The Billet-Doux

Summary: When Berk finds itself at odds with a neighboring tribe, the two chiefs decide stronger bloodlines would benefit their rocky relationship. But after the original plan falls through, Hiccup finds his future compromised by marriage, turmoil, and an enemy on the horizon.

English Romance/Adventure Rated: T Chapters: Words:

a/n: This has been done twelve hundred billion times. But I'd like to put a more monstrous, overly-convoluted spin on it. Things to expect: OC's, potential death, violence, Hicstrid, armadas, swearing, and fucking insanity. Here we go.

Part One:

Preemptive Strike

The first soldier who had been discovered on their land had, indeed, been killed. On accident, of course.

It had been a grizzled, hulking mass of a man, his bulky arms a complex latticework of muscles and tendons; unshorn face webbed with broken blood vessels. Straddled upon his back was a sword, the preferred weapon on Ronan, and around his beefy neck hung a gruesome talisman- - the golden eye of a Deadly Nadder.

When he was spotted just feet from the livestock yard of Chunk the Mighty- - an aptly named Viking of Herculean stature- - and seen bearing Ronan's familiar insignia on his breastplate… well, that had been the end of that. Chunk likened himself the victim in the situation, but a lack of wounds on his person quickly belied his tragic tale of battling the soldier with his bare fists. Besides, it had been his freshly-sharpened battleaxe lodged in the Ronanian's skull.

Stoick the Vast had needed the news like he needed a hole in his head (a grim joke, he decided, seeing as that man had battleaxes on the brain, ah ha ha), but dealt with it nonetheless. The Ronanian was buried, like any decent man should be, although they neglected to mark it with a headstone. Chunk received the typical penalty for armed murder: the confiscation of his weapon arsenal for an entire winter. It should have been nothing.

But as the chief gazed solemnly at the body sprawled before the hearth, he realized that the first soldier's death had, in fact, been something. Across the room, his son sat in Gothi's old rocker, a piece of furniture as aged and decrepit as the woman who owned it. The fifteen-year-old boy fiddled with the frayed hem of his tunic in the vain attempt to ignore the fact he was in the company of a carcass.

Ordinarily, Stoick would tend to these sort of matters alone, but it had recently been brought to his attention that his son would one day take the throne and needed as much knowledge as possible about the duties of the chief. He was still a bit wary, though. Future leader or not, he felt it was inappropriate for a lad his age to be dealing with the dead.

"Dad." Hiccup Horrendous Haddock glanced up at his father and then at their silent guest. The youthful blush touching his freckled cheeks had long since disappeared, leaving his face pale, almost unhealthy, in the firelight. "Where'd he come from?"

Stoick effortlessly turned the stout man on his back, revealing his platinum breastplate. The crossed heads of a Zippleback were carved into it. The boy nodded in understanding and settled back. While the prospect of investigating a corpse that had been uncovered on the hunting grounds first struck fear in his heart, he was honored his father valued his opinion as much as his closest advisors. One day, he would be a chief and tote his own son along on such errands.

Gothi, the Viking who had wordlessly pronounced the poor soul dead, limped back into the living room with a tea kettle suspended from the tip of her cane. She poured the brew into two cups and handed one to each of her kin. Stoick set his aside politely in favor of checking the contents of the Ronanian's satchel; Hiccup accepted his own with hands that still trembled slightly.

"Teeth…" Dozens of fangs, ranging from the size of Stoick's thumbnail to that of the poker hanging above the mantel, clacked onto the floorboards. Each and every one had been torn from a dragon's maw. "What in Odin's name was the lad doin' with teeth?"

"Lemme see." Excited to be of some use, Hiccup placed his cup on the end table and joined his baffled father. He plucked one from the pile. It was cool and smooth in his palm. "This one's a Gronckle. Look how blunt it is. And I think this one's a Changewing. Probably from a baby. And this one- -"

"But what's he doin' with 'em?" Stoick repeated.

Hiccup turned a Monstrous Nightmare fang over in his hand and flinched when he felt the soft tissue of gum at its roots. "I dunno, Dad, but I think these were ripped out of the dragons. Look at this. You can still see the gum. I think this guy… wanted them. Needed them, actually."

The first dull pulse of a migraine throbbed behind the chief's eyes. He was in no mood to unlock the enigma surrounding this man's death, aside from the basic protocol: bury him. "Well, he got 'em, that's for sure. Guess he didn't know Deadly Nadders' don't like bein' operated on."

Hiccup recalled the Nadder spines protruding from the man's throat and eyes, drawing crimson blood that starkly juxtaposed against his pallid flesh, and felt a bit shaky. "Yeah…"

"We'll have him buried at dawn. I don't want the villagers thinking we're under attack," Stoick said, sweeping the teeth back into the satchel for safe-keeping. He drew himself back to his full height, which was that of a giant's, and polished off his tepid drink in a single swallow. "Thank you for everything, Gothi. I'm sure there'll be negotiations in the future about this."

The elderly woman nodded. Though she had no words to share, she was infinite in her wisdom and, would there be peace treaties to create in the future, her opinion would be considered first and foremost. She bid the pair farewell with a wave of her staff as they stepped out of the warmth of her hut and into the frigid void of night.

They walked with only a narrow birth of space between them, a space typically filled by Toothless. Hiccup had instructed the Night Fury to stay behind at the thought he might be frightened or, dear Odin, enraged upon seeing a Viking slain by a dragon. Besides, this was strictly a father-and-son outing.

As pleasant as the company of his father was, Hiccup's curiosity outweighed his pleasure. "Dad, how many of those soldiers have just… ya know, showed up around here?"

"Too many. It started with just one, and he was killed by Chunk. You were just a boy then. And then there was another a few years later. And another. And now this one. It's like their…"

"Doing it on purpose?" Hiccup suggested. Stoick blinked, somewhat taken aback by the observation. It had never occurred to him that Ronan would be sending these soldiers over for a divine reason, other than gathering information about their enemy. These men were always killed, in one way or another, so why would the tribe keep sending them? "Maybe they're trying to get our attention. Maybe the soldiers are just a decoy."

"For everyone's sake, I hope not. We can't handle another war," the chief mumbled as he carefully tiptoed past a slumbering Monstrous Nightmare. The petulant creature seemed to register the movement, for it twitched and roared quietly in its sleep. Peace had been forged with the dragons, a process that took an entire year of their lives with it. Berk was still rebuilding, still regrouping, still striving to attain the strength that once defined their tribe. War would ravage them like a fever: once inflicted, they would never heal.

They continued several moments without conversation before Hiccup passed Stormfly, nestled in her roost, and shuddered. "That guy…"

Stoick perceived his son's unease and clapped a meaty hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, son. He didn't suffer long, Odin rest his soul."

Shame reignited the color in his complexion. He had been so enthusiastic to prove he'd be a fine leader someday, and the mere image of a man made him shiver. A dead man, at that. What Viking got all clammy and seized in terror about the dead?

They reached their hut just as the moon appeared from behind its shadowy veil. It hung above them like a crooked grin, outshining even the brightest constellations and casting the village in a pearly luminescence that was just as ominous as it was beautiful. The moonlit fog glowed spectrally in the distance, like ghosts congregating for a midnight romp.

Toothless almost mowed the chief over when the door was opened, his acidic eyes alit with euphoria. The overzealous Night Fury tackled his master and began to bombard him with a flurry of sloppy lickings and nuzzlings, as if they had been separated for years instead of hours.

"Okay, okay, bud… yeah, I missed you, too." Hiccup scratched Toothless affectionately behind the ears; the pitch-colored creature purred with pleasure. He unpinned his heavy paws from the small boy's chest and dashed back into the dim hut. With a throaty, almost Viking-like, chuff, Toothless lit the heap of firewood stacked in the hearth. A merry little fire sprang up that bathed the living room in its purple phosphorescence. Toothless scampered over to the inferno admire his handiwork, mouth curved in his lopsided grin. Yes, this will do.

"Go on up to bed, Hiccup. It's late," Stoick said. His voice was firm, but good-natured. "And thank you for coming with me. You were a big help."

Happiness swelled in his heart like ocean tides breeching on a once-forgotten shore, a feeling of relief and unmatchable joy. His father- - Stoick the Vast, Chief of Berk, A Force to be Reckoned With- - was proud of him. "Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome. I'll see you in the morning."

Hiccup beckoned for Toothless, who trotted after his master with an expression that clearly read: Did you see my fire? It was great, wasn't it? Stoick watched them ascend the enormous stairwell with a smile one might not expect from a man who'd just dealt with the dead. The image of the duo tackling the steps on all fours was just too amusing. His son had formed the habit after years of struggling to reach his own bedroom, and even though he was now tall enough to climb without much difficulty, he had yet to break it.

His grin quickly diminished as he surveyed the vacant living room. The amethyst luminescence thrown off by the inferno carved whatever it could not touch into ghoulish silhouettes. Without the company of another Viking or dragon, the space seemed oddly… empty. Haunted, even.

Tonight was no time for reminiscing, yet the memory of Val surfaced in his mind. Her presence could fill a room, as could her brassy voice and infectious laugh. Nights like these, when deadly winter was just sharpening its icy claws and breathing down their necks like an arctic stranger, were when they would light a fire and sit for hours. They had never been particularly physical with their affection, but the mere sensation of sharing each other's company was as intimate as bed love.

Stoick closed his thick fingers around nothing. The past was behind him. Val was behind him. That chapter of his life had long since ended and the story would not continue unless he stopped rereading and forged ahead.

:::::

Thump!

Damn dragon.

Thump!

The boy emerged from the depths of unconsciousness like a trout being reeled in from the sea. He writhed and sun-fished about in a fleeting moment of panic before he recognized the tremors as the impact of his dragon hopping on the roof. Once said revelation had been reached, he laid in bed to gather his wits and bemoan the misfortunes of owning a Night Fury with an insatiable hunger for morning flights.

Having a dragon was no walk in the park.

With a reedy grunt of exhaustion, Hiccup shoved himself to the edge of his bed and draped the blanket over his shoulders. It had been Astrid's Snoggletog gift to him: she was well aware his other one had suffered the wrath of one of Toothless's stray plasma bolts. The nights before the holiday had left him scraping for some alternative heat source until he risked being crushed by sleeping with Toothless in his fiery bed.

Needless to say, he was infinitely grateful for the present.

Thump! The blow was forceful enough to knock a blizzard of dust motes from the crossbeams above. He shook the debris out of his auburn mane and decided it was best not to keep Toothless waiting any longer. Hiccup tugged his boot over his good foot, shrugged on his furry vest, and, still swathed in his charcoal blanket, galloped downstairs.

The Night Fury stomped furtively against the thatch roof once more before jumping back down. No one was quite as difficult to awaken in the morning than his rider. Surely, the boy had learned that mornings were for flying, not sleeping in.

A minute later, his lethargic master stumbled out of the hut. As usual, the ice nearly robbed him of his balance, but Toothless made sure he stayed on his feet (well, foot). The boy smiled and rubbed the dragon's scaly brow. "Thanks, bud. Ya ready to go?"

Toothless slapped his metallic tail against the snow-laden ground, almost unable to contain his glee. Hiccup got in the saddle and hooked his prosthetic into the stirrup; it fit with a familiar click. Before they took off, he wound the blanket around his neck like a scarf. Wow. It was like pressing his face against the balmy underbelly of a Gronckle. He'd have to thank Astrid again.

"All right, bud. Let's go!"

They flew until they were little more than an inky blip against the thunderheads above, growing smaller and smaller, and then disappearing all together.

:::::

Astrid Hofferson was a morning person in every definition of the word. While others tended to think of her as someone who perpetually woke up on the wrong side of bed, her intolerance of other people's idiocy had no correlation with her sleeping habits. She was just a very violent, aggressive person that also happened to adore sunrises.

This morning's sunrise had been particularly lovely. During deadly winter, when everything was grey and bland, the explosive symphony of color dawn brought was an extravagance she would happily trade an hour of sleep for. Besides, early mornings meant no rogue dragons, no twins concussing one another, and breakfast with Stormfly.

… and another guest, if he showed up on time.

The blonde teenager was sitting cross-legged on the dock, which went largely unused in the month after Snoggletog. Bartering for gifts had come and gone, and trade was far too risky with such nasty weather conditions. So, their massive ships stayed tethered to the dock, guarding her like the shells of enormous dragons long since slain.

Stormfly was angled over the pier's splintered edge, admiring her own reflection in the calm waters below. The Nadder had already preened and was now affirming she had not missed a single stray spine or glossy scale.

"Come here, girl. You look great." Stormfly lifted her head questioningly; her rider smiled and grabbed a slippery cod from her satchel (a gift from her parents, the other had gotten lost on Dragon Island). "Come eat. Look, it's cod. You love cod."

There were few things Stormfly valued over her own appearance, but cod was one of them. She stomped toward Astrid on her awkward, bipedal legs and snapped the fish up. Astrid scratched her chin adoringly and was thanked with an affectionate nuzzle. "Good girl. So, what do you think we're doing today?"

The Nadder began to paw at a hole in the pier.

Astrid broke the bread she had brought for herself. "Yeah. He did talk about going to the shore today. The Scauldrons are migrating. Ya want to see a Scauldron, girl?"

Stormfly had no reply. She was making progress in widening the hole.

A figment manifested in the clouds above, something streamlined and the color of pitch. Astrid rose to her feet so she could watch them complete the final trek of their morning flight. They looped and pin wheeled gracefully through the misty sky, as if they were one mechanism instead of two damaged ones. A smile touched the corner of her lips.

After another minute of dazzling showmanship, the Night Fury and his rider dipped towards the sea and landed mere meters from Astrid. The shivering, somewhat damp boy aback the dragon swiped his wind-ravaged bangs out of his eyes. He grinned up at her.

"Wow," the girl said, crossing her arms, "aren't you two the biggest show-offs on Berk?"

"I couldn't help it." Hiccup unlatched his prosthetic from the stirrup and tested his weight on it before dismounting. "Toothless didn't get his lap last night. He's got way too much energy this morning."

The dragon proved his master right by diving straight for Astrid's satchel with unprecedented enthusiasm. He only managed to nab a trout before both teenagers seized him by the cuff of his neck, separating him from the spoils. After swallowing, Toothless gazed up at both with his most innocent, who me? expression. Hiccup was not so easily swayed by those huge eyes- - well, not anymore. "Bad dragon, very bad dragon! We don't eat our friend's food. Got it?"

Toothless licked his hand.

"Well, I see he learned his lesson," Astrid deadpanned. She handed him half of her bread and gestured to the wooden dock. They sat to enjoy their breakfast as the first fragile slants of sunlight struggled to breach the fog. What little luminescence struggled through was milky, pale: not like light at all.

Astrid scooted closer to Hiccup and rested her head in the shell of his collarbone. Her nose grazed the cool, unblemished surface of his skin, catching his scent: saltwater and the smoky familiarity of Night Fury plasma. Something soft shivered past the nape of her neck. Yak fleece. It had cost her two swords and a wristlet, but his delighted reaction upon opening it up, almost childlike with glee, was worth a Gronckle's weight in gold. "Guess you really like the blanket."

"Are you kidding? I'd probably be frozen to the saddle if it weren't for it."

"We couldn't have that, now could we?" the blonde sang playfully. He smiled down at her and lifted a hand to the thick plait resting against her arched back. She tensed, almost protested (nobody felt her hair), but his touch was gentle, thoughtful. Astrid decided not to complain and shifted the entirety of her weight against Hiccup. They both stiffened, still awkward with the foreign concept of physicality. A second passed where it seemed one of them would detach themselves from the other.

Astrid rested her palm against his thigh. They both exhaled and nothing was uncomfortable or strange. It was natural, as if they had been created for the sole purpose of fitting neatly together. Even his heartbeat, which had tripled when she first made contact with him, steadied until it matched her own. Their breaths, tiny whorls of mist, synchronized.

Toothless and Stormfly exchanged a sidelong glance that confirmed they had identical perspectives on the scene: Wow. And it only took them a whole year.

:::::

"Hey, it's the lovebirds!"

Hiccup rolled his eyes for the umpteenth time in the past hour as he scraped the ice crystals off the hooks of his saddle. "For the love of gods, Snotlout, let it go. You know Astrid and I are a… uh, ya know…"

"A bunch of touchy-feely saps?" Ruffnut suggested from her perch on Barf. She and her brother began to cackle as if she had made a remark of deep comic profundity, and they fist-bumped triumphantly. Astrid shook her own fist at them, visage contorted into the nastiest of scowls.

"Shut up! It's like you guys have never seen two Vikings touch each other!" Indeed, Vikings were generous with physical contact. A couple kissing heatedly in public was a common sight, as was punching, hand-holding, and brawling. Two teenagers nestled together on the docks was not odd by any definition, but their thickskulled companions never disregarded an opportunity to tease them.

"Oh, Astrid! I love you! Let's get married!" Snotlout squealed in an obnoxiously high, thin voice. He had plucked two stones from the beach and was using them as marionettes in what was a rather poor imitation of the incident he had witnessed on the dock. "Mwah! Mwah! I love you! Mwah!"

"Ooh, now do Ruffnut! Make sure you capture how annoying she is!" Tuffnut demanded. His sister thwacked him with enough force to make his helmet ring.

"Next time, we have breakfast on an island," Astrid grumbled as Snotlout slammed the stones together passionately.

"Agreed." Hiccup reclaimed his height above the little group, which had, as Astrid predicted, gone to the beach. It was a sandy, rocky strip of land that extended right to the foot of the mountains and was hooded by scraggly bluffs. Even when the weather was pleasant, the beach was a rather miserable place to spend one's day. "Okay, guys. As some of you- - hopefully- - know, it's Scauldron season. They're gonna be jamming the waters."

"And?" Snotlout seemed to be upset his little play had been interrupted.

"And we gotta make sure they don't freak out or try to make it on land. A Scauldron without water isn't very happy. Fishlegs? Mind giving us a quick summary?"

"I'd be glad to." The blonde boy cleared his throat and gestured to the ocean. "The Scauldron, Tidal Class, is one of the more deadlier dragons to inhabit Berk. It has the ability to spray scalding water at its victims and is equipped with razor-sharp teeth. Graceful underwater, but clumsier on land."

As if on cue, a shape appeared on the foamy horizon. "Hey, right on time. Okay guys, you know what to do when they start coming."

"Feed Snotlout to them?" Tuff suggested, eliciting a chuckle from even Astrid. She caught Hiccup's greatly unimpressed expression and shrugged with a devious grin.

"And then we feed 'em- -" Ruffnut's eager addition to the conversation was cut short by what sounded like a dagger being plunged deep into a dragon's unprotected hide. Her watery cerulean eyes widened and her lips parted in speech.

She did not speak, though. She screamed.

It wasn't until she arched her back that Hiccup realized it had been an arrow, not a dagger. And that the ominous figure hovering on the skyline was no Scauldron: it was a ship.