“He’s not gonna get it,” Ruffnut said.
“Just wait and see,” Hiccup insisted. Toothless grunted, shuffling with impatience on soft sand, while keeping his tail as still as he could. In fresh warm breeze, six humans stood on the beach, a half-circle around Toothless, all eyes at the line disappearing into the seawater, tied to Toothless’s tail mechanism.
“This is silly,” Snotlout pointed out. They gathered here only because Hiccup had told them to, instead of gathering at the Academy. Naturally they assumed it was some kind of new training, but an exciting Hiccup only announced that, Toothless had learned to fish with a line. “Toothless doesn’t even want to do this.”
“He’s... er, just excited for whatever fish he’s going to get.” Hiccup said, uncertainty ringing in his voice. “Right, bud?”
Toothless wrinkled his nose at him, holding back a scowl. He was pretty cool about this when he first did it yesterday: they were by the river, and Hiccup had tied a fishing line onto Toothless’s tail. Maybe Toothless did roll his eyes at him, but while he was reading, Toothless suddenly jerked awake from his snooze and dragged a large trout onto the bank.
They shared the fish and Toothless was quite happy, so maybe it was the crowd that made Toothless uneasy. He stroked the dragon’s head, and the dragon grumbled more.
“But seriously, Hiccup?” Astrid crossed her arm. “I don’t get it. Our dragons can fish for us.”
“I--It’s just for fun,” Hiccup admitted; Snotlout and Tuffnut’s jaws dropped open as it wasn’t the answer they expected. “And, sometimes we might not want our dragons to make a racket when fishing.”
“That does make sense,” Fishlegs offered his support, smiling slyly. “Meatlug likes to dive-bomb the fish. How would you know there’s a fish, though?”
“Toothless would know,” Hiccup said. “I am thinking about striping a leaf of something like that to it, though.”
As if to answer, Toothless warbled for their attention, tail wriggling. Wild ripples and white splashes broke the blue surface, away and back. Toothless let the creature flee for a little while, but before it hit that invisible border, Toothless pulled.
A rather small fish was hopelessly hooked, twisting and thrashing midair, scales glittering under the sun. It was yellowish-gray and spotted, like an aquatic sand lizard. Toothless laid his tail down, along with the fish, soon coated in sand. He turned to sniff. No one cheered.
“Oh,” Hiccup said. “It's a weever fish.”
“Great,” Snotlout snorted. “Your dragon wants to poison us, obviously.”
Toothless bared his teeth, pupils two slits against the sun. He stepped near Hiccup, crouching slightly, directly facing Snotlout. Snotlout swallowed whatever comment he was delivering next. Smiling a little at himself, Hiccup squatted to examine the fish.
“Look out!” Astrid warned. “It’s--”
“Poisonous, I know.” Hiccup finished the sentence for her. Not many species of venomous fish inhabited the Barbaric Archipelago, so theoretically, he was lucky to catch one. Despite gasping and on the verge of death, the fish’s dorsal fin and spine quivered and fanned out, defending itself against the airlogged world. Toothless’s muzzle hovered carefully over the fish, growling lowly at the spreading fin and spines. “And I don’t think you should eat it either, bud. Let’s just... throw it back.”
“Our cousin Knud was stung by one of this,” Tuffnut smirked, and Ruffnut grinned in agreement. “Lost his whole arm because of that. It was nasty.”
“Thank you for the information,” Hiccup resisted an urge to roll his eyes. With Toothless’s paw pressing lightly on the fish to keep it still, he removed the hook as soon as he could. He then picked the fish up--it had stopped thrashing, luckily--with his peg leg, and flung it forward. With a plop the fish sank back into the ocean.
That should be it.
Maybe the twins were secretly great seers, or he simply shouldn’t tread water after just throwing a notoriously venomous fish back into shallow water. But the line somehow got tangled underwater when Toothless swish his tail around in relief and excitement, and he knew that fishing line can cut like a newly sharpened knife, so he left the other end on Toothless’s tail instead of wrapping it around his own hand.
Hiccup thought it was sand in his boot at first, rubbing the side of his right foot; but there was a jerk and something slippery and he almost lost balance. Toothless lifted his tail for him to grab on, crooning questions at him.
“I’m alright, bud,” he reassured, continuing to fumble for where the line was stuck. He found it trapped between rocks and dead clams, and gently slid it out. Just when he proceeded to untangle the other end, a sharp stabbing pain rose from his right foot. He gasped, lifted the foot by instinct.
Hiccup didn’t expect his friends--already halfway across the beach--to hear it, but they did. Astrid was the first one rushing back, closely followed by a slightly confused Fishlegs. Ruff and Tuff put on their snickering faces for chaos-watching, grabbing a reluctant Snotlout with them.
“I think I stepped on something,” Hiccup answered through a grimace. The pain didn’t subside after the foot was relieved from bearing his weight, but seemed to intensify by the second. Toothless had lowered himself for him to lean on, his eyes wide, his soft coos radiating worry. “But look, I have my boot on. Nothing can puncture this boot.”
To prove his point, he started to peel the boot off, but it somehow took effort, and his skin burned even more with every touch. The foot was already swollen, but he found no wound or even blood. Not a scratch.
“Did you step on that weever fish?” Fishlegs asked, wincing at the foot.
“I don’t know,” he frowned, admitted. “But--ow, it stings.”
“Maybe you should cut it open and let the venom drain,” Tuffnut suggested.
“Thanks,” Hiccup said, forcing a smile at Toothless, who also crooked his head to inspect the foot, sniffing and mumbling. “Just what I need. Blood and more pain.”
“Here, ”Fishlegs hastily handed him his water jug. “Maybe you should clean the seawater off.”
Hiccup strained a “thanks”, but still shook his head at Astrid’s offer to support him. He managed to stand on his peg leg alone, pouring the water onto his right foot. Cool, clean fresh liquid rained on his instep, streaming towards--
Astrid grabbed him at once when he cried out and stumbled, the jug slipped from his hand, remaining water leaving a muddy stain in the sand. He fell to his knees, bringing Astrid down with him; sweat dripping down from his forehead blurred his eyes, the only sensation he recognized aside from the thousand needles twisting and sinking deeper into his foot.
“What’s wrong?” Astrid urged, awkwardly keeping her grip on his upper arm; somewhere near him, Fishlegs emitted a tiny screech. He can hear more muffled talking, but the words and individual voices were indistinguishable to him. He tried to answer, to tell her that it hurt even more, but all of a sudden his stomach was too small for his lunch, and acid lava flooded up into his throat.
Struggling out of Astrid’s grip, he blindly staggered to the direction where he thought should be the ocean, but one step and the same puncturing pain shot up, and this time someone happened to helpfully dig a small knife into the tissues and twist it around at the same time. He half-gasped, half-choked, collapsing again, was only vaguely aware of being sick all over himself.
“Hiccup?” someone was shaking his shoulder, the grip firm, with a hint of panic. Another hand, presumably from another person, wiped his face and mouth with soft fabric. “You still with us?”
“Yes”, he snapped, staring at the multiple dark shapes looming in front of him. Their voice sometimes distant and faint, sometimes harsh and sharp, resonating with the pulsing pain on his forehead and both sides of his head. “I don’t seem to be Valhalla, so yes.”
Toothless--he recognized it’s Toothless, and inwardly sighed with momentary relief--shoved his nose into his hand, scaly skin vibrating with worried croons. Before Hiccup even realized, the night fury was trying to guide his breathing with his own: inhale, exhale. Focus on the familiar texture and warmth.
Someone helped him climb onto Toothless, and sat behind him. He didn’t know whether he was still steering Toothless’s tail mechanism, maybe it was just Toothless guiding him. He only remembered the pain, swallowing his foot like fangs of the red death, every time it attempted to stir on the pedal.
They got Gothi for him. By the time she arrived on Stormfly, the foot had swollen to “no longer in the shape of a foot” as Gobber put it, and extending toward the calf. The pain, thankfully, had subsided slightly, as long as he kept it off any solid surface. His stomach had calmed from its earlier tantrum as well, leaving only some less-acid lava in his throat.
Less hazy now, Hiccup returned a reassuring stroke to Toothless. The dragon purred, nosing his side gently. He wiped at his sweaty forehead, and it was ridiculously warm. Nearly as warm as Toothless.
“He was stung by a weever fish,” Stoick halted his pace and rushed to the healer, tailing by Gobber. “He’s burning up, and the foot is swelling really bad--”
“H-hi Gothi,” Hiccup greeted her with a wince, stammering under rapid breathing. “And it hurts. A lot.”
Gothi nodded, her face calm and emotionless. She touched the calf first, and Hiccup fought back the urge to shift: her scabbed fingers crawled on his skin like hundreds of poisonous caterpillars. He squeezed his eyes shut when they moved downwards, the knife again in his flesh, his hand clenching around Toothless’s shoulder--but Gothi stopped right there. He was spared.
Or maybe she took a look at it and decided that it was already beyond help.
Don’t, Hiccup. People get stung by the weever fish all the time. Don’t let the twins get to you.
She took his pulse; gestured him to stick out his tongue. He obeyed.
“How is it?” Stoick broke the silence, anxiety simmering in his voice. Hiccup rarely saw his father like this, and his heart twisted with guilt in his chest. That was a silly mistake, and he still didn’t have a clue of how much he--they--had to pay for it yet. Toothless cooed, puffing, pulling his attention away.
Gothi didn’t answer. Gobber already had a tray of ash for her, but she hadn’t gestured him to sprinkle it over the floor for her yet. From a satchel dutifully carried by an orange terror, Gothi fished out willow barks and marsh mallow leaves. She pointed at the pot hanging over the fire pit, and then at Gobber. Gobber hastily flipped the tray over; Hiccup’s nose immediately itched, and Toothless grumpily covered his nostrils with both his paws, holding back a sneeze.
“'Bath the foot in hot water. Take these for sleep and pain relief,’” Gobber read. “'Should keep you out for a few hours, till the worst pain pass.’”
“No antidote?” Stoick pressed hastily. “Is he in danger?”
Gothi scoffed before continuing to sketch. Probably a good sign, though.
“'Hopefully no,’” Gobber paused at the next line of Gothi scribbles and whispered the last part into Stoick’s ear. “'As long as he get to keep that foot.’”
Hiccup glanced up at him, still struggling to suppress the continuous waves of pain, to keep his remaining thoughts anchored on their conversations. His heart pounded loudly; his throat tightened. Breathe, Toothless reminded him, head on his lap. Breathe.
His father thanked Gothi and saw her out of the door, where Astrid and Stormfly were still waiting. The orange terror sniffed Hiccup’s finger and rubbed her head against it, purring for a pet. He just idly started thinking about asking Toothless to burn that foot to see if it could stop hurting, but he managed to give the tiny dragon a small smile.
Gobber filled the pot with water; Toothless shot a plasma blast into the fire pit, feeding the fire. The blacksmith tested the temperature, satisfied. He and Stoick put the pot down in front of Hiccup.
“C’mon, lad,” Gobber puffed, nodding. “Nice and warm.”
Hiccup meant to point out that it was their cooking pot, but the thought slipped under the still knifing pain. He lifted his right thigh and soaked the foot in the water, mentally bracing himself for another blast of pain, with his father’s large hand on his shoulder. But it didn’t come: as if dissolved, it faded and numbed. His breathing slowed, the strings gone, and his shoulders slacked in exhaustion. Gobber handed him the mixed herb tea, and he gulped the whole bowl down. He was thirsty.
“Go to sleep,” his father said, in gruff but tender voice, pushing his shoulder gently to lay him down; behind him flickering candles cast dancing droplets of light on the walls like fluttering fireworms. In his dimming sight, Toothless’s bright green eyes blinked comfortingly at him, and he obeyed. Before he sank under, there was a hand on his cheek and a murmur, a rapidly blurring border between dream and reality:
“Your hair’s gettin’ long.”
The pain had ebbed when he opened his eyes to the soft-gray morning and unfamiliar skylight-less roof of his father’s room. His shoulder was numb from Toothless resting his head on it, so was his leg. Toothless greeted him with soft croons, blinking at him, then towards his right leg under the blanket.
It had stopped hurting, but itched to be moved. When Hiccup did, it was heavy and numb as if trapped in a muddy swamp, or had been squashed under a heavy dragon for all night.
Hiccup sat up, but the walls swayed and numerous blurring speckles swarmed in front of him, and he almost fell backward again. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment; a scolding grunt from Toothless rumbled right next to his ears. He opened them back up after the rush of dizziness passed, then lifted the blanket, and frowned at his asymmetrical legs. The swelling had subsided a little, leaving the skin pinkish and wrinkled.
“That’s a relief,” he said to Toothless. The dragon tilted his head, crooning agreement.
He dragged his leg to the edge of the bed, and laid the foot on the floor, an awfully familiar process. He tried to stand, hand hovering over Toothless’s head, in case he needed the support. But he could stand, though wobbly, with a numbing pain sparking through his foot on weight-bearing, like stepping on rough sand grains. He had to shift most of his weight to his left leg.
The stump was going to hurt soon.
“What do you say we go flying later, bud?” he asked Toothless, reckoning the irritation might ease high in the wind. But the dragon growled, stepping in front of him, wing half-raised, a loud message of “no you’re not leaving here”. Probably on his father’s order.
Hiccup tried to glare the dragon into giving up, but it was his right foot that surrender first: only a few minutes and soreness had swamped it as if he had been walking for hours. He sat back down. Satisfied, Toothless settled as well, head beside his right foot.
“Well,” He said, both to Toothless and himself, “At least the weever fish let me keep the foot.”