"But then you came, a single cell,
With astrolabe and carousel,
And algebra and symmetry,
And none of this was lost on me;
And I could see how still I’d been before."
~ No Rest, Dry the River
It had been, at first, her mother’s idea – for her to do something graceful and elegant and ladylike. It was a bribe, really. Accompany her mother to the ballet, and be allowed to take up archery. (Her mother would forever rue the day she had allowed Merida to watch a Robin Hood movie.
"Locksley! I'll carve your heart out with a spoon!"
"Merida! There'll be no carving of hearts anytime soon! Stop playing with your food. Merida!")
But something changed in her, when the curtain rose. Oh, she giggled at the boring, old fashioned music, and at the conductor in his funny little suit waving his magic wand... but there, on stage, was something sharp and strong and steady. Something that made Merida sit up and take notice. It started soft, and slow, but Merida knew what it was - she could feel it in her bones - something winding up and pulling tight.
Release! A breath, a leap, a dancer flying across the stage... and Merida was entranced.
Swan Lake was a story of tragedy and transformation, her mother told her during the intermission. Merida thought that it was a story about strength and courage.
Many years later she would concede that it could be about all of those things - that they were both right, (but she was more right).
For now, however, she just wanted to watch.
. . . . .
Eight weeks later, her mother took her to a dance studio and told her that she was getting ballet lessons.
To Elinor's surprise, Merida didn't protest.
. . . . .
Her tomboyish ways have frustrated her mother for years now. Her mother thinks that she doesn't like being a woman, but that's not true.
She just doesn't like being confined.
This, however... this is freedom. This is flying. This is what it means to be beautiful.
She is as taut as a bowstring, long and graceful and perfect. This is strength. This is balance. This is what it means to be wild.
. . . . .
She doesn't know who wrote it, but her friend Ro (Romaine, like the lettuce - but never call her that) composed the music. The whole studio, with the help of their instructor, Madame Ursula, have choreographed the performance. They have been working on it for months.
She gets the part of Will Scarlett, which she figures was mostly decided because of her hair (Ro agrees). She's not one of the main cast, the top three, but she is certainly featured. It's no critique on her technique either, just her character. Because Robin of Locksley and the Sheriff of Nottingham are, no matter her protests, male parts, and there are few enough main roles for men that Macintosh and Hans aren't letting these go without a fight (Hans wants to be the Sheriff, and he's certainly dark and intimidating enough. Macintosh wants to be Robin Hood - to get girls. No comment from Merida on that one).
Everyone knew that Merida would never be Maid Marian, would never allow herself to be the damsel in distress. So that part goes to Elsa, and then they work with what they've got.
She doesn't mind, not really. She gets to fight (sort of)... more importantly, she gets to dance.
. . . . .
His name isn't really Hiccup. It's Hamar... which isn't really all that much better. It's an Old Norse name, meaning 'ingenious', or so says his dad, who doesn't look at all impressed with his scrawny' son's supposed ingenuity. So all together his name means... ingenious fish. Yeah.
The point is that Hamar 'Hiccup' Haddock isn't much of anything at all. He just kind of falls flat. Don't get him wrong - he's full of ideas. It's just that no one ever listens to him. So he tinkers with his motorbike (and somehow 'Ruthless' became 'Toothless', go figure) and he'll mess around with that kid Frost who lives down the hall from him and they'll go get a drink and talk. About Frost's classes - he's studying to be a physiotherapist or a chiropractor or something - about Hiccup's engineering classes, about girls... there's this one girl. Astrid Hofferson. And Hiccup's got a crazy-mad-dash crush on her.
Only, he's never even spoken to her. So there's that.
Jack Frost. He never seems to have problems of any kind. He's just so... chill. Everything slides off him like water. And there's this guy - Black - who stole Jack's girlfriend a while back - the pretty one who's studying dentistry - and Jack's just like:
"Whatever." and he shrugs and it's no big deal.
Only, Hiccup knows the truth. Saw the way Frost's eyes went all distant and vacant when he saw Black with the Dentist-In-Training. He's the one who hauled the drunken mess back to his dorm and let him vomit all over his giant neighbour (Kristian? Kristoff? Kris Kringle?). So okay, maybe Jack listens to him.
Or he listens to Jack. They look out for each other. Or something.
(He had a point in there. Somewhere. Didn't he? He's not so sure anymore. He only knows that he doesn't think that he's much of anything, but that maybe he means something to the people that mean something to him... which is something.)
. . . . .
So there's this girl who's dating this guy on his floor. Romaine Punzel, or something German-sounding like that. Ro. And she's dating Ryder. Flynn Ryder. Or is it Eugene? No. Fitz. Herbert. Herbert Flynn? Eugene Ryder? Huh?
(Hiccup has trouble with names, okay? Don't judge.)
And so Jack's dragging him to this thing because there's this girl and Hiccup doesn't even know what she looks like (he doesn't bother with the name. He's terrible with names) and Ryder's girl Ro has done the music for it and she's dancing or something...
Honestly, Hiccup doesn't know all the details. He's just there so that Jack doesn't look like a loser, hanging 'round with no friends, because he's over the Dentist and Black, but Aster and Manny are studying like mad for their graduating year, so Frost is lacking for conversational partners. (And Hiccup may or may not have been planning to spend the evening tinkering with his bike - the Ruthless Dragon, he calls it. Toothless everyone else insists).
So he's in a stupid theatre, and his leg is acting up again (don't ask) and it itches but he's in a freaking theatre so it's not like he can just pop his foot off and scratch. That wouldn't be seemly or formal or all those other stuffy things. Ugh.
The music starts and Hiccup rolls his eyes, and the curtain rises and there's that guy from that Political Science class his dad's making him take. Hans Zimmer or Summer or something. There's this other guy there, too, who's wearing green tights, and Hiccup guesses that he's the eponymous Robin Hood.
The dancing's okay. He supposes. He doesn't really know all that much about that.
Then Maid Marian floats onto the stage, and Jack sits up a whole lot straighter. And yeah, Hiccup can see why Frost has a thing for this girl, because she's beautiful and graceful and ethereal... so fragile looking, as if she'd break if you touched her.
. . . . .
She's dancing - dancing! And it's perfect. Everything is perfect. And she feels fierce and alive and free!
She is fire and air and wild winds and Will Scarlett and everything is being released in a whoosh of air. She knows now what it is like to be an arrow, pulled back and then propelled into the air, soaring towards a target - towards perfection.
Here, restless and aching and moving, moving, moving - here despite the burning in her lungs and legs she can finally breathe.
. . . . .
He can't look away. She's on fire. She is fire.
All too soon, it's over.
"Wow," Jack breathes.
"Uh-huh," Hiccup nods.
Ryder dashes off to go greet his girlfriend, the composer dancing in the chorus lines; and Hiccup thinks that he can see that guy that Jack threw up on once (Kris-something, okay? He knows that much. The guy with an obsession with reindeer and moose- meese?) hanging out near the backstage door, too.
Jack wants to go see his girl - the pretty one who looks like she'd break with a breath of wind - and Hiccup tags along because he hopes (prays) that he might catch a glimpse of that girl made of fire and wildness. He doesn't know what he'd say to her, but hopefully it would be more than just 'hi'... and hopefully his voice won't break either, because it does that when he's nervous sometimes.
And then Jack ditches him - ditches him! - and he's left standing awkwardly backstage, lost and alone, and feeling really, really awkward.
"Are you lost, lad?" Her voice is sweet and lilting and low. He turns around and she's standing right there, and she's only thrown a long knit tunic over her bright red tights and it's really hard for him to look away from her long, lithe legs (inappropriate, Haddock. So inappropriate. Her face, dammit! Look at her face. Don't get distracted halfway up... god.)
He feels like an idiot.
"Er, no - yes! actually. Yes. Sorry. I just..."
She giggles, her eyes twinkling at him (has he ever seen eyes so blue?), and her hair bursts like a flame around her face. She's beautiful.
"Come on, lad," she says, taking hold of his arm and dragging him away. "Let's get you out of here."
"What's your name?" He asks, the question seeming to come out of nowhere. He certainly hadn't planned on saying that.
. . . . .
The boy's funny, she thinks, getting lost backstage, probably looking for Elsa like that other mischievous hopeful that had winked at her while she rolled her eyes. He seemed to be a bit gobsmacked by her, but Merida had that effect on most people.
"This yours, lad?" she asks, eyebrows raised, when he halts in the road next to a motorbike. It's sleek and its black and it seems almost alive... or he treats it like it is, the way that he runs his fingers gently over the shell. He shrugs, blushing, and she takes the time to notice that - now that she's not standing next to Hans or Macintosh - he's quite broad-shouldered. Muscled in a thin, wiry way.
His eyes are green, and she's not going to lie - she has a thing for green. Green like forests and cool air and nature and wild freedom.
"What's your name?" She asks, and it doesn't seem possible, but he reddens even further.
"Hiccup," he mutters. "Well, I mean, its a nickname. I'm Hamar. Hamar Haddock. But everyone calls me Hiccup."
"It's not so bad," she murmurs, thinking of the way her father still calls her Princess or Peanut or sometimes My Wee Wild Bear. "And the bike?"
"Toothless," and he blushes (again. What's up with that?), and Merida - curse it! – thinks he's adorable.
"Thank you," and he stands up a little straighter at these words. "Put him together myself. Rescued him, really. He used to be all banged up 'cause my uncle... sorry. I suppose you're not really interested. I liked your dancing."
She doesn't mind the sudden change of subject, and even blushes (only a little!) at his compliment.
"Thank you," she murmurs.
And they stand there, under the flickering lights, thinking of dancing and dragons and of – maybe - reaching out and holding hands in the darkness, and the moment stretches out into infinity.
Then someone moves.