Summary: Three years after the events of the movie, Astrid makes a choice.
Astrid shifted her weight slowly, taking every care to keep as silent as possible. Once in position, she raised her spear and took aim at the unsuspecting fox in front of her.
"You know what we should do?" Hiccup said.
The fox immediately fled, and Astrid sighed in exasperation. "Hiccup, you're the worst hunter ever."
"What, are we really hunting today? I thought we were just hanging out again."
"No, this trip was actually about food. Not that it's going that well."
"Aw, and here I thought we were bonding." He sniffled melodramatically. "You only want me for my hunting skills."
"What hunting skills?"
"Touché," he said cheerfully.
Astrid smiled. "You're in a good mood."
"Had a good night," he said, grinning back.
"Hm. Let me guess: you weren't alone?" She stood and began walking, and Hiccup followed her.
He shrugged. "There may have been someone else there."
"I'm glad it's working out, really," Astrid said, nudging his shoulder. "How's your dad been, though?"
Hiccup sighed. "Way to bring down the mood, Astrid."
She winced. "Sorry."
"No, it's okay." He hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck. "He's...I mean...he's not happy. He's calmed down, I think, but neither of us are really talking about it, at least directly. I think he's just pretending like it doesn't exist. Like, he thinks maybe if he ignores it it'll go away. He ignores me when I say I'm going out with, well, anyone, and I ignore him when he asks about you. No offense."
"None taken," she said softly. "What else can you do?"
"Yeah." Hiccup ran his hand through his hair. "Actually, I think maybe you shouldn't come over anymore. Just so we don't give him the wrong idea."
"All right. What's Tuff think about all that?"
"Well, when I told him, he said, 'How am I not dead yet?' Which is actually a fair question. Suffice to say, he's kinda avoiding my house too."
"Sounds like your parties are going to be pretty boring from now on."
"Yeah, no kidding. We'll just have them at your place, how's that?"
"Sure, as long as you don't mind my mom playing hostess," she said with a smirk.
"Ooh. Maybe we'll just stick to the Great Hall." Hiccup sighed again, then got a dreamy look on his face.
"I recognize that look," Astrid said.
"That's your 'I totally have a major crush' look."
"What? It is not."
"It so is. Trust me, I put up with that look for years. Aw!" She pinched his cheek. "You two are adorable!"
He swatted her hand away. "You're the weirdest ex-girlfriend ever, you know that?"
"Could be worse," she said with a shrug. "I could be one of those crazy stalker types and planning to kidnap Tuffnut as we speak."
"Why would you be the crazy stalker?" Hiccup asked. "You broke up with me."
Astrid frowned in thought. "Oh, right. I almost forgot."
"You forgot?" he said with a laugh. "How'd you forget?"
"It just doesn't feel that way anymore. Maybe because you're the one who's already moved on." She shot him a doleful look.
"Oh well," he said. "Don't worry about it. We'll find you a nice girlfriend one day." Astrid abruptly stopped, and Hiccup took a few more steps before noticing and looking back at her. "What, what'd I say?"
"It's not what you said, it's...how you said it," Astrid said slowly.
"How'd I say it?"
Hiccup looked around in confusion, then shrugged. A broad smile tugged at Astrid's lips, and she felt lighter than she had in ages. "Come on, loverboy, let's see if we can't kill something yet."
"What am I thinking?" Tuffnut said in a panic.
"You? I'm guessing not much," Ruffnut replied.
"I'm serious! Last night, I didn't put the moves him on at all. I'm losing my focus!"
"Oh wah, you're not getting laid fast enough. Meanwhile, I'm in perpetual pissed-off mode, and it's getting really old."
"Like, this is not what I was expecting. I just kinda wanted to bed him, you know?"
"I swear to Odin, I'm this close to flipping out."
"What happened? And when did it happen?"
"How many people have I been with? Why the Hel am I freaking out over this one?"
"I can't even tell what he's thinking -- and I actually want to know! When did that happen?"
"She just abandoned me -- gods, get over it already!"
"I want to see him right now. Would that be weird? That would be weird, wouldn't it?"
"What am I going to do?"
"What am I going to do?"
They stopped and looked at each other. "We're not getting anywhere fast," Ruff said.
"No kidding," Tuff replied. "You got a better idea?"
Ruff pursed her lips in thought.
"Don't hurt me!" Fishlegs cried.
"Quit yellin' and maybe we won't," Tuffnut said as he and Ruffnut dragged Fishlegs into an abandoned storage shed. Once inside they forced him to sit on an empty crate, and stood over him, frowning.
"Okay guys, let's just stay calm here," Fishlegs said nervously.
"We need some help," Ruffnut said.
Fishlegs's face scrunched up in confusion. "Help? What do you need help with? Because honestly, a lot of my skills only exist on the character sheet."
"Girls," Ruffnut said.
"Boys," Tuffnut added.
"Um..." Fishlegs looked back and forth between the twins, then made to stand. "You know, I'm not really an expert on either of those things, so if I could just..." Tuff shoved him back down.
"Sit tight, fat man," Ruff said, taking a seat across from him. "We got a couple problems, and we're being kinda useless for each other on the advice front, so congratulations, you're on deck." Tuff sat next to her and nodded solemnly.
Fishlegs nodded vaguely back, and decided to go with it. "Okay, is it any boys and girls in particular, or...?"
"Astrid," Ruffnut growled.
"Hiccup," Tuffnut said, looking bewildered.
"Okay." Fishlegs waited a few beats, then said, "You're really going to have to explain this to me."
So they did. Ruffnut went first, since her story was longer and spanned a lot more history. Tuffnut's was shorter, but he kept getting distracted by wayward descriptions seeing Hiccup working at the forge or riding Toothless with him, and Ruff had to punch him to get him back on track. When they were done Fishlegs blinked several times, then said, "That actually explains a lot of stuff. But I still don't get what you need help on."
"What's going on with us?" Tuff blurted out. "Why are we freaking out about sex? Or, you know, not having sex." Ruff punched him again.
Fishlegs looked back and forth between them, then said, "Seriously? You don't get it? I get it, and I spend most of my time in my parents' basement."
"Of course we do, we're just here because we enjoy your company that much," Ruffnut said sarcastically. "But feel free to share anyway."
Fishlegs flushed. "It's not just the, uh...sex you're freaking out about," he said. "Have you guys considered that you might actually be, you know, in love?"
"What?!" Tuff cried, rearing back, but Ruff just rolled her eyes, leaned forward to drop her head into her hand, and said, "I already thought of that, and it doesn't work."
"You thought of it?" Fishlegs asked curiously.
"Seriously, love?" Tuff asked.
"Yeah, I did, and it doesn't work, so try again."
"No way, it's too soon, right? Isn't it?"
"Well, what do you mean, it doesn't work?"
"Although man, maybe that's why --"
"Shut up, Tuff! We're focusing in my problem right now." Ruffnut looked back at Fishlegs. "I mean, when I realized Astrid wanted to get all lovey-dovey, and she was serious about it, I thought maybe she's onto something. Maybe it goes both ways. But I thought about it, and it doesn't." She shrugged, then seemed to realize both boys were staring at her, and sat up self-consciously.
"How do you know it doesn't?" Fishlegs asked.
For a fleeting instant Ruffnut looked annoyed, but then she seemed to gather herself to soldier on. "All that falling in love crap, that's something you do, right? Like, you're not in love, then something changes, and you are. Nothing changed between me and Astrid. Oh no, wait, a while back it got a lot worse," she muttered bitterly.
"Well, maybe it wasn't recent," he said. "I mean, I'd guess Astrid was thinking about what she wanted to tell you for a long time before she actually did it. Don't you think?"
Ruffnut shifted uncomfortably. "How should I know? I can't tell what the Hel she's thinking anymore."
"Okay."" Fishlegs rubbed his jaw contemplatively. "As far as emotions and stuff go, love's got a pretty high stealth rating. At least that's what my mom says. But you're the only one who knows for sure."
"Well..." Ruffnut bit her lip, and said, "Why do you think that, anyway?"
"I mean, I don't have a ton of experience. I'm mostly going from the handbook for the 'Island of Aphrodite' campaign. But you miss her..."
"Of course I do, she's my best friend!" Ruffnut frowned. "Or, was..."
"...and you're upset you can't see her..."
"...and you're jealous of Hiccup even though..." He trailed off and gestured to Tuff.
"Everyone thinks that's still going on," Ruffnut said, then added, "And I'm not jealous!"
"Okay," Fishlegs said again. "If you're really sure, there's not much you can do. I guess the best thing to do is just leave her alone for now. If you're really sure," he added.
Ruffnut worked her jaw, then abruptly stood up and stalked out of the shed.
Tuffnut watched her go, then turned to Fishlegs. "So, what do I do next? I need flowers and chocolate, right? Do guys even like flowers?"
"Um, I don't know, but I know girls don't like dice, even if they're colorful and multi-sided."
"How does that help me with Hiccup?"
"It doesn't really, but that's all I got."
"Okay, wait," Tuffnut said, and stopped Hiccup. He ran ahead a few steps and looked at something Hiccup couldn't see. Hiccup blew out a break and looked up. From the color of the sky -- what parts of it he could see through the thick canopy -- it was just about dusk. He wasn't particularly familiar with this part of the forest, although he was beginning to realize that Tuff probably knew the woods better than anyone.
"Okay," Tuff said, grabbing Hiccup's wrist and yanking him forward. They were suddenly standing at the edge of a clearing. In the middle of the clearing an old blanket was spread out, and on that was a picnic meal that, judging by the smell, Tuff had almost certainly bullied Fishlegs into making for him. There were even a few strategically placed candles, despite the fact that there was still enough sunlight to see by.
"Here!" Tuff said, and pulled a bouquet of flowers from behind a bush, thrusting it into Hiccup's hands. Then he stood and waited.
Hiccup looked at the flowers, looked around the clearing, and said, "I'm not a woman."
"I know," Tuffnut said, looking confused. He had a burst of inspiration and added, "That's okay though, I don't mind!"
Hiccup gave him a look. "I mean, I don't need to be treated like one. This is nice, but it feels like something you'd do for a girlfriend. If that makes sense."
"Oh. I guess." Tuff rubbed the back of his neck. "So, what're two guys supposed to do together then?"
Hiccup blinked. "Uh...I don't know."
"Then how do you know I'm doing it wrong?"
"I guess I don't," Hiccup said, and Tuffnut grinned triumphantly. Hiccup smiled too, and held out the bouquet. "I still don't like flowers though."
"You and everyone else in the village," Tuff said, grabbing the flowers and tossing them carelessly away. "Now c'mon, let's eat."
Hiccup took a seat on the edge of the blanket. Tuff dropped down next to him, so close their legs touched, and quickly fixed Hiccup a heaping plate. They ate in silence for a few minutes. "This is pretty good," Hiccup said.
"I'm not sure it's actually you I should be --"
Tuffnut kissed him. It was not technically the first time he had done so -- Hiccup's mind quickly flashed back to their earlier, aborted encounter -- but it was much gentler and more careful than those first rushed attempts, almost achingly so. A few seconds later Tuff pulled back. "I've been wanting to do that," he said in a husky voice.
"Oh," Hiccup said, and leaned towards him, starting the kiss again. Oh, yes. He had been missing this, more than he had realized. After several minutes Tuffnut pulled away and gave him a wolfish smile.
"Eat," he said, nudging Hiccup's plate.
"What? Oh." Hiccup looked downwards. "Can't we do that later?"
"We could, or we could get it out of the way now, and have all of later for...other stuff."
"You are a smart man," Hiccup said, picking up his bread.
"And don't you forget it," Tuffnut said happily.
"Mom, wouldn't you have better luck if you took that home?" Astrid asked as her mother studied a spool of yarn by torchlight. "It's getting dark."
"I suppose you're right, dear," Bertha said. "But I don't want to lose my place..."
Astrid shook her head and looked around the marketplace, both her mind and her eyes wandering idly. Her thoughts were so unfocused, in fact, that it took her several seconds to realize she was staring at an oblivious Ruffnut.
She jerked instinctively, but after the initial shock she realized she felt oddly...okay. Not great -- her heart thumped harder than usual and there was a knot at her stomach that she recognized as regret -- but she didn't feel like she was about to fall apart. Then again, she had already done that, hadn't she? She had hit the lowest of low points; it's not like it could get worse. The thought was strangely liberating.
She had told Ruffnut that if she wanted to be Astrid's friend to leave her alone. Taking advantage of the strange moment of internal peace, Astrid considered whether she really could ever be just friends with Ruff again. She had been avoiding thinking of any of her ideas and plans that involved the other girl, but now she carefully pulled them out of their mental storage place and tried to re-imagine them with the two girls as friends again, and only friends.
No, it still didn't work. Not yet. Even putting the romantic feelings aside, Astrid couldn't imagine interacting with Ruffnut without remembering how weak Ruff had made her, how badly she had been hurt. And how ashamed she felt on top of that, because she was supposed to be the strong one. She bit her lip and looked away. Was that going to be the legacy of their relationship? Ruffnut angry and Astrid ashamed? Even if they never spoke again, Astrid didn't want it to be like that.
Unable to help herself, she looked at Ruffnut again, and found Ruffnut looking back.
Neither girl moved. Ruff's face was unreadable. Astrid wanted to run, but she didn't know where. Then Ruff made a minute movement that could have meant anything, but for some reason made Astrid's heart race.
"What?" Astrid whipped her head around, feeling very disoriented, and saw her mother looking at her. "What is it?"
"Are you ready to go dear? I want to get this started tonight. You're free to help me, aren't you?"
No, Astrid wanted to say, and she wasn't sure why. She looked around the marketplace again, but Ruffnut was gone. "I...yes, of course." Her eyes still wandered restlessly, and she forced them to meet her mother's. "Let's go home."
There was a strange stain on Tuff's ceiling. There was also a series of cracks the looked oddly symmetrical, and in one place the knots and veins in the wood made what looked like an angry troll. There was probably a lot more interesting stuff a little lower, but Hiccup was currently lying askew on the bed with his head hanging off the side, and he didn't feel like moving yet.
He tried to remember how he got here, but honestly after the picnic things got a little fuzzy. That whole careful and gentle thing had gone out the window pretty quick, but Hiccup was strangely okay with that. They hadn't even managed to get his prosthetic off, and it jutted out at a right angle to the rest of his leg. He should probably redesign the attachment straps, because that would be really inconvenient if he were trying to walk. Not that he could remember how exactly it got like that anyway. He thought of asking Tuff to recreate whatever he had done, and smiled.
The door opened. "What're you thinking about?" Tuff asked.
"Apparently I'm a lot easier than I thought," Hiccup said, sighing.
"S'not your fault," Tuffnut said with a grin. "You could only resist me for so long."
"You're going to be insufferable now, aren't you?"
"Probably." He dropped a plate on Hiccup's chest. "Here, I brought you some meat."
"What is it with you and feeding me?" Hiccup asked, lifting the plate and carefully pushing himself upright.
"I want to make sure you keep your energy up," Tuff said, waggling his eyebrows. Hiccup laughed.
"Hey, do you need to get home? Like, for your dad?"
Hiccup paused, then shook his head. "I'm not worried about it. If he's going to freak out, he's going to freak out. It doesn't change anything."
"All right, if you say so."
"I do." Hiccup stretched. "We can take our time."
"Awesome," Tuffnut said, smiling.