“Stormfly, still,” Astrid commanded. The Nadder’s fidgeting barely halted but her rider still managed to get one of the three saddle straps undone.
“Hey,” Astrid called out as she worked. “Let’s check out the Ice Gorges next time. I hear there are some edible wild berries in those parts. We’ve pretty much exhausted all of Berk’s by now…”
She kept her focus on maneuvering around the next set of buckles, even as Hiccup’s voice rose to respond from the other side of his dragon.
“I thought you said it was too close to Villainy?”
Astrid’s shrugged. ”Eh, I wasn’t sure you could keep up before. I think we can give it a go next time we’re in the area.”
There was a pause and then, slow and uncertain, Hiccup repeated her words.
“You weren’t sure I could keep up?”
Astrid bit her lip to keep from smiling. His voice always dipped in pitch when he was annoyed.
“Yeah,” she went on, her tone light by comparison. “I can’t have you getting tuckered out in enemy territory, after all. Stoick would kill me.”
Hiccup popped his head around Toothless’s backside and looked at her with narrowed eyes.
“Uh huh. If I recall, you just spent the entire flight behind me,” he remarked dryly.
“By choice,” she pointed out.
“Was it, though?”
“Of course. I have to make sure you don’t fall behind.”
Toothless suddenly trotted away, free from his burden, and Hiccup tossed the saddle on a pile of leathers. He turned to face her.
“Oh, right,” he began in mock thoughtfulness. ”You just wanted to make sure I didn’t fall behind. That’s why the last three times we’ve been flying—even the local flights—you decided to stay behind me.”
“Exactly,” Astrid said primly and ignoring the emphasis Hiccup put on certain words. Instead she put her attention on pulling free the final saddle strap.
Hiccup pressed on, the amusement in his voice rising.
“I noticed, you know,” he began and Astrid’s head whipped around to stare at him, “… that you were really intent on making sure I didn’t fall behind. Every time I looked back. You were very focused on your task.”
He placed his hands on his hips and all Astrid thought was how it accented the pinch of his waist. She didn’t know why she would notice such a thing, especially since Hiccup hadn’t gotten any thinner in past years. Perhaps it only appeared more narrow because his shoulders seemed to have managed a broader reach sometime in the last few months.
Astrid realized she must have taken pause for too long, because now Hiccup was smiling at her in that annoying, accusing way. Her cheeks heated beneath the wind-nipped chill of her skin.
“Believe what you want,” she said as stiffly as she could. She pulled the saddle from Stormfly’s back and dropped it over by Toothless’s.
“You know I will.”
Astrid curled her lip good-naturedly at him and shook out her still-numb fingers.
“It’s getting a little too cold to fly without gloves,” she remarked. It wasn’t just a topic change either; taking Stormfly’s saddle off took twice as long as it should have.
Her focus elsewhere, Astrid hadn’t noticed Hiccup moved to stand in front of her until he reached out for her hands and gingerly took both into his care. He didn’t utter a word as he drew them to his mouth. He held her gaze, cupped her hands before his lips and exhaled on them. The heat of his breath curled around her fingers, hammering life back into the stiff digits.
Astrid smiled as he worked, feeling thankful for the shade of the barn that kept them from watchful eyes. There was something unexpectedly intimate about the way he stared at her, with her fingers so near his lips and his breath so moist, and Astrid knew she couldn’t look away even if she wanted to.
Puff after puff of hot air caressed her fingers, until Hiccup finally, slowly, lowered their joined hands from his mouth. He kept his hold, though; both on her hands and her gaze.
“Better?” he asked.
Their voices seemed so loud in the wake of the powerful silence they just shared. Astrid gave her fingers an experimental wiggle.
“…Wanna get my nose too?”