Title: A Bark Worth Its Bite
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G. Includes a major spoiler for the end of the movie.
Characters: Hiccup and Toothless.
Setting: Within a couple of months after the events of the movie.
Summary: The cold makes Hiccup’s leg ache. Toothless knows what to do about it.
Disclaimer: They belong to Dreamworks. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Just a little something that came into my head within a day after I first watched How to Train Your Dragon. As a “Fullmetal Alchemist” fan, I’m fond of characters with artificial limbs, so I was interested in writing a story that dealt with this particular change in Hiccup’s life.

 

A Bark Worth Its Bite

 

All in all, Hiccup thought he had adjusted pretty well to being an amputee.

Not that it was by any means ideal. Although he improved its design with adjustments of his own, the prosthetic leg Gobber had made for him would always have limits. It was awkward at times, and maintaining it properly could be a tiresome chore. It made him feel self-conscious—even though he knew the rest of the village looked upon his loss as a badge of honor, instead of a disability. And most of all, he simply missed being able to wiggle his toes, or feel soft grass under the sole of his foot.

Still, when he considered that he could have died—and that his sacrifice had helped win the dragons’ freedom from the monster that terrorized them, allowing Vikings and dragons alike to reach a new understanding with one another—he felt it was a small enough price to pay. It was no great obstacle to his enjoyment of a future that now seemed so much brighter. He could still walk, and eventually, he could run; and best of all, with Toothless’ wings beneath him, he could fly.

…However, none of this was a great consolation to him when the year’s first spell of cold weather arrived.

Now he knew why Gobber grumbled so bitterly about periods of cold and dampness—which in Berk, of course, was the majority of the time. The chill seemed to penetrate straight into the remaining bone in Hiccup’s leg. His knee swelled and ached, and the stump on which his artificial leg was fastened throbbed like a toothache. On those days, just getting up was a monumental task.

Such were the conditions in which Toothless found him one drizzly morning, buried in misery under a heap of furs on his bed.

It started with a cool, snuffly nose nudging against the palm of Hiccup’s hand. Reluctantly he opened one eye, to see Toothless sitting on his haunches at the bedside—presenting a perfect impression of a puppy that wanted to go for a walk. The Night Fury’s neck was bent, holding his head close to the floor in a beseeching posture. His pale-green, orb-like eyes were wide and expectant, and his saddle was clamped between his jaws.

Seeing that Hiccup was awake, he whined softly through the leather; or at least, it was the sound that passed for a whine when it came from a dragon’s throat. It was really more of a low rumble that vibrated the bedposts.

“Aww, Toothless, not today,” Hiccup groaned, attempting to pull the covers over his head. “I don’t feel like going flying right now. What’s left of my leg is killing me.”

Toothless uttered a disapproving growl—and the bed creaked alarmingly as a heavy mass of midnight scales suddenly joined Hiccup on top of it.

“Hey, come on!” Hiccup shoved at the snout that was insistently trying to push back the covers. “Get down before you break the bed! Would I drag you out into the cold if you weren’t feeling up to it? Go get Astrid to take you out just this once…”

The dragon was undeterred. Even after Hiccup managed to topple him onto the floor, he bounded in laps around the room, scythe-tail swinging free and threatening to destroy something until the boy grumpily sat up.

“Alright, alright! Just gimme a second…” Grumbling under his breath about lightning-spitting pestilences that got up too early in the morning, Hiccup eased his artificial leg over the side of the bed, and gingerly rose to limp toward the hearth. He only limped now on days like this, when it was cold and he hurt.

Toothless was patient—but just barely so—for the few minutes it took Hiccup to gulp down a breakfast of bland-tasting gruel. It was warm, at least, and that warmth inside him helped to take the edge off his aches. After he had eaten, he bundled himself up in a few extra layers of fur and wool, and wincingly knelt on his good knee to buckle on Toothless’ saddle and tailfin.

The moment they were outside, and he was on Toothless’ back, the dragon took off like a shot.

 

Hiccup thought Toothless would be content with the exercise of a few leisurely laps around the island, but the Night Fury had other ideas. He sailed out over the harbor and kept going, plunging into the chilly fog that had begun to roll in from the ocean. His rider protested, tried to turn him back, but Toothless only flicked his ears and shook his head; and after all, there was really no arguing with a dragon who not only had you hundreds of feet in the air, but half a mile out to sea. So Hiccup resigned himself, moodily pulling his hood up close around his face in the biting wind, and waited to see where the obstinate reptile was so intent on taking him.

After a half-hour flight through the damp, heavy fog, Hiccup finally began to make out the dim outline of a neighboring island ahead. Toothless descended, gliding down toward a forest clearing in the island’s hinterlands, and alighted in the grass with hardly a bump.

“…Uh-huh.”

Bemusedly Hiccup slid down off of Toothless’ back, taking in the scenery. The trees that ringed the clearing were mostly conifers, but among them stood a few others with pale almond-shaped leaves and slim, silvery trunks. The grass of the clearing itself was still green, and it was not yet too late in the season for a scattering of wildflowers. It was really a rather pretty place… but at the moment, Hiccup felt his own bed would be much prettier.

“Okay. So, what are we… whoa!”

Hiccup had barely gotten himself clear of Toothless’ stirrups when the dragon sprang forward, galloping across the grass with a reptilian yrrrf sound. For one alarming moment, the boy thought Toothless was about to take off into the woods; but instead, he skidded to a halt below the nearest of the silver trees. Rising on his haunches, he stretched his long body upward, resting his forepaws against the trunk as high up as he could reach… and he raked his talons viciously down the length of the smooth bark.

His human companion watched incredulously as he attacked the tree with all the vigor of a cat on a scratching post, sending curls of tree bark raining down around the roots.

Toothless! Did you seriously drag me all this way just so you could sharpen your claws on a tree?” Hiccup limped closer, his fists clenched. “Why here? What’s wrong with the trees on Berk? You crazy bat-lizard, what were you thinking?”

Toothless ignored the tirade completely—and it was clear that interfering with a dragon in the act of exercising his long, sharp claws was not an option any sane person would contemplate. Seething with futile irritation, Hiccup sat down on top of a flat stone, and massaged the sore stump of his left leg as he waited for Toothless to satisfy himself.

At least the climbing sun was bright, burning off the fog and warming the clearing. After a few minutes, Hiccup sprawled on his back and let his eyes close, strangely lulled by the rhythmic sounds of dragon claws scraping against wood.

He must have dozed off. His next awareness was of a familiar nudge—this time against his side instead of his hand. He flinched awake and sat up. It took him a moment to remember that he was angry with Toothless, but as he did, he turned to face the reptile with a scowl.

The reproach he was about to deliver never made it past his lips. Toothless had that eager-puppy look again, the same as when he begged to take the flight that had brought them here; but this time, instead of his saddle, a large clump of the stripped tree bark was clutched between his teeth. The thin, papery shreds he had ripped from the trunk dangled from his jaws like confetti.

Toothless dropped the mess in front of the rock. His tail waved back and forth slowly. He bobbed his head forward, just as he used to do when offering Hiccup a regurgitated fish.

“Uh. Okay…” Without enthusiasm, Hiccup reached down to gather a few pieces of the bark in his palm. Its fleshy inner layer was green-white and rather oily. He sniffed it tentatively, to find that its fragrance was bitter.

“Yeah. No.” He dropped the shreds on top of the heap. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’m—”

The burgeoning refusal ended in a startled grunt as Toothless reared up and whipped his tail around, curling it to slap Hiccup on the back with his tailfin. The boy tumbled forward off the rock and ignominiously face-planted in the pile of bark shavings, his mouth agape with surprise.

As it turned out, the stuff tasted just as bitter as it smelled.

“What is wrong with you?” Hiccup choked. He righted himself, spat out the curls of shredded wood fiber he had managed not to swallow, and braced his hands on his hips. “I don’t know what it is you’re up to today, but I’ve had enough of this! It’s time to go home!”

He reached for the saddle, but Toothless recoiled with a growl. The Night Fury stretched out his wings and shook them half-warningly; then he whirled and loped away to one side of the clearing. There he flopped down in the grass and curled his tail around his body, giving every sign of an intent to take a long and cozy nap.

Stunned and indignant, Hiccup took a step forward… only to freeze as Toothless opened one luminous eye, emitting a deep, low rumble from his chest.

“Great. Wonderful.” Throwing up his hands in surrender, Hiccup hobbled back to his own rocky perch and sat down heavily. “I’m cold, in pain, miles from home—and I’ve been marooned on a strange island by a dragon with a totally wrong idea about how to make salad. Fantastic.”

 

Another half-hour passed.

To all appearances, Toothless drowsed without a care in the world. At length he rolled over on his back, letting the sun sparkle on the obsidian scales of his belly. Sometimes he twitched as if dreaming, and sometimes he made sounds that were very much like a purr.

For Hiccup, the idle time was rather less cheerful. He tried to nap as well, but he was mired in formless gray thoughts of frustration and self-pity that left him sulkily awake. After a while, resigned to that wakefulness, he limped off into the grass and halfheartedly explored the clearing. He kicked at a few wildflowers with his prosthetic foot, childishly irritated by their cheer in the face of his gloom; but the flowers didn’t fight back, deflating his wrath into a vague guilt at taking out his foul mood on them. So he went back to his rock, somberly rubbing his swollen knee, and stared up blankly at the swift-moving clouds instead.

But as the minutes lengthened, Hiccup gradually became aware of something remarkable: his leg felt better.

It took him time to notice because it happened slowly, but at last he realized that the ache in his stump had faded. He could move his knee much more freely, and with far less pain. When he tentatively slid off the rock and took a few steps, he no longer limped and grimaced. He felt almost fit to run instead of walk—and he did caper around the middle of the clearing, just a little, marveling at the improvement.

All the while, Toothless watched him through one slitted eye.

When Hiccup finally collected himself and approached the Night Fury, he was red-faced, his gaze downcast. Embarrassed remorse made him wince inside, even as he knelt down on his left knee with a glorious new ease.

“You knew, didn’t you?” he murmured, as Toothless rose up, gazing at him from the depths of wise and placid eyes. “There’s something in that tree bark that dulls pain! I get it now… All along, the whole reason you brought me out here was to help me. Thanks, Toothless—and I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

The dragon blinked, trilled, and butted his head gently against Hiccup’s chest—almost knocking him over.

Ow—okay!” Hiccup laughed, scratching Toothless firmly behind the ears. “Let’s collect some more of that bark to take home with us. I want to share it with Gobber!”

He didn’t merely walk toward the trees then. Instead he ran—and his reptilian friend bounded after him.


© 2012 Jordanna Morgan