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Surströmming

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“What if I get fat?”

“More of y’ t’ love.”

“What if I suffer a midlife crisis at like, thirty or something, and get all wrinkly and grey and start collecting cat-print tea towels?”

“’ll tell y’ yer beautiful ev’ry day. Get y’ a cat-print kettle t’ match.”

A pause, and then Tino asks incredulously “Can you even get cat-print kettles?”

He watches as Berwald ponders this, and then shrugs a shoulder. “Dunno.”

Tino pushes himself up onto his elbow and turns onto his side. Head in palm, he eyes the Swede lying in the grass next to him.

“What if I like, decide to grow a beard? That’s not very ‘wifey’.” Absentmindedly, he begins to pull grass up and sprinkle it in a pile next to him.

Berwald smirks at him.

“Traditional Viking stuff only applies to you, Swede! My beard would have not a thing to do with neither my marital nor my relationship status!”

More smirking.

“Go away. I don’t like you. I’m going to turn straight and marry Katyusha.”

Another shrug.

If y’ change yer mind, ‘m th’ f’rst in line. Honey, ‘m still free, take a chance on me.”

“Aha! What if I told Matthias of your ABBA collection, as well as its whereabouts?”

“I love Frida. Love you more.”

Breaths catch and flushed cheeks are puffed out in exasperation.

“Don’t be silly.”

“’M serious.”

“No you’re not. You’re too young to know what love is. You’re too young to be in love with me.”

“Stay wi’ me till ‘m old, then. When ‘m mature. Know f’ certain how I feel is love.”

Timid, taken aback. His heartbeat accelerates and shoots to his throat. He feels nauseas and worried and happy and like there is a swollen weight in his chest and belly.

Quietly, a murmur; “And… how do you feel?”

Tino watches Berwald roll to his side, to face him. Sees the way he concentrates on getting the words right. He still refuses to tell him that he is almost fluent in Swedish.

“Feel like smilin’ ev’ry time someone says yer name… feel like holding y’ an’ kissin’ y’ when yer bein’ cute. Feel… want t’ protect y’, ‘nd make y’ happy. Take care o’ y’.”

Tino knows there’s more, and he can see all the words the Swede struggles with in his gentle gaze.

“Even if y’ never love me back, want me, kiss me…” Berwald blushes and glances at the ground. “If y’ love someone else. Just want t’ make sure yer safe and well.”

Their fingers brush momentarily as Berwald joins him in uprooting the green, contributing to the little mound. His voice softens to a murmur, a whisper, and Tino’s breath quickens, his toes wriggle. He jitters, nervous.

“’Nd when… ‘m around y’. M’ chest hurts. Hard t’ breathe. Get nervous, ‘nd I just want t’ hide, but hold y’ as well. M’ heart gets fast ‘nd… I want to kiss you.”

And the way Berwald says that last part, so clear and firm, and the way that their eyes meet, everything in Tino’s vision tunnelling and narrowing and coming to one perfect pinnacle –the Swede’s face – leave Tino somewhat breathless and blushing fiercely. But he’s not going to relent yet.

“But what… what if I don’t want to kiss you? Not now, not ever? What if I never want to sleep with you-”

“Make love.”

Eyes narrowing. Attempts to ignore the fluttering in his chest. For their peers, sex is meaningless and what sustains a relationship. Berwald is something amazing, something rare. Respectful. Tino doesn’t fall in love with him all over again.

“…I see what you did there.”

“Mm.”

“What if I never make love to you, then?”

“Only ever wanted y’. Only ever want y’. Wouldn’t be wi’ anyone else, ‘nd I‘d be okay wi’ that.”

Breathless, trembling. This boy loves him.

“Be okay with havin’ salmiakki for ev’ry meal, ‘nd salmari for ev’ry drink. Be okay burnin’ th’ IKEA in town. Be okay never eatin’ sursötrmming again… for y’.” Tino laughs.

“I might kiss you then, if your breath didn’t smell like thousand year old fish.”

Berwald’s gaze snaps up, and Tino swears he hears his breath catch. His blush rages on as he realises what he’s said.

“I mean… I meant…” He trails off. He can’t look at Berwald, lying there, watching him imploringly. Lovingly. Longingly. Tino won’t feel guilty for not telling how he feels.

When he doesn’t continue and Berwald doesn’t respond, they lapse into a silence. Awkward, and tense, and full of desperate emotions.

Unspoken words hang heavy in the space between them, though Tino feels that they have been very much implied and insinuated and said. His fingers trace truths over the ground, sinking strengths into the soil. Tino muses the idea of someone laying in this spot in a hundred years’ time with the person they secretly love, and use his courage planted here to tell them.

Seconds, minutes, hours – they pass in a blur of light blue and orange and pink and purple as Tino watches the sky, listens to Berwald’s breathing. Crickets begin to chirp around them, and Tino is getting cold and exhausted. His heartbeat has been thrumming fast and hard in his chest for far too long.

“…So you will never love anyone but me?”

“Our child.”

“What?”

“’ll love y’, and our child.”

“Ch-child?!”

“If y’ wanted one.”

“What? Where would we get a child?!”

“…Online?” Berwald murmurs questioningly, and Tino can’t tell whether or not he’s serious. “Adopt. We can adopt.”

Flustered, Tino sits up and crosses his legs. “I… ugh. I just had this really long speech thing planned, and then you go and throw me off by saying that!” he splutters.

“…So y’ don’t want a kid?”

“Yes-! No. I mean, yes, but… but… argh. Stop that.” He sees Berwald trying to hide his smile, and stifles a giggle as the Swede’s lips twitch sporadically.

“’M sorry. You’re cute.” Berwald reaches up and runs his calloused carpenter’s fingers over his cheek.

“So are you.” the words slip through his lips before he even realises he’d thought them. Berwald’s cheeks flood with red and his gaze drops to the ground.

“... You would sacrifice your ABBA for me.”

“Mm.”

“You’d still look out for me and help me, even if I loved someone else.”

“Be happy you were happy. Want y’ t’ be safe and well.” he repeats.

“And… you’d go to the ends of the earth to find me a kettle with cats painted on it?”

“T’ infinity ‘nd beyond.”

“Berwald Lightyear.”

He laughs. So does Tino.

“Give up your surströmming tomorrow.”