lady_ragnell: (roses)
lady_ragnell ([personal profile] lady_ragnell) wrote2013-04-06 04:32 pm

Winter Is All Over You

Title: Winter Is All Over You
Wordcount: ~4700
Warnings: Athelstan does consent explicitly to the sex, but given he is still a slave I will warn for mild dub-con. Religious guilt, historical inaccuracy, brief violence.
Summary: Winter never bothered Athelstan before, but winter in the North is a different thing.
A/N: Written for the "huddling for warmth" square on my Trope Bingo card. Title by First Aid Kit.
Disclaimer: I do not own Vikings.

Athelstan is used to denying himself indulgences. It is, he has always been told, the way to Heaven, and he did not have as much trouble with it as some of the boys at the monastery did. Athelstan eats little, sleeps little. He didn’t mind the cold or the damp at Lindisfarne, when the cold winter wind made the stone walls like blocks of ice. He did not indulge himself in sins of the flesh, and was rarely tempted to do so.

Life among the men of the North is different. Athelstan works at his tasks from waking to sleeping and falls upon his food with more hunger than he’s used to. He watches with fascination the luxuries they allow themselves in possession and time and deed. He listens, without much choice, to the sounds of Ragnar and Lagertha taking pleasure in each other in a union that cannot have been sanctioned by God, and thinks more than he ought of that first night when they offered a place in their bed.

They have not offered again, not with words, but it is there in Ragnar’s eyes when Athelstan looks at him too long or too much and the tilt of Lagertha’s lips as they stand together to watch Gyda at the loom.

These people delight in their indulgences, crow over them, feel no guilt for them, and if Athelstan watches, if he feels a little guilt at wishing for the uncomplicated happiness they seem to take in them … well, it is between him and God, and perhaps in his worst moments it is for him alone.

*

Winter never bothered Athelstan before, but winter in the North is a different thing. It isn’t the constant chill rain that gave the older brothers at Lindisfarne aches in their bones, or the icy winds that lashed anyone who dared go out in them. At Ragnar’s homestead, winter means darkness that lasts much of the day, ice on the lakes to freeze the men where they are, and drifts of snow that trap them all close to the house for days at a time with nothing to do but tell stories.

Athelstan takes the extra blanket Gyda presses on him when he begins to fear he will freeze to death in the night, but he still finds himself shivering, waking with his jaw clenched to stop his teeth chattering. Bjorn and Gyda bed down in thick furs close to the cooking fire, and Ragnar and Lagertha keep each other warm in the way they do best, and Athelstan feels like ice is settling into his bones. He’s sluggish when he wakes in the mornings and thinks that Lagertha sees how close he stays to the fire when he can, thawing himself only to freeze again every time he sleeps.

Winter also brings closeness in a way that Athelstan dimly remembers from his own family, when it was coldest. They all linger at their meals and around the fire, and when they run out of conversation, they tell stories and sing songs. Sometimes, Ragnar asks for a lesson in Athelstan’s tongue, and others he seems inclined to mock the stories of the Bible that Athelstan tells them, but mostly they are, even Bjorn admits, glad for this variety in their tales.

Much as Bjorn calls himself a man, he usually finds himself asleep only a little while after his sister, and the later evenings are given to Athelstan, Ragnar, and Lagertha to fill. By the way they sometimes look longingly towards their own bed, he thinks he knows how they used to spend the time, but even when he makes it clear they’re free, they tend to stay with him, sharing tales too bawdy to tell in front of the children and laughing whenever they get him to blush.

It makes his bed all the colder when he finally leaves the fire and the close brushes of their shoulders to spend another night shivering and listening to the sounds of them nearby, but Athelstan does not give himself too long to think on that.

*

Gyda is the one who does something, in the end. He’s not sure why she wakes earlier than usual, because she’s given to lingering in bed when she has the excuse of cold, but he wakes up with her standing over him, a reproving expression on her face. “You are cold,” she says with the tone she inherited from her mother, the one that says that whatever deficiency she has just noted will be fixed, and immediately.

“It’s winter,” he says as patiently as he can, sitting up. “And colder here than where I come from. I am in no danger, Gyda, merely uncomfortable.”

“That’s stupid,” she declares, and that’s Bjorn’s influence, making Athelstan swallow an unexpected smile. “You will sleep with Bjorn and me. We have furs enough to warm all three of us, better than what you have in this cold little corner.”

He pulls on his robe over the clothes he wears for his chores, for an added layer of warmth. “You are very kind, Gyda, but it would not be right to have me sleep close to you.” Her mutinous expression makes him grasp for another reason. “Besides, what if your brother wished to make a sacrifice in the night? I fear I would find myself too convenient a temptation for him.”

Gyda makes to argue, though she’s smiling, but she’s interrupted by her mother coming around the corner. “He’s right, Gyda. You would condemn him before you hear all his stories? Besides, when you go to sleep before he does, it would mean waking every night with his cold feet in the furs. It won’t do. He’ll have to sleep with us.”

Athelstan looks up, startled, but there’s nothing more in her face than the look she gets when thinking of how best to take on a task. “I could not. You and Ragnar, you need your … your privacy.”

“Then we will have sex when you aren’t there, or you can sit by the fire until later and pray to your god to distract yourself. I will not have you freeze, Athelstan. Winter is cruel, and it is not yet over.” She uses his name so rarely that it leaves him speechless for a moment, and when he does not answer right away, she nods as if he has agreed somehow. “Good, it’s settled. Gyda, you get us water. Athelstan, firewood.”

She walks away again, and a second later Athelstan hears the sound of her rousting Bjorn from his bed and sending him off on an errand, and then a whispered conversation with Ragnar that he can’t catch words from. He sits there frozen long enough that Gyda laughs and tugs on his hand to draw him out and do as Lagertha asked.

Later, he plucks up the courage to speak to Ragnar about it, while both of them are outside for a rare moment. “I cannot join you in your bed.”

Ragnar, as he might have expected, just laughs at him. “Still so worried about sin and your god? It has been months, priest. Surely if your god were going to punish you for going against his ways he would have already done it.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Athelstan says, for what must be the hundredth time. Somehow, he can never resist trying. “On earth we may not be punished, but after death we are—”

“Athelstan,” says Ragnar, as if Athelstan has missed the point completely, “you are not dead.”

*

That night, Athelstan excuses himself only a few minutes after the children finally give up and go to sleep and tries to go to his bed. Neither Lagertha nor Ragnar tries to stop him, but when he gets to where he usually sleeps, there is no bed or bedding there at all, just a blank spot. It only takes a second to realize that Lagertha must have had the children do it while Athelstan was outside, and then he turns around and goes back out to them, fighting back anger. “I did not say I would sleep with you.”

“And I did not say you would be allowed to freeze to death.” Lagertha takes a sip of mead without her expression changing at all.

“If you will not touch Lagertha, then I will sleep between you.” Ragnar’s grin is the sharp one he uses on enemies and the jarl. “Do you trust me to defend her honor?”

Athelstan holds his hands up even as Lagertha punches her husband in the arm. “It is not that, you know that—”

“We will not touch you,” Ragnar interrupts, “in any way that you do not ask of us, and I will not fuck my wife while you lay in our bed unless you say so. Does that satisfy you?”

He thinks of the qualifications Ragnar is making, and of the word “unless.” He has little choice, though, and he has never known either of them to go back on their word, no matter what else he thinks of them or their people. “Until it warms a little,” he allows, and has to look away so he can pretend not to see the way they smile.

They all stay awake a little longer, Athelstan farther across the room from them than he usually is in the evening. He knows Lagertha notes it, and thinks Ragnar might, but neither of them mentions it. They all continue their usual evening tales, and if Ragnar chooses this night of all nights to go off on a bawdier story than usual of his gods and what they do, Athelstan and Lagertha pretend nothing is out of the ordinary.

When the time comes to sleep, Lagertha gets into the far side of their bed and turns away. Ragnar grins at Athelstan and slots in tight behind her, sliding under their little mound of furs. “Get in,” he says when Athelstan hesitates, and Athelstan mutters a quick prayer for forgiveness and mercy before he obeys.

Ragnar and Lagertha haven’t been in the bed long enough for it to warm them, but the weight of their furs on top of him is already a blessing. Athelstan curls up on his side, facing away from both of them, and holds himself as still as he can, imagining that he can feel every breath either of them takes.

He wakes sometime in the night to the muffled sounds of a mouth against skin and Ragnar’s barely-breathed whispers and falls asleep again before he can even think of struggling out of bed and leaving them to their privacy. When he wakes in the morning, he feels warmer than he has since summer, and Lagertha is smirking at him.

*

For the next three days, nobody oversteps the bounds they’ve set out. Athelstan wakes up warm each morning, and is surprised at the energy he gains over the day from it. He sleeps back-to-back with Ragnar, who sleeps curled around Lagertha, and if sometimes he leans against Ragnar in the night by accident and sometimes he wakes with his ankle hooked around someone else’s, none of them mentions it.

Ragnar and Lagertha spend more of their afternoons sending everyone out to gather firewood so they can be together, but they don’t break their promise to Athelstan and never go beyond a kiss or two while he shares their bed.

On the fourth day, a few half-starved bandits come to the farm. It’s still daylight, if only barely, and while they aren’t skilled, they are cold and desperate enough to give Ragnar and Lagertha a fight. Bjorn does his best against them as well, avoiding injury, and Athelstan keeps to Gyda’s side, back from the others with a knife held awkwardly in his hand. When a bandit breaks past Ragnar and Lagertha’s defenses, he goes right for what he considers to be their weak point.

Athelstan is too near the water, and more to the point too near the hole they’ve carved in the ice to draw water from when they need more than melted snow, and the bandit pushes him in his eagerness to make a threat, sending him tumbling and cracking the ice where it’s weak around the hole. He’s soaked through with icy water in seconds, even as Ragnar’s axe finds a home in the bandit’s shoulder, and he can barely struggle to his feet on his own, already shivering.

Gyda takes a wide-eyed look at him and shouts for her mother while Ragnar and Bjorn deal with the last of the bandits. Lagertha is at his side in seconds, clucking words that seem to fade in and out with the shock of the cold air that suddenly seems to be flaying the skin from him. “You always find trouble,” he picks out of the words, and hopes his smile is apologetic enough to please her.

Inside, Lagertha strips off his wet clothes over his protests and only snorts at his attempts to help before rubbing him briskly with a worn old cloak and wrapping him in another that he recognizes as Ragnar’s best, thick and lined in fur. “I am fine.”

“You are determined to die of the cold,” she snaps. “Get into bed. Ragnar and Bjorn will do what is necessary, and you will rest and warm yourself. Get the chill out of your bones before it turns to fever. Gyda, stoke the fire.”

Athelstan wants to object and say that he never even ducked his head under, just the rest of him, but Lagertha won’t take arguing when she’s in this mood, so he feels silly but stays where he is. By the time Ragnar and Bjorn get inside, grim and pink-faced and freshly scrubbed, he is already warming and coming back to himself from the shock of the cold. “I’ll be up presently,” he says, trying his best to smile at them.

“You will not,” says Lagertha from where she’s putting a stew together. “You will stay there for the day. I told you, I don’t wish you to catch a fever.”

“I won’t.”

“Take a rest,” Ragnar says, sitting down on the edge of the bed and clapping Athelstan’s shoulder over the layers of fur between them. “A ducking in winter is a serious thing, you are lucky it wasn’t worse.”

There isn’t, as far as he can see, much to be done, so he stays, feeling foolish, as the day wears towards dark. Gyda brings him the stew and tries to feed it to him until he puts his foot down and takes the bowl from her, wrapping the cloak tight to preserve his modesty as he sits up. That makes Ragnar grin, bringing him out of the way he goes quiet every time he finds his home or his family in danger. When the time to tell stories comes, they all gather around the bed instead of the fire and tell quieter stories than usual, even Bjorn giving in and not asking for the stories of fierce battles that he usually does. Athelstan, when his turn comes, sings a song he dimly remembers from before he went to the monks, an old ballad about a fairy maiden that he knows is blasphemy but which they all seem to enjoy. He forgets some of the words, but none of them know the difference if he changes a few.

When the children finally start yawning, Lagertha sends them off to bed a little more briskly than usual, and doesn’t bother with stories for longer than the space it takes them to drop off to sleep. “We’ll rest, and tomorrow if you don’t have a fever, you will get up and do your chores again,” she says, stern.

Ragnar pushes at Athelstan until he rolls a little, confused, to the middle of the bed. “And tonight you let us warm you, to make sure of it.”

Athelstan may feel warm, but he still must be sluggish, because it’s a surprise when Ragnar climbs over him, nearest the wall where Lagertha usually sleeps, and turns towards him, wrapping a warm arm around his waist with only the cloak between them. He starts to object, but then Lagertha slides under the furs as well, settling until she can clasp her hand at her husband’s elbow and the two of them are framing him, all heat and safety, something as drugging as their mead in the touch. “I shouldn’t,” he starts, confused.

Ragnar hushes him. “Your god surely would not begrudge you warmth when you could have died.”

“You tell us he is all-forgiving, for his strictness,” Lagertha adds, whispering the words into his ear. “For all the hurt he has given you, he can forgive you this.”

If he were still at Lindisfarne, he would find the words blasphemous, but here in the dark with two bodies keeping out the cold, Athelstan finds them comforting instead. Ragnar hitches his arm a little tighter around Athelstan, the cloth of the cloak parting until some of their skin presses together, and Lagertha nestles her face into the crook of his shoulder. Before he can decide what to do about it, though, he’s drifting to sleep, wonderfully warm.

*

The next day, he feels well, if tired, and Lagertha lets him out of bed, though she watches him carefully about his usual chores. Athelstan tries to act as naturally as possible, though his mind can’t help but drift towards Ragnar and Lagertha’s words as he fell asleep, and their ankles and hands twined with his when he woke. Perhaps, after so many months, Ragnar and his family know Athelstan better than he sometimes credits them for, because they leave him mostly alone to think about what he could ignore until yesterday.

If this is not God’s plan for him, if this is not the life God meant him to have, then why is he here? Athelstan is too happy, sometimes, for it to be punishment, and if it is temptation then it is a poor one, coming at the cost of his freedom and the lives of his fellows. He is no great saint, no great man, to be tested and come out the other side with the men of the North converted to his faith.

If this is the life he is meant to have, sharing a bed with a man and his wife, telling his faith around a fire to be met with stories of ravens and trees, then what does that mean? Is he just excusing himself his sins, with no one to confess to and to give him penance?

He wishes for a sign, but perhaps the sign was as simple as the shock of cold water and then the unbelievable warmth of Ragnar and Lagertha.

*

For the first time that Athelstan has seen, Ragnar and Lagertha are awkward about preparing for bed after they have shooed the children away. He is distracted, his tales less detailed than usual, but so are they, and it isn’t long after Bjorn’s breathing finally deepens that they walk to the bed. Athelstan stands by it, not sure what’s expected now that the rules have been broken. “He will not be the one to do it,” Lagertha says after a moment too long, and turns Athelstan to face them where they stand together, a united front as they always are. “We asked you something, when you first came to us. If we ask you again, will your answer be different?”

All day, Athelstan has wondered the same, but he always thought he wouldn’t have to say yes or no. He thought one of them would kiss him as they do each other, or a hand would stray too far, and he could push them away or ... or pull them closer. The words are more difficult, though, and they freeze on his tongue. He should say something about sin, or temptation, or his vows, but this time when they ask, they are serious, perhaps even hopeful, something shining in their eyes that he is used to seeing only when they look at each other. Though perhaps it has been growing for months, and he could only see it today. “I do not see that God could begrudge an act of love. Love is—”

“I do not care what your god says,” Ragnar scoffs, though his mouth curls at the word Athelstan chose. “I care what you say.”

In the end, his next words come easier than he expects. “Yes, then. That’s what I say.”

Ragnar moves, then: he leans forward across the space between them with Lagertha’s hand on his back and kisses Athelstan on the mouth. It feels strange and clumsy, but Ragnar steadies him with his hands on Athelstan’s shoulders, and Lagertha stands there to witness, not smiling but pleased nonetheless, the same way she looks when Gyda has done well at the loom or Bjorn has got a hit in on his father. “Good?” Ragnar asks when he pulls away, but he’s laughing even as he does, sure again now that he’s on firm ground.

“I do not know what I’m doing,” Athelstan warns them, meeting both of their eyes.

“We will teach you. All you do is tell us what feels best to you, and we’ll take care of you.” Lagertha gives him a push. “Come, into bed, the first lesson is that it is better to be warm when you are together.”

Ragnar gets on the bed first and pulls Athelstan after him, his strength more than a match for Athelstan’s attempt at coming under his own power. He sprawls over Ragnar’s lap, and Lagertha follows them down, pulling the furs over them as she comes. He is between them again, but this time they don’t settle against him for sleep. Lagertha arranges him on his back, hands rough and businesslike at his hips. Ragnar mouths up Athelstan’s neck to whisper in his ear. “We will teach you how to take your pleasure, and how to give it. If you are ours, we will keep you here every night, and you will learn what good your cock can do, and your mouth, and your hands—”

As if the words are a signal, Lagertha takes one of Athelstan’s hands and guides it to Ragnar, and the shape of his arousal through his trousers. Athelstan knows his face goes hot with a blush, but it only makes them both laugh, and Ragnar shifts his hips, so Athelstan can truly feel the size and the weight of him even through the cloth. “Does it not feel good?” Lagertha asks, like a continuation of her husband’s words, picking up his speech as easily as she always picks up his cues. “Perhaps someday you will let him fuck you. I can tell you he is good at it. I like to ride him, as I will ride you someday, but perhaps you would prefer that he puts you on your elbows and knees for him.”

Athelstan can’t imagine how a man would do that to another, other than the words against it in the Bible, but he doesn’t need to imagine it. Lagertha’s words are more a promise than a suggestion, and when he manages to turn his head to look at Ragnar, he’s smiling in a way that seals the promise in blood, and his arousal twitches against Athelstan’s hand. “Unlace my trousers, priest,” Ragnar says, as gently as he ever says anything, and Athelstan fumbles to do it from this new angle. Ragnar’s cock springs out, smearing wet against Athelstan’s wrist. “Now grip it.” Athelstan obeys. “Feel how it’s ready for you? Use your hand.”

“As I said, I don’t know how. You will have to …” He swallows. “You will have to tell me.”

“Like you would yourself.” There must be something on Athelstan’s face on that, because Ragnar’s smile tips between heat and amusement before settling on something between the two. “Take it in your fist as you would the handle of an axe, but not so hard.” The shaft is just right for his fingers to curl around it, and he takes hold as gently as he can. Lagertha’s hand comes down over his again, squeezing it a little tighter and shifting his grip. “Now move it up and down.” Lagertha is the one who moves their hands, but Ragnar doesn’t look away from Athelstan’s eyes when he speaks again. “Good. Just like that.”

“Your wrist,” says Lagertha, and he doesn’t realize he’s rolled to his side until she presses tight against his back and slings her leg over his, the feel of her breasts a distraction as much as the hot weight in his hand. “Twist it a little as you go, and slide your hand. Go fast or slow, as you wish. Sometimes if you tease him enough it can be very good for you, and for him.” She lowers her voice to a whisper so intimate it doesn’t even carry the bare inches to Ragnar. “He wanted release so badly he cried, once, and then he was wild for me when I allowed it.”

Athelstan isn’t quite sure if that sounds pleasurable, except that everything sounds pleasurable when they say it like this, and she covers his body with hers to kiss Ragnar. “Whatever secrets you are telling, wife,” Ragnar says when he pulls back, “they had better be good ones.”

“Keep going,” Lagertha tells Athelstan, removing her hand from his and nodding with approval when he does it to her satisfaction—and to Ragnar’s, by his gasp. When the men are distracted, Lagertha disappears underneath the furs, her hands traveling over both of their bodies and her mouth biting down for a breathless second on Athelstan’s chest before she moves to his own cock, batting his clothes out of the way without the patience he used for Ragnar’s and then, to his shock, licking, taking his cock into her mouth and sucking gently.

Athelstan lets out some kind of noise, one too loud for the quiet of the bed and the night, especially with the children close enough to hear if they wake, and squeezes Ragnar’s cock, probably too hard. Lagertha’s mouth is hot and wet and wicked, and Ragnar’s is too when he captures Athelstan’s lips with his own to muffle his cries.

It doesn’t take long, after that, for Athelstan to reach his completion as he has never done before when he’s awake. It’s a sharp, almost terrifying pressure and release, and he spills into Lagertha’s mouth until she comes back up the bed, pink-faced from the heat under the furs, and feeds him the taste of his own seed from her tongue.

Lagertha moves to Ragnar and hitches her skirts up to sink onto his shaft, moving Athelstan’s limp hand from it before she does. “Soon,” she whispers, meeting Athelstan’s eyes while Ragnar grips her hips and helps her to move over him, “we will teach you how to pleasure me. It is different for a woman, but I think perhaps you will enjoy trying. You can use your mouth, as I did with you, only in a different way. Ragnar likes to spend his time between my legs thus sometimes.”

Athelstan can’t imagine the look of it, the taste, without feeling desperate and nervous all at once, so instead he listens to the sounds of their coupling from up close, the little grunts Lagertha makes as she grows closer to her completion and Ragnar’s loud breaths close enough to ruffle his hair. Lagertha takes her pleasure first, hand under her own skirts and head tossed back, silent at the last, and the aftermath of it seems to take Ragnar with it, and he bucks his hips, still buried inside her.

Afterwards, all sticky with their release and too tired to care, they settle together, Lagertha in between Athelstan and Ragnar and halfway on top of them both, Ragnar with a proprietary hand spread on Athelstan’s neck. Tentative, he reaches out for them, rests his arm over Lagertha’s side and his hand on Ragnar’s arm.

It’s winter outside, but underneath the furs it’s as warm as summer.