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The Rose and the Dare

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Astrid tightened her grip over the flashlight, scowling as she stumbled over a tree root.

Stupid Ruffnut. Stupid dare. Stupid stupid stupid. She’d only done it because she hadn’t seen her friends in a while and had taken the time to fly back for the weekend.

It was 2 a.m. They were playing truth or dare, and after that terrifying moment of the bottle spinning, Ruffnut had dared her to go into the woods and get a flower from the huge rose bush next to the abandoned church deep in the forest.

‘Real original,’ snarked Astrid, taking a short break to make sure she hadn’t gotten lost yet.

Hearing a crinkling sound from the dried leaves in the ground, Astrid swung her flashlight around, feeling a lot like a victim in a horror movie.

If she got murdered doing this stupid dare, By the Gods would she come back just to kill Ruffnut.

Her flashlight caught the face of a stranger. Grabbing a branch, she flung it to the tall figure, that eeked and groaned.

Astrid shoved the light of the flashlight onto the guy’s form, holding his forehead gingerly. “Who are you?!” she demanded, picking up another branch and threatening him with it.

“Gods! Stop, stop! I’m innocent.”

“What are you doing here?!”

“Will you stop shouting? I swear it’s not whatever it looks like-”

Astrid didn’t give him a chance to say anything else pinning him with the thick branch.

“Okay, okay okay, fine! I’ll— I’m just looking for my dog!”

“At 2 am? That’s a pretty serial killer thing to say.”

“Well, I’m not the only one, am I? Astrid-”

Astrid gasped, “how do you know my name?”

He grunted, the tip of the branch digging a bit on his chest, “of course I know you name; we used to be neighbours. I’m Hiccup Haddock, remember?”

She scowled, shoving the flashlight on his face and recognizing his annoyed look. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry. “You’re too different. Prove it.”

“Fine,” he snarked, “my dad’s Stoick, and my mum Valka. The scar on my chin I got it after I fell out of a tree when you dared me.”

Still squinting, Astrid eased up on the pressure. “I thought you were living with her?”

“I was. I got back last year, but you were off to college. Now, the question is: what are you doing here this late?”

Helping him get up, Astrid stepped back, “I got dared by Ruff. She wants me to get a rose form the churchyard.”

Hiccup looked deep into the darkness, before closing his eyes, almost visibly listening for something.

Astrid observed him. He was taller, his shoulders wider, in a leather jacket, and his face had lost the baby fat, his chubby cheeks giving way to a sharp jawline.

He looked… good.

He also looked pristine, only the bottom of his shoes muddied.

Astrid suddenly felt messy, with her sweatshirt having snagged on some branches. She wondered how he managed to stay so clean after coming this deep into the forest, and without a flashlight.

He turned to her, startling her out of her thoughts. “The forest is more dangerous the deeper you walk into it. I’ll get the rose for you; wait here.”

Before Astrid could protest, he was off between the branches.

To her surprise, she only had to wait five minutes before he was back, a rose clutched in his hand.

“How did you get there and back so fast?” she wondered as she took the rose.

He shrugged, his smile showing the gap in his teeth. “I’m a fast walker.”

“Well, thanks anyway,” she said, raising the rose to his line of view. “See you around?”

“I don’t know about that,” he said, and there was a strange melancholy in his green eyes. “I have to find my dog first.”

This rung strangely in her mind, but she let it pass her by. Hiccup had always been strange.

“Alright. Hope you find it, then!”

“Thanks, Astrid. Be safe.” And he was gone, walking into the shadows and disappearing.

Astrid got back to Ruffnut’s house well enough, walking through the back, sliding doors leading straight into the living room, where everyone except Ruffnut had already crashed in random places.

“There you are!” said Ruffnut, “where have you been?”

Astrid shook off the rain from her sweatshirt, setting the rose on the coffee table. “You told me to get the rose, remember?”

“Astrid, it’s almost four in the morning.”

She frowned; that didn’t seem right. “Well, chill, I’m here now.”

Ruffnut muttered a ‘whatever. Last time I worry about you.’

Grabbing some chips from the coffee table, she pushed Snot’s legs from the couch, so she could sit. “Hey, did you know Hiccup Haddock was back?”

Ruffnut, rose from the living room floor, eyeing Astrid carefully. “Yeah?”

Astrid threw her a couple of chips, “why didn’t you tell me? He Neville-Longbottomed.”

“Why are you talking about him all of a sudden?”

Astrid frowned, annoyed that Ruffnut wasn’t taking her bait to gossip like she usually did. “I don’t know, I saw him recently. Just wondering.”

“When did you see him?” said Ruffnut, her skin paling, and fumbling through her phone.

“I… why does that even matter?”

“When did you see him?”

“Gods, never mind, Ruff, it’s not a big deal.”

Ruffnut tossed her her phone. “Read.”

It was the digital version of the local newspaper. Before reading the outline, the first thing that called her attention was the picture of Hiccup on it. He looked as she’d seen him; taller, wider, older.

Then she read the title of the article:

Son of the Mayor: First Anniversary since.

It’s now the first anniversary of the disappearance of Hiccup Haddock, son of Mayor Stoick. Tonight, he holds a candle vigil, like he did the day of, in hopes that his son will return. However, the police department is not as optimistic:

“We are no longer expecting him back alive. We haven’t been for a long time. The forest is not that big; if he had survived he would have made it out somehow. Our only regret is not having found the body as of yet. Tomorrow we’ll be sending in a team to comb through again some of the more difficult areas of Raven’s Point. Hopefully the rain will have uncovered something, if he was indeed buried.”

She could read no more. Eyes brimming with tears, she stood up, her heart overwhelming her and her mind reeling.

On the coffee table, the red rose waited, poignant.