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Athelstan meets Lagertha on his first day at Kattegat University. He walks into his dorm room to find someone moving his things out rather than in, and considering he and Cenwulf have been e-mailing for weeks about who should bring what, that’s a surprise. “Hello,” says Athelstan, because it seems like the thing to do. “Are you Cenwulf?”

“Hi, you’re Athelstan, sorry, I just can’t stay.” And with that Cenwulf picks up what looks like his last box (did he even have time to get all of them in the room before he decided to leave?) and ducks out, leaving Athelstan alone in the room, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He only has three more bags and a crate of books, coming up in the elevator with the upperclassmen who are helping freshmen move in.

The upperclassman assigned to Athelstan, a girl named Helga with a lot of eyeliner and a cheerful red shirt that reads GREETINGS, FRESHMEN with the “men” crossed out and replaced with “meat,” takes one look at him standing adrift in his room and drops all his things on the floor. He would take a moment to be embarrassed that she can carry all his things when it took him three trips to get them out of the taxi, but he’s rather busy. “I think I’d better get Lagertha,” she says, and then she’s off again.

Athelstan doesn’t start unpacking, because something could be terribly wrong with the room or something, so he just sits at the school-issued desk for five minutes until a harried blonde woman wearing a Kattegat University t-shirt and a badge comes and knocks on the door. “I’m Lagertha, and I’m the dorm’s grad supervisor, which means you come to me if there are problems. And there seems to be a problem.”

Lagertha, with her expectant look and hands on her hips, is intimidating enough that Athelstan has no idea how anyone would ever go to her with their problems. “My roommate seems to have already moved out,” he says, because even if he wouldn’t go to her first thing with a problem, she’s at least here.

“Oh, right, this is that room, I met Cenwulf and his parents on their way out. Unfortunately, it seems he’s decided college isn’t for him right now. On the bright side, you’ve got a single until administration decides to start compressing rooms, at no extra change. So if you have anything waiting at home, you can send for it.”

Athelstan shakes his head. “This is all I’ve got.”

Her eyebrows go up. “Well then, it will be a very minimalist space. What’s your name? Sorry, I’ve got a whole dorm to get names from, there are close to two hundred of you, you’ll have to be patient.”

“It’s Athelstan.”

“Well, Athelstan, as you might guess, move-in day is crazy, but you’re fine. Let me know if you have any questions, I have the apartment on the first floor.” She gives another look at his little pile of bags and then at him. He has no idea what his face looks like, but it makes her purse her lips. “Really do talk to me if you need anything.”

With that, she disappears down the hall, leaving Athelstan to shut his door against the sound of everyone else moving into the dorm and start unpacking his bags.

*

Athelstan meets Ragnar Lothbrok on his first day of classes.

He’s already had a math class for a gen ed, and French because competence in a second language (well, in Athelstan’s case a third, he took Latin in high school) is good for history majors, and his afternoon class is comparative religions through the anthropology department. He sits in the front, at sea without any acquaintances in the class and not quite managing the courage to say hello to anyone, and waits for the professor to come in.

The professor, an adjunct named Floki who immediately starts on a lecture about the apocalypse in myth without pausing to take roll or hand out a syllabus, is followed into the room by the TA, who looks more like he should be a pirate than a grad student, with his tattoos and his long hair and the way he crosses his arms and grins around at the room while everyone scrambles for their notebooks. Athelstan already has his out, taking notes as fast as he can without the benefit of a powerpoint or any idea of what’s going to be important later.

Floki talks until there are only ten minutes left in the class, and then he stops and looks expectantly at the TA, who steps forward and produces a stack of syllabi from his bag. “I’m Ragnar Lothbrok, call me Ragnar, and you should probably come to my office hours instead of his, because you might actually get sense out of me if I like you.” He drops the stack of papers on Athelstan’s desk. “Take one, pass them on.” He does. “Read them, don’t throw them away, we aren’t going to coddle you just because this is a 100-level class. You’ll have three tests and two short papers, if you’re late we will make an example of you, and if you act like an asshole about another culture’s beliefs we will kick you out. Clear?”

Athelstan can’t help smiling down at the syllabus, which he is reading instead of actually looking at Ragnar. When he does look up, after a beat of silence, he finds that he’s the subject of some scrutiny, and then a grin.

“Good,” says Ragnar after a second. “Now we’re going to take roll. Just say ‘here,’ none of this grunting or thinking you’re a comedian, please.”

Athelstan doesn’t think he’s imagining the fact that when he calls out “Here” for his name he gets a glance a second longer than most of the other students got, but he can’t for the life of him imagine why.

*

There’s a knock on his door the first Thursday of classes, and when Athelstan opens the door, Lagertha is on the other side. “Athelstan,” she says with a smile that’s surprisingly warm given they’ve only talked once. “I thought I would check in on my freshmen before the first party weekend comes around. And especially you, since you’re on your own.”

He blinks at her. “I’m fine. Thank you for checking up on me.”

Lagertha watches him with her eyebrows raised until he steps out of the way, blushing for no good reason, and then she’s past him and dropping into the empty chair on the other side of the room, giving an assessing look around. “Most other students would have moved their things into both sides of the room, if they weren’t going to have a roommate.”

Athelstan looks around the room, feeling uncomfortable and hating that he’s uncomfortable. He shouldn’t be embarrassed about how empty his room is: books on the shelf built into the wall, school supplies in or on the desk, clothes in the dresser, his one framed photograph on the desk instead of the wall, facing away from the door. “This is what I have.”

“Hmm,” she says, and taps her fingers a few times before looking at him again. “You haven’t come to any of the icebreaker events. I noticed, and your RA mentioned. It’s not good for you to isolate yourself, when you’re already without a roommate.”

“I have a scholarship, so I have to spend a lot of time on school work.”

She frowns. “I can’t force you to socialize, Athelstan, but you can’t lock yourself away for the next four years, scholarship or not. It isn’t healthy, and it’s the way people burn out.”

“I’m honestly not one for parties or anything like that, Lagertha.” He’s a little lonely, but not much. He’s more used to the general bustle of people than he is to specific connection, and a few moments lingering in the dining hall or on the commons is enough to remind him that there are still people in the world.

“You could at least join a study group or something.”

Athelstan shrugs, helpless. “If I need one and find one, maybe. I’m not lonely, if you’re worried.”

She purses her lips. “I’ll check in again soon, Athelstan. Don’t be a total hermit, please. You’re eighteen, you’ll give yourself a repetitive stress injury.”

With that, she’s up and out the door, and it takes Athelstan a full thirty seconds after she leaves to realize just what she meant by that.

*

On the Wednesday of the second week of classes, Ragnar is the one who gives the lecture in Intro to World Religions. Athelstan has a routine already of sitting in the front where only stragglers go, five desks away from where Ragnar usually sits and takes notes, and it’s surprising to look up and see that Ragnar is at the front of class and Floki is leaning against the wall in a corner, smiling.

Ragnar begins his lecture by pulling out a chair and sitting in it backwards, looking around the room. “How many of you would call yourselves religious?” Hands go up across the room, and Athelstan puts his up with them. Ragnar points towards the back. “What’s your belief system?”

“I’m Jewish,” says a girl.

Ragnar points around, gets “Buddhist” and “Wiccan” and a snickered “I believe in the Force, man” and a few scattered “Christian”s, and goes too fast to comment, or for anyone else to do so. When he points at Athelstan, Athelstan says “Catholic” automatically, though Christian would have done just as well.

Something about it makes Ragnar look at him with a grin. “You might be the first self-admitted Catholic I’ve ever seen in the wild, I applaud your bravery.”

Athelstan knows the back of his neck is red with frustration and embarrassment, but he still makes himself lift his head. “I thought we were supposed to be respectful of other people’s beliefs,” he says, and then ducks his head again right away, because that was stupid.

To his surprise, though, the next words out of Ragnar’s mouth are “I’m sorry, Athelstan, that was insensitive of me. I can’t kick myself out of my own class, but I will promise to do better. Now, Catholicism is actually relevant to a lot of what we’re talking about today, because we’re talking about the way belief systems borrow from each other and the debates over whether some common things were polygenesis or whether they were spread through trade or conquest.”

The rest of the class is normal—Ragnar is a good lecturer, probably better than Floki, given he can stay on a topic for more than a few minutes at a time, and Athelstan takes notes and doesn’t look up much, which is what he usually does in classes where the professor isn’t using a powerpoint.

At the end of class, Athelstan packs his things into his backpack and stands up to find that Ragnar is standing right next to his desk. “Athelstan, can I have a word?”

Someone laughs behind him, and Athelstan just nods and fidgets with the strap of his backpack until the room clears out a little. “I didn’t mean to call you out in the middle of class like that,” he says when they’ve got something like privacy.

“Don’t apologize, I was the one being a dick, so I’m the one apologizing. So, sorry. My advisor tells me I don’t have a verbal filter.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not, I got over mocking freshmen when I was still an undergrad. You are a freshman, right?”

“Yes.”

“You’re doing a good job.”

Athelstan shakes his head. “We haven’t had a test yet, don’t flatter me just because you think I’ll report you or something, I won’t.”

There’s a silence long enough that he looks up to find Ragnar giving him a thoughtful look that melts into a grin when he catches Athelstan looking. “You’re actually taking notes, kid, that puts you ahead of the curve. Take some time to party, or you’ll fuck up the curve, nobody likes a curve ruiner. Well, I do, it’s fun to watch everyone’s faces fall, but still. Have a party.”

“I’m not the party type.” He smiles a little, struck by the words. “You sound like my dorm supervisor.”

“Your dorm supervisor is way better than mine was,” Ragnar says, and then glances at the clock and winces. “Fuck, speaking of supervisors, I need to go get the shit kicked out of me by my advisor. See you in class on Friday, thanks for calling me out on being an asshole.”

With that, he’s out the door, and Athelstan follows after, a little bemused, and goes to the library to get a start on an assignment for French class.

*

There’s a knock on Athelstan’s door on Friday night, and he knows it’s Lagertha before he opens it simply because he’s pretty sure his RA has already given up on him and no one else on his floor seems to know his name even though it’s on the door on a construction paper cutout of a Viking boat.

He’s passed her a few times in the hallways, but this is the first time he’s seen her wear anything but a duty shirt. She looks nice in blue. “Tell me you aren’t doing schoolwork,” she commands when he opens the door.

“I’m not doing schoolwork,” he promises, and holds up his copy of Small Gods, on its sixth reread, as proof.

“Well, you’re still reading, but I suppose Pratchett is an improvement.” She smiles at it. “I can’t say that’s my favorite.”

“My world religions class reminded me of it, and it’s one of the few I own. You don’t run across many at library sales, people tend to hold onto their copies.”

“I’ve got a bunch, if you ever want to borrow them.” Lagertha sighs at him. “Kid, you can’t just sit in your room the whole semester, that is the kind of thing that turns freshmen into nervous wrecks.”

“You remind me of my world religions TA,” he blurts, and looks down when she raises her eyebrows. “He called me ‘kid’ too, that’s all.”

“Come on, bring your book, we’re going to do this in baby steps.” When Athelstan blinks and starts to ask what she means, Lagertha grabs his arm. “Do you have your keycard?” He pats his pocket. “Good,” she says, pulls him out the door, and shuts it after him.

Athelstan protests quietly the whole time she tows him to the lobby, quieting down only when they pass the RA on duty (he thinks it’s one of the ones from the floor above him, but he can’t be sure). She keys into her apartment and he hovers in the doorway until she pulls him in and sits him on a comfortable chair, right next to an IKEA bookshelf filled with books, mostly well-worn fantasy paperbacks and a few leatherbound classics. “What are we doing?”

“Reading,” she says, tucking her feet under her on the couch and picking up a book she’d left splayed open on a side table next to it, like she’d just left for the express reason of seeing if he was in. “With the door open, so you might have some chance for human interaction.”

Athelstan reads, since he doesn’t seem to have much choice in the matter, and Lagertha doesn’t try to talk to him anymore. A few times a student stops by to ask her a question and she always answers and the introduces him if they look at him, but for the most time it’s a quiet evening and he’s surprised when he checks the time the first time he yawns and realizes that it’s ten at night, that the dorm has emptied itself out for whatever parties are happening tonight already. “I should probably go,” he says, and it seems loud in the room.

Lagertha looks up from her book. It seems to be something about game theory, probably reading for class, since her biography paragraph on the bulletin board in the lobby says she’s in political science and not higher education like so many of the dorm supervisors. “If you like. Let me know if you want to borrow any of my books, and maybe I’ll steal a few from you in return.”

“Thank you, Lagertha,” he says, because even if he isn’t quite sure he’s grateful for being pulled out of his room he knows that it’s at least the polite thing to say.

She smiles. “We’ll do this again.”

Athelstan would demur, but Lagertha doesn’t say it like it’s a question, so instead he just puts his bookmark in his book and leaves her be.

*

Athelstan ends up at Ragnar’s office hours more on a whim than for any other reason. He’s been in the library working on the rough draft of the first paper for the class, and he’s relatively confident, but when he walks past the building Ragnar’s office is in on his way back to his dorm, he remembers he has office hours, and decides that it can’t hurt to stop in.

Ragnar’s office is a mess, which makes sense from what Athelstan knows of him. There are books and papers on every surface, translations of Scandinavian sagas and Rexroth’s commentary on some Icelandic ones, articles that he’s either reading or getting ready to assign with Floki, and a precarious stack of comic books on the corner of the desk. He looks up and grins when he notices Athelstan in the doorway. “To what do I owe the honor? I think you’re the first student in the university’s history to visit office hours when you aren’t trying to convince someone to change a test grade.”

“I just wrote a rough draft for the first paper. The one on interaction between religions? I thought I would run it by you.”

“Kid, you’re unbelievable. Show me.” Athelstan boots his laptop up and opens the document, since he didn’t think to print it off, and passes it across the desk to Ragnar. He reads fast, then shuts the laptop and passes it back over. “It’s good. But it’s easy, you know?”

“It’s a 100-level class,” Athelstan says before he can stop himself.

Ragnar laughs. “So it is. But you’re not here just to get good grades for papers that don’t mean anything, are you?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Like I said, it’s easy. Reads like you already knew all the facts, just had to put them in order and coax a thesis about it out. The subject is fine, but find … three more sources. And use them. Got it?”

Athelstan nods, and knows his ears are red. “Will I fail if I don’t?”

“No. You’re still going to fuck up the curve. But why not try your best? You don’t seem like the type to be content with anything but your best, especially given you say yourself you aren’t the party type.” He pulls a book out of a seemingly random stack and passes it across to Athelstan. “Use that.”

Athelstan stares at the title, and then at Ragnar. “That has nothing to do with my subject. I’m writing about the spread of Christianity through missionary trips in the Middle Ages, this is about Viking raids.”

“It does too. Read it. Use it. Learn something new, Athelstan, we both know you can do it.” He grins. “And if you think after reading it really doesn’t fit, come back and argue with me, but I think it will do a good job of making your paper two-sided. Now shoo, unless you have another question.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“Then get out, and come back soon.”

Athelstan eyes him, and gets only raised eyebrows in return. It reminds him of Lagertha again, like both of them are expecting something out of him and he isn’t sure what. He doesn’t know what would happen if the two of them ever met, but it’s fun to think about. “You want me to come back?”

“I like you. Also I’m sort of worried that you’re going to become the ghost of campus or something, you haven’t said so much as hello to any of your fellow students.”

Athelstan shakes his head. “You sound like Lagertha again. You aren’t—I mean. It shouldn’t matter to you, should it?”

“I like the sound of this Lagertha,” says Ragnar, and waves him out of the room without answering his question.

*

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and Athelstan is barely back from classes when Lagertha knocks on the door. “I have classwork to do,” he says preemptively.

“Good for you, so do I,” she says, hefting a bag on her arm, and brushes past him to sit on the extra bed, which he hasn’t done anything with yet. “And since I would like to do it without four people telling me they’re locked out of their rooms and could I help them, I am going to do it in here.” She gives him a squint. “Unless you object?”

“I—no?”

“Good.”

Athelstan goes back to his desk feeling completely discombobulated, and reads five pages of the book Ragnar lent him (because of course Ragnar was right, the Viking raids of monasteries, most famously Lindisfarne, add something new to his paper) before he manages to put together words. “I don’t understand why you’re spending time with me. You can’t pity me that much for not making friends, and you’re a grad student and I’m a freshman. I just … don’t get it.”

“I like you, kid. Is that so hard to believe?”

“Yes.”

Lagertha laughs. “We’ll work on it.”

Athelstan manages to bite down on the urge to ask again why she even cares, because she’s clearly not too worried in her capacity as dorm supervisor. Instead, he goes back to reading Ragnar’s book while she pulls a textbook and a laptop out of her bag and starts doing something that seems to require all her attention. Once in a while, he looks up to see if she’s showing any signs of leaving or, really, doing anything that might make her presence explicable, but every time she’s just frowning at her laptop screening, or highlighting something in her book. One time, she catches him looking and just grins, and he ducks his head and goes back to reading.

“I don’t know about you,” she says eventually, making him jump, “but I’m hungry. I think it’s pierogie night in the dining hall. Want to come?”

Athelstan blinks and shuts his book. “You really don’t need to—”

“Really, Athelstan. Do I seem the type to do anything at all that I don’t want to do? Come have dinner. Tell me about your paper and why you’re reading about Vikings for it.”

“Because my TA said it wasn’t good enough the way I had it when I showed him a rough draft.”

She hisses. “Ouch, that’s rough. Your first paper?”

“Yes.” He marks his page. “He said it was fine, but that I could do better. It’s a 100-level class, I don’t know why it matters, but the book is interesting.”

“The reward for hard work is more hard work, unfortunately. You need to take care to appear like a slacker in your classes so your professors are shocked and pleased when you turn in good papers. It stood me in good stead until I started finding classes I was interested in.”

“This is an interesting class,” Athelstan mutters, feeling a little defensive of himself and of the class too. And of Ragnar, if he’s being honest.

Lagertha laughs. “I’ll take your word for it. Now, are you coming for dinner?”

Athelstan shakes his head. “Sorry, I have more work to do, I’ll probably end up getting a sandwich from the market later on. Thank you for the offer. You’re being very kind.”

“I’m really not,” she says, and puts her bag over her shoulder. “We’ll work on it,” she adds, and then she’s out the door.

*

“If it isn’t my favorite student,” Ragnar says in the Union that Sunday, where Athelstan went for a change of scenery and for lunch.

Athelstan looks up so fast he’s half-afraid he gave himself whiplash, and sure enough, there Ragnar is, a tray in his hands and a grin on his face. “I can’t possibly be your favorite,” he says.

“Of course you can,” Ragnar answers, and then sets his tray down across from Athelstan. “You write rough drafts of papers and didn’t tell me to go to hell when I told you to improve your draft. And you did tell me to go to hell when I was being an asshole.”

Athelstan stares, wrong-footed. “I didn’t.”

“You might as well have. How are you enjoying the book?”

“Are you eating with me?”

“Obviously. How are you enjoying the book?”

Athelstan takes a spoonful of the soup he bought because it gives him an excuse to stall for time. It’s a little too hot to eat, but there isn’t much to be done about that. “I like it. You were right, it has more to do with the subject than I thought. I can return it to you tomorrow.”

“Thanks. You’re almost done with the paper, then? You do realize it isn’t due for another week.”

“It was my first college paper. I wanted to be prepared.”

Ragnar laughs, loud enough that it gets attention from a few of the hungover students sitting at nearby tables, clutching their coffee mugs in varying degrees of desperation. “I would say that I remember those days with fondness and nostalgia, but honestly I don’t think I was ever that motivated as a freshman, it’s sheer dumb luck I ended up in grad school. If you can call it luck, dissertations don’t exactly make it seem like luck.”

“You must like it, if you’re still doing it,” Athelstan points out.

“They aren’t exactly hiring traveling adventurers, these days. Anthropology is the closest you get.”

“You want to travel?”

That gets Ragnar talking, a long ramble about travel and adventure and all the studies he wants to do and how he’d really rather be Indiana Jones but he supposes he’ll have to stay within the academic institution for now, and Athelstan gets involved in spite of himself, asking questions and commenting, and he still somehow manages to be surprised when Ragnar says “And that’s me. What do you want to do with your life, then?”

“I’ll probably end up teaching history.”

Ragnar shakes his head. “You answered the wrong question. I didn’t ask what sort of depressing life you think you’ll end up in, I asked what you want to do.”

“Teaching history is fine,” says Athelstan, shrugging helplessly. “I don’t know what I want to do, really. Isn’t that supposed to be what college is about?”

“Bullshit, you’ve got to want something. Whether it’s to break the record for throws in Ultimate Frisbee or sleep with a supermodel or be valedictorian. That sounds like you.”

“I don’t care about that, as long as I keep my scholarship.” Athelstan shrugs again and looks down at his tray. “Look, I don’t know.”

Ragnar makes a low, thoughtful noise, and Athelstan is afraid for a second he’s going to push, but he changes the subject instead. “So far it seems to me you’ll keep your scholarship just fine. Unless you’re one of those ones who cries at the sight of a math textbook, but you don’t seem like that type.”

“No, math is fine,” Athelstan says, and winces at the inanity of it, looking up to see if Ragnar is laughing at him. He is grinning, but it doesn’t seem like he’s making fun, just entertained. “That was stupid. Tell me about where you want to travel some more.”

Ragnar does, and before Athelstan knows it they’ve passed well over an hour sitting at the table in the Union talking, and Ragnar’s phone buzzes with a text. He checks it and makes a face. “Shit, that’s my brother, we’re supposed to go for a run this afternoon. Rain check on the rest of this conversation, though. You should get out more, kid. Want stuff. Get it. Want more stuff. It’s the human condition.”

Athelstan shakes his head. “You and Lagertha.”

Ragnar laughs, standing up and packing their trays away, taking Athelstan’s like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “I think I like this Lagertha,” he says, and then he’s off, leaving Athelstan with that thought in his head, circling like it’s something he needs to pay attention to.

*

“You do eat!”

Athelstan looks up from his plate in the dining hall with a strong feeling of déjà vu, only this time Lagertha is the one standing over him instead of Ragnar. “People have to,” he points out.

“Yes, but I was a day or two from deciding you’re actually a robot. May I?”

“You and Ragnar,” he says, and the echo startles him again.

Lagertha takes that as permission and sits down, smiling at him. “And who is Ragnar? Do I get to stop worrying that you’re a hermit?”

“He’s my TA.”

“So no.”

“He’s …” Nice, he wants to say, but it’s definitely not the right word. “I think you’d like him,” he says instead, and tries not to blush in the face of her disbelieving expression. “You would. He told me to party. Or at least do something but study.”

Lagertha looks grudgingly pleased. “Maybe I do like him.” She lowers her voice and grins at him. “Is he hot, then?”

“Yes,” Athelstan blurts, far too fast, and then ducks his head when she laughs at him. “You really would like each other.”

“That’s adorable, Athelstan, are you matchmaking?”

Athelstan blinks, because he hadn’t thought of it in exactly those terms, but maybe he could be. Lagertha and Ragnar make sense, even if they’ve never met. They’re gorgeous and friendly and mildly terrifying and smart and encouraging, and he’s very certain that they’re the kind of people who are meant to be together, when the universe works as it should. It makes a lot more sense than either of them spending time voluntarily with Athelstan does, anyway. “I could be,” he offers.

“That’s very sweet of you, but I promise I can find my own dates when I want them. I’ll keep him in mind, though. How’s that?”

“You don’t have to. I mean—it’s stupid, sorry, I should never have mentioned it.”

“Mention whatever you please. Tell me more about my future husband.”

Athelstan turns red. “That isn’t funny, I’m sorry for being presumptuous.”

“No, Athelstan, really, it’s fine. You like Ragnar, right?” Athelstan nods. “And from what I can tell he and I are the only people in the world that you talk to, unless you have a rousing social life on the internet, which I don’t judge, so you should tell me about him.”

It’s something to talk about, anyway, better than trying to force awkward conversation about himself when he isn’t that interesting, so Athelstan stumbles through his best explanation of Ragnar. He talks about travel and how he wants adventure and how he acts like the world is funny, or maybe that Athelstan is, and finally stops when he realizes he’s been talking uninterrupted for nearly ten minutes. “Sorry. You probably didn’t care to hear that much.”

“I almost hate to admit you’re right, he does sound interesting.” Lagertha hands half a brownie across the table and he takes it on instinct before he realizes it’s odd. “I have a bit of a thirst for adventure myself, I’m in poli sci and ideally I’ll end up at an embassy.”

“How did you end up as a dorm supervisor, then?”

“I figured if I could handle two hundred drunk freshmen, I could handle anything.” She grins. “So far, it seems to be working out just fine. Eat the brownie, would you? I need to get back, I’ve got a duty shift tonight, and I figure I may as well walk you back, unless you’re going to surprise me and say you have plans.”

“I don’t,” he says, and eats the brownie.

“Maybe I’ll stop by if there aren’t too many disasters, then,” she says, and grimaces. “Thirsty Thursday, everyone’s favorite day of the week. Come on, let’s get going, if we leave now I should have time to get a few pages of class reading done before work starts.”

*

“Walk with me,” says Ragnar when Athelstan walks out of the classroom the next day, popping out of nowhere when Athelstan had stayed behind to confirm a reading assignment for the upcoming test with Floki.

“What?”

“It’s Friday afternoon, if you go to the library or just back to your room to study I may actually cry.” Athelstan laughs and shakes his head. “You doubt me, but I’m serious! I will weep. Manly tears. Come on, have you been off-campus since you moved in? You’ll go crazy, there’s life outside of campus, we’ll get ice cream.”

Athelstan frowns down at the floor. “I can’t—thanks, but I’m on a budget.”

“Then I’ll pay. Come on, kid.”

“I don’t get either of you,” Athelstan says helplessly, but he follows when Ragnar grabs onto the strap of his backpack and starts towing him down the hallway.

Ragnar grins over his shoulder. “Your dorm supervisor? What’s her name again?”

“Lagertha.”

“I’ll have to remember that, since she seems to be the only other human being in the world that you talk to. Unless she’s imaginary.” Ragnar stops as they get to the sidewalk outside the class building and puts his hands on Athelstan’s shoulders with a serious expression. “Tell me she isn’t imaginary.”

Athelstan shrugs him off, scowling. “She isn’t imaginary. She’s a grad student in poli sci and she wants to be an ambassador and she thinks you sound interesting.”

Ragnar looks delighted. “Does she? And you talked about me? I’m honored. Now you definitely have to let me buy you an ice cream so I can hear all about her, since it’s only fair if she heard all about me.”

It seems there’s no arguing, so Athelstan lets himself be led to one of the parking lots and gets in Ragnar’s car when Ragnar indicates that he should. “I might have accidentally mentioned matchmaking the two of you,” he admits when Ragnar starts the car.

Ragnar laughs, pulling out of his parking spot. “Now you have to tell me about her. I already know one good thing, and that’s that she wants things. Two, in that she has good taste in freshmen. Tell me more.”

“You both make fun of me,” he mutters, embarrassed and hating himself a little for mentioning it to both of them, now.

“You need a little less seriousness in your life, kid, of course we make fun of you. Now come on, if you won’t tell me about yourself you can at least tell me about her.”

So Athelstan does, just like he did the opposite, talking about Pratchett and study sessions and how she says if she can survive freshman she can survive everything. Ragnar just smiles, and interrupts occasionally to point out off-campus landmarks, including the house where he rents the apartment over the garage (“Haraldson is terrible, he’s the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, his wife Siggy teaches engineering, Thyri is a freshman too, you should talk to her, she isn’t awful”). Athelstan finishes talking at about the same time they pull into the parking lot of an ice cream shop. It’s mostly empty, since it’s a chilly early-fall day, and Athelstan spends a few minutes lingering over the list of flavors, wondering if he should pretend he’s lactose intolerant so Ragnar won’t feel the need to spend money on him. Still, when Ragnar looks expectantly at him from the order window he says “Small strawberry on a sugar cone, please.”

“He wants sprinkles,” Ragnar adds, and hands money across the counter when the girl at the window gives the total. It’s low, at least there’s that. “You realize,” he says when the window shuts so she can put their order together, “that you just told me more about Lagertha than you’ve told me about yourself.”

“I’m not that interesting.”

“On the contrary. I don’t talk to boring people. It makes grad school very difficult.”

“Neither of you makes any sense.”

There’s a pause, broken when the ice cream window opens up and Ragnar hands over Athelstan’s strawberry cone, covered in sprinkles, and keeps some sort of sundae for himself. “We like you, kid,” says Ragnar when they wander over to one of the picnic tables, hopping up so he’s sitting on the table, leaving Athelstan standing next to him doing his best to keep his ice cream from melting all over his hands. “You’re likeable. And sure, maybe we are too, I can see where you’d like to set up the awesomest people you know, but don’t sell yourself short.”

Athelstan knows he’s red, and can’t make himself meet Ragnar’s eyes. “Lagertha told me already she doesn’t need matchmaking, I know, I’m—”

“Hey. It’s okay.”

Athelstan catches a drip of ice cream before it slides down the cone, and when he finally brings himself to look up, Ragnar is watching him with a thoughtful expression on his face. “What?” he asks.

“Nothing. Just eat your ice cream before it starts melting.”

Athelstan does, and they spend the rest of their time at the ice cream place in silence that somehow manages not to feel awkward.

*

His life settles into a routine as September turns to October. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he has class with Ragnar, and usually once a week Ragnar will grab him afterwards and tow him off to the Union, or to sit on the commons, or to somewhere off-campus. They start running into each other at the coffee stand in the Union too, at random times of day, and Athelstan often finds himself running across campus, almost late to class, after those times.

Once a week, Lagertha will invite him to her apartment to study, or come study in his room, at one point bringing an extra afghan and a lounging pillow to put on his extra bed so she can use it more easily. Sometimes she drops into the seat across from him in the dining hall, and she stops by whenever she passes by his hallway—he ends up buying a whiteboard, wincing at the frivolous expense, when she complains that she wants to leave notes when she stops by and he isn’t there (she only ever signs them “L,” probably because dorm supervisors aren’t supposed to blatantly play favorites).

They ask about each other. “What has my future husband been up to lately?” Lagertha will ask when Athelstan talks about classes, and Ragnar grins and mock-swoons over “my long-distance girlfriend” whenever Athelstan lets her name slip. Athelstan stops being embarrassed over it a week or so in, and doesn’t tell either of them again that he still thinks they would be perfect for each other.

“What are you doing for fall break?” Lagertha asks on an early October afternoon, when Athelstan is curled up on her couch with her fleece blanket wrapped around him because she tutted at him for walking back from class without gloves.

Athelstan blinks up from his book. It’s pleasure reading, since he’s ahead on his French and the rest of his classes are in a lull, waiting until just after fall break for the next wave of assignments. “Homework, probably,” he says.

“Are you going home?”

“No.”

Lagertha hums thoughtfully from her place on her recliner. She has a notebook open on her lap, but she mostly seems to be ignoring it. “Family far away?”

“No.” He shakes his head. “It’s a good opportunity to get ahead.”

“At this rate, you’ll be ready to take your finals by Thanksgiving.” She frowns. “I’m around too. Don’t be afraid to knock on my door when campus clears out, okay?” She snorts before he can answer. “Not that you will. I’ll just have to make sure that you see another human being at least once a day.”

“You’re very kind.”

“I’m really not. You’re just some sort of helpless woodland creature, it brings up all these terrible nurturing instincts.” She laughs, and he lets himself smile in response. He’s about to go back to his book when she speaks again. “You should come up with a plan or two for break, though, besides homework. Get off campus, wander into a frat party and get drunk, go out with my future husband and let him get you drunk, I don’t give a fuck, but do something.”

“It’s still weird that you two don’t know each other,” Athelstan says, taking the easy way out instead of addressing the rest of what she said.

He expects her to tease him for matchmaking again, but she bites her lip instead, gives him the squint that makes people making noise after quiet hours tremble. “How about this, then: you make a plan for break that doesn’t involve studying at all, and I promise I’ll take my long-distance relationship to the next level and actually meet this guy.”

“You don’t have to …” Athelstan struggles for words that don’t sound insulting to either one of them. “If it means that much to you, I don’t need to be bribed,” he settles on. And then, embarrassing but honest, “You’re probably my best friend. Or the two of you are. I like making you happy.”

“Oh, kid.” She makes a face he doesn’t quite know how to interpret. “Could you maybe keep in mind that the opposite is true too? I’m not hanging out with you out of pity or anything.”

Athelstan ducks his head and can’t think what to say, but Lagertha doesn’t seem to expect an answer, just goes back to whatever she’s doing in her notebook. After another minute, he mutters a “Thank you” and goes back to his reading, and stays later than he usually does, and doesn’t object when she insists on ordering enough Chinese food for both of them when she decides she’s hungry.

*

On the Friday before fall break, Athelstan ends up in the Union with Ragnar after class, both of them sitting with hot drinks in their hands.

“Are you going home for the break?” Athelstan asks, because it’s polite.

“My brother lives in town, he’s the only family I care to talk to, so no, I’m staying around. Theoretically working on my dissertation, but it’s an easily-disproved theory. Floki is having a party, he’s promised enough alcohol to sink a ship.” Ragnar grins. “I would invite you, but you’re always saying you aren’t the party type.”

For a second, Athelstan thinks about Lagertha’s offer, and wonders how Ragnar would respond if Athelstan asked to come along. It would be uncomfortable, full of grad students less likely to indulge a freshman than Ragnar and Lagertha, he would drink when he’s never done it before and probably embarrass himself terribly. It’s still tempting, but he ends up saying “Definitely not the party type” anyway.

“We’ll have to do something else, then.” Ragnar gives him a long, assessing look. It’s almost uncannily like the one Lagertha uses when she’s trying to decide whether to ask him a question or not. “Unless you’re going home?”

“I’m not.” He takes a sip of his tea even though it’s still too hot. “All year,” he adds, because if Ragnar isn’t going home to his family either he may as well say. “What else do you want to do, then?”

There’s a surprised pause, and Athelstan looks up to catch Ragnar’s raised eyebrows. To Athelstan’s relief, he doesn’t answer the first few things he said, just the last. “That’s it? I’m not going to have to spend an hour wheedling you to do something?”

“It doesn’t take an hour for you to wear me down.”

“Hush, I’m enjoying this moment, it’s a beautiful one, I may cry. What changed your mind? You take convincing to do anything, and suddenly you’re offering your company.”

Athelstan rolls his eyes. “It isn’t that dramatic.”

“Allow me to be the judge of that. Come on, why the change of heart?”

“Lagertha told me to get out of the dorm this break or she would be upset.”

Ragnar laughs. “My future wife continues to impress.”

“Also she might have said she’d meet you if I did something to socialize over break,” Athelstan blurts, and goes back to staring at his cup.

Sure enough, Ragnar laughs again, much harder this time. “That’s adorable, Athelstan, did you really need to be bribed to offer to socialize with me?”

“No, I mean, I just …”

“I like her,” Ragnar says, like he’s just deciding it. “If she wants to meet me, I’ll meet her, even if I feel like I shouldn’t reward you for matchmaking, you little sneak. Now, what will we do to get you out of your dorm so my blushing bride’s hopes for you aren’t dashed?”

“Lagertha really doesn’t blush, and if you’re going to make fun of me, I’d rather not—”

“Kid, relax.” Ragnar reaches across the table to take hold of his wrist and waits for Athelstan to look up before he continues. “Yes, I’m making fun of you, but I appreciate it, you obviously think she’s Wonder Woman and Xena Warrior Princess and a basketful of puppies all rolled into one, so if you think I’m worthy of her that’s good for my ego.”

“Everything is good for your ego,” Athelstan says, because he can’t help it.

Ragnar shakes his finger at him. “When did you get sassy? I think I like it. Anyway, it’s fine. I’ll meet her if both of you want us to meet, easy as that. But first, to spice up your break a little. There’s a diner in town that does a nice breakfast. How about I take you out? Say, Monday morning. That way we won’t miss out on seeing each other on Monday, I know you pine without me.”

“You don’t always need to pay for me.” It’s not really true, Athelstan could probably afford a breakfast or two out, but only if he sacrifices on something else, but he feels like he needs to say it anyway.

“Please, I remember how broke freshmen are, especially freshmen who are too busy with schoolwork to find jobs. I’ll pay, and when you’re fabulously wealthy someday, you can take me out for breakfast.” He pauses, and nudges Athelstan’s foot under the table. “Me and Lagertha, even,” he adds, and changes the subject before Athelstan can do more than blush.

*

When they meet, it ends up being completely by chance.

It’s a Tuesday in late October, after a quiet fall break and neither Lagertha nor Ragnar mentioning meeting each other again, and Athelstan runs into Lagertha just as he’s leaving the Union after dinner. She hooks her arm through his and grins at him. “It’s open mic night, stick around for a while, would you? A friend of mine is doing a number or two.”

“I—what?”

“Open mic night, Athelstan, keep up. It’s acoustic night in the Union.” He stares. “Happens every week? Come on, let’s get a table, Helga is really good, I promise, you really should stay.”

Athelstan is starting to learn how to say no to Lagertha (and Ragnar, it takes the same words for both of them—protestations about budget or time taken or homework are ignored, but the words “I don’t want to” are always respected), and for a second he thinks about doing it. It’s a week night, and he doesn’t really relish the prospect of being the freshman out at night with his dorm supervisor, but Lagertha is still smiling and he’s still ahead on his homework, so he ends up shrugging. “Why not?”

“Look at you, all grown up and getting out of your room like a regular college student,” she says, and drags him over to an empty table.

Lagertha talks about her classes and work while the room fills up and a few students in Student Affairs t-shirts set up microphones and speakers on the little stage tucked away into a corner. There are more than a few students with guitar cases, and Lagertha waves at Helga, who’s a fourth-year psychology major and a friend of hers she talks about fairly often. Helga is standing, to Athelstan’s surprise, near Floki. “That’s my comparative religions professor,” he says when Lagertha catches him looking.

Her eyebrows go up. “Not the TA?”

“No, definitely not. It’s just weird seeing professors outside of class.”

“Floki was some sort of prodigy, aced through his undergrad in three years, went off to Princeton and got through a master and doctorate in another five, and then came back here to teach, probably because Helga has him wrapped around her little finger. I’ve only met him a few times, but he’s nice, if weird.” She smiles. “They’re both weird, but that’s why they work together.”

“That’s good for them.” He pauses. “If you know Floki, I’m surprised you don’t know Ragnar.”

She shrugs. “Like I said, we aren’t close. Helga has mentioned Ragnar a few times, if that’s what you’re asking, but I’ve heard way more from you.”

After a few minutes, Helga and Floki come over, setting up camp at the table next to theirs. Helga has a guitar case next to her, but she’s more busy giggling at whatever Floki is whispering in her ear than in socializing, so Athelstan and Lagertha keep to themselves. Helga leans over right as the emcee comes up and starts tapping the mic for attention. “You’re the famous Athelstan, right?”

That gets Floki looking keenly at him too, and Athelstan ducks his head. “I hope I’m not famous.”

“You’re right, he is precious,” Helga tells Lagertha, and then turns to watch the front like that was a completely normal thing to say.

Athelstan knows he’s red-faced all the way through the first few acts, all guys his age with guitars and earnest songs he probably would recognize if he listened to the radio more often and varying skill levels. He relaxes a little when the emcee calls Helga to the stage and Floki melts away when she does, disappearing off to say hello to someone else he knows. Helga does two numbers, Joni Mitchell and something original, and Lagertha cheers and Athelstan does it along with her, which makes her smile.

Helga is by far the best for a while, followed up by more people and their guitars and one band involving a ukulele and something Lagertha cheerfully informs him is called a keytar. Athelstan is about to excuse himself, thank her for the company and go back to his room to read when the emcee dramatically mangles the pronunciation of “And now, Ragnar and Rollo Lothbrok.”

“My husband!” Lagertha says, not loud enough for the whole room to hear her but definitely loud enough that a few people near them turn around to see who’s talking.

Athelstan buries his face in his hands but looks up when Lagertha elbows him. “Tell me you didn’t know he was performing.”

“I really didn’t, Athelstan, who do you think I am, Machiavelli?”

Ragnar is on the stage with a man who doesn’t look much like him but who must be Rollo. Both of them have got guitars, and Ragnar is the one who takes the microphone. “Hello out there, I’m Ragnar, he’s Rollo, and we thought about treating you to yet another cover of ‘Wagon Wheel,’ but I figure we should do something else instead.” That gets a laugh, for some reason.

“He’s hot, I should have let you matchmake after all,” says Lagertha thoughtfully.

“I’m never coming out of my room again,” says Athelstan.

Ragnar and Rollo start playing something that sounds vaguely familiar. They aren’t as good as Helga, but they aren’t bad, and Athelstan alternates between paying attention and staring at the table because Lagertha is alternating watching the stage looking vaguely impressed and watching him looking more than a little amused, with an edge of thoughtfulness behind it he doesn’t know how to interpret. When the song is over, he claps a little louder than normal and plans his escape, which is promptly ruined when Ragnar looks around the audience and catches sight of him, giving him a big wave and a grin and then raising his eyebrows and pointing very obviously at Lagertha. Half the audience seems to swivel around to see who he’s looking at, and Athelstan sinks in his chair. Before he can get more mortified, Ragnar takes the microphone again. “Our second song goes out to a friend of mine in the audience, and also my future bride.”

Athelstan puts his face in his hands again and doesn’t take it out for the whole song. Only Lagertha’s shoulder against his keeps him from stumbling through some sort of excuse that will let him leave.

*

“I didn’t know you were coming tonight,” Ragnar says a few minutes later, appearing at Athelstan’s side with his guitar case slung over his back and a grin on his face.

“I didn’t know I was either. I didn’t know you play.”

“I dabble. Rollo is better, but he’s grumpy, so I do the talking.”

Ragnar is looking at him expectantly and Lagertha is still sitting there, so Athelstan musters up something resembling manners and looks between them. “Ragnar, this is Lagertha. Lagertha, Ragnar.”

“I never would have guessed,” says Ragnar with a grin, and sits down at the table. “Pleasure to meet you, Lagertha. I suppose I should have friended you on Facebook before I announced our engagement to the school.”

“Our courtship is what you might call whirlwind,” says Lagertha. She isn’t quite smiling, just giving him the assessing look she gives Athelstan right before she decides he needs to be dragged out of his room or fed or told to do something besides study. Ragnar, across the table, looks amused, but he always looks amused when he’s making plans. “I think you need to buy me a ring before I let you claim me as your future wife, though.”

“You called him your husband when he went on the stage,” Athelstan points out, and then ducks his head when both of them turn to look at him at once. “Well, you did.”

“There he is, I thought I’d mortified you to death,” says Ragnar with a grin. “Here, can I buy the two of you a coffee? Two coffees, even, I’m feeling generous.”

“I’ve got to go back,” Athelstan says.

Lagertha frowns. “Do you really?”

“I swear, I’m not matchmaking or anything, I want to go over my vocabulary for French one more time.”

“You can stay for coffee, can’t you?” Ragnar wheedles the same way he wheedles for ice cream and lunches and coffee at other times.

This time, Athelstan shakes his head. “I really can’t. Sorry. I really promise this isn’t me trying to be sneaky, I’m really bad at that. I just want to go back to my room. You two should enjoy your coffee.”

“If you’re sure,” says Lagertha, her brows drawn together. “I’ll walk you back, if you like.”

“Really, it’s fine,” he assures her again, and gets up from the table before either of them can try to convince him anymore. They’re getting along well so far, and he’s happy, he really is, he knew they would like each other, and if he’s a little worried they’ll replace him with each other because that’s what makes sense, he knows it’s a stupid worry, but nobody can be rational all the time. He’ll take the night to get his equilibrium back and everything will be normal, or some new kind of normal.

Athelstan gets across campus uninterrupted, hands in his pockets because he still can never remember to put his gloves on before he leaves in his room, and does some French homework before taking a book out to read.

There’s a knock on his door at nearly midnight, and he knows it’s Lagertha before he even looks through the peep hole. “You okay?” she asks when he opens the door. “I wanted to check and make sure, you left in a hurry. And Ragnar asked too, said he doesn’t have your phone number so he couldn’t check himself.”

“I’m really fine, Lagertha. Just got a little overwhelmed, felt stupid because you both probably thought I was matchmaking again.”

She smiles. “You were way too embarrassed for that to be true. And for what it’s worth, I like him. We’ll have to do dinner sometime, the three of us.”

“I suppose,” he says, because she seems to expect an answer of some kind.

“I’ll let you get back to reading, you look like you’re twenty minutes from falling asleep anyway. See you soon, Athelstan,” she says, and gives him a kiss on the cheek before she goes back down the hallway, stopping to rap on another door where the music is a little too loud for quiet hours as she goes, leaving him to shut the door after her and try to get a handle on how unsettled he is.

*

Nothing changes, or not really, for the next few weeks, as October becomes November and Athelstan does his next round of assignments for classes. He studies and eats a meal or two a week with Lagertha, and talks to Ragnar before and after class and sometimes gets dragged out to “see more of the world, there is life off campus!” Helga sits next to him in the library a few times to study, Floki seems to get a case of the giggles every time Athelstan gets anywhere near him, and Ragnar even manages to introduce Athelstan to his landlord’s daughter on one of their trips off campus.

They stay remarkably separate, and Athelstan would think they’d decided, after he left them, that they don’t care to have any connection but him after all, except for a brief mention on occasion from each of them about an exchanged text, or an answer to something Athelstan says that they shouldn’t know, about him or each other.

“You and Ragnar are still talking?” Athelstan asks Lagertha over dinner one night, when she answered a rhetorical question about Ragnar’s brother.

She raises her eyebrows. “You’re surprised? All of your scheming, and you haven’t even followed through, I’m disappointed.”

“I wasn’t scheming.”

“I know, Athelstan. We text sometimes, is that what you’re curious about? We don’t do dinner or anything, but we both know you, and we both like you, and it turns out we have some things in common. Does it bother you?”

“Of course not.” It bothers him a little that neither of them have mentioned it to him, but he doesn’t have the right to be bothered, and since everything is continuing as normal it’s silly to be bothered anyway. “I was the one who wanted you to meet in the first place.”

She kicks him lightly under the table. “Don’t worry, kid, we still like you best. We can all hang out together, if it will make you breathe a little easier. But you left the first time, so we thought maybe we would tread carefully.”

He isn’t sure if it’s more terrifying or warming that they talk about him that much, analyze his possible reactions. “I don’t know,” he says.

“Let us know when you do, then,” she replies, and the points at his plate. “Eat your food, Athelstan, you are going to waste away by Christmas, and then what will I do without you to entertain me next semester?”

“Text Ragnar,” he says, and smiles when she rolls her eyes. “Find another freshman to adopt. Work on your dissertation.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, no one could possibly replace you. I don’t even know what I’m going to do when housing assigns you a new roommate next semester. Unless we’re low on transfer students, I suppose. I hope we are, I won’t have anywhere to go to escape anymore.”

Athelstan smiles. “You could always go to Ragnar’s.”

“There we are. Keep on smiling, you don’t do it enough. Like I said, you’ll waste away before Christmas.” She pushes half a slice of coconut crème pie across the table. “And eat that while you’re at it.”

“I smile plenty. With you and Ragnar both.”

She gives him a brilliant grin. “I guess you do.”

*

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

Athelstan looks up from editing his second comparative religions paper (“I’m not writing about Vikings again, Ragnar, I don’t know what your obsession is, I’m writing about creation myths”) at Ragnar, who is sitting cross-legged in one of the library armchairs even though they aren’t supposed to have their feet on the furniture. “Same as fall break. Staying here. One of the local churches does a lunch for people who can’t afford it themselves, and they feed students if they volunteer, so I’ll probably do that.”

“You’re a disgustingly good person, it’s enough to make a person feel like a villain in contrast.” Ragnar sets his notebook on his lap and pins Athelstan with a look. “Come to mine. I’ll even invite Lagertha too. It can be us three and my brother and maybe Floki and Helga if they don’t decide to go see her family.”

Athelstan considers just how awkward that would be. “I like the thought of volunteering,” he says, because it’s true. And then, when Ragnar looks dubious, the magic words he’s getting better at using on both he and Lagertha: “I want to volunteer.” When Ragnar looks put out, Athelstan blurts “You could join me, if you want.”

For a second, he wants to kick himself, but then Ragnar smiles. “I’m not exactly the religious type, you know that.”

“You don’t have to be religious to want to help people. They won’t turn you away.”

“I was going to cook. I’m a good cook.”

“You could cook there. Not that I want to pressure you.”

“You absolutely want to pressure me.” Ragnar sounds more entertained than annoyed, so Athelstan relaxes and goes back to his laptop. “Maybe somehow we can manage both,” he adds after five minutes or so. “Do that for lunch, and then I’ll gourmet it up for dinner. I refuse to do a Thanksgiving that doesn’t involve me having at least a week’s worth of stuffing for sandwiches.”

“Stuffing sandwiches?” Athelstan asks, mildly horrified.

Ragnar laughs loud enough to make a student twenty feet away look up and glare at them. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, it’s delicious. Stuffing, gravy, a bit of turkey, and maybe cranberry sauce if you’re feeling healthy all stuffed between two pieces of bread, it’s like a little Thanksgiving orgasm in your mouth.” Athelstan can’t hide his grin or his disbelief, and Ragnar points at him. “This is happening. You can’t go another Thanksgiving without the pinnacle of Thanksgiving leftovers, understood?”

Athelstan laughs, though he keeps quieter than Ragnar did. “Yes, fine, understood. I’ll come to yours on the evening of Thanksgiving, if you think Rollo won’t mind.”

“Rollo minds everything, Rollo is actually Oscar the Grouch. But he’ll put up with it because he likes my cooking. He just won’t come to the volunteering earlier, that’s all.”

“Wait, you are? I figured since I said I would come to dinner, you would—”

“Of course I’m coming. You want me to, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m coming.” Ragnar manages to give him a sidelong look even though they’re facing each other. “Have you invited Lagertha?”

“I haven’t thought to. We haven’t talked about Thanksgiving yet, it’s still two weeks away.”

“Well, talk about it. And if you invite her to yours, I’ll invite her to mine.”

“You don’t need to. I already feel like I’m imposing—”

“You aren’t. You never are. I want you both there. Clear?”

Neither of them ever argues with that, so Athelstan does Ragnar the same courtesy. “Fine. Thank you for inviting me. Us. I’m looking forward to it.” Ragnar beams at him long enough for Athelstan to start blushing, so he looks back down at his computer and the work he’s meant to be doing on his paper. “You should get back to work,” he says, and puts on headphones so Ragnar won’t tease.

*

“I want to invite you to Thanksgiving. Well, two Thanksgivings. One of the invitations is technically Ragnar’s, but I don’t think he’ll mind me giving it.”

Lagertha looks up from the other end of her couch, eyebrows raising either at the words or at the fact that he blurted them out all at once an hour into their study session. They’re sharing the couch today, because it’s cold and the college is keeping the heat as low as it can for as long as it can and she said they might as well share a blanket. “What on earth do you mean?”

“If you don’t have any plans for Thanksgiving. You might, I should have asked that first.”

“I don’t. The head of residence life usually has a dinner for any staff that are on campus for the holiday, but I can easily get out of that. What’s this about?”

“I was planning on doing the lunch at the church that does Thanksgiving for free for low-income and seniors and students who volunteer to cook, and Ragnar offered to join, and I want you to come as well.”

She gives him a warm smile. “I would be honored. What’s the second invitation?”

“Ragnar still wants to make his own dinner so he has leftovers for the week, and he invited me. And you. If you don’t mind having Thanksgiving with him and his brother. And maybe Helga and Floki, he didn’t seem sure.”

“I’m honored I rate an invitation.” She tilts her head. “Do you want me to come?”

“That one is Ragnar’s invitation. Ask him,” Athelstan says firmly. It’s true, and a little less embarrassing than I always want you around.

“I’ll take that as a yes. If he wants me there, though, I’ll come. I’ll text and ask if he wants me to bring anything. I’m not the best cook, but I make a damn good pumpkin pie, and my mashed potatoes are passable.”

“You’ll have to text him about that. I don’t cook very much at all, I’ll probably get relegated to chopping things at the church lunch.”

“I will text him, then.” To his surprise, she takes her phone out of her pocket then and there, putting a bookmark in her book as she does, and taps out a message. “You can even read it to make sure I’m not embarrassing you,” she offers when she catches him staring, and turns the screen around to see. He says you’ve invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. Want me to bring anything?

“I don’t need to read your texts,” Athelstan protests, even if he’s rather glad she showed him.

Her phone buzzes, and she grins down at the message when she opens it, still holding the phone so they can both see. Yourself, is all it says. Lagertha types I’ll bring pie immediately and then puts her phone away. “There, it’s settled. We’ll have a proper Thanksgiving. Or, well, as proper as this kind of situation can get.”

“As long as you’re sure you don’t have plans of your own.”

“Do you really think I wouldn’t have told you if I did? Actually, I’m a little miffed at him, I was going to ask about your plans this week and figure something out and he beat me to it. I suppose that’s why we need to get married, so you’re legally half both of ours.”

Athelstan blinks at her. “That isn’t really how it works.”

“I know, there’s a reason I’m not pre-law.” She picks up her book again, opening it to where she left off.

At a loss for anything else to say, Athelstan goes back to his own work until he falls asleep on Lagertha’s couch, only to wake up tangled in her blanket an hour later when she shakes his shoulder and tells him that dinner is ready, and no, he isn’t allowed to object, he’s just going to eat it. They end up huddled together on the couch with their plates in their laps watching some black-and-white film, and when Athelstan goes back to his room afterwards it feels colder than usual.

He might not quite know what’s happening with Lagertha or Ragnar, but he isn’t stupid enough to wonder what that means.

*

Thanksgiving morning, Athelstan and Lagertha walk to the church that’s making the lunch. She has a car, but it’s unseasonably warm and they met up in plenty of time, so they walk across campus and down the few streets to get there.

Ragnar is already waiting on the steps of the church, hands stuffed in his pockets, and he grins when he sees them. “I was wondering when you two would get here. I thought about going in and offering my services, but then I thought I might get struck by lightning if Athelstan weren’t with me.”

“I wasn’t worried before, but I am now,” says Lagertha, but she sounds amused rather than serious, and she nudges Ragnar’s shoulder with hers as she passes him, getting to the doors first and swinging them open, holding them until Athelstan and Ragnar get through.

They’re greeted by a harried-looking woman almost as soon as they’re through the door. “Are you here to volunteer?”

Ragnar and Lagertha both look at Athelstan, so he answers. “We are.”

“Good, we’re low on volunteers and behind on the potatoes, so off you go.” She shoos them away and Athelstan leads the way to the kitchen, since he’s at least been before. It’s bustling in there, a few students but mostly members of the church community helping out.

Within ten seconds, the three of them are being interrogated about their respective skills in the kitchen and shuffled off to jobs at various stations. Athelstan ends up peeling what feels like endless amounts of potatoes while Lagertha stirs cranberry sauce and Ragnar works his way up to being in charge of the stuffing within five minutes.

Everyone is hard at work all morning, and Athelstan barely gets the chance to check in with Lagertha and Ragnar, but when he looks, they always seem to be smiling, working or looking at him or at each other. Ragnar acquires an apron from somewhere and Lagertha laughs and takes a picture on her phone, and Athelstan gets assigned to actually mashing the potatoes when he’s finally peeled enough of them.

A large group of students shows up to “volunteer” twenty minutes before lunch is going to be served and are told they’ll have to serve and do dishes before they can eat, and Athelstan, Lagertha, and Ragnar are sent out of the kitchen to find themselves a table. They stake a claim in a corner and get in the forming line for the food, Athelstan striking up a conversation with the family in line behind them while Ragnar and Lagertha have a low-voiced discussion ahead of him that he tries his hardest not to listen in on.

Lunch, when they finally get it and get back to their table, is delicious. The turkey is a little dry, but the stuffing is delicious (“Stuffing is the most important part of the meal and you will never convince me otherwise,” says Ragnar when Athelstan compliments it) and they both make a point of winking at him when they enjoy their mashed potatoes.

There’s never a hint of the awkwardness Athelstan was fearing, nothing that makes him want to turn tail and run like he did at the open mic night. Lagertha and Ragnar talk easily to each other and him, keeping up a stream of teasing and commentary. None of them eat second plates, since they have another Thanksgiving ahead of them, but Athelstan is pleasantly full and nearly ready for a nap by the time they’ve finished.

Ragnar is the first to stand up, followed by Lagertha, and both of them give Athelstan an unnecessary hand to his feet. “Come on,” says Ragnar, “I’ll drive you back to my place. We have a lot of cooking ahead of us. Again.”

*

Athelstan, to his great embarrassment, falls asleep on Ragnar’s couch for a little while, while Ragnar puts his defrosted turkey in the oven to spend the afternoon cooking. When he wakes, it’s only been an hour, but Ragnar and Lagertha are sitting at Ragnar’s kitchen table playing an intense game of cribbage and the air smells like applesauce.

“Good morning,” says Lagertha when she looks up between hands to find him watching them. “Ragnar drove me back to the dorm while you were sleeping so I could grab my pie, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all, I’m sorry for falling asleep,” he says, sitting up.

“We aren’t doing anything but playing games my grandfather is into.” Ragnar holds out the deck and Lagertha cuts it without looking. “And I’m winning.”

“Lies,” says Lagertha. “Do you want to team up, Athelstan? We’ll skunk him.”

Athelstan blinks at her. “I’ve got no clue what you mean.”

“Then we’ll definitely team up.” She pats the chair next to her, and Athelstan gets off the couch and comes to sit. They’re halfway through the game, and he doesn’t really pick up the rules by the end of it, but Lagertha still beats Ragnar by quite a lot and crows over it while Ragnar grumbles and tells them it’s time to start actually cooking dinner.

Cooking with just the three of them is very different from the bustle in the church’s kitchen in the morning. Ragnar puts on music and an apron of his own (a “Kiss the Cook” one, Athelstan didn’t think those existed outside sitcoms) and supervises, and Lagertha and Athelstan do what needs doing. Ragnar goes fancier for their dinner than they did while volunteering: garlic and dill in the mashed potatoes, a mix of spices in the stuffing and on the turkey, applesauce instead of cranberry sauce.

By the time Rollo arrives at six, the apartment smells delicious and Athelstan is tired and happy and feels as though he and Ragnar and Lagertha have been spending time together for years, rather than a few months. Rollo rolls his eyes immediately when he enters and finds that Lagertha has stolen Ragnar’s apron and is trying to put it on Athelstan, but Rollo is never impressed by anything, so Athelstan doesn’t mind much. He and Ragnar go into the kitchen and argue a little over whether the turkey is going to be overcooked and dry if it takes the last five minutes Ragnar claims it needs before he makes the gravy, and when someone knocks on the door Lagertha finally abandons her attempts to talk Athelstan into the apron and goes to let in Helga and Floki.

Dinner is a little more awkward than lunch, now that it isn’t just the three of them, but Athelstan finds himself not minding. The food is delicious, and they all eat so much they’re groaning and still manage to eat most of Lagertha’s pumpkin pie. There’s wine that Athelstan turns down and cider that he doesn’t, and it’s nine before any of them leave the table, and even then it’s only to collapse in Ragnar’s living room.

Rollo is the first to leave, followed by Helga and Floki, and Athelstan doesn’t move for a while after, content to just sit on the couch between Ragnar and Lagertha, his head tipped onto Ragnar’s shoulder and one of them playing with his hair, he’s not sure which. “I should probably go,” he says finally, when there’s a lull in them talking over his head about some visiting lecturer they both want to go see next week.

“You just want to get out of doing the dishes,” Ragnar accuses.

All of them groan at the thought of the mess the kitchen is in, but Ragnar’s words make them lever themselves off the couch anyway. This time, Ragnar puts something quieter on the player, Ella Fitzgerald crooning the blues while they organize the dishes and get the hot water going. It takes more than half an hour, even with all three of them working.

Athelstan goes to the living room to do one last sweep for any dishes they may have forgotten, and when he returns to the kitchen empty-handed, he finds Ragnar and Lagertha standing just a few inches from each other, his hand on her waist and a smile on her face as she tilts her head. They both turn when he tries to stumble back. “I’m sorry, I should go,” he says.

Lagertha stops his retreat with an outstretched hand. “You really shouldn’t. Come on, I think the three of us need to have a talk.”

*

They’re on the couch again, only this time Athelstan doesn’t know what to do with his hands or his eyes, all the ease from earlier gone out of them. “I don’t know what we need to talk about,” he says, finally settling on staring at his knees. “I told you ages ago I thought you would be good for each other, and then I accidentally did matchmaking, and it’s worked. That’s good. You don’t have to feel—guilty, or anything.”

“That’s why we need to talk,” says Ragnar. “I think you’ve missed out on a fundamental part of this equation.”

“The two of you like each other.” He looks up and between them, gets a confirming nod after they’ve met each other’s eyes. “Then I don’t know what I’m missing. I don’t think you’ll start ignoring me just because you have each other now. It will take getting used to, but it’s good. Isn’t it?”

Lagertha sighs and takes his hand. “Yeah, kid, it’s good, but you’re still missing it. I was hoping we’d get to talk to you before anyone made a move, but there was an opportune moment. Look, we like each other, very good matchmaking job there, but what you’re missing is that we also like you.”

“I told you, I don’t think you’ll start ignoring me.” He’s a little worried about it, but that’s his fault, not either of theirs.

“For fuck’s sake,” says Ragnar, and kisses him. He pulls away after another second, and Athelstan doesn’t know what his face looks like, because he doesn’t know what to do or think or feel at all. He manages to turn enough to see Lagertha as well, but she’s just watching with her lips a little pursed, like she’s waiting for him to understand. Ragnar speaks again when Athelstan doesn’t manage words. “You matchmade all three of us.”

“I didn’t, I—”

“If you aren’t interested in either of us, you can tell us so,” says Lagertha, finally leaning forward, “but I don’t think that’s the case. Do the two of us like each other? Of course we do. Maybe one day we would have met through Helga and Floki and hit it off and started dating, but we met through you instead, and we want to keep you. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he says helplessly.

“Fuck,” says Lagertha, and shoulders Ragnar out of the way to grab Athelstan’s hands. “We both met you, and liked you, and it may have escaped you’re notice but you’re pretty incredibly attractive, and both of us were a little disappointed when you started mentioning the other one so much, and weren’t quite sure what to do with the matchmaking, but then we met and thought … well, why not try something unconventional? If we both like you, and both like each other, we can try something a little unconventional. You’re the only piece of the puzzle we’re still working on.”

“Do you like us, Athelstan? Are you attracted?”

“Of course, you’re both wonderful,” he says, and then shakes his head when both of them grin. “But this is, I don’t know how to—all three of us?”

“It isn’t unheard of, out there in the world.” Ragnar takes one of his hands from Lagertha. “This won’t be easy. At the very least, we should have waited until the end of the semester.”

“But if you say no, we should be clear, it’s not going to have an impact on your grade in Ragnar’s class or your experience in my dorm. You won’t have Ragnar as a teacher after this semester, and we’ll figure something out about you living in my building, if you say yes, or if you say no and don’t want to deal with us anymore.”

Athelstan closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, working his way through his spinning thoughts, through hints both of them have dropped about their interest, through their reactions to each other, through the confusion of what he wants and thinks he can have. It seems like it’s too easy, that he could have both of them, his two best friends who want each other too, that he could be allowed this. When he opens his eyes, they’re both watching him.

“All that’s left,” says Ragnar, “is for you to tell us what you want.”

“I want both of you,” he manages.

“Then you have us,” says Lagertha, and kisses him.

*

He’s never been kissed before today, unless a peck from a girl on the playground in the third grade counts, but within twenty minutes he might hazily call himself an expert. They press him back into the couch and trade off kissing him, long slow presses of mouth on mouth, whichever one isn’t kissing him at the time kissing his neck or his shoulder or hands, or the same on the other person. Ragnar coaxes his mouth open first, Lagertha taking over to teach him more, both of them kissing and getting kisses in return until he’s so hard he’s dizzy and the only way he can tell which is which is by the scratch of Ragnar’s beard against his face.

“You should kiss each other too,” he whispers in a space between kisses, when one of them is toying with the top few buttons of his shirt.

“Anything you want, Athelstan,” says Ragnar, and then there’s the wet sound of kissing but no mouth on his and he forces his eyes open to watch them kissing over him. They’re fiercer with each other than they are with him, Lagertha biting at Ragnar’s lips, and when they stop and look at him to see if he’s satisfied, he pulls Lagertha down and nips clumsily at her lips.

“Quick learner,” she says. “Here, let me teach you.” She shows him what she was doing to Ragnar, until his lips are tingling with pleasure-pain and he moans into her mouth, and then she gives him Ragnar’s lips to test him, and Ragnar clutches tight at his shoulder on the first nip, answering with a groan of his own.

“Do you want to fuck us?” Ragnar asks when they separate. “Anything you want, everything you want.”

“Everything,” Athelstan says, a little dazed, and moans when Lagertha tips his head to the side to put a sharp bite below the collar of his shirt. “Anything, everything, I don’t know, what do you want?”

Ragnar makes a noise and kisses him again, kisses him like he’s thinking about drowning him in it, never letting him breathe again, just keeping them attached there forever. “We’ll do everything someday,” Lagertha says, and it’s a promise, and Athelstan lets out a high, embarrassing noise into Ragnar’s mouth. “We just have to decide what to do first.”

“I want someone else to choose,” he says when Ragnar finally releases him again, because he’ll come just from kissing, just from this, and because he doesn’t know what to do when there are three people in a bed.

Ragnar eyes him and finally smiles. “Fine, but that means you tell us immediately if you don’t want us to do something. Got it?”

“Of course.” Lagertha bites him again and licks over the pain, and he can’t help the way his hips twitch. “I’m going to come if you keep doing that.”

“Right.” Ragnar moves and then Lagertha does, and then he’s being helped to his feet, going where Ragnar steers him until they’re in Ragnar’s bedroom, where he’s never been before, both of them tugging impatiently at the fastenings of his clothes as he goes. The room isn’t large, but it’s mostly taken up by a king-sized mattress that doesn’t have a bedframe. It’s made, which is surprising, and that’s all Athelstan has the chance to deserve before the two of them are pushing him down onto the bed, right in the middle and naked without a firm idea of how he got that way. He doesn’t have more than a few seconds to feel self-conscious before they’re stripping on either side of the bed and then getting on either side of him so they’re all naked and pressed together and breathing a little hard. “Fuck,” says Ragnar, “I want to do everything to you, but … you’re a virgin, right?”

Athelstan nods. “Is that a problem?”

“Just means we’ll go a little slower than we might have otherwise,” says Lagertha, and looks over his head to meet Ragnar’s eyes. “I want to blow him, and then I want you to fuck me, and then if he’s ready to go again maybe he can fuck me too or maybe we can come up with another plan. Anything to add?”

“I have condoms, and I’m helping with the blowjob,” says Ragnar, and then his warmth is gone for a second as he grabs condoms out of a box next to his mattress and tosses them on the bed.

“Let’s just get this on you,” says Lagertha, ripping one of the packets open, and then with businesslike efficiency she’s rolling it on him, making him arch up into the feeling of her hand. The tightness and the strangeness of it are all that keep him from coming then and there, and by her smile she knows it. She doesn’t say anything, though, just bends and laps at the head of his cock, making a face at the taste of the latex and then looking up at Ragnar, who joins her a second later.

Neither of them seems to care that he can’t stop moving his hips, that he flails out a hand until he grabs at Lagertha’s hair and pulls the first time she takes him in her mouth. They kiss each other, they take turns bobbing their heads over his cock until his chest is heaving and he’s shifting on the bed, trying not to writhe. All it takes is a bite on his hip from Ragnar as Lagertha slides her mouth down around his cock and he’s arching helplessly, coming embarrassingly fast.

Within seconds, Ragnar is up the bed and next to him and kissing him, and Lagertha is the one to get the used condom off him, to tie it off and toss it off the bed before she joins, rubbing his chest soothingly as his breathing returns to normal. “Do you want to see him fuck me?” she asks when Athelstan breaks the kiss.

“Please,” he says, caught by the image of it. Lagertha and Ragnar grin at each other and then they’re reaching for another condom, Athelstan rolling out of the way and onto his side so he can see them properly. They wrestle a little, playful and, Athelstan thinks, more for the excuse of touching skin to skin than to actually work out their positions. Ragnar is the one who ends up on top, between Lagertha’s spread legs, and they look at each other while Ragnar slides on the condom and slides inside her.

They’re gorgeous together. They know how to move, and they meet each other’s eyes like the sex is a challenge somehow, winning gasps and grunts from each other as Ragnar snaps his hips. Athelstan almost feels ignored, stupidly, for a minute, until Lagertha drops a hand from Ragnar’s shoulder and reaches out to pull him closer until she can kiss him, messy and open-mouthed. He can feel the way Ragnar is pushing into her, the way it shakes their bodies, and it gets him hard again so quickly it’s dizzying.

Lagertha comes first, but Ragnar is soon after, and Athelstan kisses them both through it, caught up in the tangle of limbs and mouths and hair. “Poor thing,” Lagertha murmurs into his mouth, “you’re hard again, aren’t you? We’ll have to do something about that.”

“God, please.”

“It’s been a while, I don’t think I can take both of you in one night after all, but I’m sure we can do something about you. Ragnar?”

“Nothing like a classic handjob,” says Ragnar, and then there are hands on him, both of them right there and smiling down at him. He’s still sensitive from coming the first time, but he wants them anyway, never wants this to stop, to have to get out of this bed or do anything but this, and they’re both right there, kissing him and each other in turn, taking it much slower than anything else until he’s desperate again, moving against them and begging into their mouths.

When he finally comes, it’s with Lagertha smiling right at him just before Ragnar tilts her face away to kiss her, and he’s so exhausted he barely hears Ragnar inviting them to stay the night before he drifts off, uncaring of the mess and anything he should be doing or saying.

*

“Congratulations on acing your first semester.”

Athelstan looks up from organizing and storing away his semester’s notes and textbooks to find Lagertha standing in his doorway, wearing one of the t-shirts that means she’s making herself easily identified by parents coming to pick their students up for winter break. “I just had my last final, I haven’t aced anything yet.”

“Come on, no need for false modesty.” She shuts the door behind her. He’s not quite sure how she got in in the first place, but he suspects it has to do with misuse of her access to the unlock codes to every room in the building. “We all know you’re good at academics. And Ragnar says you did well on your final.”

“He probably shouldn’t have told you that.”

She sits down on his extra bed. “No, probably not. But he probably also shouldn’t have fucked you into the mattress the night before your final either, and you enjoyed that well enough. Morals are all relative.”

“Says the political science major.”

Lagertha laughs. “He’s a terrible influence on you. And he says we should come for the night. I’ve got to be here to shut the dorm down and do room inspections, but you could go over and I’ll meet you over there later, if you like. Or you can stay and I’ll walk you over. He says bring a bag and stay for a few days. Or all break. Or forever.”

Athelstan ducks his head. “I can’t pay his rent. Or impose.”

“Take it up with him, I’m just the messenger.” Lagertha takes a second to be sure his window is shut and then comes over to where he’s sitting and gives him a kiss. “It would solve a few problems.”

“We’ve been dating less than a month. I really couldn’t possibly.”

“Come on, kid, you know both of us pretty well by now. Do you really think either of us is going to let you go unless you really want it? Ever?”

Athelstan shakes his head. “You barely know me.”

“I know you well enough to want to be with you for the foreseeable future,” she informs him, and moves to straddle his lap. “And certainly well enough to want to spend Christmas with you, Ragnar and I have plans.”

He eyes her. “What kind of plans?”

“Sexy ones. Also spoiling you ones, and if you object I will make you move in with him and then you’ll never get away from being spoiled rotten.”

“I have something for both of you too,” he says, because he doesn’t know what to do with the rest of that. “And I’ll pack a little bag for Ragnar’s place, but I’m not moving out of this room yet. Unless housing is moving me. Any word on that yet?”

“You’ll know as soon as I do.” Her phone starts ringing and she takes it out of her pocket. “Speak of the devil. Hi, Ragnar, I’m with Athelstan right now.”

Athelstan is sitting close enough to hear Ragnar say “Isn’t that convenient? I’ll be driving up by your dorm in ten, tell him to pack some things up and I’ll drive him home. You can call me when you’re done with room inspections too, if you like, I’ll drive back out and get you.”

“It’s not snowing that hard, I could use the walk.” She looks at Athelstan. “He’ll be here in ten, can you get packed?”

“Yes, as long as he doesn’t mind waiting for a few minutes.”

“For you, forever,” says Ragnar, and hangs up.

Lagertha gets up, which Athelstan takes as his cue to drag his duffel bag out from under his bed and start throwing clothes and toiletries in, as well as a few books even though Ragnar has shelves full of them. “We should all get a place next year, while I finish my Masters and Ragnar decides whether he wants to go for his doctorate. One year as a dorm supervisor is plenty, if you ask me.”

Athelstan packs and doesn’t say yes or no and doesn’t ask what she has planned for after that, when she’s graduated and he’s still working on his undergrad. “It seems quite stressful,” he says instead.

“We’ll see how stressful it is after tonight,” she says, and starts helping him pack his bag.

It goes much faster with her helping, and leaves them a few minutes to sit on his bed and kiss before Lagertha’s phone rings again. This time, Athelstan answers. “Are you outside?”

“Are you our girlfriend’s secretary now? Yes, I am. Both of you should come out and say hello to me, I’m pining without her.”

“We’ll see you in a minute,” says Athelstan, and gives the phone to Lagertha to hang up, because he still manages to press the wrong button half the time. He picks up his bag and makes sure he has his keycard and follows her out the door to his room and out of the dorm to the parking lot, where Ragnar is waiting, leaned up against his car and grinning. Athelstan isn’t quite sure what to do, greeting him when there are people around, but Ragnar doesn’t move to kiss either or both of them just clasps Lagertha’s hand and then takes Athelstan’s bag from him.

“Come on, let’s go back to my place, I’m cooking dinner and we’ll watch very manly movies until Lagertha gets there.” He lowers his voice and winks at Athelstan. “Actually, we’ll probably watch She’s All That, I’m still appalled you haven’t watched it.”

“I’d like that,” says Athelstan.

“Good.” Lagertha kisses him on the cheek, and then Ragnar. “I’ll see the two of you in a few hours. Don’t get up to too much trouble without me.”

“Maybe we’ll be naked and waiting,” says Ragnar, just loud enough for both of them to hear, and pushes Athelstan over to the car. “Let’s get going, kid, it’s winter break and I don’t plan to let you do anything useful the whole time.”

“That sounds good,” Athelstan surprises himself by saying, letting Ragnar open the passenger side door for him and put his bag in the back.

Lagertha grins at them. “Save some energy for me, would you?”

“We wouldn’t leave you out for the world,” says Ragnar, and gets in the car.

“We’ll see you later,” Athelstan promises, and can’t stop smiling as Ragnar drives them away.