How to Hold a Torch
‘Heh, you’re really pathetic.’
Hiccup jumped, turning on his saddle as he adjusted his gauntlets after their dragon race. Snotlout was giving him a self-satisfied smirk which made no sense in the current circumstances.
‘Um, I just won that dragon race?’ he replied leadingly. Snotlout snorted.
‘I didn’t mean that,’ he said dismissively. ‘Even if you take into account this game I let you win,’ he went on, ignoring Hiccup’s eyeroll and mumble, ‘out of the goodness of my heart to make you look good, you are still pathetic.’
‘And how, pray tell, is that?’ he said, more than a little irritated at this point.
‘Oh, thanks Aaaastrid,’ he replied in a tedious, exaggeratedly nasal voice. Hiccup felt his stomach plummet and his cheeks heat again at his momentary error which had caused him a great deal of embarrassment before. He’d hoped no one had noticed his moment of failed hubris with her comment on the colour red; apparently, no such luck. ‘Do you need some flint for that torch? Because it’s about time you put it out, but you show no signs of feeling the burn!’
It was Hiccup’s cheeks that burned all the more.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he tried for feigned nonchalance, knowing he was failing utterly and terribly. His palms started sweating and his heart beat a panicked patter in his chest, like he was cornered and awkward and awfully exposed. He didn’t dare look around to see if Astrid was close; if he crossed eyes with her right now he wouldn’t be able to hide how mortified and utterly embarrassed at Snotlout’s taunts he was feeling, and that would give him away like a flour covered changewing.
Fiddling with his saddle and his wrist guards some more, he tried to concentrate the suddenly blank, panicky scape of his thoughts. He could keep his head cool while facing giant monster dragons, from Screaming to Red Deaths, and ox-sized humans, from his dad the chief to Alvin, and even Dagur to a certain extent. But if he tried to face Astrid and come to any sort of conclusion about where he stood with her - or tried any sort of flirty move - he was stuck and jitter-bug out of luck. Astrid’s little comment earlier on how red was his colour had lifted him right up to the clouds, and then slammed him right back down. Snotlout didn’t have to remind him of it.
‘Sure you don’t,’ his cousin jeered. ‘You’re still crushing on her like a teenager and she doesn’t even give you the time of day.’ That actually hurt because it was a little too close to the truth.
‘We’re friends, nothing more,’ Hiccup replied, and he hated how his voice wavered. Chords in his chest he didn’t like to think about twanged at a dissonance, leaving him shaky and unbalanced. He would have liked to point out that Snotlout had been holding the same torch for just as long; only recently he’d removed his attentions to Ruffnut. Hiccup already knew that Snotlout would simply turn that around to show that he was grown up and mature and Hiccup was not.
‘Ch’yeah, exactly,’ Snotlout snorted. And then took off on Hookfang, yelling a ‘you are sooooo saaaaaad,’ after him. Hiccup hunched his shoulders and allowed himself to pout as he looked after his cousin. So he still liked Astrid; what of it? So he still hadn’t given up. Was that really that pathetic?
Perhaps, a tiny voice in his head whispered. She had kissed him a few times after the whole Red Death thing. That first Snoggletog had been almost like magic, with how she’d comforted him and then sat down beside him through the evening, even with dragon drool all over him. He’d been terrified of offending her, so he hadn’t really ever done anything that could be considered forward - he’d let her set the pace, and taken anything she had given him with happiness and eagerness. How he felt was obvious, according to practically everyone, so he’d decided to let her sort through how she felt and decide if she wanted to go for it.
In the end she never did. The Kisses dried out to occasional Friendly Punches, and then those too made way to just words and jokes. Soon, they were spending their time lounging with the others more than they did whispering together as they had done that first year. She was often beside him during the day, but mostly because they liked to consult each other on most matters and he valued her opinion on anything that needed to get done, as well as anything in general. She was a good sounding board for his inventions, and conversation with her was simply … it was good.
But they were friends. Astrid hadn’t kissed him in three years, and if they had to go anywhere, they would have gone there by now. He knew this very well, and yet…
‘You know, Toothless,’ he said, ‘I think he’s right. I should really just-’ His voice dried out and he stopped, swallowing a lump in his throat. A sharp pain welled in his chest, and the very thought of giving up that tiny hope he still had just felt like too much. He really was holding up this torch, wasn’t he? Hiccup hadn’t really thought too hard about it, but Snotlout was … right, surprisingly enough. Perhaps, he really aught to…
Again the pain. Hiccup just sighed. Toothless warbled at him, and Hiccup scratched his head for both their comfort.
‘Let’s go for a spin, bud? It’ll clear my head.’
The night fury took off, determined to make his rider feel better. Unbeknowst to them, a blonde viking woman observed their retreat, a thoughtful look on her face.