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Peaceful in the Deep

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Athelstan is not fool enough that he doesn't know what he wants, what's in his heart and in the itch in his palms when he hears Ragnar and Lagertha between their furs at night.

The two of them, he thinks, haven't changed their mind from that first night, even if it was only meant as a tease then—even if it's only meant as a tease now. Ragnar is the jarl now, he doesn't need to keep a slave so close to his bed that he can hear their gasps and cries as they move against each other, and yet he does. He may mean it to tease, but that doesn't change the way Lagertha looks at him some evenings, the way Ragnar smiles at him in the mornings.

And if the two of them haven't changed their minds, if Athelstan has, he could share their bed. He thinks they would like him to, but that they won't ask again. Once was enough for their pride. But Athelstan can't ask. He has enough shame left in him to prevent that. And he will not simply stand at the foot of their bed until they invite him in and take the choice out of his hands.

That, though, leaves him few choices, and none he likes. Athelstan bides his time, and every night he hears them he stays still, so still, and doesn't whisper his prayers anymore, because he doesn't know what he would be praying for.

*

It's Lagertha who finds him, one morning after she and Ragnar have made their pleasure in each other particularly clear, when Athelstan half-ran, blushing, to the lake, ignoring the good-natured jeers of some of the men.

“We showed you to your bed, when we came here,” she says, sitting next to him and saying the words as the fact they are. She hushes Athelstan before he can do more than frown. “We showed you to your bed, and you never said that you might wish for a different one.”

“Ragnar would not let me—”

“Ragnar is indulgent. As am I. There are places to sleep—with Bjorn and Gyda, with other slaves. And yet you sleep in our bedroom, and we hear you breathe at night as though you want to join us, more now than when you first came.” She raises her eyebrows. “I know you aren't foolish enough to believe that our invitation was rescinded.”

Athelstan drops his head. He can't look at her and hear this at the same time, much less speak. “I don't know what to do. Sometimes I think I might want—but I spent my life preparing to take vows. I may want you, but I don't know if I should let myself … I know you think the rules of my God are foolish ones, but I was raised with them.”

“Do you wish you were less reluctant?”

There's something behind the words, some spark of an idea, and Athelstan looks up at her again. She's watching him with eyes narrowed. He spreads his hands. “I'm no priest anymore. If I condemn myself to hell, as I already have … I would join you in your bed before I go there. But I cannot take the step.” Athelstan shrugs, helpless. “I'm not sure I could if you asked.”

“England is a strange place indeed,” she says, all half-annoyed amusement. “You make things difficult, priest. Athelstan.”

“I wish I could do otherwise.”

“Listen to me.” As though he wasn't already. “There's a way to make you less reluctant. A drug, a distillation of herbs. It will make you feel as though you're on fire, as though nothing can satisfy you, but you won't have to worry about making this choice. You'll come to us, or we'll bring you to us when we realize what's wrong.”

Athelstan swallows. “You would give it to me?”

Lagertha blinks at him, perhaps a little startled. “I'd thought to give you a vial to take yourself, when you chose it, but perhaps that's as stupid as expecting you to come to us on your own. Perhaps just one night you'll find yourself in flames with nothing to help you, and you'll know what we did.” Her smile sharpens when he can't help a shiver at that. “You'd like us to do that? We would, if it would help.”

“Ragnar's thought of it as well?”

“Ragnar thinks of little but your pretty lips around his cock, when he starts thinking about it, but he'll approve, if that's what you're asking. He'll think it's a good idea.” Lagertha touches his arm, and she's serious again, the jarl's wife, fair and sharp and commanding. “You will not change your mind before we give it to you, or you'll tell me if you do? I won't have you in our bed unwilling, Athelstan. I won't have you for one night and watch you run away in the morning. If we have you, priest, we will have you.”

Athelstan lets himself breathe in her fierce words for a moment. She's never anything less than fierce, or less than sure. He can leave this in her hands as he might not be able to leave it in Ragnar's alone. “If I change my mind, I'll tell you.” He ducks his head. “I promise.”

She fits her hand around his knee and squeezes. “Very well. Sometime soon.”

Athelstan wants to blurt out questions in a sudden fit of nervousness, to ask how it will taste, how fast it will take him, what it will make him say, what it will make him do, but Lagertha doesn't want to hurt him. He can trust her with that much. Instead, he nods, shakily, and lets her move on to her day, sitting where he is until he's sure of his legs.

*

They touch him, now. Lagertha uses his shoulder to lever herself to standing. Ragnar ruffles his hair and pulls him close with an arm around his shoulders. Athelstan ducks away and blushes, the first few times, but then he grows accustomed to the warmth of a hand on him, and it's only a matter of turning to whichever of them is touching him and smiling.

Lagertha serves him food with little secret smiles. Ragnar serves him wine with larger grins and caresses just on the edge of what Athelstan is used to. He goes to bed each night on the heels of an assessing look from Lagertha, as if to say Tonight may be the night you wake and come to our bed. He wakes every morning to a sharp grin from Ragnar, as if to say Are you disappointed it wasn't last night?

Perhaps, Athelstan thinks, they are seeing if he'll come to them on his own, now that it's in the air between them. He believes he almost, almost could, but part of him is curious now, what this drug will be, how he will feel. The wait only makes him more curious, almost curious enough to ask Siggy, if he could bring himself to do it without blushes or stammers or shame.

But perhaps they know that, and they're waiting so he's sure beyond a doubt that this is how he wants to come to them.

*

The moon wanes and waxes from full to gone to almost full again before Athelstan wakes in the night, gasping for air, and oh, oh, he's drowning.

Athelstan has spent his life by the sea. He knows drowning, knows the feeling of staying under water just that moment longer to feel his lungs constrict, and he feels it now, but without end even as he gasps in air and knows it's dry. He feels slow-limbed and slow-witted and it's a long time, breaths and breaths and each one a surprise, before he realizes what's happened. He isn't in flames, he's the opposite.

“Lagertha,” he gasps, because she'll be listening.

Ragnar answers, his voice low and warm and close, and it sounds in Athelstan's blood, draws a strange little noise from him, more like an animal's whine than anything else. “I think I should be offended that you called out for her and not me.”

“Hush.” And Lagertha is close too, her fingers soft and steadying sliding through his hair, as though they've been waiting, guarding his sleep and waiting for him to be ready to come to them. “We were the ones who spoke of it. You want both of us, don't you, Athelstan?”

Athelstan opens his eyes, and his vision swims for a moment as though he truly is underwater, even though the room is bathed in the low orange light of candle and cookfire. Ragnar and Lagertha sit to either side of his bed, naked as babes, and he focuses on Ragnar's face, the light familiar teasing expression. “Ragnar,” he says, because Ragnar wants to hear his name as well, and Athelstan can give him that.

Sure enough, it makes Ragnar's lips curve up, the teasing melting into something genuine and fierce. “Well then. Are you going to come to bed, priest?”

“Athelstan,” Lagertha corrects, before Athelstan can do more than frown a little at the familiar word from Ragnar's lips. His mouth isn't his own. Or perhaps it's her way of prompting an answer from him, because when he focuses his eyes on her, she's watching, expectant. Waiting. “How do you feel?” she asks when she sees he's looking at her.

“I'm drowning,” he says, and he only realizes he's said it in the wrong language when Lagertha frowns and looks at Ragnar, and Ragnar frowns and repeats the word, trying to dredge it from his memory. “Drowning,” he repeats in their language, the syllables tangling on his tongue.

They understand him this time, though, because Ragnar laughs and Lagertha's expression lightens a little bit. “We'll bring you to shore, Athelstan,” says Ragnar. “We'll make you feel good.” He rests a warm, rough hand on Athelstan's shoulder, and Athelstan shudders at the touch through the thin fabric of his shirt. “Will you come to bed?”

Athelstan sounds the words out in his head before he dares try to form them, but all he can think is that Ragnar's hand is an anchor, the steadiest thing he's felt since he woke, and it takes long enough that Lagertha makes a sharp, impatient movement above him. “I don't think I can walk.”

Ragnar laughs, and it's loud in Athelstan's ears, cutting through the fog, and he finds himself shuddering for no reason he can find, eyes caught on Ragnar's mouth. “Well, I think I am strong enough to carry you. I think my wife is as well, but she'll allow me my pride.”

“Only if you hurry,” Lagertha says, standing, and then the world is moving, everything is fast, he should be moving slowly if the air is as thick as it feels, and Ragnar's arms are tight around him, bundling him as gracefully as a sack of grain into the bed and dropping him on the furs.

Athelstan surfaces, gasping, and then there are hands, stripping him efficiently of his clothes as if he were a child, or ill, and perhaps he is that, because his hands and his mouth still don't seem to be his own, and all he can bring himself to do is to turn restlessly into their touches. Each brush of a fingertip is magnified, jolting all of him, stealing his breath and what little thought he has left in him, and it's only when all the movement stops that he realized he's naked, bare before them, between them, and that he's being watched.

Lagertha puts her hand at the center of his chest, and the shock of it makes him stop thoughtlessly shifting. “Do you trust us?” she asks.

Athelstan is their slave. He knows this. He is treated as a slave, often enough. Trusting them should be an impossibility, but even with Lagertha's herbs doing their work he is sure enough of the way they look at him that they'll stop, if he's in pain. “Yes,” he says.

“Then we'll take this night,” says Ragnar, and pauses to lap at his neck, the warmth and the wet sending another jolt through Athelstan, concentrating into heat low in his belly, what he recognizes as arousal and usually ignores, “and we'll convince you to stay in the morning.”

*

Athelstan had thought it was hard to catch his breath before, but it's all the worse now that they're touching him, easing some kind of ache he didn't notice before but notices now every time their hands aren't on him. And it's getting worse. He can't choke back a whine when they both stop touching him to confer with each other, and can only relax when Ragnar steadies him with a hand on his shoulder.

Time seems to move in strange little waves—they can't speak for long, but Athelstan feels it as though it's an eternity and half a breath at the same time, and the night goes back to its usual pace only when they're on either side of him, touching his chest, his thighs, touching him everywhere. All he wants in the world is for them to do it forever, and he tries to say so, but Lagertha stops his words with her mouth, her lips soft and demanding against his, stealing the last reserves of his air. He makes weak little noises into her mouth until Ragnar laughs low and warm in his ear, and Ragnar is pressed all against him, scars and skin, bare and unashamed, and Athelstan doesn't know which of their warmth he wants more.

“Your hands,” he says, unsure why the words are so important until they make Lagertha's pull tight in his hair and Ragnar's pinch at his nipples, and he's writhing between them, kept in place by the bracket of their bodies but flying apart.

“We can do many things with our hands,” says Lagertha, releasing his mouth with a little nip. “Ragnar might show you one or two, he tells me it feels good on this drug.” She makes sure he's looking at her, makes sure he sees and understands her grin through the fog of arousal. “Ragnar?”

Ragnar bites down on Athelstan's shoulder, hard enough to bruise, maybe hard enough to break the skin, and Athelstan cries out. If there are any near the jarl's home who didn't know what's happening here tonight, they must know now. “I'll show him,” he promises, his voice low and dark like it is when he's going to kill a man or fuck his wife, and Athelstan isn't sure which will happen now.

Lagertha coaxes his mouth open again, keeping him from drifting away on the feeling of their hands and bodies against him, and keeping him from voicing his near-panic when Ragnar pulls away, going to the side of the bed to reach for something, swearing quietly when something falls and then letting out a smug little noise when he finds what he wants.

A moment later, Athelstan's whole body seizes as Ragnar trails slick fingers (that must be what he wanted, some kind of grease, and Athelstan can't figure out why) down his back and the curve of his ass, moving him impatiently as though Athelstan is as light as a child until he's all on his side, facing Lagertha with Ragnar behind him, warm against his back, his hand stroking, light in a way that's more teasing than gentleness, and Athelstan half wants to swat his hand away, blushing and surprised, but it feels good, and he was asked to trust them and he'll do it. He can't bring himself to do any less, when every touch from one of them steals his breath.

When Lagertha pulls away, he has to gulp in air before he speaks. “What are you doing?” Ragnar's only answer is to move his fingers, to touch one of them, slippery with whatever grease he's chosen, to Athelstan's entrance. Athelstan almost flinches away, aware somewhere beyond the haze of the drug that it's a strange place, a private place, to be touched. It feels good, though, good in a way that turns all the confused haze into a sudden, devastating need for both of them, for their hands, for their mouths, for whatever it is Ragnar has planned (there were whispers at Lindisfarne, whispers in his childhood before that, and they always said it was a sin and they always nudged each other and smiled afterwards, and they never said how it was done).

“Just relax,” says Lagertha, stroking his face with her hand and smiling, and Athelstan can't, more than half wild and all aroused and wondering why Ragnar only touches around his entrance, never puts his fingers where Athelstan thinks they'll go in the end, inside of him. “We said we would make you feel good, didn't we? We will.”

Athelstan isn't certain “good” is the word they mean. “Good” is repeating the prayers he has spent his life believing. “Good” is warm furs in winter and quiet evenings by the fire where he can forget that he's far away from home. This, Lagertha's fingertips on his jaw and Ragnar's testing his entrance and the sensation like lightning stretching between the two, is something different. “Please,” he says, because it's the only word that comes to his lips, and he almost cries after he says it, because he knows Ragnar, knows that it's only more likely to make him tease.

Instead, even though Ragnar laughs, he also moves his finger until it slides, just a little, inside of Athelstan. Perhaps if it weren't for the drug, it would be painful, or at the least uncomfortable, but Lagertha spoke the truth when she said that there were things they could do with their hands that would feel good on the drug, because his world shrinks down to that, just the sensation, and “please” isn't the right word anymore, not at all. “There?” Ragnar asks, low and amused and dangerous, over the sound of a moan that Athelstan takes a moment to recognize as his own.

“More,” says Athelstan, and his voice sounds like nothing he recognizes, low and broken, and he's starting to understand what Lagertha meant when she says this is like fire. He can't breathe still, not deeply, but there's a heat building up between his legs and wherever they touch him, and now that he has some idea of the sensation he wants enough that it may consume him.

“Go on,” says Lagertha, looking over Athelstan's shoulder, and smiles at whatever she sees in Ragnar's face. “Give him what he wants, see how he likes it.”

And then Ragnar's finger is sliding in further, and Athelstan ducks his head to gasp into Lagertha's shoulder, because oh, it's strange but it's wonderful too, his mind catching on the thought that Ragnar is inside him, that he's going to undo Athelstan from the inside, and that this is only the beginning. Athelstan may be an innocent in this sense, but he is not a fool. “There it is,” says Ragnar, and he starts moving.

Athelstan can't help the ways he moves in response, searching desperately for any ease to the restlessness, for the sensations he has no name for, for the noises tugged from his mouth, half-words that would embarrass him if he had the attention left to pay attention to what they were. Lagertha holds his head to her breast, petting his hair, and when Ragnar chuckles at something he says, Athelstan licks out at her breast and draws a little gasp from her. “Clever,” she says, approving in the same way she is when he's done a task to her satisfaction, and he does it again, without grace or finesse or anything but curiosity and some blind attempt to make either of them even half as undone as he is. “Give him more, Ragnar, he can take it.”

Ragnar does—Lagertha is the only person he will listen to, and Athelstan is grateful to her beyond anything he can express because Ragnar takes his finger out (Athelstan whimpers against Lagertha's breast and turns his head when she pushes it to catch her nipple and to suck, and that feels good too, when it peaks in his mouth and she pulls on his hair) and a moment later returns, sliding two inside with more slick added to them so they go easily. It's better with more, somehow more and less uncomfortable at the same time, and it lets Ragnar do something that makes Athelstan shake, makes him almost sick with arousal, makes him let out little half-panicky noises at how big the feeling is until Lagertha pulls his mouth away from her breast and comes back to put her mouth against his, whispering words that get caught between them before he can hear them.

“Someday I'll teach you to do this to me,” says Ragnar with the low weight of a promise, and Athelstan is already trembling at the rumble of the sounds before he parses the meaning. “And you'll learn to do it to Lagertha, where she wants it. She won't be shy about telling you what to do. Sometimes she speaks of your mouth, we'll teach you that too, when we're sure you won't bite.”

Lagertha pulls away and gives him a warm smile when he reaches for her, hands clumsy. “We'll teach you all of it. But for tonight, you're going to stay just like that and let him fuck you. A third, Ragnar?” And in answer there's more of whatever oil Ragnar is using and then a third finger, and three move less easily than two, but the stretch makes him keen, an embarrassing sound that makes Lagertha smile more and pull him back to her for more kisses, though he's close to unresponsive with the pleasure and can't do much more than pant into her mouth and whine when she bites his lip.

“I think he's ready,” says Ragnar after a while, after Athelstan is more animal than man, reduced to moving between them, unheeding of the noises he's making, tears pricking his eyes when it's too much and not enough all at once, and perhaps it's the drug or perhaps it will be like this all the time. He wants to find out. He wants. “Do you want me to fuck you, Athelstan?” His name from Ragnar's lips still sounds strange, like Ragnar is tasting it, seeing if he likes it.

“Yes,” he gasps, because he knows when Ragnar expects an answer.

“I think we should make him say it,” says Ragnar, and Lagertha smiles the quick response of a smile that means he's grinning at her over Athelstan's shoulder. “Come on, then, say what you want me to do to you.”

Perhaps Athelstan will blush in the morning, will remember this and regret letting himself be led, but Ragnar takes his fingers out and he's left empty, wild for more contact, and he knows he won't die without it but he feels as though he might, so he makes himself form the words. “Fuck me,” he says, and then all the noise he can make is a long, drawn-out moan, because Ragnar does.

If it was strange to have Ragnar's fingers inside him it's all the stranger to feel the press of his cock, longer and a little wider, so the slide until Ragnar is fully inside him seems like it takes forever, and for the first time Athelstan is still and silent other than his heaving breaths, his eyes wide and caught on Lagertha's, her satisfied expression as she sees exactly what Ragnar is doing to him. They all pause there, just like that, for a long moment, and then Ragnar draws out and thrusts in again, and the water closes over Athelstan's head again.

Ragnar goes slow, so slow Athelstan feels as though he may go mad with it, and he sets his teeth in the tender skin of Athelstan's shoulder and sucks a bruise there as he goes, deep inside Athelstan and taking him apart. Lagertha drops one hand from his face and doesn't put it on him anywhere else, and he looks hazily around until he sees her slip it between her legs, and then her kisses get vicious as she takes her pleasure just from watching her husband fuck him.

Athelstan wonders, abruptly, if he can die of this, if the drag of Ragnar's cock inside him and the clutch of his fingers on his hip and Lagertha's hand between her legs and the fierce happiness on her face will kill him, the pleasure drowning him in truth. His cock is an insistent weight between he and Lagertha, and he wants to touch it, to feel what he's never allowed himself to feel waking, but he can't make his hands move to touch himself, and much as he wants to spend he's content to let this last as long as they're willing to keep touching him, even if it kills him.

Lagertha finds her completion first—he recognizes the noises she makes, and then she's raising her fingers to his mouth, slick with something, and he suckles on them because that's clearly what she means him to do, tasting some salty tang he doesn't recognize, and she makes a noise deep in her throat and keeps her hand where it is, so he keeps tasting it, licking and sucking and letting his eyes flutter shut so he can concentrate on breathing and the feel and the taste and the fear that his heart will give out.

“Come on,” Ragnar growls after a while, after his thrusts have sped and the two of them are sweated together in their exertion and Lagertha is watching Athelstan's face with an air of interest while he licks the last of her taste from her fingers. “Take your pleasure, priest, see what you've been missing from us for so long, see why men lose themselves in this—”

And he moves his hand from Athelstan's hip to wrap around his cock and all it takes is one stroke, Athelstan giving a buck of his hips so strong he almost unseats Ragnar, and he's spending, and he only knows his heart is still beating because he can hear the noises he makes, Lagertha's fingers slipping from his mouth and coming to rest on his throat, grounding him where he is. Ragnar laughs and drives in, punching a few more noises from him and tears from his eyes, and if he weren't so overwhelmed he might be ashamed of that, but all he can do is hold on for the last few breathless moments until Ragnar thrusts into him and stays, his low groan muffled in Athelstan's hair.

“Oh,” Athelstan finally says, quiet and shocked and not-enough, but Ragnar chuckles and slings an arm around him, breath warm against his neck, and Lagertha smiles and strokes his hair again before settling against him, putting a leg over him and her head in the crook of his shoulder.

“Think in the morning, Athelstan,” she says, lips moving against his skin. He jolts a little, sensitive. “The drug is still working, and you will need sleep and to be touched, and we need sleep as well. We will all still be here then.”

And with her permission, it's easy, perhaps easier than it should be, to let their breath lull him to sleep, sinking below the surface and letting it take him.

*

When Athelstan wakes, he's sore all over, inside and out, but content, in the same way he is after a long day of work done well. He tries to stretch a little, opening his eyes, and finds himself caught between Lagertha and Ragnar still, both of them awake and watching him. “Dawn's come and gone,” Ragnar says, and Athelstan has never seen him unsure but thinks this may be the closest he's ever seen him come.

Lagertha is more honest, or perhaps just more direct. “Have we convinced you to stay?”

It's easier to remember why he couldn't come to their bed on his own, with the drug no longer in his veins, but it's also easier to remember their smiles these past few weeks, their touches. It doesn't take long, in the end, for him to find his answer. “I'll stay,” he says. He feels as though he should do more, but he isn't sure which of them to reach out for.

Ragnar makes the decision for him in the end, putting a hand next to his face and turning his head until Ragnar can kiss him deep, biting on his already-swollen lip and stealing his breath until Athelstan has to come up for air.