Ljóda and her people would react, when they came flying towards them – hoping, that they really have accepted Berk's and therefore the contract's ways. But – Hiccup wondered – what could be the worst scenario? That they were attacked, since the Hunter tribe wasn't following the path, that their chief wanted them to. That they were outcasting them and demanding a way to escape the pact, to further persuade the dragon hunting, killing and trading? But on the other hand – would they really do that, if their own chief was so fond of dragons and to live in peace with them? Would they do that, now that their own heir was married off to a chief, that approached the friendly way with these winged reptiles. Especially now, that a special bond has formed between him and Astrid, with her trying to do everything herself, that no harm should come upon their flying friends. Yes – he believed, that Hranafall's people would be happy about their arrival and the return of their chief's daughter. For Ljóda on the other hand, they had to wait, only knowing of what she will think about this whole new situation, that her daughter has found herself into, once they have arrived. And seeing Astrid's distant look in her eyes, she must be thinking the same way.
“Then let's get them to leave as soon as possible! Only so we can figure out everything...“ He said, taking her hand to guide her inside the cave once more.
Toothless cooed a little in confusion about the sudden and immense body contact of the two dragon riders, which even made Hiccup chuckle a little.
“He is not very used of sharing you with somebody else, am I right?“
“Well, he needs to get used to it now...“
“That is true...“
Yes, she still sounded very restrained and sad about the who situation and they were far from their joking bantering from before, but it still felt just nice and natural to talk like that – just as if they have done this always. And both young Vikings knew, that it could always be like that. If only her mother would see, appreciate and accept it the same way – just like a few of their friends...
“You know, Hiccup always had a Gambling problem...“ Snotlout explained, with one finger high in the air, as if he was some kind of importand teacher, that knew about everything in the world. ...he is totally the guy of that. And I will tell you why-“
“Oh not again!“ Tuffnut exclaimed, stepping once again in front of the other Viking. “And just like I have told you – he is going to die, because-“
“No, Astrid is dying!“ Ruffnut complained.
They both looked a little annoyed about that, while Eret, Fishlegs and Valka could only stare at them with some frustration.
“Well...let me consider once more, if I really want them to be on Hranafall as well...“
“If we depart now, nobody might notice-“
„Oh no!“ Ruffnut said, turning towards them, while Tuffnut added: „The two of you are not going anywhere without us!“
“Yeah-“ Snotlout agreed „-with all of us!“