He misses his thumbs. That's the worst part about this entire situation. Hiccup is capable of making extraordinary inventions, create precise instruments and form-fitting saddles. He's not yet a master of smithing, but soon enough he will be.
But in order to smith, you need thumbs. It also helps to be human, instead of a temporary dragon.
Hiccup knows it's temporary, because he and Toothless have switched around three times already, each switch lasting a week, but it's getting shorter according to his calculations. Which are currently scratched into the sand in an imprecise manner, because he has to use his mouth and a long twig and Toothless loves getting his hands on a far smaller twig and create small drawings in between the large numbers.
“Down to six days, huh,” Astrid remarks. “How long before you and Toothless are basically the same?”
Numbers are not her strong suit, so Hiccup sits on his haunches as he does mental math and comes up with the answer.
The stick he picks up has been stripped of its bark by now, leaving the foul taste of dead tree on his teeth but Hiccup has little choice.
By then they'll switch every quarter day, so at most they have forty-five days to track down the völur who lay the curse on man and dragon. He still has no idea why the woman practicing her magic, her seidr, chose to curse them in the first place – he and Toothless had done nothing wrong! They had just been flying, further out than ever before. And a week later, when Hiccup woke, he was Toothless.
That had been a fun discovery.
This story is finished, about 30k words in length and I'll post chapters every Wednesday. Please let me know if you come across any errors – I'm ESL. Any other comments are, as always, welcome.
An unusual amount of heat sits below his stomach. It's not annoying, but it's noticeable. Hiccup scratches it with his left foot and settles back down on the floor, heaving a deep sigh. A little purr escapes him, but that's because the sleep he's gotten has been so deep and restful. It's taking him a while to think of what year it is and what's on his schedule today.
Sól, however, has a different idea. The goddess might ride the chariot of the sun for all the world to enjoy, she still manages to throw a single ray through the wooden slats of the window and across his eyelid.
Fine. He's up, what more does Sól want from him.
Hiccup stretches until he hears something pop and that's when the weirdness begins to creep in. Because since when could he reach his stomach with his left foot? Since when did he have a left foot again?
He opens his eyes in a hurry and is accosted by all these senses which do not belong to him. The world is far more colorful than he's used to – like he has stared too long into the sun and colors are wrong. His eyes are further apart but still show him the blackness of his nose in his peripheral vision. And then there's the smells. Fresh ground torn up outside, the ashes of the fire from last night, and the stench of his own bed. That tangy smell of sweat and skin, hair and how has he never noticed before how bad his bed smells?
Hiccup jerks back from the smell and discovers that his wings react on instinct, he barely has to think about controlling then. Too bad, because his panic causes them to flap and slam against the walls quite painfully. He emits a high-pitched noise of terror as the black paws and wings and the heat in his belly all come together to form one conclusion.
His suspicion is confirmed as a figure rises from his bed and it's himself. With a ridiculous amount of bed hair.
He can easily read the emotions he's still feeling on his own face as whoever is currently in his body finds out that something's been switched. The occupant scrambles out of bed and falls down on the first step as he or she doesn't think about needing the prosthetic resting against the bed frame.
His body flails and finally rises on all three limbs, scrambling around, whipping its head left and right until its sight falls on Hiccup. It stills, and something about that posture hits a familiar chord in Hiccup's head.
“Toothless?” he tries to say, but it only comes out in a growl. The dragon-human seems to recognize that growl, however, as it slowly comes closer, doing a strange little hop to account for the missing limb. When it's close enough it sniffs the air before butting its head against Hiccup's nose.
Yeah, it's Toothless alright.
Hiccup huffs and pushes back against the bedhead-hair. He'd joked with Astrid that he knew Toothless inside and out, but this is a step too far. He does not want to be Toothless inside and out!
“Calm down, bud,” he says, but whatever passes for his larynx transforms his thought into a soothing purr which seems to do the trick for the Night Fury. Toothless crawls closer on inexpert hands and knees and uses Hiccup's head to balance himself on his knees. To Hiccup's surprise he has no trouble supporting the minor weight of his human self. He's used to being small and light, and rationally he knows the Night Fury is far stronger than he'll ever be. But knowing and feeling are different things.
“C'mon, let's get you upright and we'll go get help.” Translates to the jerk of a head towards the bed and a commanding whuff.
Getting Toothless upright, however, proves to be quite difficult. There are certain aspects of human movement which are entirely alien to Toothless. Bipedal movement, to begin with. But also opposable thumbs to grasp things and using his hip-sway to actually move a leg. Toothless automatically rises on his toes instead of using his whole foot, taking him even more off-balance. Finally the former dragon settles for crawling towards the bed and hoisting himself upwards with fingers scrabbling for purchase on the sheets.
Hiccup tries not to think about what he's doing as he puts his head underneath the bottom of his human body and heaves, earning a yelp and a glare. He definitely does not try to think about how he's going to have to learn how to fly. It was a disaster when Toothless was in control, let alone when Hiccup will inevitably have to take to the skies.
But first, Toothless will have to learn how to use hands and balance with a bipedal spine, otherwise they'll be stuck inside until someone else comes in, and that could take all day.
Hiccup rarely fully appreciated how expressive a dragon's eyes could be. Toothless speaks his body language, so Hiccup only has to look at Toothless hands to make Toothless shift his gaze there as well. Hiccup uses his big dragon nose to nudge his fingers closed and Toothless absolutely marvels at this sensation. He opens and closes his hand multiple times before looking at Hiccup with such raw joy. It was like he discovered his back spines, only without his tongue hanging out – wait, there's the tongue.
“Yeah, yeah, hands are cool. Grab something.” Turns into impatient growl. Toothless grabs the sheets and the human instinct to use the thumb is strong, because he automatically makes a fist. Toothless giggles and grabs at more things in his surroundings – the wooden frame of the bed, the pillow, Hiccup. The Night Fury frowns in concentration as he tries to fit his hand around Hiccup's ear flap but Hiccup is not having that inexperienced grabby claw anywhere near his sensitive head.
What he does allow is for Toothless to grab hold of one of his(!) spine fins. He slowly gets up from the floor, letting Toothless slump against him. Finally he's leaning flush against Hiccup, but standing nevertheless. Now he needs to climb up on Hiccup's back and they can set off for help. Who he's going to ask, he's not sure, but either Astrid or his father seems like a good choice. Astrid would figure it out sooner, he thinks.
Toothless leans across Hiccup's back and swings his bad leg over, or at least, attempts to. When he doesn't quite reach Hiccup jostles until Toothless is draped all over. Some more jostling makes Toothless pitch forward. He scoots back until he can wrap his arms around Hiccup's throat and emits a happy sigh as he nuzzles the black scales.
Hiccup takes a few steps to make sure that Toothless is secure in his position, but with him pretty much laying across Hiccup's back there are few things that can go wrong.
With the special dragon button Hiccup's installed back the former human opens the door and sets off into the village, looking for Astrid.
People greet them as they walk by and Toothless has mastered the art form of waving, so things are looking up. Hiccup decides that walking on all fours with his head this low to the ground will take some getting used to as well. His tail is one thing which surprises him with every step he takes – a counterweight to the swing of his hips. The way he has to move his hand – his paw – in a slightly circular motion before he sets it down thanks to the limits of his bones, it's all alien to him. He has to think about every step he takes and it takes a lot of self-control to move slowly to make sure he doesn't trip and crushes Toothless.
Also, he's eye level with more crotches than he'll ever be comfortable with but he can't raise his head without Toothless falling off. So he keeps his eyes lowered to the ground and tries not to think about how he's going to go to the toilet later on.
He knows exactly where he's going, but it still takes him a second to recognize Astrid's house with this new color-vision making everything just a bit off. Because since when are the stones all these different kinds of gray? To his human self they looked pretty uniform, but now he can distinguish between the stones taken from the quarry up the road and the stones taken from a fallen spire.
Hiccup walks up to the door and scratches at the door. His strong claws leave deep gouges in the wood and he winces, quickly putting his paw back on the ground.
Nothing happens, no lovely Astrid opens the door to welcome him. That'd be too easy, right?
There seems to be something wrong with his brain-mouth filter, because his disappointment comes out in a long whine even though all he wanted to do was make a small, disappointed sound. Toothless pats Hiccup's neck a couple of times in consolation and repeats the whine, although at a much lower pitch. Control over voice, not so much.
Hiccup turns back around to scout out possible locations where Astrid could be. He doesn't have to look for long, though, because the most welcome female voice comes from just behind him. She sounds bright and cheery and in the light of the rising sun she lifts his spirits up without even trying. Astrid is smart, she will help him fix this.
“Morning, Hiccup, Toothless,” she greets. Her hair is loose and she's holding a kettle of water. Hiccup smells that it's fresh from the stream. Astrid herself smells like metal which has been out in the sun all day with just a hint of fragrant leather.
Hiccup tries to greet her back and make it clear that something's happened during the night. Toothless seems to have the same idea, because he swings his leg across Hiccup's broad back and slides off. Needless to say, he does not stick the landing.
“Hiccup!” Astrid cries out when Toothless crumples onto the ground. “Are you alright?” she asks, setting her kettle down and rushing to his side. Hiccup groans at the former Night Fury's rash action and extends one claw. He begins writing in the dirt while Astrid kneels next to Toothless.
“Hiccup?” she tries again when Toothless doesn't answer. He grimaces but manages to work himself up to a sitting position, leaning back on his hands. “What's the matter?” Astrid says, getting a bit impatient with 'Hiccup' not answering her questions. It won't be long before her temper gets the better of her, so Hiccup snorts and draws her attention to the words scrawled in the dirt.
Astrid doesn't pay attention to the dragon, though, so Hiccup nudges her arm with his nose and up close the leather smell is very strong. Yak hide, smoked above a pine-needle fire. It's pleasant, but right now he really needs her to look at the words he's written before she whacks poor Toothless over the head for ignoring her.
“He's alright, Toothless,” she interprets the action. Hiccup, now annoyed himself, nudges her again and makes a high, keening sound. He sits next to the words and points at them with his claw. Astrid gaze travels from the dragon to the ground and back.
“Toothless, what's…” finally she notices the letters in the dirt and she reads the short sentence he's written. “We switched bodies. I'm Hiccup, he's Toothless.”
Astrid reads the sentence once more before eying the boy who's only now working himself up in a sitting position and the dragon who's written this with his own claw.
C'mon, Astrid, you have to believe me.
She bursts out laughing. Hiccup finds out that his ear flaps react to his emotions without hesitation – they fall against his head and he lids his eyes. He expected concern, maybe disbelief.
“Only you, Hiccup,” Astrid manages to say between her lovely full belly laugh and the deep breaths needed to sustain that laugh. When she's down to occasional chuckles she pulls Toothless up and supports his weight as the former dragon tries to find his balance on one leg. “Come on, let's get you inside,” she says before dragging Toothless inside the house. Hiccup follows, only getting the very tip of his tail caught in the door.
It's hard to communicate in a dragon's body. Toothless understood Hiccup quite well because the dragon knows how to read body language like it's his native tongue. Astrid has more trouble with interpreting the signs Hiccup's giving off, so she decides to help Toothless eat and drink something first before delving into the story behind the switch.
She's not above showing Toothless how to masticate after Toothless first tries to swallow bread like he's used to swallowing fish – whole. The ensuing coughing fit leaves the new human bent over the table with Astrid patting his back while Hiccup contemplates what he's going to do if Toothless dies while in his body.
“More like this, see?” she says, pointing at her molars and chewing with open mouth. She swallows audibly before shoving the tough piece of bread back towards Toothless. Slowly Toothless sticks it in his mouth and copies her, open mouth and all. He still swallows too fast, but at least he's no longer choking.
Hiccup eyes his own breakfast, and it eyes back. The fish – a rather large brown trout – is cut in half and its speckled scales don't look appetizing. Not without a fire to roast it over. At least is smells fresh.
It's kind of Astrid to share Stormfly's stash, but Hiccup focuses on drinking the water before he looks back up at Toothless and Astrid.
Toothless has finished the bread and now Astrid's teaching him how to hold a cup. Judging by the wet spots on the table, Toothless is not having the best of luck. First he's grown opposable thumbs, now he has to judge how hard to grip things, something which even humans misjudge from time to time. And they've had a lifetime to train.
With no eyes on his own antics Hiccup quickly grabs hold of the fish with teeth that appear without him thinking about it. The Night Fury usually holds his head up while eating fish, so he does the same. The fish slides down his throat and for a second he panics before he swallows it down whole. The chunk of meat feels weird going down, being in whole chunks instead of chewed meat, but the taste is alright. It still tastes like raw fish, but somehow its not as bland as when he eats it while human.
Glad that's over with, Hiccup lays down on the floor and waits for Toothless and Astrid to be done with their meal so he can finally go over what'd happened and how they are going to solve it. He racks his brain what could've happened that set this in motion. Is this some elaborate prank by the twins? Has Loki shown up in Berk? Unlikely, but then again, nobody had thought that dragons and humans could peacefully coexist. The arrival of a god would be par for the course.
A supernatural force has to be intertwined in this. This goes beyond the twin's abilities as pranksters and in the book of dragons there's no mention of any dragon with the power to switch minds. They hadn't run into any new dragons, at any rate. Nor any new humans.
Toothless pushes away the cup and plate and turns around to Hiccup. He throws his arms wide and Hiccup obliges the unspoken request by getting up and letting Toothless use his head as a crutch.
“You can write in the dirt outside,” Astrid says, leading the way and opening the door while Toothless takes tiny step after tiny step, Hiccup patiently supporting his best friend through the arduous journey. When they reach a good patch of dirt Hiccup stops and Toothless lowers himself to the ground.
Hiccup starts writing and chooses not to notice that Toothless is still in night clothes.
The elderly woman taps on his head with her wooden stick and says nothing. Hiccup endures it and Toothless first evades the stick before Astrid gently holds his head.
Gothi doesn't say anything – like always – but she peers long and hard at both human and dragon before tapping them again with her staff. She circles the pair and Hiccup begins to get a bad feeling. Usually she knows what to do, which is why Astrid suggested to go to her in the first place. Gothi is familiar with seidr and supernatural things and can hypnotize even the strongest of warriors.
Her clothes are a dark brown which clash with the subtle difference in shade of her boots. Her fashion sense is outdated but for one so old she sure moves fast. Within seconds she moves over from across the room and bends closer to Hiccup's big eye. Hiccup doesn't flinch, but that's because he doesn't have time to react. She stares at him and Hiccup stares back, his nostrils flaring as he picks up the territorial scent mark of Terrible Terrors. She does the same to Toothless, staring at him as if he's the most interesting thing she's seen this day.
The duo probably is, though.
When she's done looking into their souls Gothi begins writing in the ashes of the hearth. A Terrible Terror darts across the stone and she shoos it away, writing around the footsteps of the small dragon.
Hiccup's ear flaps sag as he recognizes the symbol for volür – a person practicing sorcery. They are the ones in touch with the deities and spirits. Gothi could be called one, but she is too involved with the village politics and earthly decisions to walk the way of the volür.
When Gothi is done Astrid reads her words out loud, mostly for Toothless' benefit.
“It's the work of a volür. She has placed a spell on the both of you, making you switch. Gothi can probably undo it, but she needs two books from a friend. There's a chance the volür is still around on one of the islands in the archipelago.”
Hiccup lets his head hang. There will never be a simple solution to a problem in his life. It sure makes it interesting, but he doesn't particularly like the taste of fish and Toothless deserves to fly in his own body and not be subjected to a human existence he won't be able to understand.
“Thank you, Gothi,” Hiccup nevertheless tries to say. Gothi interprets the bowed head and murmured grumble the way it's intended. When he rises from his sitting position she holds out her stick and gestures for him to wait. She disappears into an adjacent room and returns with a sheathed weapon. Without much aplomb she hands the weapon to Toothless. The new human fumbles with the object and finally holds it between his palms in front of him, still not sure how to work his fingers to unsheathe the weapon.
Astrid plucks the weapon and slides a dagger free. It’s simple in design but undoubtedly sharp – all weapons on Berk have to be. The point and edges are made of Gronckle iron, but its heart is made of silver. The grip is wrapped with fresh leather, but Hiccup has worked with silver before. It’s brittle and even with the Gronckle iron reinforcing the silver this dagger won’t hold up for long in a real battle.
The Viking maiden comes to the same conclusion but Gothi already sketches out an explanation.
“Silver cuts seidr. Sometimes.”
A precautionary measure, then. Astrid thanks the woman since neither man nor dragon is currently capable of doing so and Gothi gestures with her stick towards the door. “Get moving, already, get me those books ,” Hiccup reads into her body language.
Toothless' eyebrows are raised and Astrid has some trouble pulling him to his feet and walk out the door. Toothless makes some keening noises that end in a high pitch, as if he's asking a question. Once outside Hiccup flops to the ground and lets Toothless climb on his back. The former dragon ceases his questioning noises once reptilian skin presses against his legs.
“I'll ask Snotlout to scout for trader Johann so he can secure the books and I'll drop off the dagger at your hut,” Astrid says. “Think you'll get back to your hut in one piece?”
When Hiccup nods, Astrid pats him on his flank. “At least we know it isn't permanent,” she says. “And Gothi will find a way to switch you guys back. I'll start searching islands with Stormfly.”
For the first time since he became a dragon Hiccup pulls up his lips and gives her a smile the way only a Night Fury can – by looking like an utter dork. Still, she's cheered him up a little and he no longer minds the weight of his tail as he walks back to his home.
There are a lot of things Hiccup takes for granted as a human. Eating with cutlery, for example. Wearing clothes. Peeing while standing up. Walking.
Toothless is horrible at all these things. It's been five days since they both found themselves switched around and Hiccup's never been more embarrassed to be alive than in those five days. And that's saying something, coming from the world's worst Viking.
Twice already Toothless has torn off his clothes and went streaking in the Great Hall. If they ever get changed back Hiccup will not live this down. Both times either Astrid or Fishlegs had tackled Toothless to the ground and forced him to at least put on pants. Toothless whined, but ultimately complied and scurried off on all fours. He hoisted himself up to the nearest table and began stuffing his face with carrots and fish using nothing but his hands. Ruffnut and Tuffnut found the switch the most hilarious thing ever and would copy a lot of Toothless' antics, but thankfully they drew the line at streaking. Stuffing their face with their hands was well within the realm of possibilities though.
If dragons could blush, it would have happened by now. Because not only did Toothless dislike clothing, he also apparently could not talk. He recreated the same range of sounds he did when he was a dragon, or at least, the closest approximation he could manage. Astrid tried to get him to string some sounds together – her name, for example, or Hiccup or any other object they were sure Toothless understood whenever the humans talked.
They have sent a Terrible Terror with a message to Valka, but there hasn't been a reply in five days. She's busy tending to the mating season of the Deadly Nadders on her dragon sanctuary. Gothi knows about seidr, but Valka knows a lot more about dragons than Gothi will ever learn. Maybe she knows a way to reverse it, but Hiccup has little hope. Maybe the Terror hasn't even reached her – it's a long flight.
By the sixth day it is Toothless' turn to be embarrassed. The only way to scout the environment and find out where the völur roams is by flying. In order to do so, Hiccup has to learn how to work his wings. Astrid has scouted out some of the islands, but she still has responsibilities on Berk. And volür are powerful people – if anything happened to her, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. So he has to learn how to fly.
Truth be told, he's terrified. He loves flying, sure. He doesn't think he could live another day if someone takes that feeling of soaring across the ocean and rising above the clouds away from him. But that is when Toothless is in control.
Flying a dragon is in a whole other league from being a dragon.
Astrid secures the rigid tail fin and for a second it's like Hiccup has slipped on his prosthetic. Well, it is one, truth be told. While Toothless looks on Hiccup's girlfriend saddles him. The thick scales dampen a lot of sensation. He doesn't register the claps pressing into his belly and the weight of the saddle on his back is negligible.
“You alright?” Astrid asks as she ties a thick rope around a sturdy tree at the edge of a cliff. The wind currents already batter against his body, but he keeps his wings tucked tight against him. He nods and Astrid inspects her knot. She turns around and gestures for him to try and spread his wings, but it takes a minute for him to gather his courage. It's not like he's ever done this before.
“So, are you going to try it or not?” Astrid prods.
Hiccup wiggles his tail as his girlfriend's words strike home. He has to try it, because what's the alternative? Live out life as a Night Fury while the real dragon is trapped in human society? He would never do that to his bud.
So gently Hiccup opens his wings and immediately the wind tugs at them. His hind brain takes over and automatically he lowers the ends so he generates enough lift to get him off the ground. When his paws leave the rocky cliff his prefrontal cortex takes over and he slams back down on the ground, his nostrils flaring wide in fear. Did the tree creak? He vividly remembers the small wooden pole breaking when he and Toothless learned to work together, landing them upside down and slightly injured in the forest.
“Relax, Hiccup, try again,” Astrid says, her tone gentle. She's right. He can't quit now, he hasn't even begun!
This time he stays off the ground for twenty whole seconds. When he tilts his wings left or right his whole body moves with it – instinct. The sensation of cold air rushing against membrane is something he will never, ever forget. The sensitive skin detects the slightest bit of current and he corrects accordingly.
Maybe learning to fly won't be that hard – he occupies a body built for it. Toothless has learned how to walk and use his hands, so Hiccup can learn how to fly.
With a bit more confidence Hiccup opens his wings again and closes his eyes, tilting left and right, imagining flying around Berk, avoiding the pillars of stone, circling around trees – a strong gust of wind sends him back into reality and he scrambles to compensate, but it's no use. He sinks to the ground at an angle and staggers to regain his balance. In the process he gets way too close for comfort to the edge of the cliff and he springs back. The rope holding him place jerks him back and he's going to fall off the edge and die because he can not fly and Toothless will be trapped forever in his own body and-
He falls flat on his face when in his panic he thrashes and manages to wind the rope around his front paws. When he tries to take another step he finds he can not and gravity takes over.
Hiccup whines in fear – a completely natural and dragon-like response to unexpected and frightening circumstances – until a pair of boots appears in his vision. Or rather, one boot and one mechanical foot. He gazes upwards and finds Toothless staring down at him with a frown on his face. The former dragon kneels down and takes Hiccup's face in both his hands.
With those eyes searching his own Toothless' face morphs into a gentle, soothing smile.
“Hup,” Toothless says.
With less than dexterous hands he untangles the rope around Hiccup's paws before climbing on his back when Hiccup gets back on all fours.
It's all the encouragement Hiccup needs. When Astrid asks: “did he just say 'Hiccup'?”, Hiccup nods before spreading his wings once more with the weight of utter trust on his back. Hiccup will not let him fall off and the Night Fury will guide him by steering his ear flaps and shifting his body.
It'll be a while before their first, proper flight without the use of any ropes, but it's the last time he's ever anxious towards flying.
Hiccup falls all of a sudden. He kicks his legs and jerks, immediately awakened by the sense of vertigo. But he lays in his own bed, surrounded by his own sheets and the normal frigid air of Berk.
It takes a moment to realize the world once again feels right. The walls are the colors they should be, his bed no longer stinks and even the phantom pain has returned. That, he has not missed. Toothless had not given any indication that he experienced any of the phantom pains Hiccup is all too familiar with. It could be because the dragon has no idea what a healthy human body feels like from the inside, while Hiccup knows all too well what should be there, but isn't.
Hiccup sits upright and searches out Toothless' eyes. The Night Fury is awake as well, and is in the process of getting up and bounding over to Hiccup's bed.
To the happy but ultimately futile cries of protest of the human Toothless licks Hiccup's face, wiggling his body from side to side in joy. Maybe the curse has run its course and they can get back to their own lives. Hiccup hugs Toothless back, enjoying the feeling of scales underneath his agile fingers and far more sensitive skin. It's a relief to be able to talk again, too. So Hiccup narrates his thoughts with clear pronunciation.
“So glad I'm back, buddy. And you too! Too bad I never got to properly fly, but I'll fly with you for the rest of my life, okay? And I'm also never going to streak across the Great Hall again, you silly dragon. I think that gave the elders nightmares!”
Toothless gives one final lick before nudging Hiccup out of bed. The dragon doesn't even have to look at the saddle for Hiccup to know why Toothless wants him out of bed. He can't wait to take to the sky again as well.
Hiccup suppresses a yawn as he saddles his Night Fury and together they head out for some night time flying.
In that week of being back in their original bodies Hiccup and Toothless spend a lot of their time searching the sea for whatever völur cursed the both of them. They find remnants of a campfire on the island they passed that fateful night when they first made the switch, but the trail goes cold on some mountainous terrain further along the path. An aerial search provides no clues as well, so finally the duo heads back to Berk to resume their normal duties.
Hiccup marks his map with a big red cross, to be explored at a later date when the völur has gone from this region and can't mess up his life anymore. There are already plenty of remarks about Toothless behavior, he doesn't need to add any more to that pile. Snotlout in particular likes to recall the first time Toothless got tired of clothes.
Until the night that marks the first week of the both of them back in their bodies.
He should be sleeping. He ought to be tired, because he's been solving the problem of how to get the gas of a Zippleback into a canister to be used as a distraction in battle. He hauled a pump around all day in order to achieve his goal, but at the end of the day Ruffnut threw the door to the smithy open and let the meager amount of gas Hiccup had gathered escape.
But worry keeps him awake. Something had happened exactly a week ago, and Hiccup is no fool. Völur are bound by cycles, phases of the moon or of the season. Seven is a holy number, and curses rarely let up without the subject learning its lesson. Hiccup has no idea what lesson there is to be learned, or why a völur has chosen him and his dragon to be the subject of this spell.
And if he has no idea, then he has not learned. So when threads of inhuman like thoughts begin to enter his mind he can hardly say he's surprised. Angry at the völur, yes. Horrified at the possibility of a repeat of the streaking incident, sure. Also, he now has to learn how to fly.
Hiccup screws his eyes shut as Toothless' dreams invade his mind. The dragon dreams of skies and landscapes the human has never seen. A mountain spewing fire so high that the molten rock cools down before it hits the ground and sea. He's flapping his wings as he fights against a thunderstorm and nearly gets struck by lightning.
His thoughts grow more dragon-like as his neural pathways rearrange themselves to accommodate the dragon so neither of them go insane. It's hard not to go insane, though, because layer by layer his mind is stripped from his body and poured into the Night Fury's mold. He has wings – no he doesn't. He eats meat – no, he eats fish. He can only eat fish, or he'll get sick. His stomach gets hotter by the second until the heat is at a familiar level. His mind finally snaps over to Toothless' body and despite the circumstances lets out a sigh of relief. He's kept his sanity.
Now let's see when he can get his body back.
There's little doubt that Toothless will be the one riding Hiccup on their first proper foray into the sky. Astrid and Stormfly are their back-up in case things do get ugly, but Toothless has been riding Hiccup all day while the former human is tethered to the tree in order to learn how to control his wings. Toothless, meanwhile, learns how to work the fin.
Every dragon rider is familiar with the calm places around Berk by now. It's near one of these tranquil places that Hiccup finds himself, all doled up with Toothless on his back. The weight is negligible and the saddle rests comfortably on his curves.
There's a soft wind blowing in from the east and clouds gather near the horizon. It's going to rain tonight, but for now the sun occasionally peeks through the cloud cover and makes Hiccup aware he now has black skin. He soaks up a lot more of the heat than he's used to.
Hiccup has chosen a dock to begin his journey into the sky from. If he loses control and falls, they won't fall far.
"Tid," Toothless says, calling for her attention when Hiccup bunches his muscles in preparation for flight. Now that the dragon has worked out how a human's vocal cords work beyond whining and hissing and groaning, more and more words come forth. Shortened version of names and things, sure. But it shows that the Night Fury is capable of recognizing names, nouns and a few verbs. They have yet to test whether he has any concept of time, but right now it's more important to fly.
So Hiccup stretches his wings, jumps up and gives a mighty flap. The ends of his wings scrape against the ground, but he gets the lift he wants. The ground rapidly falls away as he flaps three, four more times. It's exhilarating and frightening at the same time, his heart torn between shouting out 'this is awesome' and wishing that he's sitting on Toothless' dragon back, enjoying the sensation of flying without actually worrying about how the dragon keeps them airborne.
Toothless leans to the right, so Hiccup follows the movement. It's easier to let Toothless steer. The dragon-turned-human leans forward, so Hiccup enters a gentle dive back towards the ocean. As he begins to pick up speed his wings automatically flap to keep them level. It's easier not to think about how he's flying, instead worrying where he's going. His hind brain will take care of keeping him straight and moving.
And move, they do.
A Night Fury is famous for its speed and agility, and Hiccup intends to live up to that expectation. Maybe not today, on his first proper day of flight, but sometime in the near future. If he stays a dragon that long, that is.
As they pick up speed Toothless lets out a joyous whoop and Hiccup follows, heading up in a large spiral. Astrid laughs as she chases them into the clouds. It's amazing how much detail Hiccup can see with these dragon eyes. The world now makes more sense to him. The over saturated colors don't bother him, because it's far easier to spot the glint of moving fish beneath the waves. The dragon's main diet is fish, so it makes sense thathe's better at locating his food.
Toothless kicks the tail fin into a spin and Hiccup moves with it, going around three times before the former dragon tries out some of the more risky maneuvers. The ease with which Hiccup tucks his wings in at the right time, spreads them to slow down and tilts them just right to sweep around a stone pillar astounds him. The Night Fury is a born flier and it shows in every pull of strong muscle. The flying instinct is a strong one, even with a human mind currently steering it.
It does help that Hiccup's been flying on his dragon for quite some time now, and he knows how Toothless moves, from the smallest twitch of his ear flaps to indicate the direction he's about to go in to the whip of his tail when a gust of wind surprises them. Just like it didn't take the dragon long for him to learn how to work the fin, Hiccup learns how to work his wings in no time at all.
"Let's speed up," he says, and Toothless seems to understand the nod of his head and jerk of his shoulders. The former dragon huddles close to Hiccup's neck and makes himself as aerodynamic as possible while Hiccup tucks in his feet and really begins to pick up speed.
The duo leaves Astrid in the figurative dust as they set off across the open ocean. She calls something after them but with the wind rushing against his ear flaps Hiccup has no idea what. The tone sounded encouraging, though, so he narrows his eyes against the wind shear and beats his wings even faster. The burn of muscles is glorious as the waves blur into a sea of dark blue and Berk grows into a dot on the horizon, until finally that dot disappears into the haze of the ocean.
When Toothless tugs on his left ear flap he lets up and slows down, his heart beating. He crows a triumphant cry and the heat in his belly crawl up his throat. Yeah, he's not learning that today. With some effort he swallows it back down and focuses on his rider.
The grin is evident on Toothless' face, even underneath the mask. The glint in his eyes says enough and Hiccup wonders if he's always so dorky when he's excited. Yes, Astrid would say, before kissing him on the cheek. He suddenly misses the easy intimacy and with a conscious effort he shifts his thoughts to flying back to Berk and find Astrid.
Toothless hugs Hiccup's neck as the new Night Fury glides in a half circle and he gives his best imitation of a happy growl, which comes out far more high-pitched than Toothless' usual tone.
"Yeah, I'm glad you get to fly again as well, bud," Hiccup says, which does result in the happy growl Toothless attempted.
Just when Hiccup gears up to start flying at a faster pace he does a mental double-take. Did he describe a half-circle or did he go further? There's only the blankness of the sea all around him, no way to orient himself.
He beats his wings twice to fly a little higher, but no Berk-like dot appears on the horizon. He can't be that far off, though, so he starts flying back towards what he thinks is the right direction. He can always use the compass on his saddle if he's too far off course, or rely on the map safely tucked away in a pocket somewhere in his saddle. There's no need to panic just yet.
When the sun begins to set, Hiccup officially panics. He must've picked the wrong direction to fly off in in the first place, because all he finds are familiar islands, but none of them are Berk. It's true that Berk is surrounded by a lot of ocean, but Hiccup's mapped almost the entire archipelago. He doesn't know it inside and out, but he's got a map full of marks made by him, with descriptions and notes and most of all, directions.
But it's buried in a saddle bag, and he needs Toothless to get it out. Communicating that, however, is impossible while in the air.
Hiccup finally lands on an island he knows has no big predators and bucks a little so Toothless gets off. The former Night Fury has some trouble unlatching the artificial legs but he lands on two steady legs when he finds the switch to flip the foot. He takes a few steps before stretching and rubbing his arms. Hiccup wants to slap his forehead. Of course the human is getting cold – he hadn't dressed for the weather.
Astrid had hoisted Toothless into Hiccup's flight suit in case he had to jump off for some reason – secondary reason was that Toothless had trouble working the clasps, so he was less prone to take the clothes off and run away, giving the whole village an eyeful Hiccup would rather no one but Astrid is intimately familiar with.
Before even attempting to get Toothless to fetch the map from the saddle, Hiccup walks over to a few bushes. He has landed on a moderately big island with tough brush and even tougher trees. No one but birds and Terrible Terrors lives here, with the occasional lost rat and a few crabs fighting each other for worms. It'll be safe for just one night.
Using his claws and mouth, Hiccup gathers enough wood to last them the night. Toothless has seen this enough times to help. He throws a small pile of sticks together and sets aside larger branches for when the fire is lit. The tinder is rough, but it'll burn. The former Night Fury expectantly looks at Hiccup when the fire is done but not yet lit.
Hiccup hasn't really considered this step of the proceedings. Toothless always lights the fire so effortlessly, but now Hiccup is the one with the firepower.
Using his tail, Hiccup gathers Toothless behind him before focusing on the fire in his belly for the first time since he became a dragon. It'd always been there, a soft glow which warms him up from the inside. No wonder Toothless is always warm to the touch, unlike other reptiles. He has his dragon fire to keep him warm. Dragons never need to bask for hours on rocks like lizards do, they are raring to go both day and night. Their mystical fire is the cause of that, Hiccup now realizes.
Molding that heat into a blast is a learned skill, though.
There has to be some sort of internal valve system keeping the fire in check. Toothless always gathers the fire in the back of his throat when delivering a significant blast, but he can also cough up a smaller flame within seconds.
Hiccup tries not to think about what he's doing, that worked best when flying. The dragon-like thoughts creep into his mind as the instinct to protect Toothless rears its head. And to do so, he has to make a fire.
His throat closes up like he presses his tongue up against his palate and the fire in his belly crawls up. His mouth falls open as he breathes in, allowing the air to mix with the plasma and fuel the pilot light into an actual flame. He purses what passes for lips as he breathes out, creating a small burst of plasma aimed at the wood.
It comes out more powerful than he means to, scattering some of the wood, but the kindle is lit. As is the grass next to the fire, the bush to his right and a tree further off. Hiccup stomps out the errant flames while Toothless scrambles forward, using all fours to propel himself faster. Toothless holds the sticks to the flames before they burn out and quickly builds a fire by piling on more and more wood in a haphazard fashion.
Hiccup busies himself with putting out the tree by flapping his wings. The first flap only fuels the flames, but with some more furious hovering he manages to extinguish the fire.
As he walks back there's another bonfire, this time created by Toothless. Almost all of the wood is burning by now and there's not enough left to last them the night. Hiccup surges forward as Toothless reaches for more from the pile. The theory is 'put wood onto fire' is sound, but Toothless has no experience building an actual fire.
"Not all of it!" Hiccup cries, blocking Toothless from the small pile of branches by curling his tail around it when the human reaches for the stockpile.
Toothless harrumphs but sits down by the fire, stretching his hands out towards it, rubbing them occasionally. He scoots backwards as the heat proves to be too much to handle for human skin. Hiccup sighs but vows to keep Toothless warm during the night. The Night Fury's body has kept him pleasantly warm during the nights he's spent on islands during his exploration of the archipelago.
Burning tree notwithstanding, Hiccup is quite pleased with himself. He has produced fire in a controlled manner without blowing up either himself, Toothless or the island (too much). And all he had to do was allow the dragon like thoughts into his mind. He probably shouldn't do that too often, because he doesn't know how long it'll take to find the volür or for Gothi to find a counter curse. He rather likes thinking like a human, and he doesn't know when the dragon's thoughts will overwhelm his own. Or maybe Toothless is experiencing the remnants of his own human thoughts overriding the dragon's instincts.
The fire attracts Hiccup to it as well and he curls his temporary body around Toothless, providing a back rest. Having Toothless at his back when Hiccup is human is a welcome source of security. Who's crazy enough to attack a Night Fury?
Hiccup stares into the fire and ignores the rumble of his stomach as he contemplates the weird way his sense of direction now works. He knows this island, where it lays in relation to Berk. The same with the last three islands he's flown over. Every time he headed in a straight line for Berk. But every time he ended up in another part of the world. He can fly in a straight line, it's not that hard. So why can't he get back? Is this another part of the curse – to catch them out alone, away from the relative safety of his tribe?
Something rustles in the bushes and Hiccup's head jerks upright. It's hard to make out anything beyond the circle of light the large fire throws. When his eyes adjust to the dark he spots a seagull hop out from under the bush and busy himself with screeching long and loud.
With a loud huff he lays his head back on the ground. Toothless never seemed to have trouble finding his way around. The only time he was unable to control where he was going was when he was... being called by either an Alpha or a Red Death. Wait...
Hiccup refuses to believe he's being controlled. Both of those times Toothless had acted immediately upon the instinct, not stopping until he had reached his goal. Hiccup simply has trouble locating Berk, that's all. Come morning he'll get Toothless to fish the compass from the saddle and hold it out for Hiccup to read.
He hopes Astrid is not too worried or even out looking for the both of them. He can take care of himself – this isn't the first time he's spent the night away from home. It's the first time he's the one doing the flying, true, but that doesn't take away that he's grown a lot from the gangly young man who first stumbled upon a wounded Night Fury.
He's also grown quite hungry by now.
The next time his stomach rumbles audibly, Toothless agrees by rubbing his belly and whining. His pleading look is the one Toothless uses on Hiccup to get that extra piece of fish. It's eerie to see the emotion behind the large dragon eyes transformed into a human face – Hiccup had no idea that his body could look that pleading.
"But it's night," Hiccup protests, using low mumbling grumble as a negative. "I can't see and I have no idea how to use these claws to catch a fish."
A part of his protest is a lie. He can see fish flitting around in the ocean by the moonlight. By sunlight he spots a lot more fish, but theoretically he can hunt. Toothless knows this, of course, so the former dragon is having none of it.
"Ish," Toothless says in a decisive tone. He gets up and uses the saddle to hoist himself onto Hiccup's back.
Hiccup keeps on laying on the ground, ear flaps lowered in annoyance, his tail swishing from left to right across the ground. He is not going night-fishing. They both can go without dinner for one night.
"Ish." Toothless demands, tapping his feet against Hiccup's flank. Hiccup wiggles his body, his upper lip pulling back to reveal bared teeth. He's not going to hunt!
He rises off the ground to arch his back and his wings stretch to their full width to make him seem bigger. That threat display is no use when he has a rider on his back, but Toothless chooses to ignore the blatant warning.
"Ish?" he asks in a softer tone. "Hup, ish."
Hiccup keeps up the display of displease for a few more seconds before he deflates. A rumbling stomach is no use when they have to search for Berk tomorrow, he reasons away his earlier objections. So without warning he flaps his already outstretched wings and takes to the sky as if he's done so hundreds of times.
Finding a school of fish is easy. The combination of speed and claws and his shadow making the fish scatter is harder to deal with. Toothless whoops as Hiccups throws his body into another dive. The human is damp by now, but Hiccup still hasn't caught a single fish.
Flying is so much more than flapping his wings, Hiccup finds. The relatively easy glides and banking he's done so far is peanuts compared to the acrobatics he has to pull to not alert the fish to his presence. He hovers and turns on the spot, he twists and corkscrews his way into dinner. Not all of these maneuvers are successful, hence the dampness of Toothless' armor and clothes. Hiccup's fallen into the ocean twice already, stalling as his wings can't support his weight.
"Ish! Ish!" Toothless crows, pulling on Hiccup's right ear flap. He's right – there's another school of fish rising to the surface a ways to the right. He pulls up in a sharp arc and hovers in place for a while, observing the movement of the school. No other predators are in the vicinity, so the school forages for food. They respond to perceived threats by bunching together, quickly moving into a different direction.
The fish aren't big, but they're big enough.
"Let's go!" Hiccup cries, tucking in his wings and aiming at the unsuspecting fish. At the last moment he spreads his wings and the fish react to the shadow looming above them by scattering.
One of them doesn't swim away fast enough. Hiccup extends his back legs and his claws slice through the soft flesh. Killing a thing with his bare... legs feels so visceral. He almost lets go out of pure shock, but his hunger is stronger than his empathy at the moment. He clutches his prey into a dexterous paw and begins to fly back to the island.
"Got one," he lets Toothless know. The fish thrashes in his grip for the whole trek back. He feels sorry for the fellow, but the fish is doomed anyway, even if he lets go right now.
From a distance the bonfire is quite visible, Maybe Toothless added that much wood on purpose, to make a signal for anyone looking for them. That would require Toothless to reason to a certain abstract level of thought he isn't sure the former Night Fury possesses.
Hiccup lands next to the fire and releases the now-still fish. Toothless wiggles around on his back, struggling with flipping the foot around. That takes a level of dexterity Toothless is unfamiliar with. But eating, Toothless knows how to perform. He takes the fish from the ground and stuffs his face in it, tearing chunks of raw flesh from the bone.
"No, wait!" Hiccup cries, but it's too late. Toothless gags and spits out the pieces, dropping the fish in the process. He heaves and coughs and, finally, vomits what little stomach contents he has while bending over. Hiccup's taste buds never liked raw fish after his peace offering with the Night Fury.
Toothless wipes his mouth and glares at the fish as if insulted by its bad taste.
"You got to fry it first," Hiccup finally says, a low keening noise underlining his worry for his best friend. He's never seen the Night Fury toss his cookies. Is the dragon is even capable of doing so? If not, well, Toothless had an introduction to the survival instinct of the human race: if something tastes bad, throw up or risk poisoning yourself. It'd worked well for humans thus far, but Toothless probably had no idea throwing up tastes like licking the inside of an old Viking boot.
"Drink some water," Hiccup encourages, turning the saddle bag containing the water flask towards Toothless. The Night Fury lifts the flap and downs half the bottle, once again wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"No," he says with a frown, glaring at the offending animal.
"Fry it," Hiccup suggests, nudging a stick towards the former dragon to spear the fish with. Something clicks in the Night Fury's mind and Toothless picks it up. He jams it through the fish and holds it up above the fire, looking back at Hiccup as he does so. Hiccup grins his dragon grin in response and settles in behind Toothless, watching the fish's flesh blister as the enormous heat gets to it. At this rate it'll be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside, but Toothless can eat the not-raw bits.
When Hiccup deems it done he shoves Toothless forward with his nose and, mindful of the heat which is far less dangerous to a dragon than to a human, he plucks the fish from the stick. Of course he offers half of it for Hiccup to eat, and the determined look on the human face says that he won't accept a refusal. So Hiccup carefully bites off half of it, far more used to swallowing fish by now. The charred taste is disgusting but it's food.
Toothless has grown reasonably dexterous in turn. In the beginning he had trouble moving individual fingers and the concept of a thumb was especially foreign to him. He tried holding things between middle and index finger. By now he can pluck fried pieces from the carcass with the use of his thumb and remove the fish bones with his other hand. He still sticks out his tongue in concentration as he does so, though.
After they've polished off their evening meal there's little else to do but sleep. In the morning they'll find Berk, or someone from Berk will find them. The huge fire is a tip-off in case anyone is looking for them – like Astrid. He really hopes she isn't out here in the dark, increasingly desperate as Hiccup and Toothless disappeared into the blue. But she knows they can take care of themselves.
Hiccup opens his wing in clear invitation and Toothless crawls underneath, settling at Hiccup's side. He rests his head on his arm and Hiccup looks at the pair of eyes glinting in light of the campfire before he puts his wing back down and envelops his rider into darkness, warmth and protection.
"Nite," Toothless whispers.
"Goodnight," Hiccup rumbles back. Should he get Toothless to take off the armor for more comfort? Nah, as long as he doesn't stay in one position for the entire night it'll be fine. He slept in his armor before. Just as Hiccup is still saddled – it's more comfortable to take it off, but it's for one night.
Toothless looks so small tucked underneath his wing. Hiccup knows he's not the tallest of the bunch, nor the broadest, the fastest... anything Viking-like, really. Any human is dwarfed by the average dragon, but this particular human is his small, thin human.
Hiccup scans the skies for any threats, but apart from some seagulls there are no animals nearby. There's just the sound of the ocean lapping at the island and a faraway song that lulls Hiccup into sleep.
Something tugging at his wing wakes him. The head of sleep-tousled hair that emerges from the hidey-hole of wings is the one doing the tugging, Toothless uses the edge of the wing to steady himself as he stretches. The human's spine pops into proper alignment and Toothless groans in satisfaction. Since when can Hiccup hear joints pop?
Not to be outdone in the stretching department, Hiccup unfurls his wings to their full length and arches his back. Dew from the bushes he brushes up against lands on his skin and he shakes himself. Toothless takes that as a challenge. He yawns with mouth as wide open as it gets and throws his arms open wide before dangling his arms in front of him and bowing his back. He tries to touch his toes, but the human's spine can't bend that far.
So, it's a challenge then?
Hiccup throws himself on his back and writhes on the ground, wetting his entire body on the dewy grass. He croons, closes his eyes as his spinal ridges dig into the ground and is barely prepared for the lunge. Toothless lands on Hiccup's belly, on the relatively unprotected stomach. The shit-eating grin says it all as Toothless relentlessly attacks every scratch-spot on Hiccup's body. The former Night Fury is the expert on those, after all.
Getting scritched around his jaw is absolutely wonderful. When Toothless reaches his chin it's like he hits his funny bone, but in a good way. His body goes limp as his whole being tingles. It takes a dozen seconds before he's back in control of his limbs. It's frightening how effective that gesture is. Toothless moves in for the kill again, but Hiccup stops him by moving forward and landing a sloppy, wet lick right in Toothless' face. Let's see how he likes that.
Toothless sputters and wipes the saliva from his face. Hiccup likes the taste of leather, but he begins to feel a bit weirded out. He's supposed to be the intelligent, human one, but right now he's behaving exactly like the dragon would. The spell is messing with his mind.
The former dragon has no such thoughts and his hands move to Hiccup's jaw again. Hiccup rolls his body over and Toothless lands with an 'oomph' on the ground.
"Hey!" he protests. Another word to add to the ever-growing list of vocabulary, but right now it's more important to get back home before half of Berk sets out on a search party. The glare Toothless throws him is a soft one.
Hiccup nudges Toothless towards the saddle but the human protests. He turns around, fumbles with the belt, grunting in frustration as the intricacies of belt holes are lost upon a dragon's mind. Hiccup knows what Toothless is going to do. He disappears behind the bushes and also does his business. Decency will be one of the last things Toothless will ever learn, though.
A snort of laughter escapes him as he catches Toothless making designs on the ground.
The edge of the sun is still touching the horizon when the duo sets off again. Hiccup knows which direction he has to head for. He feels rested and although he could do with a meal, it's not the kind of hunger clawing at his stomach that he experienced when Berk had had a hail storm during summer, destroying a lot of crops. Part of him blames that winter for his stunted growth.
Hiccup sets off at a brisk pace. Toothless moves seamlessly with him, face mask in place at Hiccup's insistence. The frigid wind can cause frostbite and Hiccup has already lost enough a big enough part of his body, thank you.
They move in a straight line, but when the sun is three lengths up in the sky he spots a familiar island. They've curved again! He growls his anger and expresses his anger by letting a plasma blast escape the confines of his body. He aims it at the ocean and doesn't realize he made it that strong when it throws up sprays of steam twenty feet high when it hits the water.
Toothless pats Hiccup on the head as a clumsy sign of consolation.
Hiccup lands on the island. He needs to rest a bit, catch a fish maybe. His wings aren't tired – how could he be, when Toothless is used to flying for whole days if the need arrives. But his mind is tired. Something is right on the edge of his hearing and it's bothering him. What could be so powerful as to be heard from many miles away and influence his behavior?
Some frightening thoughts bang at the door – Alpha, Bewilderbeast, Red Death – but he chooses to ignore those. Toothless hadn't reacted to those, because he was an alpha himself. Right now, however, Hiccup is in Toothless' body and the dragons like thoughts are always there, steering his wings, making him whine and growl and lick. What's to say that Hiccup isn't susceptible to being controlled like any dragon?
Toothless senses Hiccup's distress and slides off his back. He walks around to Hiccup's front and throws his arms around the big dragon neck, offering support in the only way he can.
"Hup, hup," he keeps on saying in a low mantra. He butts the top of his head against Hiccup's chin and the new Night Fury sits up on his haunches. Toothless lets the scales slide underneath his fingers but even with Hiccup's stomach exposed he doesn't go for the scratch-spots.
"Why can't I get home, Toothless?" Hiccup asks.
He whips his head around as he that sound reaches him. It's a melody, no, a simple series of tones. Low, high, enticing. The world narrows to that sound. Hiccup wants to go to over there. Nay, he needs to go over there.
"Hup?" Toothless asks. Hiccup shifts his gaze from the horizon to his best friend. Toothless has his head turned up to look Hiccup in the eyes and the former human assumes that his pupils must be slits. Sure, another problem added to the pile, why not.
"Let's check it out," Hiccup suggests. He leans carefully forward so Toothless has enough time to step back and swing onto Hiccup's back. From this standing position Hiccup takes off, broad wings flapping like mad to generate enough lift.
Hiccup describes a broad spiral to pinpoint the sound, his ear flaps moving every which way to pick up the melody. Finally he pinpoints it and speeds off. If this sound is responsible for him not being able to move around freely, he wants it taken care of.
When there's the outline of an island on the horizon he remembers a sound of himself he can use. Toothless is adept at echolocation. If the island is this far away, the inhabitants can't see the dragon and rider. But Hiccup can hear what's going on over there.
Toothless' chin smashes into Hiccup's skull as Hiccup comes to a full stop and hovers in place. Hiccup opens his mouth and allows the dragon hind brain to emit the roar of echolocation. It's much like a normal roar, but much more concentric and automatically his mind focuses on interpreting the results.
But, like Hiccup found out before, because Toothless can do it doesn't automatically mean that Hiccup can. There are results, alright, but his human brain throws the nuances between the sound into one big bowl and tosses it around, presenting him with a wall of sound that tells him that there's an island over there, but nothing else.
Toothless would've mapped it out by now, know where the caves are, the spires, how big the island is, perhaps even whether or not there's a dragon over there. But all Hiccup's got is island.
Daunted but not yet discouraged, Hiccup flies forward a few paces and tries again. Nope, still big wall of nothing news. Looks like this is another ability he'll have to train if he ever wants to make use of it, much like the fire residing in his belly.
"I gotta check this out," Hiccup says, but a tug on the saddle and a kick of the artificial foot later and Hiccup has to bank around. With his nose pointing back towards the open ocean there's an overwhelming urge to go to the melody. Toothless, in the weeks of learning how to ride, has become quite good at making Hiccup go where he wants to go, though.
Hiccup knows that if he's human, he can steer the dragon. But no matter what, the Night Fury is always stronger and ultimately decides where they're heading. But as a human he puts up quite a fight.
Which is exactly what Toothless is doing right now. Hiccup tries to turn back, but every time he does Toothless kicks the tail fin into a dive, a spin, a glide, anything but heading towards the melody that beckons and promises fish and soft grass and a warm fire and Berk, Berk is over there, Hiccup knows it. He growls in frustration as Toothless again turns them around. Hiccup's flight becomes jerky as his tail does not do what his main wings wants it to do. He twists and bucks but Toothless is a solid weight in the saddle.
"Hup, hup," Toothless' voice is persistent and loud. "Hup, please," he squeezes out when Hiccup dives under water and emerges seconds later, with Toothless still in the saddle. Desperation begins to creep into that voice and it's that, combined with the silhouette of a Death Song appearing above the island that snaps him out of it.
His human mind serves him memories of an attack of hardening spit which can only be broken by enormous heat, a Death Song luring in every dragon but Toothless, fighting for their lives as one by one the captured dragons were eaten in front of their eyes. This overrides the dragon's desire to be close to the Death Song.
Toothless has also seen the Death Song appear. He bends forward and presses his hands against Hiccup's ears, shutting out the song. It's protocol whenever a Death Song appears on the scene. There was no need for that, though, Hiccup is once again in full control of his body. Without hesitation he turns around and books it out of there, the wind whistling across his wings as he utilizes the full speed of a Night Fury. Soon the island disappears into the haze. Even so, Toothless doesn't let up on making Hiccup hard of hearing and it's the only thing that helps.
So that was what was making him fly in a curve every single time. His dragon ears picked up the way too subtle song and steered him towards it.
If not for Toothless on his back, this could have ended horribly wrong.
"Thanks, bud," Hiccup says, feeling the reverberations of his burble travel across his throat. Now that he knows to avoid the Death Song, it's much easier to travel in a straight line. Toothless' hands grow cold against Hiccup's skin as they keep on pressing against his ears, but it's the only thing keeping them straight and with their speed, Berk, blessed Berk finally appears on the horizon when the sun is four lengths in the sky.
The duo comes face to face with the search party heading out – well, actually, they tear through it at their speed and are forced to double back and apologize to a few Vikings as their passing gale has dislodged helmets here and there.
"Where have you been?" Astrid cries out. Hiccup wants to tell her, wants to warn her about the Death Song before any dragon gets ensnared. They have to relocate it as far away from Berk as possible, because that dragon got its name for a reason. But Toothless beats him to it.
"Death Song," he explains, and it's the only two words he needs. Astrid grips the shield she's holding tighter – apparently Hiccup and Toothless had interrupted her encouraging speech, but that's the only response of fear they get out of her. She turns Stormfly around to address the troops and she does a wonderful job of assigning a party to relocate the Death Song, reminds them how to deal with a Death Song, disbands the rest and sets Stormfly down near the center of the village.
Hiccup follows her, glad to soar above the familiar houses and farms. When Toothless gets off he starts rubbing his hands and to Hiccup's horror they're bright red. Frostbite. Hiccup whines in sympathy. There are no spots of white on the hands so it's only begun to set in, but even so, Toothless' hands will tingle and hurt the coming time.
Astrid is quick to inspect rider and dragon and with a glare that spells 'follow' towards Hiccup she pulls Toothless towards her hut. She makes Toothless peel off his armor, helping him in the process, and inspects his body for wounds. When she finds none, she has him sit on her bed with blankets wrapped around him and his hands in a bucket of warm water. Toothless watches with large eyes as Astrid turns on Hiccup.
"What were you thinking?" she asks as she undoes the tail fin. She's none too gentle about it, and for once Hiccup is glad for his thick dragon skin. "You flew off and you were gone. I stayed up all night, looking for you! And now you're telling me there's a Death Song in the area? You could have been killed!" She jerks the saddle free from his body and drops it in front of him.
One thing he's not glad for is his sensitive hearing. He detects the worry and hurt behind her anger and he lowers his head to the ground, flattening his ear flaps against his neck. He peers at her from that position, large eyes turned upwards. Astrid is not yet receptive to apologies, however. She rants some more as she slides the last buckles off his body and deposits them in the heap of leather and creative ingenuity that makes up the tail fin-harness.
Hiccup keeps on making crooning sounds, not knowing what else to do. He shouldn't have flown off that fast on his first flight, but the speed of a Night Fury had gotten to his head.
Astrid flops down next to Toothless on the bed. The former dragon shrinks back but the glare he receives is far less intense. "You're both idiots," she sums up.
Hiccup crawls closer, keeping his head low to the ground. He burbles soft sounds and is glad when Astrid puts her hand on his head. "Don't do that to me, Hiccup," she says softly. "I thought the volür had gotten you."
Which could've been a real possibility. It's time for a lick of apology, so he drags his forked tongue across her face. Toothless laughs at the astonished look on Astrid's face and yelps when she grabs the bucket of lukewarm water and turns it upside down over Hiccup's head.
Well, they're even now. Astrid laughs in turn and Hiccup throws her on her back with a nudge of his wet nose, pinning her body with one solid paw. He nuzzles her and wishes he could kiss her to show her that he's really sorry, he should have thought things through, he didn't mean to upset her. So he licks her instead until she giggles.
Toothless joins in on the fun and his hands, while still a reddish hue, are much better looking. He wraps blankets around Astrid and together, dragon and rider make sure that Astrid catches a few hours of sleep by basically sandwiching her until her breath turns deep.
That's one adventure they are not going to repeat, even if Hiccup has to invent a way to carry a compass on his paw.
It's the fourth day since the second switch and Hiccup hasn't strayed far from the island, even in theory he could fly away, take Toothless with him and never return. He would never do that, of course, but Astrid has caught him acting more like a dragon than a human on multiple occasions.
Like licking her. Toothless, when he's a Night Fury, throws Hiccup on the ground and shows affection by licking. Hiccup is not much for this kind of personal touching, but now that he's occupying a dragon's body the tongue comes out much easier. He bumps his head against her palm when he wants a bit of affection and the wing-hugs are a pleasant surprise.
Toothless hasn't lost his non-existent sense of personal space and hugs and pets her whenever the mood strikes. Which is normal boyfriend behavior, if not for the undertone of little brother she gets off of him instead of her actual boyfriend.
Astrid doesn't mind being touched, but both Hiccup and Toothless demand her attention and that can get a bit much. The day they returned from their disastrous first flight is the first time she gets sandwiched between them, but it's not the last time.
The problem with their affection is that it's not kept to Astrid alone. Toothless is used to nudging and poking and playing with humans. He plays with Hiccup the most, but sometimes Fishlegs saddles Toothless and gives him a fish, Snotlout plays fetch with both Hookfang and Toothless and even Ruffnut and Tuffnut are seen taking care of the relatively small dragon, whether it's removing an annoying pebble that got wedged between a claw or use Toothless' plasma blasts to weld a piece of metal for their latest project.
So now that Toothless has arms and legs and no sense of boundaries, he sidles up to Fishlegs and looks over his shoulder until Fishlegs gets startled by the presence looming over him. The innocent look Toothless throws placates Fishlegs, but Hiccup has to physically separate Snotlout from Toothless when the latter licks a long, wet stripe across the former's arm when Snotlout hands Toothless dinner in the Great Hall.
Tuffnut is not phased by any dragon-like behavior stemming from Toothless but Ruffnut grows a bit wary when Toothless gives her a fully body hug when his morning wood has not quite died down yet.
All this weirdness melts away when the two of them take to the sky, though. Astrid has had a lifetime to observe Hiccup. He'd always been a bit of a loser (alright, a lot of a loser) until the whole dragon taming development happened. She knows how he moves, the joy and determination in his eyes whenever he rides Toothless.
And Toothless as Hiccup moves in the exact same way, but only when he's on Hiccup's back. For one not used to a human's body, he knows what it's like to be ridden, so he knows what it's like to ride. And he does it beautifully. Every move is precise, he kicks the tailfin into position at the exact right moments and that look of unbridled pleasure makes Astrid wish that it's Hiccup in his own body giving her a fully body hug.
If not for the fact that Toothless can't string together a whole sentence, the two of them are interchangeable when the wings are out.
Which is what scares Astrid to bits, even if she won't show it. They have searched the islands for the volür, but she has either left the archipelago or is in hiding because there is not a trace to be found. The remains of the campfire Hiccup had found two weeks ago have been washed away, but the curse still continues.
Astrid had been raised on believing the reality of the tough world around her – kill or be killed – but during the long winters she'd also been present as the Vikings told and re-told their myths around the fire. In her younger years she'd hidden behind the broad backs of those present so she could hear what the adults talked about those nights.
They told about the gods and the tree of life, with the biggest dragon of them all chewing at the roots. Having seen a Bewilderbeast she wondered how big that dragon had to be – and could it be trained?
But those thoughts came later, when the Vikings learned that dragons could be trained at all. The only ones capable of communicating with animals were volür, who possessed a magic mortals only dreamed of. They could use their seidr to move their soul outside of their body so they could see what would happen to the weather, to the cattle, to the Vikings themselves. There was always a risk bound to that journey.
Astrid remembers a tale of a volür whom had been paid to foresee whether the hail storm that was brewing was going to rain out over the harvest or not. The woman had lain lifeless on the ground until it became apparent that her soul would never enter her body again. Her followers had demanded a sacrifice to pay for the volürs death, and they had given the troupe a young girl to be added to their numbers.
This tale is ever-present in the back of her mind as she watches Toothless whoop in excitement as Hiccup steers them between two spires, narrowly missing a third by tucking his wings in and rolling. They've become good at each other's roles – when will they lose their souls now that they're displaced? Hiccup already licks people and Toothless talks in single, simple words. How much longer until man and dragon meld into one?
And – will that be so bad?
The first time Snotlout hears about the curse he laughs until he nearly chokes. Snotlout has been on a solo expedition to locate trader Johann and it took him some time – the trader had been far off. The trader had promised to find the books and this morning a Terrible Terror had arrived, telling them that he'd found the books. Hiccup wants Snotlout out of Berk before the guy gets any more blackmail material. He's going to lord this curse over Hiccup's head in the years to come, the fewer ammunition this guy has, the better.
As if desperate to get all the shots in while he can, he lays the mocking on thick the minute Astrid and Hiccup approach him and Hookfang. They're at the Dragon Academy, where they expect a bit of privacy. Hookfang is saddled and Snotlout leans against his dragon. As soon as Hiccup sets foot on the academy grounds Snotlout bursts out into more laughter, a bit forced but there's some genuine amusement buried underneath.
"Can you imagine being a dragon?" Snotlout finally squeezes out, wiping the tears from his eyes and looking at Astrid. "I can't imagine being ridden. Jorgensons don't do that, we ride. Only runts like Hiccup get caught up in seidr. What's next, he's gonna become a volür? A male volür?"
Snotlout turns around to his dragon to get some affirmation but the Monstrous Nightmare draws back up to full height and looks down his nose at the human. The flaming dragons are known for their pride and Hookfang understands human language up to a point. But he always knows when he's made fun of, regardless of species or language.
Snotlout reaches out to the Monstrous Nightmare but the dragon sets his hide aflame and snarls.
"Aw, come on, Hookfang," Snotlout cajoles, but the dragon is having none of that. He rears to his hind legs and stretches out his wings in a classic intimidation pose. "I didn't mean that it's bad to be ridden when you're a dragon, y'know, just when you're human. And you, my friend, are definitely a dragon. The biggest, baddest dragon of Berk."
These placating words fall flat when Hookfang snorts derisively at the hollowness of the apology and takes to the sky, roaring his defiance. Snotlout lets his hand drop to his side.
"Aw, man," he whines. "Stupid proud dragon."
"You kinda brought that on yourself," Astrid says in a cool tone. Hiccup emits the only laugh he knows how to produce right now which sounds human but at the same time like a dragon. "But you still gotta fetch those books from trader Johann."
Hiccup quickly shuts up and shrinks back, realizing what Astrid aims for. She's busy deciphering the few books Gothi has on seidr rituals but can no longer read because of her advanced age. The twins can not be trusted with such a vital mission and Meatlug is too slow to catch up to the trader's ship.
Which leaves Snotlout, but now his dragon has left vacated the premises for the foreseeable future. Eventually he and Hookfang will make up, but until then only Hiccup in the dragon body can take is available to fly. Unless Snotlout begs any of the other riders to lend him their dragon, but begging is something the snotman refuses to do.
"C'mon, Hiccup, it's good practice for when Toothless is not around," Astrid begins her persuasive tactics. "You can't fly with only him forever. You gotta get used to other people. I mean, we did pretty okay back there on the docks."
Hiccup shuffles backwards, wings tucked in. He should have trained a Whispering Death way back when, then he could burrow into the ground and disappear forever. Training a different dragon? Idea. He copies the roar of a Deadly Nadder as well as he's able, but both humans stare at him and don't seem to understand his imitation. He lays back his earflaps in annoyance and has scratched out the 'r' in the dirt of the word he has in mind when Astrid interrupts.
"I don't trust him with Stormfly," she objects. Hiccup widens his eyes and turns his front paw inwards, extending his claws. But what about him? "You're not stupid enough to let anything happen to you while you locate trader Johann together with Snotlout."
There's this glint in Astrid's eye that Hiccup does not like. As the head of the Berk dragon academy he promotes teamwork and communication, trust and loyalty. But teaming up with Snotlout is always a chore, on both sides. They tolerate each other, but there's always been an undercurrent of competition, especially since Hiccup returned to Berk on the back of a Night Fury. Snotlout is still physically stronger, but Hiccup is the better dragon rider.
So there's much grumbling by both parties but ultimately they agree on meeting at the docks while Astrid distracts Toothless so he doesn't become jealous.
"I'm not doing the hand thing," Snotlout warns. Hiccup snorts. Like he expected the rude guy to do that. In a lethal situation the guy will overcome his selfish nature and help out, but in day-to-day dealings Snotlout would rather he stood at the head of the dragon academy.
Snotlout attaches the saddlebags and flips the foot around so a person with two normal feet can use the mechanism to control the fin.
"Stupid guy had to go get himself cursed so I have to give up my day to find trader Johann," Snotlout grumbles as he swings himself into the saddle. There's a definite difference between him and Toothless. Snotlout is heavier, that's the first thing he registers. Snotlout is slower to fit his foot into the stirrup as he gives the fin a few tries, clearly remembering the lesson Hiccup has given every one of his group of riders in case they have to steer each other's dragons. His thighs clench a little tighter around the saddle than Toothless does and he jerks on the handlebars in a way that means 'up'. But Hiccup is not leaving the ground until Snotlout understands that while Snotlout is currently the rider, Hiccup is still the leader of the dragon academy, and therefore the leader of Snotlout.
"Alright, let's go already," Snotlout says, softly nudging his heels into Hiccup's flank. It's the usual signal of 'take off'. Hiccup disobeys. Snotlout nudges a little harder.
"What's the matter with you? We don't have all day-"
Hiccup spreads out his wings and rumbles an unhappy warble while shaking his head.
"Why not. C'mon Hiccup, the sooner we get this over whOA!"
Using every single muscle to its max, Hiccup ascends, flapping like mad to generate lift and get him and his rider into the air. They rise, ten, fifteen, twenty-five feet within seconds. But there's something wrong. Hiccup's body twists in turns he shouldn't be making. Straight up, that's where he wants to go, but Snotlout is not controlling the fin. Instead, the human holds on for dear life and he presses his legs hard into Hiccup's side. If Hiccup didn't have thick reptilian hide that'd leave bruises.
Hiccup zigzags through the air and although he's still gaining altitude, it's hard to steer. When Snotlout still doesn't take control of the flight the inevitable happens: Hiccup stalls and falls back to earth complete with a shrieking Snotlout on his back.
Panic grips Hiccup's mind as he twists his body around so at least he's belly-down towards the earth. He stretches his wings to their full width so he can slow their descent but his tail flaps uselessly and makes him roll around. Ocean turns to sky turns to ocean and still they fall. Snotlout screams straight into Hiccup's ears.
"The tail fin!" Hiccup screams, but Snotlout doesn't understand the panicked shriek that erupts from Hiccup's mouth.
The ocean, dark and always welcoming, is close now. At least they don't have to make an emergency landing on hard-packed earth and rock.
In a last-ditch effort Hiccup stretches out every limb that he has, trying to slow their crash. His front paw hits the water at an angle and he flips sideways into the ocean. Snotlout's scream cuts off as water surrounds them and they sink at first.
Hiccup has not had time to practice swimming as a dragon yet, but the part of his mind that's irrevocably Night Fury tells him how to move his body. He's a bit dazed by the sudden disappearance of air. At least he knows which way is up, so he aims his nose at the light and flaps his mighty wings. It takes him two strokes before they break the surface. Snotlout coughs on his back as Hiccup takes his own deep breaths. The waves threaten to close over his head so he peddles his feet and swipes his tail from left to right in order to keep afloat.
"What was that, you idiot?" Snotlout yells. He pushes on Hiccup's head and he goes under, water rushing up his nose. He cries out as he resurfaces and twists his head so he slaps Snotlout in the face with one of his ear flaps. It lands with a satisfying smack and it's the human's turn to cry out.
"If you want to kill me, throw me off a cliff or something!" Snotlout yells. Hiccup huffs and snorts to get the water out of his nose.
So this is how it must feel like for Toothless to lose control of his body whenever there's a problem with the tail fin. It is a terrible feeling, having these wings but not being able to do anything with them.
Snotlout has not burnt through his anger yet. He reaches forward again to dunk Hiccup under, but the current Night Fury intercepts him by twisting his tail forward and waving the unopened fin in Snotlout's face.
"What are you- oh."
The second dunking turns into an irritated thump on the back of Hiccup's head as Snotlout shoves the tail out of his vision with his other hand.
"This better?" he asks in as sarcastic tone as he can muster with the cold ocean water surrounding them on all sides, draining the heat from Hiccup's stomach. The tail finally opens and Hiccup slaps his wings against the water, spraying droplets everywhere. The second flap gets some air under his wings and within seconds they're back up in the air. They leave a drip trail behind and Snotlout begins to shiver as the wind whips against his wet flesh.
They should have done the hand thing after all. Trust between dragon and rider is important, but between a damaged Night Fury and a human it's a necessity. Without trust and communication, well, a crash happens within seconds. Maybe because Hiccup was proud in his own way, maybe because Snotlout does not do well under duress. Whatever the reason, they have to figure out a middle ground if they want to get anywhere. Literally.
Hiccup lands outside Snotlout's hut and the human jumps off, taking the saddle bags with him. "I'm going to get changed," he says. "After that we're going to find trader Johann, get those stupid books, get you changed back and then I can properly punch you in the face for that stunt."
In response Hiccup shakes his body so water flies through the air and some of it hits Snotlout. He slams the door to his hut shut and Hiccup can hear him banging around inside.
Once Snotlout is ready to head out again Hiccup sits in front of Snotlout's door. He doesn't budge when Snotlout tries to get past him. They have to regain each other's trust, otherwise they won't be able to track down trader Johann. That's going to take a lot more tricky flying than going straight up and crashing down again.
Hiccup looks at the human with large eyes. He paws at the ground and Snotlout grips the saddlebags tighter.
"What do you want, Hiccup," he asks in a flat tone. Hiccup rears back and puts up one paw. "You want to do the hand thing," Snotlout concludes.
Hiccup sets back down on all fours and lowers his head to the ground, looking up at Snotlout. The human's hair is still wet but his clothes are fresh and dry. He's no longer shivering – a Viking is used to the cold that reigns on Berk.
Snotlout glances around for any witnesses. There are almost always people around and in this case it's no different. With a sigh Snotlout holds out his hand. Hiccup can smell the sea water of both their mistakes on him, he smells the provisions in the saddle bag, but above all he smells his fellow rider. The one who does stupid things, says stupid things, but at the end of the day he's still there. So Hiccup touches his nose against Snotlout's palm. It's an apology, a reprimand, a request for a do-over.
Hiccup turns back around and shows the saddle to Snotlout.
"Yeah, alright, let's get this over with," Snotlout sighs, but Hiccup detects a trace of apology in his tone.
This time when Snotlout swings on Hiccup's back he finds the controls of the tail fin in one try and fans it out. Hiccup squares his shoulders, waits until Snotlout has secured the saddlebags and then takes off at a far more sedate pace than before.
This time there are no troubles.
Trader Johann has found the books Gothi needs on board another trading vessel. He doesn't demand much in return because the book's pages are damaged by seawater and will need some deciphering. Some pages are missing, Snotlout concludes, but it's all they can get their hands on.
Hiccup holds the new gear for the mainsail of Johann's vessel in his mouth until Snotlout has the books in hand. He pulls a face at the dragon slobber covering the gear, but Johann happily accepts it as payment. He'll be able to turn faster and navigate the treacherous sea and spires a little better.
The flight back is uneventful. Snotlout is quiet but he steers fine. When they approach Berk Hiccup spots Astrid out on the docks, waving both her hands at them. Snotlout utters a syllable in protest when Hiccup alters course but then he spots the girl of his dreams and he obligingly lands.
"Did you get them?" she asks the second Hiccup's claws touch the wood. Hiccup nods and Snotlout shows her the saddlebag.
"It took me many hours of flying and Hiccup's saddle is too small for a muscular Viking like myself, but the minute I see your smile it makes it all worth it," Snotlout proclaims, sliding off the saddle. Hiccup rolls his eyes at the dramatics.
"Oh, these are perfect! I think," Astrid says as she takes the saddlebag and flips through the books. "Gothi's gonna change you back in no time, Hiccup!"
With Snotlout off his back, Astrid next to him and the promise of a swift solution Hiccup gets so giddy that he bounces around Astrid and croons while Astrid laughs. Finally he approaches her from behind and nudges his head against her knees.
"Hey-whoa!" she exclaims as he tosses his head and makes her land on the saddle. It's important they get these books to Gothi as fast as possible!
Astrid understands what Hiccup wants and she fans out the fin to get back the feeling of flying the Night Fury. She knows the drill. Even so, a tiny flutter of anticipation flaps around his brain. It's the first time he's ridden by his girlfriend. Astrid settles into the saddle easily enough and pats Hiccup on the side of his neck to signal that she's ready.
With a roar of joy he flaps his great wings and they rise off the dock, leaving Astrid's whoop of excitement and Snotlout's cry of "hey! What about me?" behind.
"Go Hiccup!" she screams, clutching the handlebars tight. Hiccup pirouettes as he rises far above the island, enjoying the feeling of Astrid warm on his back. A solution to this curse is not far now and he wants to take the opportunity to show her what a Night Fury is capable of.
"Wanna go faster?" he asks, and it seems that translates well, because Astrid hunkers forward to streamline herself.
"Go," she says. The books are pressed securely between her torso and the saddle, so Hiccup rears back for a second before pumping his wings as fast as they'll go. He turns in a wide circle, though, so they never lose sight of Berk. Astrid, while not as experienced as Toothless at using the fin, steers just fine. Hiccup is never afraid for his life, not even as they soar a few feet above the ocean and a few spires show up unexpectedly. Astrid steers them through and the spray of the ocean makes her face sparkle. By Thor, he loves her.
Hiccup finally slows down and glides above Gothi's hut, roaring in the way only a Night Fury can. The old woman hears the noise and comes out, waving her stick at Night Fury and human to come on down.
When Astrid gets off instead of Toothless, Gothi gestures for Hiccup to go get his rider, but she takes the books from Astrid. With a nod of acceptance the old woman walks back inside.
"That was amazing," Astrid says when the door is closed in front of them to keep the heat inside the elder's hut. Hiccup shakes his body and gives her a smile. Of course it was – he is the best dragon on the island. But it's nice to be acknowledged.
It's the sixth night. If the curse is regular, their minds will switch back tonight. Then, five days of being human before another five days of existing as a dragon commences.
Hiccup doesn't intend to let it get that far. Come tomorrow they're going to hunt down the volür and make her reverse the curse, or at least find out why she cursed them in the first place. It could have been an attack from one of their enemies, but curses cost dearly. Especially one so complicated not even Gothi knows how to reverse it.
The books they'd had gotten her helped, but ultimately didn't give her the information she needs.
All Gothi had been able to do was tell Hiccup about the volür, where she would most likely be found. Astrid and Hiccup had checked out the nearby islands already, but only on the surface area. An active curse needed to be kept up, so she wouldn't be that far from Berk. Maybe they had already passed over her, but there were islands with plenty of hiding spots nearby – an undiscovered cave, perhaps?
Hiccup settles down on the stone bed belonging to Toothless and tucks his wings in. Toothless has likewise settled on the bed, but his eyes reflect the embers of the fire. Hiccup can't sleep either. He wants to get back to his own body and search every corner of Berk for the volür in case she's holed up on the island.
He wants his human thoughts back. And if dragon like thoughts invade his own, human like thoughts must invade Toothless' mind. Maybe they'll permanently alter his dragon, and maybe now Hiccup will be susceptible to Death Songs and Alphas in turn. Time will tell. Just like he doesn't know how long until they switch.
The hatch on the roof is open so Hiccup can see the moon. Maybe it has something to do with the position of the moon, Gothi had told him. As soon as he switches he has to note where the moon stands so she can figure out what the volür used in the first place to curse them.
Toothless uses that hatch whenever he wants to leave the house, but tonight it's being used to watch the sky.
A frown appears on Toothless' face and at the same time Hiccup is paralyzed. He can't move his wings, because his wings are not a part of him. An automatic defense mechanism rises to the surface and he purrs, soothing the pained look on the human face. Getting his mind switched over is confusing and scary and a lengthy process. There's a pressure like he's getting a headache, but it builds and builds until his whole world is compressed into that pressure. He keeps on purring, though, to calm himself as well as Toothless.
This time his mind doesn't snap over in an instant. It's much more gradual and he wavers between the two forms three times before he finally settles on being human. Hiccup deflates as he finally has control over his muscles and for a few moments he focuses on just breathing, his stomach feeling strangely cold and empty.
Toothless staggers to his feet and trots on over to Hiccup while Hiccup sits up and wiggles his fingers to get used to that feeling again.
"Glad to be back, bud," Hiccup says, stroking Toothless' cheek and jaw as the dragon puts its head in Hiccup's lap. Toothless rumbles an agreement and closes his eyes as Hiccup softly strokes. He looks up once to note the moon's position before he lays back on his bed. Toothless wants to snuggle, though, so the Night Fury settles down on the floor but keeps his head on Hiccup's bed. Before long Toothless will kidnap his rider to the stone hearth Toothless uses as a bed, because the dragon is upset and scared and having Hiccup tucked under his wing helps him a lot.
Hiccup actually gets that feeling of being the stronger one, the protective instinct that seems to be hidden inside almost every dragon they come across, so silently he gathers his bedding and rolls off the bed. He hops on over to the stone plate and Toothless follows him in a big leap. The dragon jumps on first, emits a burst of fire as he turns in a circle before settling down. Hiccup makes sure that the stone is no longer glowing before he lays down his bedding and Toothless is all too glad to encase him between back paw and wing. It's toasty inside this makeshift cave and Hiccup likes it.
"G'night, Toothless," Hiccup murmurs. To his surprise Toothless blows out air and smacks his lips and the resulting sound is awfully close to "Hup".
"Yeah, we are so finding that volür before you learn any more words," Hiccup says before burrowing into his pillow and submitting to sleep.
Combing islands from top to bottom is boring work. Tedious, mundane, dull, a drag – the twins have surprisingly many terms for checking out every single cave, crevice and nook on Berk. They have often used it as an excuse to get out of doing actual work.
So Ruffnut and Tuffnut have long since flown off and Snotlout looks like he's about to do the same, citing having 'important Viking business' to attend to.
The good thing is, the volür is not on Berk. Which only leaves, oh, some odd nineteen islands to check out within five days, if the range Gothi has calculated is correct. But since this curse is based on a ritual Gothi doesn't know it could be further off. Hiccup has drawn a circle on his map and came up with thirty-seven islands if the volürs range is more than three days by boat. Two days is Gothi's estimate, though. Eleven islands are smaller than Berk, but not by much.
So Hiccup has to experience at least one more cycle of his mind getting snapped over and being a Night Fury before he can finally get rid of this curse.
"Well, at least you don't have a Terrible Terror as a dragon," Astrid tries to cheer him up. "You can at least move around with Toothless."
"Or imagine being a Monstrous Nightmare," Fishlegs adds. "You could burn your house down on accident."
The ride home turns into a discussion on what the worst dragon to turn into would be, and Astrid is right – it does cheer him up a little. They finally settle on Sword Stealer being the worst dragon to be in a Viking village. Its magnetic hide attracts every weapon in the vicinity and it would be Hiccup's luck to get bludgeoned to death by his father's hammer if he ever turned into one.
"Thanks, bud," Hiccup says as they land next to his house. Toothless gives his arm a lick and tucks his wings in tight to his body, a signal which Hiccups now recognizes as tiredness. "I don't know what I'd do without you to keep me sane," Hiccup adds. Once inside he quickly removes the saddle and fin-getup and rubs the joints where the wings attach to the Night Fury's body. Experience tells him that a massage on those joints feels heavenly and before long the dragon slips into a deep sleep. Hiccup slides down the reptilian body and his yawn lasts while he lands, stretches and scratches his shoulder. He's bone-tired, and they have to check out eighteen more islands.
Only sleep can help them achieve that goal, because confronting a volür while sleep-deprived is a Bad Idea.
Lucky number thirteen gets the honor.
Dragons are able to sense things human can not. While masquerading as Toothless, Hiccup had not consciously sensed the things a normal Night Fury must feel, because he had not reacted to the presence of other dragons, to imminent cave-ins or Thor brewing up a big thunderstorm. In the past, Toothless had always responded to invisible things, like he had a sense which told him of danger. But Hiccup hadn't sensed those things – maybe because he didn't have a Night Fury's heart. But with Toothless back at the helm he once again can rely on the dragon's instinct.
And Toothless reacts to something, big time.
He growls, his lips pulled back to reveal rows of sharp teeth. His wings flares wide beside him and he bunches up, ready to spring into the sky if the threat proves too great.
"There's someone in that cave," Hiccup points out to the others, interpreting the Night Fury's body language. Only Fishlegs and Astrid had the loyalty to stick around and help in his search. The Gronckle's ears lay flat and Stormfly's head whips from left to right in anxiety. Every dragon possesses some instinct the humans do not, and it is one mystery Fishlegs loves to study. But not right now.
"Show yourself!" Hiccup cries. A thin line of smoke curls into the sky before being whisked away by the gale-like winds circling the island. Hence the uninhabited island's name: Fishboat Island. Yeah, Vikings were not the greatest at naming things.
The line of smoke disappears behind a stack of boulders at the mouth of a large cave. In broad daylight there are signs that the cave is an occupied one – a fish skeleton here, footsteps there, laundry drying on thin strands of rope strung between rough boulders. How had they not found this volür before? She announces her presence to the world. Unless she'd been hiding inside the cave system present on this island. Maybe she's done with the spell and wants to be found. In that case, they have to be extra careful.
"Easy, bud," Hiccup says as he bends forward to pat the Night Fury's head. The plasma blast gathering at the back of Toothless' throat dissipates when Hiccup strokes his best friend's ear flap. They want to speak with the volür, not blast her to pieces. That won't lift the curse.
The stick appears before the woman does, as Gothi is wont to do if she wants to make a dramatic entrance. Occupational hazard.
But this woman is far broader and more muscular than Berk's volür, and a bit younger, but not by much. Her stick is painted white and carvings run up and down its length. She herself is almost as pale as her stick, with dark freckles scattered across her skin. The leather her clothes are made of are of good quality, but they're shiny with wear. A traveler's cloak covers her shoulder and arms but her red hair is allowed to whip in the wind. It's long and Hiccup has trouble making out her features beneath the whirlwind of hair.
"The dragon riders of Berk," she greets them with a low and carrying voice. "It has not taken you long to find me."
"It's taken us too long," Hiccup retorts. He debates getting off of Toothless but he likes this position of authority on the back of a Night Fury. "Are you the volür who cursed me?" he asks.
The woman throws her stick from her left to her right hand and cocks her head. A gust of wind blows her hair out of her face and there's a tattoo of an unfamiliar crest on her temple. Deep lines of age carve their way across her forehead and a mole the size of a cherry covers one cheek.
"Yes," she says calmly. "Although I would not call it a curse – it is a gift."
"In that case, I'm returning it," Hiccup says. Toothless steps forward and snaps his teeth at the woman.
"That would be unforgivably rude. A gift can be regifted, but never returned. You do not strike me as the rude one, Hiccup, son of Stoick. Who would you regift it to?" There's an odd cadence to the woman's words, a sing-song like she's on the verge of bursting into a ditty.
"No one," Hiccup snaps. "You need to stop this gift. I don't know why we earned your hate, but stop it. We don't deserve this."
The gale howls around them in tune with the woman's howling laughter. Stormfly takes a few steps back and Meatlug ducks low to the ground, activating her wings. Toothless grows considerably quiet. This volür is a powerful one, like Hiccup had feared. A weak one couldn't have cursed them in the first place – sorry, 'gifted'.
"You do deserve this," comes her reply. The wind increases and Hiccup has trouble making out her words above the shrieking wind cutting across the boulders. He shields his face from the painful wind – she turns her back to them and walks back to her fire.
Hiccup prompts Toothless to follow her, but Astrid can't get Stormfly to follow, let alone Fishlegs and Meatlug.
"Stay here!" he instructs.
"No!" Astrid cries and slides off of Stormfly. The frightened dragon takes to the sky but both know she'll be back before long. Her love for her rider will drive her back, but instinct is a strong impetus to follow. "I'm not letting you confront her alone!"
"I will!" Fishlegs shouts from behind them, but Hiccup and Astrid ignore him.
"Then let's go," Hiccup says. Astrid climbs on top of Toothless and the dragon creeps around the boulder to watch where the volür has gone.
There's a split second where Hiccup is aware of what the woman is doing before everything changes. She's bent over her fire, her stick resting in her right hand. The fire roars in the gale and it's a miracle it hasn't gone out yet. Must be a volür thing. Flames lick at some kind of herb the woman throws into the flames. The volür spots the Night Fury and with a smile she turns around, depositing the last of her herb into the heart of the fire. Dry cracks rise above the howling wind and thick smoke bellows forth, surrounding her, making her fade from view. The dark grey smoke spreads towards the trio and whatever the volür did, it seems to make the smoke follow the Night Fury.
"You want to know what you did?" the woman shrieks at full volume from somewhere in the impenetrable cloud of smoke.
Just as Astrid warns: "don't breathe the-", Hiccup roars back "yes!" along with an impatient bellow from Toothless.
"You made me fall! I was soaring with the falcon but you knocked me down with your dragon! You want to fly? I will make you fly for eternity!"
The woman's voice drifts to the left as the world begins to tilt. Vaguely he hears her say "or until you learn how to offer a volür something because you insulted her" in an offhand tone.
And then We are born.
We buck because there is one on Our back that doesn't belong there. The woman in front is a threat too great to deal with at the moment, so We spread our wings, kick the tailfin into position and take off. We have to get away from this unnatural fire. Two voices call after Us but they don't matter. Fleeing matters.
We fly for a few hours before settling down onto an island. It is unlikely that We'll be found here. We have cold hands and a cold face but the sun sets in a short while so We gather the sticks and We make the fire. There are no rumbles of sound, no words, no necessity to talk. It is disconcerting to be apart for too long so We hop into the saddle and hunt for fish. This time it's easy and We secure over a dozen fish. We're natural-born hunters, after all.
We prepare our meal and We know that Our meal requirements are different. Our head hurts when We think too long about being separate beings – We are one, We dislike raw fish – We love raw fish, both at the same time, none at the same time. It is confusing and We eat our fish and be done with it.
There's a sense of unease whenever We're apart, but We have different needs. We need to stretch Our legs, We rest Our wings. But whenever We take a rest We're still touching each other – a hand on the neck, a wingtip pressed into Our back to assure Ourselves that We are One. This contact feels natural and necessary. Our heads hurt less whenever we're in contact with each other, because it's easier to see from one viewpoint than from two. Even so, Our minds processes events at different speeds. One can hear things from far off, can interpret the sound bouncing off objects in the environment and the other, which there is none of, We are One but then again We have different needs – the other bends his fingers and thinks in ways We have trouble following. The other speculates and forms plans using nothing but an assumption. It is a way of thinking based on knowledge of the behavior of others in the past and what that could mean in the future - and it's a jump too far. So We quickly learn to let Our minds drift forwards or backwards when We need to fly or when We consult Our map. When We draw with sticks and sand, We're level – We're equals when it's an activity We're both good at.
There are no pressing matters that guide us into leaving the island for two more days. We hunt, we eat, we sleep. There's a vague sense of missing something, but We are complete, We are two-but-one. We wrestle and laugh and but Our heads against each other, We lick (although We don't really like to be licked but then again, We know that it's the height of appreciation to be licked). There have to be others out there looking for Us, but right now Our mind is confused. It is hard to adjust to having two bodies so wholly different. We've had a lot of practice with flying, but little in how fire-resistant each body is, how long each body can go without water. But We manage. The headaches lessen in intensity but are a constant reminder that things used to be different.
On the third day a Changewing claims the island. The camouflaged dragon is aggressive and chases Us off the island. We roar in defiance but leave after a bit more posturing – it's not like We need the island, anyway. We spend some time high up the clouds until We grow so damp and cold Our hands can no longer grip the saddle. We land on another island, this one closer to home. At least that we can agree on – home. Berk.
We warm ourselves up and spend four days on the island. Once We see a dragon trainer far off, but We're paralyzed by indecision. Should We signal the trainer? What's the point, We're complete, we don't need a third person or dragon. But We know that We have obligations on the island, towards its people, towards its dragons. We're Alpha, after all.
But We have headaches every night, We eat raw fish and it makes our stomach hurt. We have skin that gets dirtier every day and We know how to wash, but We disagree on whether to use sand to scratch the parasites off or a cloth and water. We try both but the sand bothers Our skin and the cloth doesn't do anything on Our black scales.
We might need help, and the trainer can give it. Before We can make up our minds the dragon and the trainer have disappeared into the haze of the horizon and We put it out of Our minds. Or We try to.
There's a silver knife packed into a saddlebag.
That night We lay on our back next to the fire and contemplate going back to Berk. There are beings there who need Us. We are perfect together, We are one, We are complete, and nobody can take that away. But We didn't always used to be one. We had friends, family, a playmate. Astrid and Stormfly… Tid and play-mate.
We blink as Our heads hurt, a pounding headache discouraging Us from probing any deeper. But it's important that We think about this, so We grit our teeth and reach deeper. We used to be two, Toothless and Hiccup, human and Night Fury. We had found each other, stayed together through a war and prejudice, We changed everybody's minds about dragons. We have responsibilities back at Berk.
We groan as Our heads threaten to explode. Something really doesn't want Us to think about it. Our spinal ridges begin to glow as We use our innate Alpha-strength to power through the mind-control and force Our thoughts into a certain direction.
We can'tbe one, We have a mother who needs us, a girlfriend who's looking for us. We have dragons to look after, Terrible Terrors to blast back in line – We can't ignore them.
We turn to one another and amidst the glow of Our hide We say our goodbyes. We reach into a saddlebag and get the silver dagger out that Gothi gave us. It doesn't matter that it's brittle, We both saw Gothi talk about how it can cut seidr. It doesn't need to be sharp, it doesn't need to be decorated with protective runes. It's silver, it cuts. Sometimes.
We are one. We are complete. But We can't be one. We are needed elsewhere.
We drop the silver dagger between Us and it severs the seidr tying Our minds together. The blue glow disappears as our, my, mind-s reel from the shock. We both stumble and fall to Our feet as pain blooms.
The stars disappear into blackness as my vision focuses on the dagger sticking straight up, point buried into the ground before fading away.
The second Stormfly lands Astrid slides down her wing and charges into Hiccup's house. The hut is once again warm instead of the cold stones reflecting the fact that no one was there to build a fire. Word got out that Hiccup and Toothless had returned on their own but it had been a while before that word reached Astrid.
She spots Toothless on his hearth. The dragon is spread out on his side and doesn't even react to her dynamic entry. He's frowning as if he's in pain and jerks his legs once. Out for the count, then.
"Hiccup?" she calls, not as loud as she can. The dragon deserves his rest.
"Over here," Hiccup replies. His voice is scratchy but it's there, he's home. It's been a while since Hiccup had been this aggravating with his disappearances. This must be hard on him too, but why did he run off for six days? The volür had done something to him, but they could have figured it out together, she could have helped.
Filled with this righteous fury she stomps over to the room where his voice came from. She throws open the door and the resulting bang of the door hitting the wall makes him jump. She opens her mouth to ask him where in Thor's name he flew off to but deflates when she sees his current state.
Hiccup's dirty. And in the process of scrubbing it off.
There's a communal bath on Berk, first powered by wood but now by Gronckle lava. It's where they launder their clothes and spend many a freezing day in the dead of winter when the house and the Great Hall doesn't warm up. It's the pride of one household who maintains it and make sure that the water is clean.
But every house also has a tub which can be heated up by a fire. It's used for children, the sick and the elderly when they can't make the trek up to the communal bath. It's in this tub that Hiccup sits, knees raised above the water level because the last time he used it he was four years old. Goosebumps stand out on his flesh because the air is frigid and there's no way Hiccup can lay down in the tub.
He's lost some weight this past week, month maybe, with all the stress of the switch and the weird eating patterns Toothless insists on when occupying Hiccup's body. Mud, twigs and pine needles are stuck in his hair. There's still a layer of grime coating the back of his neck but his face is relatively clean. A bright red cut runs up his arm and his knees are black with scrapes filled with earth.
"Hey Astrid," he greets. His voice sounds tired even as he's enthusiastically attempting to peel away a layer of his skin with how much he scrubs.
"You look like death warmed over," she replies and Hiccup grimaces.
"Feel like it too."
"What happened?" she asks, stepping into the room and shutting the door behind her. As she gets closer she spots the welt across his ribs.
Hiccup looks up at her and there's this panic in his eyes that she's only seen twice before – when he temporarily lost Toothless to Drago, and when he lost his father. His voice is scratchy but solid.
"I think the volür accelerated the curse. Toothless and I… we became one. One mind, two bodies. It was…" He trails off, eyes searching the room for a word to use, but finding none. "We hunted, we actually had a lot of fun. But a dragon mind and a human mind are not compatible. A dragon is tougher than we are. So I got hurt and we felt terrible – I mean, Toothless felt terrible about that."
Astrid kneels next to the tub and picks up a wash cloth. She dips it into the water and begins working at the layer of grime at the back of his neck. Hiccup doesn't protest that he's being washed like a child. "What made you come back?" she asks.
"You did," Hiccup answers with a small smile on his face. "We remembered Berk and its people, and you, and Stormfly and Fishlegs and even Snotlout. We knew that while we could survive on our own, we were Alpha. I mean, Toothless is Alpha and I'm the chief-in-training. Ugh, my head hurts when I to think about us, I mean me, making that decision."
"You can use 'we'," Astrid says when Hiccup keeps stumbling over the distinction between him and the Night Fury.
"We cut that thread connecting us with the silver dagger Gothi gave us because two were better than one. And my head's hurt since. Before that, too, but we learned to cope. Sometimes I was more in control, sometimes Toothless was."
Astrid starts in on the twigs in Hiccup's hair with a comb and brushes out the dried mud. It's starting to take on its original color.
"I'm glad you came back," she replies, placing a kiss on his neck. Goosebumps of a different kind break out across Hiccup's skin but he doesn't make a move to follow up on it. "Ready to dunk?" she asks suddenly, standing up and placing her hands on his shoulders.
"W-" he gets out before Astrid shoves him under. His legs flail in the air as water sloshes over the edge. Astrid lets him up and rivulets of muddied water stream down his face and back as the mud washes out.
"I told you not to breathe that smoke," Astrid says, glad that the panic in his eyes has been replaced by bewilderment. She attacks his hair with her comb and with two more dunkings his hair is clean. Hiccup's skin is red and thoroughly scrubbed. He looks more and more like a petulant child who didn't want to get into the bath.
In between dunkings Hiccup tells Astrid about the past six days, how a dragon's mind felt, how he got that welt on his ribs (run in with a mad Gronckle) and the scratch on his arm (equipment malfunction).
As Hiccup rises out of the bath and grabs the towel he's laid out he looks at Astrid with new determination. "I'm not going to let it get that far. Toothless deserves to be Alpha, and I deserve Berk, and we both deserve our own bodies and minds. That volür has no right to interfere, even if I somehow blew her out of the sky. I'm gonna visit Gothi and ask her how to set things right."
"That sounds like a good idea," Astrid encourages. "But not right now."
"Not right now," Hiccup agrees. There's still that funny little scrunchy nose thing he does whenever he's got a headache, he's currently buck naked and it's the dead of night.
Hiccup yawns and stretches. He points to the ceiling. "Want to spend the night or go home?"
Astrid hesitates. Her own home is warmer, but she hasn't forgotten that look of panic in Hiccup's eyes.
"As long as you don't hog the covers," she says.
When morning breaks Hiccup finds himself once again with wings.
"Oh, come on," he shrieks. The headache has subsided but his mind is still groggy and filled with gooey smoke. He turns in place, blasts the hearth to warm it up and lays down again, aware that it's early in the morning. A second later he looks down at the heated stone and marvels that he was able to produce a controlled plasma blast without even thinking about it. The volürs spell which had melded their minds had some benefits, at least. Maybe Toothless has learned something from the human as well – maybe he can now run without tripping over his legs at some point during the run.
Soft murmurs come from upstairs and with a shock Hiccup remembers that Astrid has spent the night – and she likes morning sex.
With an agility he heretofore didn't possess he bounds up the step, flapping his wings to give him that extra lift. He's up within seconds and he spots the duo tangled in the sheets. He roars to warn Astrid that things are not what they seem. She turns around at the sound and it looks like he's just in time. She's already straddling a dozing Toothless' hips clad in her undershirt. She leans over his torso with her lips inches from his. Toothless wakes at the sound, shifting his gaze from Astrid to Hiccup and back. He yelps and shoves her so hard she tumbles from the bed.
"Toothless?" she asks. "Oh my- Toothless I'm sorry, I thought you were Hiccup!"
The former Night Fury harrumphs and crosses his arms. Hiccup nudges her with his broad nose and she puts a hand on his cheek. "Switched so soon, huh."
Astrid uses Hiccup's head to get herself to her feet and she points accusingly at Toothless. "But you didn't have to shove that hard, Toothless."
Hiccup rumbles his disagreement and Toothless utters a cry of protest himself. Astrid might miss Hiccup, but she knows that the man and dragon switch regularly by now. They were due for another switch, although they should have switched back from Hiccup in Toothless' body. Maybe the volür accelerated or messed with the curse. She should have been a little more careful and ascertained that it was really Hiccup she was spooning this morning.
"Need some help getting dressed, Toothless?" she asks. The former dragon is still sitting on the bed, arms crossed, and shakes his head.
"Fine. You deal with him, Hiccup," Astrid huffs and pulls on her own outfit. Hiccup realizes that the headache's gone but Toothless still doesn't look happy. Maybe the dragon had thought that, once their minds had gotten separated thanks to the silver dagger, this whole ordeal would be over. To be proven wrong in this fashion ruffles his feathers.
Once Astrid leaves the room, probably to get herself some breakfast, Toothless flops back onto the bed and burrows inside the still-warm blankets. Hiccup debates whether he himself should get some second sleep – it's still early enough that the birds are barely beginning to chirp in the first rays of dawn. But they have a certain wise old woman to visit.
Hiccup takes hold of the sheets with his teeth but pauses when his sensitive nose catches a whiff of Astrid's scent buried in the blankets. Gone is the smell of her clothes made of sun warmed metal and yak leather, now he smells her. The way she smells when it's the two of them cocooned inside these blankets, shielded from the cold and the responsibilities, the two of them talking into the night while Toothless snores softly down below. They talk about their dragons, their day, the future.
He wishes that he and Toothless didn't switch this night – Hiccup wouldn't have shoved her off the bed. On the contrary, he would have welcome her with open arms, even if he was only allowed to smell her and hold her warm skin against his own.
With one hard tug Hiccup yanks the blankets from the bed and Toothless wails his protest while curling in on himself to protect himself against the cold.
"Up and at them!" Hiccup chirps and nudges Toothless. Toothless ineffectively swats at the reptile's head and gropes around for the blankets. When they are not to be found he rolls on over to his side and glares at Hiccup. Hiccup sits back on his haunches and turns on the cute – big eyes, wings swept back, feet turned inward. He chirps again, Toothless rolls his eyes but still refuses to get out of bed. In a playful fashion Hiccup takes hold of the metal foot he himself hadn't bothered to take off when he collapsed into bed last night. He tugs at the metal with his toothless mouth and manages to drag Toothless to the edge of the bed.
"No!" Toothless cries. "No, Hiccup, no! Wanna go bed."
From pure shock Hiccup drops the metal foot and Toothless scampers back onto the center of the bed, but not before taking the blankets with him and wrapping them around him. Now there's an annoyed pair of eyes peeking out of the only slit in the shifting heap of sheets.
That's the first complete sentence Toothless has ever uttered. There's no trace of Hiccup's mangled name Toothless has been using up until now. The words come out as if spoken by himself and it's eerie how much like a regular Viking Toothless now sounds. The broken words he'd used before was some sort of comfort for Hiccup – he hadn't been the best at Night Fury-ing, but Toothless had been equally bad at playing human.
But now there's this shift – Hiccup controls Toothless' body without any trouble and Toothless can now speak on the level of a two-year old. A feat which any animal is yet to present. A Night Fury is extremely intelligent, that Hiccup knows. He relies on Toothless understanding his language and it's saved him more than once. But he never thought he'd see the day when Toothless talked back to him with actual words instead of head-butts, roars and tongue baths or the broken nouns he'd been using thus far in order to communicate.
Toothless doesn't seem as fazed as Hiccup feels, but he also really doesn't want to get out from under the blankets. So Hiccup turns around and heads for the stairs.
"Fine, sleep in. Gothi's up late anyway. But we're so visiting her today and get some information on how to approach a volür." At least, that's what Hiccup means, but most of it is translated by the Night Fury larynx into a demanding huff and a sweep of the head.
"Thanks, Hiccup," Toothless replies and Hiccup's step falters on the stairs. He catches himself in time so he doesn't tumble down every stair and breaks his wing or something equally horrendous.
Astrid is gonna be bummed that she missed Toothless' first sentence.
It is one thing all Vikings are familiar with. Sometimes they sacrifice for their gods, be it mutton, an iron sword, grain and carrots. They sacrifice their lives in wars so their tribe can live on. Mothers sacrifice their bodies for their children, getting up in the middle of the night to breastfeed and soothe.
These sacrifices are part of everyday life.
Human life, that is. Dragons are less familiar with sacrificing things. The Red Death had introduced that concept and many a dragon had lost their lives because they could not grasp that if they did not feed the titanic beast they themselves would become the sacrifice.
So it is Toothless who crosses his arms and shakes his head. "No," he says curtly. "No wanna go back to woman."
It is not the first thing he's said today and every time the shock becomes less and less. It doesn't take away from the amazing fact that it's a dragon communicating in a language humans can understand.
Gothi draws in the sand and although Hiccup can read the scribbles, Astrid translates for Toothless.
"You have to sacrifice something to the volür. It's the only way to properly greet her, and ask her to lift the curse."
The elder taps her staff on the ground three times and steps back from the sand she uses to write. She looks at Hiccup and he nods in acceptance. There is little else to choose from. They have to return to the volür and do something to appease her so they can make a plea in the first place. No wonder she cursed them to become One. Gothi explains that roaming volür are proud and some of them hold on to the ways of old, demanding a sacrifice before there can be an audience. It seems that this volür had held on to those ways and with the dragon riders of Berk bursting in on her she became even more stubborn.
"Toothless," Hiccup croons, bumping his head against Toothless' side.
"Yes, Hiccup?" Toothless asks, uncrossing his arms so he can rub the top of Hiccup's head.
"We have to," Hiccup summarizes. He wants to expand on the reasons why, but Toothless was there when they made the decision to separate their minds – he had equally weighed in on the decision. There's no need for Hiccup to talk the problem through in order to convince.
Toothless looks at Hiccup with scrutinizing eyes, the intelligence ticking away in that brain clearly visible through the minute expressions flitting over the human face as the former Night Fury thinks this request through. How could Vikings ever think that dragons were mindless beasts intent on slaughtering everything in their path?
"Yeah, okay," Toothless concedes. There's this unspoken urgency behind Hiccup's words. Toothless deserves to remain a Night Fury and Hiccup will do everything in his power to make sure that the curse gets lifted.
As they leave the hut Astrid hooks her arm through Toothless'. Hiccup follows like a shadow, a few steps behind them.
"I still can't believe you can actually talk," she says. "I mean, you always could communicate, but talk?"
"I know," Toothless replies. "I'm sorry, Astrid."
Astrid raises her eyebrows and pulls Toothless a little tighter against her body. They fall into step as they make their way to Hiccup's hut. "What for?"
"This," he says, gesturing to all of him.
"Oh," Astrid says. She slowly withdraws her hold on Toothless and steps aside. Then she punches him in the arm and Hiccup winces in sympathy. Those hurt. "Don't apologize over nothing, Toothless. It's not your fault, it's not Hiccup's fault, for once."
"I resent that," Hiccup interjects but his guffaw goes ignored.
"That woman did this to the both of you and Gothi gave you a solution. So you better come up with a good sacrifice because the next time I see you, Toothless, you better be in your own body. Permanently."
When she draws back for another 'friendly' hit to the arm Toothless gets the hint and he sprints away, Hiccup hot on his heels. And it's true, Toothless can now run without tripping over his legs, both artificial and real, all the way up to Hiccup's hut.
Hiccup never realized that he has so much stuff. It's a spring cleaning and reorganization all at once. Toothless is the one doing the delicate grabbing and presenting, and Hiccup pulls down the large boxes from various shelves and upends them so Toothless can sort them out.
He knows he's a tinkerer, and it shows. Piles of sketched out designs litter the floor. His first attempts at smithing, ending in useless burnt, brittle metal. The first fin he's ever made for Toothless. Gronckle egg shells, dried grass from Dragon Island, a broken net he was supposed to fix a year ago.
Every item passing through Toothless' hands gets tossed into three separate piles: recycle, keep or possible sacrifice.
That pile of possible sacrifices is still fairly small and holds most of his sentimental items, like the first fin. It has to be something to do with both Toothless and Hiccup, he knows that even without Gothi knocking him over the head with her staff. So Hiccup has Toothless toss the broken pencil unto the recycle pile. When Toothless shows up with the helmet made from his mother's breast plate he rebels.
"Keep," he says, jerking his head towards the keep-pile. Toothless turns the helmet around and around in his hands, all too aware what it symbolizes. Stoick and Valka, their love for their son, who they thought would grow up to be a normal Viking. It'd be a perfect sacrifice, especially since Toothless searched for it for three days straight after it fell into the ocean right before Snoggletogg and delivered it to Hiccup on the eve of.
Toothless places it gingerly on top of the pile of things to keep, which consists mostly of everyday items like cups and bedding and raw leather hides. Other things which end up on the 'keep' pile are his past metal legs which he has grown out of, but he will not be the last Viking child to lose a leg, and the legs themselves are too ingeniously put together to be recycled for scraps.
What clothes he has make the pile topple over and cutlery scatters everywhere. Toothless jumps out of the way and falls to his knees to redo the pile.
Hiccup sighs as he eyes the items he's selected so far as a potential sacrifice. By themselves they're parts of his history, but his dragon instinct tells him that it's not right. He's long ago accepted that dragons have a sense he has no idea of and while in the body of a Night Fury he's only caught glimpses of that intuition which tells Toothless when there's danger. Dragon instinct is fickle but almost always right. And it's this instinct which tells him that he needs something beside the first fin or the helmet his father gifted him. It's something right in front of his eyes but it escapes him.
Toothless finishes putting the pile back together and sits back on his haunches. Hiccup follows his movement as the human gets to his feet and holds up the next item for inspection. It's a dark green undershirt that no longer properly fits ever since he developed some muscles thanks to dragon riding.
Hiccup has not seen the shirt for some time, buried as it was underneath his usual wardrobe. He almost always wear his flight suit on top of a fresh set-
His flight suit.
Toothless is wearing it right now. At first Astrid had hoisted him into it because the Toothless from six weeks ago had trouble undoing the clasps and it saved them from another streaking incident. Once Toothless got the hang of using fingers it was more practical since Hiccup and Toothless went flying, and the flight suit was a great aid in that. Now Toothless wears it like Hiccup did – almost every day.
It'll take weeks to build and calibrate a new flight suit. It's the one thing which allows Hiccup to soar along with his dragon through the sky like they are parts of a whole. His current flight suit is painstakingly painted, crafted out of the finest leather trader Johann offers and Hiccup has put his love into every inch of it. It's going to hurt to lose it.
That's why it's the perfect sacrifice.
Hiccup lunges forward and knocks Toothless to the ground.
"Hey! Hiccup!" Toothless yells, wincing as his head bounces against the ground. "What you want?" he asks in a loud voice as Hiccup paws at the torso of the flight suit. Hiccup taps a buckle with a single claw.
"Take it off," Hiccup says, nudging another buckle. Toothless looks down his nose at his outfit and fingers a buckle. He begins to undress, slowly at first. But then he seems to get what Hiccup aims for.
"Oh," he says, and that's all which needs to be said. The flight suit lands in a pile on the floor and Toothless throws on some warm clothes from the 'keep' pile once he's done. Hiccup sighs deeply and mentally says goodbye to the one thing allowing him to keep up with Toothless during flights. He can glide great distances, it's got all the belt and buckles sewn to it with lock stitches so there's little chance of the fabric tearing at a crucial moment.
But now that he's selected this as a sacrifice there's nothing else that's suitable. If he were to offer the helmet his father gave him the volür would reject him. Best not to take that chance.
"You wanna go?" Toothless asks. He packs up the flight suit in a saddle bag with the seal of Berk burnt into the yak leather hide.
"No, dinner first," Hiccup replies. He shows his back to Toothless and the human climbs on. With two hops Hiccup is out the front door, mindful of the door jamb. He remembers how much it hurts to have his head slammed against the unforgiving wood whenever Toothless is too bounce-happy.
When he enters the Great Hall Toothless slides off his back and makes his way to the line for the food.
Usually dragons get fed at the dragon stables, but there's an exception for the Night Fury. He can't fly himself to the platform, so a Viking plops down a large basket of fish in front of Hiccup.
"Enjoy," the bulky man says. There's a commotion at one of the tables and Hiccup chows down on a fish before he turns his attention to the table.
"Wait a minute, Toothless… you can talk now?" Fishlegs asks. He shuffles his the bulk of his body over on the bench until he presses into Toothless.
"A little," Toothless replies. Fishlegs lets out a high-pitched shriek of joy and his eyes glitter like he discovered a secret book of dragons.
"Oh Thor this is the best day of my life!" he exclaims. Toothless scoots away from him but Fishlegs follows him. "Do you know if there are any more Night Furies? Where did you come from? Is there an island full of Night Furies? How old are you? Do you come from an egg or are you born from a womb? How come you wound up in the archipelago all alone? How much do you understand when we talk? Wait, that's stupid, I'm actually talking to you and you're not taking your clothes off and anything. How does that sound thing you do to see in the dark work?"
Toothless emits a whine of distress as Fishlegs crowds him. He's not used to being hounded by big humans while in a small body.
Hiccup abandons his dinner and hurries over to the commotion. Fishlegs doesn't even notice the Night Fury's approach until Hiccup inserts his paw between the two humans and shoves Fishlegs away from Toothless. Hiccup growls and snaps his teeth at his fellow dragon academy friend.
"Alright, alright, relax you three," Astrid says. She balances her bowl of food on one hand and places her other hand on Hiccup's head. With a gentle nudge she tells Hiccup to go back to his own dinner, she's got this.
With implicit trust in his girlfriend he walks off, but he keeps an eye on Fishlegs. The guy is red-faced and his eyes shine. His gaze is fixated on Toothless but with Astrid seated between the two guys at least Fishlegs can no longer shove his curious nose into Toothless' face.
"Are there other Night Furies?" Fishlegs begins his interrogation. He speaks slowly and enunciates the words. He laps up every word falling from Toothless' lips. Too bad that Toothless doesn't really understand abstract concepts like 'a womb' and ' where are other Night Furies'.
"Far," is all Toothless can say about the latter subject.
"Yeah, but where," Fishlegs insists, jabbing a finger at the map he's spread out on the table.
"Far," Toothless retorts in the same exasperated tone Fishlegs uses. Things continue in this vein. The things Fishlegs wants to know are way beyond the language barrier. At least Fishlegs manages to draw out that Night Furies are an oviparous species by mimicking a pregnant lady and showing a Deadly Nadder egg shell.
"How do you see in the dark?" Astrid says when Fishlegs is busy rolling up the map. The disappointment is apparent on his face when all he's found out is that there are other Night Furies out there, but they're far away from the archipelago. Toothless somehow wound up in the archipelago but as far as he knows, he's the only one. It's more than they knew at the beginning of the meal, but it's not enough. Night Furies remain a mystery, even if Toothless can talk at roughly the level of a two-year old child.
"I- ah!" Toothless mimics the scream he uses when seeing in the dark. It's garbled but recognizable. He points to his ears. "I hear, this." He bounces his finger on the empty bowl and back up to his ears. Table, ears. Astrid, ears. "I see."
Just like Hiccup suspected. He's noticed Toothless swivel his ears around whenever he uses his roar to find out where the exit is, but he never knew sound can be pinpointed that precisely. Echoes exist, of course, but this is a talent on a whole other level. It's one of the things he hasn't mastered, even after they became One.
"That's amazing," Fishlegs says. He no longer looks disappointed and he's already scribbling down the answer Toothless' given him on the parchment he always carries around with him. You never know when you might spot a new species of dragon or find out that yak hair causes Nadders to scratch their skin raw if it touches them.
Hiccup lifts his head from his curled up position on the floor when Toothless finally gets up from the bench. Fishlegs has grilled enough answers out of Toothless, it seems. Hiccup is going to need his strength when they meet with the volür and now it's gotten late, no thanks to the curious current writer of the book of dragons.
Toothless approaches Hiccup and leans his forehead against Hiccup's. "Wanna sleep," he says softly. Pleading green eyes have absolutely no trouble winning over Hiccup's heart and he nods his agreement. They're not due for a switch back, anyway. Before they do they'll be back in their own bodies.
For good, this time.
Hiccup has to go alone. It's not fair to Astrid and the others – they all want to help. Well, Snotlout and the twins want to see the spectacle, and Hiccup doesn't want a repeat of the One-incident.
So the two set out when the sun is barely over the horizon. Hiccup spots Astrid in the distance, making her way up to the hut. He stays low until he disappears into the brush. From there it's a short distance to a cliff face.
"Ready?" Hiccup asks. Toothless gives a slight nudge of his heels into Hiccup's side in response. Oh yeah, they're ready to go back to the way things used to be.
Hiccup drops off the cliff and plummets towards the pointy rocks littering the bottom of the cliff where the sea sprays over them. At the right moment he stretches his wings and Toothless simultaneously manipulates the fin so they soar above the ocean, a tiny dark shape against the glare of the sun on the water. If Astrid had spotted them they're already too far from Berk for her to do anything about it.
When Berk disappears into a haze they dare fly at a normal cruising altitude where the thermal winds are stronger so Hiccup doesn't have to flap his wings every few feet to keep above the water.
The flight suit, packed into a saddle bag, bounces against Hiccup's side with every flap of his wings. He grunts in annoyance and Toothless pats him on the head. The language barrier is still up and Hiccup can't wait until he can talk properly again. He still stumbles over words at times, but at least he can be understood by humans.
It takes them six hours to get to the island of the volür. They pass through some heavy rain on their way over and by the time Hiccup lands on the edge of the island Toothless shivers violently.
With the flight suit packed into a bag Toothless threw on the nearest clothes he could find when they departed. Hiccup had given him a once-over to make sure Toothless wouldn't freeze to death.
But apart from a gliding ability, the flight suit is water-resistant thanks to oiling it using oak bark. The woolen clothes Toothless has on now are great in a light shower, but not in the soaking shower that had burst open over their heads and drenched them in seconds.
Toothless wraps his arms around himself before sliding down the saddle.
It isn't the first time something like this had happened to Hiccup, so a standard part of the provisions he takes along on every flight off the island is a thin blanket. Toothless can always make a fire if they get stranded somewhere.
So Hiccup indicates the brush off the edge of the cliff they had landed on.
"Go gather some sticks and I'll light them," Hiccup says. Toothless goes, rubbing his arms and hands to get some warmth back into them. Within minutes he has gathered enough to make a small fire and with one well-placed plasma blast a warm and friendly fire can warm the human up.
"Take off your clothes and wrap yourself in the blanket to warm up," Hiccup instructs. Those commands are a little too abstract for Toothless to understand, so Hiccup uses a claw to lift the hem of the woolen shirt Toothless is wearing. Then he turns the saddlebag containing the blanket to Toothless.
Fifteen minutes later Toothless no longer shivers as he sits as close to the fire as he dares, blanket wrapped around him and bigger dragon wrapped around him as well. His clothes hang by the fire on sticks bored into the hard ground by utilizing the precise grip of a human hand and the power of a dragon tail. For want of a hammer…
This is how the volür finds them.
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.
Henbane: a seed that produces hallucinogens of flying when thrown in a fire.