Summary: Three years after the events of the movie, Astrid makes a choice.
"Hey, you. Nadder-girl," someone said, and Astrid looked around curiously. Sure enough, there was the barmaid scowling at her, which was irritating on multiple levels, not the least of which was the fact that Astrid knew she knew their names perfectly well, she just refused to use them. Although to be fair, Ruff, Tuff, and Lout called her a wench all the time, and they were the ones who started bringing dragons into the bar, and it was usually someone from their group who had to be dragged out of the bar at the end of the night...
Shit. Astrid suddenly realized why the barmaid was calling her.
"Come get your friend," the barmaid said, and Astrid's stomach sank. "I'm not putting up with her today."
"It's barely noon," Astrid protested.
"Yeah, well that's the problem, isn't it?" She turned and walked back into the bar, leaving Astrid standing outside. For a moment she thought about just walking away, because of all the possible scenarios she could think of for reinitiating contact with Ruff, babysitting the other girl because she was drunk in the middle of the day was far and away one of the least desirable ones. But even now she couldn't abandon Ruff, so she squared her shoulders and stepped inside.
Ruffnut was sitting by herself at the end of the bar. She looked quiet and thoughtful, which made Astrid think the barmaid was full of it, because a drunk Ruffnut was loud and boisterous. She walked over to her anyway, feeling tense and on edge.
When Ruffnut noticed her, she jerked so hard she almost fell off the bar stool. Astrid was reaching for her before she could help it, but Ruff managed to right herself at the last minute and looked at Astrid with eyes that were, admittedly, more than a little bleary. "How'd you get here?" she asked.
Astrid sighed. "The barmaid called me in here. She says you're drunk."
She cocked her head and looked at Ruff curiously. "Are you?"
Ruff shrugged and fiddled with her tankard. "Maybe."
Astrid sighed again and looked around the mostly empty bar. "Can you walk?" she asked, having already determined that if she couldn't, someone else was going to have to help her home. Astrid was being as strong as she could, but there was no way she could touch Ruff. Not like that, not now.
Ruffnut nodded, and stood, carefully but not shakily. She followed Astrid outside the bar. "Do you need help getting home?" Astrid asked, already hoping the answer would be no. The other girl certainly looked steady enough. But Ruff nodded again, and Astrid gritted her teeth and led the way.
Astrid grasped desperately for the strange peace she had achieved yesterday when she had seen Ruffnut across the market. It was much harder with Ruff right next to her, looking almost vulnerable. Astrid found herself getting inexplicably angry because she thought she had finally found her strength, and mere moments in Ruff's company made her feel weak all over again. It wasn't fair. Astrid didn't want to feel weak anymore; she just wanted it to be over, by Thor. That wasn't too much to ask, was it?
Ruffnut was being very quiet, which was uncommon whether she was sober or not, and the silence was almost painful. "Why are you drinking the middle of the day anyway?" Astrid asked almost without meaning to.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Ruffnut mumbled.
"How could that seem like a good idea?"
"Wasn't planned. I was walking," she gestured vaguely forward, "'n I saw the bar, 'n I thought maybe I should do that."
Ruffnut nodded, the frowned and shook her head. "No, not-not drunk. I thought...I was scared, 'n I thought the mead would make me feel better. But it didn't, it made me feel worse." She sounded so utterly miserable that Astrid was almost moved to pity. Almost.
"Funny how that works," she said instead, and didn't ask any more questions. She wasn't Ruff's confidante anymore, or her lover, or even her friend, really. She just had to hold on until she got Ruff home, then she could get back to healing at her own rate.
Of course Ruff couldn't make it easy. She suddenly stumbled, and Astrid instinctively put her hands out, but also stepped away so that they weren't in danger of actually touching. Ruffnut righted herself and staggered over to a barrel set against a wall, sitting down heavily.
"Are you okay?" Astrid asked, and Ruffnut shook her head. "Okay," she said with a sigh, "you stay here, I'm going to go get some help."
"No!" Ruffnut suddenly cried. "I, I can walk." But she made no move to stand.
Astrid rubbed her eyes. "Look, Ruff, I'm not going to stand here all day."
"I know," Ruffnut said, and then, "I hung out with Fishlegs last night."
"Okay," Astrid said, blinking. "And?"
Ruffnut licked her lips nervously and opened her mouth, but then seemed to quail. "What'd you do last night?" she murmured.
"I was at Hiccup's." Not that it was any of Ruffnut's business.
If it were possible, Ruff seemed to shrink even more. "You were?"
"Yeah. He invited me and Tuff for dinner."
"Oh. Right. Of course." She ran her hand over her face. "Um."
"Why does it --"
"He thinks I love you," Ruffnut suddenly blurted out, and Astrid felt as though she had been struck. Then she felt the blood drain from her face, and merciful numbness set in, because there was no way. There was no way she could deal with, with that, so close to what she had wanted so desperately but secondhand, from the wrong person. It wasn't fair of Ruff to bring it up when she knew it didn't mean anything, and when Astrid had finally started to move on. It just wasn't fair.
"So tell him he's wrong," she heard herself say. "So what?"
"It's, I mean it's..." Ruffnut around in confusion. "He thinks..."
"Since when do you care what anyone thinks?" Astrid asked harshly, angry all over again because it was easier than anything else she was feeling.
"I-I don't, care," Ruffnut said, licking her lips again, "what people think. I care..."
"Then why does it matter?"
"...I care what you think." And she looked at Astrid.
"Since when?" Astrid said, surprising herself. "You haven't cared in a while."
"No, look," Ruffnut said, almost desperately. She gestured vaguely again. "I was, I was walking, I was coming to see you, and I saw the bar..."
"And you decided to get drunk." Astrid's body trembled with barely contained energy. She wanted more than almost anything to run, to get away from here, because she had greatly overestimated her defenses, and if she didn't leave soon she was going to have to start from scratch. She stayed, though, because some part of her that was stubborn and proud could still feel the hurt smoldering inside of her, and right now she was just angry enough, just tired enough, just frustrated enough to want to give some of that hurt back. "That was brilliant."
"I was wrong," Ruffnut mumbled.
"Yeah, I'd say so."
"No!" she wailed. "What-what I said, before...I was wrong, and I didn't know until last night."
"When before?" Astrid demanded. "You're not making any sense."
"Before!" she cried. "Before, when I...I-I love you!"
Astrid looked at her in confusion. "What? Fishlegs --"
"No, not Legs! Just, just me. Before, I was wrong, because...because I love you. And I didn't know." She stared at the ground.
Astrid almost opened her mouth to ask another question, before she finally figured out what Ruffnut was trying to say. The idea of it -- even the potential of it -- disabled her completely. "What?" she asked, her heart racing. "You what?" Her eyes flicked rapidly over Ruffnut, taking in the whole of the girl. No, there was no way, not after all that...she couldn't believe it. "Tell me," she demanded, testing Ruff's resolve. "Say it again."
Apparently her resolve wasn't that strong, because she kept silent, and wouldn't meet Astrid's eyes. Astrid leaned back on her heels, reeling. Gods, this was even worse than last time. To hear that, and knowing it came from Fishlegs, or the mead, or anything else that, that wasn't...
She took a step back. Ruffnut suddenly looked up in a panic. "Where are you going?"
"You're drunk," Astrid said, "and you don't mean that."
"No -- I mean yes, but I do, I mean it!" Ruffnut cried, and Astrid's heart clenched painfully. "I'm sorry, I was scared, and now I don't even remember why, but I-I'm trying! Oh gods, don't go," she said, and she sounded so lost Astrid's heart almost broke all over again. But she couldn't stay; there was a maelstrom of emotions gathering inside her, very few of them good, and she knew if she stayed it would be unleashed on Ruffnut. And that would be the end of everything.
"I have to go," she said. She had to clear her head, to think about what had happened, and she couldn't think with Ruffnut there. She could only react, only feel.
"Are you going to see Hiccup?" Ruffnut asked miserably.
"No," Astrid said, realizing it was true. Part of her wanted to -- so much -- but he had carried her enough though this, and Astrid had to work through this herself. She had to. "I just, I have to think. Okay?" She knew it wasn't, really, but Ruffnut nodded anyway. Astrid took another step back, and then, looking at Ruff, felt a sudden sharp pang of pity cut through the anger and confusion. "Hey, I'll be back, okay?" she said, although she wasn't sure of that at all.
"Right." Ruffnut rubbed her face.
"I just..." Astrid tried, and gave up. The unspoken words hanging between them were suffocating, and she fled before she could say something she didn't mean. Or worse, something she did.
"Come on girl, let's go," Astrid said as she walked into her backyard. Valkyrie looked at her curiously. "Let's, let's go fly, or something." She reached for the bridle, but her hands were shaking so badly it slipped out of her grasp. So she tried again, to the same result. Before she could make a third attempt, Valkyrie crooned, and nudged her gently. Astrid gave up and wrapped her arms around the dragon's beak. "Oh, girl, what am I going to do?" she murmured.
She jerked violently, whirling around to see her mother staring at her in concern. "Mom," she said, and turned quickly back around. She wasn't crying, yet, but she didn't want her mother to see if she started. "What, uh..." She realized she didn't actually have anything to ask, and trailed off.
"Is everything all right, dear?" Bertha asked, and Astrid, to her great horror, whimpered. Gods, no. She couldn't fall apart, not again, not now.
"I, um..." There was no lie to get her out of this, she knew. Or if there was she was too raw and confused to think of it. So she sighed, closed her eyes, and pressed her forehead against Valkyrie's. "Ruffnut and I had a fight," she said.
"Of course you did, dear."
Astrid blinked her eyes open, and glanced at her mother. "What?"
Bertha smiled kindly. "Your old mother's not blind, Astrid. You've been in a bad way, and there's only two people who can get you that worked up. Since you seem to be getting along with Hiccup, it must have been Ruffnut."
"Well, it was," she murmured inanely. She pulled back to stroke Valkyrie's nose, trying to find something between a lie and the truth to satisfy her mother. "And I was getting over it, but I saw her today, and she apologized. She said she wants to be friends again." At the very least.
"Is that a problem, dear?"
"I don't know," Astrid said, hearing and hating the frustration in her voice. "I was getting over it, but I think I'd only half-forgiven her, and I don't even know if I want to forgive her all the way. And now it feels like I have to decide whether to or not right now."
Bertha was quiet for a moment. Then she said, "I've never really understood the idea."
Astrid could almost hear her brain grinding to a halt as she tried to process what her mother was saying. "Understood what idea?"
"Half-forgiving someone. Forgiving means letting go of the wrongs they've done you." She spread her open hands in front of her. "Even if you're holding on to those wrongs with only half your strength, you're still holding on. You can't hold on," she closed her hands into fists, "and say you're letting go. It's one or the other."
No, Astrid thought. It was so much more complicated than that. There was nothing about this that was black and white. It was all twisted together into shades of gray, where "friend" meant so much more than it should and boyfriend didn't mean nearly enough. She had juggled two relationships, neither of them proper, neither of them complete or truly defined, and had found in her attempts at love either a deception or a rejection. The person everyone thought would make her happy hadn't, and the person she needed to be happy made her miserable instead. The only way any of it felt anymore was wrong, and she couldn't put it into words if she tried.
"It's not that simple, Mom," was what she said instead.
"It never is, dear," Bertha said, and stood up. She briefly rested her hand on Astrid's back. "But it's not usually as difficult as we make it either." She gave Astrid a warm smile laced with more understanding than Astrid would have given her credit for, and walked into the house.
Astrid let out a shuddering breath, and closed her eyes. She tried to think of something that made sense; so much of what was going on in her head didn't. At least her mother was right about one thing. No matter how weakly you held on, you couldn't claim to have let go until you released your grip. It was either or; it was black and white. Astrid used that simple truth as a baseline and pushed through the muddled, muddied thoughts clouding her mind, trying to find even one absolute.
She found one, buried under so much confusion and doubt that she had almost forgotten it. One bright, shining thought that was almost blinding in its clarity. It was all she needed.
"I'll be back, girl," she said, suddenly breathless. She was running through the village before she knew it, and as she ran she finally let go.
Ruffnut opened bleary eyes. She was hot. Why was she hot? Well she was sitting in the sun, for one thing. Had she always been sitting in the sun? She hadn't moved from where Astrid had left her. Was she just now hot enough -- or maybe sober enough -- to notice the sun, or had she sat there long enough that the movement of the sun had taken her shade? She had no idea.
Her mind was buzzing, and she tried to fill it with random things, useless things, anything but Astrid. It didn't work, so then she tried to think of nothing at all. That didn't work either, so she concentrated very hard on a small patch of dirt in front of her, and the shapes it made. And the pair of boots that were suddenly standing on the dirt. They looked at lot like Astrid's boots, but they couldn't be because Astrid had left her. Again.
"Hey," Astrid voice said from above Astrid's boots.
"Hey," Ruffnut said, and finally looked up. "What're you doing here?"
"I came to see you," she said, and Ruffnut studied the small creases around her mouth intently. If she could look closely enough at those things -- Astrid's bangs, the tiny hairs that made up her eyebrows, the curve of her cheek -- she could avoid looking at Astrid, and maybe be able to breath.
"Great," Ruffnut heard herself say dully. "Here I am." She rubbed her eyes. "Although if you're just here to yell at me again, I'd really rather not."
"I'm not here to yell at you," Astrid said.
"Then why are you here?"
"Why do you think I'm here?" The look on Astrid's face could have been concern, but that wasn't right because Astrid had left. Even if she had come back...
...she had come back. The realization hit Ruffnut sharply, and she almost gasped. "I don't know," she said, the words tumbling out of her before she could think about them. "I don't know why you're here, and I hope you're telling the truth, because it's killing me to fight, and I know what I want but I don't know what you want, and I wish you would just kiss me or --"
Astrid kissed her. They were kissing. There was no space, no gap between Astrid being in front of her and Astrid being in her arms, which was good because Ruffnut knew suddenly waiting even one more instant for this would have killed her. Gods, who had she been trying to kid before? There was nothing -- no one -- more important than this.
"Don't do that to me again," Astrid murmured against her lips, and when had she even pulled back enough to speak?
Ruffnut let out a breathless laugh and said, "Really not planning on it," then closed the distance between them. She didn't know what part exactly of this whole mix-up Astrid was talking about -- maybe all of it -- but damn if Ruff was going to do anything to mess this up. Then she frowned into the kiss, and pulled back. "I won't if you won't," she said, because yeah, she had screwed up, and she knew that now, but Astrid was the one who kept walking away. Apparently neither of them were real great at this. But Hel, if she had her choice of being confused with Astrid or being completely lost without her, it was an easy choice to make.
"Fair enough," Astrid whispered, and pulled her close again. In some far away corner of Ruffnut's brain she thought maybe they should slow down, because this was too important to get wrong. But Astrid was leaning into her and gods, it had been so long, and she couldn't fight it if she wanted to. She had been fighting it for ages and had ended up here all the same. So seriously, enough of that. Ruffnut gave in, and let herself be carried away.
Tuffnut came to a sudden halt with a shriek, and cover his eyes with his hands. "Ew, naked sister!"
The girls looked half-asleep, but Ruffnut was apparently conscious enough to shoot Tuff a rude gesture.
"Well," Hiccup said with a wide grin as he looked into the small clearing, "look who kissed and made up."
Astrid shifted slightly to hide more of her body behind Ruff's, and Ruff finally opened her eyes and looked at the boys. "Is there a reason you're here?" she asked.
"Same as you, it looks like," Hiccup said, still smiling. Tuffnut dropped his hands, and looked quickly at the sky, then the ground, then Hiccup.
"Yeah, well, this area is occupied. Find somewhere else."
"Aw, but it's such a nice view," Hiccup said teasingly, and Tuff looked at him with an expression somewhere between horror and hurt. "Do you come here a lot?" Hiccup asked quickly.
"Why do you want to know that?" Tuff demanded.
"So we'll know to go somewhere else."
"Yes, this is the usual spot," Astrid said, peeking over Ruffnut's shoulder.
"We're thinking of installing a mattress!" Ruff suddenly said, and giggled when Astrid poked her side.
Hiccup turned to Tuff. "See, now we know. Next time..."
"Don't come here," Tuffnut finished firmly. "Come on, let's go up to that area by the creek. You hear that?" he called to the girls as he began to lead Hiccup away. "That's our spot, so don't bother coming by!"
"We'll try to resist the urge," Ruff called after him, rolling her eyes. When the boys had disappeared from view, she pulled Astrid back on top of her and gave her a sly smile.
"We need to get dressed," Astrid said even as she began tracing the lines of Ruff's face.
"Oh, no we don't," Ruffnut said, running her hands up Astrid's sides and down her back. "We need to stay here forever and ever."
"We might get hungry."
"I'm sure a wild animal will wander by eventually."
"Ruff," Astrid said with a laugh, "we're lucky Hiccup and Tuff were the ones who found us."
"Running into those two is never lucky," Ruffnut insisted.
"Come on." Astrid made to rise, but Ruff quickly locked her arms around the other girl's waist. "Ruff! Seriously. We have to get up." She brushed Ruffnut's lips with her thumb, and said, "Or at least get inside."
"Fine," Ruffnut said with a sigh, moving her hands to the back of Astrid's neck and pulling her down for another kiss. "I just need a few...more..."
It ended up being more than a few, but Astrid finally pushed herself up, and Ruffnut let her hands fall with a sigh. She watched as Astrid gathered their clothes. "What do you want to do now?" Astrid asked as she tugged on her shirt.
Ruff had a number of answers for that question, but Astrid probably wouldn't appreciate her clothes being ripped off right after she had put them on. So she thought for a moment, then got a wicked grin and pushed herself up on her elbows. "Where'd the guys say they were going?"
Astrid looked at her sharply. "Ruffnut, that's your brother!"
"What're you...oh, gross Astrid, give me a little credit! That's not what I mean!"
"Then what do you mean?"
Ruffnut explained, and Astrid smiled.
"You look ridiculous," Astrid said a little while later.
Ruffnut shrugged and tossed the leg of Tuff's pants around her neck like a scarf. "I don't care. Imagining the look on their faces whenever they finish makes it worthwhile."
Astrid looked at her appraisingly. "I think you just have something against Hiccup."
Ruffnut shrugged again. She had a Hel of a lot of things against Hiccup, but with Astrid by her side she could finally start to work through them. And anyway... "Then why were you the one who took his pants?"
It was Astrid's turn to shrug as she tied Hiccup's pants around her waist. "I didn't want you have all the fun," she said with a mischievous smile.
Ruffnut laughed, grabbing Astrid and pulling her close. She leaned in for a kiss, but Astrid suddenly pulled away with a little frown. "What is it?" she asked, worry in her voice.
Astrid gave her a warm smile. "I can't take you seriously like that," she said, reaching for the impromptu scarf.
Ruff chuckled as Astrid unwound the leggings from her neck and tossed them to the side. "Better?"
"Much." Astrid leaned forward so that the whole of their bodies were pressed together, but she still didn't move in for the kiss yet. Instead she studied Ruffnut's face intently, and asked, "You're...are you serious about this?" because she had to. Maybe it wasn't the most romantic thing, but you couldn't building something real on a fairy tale, and Astrid desperately wanted something real, something honest.
"Absolutely," she said gently, brushing a strand of hair back from Astrid's face.
Hearing the conviction in Ruff's voice suddenly made Astrid weak, and she leaned heavily into Ruff. "Thank the gods," she whispered. It seemed like it shouldn't have been enough to erase the hurt and longing that had been plaguing her -- and it wasn't, really. Words were only just words. It was the emotion they conveyed, the intent behind them, the choice she had made, consciously, to accept them, when she understood all too well what the cost could be if her trust was misplaced. She loved Ruffnut, and Ruffnut loved her. It didn't make everything right; it certainly didn't mean everything was going to be easy. But it was truth. It was solid. It was something she could stand on. It was more than she had believed she could have.
Ruffnut ran her fingers through Astrid's hair, over her cheek, and gently cupped her face. Astrid gave herself eagerly into the kiss. It was perfection.
The girls pulled apart and stared at each other with wide eyes. "You have got to be kidding me," Ruffnut muttered, and Astrid groaned and let her head fall onto Ruff's shoulder.
"Hey," Snotlout said, "don't let me stop you. Please, continue." He watched them excitedly.
"Ruff," Astrid said, "I'm tired. Kick his ass for me?"
"Yes ma'am!" Ruffnut chirped, and took off.
"Whoa, whoa, hey, not cool!" Snotlout yelled as he ran, Ruffnut literally growling and snarling in her pursuit. Astrid watched them and laughed. It was wonderful, and crazy, and somehow perfect. Right now, she let go of any past hurt and lingering doubt, and just enjoyed the moment.
Ruffnut caught Lout, and smiled at Astrid. Astrid smiled back. Gods willing, they'd have many more moments to come.