What latent dragon instinct Toothless has drives him to his feet and he's back to the inhuman growling he displayed the first few weeks of their switches.
The woman is not perturbed in the least. She leans casually on her staff and regards human and dragon. Her face appears even paler in the bright sunlight and now Hiccup spots the streaks of grey in her bright red hair. She exudes the aura of a mighty volür and Hiccup can't bring himself to growl at her. She already cursed, nay, 'gifted' them, so made their minds into one. She is Dangerous, his dragon-like thoughts warn him. It's best to stay quiet and hear what she has to say. The human part of his mind informs him that if she curses them again, it'll be permanent.
"Have you brought a proper sacrifice, children, or should I just make this situation permanent?"
She gazes from one to the other. Toothless stops growling but he still glowers at her.
"Toothless," Hiccup warns, and the look the volür gives him tells him that she knows that Hiccup is currently inhabiting the body of the Night Fury. Thankfully Toothless heeds the warning and he lowers his shoulders. The blanket pools at his feet but he doesn't seem to notice the cold. He's still wearing the first layer of clothes any Viking has on in these temperatures. He fumbles around behind him for the saddlebag.
"You can put on your clothes first," the volür says with some humor in her voice. "I'm not going to die of old age before you've presented your sacrifice."
This remark doesn't humanize her yet, but at least it shows she's not bent on revenge, vengeance or any other bad words with 've' in them.
Toothless does not turn his back on her as he gathers up the clothing. In record speed he puts on the damp woolen sweater and the other clothes. One of the best properties of wool, in Hiccup's opinion, is that it keeps a body warm even if the wool itself has gotten wet. It's unlikely that Toothless will catch hypothermia now.
"Slowly present the flight suit," Hiccup instructs when Toothless once again fumbles for the saddlebag. "Slowly," he repeats.
"Yeah, yeah, Hiccup," Toothless replies. "Slow."
"Now that is interesting," the volür remarks. She stands up a little straighter and points her staff at Toothless. "How much of what I'm saying do you understand?"
"Most," Toothless replies.
The volür taps her staff against her shin a few times before planting it firmly back into the ground. "Looks like I may have to re-think dragons," she says.
"We have that effect," Toothless replies. Hiccup can't help but stare at the lithe human who's undoing the straps of the saddlebag and lifting out the flight suit. Observational sarcasm? Toothless might not have the best understanding of the passage of time, but he can use sarcasm?
Yeah, maybe Hiccup has trained him a little too much.
"This is flight suit. Hiccup's flight suit. In sky he flies with me. With flight suit."
Toothless arranges the flight suit on the ground. He stretches the arm so it's apparent how the gliding mechanism works for the volür. Hiccup hopes she's a bit mechanically inclined so that Toothless won't have to go into detail on the mechanics of the flight suit – that's asking a bit much of his vocabulary.
"It is our… sa-cri-fice."
Astrid taught him the word, but it's still hard for the former Night Fury to use five-hacksilver words. He prefers the mono- or disyllabic words in his speech and grammar is a hit-and-miss.
Hiccup wonders more about the sudden use of the plural possessive noun. It's certainly a sacrifice for Hiccup to make, he has to create an entire new suit from scratch. Why does Toothless also think of it as a sacrifice?
Well, Hiccup did study the Night Fury's wings intently while creating his own model… Toothless endured endless pokings and proddings as Hiccup folded the wings in and out, running his fingers across the dry reptilian skin, thinking out loud what kind of materials he could use to emulate the ingenious nature of the Night Fury's wings. The rescue dives Toothless had to perform whenever the flight suit failed in the initial testing phase. More poking as Hiccup captured Toothless' tail so he could study it in order to steady himself mid-air. That one he had to actually wrangle to get a good look at, and now Hiccup understands why – the tail is sensitive. It has to be, with thin skin so every gust of wind can be compensated for by tilting the tail just so.
If Hiccup is going to create a new suit, it's in his nature that it has to be better than the last. Which means more tests, more pokes, more late nights where Toothless has to bodily drag him away from his table so he can get some rest. A near-fire when he forgets to blow out a candle when he's done with one of his sketching binges and it sets a few of his drawings aflame.
An agreeing rumble makes its way out of his throat. Yeah, it's a sacrifice on Toothless' part as well.
Toothless steps back as the volür pulls the material towards her with her staff and studies it with one eye closed. Hiccup doesn't dare say a word. If she disapproves…
Slowly she leans back and aims her penetrating gaze at the rider and his dragon. She stays silent. Hiccup shifts but doesn't dare raise his head above her height. He stays in his hunkered down pose as his heart slams against his ribcage. Toothless takes a deep breath and holds it when the volür steps closer. She narrows her eyes at the both of them and cocks her head. She taps her foot against the ground three times and does the same with her staff. Idly she draws a line on the ground but the springy grass doesn't hold the shape.
"Apologize for knocking me off the falcon," she says in a sharp tone. Hiccup lowers his head to the ground and murmurs an apology, eyes downcast. He can hear Toothless perform the exact same sound and Hiccup knows that the former Night Fury has his head lowered as well. The apology arrives in the form of dragon language from the both of them, a warble lowering in pitch until it slips out of human hearing range.
"I will accept your sacrifice," the volür continues. "It is a fitting sacrifice, I couldn't have asked for a better one."
She plants her staff on the flight suit and with a quick twist she throws it into the air. In the same move she grabs her staff like a bat and swings it, hitting the suit. It lands in the campfire and scatters ash and cinders across the grass. The sparks miss Toothless, but not by much. They both know better than to cry out, though.
"And as with all gifts I pass your sacrifice on," she says in a solemn tone. She makes some gestures with her hand that Gothi would recognize. The flames have trouble getting a grip on the fireproofed flight suit. Hiccup has traveled through a lot of fireballs at this point and he's mastered the art of making clothes that can survive a singing. Finally the spirit of the fire finds an entrance point on the inside of the suit and from that point on it greedily consumes. It hurts to watch his hard work get reduced to nothing but scattered bits of yak leather and foul-smelling smoke.
"There is one more thing I ask of you before I will lift the curse I laid upon you."
Oh, so now it's a curse.
"You will lift me as high as you're capable of. I want to get closer to the stars. It was why I was up there in the first place, but my herb can only get me so high. I want to fly for real, I am done with the illusion of flying." She steps closer to Hiccup. "So fly as high as you can go, Hiccup, and when we land I will lift my spell."
She wants to step into the saddle but Toothless jumps in between the volür and the dragon.
"You don't know fin," he quickly says when he also spots the look of dismay on her face. "I help." He demonstrates by working the mechanism which controls the fin. It expands, tilts and folds back in with subtle movements of the mechanism. The volür concedes and lets Toothless get up first. With deft movements she gets into the saddle behind him and holds on to the handholds made for that purpose.
The Night Fury, no matter which mind is currently occupying it, has gotten used to transporting more than one human at a time. After a while Hiccup got tired of arms around his middle squeezing his guts out if they got into a bit of rough weather or during an aerial battle, so he created handholds for the second rider to hold on to. They are not as sophisticated as his, but they don't need to be.
The staff taps against his side as the volür gets herself settled down.
"Fly high, Hiccup," Toothless says softly, patting Hiccup on the head. Relief oozes out of him and Hiccup spreads his wing wide and crows his own relief to the skies before he flaps and the ground falls away beneath him.
The volür is silent as they ascend, past the layer of clouds, heading for the higher layer of clouds. Hiccup works hard to battle against a sudden surge of wind coming from the east, but they keep on rising.
He has been high before, to test the limits of the Night Fury. Up, up they go, where the air gets colder and the ocean turns from visible waves to an expanse of blue, with only the dot of Fishboat Island breaking the monotony. The volür tightens the grip of her legs against his side as Hiccup gets blown sideways by a gust and Toothless has to perform some acrobatics with the fin to get them right side up again. Hiccup doesn't dare do a barrel roll with a powerful volür sitting on his back, so he keeps on rising.
He has to flap his wings continually to go higher. It's getting noticeably harder to breathe and his nostrils flare wide to suck in more oxygen. From up here he sees giant cloud formations climbing even higher than they can ever reach, sunlight glinting off the water vapor. It is going to rain later, his weather sense tells him. By then they'll be off the island.
Hiccup levels off for a bit, to test if the air can still carry him. His head is pounding and he has to work hard to keep drawing in enough oxygen for his wings to function. He looks behind him and sees that the volür has a nosebleed, but she doesn't seem to care. Her eyes are turned skyward and she's singing to herself, arms raised.
Toothless twists around at the sound. His nose isn't bleeding but he doesn't look so great. He shakes his head as if he wants to rid himself of something and then holds it.
"Alright?" Hiccup asks.
"Hurts," Toothless replies. The volür ups her singing and the two of them fall silent, Hiccup hovering in place. That is a lot harder than gliding, so he spreads his wings and lets the wind carry him, only flapping to maintain roughly the same altitude.
From up here there's nothing to see but clouds with only spots where the sun glaring off the ocean shines through. They're surrounded by silence, nothing there but the singing of the volür and the flap of his wings. It's peaceful and for a moment Hiccup closes his eyes, enjoying the moment as much as the volür is doing.
The cold air doesn't bother him that much, since he's exerting himself enough to warrant the biggest of meals when they get back to Berk. The shivers running through Toothless only get worse, though, as time passes. His head really begins to pound and Toothless rubs his stomach every once in a while. The volür's nosebleed has stopped, but enough time has passed for it to crust on her upper lip.
They don't dare interrupt her… whatever it is that she's doing. Chant? Ritual? Discovery of how amazing riding a dragon is and calling forth a dragon of her own?
Whatever it is, with a final yell she stops her singing and slumps. Toothless cries out in alarm as she begins to slide off the saddle and throws himself backwards, taking hold of her arm. He hoists her back on and Hiccup doesn't need to be told. He draws in his wings and they fall back down to earth, the ocean, anywhere that isn't so high they can no longer see the difference between sky and water. Clouds rush past them and vapor clings to the wool of Toothless' sweater.
The volür blinks a few times as they spiral downwards so she isn't thrown off when Hiccup reduces speed. He tilts his wings so the wind drags against them. When they descend below the first layer of clouds he sees they're not far from Fishboat Island. It doesn't take him long to set foot back down on solid land. His head is not really pounding anymore but Toothless is still not looking too well. He slides down the saddle and the volür follows with a bit more carefulness in her step.
She turns to the duo. Toothless leans against Hiccup to regain his balance and the both of them look at her. She stares at them again before opening a pouch on her belt.
"Thank you," she says. She lifts two strands of red grass from the pouch and hands them to Toothless. "Eat this and you'll be yourselves again come morning. You have redeemed yourself."
Both Hiccup and Toothless know not to say anything in case she changes her mind. Should they book it out of here? Keep waiting until she's out of sight? Awkwardly fly off into the sunset, wave at her from the edge of the island?
She solves this mystery for them by simply turning her back and walking away, leaning more on her stick than she did when she first appeared. Time to book it, then.
Toothless sticks the two pieces of red grass into a saddle bag and attaches it to the saddle with great care before getting on. Hiccup flaps his wings and they speed away at record speed. They didn't even put out the campfire, but it's going to rain soon anyway. It doesn't matter.
They will finally get their own bodies back this night.
The grass is chewy and not suited for a fish-eaters diet, but Hiccup swallows it down. It's the last raw fish he'll ever eat, he hopes. He's had enough of that taste for the rest of his life.
Gothi couldn't identify the red grass, but when Toothless told her that the volür had forgiven them she gave them the go-ahead to eat the grass. volürs demanded things, but they were also women of their words. Otherwise, who would allow a cheating, powerful volür on their island? She would be shunned from all society.
When night falls Hiccup doesn't even blast the hearth where he sleeps before he settles down, eyes closed in wishful thinking. Like before, his heart beats against his ribcage, but this time in excitement. He will only have to endure the transfer one more time and then he's back to his glorious human body. Alright, maybe not glorious when compared to the average Viking male, but it's his body nonetheless. The one that Astrid loves and that can pick up a pencil and draw sketches for his new flight suit. Being a dragon has given him some ideas to improve upon the design.
His mind wanders but in the end he has to concede that heating up the hearth is the only way to make a bed. The controlled plasma blast is reflected in Toothless' open eyes.
"Go to sleep," Hiccup says, burying his head underneath his tail to shut out any ambient light. He's quite tired, actually, from the strenuous flying he'd had to do. His head no longer hurts but his chest muscles burn with the glow of exercise.
This time, he does not notice the transfer.
All he knows is that a big, wet tongue wakes him up. A toothless grin is the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes and Toothless has one ear flap sticking up and the other out sideways, waggling his whole body. When he spots those green eyes open up he jumps up and down, wrestling Hiccup out of the bed and onto the ground. Hiccup can only laugh in sheer happiness as his dragon bounces all around the house, returning often to lather Hiccup in loving licks and hugs and murmurs and grumbles of affection.
"Good to see you're back," Astrid says when she enters the hut. It's Hiccup's turn to wrap her in a hug and she tries to recoil when she spots the glistening layer of dragon saliva on him, but he's too fast.
"That does not wash ooouu-," she begins but gets interrupted when Toothless bowls them both over and wriggles his whole body around. He's bursting at the seams with excitement that this whole ordeal is over and the whole world will know it. Astrid groans as Hiccup lands on her. Her bony knee hits him high up on the thigh and he winces, but he finds it hard to scold Toothless.
"Come on, bud, let's get up into the air. We've got to start gathering materials for the new flight suit."
"Hup hup," Toothless replies, sucking in breath and smacking his lips to emulate the human sound. Astrid slowly gets to her feet, staring at the Night Fury in astonishment.
"D'you also remember how to say 'Astrid', Toothless?" she asks. Toothless cocks his head in consideration. He presses his tongue against the row of teeth he snaps into sight.
"T-t," he manages to 'say'.
"Okay, it's official," Astrid says as she turns to Hiccup. "Your Night Fury is the most intelligent dragon on Berk."
"Try 'in the entire archipelago'," Hiccup replies with pride in his voice. What would happen if Snotlout and Hookfang switch, or Meatlug and Fishlegs… he doesn't dare contemplate what kind of chaos a humanized Barf and Belch can create, or rather, how much damage the twins can do when trapped in the body of a Zippleback.
Nobody is stupid enough to piss off a volür twice, though. Fishboat Island has been crossed off his map as being too dangerous for now.
With record speed he saddles his dragon and puts on some warm clothes which aren't covered in dragon slobber. With some regret he waves his goodbye to Astrid. He would have loved to reconnect with her, but there's time for that, later. Right now he has to find his groove back as permanent dragon rider and see what he and Toothless have learned from one another during this whole ordeal, he has to check up on the dragon academy, Toothless has to check up on the nest of Gronckles they left behind on Dragon Island. Their regular life begins once again, and Hiccup is looking forward to it.
Hiccup observes the slumbering Night Fury from his perch on the bed. He has his hands clasped behind head and watches the rise and fall of the dragon's flanks as he appears to be in a deep sleep. In a few minutes he'll start twitching as he dreams, and Hiccup now knows what Toothless dreams of. The last month and a half has brought them closer together than ever before, but he's still glad he's in his own body. Toothless is his friend, not his property, and as such his best friend also deserves his own body. Even if controlling those mighty wings was a powerful feeling.
Hiccup turns and blows out the lantern on his bed stand, plunging the room into darkness. The heavy whuff of Toothless' breaths resound in the room. Hiccup turns to his side but can't bring himself to close his eyes yet.
What would have happened if they had stayed One? The combination of a Night Fury's body with the intellect of a human is a dangerous and powerful one. Rider and carrier, human and dragon, one mind, one purpose.
But the toll it had taken on Hiccup's body had been great. A dragon's body is more durable, and a dragon's thoughts are not that of a human, and vice versa. They would have driven each other insane. Berk could have been in trouble had that happened.
Toothless begins to twitch and Hiccup smiles in the dark at his best friend as the dragon keens, his eyes rolling behind their eyelids. Toothless dreams of open skies and islands and hunting, Hiccup dreams of Berk and Astrid and, mostly, dragons. And it's better if they keep those dreams separate.
"G'night, bud," Hiccup says before allowing his eyes to close.