"No, Hiccup! Don't take pictures of the security desk! They're looking at us weirdly!" Astrid exclaimed as she grabbed Hiccup's camera, exasperated by his endless enthusiasm. She knew he had wanted to go on an airplane for all his life, but did he have to take pictures of every single part of the airport?
"Aww, but it's cool! Look at all those machines they use! There's scanners, X-ray machines, chemical detectors, did you know that there's even some scales hidden in the floor?" Hiccup loudly said as they walked from the check-in desk to the security gate, and Astrid tried to look as innocent as possible when a businessman interrupted his telephone conversation to glare at them.
"I thought you wanted to be a pilot, not a security officer," she said as they joined the queue for the security gates.
"I do, but this is pretty cool too! Ooh, do you think they'll let us in the cockpit for a moment if we ask? I want to see the cockpit!" Hiccup loudly exclaimed, and Astrid sighed. She knew Hiccup would be excited to go flying, but he was behaving more like he was 7, rather than 17 years old.
"Hiccup, they're not gonna let us in the cockpit. They'll think we'll… hijack it or something!" she whispered to him, hoping the security wasn't listening to them.
"You know, hijacking wouldn't even be that hard if we got into the cockpit. I think I know how to fly a plane. I certainly studied them enough to know the theory. All we'd have to do was lock the door from the inside and start her up! And then they can't stop us! Well, unless they'd get the army on us or something. But I doubt they would, we'll have hundreds of hostages after all!" Hiccup stated loudly, clearly not noticing that the other travelers were staring at him with frightened eyes.
"Hiccup. Stop talking," she whispered. Gods, she loved this kid and his enthusiasm, but this was not the time for it.
"Hey, it's their fault for designing planes this way. Whoever is in the cockpit is in control, and it'll be easy to get into there. You know what, I'll try it! I bet you that I can get into the cockpit and lock the door before they catch me!" Hiccup said, but before Astrid could say anything she saw two burly security men grab Hiccup, take one look at his camera and metal leg, before leading him away.
"Sir, come with us for a moment," was the last thing Astrid heard before her boyfriend disappeared into the security checkpoint. Gods, his career as a pilot was certainly off to a flying start.
"Okay sir, you can go on now. We apologize for the inconvenience, but we hope you understand why we… apprehended you," The officer said as Hiccup strapped his metal leg back on again. Honestly, Hiccup was kind of happy he got to see the normally hidden security rooms. Sure, the full-body search, dismantling of his prosthetic and the twenty minute interrogation were embarrassing, but seeing the inner workings of the airport was just amazing.
But he was smart enough to know that wasn't the right thing to say now, so he just muttered a shy apology and followed an assistant out of the interrogation room.
"But how much longer will it take? We'll miss our plane at this rate!" Hiccup heard Astrid talk to a security officer when he entered the secure zone. Smirking, he sneaked up to her from behind and tapped her shoulder.
Astrid turned around, and Hiccup immediately regretted his decision when he saw her face briefly show relief, before turning to anger. The next second she punched his arm hard.
"You freaking idiot! Are you happy now?! Did you really have to get yourself arrested? I sat here for half an hour not knowing if you'd even be allowed on the plane!" she yelled, and Hiccup decided it was best if he didn't mention how cool the inner security rooms were.
"I'm sorry for making you worry. I just got carried away," he mumbled, and Astrid's expression softened a little.
"Okay, fine, just… don't do it again! So no more talk of hijacking when we board! And now we have to hurry to the gate, boarding starts in 15 minutes," Astrid said, but Hiccup wasn't listening to the last part anymore. He was looking over her shoulder to the glass wall on the other side of the hall. Or rather, at what was behind the wall. Rows of aircraft were parked outside, and he could see crews with little cars driving around them.
Without thinking, he walked up to the window and pressed his head against the glass, faintly registering Astrid's sigh behind him. His smile grew when he saw a maintenance crew open a wing on the nearest plane, and a large fuel truck was backing up to the next plane. Even though he had never been in such a place before, he immediately felt at home.
"Look, Astrid! They're fueling that plane! And there, they're repairing that engine!" he exclaimed as he wildly pointed to the activity outside. Astrid laughed softly as she walked up beside him, before grabbing his hand.
"Honestly, Hiccup, it's like you've never seen a plane before. I'm sure you know all this stuff by heart. After all, you're building your own helicopter in your garage!" she asked as she gently started to lead him to a nearby gate.
"This is different! Sure, I've seen this on internet or TV, but this is… this is real and professional! Not just my own failing attempts at building a helicopter! I want to see what these real planes are made of! And when I'm a pilot, I have to deal with fueling and maintenance as well! So… I want to know it all!" he tried to explain as Astrid sat on a bench opposite gate 6, but Hiccup was too excited to sit down. He looked outside again, and saw a large plane barely a hundred feet away.
"Astrid? Are we going to fly in that one?" he hesitantly asked as he leaned against the window, and Astrid sighed as she looked up from her book.
"I suppose so. Now can you just… stay here? Boarding will start soon, and there's no time to go shopping or running around," she told him, clearly tired, and Hiccup nodded. He didn't care about shopping anyway. He wanted to study the plane he'd soon be flying in.
For the next 10 minutes he tried to absorb every detail of the plane and match it to the pictures he'd studied. His excitement grew again, and when they got the signal to board he immediately pulled Astrid from her seat and dragged her to the gate. Astrid giggled at his enthusiasm as she put her book back in her bag and found their tickets. Astrid had flown before, so she easily led them through the last checkpoint, grabbing his arm as they walked through the tunnel to the plane.
When the plane door itself came into view she tightened her grip on his arm, whispering "Don't you dare run into the cockpit!" to him, but Hiccup was too in awe to even consider it.
He giggled when he stepped into the plane itself, making the flight attendant look at him slightly concerned. He managed to quickly glance into the cockpit, smiling when he saw all the buttons and switches he'd be controlling one day, before Astrid led him to their seats. Hiccup put his bag in the overhead bin and sat down at the window seat, Astrid sitting down next to him. Immediately, he rubbed his hands over the seats and walls, examining the little compartments where life-vests and oxygen masks were hidden.
"Excited?" Astrid asked as she opened her book again, looking significantly more relaxed than he was.
"Yeah! It's just… We're gonna fly, Astrid! We're gonna be thousands of feet in the air!" he exclaimed, and she smirked at him.
"Well, just to warn you, you'll probably have a weird feeling in your ears when we ascend or descend. It's because of the pressure changes. But it's not too bad, and I brought chewing gum, that helps," Astrid told him as she showed him a packet of strawberry gum.
Hiccup nodded, before gazing out of the window at all the activity outside. The plane quickly filled up, a chubby boy with short blond hair sitting in the aisle seat next to Astrid.
Before long the plane started to vibrate as the engines started up, and Hiccup's breathing quickened. Astrid looked up from her book to smile at him, before turning her attention back to the thriller she was reading. Hiccup didn't understand how she could focus on a book when they were going to fly! He giggled as the plane drove to the runway, and he pressed his face against the little glass window.
He pulled on Astrid's arm to tell her to look outside with him when the plane sped up, and the moment the wheels left the ground was the most incredible moment of Hiccup's life. He was flying. He had been dreaming of this for as long as he could remember, and the real sensation was even more amazing than he had hoped. He couldn't stop smiling and giggling as he looked outside to see the cars and buildings below become smaller and smaller, before suddenly disappearing when they entered a cloud.
"Astrid, look! We're in a cloud! Look! Isn't this amazing?" he said before briefly looking back at Astrid, frowning when he saw she had an expression of discomfort on her face.
"Yeah, it's cool, isn't it? Let me just chew some gum, the pressure is getting to me," she said as she grabbed the red box from her bag. Hiccup frowned, not feeling anything odd.
"Weird. I don't feel anything. No pain, no discomfort, nothing," he told her as she put a gum in her mouth.
"Some people just have all the luck. You're truly born to be a pilot, aren't you?" she told him with a fake-annoyed tone, before turning to the blond boy on her left, who was looking very scared.
"You want some gum? It helps with the pain," she asked him. Hiccup half listened to the conversation while gazing out of the window again, fascinated by the shadows the clouds were casting on other clouds.
"Thanks. I'm just… I'm really nervous. I'm scared of flying," the boy stuttered, and Hiccup turned around to face him.
"Don't worry, nothing's going to happen! Planes are the safest way to travel, way safer than cars! I should know!" he told the nervous boy as he lifted his prosthetic leg to show the result of a car crash.
"That's… That's true! There's only a one in seven million chance for this plane to crash. And aircraft are 19 times safer than cars. The chance of dying from a bee sting is higher than the chance of being in a plane crash," the boy quickly rambled.
"See, that's the spirit! I'm Hiccup, by the way. What's your name?" he asked, leaning towards his new friends as Astrid grabbed her book again.
"I'm Frank. But my friends call me Fishlegs," the blond boy said, before reaching out his arm to shake Hiccup's hand.
For the rest of the flight, Hiccup alternated between talking with Fishlegs and looking out the window. The sight of fluffy clouds and tiny towns just didn't cease to amaze him. Astrid finished her book and slept a little, waking up when the captain announced they would be landing soon, and that they should fasten their seatbelts.
"Look, Astrid! We're descending!" Hiccup told his girlfriend as they dipped into a cloud, and she smiled as she leaned in to look outside as well. Fishlegs became more nervous again, putting headphones on and covering his eyes.
Hiccup suddenly noticed swallowing was becoming harder, and it felt like something was pressing against his ears.
"Can I have some chewing gum?" he asked as Astrid tightened her seatbelt, and she smirked.
"Finally succumbing to the pressure, huh? About time!" she said with a laugh as she handed him the strip of gum.
Fifteen minutes later, Astrid wasn't laughing anymore. Hiccup was covering his ears with his hands, leaning forward in a hunched over position. He had already chewed through 6 gums with no result, clearly suffering from a lot of pain, and she was starting to feel a little panicky.
"Hiccup, look! We're nearly there! Just ten more minutes, and then we'll be on the ground! Don't you wanna look outside? We're out of the clouds, Hiccup! Look, you can see mountains!" she said as she nudged him, but Hiccup just shook his head and began rocking back and forth slightly. She could barely believe what she was seeing. Fifteen minutes ago he had been so incredibly enthusiastic and happy, but now that was all gone. She had been wishing he'd be quiet and calm down a little, but now she wanted nothing more than to see that cheerful Hiccup who pointed out airplane parts and clouds to her.
"Hiccup, talk to me. What are you feeling?" she asked as she grabbed his shoulders and held him still.
"My head's exploding," he muttered, before leaning forward even more, trying to curl up into a ball.
Astrid had no idea what to do. She had experienced some discomfort when flying before, but her ears had always popped in less than a minute. But Hiccup's ears seemed to refuse to pop, even after chewing nonstop for the last fifteen minutes.
And with every foot they descended Hiccup's pain seemed to become worse. He was trying to hide it, but Astrid saw the tightness of his muscles, the way he squeezed his eyes shut, the way his breathing became irregular. Suddenly a thought struck her when she recognized the symptoms.
"Are you having a phantom pain?" she asked as she rubbed his back gently, knowing that always calmed him in those episodes.
Hiccup shook his head, his hands still covering his ears tightly. "No, but this feels even worse!" he whispered before spitting out another piece of gum. Astrid was feeling more and more scared. She couldn't use her phone to google for advice while on the plane, and she didn't have painkillers with her.
So she just settled for holding him and pressing his head against her chest, like she did when he had phantom pains. The position was awkward, since they had to keep their seatbelts on, and Astrid didn't feel like it helped Hiccup much. She could feel her shirt getting wet, and she realized he was crying. Was the pain that bad?
She looked down, noticing sweat and tears dribble from his face, even though it was pretty cold. She held him a little tighter and used her arms to block his face from view, knowing he'd be mortified if someone saw. At least Fishlegs was covering his eyes and listening to music, so he wouldn't notice.
At least he had her with him. She didn't want to consider the scenario of Hiccup going through this pain alone. Then it hit her.
What if this happened every time he went flying? What if he'd dissolve into a crying mess during every landing?
He couldn't possibly become a pilot then. Hiccup was clearly barely functioning right now, just shaking and holding his ears. She could hear him whimper a little, and she leaned down and sang softly, hoping it would calm him like it did when he had a phantom pain.
"I'd swim and sail on savage seas, with ne'er a fear of drowning..." she sang, but Hiccup just whimpered even more. She stopped, asking him what was wrong.
"Sound… hurts..." he mumbled, and she rubbed his back more, trying to apologize without words. Could the gods really be this cruel, making him want to be a pilot so much, but then causing him pain when flying? No, this just had to be a one time thing. Some weird thing blocking him from popping his ears. But soon his ears would pop, the blockage would be gone, and then during the next flight all would be well.
It had to be.
The return flight was even worse.
Hiccup hadn't been in this much pain since the car accident. It felt like his head was exploding, like someone had inserted little balloons in his ears and was now pumping them up and pushing all the organs out of the way. Sound was muffled, and the hands he held tightly clasped over his ears didn't help his hearing either. But he couldn't remove his hands. Keeping his ears in a sort of vacuum seemed to alleviate the massive pressure slightly, though it was only a small difference.
Outside, a thunderstorm was raging. Bright flashes gave Hiccup approximately one second of warning to brace himself for the extra jolt of pain that came with the brief pressure changes from the lightning's shock wave. Another second, and more pain would follow from the loud clap of thunder and the screams of the other passengers.
He had long since given up on hiding his discomfort, instead burying his head in Astrid's chest, hoping nearby passengers would be too frightened by the foul weather to look at the crying boy. They probably just thought he was scared, and the nice old lady sitting next to Astrid had given him an encouraging smile when he briefly opened his eyes.
His entire head was starting to hurt as his ears felt more and more bloated. Coughing hurt immensely, swallowing took a great amount of effort, and it was almost impossible to chew.
He had given up on the chewing gum long ago anyway. It didn't help, so he just gritted his teeth, only moving his jaw to whimper when another flash of lightning pierced his shut eyelids.
Astrid was silent, letting him cry into her chest and gently massaging his back. He could feel her hands shake slightly, and he knew she was distressed at his pain as well.
They hadn't talked about his pain of the first flight during their holiday in Scotland. His ears had finally popped barely a minute before the plane landed, after more than 20 excruciating minutes. Astrid, visibly shaken, had just told him the next time would be easier, and Hiccup had tried to focus on the old castles and Viking villages they visited.
But all the while, the panic was close, ready to crush him if he thought about it too much. So the pain had cast a shadow over Hiccup's holiday, hanging over him like Damocles' sword. He had started to count down the days to the return flight. Not with excitement, like he did before the holiday, but with dread. If the pain would reappear, his dream of becoming a pilot would be crushed like his ears.
And the pain had reappeared. And it was worse than ever. Landing was at least 10 minutes away, and there was no telling how long it would take for his ears to pop.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, they left the dark clouds and the horrific thunderstorm behind, and Hiccup saw the lights of Berk in the distance when he briefly looked up and out the window. As he did, his left ear popped, and Hiccup moaned in relief when half the pain disappeared. The lady next to Astrid looked at him with a shocked expression, so Hiccup just buried his head in Astrid's chest again, groaning when the pain in his right ear became even worse. Astrid sighed, before moving her fingers to his hair.
Hiccup recognized the gesture, and he couldn't bring himself to resist when she started braiding some of his hair sticking out next to his hands covering his ears. It felt embarrassing, boys shouldn't have braids, but at that moment Hiccup just felt comforted by the gesture. It felt like Astrid was telling him she wasn't giving up on him and his dreams.
A collective sigh of relief went through the cabin when the plane hit the ground and slowed down, but Hiccup couldn't relax. His right ear still hadn't popped, and he only reluctantly let go of Astrid when the plane arrived at the gate.
"Come on, Hiccup. I know you're in pain, but we have to go out now. I'll take your bag if you want to… keep your hands there," Astrid told him as she pushed him back to his own seat and unbuckled her seatbelt. Hiccup just nodded, unbuckling his own belt with his left hand. Astrid took their bags, and they exited the plane. Hiccup could see the fake smiles on the flight attendants briefly fall when they spotted him still covering his ear.
Finally, finally, sweet release came as they were waiting for their luggage. Hiccup nearly collapsed when his right ear popped and the pain disappeared, and Astrid smiled at him when he told her the pain was gone. But he couldn't return her smile. What point was getting rid of the pain when it would come back next time he went flying?
"Let's grab a drink before driving home, okay?" Astrid asked as they walked back into the airport's main hall. Hiccup nodded, letting himself be led to a nearby coffee shop. He felt too empty to resist. His dreams were shattered. He couldn't be a pilot.
Astrid left for a moment to get drinks, but even the huge glass of hot chocolate with cream she brought him couldn't cheer him up. Astrid took a sip of her coffee, frowning when he didn't touch his cocoa.
"Hiccup, you love this! Just drink it, maybe having something warm will help with the discomfort," she said as she laid her hand on his arm, and somehow that broke the last of his defences.
"Nothing will help! Nothing's gonna stop that pain!" he exclaimed, and then his tears were falling. Astrid quickly moved her chair next to him and put her arm around his shoulders.
"Hey now, since when are you so pessimistic? Remember when you lost your leg? You thought you couldn't be a pilot then. But we asked the doctor, and he told us of those special prosthesis and pedals for disabled pilots. Maybe there is something like that for this as well? You know what, tomorrow we're going to make an appointment at the hospital, and see what a doctor says. Maybe there's surgery, or implants, or medication!" Astrid said, and Hiccup dared to hope a little again. So he wiped his tears away and nodded.
But the creamy chocolate didn't taste as good as it normally did.
B. Max, M.D.
Ear, Nose and Throat specialist
Hiccup took a deep breath before entering the doctor's office. He wished Astrid could come with him, but she had been told to stay in the waiting room while he had his consult. A small part of him wanted his father with him here, but he had to work and couldn't come to the hospital.
He had already had some tests done today. Straightforward hearing tests, an X-ray, and something to measure the pressure in his internal ear structure or something. And now he'd talk to the doctor to hear what was wrong with him, and what could be done.
A middle-aged woman with white hair stood up from the chair to shake his hand.
"I'm Barbara Max. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Haddock," she said, and he simply nodded, too nervous to exchange pleasantries.
"Please sit. I've seen your test results, but before I discuss them, I would like to ask you some more questions. Have you ever felt this kind of ear pain before, when not in a plane?" the doctor asked as Hiccup sat down, and he nodded. In the week since they returned, Hiccup had paid a lot more attention to headaches and the like.
"Yes. I recently noticed that I feel a… less intense version of it when I'm driving through a deep tunnel. I notice the pressure change in my ears if I take the elevator from the top floor to the ground floor in a skyscraper, though it isn't bad enough to be painful. And… sometimes I feel the pressure change at seemingly random moments," he nervously explained as he rubbed his hands together.
"I see, that's what I thought. Those 'random moments' you mention are probably when the air pressure increases, and all other things you mention are moments where the external pressure on your ear becomes stronger as well. This is in line with your test results," Dr. Max said as she grabbed sheets of paper from her desk, and Hiccup recognized the printout from the testing machines, and his X-ray.
"There isn't really a medical term for what you're suffering from, Mr. Haddock. But basically, there are a few… design errors in your ear structure. Simple genetic varieties that by themselves are harmless, but because you have multiple of them combined, they cause harm," she said as she pushed the X-ray picture towards him, and Hiccup looked at it, unsure of what he was supposed to see.
"You have a much narrower ear canal, that's the big hole in your ear that the sound goes into. You also have much tighter Eustachian tubes, deformed eardrums, and the bone surrounding your tympanic cavity seems much less flexible than normal," Dr. Max explained as she pointed at different parts of the X-ray and a large diagram on the wall. Hiccup had never paid much attention in biology, preferring the study of machines over living bodies. He regretted that now, as he gazed blankly at the scan and the diagram.
Dr. Max seemed to notice his incomprehension, as she pulled back the X-ray and grabbed another sheet of paper, this one containing a graph.
"Because of these… deformities, the pressure in your inner ears is much, much lower than average. And it also makes it harder for you to adjust the pressure in there. Because the orifices are tighter, air can't flow in and out as easily, and chewing and swallowing doesn't normalize the pressure as well as it does for other people," she explained, and Hiccup nodded. He had figured it would be something like that as well.
"What… What can you do about it, doctor?" he slowly asked, dreading the answer. Dr. Max sighed.
"Unfortunately, very little. Simply put, it's extremely hard to 'open up' your inner ear without causing hearing or balance damage. One possibility could be inserting ear tubes. These are little tubes that go through your eardrum to allow air to flow more freely. However, we typically only do that with infants, as the risk of infection, worsening the problem, or causing hearing loss is too great in adults. I estimate there would only be a 40% chance of success, probably worse for you, since your eardrum is deformed," she slowly said, and Hiccup felt something inside him break and shatter.
"Those are odds we cannot take, because this is a non-vital problem. Simply put, this doesn't affect your life much. When you're on the ground you only rarely experience pain, and when you do it's mild. You can occasionally fly without causing further damage to your ears, and when you do you can take strong painkillers beforehand to minimize your discomfort. You should stay away from submarines, and consult a doctor before going scuba diving or some other extreme sport," she said, and he shook his head, unbelieving.
"But… But doctor… I want to be a pilot," he managed to say, and whatever hope he had left was crushed when he saw the woman's kind face fall. She seemed shaken for a moment, before regaining her professional poker face.
"Mr. Haddock, even if the tubes were successful, constant flying at such high altitudes would cause irreparable damage to your entire ear structure. I'm talking massive hearing loss, bleeding, loss of balance, infections, and other possible complications," she said, before sighing.
"You cannot possibly be a high-altitude pilot. You should stay away from airliners and submarines if at all possible. I'm sorry, Mr. Haddock."
Astrid looked up from the boring magazine she was reading to see Hiccup walk out of the doctor's office. The moment she saw his face her worst fears were confirmed. He looked… broken. She hadn't seen that destroyed look since he woke up from his coma and saw that his leg was gone.
"Shall we go home? I'll drive," she said as she walked over to him, and he nodded before looking down again. His hand formed a fist when his gaze crossed some papers he was holding, crumpling them.
They didn't speak while walking to the car, and Hiccup remained silent as he sat down in the passenger seat. Astrid started the car and drove out of the parking lot, noticing Hiccup was avoiding her gaze, instead staring out the side window. Hoping he wouldn't notice, she adjusted the side mirror so she could see his face, her grip on the wheel tightening when she saw that broken look again.
"So, what did the doctor say?" she finally asked, hoping for some hope. Hiccup was silent for a long time, before sighing.
"She… She said that… that the pressure in my inner ear is wrong. It's… because of… I have deformed eardrums, and my bones are soft or something… I didn't really understand it," he eventually said, voice so soft she had trouble hearing him.
"Can… they do something about it?" she hesitantly asked, already knowing the answer. Hiccup's reflection shook his head.
"Nothing. I… I can't fly a plane. It's… there's risk of hearing damage if I fly at too high altitudes," he mumbled, and she could hear he was doing his best not to cry. She wouldn't blame him for crying. Being a pilot was his dream.
She had known Hiccup since they were little. They met in the aviary at the local zoo, and even then, Hiccup had been obsessed by the birds' ability to fly. They became fast friends, and Hiccup told her all about birds, including his raven, Toothless. Later that fascination extended to airplanes. They became a fixture in his life. Hiccup just… had something with airplanes. He covered his walls with posters of jet fighters, built model airplanes, and played flight simulator games.
And he had never doubted what he wanted to become. Whereas Astrid had never been sure, veering between becoming a vet, joining the army, following Hiccup into flight school, or other jobs, Hiccup had always been sure he'd be a pilot one day. The specifics varied, when he was 9 he was adamant on becoming a 'dragon rider', when he was 11 he briefly wanted to become an astronaut, and for a brief month at 14 he wanted to become a fighter pilot. But apart from those short periods, he always wanted to become a commercial pilot, flying huge passenger planes across the globe.
Even when he lost his leg, his first question after waking up was: "Can I still be a pilot?"
And everything he did, he did with that goal in mind. He obtained good grades in engineering at school, slacking off on his other courses, and in his spare time he studied communication protocols, memorized lists of airports, or worked on his helicopter.
He had started working on the helicopter when he was 8, and his father had indulged him by giving him room in the garage. The first version was made of wood and rope, and was supposed to run by using bicycle pedals to power it. It didn't work, of course, but Hiccup never gave up on that helicopter, spending all his pocket money on parts. He used scooter engines, old steel pipes, electrical circuits and other machinery to continuously improve the little machine, sure that one day it would fly. He was close now, its engine powerful enough to provide lift for a few precious seconds before the whole thing tipped over and crashed from balance problems.
The helicopter had always been a reminder that Hiccup and flying machines couldn't be separated.
So it hurt to drive the car into Hiccup's garage and see the helicopter stand there, taunting Hiccup. He stayed silent as he stepped out and ran into the house. By the time Astrid entered the living room, Hiccup had already run up the stairs and into his room. She decided to give Hiccup time alone for now. He had needed a lot of alone time when he lost his leg as well, and he had accepted the loss eventually.
Astrid just hoped he could accept this as well.
Sighing, she sat down and explained to Valka what Hiccup told her, before grabbing her phone and typing 'inner ear pressure' in the Google search bar.
Hiccup felt overwhelmed and empty at the same time. It was like his entire life had been shaken and turned upside down. Nothing was right anymore.
He couldn't fly.
He couldn't be a pilot.
It was wrong. He had wanted to be a pilot for as long as he could remember, but because of stupid genetic design errors he couldn't. He couldn't take sitting still anymore, so he jumped up from the bed and paced around the room. Toothless croaked loudly from his perch in the corner of the room, but Hiccup ignored the raven, not wanting to look at a creature that was able to fly.
After two laps around the room he looked up from the floor, and his attention was immediately attracted by the large model airplane on his desk. He had spent weeks assembling and painting the Boeing 747, and he had been so proud when he finished it. It was the hardest model he had ever build, with over two thousand separate parts. Each chair, each window, each engine part had to be painted and inserted by hand, and when he was done he knew the plane completely.
He had been so sure he'd fly such a plane one day. He'd have his own Boeing 747 to command, and he'd fly it all around the world. Suddenly, he felt overcome with anger at the world for tormenting him like this, and he took it out on the object mocking him. He grabbed the model plane and, using all his strength, threw it against the opposite wall, screaming loudly as he did.
The moment the aircraft hit the wall and shattered into hundreds of pieces with a loud bang, he regretted throwing it. But the plane was crushed and destroyed like his dreams, and suddenly Hiccup was crying harder than he ever had before.
The next hours were a blur. He vaguely remembered falling onto the bed. He remembered Toothless poking him with his beak, cawing worriedly. At some point his mom entered the room, but he yelled at her, though he couldn't remember what he yelled. She immediately left, but he felt too angry to feel guilty.
The sky outside was dark when Hiccup's tears stopped falling, and it took even longer before he sat up, though he kept staring at the floor. The walls and shelves contained too many reminders of his dream. Toothless hopped on his shoulder and cawed softly, and Hiccup couldn't help but smile briefly.
Suddenly the silence was broken by soft tapping on the door, and a moment later Astrid's voice reached his ears.
"Hiccup? May I come in? Or do you want to be alone?" she asked, and Hiccup took a deep breath before saying "Come in," at the door.
Slowly, Astrid opened the door and stepped in, each move hesitant like she was stalking a wild beast. He saw her look around the room quickly, her eyes narrowing when she saw the broken model pieces scattered around the room, the cockpit lying in a pile of debris near the wall where he had thrown it.
"Oh, Hiccup," she said as she slowly walked across the room and sat down next to him.
"You loved that plane," she whispered, and he felt even worse. Why was everything broken?
"I can't love planes anymore," he replied. He felt childish for smashing the model, and for ever liking it in the first place.
"Of course you can. Just because you… can't fly in a big one, doesn't mean you have to give up on everything to do with aviation," Astrid slowly said, and he shook his head. He couldn't fly anything, why would she say that?
"I… I searched the internet for information about… your condition. And… you might be able to fly," she slowly said, and Hiccup raised his head to look at her, afraid to hope.
"You'll never be able to fly an airliner, but… your… condition isn't so bad at low altitudes. You can still fly those small sports aircraft. Like Cessna planes. You know, those little two-seaters? Those don't go that high, so if you stayed below… a mile or so in height, you could fly them. It's… It's not enough to get a job as a pilot, but maybe as a hobby…" Astrid slowly explained, and Hiccup suddenly dared to hope. A thought sprung into his head.
"Lower than a mile? Does that mean I could fly helicopters as well?" he softly asked, wondering if he could be content with staying so low.
"Yeah, you theoretically could. But… I don't think any company would hire you to fly their helicopter. But… if you had your own…" she said, and his smile fell again, even though he understood what Astrid was trying to say.
"Maybe… But… I need to think first. I… It's a big shock," he whispered, she smiled. He suddenly felt overwhelmed with gratitude for Astrid. She kept calm when he just smashed things, and now she had given him hope again.
"Do you want to be alone again?" she asked, and he slowly nodded, needing to process everything he had heard. Astrid stood up, but before she left, she turned around.
"When you're ready, you can take a look at this. Your mom looked it up, and I think it's a good idea. But take your time, okay? I love you," Astrid said as she put some kind of leaflet on his desk.
"I love you too," he managed to say before Astrid gently shut the door behind her, and Toothless cawed again. Hiccup scratched the raven for a while, trying not to look at the ceramic pieces on the floor.
His attention was eventually drawn by the purple leaflet on the desk, and he stood up to grab it. It was a leaflet for Berk Institute of Technology. Frowning, he opened the tiny booklet, noticing a large section had been circled with a thick marker, and various parts within were underlined.
The Berk Institute of Technology offers many high-standing classes on Aeronautical Engineering, with the full program including the physics of aerodynamics, safety system design, materials engineering, auto-pilot programming, and overall machine design. Many different types of aeronautical machines are studied and designed, such as aircraft, zeppelins, helicopters and drones. We welcome all students who have their head in the clouds and a passion for making stuff fly!
Hiccup couldn't help but smile as he read the section, thinking that maybe Astrid was right about him still being able to do things with aircraft. And… And if he could really learn how to build a helicopter, maybe he could finally finish the one he had been working on for so long. And… And he could still learn to fly that one. He would still fly, just… not as high as he had hoped.
Becoming an engineer was very different from being a pilot, and Hiccup still felt too shaken to really consider it. But as he laid back down on the bed, he felt a little better than before. Toothless loudly squawked as he hopped on his chest, and Hiccup rubbed his feathers.
"You don't fly that high either, right bud? And you're still happy. Maybe in a few years, I can fly after you with a Cessna or a helicopter, and then we can fly together! Wouldn't that be great?" he asked the bird, who cawed happily.
Eventually, Hiccup fell asleep, and in his dreams Toothless turned into a big dragon he could ride. In the dream, he could fly higher and higher without pain in his ears, and then Astrid was behind him, riding Toothless as well. They flew through fluffy clouds, seeing northern lights and stars shine above, and a bright blue ocean was below them.
And when he woke, Hiccup dared to hope that one day he could really fly with Astrid in their own plane. Who knows, the clouds aren't that high up, and he had to admit that only flying for sport would make the pressure much more bearable.