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Hjem(løs) - Modern AU

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Silje mindlessly strutted down the streets of Vesterbro1, feeling the snow on her face. Why did Juleaften2 feel so magical compared to every other day of the year? Was it due to the Christmas lights and decorations ornamenting every shop and house? Did it have something to do with the sound of bells and soft Christmas tunes you could hear every time you walked past a store? Or maybe the emptiness of the streets in such a busy evening during which everyone was with their loved ones around a table full of delicacies?

Either way, tonight a little something made the air vibrate and Silje could feel it prickle her skin. Is that what they call the Christmas spirit? A few merry drunk young people celebrated with their friends rather than their family and happily stumbled from one bar to another, but it was a rather quiet night altogether. The wind blew hard enough to freeze the tip of her nose and make it go numb, but Silje liked winter and the cold sure as hell wasn't going to stop her from getting her Christmas gift. She had been submerged with work, assignments and exams during the past weeks and didn't get a minute to do her shopping. This year she would spend Juleaften alone since her parents decided to spend it in the Australian summer. Never would she trade her Danish winter for two weeks in the burning sun of Melbourne, not for anything in the world.

On the other hand, she could understand that some people sought out warmer weather; everybody didn't love the cold like she did. Most people, in fact, hurried from one store to the next to enjoy the heating system and not stay out too long. Silje sighed in content when she stepped out of her favourite tea shop and felt the wind blow against her cheeks red from how hot it was inside. There, she was done. It was almost closing time anyway; there was no time left to go anywhere else.

Her apartment was located on the other side of Vestre Kirkegård 3 – she loved to stroll through it; her light, easy steps leading her astray and never letting her take the shortest way home. Despite it being a cemetery, it was a beautiful and serene place. Nature was ever present with the tall trees, leafy bushes and the pond – though everything was now more white than green and the pond was frozen.

Her mind was taking her elsewhere, as the quiescence and gentle caress of the wind on her face made her close her eyes. There was nobody here, which made a great difference to her, Silje felt as though she appreciated things better when there was no one around to see her. However, no sooner had this thought crossed her mind that an uneasy feeling overwhelmed her, as if she wasn't alone after all, even though she couldn't see anyone.

It wasn't weird for someone to feel watched when they walked through rows and rows of tombstones, but Silje's guts told her that it wasn't the dead but a living breathing person that was here with her. She sucked in a breath and looked around her, frantically searching for the other presence.

She let out a sigh of relief when she finally found it and immediately felt guilty for it. A young man was laying on a bench mere meters away from her, and it didn't take more than a look for her to understand that he wasn't just resting his legs after a day of sightseeing in Copenhagen. The way he hugged his backpack to his chest like it was his lifeline, his slightly dirty clothes and his lips turning blue raised all sorts of red flags in Silje's head. His total stillness made him look like he was part of the scenery. He was homeless, she concluded.

Snowflakes kept falling lightly from the sky, slowly covering him in a thin layer of white, no doubt soaking through his jeans and coat – it did not look rainproof to her, and suddenly she wondered if he was still alive at all. Surely no one could endure a temperature like this with wet clothes and no thermal blanket or roof over their head. For the short moment Silje stood there and stared at the man, a number of contradictory thoughts battled in her mind until finally she decided to act. She cleared her throat but he didn't react so she stepped closer.

Now she could see how much he trembled under the cold – at least he was still alive. As she approached carefully – she was a young girl walking through an empty park at night, she could never be too cautious around a stranger that slept on a bench, now could she? - she looked at his face. He was definitely young, too young to be out there on his own.

“Hello?” She said in a voice made croaky from lack of use and the cold.

He didn't seem to hear her and the snow kept falling faster and the wind blowing harder. Silje took out her umbrella to shield her face from the weather's vagaries. Her feet brought her right next to the bench and she held the umbrella above the young man, momentarily preventing the snow from hitting his face. She studied him for a minute, detailing his features. He had a slight beard and his hair needed a wash, even though it was mostly hidden under his beanie. His eyelids fluttered or maybe he was just shaking from the cold – anyway it was time to speak up again.

“Hello? Excuse me?” She called, louder this time.

A yelp escaped her lips when his eyes shot open and he abruptly sat straight, hugging his backpack even closer to his chest as he threw frantic glances around him, until finally settling on the young girl with the umbrella. Silje had stumbled back a couple steps but managed not to slip in the snow; her heart hammered loud and fast in her chest. He had scared her.

“W-who are you? What do you want?” The young man asked, obviously wary of the girl.

“Calm down,” she said, raising her hands to show that she didn't want to do him any harm. “I just wanted to check if you're all right.”

“If I'm- all right?” He asked, his brows knitting together in utter confusion. Why would she want to know if he was all right? “I'm freezing if that's what you want to know,” he almost spat at her. “And now I have to try and fall asleep again in this weather.”

No, that's not- that's not what I meant,” Silje tried to explain, her cheeks reddening a bit. “I mean, why are you out there on your own during Juleaften? Don't you have some place to go? A shelter?”

“They are full,” he grumbled as she laid back down, breaking their awkward eye contact. “Why do you care anyway?”

It's Jul, nobody should be alone in the cold!”

“So if we were any other day of the year you would've walked right past me?” He asked with a scoff and turned on his side so he would face away from her. “I don't need your pity, go away.”

“Have you always been this rude and grumpy or is it the weather that makes you forget your manners?” Silje snapped, her foot now impatiently tapping on the ground, messing with the immaculate blanket of snow. “I'm being a good person here and offering you a place to stay for the night, so you might consider showing a little politeness.”

“A place to stay? What, you live in a mansion and once a year you let a homeless dude sleep in one of your fifty guest rooms to make you feel better?” The man snapped at her. Silje's jaw dropped in indignation and she huffed, not knowing what else to say. She might have come across as a little condescending.

“Listen, I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. I just want to be nice. I don't have much to offer but I can at least provide you with a place to sleep, dinner, and a warm shower,” she said after taking a few seconds to calm herself down. After his little attack she needed a moment to make sure her voice would stay quiet and even and that she wouldn't raise it in annoyance.

He looked over his shoulder to meet her eyes while she waited for an answer but he stayed quiet. Of course, he wasn't going to say anything, he was waiting for her to add something.

“C'mon, the weather is getting really bad and they announced it'd be the coldest night of the year. How long are you going to pretend that you haven't already decided to come with me?” Silje teased him, earning a little smirk in return. When he finally abandoned his horizontal position, and sat on the bench, Silje held out her hand and said, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. Why not start over?”

It wasn't the easiest task to hold up her umbrella and her shopping bags with one hand while shaking the young man's freezing hand with the other. But at least he did shake it and did not simply stare at it before dismissing her again.

“I'm Silje,” she introduced herself, shooting him a smile.

“Ivar,” the young man said in return, nodding his head to show that he agreed to wipe the board and start over.

“Nice to meet you, Ivar. Now, follow me or we'll both turn into ice statues,” the girl told him, tightening her scarf around her neck and diving her nose in it.

Ivar grabbed his backpack and carried it on one shoulder, rubbing his hands together in hopes to warm them with some friction, but the lack of fingers to his gloves wasn't helping. Silje suddenly stopped in her tracks after a couple minutes of walking in silence.

“Wait a second- you're not a drug addict, are you?” She asked, in a sudden panic.

No- what? No,” Ivar said in a laugh. “You're only thinking about this now? After inviting me?”

“Well we're not there yet, I've still got time to change my mind,” she pointed out. “But if you're clean, then I guess you're still welcome.”

They resumed their walking in a relative awkwardness, neither of them knowing what to say to the other. It felt like a first date while also being worlds away from anything akin to a date.

“So, no mansion?” Ivar asked hesitantly after another five minutes of quietness.

“Sadly no,” Silje sighed. “I live in a small apartment on the last floor of a five-story building and no elevator,” she added. “All those stairs spare me a gym membership and the climb will warm us up.”

The left corner of his lips twitched slightly upwards but it was a rather weak smile altogether. She merely wanted to ease the atmosphere with a joke but it seemed that she was not very good at it.

“It's not so far anymore, just two streets from here,” she informed him. “I'm a bit rambly and awkward, sorry.”

She made a funny face and shrugged her shoulders to show him that it was unintentional and that she would shut up from now on.

“It's all good, talk all you want, I haven't had a conversation in a long time,” Ivar told her, somewhat embarrassed to admit that from what the blush on his face was indicating. “People aren't exactly too friendly with you once they realize you sleep in the streets.”

“It's terrible. It's not like it's your fault! I mean- you're not homeless by choice, right? You're not a runaway who could go back to mommy's basement any time?”

She would never forget the look on his face when he answered.

“Believe me, nobody would do this if they had another option, no matter how shitty.”

Silje nodded in understanding and before she could find another dumb thing to ask him, they reached her building. Ivar was forced to admit that she did not lie about the stairs – they were steep and high and when they finally arrived at her front door, they were a little breathless and their cheeks were red from the effort. As soon as the door was open, Silje let out a victorious sigh and let her bag fall on the floor. She shrugged off her coat, stuffed her gloves in its pockets and then proceeded to take off her beanie, scarf and shoes.

“Go ahead,” she told him, gesturing him to walk in and not stay before the door. “You can leave your bag over there and take off your jacket, it doesn't look like it's keeping you warm anyway. I'll go get you clean towels so you can take a shower.”

She threw instructions here and there while Ivar looked around her snug little apartment in envy and admiration. Only girls could achieve this kind of cosiness. She didn't exaggerate when she said it was small – there was only space enough for one person, two at most, and no spot was left empty. A bunch of books, plants, and picture frames decorated every horizontal surface; plaids and blankets hung over the back of the couch; several empty mugs stood on the coffee table, probably from the last few rushed breakfasts before going to class. It felt like home – Silje had made this place her own despite the narrowness of the flat itself. To the left was a kitchenette and the most impressive display of cereal boxes and tea that Ivar had ever seen.

He had almost forgotten that he wasn't alone until Silje started speaking again from another room.

“I think I still have a razor too so you can shave – I didn't throw it away after my last breakup,” she said happily. When she found the object still in its package she waved it in victory, a smile on her face. “Here, you should be good,” she declared, her hands firm on her hips as she looked around. “You’ll have to take a shower, there's a problem with the bath plug, the water won't stay in the tub.”

Ivar gulped down and awkwardly stood there, not knowing what to say. The whole situation was new and unexpected, he wouldn't have dreamt of ending up here today – or any other day for that matter. It felt surreal, too good to be true – yet there was no denying the realness of the girl standing in front of him, looking up in expectation.

“Thank you,” he managed to croak out, a bit more emotional than he would have liked. “You don't have to do all this, so, yeah... thank you.”

In the most natural way ever, Silje placed a hand on his shoulder as she walked out of the bathroom and squeezed lightly.

“Don't thank me before seeing if there's still some hot water left,” she giggled. “I'll dig out some clothes for you, you can leave yours by the door and I'll wash them for you, okay?”

Thank you,” he repeated, as if struck dumb. He couldn't find anything else, anything better, to say.

“Take all the time you need, I'll be in the kitchen.”

He didn't know what to add, so he simply stepped into the small bathroom and closed the door. When he looked up before closing it completely, she was already gone. There were no words in his vocabulary to tell her how grateful he was of simply not being outside anymore. The sheer fact of being inside, shielded from the wind, the snow, and the curious glances was priceless.

The moment he closed the door, he did not want to take a shower, he wanted to sit on the floor and cry – except that he was scared that she would hear him. Overwhelmed and thrown out of his comfort zone, Ivar was at loss. Eventually he collected himself and stripped down, letting his heavy, soaked up clothes hit the floor and piling them up by the door. He let the water run for a minute to let it warm up and this time the tears almost spilled over when he felt the hot water run between his fingers. He stepped into the shower and let it flow freely for a solid minute before washing himself. He didn't even know what product to use among the several bottles of fruity smelling bath gels and shampoos and hair masks.

He washed himself a couple times to make sure he got rid of all the filth accumulated over the past weeks. It felt so good – he didn't even mind smelling like a flower bouquet because for the first time in fucking forever he was clean and warm. The bite of the cold was wiped away by what felt like the best shower he ever had. It probably was.

When he pulled back the shower curtain his old clothes had disappeared, replaced by new, neatly folded ones that no doubt smelled as clean and fresh as he did now. Wrapping himself in a towel, Ivar stood in front of the mirror and wiped away the steam. He winced – he did not look as fresh as he thought. That shave wouldn't be a luxury. He grabbed the razor and shaving cream and started his work. Once his beard was taken care of he felt like a new person. He had taken long enough already; Ivar grabbed the clothes and quickly put them on – the underwear, the socks, the sweatpants and the hoodie with fleece lining. They were a little bit too large for he had lost weight since he had lost his home.

“Hey!” Silje called in appreciation when he walked out of the bathroom with a shy smile on his face. “You clean up good!” She told him and waved him, gesturing him to come closer. “Do they fit? I didn't know what size you needed but I figured too large was better than too small.”

“It's perfect,” he said with a grateful smile. “What are you cooking?”

“Mmh-” she hummed, licking her fingers before grabbing a kitchen towel and wiping her hands. “I didn't plan on having a guest tonight so I was going to eat leftovers,” she explained. “But I can't invite you over and serve you leftovers now, can I? No, my mum would probably sense it and come all the way back from Australia just to kick my ass.”

“Australia, huh?” Ivar's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He did not think she was Australian.

“Oh, they don't live there,” she told him when she saw his expression. “Something about spending Christmas in the sun.” She rolled her eyes at that, obviously not understanding the logic behind this. “I mean, who wants to sit on a beach at Christmas? If there's no snow where's the fun?”

“Well, I don't know, I kind of get the appeal,” Ivar replied with a little smirk. He was only teasing her but the way her eyes widened made him realise that she had forgotten about his condition for a second.

“Oh- sorry, I didn't mean-”

“I know, I was joking,” he reassured her. “I still don't know what you're cooking though.”

“Right!” She said, pointing at him. “So I improvised a meal with what I had in the fridge, which is not much if I'm being honest. But I found some chicken breasts so we'll have meat, so that's good. And I'm making a corn and parmesan cheese risotto to accompany the chicken. I'm usually a pretty good cook and if I had more ingredients I could do better but my food stocks are a bit low lately. Going grocery shopping wasn't my top priority during the last week, I had exams,” Silje hastily explained while expertly chopping shallots with a very sharp looking knife.

“You're a bit on the chatty end of the talking spectrum, huh?” Ivar asked in a low chuckle, watching a faint blush creeping up her cheeks and the apologetic smile she shot him. “Don't stop, I like it when people don't tiptoe around me or feel shy.”

“Like they are walking on eggshells?” She asked, putting the shallots in the pan with some oil. “It's annoying I know. Must be worst for you I guess.”

“Exactly. It makes everything a hundred times more awkward than they need to be. It widens the gap between me and- well people who are not homeless,” he said the last part a bit distraughtly.

“If we're not walking on eggshells does this mean I can ask nosy questions?” Silje said with a little smirk, looking over her shoulder to see Ivar's reaction.

A breathy laugh fell from his lips as he sat on the stool on the other side of the counter that separated the kitchen from the living space.

“Do your worst!” Ivar told her, ready to answer anything.

“Let's make this fair to you, you can ask me anything in return,” Silje proposed him as she put another set of ingredients in a pan along with a glass of water before putting the lid on. “So, tell me, how long have you been sleeping in a cemetery? Which, by the way, is a terrible place to sleep on a bench; I thought you were dead at first.”

Hey, don't bury me so quickly!” The young man laughed. “I've been in Vestre Kirkegård for a week now, before that I slept in various other parks all over Copenhagen. But I officially became homeless in October if that's what you're asking. Before you told me that we were Juleaften I had no idea what day it was.”

“And you were ready to face your first Danish winter out there on a bench without gloves or a right coat?” She wondered out loud, a bit shocked.

It was so recent, he must still be in transition – missing his former life, getting used to the new one.

“I told you, no pitying me.”

“I'm not. I'm saying it's reckless, you wouldn't have made it. Actually, you might not even have made it through tonight.” The careless way she spoke was refreshing but still surprising. “Face the facts, I just saved your ass.”

Ivar frowned, not knowing on what foot to dance after hearing her say that, but the smirk that slowly stretched her lips told him she was only pulling his leg.

“God, don't look so serious, I'm joking!” Silje laughed and opened the fridge. “Want a beer? A glass of wine? Orange juice?”

“Actually-” Ivar trailed off, his eyes scanning the row of tea bags on top of the kitchen shelf. Silje followed his gaze and smiled.

“Or maybe a cup of tea?” She asked, already reaching for a mug – Ivar thought it was a miracle she still had some in her cupboard since so many of them decorated her flat. He nodded. “Sugar? Milk? Lemon?” She asked as she grabbed a selection of teas to let Ivar choose from.

He picked the caramel black tea and Silje stored away the others.

“Honey,” he said. She hadn't offered him honey - but he knew that - and they both smiled at each other. “Other questions?”

“Yes, what happened? You don't have to answer if I'm overstepping your boundaries,” Silje quickly added when his face fell.

“I would have been surprised if you hadn't asked that,” he groaned. The girl grabbed the electric kettle and poured the boiling water in Ivar's mug, then she placed the half empty pot of honey on the counter. “Remember-”

“No pitying you,” she cut him off. “I know.”

“Ready for the pathetic telling of my life story?” He asked, leaning on the counter with his hands around the mug.

Silje nodded without hesitation but she had to turn around again to watch the food.

“Okay then- I eh, I was in debt, that's the short version. My parents died two years ago. We've never been well-off, but it's only when I inherited our apartment and the car – which was all we had really – along with their debts that I found out just how deep in shit we were,” he sighed, still feeling the weight of his parents' mistakes on his shoulders. “I tried to pay off the debts but I couldn't balance out a decent paying job with my studies. They seized the car and the apartment after months of eviction warnings, thus wiping away my debts but making me homeless.”

“Our parents' problems should never affect us like that,” Silje sighed. “You don't have any other family alive?” She asked, a little shier this time.

“I have a grandmother but she's institutionalized because she has Alzheimer’s. And my only other relative is a long-lost aunt that I met once when I was five.”

“You've got to be the unluckiest person I ever met.” Silje winced and stirred the content of the pan. “No offence but it really makes me re-evaluate my own condition of broke student.”

“At least one of us finds solace in my situation,” Ivar snickered bitterly. “It's just so fucking unfair!”

“Of course, it isn’t. I'm sure you deserve a thousand times better. My dad always tells me that life's only tough with the people who can handle it.”

“So, what? You're going to feed me some bullshit like 'you're strong, you can overcome this'? Maybe I don't want to, maybe I'm tired of taking life's beatings!” Ivar began to raise his voice in anger but he settled down when he saw Silje's gaze on him soften. She set the stove on low heat and let the food cook slowly.

“I- euhm,” Silje began, turning around to face Ivar and leaning on the counter to be at eye-level. “I was not going to say that. I was going to change the subject because I honestly don't know what else to say. I can't pretend to know more about life than you- how old are you? Twenty-five?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Twenty-three, okay. I'm one year younger than you and I never went through a rough patch nearly as bad as you, I have no life experience to share or advice to give you. But if you want to vent, go ahead. If you want to curse life, I'm listening.”

But Ivar only leaned away from her and shook his head, rubbing his eyes with his fingers.

“You don't understand.”

“I know. I'm sorry,” Silje apologized. “I guess it's not something you can explain either.”

“No, I don't think I can,” he said. “Why don't we talk about something else? Where do these clothes come from? Do you have a box full of your exes' clothes in your room?” Ivar asked, completely dismissing her worries and trading his gloomy expression for a more joyful one.

“No!” Silje smiled and rolled her eyes. “I volunteer at the local charity organization and I'm in charge of collecting clothes. Some of the stuff my friends donated is still in my room, I haven't had the time to drop them off yet.”

“What do you say, I've been taken in by an actual do-gooder,” Ivar huffed jokingly.

“If you say it like that it sounds lame of course,” Silje pouted and went back to her pans. She brought the wooden spoon to her lips to taste it. “Five more minutes and it'll be ready.”

How would you say it? You volunteer at charities and take in hobos like some people do with stray cats,” Ivar laughed, pointing at himself as the 'stray cat'.

It was by far the best description of his condition that he could come up with. As for the smiling girl standing in front of him with a kitchen towel hanging over her shoulder, the only word that came to mind when he looked at her was angel . He was so cold only a couple hours ago, he truly did think he was going to die on that bench. Therefore, when he saw a beautiful girl leaning over his frozen figure, her long blond hair framing her face like a halo, the first thing that popped in his head was “That's it. I'm dead and this is an angel.”

“Yeah, well, I'm not a Saint,” she snickered in self-derision. “It's fair to say that I do this mostly to feel good about myself. I mean, the charity work, not you.” A blush coloured her cheeks a bright shade of red. “Seriously, don't take it wrong. You're not a charity case to me, okay?”

“What am I?”

“You were a stranger in bad shape, and now you're a new friend,” she stated plainly. “Anything else?”

Ivar remain quiet as she sat there, stunned into silence and staring wide eyed at his saviour. She didn't sound like the kind of person who would welcome someone into her home out of pity or charity anyway, but he was still confused about her reasons. Now he probably looked ridiculous, sitting there with his cup of tea…

“Let me set the table, yeah? I feel useless sitting there,” Ivar told her when she turned off the stove.

“Look around you genius,” Silje chuckled. “There's no table to set, I have no silverware either, in fact, my plates don't even match because I'm a huge fan of flea markets and I don't want to encourage capitalism.”

“I expected more when you offered me dinner,” Ivar teased her. “What can I do then?”

“Sorry to disappoint Your Highness,” Silje laughed. “Grab the cutlery and a couple glasses, will you? I'll bring the plates and the wine.”

“No wine for me, thanks,” Ivar declined politely.

Silje almost made a joke about his sudden politeness compared to the way he greeted her when she woke him up from his bench nap. The severe expression on his face dissuaded her though – she figured he must avoid alcohol to prevent any kind of addiction. A great many homeless people found solace at the bottom of a whisky bottle.

She wanted to laugh really – not an amused laugh, a bitter one – because in the last hour and a half Ivar had made a better impression on her than any guy she met in a bar ever did, even though he started off with the serious disadvantage of living in the street; which wasn't exactly what a girl looked for in a significant other. When she walked to her couch with a plate in each hand, Silje took the opportunity to look at Ivar - really look at him – and suddenly, she wondered how the hell she was supposed to simply let him go back to his life, knowing how much he dreaded it.

Well I can't drink alone, that's sad,” she told him as she put the plates on the coffee table. “Bon appétit,” she said in a somewhat rudimentary French.

The first few minutes they ate in silence – to be honest Ivar had to put a conscious effort into not devouring the entire plate, but Silje saw how hungry he was and served him some more before he even asked – which he probably wouldn't have done because he already felt indebted to her for letting him come here.

“I don't need to ask if it's good I guess,” she chuckled after seeing Ivar eat the second plate. “I'd give you a refill but there's no more, I'm sorry I never thought you'd be this hungry,” Silje apologized profusely and then proceeded to list every kind of dessert she could offer him but Ivar declined.

“It's okay, it was perfect,” he assured her a hundred times before she stopped asking him if he was absolutely sure he didn't want cookie dough ice cream.

“You said you were studying before losing your home, what did you study?” Silje changed the subject. “How far in your studies were you?”

“I was half-way through my master's degree in History and Nordic Languages-” he scoffed and rubbed his face with his opened hands. “My dad always told me I should have chosen a subject with more job opportunities but I was too stubborn to listen to him back then. When I have my mind set on something it's difficult to make me stray from it,” he admitted. “I wish I'd listened now, but it's a little late for regrets, huh?”

“If you had abandoned your passion in favour of something more practical you would've regretted it too,” Silje pointed out. “You just said that you have a double degree, that hardly qualifies as wasted studies.”

“What does someone do with a simple degree nowadays though?” Ivar asked rhetorically. “I got nothing from it. And I never finished my thesis, so...” He raised his hands in defeat and smiled with no trace of humour. “But no more talking about my miserable life. What are you studying?”

“Cognition and Communication,” she said. “Still working a bit on the communication part. I just finished my degree, and now I'm in the process of getting my master's degree too. Nothing fascinating about it, I chose my subject out of curiosity and lack of other interests.”

“Lack of other interests?” Ivar repeated with a look of disbelief painted on his face. “There are art, history, and culinary books scattered everywhere here, and you say you have no personal interests?”

“These are hobbies and I have lots of them,” Silje replied in a defensive tone. “Why do adults expect us to choose what we want to do with our life so early? I never understood that.”

We are adults,” the young man pointed out.

“On the paper yes,” Silje laughed. “But I found out that I'm not very good at being one.”

“Too bad we don't have a choice.”

Silence fell after Ivar's resigned statement, until he stood up and grabbed the plates from under Silje's puzzled eyes.

“What a-”

“I'm washing the dishes, it's the least I can do,” he said, his declaration leaving no room for protest.

The girl tried to give him a hand but Ivar blocked the access to the small kitchen with his body, constantly moving around so Silje wouldn't get to the sink. They laughed together and not even ten minutes later everything was immaculate.

“It's late already,” Silje said and nodded towards the digital clock of the microwave. Midnight was coming about twenty minutes later. “I wouldn't mind spending the whole night talking with you but you must be wanting to sleep now that you have a warm place to rest. We can talk again in the morning -over pancakes, if you want.”

Before Ivar had a chance to protest and argue that she had already done enough and there was no need to make him pancakes, that she was spoiling him, Silje led him to her room and shoved a pillow and blankets in his arms.

“I don't have another duvet but there should be enough blankets lying around the flat to keep you warm,” she told him, still not letting him say a thing. “You're very tall, I hope you fit in the couch but if not, you just tell me and we'll figure something out. If you're up before I am, you can watch TV or eat something, make yourself a cup of coffee, you just- you make yourself at home. For the next few hours at least, me casa es tu casa.”

While Silje rambled on and on, Ivar dumped the pillow and blankets on his bed of the night, then placed a hand on her shoulder. It effectively startled her into silence and she smiled awkwardly.

“I talk too much,” she muttered in embarrassment. “It's not so often that I have company I never know when I go too far. But anyway, I hope you enjoyed yourself tonight. I definitely did.” Suddenly, her phone chimed in her pocket, informing them it was now midnight, and thus Christmas day. “And merry Christmas to you, Ivar.”

 

*

 

Silje had not thought this through. She didn't expect Ivar to be up before noon on a day he could sleep as long as he wished without fearing for his health or to be stolen from during his sleep. Except that she woke up to the smell of coffee brewing and pancakes burning.

“Ivar-” she said his name in bedazzlement, her eyes asking the question her lips couldn't.

“Yeah, I know I made a mess,” he laughed, gesturing to the war zone that was her kitchenette. “But I was hungry and you showed no sign of waking up, so...”

“And you made pancakes,” she said in admiration of the pile of small crepes on the plate next to him. “I thought you'd be the one sleeping in, otherwise I would have gotten up earlier.”

“Certainly not, woman!” He gently scolded her, waving the spatula around. “You literally picked me out of the gutter, if you do one more thing for me I will be indebted to you for life. I cannot have that.”

He handed her a cup of coffee that she immediately cradled in her hands and brought up to her chest.

“I kind of like the idea,” she admitted, a teasing smile already making its way on her face.

“Well, I do not, you already lnow I have a past with unpaid debts,” he reminded her.

“You have paid them now,” Silje told him. “Far too high a price. I wouldn't kick you out because you owe me a dinner and a night on a couch, I would... ask you to do the dishes, or help me change my bed linens.”

“Or have me make pancakes for breakfast?” Ivar suggested.

I think I'm starting to pick up on your logic,” Silje giggled against her cup of coffee, revelling in the familiar smell. “Can you hand me the sugar?” She gestured to a red ceramic pot with sugar written on it in cursive.

When it sat on the counter before her, Silje reached out for a spoon and then sprinkled some powdered sugar in her coffee, watching it sink in the dark beverage. She offered to help but Ivar shooed her out of her own kitchen and demanded she sat on the couch and just waited for the food to come to her.

She laughed but did not complain, for one because she wasn't fully awake yet, and also because it was very, very pleasant to have someone prepare breakfast for her – even more so when it was an eye-candy like Ivar. There sure were many things that went wrong in his life but his looks were not one of them – those definitely worked in his favour. She hadn't noticed it before he took a shower and shaved, but he was very handsome. He had a little something, a mischievous glimmer in his blue eyes that made her melt. Not that she would admit it.

“Here you go,” he said proudly, setting the plate of pancakes on the coffee table. It was followed by jam, chunks of fruit, and whipped cream that she didn't know she had in her fridge. Her mouth watered at the sight of this royalty breakfast. “I wish I could do more than just monopolize your kitchen and use all your ingredients to say thank you but I don't know how.”

Something in his voice made it sound like an apology and Silje did not like that. Her hand flew out before she could think about it and rested on his arm. Thank Gods she still had enough sense to stay still and not get further down this slippery road. She had to remind herself that he had other, more urgent things on his mind than girls, and that he felt like he owed her so if she decided to be bold and hit on him he might feel obliged to respond to her advances – which was the last thing she wanted. Had she not been sitting right in front of him, Silje would have smacked herself for her inappropriate thoughts. She removed her hand when Ivar's eyes fell on it.

“I invited you over without expecting any kind of retribution Ivar, I don't want anything in return,” she finally said, her mouth feeling dry. “The pancakes are nice though, thank you. I could definitely get used to this,” Silje added quickly, to finish on a happy note.

“Yeah...” Ivar whispered to himself though she heard it. “Me too.”

“To what?” Silje inquired, putting a generous serving of jam on her pancake before taking a bite.

“Mmh?” He hummed, sounding distracted.

What could you get used to?” She precised, tilting her head slightly towards him.

Her hair was up in a bun that moved along with her every movement and Ivar found it quite endearing. Yesterday's make-up and well put together outfit had disappeared and Silje was only wearing lousy sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt with a reindeer pattern.

“This,” he simply answered with a shrug. He knew that it would automatically trigger the question of 'this what?' and she would ask it with her mouth full of pancakes, not even looking up from her plate as she devoured her breakfast. But he spared her the trouble. “Living like this. It's like I haven't forgotten a thing, like I just woke up from a really long and unpleasant dream.”

“What do you mean?” Silje asked lowly, slightly putting away her plate.

“Being homeless is quite literally a nightmare but it rarely ever feels like one. Because when you're out there by yourself, you know your mind can't come up with the harsh bite of the cold on your skin, or the soreness in every last one of your limbs, or even the loneliness.”

Silje put the plate back on the table in a loud clatter and shifted closer to Ivar. This time when her hand touched his arm it was deliberate.

“You'll make me cry,” she said in mock-compassion, giving him an unimpressed face. “Clearly, you've rehearsed this in your head,” Silje continued. “Which is fine - we all do this. But at least let me finish my coffee before trying to elicit any kind of human reaction from me. Before my coffee I have only two emotions: exhaustion and sarcasm.”

“Sarcasm is not an emotion,” Ivar laughed out loud when she finished talking. He threw his head against the back of the couch and rubbed his face with both hands, all the while laughing wholeheartedly.

“Then why am I feeling it?” Silje asked rhetorically. This was flawless logic, he had to give her that.

“You're quite a number in the morning,” Ivar sighed when his fit of laughter calmed down. “But what I said is still true.”

“I know,” Silje replied in a serious voice. “I know it is, that's why I tried to make you laugh.”

He wanted to say something along the lines of “Congratulations, you succeeded.” but nothing came out. It sounded sad, even in his head. Everything had turned sounding sad a while ago and now Ivar had no idea how to get out of this spiral. He missed laughing.

“What are you going to do after this?” Silje asked in a whisper. When Ivar's eyes refocused, he found her staring at her cup of coffee and biting her lip. He knew what she meant by that.

“I don't know, I'll improvise like always. Call dibs on a bench and stay there until I get hungry.” Ivar shrugged and ate a pancake almost entirely in a single bite. Anger boiled right beneath the surface of Ivar's frustration, but Silje did not dig further.

There was something else she had not anticipated when she invited Ivar to her place at Christmas – a random visit from her brother who was not supposed to be in town. At half past one it happened. The doorbell rang, startling both Ivar and Silje who were now sitting on the carpet, playing a board game and drinking tea – a common passion apparently. At first, he looked at her as if to ask 'should I hide under the bed?' without daring to ask aloud in case the person standing behind the door heard him.

“Stay here,” Silje told him as she made her way to the door and peeped through the judas.

She made a surprised face but opened the door. Though it was only half open the person on the other side must have considered it to be an invitation to come in because a second later there was a tall bearded man standing in the room.

“Well please come in,” Silje said sarcastically as she closed the door again. “And hello, I guess.”

Hei little sister,” the tall man said as she engulfed Silje in a tight bear hug. “Merry Christmas!”

“What- why are you here? I thought you were spending the holidays with Margrethe in Sweden?” Silje questioned him when he finally let her go.

Ivar realized that he had lifted her off the floor and that made him swallow hard. The newcomer still hadn't noticed his presence and he might just crawl into the next room. Except that it would be ten times more suspicious for him to be found in Silje's bedroom rather than her living room.

“Yes, we were delayed because of her work,” he informed her. “I wanted to come by and see you before I left. Do you need anything? Something on the top shelf you can't reach? A spider to kill?” He mocked her with a fond smile on his face. He reached out to mess with Silje's hair.

“Would you stop treating me like a child,” she scolded him in that maternal voice that all girls had, even to their elders. “I have a guest, you can patronize me another time.”

It was then that her brother turned around and that the two boys locked eyes. Silje would have sworn the world went silence and the air sizzled with tension when her brother's eyes landed on this strange boy sitting on her floor. He never was good with boys getting near her.

“Ubbe, this is my friend Ivar. Ivar, this is my brother Ubbe,” she introduced them. “See? That's why people call before dropping by.”

Ubbe ignored her and Ivar stood up to shake his hand. His grip was slightly tighter than necessary and his stare a little intense but Ivar held it up. There he was, in a pretty girl's apartment, shaking hands with her brother mere hours after meeting her – it's like living life in fast forward. A life that wasn't even his own. He cursed the Gods for playing this cruel trick on him, for giving him a taste of what his life could be, without ever indulging him.

“Pleasure,” Ivar said a bit stiffly.

“Likewise,” Ubbe replied, though it was easy to tell he didn't mean it.

It was the coldest, least amicable meeting Ivar recalled having. Meanwhile Silje stood there, wondering what kind of strange male strength display she was currently witnessing, and pondering whether or not she should make them take a step back and let go of each other before fingers got crushed.

“Where's Margrethe?” She asked to break the tension. Ubbe looked away from Ivar.

“Doing some grocery shopping at the supermarket down at the corner,” he said. “For the journey.”

Margrethe's family lived in Stockholm so they had quite a long ride to get there.

“I should probably go since you found someone else to help you reach your top shelf,” Ubbe snickered.

Ivar visibly tensed but Silje knew Ubbe said it without malice. He was a tender at heart despite the appearances and the least hostile person she knew. He was merely doing his big brother job by being threatening towards the boys in her life. She elbowed him nonetheless.

“Be nice! Ivar is keeping me company since everybody decided to celebrate without me this year,” she teased her brother who shot an awkward but apologetic wince at Ivar.

“Well it's your fault for going to university, otherwise you could be in Australia with mum and dad.”

“That is the last thing I want!” She protested. “No snow? No tree? What is left of Christmas if you take that away?”

“You really are a woman – never satisfied,” he joked and earned a smack behind the head, no matter how tall he was. “Ouch!”

“Get out of here and back to your girlfriend's skirts,” she scoffed. “Ivar and I have a game to finish and you are spoiling the mood with your dumb jokes. The Gods know how Margrethe deals with you all the time”

“I should drop by unannounced more often if that's the only way I'm gonna meet your boyfriends,” Ubbe kept teasing her, making her cringe and wish she was an only child.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, goodbye and merry Christmas Ubbe,” Silje said, holding the front door open. “Tell Margrethe and the others I said hi and glædelig Jul, will you? You still skype with them tonight, right?” He nodded. “Have a safe trip.”

It took a little more time and sighs and pushing him out, but Ubbe eventually crossed the threshold and stepped out leaving his sister be – at last.

“So sorry about that, he's- well, he's a big brother,” Silje laughed nervously as she sat back down next to the board game, waiting for Ivar to join her. “He's not the worst though.”

“Not the worst?” Ivar was confused. He sat down and stared at her.

“Yeah, he's actually sweet once you know him,” she said.

“Okay but, you said 'not the worst'. Not the worst of what?” He specified his question. “Of brothers?”

No, of my brothers.”

“How many do you have exactly?”

“Four,” Silje said as she moved her pawn.

Four?” He coughed out, nearly choking on the word.

It was stupid but it actually intimidated him for some reason Even though he knew his encounter with Ubbe was accidental and he would never get to meet any of the others, there was something inherently scary about a girl having four brothers. One was usually enough of a pain in the ass.

“And they are all older than you?” He asked.

“Yes,” she answered with a sly little smile – he must not be the first one to react like that. “They never ate anyone to my knowledge though. Ubbe won't come back with the rest of the gang and put your head on a stick because you play monopoly with me.”

“Oh, very reassuring, thanks. It'll help me sleep tonight,” he said sarcastically. “I don't have much but what I do have is my head on my shoulders – it'd be nice to keep it that way.”

C'mon!” Silje rolled her eyes. He was being dramatic. “Ubbe was nice, you should be glad it was him and not Bjorn or Sigurd. Sigurd doesn't like people in general, and Bjorn, ha! He's something else! He's fifteen years older than me - my dad's son from his first marriage. He's a sergeant in the army and about twice as bulky as Ubbe. You don't want to meet him by surprise.”

“And the fourth one?” Ivar asked, eager to speak about something else than Silje's scary oldest brother.

“Hvitserk is only two years older than me. He's cool, not really the protective type. You'd have to try very hard not to get along with him.” A happy little laugh fell from her lips as she mentioned the youngest of her brothers with fondness in her voice. “Don't worry, there's no risk of them bursting through the door.”

Are you sure?”

“Positive. They have all been deployed and are not coming back before another two months. Ubbe is the only one who's not in the military anymore – bad injury forced him to quit.”

“You have the scariest siblings in the world. You might want to consider this piece of advice: don't introduce them to a boy you like. How do you even get a boyfriend with four older brothers looming protectively over you?”

“I keep him a secret,” she said with a shrug. “It's the coward's solution, I'll admit that, but I haven't met anyone worth the trouble of convincing them all one by one not to chew him up. My most recent boyfriend actually left me because he got tired of me keeping him away from my family.” She said in with a laugh that sounded surprisingly genuine.

Silje didn't seem to realize what impact her words had on Ivar who just learnt that he already met more of her family than her last boyfriend, even though he had known her for a whole twenty hours at most. It was his turn to play but his mind wasn't in the game anymore.

“Oh. I said something I shouldn't have, didn't I? I can see it on your face that you want to run away now,” she tried to laugh it off but she winced a little bit.

“Not a chance,” Ivar replied severely. “I'm not the running away type. Besides, I'm not leaving this place until I beat you at this game.”

She was probably going to beat him since it was his first time playing, as crazy as it sounds. But he was a quick learner and he'll beat her next time, if there ever was a next time.

“Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.” Silje shot him an unimpressed look and gestured him to simmer down. “You're up against the Monopoly Queen.”

 

*

 

“I'm not talking to you anymore,” Silje grumbled. Her defeat left a bitter taste in her mouth, especially since Ivar couldn't stop smiling smugly since the end of the game.

“Don't be too harsh on yourself, strategy is my thing 'is all,” he laughed, the grin on his face widening when she looked over her shoulder only to glare daggers at him. “That's the subject of my thesis that I never finished – the vikings' military strategies.”

Silje rolled her eyes but turned around.

“It was a board game, not a battle,” she told him a bit condescendingly. “But I suppose I get your point. My pride is wounded.” Ivar shrugged.

“So? It's the same, there's a winner and a loser.”

“Are you always that competitive? Is that why you decided to get a double degree? Are you driven by a compulsive need to overdo everything?”

Curiosity shone through the cracks of Silje's frustration. He shrugged again. She expected an answer but he remained quiet.

There are worse flaws I guess,” she finally said. “Come now,” Silje told him and put her hands on her knees before standing up with a grunt. “I am famished! Let's see what we can dig out of my kitchen.”

Except that it was getting late already, the sun was starting to make its way down, slowly but undeniably approaching from the line of horizon. Silje dreaded this moment, she had from the moment Ivar stepped into her apartment. If only there was something she could do to help him, if only she wasn't this broke student with no real means of helping someone in need. She would do anything to delay his departure for one more day – in hopes that she would win the lottery or find a miraculous solution to Ivar's problems within the next twenty-four hours.

“Silje,” he sighed from behind her.

She pretended she did not hear him though she did all too clearly. Even his posture was evident in her mind. They had known each other for a short time but she knew he was standing by the wall, slightly leaning against it with his hands in his pockets. It was such a typical boyish posture. He probably looked good too.

“It's half past six. I should go now or I won't have enough time to find a place to sleep before dark,” he explained. “Good sleeping spots are a priced possession in winter.”

“I know!” She snapped, jerkily opening a drawer. “I'll be quick. I can't let you go on an empty stomach. If you want to take another shower feel free to.”

Ivar nodded in gratitude and walked away, heading for the bathroom. He hadn't planned on abusing from her hospitality, he had wasted enough of her food, hot water and time. Which led him to wonder why one earth it felt like she was the one who dreaded the moment he would walk out of this cocoon of warmth. He did not need to shower but still turned on the water; his gut told him that Silje needed a minute or two alone. The way she had snapped at him when he reminded her of his imminent departure made him realize that she had invested too much in this situation.

When she offered him a bed and food he didn't think she would spend every waking minute talking with enthusiasm and laughing with him – he supposed neither did she. But now they were friends and it was parting time. Regardless of how cosy he was here, he could not stay any longer. He was messing with the natural order of things; he had nothing to offer her, his friendship was worth nothing. He couldn't even guarantee her that they would see each other again.

It was best if they didn't anyway. A necessary evil for her to forget about him and move on – she had other things to think about than unfortunate underdogs like himself. He was not her problem, he was his own damn problem and Ivar refused to be her charity case.

This shower took significantly less time than the first one since there was no dirty to wash off. When he pushed the shower curtain aside, he found that his former clothes were waiting for him on the floor. They smelled clean and were still warm, as if freshly out of the tumble drier. He noticed that she replaced his underwear, worn out socks and stained sweater though.

“Ivar?” He heard his name being called from behind the closed door. It was followed by a timid knock. “We can eat whenever you're ready.”

He had to admit that putting on his old jeans knotted his stomach. He was about to answer but a lump in his throat prevented him from doing so, so he flung the door open, startling Silje. Her hand flew to her heart and she laughed nervously.

“Wow you scared me,” she said. “Looking good Ivar,” she added without any trace of humour.

They did not waste any time to eat and if somebody asked Silje she'd swear that dinner was over in the blink of an eye – she had not recollection of what was said, or if anything was said at all during the meal. She was not ready when Ivar set aside his plate and stood up. Words were needless, his expression said it all – it was time to go. He grabbed his jackets and shoes and put them on.

“I prepared a couple things for you,” Silje said and pulled out a plastic bag. “There's a Thermos filled with tea – I put some honey in it – and a pack of cookies, the rest of the pancakes wrapped in aluminium, a couple sandwiches, a bottle of water-” she kept enumerating all the stuff she had put in the bag for him but he stopped listening. His throat tightened to the point where he wasn't sure he could speak even if he found something adequate to say. “And I found some gloves that you can take too, and a scarf because I saw yours was ripped. I put them in your bag. I saw your laptop by the way, now I know why you clutched at your backpack like it was your lifeline,” she tried to laugh but she didn't fool anyone not even herself.

He was supposed to speak up now but Ivar still hadn't thought of anything worth saying. He wanted to say thank you but it felt redundant at this point. Silje looked ready to disappear in a mouse hole, she anxiously waited for an answer that didn't come.

“I don't know what else to say,” she finally told him just to cut short this unbearable silence. They stood there, facing each other without saying anything, like two idiots. “I wish I could do more.”

“I don't think you realise how much you've already done,” Ivar somehow managed to say without sounding too pathetic. His voice was brittle. Did she notice? If so she didn't show any sign of it. “And yeah, this laptop is my lifeline, sort of. It has all my research for my thesis on it.”

Silje nodded in understanding and handed over the bag of supplies.

“I'm terrible at goodbyes,” she warned him. A crooked smile fought its way on her sad face and Silje brushed her hair out of her face – it was more of a nervous gesture. “I hope things will get better for you and that you'll get to finish your master's degree. I had a great time with you, Ivar. I'm glad we met.”

“Shut up,” he finally told her. “Not another word,” he added when he saw the surprise on her face and how the opened her mouth to say something.

This time she seemed to take notice of his own sadness to part. With her arms crossed over her chest, Silje shot him one last of her bright and warm smiles when she understood. Without any warning she threw herself to him for a farewell hug. It was the last thing he expected to happen and the one thing that made him lose his composure as soon as she closed the door behind him. Ivar angrily rubbed away the tears before he exited the building, knowing Silje was at her window, watching him and waiting for him to wave.

He didn't.

 

 

 

 

1 Neighborhood in Copenhagen

2 Christmas Eve in Danish

3 Largest cemetery in Denmark. Beautifully landscaped, it also serves as an important open space, popular for people to take a stroll, and look at the old graves and monuments.

 

Chapter Text

However, that didn't prevent him from keeping an eye open. Like an invisible guardian making sure nothing bad happened to her, Ivar stayed in the same area as Silje for a while. It was borderline creepy, Ivar was well aware of it, but he felt like he owed her big time, and if the only way he could repay her was to lurk in dark alleys and make sure no creep was following her home, then he would do it. There were worse places in Copenhagen to hang out; Silje's neighbourhood was lively and overall safe - which made him wonder why he felt entitled to become her guardian angel at all, and from what exactly he was trying to protect her, but that was a place he didn't want to let his mind wander.

He had no idea how much longer he could persuade himself that he was only staying here for her sake. Truth is that he could not bring himself to walk away and wave goodbye to the possibility of ever running into Silje again. It had been quite a while since Jul, be he could not move on from their meeting. The need to see her again was strong, though not as strong as Ivar's reason telling him to stay at a distance. He had no right to bust in her door after a month without any explanation. He had no right at all to even talk to her again. He was giving himself headaches from thinking about this too much.

Therefore he remained in his dark alleys and on his isolated benches. Anger bubbled up inside of him whenever he saw her walk by, carelessly strutting home to the tune of some song blasting in her earphones. She didn't notice him – why would she? People don't look at homeless people, and homeless people don't like being looked at. She represented quite the temptation though. On the one hand he was pulled towards her like a magnet, on the other, he knew it would be wrong of him to give in.

It was snowing today. Ivar's fingers were blue and he hadn't felt the tip of his nose in four days. Strangely enough, he still felt good – maybe not fine, but good. There was peace in the air. People were still high off the bliss brought by the winter holidays, and the new year. Not to mention that he remembered how much Silje loved snow. Fuck, he was being ridiculous. She would make fun of him if he said his thoughts out loud. He had to fucking move on and stop nearly interfering with her life again.

So far he hadn't done anything, he hadn't uttered a word as she walked down the street across from his new sleeping bench. He looked up, smiled a little when he saw her mouth the lyrics to a song he couldn't hear, and hid his face in his scarf. As much as it caused his heart sink in his stomach each time he saw her strut by, simultaneously so close and so far out of reach, it still made him feel better to know that she was doing all right. It helped him sleep at night at least.

“Hey! Watch it man!” Someone yelled at him when he accidentally bumped into their shoulder. He had zoned out again. “Fucking hobo!” The other man grumbled in his beard, shooting a nasty glare at Ivar.

Today was not the day to mess with Ivar. As quick tempered as he usually was, tonight was worse and if this guy took so much as a second to think before speaking, he would have kept his mouth shut.

“What? Is the side walk not large enough for you?” Ivar barked back. He was so tired of being treated like a dog with rabies. “Bloody idiot.”

“What did you just say?!” The guy turned around to face Ivar. He was taller and broader than him, but there was no backing out now. It was like a switch that flipped inside Ivar.

“Is your masculinity so feeble that you cross homeless people merely to show off your steroid induced muscles?” Ivar heard his voice snap at the increasingly furious stranger. He couldn't help the cocky smirk on his face just like he couldn't help the scoff that followed his declaration.

It was too late to try and get out of this situation. Ivar had let his frustration and anger take control of his actions and he was about to face the consequences. The man was red in the face and looked about to blow up. Meanwhile Ivar tensed his entire body, ready to receive a blow. After all maybe that is what he wanted, or needed. Nothing like a sucker punch right in the jaw to put one's ideas back in place. If this guy hit hard enough maybe he would knock Silje right out of Ivar's mind.

He had no idea how much he craved a good fight until this very moment. Ivar's hand itched to throw a blow himself. He clenched it into a fist before stretching his fingers again. His knuckles hurt from the cold despite his gloves. He saw it coming and raised his arms in defence when the man's fist was mid-air but it hardly did anything so soften the blow. Clearly, Ivar had underestimated his adversary.

It all went black rather quickly after that.

 

*

 

Skål!” Her friends all cheered, the sound of beer bottles clanking together filling the air.

It was accompanied by heartfelt laughter and the distinctive smell of alcohol. Silje was not a huge fan of beer and only drank one so her friends would stop pestering her about it; now they are already too intoxicated to notice that she was drinking tea. Her palm was held up toward the sky in an attempt to catch a few snowflakes but they melted the second they touched her skin.

The results of the first semester just came out and her friends dragged her to this picnic table in the middle of a park to celebrate. Although it was freezing, the alcohol running in their systems kept them warm enough to keep the party going, attracting the attention of passers-by with their music and loud chatter. Her tea wasn't doing that good of a job at keeping her limbs from getting numb, and neither did her skirt and tights.

“I'm going to head home” she declared only to earn a round of protest and teasing about how early she left. “I'm tired,” Silje objected when one of her classmate slung his arm around her shoulders to try and make her stay. “And cold. You can continue this party without me and I can celebrate in my apartment, wrapped in a warm blanket.”

“You are such a grandma!” Her friend snickered playfully as he shoved her in the arm. “Go, I'll distract them while you flee.”

Before he or anyone else could change their mind and decide to chain on her the bench with a beer in her hand, Silje stood up, gathered her belongings and stuffed them in her backpack as she walked away. While the music of their improvised party faded, Silje turned up the volume of her own and closed her eyes. It was a gentle night, the snow fell steadily and slowly from the sky, the kind of night you spent sitting in front of your window and looking outside.

However Silje had no intention of going home right away to find comfort in the many blankets she owned. As most days, she settled on a part of the city and wandered through the streets in search of - in desperate hope of finding – Ivar. She had regretted her decision of letting him leave the second she saw his dark figure walk away from her building. It was stupid really, but she wanted some kind of assurance to see him again, a means to contact him.

She expected him to wave, or smile, or do something but he merely disappeared in the shadows and from her life. Today was the 27th of January, over a month since the last time she saw him, and already she was beginning to forget what he looked like. The brevity of their encounter, although intense, had left a bitter-sweet taste in her mouth. She felt guilty – for not doing more for him, for not understanding his situation, for not sharing his problems. It was pointless to dwell on these things but here she was, roaming aimlessly through streets she didn't know, at night.

Somehow she knew this would enrage him if he knew – he made it very clear during their conversations that he thought it was reckless and careless for her to walk around at night in dark passageways. This forced a smile on her face and she let out a silent laugh, her hot breath visible in the air. Silje took out her earphones for a second. She thought it might help her find him if Ivar was around but the music and conversations coming out of the bars in this area drowned out any other noise.

She had been walking for half an hour when she decide that it was enough. It was late and cold. She'd look again tomorrow. It was time to head back and hide in these blankets she told her friends about. Someone wolf-whistled and Silje's head whipped to the right to see where it came from. There was a group of four or five boys staring at her. She scrunched up her nose in distaste and ignored them. They protested and called for her but she put her earphones back on.

“Jerks,” she grumbled to herself when even with her music she could hear their shouts.

“Hey!” Someone suddenly grabbed her by the shoulder and jerked her back. “I'm talking to you, bitch!”

As any girl would in her situation, Silje tensed up and her blood ran cold in her veins. Already cold sweat was forming in the nap of her neck – the instinctive response to a man raising his voice at her and being aggressive. She counted to ten in her head to gather herself and calm down. She got this, there was no reason for her to panic, she could handle the situation. There was no room for fear right now, she had to show this jackass that she wasn't some little mouse he could intimidate into talking to him.

After a short moment, Silje felt confident enough to look up and meet his eyes. The way he looked at her made her want to vomit in her mouth. Disgusting. Revolting. Clearly this guy was not familiar with the concept of a woman not being interested.

“And I'm ignoring you, asshole. Are we done stating the obvious?”

It was pretty ballsy and she might regret it but the words were out now, she couldn't take them back. One of the dude's friends whistled as she said that, apparently admiring the nerve she had to talk to him like that.

“What? You think you're too good for me?” The guy snarled, eyeing Silje up and down in a distasteful manner. “You're not even that hot, you should be flattered.”

“Oh be still my beating heart,” she said sarcastically as she rolled her eyes. “There, happy? Let me go now before I scream bloody murder and get the cops on your ass for assault.”

She would do it. She was ready to. At this point sarcasm was merely a defence mechanism. It took all of her concentration not to tremble like a leaf.

“Jeez! Girls nowadays can't take a compliment anymore!” He exclaimed but still let her go.

“You just told me I wasn't even hot, in what world is that a compliment? You need to work on your approach techniques dude.”

He grumbled a few more insults under his breath but he was already stepping back. He was obviously not happy about this defeat but his friends were laughing and telling him she wasn't worth the trouble so he let it slide. When she was sure they left, Silje carefully placed her earphones back on, hands shaking and eyes prickling, and she turned around to resume her walking. Just when she thought she might have to make a detour in case they decided to follow her home, she stumbled on something and almost fell.

She caught herself in extremis by reaching out for the corner of a wall, scratching her hands in the process. A string of curses tumbled down her lips while she rubbed her palm on her coat to get rid of the dirt, then she looked down to see what made her trip. When her eyes fell on the metallic cylinder on the floor, she thought they might pop out of her head.

That she would recognize anywhere. It was her Thermos. The one with the mismatched lid she had given to Ivar a month ago.

“Ivar,” she whispered, hoping against hope. “Ivar!”

On her feet she was before she had the time to think about it, nearly falling once again. Her hand found the Thermos and clung to it for dear life as she stumbled into the alley on her right.

“Ivar you bastard, if you're here say something!” She shouted this time, making sure that the entire neighbourhood heard her. “I swear I'm going to drag your hobo ass out of the hole you're hiding in!”

Her threats mustn't have been very convincing since no one answered, or maybe he simply wasn't here anymore. After a few more seconds of listening intently, one sound stood out of the distant music from the nearby bars. Faint, almost inaudible laughter.

“That the best you got, woman?” The strained but already so familiar voice of Ivar asked from the shadows.

Silje dived down towards the source of the voice and her hands found him before her eyes did. Her fingers grasped at the material of his clothes and Silje did as she promised and dragged him out of the darkness and into the light of the nearest street lamp. She only let go when he groaned.

“Shit, where did you get that strength from?” He asked, a bit out of breath.

Now that she could see his face Silje understood why he sounded in pain. The entire left side of his face was bruised and swelled. He had a black eye and a split lip; the blood had dried on his wounds.

“Don't say anything,” she ordered him, already taking his chin in between her fingers to better examine his beaten face. “You look like a bloody mess.” Her voice was stern but gentle.

“You look beautiful.”

“And you're delirious!” Silje exclaimed, her hand flying up to feel his forehead. “You have a bit of fever. How long have you been here in this state?”

“Few- hours-” he said, short breathed already. “Silje.”

He simply said her name with no intention of saying anything else, but it got her attention at last and she looked into his blue eyes, pleading her. Her hand let go of his chin and she moved it to his shoulder.

“I wanna hug you and punch you so bad right now,” Silje said between her teeth. “Come back with me. I'll fix you up, we're not too far from my apartment.”

“I can't- my legs... fuck. They messed up my legs,” he whined pitifully and winced in pain, his eyes drifting from hers to his legs. “I can't walk.”

“Even if you lean on me?” She asked hopefully. He shrugged but was already trying to stand up, willing to try anything to get out of the gutter he had put himself into. “We only have a couple streets to walk before reaching my place. You can do this.”

The strain was visible on his face etched with agony. Silje's arms were there to support him and help him up, no matter how much bigger he was, she was not about to complain or leave him to his fate. She had looked for him, she had found him, and now she was going to be true to her word and drag his ass back to her apartment, even up the five floors if she had to.

It was a lot easier said than done, but not impossible. She had no means to establish exactly how much pain Ivar was in because he hadn't said a word during their slow progression through the streets. His mind was entirely focused on not screaming or collapsing on the floor. The vein on his temple throbbed menacingly, if that was any indicator of the ache he currently endured. Nothing would have prepared either of them for the trial it represented to climb up so many stairs with only Silje's tiring legs to get to the top.

“Just leave me here, you won't make it with me,” Ivar groaned with difficulty.

“We're almost there, two more floors to go,” she said, completely ignoring his resigned tone. “Quit being a drama queen.”

“You killing me, Silje!”

“Oh is that what I'm doing? Funny because I thought I was once again saving you from the cold harsh world. A little gratitude would be welcome, you know? And I know precisely how you can repay me. I have a monstrous pile of dirty dishes waiting in the sink just for you.”

“This makes me want to stay in the staircase even more,” Ivar sighed, holding his breath each time they ascended another step.

“If you're well enough to make jokes then you're also well enough to climb up a few more steps,” Silje declared confidently. “We've made it this far, Ivar.”

“So stubborn,” he grumbled again though she thought she detected a hint of admiration in his voice, but maybe she was hearing things. “I am not joking, my legs are killing me.”

“Well what do you want me to do about it? I suspect you don't want me to bring you to the hospital, do you?”

He stiffened against her side and glared at her.

“I don't have money to pay for healthcare, you know this.”

“I do, that's why you're going to crash on my couch and I'll call my brother. He'll come and examine you properly. I don't know how to assert the extent of your injuries but he can,” she assured him but it did little to nothing to calm him down, in fact it had the opposite effect.

“Which brother?” He asked warily.

“Ubbe,” Silje managed a laugh even though she was exhausted. “The one you've met.”

“I remember Ubbe,” Ivar huffed.

Suddenly they realised they had made it. Silje's front door was standing right there. No more stairs. Black dots danced before her eyes and sweat trickled down her spine but they had made it.

“I remember the way he almost crushed my hand while shaking it,” Ivar added, a little out of breath but nothing compared to Silje's state of breathlessness and sweatiness.

“That's just his way of saying hello,” she said and with a little wave of the hand to gesture him it was nothing worth getting grey hair over. “I am in strong need of a shower.”

She managed to help Ivar onto the couch, both of them sighing in relief when their seemingly never-ending journey finally ended. She told him that she would call her brother then hop in the shower, and that she was all his after that.

It took a little more time and energy than she expected to convince her brother to get out of bed, grab the crutches they'd given him after his injury and come over to her place, all of this to look at Ivar's legs.

“Ivar? Who's Ivar?” Ubbe had asked, only to remember the moment he said his name. “Oh, the guy from Juleaften? What happened?”

“I don't know yet, okay? Just come, it's important and quite urgent too.”

He complied after two more minutes of convincing, and Silje was finally allowed a moment of peace. She got Ivar a glass of water and a pillow, then took her well-deserved shower. When she opened the front door fifteen minutes later, her hair was still wet, her previous clothes discarded by the bathroom door, and Ivar was grunting on the couch, trying not to move his legs. Their tumultuous journey had woken up the wound, it throbbed and deformed his attractive features into an expression of anger and pain.

“Come with me,” Silje grabbed Ubbe's arm to lead him right in front of Ivar. “It's his legs. I need you to examine him.”

“What are you now, a doctor?” Ivar spat. It was the pain speaking, not him, Ubbe knew better and he simply smirked. “I thought you were a reject soldier.”

“Big mouth, eh?” Ubbe huffed and knelt down by his legs. “Didn't serve you well from what I can see. And no, I'm not a doctor, but soldiers are trained to tend to their companions if something were to happen on the field. Landmine explosion for instance. That shit can blow your legs off.”

“I didn't step on a fucking landmine,” Ivar barked back. “Those assholes beat me up.”

He didn't specify that he provoked them but the siblings shared a look that spoke volumes. They knew he wasn't just randomly attacked. Ivar didn't say anything after that and allowed Ubbe to feel his legs and assert his injuries.

“Are they broken?” Silje asked after a couple minutes, not holding it in anymore.

Ivar hadn't realised how worried she really was up until now. Her foot tapped on the floor at a fast pace, one of her arms rested across her chest while the other held her hand up in front of her mouth. Her eyes did not budge from her brother once while he took a look at Ivar's messed up legs.

“No,” Ubbe said, earning a round of relieved sighs. “Wait before popping the champagne. That was the good news. The bad news is that while I can tell that your legs aren't broken, I can't guarantee that your tibia bones aren't shattered. And worst of all your left knee is out of joint. Did you walk here?”

“Hardly,” Ivar said with a little one-shoulder shrug.

“Well, you must be a tough motherfucker, because that hurts like hell. I can put it back in place but I should warn you that this is usually done under anaesthesia,” Ubbe explained under Silje's increasingly anxious gaze.

He looked Ivar straight in the eye without budging, like a real solider. Ubbe's relaxed demeanour from Juleaften was gone, his face was plain and serious, his mind focused on the task at hand, and no room was left for jokes.

“I can take it,” Ivar assured him.

“Sil,” Ubbe called his sister, waking her from her fear induced trance. “Get him something to bite into, a wooden spoon, a folded towel.”

She did as she was asked without uttering a word and soon came back with what he asked, leaving him to choose which of the two he preferred. Ivar simply grabbed the spoon and put it in his mouth.

“All right, here goes nothing,” Ubbe said, positioning his hands around Ivar's knee. “Silje don't look.”

He didn't need to tell her, she was already putting a conscious effort into staring out of the window instead of looking at the two boys in front of her. The towel would have worked better to muffle Ivar's pained groans and cries. Silje's hand shot up to her mouth and she had to turn around. Tears prickled her eyes but she swallowed them back. There was no time for this, Ivar was the one suffering, she could act like a weak little thing later. Right now she had to get her shit together.

“It's done,” Ubbe declared and after a few more seconds of panting, Ivar took the spoon out of his mouth. It hit the floor with a loud clatter. “He'll need a knee brace. Sil can you get him one?”

She nodded, still shaking.

“Y-yes, I have a friend who had one a few weeks ago, I can ask him.”

“Good. And you-” Ubbe's attention went back to Ivar. “If you don't want to end up at the ER, you have to rest until your bones heal and your muscles recover from the beating. Where do you live? I can drive you back. Do you have someone to take care of you? Because you won't be able to make it through this alone.”

“He does. I'll take care of him,” Silje stated firmly, two puzzled gazes turning to her. “He's staying here.”

“What if he doesn't want to crash on your couch for the following month?” Ubbe replied, pointing at Ivar as though he wasn't here. “Because that's how long I would suggest he doesn't use his bad leg.”

“He'll be fine,” Silje assured her brother.

“Bu-” He started but was interrupted by Ivar.

“I'm homeless, man!” To say that it cast a cold in the room would be minimising this. “The couch is fine.” In the state he was in, anything would have worked, he was tired enough to fall asleep standing. Not that he would be doing much of that from now on.

Ubbe stood up abruptly, almost knocking over the coffee table.

What the fuck?” He exclaimed, looking at his sister.

“Not now, Ubbe,” Silje sighed and rubbed her face. “Thank you for coming, and for the crutches. We'll talk later, okay?”

“No, not okay, you can't just make me come here in the middle of the night during work week only to have me examine a homeless dude who got into a fight, then tell me you'll have him sleep on your couch and not give me a stellar explanation!”

“It sounds terrible when you put it like that but it's not as shady as it sounds,” she promised him. “Come now.” She gestured him to follow her to the door, away from Ivar's curious ears. “Ivar is my friend. I'm not going to turn my back on him when he's injured.”

“But he is homeless,” Ubbe protested with vehemence as if he was making a valid point. He wasn't.

“That does not define him. Listen, we'll argue tomorrow, okay? I'm tired and I think Ivar has a bit of fever.”

She must have sounded particularly worn out because Ubbe closed his mouth – for now at least – and opened the door. The trained soldier he was recognized the priorities but he would not let her go away with this.

“This conversation is not over-” he told her with a warning finger pointed at her. He pushed his sister to the side and walked up to Ivar who barely managed to open his eyes when Ubbe called him. “And you-” he started sternly. “-I meant what I said. You don't jump around, you don't try to exercise, you don't run, you don't even walk anywhere apart from the bathroom and the kitchen, anything farther than that is too far for you until I say it isn't anymore.” He looked furious but also determined to help him heal. “In case I'm not being clear enough, my sister's bedroom is off limits.” He had whispered the last part for only Ivar to hear – and he did hear it loud and clear.

“Yes sir,” he mumbled in response, barely conscious at this point.

Ubbe walked back to his sister who was still waiting by the door. “Don't post-pone our conversation for too long or I'll have to tell the others.”

Contrary to Ivar though, Silje wasn't about to pass out and wasn't in the mood to get intimidated by her big brother.

“Hvisterk already knows about Ivar anyway. Sigurd wouldn't care, and if Bjorn learns that you let a homeless stranger sleep in my apartment, you'll be the one in trouble. Goodnight brother.” Silje smiled and shut the door before Ubbe could find something else to threaten her with.

Her shoulders slumped down and she leaned against the door just or a few seconds, to catch her breath and get a small break from the intense last hour she had. When she felt she was ready to go at it again, she went back to Ivar, once again put her hand on his forehead and told him to stay awake just a little bit longer – his eyelids were droopy but she didn't want him to fall asleep before changing him and giving him some medicine to reduce the fever. It required another twenty minutes to accomplish these tasks but when she was finally done and Ivar was about to fall asleep in his new dry and warm clothes, she felt rather happy with herself. In an ideal world Ivar would take a shower too but they were both too exhausted for that. Tomorrow would be there soon enough and if they were lucky, by then Ivar's fever would break and his knee wouldn't feel like it was on fire anymore.

“Are we good now?” Ivar mumbled, fighting off sleep as best he could.

“Yes, we're good,” Silje told him, gently pushing some of his hair out of his face. “You can go to sleep. Hopefully you'll feel better tomorrow.”

She had a feeling he was already asleep mid-sentence and didn't even hear the end. A little smile tugged at her lips but it vanished quickly. This reunion was a bitter-sweet one – light years away from what she had imagined. Finding her friend beaten and feverish in the shadow of a container in a small back alley was not how she had hoped to find Ivar – actually the romantic inside her was convinced that despite her searching through the streets, she would end up bumping into him in that same park where they first met.

Soon her living room was filled with the light and steady snores of Ivar and she smiled again. Exhaustion washed over her and Silje lost no time in changing into her pyjamas and turning off the lights. Whatever happened today was over and it was time to breathe again.

 

*

 

“Ivar... Ivar. Ivar!”

The voice sounded distant, like an echo. But whoever was calling him seemed to get closer and closer each time they called his name. At first he wanted to groan and turn around, tell whoever was disturbing his sleep to go away and leave him in peace – the voice became too loud. But he realised that they weren't shouts.

“Ivar,” he heard again, more aware of the proximity of its source. He felt something heavy on his forehead and winced. It was cold too. “Ivar, open your eyes.”

He did not want to but the voice was soothing and warm, so he complied. His eyelids fluttered open, and he was glad to see that it wasn't too bright in the room. His eyes finally glanced towards the form next to him and he was met with Silje's worried gaze.

“Welcome back,” she told him with a somewhat tense smile. “How do you feel?”

“What-” shit his mouth was dry. “-what time is it? How long was I out?” He asked, ignoring her question. He felt awful, like a truck ran him over - twice.

“It's almost six in the evening, you slept over sixteen hours.”

“Did you sleep?”

“Not much. Believe it or not I went to class today,” she told him with a huff, as if wondering what the hell she was thinking. She didn't want to go but she had an important presentation and her professors didn't know or care about the fact that she gave shelter to an injured homeless man. “The three longest hours of my life, I thought I'd come home to your dead body lying on my couch.”

“You're the worst- caretaker- ever,” Ivar painfully breathed out. The air didn't come easy in his lungs, like something weighted down on his chest.

“Here,” Silje said and handed him a glass of water. “Need help?”

Ivar shook his head no and propped himself up on one elbow to down the water.

“I trust you're a fighter, you wouldn't let a fever get the best of you,” she chuckled.

“You just said-” Ivar started but left his sentence unfinished, simply gesturing to her with his right hand and hoping she would understand.

“I was worried, can you blame me? I was hoping your fever would get down a little bit. I probably should have woken you up to give you your medicine but you looked like you needed the sleep,” Silje explained, already reaching down to grab something Ivar could not see from where he was lying. “It's probably for the best that I'm not trying to become a nurse, right?”

“Your brother would make a better nurse,” Ivar began to laugh but it turned into a cough. “I bet he'd look pretty in the uniform.”

“God, I can't tell if this is the fever speaking or if you're really a on death wish. Do not say that in front of Ubbe or next time you wound up beaten up he'll refuse to take a look at you.”

“Just you wait until I'm better. I bet I can take him any time,” Ivar kept bragging.

Silje's hand reached out and brushed his hair out of his face. His forehead was sticky and his hair greasy. It was a tad longer than last time she saw him and his beard had grown back. The contact of her fresh hand against his hot skin made Ivar close his eyes in delight and lean into her touch. Next thing he knew Silje was giving him pills to swallow and asked that he sit up.

“I know it's painful but you have to get up, you need to take a shower.” Dread must have been written all over his face because she quickly added, “It'll make you feel better and I'll help you.”

“You'll help me shower? Like a baby?” He grumbled in complain. “How do you plan on doing this anyway? I can't stand on my left leg and I can't take a bath either.”

“Actually you can, I had it fixed,” Silje declared with a wide smile. She put her arms on the couch and rested her chin on her joined hands. “I think it'll suffice if I help you in the tub, you can take it from there. Unless you feel like getting a hair massage?”

“I feel like dying,” Ivar said, ever so positive and joyful.

“You're a ray of sunshine Ivar,” Silje laughed. “I'm glad you're fine. This might sound weird but I missed you – you really have a talent in bickering back and forth with me.”

“Don't you have enough brothers to fill up that role?” He wondered, trying to stand up with Silje's help.

Like yesterday, she let him lean on her and together, they stumbled across the room and to the bathroom. Ivar sat on the lid of the toilet. Silje ran his bath and turned on the wall heater to hang the towels on it.

“Apparently not,” she sighed, her hand lingering under the running water to see if it was hot enough. “They are a lot of things but intellectually stimulating is not one of them. I love them all but they can be a little boorish and obtuse at times.”

“Dunno.” Ivar shrugged. “Ubbe seemed pretty sharp to me when he examined my leg. The look in his eyes-”

“-you were on the receiving end of the soldier stare,” Silje laughed. “It rarely shows but it's scary when it does, it means shit's going down. After his injury, Ubbe wasn't the same; he had this look in his eyes all the time. But he's getting used to civilian life again, with Margrethe's help.”

“His girlfriend?”

“His fiancée,” Silje corrected him. “They are getting married in August.”

After that he didn't say anything anymore. Ivar stayed quiet until it was time to strip and get into the tub.

“I won't look,” Silje promised him when his fingers tugged at his belt to unbuckle it. She had no idea how she would accomplish that because she hardly managed to keep her eyes off his naked chest, but if she had to close her eyes to give him some privacy then she would do it.

“I didn't say anything,” Ivar replied, a smirk appearing on his face as he looked at her.

Silje couldn't help the blush on her cheeks but she didn't answer to his shameless flirting. He was feverish, he didn't think what he said – that's what she repeated to herself like a mantra while he finished taking off his remaining clothes while leaning on her to keep his balance. The girl let him take the lead and get into the tub on his own while trying her best to keep his weight off the bag leg.

“There. Will you be okay?” She asked him when he was in the water. Thank the gods, bubbles hid most of his body.

“Sure,” Ivar assured her. He raised his hand out of the water and flicked it at Silje, throwing drops of soapy water at her face and making her close her eyes. “I'll call you if I need help.”

“You won't try to get out of the tub by yourself to prove a point?” She asked just to make sure, squinting her eyes at him. “No misplaced pride? You call as soon as you're done, yeah?”

“Whatever,” he sighed and rolled his eyes but she didn't move a muscle. Silje would stay where she was, kneeling next to the tub and staring sternly at him as long as she wasn't sure he wouldn't do anything stupid. “I promise, okay? Now let me bathe, woman!” He flicked some more water at her and they both smiled.

Without another word, Silje walked out of the room, closed the door, then leaned against it and slid to the floor. Damn this boy.

 

*

 

Three weeks had passed and Silje was forced to admit that Ivar was far from the model patient. And she sure as hell would never become a nurse, that was final.

He was grumpy, stubborn, unwilling to comply, restless, capricious, and a bunch of other non-flattering adjectives. Silje was just about done with him. Then again, in spite of his foul behaviour when the pain kicked in, he was still of good company the rest of the time. He never voiced it but Silje knew that he only acted the way he did because he felt useless with his injured leg. It itched him to get up and get something done – she noticed he was particularly irritable whenever he sat on the couch, his legs resting on a cushion on the coffee table, while Silje ran around tiding and cleaning the apartment.

“This is ridiculous, let me help,” he grumbled for the hundredth time. Each time Silje laughed and told him to shut up. “I'm serious Silje, I'll go mad if I have to stay here any longer.”

“I've been cleaning my apartment on my own long before you crashed on my couch, I think I can handle this,” she reminded him. “Do something else to keep you busy. Read a book, learn sign language, knit a sweater.”

“Do you think I am an old lady?” He scoffed, obviously offended. “I need to get up, my muscles are stiffening from lack of use.”

If he was still bargaining instead of simply getting up my himself it meant that the pain was still too strong for him to do so. Silje stopped vacuuming the floor and pushed her hair out of her face to look at him and give him a scolding glare.

“We've been through this conversation already,” she said. “As long as Ubbe doesn't give you the green light, your ass is glued to the couch.”

“I'm sure I can stand on my leg, he just wants me to stay a cripple a little longer because he doesn't like me staying with you,” he argued, pointing a finger at Silje. She rolled her eyes and resumed vacuuming.

“Fine, you win. If you insist so much gather my mugs and put them in the sink, and put the bath towels in the washing machine,” she told him.

Those were easy tasks he could perform with his knee brace and crutches. As though she had just provided him with a life purpose, Ivar stood up, trying to conceal his wince of pain, and did as he was told. Silje couldn't wait for his leg to heal. Faint laughter came from the bathroom a few minutes later when Silje was putting away the vacuum cleaner and she peeked inside. A furious blush crept on her face when she saw him standing by the washing machine with her freshly washed underwear in his hands.

“I can't tell which one I like best,” he said, turning his head toward her, a boyish grin on his handsome face. His black eye had faded now, the wounds from his fight disappeared almost completely – the only remaining trace being the healing split lip.

In his left hand Ivar was holding Silje's cat knickers with the two little ears on the back, and in his right hand were her more revealing and expensive bottoms. Her mouth was ajar and she couldn't find anything to say for a solid ten seconds, then she gathered her wits.

“What are you, five?” She asked, her eyebrows shooting up and her arms crossing over her chest.

The way he looked at the underwear and then at her was purely indecent and certainly not how a five year old would behave. His wolfish smile sent shivers down Silje's spine and she dropped her arms to her sides and stood a little straighter. There was no knowing if he was messing with her or not, Ivar was difficult to read. He was a huge flirt, which made it increasingly hard for Silje to keep her cool around him. One day she was going to pin him against a wall with no warning and he won't see it coming.

“C'mon, Silje,” Ivar began. “Do you think I am that innocent?”

However today was not the day. She refused to answer this and engage on this slippery slope. Ivar was playing with her, he wanted to elicit a reaction.

“I can tell you where I bought them if you want the same,” she said, enjoying seeing his smirk drop. “They make bunny ones too.”

Defeated and disappointed, Ivar turned away from her. He mumbled something about her taking the fun out of everything, and went back to his task.

The comedy lasted another week, until Ubbe came along again and told him he could walk again.

“Not running a marathon, hear me?” He added right away when he saw Ivar's face light up. “You keep the leg brace, and you use the crutches. But you can take a walk, go grocery shopping or whatever you do with you time usually.”

“How thrilling. Might as well pick up an apron and settle down if I'm going to spend the rest of my days limping around,” he immediately complained, throwing his head against the back of the couch.

Ubbe patted his shoulder. Silje had called him a couple days after Ivar's injury and explained everything, which had considerably reduced Ubbe's hostility towards the young man. But not completely either.

“Can you lay off the drama for a second?” Silje huffed from the kitchenette. “Rejoice,” she told him in an overly optimistic voice. “You are now allowed to set foot outside of these four walls. Maybe you won't be as grumpy after some fresh air.”

That prediction came true. After his first walk Ivar was already less of a pain in the ass and stopped behaving like a child. Funnily enough, the nearest green area was Vestre Kirkegård which meant that Ivar and Silje regularly walked past the bench where she found him. He savoured the moment, enjoying how far he had come since this day. He liked to think that he had a little more control over his life than the first time he met Silje.

He even felt confident enough to make a move – at least he would if he could walk without those damn crutches. They didn't allow him to put his arm around Silje or even to let her hold his arm while they walked. No she simply strolled beside him with her hands in her pockets and cradling a cup of tea.

“Let's sit down,” he said, stopping in front of the bench instead of walking past it. “I wanna sit on this piece of wood one last time.”

“Feeling a little nostalgic?” She teased him, standing in front of him while he sat down, putting the crutches aside.

“No, I sit on it to establish dominance,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Or maybe I like this bench? It's where I met a pretty girl.”

“I can't tell if you're joking or not, you're always looking at me like you know something I don't,” Silje told him and sat down.

“They say knowledge is where lies true power,” Ivar philosophized. “Why wouldn't I be serious? What makes you think I'm not?”

Silje laughed at this and gave him a scolding look.

“You are a relentless flirt, Ivar,” she told him but he only looked at her as if to say 'so what is your point?'. “You do it for the thrill and to make me uncomfortable.”

“Are you uncomfortable right now?” Ivar asked, leaning in closer to her and not detaching his eyes from her while she pondered her answer and bit her lip.

“No, uncomfortable wasn't the right word,” she eventually decided. “You try to make me nervous.”

“Unsuccessfully from what I can see, you always have an answer to my teasing no matter what I say.”

If anyone had heard this conversation they would have cringed. The air was tense and so electric Silje wondered if her hair wasn't standing on end. Speaking of hair...

“We need to do something about your hair,” she blurted out, effectively breaking the tension. “It's getting out of hand.”

“Wha-” Ivar began, gesturing around to show his disagreement. “My hair is perfect as it is.”

“It's not.” Silje shook her head under Ivar's puzzled gaze. “If you don't groom a little you'll never find a job.”

“A job?”

“Of course. Did you think I was gonna let you crash my place free of charge forever?” She scoffed and took a sip of her tea. Ivar leaned back against the bench and stared at her.

“You're kicking me out as soon as I can walk again?” He asked, truly astounded.

Not that he didn't see it coming, or thought he deserved it, but it was out of character for Silje. Or was it? Could he really tell after knowing her for a total of two months? Even if she did plan to dump him in the streets as soon as he was healed, this still came pretty much out of nowhere.

“No, I'm saying you help put bread on the table. You're not my charity case, remember? You're just a friend I'm helping get back on track.”

You're just a friend.

“You'll have to wait until August to apply for university, but until then you'll work. You don't need to pay a rent, my parents already cover the charges for the apartment and it's not like it changes anything for them if you live with me. I only ask you help pay for groceries and the water bill. You sure do enjoy your bath time so you can pay for it. The rest of the money you should save for dog days.”

“Sounds like you gave it some thought,” Ivar observed. “All right, I was going to do it anyway by the way, I wouldn't have abused your hospitality. I intend to contribute as best I can. But can we negotiate about my hair?”

“No.”

“What- but, why?”

“No.”

“That's not answering my question at all,” he complained but Silje merely smile innocently and finished her tea.

“It's beginning to rain,” she said. “Come, let's head back. I used to do my brothers' haircuts whenever their girlfriends didn't want to. I'm good at it.”

Ivar wanted to object again but he figured it might indeed feel good to get his mane tamed. It hadn't seen a pair of scissors in quite some time and grew long in the past year or so. Besides, going to a hair salon was out of the question, at least until his first pay check.

“Okay, but I get to choose what you do to my hair!”

“Whatever you say Ivar.”

Silje stood up and held her hand out for him. Ivar glared at it but still took the offered hand somewhat reluctantly. At least he tried to look reluctant. It was still warm from the cup of tea and she enclosed her fingers around his hand, dragging him away from the bench with a big smile on her face while he stumbled forward.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The least she could say was that Ivar did things properly. He wasn't even out of the knee brace yet when he was out there searching for a job – any job. He looked for a week before landing a small rookie job at a local bar, helping with the unloading and the loading of the trucks of the bands that came to play every night. Silje admonished Ivar from dawn to dusk when he told her the news because it was such a physical job and he only recovered from his beating.

“It's irresponsible!” She pointed out, her fingers poking his chest.

It wasn't that easy to argue with him now that he stood tall, towering over her. She wasn't even that short.

“I'm not cut out for desk work or anything like that, I need action,” Ivar argued.

I'm a man of action, I need to do a manly job to show off my man strength,” Silje said, mimicking his voice to show him how ridiculous he sounded. “If your knee cap pops again, I'm going to knock your head against that wall-” she threatened, pointing at the wall. “And then I'll call Ubbe and he'll smash it right through.”

“You're threatening to injure me because you're worried I might get injured at my new job?” Ivar asked with a scoff.

“It's how I express affection!” Silje burst out, pushing Ivar back with both hands.

The guy barely seemed to notice despite Silje using all of her strength, which infuriated her a little more. Although she had to admit he looked strong. He put on a bit of weight since she took him in and it suited him well. Not to mention that Ivar had been pestering non-stop about going for a run.

“Really?”

There was a drastic change in his tone and she wasn't sure she liked where this was going. A smug smirk made a guest appearance on his face and he crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes were trained on her as if he tried to see through her and that damn grin showed no sign of fading.

“Of course you dickhead! I've been taking care of you for weeks, I don't want to do it again!” She scoffed, trying to pass this off as sheer annoyance but obviously failing. “Don't look at me like that!”

“How am I looking at you?” He asked.

He knew the answer but he wanted to hear her say it. She was aware of that, but she was cornered. In fact, he looked at her with even more intensity after asking her that. Silje couldn't take it anymore and turned around with a defeated huff.

“All right, go ahead mess up your knee again, I don't care,” she exclaimed and busied herself with some meaningless house chore only to avoid looking at him.

“Silje, please-” Ivar called her. She felt him following her around the apartment but she kept on running away. “-Sil... come on, stop- come here.” He finally managed to catch her after jumping over the couch.

“See! That's what I'm talking about!” She burst out. “You act like a fucking child!”

“I've been laying on your couch for weeks, can you blame me if I want to stretch my legs now that I can?” That wasn't the right thing to say, he understood it by the way Silje shot lightnings at him. “That's not the point though- listen Silje. I get that you're worried, I know you can't help it, you worry about everything.”

“That's not true!”

“Please,” Ivar began, tilting his head and raising his eyebrows. “I've seen you get worried for a cat who bumped into a French window. Stop making me digress now.”

“I'm not making you do anything,” she protested, stepping back only to hit the wall. He was so close to her, she couldn't think straight enough to have this conversation with him. Her brain was screaming to abort mission.

“What I'm trying to say is that it's only a part time job a few nights a weeks. I'll be careful, and I promise I'll find another job if it's too much.”

Silence followed his statement. Silje refused to admit that it soothed her nerves in the slightest. She stayed quiet and glared at him – probably not hard enough since Ivar cracked a little smile and gently pushed her hair behind her ear. The voice inside her head told her that this wasn't something friends did but she shut it up.

“Peace?” He asked, his voice full of hope.

“Fuck!” Silje swore under her breath and whispered to herself, “You're so damn attractive.”

“Did I catch that right?” Ivar wondered out loud, a laugh escaping him.

“You win every argument because of this!” She accused him, taking a step forward in a hopeless attempt to intimidate him, except Ivar did not step back as she expected.

Now they were even closer to each other and Silje even more unable to form a coherent thought. It was a wonder they managed to make it through the first few weeks of cohabitation when she had to help him in the tub.

Ivar couldn't fight off his huge grin on his lips and Silje was torn between slapping it right off his flawless face or kissing him. Before she could walk farther down this road, Ivar interrupted her train of thought by throwing his arm behind her shoulders and pulling her to his side and he led her to the couch.

“And here I thought it was my compelling arguments who made a difference. Is that also the reason why I always win at our board games?” He teased her. Silje groaned and threw her head back against Ivar's arm.

Silje opened her mouth, ready to blurt out some nonsense and maybe even challenge him and tell him something stupid like 'I let you win this whole time' that she would regret saying later because she did not, in fact, let him win, but by some kind of miracle the door bell rang at this precise moment. Her shoulders relaxed and she had to hide her sigh of relief when she walked past Ivar – who very purposefully stayed where he was, right in the middle of the way with his arms crossed over his chest – taking pleasure in bumping her shoulder against his to show that she was still mad and this conversation wasn't over.

Silje would bet her life Ivar was smirking to himself. It made her hand itch to slap that cocky smile off, or maybe kiss it away. The person behind the door was a mystery but she was willing to hug them whoever they were. Ivar shrunk on himself when she reached the door, trying to make himself smaller than it was – an impossible task honestly. Ivar's Viking lineage was painfully obvious, he was broad and tall, not to mention a little boorish and ill-mannered when he was in a foul mood.

Speaking of tall Viking...

“Hvitserk!” Silje exclaimed incredulously when she opened the door. “Oh gods, it's you!”

They both laughed and hugged on the doorstep; the two siblings were happy to see each other to say the least.

“Hey little one,” he greeted her with a warm embrace and a kiss on top of her head. “Missed your stupid face.”

That was big brother language right there. It made Ivar snort slightly, causing Hvitserk to look up and see the stranger in his baby sister's apartment.

“Hey man,” Ivar took the lead and greeted the newcomer with a little hand gesture. Hvitserk let go of Silje and went to shake hands and give him a quick pat on the back – a much friendlier welcome than Ubbe's.

“I assume you're Ivar?” He asked and received a nod. “Yeah, I've... heard about you,” he said after a short hesitation, glancing at Silje.

“You have?” Ivar's eyebrow met his hairline while he shook hands with Silje's brother and made eye contact with her. “I can't imagine all the good stuff Silje must have told you about me.”

“What good stuff?” Silje sassed and joined the boys – she had to step between the two of them, this handshake had lasted way too long already. She turned her attention to her favourite brother.

“She tells me in our weekly calls that there's an infuriating parasite named Ivar living on her couch, and that he always beats her at board ga-” Hvitserk was interrupted in his sentence when Silje elbowed him in the stomach, making him bend in two.

“I did not say that!” She assured Ivar who didn't know what to say at this point. “Anyway, when did you come back?” She changed the subject and turned back to her brother, ignoring the daggers he glared at her. When his ego recovered from the blow his gaze softened.

“This morning. I crashed at Ubbe's after my night flight and I came here as soon as I woke up I wanted to surprise you,” Hvitserk told her and draped his arm over her shoulder, side hugging her. “Now will you offer your hungry brother something to eat or are we just going to stand there all night?”

It prompted a series of reactions ranging from protest to agreement but all in all they managed to find a solution even if Silje wasn't in the mood to play housewife with these two and Hvitserk insisted on having a celebration feast for his return to Copenhagen – they ordered pizza and Hvitserk was paying because he showed up unannounced, while Silje provided the beers. Ivar didn't utter a word during the siblings' negotiations but Silje knew that it made him uneasy. As soon as the order was placed she made sure to change the subject.

“So Ivar, now you have met the nicest of my brothers, I have to warn you that it can only go downhill from there,” she joked. “Is Sigurd back too?” She asked Hvitserk.

“He's coming back next week,” he told her. “And how am I the nicest? Have you met me?”

“Well you didn't try to crush my hand while shaking it, so there's that,” Ivar told him. “Though Ubbe sort of saved my ass so I feel like he's taking the lead in this race.”

“I'm buying pizza!” Hvitserk pointed out, his finger pointing at Ivar as he said it. “It counts for something, I'm reaching out here man.”

“Appreciated, though I gotta admit it's suspicious, in my personal experience no one hands out pizza for free.” Ivar's sentence made Hvitserk lean back against the couch and look at Silje.

“Suspicious? Sil do you believe this? Are you going to let him talk to your beloved brother like this?”

“You're totally weird, I'd be suspicious of you too if you weren't my brother.” Silje paused before sitting down and placing the beers on the coffee table. “Wait, I take that back. Actually I am suspicious of you especially because you're my brother.”

She held up her beer to cheer with the boys. Ivar was the first one to react, his infamous boyish grin that drove Silje crazy plastered on his face, and grabbed his beer, popping it open against the edge of the coffee table. The first time he saw Silje do this he was stunned. Girls usually were the first ones to shriek in indignation when someone tried to pull this off on their furniture. But she told him that teeth marks on the edge of a wooden table were the sign of good times.

Hvitserk's look of offence faded and finally grabbed his beer.

Skål!” They all said at the same time and drank together.

Out of habit, Ivar put her arm across the back on the couch behind Silje – that was just what happened when you live with someone, you start to get cosy. Hvitserk began to tell tales and funny stories about his time in the military, recounting the late evenings and dirty jokes between him and his fellow soldiers.

You look like the army type too, why don't you join?” He asked Ivar out of the blue. “It would be a good solution to your problem.”

My problem?” Ivar scoffed. “Yeah, whatever man. I guess Ubbe warned you before you came here?”

Actually no,” Silje cut in. “I told him, right after Jul. I have no secrets for Hvitserk.”

She could tell that Ivar wanted to protest but the surprised caused by her little confession bought them enough time to speak up again.

I don't care anyway,” Hvitserk assured him, shrugging and taking another sip of his beer. “Like, who's to judge? I've been homeless too once.”

Ivar's eyebrows disappeared under his hairline and though he didn't say anything, he leaned back and waited for them to elaborate on that – but not before shooting a glare at Silje, gently signifying her that a heads up would have been nice.

First weeks of university – before I dropped out to join ranks – there was some issue with the place where I was supposed to live, water damage of whatever,” he explained, fumbling with his beer. “I was already nervous about how to announce to my family that I wanted to drop out so I didn't want to give them another reason to worry and didn't tell them anything. So-” he stretched the syllable and glanced at Silje. “- I slept on the streets. It was only late August, it wasn't too cold and it wasn't too bad an experience all together, now that I look back on it.”

None of your siblings helped?” Ivar finally spoke.

I was sixteen and living with our parents,” Silje pointed out. “Not much I could do without raising suspicions.”

The others don't know, and I'd appreciate it if you could keep it to yourself,” Hvitserk confided, looking at his hands. “Silje is the only one I told, I was too embarrassed to ask the others for help. Besides we all had other things going on. Ubbe was still in military school, Sigurd was having his punk phase, Bjorn has a family.”

The important this is that everything worked out in the end! His landlord called him as soon as the damage was repaired and he moved in after four weeks of homelessness, and no one ever learned the truth!” Silje said cheerfully, obviously trying to pass a message to Ivar and his brooding self.

I'm serious about the army thing though!” Hvitserk insisted, not taking the hint when Ivar rolled his eyes.

Hvitserk, just drop it, it's none of yo-”

-none of my business, I know but think about it.” There was a relatively long silence after that and Ivar set his half drunk beer on the table before leaning back against the couch again, not uttering a word. “Hey, it- it's not a bad idea!” Hvitserk tried ease the tension in the air but failed and turned to his sister for help.

Dumbass!” Silje scolded her brother and smacked him upside the head.

I was trying to help!” He protested and rubbed his head.

Don't listen to him, Ivar. He's an idiot. A well-intentioned idiot, you have to forgive him, his mouth runs far ahead of his brain most of the time.” She was swift to elbow Hvitserk in the ribs when she saw him open his mouth, no doubt to complain about what she just said – even if it was true. The silence in the room grew thicker until Ivar decided to break it.

I thought about it, okay? I wanted to join the army,” he admitted just when Silje was about to lose her composure. Only this time she almost regretted the silence when he broke it, and she sat a little straighter than necessary, suddenly feeling all tense and uneasy.

Ivar kind of hated it when it was tense between Silje and him; they got along on most subjects and had light, entertaining conversations, but sometimes they bumped into a touchy subject. Her heart dropped a little – hearing that he was thinking about leaving without even telling her didn't sit well on her stomach.

Don't give me that look. I'm not going anywhere. I got rejected.”

It was Hvitserk's turn to stop Silje from asking more questions and he changed the subject. He complained about the pizza guy taking his time and turned on the TV to see, quote, 'what was happening in the world'. He had never had trouble making himself home wherever he went.

Silje told me you spend a lot of time working out, maybe we could hang out and exercise one of these days. I mean- I don't have a gym membership-” Ivar asked out of the blue, not particularly comfortable with the subject of money.

Relax, Ivar-” it was strange hearing his name coming out of Hvitserk's mouth. “I don't have a membership either, I run around the park, I do push up and pull ups in my apartment. No money for this shit, and what does a soldier do with a gym membership when he's gone for most of the year?”

Ivar smiled at that and the boys drank.

Hey, speaking of- how's Inge doing? Why didn't you sleep home?” Silje asked, nudging her brother. She was so relieved that they weren't threading on thin ice anymore – she could only handle so much sensitive talk. Ivar listened with great attention, frowning each time he heard something that intrigued him.

Inge is doing great,” he smiled as he told her, happy at the mere mention of her name. “She and the kids are at her parents' house this week, I wanna surprise them when they come home.”

The kids?” Ivar asked, not getting what this was all about. This guy was barely a year older than he was, surely he could not-

Hvitty here has two kids,” Silje confirmed his suspicions and it made him lean back and stare in shock. “You can be surprised yeah, he started pretty young.”

I'm literally sitting right next to you,” Hvitserk reminded them. “What can I say? I'm irresistible.”

More like insufferable! He couldn't keep it in his pants, is what happened,” Silje laughed, poking Hvitserk's cheek and making him roll his eyes.

Okay, enough about me,” Hvitserk decided, glaring at his sister and hoping against hope that she would get the message and stop embarrassing him. “Question!” He exclaimed and turned to Ivar. “Why do you have the exact same haircut as I usually have? Does she have anything to do with this?”

He dismissively nodded towards Silje as he spoke to Ivar who proceeded to tell him in extreme and exaggerated details how Silje forced him to sit still and threatened him of bodily harm while she cut his hair against his will. Hvitserk kept nodding in sympathy and ended up giving Ivar a compassionate pat on the back when he finished his twisted retelling of event. Then he pursed his lips and shook his head at his sister, giving her a look that she interpreted as 'you monster', faithful to his dramatic nature.

You two can't team up against me, I won't be disrespected in my own home!” Silje was quick to argue, pointing a warning finger at them both.

Or what?” Hvitserk provokingly asked her, sticking out his torso.

She'll make me sleep on the couch,” Ivar snickered in his bottle of beer with a smug little grin. His answer caused Hvitserk to choke on thin air and burst in laughter while Silje gave them the stink eye.

That's my man,” Hvitserk congratulated him, raising his hand for a fist bump.

The clock struck midnight by the time Hvitserk called it a day and decided to go home.

I would offer you to stay here tonight but the couch is already taken,” Silje said with a pout and an innocent shrug. Ivar who was leaning against the wall behind her smirked as Hvitserk rolled his eyes.

I'm not conservative Sil, I would let you sleep in the same bed as your boyfriend, you know,” he teased her, earning a punch that hurt more than he expected.

After that last joke – because Hvitserk Ragnarsson could not simply walk away without cracking one last dumb joke – he finally left with the promise to come by again and meet up with Ivar to work out and have some man talk. What even was that? Silje wondered. Boys talking about their preferred choice of condom brand? Endless conversations about monster trucks and beer?

He always knows exactly when to leave to avoid cleaning up,” Silje said to herself as soon as she closed the door behind her brother.

When she turned around most of the mess had already been taken care of by Ivar though, and she realized in this moment that this is what he did. Constantly overdoing everything in an attempt to pay her back for everything she does. She didn't even know what exactly she did for him, but it must be huge. More than simply giving him a place to sleep. She tried to tell him to leave it be until morning but he didn't want to sleep next to this mess, and Silje had to admit she wouldn't either. Instead, he told her to go to sleep if she was tired, but she shook her head.

After a few more attempts, Ivar convinced her to go to her room while he took care of everything – which Silje would never accept in normal circumstances, but she really was physically exhausted, as much as her mind was awake, her body was giving up on her and she needed to lie down. It wasn't long until she heard a soft knock on her door.

Come in,” Silje said, her eyes fixed on her laptop screen. When she looked up she saw that he changed into the sweatpants he slept in and was holding two steaming cups of what she guessed was tea. He held one up for her and she took it with gratitude. “Sweet!”

She was lying on her stomach across her bed and Ivar plopped down next to her, grabbing her laptop from her so she would stop browsing through her social media and pay attention to him.

Twitter, facebook, Instagram, my, my, who are you stalking?” He asked her.

No one that matters,” she sighed, holding her cup with both hands to warm up. “Hope tonight wasn't too much for you, if I knew Hvitserk was back I would have planned to meet up with him somewhere else.” Silje winced at the thought of all her overbearing brothers showing up one by one at her apartment without so much as a little heads up.

Nah, it felt good to speak to someone else,” Ivar said with a shrug, earning a slap on the shoulder.

Say it if I'm boring!” Silje exclaimed in fake outrage.

You're not boring, you're a girl,” Ivar told her, not realizing he was digging his own grave until she glare at him. “Not the best answer,” he decided. “I mean- you see... fuck it Silje, you know what I mean!”

Yeah but it's so much fun to watch you wriggle like that,” she said with a grin her face. “Did you want anything other than bring me tea and spy on my internet activity?”

Yeah- no- I just wanted to make sure that we're good. I know I became all snappy and stiff when your brother mentioned.... you know, my problem and the army thing.”

Speaking of-” Silje trailed off and sat up to face Ivar who had put her laptop on the floor and was now leaning against her gigantic pile of pillows. “-what happened exactly? I know it's none of my business, you can tell me to bug off if you don't want to talk about it, bu-”

You're rambling again,” Ivar pointed out, his smug smirk all over the place like every time he caught Silje in one of her awkward moments. “'s okay, I don't care. At this point I don't see why I would hide anything from you.”

Oh.” Silje paused for a second and then asked with the biggest smile, “Do I know all of you deepest, darkest secrets yet?”

Most I'd say. I'm keeping some of them so you don't get bored of me,” he laughed.

If there was one thing Silje noticed the last couple weeks, it was that Ivar was so much less angry than the first time they talked. Back in December he was bitter and mad at the world for the way it treated him. Now that his life had a bright side again, he smiled more, she didn't catch him frowning and glaring at the empty space every time he thought she wasn't looking.

Why didn't join the army, Ivar?” Silje asked him, sitting Indian style next to him.

I tried, almost as soon as I realized that I would be evicted. It was the easy way out and I'd always been an athletic person so I was sure it'd work.” He shrugged. Another thing Silje noticed about him was that he never shrugged when something wasn't a big deal, she learned to see it as the sign that, on the contrary, it was a major deal to him.

Got rejected?” She guessed, Ivar nodded in response. “Why?”

That's the tricky part,” he said, suddenly embarrassed and avoiding Silje's eyes. “Try not to freak out.”

Okay.”

Say it,” he insisted.

I won't freak out,” Silje vowed, raising her right hand like they did in court on American TV.

Ivar hesitated. Whatever he was about to blurt out must not be something he liked to talk about or wanted people to know. Every second of silence worried Silje a little more but she promised she wouldn't freak out.

Because of my legs. They were fucked up way before I got beat up.” He saw Silje open her mouth, no doubt ready to fire a bunch of questions he did not want to answer so he gave her a short version to satisfy her curiosity, for now at least. “It's my bones, they are too weak. Even if I had money or insurance it's fucking incurable.”

What kinda shit karma do you have?!” Silje burst out, nearly spilling over both of their cups of tea – a first degree burn was the last thing Ivar needed. Then she breathed slowly to try and collect herself. “Weak how?”

Weak like they don't heal as well as most people's. Weak as in going to the gym or for a run is fine but participating in a several days trek in the wilderness while carrying over 60 pounds worth of military gear is not.”

What about your knee then?”

What about it?”

Well, are you going to be okay? Is it healing all right or have you been withholding information? If you don't want to tell me that's fine, but at least tell Ubbe,” Silje reprimanded him, giving him a scolding glare.

She could understand that admitting to her, of all people, that he was in tremendous pain could be a blown to his ego – however stupid it was to place one's ego over one's health – and she knew that Ivar was proud and liked to appear as strong. Silje knew it wasn't just a façade and that he was one of the strongest person she had ever met, but he felt the constant need to prove himself anyway. However, someone needed to know and help him, and if he was too prideful to tell her then he had to go to her brother and current doctor since he still didn't want to go to the hospital.

What on earth would it change if I whined to you all the time?” He snarled, shrugging again.

Fuck you, Ivar! How many times will I have to tell you that I do not pity you?!”

Oh c'mon, you're whole demeanour screams 'oh poor little Ivar',” he replied.

His voice was calm and steady, he didn't say it with any malice but what hurt the most that that he didn't realize how hurtful it was to her. Silje had done nothing to let him think that she took pity on him, not once during all the weeks he spent living with her and that was how she was rewarded? Mistrust? Disdain?

I don't wanna talk about this with you, okay? Enough with all the pitying me, I can't stand it.”

This struck a nerve and Silje could feel her right brow twitch in anger.

Get outta here!” Silje tried to push him off her bed but it was about as successful as trying to move a brick wall.

Hey, hey, calm down! I didn't mean it like that!” Ivar protested. “Don't be angry, I'm the one who should be angry, not you.”

Oh but I'm not angry,” Silje told him in bad faith. “I'm tired, I want to sleep now so get out.”

No.”

What do you mean no? I said get your ass out of my bedroom!”

Don't be mad. I'm sorry if I offended you,” Ivar tried to make peace.

Apologies accepted,” Silje snapped and grabbed the nearest book to pretend she was busy and to show she was done with him. “Now leave.”

You're still mad at me I can hear it. I can't leave if you're still mad.”

Sure you can. You stand up, walk out, and close the door behind you,” she instructed, her eyes not leaving the book in her hands. Gods help her, she didn't even know what book she had grabbed, much less what the page her eyes were set on was about.

Ivar ignored her attempt at being a smart-ass, and shifted on her bed to move closer to her, his hands running through is freshly cut hair as usual when he was nervous. It was a lot better now, Silje hadn't lied when she told him that she knew what she was doing. She allowed him to keep his hair rather long. He now sported a clean undercut and went to his job interviews with a man bun. She teased him for being a hipster.

Silje,” he said, gently removing the book from her hands. He could tell she was angry and hurt and not in the mood so he did what he promised himself he wouldn't do: he dropped the subject. This required a change of strategy.

I already told Ubbe,” he confessed in a sigh, and saw Silje's eyes drift to him for a split second before going to her lap now that she didn't have her book anymore – which she had been holding upside down.

Oh?” That shut Silje's mouth faster than he expected.

So now we forget about this and we move on to something a little less depressing. Also there's no reason why you should always be the one asking all the questions.”

Her jaw clenched and unclenched, her eyes set on him as if trying to read his mind – she must have liked what she found because she shrugged and said a low little, “fire away.”

Your brother has a wife and kids?”

She fought back the smile that threatened to split her face and put tremendous effort into glaring at him instead of giving in to her good mood. She was mad at him, she couldn't be smiling just because he mentioned Hvitserk's family.

He has a fiancée and kids,” she corrected him. Upon seeing the astonishment on his face, she added, “Yeah, I know it's crazy. Can you even imagine having a family at his age?” Silje gave in rather easily. If possible, she always tried to not go to bed mad at someone so she might as well try and forget their argument.

God no, I can't even imagine owning a plant right now,” Ivar chuckled. “How did it even happen?”

Well-” Silje started, a look of mischief painted on her face. “When two people liked each other very much, they-”

Not that, gods Silje!” Ivar protested, nudging her and making her laugh though he almost spilled his drink on her bed.

Okay then, he was in High School, always quite the charmer. I mean, you met him so you can easily imagine now. Anyway, he had a girlfriend back then, Inge, bless her soul she still puts up with him, and he got her pregnant during senior year. Our parents were out of their minds,” Silje kept on filling in Ivar without any consideration for Hvitserk's privacy.

To be fair, she would have told this story earlier, while her brother was sandwiched between Ivar and her if he hadn't interrupted her.

It was really hard in the beginning, especially when he lived in the streets for a few weeks, his girlfriend pregnant and living with her parents still. He had a bit of trouble convincing them that he would make a good father to their grandchild. Now six years later they are still together, they have two little boys, and he still hasn't made her an honest woman.”

So what you're saying is that in order to be a respectable member of society, a woman has to be married?” Ivar teased her, making her blush in anger.

She should have seen this one coming, she made a poor choice of words. Ensued a ten minutes argument that Silje won eventually.

How old are they?” Ivar asked to change the subject.

Six and two. Boys,” she told him. “I think... I think Hvitserk is going to leave the army.”

This caught his attention, as did the worried crease barring her forehead. Ivar turned his chest to better look at her. They were now both lying next to each other on her bed, their arms touching.

Why are you saying that?”

Now that Ubbe is a civilian again and doing fine, I think he's considering it. I know that he barely sees his boys, he feels terrible about going away all the time, he's hardly home anymore, he doesn't see them grow up like a dad should. And he misses Inge, maybe even more than she does him. I tease him all the time about his not being married, but he might actually grow a pair and pop the question too.”

Do I get to be your plus one at the wedding reception?”

Ivar! If I didn't know better I'd think you're using me to get free food!”

If being homeless taught me one thing, it's that you never know when your next meal will be,” he tried to convince her by using his old wise man voice, but Silje's eyebrow merely had a tremor as she glared at him, half amused, half dismayed. “And I want to see your brothers' faces when they see us together.”

Oh Ivar,” Silje cooed this time, placing a hand on his arm and rubbing soothingly. “There are less painful ways to go if you want to finish yourself off.”

He let out a dry laughter and grumbled something about this no being funny, though Silje was pretty sure it was very funny - at least it was to her. Ivar pretended to sulk and turned his back to her but Silje was having none of it and poked his side and nudged him until he gave in and turned back around, facing her once again. She promised him his favourite cake if he stopped frowning and so the conversation was back on track

For an hour or so it went on and on, the discussion moving from one subject matter to another, their voices growing faint and sleepy. Nonetheless Ivar and Silje fought to keep their eyes open, until one of them finally gave in to their exhaustion and the other one gladly followed. Neither of them found it difficult to fall asleep huddled against one another on Silje's bed – in fact, it would be the best night's sleep they had in a while.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ivar seemed to ponder if he should just pick her up and move her away from the door. He knew he could, but was it the wisest thing to do? Probably not if the look she was giving him was any indication of how mad she would become. Yet his conscience told him he should stop her.

Let me pass, Ivar! I'll be late!” Silje insisted for the third time in under ten minutes. Her foot was tapping on the floor, filling the air with a steady tac tac tac that only got Ivar more fidgety. “Today, Ivar!”

I can't let you do that, Sil,” he sighed, almost – almost – looking sorry.

But not nearly sorry enough for Silje to overlook his blatant attempt at patronizing her. He was no boss of her, in fact, she was the one in a position of authority as long as he lived under her roof. Ugh, I sound like my parents , she thought. Her morals forbade her to remind him of that because it was beneath her to use his homelessness against him, but she wasn't about to let him dictate her behaviour.

The hell you will,” she scoffed, glancing at her phone. “I'm not asking your permission, I'm telling you.”

I have a bad feeling about this.” Ivar winced. When Silje rolled her eyes at him, obviously not taking him seriously, Ivar's hands landed on her shoulders to make her look at him. “I told you several times that I thought he was shady, why do you insist on going out with this dude?”

Because I want to,” she protested, growing more and more annoyed every time he made her repeat herself. They had been over this conversation so many times now. “Not that I need to justify my choices to you!”

Why do you act like I'm the bad guy in this situation? I'm not trying to poop on your party, I'm looking out for you,” Ivar kept on arguing, still not moving from between Silje and the door.

He considered picking her up and carrying her to her room more and more seriously every passing second. She could unleash her fury on him if it made her feel better, he didn't care much about that. As long as she didn't go on this stupid date with this weirdo who hit on her on tinder.

How about you stop pretending you care about my safety and we start addressing the real issue,” Silje barked at him. All colours left Ivar's face in a flicker beat. “It's been nice hanging out with you and being all buddy-buddy, but this apartment is tiny and we're constantly stepping on each other's toes. It's stifling! I need to go out, see other people, and I also need a good shag. Here, I said it, now if you'll excuse me-” Silje didn't give Ivar the time to fully process what she just told him and quickly squeezed by while he was gaping at her.

She was out of the door before Ivar even blinked. When it dawned on him, Ivar cursed out loud and kicked in the back of the couch, hurting his foot in the process but beyond caring. This wasn't how he imagined this conversation to go. The outcome of their conversation was miles away from what he had hoped for – Ivar was going more towards a 'this guy isn't right for you, stay here with me and I'll make you feel special like he never will'.

He wanted to break something but he knew he couldn't just destroy her place, that would be a huge deal breaker and he'd be back in the streets in the blink of an eye. Though in the end it wasn't the thought of being kicked out that made him calm down and pick up his phone instead of gutting the couch cushions – it was the thought of disappointing her. Silje had bet so much on him, she gave him all the tools to make a better like for himself, who was he to destroy all her efforts?

Some time went by since Ivar met Hvitserk. Since then they had begun to exercise together, mostly jogging around the park, or going out for a beer once Ivar received his first pay check. A great moment, he hadn't been in this good a mood in forever. Silje smacked him upside the head when he came home with a huge bouquet of flowers for her. Apparently this wasn't a wise way to spend hard earned money but Ivar couldn't think of a better way.

Hey man,” Hvitserk greeted Ivar on the phone. “What's up? It's a bit late for a run.”

Yeah, sorry, Silje's out on a date and- well I guess I'm bored,” he served him a blatant lie. Ivar should have thought about what he was going to tell Hvitserk before ringing him but he acted impulsively.

Yeah, sure.” Hvitserk sounded everything but convinced. “I- euh, I can't really go out right now, I promised Inge I would cook tonight, but you're welcome to join.”

How's your cooking?” Ivar asked, rather amused at the thought of Hvitserk in an apron.

It's fucking fantastic, I'll put my sister's cooking to shame, you'll never want to go back,” he assured him, not sounded one bit offended at Ivar's question.

Ivar heard a distant voice yell something about not swearing in front of the kids, and he laughed. He never met Inge before, but Hvitserk couldn't shut up about her and the kids, so he felt like he knew her.

Alright, I'll be there.”

I'll text you the address, just jump on the B-Train, it's the quickest way here,” he told him before hanging up.

When it was done, Ivar stared at his brand new phone for a little while, contemplating his choices. He acted impulsively, maybe he should have taken a second to think it through before inviting himself at Hvitserk's place, but now it was too late. Yet he couldn't help but worry about Silje, about this random stranger she was having a date with. What if she needed him? What if she came home early because it went wrong, and Ivar wasn't there?

Before these intrusive thoughts made him change his mind, Ivar strangled them and got ready. He put on his shoes, coat, and grabbed his double of the keys, holding them tight in his fist until it hurt.

What was she doing on Tinder anyway?

 

*

 

So, I hear you're pretty bummed out about Silje going on a date with someone that isn't you. I hope it didn't make you lose your appetite though, because Hvitserk cooked enough for a whole regiment.”

Those were the very first words Inge told Ivar after the introductions were made by a very busy Hvitserk leaning over the stove, a napkin thrown across his shoulders. Words eluded him as he searched for someone adequate to answer, so Ivar stared blankly at the girl standing in front of him. Inge was shorter than Silje, but then again Silje was quite tall. A charismatic woman from what he could tell; she filled the room with her presence and her warm, teasing smile. She had light brown skin and jet black hair that contrasted visibly with the two blond heads running around the apartment. With a single word Inge had them standing in line, and she shooed them off to the bathroom to make them wash their hands.

I might be in the military but she's the General around here,” Hvitserk told Ivar as soon as they were alone in the kitchen. “Now tell me what's going on with my sister, what has she gotten herself into?”

A tinder date,” Ivar sighed, leaning against the counter where a steaming pot of rice stood. “With some kinda jackass.”

Hvitserk laughed and said, “A real jackass or a jackass because he's hitting on Sil?” When he saw Ivar open his mouth briefly and hesitate, he added, “I won't beat you up for liking her, you know? You're a nice guy, and frankly I think she'd kick my ass into oblivion if I touched you.”

Sounds like her. Makes you wonder how a girl who looks so innocent can actually be so tyrannical,” he chuckled, quickly joined by Hvit.

Speak for yourself, I've know her my whole life and I don't think there's a sliver of innocence in that girl,” he replied with a snort. “Grab the plates over there and dress the table, will you?” He instructed Ivar before resuming their conversation. “Like, just between us, be honest, do you think there's a single other girl out there who's in her early twenties and lives on her own, who would invite a homeless person in their home? No, there isn't. Silje stubbornly believes that there is good in each and everyone of us, and she acts accordingly.”

Ivar silently dressed the table, not daring to interrupt his friend who was unusually talkative tonight.

One day when we were kids she brought home a friend from school – nothing weird about that, right? Wrong. She saw his parents yell at him and his mum slap him, so the next day after school she simply brought him home and told our parents that he would be living with us from now on.”

It sounded so much like Silje that Ivar had no doubt that everything about this story was true.

The kid's parents were worried out of their minds and ready to sue us for kidnapping. But Silje - you know how she is, you said yourself that she looked innocent – charmed them with her blond hair and big eyes. She was always like this. Always got her way.”

Still does,” Ivar grumbled to himself, thinking of their earlier conversation – or rather argument, because that's what it was, he had to admit it.

When she got into college and told our parents she wanted to move out, they just said alright, and helped her get settled. I remember when I wanted to get my own place, they made such a fuss out of it, telling me I was too young, worrying about stupid little details like the fact that I'd never done my own laundry.”

But weren't you homeless for like a month after you moved out?” Ivar pointed out.

Beside the point, man!” Hvitserk splashed some water on Ivar for his comment. “The point is that our parents never doubted for a second that she could handle herself, even though she was the youngest and a girl. Now, I get that you don't like her being on a booty-date with a stranger, but I wouldn't be too worried if I were you, if he misbehaves she'll put him back in his place.”

A more comfortable silence settled between them as Ivar let the information sink in and thought it over. Hvitserk didn't say anything else and finished preparing the food. They could hear laughter coming from the bathroom, a clear indication that the boys decided that washing their hands wasn't as fun as having a water fight.

What's a booty-date exactly?” Ivar wondered out loud, causing a roaring laughter to erupt next to him.

It's when you go on a date only for the booty,” Hvitserk finally answered when he stopped laughing.

And as if on cue, Inge walked back into the kitchen, her shirt somewhat wet, and followed her steps entered the two youngest Ragnarssons of the family tree, twice as wet as their mum but smiling ear to ear.

Now you're all wet, serves you well for acting like dummies,” she told them, picking up the youngest to place him in his chair.

They will stain their clothes with food anyway, no need to change them before dinner,” Hvitserk told her and placed a quick kiss on top of her head and smiled.

Inge's stern expression disappeared and she smiled back. In this moment, Ivar was blown away by the amount of love in this room, and he felt terribly excluded from this feeling.

 

*

 

He promised himself that he wouldn't stay at Hvitserk's place too long, just in case Silje was home early, but in the end it was well past eleven when they left the table – though the children went to bed way earlier than that. And by the time Ivar reached the apartment it was almost half past. He nearly ran the last kilometre; for some reason the idea that Silje was already home, alone, did not sit well on his stomach. It was ridiculous, she was home, she had been living alone for years before he showed up, but he still hated that he left without telling her.

Throughout dinner, Ivar had checked his phone so many times Inge said something – he couldn't remember her exact words but he clearly remembered blushing furiously while Hvitserk laughed. No messages, no missed calls. Surely if there had been the slightest problem she would have tried to reach out, right? Or maybe he wasn't her emergency contact after all. They might live together but he probably came way after her brothers, though Ivar was positive Hvitserk would have told him if she had messaged him.

There was simply no use in thinking about this any harder, therefore Ivar ran, and by the time he was at the front door of their building he was out of breath – he never ran this fast when he jogged around the park with Hvit. His knee felt a little wobbly when he climbed the stairs two steps at a time, and the thought of getting reprimanded by Silje for doing so made him smile – good, now he was getting masochistic.

The second he opened the door and saw that the apartment was plunged in darkness, he felt stupid. Of course she was not here. She was somewhere with this dude, having a good shag. Why did he even bother worrying? As Hvitserk said, she can handle her own. And today she proved him that she didn't see him as a potential shag anyway. What did he even think about that? He felt it was too late now, but he regretted not stifling those blossoming feelings he had for her when they were still fresh and new.

He would just have to live with it now, right next to her, with no possibility of escaping her contagious smile and delicious tea with a spoonful of honey. With a sigh, Ivar rubbed his eyes and headed straight for the bathroom – he was in need of a shower, a very cold shower to put his thoughts in order. No sooner had he closed the door behind him, a bunch of memories flooded back in his mind. The first time he set foot in here, his first and most memorable shower in years. The warm water, the soft towels, the fruity shampoo. To this day he still used her shower gel and shampoo – for one because he didn't have enough money to spend it on something so trivial, who cared if he smelled like coconut or pomegranate? And for two, he loved the idea of having this one piece of her with him. They both led busy lives what with Silje's classes and Ivar's job and constant new job interviews, or his exercise sessions with Hvitserk; some days they only saw each other a few minutes before one of them passed out early, too tired to have a conversation. Therefore Ivar had learned to appreciate the lingering smell of women's shampoo.

The water needed a minute or so to get warm – he had already given up the idea of a cold shower – so Ivar turned on the tap and stripped out of his clothes. Every time he was in this room he was overwhelmed by a wage of gratitude, humbled, and reminded of a darker time. It was a light room, the white tiles of the floor and the walls reflecting the neons on the ceiling, yet he felt this grey cloud looming over his head whenever he stepped inside the bathroom. The urge to cry hit him, for no other reason than the burning memory of his first warm shower, and the infinite gratefulness he felt toward Silje.

Maybe that was it, maybe he was simply grateful. Could it be that he mistook it for love? He didn't know anymore. When he was sick of the swirling of his own thoughts dizzying him, Ivar stepped into the bathtub and let the water wash them away. Under the shower head, it didn't matter whether he cried or not, for it would all go down the drain.

The front door slammed shut, making him slip and nearly fall in the tub – no doubt that would have done some further damage to his already broken body. He didn't need another reason to be yelled at. Rushing around to get out of the shower quickly, Ivar shampooed and rinses in a record time because clumsily getting out and dry, hopping into his sweat pants and a clean-smelling shirt, only to burst in the living room and finding it empty and still in the dark.

Only he knew he wasn't alone this time.

Silje?” He called, but she did not answer.

The odds of a burglar entering in the apartment and slamming the door behind him were very slim, so Ivar decided Silje must be ignoring him. It was ten past midnight, and she came storming into the apartment and straight to her room. Something was amiss. He knocked on her door, not daring to enter without permission.

Silje, is everything okay?”

Of course not! What was he even asking! What do you say to a girl when she's furious? He had no fucking idea how to calm down an angry Silje.

Open the door,” he requested, making sure not to sound authoritarian – he learned from experience that ordering Silje to do something had the opposite effect. “Please, I just want to know you're fine.”

The door opened so abruptly Ivar – he was leaning against it to hear what was going on, in a true creep fashion – almost stumbled inside the room. Silje harboured a deep frown, she looked upset, sullen, and ready to kill a man. Ivar was hoping not to be that person.

I'm fine, now leave me be!”

As before he could place a word in, she shut the door in his face. This time, Ivar heard the familiar thud of a person leaning against a door, and he did not push her to open again. She needed a little time to cry without anyone seeing her, though he was not going anywhere.

I'll stay here,” he told her in a lower voice. Gods, what on earth happened to put her in such a state of distress? Hvitserk's words still echoed in his mind. “Until you're ready to talk.”

I don't wanna talk!”

Ivar smirked to himself. Yes, she did.

I take it your date didn't go too smoothly?” He asked, trying to belittle the severity of the situation with a little euphemism. It was the wrong thing to do.

Fuck off!” She yelled back, hitting the door. “This is none of your concern, you're not my dad, you're not one of my brothers! Just leave it alone, I want to be alone!”

Her tongue said one thing and her tone of voice another. Ivar knew it was dangerous to read between the lines like he did, but he decided to trust his guts and stay no matter what she said. If this bastard on tinder dared lift a finger on her he's a dead man. If Ivar didn't find him first then Silje's overprotective soldier brothers would find him instead. Anger flared inside Ivar in a way he had not experienced since she took him off the streets. He had always been temperamental, but the gods have mercy on whoever hurt someone he loved.

He had never heard her speak to him like this, his sweet Silje, always kind, always smiling and seeing the bright side. He felt as though the person who took that happiness out of her – even momentarily – was a criminal of some sort for taking this away from her.

I'm not trying to be one of your brothers, Silje,” he told her, feeling his own temper flare up but trying to keep an even tone. “And I will not tattle-tale to Hvitserk, you have my word.”

Why are you even mentioning Hvitserk?”

Ivar bit his tongue. Shit, he messed up already.

Ivar! Why are you talking about Hvitserk?” Silje repeated, flinging the door open once again. A few tears welled up in her eyes and her make up was running a bit, but she was holding up fine.

I had dinner with him and Inge, I may have mentioned that you were out on a date...” He admitted, smartly reasoning that if he came clean now it won't come back to bite him in the ass.

Silje flinched, her left eye had a slight tremor though maybe Ivar had imagined it. She stood very still and visibly tried to stay calm and collected – and failed.

You what?” She asked in a dangerously low and threatening whisper.

Sudden it hit Ivar that she might really kick him out, if only for one night, if he didn't manage to make this better. Somehow this conversation had started with him wanting to comfort her after a date that obviously went wrong, and now he was the one being grilled.

You had no right to do that!” She snapped, raising her voice and hitting him in the chest. “So now you're just walking around, all buddy-buddy with my brother and telling him my whereabouts like a little snitch?!”

Why are you saying that? No! Of course not! I only mentioned it-”

Oh, you only mentioned that I was on a date, to my brother, a few minutes after I told you to mind your own business and left my apartment?”

My apartment. She hadn't said that in weeks.

Gods, I forgot how annoying you can be when you're in a bad mood!” Ivar exclaimed, fed up with being accused wrongly. The blond girl was surprised by his outburst but did her best not to show it and lifted up her chin. “Stop twisting around everything I say just because it gives you a reason to be mad at me! I get it, okay? You had a shit night, you're angry and you need someone to blame! And I just so happen to live with you, how convenient!”

You fucking shut up!” She started yelling when he wasn't even finished speaking. “Do not minimize my being angry at you and blame it on my shitty night, ! Just because I was already angry when I got home doesn't mean that I cannot get angrier because of you! It's not your place to tell anyone about my love life... or sex life... or my life,” she stuttered out the end, her face turning uncharacteristically red from either indignation or embarrassment.

Her pointer finger poked Ivar's chest and he could feel her nail dig in but did not move a muscle.

By the gods, I didn't mean any arm, it's not like I called your brother to gossip about you, I just didn't want to spend the night alone here,” Ivar raised his hands towards the sky and rolled his eyes at her – which didn't help calming her down. “I could be mad too! You look like a fucking mess, what even happened tonight?! I was worried out of my mind because you were somewhere out there with a stranger, and now you come back looking like this, without a word of explanation?! Why didn't you call, for fuck's sake!”

A loud clatter of metal against tiles startled Silje and she jumped back a little. In a fit of bad temper he had kicked the trash can.

Sorry, sorry-” he immediately apologized when he realized he had scared her, his voice returning to his normal, quieter tone.

He ran a hand through his wet hair, out of frustration. He didn't even have a remote idea of what he should say, of what she wanted, or needed to hear. There she stood, straight and still, as if she was too afraid of his outburst to dare move. Of all the things that could have gone wrong tonight, he did not consider the fact that she might become afraid of him a possibility. A quick glance towards her told him that she was on edge and ready to either stab him with the butter knife that still laid on the kitchen counter, at arm's length, or collapse and cry.

What she did was a lot worse. In the end, she refused to meet his eyes, walked past him, taking care to bump forcefully in his shoulder to show her discontent, and walked in the bathroom. Without a single word or glance.

He lost track of time after that, and did not bother checking his phone to see how late it was. Either only two minutes had gone by, or two hours, and he couldn't tell which he'd prefer. At first he heard water running in the bathroom, and supposed Silje must be running a bathe, but it was a while ago. A very long while ago, he could tell it had been too long, even without checking what time it was.

S-” he started when he stood in front of the bathroom door.

But he stopped and bit down on his bit. He heard something. Faint but easily recognizable. She was crying. Ivar sighed and rubbed his face with both hands and pushed his hair back. He probably needed to shave, and his hair was getting too long again. A small smile pulled at the corner of his lips at the thought that he really had to reconcile with Silje, otherwise she would scalp him with the scissors. Remaining quiet, Ivar listened a minute or two, and when it was clear that she had been alone in crying for what felt like hours in there, he sighed again, and knocked.

Silje,” he called her name softly. The quiet sobs stopped.

What do you want?” She asked, her voice betraying her state of agitation.

Can I come in?” He asked. There was a long silence. “I won't look, I promise.”

Silje had helped Ivar get in the tub every day for weeks during in recovery, thus there was a point where they agreed that they had nothing to hide from each other anymore, they were there .

Whatever,” she eventually mumbled, and he knew this was the closest he would get to a yes.

Ivar sneaked into the room and quickly closed the door. Silje was sitting in the tub, her arms wrapped around her knees and her hair falling down her back. She didn't look up when he cleared his throat, so Ivar decided to sit down, back to the door and wait until she was ready to talk.

What now? What's your plan?” She scoffed after a minute of awkward silence. A novelty – silence was never awkward between them.

Do you want me to talk first, or are you ready to tell me what happened tonight?” He asked, ignoring her question that was obviously only meant to fill the thickening silence.

It made his stomach upset when he thought what might have gone down at her date, but it was worse not to know. However upsetting, he wanted to know. Sadness ensnared his heart when he realized that they both had the same idea by coming to the bathroom and hide their tears behind the water of their shower.

Please, tell me. I'm going mad, here,” Ivar added playfully, if only to make her smile.

After all the anger, all the rage she had directed at him earlier, it seemed that Silje was drained of all her energy, and as soon as her glossy blue eyes looked up from the wall and met his, a dam broke in her. Before she could open her mouth her shoulders began to shake, and when she finally said something, Ivar could not make anything out of it. Choked out words in between sobs came out, but Silje breathed heavily and crying with her face buried in her arms.

Ivar didn't mind not understanding, it was progress, and whatever it was that she cried out, she simply needed to get it out, she would recount him later when she felt better.

He moved over to the bathtub and leaned there to be closer to her, and to his utmost astonishment, she actually grabbed his hand when he put it on the edge of the tub.

I'm so sorry,” she cried out. “I was so mean to you, I didn't mean to-” she sobbed, and in an attempt to wipe away her tears with her hand only managed to wet it more.

She smiled weakly when she realized how pointless the action had been, and it warmed Ivar's heart to see it. They had both handled the situation terribly, they had to admit it. Anger always took precedence over the other emotions when it showed its face, but it was never the right attitude to adopt. Knowing this did not make it easier to avoid it.

I shouldn't have told Hvitserk, I'm sorry. I was upset after you left and it just came out.” It was true, he hadn't meant to make it the main conversation topic of the evening, but once the information was out there, Hvitserk and Inge wouldn't let it go. Not that she needed to know all about her brother and his girlfriend teasing Ivar for being jealous. “You know, if you want me to I can catfish the jackass that made you cry and beat him up, it would be my pleasure I assure you.”

This time she laughed and rested her cheek in the palm of her hand, one elbow leaning on the edge of the tub.

I'll think about it, but thanks for the offer,” she replied, with her usual playfulness. Her smile was almost instantly replaced by a more serious expression. “I meant what I said, about being sorry. Not just about what I said to you before, but also about the things I told you before leaving.”

Nah, you don't need to apologize for that. I get it, it's your place, it was never meant to be for two people, it can be a little cramped in here,” he dismissed her worries with a little wave of the hand but Silje didn't look like she would let it go.

No, really.” She tightened her grip on his hand. “I'm glad you're with me, and I got unjustly upset when you were merely worried about me.”

Stop apologizing, woman!” Ivar said, splashing water on her. Silje's mouth opened in stunned surprise before she almost returned the favour, only to freeze a second before.

I'm only sparing you because you just showered, and because I don't wanna mop the floor tonight,” she told him with a warning finger pointed in his direction.

When they fell into silence again it was not bizarrely tense this time. For a minute or two, they simply enjoyed each other's calming presence and listened to the water clap with each of Silje's movements. Ivar spotted her clothes in a pile under the sink. She had showered right before going on her date, and she had made an effort. Silje had put on a pretty dress, heels, spent more time on her make up, did her nails, and wore rings and a bracelet. All those little things she did not do on a daily basis, despite being a bit of a princess, as she called herself sometimes. Silje liked to look good and proper, she enjoyed the feel of soft, quality fabric, and the weight of big earrings dangling from her ears, but even so she had not deemed it enough for a date, and levelled it up a notch. Over the months, Ivar had noticed how she would be in a bad mood for the entire day if the outfit she took care and time to put together didn't get the attention she thought it deserved. It was ridiculous, and they both knew it, but Silje didn't deny being a little vain, and could not help it. She once told him that it wasn't the worst of the seven deadly sins, and he couldn't disagree.

Seeing the remnants of her outfit piled up without any care gave Ivar the odd impression of seeing a master piece tossed aside, along with the brushes, and the palette, because the artist decided it was no good.

Ivar, will you wash my hair?” Silje asked him in a small voice, as if she thought he might refuse.

As if he could refuse her anything. He instructed her to change position and grabbed their shared lemon & basil shampoo, whose fruity smell only brought forth happy thoughts. He took his time in washing it carefully, massaging her scalp and not forgetting any stray strand. He repeated the operation a second time, and when he was done, Silje was almost asleep in the bathe. The water had been cold for a long time now, and Silje's fingertips all wrinkly.

Could you fetch me something comfortable to wear? I didn't take anything with me,” she asked, right when he was about to leave to give her some privacy as she got out of the tub.

Sure, which drawer?”

A quick indication and ten seconds later there was a pile of clean clothes next to the door. This brought her back to Juleaften , when Ivar was the one showering, and she brought him a fresh set of clothes to change into. How tables have turned. The clothes her chose were perfect, baggy and comfortable, the exact opposite of her date outfit. This one nearly swallowed her whole Sometimes she wondered if Ivar could read her mind, because there was no way he knew her that well. Silje never talked about herself, she never mentioned things like her favourite colour, flowers, or dish, yet he always seemed to know, somehow .

Ah!” Silje yelped in surprise when she swung the door open, ready to step out but ended up face to face with Ivar, who had decided to wait for her right outside the bathroom door, hands in his pockets, balancing his weight on the balls of his feet.

Feeling better?” He asked, a faint but playful smirk teasing the corner of his lips, as if he tried to suppress it.

Silje smiled back and gave him a friendly shove, showing him she was alright – the crisis was over, mostly thanks to his infinite patience with her. He shot her a toothy grin and scratched the back on his neck, no doubt searching for something to say. Silje's right hand distractedly rubbed her left arm, and she wondered how she would get out of telling Ivar what exactly happened tonight. It wasn't as bad as she made it look, and she would soon get over it, but it didn't mean that she wanted to re-live it.

She didn't think twice about hugging Ivar, suddenly feeling the urge to reassure both him and herself. It was unexpected but he welcomed it, after the first second of shock, Silje felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her shoulders and hold her tight. One thing she really liked about being tall was that she could bury her nose in the crook of his neck without forcing him to bend down. They were the perfect height for each other – Silje didn't linger on that thought though, and quickly shook it off. He smelled good, he smelled like her shower gel, and it made her smile against his skin.

Ivar closed his eyes and let her snuggle him as long as she needed for he didn't mind one bit. For some reason it only hit him now that she was safe and sound. Even though she had been with him in the apartment for a few hours now, he realized he hadn't believed she was fine until this moment, until he could hold her, feel how warm and soft she was. He might have gone slightly overboard with his constant worrying, perhaps Hvitserk was right after all – she was solid, unbroken, she was there . The thought that he was possibly currently squeezing the living daylight out of her occurred to him, but not once did she complain or seem ill at ease, on the contrary, she tightened her hold on him too. She was holding onto him, and refused to let go, he realized.

Silje was still breathing in Ivar's familiar and reassuring scent when she thought she felt him plant a kiss to her head. His light stubble tickled her in the neck, and she felt his every breath. The steady movement of his chest along with the faint hammering of his heart calmed her down. She knew she had to release him from her grip at some point but instead of growing awkward, it was only getting harder and harder to let go the longer their hug lasted.

Where she found the will and the strength she did not know, but Silje eventually pulled back.

Thank you for not saying 'I told you so',” she laughed, not quite convincing him. “I must admit you were right about this guy, he was a jackass. Maybe next time I will listen to you.”

Maybe? Next time ?

Though I think I will delete this stupid app, it's not like I'll find a boyfriend on Tinder or anything,” she snickered, looking away and sniffling a little. “I'm making tea, do you want some?”

She didn't wait for an answer and immediately went to her kitchenette and turned on the electric kettle, always filled with water, ready for use. It seemed that she mostly wanted a reason to look somewhere else than Ivar's soul-searching gaze.

I thought you weren't looking for something serious,” he eventually said, trying to find an elegant way to rephrase 'looking for a good shag'. “Let me do this, get your butt on the couch,” he instructed her when she almost dropped a mug on the kitchen floor.

He expected Silje to glare at him and tell him to shove it, but she complied without arguing, a testimony to her current state of being. While the water boiled, Ivar pulled out a small pot and a few ingredients she couldn't see from where she was huddled on the couch, squeezing a cushion to her chest – a poor replacement for Ivar's hugs.

What are you doing?” She asked after two minutes.

It's a surprise, you be warm and snuggle your pillow. I'm taking charge of everything. Don't get used to it though, starting from tomorrow I'll go back to being the annoying parasite and you the model housewife.”

Ivar set two mugs of tea on the coffee table – which was actually the dinner table too because it was the only table they had – and Silje grabbed hers so fast he feared she would spill it over and burn herself. Only she could grab a steaming cup of tea and cradle it to her chest without scorching her hands. She also washed the dishes in steaming hot water, and once grabbed a plate out of the oven with her bare hands – while Ivar almost shrieked, astounded as to how she didn't feel how hot it was. At the time she shot him an award winning smile and told him something silly like 'Fire cannot kill the dragon', meaning that to this day he still didn't have the tiniest bit of clue as to how she did it.

I am not your housewife,” Silje grumbled in her tea cup, squinting her eyes at her.

Ivar gave her a side glance and shook his head.

Who are you trying to convince?”

Deciding that it was a rhetorical question, Silje did not answer and sipped her tea quietly. She stared out the window for some time though she couldn't see much apart from the artificial lights dotting the dark landscape. She was brought back to reality by Ivar when he plopped down on the couch next to her and set a tray on the coffee table.

There is nothing chocolate can't cure,” he told her confidently, clearly trusting the medicinal abilities of an improvised chocolate fondue at three in the morning.

We'll see that,” Silje said with a smile.

Ivar handed her a fork and a bowl of fruit, which the took graciously after setting her cup of tea on the table. Silje dug in without waiting for an invitation, dipping her piece of banana in the melted chocolate and brining it to her mouth without staining the couch.

Mmmh...” She hummed in delight, closing her eyes.

It had been too long since she last had chocolate, she sometimes forgot this small pleasure of life, taken as she was with her master's degree and other daily issues.

Good, ugh?” Ivar asked although it was quite unnecessary for Silje was making soft purring sounds with each bite. “I told y-”

Silje opened her eyes and glared at him in warning.

Chocolate. The best,” he concluded, not finishing his other sentence. He opened his mouth to say something else but closed it again.

You want to ask me what happened again,” Silje stated, rather bluntly. “I get it, I probably owe you an explanation after all of this.” She placed her bowl of fruit in her lap as she was sitting Indian style on the couch.

You really don't owe me anything Sil,” Ivar assured her. “But yeah, I'm... curious.”

Nothing serious happened, so you can relax,” she told him, looking up from her lap and into his eyes, gleaming with concern.

She had to admit he was holding back magnificently, for she knew deep down that if he knew where to find the guy she went out with, he would have stormed out of the apartment as soon as she came back in tears. Silje knew she had guessed right when Ivar exhaled sharply.

Thank the gods,” he whispered.

Silje smiled fondly and picked another piece of fruit with her fork.

I just- I don't know what I was expecting when I decided to go out with him. But not this.” She ate her piece of kiwi and pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

To get laid?” Ivar inquired, raising an eyebrow and staring at her. Her eyes nearly popped out when she heard that.

No! What- no, Ivar. I only said that because I was annoyed you wouldn't let me go. Really, you should know by now that it's not my type to have one night stands – although I wish I were sometimes,” she told him, laughing lightly. His features relaxed significantly.

Why?” He frowned.

She laughed again, and smiled wider this time.

Well because even though I did not go out tonight to hook up, I still have urges like everybody else. And decent boyfriends don't grow on trees, so...” she explained, amused by the many funny faces Ivar made throughout her sentence. “Is this too much information?”

Oh, no-” Ivar shook his head a bit too energetically. “It's my fault for asking. I should know better than to ask questions I don't wanna hear the answer to.”

Let it be a lesson,” Silje chuckled and pointed her fork at him. Then her face dropped. “So yeah. Even though I only wanted to have a fun night out, he clearly didn't expect to have to entertain me all evening. After a while he snapped at me, something about 'beating around the bush' and 'being a dick tease' or whatever. He behaved like a real douche all evening; he became gradually more annoyed at me for not jumping his bones the second we saw each other, until he gave up I guess.”

Her eyes were lost in the chocolate pot at this point, and Ivar's own eyes switched between her face and her hands that wouldn't stop fiddling with the hem of her hoodie.

I deserve to be treated better,” she eventually said, a firmness in her voice that hadn't been there a second before. “Someone who appreciates the soul and not just the body. Someone who makes me chocolate fondue when I feel down,” she concluded with a low but genuine laugh.

These are pretty reasonable standards if you ask me,” Ivar said, nodding in agreement – not too eagerly he hoped, because his heart was currently trying to leap out of his chest. “I'm sure you could aim higher.”

Silje blinked and stared at those words. It wasn't what she had expected to hear. Truthfully, she had no idea what she wanted to hear him say, but not this. Had she been in a better state Silje wouldn't have said what she did in the first place – only her prior distress added to the adrenaline wearing off could make her say silly things like 'I deserve someone who makes me chocolate fondue' to Ivar. With the pot of chocolate still sitting between them, she felt as though the air became thicker, and she hated herself for being the cause of it.

On the other side, she would have liked him to realize she was talking about him, specifically, and not just about the fondue. Silje didn't care about the fondue, she cared about Ivar finally understanding that she liked him. Maybe he already knew, though. Maybe he pretended not to, and purposely avoided following her down this path. It was too late and she was too shaken up to dwell on matters such as this.

I'm gonna cut more apple,” she stated when his eyes on her felt too inquisitive. No sooner had she started cutting more fruit, merely to avoid the heavy tension between them, Silje cursed out loud. “Shit! I cut my finger,” she swore, immediately putting her finger to her mouth, liking off the blood like everybody always did however pointless it was. “Can you get-”

Already on it!” Ivar replied, strutting to the bathroom to grab a band aid. “Your saviour is here, m'lady,” he said in a mocking tone, earning a snort and squinted eyes in return. “Here,” he said, patching up her wounded finger. “All better.” And then, he kissed it better.

Silje blushed a furious shade of red, feeling her face burning up in response to his gesture. If there was one thing she did not expect Ivar to do, it had to be kissing her pointer finger better because she accidentally cut herself in a clumsy attempt to focus on something else than his intense stare. Surely she could not say anything to this, for she would stutter out some incomprehensible nonsense and make a fool of herself. Ivar had somehow managed to make her melt quicker than chocolate.

He still held her hand in his bigger one, his fingers gently stroking her knuckles. Oblivious to the effect of this innocent gesture, Ivar squeezed her hand one last time before – half-heartedly? - letting go.

You know-” he started, grabbing the knife and finishing cutting the apple for her. Silje breathed out slowly, grateful that he continued talking without waiting for an answer. “When I was out there in the cold with no hope of ever getting out of my predicament and off the streets – or even before that if I'm being real – this was one of the things I thought I'd never taste again.”

She followed him to the couch when he was done, and accepted the fruit. Once again, Silje dipped it in the chocolate and put it in her mouth, enjoying the healing qualities of chocolate.

Apples?” Silje asked.

No, chocolate. It's a luxury not a basic need, and I didn't even manage to fulfil those,” he pointed out, a smirk on his handsome face.

Could he not be decent for once and stop looking so boyish and charming? Silje was fed up with living with this walking talking temptation, who wouldn't even acknowledge the effect he had on her.

Well, you needn't worry about that anymore, do you?” She replied, watching him shove fruit and chocolate in his mouth like he was persuaded he would never see the colour of it again. “I'll personally make sure we're never out of chocolatey goods.”

That's very considerate of you,” he snickered.

What were the other things?” Silje inquired, shifting position and trading her fork for her cup of tea.

Crème brûlée, ice cream, smørrebrød, sushi, and I know that this is going to sound very hipster but almond milk lattes. Also a warm cup of expensive tea. A friend. A family.” At this point he wasn't smiling anymore, but then he added, “a girlfriend.”

And in this moment, it was like the air was sucked out of their lungs, and his words hung heavy between the two of them. In one last terrible effort to remain collected, Silje managed to utter a few words and somewhat dissipate the tension.

I hope I can help with a few of those things,” she said, barely audible.

We'll see what we can do,” Ivar replied, a faint but very eloquent smirk dancing on his lips.

 

Chapter Text

The apartment was plunged in darkness when Silje got home that night. A sigh of disappointment fell from her lips as she hung her keys to the wall next to the door, and kicked off her shoes. She sure doesn't see time fly when she goes to the library – and it's not even like she's anywhere near finishing her twenty-page essay due next week. She was looking forward to spending some time with her roommate but that too didn't seem like it was happening.

Guess it's just me and myself tonight again,” she said out loud.

It had never bothered her to come home to an empty place up until Ivar made himself home. Most of the time it even came as a relief, to finally have quiet after a day surrounded by people and noise - but now it was just appalling. She felt the place lacked something without Ivar's beaming presence, even if he only sat Indian style on the couch, flipping through some thick volume he borrowed from her or picked up at the library.

He had finally started studying again, if only by himself before or after work, in preparation of his going back to university come September. He was frustrated that his old computer wasn't working anymore and saved every penny he could in order to purchase a new one and have his data retrieved from the antiquity he had been carrying around for years now.

When Silje looked up, she could almost see Ivar sitting on her couch – she knew where he favourite spot was, the one where the rays of the setting sun did not get into his eyes, the spot where he could lean on the armrest with one elbow when he didn't understand something. It all just lacked life when he wasn't around, and Silje knew this was a dangerous path she was on.

At any moment Ivar could decide to leave, though she did not know why he would or where he would go, the possibility remained. And becoming dependant on him was the last thing either of them needed.

Silje's coat joined the stack of blankets hanging over the back of the couch as she walked past the living room and into her room to change. It was going to be a long and lonely evening, what point was there in looking good? She traded her tights and dress for leggings, fluffy socks, and a giant sweater with a front pouch to put her hands in. Much better.

Her lazy train of thoughts was interrupted by her ring tone, whose volume startled her. Yesterday she waited for an important call so she turned it on and then forgot to put it back on silent mode.

Hej?” Silje said in the speaker, clasping her phone between her ear and her shoulder while she sat on her bed and put on her socks. She couldn't hold back a yawn.

Hej, Silje,” Ubbe's voice greeted her. “Are you okay? You sound a bit tired,” he observed, not bothering the hide his teasing tone.

Could you at least pretend to care?” She rolled her eyes even if Ubbe couldn't see her, hoping he would guess it with the tone of her voice. “I know you're used to me being full of energy but some days are just longer than others.”

You tell me about it,” he said before adding, “Wait, you're too young to say that, I should be the one complaining about my day!”

Silje put her feet on the ground and stood up, taking her phone in her hand and sticking her tongue out at it before speaking again.

What did you want dear brother of mine?” Silje changed the subject before this conversation turned into a self-pitying contest. “Be brief, I still have tons of work to do.”

No time for your favourite brother?” Ubbe questioned in mock-hurt.

Second favourite,” she corrected him, a devilish grin on her innocent face.

This one he definitely guessed was there.

Now this is gratuitously mean!” He argued. “Geez, you're so grumpy! Ask your roommate to give you a foot rub!”

Yes go ahead dear brother, rub it in. As if she wasn't already feeling miserable. She just had a thirteen hours day, she was up at seven this morning and came back at eleven, her brain was buzzing with numbers and statistics and book titles. A little sympathy would be welcome! And to top it all Ivar wasn't even here to make her forget this trying day.

I have the place all to myself tonight,” Silje declared grandiloquently as she balanced her books in her arms and plopped down on her couch, trying to put some order in her things before she could get to work. Again. All this reading wasn't going to do itself. “Ivar is at work.”

Oh.” There was a long silence after that, making Silje frown and put her laptop down to take her phone in her hand.

Ubbe? Please tell me you didn't call me just to check on Ivar, you miserable-”

You're the one who wanted me to play doctor with your stray friend!” He cut her off to defend himself, only to earn an offended gasp from his shocked sister.

You did not just call him that! And please never use the words playing doctor ever again! At the very least not to when I'm around.”

Wrong phrasing, but you know what I mean!”

This bickering back and forth lasted another few minutes until Silje could feel her temples throbbing from the knots her brother was pulling in her brain.

Ubbe, just spit it out, what do you wanna know? Ivar looks great, he can do more and more stuff without tiring out, and I can see that his knee doesn't hurt as much as it used to anymore,” Silje eventually said, to put an end to their banter.

She really did have a lot of work to do. Apart from her essay there was also an assignment due tomorrow - that's what you get when you postpone everything.

I don't think he tells you everything, even if you think he does,” Ubbe then told her, his serious side showing now that the fun was over.

I know he doesn't, but I'm quite observant, more than he suspects – or you for that matter,” she pointed out. “But I suppose there are things I cannot guess,” she admitted with regret. “Should I ask him to call you back? Why don't you have his number? I'm not his personal secretary!”

I have it, but he's not picking up so I called you,” Ubbe told her. “And no, don't tell him anything, I'll reach out again.”

Whatever you want,” Silje said, getting tired of this conversation – were she in any other state of mind, she might have asked more questions about this cryptic answer, but the pile of books sitting on her coffee table started her in the eyes.

 

*

 

“This place is the shit,” Hvitserk commented as he looked around, his eyes not missing a thing from the uneven beams of the ceiling to the sticky wooden floor of the bar Ivar worked at.

Ivar gave him an awry look while wiping the counter. Soft background music kept everyone awake though tonight was a quiet night with no band playing, no students hanging out, no nothing. Since Ivar was new at the whole bar tending thing, the owner only asked him to come during week days. Hvitserk had picked the quietest day to visit Ivar at his workplace.

“Hey, don't look at me like this, I mean it!” He replied, always smiling. “It feels very... cosy. It's a casual place to hang out. But I hope there are usually more clients than that-”

“Hvitserk has anyone ever told you you speak too much?” Ivar asked, shaking his head but unable to hold back the little smile fighting its way on his lips.

“I have never heard that in my life,” he declared firmly, a mischievous grin on his face.

Never had anyone lied so blatantly to his face, Ivar thought.

“I have, however, heard that I am charming and of good company,” he added, raising his beer to Ivar.

“I'm not drinking with you, man,” Ivar told him, busying himself behind the counter.

Someone came to the counter and raised two fingers; Ivar immediately went to work, knowing what their usual was.

“Don't you have to? Isn't an unspoken bartender rule to drink with customers when they raise their glass?” Hvitserk continued with his ravings. “Ivar are you listening to me?”

“I'm all ears,” Ivar sighed, feeling a new-found respect for Inge who had to deal not with two but three children after all.

“I demand you drink with me,” he said this time. “Here, have a beer, I will pay for it,” Hvitserk insisted and waited until Ivar gave in an grabbed a bottle, opening it against the counter and raising it.

“To my lovely sister,” Hvitserk said to Ivar's utmost surprise.

He hadn't brought up Silje since he plopped down on the bar stool about an hour earlier, Ivar almost thought he would get to spend a quiet night, without having Silje's dear favourite brother teasing him – but he was in the wrong.

Ivar's stunned expression must have given him away because Hvitserk's smug little smirk didn't just appear for no reason. Ever since the incident with Silje's tinder date he wouldn't let it go – he was sure there was something happening between them and he must have figured Ivar was the most likely to spill his guts to him. Proof that Hvitserk knew his sister very well.

“To Silje,” Ivar said with as much of a straight face as he could managed.

Truth was Hvitserk was right to suspect Ivar of hiding something – well, maybe not hiding but clearly he was in denial of something and the young man was determined to find out what. Except Ivar wasn't really denying anything, he simply tried to kill in the bud something that had no reason to be. He had no business having feelings for Silje. She had her life, a life that she would go back to once he was on his feet again and could move out of her apartment. And she didn't see him as a potential boyfriend.

Skål!” They cheered and drank.

Hvitserk took a gulp and put his bottle down but Ivar nearly downed it entirely, to his friend's astonishment.

“Wow, might want to take it easy man,” he said.

“Night will be over soon,” Ivar said with a shrug. “This beer tastes like piss.”

“Does you job description say you can spit on the merchandise?” Hvitserk asked, not expecting an answer. “Why did you drink then?”

He shrugged. Ivar drank because if he was going to put up with another series of nosy questions he needed to have alcohol in his blood.

“Anyway, still nothing to tell me about you and Silje?” Hvitserk stopped beating around the bush shortly after he started putting his nose in his sister's business. He wasn't patient enough for that shit, and who knows, one day it might catch Ivar by surprise.

“You sound like a broken record asking me the same question day after day,” Ivar observed. “What on earth do you expect me to say, huh?”

“That you stopped being a chicken and asked her out.” Hvitserk's answer was so quick it stunned Ivar into silence. “And then I would be able to say 'fucking finally', and you and Sil would finally give me a break. Because in case you haven't noticed, you two are the king and queen of complainers, you moan about this and that all the time! It's wearing me off, honestly. I have never seen two people who were in greater need to tap some ass than you two.”

“You're talking about your sister, man!” Ivar scoffed, giving Hvitserk a somewhat disgusted grimace, earning a sheepish smile along with a shrug in return.

“Still. She needs it. Badly. And you do too. See what I'm hinting at?”

“Well excuse me if I haven't been at the best of my game, I was too busy being homeless,” Ivar pointed out, leaning forward to be right in Hvitserk's face. “If Silje heard you she would hurl your ass out and drag you back to your girlfriend by the balls.”

“Good thing she's not here,” Hvitserk said with absolute seriousness, a shiver of fear running down his spine at the thought. Silje would no doubt do it, and Inge would give him a memorable ass whooping. “But I'm still right. And you've stopped being homeless months ago, so what exactly is your excuse? What's stopping you from taking example on my sister and finding a hook up on Tinder?”

“I have other things on my mind,” Ivar told him, thinking – wrongly – that this was the end of the conversation as he grabbed a cloth and started to wipe the counter again, as if on autopilot.

“Other things? Or another person?” Hvitserk insisted, pushing not one but all of Ivar's buttons.

Ivar's left eyebrow was twitching at this point, but even if his friend was being annoying, there was an undeniable truth behind the jokes.

“Is that what you want me to admit? That I have feelings for your sister?” He then asked, giving in. What was the point of hiding it if it was so obvious anyway? “I do. Here, happy?”

“No, not happy!” Hvitserk said with a huff and finished the last of his drink. “But it's one step in the right direction. What's holding you back?”

Ivar sighed, all playfulness gone.

“I can't tell her. I'm just a bump in the road for her. Right now I live with her because I have no other option, and she doesn't want to kick me out, but it's not the way things should be.”

“That's bullshit!” His friend exclaimed. “There is no right way to do this, just look at Inge and I, having kids before we even moved in together! And if Silje heard you say this nonsense you'd be the one being dragged home by the ball sack!”

“Yes there is a right way!” Ivar almost shouted before remembering where he was. “There is. I already came back to her after Juleaften, which I probably shouldn't have done.”

“Why not?” Hvitserk truly seemed to not get it.

“Because I had no right to intrude the way I did – and still do. I basically forced myself into her life, and I have jack shit to offer in return. I can't be in a relationship where both parties involved are not equals.”

“You lost me, man,” Hvitserk said. “I think you're creating your own problems; I guarantee you Silje does not care about you paying her back what she does for you, in her mind you've always been equals. Besides, if you think you can impose anything to the girl then you don't know her half as good as I thought you did.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“That she's the one who decided to open her home to you. I told you this story of when she was little, didn't I? She's like that, your pretty face doesn't have anything to do with it. That's Silje in a nutshell, she helps people and expects nothing in return. You have one idiotic reasoning, Ivar!”

“Except it isn't idiotic at all!” He argued. “I can't feel like a burden, Hvitserk. Barely a few weeks ago I couldn't do anything, I was beat up and broken, I had no job, no perspective of a brighter future, I'm only just getting back on my feet! As long as I can't stand by myself I won't tell Silje anything, do you understand? I won't have her settle for me.”

“You know, the more the speak the more shit comes out of your mouth,” Hvitserk observed, his hand on his chin to feign deep thinking. “None of this matters!”

“It does and you know it.”

“No, Ivar, it doesn't!”

“It does to me.” Ivar simply wouldn't drop it, and Hvitserk stubbornly refused to agree on this one matter.

“You're blind to the person you've become. You see yourself as this mess who will never amount to anything in life, but that's not what we see at all!” Hvitserk told him, earning a pained glare in return. “You're talking about a version of you that doesn't exist anymore. Maybe you didn't feel entitled to make a move in the beginning, but you're lying to yourself if you think you still have valid reasons to stay quiet about your feelings.”

To be truthful, even though Ivar had been scared and apprehensive when Silje found him in that alleyway, beaten and bloody, he was also relieved. He would always been eternally grateful that she invited him into her life a second time, no questions asked, but at the same time he felt he was putting the breaks on her life. He was interrupting the steady course of her existence, making her take a detour that lead her on rocky roads.

And now what? According to Hvitserk he wasn't holding Silje back as he thought, but actually helped her go forward? It simply didn't line up in his head; Ivar couldn't understand in what ways he could help Silje. She was the one helping him.

“Yeah, sure,” Ivar huffed. He had no arguments left but he had some bad faith left in stock. “I'll go home in half an hour and declare my flame, I'm sure it'll work. I'm in love with you Silje, please disregard the fact that I live on your couch because my only other option is literally to sleep in the gutter if you get sick of me, and let us live our love in broad daylight!”

There was a long silence after that, and Hvitserk's shit eating smile was back on his stupid face, making Ivar swallow thickly. And it was at this moment he knew... he fucked up.

 

 

*

 

I'm in love with her. I'm in love with her. I'm in love with her. I'm in love with her.

There words played on repeat in Ivar's head as he walked back from work under the pouring rain, taking long, impatient strides to get home sooner. He'd said it. Out loud, to someone else, and not just anyone! To her brother. He actually said the words, thus making this whole thing real – too real.

It's a one sided feeling though.

Yes, that too he said out loud, right after the good news come the bad. But Ivar had to say something before Hvitserk's shit eating grin split his face in two after he accidentally blurted out the truth. His stupid smile vanished instantly and Hvitserk glared at Ivar after that, miffed about his friend's pessimistic behavior.

You don't know that!” He had protested. “If you want I can ask h-”

That is the very last thing I want you to do Hvitserk. If you have so much as an ounce of regard for me, you'll forget what I just said and never speak of it again,” Ivar had immediately cut him off, making it clear that he did not want Silje to ever hear of what was said tonight. “Additionally, I will chop you up and send you piece by piece back to Inge if you betray me.”

Oh, she won't like that,” Hvitserk had said with a wince before taking a sip of his drink, as if he was picturing what Inge would do to him if he came back home in bits and pieces instead of whole.

After a while Hvitserk had accepted defeat and let Ivar angrily mop the floor before closing the bar. He asked the last customers to leave and soon the place was in the dark, and the backdoor was locked. Ivar then stood in the rain, and was left to reflect on what he said earlier in the evening.

Damn Hvitserk and his smug attitude, damn Ivar's loose tongue, and damn Silje for being so oblivious.

By the time he reached their place Ivar was soaking wet, a permanent frown what etched on his face, he was cold, in a foul mood, and tired, but he was still in love with his charming roommate. He fumbled with his keys a bit before finding the right one and managing to open the front door, intending to crash on the couch fully dressed and pass out the second his head touched the pillow, but his plans would have to wait because there was already someone on the couch.

Silje's sleeping form was huddled in a corner, a heavy book open on her chest, her head tilted to the right, leaning on her arm. The small lamp beside her was still, but she was clearly gone. It made him smile a little, despite his bad mood. Hvitserk's great idea of running home and making a grand declaration to Silje really was a shitty plan.

Sighing, Ivar grabbed a change of clothes and went to the bathroom to get out of his wet clothes, then he walked up to Silje and put a hand on her arm, shaking it lightly.

Hey, Silje!” He whispered, just to make sure she was sound asleep before carrying her to her room.

There was a groan, and she stirred, but she didn't seem to acknowledge his presence. Without another word, Ivar scooped her up in his arms as gently as he could and carried her back to her bed, opening the door to her bedroom with his foot. Silje instinctively wrapped herself in the sheets the moment he laid her down.

He couldn't tell how long she had been sleeping in this weird position he found her in on the couch, but he knew she was really tired these days. She has been pushing herself a lot for her classes, making sure to keep up her grades and sometimes forgetting to rest. Ivar pushed her hair out of her face and watched her lean into his touch just a little bit, which made his heart constrict in response.

Shit, he was a goner.

 

*

 

It was still raining quite heavily, but this time Ivar didn't mind, he was standing under Silje's umbrella – which he was holding because he was taller than her and she said that the tallest has to hold the umbrella, that was the rule. First he was tempted to nag her about having rules for this kind of stuff but now he was too busy being stunned into silence.

A few months ago he thought he would never see this place again – apart maybe from the outside when he slept on a bench there, but never the familiar hallways and the doodled wooden tables. The University of Copenhagen, the sanctuary of so many, and the personal hell of many others.

You're not going to cry, are you?” Silje, who had been observing Ivar's expression for a few minutes now, tease him out of his reverie.

Shut up or I might.” He nudged her and they resumed their walk. “This is a bit surreal.”

Silje nodded but didn't say anything, she let him take in his surroundings. She knew for a fact that he never seriously thought he would ever return to this place and finish his master's degree like he always wanted. It was always a far off dream that seemed out of reach.

Speaking of not saying anything, Ivar still hadn't told Silje about his unrequited feelings for her – for obvious reasons. Two weeks went by since his talk with Hvitserk, and while Ivar elected it was a bad idea to listen to his friend, Hvitserk still thought he was being stubborn and cowardly. To which Ivar replied that he still hasn't grown the balls to propose to Inge, so who was the biggest coward of them two?

In retrospect it wasn't a very nice thing to say but at least it earned him some peace and quiet. Even Hvitserk knew when he lost an argument.

And when Silje sat down on the couch next to Ivar with a Cheshire Cat kind of smile and told him that she had made some research on his behalf and found a bunch of lectures open to the public for him to attend, it had taken his mind off of his heart issues.

You mean I can just go?”

A nod.

Just like that?” Ivar pressed the matter.

Another nod, more enthusiastic.

I can simply waltz into the classroom and sit there, and listen to the lecture for free?” He asked, just to be absolutely sure they were on the same page.

Yes, Ivar!” Silje rolled her eyes and shoved some papers in his hands. “Obviously you can't just sit through all the lectures concerning your degree for free, but I thought you might want to take advantage of all the free time you have until September, and maybe discover some new subjects. Which is why I asked the secretary if she could give me a full list of all the free lectures this semester, this way you can decide which you'd like to attend.”

Ivar blinked and stared but stayed still.

You're welcome,” Silje added, squeezing his hand and leaving him to digest the news.

Now here they were, on campus for his first lecture since who the fuck remembers?

I have to go, do you still know your way around campus? I still have enough time to show you your classroom if not,” Silje said, glancing at her wrist watch.

I- euh, I think you need to show me,” he admitted, not even sure he knew where his building was, let alone the classroom. “Sorry.”

Don't be sorry,” Silje laughed and placed her hand inside the crook of Ivar's elbow to lead him to the right place without losing him – and subsequently the umbrella. “Hurry up, we don't want to be late!”

 

*

 

Hey!” Silje greeted him, nearly tripping on her feet when she bolted from her seat and ran to him. “I tried to find you after your lecture but when I couldn't I figured you went directly to work. I hope it went okay. How many of you were there? Did you find your way around campus easily? I would have come sooner to get you but my teacher kept us a little longer to finish his lecture.”

Wow, Silje, will you breathe?” Ivar said, slamming his hands on her shoulders to make her stop hopping like a bunny. “It went fine, the room wasn't half full, I did find my way after ten minutes of wandering around, someone noticed I looked lost and she showed me the way, and yes it was interesting. Also I just came back from work and I'm ready to fall into a coma.”

A little snicker answered him, making Ivar's brow rise to his hairline.

She showed you the way?” Silje repeated, a smirk growing on her face. Ivar groaned. “I knew you'd make friends fast.”

C'mon, she just helped me get out of the building.” He rolled his eyes and went to the kitchen to grab some leftovers – he was famished. “I don't even know her name.”

I was only teasing you, I'm sure you didn't have enough time to already find a girlfriend.” Silje laughed and jumped on the lone bar stool at her kitchenette. “There's rice and fish left,” she informed him.”

Who says I'm looking for one?”

I thought it was one of the things on your list?” Silje said with a little frown.

It wasn't an easy task to hide her relief upon hearing that he didn't even bother to ask for the girl's name, no matter how innocent her intentions may have been. Maybe she was trying too hard. She was aware of it, but she simply couldn't stop her mouth from babbling away at any given chance. The more she wanted to avoid a subject – for instance that of her growing infatuation with her attractive roommate – the less she could hold back.

How many times could she drop the word 'girlfriend' until it becomes suspicious? Did she want him to pick up on her odd behavior? And even more importantly, was it a good idea to let him know about her feelings?

All these questions swirling in her head made her tired and dizzy all the time, and it gets worse day after day. Was it too much to ask him to tone it down a little bit? A girl only has so much restraint. Silje considered herself lucky that he was so focused on his meal turning round and round in the microwave that he didn't notice her longing gaze on him.

She needed to get a grip.

Some of my friends saw us arriving together. They teased me all day long about the cutie whose arm I was clinging to this morning.”

Alright, so much for getting a grip. She was a lost case, there was no hope for her, no salvation. All she could do at this point was pray he didn't find her too weird and pushy about this whole girlfriend thing, and then if she didn't pull herself together she would need to move country and change her name.

What did you answer?” He asked her, leaning against the counter but still staring at the countdown on the microwave.

I said 'Pfff, what? This hobo?',” Silje laughed then immediately regretted what she said.

For one, it was a gigantic lie, because when her friends grilled her about Ivar she merely blushed and stuttered out some nonsense she couldn't even remember. And secondly, she had always dreamed of living in France, maybe now was the time to move and become Silje Sinclair or something, how does that sound?

However, her dread disappeared the moment she heard Ivar's laugh answer her joke of questionable taste.

Alright, good one,” he told her, taking his plate and a fork and setting it on the counter across from her. “I can only imagine the awkward silence that followed this inside joke nobody else is in on.”

You guessed it right,” she laughed nervously. “But my friends are used to my bad humor.”

For your information, I do think having... someone would be nice,” Ivar told her after a moment of silence during which Silje almost popped a blood vessel. “But it doesn't mean I'll date just anyone I meet.”

Gotcha,” Silje said, feeling the same.

They both stayed quiet now. Silje let Ivar eat his dinner, and went back to her books. Instead of their usual lively conversation, both of them silently wished their thick roommate would pick up the hint and make a move.

If Hvitserk was here, he would completely lose it.

 

*

 

“How do I look?” Silje asked, sounding oddly nervous.

It was the first time she asked his opinion on one of her outfits. Ivar always figured she was confident in her sense of style. This anomaly made him let go of the deck of cards he was holding when she came out of her room - he had started learning magic tricks on YouTube last week - and he looked at her with great attention to detail. She wiped her palms on her jeans, anxiously awaiting his judgment.

She wore leather boots, rather simple though of high quality you could tell; Plain light blue jeans; a bluish blouse with ruffles around the collar, the two top buttons open but still barely showing as skin, layered with a bright red thin jacket. Long thin earrings dangled from her ears and her lipstick matched her jacket. Her hair was loose.

“You look beautiful,” Ivar decided after full examination.

He didn't know why she worried so much today, this was as nicely put together as any of her outfits. Though he had to admit he rarely got to see her in jeans, Silje loved her skirts and dresses and probably only owned two pairs of jeans anyway.

“Huh!” She groaned, running her hands in her hair in frustration. “This is not what I want! I was going for something cute and proper, like.... like a babysitter!”

She huffed, displeased with the outcome of this conversation. Ivar didn't know why she would be offended when he literally just told her she looked beautiful but he didn't object.

“Are you going babysitting?” He just asked, getting more confused each passing second.

“No, Ivar,” Silje said, her hands resting on her hips.

This was not a good position. Was he supposed to know where she was going? Had she told him? Has he forgotten something important?

“I have an oral exam today, with that teacher, you know, the one who's hated me since the day I accidentally broke his laptop?”

Ah yes. Now he remembered. It was back when Ivar was severely injured and couldn't do anything on his own. She had given him an old cell phone of hers in case he needed her, and one day, after he attempted to do something without her help even though he clearly wasn't in any shape to execute the task, he found himself in need of a helpful hand. She was in her last class of the day when she received the SOS text. Of course she couldn't exactly run out of the classroom in the during the lesson, luckily it was almost over.

So when the class finished, she dashed out, and in her haste she tangled her feet in her teacher's laptop charger, making said laptop fall from the desk and crash on the floor in a loud noise that no laptop should ever make. Needless to say, things became awkward after that. And Silje doubled her effort to become invisible in class.

“Yeah I know which one,” Ivar said, nodding slowing as he was thinking. “You need to change the earrings,” he offered after some pondering. “Smaller ones. And drop the bright colours, they are too eye catching.”

“Aye captain!” He heard Silje shout, already back in her room to do as he told her. She was quick to come out again. “What about now?”

Her entire vibe was different. Now she looked... cute. Pearl earrings replaced the pendant ones, she removed the red lipstick entirely, and switched the red jacket for a pale pink knitted cardigan. The only thing that hasn't changed was her hair.

“Come here.” She didn't say anything but obeyed and came to stand before Ivar. He put his hands on her shoulder to spin her around. He never thought Silje could be so resilient! In complete silence, Ivar began to braid her hair. “You need to tie it back. You tug at your hair when you get anxious and you should never show your examiner that you're nervous.” He was done by the end of the sentence, and quickly tied a knot with his own hair band. “There.”

Silje spun on her heels and opened her arms, a big smile on her face.

“Better?” She asked, obviously feeling a lot less stressed out thanks to Ivar's piece of advice.

I wish you were my babysitter,” he told her with a silly grin on his face. Silje punched his arm and he mouthed an 'ouch' and dramatically rubbed it. As if. “When is your exam?” Ivar asked her.

His eyes followed her as she ran around the apartment, gathering everything she might possibly need today.

In three hours. I still have some time left before my funeral, but I'm going early to study with the guys.”

The guys?” Ivar repeated, his left eyebrow shooting up.

Yeah, my friends.” Was all she offered as an explanation.

And they are all guys?” Ivar insisted. It made him feel quite silly when he said it out loud.

No, of course not.” Silje was so busy she didn't realize how he sounded. Jealous. “I call everyone guys. Anyway I'll go study with them at the library and then we'll see if I survive to two and a half hours in Peterson's office.” She made a face and Ivar laughed.

Should I make a sacrifice to the gods?” Ivar offered jokingly. “A chicken won't do. Would a goat be enough?”

I appreciate the thought, but I'm afraid there's no animal big enough to save my ass.” Silje now swung her bag over her shoulder, tucked her phone in her pocket, and wrapped her scarf around her neck. “I'll see you tonight?”

There was light and hope shining in her eyes. They haven't had a proper hang out in almost two week a because of Silje's constant studying and Ivar's working schedule. But he finely asked his boss of he could stay on the day shift.

You will,” he told her, glad to see her smile widen as she walked out, waving at him.

As predicted, Silje's afternoon passed slowly and was terrible all in all, despite her friends' best attempt to cheer her up. There was really no helping the fact that she quite literally destroyed her teacher's laptop in front of the whole class, and some people hold grudges. But she knew her stuff, she studied more than the rest of them combined, there was no way she was going to fail – or so they tried to convince her.

Huh, she was so screwed. And there was nothing preventing her from stressing the hell out instead of studying more, as she planned to do in the first place, during the two hours she spent at the library, getting nasty glares from the librarian because her friends couldn't be bothered to whisper. Was it too late to book a flight for France and change her name so that neither Ivar nor Mr.Peterson would ever find her?

Now that was not true, Silje didn't want to go away from Ivar – quite the contrary actually. She only wanted to get herself together and stop fawning over him because one of these days he was going to notice – let's be honest for a minute, she wasn't particularly discreet, she's just been lucky so far. Or has she? If her friend Ava – who was currently biting her pencil with a lot of fervour while glaring at her laptop screen – could read her mind, she would deck her.

In what world is this luck, Silje darling?” She would say. “You're pining after a boy, luck would be if he returned your feelings, not when he's utterly oblivious to them!”

Yes, Silje didn't know to ask Ava her opinion on the matter, she knew quite well what her friend thought. And what about Nicolaj? Nicolaj would go directly to Ivar and spell it out for him, because one does not simply ignore Silje Ragnarsdóttir, and how dared he?

She sighed, feeling a throbbing headache coming. There was a reason why she hadn't mentioned Ivar to anyone outside of her family. No, there was really no telling anyone. If she couldn't even keep her own secret, then why should she expect her friends to do so? Though she couldn't help but wonder since when it became her secret. Something like this shouldn't be kept like a shameful secret, they were feelings... Everyone – supposedly – had them.

Before her mind could wander further, Silje decided it was enough.

I'm gonna go. It'll be my turn soon and I have to go to the bathroom.” She really did have to, now that she said it, though it was meant to be an excuse. “Wish me luck.”

They all smiled, even Laura and Matthias, who had no patience for her dramatic behaviour today. Of course they didn't, they already had their oral exam, they were done stressing out over it. Ava and Nicolaj both told her to break a leg, and she scurried off once she gathered her belongings. There was no need to make it last, she might as well go face her fate now.

Silje kept shaking her cardigan to allow some air to cool her off. Cold sweat was trickling down her spine, and she longed for a shower to feel fresh again. When was this day going to end? She couldn't wait to be done with nasty old Peterson, and go back home, maybe stop at the Indian restaurant down the road, and settle on the couch after a long shower to share dinner with Ivar, and watch Criminal Minds. There was nothing on this green earth she would like more.

When the door of the office opened,t en minutes after Silje returned from her bathroom stop, her heart nearly jumped straight out of her ribcage. She knew the boy who was in there before her, they talked from time to time although they weren't friends. He gave her a somewhat unconvincing side smile and tapped her shoulder on his way out. Silje gulped down and reluctantly walked in. She would be stuck in there for the next few hour. Here goes nothing.

 

Ivar stood in an empty hallway, wondering if he should ask – again – if he was in the right place next time an unfortunate student walked by. Really, you'd think four where enough to show him the office of the not-so-liked professor Peterson, the infamous broken-laptop teacher that Silje feared more than she did facing a rabid dog. How much longer could this oral exam be? He calculated the approximate time Silje would be finished yet it continued to stretch. It was already twenty minutes past his calculations.

Granted, Ivar was a history major, he knew fuck all about maths, but he wasn't completely helpless either. He saw someone walk into the corridor from the corner of his eye, and if he had to guess he would say this was the person meant to go in after Silje. So maybe he really was that bad at maths.

Are you here for the exam too?” The boy asked, pointing at the door. All colours left his face as he was gained by panic – he probably thought he got the wrong time for his exam since there was already someone waiting by the door.

No, I'm waiting for the person who's inside,” Ivar told him, watching as the boy started breathing again. “Is he really that terrible?” He asked, and frowned a bit, unconvinced.

You're not in his class?” The boy said, eyebrows meeting his hairline. “Of course that explains why you look so... fine,” he concluded, gesturing at Ivar who stood there, intrigued. Fine wouldn't be what he'd use to describe himself, he just wore grey sweatpants, running shoes, and a plain black t-shirt. Besides, he thought he looked nervous, he was pacing a minute before.

I see,” Ivar said, although he did not. “Good luck man.”

Just then, the door opened, and both the boys' heads turned towards it in expectation. A mean looking middle aged man held the door open while a white faced Silje walked out, eyes out of focus and not even noticing that Ivar stood right in front of her.

Next student,” Peterson said, his voice low and sharp. The boy disappeared inside the office and the door closed loudly, which brought Silje down to earth.

Ivar! What are you doing here?” She asked in total confusion, a smile forming on her face. “How long have you been waiting?”

Not long.” He shrugged. “I thought you might want to do something after your strain.” He paused when she gave him an embarrassed look. “... unless you don't want to?” He added, unsure of what to do now.

He hadn't thought ahead of this, he just figured it might cheer her up to go do something fun after spending the whole afternoon in her books, giving herself grey hair over this exam. He went there straight after his workout with Hvitserk – they ran around the Botanical Garden for an hour and did a bit of lifting (now that Hvitserk was home for good and Ivar had a job, they both signed up for a trial at a gym) – Ivar even still had his gym bag in hand. Silje glanced down at it, and gave him an apologetic smile. He could understand her desire to go home and wallow in self-deprecation, but he wouldn't let her.

I'd love to do something with you, but I'm gross and smelly, you can't imagine how much I've been sweating in fear today,” she confessed, squirming in her blouse and cardigan.

The weather was warmer than she expected, or maybe it was just her who couldn't handle stress, and was incredibly hot in the face around Ivar?

No excuse,” Ivar said, a winning smirk already stretching his lips. “I have a spare shirt, want it?”

Silje's eyes once again drifted towards the gym bag, no doubt wondering how bad this clean shirt he spoke of could possibly smell after spending some time next to his other gym clothes, and weighting the pros and cons of keeping her damp blouse on. In the end, she stretched out her hand, rolling her eyes as Ivar zipped open the bag and pressed a neatly folded and rolled up shirt into her open palm.

Don't smirk like you've won yet,” Silje chided him. “First I'll try it on, and then I'll decide if I keep it.”

Ivar didn't bother to comment. His smile widened and he followed her to the women's bathroom – not inside of course, he waited by the door, but he couldn't risk letting her go by herself and then not finding his way out of this maze or corridors and white doors.

You know it fits you, you wear my clothes all the damn time,” Ivar said through the door, sure that she'd hear him. He heard a huff come from behind it. “You know I'm right!”

The door swung open, and there stood Silje, looking smaller than usual in a t-shirt too big for her, but decent nonetheless. Better than decent, she looked very good in it. Her other clothes were in her hand, and Ivar took them from her, shoving them into his bag before she could protest.

You look great. Should've worn this to your exam,” he teased her, shooting her a smile which she answered reluctantly. He felt bold today, so he put an arm over her shoulders as they walked down the hallway. “So... where to?”

How would I know? You came here with something in mind, don't you have plans?” She replied, leaning into him without thinking too much about it – at least she tried.

I wanted to give you a choice in the matter,” he objected, looking at her with narrowed eyes, like he knew she was purposely sucking the fun out of this, just to push his buttons.

Well, he was in a great mood today, and it wasn't going to work. All his pent up energy had been used up during his workout, and he ad the whole evening free to poke at his lovely roommate's sensitive spots. What a happy perspective.

My ass!” She said, full of her usual charm and wit, nudging him in the ribs. “This is terrible Ivar! Is this how you take a girl out?”

Oh. Is it a date? If you'd told me I would have brushed my teeth,” he snickered, pretending to lean down to give her a smooch, which she dodged entirely, running away from him and laughing as he chased her down the hallway and out into the sun. “You're hurting my feelings, Sil!” He told her, in an ultimate attempt to play on her good conscience.

A huff was the only answer he received from her, but she stopped running and came to walk beside him. This time he wasn't sure how she would welcome it if he put him arm around her again. All jokes aside, this wasn't a date, and Ivar wasn't sure he was allowed to act so... friendly. They weren't in their apartment here. This was a public place, a place where Silje went to all the time, and where she knew people.

I was supposed to go get coffee with my friends before heading home,” she admitted, rubbing the back of her neck to ease the knots she pulled during the last few days.

She took her grades awfully seriously in Ivar's opinion. The sun hit her neck too, and it felt good. With one hand she reached back and undid her braid to release her hair and the tension that came with having it tied back.

We can do that,” Ivar offered. Then he leaned towards her with a little grin on his face. “I promise I'll behave.”

I'm sure you will,” Silje chuckled. “They should be waiting for me outside the library,” she informed him.

Her hair wasn't tied anymore but it still didn't flow free, and Ivar was so tempted to run is fingers through it to remove the braid and let them fall down her shoulders the way he liked. Now that would be overstepping in anyone's book, even in his. He felt a surge of annoyance run through him. Maybe Hvitserk wasn't so wrong after all.

They chatted a bit more while they walked through campus and to the library. He asked her how her exam went, and she groaned and told him she wasn't expecting to get a good grade, but perhaps she would pass the class. She had studied so much for this that it would wreck her to find out Peterson failed her, all based on one small accident.

Soon they reached a group of people standing in circle – these must be her friends, Ivar concluded, because there wasn't anyone else standing by the library. One of them sat Indian style on the floor, smoking, and not caring that he had to twist his neck to look everyone else in the eyes. Two others snuggled each other – a couple, quite oblivious. And the two others left stood side by side and laughed at something.

Hey, look who we have here” said the one on the floor, tipping his sunglasses slightly to have a better look at the newcomers – or rather at Ivar, Silje would get. Nicolaj was a lot of things but subtle was not one of them. “Do you all see what I see?”

I see Silje coming here with a hot piece of meat trailing behind her,” Laura stated while everyone stared, a bit surprised but all smiling deviously.

Fucking finally, they all thought.

Yeah, I thought that weed couldn't be that strong,” Nicolaj said to himself. He stood up and rubbed his jeans to get rid of the dust. “I call dibs! Quick Ava, do I look good?”

Why do you care, whoever he is, Silje must have already called dibs on him,” Ava replied with a snicker, sticking her tongue out at a grumbling Nicolaj.

I don't know about her,” Laura said, smiling to herself and looking at her friend and the stranger following her closely. “But he definitely called dibs on her, I mean look at the way he-”

Shut up, she'll hear you!” Ava shushed her, not letting her finish. It was just in time, because Silje ran the last few meters separating her from her friends and crashed into Ava's and Asmus' sides, throwing one arm around each of them.

I did it!” She exclaimed, throwing her head back. “I lived, bitch!”

That's not the only thing you did,” Matthias said.

He as usually quiet and so everyone's eyeballs nearly popped out of their heads when he smirked and pointed at Silje's new attire. Silje scowled and elected to ignore the comment, but it seemed to catch Ava and Nicolaj's attention for they shared a meaningful glance.

Ivar! Come here!” She gestured for him to come and she let go of her friends. “Let me introduce you. The two love birds are Matthias and Laura-” she began, her friends waving hello. “-This is Ava, my best friend-”

Hey!”

Ivar turned his gaze to the guy who was sitting on the floor a moment ago.

This is Nicolaj and he doesn't like to be raked second,” Silje said with a giggle. “And here you have Asmus, Nicolaj's brother.”

They all greeted him warmly and smiled as he side-hugged them all hello, like they were all old friends, then Ivar came back to stand next to Silje.

And guys, this is Ivar. He's... my friend,” she concluded, not looking at her friends but at Ivar when the words came out of her mouth.

Oh, you certainly look like you're friends,” Nicolaj barely had the time to finish the sentence before Asmus elbowed him in the stomach, making his brother bend over while a chorus of 'ssshhh' came from the group. “Gods, you people are so stuck up.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Hey Silje, is it my imagination or did your friend Nicolaj flirt with me?” Ivar asked, breaking the surrounding silence.

They were walking home quietly. In the end their 'coffee' turned into a drink, then several drinks, and lasted well into the night. It was a fresh night but not so much as to be cold, and Silje and Ivar took their sweet time walking back in the still fairly busy streets of Copenhagen. Apparently they weren't the only ones who decided to go out today, and a lot of students celebrated the end of their exams too.

Silje scoffed and stretched her arms until her shoulders cracked slightly. Laughter fell from her lips, echoing through the street.

“My sweet innocent Ivar!,” She chuckled. “He was flirting so openly I was almost sorry for you,” she said. “And to be honest I'd be a bit worried if you hadn't noticed, he was all over you.”

“Just making sure,” Ivar grumbled, not happy about what she implied. “He could just be weirdly friendly, he looks like the type.”

Like me? Silje thought. But she suppressed the bitter thought as quickly as it popped in her mind. It wasn't Ivar's fault that he couldn't see she liked him. She should grow a pair and tell him point blank, except she was too cowardly to do so. She smiled wider to hide her sudden embarrassment.

“He does, right? And he gets friendlier with each drink too,” she told him. “I think it went well.”

“How so?” Ivar arched a brow and glanced at her, hands in his pockets. At this point it was that or risking he reaches out for her – a had one too many drinks and didn't trust himself to make the rigth decision.

“They like you,” she simply said with a little shrug.

Ivar stared at her, open-mouthed but silent. He didn't ask any further questions, nor did Silje provide a more detailed answer. He didn't need one though, he got it. It was important to her that her friends liked him, it was like an approval stamp. He hadn't realized what he got himself into earlier on, but he was glad he passed the test. He enjoyed their company too, Silje's group of friends was a merry troop of weirdos, but they were so much fun and seemed very close.

“Well what's not to like?” He ended up saying, easing away the slight tension in the air. “I'm tall, handsome, charming...” He enumerated his qualities, making large hand gestures for emphasis, before putting them back in his pockets. “Nicolaj has good taste.”

“I'll tell him that next time I see him,” Silje snickered, watching Ivar's grin disappear.

“Please, don't,” he winced. “Let's try to avoid a do-over of tonight.”

In Ivar's defence, Nicolaj really outdid himself with the flirting. Asmus pretended to gag several times throughout the evening, and Ava had to forcefully drag him away when they called it a night, while Nicolaj blew kisses to Ivar.

“I bet you secretly loved it!” Silje declared, poking Ivar in the chest with her pointer finger. They were now standing by the train platform, waiting for their ride home. “How long has it been since the last time you got hit on?”

The correct answer was two minutes before meeting her friends, when she once again behaved like a flustered schoolgirl around him, simultaneously hoping he didn't notice her odd behaviour and wishing he did. So maybe she didn't ask the right question. When was the last time Ivar realized he was being hit on, was better.

“Can't remember, I was a bit of a hermit between the moment I dropped out of uni and the day I met you,” he answered, unaware of Silje's quiet disappointment. “But I vaguely remembered how awkward it was to have someone rub against you when you're not into them,” he added, smiling somewhat embarrassingly, as if he was picturing something in his head.

“Don't you wish people were more direct when it came to these things?” Silje wondered out loud, looking to her left where the train was coming. It stopped, and when the doors opened they steppe in, finding two seats where they could speak freely. Her eyes then flickered to Ivar who gave her a questioning look. “Feelings. Attraction. Whatever you wanna call it.”

“Like pulling someone aside and making a grandiloquent love declaration?” He asked, a tiny smile tugging at his lips as though he was making fun of her – which he definitely was. Silje rolled her eyes.

“Not quite what I had in mind,” she said, pouting a little. “Just... if people could tell their feelings outright instead of dropping hints, hoping against hope that the other person will pick them up.”

“I see your point, but wouldn't it suck the fun out of it?” Ivar mused.

“The thrill is in the chase?” Silje replied, guessing what he meant. “I supposed yeah. But it would prevent so many people from being miserable. Haven't you ever pined after someone so hard it hurts?”

At this Ivar winced visibly, then smiled a little to himself, as if he was laughing at a joke Silje wasn't in on. Her curiosity pushed her to ask him what he was thinking about, but she swallowed down her questions. If he was thinking about someone in particular, she didn't want to know. After all, she was one of the pining miserable pining idiots. Her heart constricted in her chest and she looked away.

“Anyway, it was just a thought. I know it'll never happen, people don't have the balls for that,” she huffed after a moment of agreeable silence. They both seemed to have come to the conclusion that she was right, but her wish was unrealistic.

Ivar chuckled at her remark and he couldn't help but agree.

“Then why mention it at all?” Ivar asked, pushing his curiosity. This wasn't a nice question, it was nosy and irrelevant, and it forced Silje to tell him things that were none of his business. It was like asking her directly if she was pining after someone. Oh, and you know what? He might as well. “Is there someone you wish would do that?”

Silje blushed but tried to hide it as best she could with her hair, though the neons of the train weren't helping. However Ivar did not notice because he too was busy looking elsewhere, a little scared that if he looked her in the eyes she would see right through him.

She was so taken aback that she nearly spilled out the truth that she actually did want someone to tell her how he felt, hell, maybe she even wanted that grandiloquent love declaration Ivar spoke of minutes ago. But she quickly pulled herself back together and whipped her head towards Ivar.

“What kind of nosy question is that? It's none of your business Mister!” She told him when she was sure her voice wasn't going to betray her.

“Someone's getting defensive!” Ivar laughed. “I'll take that as a yes.”

This time there was no hiding the rising blush on Silje's cheeks, and Ivar saw it plain as daylight.

“So it's true!” He said, a wicked grin on his face – as if he wasn't handsome enough without that. “I was just teasing, but I'm right!”

Since when had he become so good at lying? He wasn't teasing at all – well, not only – but rather trying to fish out some information. If Silje liked someone he wanted to know.

His smiled fell. She did like someone. Who was it? Whoever he was, he couldn't be part of her group of friends, he saw the way she acted with them and it was nothing but friendly. Not to mention one of them was gay, and another one had a girlfriend.

The mood darkened significantly after that, both of them silently cursing their star for their one-sided feelings. Ivar sighed, and he thought about what Hvitserk told him – once again. It was haunting him.

You're lying to yourself if you think you still have valid reasons to stay quiet about your feelings.

After all, maybe he was right. One could argue that knowing Silje was interested in someone else was a good reason not to pipe word about his feelings for her, but Ivar knew better. Ivar knew that he could only blame himself if she walked away with another, because he was the one dropping hints and hoping against hope that she would pick them up.

She was right – of course he shouldn't be surprised, Silje was almost always right. People should stop beating around the bush, and thus prolonging their own agony. But she was right about something else too: he didn't have the balls to tell her.

It felt much easier when he thought about coming onto her a few months back, when he thought he was simply attracted to her, but wouldn't make a move for other very valid – or so he thought at the time – reasons. But now that those reasons were outdated, he had a much better one to shut the fuck up: self-preservation. Now... now his heart was in the balance.

“I had a surprise for you,” Silje said, bursting Ivar's bubble of melancholy. He blinked few times. Silje was standing now; they arrived to their station.

“A surprise?” Ivar asked as they exited the train to walk the remaining distance. “When did you find the time to prepare me a surprise before your exam?”

He didn't even question the fact that she had a surprise for him in the first place, that was merely Silje being her usual self. Sometimes he would come home and she would greet him with a 'SURPRISE' because she made his favourite dish, or found this awesome sweater in the local thrift store, or because she had a clay mask on and wanted to scare him. That last one worked unfailingly.

“I didn't prepare it yet, I wanted to make it after my exam but then...”

She didn't finish because they both knew what happened then, and they smiled to each other. Ivar was so glad his hands were in his pockets, he wanted to grab her waist and pull her to him so bad his fingers tingled.

“So what is it?” He inquired, wondering which kind of surprise it would be this time.

“Is the whole concept of a surprise foreign to you?” Silje replied with a snarky comment, which caused Ivar to send her a stinky look. “Don't give me that look! You'll know in less than an hour. I hope you still have a bit of room after all that beer.”

So it's a food-related surprise. He liked those a lot.

Ivar whined. “So long?” He threw his head back, his eyes focusing on the night sky.

“You are insufferable,” Silje complained, her voice laced with fondness. “Since you're so impatient I'm going to take my time.”

Ivar protested but seeing that his protests had the opposite of the desired effect he quickly stopped and grumbled some more to himself before letting it go. Silje smiled in quiet victory, smirking to herself. They reached their place, and Ivar was ordered to sit down and bit still – and quiet – while she prepared everything. If he cheated, she would eat it all herself – and the gods know Silje was going to carry out that threat, she would gobble it all down right in front of him.

So Ivar sat on the couch, arms crossed like a sulking child while the TV played some old black and white movie he had no interest in; however he needed to background noise to keep him distracted from the distinctive cooking noises coming from behind him. He couldn't tell what she was doing. He heard her open the fridge, use the electrical whipper, the clatter of glass, then it became quiet when she put whatever she was cooking in the oven, taking car of putting a towel before it, to hide what's inside.

“And now we wait!” She said proudly, apparently happy with herself. It had been quick, so Ivar guessed the cooking time was what would take most of the time.

“Already on it,” Ivar said, his biting remark forcing a giggle out of Silje who proceeded to wash the dishes and clean the counter.

“You're so grumpy, what is the matter with you?” She asked when she was done and joined him on the couch.

Any other day Ivar would have offered to wash the dishes for her, or help her with something, anything. Even when he knew she was going to say no, he still offered. She racked her brain to try and remember if something occurred earlier that upset him, but she couldn't pinpoint exactly when his mood darkened.

Was it her babbling about feelings? Was it Nicolaj's relentless flirting that wore him out? Could it be that he had something planned for them and had to abandon his plans in favour of spending the evening with a bunch of people he never met before? It was so unlike Ivar to act like that. Ever since he healed from his leg injury he was the light of Silje's life.

“Nothing...” He told her, forcing a smile on his face to ease her worries. Silje didn't buy the lie, but she dropped the matter anyway, not wanting to force him to say something he wasn't ready to share with her. “I need to take a leak.”

Silje's left eyebrow twitched when Ivar stood up, leaving her sitting there with her concerns while he took off to avoid further questions.

“You might be tall and handsome but you can scratch charming off the list!” She shouted at him after the bathroom door closed on him.

Laughter erupted from behind the door. Silje smiled to herself. Maybe all hope wasn't lost to salvage this evening, even if something bothered him.

When he came back he seemed to be in a lighter mood, though Silje knew it was forced on his part. Unbeknownst to her he hadn't gone to the bathroom to take a leak, but to give himself a pep talk in front of the mirror and get his shit together. He didn't like to worry Silje. He liked to see her smile because of him. He liked to make her life easier, and happier.

Fucking hell, he was so in love it was disgusting.

He only came out when Silje called his name again, asking if he needed help in there. Ivar rolled his eyes before walking out, smiling somewhat convincingly – it was the best he could do. Hvitserk's words still nagged him. They were like an chihuahua biting at his ankles: annoying, testing his patience, and hard to ignore.

“You can't help me with this,” Ivar said, leaning over the back of the couch. Silje twisted around and crossed her arms on the back of the couch to face Ivar.

They both knew that 'this' was not referring to whatever he was doing in the bathroom, and Silje accepted it. It was good to know that he only refused her help because she couldn't help him, and not because he didn't want it, though she had guess as much by now. It wasn't in Ivar's character to be aloof and cold.

“I figured that much,” she told him. “Care for a game of cards while we wait?”

“Happy Families?” Ivar laughed, looking at the deck she set on the table. “Finally you chose a game you have a chance to win.”

“Wait until I hand your ass to you before boasting!” She warned him, holding a finger out at him, which Ivar turned away from him.

“It's very rude to point at people with your finger, don't you know that?” He patronized her, knowing full well that it irked her.

“Oh I know,” she glared at him. “The game is on!”

There never was a more competitive pair than the two of them, even when they played children games. The need to win was present all the same. Maybe it was because his mind was elsewhere, or maybe Silje had gone about it in a smarter way than he did, but the result was undeniable: she won. It was Silje's turn to boast and rub her victory in Ivar's face – he wasn't a sore loser thank the gods, unlike Silje who sulked every time.

Her victory dance was cut short by the oven's alarm, and Silje bolted to the kitchenette to retrieve their midnight snack, because that's how late it was.

“Not too soon, I was getting old!”

“Shut up Ivar.”

He was going to retort something else but then Silje set down a tray with four small disnes, and two spoons, a huge smile on her face. She didn't say anything but instead waited for his reaction, which was slow in coming. When it became apparent that she wasn't going to get anything out of him like this, Silje spoke up.

“So? It's crème brûlée, you said it was on your list, right?” She prompted him to say something, and Ivar swallowed thickly, not sure what to say.

If he opened his mouth he might say something dumb he would regret later like “I love you so goddamn much” because of course she remembered his list, and she set to cross as many things off of it as she could. As if he needed another reason to be thankful for having her in his life. In all honesty, he didn't say anything because if he so much as tried to coax a sound out of his throat he might cry.

What he wouldn't give to be able to take off again, hide in the bathroom and turn on the shower so he could let the tears flow again. It had became a habit of his over the weeks, to just let it all out while he showered, so he could blame his red eyes on the shampoo if Silje asked him about them. Sometimes he wondered what would have become of him if she wasn't... Silje.

Ivar nodded and offered her a small smile since she was still staring at him in wait of a reaction. She expected something different, something a bit more enthusiastic. Instead she got a blank stare and complete and utter silence. For her own sake, she decided to take it as a compliment – Ivar was so moved that words eluded him. It wasn't far from the truth.

They ate in silence, the only sound in the small apartment coming from the tv and the spoon clicking against the glass dishes she baked the crèmes brûlées in. Meanwhile, Silje's imagination ran wild, wondering if maybe she had done something wrong. Did Ivar have a painful memory attached to this dessert? Should she have made smørrebrød? After a while she started recounting how her exam went, just to say something. But Ivar just looked awfully serious and lost in his own world, probably not listening to a word of what she said.

“Ivar?” She asked, tentatively. His name caught his attention and he looked at, staring her right in the eyes.

“I have something to tell you.” He had blurted out the sentence before he could stop himself.

It became too heavy to carry around his secret crush. More than anything he wished that Silje would notice and say something about it – it wasn't like she was shy – but he must have been better at hiding his feelings than he thought, because she was utterly oblivious. Hiding wasn't even the proper word because he didn't put much effort in it, he just tried to respect her boundaries.

Only one solution left in this situation: tell her outright. What she told him on their way back gave him food for thought, and it hadn't left the back of his mind all evening, making him question his approach to the issue.

The issue was that he considered it an issue. Having feelings shouldn't, and wasn't an issue. He had to own up to it, and tell her. Because she deserved to know, and he deserved a chance to let her know. She was staring back just as intensely, not knowing where his sudden jolt of awakeness came from.

“I-” She began but was immediately cut short by her ring tone.

She brought her lips in a thin line, frowning and pulling her phone out of her bag. If it was Ubbe asking to speak to Ivar again she was going to change number. But it wasn't.

“I did it!” The voice in the phone shouted so loud even Ivar could hear it, and Silje almost dropped the object. “I DID IT SIL!”

“Hvitserk would you mind turning down the volume?” She shouted back in the phone, holding it at a respectable distance from her sensitive ears. She pressed the speaker button so Ivar could be part of the conversation. “You're on speaker.”

“Great! Listen to this Ivar you little shit!” Hvitserk snickered in victory. “I manned up and asked Inge out- I mean to marry me. I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.”

Ivar wanted to grab Silje's phone and throw it out the window. Hvitserk could not out him right now, right before Ivar did it himself.

“Now you-”

“That's fantastic news!” Silje cut him off, making Ivar nearly faint in relief. He was going to strangle Hvitserk, Inge will just have to find another father for her children. “How- when...” She stuttered out, unable to put order in her thoughts but clearly asking for details. “Wait why do you call in the middle of the night to tell me that? At least tell me you went down on one knee and didn't just pop the question during pillow talk!”

Hvitserk laughed nervously but elected to ignore Silje's question, as she had aimed right.

“You're the man!” Ivar said with genuine enthusiasm, though he was still ready to murder Silje's tactless brother with is are hands next time he sees him.

So much for the declaration of feelings, Ivar could hardly steal the scene now, and Silje was way too excited about the news to listen to him now anyway. She happily chatted with her brother while Ivar grabbed his second serving of crème brûlée, cursing Hvitserk to the pits of Hel.

 

*

 

Going out?” Ivar asked, humming to himself as his eyes scanned the pages of the book he was reading. A heavy illustrated volume with laminate pages; the title red Medieval Scandinavia: Overview of Viking Warfare.

Silje, who was bent in two, putting on her shoes, looked up.

“Eh- yeah, meeting with Hvitty, Ubbe and Sigurd, he's decided to come out of his man cave and grace us with a few hours of his presence,” she snorted, rolling her eyes. “The gods know when he'll do that again, so I made some time to have a drink with my brothers. Besides they are rarely all back at the same time.”

“One's still missing,” Ivar said, absent-mindedly, biting down on his pencil while he read, until he found something worth jotting down.

“Are you complaining?” Silje giggled.

“Hey, I was wondering, how many more exams do you have?” He asked, this time looking at her.

“Oh- ugh, three. I still have to attend the classes until the exams are over, but in two weeks' time I'll be done,” Silje said, though not knowing why he asked. His eyes focused back on his book. He was biting the inside of her left cheek, as if deep in thought. “Do you want to come?” She asked after a minute of silence. “I think Hvitserk has yet to announce his engagement, it could be fun.” Ivar was so engrossed in his book that he could barely participate in a conversation right now.

“Mmmh, no thanks,” he hummed. “Have fun!”

Right. Silje smiled to herself and fought the urge to roll her eyes again. This boy was a history nerd, she found that out the moment he plunged himself back into his thesis and began to bring home thick volumes from the library, claiming that he had tons of things to catch up on. That was true for the most part, but he was clearly overdoing it.

“You too!” Silje took her keys and after a second of hesitation also grabbed a light scarf before going out in the windy streets. The sun might show his face during the day but it became chilly in the evening.

For once she needn't run to the S-train because the oldest of the three was waiting for her by the door when she waled out of her building. Through the windows she could see Hvitserk waving at her from the backseat and next to him was Sigur, wearing his usual ticked off expression, like he was in the presence of a five year old – which wasn't too far off when you considered Hvitserk's mental age.

The greetings were warm and noisy, and Silje was thankful Ubbe let her ride shotgun instead of being trapped back there with Hvitserk and Sigurd. She loved all of her brothers, the gods be witness, but these two got along like cat and dog, and it was never a good idea to stand in between.

“Let's fucking go!” Hvitserk exclaimed, setting the general mood.

 

*

 

“Oh, you haven't met Ivar!” Ubbe said, suddenly getting why Sigurd seemed so confused when Silje recounted her latest adventures to her finally returned brother.

Catching up over a drink had become a tradition of sorts for them, and there was always much to catch up on given how Silje liked to go out and participate in events of all sorts. She still volunteered for the Red Cross, taught English to middle schoolers, and sometimes walked the dog of the old lady living on the ground floor. She shamefully admitted that she had been doing less since Ivar came into her life.

Who's Ivar?” He said, squinting his eyes at the name.

Silje's boyfriend,” Hvitserk said, earning a smack behind the head from the mchief party concerned. “Ouch!”

He's not!” She snapped, hand still in the air, ready to strike again if Hvitserk so much as showed a sign of thinking to reply. “He's a friend of mine, he's been crashing on my couch for a while now.”

Before agreeing to come to this reunion Silje, Ubbe, and Hvitserk talked about what they should say, and they decided not to share Ivar's personal life with anyone if it wasn't necessary. Sigurd was naturally uninterested in strangers' lives, he wouldn't ask any questions, therefore there was no need to lie, they would simply withhold the whole truth.

Furthermore, it might not be the best idea to tell their family. What they didn't know can't hurt them, and Ivar was a proud man, he wouldn't want his past to become public knowledge. If anyone asked who the hell Ivar was, he was a friend Silje met at University.

“Another stray dog you bring home? Don't you ever learn?” Sigurd huffed, crossing his arms like their mom usually does when she was scolding them.

“What?” Silje let out, her voice too high pitched to sound natural. “Take it back you fuck ass!” She growled, switching to defensive mode. She smacked him same as she did Hvitserk earlier, and both of the boys looked at each other like it was the other's fault they got hit. “And you-” she turned back to Hvitserk. “Be serious for a second. He's your friend too.”

So is someone gonna tell me why the hell this Ivar guy is such a big deal?” Sigurd sighed. His left hand rested across the back seat while his right one now fiddled with his empty glass. Ubbe's eyes locked with it before raising an arm, gesturing the waiter to bring another pint.

“He's become Silje's shadow,” Ubbe put in. “Can't really catch up on what Silje's been doing without mentioning him.”

As if he had been waiting for an occasion to start chatting away again Hvitserk sat up straight and began talking again in this animated way of his. Silje knew it meant nothing good for her – and she couldn't reasonably smack him upside the head again, they were in a public place after all.

“They are always together – don't even deny it,” he added for Silje who found the bottom of her glass fascinating. “She took care of the fucker for weeks after he hurt his leg, and she cooks for him, and gives him her library card so he can borrow books freely. I can barely see one without the other!” Hvitserk sniggered in his glass of beer before taking a gulp down.

Ubbe didn't interject but quietly nodded to everything Hvitserk said like he argeed with all of it.

“So?” Sigurd asked flatly, not getting why his brother was loosing his shit over this.

“Friends don't do this kind of shit!” Hvitserk said, looking at Sigur as if his brother had grown an extra limb. Sigurd looked back and shrugged, clearly not seeing what Hvitserk claimed was obvious.

“Since when are you so observant? I bet you're seeing things,” Sigurd argued, very clearly annoyed by his younger brother's far-fetched theories about their sister's love life or lack thereof. “Tell him Silje!”

“Yes, tell him I'm right Sil!” Hvitserk replied, also looking at her.

Silje smiled, shaking her head slightly. How many times had she been on the receiveing end of those stares? She couldn't remember the number of times she had to act as a mediator for these two. Ubbe seemed to enjoy the show, sipping his beer in amused silence.

“I'm not saying anything,” she eventually said, earning a round of groans and complains. “It's not your business!” She argued, raising her pointer finger to them both and giving them the Mom Look.

Oh c'mon, now you're being ridiculous,” Hvitserk snorted. “You're our only sister, we make it our business.”

“You're meddling!” Sigurd now accused Hvitserk, earning an offended gasp in answer. “You're playing match making, and that's why you see signs everywhere!”

Silje wished Sigurd was right, because his theory was valid and actually happened before, but this time she couldn't say the same. Hvitserk might exagerrate a ton, but he wasn't dead wrong either, because Silje did bear feelings for Ivar, and she was not the best at hiding what she felt.

“I'm betting my money on Hvitty this time,” Ubbe cut in, joining the conversation. “They are very cozy around eah other.”

The three brothers began arguing as though Silje wasn't sitting right there, blushing both out of fluster and second hand embarrassment – people were staring.

“Can we not go back to Hvitserk's proposal?” Silje whined, trying to change the subject but they didn't even hear her talk over the noise they were making and the background music in the bar.

“I've been with Inge since the dawn of time, your sentimal life is so much more interesting little sister,” Hvisterk said in a huff, resembling a gossiping schoolgirl as he leaned closer towards his siblings to recount Silje and Ivar's odd courtship rituals. Yes, he said courtship rituals, and Silje's eyes rolled so far back in her head she saw her brain for the briefest moment.

“No offense Sil, but the way you flirt is shameful,” he told her, increasing the blush on her cheeks. Silje willed herself to cool down, but the heat of her flaming cheeks didn't decrease in the least, and she inwardly cursed her fair complexion.

“I take great offense!” She barked back, glaring daggers at an oblivious and slightly buzzed Hvitserk who couldn't take a hint if it knocked him out.

Sigurd listented still, although clearly not interested and a little bored. He leaned his head on his right arm and stred at the golden liquid in his glass. Silje decided that today Sigurd was her favourite brother, and that she was going to give Hvitserk a piece of her mind as soon as she could corner him and have a little one on one with him.

Ubbe seemed relatively disinterested too, though he wore a constant little smirk, more amused by Hvitserk's behavior than by what he was saying.

“Let him have his fun, you can't plan payback another day,” Ubbe nudged Silje in an attempt to make her relax.

She hadn't realized how tense she was up until this point, when she flinched at the contact of her brother's arm against hers. She gritted her teeth and breathed deeply, summoning what little patience she still had – it was going to be a long night.

 

*

 

After his failed attempt at confessing, Ivar clammed up. He didn't try to say anything again, and maybe this had something to do with the atmosphere that was a little off? Or maybe he was imagining things, and nothing had changed.

The point is, Ivar was restless, fidgety, and he wanted to grab Silje's by the shoulders to shake her like a tree while yelling 'I love you dumbass, can't you see it?'. Except he knew that would be a bad way to go about it.

“Should've gone with her,” he grumbled to himself, having lost interest in his history book half an hour ago. “I could do with a beer.”

He couldn't pinpoint when exactly he picked up alcohol again, but he could count on Silje to tap his fingers if she thought he drank too much – the girl barely let him become tipsy, on the ground that she's “not dragging home his piss drunk ass home”. It made him chuckle, picturing her stern glare as she pushed his half empty pint of beer over to Hvitserk because the boy had a supernaturally high tolerance to alcohol, while Ivar, who hadn't touched it in years, held his drink like a teenage girl. He wasn't proud of it, but that's what you get when you stop drinking for a long time – not that it was a bad thing, Silje often reminded him.

He didn't even know where they went, or he could have joined them. Out of sheer hope he checked him phone – sometimes Silje texted him where she went, just to be safe. Though he didn't know she would need to when he was with her brothers. He was curious about this Sigurd, the one who supposedly hated everyone and wouldn't care for meeting Ivar even if he was being paid for it.

He sounded even more of a hermit than Ivar, he mused, sliding his phone out of his pocket. It lit up and and the screen displayed a couple of messages.

  1. From Hvitserk

if you don't confess soon i'll do it for you!!!

  1. From Silje

Kill me please, Hvitserk is the most annoying drunk

He ignored the first message and only opened Silje's. His fingers flew over the tactile screen and he sent his answer. Less than a minute later, the phone buzzed.

  1. From Silje

We're at the Dubliner at Amagertorv

Come save me and i'll make you as many crème brûlées as you want

He smirked. She provided him the perfect excuse to come, he wouldn't even have to admit that he hated hanging out on his own at her place. He felt like a squatter, it didn't sit right with him. After all these months you'd think he felt like home, and it's true that Silje always managed to make him feel like it when she was around, treating like he wasn't a parasite living on her couch for free, but whenever she was away, it felt... cold.

Now he was being mushy and ridiculous, he couldn't think this way. This apartmeent was totally fine, there was nothing cold or unwelcoming about it. Deep down, Ivar knew that he felt like this because he was crushing so hard on Silje that he was miserable when she wasn't there. Pathetic really.

Still, he got up and put on his sneakers and an old suede jackets – it had lost of frils and was two sizes too big but he liked it and bought it from a thrift store. Within a minute he was outside, strolling towards the right bus stop.

 

*

 

“Will you stop now? Can I at least speak for myself?” Silje groaned in frustration, her eyebrow twiching angrily while her brothers grew more and more inhebriated and less and less reasonable.

“To say what?” Ubbe questioned – he had now joined Hvitserk in his teasing, and even Sigurd seemed to enjoy himself, though he could hardly know where the truth lied, having never met the chief concerned party of this friendly argument.

“You're just going to deny it all,” Sigurd said.

“Yes, because what he says it dumb. On what ground do you claim that Ivar likes me?” She shot back, her eyes switching to Hvitserk and his reddened face. He really was drunk now. “And you're done with beer, you get water from now on!”

“Oh don't be a buzz kill!” He complained, quickly emptying his glass as if he was afraid she'd snatch it from him. “I'm great, and I'm definitely right! You two are like... like... those weird exotic birds who dance for each other as a seduction ritual.”

“Right, because you're the expert in relationships of the family,” she replied, her voice holding an edge. “I'd give more credit to Ubbe's opinion in the matter.”

“What does that even mean?” All three of them exclaimed – Hvitserk offended because he was the one who had been with the same girl the longest, Ubbe vexed by what Silje's remark implied, and Sigurd because he wasn't even considered for the position of lady's man. All as bad as one another. Silje sighed, once again feeling like she was the odlest of them all. If only Bjorn was here, he'd put an end to this silly conversation, claiming it was idiotic high school level gossip. Which it was.

“Oh wow, I think Silje was right,” Hvitserk suddenly said, looking past her and blinking a few times, as if he had something stuck in his eye. “This beer must be stronger than I thought, I'm having visions.”

They turned towards the front door, and sure enough there stood Ivar, looking dashing even in his casual second hand clothes, and his untamed hair. Silje had to summon an enormous amount of self control in order not to blush again when he scanned the place and finally locked eyes with her, his whole face ligthing up.

“I see him too, brother,” Ubbe laughed at Hvitserk's dramatic attitude.

“See?” Hvitserk said to Sigurd, focusing again. “She's been away from him for two hours at most and he came over! They can't live without each other!” He whined, and the siblings didn't know if he was simply complaining or if he was seriously trying to demonstrate that Silje and Ivar were indeed soulmates. Like he was in physical pain from seeing them silently pine after each other.

“Does he ever shut up?” Sigurd groaned, pushing his younger brother away when he begant o cling onto him.

“Just let him annoy you for a bit, it'll make him happy,” Ubbe sniggered in his beer, talking about his brother as he would a child.

Silje braced herself for what was to come. Both relieved to see Ivar because she knew he at least would be on her side if her brothers decided to keep arguing about silly matters, and worried that Hvitserk wouldn't watch what he said. She glared at him for the briefest moment before greeting Ivar, introducing him to the third Ragnarsson.

Sigurd snorted and looked away, deeply unimpressed after all the fuss Hvitserk made about this dude who was supposedly Silje's crush. Ivar, having been warned of the moods of the third brother, did not take offense. In fact his smile never even wavered as he sat down on the bench next to Silje, and to his left was Ubbe sitting on a chair. They managed to find a small corner table thank the gods, because it meant the whole pub couldn't hear their nonsensical blabbering.

“Did you finish your book already?” Silje asked, earning a sheepish shake of the head.

“Vikings can wait, I thought I'd socialize a bit instead,” he said, his fingers tapping the table, to Sigurd's utmost annoyance.

Not that Sigurd had anything against the sound, he just decided that this Ivar guy was annoying. Everything he did ticked him off for some reason. And he hadn't even had the time to do anything yet.

Ivar gestured to the waiter to bring him a pint, and asked what he'd missed. A chorus of unintelligible muttering answered his questions, making him wonder if he had interrupted a private conversation or something of the sort, but he ellected to ignore it. He came he to have fun.

“I guess I should start by drinking to you Hvitserk,” Ivar declared the moment his order came. “Haven't had a chance to congratulate you in person yet.”

Everyone at the table raised their glass to drink to the same thing they did all evening, though gladly doing it again. Hvitserk smiled a devilish smile that made Silje want to do something drastic like stab Ubbe in the thigh with one of the toothpicks they were brought when they ordered cheese and crackers, to create a distraction and quickly snatch Ivar away.

“Thanks man,” Hvitserk said, looking awfully sober now for some reason. Silje didn't put it past her youngest brother to pretend to be drunk merely to get away with his stupid behavior. “Maybe I'll drink to you one day!” The idiot winked, he dared...

Skål!” Ubbe shouted before Silje could kill the soon-to-be-married Ragnarsson, or befor Ivar could add two and two together.

The evening carried one on a much nicer tone, as if Ivar's presence forced the brothers to behave, and stop teasing Silje about stuff they had no business knowing about. Although she hated to admit it, they were right – not that she was going to voice that, she would sooner die that give Hvitserk this pleasure. Her heart did do some weird acrobatics in presence of Ivar, and her hands did become fidgety and sweaty. How many times had she rubbed her palms on her dress? The gods know.

However happy she was to be reunite with her brothers, Silje was still in the middle of her exams, so when the clock stroke midnight she called it a night. Of course that was greeted with a chorus of protests but when she explained they let it slide.

Claiming that they had their fiancées to go back to, Ubbe and Hvitserk agreed that it might be a good time to go home. Sigurd said he would stay a while longer. This allowed Ivar to take his place in the car. It was a short drive to Silje's building, and since Ubbe and Hvitserk lived in opposite directions, the youngest decided to walk the rest of the way, having nothing urgent to do, and claiming that the fresh air would do him good after so many pints.

Ivar looked at Silje chatting with Ubbe as they said goodbye, not noticing the little smile that formed naturally when his eyes fell on her. He was brought out of his daydream when someone nudged him in the ribs.

“What are you so afraid of?” Hvitserk snorted, amused by Ivar's constant worrying and postponing the inevitable.

It was a tough question to answer, not because he didn't know the answer but because he knew it and it was lame as hell. He was afraid that she didn't return the feelings, and that he'd put the break on a beautiful friendship.

“I guess you don't have to answer then,” Hvitserk said, defeated. “Hey, I forgot to tell you but we're having an engagement party! June 29th, and you're invited of course.” He smirked. “You can go as Sije's plus one.”

Ivar didn't say anything but he smiled and nodded. His eyes drifted back to Silje's form, unable to look away. He seriously could not help himself, she was beautiful. The shirt of her dress was wrinkled on the back because she sat too long, and her face shiny because of how hot and damp it was in the crowded bar, but she was breathtaking.

“Alright...” Hvitserk said as he stretched. “I'm gonna go now. Oh and by the way, she likes you too.”

Ivar stayed still and blinked, not sure if he heard wrong or not. His friends had already turned on his heels, and distanced himself from the building, and towards his own place. When Ivar came back to earth, he was already far.

“You can’t just say that and then disappear!” Ivar shouted at Hvitserk, but the young soldier didn't turn around and continued walking away, laughing to himself. The bastard really did just disappear without another word.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ivar sat on his usual spot on the couch with a contented sigh, still massaging his wet hair with a towel. A long and busy day was behind him, and this shower felt like heaven. He planned on watching TV until Silje came home, and perhaps even nap. Except he was startled by the slam of the bedroom door, watching with wide eyes Silje storm out, denim jacket half on, and barefoot.

“Oh, I didn't hear you come back,” he said, barely getting a side glance.

“Yeah, I just came by, I'm heading out again-” she held up her set of keys, already leaning down to grab her shoes.

“Wait, where are you going now?” Ivar asked, one arm hanging from the back of the couch, brows knitted together in confusion.

Silje didn't go out much during her exams, much less after a day of class. Once she reached the comfort of her home it was usually hard to get her to go out again, so why would she rush out so soon again? A thought hit him.

“Please don't tell me you have another tinder date. I would feel obligated to follow you around, inconspicuously hiding behind a newspaper, just in case he misbehaves and I have to intervene.”

“Lovely thought, but will you lay off the drama?” Silje rolled her eyes and leaned against the wall to put on her boot. “I forgot to go grocery shopping. We don't have anything for dinner, and we're out of breakfast food. With all this studying and Sigurd coming back, not to mention Hvitserk's engagement, I forgot. I just had so much on my mind that it completely slipped-” She stopped talking, letting out a grunt as her foot finally slipped into the leather shoe.

Silje pouted when she glanced outside, seeing how the rain was still heavy. It was as if there was a water curtain in front of the window. Ivar smiled.

“Have you looked in the fridge?” He asked.

“What for? It's so empty I bet if I open it there'll be a ball of twigs rolling out of it.”

“You knock off the drama,” Ivar laughed, shaking his head. “You can leave that shoe where it is-” he pointed at the other boot. “I went grocery shopping on the way back from work,” he informed her, shrugging non committally, and focusing back on the TV screen.

“You did?” Silje suspended her hand in the hair, holding her other shoe. Her voice transpired hope and relief.

“Yeah.”

A groan of pleasure came from her as she removed her shoe, shrugged off her jacket and crawled on the couch. She lied down, letting her head rest on Ivar's thigh to his absolute shock and pleasure.

“You're the best roommate anyone's ever had,” she praised him dramatically, her relief at not having to leave the comfort of her home again overwhelming her.

Ivar instinctively put a hand on her side. Not that he usually did that to her, it was just an affectionate gesture that came naturally. He stiffened the second he realized what he had done. It was too late to draw it back now. She was soft. So soft. To the touch and to the eyes, as always.

Today was a bit chillier again, so she wore a long sleeved dress that reached her ankles. It was tight at the sleeves and bust, but flowing from the waist down. It was made out of an insanely soft material Ivar didn't know the name of, and it was pink. The skirt of the dress fell on her legs like a thin sheet, displaying the smooth curve of her figure. She looked so cosy Ivar had the fight the urge to swipe her up in his arms and cuddle her.

He was stunned to feel Silje's hand gently come to rest over his. They both made a conscious effort into pretending everything about this was normal and not out of the ordinary at all, focusing on TV as if the aquamarine life of the Lake Baikal was the most fascinating topic in the world. He smiled, unaware that she was doing the same.

“Isn't this so hyggelige ?” Silje said after a while of simply watching TV and trying not to doze off in order to enjoy the moment a bit longer.

“Mmmh,” Ivar hummed in agreement, his hand suddenly moving a bit under hers.

His fingers began to brush over her ribs very lightly, almost tickling her. Silje was both tempted to hold his hand and completely let go to see how far he would go – if anywhere at all.

“It's raining outside, warm inside. Our day is over, the fridge is full. The TV's on, we're just sleepy enough. I could die happy right now.” She snuggled closer to Ivar, who suspended his hand in the air until Silje was comfortable, then placed it back on her waist.

“Please don't, it would be much less hyggelige if you died,” Ivar replied along with a chuckle to make it sound like he was joking and did not totally blurt out a secret truth. He bit down on his tongue. “Your brothers would immediately come murder me if anything happens to you.”

He felt her laugh though no sound came out of her mouth.

“That's a possibility,” she finally said. “Let's avoid that yeah?” Ivar stiffened when her other hand touched his thigh, right next to Silje's head. She mercifully let it rest there, and did not attempt to move it, to Ivar's utmost relief.

The only thing worse than Hvitserk outing his feelings for him, would be to have his own body betray him. She turned around to lie on her back, staring up at him with her big eyes.

“Your hair's getting long again,” she observed.

Ivar heard her words but his mind was entirely focused on his left hand that now rested on Silje's stomach. He couldn't even withdraw it because it was trapped under her hand. Not that he really wanted to. He made a conscious effort to align a few coherent thoughts and answer her.

“Just when I thought it's been a while since you last chased me around the apartment to chop it all off,” Ivar mused, a faint smirk on his lips while Silje's mouth opened in astonishment.

“I never do that!” She protested, her hand now letting go of Ivar's so she could smack his arm. “And I'm a gifted hair stylist, you ungrateful tool!”

“Oh but I'm very grateful,” Ivar said. “That you didn't go anywhere near my scalp with those scissors of yours,” he added, snickering to himself.

Silje squinted her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. In this position she hardly looked intimidating, she was just lying on Ivar's thigh, glaring up at him. It required a lot more to upset Silje, she didn't mind a bit of banter, quite the contrary. But for once she was trying to be serious.

“I wasn't going to cut it anyway,” she told Ivar, her head tilting slightly towards him. She relaxed her shoulders and dropped her defensive stance. The hand that previously held Ivar's now slipped to his shirt and began to fiddle with the soft material. “I like it this way.”

“You do?” Ivar raised a brow, not quite believing her. It was pretty long after all, his hair reached under his shoulders when it was wet like right now. He usually tied it back when he went out, but when he was chilling at home he let it down.

Silje pouted a bit, suddenly uncomfortable under his gaze. She shrugged.

“Yeah, it looks good on you,” she told him. Then she seemed to put herself together and overcome her slight embarrassment. She turned back towards the TV. “Everything looks good on you anyway, it's maddening.”

He laughed at that, he was making fun of her for saying that. It was ludicrous, and Ivar did not believe of word of it. His hair was tousled after his shower, and he wore sweats, there was nothing about this that looked even remotely attractive.

“You stupid girl,” he finally said, tears of laughter in his eyes. “You're the one who always looks good, not me.”

“I disagree,” she replied in a snort, still looking at the TV screen with great concentration. “I have to put a lot of effort into looking decent, you just waltz out of the bathroom looking great. You're making me feel self-conscious.”

“Don't say that,” he squeezed her waist. “Let's find a compromise. We'll just have to say that we're both stupidly attractive,” Ivar said jokingly.

“The hottest roommates,” Silje played along.

“We're goals,” Ivar added. “So annoyingly good-looking people can't tell if they want to slap us and tap that,” he laughed, soon joined by Silje.

“Alright, Mister Modest, cool it down will you?” She chuckled. “We won't fit our head through the door if we keep this up,” Silje said, still grinning like the Cheshire cat.

“Oh and we can't have that. Imagine, we would have to stay here forever and deprive the world of this-” Ivar gestured to them both. “Would be cruel.”

“No one's going to recover from that surely,” Silje rolled her eyes.

Her stomach growled after that and it only served to send Ivar into another fit of laughter. He was now throwing his head back, a roaring laughter falling from his lips as Silje face palmed.

“Stop laughing at me you dumbass!” She groaned, elbowing him. “I made dinner two days in a row, it's your turn tonight,” she kindly reminded him.

That was the reason why Ivar went grocery shopping in the first place. At first he was quite apprehensive of having to cook every now and then, but Silje was unrelenting and claimed that she would not become his little housewife and greet him home with a warm made-with-love meal, an apron tied around her waist. She was adamant on teaching him the basic skills needed in a kitchen. Ivar could fend for himself in a kitchen when he had to do simple things like pancakes, or noodles, and such, but it was one thing to cook for himself and just eat whatever the result looked, smelled, or tasted like. And it was a completely different thing to cook for another person.

“Give me a hand?” He asked, hope glimmering in his blue eyes. The nerve of that guy, Silje thought. But she was willing to admit that he did her a big favour by shopping for them.

“I accept, under these exceptional circumstances,” Silje said, sitting up and tousling her hair on the side that was pressed against Ivar's leg. “But you're at it again tomorrow!”

“Whatever my lady desires,” Ivar said.

It was not an easy task getting the both of them into Silje's tiny kitchen, so she sat on the opposite side of the counter, on the lone bar stool in her apartment, and she peeled and cut the potatoes following Ivar's instructions. He was a good student and quickly got the hang of it, once he mastered the basic cooking techniques he became confident enough to search new recipes – Silje once saw him browse through Pinterest and she teased him about it for a solid hour.

Since it wasn't her day to cook, she played kitchen aid while Ivar was the chef. He simply put a bunch of potatoes in front of her and told her to get to work. Silje said 'Aye Captain' and obeyed, humming to herself while her hands worked.

“Hey Ivar, ever been to a concert?” She asked out of the blue, after having disposed her slices of potato on an oven proof dish and drizzled some olive oil on them.

“No, never got the chance, why?”

“It's almost Lillefredag and Fredagsrock(1) season at Tivoli,” she chirped, apparently excited. “I go to these almost every other week in summer. We made it a tradition with the gang,” she explained. “I know you have to save as much money as you can and maybe you won't want to spend it on this, but it'd be cool if you joined us some time,” she told him, putting her elbows on the counter now that she was finished with her task.

“Are you asking me out Silje?” Ivar chuckled, taking the large dish in front of him and putting it in the oven, along with the tray of potatoes.

“Well, we don't have much choice but to go out with each other, do we? Who else could  handle our respective attractiveness?” Silje snickered, taking a baby carrot and eating it raw. Ivar slapped her hand away from the bag of carrots.

“Fair point, I guess I'll have to go then.” Ivar sighed. “For lack of a better option.”

Silje repeated after him with a silly voice and stole another carrot before Ivar dumped them all in boiling water.

“All jokes aside, I would love to go. I've always wondered if concerts were as awesome as people make it sound,” Ivar told her, putting the stove on mild temperature and leaning over the counter to face Silje.

Silje blushed instinctively, because when Ivar leaned on his arms to be at eye level with her, she very nearly leaned in and kissed him. What was it with her lately?! Couldn't she keep it in her pants? She snickered to herself, receiving a confused frown from Ivar. She waved her hand to dismiss it.

“It's even better, you'll love it. You haven't really experienced human connection if you haven't been to a concert.”

“Huh?” He hummed, intrigued. He was also tempted to fish out a carrot to eat it raw.

“Yeah, you're in this massive crowd, a sea of people really. All different from one another but at the same time similar. We're all here for the same reason: the music. And the crowd jumps and sings in unison, you can feel the bass rumbling in your chest, and it's like all our hearts are beating as one!”

Silje described vividly, making big hand gestures and grinning like a fool. She loved music, and she loved concert nights with her friends. Sometimes Asmus let her sit on his shoulders to have a better view, and Nicolaj wouldn't stop bugging her until she got down and it was his turn. She smiled at the memory.

“It sounds corny in my mouth, doesn't it” She asked. “But I can't make this up, it's just that cool.”

“It sounds like you love concerts, nothing else,” Ivar told her to her surprise. She was already feeling blood rush to her cheeks and pushed back a strand of hair.

They didn't have anything to do now apart from wait until the food was cooked, so Ivar suggested they watch TV for a while. They settled on the couch and after a minute of zapping found a channel that broadcasted a dumb reality show which they could watch and comment at the same time – they found they liked to talk a lot, and some movies or shows just weren't good for that.

Every time something hilariously stupid happened Silje would lose it and hide her face in Ivar's shoulder while she laughed it out, attempting to catch her breath and wiping away tears. Ivar found it more funny that she would react so violently to such a horrid show than the show itself, and he often got carried along in her fits of laughter, if only because it was so contagious.

Silje liked to laugh, but it's only after a few months of living together that Ivar heard her really laugh. A roaring laughter that rippled through her entire body and nearly had her rolling on the floor. She hated it, thought she sounded like a sea lion having a seizure – her exact words – and this description made Ivar lose his shit. He'd never laughed this hard in his life.

All in all, he couldn't remember having laughed as much as he did since he met Silje in his entire life. She transpired an aura of light heartedness and serenity that often made him forget all his worries. It made him forget everything to be honest. Even himself, and so maybe it explained why he sometimes gave in to the urge to hold her hand, even if he knew he shouldn't. Like right now.

She laughed at something a candidate said, and so did he. Ivar's right hand was still lingering on her arm, unable to let go just yet. In a delicate gesture, Silje placed her hand over his and they interlaced their fingers for a brief moment. It felt natural. For the short duration of this contact, Silje's heart swelled in her chest, but before she'd burst out of her skin she removed her hand and stood up.

“I bet the food's burnt now,” she said as she walked back to the kitchen, aware of Ivar's look of disappointment. “I hope you like your potatoes extra crispy,” the girl laughed in an unconvincing way; she cringed inwardly.

Damn me , she thought. This was the perfect occasion and she ruined it by chickening out. The way he touched her could not be platonic, it was now or never but when she looked at him she always felt overwhelmed. Couldn't he see how she looked at him? Couldn't he see that she was intimidated and needed a little help? Why did someone always have to make a move first? Couldn't they meet halfway?

Her silent questions were answered when she felt a body press against her back as she turned off the stove. Silje held her breath when Ivar's hands touched her shoulders but her little bubble was quick to burst.

“Don't raise your head,” Ivar instructed as he opened the cupboard above her and took out a couple plates.

A second later he was out of the kitchenette again. Silje's breath returned to her along with a sensation of cold on her back. As much as she was shy when the opportunity to make a move presented itself to her, Silje knew when she had to grow a pair and take matters into her own hands – things didn't just happen to people, sometimes it was up to you to make them happen. And Silje desperately wanted something to happen between her and Ivar. It didn't even matter what, she wasn't picky – just something, anything . Preferably soon.

The whole dinner was a haze in her mind. Silje remembered having a good time, laughing, spilling water on the floor because Ivar said something hilarious, watching him make a funny face as he bit into the burnt food. It wasn't different from usual but her mind was elsewhere. Their busy lives kept them up pretty late every day – Silje with her studies and Ivar with is job – and today was no different. Although their plates were empty, they did not move from the couch until past eleven, only then putting away the dishes and washing them together. Soon enough the kitchen was clean, their cups of tea steaming, and the TV on.

Except Silje still wasn't paying attention, so much so that Ivar turned off the TV just to see her reaction. She didn't blink an eye.

“Silje?” He asked and waved a hand before her eyes. This time she shook her head and looked at him in confusion. “Are you tired?”

She wanted to scream when Ivar grabbed her hand in his calloused one and intertwined their fingers. He rubbed his thumb along her forefinger and over her knuckles. Everywhere he touched her Silje's skin was sizzling. She withdrew her hand as if getting a small electric shock. There was no ignoring the hurt on Ivar's face this time though; he removed his hand, leaving her alone.

“I- eh,” she started, her throat dry. “Sorry, I didn't mean-”

“Yeah right. Don't bother, I know,” Ivar suddenly snapped, before he could think about what he said.

He wish he could take it back when he saw Silje's face but the words were out there. Fucking hell. He had a right to be frustrated after all. Despite everything he still entertained the idea that she might one day return his feelings, however slim the chances. And having her shoot down that last hope angered him.

She should know him by now, she should have realised how much he cared, so why torture him like this? On the one hand Ivar liked to think that Silje did not send him mixed signals on purpose and give him small glimmers of hope only to make sure he was wrapped around her finger – there wasn't a single devious bone in her. But on the other hand, his anguish was becoming heavy to bear. Sometimes he wanted to blurt out the truth just to get it off his chest and be able to breathe again around her.

“Don't take it like that, Ivar,” she scoffed. But her humorous approach to the situation only made it worse, and Ivar sent her a glare she wasn't going to forget soon.

“Maybe we should get some sleep,” he said, cutting her off. His voice sounded harsher than usual. Fuck. She vexed him. His tone was sharp and definite, this conversation was over and he let her know in the coldest way possible.

She was stuck now, she couldn't just flip the mood back to what it was before she so blatantly pulled away from his touch like he was a diseased. Silje wanted to rip off a portion of her hair in frustration, but instead she looked away – she was being a coward, that much she could admit to herself. And before she made matters worse, she stood up.

“You're right, I'll go to my room.”

They had never gone their separate ways on such a bad note. They both knew they weren't going to sleep peacefully.


*


Ivar stood by her door, squinting his eyes in an attempt to see through the darkness if Silje was asleep yet. He didn't want to call her name or turn on the light in case she was. The last thing he wanted was to wake her up, she had so much sleep to catch up on. Yet he did wish she was still awake. He found her cradling a pillow, body only covered by a thin sheet and duvet pushed to the far end of the bed.

Of course she was too hot. She always was. Silje was a real oven, he didn't know how she did it. Aside from the fact that Ivar always felt a teensy bit hotter when she was in his close vicinity, she could also quite literally make a room hotter just by standing in it. Ivan was the complete opposite. Especially ever since he experienced sleeping on a bench in the Danish winter, he constantly sought warmth, in any shape or form. Perhaps it even explained why he was so drawn to Silje, because she was the embodiment of warmth - the literal and figurative kind.

He couldn't sleep after they argued. Ivar simply could not sleep on an argument, he needed to know Silje and him were on good terms before being able to close his eyes.

“Are you gonna stay there and watch me sleep all night, you creep?” She finally asked him, scaring his wits off. Ivar's heart thumped in his chest, not having expected to be caught red handed. He was just about to close the door, suck it up and try to sleep anyway.

“Sorry,” he apologized, rubbing a hand over his face as if he could wipe away his blush. He wasn't just apologizing for disturbing her, though she must have had more trouble falling asleep than he first thought if she was still awake now. “I'll leave you alone.”

“Ivar!” She called him before he could close the door, sitting up right in her bed. “What's the matter?”

“It's stupid,” he said, wondering why he thought it was a good idea to come and see her in the first place. “Just go back to sleep.”

“Ivar!” Silje repeated, louder this time. He could almost picture her air of reprimand. “Just spit it out, I'm too tried to judge you right now.”

“I was just cold in there,” he admitted, making a little head gesture towards the living room. That wasn't even the real reason why he was here, but it just came out of his mouth before he could say anything. “But there's nothing you can do abou-”

“Come in and close the door,” Silje told him, giving him a little hand wave and yawning as she scooted to one side of the bed. “You don't snore, do you?”

“It's not the first time we sleep in the same room,” Ivar chuckled.

He knew how much she hated sharing a bed with a heavy snorer. She even admitted to having broken up with someone because of it. "I couldn't sleep in the same room as him, this relationship was doomed from the start. How could I imagine a future under these circumstances?” She had told him in her own defence. To be fair Ivar thought it was a legit reasoning, though the reason was quite silly it's true that you don't mess with sleep.

“Right, but never on purpose,” she corrected him. That was true too, whenever they slept together it was because they fell asleep while talking or watching a movie.

“I don't think I do,” he eventually said, answering her question. “But I guess we'll find out.”

“Great. Come here.” Silje reached out with her warm hands and grabbed Ivar's, to place his hands on her neck and shoulder. “Mmmmh,” she hummed in content. “Your hands are nice and cool, this is perfect.”

Ivar smiled to himself.

“Hey Silje,” he called her. She hummed in response. “You're not mad at me for earlier?” He asked.

“No Ivar, I'm not mad. Are you?” She answered, eyes still closed.

“I'm never mad at you,” he told her.

He suspected she was already half gone and didn't register his words, but he smiled happily. And so they fell asleep, one keeping the other warm and the other keeping the one cool. And they both slept without interruption, neither from snores, nor from being too cold, too hot, and certainly not because they had a little altercation before going to bed.


*


Silje was still deep in her uni work when Ivar got home from work a few days later. She finished her master's thesis a couple days ago but since then she hasn't stopped reading it over and changing things, constantly trying to make it better, to make it perfect, to make it the best possible because she was so stressed out about it.

She didn't even register Ivar's voice when he greeted her, much less when he went to change into his sweats in the bathroom, her mind was entirely focused on her laptop. Silje even had to put on her glasses because her eyes were red and puffy from staring at a screen for days on end. She would need to wear a cold mask to get the redness down.

With a grunt she pushed that thought aside, and tried to concentrate on her work again. After reading the same words over and over again she felt like she knew the whole sixty pages by heart, and she was frustrated because it made it difficult to see the mistakes. Ivar tried to stay clear of her the last couple days because Silje's anxiousness resulted in her throwing angry remarks his way. Silje was a snappy kind of stressed out, Ivar learned that the hard way.

He noticed the TV was on but Silje looked like she didn't hear it at all, and probably even forgot she turned it on earlier. Her fingers distractedly rubbed her temple, a sign which he knew meant she was beginning to get a headache. He decided it was time for her to take a break, whether she wanted it or not.

Full of good intentions, Ivar jumped over the back of the couch to join Silje in front of the TV. He was about to say something when he heard her shriek something unintelligible.

“What is it?” He asked, fearing something serious happened.

“You have to stop doing that!” She exclaimed, taking off her glasses as if it would add some height to her words. Ivar breathed in relief and raised a brow at her. “The jumping everywhere! Stop it! Do I constantly have to remind you that you fucked up your knee?”

“C'mon,” Ivar huffed, dismissing her overbearing attitude with a wave of the hand. “I'm perfectly fine, Sil.”

“I don't care if you feel fine or not, I'm having a heart attack every time I see you do unnecessary stunts around this place!” She argued, fully shoving aside her laptop to give Ivar a scolding glare.

Screw this, she shouldn't have to act like his mother but as long as he played with the devil she will have to. Part of her knew it wasn't entirely Ivar's jumping around the apartment that had her snap at him, she's had a long day, and no one could blame her for being snappy. Least of all Ivar who communicated with her solely through biting remarks the first few weeks he lived here, bed-ridden (or rather couch-ridden) against his will.

Of course he knew that too, and he never blamed Silje for being in a bad mood every once in awhile after a tiring day. Though she sometimes ended up yelling at him for the smallest things. Today was no different. First he looked stunned and silently stared at her, then he broke into a grin.

“You're worried? Oh, you're worried about my well-being ,” he began to tease her, which only added fuel to her anger. “I'm touched, really.”

No perhaps anger wasn't the appropriate word. Annoyance? Not quite either. Incomprehension. Silje didn't understand why he was jumping around like that, why he wasn't more careful, more gentle with himself. And she felt she had to be twice as gentle to make up for it. Which, again, was not her role.

“Oh really? You're going to make fun of me because I worry about you?” She replied, with bite in her voice. “Just stop acting like you're a monkey and I'll stop calling you out about it,” she said, thinking it would put a final to this conversation.

She should have known better.

“You mean like this?” Ivar asked then jumped back over the back of the couch with surprising agility. “Or maybe like this?” This time he back-flipped in the middle of Silje's living room, making fear both for his life and her furniture given how little space there was to attempt this stunt.

Ubbe would strangle her if she called him for help after Ivar broke his neck – to get rid of the body that is.

“Ivar sit the fuck down or so help me I will find you a wheelchair and tie you on it!” Silje tried to threaten him though it mustn't have been very convincing since Ivar merely smirked at her.

“I can't even do this?” He asked, testing her limits by once again jumping on the couch.

Only this time he didn't put his hands on the back of the couch, he simply jumped with his feet together over it, landing on his butt right next to an open-mouthed Silje. She immediately sprung to her feet, stomping around the couch as if taking her distances and standing up would give her more authority over this man-child. Ivar already stole ten years off of her live, she could swear it!

“How can you be so reckless, by the gods I swear you will make me turn grey before my time! Ubbe specifically told you not to use or apply pressure on your bad leg if it wasn't absolutely necessary! Don't you have anything better to do than jump on and off my couch?!”

Silje's hands flew around as she rambled on and on about Ivar's careless behaviour and the bad repercussions it could have on his health and on her peace of mind. All the while Ivar smiled to himself, not because he found her silly and overreacting, but because he couldn't remember the last time someone had been so genuinely concerned about him. Here stood Silje, her hair tied back in a messy would-be bun, her face bare, her feet tucked in funny slippers that made it very strange to watch her scream at him in indignation.

He was a goner. He knew it now, there was no denying it. How could she look so irresistible when she was scolding him like a child, wearing only pyjama bottoms and a loose tank top? Did she have any idea?

Ivar didn't purposely make her mad, he didn't expect her reaction earlier, but seeing her worry so much made him want to test the extent of her concern. It went far apparently.

“So I can't jump on the couch anymore, noted.” He had interrupted her but she didn't seem to mind since it looked like he finally saw reason. “And I can't do this either?”

He was already up and walked around the couch to show Silje what he meant. He heard her gaps in offence when he began to do squats.

“Stop it! Ivar, you little shit, stop- stop it!” She was smiling though she tried very hard to repress it by gritting her teeth. “I'm going to kill you, I swear if you do one more-”

“No more squats, got it,” he said before she could finish her sentence. Silje still stood there, trying to look tall and intimidating – a pointless attempt, Ivar was much taller and more intimidating than her, and than a lot of people actually. “But what about this?”

He had barely finished talking that he already dived forwards, earning a little scream and a bunch of colourful swear words from Silje the moment her feet left the ground.

“Can I do this?” Ivar asked Silje as he threw her over his shoulder, giving a slap to her bottom, and ignoring the string of menaces coming out of her mouth in-between laughters.

“Put me down you shit for brains idiot, before you kneecap pops again!” She told him, still laughing uncontrollably at his antics. That was the thing about Ivar, she couldn't be mad at him, not really.

“Say please,” he told her, his hand still on her bum and giving it another slap. “Say please Ivar put me down, or-”

“Or what?!” She huffed.

She could feel the blood rushing to her brain, and she had to clutch Ivar's shirt to regain a semblance of balance.

“Or I'll start spinning,” he decided and immediately carried out his threat.

Silje alternated between laughing and screaming whenever he pretended to drop her or changed the sense of rotation. Eventually she gave in, if only because she could feel an upcoming nosebleed.

“Please! Please put me down Ivar, I'll do whatever you want, just put me down!” She shouted.

When the spinning stopped, it didn't actually stop her from being dizzy. Ivar complied but Silje wobbled on her feet so he reached out, grabbing her shoulders to make her stay still until she recovered from his mad spinning.

“You okay?” He asked with a big smile mirroring her own.

“You're asking me if I'm okay? Of course I'm okay, I should be the one asking you that question. Gods, Ivar! What am I gonna do with you?”

She shook her head, still smiling softly though she tried to look stern, crossing her arm over her chest. Ivar wasn't fooled. Ivar was very close, and he trailed his fingers under Silje's chin to make her stop clenching her jaw, and meet his eyes. He felt her relax when she realized he wasn't going to attempt a double somersault to show her exactly how fine he was.

Damn this boy. Silje knew he was fine. Ivar always looked fine as hell. That was the whole problem, she could never tell when he hid something from her, because there was never any apparent weakness showing through the cracks. Granted it remained within the realm of possibility when he was in physical pain, but any other kind was impossible to see.

His hand was still holding her chin. He still stood uncomfortably close, except it was not uncomfortable at all. Noticing her zoning out, he moved his hand to her cheek and rubbed it with his thumb. It was way too hot in this room, Silje would need to open a window as soon as she recovered the use of her still wobbly legs. How she hated feeling like a baby deer caught in the headlights.

Generally speaking she was not a fan of becoming helpless whenever a cute boy stood too close to her, but despite her best efforts she could not avoid situations like this. Ivar was handsome, and kind, funny and charming, thoughtful and bold, and she wanted to kiss him. Oh she wanted to kiss those inviting lips more than she ever wanted anything in her life, and while she managed to convince herself she could not throw herself at him because he was dependent on her and might feel obligated to answer her advances, she could no longer fool herself.

Ivar was tall, strong, mature, resilient – surely he would not be intimidated into kissing her back if she tried something? Had she not proved herself being a decent enough human being? If he wasn't interested she would understand though she might hurt from being rejected.

“Stop worrying, Silje,” he told her, thus bringing her back to reality. He cradled her face in his palm. Silje recognized the look on his face. He was going to kiss her. He was so close yet she could feel him getting closer. “I'm perfectly fine.” That he was. “I promise.”

Ivar's fingers brushed against her cheek yet again, sending all kinds of tingling sensations through her body. Warmth erupted in her belly with a mere tender look from him. Silje closed her eyes and sighed. She believed him. She trusted him to take care of himself, she simply couldn't help herself, she worried for the people she loved.

Her little sigh seemed to have broken the spell and Ivar pulled back again. His hand dropped and he took a step back and walked past her, towards the kitchen, subsequently putting an end to this escalating conversation.

The people she loved .

“Ivar!” Silje called him, turning around no longer than a second after he let go of her.

He looked surprised and stopped in his tracks, waiting for her to continue. But Silje wasn't sure there was a way to say what she wanted him to know – instead she decided actions spoke louder than words. In two steps she closed the distance between them, her hands immediately shooting up to rest behind his neck.

At this moment she could read many emotions in Ivar's blue eyes. One of them was clear understanding of what was happening – or rather of what was going to happen - and full acceptance. Silje's hand was trembling a bit, and she had the unsettling impression that a lot was going on right now. Her eyes fluttered but she didn't look away. Ivar blinked slowly, or maybe she was seeing things in slow motion, hyper aware of everything around her.

Before courage deserted her, Silje applied a small pressure on Ivar's neck, prompting him to lean down. She met him halfway, and when their lips touched she melted against him. There was no other way to describe it – she felt warmer than ever, every fibre of her being was on fire yet it was sweet and pleasant.

The first time their lips barely touched. It was but a short, shy kiss to test the water. Their eyes opened only long enough to recognize a need for more in each other's eyes, and they kissed again. Longer, deeper. They grew bold, and let their hands grasp one another. Ivar's hands cradled her face, pressing her face to his as if intoxicated by the sweetness of her lips.

Silje's hands slipped down and her open palms rested on his chest, feeling the steady but powerful hammering of his heart in her palm. She closed her fist on his shirt and pulled him closer even though there was no getting closer. In response Ivar broke the kiss to look at her.

He searched her eyes for any trace of wavering but there was none to be found. If anything he saw longing for more, desire, affection. He saw of lot of things, none of which lead him to think he should stop kissing her senseless, so he returned to the task. Silje barely managed to catch her breath before Ivar dived down and captured her lips in an open mouthed kiss, deeper yet, softer yet. She marvelled at how gentle he stayed while showing passion at the same time.

It slowly escalated and neither of them made a move to stop their activities or said a word. Their lips had much better things to do. And maybe it was rushed, maybe they should stop.

But they didn't stop.


*


When the morning came Silje stirred awake, stretching like a cat, and untangling her limbs from her sheets. She felt great. She hadn't felt so great in a long time. She felt very thoroughly fucked in the best of ways, but when she set eyes on her alarm clock she bolted out bed and out of the room. Ivar was startled awake too, looking around like a confused puppy, and immediately inquiring what was going on. Silje, who was still running around to gather clothes, hurriedly explained.

“I'm late! I'm very, very late for an important class!”

She dashed out of the bedroom and into the bathroom for the quickest shower of her life. Ivar stayed in bed, half asleep still, and groaned as his head fell back on his pillow.

He was bummed out about this early class he didn't know about, this wasn't how he wanted to spend the morning at all. Aside from the perspective of tempting Silje back into being naughty, he simply wished for a tranquil, tender moment with her - just the two of them looking at each other with new eyes. But perhaps she didn't want that. After all they did not talk anything out last night. It might not mean anything to her, it might just have been sex. Ivar didn't want just sex.

The water stopped running and soon Silje stumbled in, wet hair tied back into a bun to keep it out of the way as she tried to button down her blouse and slip on her shoes. She kept on grumbling about her being unmindful.

“I forgot to set my alarm last night, and today's class is mandatory-” It really was an endless stream of nervous rambling like no one but Silje was capable of this early a Wednesday morning. Ivar was glad he didn't work in the mornings. Silje being near the end of her school year was adamant on attending every single class she had before her final exam in the class's subject. “If I get the 5C bus I might still get there before the doors close-”

“You'll be fine, you woke up right on time,” Ivar reassured her but by the gods Silje would not stop running from one room to the other to gather everything she needed for the day, claiming that she wasn't going to make it.

“I'm sorry I woke you up like this Ivar,” she said with a wince. “I finally bought some coffee again yesterday so you won't have to go out and get some,” she informed him, still not standing still.

“I'll see you before work?” Ivar asked, rubbing the sleepiness out of his eyes and rising from the pillows again, leaning on one arm.

“Not sure, I have a busy day. What time do you leave? Wait, you work an early shift today, right?” She didn't wait for an answer and simply grabbed her coat.

After a grand total of fifteen minutes she had showered, dressed up, gobbled up breakfast, and made her bag. Now she was walking out of the bedroom again, shouting her goodbyes.

“I'll keep you updated! Have a nice day!”

The sound of the door closing behind Silje was the most unpleasant Ivar had ever heard. This was the complete opposite of what he imagined this morning would be. He thought he would get to hold her a bit longer, have a leisurely sleep in with Silje huddled against him, her arm around his waist.

He sighed. Maybe she was running away. It felt like it. Could he have imagined everything that transpired between them last night? Could it all be one sided as he feared from the beginning? Finding no more appeal to the warm sheets, Ivar stood up, put on his sweat pants, and walked to the living room bare chested, running a hand through his hair to comb out any knots that formed during the night. He hadn't taken three steps that the front door slammed open, and Silje stood there, out of breath and red in the face.

“You forgot something?” Ivar wondered, looking around to see what it was.

“Yes,” she breathed out, still catching her breath. “I was- already downstairs- when I realized- I forgot something very important- so I ran upstairs again.”

Her bag hit the floor with a muffled thud. Ivar looked at it, then at her, then raised an eyebrow.

“So what is it?” He asked when she didn't say anything.

Silje smiled. Her bare face and wet hair making her look a bit wild and unkempt compared to usual, but also more candid, and carefree. Before Ivar could ponder these thoughts any longer, Silje took a few long strides to cover the distance between them and slipped her hands behind his neck, gently pulling him towards her. She placed a light kiss on his lips - quick and innocent, but full of promises and providing a final answer to the thousand of questions swirling about in Ivar's head.

“Now I can go,” she told him, smiling wide and bright. “See you later Ivar.”

 

 

(1) There are concerts in the Tivoli gardens from April to September (roughly from when the weather gets sunnier to when it gets cold again). Lillefredag concerts are on Thurdays, and Fredagsrock concerts are on Fridays. They are 'free’ concerts in the sense that you don’t have to pay for tickets, you just have to pay the entrance fee to the park (roughly $20 to $25)

Chapter Text

After that hectic first day when Silje basically stormed out of the apartment like a fury, they agreed they needed to talk about what happened. They went out and walked around town, ending up on the docks, sitting by the pier. Ivar confessed because she was the one who took the first step then, so it was only fair that he took it now.

Silje listened with great attention, her face an open book of reactions Ivar could read as he went on telling his version of the story – that he had been wishing for this to happen for a long time now, but he was waiting for the right time. He explained that he didn't think he had anything to offer, and that he wanted to regain some of his autonomy before doing anything, because he couldn't bear the thought of living off Silje while being with her.

Of course he still did, but only for the rent. He paid his bills, and bought groceries, he was slowly saving money so he could leave one day. She nodded silently, understanding his reasoning. When he was done she admitted that she also waited a long time before acting according to her feelings, for the same reasons as he did.

She was afraid that he would feel obligated to answer her advances because he lived under her roof. She didn't want him to return her feelings out of self-preservation. Although she had made it clear that she wouldn't throw him out for such futile reasons, it was still a possibility. One she wanted to avoid at all cost.

“I get it, I really do. I've been trying to push my feelings back into their box and postpone this for at least as long as you.” She confessed, nodding to no one in particular. Her feet dangled off the wooden dock.

Upsetting the status quo is scary, especially when it's so good,” Ivar commented, pointing out the very source of their problem. He was right, the status quo had been good, so good neither of them could stand the thought of being the one to make it shift.

“It was, wasn't it?” Silje smiled to herself. Her gaze was focused on the ripples of the water and their wavering reflection in it. “I would have been content with being your friend only. I would never have known what I'd be missing out on, and our friendship was fulfilling enough for me.”

Was?” Ivar asked just for tease, enjoying the look of amused annoyance with a dash of strained patience on her face.

Yes was, Ivar. We can't go back now that you've had your face between my thighs, there's no getting rid of that mental image.”

“I suppose not,” he laughed before scooting over to be sitting closer to her.

Until now they had kept a safe distance. They stayed at arm's length as if they needed it to keep a clear head and have a conversation that wasn't clouded by parasite thoughts of each other. When Ivar's arm came to touch hers from shoulder to wrist, Silje looked up and smile.

“I'm not sure I'd be able to forget last night either. I guess we don't have any other choice but to move forward now.”

“I don't mind. I wouldn't want to go back even if we could to be honest. Not now that I finally worked up the courage to tell you... well, to show you how I feel.”

“Oh please don't mind me, feel free to say it too,” he teased her some more.

Whether it be out of sheer stubbornness or genuine shyness, Silje did not answer to this, and simply rolled her eyes as though he had said something inane – actually tell him how she felt? Ridiculous. Unimaginable. Too scary. Not doing that.

“We're the dumbest people I know,” Ivar muttered then sighed, a relieved smile on his face even though she'd dodged his teasing dare. It wasn't late yet but the sun was already setting, slowly drowning them in its orange hues. “We should probably work on the communication part, if we're dating now.”

“Are we?” Silje asked him. She didn't even dare look up, suddenly feeling like a fourteen year old talking to her first crush.

“Do you want to?” Ivar asked back.

He smirked a little because he knew she hated when he answered a question with another question. Silje pressed her lips into a thin line, but eventually cracked a smile – truth was she was too happy about this new development too be even remotely upset about anything.

“What do you think ?” Silje shot back before she could think about it too long.

Ivar should know better than to ask her questions like this, she wasn't very good at openly sharing her feelings. Though she could tell she needed to, Ivar needed to hear it. Except he spoke up before she had a chance to take back her stupid answer.

“Mmh, communication Silje,” he hummed as a reminder. She groaned and pushed her hair out of her face a bit roughly. He noticed her fidgeting too, but said nothing. “Whatever it is you want from me, if you want anything from me that is, you will have to tell me.” He gave her a pointed look, watching her swallow thickly. “No beating around the bush. What do you want from me Silje?”

“I want you to kiss me Ivar,” Silje suddenly blurted out, surprising both of them with her blunt statement.

He smiled, relieved and happy to the point it hurt. He wasn't blind to her own nervousness. He could see how much courage it took her to say those words to him. In many ways actions spoke louder than words, and they were also a much easier way to communicate in some cases. However some things were worth saying out loud.

“I want to be with you,” she added, this time taking his hand in hers.

Silje looked him square in the eyes when she said that but the moment the words were out she looked away, feeling rather vulnerable all of a sudden. Ivar noticed and his free hand cupped her face, his thumb running over her cheek and pushing away her hair to give him a better look at her face. Of course she would try to hide it behind a curtain of hair, she was blushing. It made him smile even bigger, as though the tainting of her cheeks was proof enough of her sincerity.

“Don't be scared,” he told her.

“Easy for you to say,” she replied with a click of her tongue. That damn tool forced a confession out of her.

He didn't know why he said that, but he felt her relax the second he said it. It was like a visceral response to Silje visibly holding her breath as she waited for Ivar's answer. Her hand still gripped his, refusing to let go.

“You weren't scared last night,” he teasingly reminded her, which earned him a shove in the shoulder.

Silje huffed but still didn't loosen her grip on him.

“Last night's... mood wasn't favourable to being a scaredy cat," she replied with a little smirk, though still a bit on edge. “Baring my body is easier than baring my heart I suppose,” Silje told him in a much less playful tone.

Ivar got the message. Her hand slowly released him from her death grip and instead she mindlessly let her fingers draw random shapes on his open palm to distract herself from this conversation.

“But shouldn't we learn to be comfortable doing both?” Ivar mused out loud.

Silje flicked Ivar's palm, making him close his hand. She sighed impatiently. “I just told you that I wanted you to kiss me, and that I'd like us to be an item, and all you've done so far is avoid answering me.”

“But I am answering! I'm getting there, be patient,” Ivar argued, still smiling to Silje's utmost confusion and annoyance. “I told you to not be scared. For a while I was too, but when you kissed me yesterday...” He trailed off, his eyes losing focus as he obviously replayed the scene in his head. “It went away. Now all I can do is... smile. I've been smiling like a god damn fool all day long, look I'm still doing it! I wish I could stop, like-” Ivar tried to physically twist his lips into a frown but it failed. “It's there forever now.”

Silje laughed this time, unable his stay serious when Ivar was acting so light heartedly around her - like he had just heard the best news of his life. He looked at her again, and even if the smile was still there his voice dropped a bit, indicating that he was trying to be serious.

“I know you're scared Sil. About telling me how you feel, about what we might lose if we don't work out, about the future, about our situation, and the generally complicated life we're living because of me-” she was about to cut him off but he raised a hand to gesture her to let it slide. It was because of him. It was a hard fact that Ivar complicated Silje's life by inviting himself into it, it was pointless to argue about it. “-but I'm not letting that tone down my happiness. I'm so fucking happy you like me too. I could get run over by a car and I would still be smiling.”

“Now you're scaring me,” Silje said. “Please don't get run over by a car, I'm not playing nurse Silje again if I can help it.”

“It was an image,” Ivar replied, pulling on Silje's arm to bring her a little closer to him, their noses nearly touching. “I recall my lady has a wish I haven't yet fulfilled,” he whispered, leaning in again.

“Ah, ah, ah!” Silje said, holding up a finger and leaning away from Ivar, a wicked grin on her face. “You made me confess to you, do you think I'll let you get away with a kiss? You fool! Don't you know who you're talking to?” She snickered playfully, and Ivar rolled his eyes. “C'mon, time for a grand declaration.”

“Tell me again first,” Ivar bargained. Silje's eyebrows went up in surprise and she crossed her arms. “I want to hear you say it again, then I'll give you your grand declaration. I'll even shout it from that rooftop if that's what you want,” Ivar said, pointing at the building behind them.

“Don't- don't do that, please,” she said, hiding her face in her hands. Bracing herself, Silje took a deep breath and looked Ivar straight in the eye. She took his hand into both of hers, as if to ground herself. Communication, right?

“I don't think I've ever wanted anything as much as to be with you,” she admitted, baring her heart to him. She felt a tremor in her chest, she felt cold, then hot. She felt vulnerable, and tempted to jump in the water to escape this situation. But she wanted to hear Ivar's answer more.

His answer didn't come in the form of words in the end, but still from his lips. Ivar didn't hesitate to lean in and kiss her. He'd thought that not knowing what she tasted like was driving him crazy before, but now that he knew, he was on the brink of insanity. Now he wanted to kiss her all the time – he'd thought about it the whole day, and the gods be merciful, he nearly swooped her right off her feet the second she came back from uni today.

“You promised Ivar,” Silje said when he pulled back, just enough to breathe again. He let his forehead rest against hers, and her hand lingered on his face, thumb grazing over his clean shaven cheek.

“I think I've been infatuated with you from the moment I woke up and saw your face hovering over me at Juleaften. But I never thought, even for a second, that I would see you again, or get to know you the way I did, find out that the beauty on the outside was only a pale reflection of the beauty inside you. And I still can't quite believe you want to be with me.”

By the time his short tirade was over Silje was trembling slightly and she had a hard time holding up his gaze. When Ivar noticed that oddity in her behaviour, he reached out and took her chin between his fingers, forcing her to look up.

“Listen now. I know it's scary but I promise I won't mess this up Silje, I won't let you down. Just breathe.”

“That's not why I'm scared Ivar, I already know you won't hurt me...” she bit her lip. “I'm scared because... Having you last night was intoxicating, and I'm not sure I'll ever have enough now that I got a taste of us.”

Life carried on as usual from then on, yet it was as different as can be. All and nothing was the same, and it was thrilling. Ivar's hair stood on end every time his mind drifted back to this kiss that changed everything, and yet nothing.

He hadn't realised up until now just how intimate they really were – he was far too wrapped up in his own -pity to even notice how close they had grown over the months, how much more than friends they were this whole time. If they were just friends, Silje wouldn't have allowed him to come in the bathroom while she bathed, she wouldn't have let him wash her hair. If they didn't have feelings for each other, they wouldn't have fallen asleep together so many times before.

Ivar chuckled at the thought. They had slept together many times, but now they were sleeping together. Only a handful of days went by, and their routine was the same on many levels, simply because they were already acting like a couple, long before they became one.



*



Once classes were over, life came to a halt. Stress wasn't part of their daily lives anymore, at least not the way it used to be. Silje was in a better mood if that was even possible – sure she was grumpy once in a while but Ivar had always known her as being a genuinely happy person. True Ivar still have his job, but today was his last class. Well... the last class he could attend for free this year.

When he came back, closing the door behind him and immediately leaning down to take off his shoes and put them in a corner, Silje was sitting on the floor, surrounded by magazines and cut out pieces of paper. If Ivar had to guess he would say she was making a collage of sorts. She chopped away with great concentration, not even looking up when she greeted him.

“How was your day?” She asked him once he had removed his shoes and all his layers of clothes except for jeans and t-shirt. She hummed to herself as she carefully cut out a picture of a strawberry cake.

“Strange,” Ivar told her. He leaned down and placed a kiss to her lips while Silje stayed still, eyebrows raised in question. Ivar plopped down next to her on the bed, taking care not to disturb her project when he laid down, be arm tucked behind his head.

“Strange how?”

“Someone asked me out,” he said, his eyes fixed on the ceiling until a yelp and a string of curses erupted next to him. Silje instinctively put her finger in her mouth when she cut herself even though she knew it would stop the bleeding.

“That's a bit exaggerated Sil,” Ivar laughed. He still stood up and quickly fetched a band aid from the bathroom. He was back in a heart beat. “It can't be that shocking!” He snickered when Silje's finger popped out of her mouth to let him patch it up while she rolled her eyes.

“If anything I'm shocked it didn't happen sooner, but I think it's fair to say that I didn't expect to hear this when I asked how your day was. I was expecting something more along the lines of 'it was boring and I missed you', you know? Maybe next time don't tell me someone else hit on you when I'm holding scissors, or any kind of sharp object for that matter, you know me. Also how am I supposed to react, I'm sure it's very flattering for you but should I be mad right now? I don't know much about the girlfriend etiquette. Did you tell her you already have a girlfriend? You said someone but I assume it's a girl-”

“How do you go on rambling like that without stopping to breathe?” Ivar wondered in genuine astonishment and curiosity. Silje closed her mouth and crossed her arms, her glare urging Ivar to quit mocking her nervous rambling. He was thankful it was just rambling and not stuttering or sweating that was a natural response to nervousness.

“I can hold my breath for a really long time, you should know better than anyone,” Silje replied, a smirk growing on her face when Ivar became visibly flustered with her remark.



*



They were celebrating today.

The results of their exams dropped yesterday, and Ivar had tagged along at Silje's request – he hadn't done much short of providing her with a hand to crush under her tight grip while she anxiously searched for her student number on the seemingly endless list of results. The squad was also here of course, each of them doing the same except Laura who seemed absolutely sure she passed with flying colours and would simply wait for her report card to come through the mail.

“How smart do you have to be to be this certain to have aced your exams?” Ivar had asked her. Her boyfriend overheard and slammed a hand on Ivar's shoulder.

“You don't want to know,” he told him, tight-lipped and shaking his head.

Ivar wanted to argue that he did want to know, and he did wonder what kind of terrifying master mind he was standing next to, especially after Matthias' elusive answer. Laura stood there, a proud grin on her face, not letting a single emotion show through the cracks while she looked Ivar up and down. What was she looking for?

“Don't listen to him, he likes to over dramatize,” she waved it off. “I just did the maths, and I did well enough at the first semester to pass even if I screwed the second one majorly – which I didn't,” she clarified for him. “Now moving on to more interesting topics, how's life with Silje?”

The way she asked the question made Ivar sweat – did she know he lived with her? No she couldn't, it must be a turn of phrase.

“It's great,” he said sincerely. His eyes searched for her in the small crowd that had gathered in front of the large cork board with all the results pinned to it. “She's great,” he added, more to himself, though Laura caught it.

“Be sure not to break her heart or we might have to break your legs,” she told him, half jokingly, half serious. Ivar shuddered at the mention of his legs but he smiled back.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” he assured her.

“Good. You seem like a decent human being, and if she's happy with you I guess it's all that matters,” she told him right before they were joined by Asmus and Nicolaj, the two brothers holding each other by the shoulder, cheering as they both announced that they passed.

Laura was congratulating them when Matthias also joined them, soon followed by Ava who seemed to bounce around instead of walking, hopping happily while Nicolaj attempted to hold her still.

“Ivar!” A hand grasped his shoulder and made him turn around. The air as knocked out of him when Silje's body slammed into him. He only saw a head of blond hair before she crashed into his chest, hugging the living daylight out of him as she squealed in delight. He closed his arms around her and squeezed back, rubbing her back.

“I'm happy for you, Sil,” he told her, placing a kiss on her temple. “I knew you'd pass.”

For sole response Silje pulled back and kissed him square on the mouth, eliciting a round of cheers and whistles from her group of friends.

“Don't pay attention to them,” she told Ivar when she pulled back to glare at her friends. “They're idiots!” She said a bit louder so they would hear.

“But we're your idiots!” Ava shouted back, making everyone laugh heartily.

Silje buried her face in Ivar's neck again and sighed mirthfully. Today couldn't go any better. They all successfully passed their exams, school year was officially over, the sun was out and blazing, Ivar was in her arms. She couldn't ask for anything more. If a genie came by and granted her three wishes Silje would have to ask him to come again tomorrow, because she already had everything she wanted today.

“Alright folks, I have to get to work!” Ivar announced, reluctantly releasing Silje from his arms.

“What?! No you don't!” Nicolaj protested, looking downright offended that Ivar would just leave and go to work of all places. “We have to celebrate!”

“We'll do it tomorrow then,” Ava said with a shrug. Then she turned to Ivar. “You're off on Saturdays, are you?” She asked, just to be sure.

“Yes, I'm off on Saturdays,” he confirmed. Ivar felt Silje rub a hand up his back and she smiled warmly when he glanced at her. “But I haven't even gone to Uni this year, you don't need me to celebrate,” he told them, and received an array of eye rolls and dumbfounded sighs.

Silje's hand settled on his hips and she held a bit tighter.

“Oh we know, but you're still part of the gang now,” Matthias told him when no one else seemed to be willing to state the obvious.

“And Silje would miss you,” Asmus added, shooting her a little smile and putting his hands in his pockets. “So deal?”

Of course none of them knew he lived with Silje, thus the chances of her missing him being very slim, if not none existent. But she smiled gracefully to Asmus, unbeknownst to Ivar, because while she wouldn't necessarily miss Ivar, she sure would rather have him with them.

It wasn't that she was particularly clingy and needy as a girlfriend, but she realized they both liked it better when they were together. Maybe it wouldn't stay this way, maybe it was the bliss of every early relationship that spoke. But no matter, because her friends didn't make her choose between spending time with them or Ivar. They accepted him, and it soothed her heart, and as sure as the sun rises in the morning, she knew Ivar needed that acceptance too.

“Deal,” he eventually said. Ava clapped in her hands in excitement as she began to ramble about possible activities for tomorrow, and they all split up, with a promise to keep in touch tonight to make plans.

Fast forward twenty-four hours, they were sitting on the grass at the pool, rubbing sun screen on each other's backs. Danish weather had no business being this hot, and all of them would fry in the sun – Silje most of all, with her typical pale skin and blond Scandinavian hair.

“Going to the pool requires way too much preparing,” Ava complained. Silje snickered though her friend had every right to be complaining because Nicolaj was currently smearing a ton of sun screen on her shoulders, rubbing it like he was using sandpaper on an old desk. “Will you be a little more gentle, you brute? I'm a delicate lady.”

“You're no lady, if anything you're the old hag of the stor-”

Ava elbowed him in the stomach and the rest of the sentence got caught in his throat.

“Tough love,” Asmus muttered, pushing his sunglasses up his nose and laying down on his towel, arms crossed behind his head. The other all laughed under their breath, watching Nicolaj groan and moan about Ava, who he claimed manhandled him.

“I'll show you manhandling!” The girl sprung to her feet and shouted, prompting their unfortunate friend to run away while she tried to splash sunscreen on him. “I'm never letting you touch me with your gross meaty hands again!”

“Do you think I want to? Sorry to disappoint but you're not my type,” Nicolaj giggled and began to rub in the sunscreen she had managed to throw at him. “Thanks by the way!”

Ava huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and spinning on her heels. No one could make out exactly what she said but she was grumbling in her beard as she stomped over to her towel, her relatively short stature making it a rather endearing sight.

“Look at Ivar! He known how to handle a girl, obviously!” She said in a last attempt to make Nicolaj feel bad about his roughness. “He's a gentleman.”

Suddenly, Nicolaj appeared behind Ivar and Silje, making them both stare in confusion, a little wary smile on their faces. Nobody knew what he was capable of, better to be careful. He leaned in way closer than either of them expected, nearly cheek to cheek with a very red in the face Ivar.

“Oh, maybe you can handle me next, what do you say, uhm?”He asked in a low voice, raising a suggestive eyebrow.

Before Ivar could process what the hell Nicolaj was insinuating, Silje pushed him away, causing him to lose his balance and fall on his butt.

“Shove off, dumbass.” She rolled her eyes at his antics, and sent a little smirk towards Ivar. “Don't touch what's mine.”

A concert of 'oooooh' erupted around them, and Nicolaj gave in, whining but finally quitting his childish act.

“That's it, kids!” Matthias cleared his throat. “In case it hasn't hit you yet, we're in a public place, and people are staring.”

“Are you ashamed of your friends?” Ava questioned, her signature devious smile plastered on her face. Matthias winced. Laura, unlike her boyfriend, did not have such cordial attentions.

“Ever heard of second-hand embarrassment?”

And the conversation went on like that for the most part of the afternoon, alternating between frank bickering and genuine laughter. Ava and Silje insisted that they rotate and move their towels whenever they were in the sun because they didn't want to burn up. Ivar and Matthias joined a bunch of other dudes to play volleyball. Asmus was notably silent and enjoyed a day of quiet – well, kind of – by tanning in the sun, and letting his friends be dumb and merry. Laura read a book, and ended up using it to smack Nicolaj when he wouldn't stop leaning over her shoulder to read it out loud. A good, relaxing afternoon all in all.

Silje had just come back from a swim, wringing out the excess water from her mermaid hair – as Ava liked to call it because it was so long – when the boys came back from their volleyball game.

“Hey babe,” Matthias said, making Laura look up from her page and smile. “I'm sweaty, care to join me in the water?”

“Just a minute, I want to finish my chapter,” she told him, turning a page.

As accommodating a boyfriend as ever, he plopped down on his towel and waited for her. Silje turned to Ivar. He wasn't sweaty, he'd clearly jumped in the water before returning here.

“I'm starving, let's go get some fries,” he suggested, picking Silje up without warning. She yelped and laughed but had the common sense to hold onto him. He kissed her when she was still in his arms, lingering a bit longer than politeness advised. When her feet touched the ground again, Ava was fake gagging behind Ivar. Silje shot her a glare, the turned back to Ivar and planted another kiss on his lips to show her agreement.

After their talk things had become much better, there was no more tiptoeing around the truth, no more skinny love. Or perhaps they were just so damn happy that everything around them felt great. Nothing bothered them anymore for a while, Silje didn't even complain about her last exam or her thesis she had to turn in just last week. Everything shone in a new light, and Ivar had the weirdest sensation, like he was floating around instead of walking - most of the time anyway.

She knelt down and grabbed her bag.

“I can't find my wallet I think I left it in my bag in the locker,” Silje said as she rummaged through her bag. “I'm gonna go get it.”

She hurried off before he could say anything, leaving him with the others, who all seemed to have calmed down from their earlier high. True to themselves, Nicolaj and Ava dragged Ivar into one of their nonsensical conversations. Ivar was chatting with them but a heart beat after that he glanced at his wrist and jumped to his feet.

“Shit Silje forgot to take the keys,” he realized, feeling the bracelet on which the keys to their locker hung. “I'm gonna go catch up with her.”

He didn't want for their friends to say anything before dashing off.

“He really loves her, doesn't he?” Ava cooed, leaning on her elbows to watch him leave. “He's like a puppy, always following her, looking at her like she's his world.”

“A puppy that looks like a snack,” Nicolaj commented, and a round of agreeing hums answered him.

Ava cooed, nudging Nicolaj, “Ooh but look at them! They are so happy, it's disgusting!”

“I need a boyfriend,” Nicolaj whined in answer.

“They are totally going to bang in the changing stalls aren't they?” Laura asked, making her boyfriend give her a sideways look and nod appreciatively. Maybe they had the right idea.

“Totally,” Nicolaj chuckled. “I would,” he added.

“Leave them alone, they are in the honeymoon phase, it's normal to want to fuck each other's brain out all the time,” Matthias put in, earning a nod from his girlfriend, alone with a little smirk.

“It's so wild seeing Silje like this,” Ava added. “I feel like an emotional mother what with my best girl living her life and getting some,” she said, wiping away an imaginary tear. “My baby girl is a woman!”

“He's not her first boyfriend, what are you on about?” Laura rolled her eyes.

“He's the first one I like!” Ava argued. “I'm willing to bet on them. They'll make such adorable babies, don't you think?”

“You need to get a grip and calm down!” Her friend said, laughing and throwing her a fry. “And you need to shag. It's becoming urgent.”

“I'm making you a tinder profile later,” Nicolaj warned her, tipping his sunglasses to shoot her a look that spoke for itself – this was not debatable.

Ava's mouth fell open in shock and indignation. She took off her sunglasses to better glare at her friends, and Laura and her began to bicker back and forth, discussing Ava's severe need of some dick as if it was nothing, all the while throwing fries at each other.

“Silje was much better at being single than you are!” Laura snorted. “And she's also way better at being in a relationship! Last time you had a boyfriend, you nearly forgot us all in favour of your toy boy,” she accused her.

“That's not true!” It totally was, but she wasn't going to admit it. “And Silje just disappeared with Ivar, so it's not even a valid point.”

“Can't blame her though,” Nicolaj interrupted their escalating argument. “If I were her I'd want to tap that every opportunity I get too.”

“You don't need to be her to want to tap that,” Ava pointed out, her mood having evened out again. Laura snickered but let it slide, not wanting to cause a dispute.

“Please don't encourage him!” Asmus groaned, joining the conversation.

“I thought you fell asleep,” Matthias said, nudging the younger boy and has been tanning in silence for the last few hours or so.

“I don't trust you not to leave me burn under the June sun,” he scoffed.

“Wise little brother,” Nicolaj laughed. “We'd let you fry like bacon.”

The conversation slowly drifted away from Ivar and Silje and turned much more frivolous matters but kept them distracted long enough to lose track of time. When Ivar and Silje returned hand in hand, no one really noticed her wallet was no where to be seen.



*

.

They didn't immediately tell Hvitserk that they were together now, but one afternoon at the gym with Ivar gave it away. Apparently being in such a disgustingly good mood while lifting weighs and running ten kilometres was only possible if he got laid recently. Ivar tripped and fell off the running mill, glaring daggers at Hvitserk for his crude comment.

“She's your sister, will you please keep it PG rated?” Ivar had told him. Hvitserk shrugged.

“So what? I know she's no virgin, it shouldn't be taboo to say that.” He slammed his hand on Ivar's back after helping him up. “Congrats man! I told you there was nothing to worry about. She's crazy about you.”

Ivar huffed, not knowing to what extent Hvitserk was privy to Silje's true feelings, and not sure if he should give any credit to what he said. He might be right, to some extent, but it was never a good idea to listen to Hvitserk's match making advices.

“But if you hurt her, I will personally make sure you'll be the last of your line,” Hvitserk added more gravely. Never had Ivar seen him wear a face so serious. He swallowed thickly, and just like that, Hvitserk's smile was back. “I hope you enjoyed your break because I was thinking we could try this new machine over there-”

Ivar groaned, wiping away the sweat on his forehead. It was going to be a long day.

“I swear your brother is trying to kill me!” Ivar burst through the door an hour later, panting heavily, drenched in perspiration from his workout with Hvitserk. “He keeps saying we have to push ourselves but I'm sure he's trying to wear me out completely.” So that I'm too tired to even think about doing more workout with his dear sister afterwards... he thought but did not dare say out loud.

Silje jumped in surprise. She was curled up on the couch, scribbling on the notebook on her knees, and the TV was on but muted. Now that her classes were over and that she was done with her exams too, Silje was so much more relaxed, she sometimes forgot her surroundings. Ivar's sudden interruption nearly gave her a heart attack.

“By all that is holy Ivar, don't scare me like that!” She told him, twisting her upper body around to give him a stern look.

He only shot her a half apologetic smile in return and she had to smile back. They barely saw each other today, Silje had had to help Inge with 'a girl thing' this morning and left early, then Ivar had his day shift at the bar, followed by workout with Hvitserk.

She has been looking forward to his return though she hadn't expected it to be as thundering as it was. He untied his hair and tried to brush it back with his fingers but it was too sweaty to comply. Ivar's face was red and veiled with a thin layer of perspiration, his gym clothes clung to his body, drenched in sweat too. His chest heaved, and he licked his lips.

“You better get in there and take a shower,” she pointed to the bathroom. “'cause I'm not kissing you like that.” Silje sent him a wink and turned back around as if he wasn't there, focusing on whatever she was doing before being interrupted.

“Harsh,” she heard him whine but then the bathroom door closed and the sound of water running filled the silent room.

Silje sighed happily and decided to put down her notebook. She closed it and tucked it behind the couch cushion, then grabbed the remote to turn on the sound of the TV. It broadcasted some old sci-fi series Silje remembered watching as a child but could not recall the name of. She barely saw five minutes of it before Ivar came out of the bathroom, changed in dry clothes, hair wet but tied in a bun, still obviously breathing heavily because he had decided to break his own record for quickest shower ever taken.

“Where's my kiss now?” He immediately asked.

“Come and get it you lazy potato,” Silje teased him, changing zapping until she found the discovery channel. She liked animal documentaries.

Ivar made a strangled noise, as if choking on words. Lazy potato?! He had just run fifteen kilometres and lifted weights, he wasn't- He breathed deeply.

“I'll show you who's a lazy potato!” He exclaimed, running around the couch and jumping on Silje who let out a distressed yelp and dropped the remote on the floor.

Ivar grabbed her ankles and pulled her towards him, making her slide forward until she was lying on her back and no longer sitting at one end of the couch. Before she could ask him what on earth he was doing, he began to tickle her. Silje would have played along in any other situation but this time it was funnier to simply smirk and wait until he realized-

“You're not ticklish?!” Ivar asked, stopping his attack on her sides. “What kind of person is insensible to tickles?”

“Me,” she giggled. “Actually everybody in my family except Bjorn. But if he learns that I told you he'll have to kill you,” Silje warned him, raising an eyebrow.

“Kill me? You're the one who just told me!” Ivar protested, sitting upright again to stare at her in confusion. That didn't make sense.

“Yes but I'm his favourite sister, and he has to make sure the word doesn't go around.”

Okay, maybe it did make sense. But still.

“You're his only sister,” Ivar corrected.

“Yes, exactly. Which makes me his favourite,” Silje reasoned. “Now are you going to kiss me or what?” She asked Ivar, dropping the playful act and becoming serious again.

Ivar could feel the abrupt change in atmosphere as Silje's hand rose to his chest, slowly travelling from there to his shoulders, then his neck. He wasn't going to deny her. Their lips crashed together in a hungry kiss after having spent the whole day apart, and by the gods it was good. Ivar groaned when she opened her legs to invite him closer. He crawled over her form, letting her lie down again as they kissed and revelled in each other's touch.

Ivar's hand grabbed her right knee and pulled it up, his fingers already sliding down her thigh, very happy that she wore a skirt and not those annoying jeans that were always in the way. She sighed against his neck when Ivar focused his attention on this particular spot below her ear that made her melt in his arms. He could feel his body getting more tense with each of her moans, and Silje practically purred for him when his hand reached the elastic band of her underwear and his fingers hooked around it before pulling it down her legs. At least she had missed him as much as he did her.

She fumbled a bit but managed to take off his sweater with a bit of Ivar's help, and she arched her back to help him rid her of her underwear. He sported a wolfish smile that made her bite her lips, her hands reaching to grab his neck and pull him down to her parted lips. She could feel his desire poking into her lower stomach, but he didn't make a move to remove his sweat pants, instead Silje felt his fingers venture higher, and higher up her thigh...

The moan that came out of her mouth when he reached his destination was properly obscene – Silje broke the kiss and let her head fall backwards, not seeing Ivar's cocky smirk. He did not go easy on her, he set a pace that quickly left her panting, her chest rising and falling at the fast rhythm of her breathing.

“Say my name, princess,” Ivar murmured, leaning closer to whisper in her ear while Silje wriggled beneath him, her hips rolling against his hand. His deft fingers worked wonders, she could feel her mind fogging up. “Say it or-” He stopped moving his hand.

“Ivar!” Silje shouted, her eyes snapping open to glare warningly at him. She leaned on her elbows to be at eye level with him.

“Not like that,” he insisted, though he picked up his ministrations again, slower this time to make her want more. “Be a sweet girl, Silje.”

She still glared at him for a bit but soon relaxed and laid back down, enjoying the feeling slowly building up in her core, warming her entire being.

“If you want to hear me scream your name you'll need to work for it,” she breathed out, closing her eyes and letting her hands run up her chest to massage her own breasts as Ivar focused on her lower region. She slipped a hand inside her bra but Ivar wasn't having it.

“Arch,” he told her, and Silje obeyed, allowing him to reached behind her to unclasp the garment for her.

Then she took it off completely, tossing it aside without regard to join the rest of their clothes. Now Ivar only wore his sweat pants, and Silje only her summer dress. At this point it didn't hide anything anymore, it was bundled up over her stomach, leaving everything else on display.

“Faster,” she demanded, and Ivar complied seeing that Silje had tuned out everything else but him, her eyes still shut, face twisted by pleasure. “Use two fingers.”

Ivar groaned in answer. Did she have no mercy or was she completely unaware of the effect she had on him.

“I am,” he told her.

Silje opened her eyes just enough to look at him, and the sight of her lying there, fondling her own breasts, squirming for him, gasping at each of his finger flicks nearly had him undone.

“Use three.”

So much for the angelic girl he thought she was before they started their relationship – Ivar found out what “Lady in the streets, freak in the sheets” meant thanks to Silje. He was so hard it hurt, but he would see her cum on his fingers before giving in to his own needs, the gods be witness.

The work up took some time but Ivar knew what to do and Silje gave very enthusiastic directions whenever she thought it useful. He felt her tremble, her whole body shaking when her orgasm washed over her. Silje threw her head back and closed her eyes.

“I-Ivar!” She called his name in a breathy moan, her chest heaving.

A thin veil of perspiration covered her now, and Ivar smiled proudly as he gazed down on her, happy with his handy work. His smirk dropped when Silje launched herself onto Ivar, throwing a leg over his lap to straddle him and pin him to the couch. He cursed when she pressed herself against his throbbing member, hissing in pain.

Silje got the message and stood up only to let Ivar pull his pants halfway down, then sit back down, willingly submitting to whatever treatment Silje had in store for him. Who knew this girl had such a dominant personality?

A familiar tune broke them out of their feverish trance and they groaned in unison. The sound came from Ivar's pocket, so Silje fished out his phone, looked at the screen and threw it on the couch beside them.

“Hvitserk,” she quickly informed him before crashing down on his lips.

While their mouths busied themselves, Silje's hand slipped between them to get a feel of Ivar. Realizing just how turned on he was, she gasped, and Ivar took the opportunity to deep the kiss, pulling her towards him until their chests were pressed together. His hands grabbed her hips tightly, she could feel his fingers digging into the tender flesh a little bit more with each stroke she gave to him.

She enjoyed having him in the palm of her hand, both literally and figuratively. Next to them, Ivar's phone rang again, the screen lighting up with Hvitserk's name, and they ignored it entirely. Ivar used his hands to set the pace for Silje, making her rub against his length with each roll of her hips. She let him do because it was clearly driving him crazy.

His right hand shot out and grabbed her wrist to make her stop her stroking.

“Sil, I'm going to finish like that if you continue,” he warned her.

He released her wrist and began to kiss his way down to her breasts, feeling up the other with his left hand. It was soft – heavy and warm in his palm, nipple perked up, begging for attention.

“Ivar,” Silje purred, making him stop and look up.

She cupped his face and rose up a little bit so she was no longer sitting on his lap. He closed his eyes in delight when her fingers wrapped around him and she guided him to her entrance, not yet giving him what he needed so badly but giving him a little taste of it. She rubbed herself against him, clearly not doing much better than he was. Their breaths mingled, their skin scorching in the wake of each other's touch.

Then the phone rang again, and this time Ivar answered it.

“Hvitserk if you interrupt me one more time, so help me Odin,” Ivar growled lowly. He ended the call without giving him a chance to say anything and tossed the phone to the floor on the pile of clothes. “Fucking cockblock,” Ivar muttered angrily, making Silje laugh.

“Ssshh, Ivar,” she said in a soothing voice, using her free hand to cup his cheek, trying to make him forget about the phone and focus his attention on her again.

His frown wavered a little bit, and just when he opened his mouth to answer, Silje sank down on him. Ivar's mouth remained open but no words came out, only sounds of pleasure.

There was an unspoken understanding between them that they shared the power, and that one of them won't have to do all the work while the other one leaned back and relaxed. Silje certainly did enjoy it when Ivar was in the mood and slipped a hand below her skirt, and she certainly did like dominating him too, but what she liked more than either of these options was when she saw fire erupt in Ivar's eyes, and in this moment she knew things were getting real.

She rode him for a while, leaning back as far as the couch allowed her to, her hands placed on the very edge of it, she rocked her hips like nobody's business, making Ivar curse and moan loud than he would ever admit to it. But then he opened his eyes and she felt the change in the balance of power. Snaking an arm around her waist, Ivar flipped them over, pining Silje tot he couch, on his usual sitting spot, and holding her arms far above her head.

Silje could barely align two coherent thoughts. With both hands busy holding hers Ivar pressed her into the couch with all of his weight, and Silje loved feeling him so close. So close.

“I'm close Ivar,” she informed him when she emerged from her bliss for a second.

Truth was they were both at the verge of coming from the beginning of their make out sessions, they had lived in forced abstinence the past few days because life got in the way of their sex life, and Ivar was a generally touch starved person anyway. Silje spent the week being unnecessarily mean to Ubbe when he called her, and she tried not to think about how Ivar felt against her, and how good he made her feel when-

“Sil, look at me,” he demanded, making her snap out of her thoughts.

She opened her eyes and was surprised to find Ivar's face so close to hers. Their noses brushed when he thrust into her once more, earning a gasp from her. Ivar finally let go of her wrists, too close to losing control to keep his grip on her. He used his hands to relieve Silje of some of his weight though she was not complaining.

But this gave him the extra support he needed to pick up the pace, and soon they reached their peak – first Ivar, then Silje soon after. She crossed her legs behind his back to prevent Ivar from slipping away when he collapsed on top of her, and he rode out his high until finally Silje tripped over the edge herself.

Smiles adorned their relaxed faces as they lied there, attempting to slow down their erratic breathing. They could still feel their heartbeat in their whole body, and clung to each other despite the heat and the sweat.

“I'll need another shower,” Ivar eventually said, before rolling over with Silje in his arms to avoid crushing her further. He liked it better when she was the one lying on top of him anyway. “And you too,” he added, pushing back a strand of blond hair that stuck to her forehead.

“My water bill...” Silje whined, making Ivar laugh. “We'll have to bathe together from now on to save money.”

“A dreary perspective,” he agreed, unable to hold back the goofy smile that fought to be on his face.

He was so damn happy, and she had no idea that she was the cause of it. Another round of giggles fell from Silje's lips in answer to his comment, and Ivar looked down at her, his fingers absent-mindedly combing through her damp hair.

“C'mon,” he said, trying to coax her into getting up even if she was worn out. “I'll wash your hair for you.”

It jolted her out of her reverie and Silje stood up, fumbling to stand without tripping on their clothes. Her legs were still a bit wobbly in the most pleasant way. Her dress was still bunched up around her waist but she pushed it down and stepped out of it.

Ivar stretched before standing on his feet, feeling the upcoming soreness in his muscles, but content in his soul. He will always have enough energy left for this kind of workout.



*



After a long night of scarce sleep and a lot of exercise, one would hope to at least get to sleep in, and not be woken by any unwelcome, abrupt sound that would cruelly tear you away from the sweet embrace of Morpheus. Yet the universe seemed to make a point to never grand this wish to anyone – not in this household in any case.

They didn't know what time it was, but the sun was filtering through the blind. It made them squint their eyes until they got used to the light, still searching the source of the disturbance that woke them up. They were on the last floor so noisy upstairs neighbours were off the table. Classes were over, Ivar did not work in the mornings, so no alarm clock was set. When Ivar untangled his arms and legs from Silje's and from the sheets, he tried to rub the sleepiness off his face and clear his head. The disturbing sound was still there.

Silje yawned, then snapped her eyes open and sat upright, at if she stuck her fingers into a socket.

“The door!” She exclaimed, slapping a hand to her forehead. “Shit! What time is it?”

Ivar fumbled for his phone on the night stand, and when his hand finally found the object he glanced at it, still blinking lazily.

“Half past ten,” he mumbled then yawned, ready to dive back under the covers.

Crap. Silje was an early riser and would normally be up way before that, but she had had a hectic day yesterday, and a short night thanks to her untiring boyfriend – well not completely untiring according to his current state. She fought back a smile when she looked at his state of dishevelment. He plopped back onto his pillow, stretching his arms behind his head with a groan. His chest was on full display, and Silje nearly let herself be distracted by the sight if it wasn't for the ringing that started again.

“Dammit,” she grumbled.

It cost her to leave the warm and welcoming bed with her still very much naked boyfriend lying in it, but she pushed the sheets away and ran from left to right around her room, until she found her robe. She put it on on her way to the door and pressed the intercom.

“Hello?” She said, fighting off a yawn – she was going to go to bed early tonight.

If this was just some delivery guy pressing random buttons to get in she was going to give him a piece of her mind.

“Silje,” a strong, deep voice said her name, and it was like a shock-wave through her body. She recognized the voice instantly. Her first reaction was unbridled joy and then it was like something heavy fell into her stomach.

“B-Bjorn, hi,” she answered, hoping the intercom wouldn't convey the slight stutter in her voice. “Come up,” she told him, pressing the button that would open the door downstairs.

Then she panicked.

“Ivar!” She shouted, undoubtedly waking him up a second time. “Ivar! Fuck!” She swore when she tripped over a pair of sneakers on the floor. Ivar's sneakers. She pushed them under the chest next to the door.

“What is it?” He groaned, his arm resting across his face to shield him from the sun. She burst in the bedroom and started putting on underwear all the while speaking.

“It's Bjorn! Bjorn is here! I had no idea he was even back in the country but he's here, he's coming upstairs right now!” She hopped from here to there, slipping on a dress she randomly picked from her closet and gathering her hair into a ponytail.

“What?!” Ivar seemed awake now. “What do we do? What do I do?” He asked, feeling the panic rise in him too.

“You're naked Ivar! You stay here and be quiet if you care for your life!”

He was about to answer but a there was a knock on the door and Silje gestured him to be silent. He obeyed. Fuck, all of his clothes were in the second drawer of the chest in the main living area because Silje's room was full of her stuff. Unless he wanted to meet her eldest brother wearing her pink fuzzy robe, he'd have to wait this one out.

“I'm gonna go open the door, you don't move,” she said, as if it wasn't obvious.

She swung the door when she left, leaving it ajar so Ivar could still hear what was happening. For good measure, he made sure the sheet cover all and any private part.

From then on, what was supposed to be a quiet morning of cuddling with Silje became a very long and uncomfortable experience of waiting still and naked while she made casual conversation with her brother on the other side of the door. Not the best start to a day.

They chatted so naturally he was a bit impressed wit Silje's ability to act as though her naked boyfriend wasn't hiding in her room a few meters away from them. A normal day in her life. Ivar had no idea what Bjorn looked like, but his voice sure sounded big and powerful.

“What about you, dear sister?” He heard the big voice ask. “Anything exciting to tell me? Hvitserk tells me you have someone new in your life,” he laughed, the hint so unsubtle that Ivar would picture the blush spreading on Silje's cheeks.

She coughed to clear her throat. Damn Hvitserk and his big mouth.

“Hvitserk doesn't know when to shut up,” she said, and surely that biting sentence was accompanied by an eye roll. Ivar fought back the urge to laugh and it made him cough a little.

In the living room, Silje glanced at the bedroom door.

“I left the window open, must be the wind,” she said with a shrug when Bjorn turned around to see what was going on.

The door was still half open, Silje hadn't shut it hard enough when she dashed out to open the door. She knew Ivar couldn't come out because he didn't have any clothes in there, and they started their late night activities in the bathroom so yesterday's outfit was on the pile of dirty clothes next to the washing machine.

“I can't stay much longer,” Bjorn suddenly told her, and both her and Ivar held back a huge sigh of relief. “I only stopped by to say hi, but we'll see each other again soon.” The look he gave Silje spoke for itself, she was not getting out of this conversation so easily, it was only postponed. “Do you have anything to do with Hvitserk finally manning up and proposing?”

“I like to think so,” Silje said with a honeyed voice and a smile. “But who knows what goes through his mind?”

“I'm glad I don't.” Bjorn's laughter rumbled so low she was sure the vibrations got to Ivar. He stood up, Silje mimicking him and he quickly pulled her in a side hug, patting her back. “It was good to see you again Silje. Beautiful as always.”

“You too Bjorn,” she said with genuine emotion.

They walked to the door, lingering a few more minutes in the entryway, until Bjorn said his goodbyes again. But right before walking out, he paused, a slight smile on his lips. He nodded towards the bedroom then set his eyes on his sister again, and said, “Oh and Silje... tell Ivar I look forward to meeting him.”

Silje's eyes nearly rolled all the way back in her head, and there was a loud bang in her bedroom. Bjorn left without another word, smiling to himself, proud of his dramatic effect.



 

Chapter Text

Ivar's back pressed into the side of the tub, Silje turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck, her elbows resting on his shoulders, and her arms dangling over the edge of the tub. She kissed him, and smiled. Eager for more, Ivar captured her lips for another kiss, and another, pressing her to deepen their embrace.

“I see what you're trying to do,” Silje laughed, pulling back just a little. “And it's a no, Ivar.”

“No? Well that's a first, what's wrong?” He asked, playful mood gone and replaced with a tinge of worry. A frown appeared on his brow as he stared in confusion at a blushing Silje.

“I- I just don't like sex in water,” she confessed, blushing furiously. You'd think she was old and experienced enough not to blush when she mentioned the dirty deed, but she felt her face heat up almost instantly. “Nothing to do with you, don't fret,” she added just to reassure him.

But Ivar's frown deepened.

“We had shower sex just last week,” he pointed out, still not getting it. “We almost slipped and broke our necks like ten times,” he added, smiling at the thought. “The tub is so much more practical.”

“True,” Silje conceded but just when Ivar thought the conversation was over and leaned in again, she raised a hand to his collar bone to stop him. “But showers and baths are not the same.”

He sighed. Silje knew Ivar was frustrated, and she felt his excitement poking her thigh. She wanted him too, but...

“Explain then, because I don't get it,” he urged her.

“I-” Her face was burning up again. “It's just different!” Ivar titled his head and raised an eyebrow at her; he was getting impatient. Silje sighed, resigning herself to simply blurt out the truth and worry about the ensuing embarrassment later. “A shower is just clear water running down, but a bath is stagnating water with lots of products in it, it- it's bad.”

“Bad?” He repeated, still not getting it.

“Yes, Ivar, bad. For my little flower.” Silje resigned herself to spelling it out though the embarrassment was great.

She wanted to dig a hole and crawl in it. It was the kind of conversation a girl had with her girl friends, she never thought she'd have to explain to her boyfriend why exactly she refused to have tub sex. Fucking hell.

But Ivar wasn't laughing or showing any sign of not taking her seriously or such. He frowned again, and looked lost in his thoughts for a brief moment, then he hummed as if finally understanding something.

“I never thought about that,” he said to himself, not meeting Silje's eyes yet. “I guess it makes sense. So no bath sex I guess, I can live with that. I take it pools are out too?”

“To my deepest regret, yes,” Silje said with a disappointed sigh. “It's a bummer I know, it always looks hot in the movies.”

“The sea?” Ivar questioned, going over their options as if they were talking about their groceries rather than their sex life.

“It's the worst of all,” Silje grimaced. “The salt burns.”

“Does this mean you've tried all of this before?” Ivar now teased her, smirking mischievously. “I'm jealous now.”

“Ugh, please don't,” Silje groaned. “Horrible experiences, all of them. Very uncomfortable for me.”

His expression softened now, and Ivar's hand rose out of the water to brush back a stray strand of Silje's hair that fell out of her bun, where her hair was safe and dry.

“That's the last thing I want,” he mused, feeling Silje lean into his palm on instinct. It made his heart burst with joy that she would find comfort in his touch the way she did. “So I guess this leaves us with fresh water? We'll have to find a lake.”

Silje laughed out loud at that, throwing her head back a little.

“Or we could fill the tub with water and pretend it's a lagoon. Clear blue water, with no products in it,” he added, still sporting his wicked grin, now leaning in to pepper kisses along Silje's jaw.

“You just really want to have sex with me in water,” Silje mocked him, pushing him away with a hand, though she didn't put much force in the gesture. Ivar's grin wouldn't waver.

“I really want to have sex with you anywhere and everywhere,” he told her unashamedly, as if it was a natural thing to admit to wanting to fuck her brains out on every available surface. Silje made a dubious frown. “Too forward?” He wondered, drawing up a hand to bop her nose. She cracked a smile.

“No, just hard to believe.”

“How so?” Genuine astonishment now adorned Ivar's face like he couldn't fathom why she wouldn't take his word for granted. “Maybe I haven't made it clear enough that I'm really, really into you,” Ivar told her, dramatically stressing the second 'really' and eliciting another laugh from the girl.

“It came to my attention, I admit,” Silje giggled. “The water's cold now, let's get out.”

Ivar pecked her lips one last time before letting go of her so she could get out of the tub and he followed suit. He hadn't even noticed that the water wasn't warm anymore, they both completely lost track of time – as it often happened these days. Ivar smiled to himself, thinking it must be a good sign that they were so engrossed in each other that they couldn't remember how much time passed.

“You changed the subject, don't think I haven't noticed!” Ivar said, graciously accepting the towel Silje handed him. She rolled her eyes.

“Don't know what you're talking about-” she waved at him as she exited the bathroom wrapped in a towel. She let her hair out of her bun and fall down her back, shaking her head a bit.

Ivar finished drying himself as fast as he could, then grabbed a clean pair of grey sweatpants and put them on. For a lazy day in he didn't need more clothes than that. It was early June now, the air was thick and heavy, and the atmosphere oppressing – quite unusual for Danish weather. Grey clouds had started gathering over the city a few hours ago, and a big storm threatened to break any time now.

When he joined Silje in her room she was sitting in her briefs on her bed, rubbing in body lotion on her legs. Ivar was going to sit next to her but decided he would enjoy the show a bit longer and leaned against the open door.

“Might be a man thing, but this is just so sexy,” he commented, his eyes scanning up and down her body as she applied the lotion. Was she taking her time on purpose? She smiled and looked up from under her lashes. They immediately strayed to his chest.

“We all have our turn ons, don't we?” She chuckled, as if she knew something he didn't. Ivar nodded in agreement and continued watching in appreciative silence. “It's stifling in here,” she complained when she was done. “I hope it starts raining soon.”

Ivar went to open the window and reached his arm out.

“Already has,” he told her. “Should be pouring in a minute.” When he turned around again she was wearing a large t-shirt, which made him groan in frustration. “You just ruined a perfectly good outfit, Sil.”

“No outfit ain't an outfit,” she replied. She went to retrieve her laptop from the living room then crawl on the bed, patting the spot next to her. “Get your tight little butt over here mister!”

“I feel objectified,” Ivar said in this very dramatic fashion he used to joke around before obeying and settling next to Silje on the bed, opening his arms for her to snuggle in once she put on Netflix.

Before the show even started the sound of heavy rain hitting the roof told them the storm finally broke.

“I love this kind of weather though,” Silje said, leaning back against Ivar who placed a quick kiss to her temple. “It's practically begging us to have a lazy day and stay in bed.”

“Well you don't need to ask me twice, I'll never turn that down,” Ivar hummed in response, letting his left arm drape around Silje's chest. He smirked when his fingers grazed over her nipple, feeling it perk up. She smacked his hand away.

“Keep it in your pants for just one episode, will you? You're going to wear me out if we keep up this pace,” she scolded him.

True to her word, Silje fell asleep halfway through the episode, and Ivar closed his eyes to try and get some more rest too. They haven't gotten quite as much sleep as they would have liked last night. Silje insisted on finishing their game of Monopoly – when really everybody knew this game never ends – and then they indulged in some more adult activities. They planned on sleeping in but Silje forgot to turn off her phone and they were woken up by her ring tone around six in the morning because she hadn't deactivated her alarm clock.

A warm bath certainly did nothing to wake them up, it did the opposite to be truthful, and so they both drifted off in front of Netflix for a little morning nap.

When Silje blinked her eyes open a while later she couldn't tell what time it was. The sky was still as grey as before, though now the downpour had subsided to steady rain, not quite as heavy as earlier. The temperature went down a few degrees and a cool breeze came in through the open window.

She stirred slightly, blinking some more and attempting to stretch without waking up Ivar.

“'m awake,” he mumbled to her surprise. She chuckled. He might not be asleep but he surely wasn't awake either.

Feeling reinvigorated by her nap and in a playful mood, Silje decided to climb on top of Ivar, lying flat on his chest, arms crossed and chin resting on her joined hands. Ivar opened one eye to see what she was doing. He closed it again and simply wrapped his arms around her waist. Silje was a bit on the lightweight side, and feeling her body hugging his sent all kinds of signals throughout his body, causing a certain fuzziness in his stomach.

“Ivar.”

He hummed in response, showing her he was listening.

“Ivar,” Silje repeated. It didn't sound like the beginning of a sentence at all, nor was she calling him to get his attention. It rather sounded like she was tasting his name.

“Silje,” Ivar said back, now opening his eyes fully. Truth be told he has been awake for some time now but he was just too cosy to move.

“Ivar,” she replied with a mischievous smile on her face. Ivar could swear her cheeks were tinged with some slight pink.

“Silje?” He now asked, wondering what little game of hers this was. “What is it?”

“Can you feel it too?” She asked him, tilting her head to the right, pressing her cheek into her hand without looking away from him. She could drown in Ivar's blue eyes, and she wouldn't mind.

“Mmh?”

“This moment,” she tried to explain. “It's perfect.” If she could feel Ivar's heart thumping against the palm of her hand, she didn't show it.

One of her hands reached up for him, her fingers caressing the nape of his neck, where his hair started. Suddenly she leaned up and kissed him, stealing away his breath. Her legs moved to Ivar's sides as soon as she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss. Ivar's arms were still very much wrapped around her waist, pressing her upper body against his so tightly he could feel her breathe, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Sometimes he needed this to remind him that Silje was real, she was with him in the flesh, and this wasn't a fantasy he made up in his mind. He could hold her, kiss her. And he did.

For a girl it was easy to tell when I guy was excited, but it was always a bit trickier the other way around. Ivar, however, had found Silje let out the most delightful little sounds, getting louder as her desire grew. So when she moaned out a profanity the moment they broke their kiss to catch their breath, he took action.

Ivar flipped them over, now being the one hovering over her and pressing her into the mattress. He pushed away the duvet and numerous pillows to make more room. He revelled in the feeling of Silje's warm thighs clenching around his hips as if she tried to prevent him from slipping away.

“You're perfect,” Ivar finally told her, kissing his way down her neck until he had her whimpering from his ministrations. He knew it was a corny answer, but it was the truth, as simple as that. He settled for this spot to mark her, and began to give it a little bite and suck on it, earning a throaty groan in answer.

Silje grabbed Ivar's face with both hands and pulled him towards her face again, bringing his lips down on hers before he could ask himself what she was doing. Her body started moving of its own volition, rippling like waves to meet Ivar's hips and get a feel of his length poking into her core. Ivar's right hand travelled down Silje's side, following the curve of her backside which he took great pleasure in doing, feeling her smile against his lips. Then it slowly moved up her thigh, and back down again until he reached her sole piece of underwear.

He broke the kiss to her discontent, but Silje laid down and let him do whatever he wanted. Ivar sat on the back on his heels, and used both hands to take off Silje bottoms, dragging them down her legs, then throwing them aside.

She didn't cower away from his gaze when his eyes looked down, a wicked smirk painted on his lips. Silje bit her lower lip, guessing what Ivar had in mind.

Still she yelped when Ivar dived down and grabbed her hips, holding her in place as he buried his face between her thigh, making her gasp at the contact of his mouth against her sensitive skin.





*





“My brothers are gonna try and scare you away now. I'm not sure why, because I know for a fact that at least Ubbe and Hvitserk like you a lot, but I think it has something to do with brotherly duties,” Silje informed Ivar, legs thrown over his lap on the couch while she read a magazine. It was good to be free of exams and other sources of stress. Finally, she was on holiday.

“I need to get something off my chest,” Ivar blurted out, making Silje put down the magazine and move her attention to him.

“Is it your shirt?” She flirted, raising an eyebrow. It was typically the kind of comeback that made Ivar erupt in roaring laughter but this time he only smiled uneasily so she stopped joking around and moved her legs so she could sit properly next to him on the couch. “What is it?”

“I don't mean to be a weasel or anything, but I think you should know that Hvitserk always knew. I mean, of course we told him, but he knew before that,” Ivar tried to explain but it ended up sounding awkward.

He hadn't planned on confessing that he pined after Silje for months before they shared their first kiss. If he could avoid saying it, he would have taken it to the grave. She raised an eyebrow, looking like she was thinking really hard about something, then all of a sudden she blushed deeply.

“You alright?” Ivar asked out of habit. He always noticed the slightest change in her moods.

“Yeah, yeah... So you were saying he already knew? H- how come?” She stuttered out, convincing Ivar once and for all that she was not alright. There was something she wasn't telling him.

“Well... he noticed that I liked you and kind of pushed me to confess,” Ivar admitted, now blushing just as hard as Silje. After all, maybe she wasn't hiding anything from him, maybe she was just as flustered as him to talk about their... feelings.

“It clearly didn't work,” she laughed, looking a bit more relaxed when she realized that was all.

“His peps talks were a bit too aggressive, gentleness works better if you want to make me do something,” Ivar commented, joining her in her laughter. Silje's hand came to take his, wrapping her fingers around his closed fist to make his relax. He opened his fist and she interlaced their fingers. “I guess this only leaves three of your terrifyingly tall and strong brothers to win over,” he sighed, already scared at the perspective.

“It'll be alright, Bjorn trusts my judgement more than any of the others,” she assured him. “He won't shake you up too badly. And Ubbe will go easy on you.”

“But it's not just them, is it? You have parents too,” Ivar whined, throwing his head back.

This time Silje laughed frankly, her laughter filling his ears like music. She leaned into him and placed her chin on his shoulder, nuzzling him a bit. His arm squeezed behind her and settled around her frame.

“They are nice,” she promised.

“Oh yeah. I'll charm all your family in one dinner, easy peasy, lemon squeezy,” Ivar snorted sarcastically, not believing a word Silje said.

She was just trying to reassure him, but his anxiety was through the roof. He had no idea how to behave in a situation like this, he had never met his girlfriend's family before. Hell, when he agreed to this, they weren't together, at the time it felt like a favour he was doing her – coming along to a family reunion where he didn't know anyone but Silje, Hvitserk and Inge, to save her from awkward questions, and maybe provide her with an alibi if she wanted to escape. Hvitserk liked to think that Ivar came for him but the guy was deluded.

“I swear the only one you have to look out for is Sigurd, you know he's not very fond of... people,” she concluded. Ivar's mouth closed, his lips in a tight line. “When he doesn't know them.”

It wouldn't be the first time Sigurd drops a biting remark meant for Silje's boyfriend. Though she very rarely let them meet her family. With Ivar it was different of course, because he immediately met two of her brothers, and the third one later, before they began dating.

“Right, save it,” he snorted again. “I'll be on my best behaviour and hope for the best. If anything, they will at least have to admit I'm polite.”

“You're more than polite, you're great, and they will welcome you. Who do you think my family are? They're not all intimidating people built like tanks!” She protested, amused by Ivar's pointless worries.

He really had nothing to be concerned about, she had talked to her parents and Sigurd received a warning to be nice. Not to mention that this family reunion was for Hvitserk and Inge's engagement, and they would be there to smooth things out if anything bad happened – like her uncle Floki decided he was a bad seed and making it known to the entire Ragnarsson clan.

“It's not that they are so big, Sil, it's just that I don't want them to not like me. And honestly I'm more scared about the women than the men,” he admitted, dismissing her previous assumption that it was her soldier brothers' appearance that made him antsy.

Silje grabbed Ivar's chin so he would stop staring at the crack in the ceiling and meet her gaze instead.

“I promise you have nothing to be nervous about. They only care for my well-being. My mother will see you make me happy, and it's all she'll need to know to welcome you in the family.”

“I know it comes from a good place Sil, but nothing you can say will make me less anxious about this,” Ivar said, rubbing his face with his free hand. “I just hope everyone will be too focused on Hvitserk and Inge to care about me.”

“Listen, a situation is only awkward if you make it,” she said, reminding him of her life motto.

Still, Silje wore a rosy blush on her cheeks, one that Ivar thought looked good on her. He rarely saw Silje flustered, but it seemed that it touched her more than she would admit out loud that he wanted to make a good impression on her family.

With that in mind, Ivar still wasn't quite ready for what was to come, especially not ready to be face to face with the last, the oldest, the scariest brother: Bjorn.

“Rumour has it, I make you nervous.” He said as a greeting to Ivar, not cracking a smile, not showing a single hint that he might be joking, just staring blankly at Ivar, casting his large shadow on him.

Ivar had been doing fine so far. The guests were slowly arriving, Silje's youngest brothers made sure he felt welcome and introduced him to all those unknown family members arriving two at a time. He also tried not to give in to the urge to down a glass of whiskey to ease his nerves – Silje would give him a piece of her mind if she caught him doing so, and he wanted to be absolutely, completely, entirely sober and clear headed for when her parents arrived. He couldn't make a bad first impression, he would not.

True they were the ones organizing this party, but they had to take care of some last minute thing and left their children in charge of greeting the guests. Silje had left Ivar's side to help Inge, and so he stood in a corner, rolling on the balls of his feet and sweating in his borrowed two piece suit. Nicolaj graciously offered to lend him one. Ivar hated wearing ties.

But back to Bjorn standing right in his face, sending threatening vibes his way.

“Where did you get this from?” Ivar asked in a vain attempt to sound casual and not at all intimidated.

Ivar was used to being taller than most people, but Silje's entire family was tall and broad-shouldered. Having people look down to meet his eyes was unusual and he wasn't sure he liked the feeling at all. Especially not when it was the scary oldest brother who looked like he could and would fight a grizzly bear with his bare hands.

Bjorn did not answer, instead he grinned slightly, a mysterious smile that indicated that he knew something Ivar didn't. It succeeded in making him more nervous than the cold glare he gave him before.

“You just take good care of her and we'll be on cordial terms,” he told Ivar, slamming one of his big hands on his shoulder. He squeezed slightly, making Ivar flinch. “If you don't...”

He didn't finish his sentence but there was really no need because Ivar's imagination was already running wild with unpleasant perspectives in the unlikely case he hurt Silje somehow. Bjorn's grip loosened and he patted Ivar's back as he walked away, having scared the kid shitless and feeling he had accomplished his big brother job.

Ivar let out a deep breath, but his relief was short-lived because a second later Hvitserk crashed into his side, nearly propelling them both into the buffet.

“That wasn't so bad, was it? Bjorn doesn't eat human flesh,” he snickered, clearly enjoying himself a lot more than Ivar who so far had to endure systematic intimidation from all male relatives of Silje's. “And you're way too scrawny anyway.”

“It's called being lean, you should try that sometime,” Ivar snapped back, shoving his friend off. Engagement party or not, Hvitserk always acted like Hvitserk. “Maybe lay off the beer.”

“Inge likes me squishy,” he replied with a shit eating grin that Ivar did not want to know the implications of. “Anyway, do you want me to get Sil for you? You seem a bit lost here.”

Ivar would have killed to have Silje right next to him, joking around and teasing him about his obvious nervousness instead of standing in a corner like an idiot, but he didn't want to make her feel like she should be holding his hand the whole day.

“I'll survive without her for a bit,” Ivar sighed with a shrug. “I'm a big boy.”

“She'll come to you when mother and father arrive, don't worry,” Hvitserk patted his shoulder and sent him a wink. “Now get that broom outta your ass, I've never seen anyone look so tense in my life.”

“Oh gee, that sure makes me feel better, let me just completely forget that I have to win over my girlfriend's entire family,” Ivar muttered through his teeth, making Hvitserk laugh and pat his back some more for good measure. “I can't screw this up,” he added more seriously, making Hvitserk frown a bit.

“You won't fuck it up, man. Our parents have been looking forward to meeting you, Silje only told them good things about you and we have all received specific orders not to shake you up too much.”

“From Silje?” Ivar asked, his eyebrows hitting his hairline.

“Who else? Have you met the girl? She's a tyrant!” Hvitserk replied dramatically. “If anyone dares to upset her precious Ivar she'll have their head.”

It did sound like Silje now that Ivar thought about it. He was lucky enough to appeal to her good side, in fact she was always nice to people unless they did something to deserve her bad side. In this instance, she would go full on mama bear on them, there was absolutely no denying she was related to the squad of soldier brothers.

“Wipe that frown off your face, pretty boy,” Hvitserk chuckled. “Time to meet uncle Floki and aunt Helga.”

They passed Ubbe and Margrethe on their way to the door, the older brother giving Ivar a glance and slightly raising his glass at him. Ivar smirked and continued his way. Hvitserk took the lead and warmly greeted his uncle Floki, a tall and thin man accompanied by a kind looking woman – blond as most of Silje's family.

Ivar nearly lost his balance when someone crashed into his side.

“Sorry I left you on your own,” Silje chuckled, amused by his startled expression. “Thought you'd manage to fend for yourself for a short while.”

“I did well, thank you very much,” Ivar scoffed, fighting off the fond smile that immediately overtook his face when he heard her voice. “But never leave my side again or I'll start crying,” he added, with the sole purpose of making her smile.

Silje laughed heartily at his dramatic declaration, nestling her hand in the crook of his elbow. He was joking, evidently, but it didn't mean that there wasn't some truth to it, and Silje was determined to spend the rest of the evening with Ivar. After all, he wasn't the only one nervous about tonight.

“Little princess, won't you greet your old Floki?” Silje's uncle asked her, a somewhat twisted smile on his face, though Ivar was sure it was meant to be teasing. His girlfriend momentarily let go of his arm to hug her uncle and aunt, welcoming them into the house. “And who's this?” Floki asked, glancing at Ivar, scrutinizing him. Ivar swallowed thickly.

“Father must have told you I would bring someone, I know he tells you everything,” she accused him, earning a mischievous smile. She was quick to turn to Ivar, a twinkle in her eyes as she said, “This is Ivar, my boyfriend.” Ivar's heart skipped a beat. He always liked to hear her refer to him as such. “And I would appreciate it if you didn't scare him off.”

Helga chuckled and greeted Ivar as warmly as he'd imagined she would, she looked doting and benevolent, a real mother figure. Floki did not even do so much as extend his hand to shake Ivar's, much less give him the usual pat on the back in greeting.

“Well if he runs away because of me then he's not really worth it, is he?” Floki said to Silje, earning a stern look.

She was just about to open her mouth to scold her uncle and tell him to tone down his teasing nature, because of this one ran away she might just run away with him, but she was cut short when Ivar spoke up.

“Try me,” he said, shooting him a challenging smile. His hand was still extended, he was beginning to feel awkward about it. Floki seemed surprised but not displeased with the answer, and after examining him a bit longer, he grabbed Ivar's hand and pulled him forward to give him a side hug.

“You've got some nerve kid. Ragnar will like you,” Floki declared before leaving the couple to say hello to the other brothers.

Ivar exhaled and grabbed a glass of champagne.

“I'm so sorry to interrupt Silje, Ivar,” Inge suddenly came out of nowhere, looking overwhelmed and in need of a glass of champagne herself. “I need your help for something.”

Without waiting for her answer she grabbed Silje by the arm and dragged her away from Ivar, who once again stood on his own, surrounded by unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar place. He wasn't complaining but he will be happy to have Silje to himself again later.

“We haven't met,” a voice said beside him, making him turn away from where the girls disappeared. A tall man with no hair but an impressive and neatly trimmed beard looked down on him, his light coloured eyes looking right into his soul. “But I assume you're Silje's new boyfriend.”

New boyfriend. Why did it sound so much less appealing with this adjective? Or maybe it was only pleasant coming from Silje herself.

“Ivar,” Ivar introduced himself for the hundredth time today, going for the man's hand.

At least he took it, unlike the odd uncle Floki. An indecipherable smile danced on the man's lips, as if he was highly entertained by Ivar's mere presence. This made the young man frown, but he didn't dare say anything. Best behaviour, he reminded himself.

“What's so special about you?” The other man asked, still not introducing himself. “I've met a few boyfriends before but there's something different with you...” He mused out loud, increasing Ivar's uneasiness. What the hell was he supposed to say to that?

“Must be my awkward charm,” Ivar opted for a light joke instead of reading too much into this stranger's purposely vague remarks.

“I'm sure it helps, but I wasn't thinking about that.” Slowly Ivar added two and two together and before he could ask the man who he was, he spoke up again. “Perhaps my daughter simply has a soft spot for lost causes.”

Instead of flaring up or blushing and stuttering out an excuse like Silje's father must have expected him to do, Ivar looked him right in the eye and held his gaze. He wasn't of a submissive nature and having this man he didn't know challenge him the way he did prompted Ivar to up his game instead of shying out of this silent confrontation.

After all he had been preparing for it. Granted that he thought he would have to puff out his chest a little bit with her brothers, but if her father was the one acting like the alpha male, he wouldn't back down either.

“What did Silje tell you about me?” Ivar inquired politely, not letting anything on. He didn't know how much Ragnar knew.

“Silje is a private person, she didn't tell on you,” Ragnar shook his head with a little smirk. He appeared so relaxed with his hands in his pockets, so artfully mellow, it must be the result of a lifetime of practice. “I did my own digging. I'm sure you understand.”

“I wouldn't mind if she told you. You're her father, I suppose you have a right to know.” To know yes, but to meddle certainly not. Silje had warned him that her father could be a little excessive at times, but not to worry. More bark than bite. “Now what of it?”

“I don't need to tell you I don't approve, right? Despite your circumstances, you seem like a clever young man,” Ragnar said, his smile not faltering. “That is to say that you have to earn my trust and respect if you plan on dating Silje, let alone living with her.”

“A challenge?” Ivar asked, puzzled by the request. His eyebrows shot up before he could compose his poker face.

“A trial of sorts. You have the entire week-end to change my mind. Impress me.” He winked and grabbed a glass off a tray, sipping on the bubbly beverage. Ivar also took a swing of his own glass to calm his nerves.

This man had come out of nowhere to demand he earn his place in Silje's life, and Ivar was gutted to admit he couldn't do that. He had no idea why Silje liked him in the first place, he didn't think he deserved to be in her life, in her heart, but she let him in anyway. So what in the gods' names would be enough for her father to let him continue seeing his daughter.

If Silje learnt of this she would shout at them both, pulling them by their ear out of the room for a good scolding session to remind them both that she was her own person, an adult who made her own decisions, and that this wasn't the early nineteenth century anymore, her father didn't have a saying in who she dated.

This made Ivar smirk, which Ragnar interpreted as his accepting the challenge.

“You understand, do you?” He asked, tilting his head. “I don't want any hard feelings between us when this is over. She's my only daughter after all.”

“A daughter you raised well. She's queen of herself, and knows what she wants and how to get it. I haven't seen anything or anyone stand in her way so far,” Ivar replied, hoping he'd get the drift – he seemed to at least. “I'm sure she'll appreciate the well-intentioned thought, however unnecessary it is.”

“I would hardly qualify this as unnecessary. It eases my nerves, and her mother's. We sleep better at night,” Ragnar chuckled. “Children always think they know what's best.”

“She's not a child. She's a strong woman, who knows what's good for herself, and if you're worried I might hurt her in any way you can trust she'll be the first to wack my ass if I misbehave, long before you even hear of it.”

“I don't have a doubt about that, but I will do much worse if you break her heart, Ivar,” Ragnar's voice lowered, and his face was full of threatening shadows when he leaned in slightly. He took a step forward and spoke even lower. “See you have nothing to lose. You have nothing at all. So what guarantee do I have that you won't try and take advantage of her?”

That was a question Ivar couldn't question the legitimacy of. He knew it would come up one day, though he didn't know who would have the balls to bring it up to his face. Apparently Silje's father did, and now Ivar didn't stand so tall and proud anymore.

“It's true, I own nothing. I'm working on that,” Ivar answered dryly. He didn't elaborate even after Ragnar waited for a better explanation. He was about to leave, now that he was done scaring the wits out of Ivar. “But if you think it means I have nothing to lose you're wrong. I understand your concern, however offending the thought and aggressive the approach. But I'm far more emotionally involved than you think.”

“How so, Ivar?” Ragnar seemed to take great pleasure in saying his name, as if having his name gave him power over the young man. “What could give me the absolute certitude that Silje is in good hands?”

“I'm terrified that Silje will realise she's too good for me and leave.”

Ivar had blurted it out on instinct, feeling he had to bare some of his soul to this man if he wanted a chance to earn his respect at some point – surely that would take longer than a week-end, but all Ivar asked for was a chance.

“If you're not good enough for her why do you stay?” Ragnar pressed on, turning back towards Ivar, now that he caught his attention.

“Because I'm selfish and I love her.”

Another truth Ivar would have rather kept to himself. Or rather, something he would have liked to tell the chief party concerned first, before blurting it out to her father. An intrigued smile answered his sudden declaration, followed by a pleased nod.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Ivar,” Silje's father said and left, not saying another word but smiling still.

As soon as he walked away Ivar breathed again. When a hand touched his shoulder he nearly jumped out of his own skin.

“It went well I'd say,” Silje said.

“Relatively,” Ivar winced. “I'm sweating Sil, it's too hot in here.”

“You deserve a bit of fresh air.” She took his arm. “We still have some time before dinner gets served, follow me.”

Silje lead him out, navigating through the crowd with grace while he followed in silence, catching some curious glances from the other guests. The moment they stepped out of the house and the cool evening air hit them, Ivar breathed again. Silje smiled to herself, and she continued leading him away from the party. Ivar was surprised to realise Silje was taking him out of the house entirely.

There was a small pond at the far end of the backyard, where not even the music from the party could be heard anymore, and it almost felt like there was no such gathering happening at all. They could be alone here, at least for a moment.

“What would you do if I failed to make a good impression on your parents?”

“Oh mother told me you were a fine looking young man and that she was very happy for me,” Silje reassured him, but Ivar's stern expression didn't falter.

“Your father I mean.”

“I know you're worrying yourself sick over this but there's really no reason. It wouldn't change anything to me, I won't just stop seeing you because my father thinks you're a little punk. Fathers never think anyone's good enough for their daughter!”

A hundred meters from there stood said father, leaning in to whisper in his wife's ear.

“Have you met our Silje's new charity case?” Ragnar chuckled, getting nothing more out of his wife than a slap on the shoulder. “What do you think of him?”

Aslaug had always had a nick for reading people, she was very intuitive, and Ragnar learnt to trust her judgement.

“I haven't had a chance to speak with him,” she sighed, giving in to her husband's nagging. “But I have no doubt he's a keeper.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“It's in his eyes, in the way he looks at her. Didn't you see just then when Silje took him away?” She turned to Ragnar, her keen eyes staring intently at her husband. “You like him too,” she stated. “What did you talk about?”

“Nothing of importance. Just a friendly chat between men,” Ragnar smiled.

“You tried to scare him away, didn't you? Silje explicitly asked you to behave,” Aslaug scolded him.

“No harm was done, he's still there!” Ragnar protested upon getting another shove from his beloved wife. “I admit the kid has got nerves, I just don't like anyone who sleeps with our daughter, on principle.”

“She's twenty-two, did you think she was still innocent?” Aslaug raised her brows, eager to see Ragnar wriggle his way out of this question.

“Silje was never innocent,” he mused. He raised his pointer finger. “Which doesn't mean that I like it.”

“We raised her to be strong and capable, Ragnar,” his wife reminded. “And she is. She's the fiercest young woman I know, if she says Ivar is a good person and a loving boyfriend, then I have no reason to doubt her.”

Ragnar scoffed and downed his glass.

“You women with your gut feelings and intuition,” he grumbled, walking away.

Aslaug smiled to herself and took a sip of her white wine, quite proud of herself. That said, she was still very much curious about this young man whom her daughter held in such high esteem, and began looking for them. It looked like they had disappeared altogether until finally she saw them walk into the dining room together, joined at the hip.

“Mother!” Silje exclaimed the moment she saw the familiar figure approach. She launched herself into her arms to greet her, then turned around with the largest, brightest smile on her face, one hand reaching towards Ivar. “Mother, I want you to meet Ivar,” she said, holding open her palm until Ivar shook himself out of his thoughts and took a step forward.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, madam,” Ivar immediately said.

Silje's mother was tall and thin, she held herself like a model would, and maybe she was after all. Her long strawberry blond hair fell down her left shoulder in an intricate braid that must have required more than two hands to realise.

She exuded elegance and poise, and in a way was more intimidating than any of her male counterparts. Ivar didn't know how to greet her, but she didn't leave him to wonder too long, and quickly hugged him.

“A pleasure indeed,” she told him with a smile – so different from her husband's devious grin. “Silje told me about you, if you're anything like she says you must be quite the prince charming.”

Silje and Ivar blushed furiously, avoiding each other's gaze.

“That's a high standard to live up to,” Ivar joked.

“Don't worry, you're doing great already,” Aslaug reassured him. “You met my husband and all of my sons, including my step son Bjorn, and you haven't run away yet.”

Silje groaned and looked up to meet Ivar's confused frown.

“One of my boyfriends did that once,” she explained curtly. “I'll tell you about it another time,” she promised. “Mother, please don't let father speak alone to Ivar again. I saw what little stunt he pulled earlier.”

“I'm sorry, I turned around only a second and he was gone.” She winced, placing a hand on Ivar's shoulder. “Don't let him intimidate you! The best way to impress Ragnar is to stand up to him,” she advised him, sending him a complicit gaze.

“Easier said than done,” Silje whispered to herself. “I'm sure we can avoid any further display of testosterone-induced male head-butting.”

“Let's talk about something more pleasant, yes?” Aslaug changed the subject. “And please don't call me madam, Ivar. We're family here so it's Aslaug.”

Ivar told her that he would try to remember that, however strange it was for him to call his girlfriend's mother by her first name, but Silje could tell it relaxed him greatly to know that at least one of her parents seemed to approve of him.

“Any plans for the holidays now that classes are over?” Aslaug asked to them both, even though Ivar now knew Silje's parents knew the truth about him. Silje had provided them with a convenient lie and told everyone he was a classmate, but clearly Ragnar's digging had unearthed the truth.

Silje opened her mouth to answer but Ivar thought it better to answer himself.

“I'm sure you've heard about my... situation,” he said, choosing his words wit care. He felt Silje stare at him in shock. Aslaug smiled kindly and nodded, looking as surprised as her daughter. “Then you understand that I couldn't possibly go anywhere right now.”

“I understand yes.”

“Wait, what's going on?” Silje questioned. “How do you know? No wait, it's father, right? I should have known.”

“He's looking out for you my darling,” Aslaug put it, gently stroking her daughter's cheek. Silje snorted and turned away from her.

“And what else did you look into? Have you done this to every person I introduced you to? It makes me sick to think of it! Parents shouldn't know their children's companions better than them.” Her mother opened her mouth to answer that but Silje cut her off. “Do you know Ivar's blood type? Where he went to school? His medical history? His entire family tree? This is unacceptable, mother! I shouldn't have to tell you that!”

“I'm so sorry,” her mother apologised.

Ivar could tell she was genuinely sorry and never would have searched into the past of her daughter's boyfriend on her own, it was her husband's doing and she went along with it under the disguise of worry. Perhaps an apology was in order, yes, but surely Silje could see she meant no harm.

He felt a bit out of place standing between mother and daughter, arguing. But Silje seemed to remember herself and breathed deeply to recompose herself.

“It's alright, I know you had nothing to do with this. I'll talk to father later, now's not the time,” she said, a bit more calm but not yet back to being the light, fun presence Silje usually was. Ivar squeezed her arm to show her it was fine. “So... what do you think of it then? Any opposition against us dating?”

“Darling, it's not my place to tell you how to live your life. Of course at first I was... surprised,” she admitted with an embarrassed smile, offering an apologetic glance to Ivar who nodded. “But you seem to be doing fine, the both of you. Ivar, you obviously put tremendous effort into falling back on your feet, I think it's admirable. And I wish you the best of luck and happiness.”

“Thank you,” he said, only then realising his throat was constricted. How badly had he wanted to hear these words since the moment he realised he would meet Silje's parents! How badly did he need to hear them?

“Besides, you seem to have made a big impression of my youngest son too, otherwise he wouldn't have invited you today,” Aslaug added. Silje would have said something but she got lost in Ivar's overwhelmed expression, staring fondly at her boyfriend who now clutched at her sleeve as if it was his lifeline. “Since the men of the family all have terrible manners and can't be bothered to greet you properly, I will do it. On behalf of the entire family, Ivar: welcome.”

 

Chapter Text

The quiet was a stark contrast to the loud and lively atmosphere that filled the house a mere few hours ago. It was like everything came to a standstill and the universe held its breath.

“What are you thinking about?” Silje inquired, her voice low as though she too didn't dare disturb this peacefulness.

She was sitting on the bed, undoing her hairdo, taking out all the pins and whatnot – Ivar didn't know what else she had to put in there to make it look like it did and hold in place. He was staring out the window. He couldn't make out much apart from the moon and the city lights in the distance.

“Nothing,” he whispered, feeling silly for it. “Just that it's so silent. It's hard to believe this place buzzed with people the whole day.”

She hummed in agreement. The last guests left after dinner, though Silje and Ivar did not partake in it. Only her parents and Hvitserk and Inge were there to entertain them, everybody else who would stay in the family house for the night had already called it a day.

Now it was well past ten, and the house was asleep.

“You know I almost expected to be given a room separate from your,” Ivar confessed with a little smile dancing on his lips before turning away from the window. He was still wearing the suit and quite eager to get out of it, it wasn't his preferred attire.

“We're not in a telenovela,” Silje laughed, letting her hair tumbled down her back with a contented sigh. “If we were, you would have tried to sneak into my room in the dead of night only to be nearly caught red-handed by my father.”

“That's exactly how I pictured this evening to be honest,” he admitted, sitting down next to her. “I was even prepared to escape through the window right before we were caught in the act.”

“Oh, really?” She raised an eyebrow and gave him a sceptical look. “And what act are we talking about?”

Ivar smirked in response to her teasing. Now that her hair was down he was struck with the urge to touch it, to run his fingers in the thick mass, to grip it while he kissed her neck. Yes, Ivar had a lot of pent up tension he needed to let go off after today.

“How about I show you?” He managed to tell her before diving down on her lips like a hawk, though his prey was entirely consenting.

All too hungry for his appetizing girlfriend, Ivar wasted no time in shy pecks and hand brushing. His lips captured hers in a mind-dizzying kiss, his left hand holding a fistful of her hair while the other one daringly slid down her neck and collarbones until it reached the satin of her dress. Silje pulled back and let out a breathless gasp, and when Ivar leaned in to kiss her again she dodged him.

“The walls aren't that thick Ivar,” she said with an apologetic glance. He looked very displeased and ready to sulk.

“Are you saying no sex for the week-end?” He asked, unable to hold back his disappointed groan.

His pants already felt tight, if Silje didn't want to risk getting caught by her family, he would have to take care of himself. What a sad thought.

“I'm saying not here,” she told him, putting extra emphasis on the last word. Ivar looked up, knowing hope sparked in his eyes. Her hands reach up to grab his collar and bring him forward. She placed a quick kiss on his lips and popped open the first button. “Come on, now. Time to get out of these uncomfortable clothes. Then we can make our escape.”

In his current state of arousal Ivar didn't even think about asking any questions and simply oblige her. He was out of that suit quicker than Silje out of her shoes. He helped her under the button of the top of her back zip, and the beautiful garment hit the floor. It truly was a pretty piece of clothing, but Silje's mind wasn't set on her wardrobe at the moment. She stepped out of it and put on a top and sleeping shorts. Ivar merely wore his usual grey sweatpants and a shirt.

And off they went. Silje held a folded blanket to her chest while they tiptoed out of her room and through the house – a manor, Ivar though, with so many hallways the room ought to be numbered if he ever wanted to walk this place without Silje as a guide.

“Where are we going?” Ivar whispered in the dark.

Silje smiled but didn't say a word. Soon they were back to the party room, where everything was the same except empty. The chairs scattered here and there, the balloons on the floors, the flowers still on the table centres and window sills. There was no light other than the moon and the distant street lamps. Silje gestured Ivar to hurry up and she opened one of the French windows leading to the garden.

He was starting to have his little idea on where she was taking him, what with her enigmatic smirk and eyes gleaming with mischief.

“The spot by the pond?” He asked once they were outside, not bothering to whisper anymore. “Out in the open?”

“Trust me, it's a much safer place than inside the house.”

Before Ivar could object – not that he planned to – Silje laced their finger so she could lead Ivar in the dark. Together they walked across the lawn and into the back of the garden. Her family's property was wide and the garden especially was bigger than a football field. Big enough to have dozens of trees, bushes and even a couple water sources.

“When I was little, I called it 'the forest' because the pond is surrounded by trees and you don't see nor be seen when you hide there,” she explained while approaching said pond. “Obviously I got older and significantly taller, now it doesn't seem like much of a forest anymore. But it still has its charm.” She finished her tale just when they reached the first line of trees, and Ivar pulled on their joined hands, making her spin around and land in his arms.

Before she could process what was happening, he had her pinned against one of the trees, giggling upon his ministrations. He placed kisses all over her face, neck, and shoulders, making her drop the blanket so she could hold on to him instead.

“Not in the mood to hear about my childhood stories I see,” she teased him.

The tip of her tongue poked out of her mouth and she licked his neck where she knew Ivar was the most sensitive. When she bit him lightly he winced but didn't recoil from her lips. Silje grinned wickedly, a sight that drove Ivar mad with wild, raw desire.

He cupped her face, his fingers tracing down her rosy cheeks, along her jawline and up to her swollen lips. She was the one who relented first and pulled him to her for a kiss. While he was distracted Silje's deft fingers undid his bun. She twisted his hair around her hand and pulled his head back, tearing his lips away from hers to expose his throat.

With a wolfish kind of hunger glimmering in her eyes she placed her lips there, kissing, licking, nibbling, and biting until his flesh was raw and red, and darker in some places.

“So much for not letting your parents know I guess,” Ivar said with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face.

“It's not the same if I'm the one bearing your teeth marks,” her voice rumbled against his throat.

In response Ivar hooked his hands under her thighs and picked her up. Silje groaned when her back detached from the bark of the tree that had been digging in her skin. The slight pain made her release Ivar's hair, and he immediately kissed her again. He had long accepted the fact that he would never get tired of kissing Silje.

He knelt down to retrieve the fallen blanket without letting Silje out of his arms, and carried her to the edge of the water, some place where the grass was thick and the ground flat. They shoved their hips together with shameless, enthusiastic want.

“Down,” Ivar told Silje with a tap on her bum, making her let go and stand on her feet.

Her eyes did not detach from her boyfriend as he laid down the blanket with great care. Soon as it was done, they collided in the middle of it, their hands having grown a will of their own, and roaming each other's body as though they tried to map it out.

It was Silje's hands who were successful in stripping Ivar from his top first. She yanked it up, forcing him to raise his arms and break away from her hot skin along enough to take it off. It landed the gods know where, and they didn't stop to check it didn't end up in the water.

Once free of his t-shirt, Ivar's hand went back to their own task. They gripped Silje's hips under her tank top. He loved holding her there, loved the feeling of her curves under his fingers, the the wait they rocked against him, the way she leaned into him on instinct whenever he touched her there. His thumbs ventured towards her stomach, tracing its slight rebound. She giggled in their kiss, her smile too contagious for Ivar to keep a straight face.

They couldn't remember how but they found themselves on the ground after a while, still sharing heated kisses and embraces, growing more impatient with each passing moment. They need to feel each other grew within their core like a wild fire, setting everything aflame in its wake. Good thing Ivar didn't bother putting on underwear, because his member was already so stiff even the contact with his loose sweatpants made him stifle a curse.

When he had Silje lying on her back, he crawled between her open legs, his lips attaching to that piece of skin between her shorts and the hem of her top. She sucked in a breath along with her stomach, letting out a faint gasp. She propped herself up on her elbows to watch Ivar kiss his way up her torso, slowly lifting her top to allow him access higher and higher.

Smiling dreamily to herself, Silje laid back down and raised her hands above her head. When Ivar's mouth came in contact with her breasts she sighed in delight, and soon he was taking off her top to get it out of the way. He gently fondled one of her breasts, rolling her nipple between his thumb and pointer finger, while sucking on the other, the feeling alternating between a delicious heat and a sharp pain made Silje squirm under him, her body undulating against his, making his breath hitch every time her core rubbed against his arousal.

“Mmh, Sil, you'll have to lay off the hip rolling if you don't want to see me finish in my pants tonight,” Ivar warned her, not joking one bit.

Silje smirked but nodded.

“I stop if you stop the teasing and get down to business,” she bargained, earning a wry smile from her boyfriend.

Ivar titled his head while he glanced at her, surprised but oddly proud of her audacity.

“Bossy much?” He asked her. “We'll see for how long.”

Without another word Ivar trailed his way back down her body and to the last piece of clothing covering her. His fingers danced around the elastic band of her shorts for a moment, only to annoy her a bit before finally hooking under the hem and slowly, too slowly, pulling them down.

To his absolute delight she had the same idea as him and did not wear underwear. Still, he didn't pick up the pace and continued his agonizingly slow removal of her clothes, letting the material slide down her legs until finally it was low enough for Silje to kick them off. Ivar was about to return to his spot between her thighs when Silje placed a foot on his chest.

“You too,” she said, her eyes looking down at his pants and the tent in them.

He seemed hesitant, though it only lasted half a second, she saw it in his eyes. Silje gathered her legs under her and undid the string of is pants, Ivar staring at her, unmoving.

“We're Adam and Eve tonight,” she told him. “Alone in the world, together under the moon.”

She didn't make as much of a show of removing his pants as he did hers, and simply let them fall to the ground so he could step out of them. He seemed relieved to be rid of them, and his member stood proud and erect.

“How romantic,” Ivar commented, a fond smile on his lips. The smile that quickly disappeared when Silje grabbed the base of his shaft and came closer to him. Her hot breath alone sent shivers throughout his body, but nothing prepared him for the soft warmth of her mouth when she took him in. “Fuck...” Ivar cursed. He would have quaked with desire but he didn't want to finish so soon. “Wait, Silje... No,” he told her, holding her at arms' length.

She gave him a questioning look.

“I told you I'll come right away if you tease,” he explained. The last thing he wanted was for her to think she did something wrong. By the gods, she had magic at the tip of her tongue, but he would enjoy it another time.

Now fully naked, he knelt back down on the blanket to join Silje.

“Alright, I can be the one to receive, I'm not complaining,” she chuckled, lying down with a feline-like ease and grace.

Ivar's palms rested on her raised her knees and spread her legs. What a delight it was to watch her face contort in desire and frustration while he traced his way down the inner side of her thigh to her exposed core. He could feel her legs tremble every so slightly below his touch. Silje froze entirely when he finally leaned down, expecting to find her release quickly – possibly even before she caught on fire – but instead her places a kiss on her thigh, glancing up through his eyelashes to shoot a mischievous look.

She did not look amused. So after deeming he has had his share of fun, he cut short to her increasing sexual frustration. It sent her heard flying backward and her back arched on reflex. Silje closed her eyes tightly, allowing herself to focus entirely on the feeling instead of her surroundings. Ivar's head was now fully buried between her legs, his mouth stuck to her lips, lapping away her juices, sucking on her clit, making her squirm in spite of herself.

He had to hold her in place, snaking his hands around her thighs to keep her still while he worked her up. Her arousal was such that it became an easy task. Her breathing grew ragged faster than ever, her chest heaving, her fists balling up the blanket.

Ivar slowed down the rhythm to stretch out the process, and to give his very aroused girlfriend a break from the sudden high of pleasure. When he released her thighs to take her hands in his, interlacing their fingers on each side of her hips, Silje sighed and opened her eyes. She stars.

The sky was cloudless tonight, and the weather mild and pleasant. Ivar's hot breath and the wet teasing of his tongue against her sensitive bud surely added to the magic of the night, but she thought she was being fairly objective.

“Ugh, Ivar,” she sighed absent-mindedly. “Ivar...” His lips falling from her lips like a prayer, a testimony to her pleasure.

Suddenly, Ivar's tongue stopping his delightful flicks, and Silje propped herself up to look at him. He was sitting on his soles, looking all smug and not at all sorry for denying her an orgasm.

“Still want to boss me around?” He asked, probably feeling he had made a compelling argument in favour of Silje's submission to him.

“Oh you haven't seen bossy yet,” she replied, all bark and bite. She reached out for him and once her hand was around his neck she yanked him forward while sweeping him off his balance with her right leg to flip them around.

He looked startled as all heaven when he realised her was now the one on his back and Silje looked down on him with a large victorious grin. On instinct Ivar tried to sit upright but Silje pushed him back, her hand flat against his chest to pin him down. Her eyes were locked on his when she began to roll her hips forward and rub her wet folds against his painfully hard cock. It sent Ivar in a daze, his eyes nearly rolled back – it felt too damn good.

The slow movement drove him crazy. At first his hands came to rest on his thighs, gripping them so hard he would have left bruises had Silje not removed them and pinned them each side of his face. She was now leaning over him, her face close to him, hovering.

The tip of her nose brushed against his. Ivar raised his head to try and kiss her but just then Silje rubbed their core together once more, making him cuss.

“Silje don't do that. I told you alread-”

“I know, you'll cum on my stomach if I keep this up.” She pouted and looked at him. “Don't tell me you can only go once a night, old man.”

“Old man?” Ivar repeated in amusement. “I can go all night for you, but I'd rather come inside you than all over you.”

“Is that so?” She asked in a hum, their gazes still locked as they flirted.

Ivar had trouble focusing what with his cock twitching in anticipation, Silje's nipples brushing against his chest with each of her movements and her heavy lidded eyes set on him, full of affection and desire.

She finally let go of his wrists but Ivar knew better than to try and move.

“Since you denied me I'm just gonna have to take care of myself,” she said with a detached voice, as if talking about some mundane thing. “Mind if I use you?”

By all that is sacred on this earth, use me in whatever way you see fit, Ivar thought as he watched his beautifully naked girlfriend straddle him, holding in his breath the moment he felt her fingers wrap around his length to guide him to her entrance. His tip leaked the second it met her folds sleek with desire.

She didn't wait for his answer – he supposed his expression must be telling enough because he stared, dumbfounded and in awe, speechless while she dominated him.

She slid down his length, and they both groaned and breathed heavily in response. She didn't go all the way, instead she took her time and let her body get used to Ivar's presence. She let him stretch her, enjoying the expression of peace and contentedness on his sweaty brow.

“Don't move,” she ordered him when he shifted beneath her.

“Are you okay?” Ivar asked, ignoring her order but remained still this time.

She didn't say anything when he moved his hands to hold her waist this time. She smiled sweetly upon seeing the concern distorting his features. She brushed it away with her gentle touch and a fond gaze.

“Yes,” she assured him, holding his cheek in her hand and using the other to not put all her weight on her poor boyfriend. “I'm more than fine, Ivar.”

Confusion replaced worry on Ivar's face but Silje didn't let him in the dark too long and closed the distance between them. Her hips met his at the same time she leaned down and joined their lips.

The embrace they shared was deep and slow and meaningful. He held her closer to him, as if such thing was possible in their current position. Silje set a steady pace, rolling her hips back and forth. Ivar's eyes were closed in pleasure, and after a moment he had to reluctantly break their kiss, leaving Silje's sweet lips. He threw his head back and tried to focus on her movements, the slow rhythm of her hips colliding with his, the sound of flesh hitting flesh mixing with their sighs, ragged breathing and the noise of nature.

Once her lips became unoccupied Silje picked up the pace. She sat upright and lifted herself up from the ground just enough to slide out of Ivar, unsheathing herself only to impale herself back again on Ivar's proud member, throbbing inside her.

Ivar discovered, much to his satisfaction, that Silje was as soft inside as she was outside. Yes, he has always loved touching her, her legs, her waist, her bosom, her neck... even just her shoulder, or her wrist. She was a delicate thing – on the surface at the very least – and soft to the touch, melting under his hands, warm against his skin. Silje was an open heart, a hearth in the dead of winter, a healing cup of tea.

Silje was everything a man needed. Everything Ivar needed, and wanted, and had. The gods only know how, Ivar managed to get this girl. Be they witness, he would not waste his chance with Silje.

“Mmmh, Ivar,” she moaned, breaking him out of his thoughts.

He reacted immediately. She was getting closer, he could see the signs now. Short breath, slight tremble in her hands that were currently on his chest, her thigh clenched his hips, her eyes closed. His hand reached between her legs and began to play with her little numb. The action caught her off guard, making her snap her eyes open.

His blue eyes stared up at her in expectation, waiting for her to stumble over the edge – he loved watching her when she did. Her most vulnerable moment. She allowed him such privilege, such honour. And Ivar would be damned if he didn't do her justice.

He picked up the pace when he noticed that she had synchronized her rhythm and his, probably not even on purpose. Her mouth open after a while, no sound coming out.

“Come now, Sil,” Ivar murmured. “I've got you.”

He met her every move with a hip jerk of his own, though she had him pretty nicely pinned to the ground. His own high was in sight though he had it more under control now than he did earlier. Watching Silje's pleasure paint her feature was enough of a high for him already, though he was but a man and wouldn't mind reaching his own.

Silje never came quickly. Ivar learned to work her up, where she was sensitive, what she liked, how she liked it, and more than anything, he learned to give her time. Hvitserk could say whatever he wanted but Silje was the sole reason for his sudden progress in stamina.

Her walls clenched around him and Ivar knew she was coming. Both of Ivar's hand were around her waist now, holding her through her high, moaning loudly into the night. Her mouth slightly agape and her nose scrunched up, Silje shook a bit, letting her orgasm take over while she still rode Ivar.

“You too?” She managed to ask once she recovered her voice, though the words came out between heavy breaths.

Ivar shook his head and he was amused to see her getting upset that he didn't get off yet.

“Your turn to bottom,” he told her with a wink.

She laughed a little and let him lay her down, placing a kiss to her parted lips. He tried to pull away and get in place but Silje refused to let him go right away. She wrapped her arms around his neck and deepened the kiss, their tongues meeting in a wet, open-mouthed kiss that was far from sweetness but was all passion and carnal need.

He couldn't lost himself in their embrace. Like a soldier surrendering his weapons, Ivar dropped on his knees before Silje and the force of her affection.

But for now he knelt between her legs. She tried to keep him close but Ivar grabbed her wrists to unwrap her arms from around his neck, so he could be upright. The lustful gaze she shot him set his veins afire, making the temperature rise.

Without further ado, Ivar grabbed Silje's hips and lifted them up to his, forcing her to use her arms to prop herself up a little while Ivar supported her lower body.

“What are you doing?” She asked, curiosity laced with enjoyment in her silky voice.

“Trying something new,” he told her, lining himself up with her entrance and slowly, very slowly sliding inside her.

Silje moaned lowly, her head falling back and back arching a little more as if to meet his hips. Her body reacted on its own, it yearned for Ivar, met his every attention with equal fervour. He grunted once he was fully sheathed in her, surrounded by her velvety walls that squeezed him delightfully.

Silje's mouth fell open and her eyes closed again as always when the pleasure was overwhelming. Ivar let go with his left hand, carrying her only with the right one, as the other one immediately began to work on Silje's exposed, swollen bud. She locked her thighs firmly around his waist so he wouldn't have to carry all of her weight though she could hardly concentrate on anything aside from the slow built-up of desire in her core.

The pace wasn't slow anymore, it wasn't anything like when Silje was leading the dance, now it became frantic. She enjoyed this quicker pace as much as she did watching Ivar's handsome face contort in pleasure and agony while she rode him at a teasingly slow rhythm to drive him crazy with desire.

He rammed into her something awful, like a beast driven by feral needs. The crescendo of moans and groans falling from Silje's lips was music to his ears, enjoining him to continue his restless movements. A small part of his brain signalled him that his knees hurt a little but he shoved it aside and slammed harder into his moaning mess of a girlfriend, who surely couldn't align two coherent thoughts at the moment.

It made him smug. Seeing her come undone because of him made Ivar swell with pride and mirth. He was very close, he could feel the familiar tension building up, he was going off rhythm now, his hips jerking forward erratically as his orgasm approached.

“Hey- Silje,” he called her name, breathing heavily, fighting to keep his eyes set on her.

Her lids fluttered open and she stared up at him.

“Wha- Ah!” She yelped when Ivar dropped her on the blanket again and gave one last thrust inside her, cutting off her sentence and knocking the air out of her lungs from the surprise and abruptness of the movement.

In one fluid motion he had climbed over her again, his face hovering over hers while he was buried deep within her. Silje clenched her walls around him, knowing it would make him come in no time. Ivar's teeth sunk in is lower lip to stop it from trembling.

“Ride it out,” she murmured in his ear, gasping when she felt his warm cum spill into her.

His thrusts became sloppy while he came down from his high, and Silje held him in her arms, her legs locked around his hips. When she felt him relax she loosened her hold on him, welcoming his comforting weight on top of her, cradling him against her chest that rose and fell quickly.

“No, wait-” she stopped him when he placed a kiss on her lips and was about to slip out of her. “Stay for a while,” she told him to his complete astonishment. “Please?”

Her eyebrows shot up and she gave him a little smile. Ivar smiled back fondly and kissed the corner of her mouth.

“No need to ask me twice,” he told her. He gave a little slap to her right thigh. “Legs up.”

Doing as she was told, Silje once again wrapped er legs about his waist, then Ivar proceeded to lift her up, shifting his weight to the back of his heels and then plopped down on his bum and stretched his legs behind her, so that Silje was sitting on his lap. Her dreamy smile eclipsed all the stars and her eyes glowed with contentedness and something else. Something Ivar wished he had a word for.

With the tip of her fingers she brushed Ivar's hair out of his face. Their now sweaty bodies glistened under the moonlight, their hair sticking to their forehead and their back. A shower would have been nice.

“That was...” Ivar started but realized halfway through his sentence that no words could properly express what transpired between them, and Silje understood that because she grinned and stole a kiss.

Their lips were swollen and pink from all the kissing, but one can never get enough of their lover's kisses.

“I liked that new thing,” she told him, making him smile just as wide and foolishly as she did.

But it wasn't an easy endeavour to fight off a smile like that, one that threatened to slit your face in two because you were simply too happy to handle it. There was a million things they would have liked to tell each other in that moment, but they knew deep down that words were pointless right now.

Therefore Silje took to humming to herself, leaning in and letting her cheek rest against Ivar's shoulder, the tip of her nose barely brushing his neck. Ivar's hand found their home on the small of her back, distractedly running up and down her spine to the rhythm of the tune she still hummed under her breath.

“How deep is this thing?” Ivar asked when the song came to an end, and Silje started placing lazy kisses to his throat and collarbones.

“Not very. At least not at the edge. But I haven't been in there since I was twelve,” she informed him. “Do you want to take a midnight bath?” She cocked her brow and smirked playfully.

“Unless you'd rather go back and take a shower,” he told her.

She started up at him. His beautiful, stunning Silje. He brushed her hair behind her shoulder, admiring her body one more time – the pink of her flesh, the swell of her breasts, the slope of her waist, down to the curve of her hips attached to his. When his eyes fell on where they became one, Ivar felt a strange tingle in his chest, something funny, and tight.

Reluctantly, Silje got off him, and soon as he wasn't inside her anymore, even if he has been soft from the moment he came, she felt empty. Like a puzzle with a missing piece. An odd, quite awkward feeling, because Ivar was right there next to her.

Ivar took upon himself to gather Silje's long hair on top of her hair and tied it in a bun with the elastic around his wrist. He didn't care much if his hair got all stinky from the stagnant water of if he caught a cold, but he would be damned if he let Silje take the risk.

They slipped into the cold water, hissing when the water-level reached their stomachs but pushing through until they were immersed up to the neck. Silje swam towards the middle waiting for Ivar.

“Are there fish in this pond?” He asked, feeling something brush against his foot.

“No, only frogs and algae,” she reassured him, laughing at his panicked face. “Come here,” she reached for him, resting a light hand on his shoulder to guide him to her. Surprise appeared on his features when he realized he could stand. “See? Not that deep.”

In one swift motion Silje was wrapped around him again, visibly not having had enough of her dear, possibly worn off boyfriend. But he wasn't worn off to the point of not reciprocating Silje's languid kisses, especially now that the refreshing water wiped away the layer of sweat covering his body and gave his blood a shot.

His wet hand rested on the back of her neck, making her sigh in delight. She Eskimo kissed him and smiled brightly, brighter than the moon above their heads.

“You don't regret coming here with me?” Silje asked, rather sheepishly.

She still felt bad for the way her father grilled Ivar earlier today, and she would understand if he felt tricked and disrespected.

“Mmh mmh,” Ivar hummed while shaking his head, each movement making him brush her nose with him. “It meant a lot to you, and to Hvitserk. Besides it wasn't so bad,” he concluded, shrugging a bit. “I mean, it could have been a lot worse.”

“It would have been if they hadn't even bothered to tease you a bit to see what you're made of,” she admitted. “We practice tough love in the Ragnarsson clan.”

“I noticed, thank you vry much,” he laughed. Then he frowned and looked behind Silje's shoulder. “Wait a second, there's something...” He didn't finish his sentence but fished out what he saw floating on the surface.

It resembled a piece of blue cloth, and when they realized what it was Ivar and Silje both stared at each other before bursting in laughter.

Her tank top, of course.

When they became cold they climbed out of the pond, quickly drying themselves with the now dirty blanket. Ivar put on his sweatpants and gave his shirt to Silje since her tops was soaking with water. She wrung out as much water as she could but it was helpless.

As quietly as they sneaked out, they sneaked back in, silently locking the French window behind them, taking care not to leave wet footprints in their wake. They were shaking from the cold after their impromptu swimming session. Silje made a quick loop by the laundry room and stuff the blanket into the washing machine then she took Ivar's hand and led him to another room.

It was much smaller, and much cosier than any other room apart from Silje's bedroom. It had a huge hearth in the middle, a thick carpet and a velvet sofa.

“You want to light a fire in the middle of summer?” Ivar wondered, chuckling in the dark.

Silje knelt down. He couldn't make out what she was doing but suddenly flames burst behind the glass of the fireplace and she smirked.

“Electric fireplace. Very practical for when you need to get warm quickly,” she explained.

Ivar stood there, fascinated, until she tugged at his arm, gesturing him to take place on the sofa. He plopped down, opening his arms for Silje to cuddle with him. First she draped a clean blanket over them, and then she nestled against him, her head resting on his chest.

In this position she was lulled by the steady rhythm of his heartbeats, and soon, the gentle warmth of the hearth and the loving embrace of her dear Ivar made her close her eyes.

They fell asleep like that, and in the morning Aslaug found them. When Ragnar asked where the two lovebirds were, she pretended she had no idea.

 

Chapter Text

Once Ivar and Silje woke up – later than they would have liked – and showered, they walked back to the common room, finding everyone sitting at the breakfast table. Most of them were finished and slowly drank their morning coffee, except for Hvitserk who still buttered toasts like he hadn't eaten in days.

“Morning everyone,” Silje greeted her family, tailed by Ivar who didn't quite know what to do with himself. She leaned down to kiss her mother's cheek and sat down on an empty chair. In front of her stood a bowl of grape; she took one and popped it in her mouth. “Is there anything left for us or has Hvitserk gobbled it all down?”

Her brother's mouth was currently full which rendered him unable to answer but his glare said it all. Inge hid her smile in her cup of tea, and Ivar stiffly sat down next to Silje after nodded at Ragnar whose eyes didn't leave him.

“There's more in the kitchen sweetie, let me go get it for you,” Aslaug offered. She stood up with so much grace it was like watching a ballet – no squeaking chair scrapping against the floor, no abrupt movements.

“You two have made yourselves scarce,” her father commented, the innuendo not getting past Silje who sighed and popped another grape into her mouth before answering.

“Please, not before breakfast,” she simply told him.

“It's the vitality of youth, father,” Hvitserk commented to Ivar's utmost embarrassment. Inge, who seemed to have a better understanding of the situation playing out in front of her, elbowed her fiancé. “Hey! What was that for?”

“My arm slipped,” she said innocently.

“We slept in,” Ivar decided to answer before his friend could provide yet another unhelpful comment. “It's my fault, I don't sleep well when I drink.”

Silje sent him a side glance, thankful for his intervention but apprehensive about her father's reaction. He was a bit old school and he might take Ivar's confession as a sign of weakness – because a man who couldn't hold his drink was nothing but a boy. Sometimes Silje wished she wasn't the only girl in the family apart from mother.

“I see,” Ragnar answered, leaving the two of them to wonder what on earth he could be thinking. “No more champagne for you, then.”

“What are you implying, father?” Silje almost snapped but managed to keep her voice under control. “Ivar has been nothing short of perfect since he first stepped here, what could you possibly hold against him?”

The atmosphere at the breakfast table tensed the moment she spoke up, and even Hvitserk stopped eating for a hot second. Luckily Ubbe and Margrethe weren't there anymore, and soon Aslaug came back with a plate of bread and buns.

She read the situation quickly.

“By the gods, husband! What did you say this time?” She chided him before sitting down, sending an apologetic glance towards her daughter and poor Ivar. “Let these kids live!”

“I did not say anything!” He objected, looking offended that his wife would just assume he was responsible for the unease. “Ask your daughter!”

“Father's using his condescending tone with Ivar and I,” she said to her defence, and Ivar truly felt like he was intruding on a family argument – then he remembered that he agreed to come here, and by becoming Silje's boyfriend he had also agreed to be a part of this.

“Do you know-” Ivar started with a loud voice to catch everyone's attention. “Do you know how many homeless persons suffer from alcoholism, Sir?” He asked Ragnar, as politely as he could.

He felt something on his thigh and realised it was Silje's hand offering him support. Ragnar's piercing gaze was set on him for the longest ten seconds of his life, then he leaned back and shook his head, fiddling with his cup of coffee.

“I'm afraid I do not. Please enlighten me.”

“About forty percent. Two out of five homeless people are alcoholics. And while I couldn't control every aspect of my life, I could control this one,” he explained as calmly as he could, feeling everyone's eyes on him, but most importantly, Silje's reassuring touch. “You can keep your chilly, sparkly champagne. I wouldn't trade a warm cup of tea for any fancy drink.”

“Well, that settles it,” Aslaug cut in before Ragnar could further infuriate their daughter and insult Ivar. “Perhaps next time you will not be so quick to judge young people for waking up a bit later, right husband?” She sent him a look that did not allow for any other answer than a sheepish yes.

His jaw clenched as he looked at his dear wife and smiled somewhat stiffly. Breakfast carried on in an uncomfortable silence after that. At least until Inge excused herself, soon followed by Hvitserk, and then Aslaug took it upon herself to start a conversation – an impeccable host as Ivar had guessed.

For a while there were no further interruptions from Ragnar who simply sat across from Silje and looked at the three of them chatting light heartedly over puff pastries and toast with jam. Aslaug asked Ivar mundane questions in a visible effort not to stir up unpleasant memories, and it had Ragnar huff to himself – which did not fly past Silje's ever vigilant ears.

“What again?” Silje and Aslaug both snapped this time.

“Oh nothing,” he told her. He had the gall to look surprised by her outburst. “I was just musing that you both seem to be quite fond of this young man.”

For a short moment the two women were taken aback and staring in confusion. Ragnar had always been a complicated man, hard to follow and even harder to win over, but almost never known to surrender. Perhaps he did see the childishness of his behaviour after all?

“Don't sound so surprised,” Silje put in. “You're the only one who met him with prejudices.”

“Sweetie...” Aslaug said softly, placing a hand on her daughter's arm. “Peace.”

“Your mother is right. I went about it the wrong way, I apologize Ivar,” he said, confusing them all even more. “I'm sure you are a fine young man. I will not put you down anymore as it is obvious that my wife and my daughter especially like you very much.”

“Thank you, father,” Silje said, giving him a little smile as a peace offering.

She did not like to argue with her parents, even though one could sometimes think she had a conflictual relationship with her father. She knew how and when to stand her ground when she thought he was in the wrong, and it resulted in these petty cold wars between them.

“But let's not forget how much you liked the last one too, yes?” This cast a cold over the room. As ever, Ragnar knew how to do a dramatic exist and stood up, coffee in hand. “I'm not the only one capable of bad judgement.”



*



The trip home had been a quiet one – for the most part that is. Ivar and Silje headed back to Copenhagen by train, and he stopped counting how many times he thought about snatching Silje's book from her hands to get her attention. She obviously wasn't reading because she sometimes stared at the same page for fifteen minutes.

“Alright, I've had enough,” he said when he finally gave in. “Please talk to me.”

“About what?” She frowned, taking her book back but keeping it shut.

“Don't act clueless.” He rolled his eyes. “I've been on my best behaviour all week-end, I haven't said a word out of line, and constantly censored myself in front of your father – who absolutely hates my guts by the way – so now please be honest, what exactly happened over there?”

Silje bit down on her lip, and her eyes fell on her lap. She was rarely uncomfortable around Ivar, but some things were harder to talk about than others. He knew that too, so he didn't make her look at him, and instead let her play with the tips of her hair and chew on her lower lip.

“I never thought he would be so difficult, I'm sorry about that. I feel like I led you into the lion's den,” she confessed, letting go of her hair and pushing it back so she wouldn't fidget anymore.

“That's not your fault,” Ivar said, taking her hand in his. “I'm a big boy, I can handle a disapproving father.”

“Can you handle mine, though? He already looked into your past, and- I don't know, I just don't want you to walk away because of him.”

A chuckled escaped his lips. “Is that what you're worried about? It will never happen Silje!”

“But it has happened before!” She objected. “I told you once, remember?”

“The guy who got scared of your large family and your brothers?” Ivar asked, vaguely recalling the time she mentioned him.

“Yeah, well, it didn't end there.” Silje looked embarrassed to admit it and tried to look away but Ivar's hold on her hand tightened and she was forced to meet his gaze and saw nothing but tenderness. “I took him back after that. Not for long, only a few weeks, but my parents were completely against it, said that he didn't deserve me if he couldn't even stand his ground around my family.”

“Were they wrong?” He questioned, not feeling an ounce of sympathy for this guy, whoever he was. “Why did you take him back?”

He hoped he didn't sound too possessive, though if Silje's little smirk was any indication he didn't succeed.

“It's complicated. He was nice and cute, and he was Asmus' best friend at the time, so it was either giving him another chance or making every group hangout awkward for all of us,” she explained, eyes cast on their joined hands. “It was a proper mess, and it ended up putting an end to a lifelong friendship between Asmus and him.”

“Because Asmus likes you,” Ivar finished for her. He has had his suspicions for a while now but seeing Silje's expression when he said it confirmed them.

Asmus' puppy love for Silje would always remain just that, nothing more, and Ivar was not jealous of him, but he felt a little sorry. Not enough to step back and let him have Silje, but sorry, nonetheless.

“Anyway, I don't know what he's doing now, I haven't seen him since freshman year. I don't think of him anymore, but my parents haven't forgotten, and now my father is making you pay for it. It comes from a good place, I know that, but I wish he could see I'm not making a mistake with you.”

“That guy broke your heart and your father wants to make sure it doesn't happen again, I can deal with that,” Ivar reassured her, but Silje smiled and shook her head.

“No, he didn't break my heart,” she laughed lightly. “I dumped him by the way. But I've never had my heart broken...”

She looked straight at him now, eyes shining with emotion that moved him to his very core. He swallowed thickly.

“Why?” he heard himself ask.

“Because I didn't love any of my exes,” she told him, not taking her gaze off him. “And if my father is so harsh with you in particular, it's because he knows I will not move on so easily if you decide to walk away.”

“Should I read into this?” he asked her, knowing he was smiling like a fool as the words came out of his mouth – a smile that mirrored her own in that moment.

“As much as you want,” Silje answered.

She leaned in and Ivar met her halfway to give her the deepest, most tender kiss he could give her in a train full of people. He didn't mind much having an audience, but knowing they had to keep it PG rated put a strain on him.

Her hand nestled in his neck while he tried to keep his own on her waist and not let it wander any further down – or up, for temptation was everywhere. They broke their embrace a few times to breathe and share a glance, a foolish smile perhaps, and kissed again. Their lips attracted each other, and Ivar and Silje suffered from having to share innocent pecks and hand grazes when they wanted to melt into each other.

Ivar eventually pulled away from the swollen, pink lips of his beautiful girlfriend, as much as it cost him. Silje laid her head on his shoulder, her hand still holding onto his for dear life. He had a hunch the last two hours of train ride would feel like an eternity.



*



Two weeks later Hvitserk burst into Silje's apartment while Ivar and her were busy cleaning the entire place. She almost didn't hear her brother relentlessly ringing the doorbell until she stopped the vacuum and pushed the button who opened the front door. She left her door wide open and a minute later there he was, breathing heavily, a big dumb grin on his face.

“Brother,” Silje said in a flat tone, not liking being interrupted in her cleaning – it wasn't exactly her favourite activity, so she liked to get it over with quickly.

“Hi man!” Ivar came to stand behind Silje by the door and greeted his friend. The two men shared a quick handshake and Hvitserk side hugged Silje as he walked in. “What are you doing here?”

“I have news!” He told them with his signature bright smile. “I just got my personal training license!”

He has been doing odd jobs since he left the military, while trying to figure out what it was that he wanted to do with his life. Silje and Ivar both congratulated him, momentarily forgetting the huge task they were engaged in only minute before. Even Silje's frown fell from her face as she slapped her brother's shoulder and shot him a smile.

Ivar also told him a few words of felicitation while Silje continued folding the pile of clean clothes Ivar had been working on when Hvitserk came in.

“I didn't even know you took the exam,” Silje said, folding the last pieces of clothing and lifting the basket up. She carried it against her hip to the bedroom and shouted from there, “At least now you'll stop wearing out my boyfriend!”

“Wait a second, were you practising on me?” Ivar asked, his hand still on Hvitserk's shoulder in a congratulating gesture. “I knew something was up.” He shook his head and withdrew his hand. “You damn near killed me man.”

“You poor, fussy princess,” Hvitserk snickered. “I put you back in shape is what I did.”

Silje walked back into the living room, hands firm on her hips.

“Hvitty, brother of mine,” she started with a honeyed voice, “I like my Ivar a little more energetic. Stop trying out your experimental workout routines on him from now on.”

“Pff,” Hvitserk huffed, along with an eye roll “It's not my fault he can't keep up. Why do you complain sister? Has your Ivar not been meeting your expectations lately?”

“Don't be gross,” Ivar warned him before his sister mauled him for being so unbelievably crude. Silje crossed her arms, fingers tapping on his elbow impatiently.

“When do you start then?” She asked to shift the conversation towards safer territories.

“Monday, I took a vacant job at the gym just three streets down from where we live,” he informed them. “I'm doing two hours sessions of couples' workout four times a week. You two should enrol. Silje I hate to be the one to tell you that, but you've regained your baby cheeks.”

In response to this Silje blushed and slammed her hands on her cheeks to hide them in embarrassment. Her eyes narrowed as she glared daggers at her unapologetic brother.

“I don't believe for a second that you hate it!” She accused him, a reproachful finger pointed at him. Ivar smiled and wrapped an arm around her, pressing her to his side as a comforting gesture. She was a beautiful woman, but everybody had insecurities.

“That's not how you'll get us to enrol,” he laughed, feeling Silje's hand settle on his waist.

“He doesn't really want to get us in shape, he's just chicken shit about having his first class surrounded by unfamiliar faces.” Silje smiled deviously.

“Oh, come on!” Hvitserk's tone changed to somewhat whiny now. “It was meant to motivate you to work out a little, you know I'd never insult my little sister.” With that innocent look on his face and his hand over his heart he was almost believable.

“Right.” Silje snorted. “As if.”

“I mean look at Ivar! You've got to admit I did a pretty good job at chiselling that scrawny body he had when we first met. Abs of steel I gave him,” he argued with Yoda's voice as though it would give weight to his arguments. “Just feel 'em.”

“I don't need to feel him up, Hvitserk, I'll have you know I know exactly what Ivar looks like under this shirt,” Silje replied, smiling triumphantly upon seeing her brother's smile twist into something akin to mild disgust.

Ivar wore a smug smirk despite himself, unable to keep it down. He had earned these freaking abs.

“Well there's still a little fat tire to get rid of but your Ivar's not doing too bad,” Hvitserk added in a condescending voice, as if he couldn't stand the thought of Ivar having a better body than him.

Well... Hvitserk did have a busy family life and a soon-to-be wife who cooked his every meal.... And if his workout routines were really as good as he made them sound, then it was no wonder Ivar had built up so much muscle over the past months. His appetite hasn't decreased since the first day when he arrived at her apartment, famished, and forked down two plates of chicken breast and risotto.

“You keep telling yourself that!” She rolled her eyes and tried to go back to work but Hvitserk didn't admit defeat so easily.

“Did I say Ivar, sorry. I meant you have a little fat tire,” Hvitserk only just managed to say before having to duck to dodge the unidentified flying object Silje tossed at him. It hit the closed front door and fell heavily to the ground.

“If you care for your life or your face, you will shut up now,” she threatened her brother, who definitely couldn't take a hint.

Hvitserk was about to open his mouth again, no doubt to say something that will rouse Silje's fury and earn him some kind of injury he will have to explain to Inge later (which will probably end up in Inge giving him a second serving of whoop-ass). Ivar decided to step in before anything else could come out of his dumb mouth. He slammed his hand on Hvitserk's shoulder when he took a step toward his sister.

“Hey, Hvit,” Ivar started, his calm and steady voice conveying perfectly how serious he was. Fun was over. “That's enough.”

The information seemed to get through his thick skull and the flame of mischief in his eyes extinguished. Hvitserk planted his hands on his hips and exhaled through his nose.

“By the gods Silje I was kidding!” She didn't seem impressed by this half-assed apology but accepted anyway. She grunted vaguely as an answer. “But you should still come. It'd be cool, and fun. I'll make it fun.”

“Thank you for the invitation man, but there's no way you'll drag my ass to the gym,” Ivar chuckled at Hvitserk's last attempt to make them attend his class. “I'd rather be outside than locked in a room with twenty other sweaty people.”

Hvitserk made a face indicating that he understood and agreed.

“And I'm just too lazy. Besides, I already see enough of your dumb face,” Silje concluded.

“You're party poopers! The both of you!” Hvitserk accused, pointing a finger at them. “But never mind, that's not even why I came here in the first place.”

“Why did you then?” Ivar asked, letting go of Silje and walking to the kitchen to get drinks for everyone.

“Inge and I want to invite you for dinner,” he said to their astonishment.

Hvitserk was a merry man with lots of friends and a personality that made everybody want to befriend him, but he sometimes forgot the most rudimentary politeness – like hosting a dinner once in a while and not always being the one who gets invited.

No wonder Silje frowned like she just saw a horn grow out of her brother's forehead.

“I'm sorry, did you just say you were inviting us for dinner?” She asked in bedazzlement, shaking her head a bit.

“Yes,” Hvitserk dead-panned like he was talking to two toddlers who haven't yet grasped the concept of hospitality (even though he was currently, and once again, at their place). “Stop gawking at me, I'll get offended.”

“You should! The only time I saw your place is when I invited myself,” Ivar told him.

“You're one to speak!” Hvitserk replied. “This is technically not your place.”

“Hvitserk!” Silje barked at him, smacking his head. What was is that came over him today? He behaved abominably!

Her brother rubbed the side of his head while Silje turned around to look at Ivar. He didn't look like he took it too badly even though Hvitserk's remark was extremely rude and uncalled for. His eyes caught hers and he smiled a little to reassure her – his ego wasn't wrinkled because of Hvitserk's tactless foul mouth.

“Right, sorry, I didn't mean it like that,” he apologized under Silje's harsh gaze. He could tell he needed to take his leave now before she decided to kick him out of her flat manu militari. “I know I tend to be the parasite more than the host, so all the more reason to have this dinner, right? We were thinking next week, maybe Friday evening. Let us know so we can hire a babysitter.”

Nothing else was said or done and Hvitserk waved and left, carefully walking around Silje's coffee table and couch just to avoid being within arms' reach of her. That idiot had good ideas sometimes.

“Fucker,” she grumbled before going back to vacuum cleaning her flat.



*



Standing outside Hvitserk’s door dressed up and anticipating a warm homemade meal was a strange experience. In Hvitty’s mouth a warm meal was usually a pizza, and the only thing homemade he did were his infamous cocktails. In this area Ivar was the lucky one, for he had invited himself to Hvitserk’s place a while back and ate with his family.

Silje has had no such honour. The only thing she knew about her brother’s cooking skills was what he told her – and she had a hard time believe he was that good.

“What do you reckon we should expect?” Silje asked after ringing the doorbell.

Ivar chuckled beside her, and she wondered if it was nervous.

“Who’s to say?” He shrugged. “We’re talking about your brother after all, could be anything.”

“Inge wouldn't let him get away with just anything,” Silje said without hesitation. Her sister in law wore the pants, that much she knew.

Yet it was Hvitserk who opened the door with a big smile on his face, his hair tied back in the smallest ponytail in history and wearing an apron no less. Both Silje and Ivar tried to hide their smile when they greeted him and stepped in, taking a mental picture for later.

“So, uhm-” Silje gestured vaguely at Hvitserk. “I guess you're the Chef?”

“I'm always the chef,” Hvitserk replied sassily, crossing his arms and raising his nose to look at his sister. “In and out of the kitchen.”

“I doubt that,” she huffed and shoved his arm. “A real chef does not simply walk out of the kitchen while the food's on the stove.”

“We've been here for thirty seconds and you've already emasculated your brother. You're outdoing yourself Silje,” Ivar remarked, making her laugh but Hvitserk did not appreciate and squinted his eyes at him.

“Alright, alright, I'll go easy on you from now on, brother,” she promised a doubtful Hvitserk who grunted something unintelligible as an answer. “Inge, hej!”

The two women hugged awkwardly in the kitchen what with Inge having to keep her hands up so as to not put grease on her friend.

“He's right though, I'm only helping a bit tonight,” she said proudly, and Hvitserk beamed. “The place is yours chef!”

She stepped aside and washed her hands before greeting Ivar properly and taking up her role of hostess. One she took very seriously, because not two minutes later both Ivar and Silje were sitting on the couch, a glass of something in hand, a plate of amuses-bouches being held in front of them, and soft music was playing in the background to cover the sound of food sizzling in the pan.

Silje needed to take notes. More often than not she even forgot to offer water to her friends when they came by. Not that it happened a lot these days. In fact, no one except her brothers visited her since Ivar lived with her, for that very reason.

All in all they had a good time and there wasn't a moment of silence for anyone to feel uncomfortable in Hvitserk's home. Inge was enjoying her evening off, as she called it, since she usually was the one doing all the cooking and setting the table for everyone. Ivar asked about the kids, and Silje mused her brother truly must have his hands full what with his family and work.

“You don't understand yet how incredible it feels to spend an evening without anyone crying or screaming or running around like a gremlin on acid,” she told the pair before downing her glass of wine. “Sometimes they drive me crazy,” she told them in a lower voice right when Hvitserk walked in, having dropped his apron.

“What makes you crazy?” He asked before plopping down next to his fiancée and bringing a beer to his lips.

“Oh nothing, I was just telling them how crazy I am about you,” she said with a large smile. She smacked a kiss on his cheek and Hvitserk grinned in return.

“I know you're lying but you're cute, so I'll let you get away with it.” He concluded by booping her nose and taking another swing of his beer. “Food will be ready shortly. Prepare to get your mind blown, sister! Your taste buds will never forget tonight.”

Silje held back from telling Hvitserk that her taste buds might commit suicide by the end of their meal, but only because she vowed to go easy on him. He had vexed her the other day with his thoughtless remarks about Ivar (and her weight, which was perfectly average); they haven't talked between then and now, and she held a little grudge.

“Hvitty you might have to taste it right before her to prove it's edible,” Inge teased, causing Silje to blush instantly, ashamed of having been caught glaring.

Ivar had assured her he did not mind Hvitserk's mouth running ahead – way, way ahead – of his brain. After all he had not said anything wrong; he simply could have said it differently.

True to his word Hvitserk stood up two minutes later, once his drink was empty, and ordered everyone to sit at the table. Even Inge took place with their guests, enjoying this luxury while Hvitserk took care of everything – Silje could find no flaw in his behaviour tonight, which was infuriating because she was still mad and needed a good reason to stay so until her brother apologized.

Even then, dinner went well. Inge did most of the teasing Hvitserk since Silje wasn't in her usual playful mood. She came here with an open mind but was immediately reminded of Hvitserk's words when she saw him in his dumb apron. Ivar at least seemed to have fun, and that brought a smile on her face and made it all worth it. She had been mad to her brothers before, it wasn't anything new and they always realized sooner or later.

When Inge started telling them about a little incident that happened right before their arrival, even Silje had to join in and laugh.

“I swear I was only watching the sauce while he got dressed, and then I heard a high-pitched scream coming from the bathroom. Made me jump out of my skin,” she started, having trouble telling the story without tearing up from laughter.

Hvitserk hid his face in his hands out of shame.

“Hvitserk was calling me, his voice all weird and shaky like a bear had sneaked up on him while he was putting on his shirt or something.”

“It was worse!” He intervened, as if to save face before the punchline dropped.

“I told him that I couldn't leave the sauce of course, but he kept insisting, calling me honey, and saying please. And then I knew, because the kids do the same,” Inge kept telling her story, ignoring Hvitserk's desperate attempt to preserve some of his male pride. “I found him huddled in a corner of the bathroom, opposite the sink because there was a spider!”

Silje snorted and drank some wine, taking great pleasure in putting together a mental picture. Ivar threw his head back in laughter, and Hvitserk's dignity dropped to the ground, along with his balls.

“I had to kill a spider for my big, strong soon-to-be husband!” She roared in laughter.

“It was huge, okay? I wasn't expecting it, that's why I got scared,” he tried to explain, only managing to make it worse. Inge was still slapping the table, laughing so much no sound came out – a sure sign she has had enough wine for tonight.

“You've never been good with small creatures, Hvitty,” Silje put in her two cents. “Remember that time when we were in Dubaï, and th-”

“That was a scorpion! My reaction was entirely legitimate!” he cut her off, red in the face, and obviously not eager to share that story - which so far had remained between those who witnessed the scene.

“Oh, I wanna know!” Inge whined, holding onto Hvitserk's arm and pulling at it. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips, but he did not budge.

“I would rather shave off my eyebrows than do that, honey,” he told her sweetly.

“What about me?” Ivar said. “I want to know too!”

“I'll tell you later,” Silje snickered, smirking to herself when Ivar glanced at her, a playful smile dancing on his lips and a glimmer in his eyes.

He too was fairly buzzed. It was time to lay off the wine. Luckily, they were finished eating now, they only dragged it out by chatting until they made room for dessert.

It was a while before that happened though. Slowly but steadily, Silje's mood lifted, and she eased into the conversation naturally instead of having to force herself to participate. This all made her feel very adult – having dinner with another couple, the kids not home, sipping wine (because she was the only one sober enough to continue doing so at this point) and listening to faint jazz music.

If they were dressed for the occasion it would be a perfect scene from a movie. But given the circumstances they were dressed down – the circumstances being that they were all short on money.

“Sil, you come help me undress the table,” Hvitserk suddenly said, when Inge and Ivar were in the middle of a conversation.

She complied without a word. As soon as she was alone in the kitchen with Hvitserk and the empty plates, she opened her mouth to give him a good verbal ear pulling, but he spoke first.

“I know you're mad at me, but you could at least try to hide it,” he scolded her. It wasn't often that serious Hvitserk came out, but Silje was glad to see him. Maybe this one would listen.

“You were very insensible, brother. Cooking dinner does not make up for behaving like a jerk!” She slapped the side of his head and he had the grace to pretend to be hurt.

“I'm sorry. I was excited and did not think before speaking,” he apologized sincerely, even though he knew he also had to present his apology to Ivar.

Silje pursed her lips and handed him the plates one by one so he could put them in the dishwasher. Reluctantly, she sighed and decided to turn the page.

“Alright. I guess it's not worth ruining the evening over. I suppose you're a good cook after all, I haven't died of food poisoning yet,” she groaned, not happy about having to swallow her pettiness.

“I'm touched,” he replied with a cunning smile – he knew he had won the game, the bastard. “Now go back in there. I handle the rest on my own.”

Silje scurried off and joined her boyfriend at the table. Inge must have gone to the bathroom because she found Ivar alone, tapping his fingers against the wooden table in rhythm to the music. She looped her arms around him from behind and kissed his cheek.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” She inquired, revelling in this short moment of privacy while it lasted.

“Mmmh,” he hummed in answer. “Are you still angry with your brother? I told you I don't care about what he said,” he told her, his hands firmly holding her in place so she couldn't squeeze out of his grasp and avoid the question like she had been doing all week.

She tilted her head to one side, thinking about it.

“I guess not. He seemed sorry enough, and I'm always in a better mood when I know there's going to be dessert,” she decided.

Happy with her answer, Ivar released his grip on Silje, but she kept their fingers laced even after she took place on her chair beside him. She was trapped in his eyes again – she noticed she stared a lot whenever his gaze was on her. They caught her in their blue depth, and Ivar smiled fondly, not looking away from Silje before she had made a fool of herself and stared a moment too long.

He never complained or even pointed it out to her. Maybe he liked it. Whatever the reason, she was grateful, and if she was going to lose herself to something, it might as well be her boyfriend's glossy eyes.

Ivar lifted their joined hands and touched the tip of her nose with one finger, bringing Silje out of her trance.

“Sorry. I was staring,” she said with a suddenly blush on her cheeks. She had to tear her eyes from him, out of embarrassment and because she might find herself unable to blink again if she didn't look away.

“I didn't say anything,” Ivar chuckled. “An-”

“Who wants a cup of coffee?” Inge's voice interrupted them, her head sticking out of the kitchen now, eyes wide open in expectancy.

Silje couldn't help but chuckle, and she raised a finger to signify her friend she would like a coffee. Ivar raised two fingers to show that he, too, wanted one, and Inge's head disappeared through the opening. Hvitserk then came into the living room, using his back to push the door open because he carried a large tray full of small glasses with what seemed like chocolate mousse and fresh mint garnish, and tiny bite-sized lemon cakes.

“We should tell them now, I can’t hold it in anymore,” Inge told Hvitserk in what was clearly meant to be a hushed tone but wasn’t.

Silje and Ivar exchanged a quizzical glance. Silje was stirring her coffee while Ivar grabbed a cube of sugar, but they stopped their gesture in expectation. Hvitserk laughed at Inge’s endearing attempt to be discreet when she was clearly a bit too drunk to do so.

“Okay, honey. You tell them”, he conceded, much to his fiancée’s delight.

Silje had to admit he was quite the gentleman with Inge, she had never heard him raise his voice or be inconsiderate towards her. Ivar much had been thinking the same, because he had the same fond smile on his face as Silje. But it dropped the moment Inge opened her mouth and excitedly told them the news.

“We’re finally moving into a proper house! And we thought we’d put your name on the apartment papers!”

She was obviously expecting a glowing reaction from her guests, but both Ivar and Silje remained still and quiet for a short while. Stunned, and a bit taken aback, neither of them knew what to say. Congratulations? Thanks? When? Where do we sign? Come again?

“Wait, what?” Silje finally broke the silence with her dumbfounded question, and Inge’s flare visibly decreased.

“Honey, I think you jumped a few steps here,” Hvitserk told Inge, then looked at Silje. “What with the wedding coming up, we thought it was high time we move into a bigger place. This way the kids can have their own room, and won’t have to share anymore,” he began to explain since Inge wasn’t doing a good job at it.

Ivar and Silje’s attention shifted to him, both their heads snapping towards him in one movement.

“We saved up a lot of money for the wedding, but as you probably know, Sil, father insisted on paying for all of it. And what better use of all this extra money than to use it for our big move?”

It all sounded very thought-out and reasonable, but Ivar’s brain was a raging sea of questions and worries. His entire body had tensed up and he peeked at Silje every other five seconds to see her reaction. Her expression of confusion was slowly disappearing in favour of a big smile. Cold sweat began to trickle down Ivar’s back.

“That’s amazing!” She beamed, congratulating Inge and her brother on their investment. “Where will you go then? Will the move be after the wedding?”

“We don’t know yet, but it wouldn’t be too far. I finally found a steady job, so I’d like to keep it. We were thinking Lyngby, or Hellerup, but we’ll see.”

“We want to move as soon as possible, it’ll be way before the wedding. Hopefully we can move in by jul,” Inge added, as if sobering up.

Was that why they invited us? Ivar wondered. He felt like he had fallen into a mousetrap. His throat tightened, rendering him incapable of saying anything. He stayed still and listened, hoping that Silje’s excitement upon hearing the good news would distract her from his odd behaviour.

“Fantastic news! If you need help for anything, we’ll give a hand of course,” she immediately offered, as though the house was already purchased.

“We’ll hold you to that!” Hvitserk laughed. “But what’s more relevant to you, is that this place will be empty once we leave. You know father gave us this apartment because, well-” he trailed off, and when Ivar slowly nodded (more to himself than anyone else, to be fair) he was relieved to see that he didn’t have to go into details. Silje had told him. “Anyway, it would be a shame to let it collect dust while you two live in that matchbox of yours Silje.”

The conclusion wasn’t as nice as the beginning, and Silje felt compelled to squint her eyes when her brother dared insult her home, sweet home. However, the news was too great for her to take any real offense.

“Do you hear that, Ivar?” She exuded excitement and happiness.

Ivar knew he looked dazzled and shocked and hoped she wouldn’t read into it. Her hands found his, and he prayed she didn’t notice how sweaty his palms had become as she conversation progressed.

“Yeah, it- it’s crazy.” Pathetic. When did he become such a poor actor? “Is that the reason behind this impromptu dinner invite?” He asked, if only to go back to steadier grounds. He did not like feeling like he was treading on thin ice.

“I could have just texted you the news if I wanted,” Hvitserk argued, acting upset. “But instead I made you dinner.”

“Don’t be so full of yourself, brother. We invite you every other week and we don’t brag about it,” Silje replied with a snicker – her mood had significantly lifted since Inge awkwardly broke the news. Speaking of Inge, she was slowly getting down her alcohol high, and her eyes grew droopy.

Ivar didn’t have much hope, Silje tended to not miss much when it came to him. She would see through his pretend-excitement. In any case, she did not say anything in front of their hosts, and so the conversation carried on. The siblings talked formalities and paperwork as if they would be moving tomorrow.

Now that their bellies were full, the news broken, and Inge dozing off, it was time to call it a day. They all helped with the dishes after Hvitserk carried Inge to their bedroom, making Silje and Ivar smile goofily at each other. Who knew Hvitserk was such a sap?

This adorable display of affection did not, however, take Ivar’s worries off his mind. He nervously dried the plates with a towel while his friend washed the dishes and Silje wiped the table and countertops. Hvitserk all but shooed them out after bidding them goodnight, and Silje flipped him off for being such a lame host, but they were both laughing when the door closed behind Ivar and Silje.

For the first ten minutes of their walk home, they stayed silent. The city at night had a special atmosphere that Ivar knew Silje loved, and so when she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, he had to smile. He knew he had to enjoy the peace while it lasted, because there was no way he could avoid her questions – which would come soon.

Sooner than he expected.

“So, what was that, inside?” She hummed her question, hugging herself to keep warm. “You didn’t look very happy about moving. Like my tiny apartment so much?” She was laughing, unsuspecting of his reasons.

Ivar gulped down. They were in the middle of the park, surrounded by nothing but trees, and shining stars. It could have been romantic. But he was about to ruin it all. This time he shoved his hands into his back pockets to wipe the sweat off them.

“No, that’s not it,” he began, his voice low as a whisper.

Gods, why did he wait so long? If he hadn’t chicken out of this conversation so many times, they wouldn’t be having it now. They wouldn’t be in this situation at all.

Silje picked up his serious tone right away, stopping in her tracks to turn around and meet his veiled gaze. He had been walking a few steps behind her the whole way, and she had been wondering why. Gulping down, she took a good look at him. What was going on?

“What do you mean?”

An innocent question whose answer would shake her to her core. Ivar was fidgeting and wriggling uncomfortably under her inquisitive gaze. Here goes nothing.

“Silje. I can’t move with you. I’m leaving Denmark.”

Chapter Text

She had left him in the dust. Ivar’s revelation left a sour taste in the back of his mouth, and he was so tense when the words came out of his mouth that he didn’t react when Silje stormed off, stomping away like a fury, her jaw locked in anger.

Or perhaps she had said something. He couldn’t tell. His ears were buzzing a little now, and all he was able to register was the look of betrayal in her eyes, the shock, the incomprehension. An understandable reaction.

He sighed in defeat, and walked onwards, only now realizing the irony of it all. He stood in the park where they first met. Somehow, they always ended up right here whenever something went down. Maybe one day she would walk away for good, and he would return to his damned bench. But tonight, he wasn’t going to let her go.

His legs carried him home on auto-pilot while his brain tried to come up with a way to talk Silje out of her anger-induced mutism. She was a hot head, and he knew there was no point in trying to reason with her while she was angry. The best solution was to wait out the storm, and then try to talk about the issue.

By Odin, he had messed up big time. He knew from the very beginning that he should have told her, but he kept persuading himself that it was premature, he should wait until he was certain. Well fuck him, that was dumb. A ball of nerves had settled in his stomach by the time he climbed the stairs up to the apartment. What was he to expect up there? Were all his belongings piled up in the middle of the living room, soaked in gasoline, and Silje standing over it with a lighter in her hand?

Well perhaps not literally, but he sure felt as though she was mentally doing that. He couldn’t complain, he put himself in this situation.

It was lucky he had a key because if it depended on Silje, he would have slept on the doorstep tonight. Bracing himself, he entered, but found the place quiet. He soon realized Silje had locked herself in the bathroom, and he sighed. It was worse than he thought, she was giving him the cold shoulder. The silent treatment.

He took this opportunity to go grab his pillow in her room and retrieve the blanket he used before moving into the bedroom. When he was all set, changed, and back on the couch, he felt as though he had taken a step forward and a hundred steps backwards.

The bathroom door opened but he forced himself to stay quiet – if she wanted to talk, she wouldn’t wait for him to give her the green light anyway. Whoever could make Silje do anything was not born yet, especially if what she wanted to do was to give someone a good tongue thrashing.

He heard her stop, then resume her walk, and slam the door to her room. And that was it. That was how Ivar’s evening was going to end, or so he thought.

About half an hour later, the bedroom door swung open – he hadn’t even blinked in since she locked herself in there, so he didn’t care much for the interruption.

“What on earth happened Ivar? An hour ago, we were talking about moving into a bigger apartment together and now you want to leave me and can't even share a bed with me anymore!” Tears filled her eyes and her voice wavered though she was still yelling loud enough to make the walls tremble. “What's so repulsive about me all of a sudden?”

Ivar shot up from the couch, holding out a hand.

“You’re imputing me ill-intentions, Silje,” Ivar defended himself, trying to calm her down – a hopeless task. “I only wanted to give you space.”

“Space?!" she shrieked, her voice reaching impossible notes. “By moving out of the country? I don’t need this much space, Ivar!" her anger was justified, he couldn’t even deny her this. He deserved to be yelled at, therefore he would let her lash out.

He wanted to explain but knew what wasn’t in a state to listen right now. His shoulders fell. Very well, this was the fruit of his own doing, he had to take it.

“Please, sleep on it, and-”

“Shut the fuck up, Ivar!" she cut him off in the harshest possible manner. “I don’t want to hear your excuses, and don’t you dare tell me what to do. I have every damn reason to be mad, and if you have a problem with that, the door’s right there!" she pointed at the front door.

If looks could kill…

“That’s not what I meant,” he protested.

“Don’t serve me this bullshit,” she huffed in disdain. “I don’t care what you meant, what matters is what you do or say!”

She was right, there was no denying that. He kept his mouth shut. Her eyes were fixed on him while she heaved, until her head finally whipped to the right.

“I can’t even look at you! How could you-”­ the sentence died in her throat. “When has this happened? How long have you- Where-?” All her questions were interrupted, and she raked her fingers through her hair in frustration.

She wanted to argue, to let the anger out, but here he was, standing in front of her and passively taking in everything she said. No reaction whatsoever. Just plain, cold silence.

Before she began to thrash her own place out of pent up rage, she made a beeline for her room. The door slammed shut once again, and Ivar thought it was over for tonight. A second later it opened again, and this time she had a bag slung over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?" he asked her.

Silje didn’t even spare him a glance when she grabbed a coat, slipped into her shoes, and went out the front door.

It will be a long night.



*



Ava was a night owl, Silje knew she would pick up her phone, even if it was already one in the morning when she stood outside her building. The moment she heard the distress in her friend’s voice she buzzed her in. Silje looked poorly and felt worse.

“I can tell there’s trouble in paradise,” Ava said after taking in her best friend’s appearance.

Sweatpants tucked into leather boots, a lille havfrue 1 t-shirt under a jean jacket, and her usual handbag. Never in her life had she seen Silje so dressed down. She gave an embarrassed pout and stepped inside. Ava was in her pjs but looked more put together than her.

“Can I sleep here tonight?" she asked in a pathetic voice.

Arguing, even for such a short moment as they did, had exhausted her.

“You know the answer,” Ava said, welcoming her in.

Her studio was even smaller than Silje’s, and she had to make do with a single bed and a worn couch all in the same room. Students really weren’t given enough credit for living in such conditions, but then again, some people didn’t even have that.

“Thank you, I didn’t feel like sleeping at my place.” She voluntarily omitted to mention that it was because Ivar lived with her. “I need to clear my head.”

“How slowly do you want me to kill him?” Ava plopped onto the bed, next to her open laptop which played soft background music. It made Silje smile, though not for long.

“The judges are still debating on his case,” she replied with as much playfulness as she was capable of at the moment. “We argued.”

“I can tell. What about? You two look like you’re on the same page most of the time,” Ava’s attention was divided between Silje and her social media, but her ears were wide open.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” Silje sighed and dropped onto the couch after kicking off her boots. When her head hit the cushions, she felt a little dizzy and nauseous. “ I promise if I can't solve the issue quickly, I will tell you about it, but I would really rather try and keep Ivar and I's dirty laundry to ourselves. If divine inspiration doesn’t come tonight, I’ll tell you everything.”

She could see on her gossip-hungry friend’s face that she wasn’t happy about her answer, but she agreed to Silje’s terms, nonetheless.

“You are no fun, girl.” She shook her head. “You do you, you can stay as long as you need. I hope it all works out; I’d be sad to see you split up.”

Yes, Silje would also be sad, she mused as she curled into a ball and huddled under the blanket provided by Ava.

Silje could tell exactly what hour Ava went to sleep, she could also tell when the upstairs neighbour got up, probably to go to the bathroom, and she knew when the sun came up. That was it. She hadn’t slept a wink all night, she was sleep-hangover and felt sick and tired.

She wanted nothing more than to be in her own bed, and not fight with her boyfriend anymore. If the sun was up it couldn’t be that early. It was time to leave.

With as little noise as possible, she got up and left a note for Ava to find, telling her how much she appreciated her letting her crash without asking questions. Then she sneaked out and went back home. She rarely left the comfort of her bedsheets before eight, and she had almost never seen the city in the waking state where everything was slowly getting into motion, the air crisp, and the sun blinding.

The walk was much more relaxing than expected, and it lifted her spirits after the awful night she just had. Sleepless nights felt twice as long as any day, Silje was honestly doubtful they lasted the same number of hours. She had counted the cracks on Ava’s ceiling ten times over, and then she tried to think of what to tell Ivar when she went back, but it ended up making her even more confused.

She should have stayed and listened to what he was trying to tell her, instead of fleeing like a coward because he had pained her. Everyone knew she wasn’t the most level-headed person when something upsetting happened, but it wasn’t an excuse.

Having regrets now wouldn’t lead her anywhere. Her feet at least knew where they had to go, because she came to in front of the familiar door of her building. Now wasn’t the time to turn back. With as much dignity as she had left after her childish outburst yesterday, Silje climbed the stairs and quietly opened the door, just in case Ivar was still asleep.

Did he sleep on the couch even though she left? Or has he claimed the room?

Neither, apparently. He didn’t notice her right away, so Silje took off her shoes and jacket, throwing it on the couch to signal her presence.

Hej,” she said in a whisper, pushing her hair back and planting her hands on her hips. What now? She still hasn’t come up with anything to say.

Ivar didn’t give her much time to worry about what to say though.

“Silje! Oh, thank the gods!" he jumped from the kitchen stool he had been sitting on, silently and sullenly contemplating his bowl of soaked cereals. Dishevelled and heavy-lidded, Ivar hasn’t slept at all, it was plain and obvious. “Are you okay? I tried to run after you when you left but I couldn’t see you! Where have you spent the night? I was worried out of my mind!”

Without waiting for an answer, Ivar grabbed Silje’s wrist and pulled her towards him. She hit his chest and felt his arms squeeze her against him, a testimony to his relief upon seeing her come back. Her throat was tight now, and her eyes prickled. She fought back the tears, even if seeing Ivar so concerned for her well-being after the way she spoke to him made her weak in the knees. Her arms naturally found their place around his shoulders and behind his neck, where she rubbed small circles with her thumbs.

“I crashed on Ava’s couch,” she told him. “I’m fine, don’t worry.”

They pulled back, looking at each other and taking in their sad state. Ivar was worse for wear, he must have had a horrible night, worrying himself sick over his temperamental girlfriend who stormed out in the middle of the night with nothing but her handbag.

She did not want to start thinking about what she looked like this morning. As for Ivar, he didn’t think much of it, and even found her stunning. He was just happy she was back and didn’t spend the night under a bridge – it might be summer, but he wouldn’t ever wish her a night on the street.

“I’m sorry,” she began, startling him.

Ivar’s brows shot up in surprise because he thought he would have to apologize to her, not the other way around. Their hands still touched, and so Ivar dragged her to the couch, where his pillow and blanket still lay, unused.

“I was very upset and said some harsh things,” she admitted shamefully, looking into her lap instead of meeting his steady gaze. “I’m sorry about that. And I’m ready to listen now, if you still want to explain.”

“You’re not angry anymore?" he couldn’t help but ask after a moment of silent staring during which Silje's breathing encountered some troubles.

She was overwhelmed with all sorts of contradictory emotions standing there with Ivar at arms length.

His eyes scanned her, taking in her messy nest of blond hair, tied in what must be the knottiest bun there ever was – it was alright, he would shampoo it for her later if everything went fine. Her tourist t-shirt made him smile a little, knowing she only wore it to bed, and wouldn’t be caught dead in it, but still had it on all night.

At least the fire in her eyes didn’t burn him anymore, and she had settled down enough to discuss the matter calmly.

“I-” she paused, then finally settled on, “I would like to hear the full story before making up my mind.”

“I don’t even know where to start. Why don’t you ask me questions?" he suggested. At least this way he could put her mind at ease regarding certain matters.

“Why are you leaving? When? To go where? How long? Will you even come back?" she fired question after question, her voice gaining in volume as she remembered why she had been so panicked after his revelation.

“Slow down, Sil,” Ivar took her hands in his, and she sucked in a breath. He hadn’t expected her to physically react to his touch, but if it succeeded in making her stop shooting questions at him, then very well. “The first question isn’t the easiest to answer,” he warned her.

“Just tell me, I won’t interrupt,” she promised, sitting back and hugging her knees to her chest.

“You know I was eager to pick up where I left before my parent’s death, go back to university, finish my master’s, all of that…”

Silje nodded, not saying a word, as promised.

“From the moment I healed from my leg injury and we decided I had to get a job and get my life back on track, I tried reaching out to my former thesis supervisor. I didn’t actually get around to setting a meeting before you pushed me to attend the open lectures, but when I finally went to his office and talked to him, he came up with a suggestion.”

Silje was so, so tempted to ask questions.

“At the time I genuinely thought he only offered because he felt bad for me after I told him why I had to drop out. If I had known it would lead to something serious, I would have told you right away. But I figured, why make you worry over something that might never come to pass? Besides we weren’t together at the time, and I was still sleeping on your couch. I was looking for a way out, and not be a burden anymore.”

“You were ne-”

Ivar tsked her, sending her a scolding but playful look. “You promised,” he reminded her.

She mimicked to zip her mouth.

“I almost forgot about it after a while. I lived day by day with you. Going to work, attending lectures, beating you at monopoly.” He smirked at her, knowing she had to stay quiet and couldn’t protest. She squinted her eyes at him – he was enjoying this too much. “And we started dating. It changed everything. I still hadn’t heard back from my teacher, so I assumed it didn’t work out. You have no idea how torn I was. I wanted to tell you, just in case I was wrong, and it did work out, but our relationship was so young and fragile, I didn’t want to risk it over this.”

She hated that such sap worked on her, but Silje caught herself melting slightly at his reasoning. Damn be this effortlessly charming boy.

“So, I kept my mouth shut, and now I regret it of course. Last week, I got a call from my teacher, and he told me the news. I tried to tell you a hundred times, but I kept postponing it. It couldn’t have come up in a worse manner. I spent the last forty-five minutes of our dinner at Hvitserk’s drenched in cold sweat, cursing myself for letting it go this far.” Ivar looked at Silje and sighed. “Alright, you can speak now, you look like you’re about to explode.”

And she did.

“What the hell are you going on about? You keep talking about something not working out, but you haven’t told me what!" she pressed him on, growing impatient. Ivar did have a gift for telling stories, but now wasn’t the time to demonstrate his skill.

“It’s a year abroad, Sil. I applied for a position as a history class assistant in a private school.”

The look of excitement on his face struck Silje like so many bricks. He was looking forward to going, and maybe later she would be happy for him, but right now she felt entitled to being distraught at the idea of watching him leave.

“I’d be teaching a few history classes at the school and work some extra hours in exchange for housing; and the rest of the time I can attend Trinity College and work on my thesis, to get back into the swing of things, so to speak, before resuming my master’s in Denmark.”

At the very least, he did plan on coming back.

“Trinity College? In Dublin?” Silje squeaked, her throat going dry.

“It’s not that far by plane,” he assured her, squeezing her hand. She was so cold, his smile dropped.

“And if you’re teaching at a secondary school, it means you’re leaving soon,” she gulped down, feeling the full weight of the sadness that came with the thought of his departure.

“Yes.” His tone became sombre. “In five weeks.”

“Five weeks!” Silje repeated a bit louder.

She did the math in her head, and it added up, much to her chagrin. July was reaching towards its end, and August was only four weeks long. Five weeks. Only five weeks left until Ivar flew to another country to live there for a year. She didn’t know how she felt, because the predominant feeling inside her right now was ‘sick’.

“You look so calm,” she stated. “How can you be so chill about this? I’m freaking the fuck out over here.” Her nails paid the price of her anxiousness and Ivar had to pull her hand away from her mouth to avoid her biting it off.

“I’ve been doing my fair share of freaking out over the last week, I’ve come to terms with it,” he tried to joke but it landed flat on its face.

“I didn’t even notice! I’m such a disaster girlfriend!”

She stood up now, ripping her hand out of Ivar’s grasp and turning her back to him. This was too much; her brain was going into overdrive what with all the information Ivar dumped on her shoulders.

“Last night when you said you were leaving. I thought you were going for good. And that was it, that was how you dumped me,” she admitted much to her embarrassment. “I thought you didn't want to be with me anymore, that you wanted to move on with your life someplace new,” she mumbled pitifully.

“Yeah, I was meaning to talk to you about that. You mentioned some similar nonsense last night before slamming the door behind you, and I really need to get this straight: you won’t get rid of me this easily, young woman.” Ivar laughed when Silje turned around, one hand on her forehead, and the other hanging by her side, contemplating her own stupidity.

“Talk about a misunderstanding.”

“Now I know why you were so mad, shouting at me about finding you repulsive,” Ivar chuckled, rubbing it in. It earned him a shove.

“It’s your fault! You told me “I’m leaving Denmark” and expected me to deduce that you weren’t dumping me? Who does that?" she accused him, and he had the gall to look offended. “Speak clearly or be ready to face the consequences any resulting misunderstanding!”

“How is it my fault? I tried to explain everything, but you wouldn’t hear a word of it!" he defended himself, standing up so he could look down on Silje and be in a position of superiority.

“I had a natural reaction,” she countered. “Don’t try to put this on me! You’re a history major! Don’t you know wars have started because of poorly spoken words?”

“It doesn’t take a genius to realize that you should know the facts before casting a judgement,” Ivar protested.

They both fought enthusiastically, a smile on their faces, revelling in things going back to normal now that all quiproquos were cast aside. If felt good to banter and throw the hot potato until one of them dropped it. It gave them an outlet for all their pent-up tension.

“Are you calling me stupid?” Silje challenged him to say yes, puffing out her chest.

She realized too late that it did not have the same effect as when Ivar, or one of her brothers did it. Ivar’s eyes shifted to her bosom before moving back up to her eyes.

“I might,” he said.

“Excuse m-”

Silje’s outrage was short lived because her feet left the ground and she shouted in indignation when Ivar swung her over his shoulder, holding her by the legs while walking around the couch.

Ivar! What the-?! Put me down!" she protested in a noisy and vehement manner, hitting him in the back. “I’m serious, it’s not very wise to throw someone who hasn’t had any food or sleep in ten hours over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes. What on earth are you doing?”

“Increasing the blood flow to your brain, because it clearly needs more oxygen,” he joked and put her down. She was white as a sheet but smiling. “If you thought for a second that I was breaking up with you, you must be brain dead, Silje. Even your silly friends know I’m completely whipped, how can you not have noticed?”

“Matters of the heart should not be guessed,” she recited. Impossible to tell if she read this somewhere or came up with it, but Ivar couldn’t deny the rightness of her words.

The time for playfulness was past now, they could feel it in the air, sizzling between them. Ivar took the step that separated them and crashed into Silje, who welcomed him. The embrace they shared was hot, vibrant, it gave them life and healed the wounds they inflicted each other over the last few hours. An ardent need ignited in their hearts, both of them lighter than before, having found a happy conclusion to what seemed like a mountain of a problem.

“We need a shower,” Ivar said after breaking the kiss, his nose still touching Silje’s. “We look and smell awful,” he added, as though she needed to be reminded.

“Mmh,” she hummed in agreement. “Warm water might just be what I need to relax my muscles. I honestly don't know how you managed to live on my couch for so long, my back hurts just from sleeping there one night,” she complained.

Ivar merely laughed at her dramatic behaviour, watching her rub her shoulders. It was still very early and they hadn't slept at all, but they were wide awake now, and the day was all theirs. A happy perspective that made both their hearts flare up.

“Silje,” Ivar called her, and the hint of seriousness in his voice caught her ear. She immediately quit her antics and paid attention. “If I were going to start a new life somewhere, it would be with you.”



*



Life tasted different from then on. They both felt it but chose not to talk about it. Instead, they made the most of what little time they had left together. Silje filled her idle days with her creative hobbies to the point where the entire living space was covered in magazine cut outs, yarn, colour pencils, and sometimes – much to Ivar's confusion – a pillow fort would wait for him when he came back from his shift.

Ivar didn't enjoy having to spend his last weeks in Denmark in an old, decrepit bar, serving cheap booze to equally old and decrepit men. But he needed the cash. Silje knew it too, and she didn't say anything, even if her kisses lingered when he left for work.

Two days after their argument he was surprised to find Ava on their doorstep, demanding to know what happened between him and Silje (who had forgotten to update her friend about their reconciliation). He couldn't remember ever getting a verbal thrashing like that – it really put his meeting with Silje's parents in perspective, because Ava was terrifying in that moment.

When her wrath simmered down and Silje had forcefully dragged her away from Ivar to explain and put her mind at ease, Ivar sighed. Girls.

It was the only incident that occurred since the misunderstanding that led to an argument – not their first but certainly their biggest. They had announced the news to Laura, Nicolaj and the others, and all of them seemed happy for him and understanding of their mitigated mood. Silje clung to Ivar, she couldn't help it.

She hated being that girlfriend... but her heart strings tugged each time she dared think of his upcoming departure. However, she would have to face reality soon enough, because his flight would leave in ten days, and the big suitcase he bought was now lying open on the floor, slowly filling up.

She often stared at it, as though it was the suitcase's fault if Ivar left. She couldn't believe how quickly the weeks went by after she found out. Time truly did fly.

But not today. No, today time stretched endlessly, and she wasn't sure which was worse.



*



The brightest source of light in all of Denmark was Silje's smile - a lot of people agreed on that, Ivar being the first one. But sometimes, like the Sun, it hid away. As was the case when Ivar came back from work that Friday afternoon.

The clock barely hit four and yet Ivar found Silje curled up in bed. At first when he entered the seemingly empty apartment, he had thought she went out with friends and was running a little late (since she would most likely have notified him if she planned on spending the entire evening out), but he heard faint music coming from the bedroom.

He was tired, he'd had to deal with annoying customers today and all he wanted was a bit of love. But what raised a red flag in Ivar's mind wasn't the unusual bed time Silje had picked but the fact that she was huddled under her duvet in the middle of summer.

“Too tired to say hello?” Ivar joked, his arms crossed on his chest as he leaned against the door frame in an attempt to look cool. He heard some grumbling before her head emerged, dishevelled.

“Go away!” Silje groaned. “Can't you see I'm not feeling well?”

“Oh?” Was Ivar's enlightening answer.

“I'm not in the mood.” Silje fell back on the mattress, resting an arm across her face. “-feel like shit. I just wanna sleep it off.”

“You can't just sleep off sickness,” Ivar huffed. “What's the matter? Do you need medicine? I can get it for you if our stock is low,” he offered immediately.

Silje didn't have a lot of off days unlike Ivar, so if they were out of something it was most likely his fault. It was only normal that he'd be the one replacing it.

“I don't want to stuff myself with medicine, I'll be fine I just need to lay down and just...” She now stared at the ceiling and froze altogether. “- just find a position in which my stomach stops killing me and not move anymore.”

So that was the problem.

“Hey, I just came back from a tough shift, mind if I join you?” Ivar asked, already taking off his shoes and jeans. Silje sent him daggers with her eyes. “C'mon don't make me spend the rest of the day alone in the living room.”

She grumbled something that sounded a lot like 'damn you' which Ivar interpreted as an invitation to get in bed.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he ushered when he climbed next to her and Silje groaned in pain. He could tell she was trying to hold it in but failed. “Painful period cramps?" he asked.

“Dunno.”

“What do you mean you don't know?” Ivar's left eyebrow rose up. “You don't know if you're on your period or you don't know when your period is?”

“I don't know when it is. Could be that,” she said after a while of calculating in her head how long it has been since the last time. It didn't quite line up, but it wouldn't be the first time mother nature surprise visited her. “Not entirely sure though.”

“So, you don't know.” Ivar shook his head, amused. He opened his arms for Silje to lay her head against his shoulder. He knew she needed to lie on her back. “Shouldn't you though?”

She was growing annoyed at his nosy questions.

“I don't know Ivar! In case you haven't noticed I wasn't exactly seeing anyone these last few months, and it had been a while I hadn't done anything before you,” she barked at him even though she knew he didn't deserve to be spoken to so harshly.

She was just in tremendous pain; had been for the last couple hours, and it was wearing her patience thin.

“Why would I have kept track? It's not like I could get a pregnancy scare.”

He didn't say anything for a while. Her outburst threw a cold over them, or so she thought. But Ivar's fingers distractedly ran through her hair and suddenly she could feel what was bothering her in the atmosphere.

“You're smiling,” Silje said although she couldn't see his face.

“I am,” Ivar answered, not ashamed one bit.

“It's because I just admitted you were the first in a long while?”

“Could be,” he chuckled.

“You are so smug about this! Get over yourself you idiot. I can't see you, but I know the shit eating grin you have on your face right now. Wipe that smirk away!”

“Why on earth would I? It's a normal reaction!” Ivar argued, still smiling from ear to ear. “And it's the same for me, you already knew that.”

“Did I?" she frowned.

“Well... I told someone. If it's not you then it must be Hvitserk.”

“Why would you tell- no never mind don't answer that. You told me you haven't had a girlfriend in a long time, but that doesn't mean you haven't had sex.”

“Well let's just say I had a dry spell, yeah?”

“For how long do you need to not have sex to become a virgin again?” Silje hummed her question to herself.

“Is that how it works?” Ivar laughed.

“That's what Nicolaj says,” she laughed. “Every time he goes home alone after a party,” she snickered, visibly very amused at the thought of her friend's dramatic antics.

“Huh, yes I can imagine him say that,” Ivar said, letting his head fall onto the pillow again. “So how was your day?”

“Awful, I woke up with cramps and they haven't gone away yet,” she groaned, tucking herself in but leaving Ivar clear of the duvet as he was boiling hot next to her. “Yours?”

“Long. People are the worst. I wish I was allowed to talk back sometimes,” he sighed, rubbing his temple with his one free hand. “There are a few things I'd want to tell them, starting with a lecture about how to speak to your bartender if you want your drink spit-free.”

“You don't do that, do you?” Silje asked, laughing a bit but trying to keep it under control because it made her tummy ache. “It sounds straight outta Fight Club.”

If I wanted to go Fight Club, it wouldn't be spit,” Ivar pointed out, making Silje fake gag. “Which doesn't mean I'm not really tempted, even if I never act on my lower instincts.”

“Any chance you could channel those low instincts you speak of and go punch mother nature in the gut for me?” Silje asked, wincing a little as she arched her back, pressing her hand to her sore sides. “I'm dying over here.”

“I wish I could do something,” he told her, running a hand through her hair in an attempt to soothe her. It was a pointless gesture, but she sighed and closed her eyes, nonetheless. It might not reduce the pain, but it sure felt nice to know her boyfriend was here and willing to help.

“You're already helping. I feel better when I'm not alone and wallowing in my own self-pity,” she said sleepily, snuggling closer to his side. “What am I going to do when you're gone?”

Ivar did not answer, because he didn't know the answer, and he most especially did not want to think about when he would be separated from Silje. She had been his anchor, his one tether to this perpetually moving world in which he thought he would never find his place.

He said nothing and kissed her temple instead.



*



They had quietly fallen asleep together last night, and when Ivar woke up in the morning the other side of the bed was empty. Silje was already in the kitchen preparing her breakfast when Ivar got up, rubbing the sleep off his eyes. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her middle, kissing her neck and making a muffled greeting noise to which she smiled.

“Feeling better?” Ivar asked after she had coaxed him into using words instead of grunts.

“My stomach still a bit sore-” she admitted, prompting Ivar to move his arms away from the tender area.

“Shit, sorry. I wasn't thinking,” he apologized. Silje smiled to herself and put her butter knife down, turning around in Ivar's arms to face him.

“It's fine. It's not cramped up anymore. I'll live.” Her words of reassurance were accompanied by a gentle arm rub and Ivar's mouth twitched slightly. Silje stood on toes to plant a good morning kiss on her boyfriend's pouting lips. “Thank you for being there for me.”

Ivar smiled in answer, not knowing what to say to that.

“Also, I'm sorry about what I said,” she added. “About not knowing what to do when you're gone. I don't want to guilt trip you, I was just being dramatic.”

“I didn't take it like that, don't worry about it,” he reassured her. “But thanks.”

“That said, we'll need to discuss some things soon. You're leaving for quite a while and there are some rules we need to establish before D-day.” Ivar looked at his feet while Silje fiddled with her cup, dropping and raising her bag of tea. “I don't want unaddressed issues to hang between us.”

“What kind of issues? What kind of rules?” Ivar questioned, pushing a stray strand of hair out of her face to make her took up. She tossed the tea bag in the bin and looked up, her big shiny eyes staring right into Ivar's very soul – or so it felt. A timid smile tugged at her lips.

“Wanna talk about it now? Over breakfast?" she asked, her brows knitted together.

“Sure, I'm wide awake, so why not?" he shrugged, grabbing the other cup of tea Silje had prepared for him with one hand, and the tray of food with the other. “Let's do this!”

“Alright,” she chuckled, following him to the coffee table with the napkins.

At first neither of them said anything, whether because they did not know where to start or because they didn't know how to bring up what was on their mind. Ivar stirred his tea and grabbed a piece of bread and a knife to butter it eating breakfast as usual, while Silje nervously fiddled with the napkin on her lap, and let her nails tap again her mug until she decided to put it on the table to avoid accidents.

“So, what is it you-”

“Are we still going to be exclusive?" she cut off Ivar by blurting out her question. Ivar, who was in the process of lifting his own tea cup to his mouth, nearly spilled all its content on himself, and narrowly avoided a first-degree burn. “Oh gods, I'm so sorry,” she apologized, quickly using the napkins to soak up what little liquid spilled over and onto Ivar.

The she leaned back and hid her face behind her hands in shame.

“Fuck!” Ivar cursed, causing Silje to peek through her fingers. He shook the hand that held the cup seconds before and held it against his chest. “I'm good,” he said between his teeth. “Gods, why is tea so hot?”

“I'm sorry,” Silje repeated, feeling like disappearing in a mouse hole.

“Don't apologize, it's not your fault.” Ivar now put the scathed part of his hand to his mouth. “I was surprised, 'is all.”

“I feel so stupid.” Silje leaned down, letting her elbows rest on her knees with her face still buried in her hands.

“What kind of question is that? Is that the unaddressed issues you mentioned?” Ivar asked, and though she couldn't see his face Silje felt a tinge of amusement in his voice that gave away the smile he wore.

“Not only,” she grumbled.

“Hey, hey, Silje,” Ivar tried to get her to stop sulking. “Look at me, now.”

She turned her head towards him and looked at him through her fingers, still not removing her hands from her flushed cheeks. He rolled his eyes.

“Don't be difficult now, please. You're the one who wanted to talk, you know, like adults.” Using her own ideas against her, that wasn't fair.

“Fine, fine!" she gave in, sitting upright again and meeting his gaze as bravely as she could. As soon as they faced each other she felt her cheeks heated up again though, much to her embarrassment and annoyance. “So, what's your answer?”

What's your answer?" he shot back with a teasing little smirk on his perfect fucking face.

“Ha!" she exclaimed. “No questions to answer my question! You go first, I asked first.”

“So much for the adult conversation,” he teased her, laughing at her antics. “Of course, we're exclusive Sil.”

Her shoulders relaxed as if the weight of a thousand bricks lifted up from them, and Silje's defensive stance disappeared altogether. The sheer sound of his words gave wings to her heart.

“I had to ask, I'm sorry,” she apologized for what felt like the tenth time this morning. “I know it's silly, but I don't want to spend months wondering-”

“-if the grass is greener in Dublin?” Ivar helpfully provided an elegant way to finish her sentence. Talking about possibly cheating on each other was a touchy subject, and perhaps not one they should be discussing over breakfast on second-thought. “I think you severely underestimate how much I love you,” Ivar told her, the blunt statement making her feel twice as embarrassed about her question, and ashamed too.

“I'm so-”

“You need to stop saying you're sorry, Sil,” Ivar laughed, easing up the atmosphere and leaning back against the couch. “What else is on your mind?”

“I- I don't really know, I was pretty obsessed with this question in particular,” she admitted. A minute passed during which Ivar waited patiently and Silje racked her brain. “How many times do you reckon we'll see each other? Our schedules won't allow many visits I suppose.”

I can't tell you about my schedule yet, I'll only receive it once I get there. We'll see if our holidays line up then,” he told her, resting a hand on her flexed knee. Silje's eyes darted there. “But Jul.”

Definitely Jul,” she agreed, joining their hands. “You should save as much money as you can, I'll make the trip. All the trips.” She saw he was ready to object so she quickly added, “and it's not negotiable.”

You won't be able to celebrate Jul with your family if you're in Ireland,” Ivar pointed out.

“I was in Denmark last year, and I still spent it with you and not them,” she replied, making Ivar nod his head, forced to admit she had a point.

Jul in Dublin it is then,” he concluded. He smiled gently when he saw the slight frown on her pensive face and laced their fingers together to draw her attention on him. “Don't worry too much, everything will work itself out. We'll talk a lot, we can play card games online, so you won't miss me beating you at those,” he added, if only to make her smile again. It worked.

Silje bit down on her lower lip to hold back her grin but it was a nearly impossible task when her boyfriend gazed up at her with these eyes while caressed the back of her hand with the tip of his fingers.

“I'll give you my address as soon as I get it, so you can send me detailed handwritten letters describing your longing for me and how the sheer thought of me rouses lustful thoughts in your mind.”

This elicited a real laugh from Silje who slapped away his hand. Ivar still felt it was a victory, for he much better liked to hear Silje laugh then have her thinking about their upcoming separation in brooding silence.

“Can I drink my tea now or do you have more questions?”



*



Every morning was the same ritual, like clockwork.

When the coffee machine stopped brewing, Silje set two cups on the counter, filled them to the brim, added two sugars in hers and one in Ivar's, put a spoon in each one; and then Ivar, who had already tucked a pile of napkins under his arm, grabbed the cups and carried them over to the coffee table.

Silje followed after him with a tray stacked with toasted bread, butter, jam, a knife, a spoon, and a bowl of cereals. They liked to eat in relative silence and watch Rick and Morty while their brains slowly emerged from the fog. Silje sometimes poked fun at Ivar for eating his toasts like an old person - the boy dipped his bread in his coffee before taking a bite. He argued each time but Silje insisted that only old people did that, and short of having proof she was wrong, Ivar had to accept that he ate his breakfast like a grandpa. Meanwhile Silje spooned her cereals like a robot, and when she was done, every morning without fail, she would get up to fetch the Nutella and eat the last remaining piece of bread. She never brought the Nutella on the tray, which Ivar already pointed out to her numerous times, but got up to get it instead.

And that was how every day started for Silje and Ivar, and they wouldn't have it any other way.

Yet Silje noticed a big change in Ivar's general mood and behaviour this morning. Perhaps it was the nerves finally catching up – after all, he was leaving in less than 72 hours. A thought she didn't want to dwell on.

Somehow, the silence was not as comfortable as usual, and it made it hard to eat her cereals. Just when she was about fed up with it and was going to ask him what bothered him, Ivar spoke up, the veil of sleepiness lifting from his eyes too as he met her concerned gaze.

“I want to show you something.” He continued staring at her, waiting for a reaction. Silje also waited – for more details.

“Well, what is it?" she eventually asked. Had Ivar's brain not come back from dreamworld yet? “You're scaring me now.”

He smiled gently. The very sight of him made Silje's heart burst with joy and love. His tousled hair, his wrinkled shirt, his grey sweatpants, the soft sleepiness about him made her smile to herself. He's mine, she thought.

“Don't worry,” he told her, raising a hand and tapping under her chin with his fingers. He pushed back her hair a little – it was always all over the place before she brushed it. “Let's call it a surprise. I'll take you there later today.”

“Where are we going?” Silje asked.

“I can't tell you where it is. The location is the surprise,” Ivar said, quite mysteriously.

He called it a surprise, but his expression suggested nothing of the sort. Before she could read into it too much, Silje forced her attention back on her breakfast.

The morning swooped by very quickly, mostly in silence. It wasn't tense but Silje could tell Ivar was holding something from her, and she grew restless the more time went by. Finally, they were ready to leave and go wherever Ivar intended to take her.

She picked a basic cotton dress and sandals because she didn't know the occasion. Ivar's eyes were glued to her, drinking in her appearance as if it was the first and last time he saw her. He took her hand before closing the door behind them, and off they went.

The train ride was silent. Silje would usually sit much closer to Ivar, lean against him, rest her head on his shoulder in some instances, but not today, however much she wanted to. Deep in her bones, she sensed it wasn't the right time. The mood was off for some reason. She spent the whole way racking her brain in search of something she might have said or done that could have upset Ivar in any way, but it was fruitless.

These last few days had been a bliss. She was happier than ever – and she thought he was too.

He made her walk some more, still not telling her where they were headed, but at least he didn't let go of her hand. Their interwoven fingers reassured her somewhat. He guided her without a word through small streets, wandering towards the less fancy part of Copenhagen as they progressed, away from the liveliest areas.

Finally, he stopped at a bench. There wasn't anything particular here, only tall, narrow buildings that didn't look like anything Silje would want to live in. He sat down and gestured her to do the same.

“So, what are we doing here?" she inquired after a moment of contemplative silence.

He wasn't looking at her; his eyes darted towards the apartments across the road. Silje knitted her brows in confusion.

“You see the balcony over there? On the floor with the closed shutters?" he asked, pointing at the second floor of the building.

It looked old and not very well maintained, the painting peeled off, the door looked ancient, the number was erased. There was a crooked 'for sale' sign hanging from the railing of the balcony Ivar pointed at.

She had a sinking feeling all of a sudden.

“Yes?” Silje answered hesitantly.

She more or less guessed what he was going to tell her now, and her eyes were fixed on Ivar when he confirmed her suspicions.

“That used to be my home, where I lived with my parents until...” he didn't finish but his eyes left the building and became unfocused. Silje knew until when. She took his hand again.

He swallowed, prompting her to squeeze his hand in reassurance.

“What were they like?” Silje questioned. Ivar looked at her in confusion. “Your parents, I mean.”

“You never asked about them,” he simply said, as if he dismissed her lack of questions as disinterest.

“Not because I didn't want to know, Ivar,” she assured him. “They are a part of your past and I know it's a sensitive topic, so I thought you'd tell me about them in your own time.”

“I would have told you everything, had you asked,” he said. “But thank you. I know I'm not always easy. I have... baggage.”

What was she supposed to answer? Everyone had baggage. At some point in life you simply had to come to terms with that. Only teenagers could claim not to have any baggage or emotional ties holding them back.

She darted her eyes back onto the building and its dangling for sale sign swaying in the slight wind.

“Do you want to go in?” Silje asked, not even sure if that was possible.

Ivar blinked dumbfoundedly, not sure what she meant by that.

“What?" he asked her with a shake of the head.

“Do you wanna go inside? See how it is now?" she repeated.

They looked at each other for a little while. Ivar wasn't entirely sure why she even suggested that, or if he wanted to, and if it was at all doable.

“You mean, visit the apartment? Posing as buyers?”

“Yes,” Silje said with an energetic nod.

She still didn't know why Ivar was in such a melancholy mood today – maybe it was become of his imminent departure – but she wanted to lift his spirits. If this helped him turn the page and move on, then she would move heaven and earth to make it happen.

“Can we do that?" he asked, a bit stupidly he had to admit.

Silje shrugged.

“Why couldn't we? It's just a visit.” It wasn't just a visit for an apartment. It was a visit inside Ivar's past. “I can try and call at least?" she offered.

It was a crazy idea, but he nodded before he could think again and refuse.

Silje whipped out her phone and dialed the number of the real estate agency. As per usual, she stood up and began to walk back and forth; she could never stay still during a phone call. Ivar only heard bits of the conversation.

“... the second floor apartment... yes this one... would like to visit... right now is possible?... that would be great... we'll try... tak... hav en god dag2.”

It lasted only about three minutes – which he spent twisting his fingers and wiping the sweat of his palms on his jeans – but Silje seemed satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. Her phone returned to her bag.

“They say we should see if the old couple living on the ground floor is home. They have a key. If they aren't there, I can call again and they'll send someone,” she informed him with a bright smile and an open hand.

Ivar took it and allowed Silje to gently pull him towards the entrance. He needed to get himself together. He was the one who brought her here, there was literally no reason at all to feel shy or scared. Still, he felt weird about this visit.

And more than that, he wasn't looking forward to ringing the old couple. He knew them – or he had known them – but they probably wouldn't remember him. He had changed quite a bit since then, and surely they wouldn't expect him to come back here. This place was a shithole, always had been. He always figured they stayed because moving at their age was too much of a hassle.

Silje read him like an open book, and he really shouldn't be surprised by now.

“You know them?" she asked, her finger hovering near the doorbell. He nodded, lips forming a thin line as he looked straight at her. “I'll do the talking.”

Both relieved and embarrassed, Ivar followed her lead when someone buzzed them in and she pushed the front door open – not without difficulty, because it was heavy and scraped against the floor in some places.

He didn't get to mentally prepare himself to see his old neighbors again because they stood right there in the hall way. At the foot of the stairs sat their properly ancient basset hound, a leash around his neck. Ivar briefly mused that this dog would outlive him.

“Hi!” Silje immediately greeted them. “I hope we're not bothering. We're here to visit the apartment on the second floor. The realtor said you have a spare key?”

She sure did not beat around the bush, and didn't give the couple a second to ask questions or even let their attention drift to Ivar who stood a couple steps behind her.

“Oh! Of course!” The woman exclaimed, her face breaking into a large, friendly smile while her husband took the leash from her hands. “Let me get it for you!”

“You two arrive right on time. We were about to leave for Oliver's walk,” he told them before scratching the dog's ears. “So you're interested in buying?" he questioned them, finally spared Ivar a glance.

His eyes did not linger on him.

“We're keeping an eye open for a new place,” Silje answered vaguely. “A studio is a bit small for two.”

The old man smiled good naturedly.

“Not when you're young and in love,” he argued and shot them a quick smile, showing some missing teeth.

That was arguable, they both thought. But Ivar only smiled awkwardly while listening to Silje's strange interaction with Mr Asbæk. Meanwhile, he stared at the dog who looked just as impatient as him to have this discussion arrive to an end. Surely Silje's cheeks were hurting from smiling so tensely; Ivar knew she hated making small talk and chatting up complete strangers for the sake of propriety.

“Ah! I found it!” Mrs Asbæk came back and closed the door to their apartment behind her. “It took me a few minutes to get my hands on it, but here you go young lady.” She dropped the keys in Silje's open palm.

She thanked her with a warm smile and bid them a good day.

“Oh dear!” The woman called after them when they were already halfway up the first flight of stairs. “Just leave the keys in the mailbox, will you? We don't know how long we'll be out. It's beautiful day, it would be a shame to spend it inside four walls.”

A shame indeed, Ivar thought as they continued their way up after assuring Mrs Asbæk that the key would be dropped in their mailbox.

“After you,” Silje told him and let him walk in front of her. She slipped the keys in his hand as he walked past her.

“It's surreal. Being here. Even just knowing the building hasn't disappeared altogether is strange. It's almost like it waited for me,” he commented despite the inanity of it.

He felt as though he was carrying a stone in his stomach.

Silje's hand skillfully unlocked the door to the apartment, not trembling like his did. An encouraging smile from her was all it took to make his nerves calm down though. She stepped aside to let him in. His soles were made out of lead when he stepped through the door.

The wooden floor still creaked like in his memory. For a while he merely stood there, frozen like a statue, incapable of the slightest movement. Meanwhile, Silje walked in, closed the door, then headed for the windows to open the shutters keeping the sunlight out.

Even plunged in darkness, the place looked bigger than he remembered. As soon as light came in, all familiarity disappeared. The air was stale because of the dust and accumulated heat. Nobody had visited this place in a very long time apparently, no wonder the realtor was reluctant to come all the way here to show them this dump.

“It's not how I pictured it,” he told Silje who stood aside and nervously awaited for a reaction on his side. He would have smiled at her secondhand anxiety if he wasn't so entranced. “I've never actually seen it empty.”

“We're not in a hurry. Just take all the time you need Ivar,” she said in a breath.

Her mind was put at ease now that he spoke with an even voice and his hands stopped trembling. It was like any big first step, the anticipation was worse than the act itself.

“Do you... want me to give you some alone time?" she suggested after a minute or so of tense silence. Ivar couldn't seem to pick something to look at and frantically looked everywhere. “I can wait outside if-”

“Don't be stupid,” he dismissed her idea with a hand gesture. “You need to be here. You're the reason we got in, anyway. C'mon.” He held out his hand for her to take.

Her eyes darted at his palm, then back at his eyes before taking it. Ivar pulled her toward him and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, much to her stupefaction. He revelled in the feel of her pliant body against his. Before going any further, he placed a kiss to her temple.

“I'll give you a tour,” he said. She did not point out his tearful voice or glossy eyes, choosing instead to return his impromptu embrace and hold his waist while they walked to the middle of the living room.

“It looks very...” She didn't know where she was going with that sentence and quickly regretted even opening her mouth, but it was the damned silence hanging in the air between them she needed to get rid of.

“Shabby? Bleak? Like the last place on earth you'd like to live in?” Ivar helpfully provided, if only to see Silje's flushed face.

There was no point in trying to deny any of what he said. Ivar knew her well enough to know she was too precious to live in anything less than what she already had. He often made fun of her expensive taste – playfully of course. His teasing tone only earned him to be tripped and nearly crash onto the creaky, dusty floor.

“It looks like not even ghosts would wanna haunt this place,” she told him truthfully, and there was really no arguing with that statement.

They might already have suffocated to death if she hadn't opened the windows the second she walked in. The sunlight hit the washed off beige walls – something white, something black, depending where their gaze landed. The corners of the ceiling had some spiderwebs long deserted by their makers, and a few lighter squares on the old wallpaper showed where there used to be paintings or pictures.

“It looks bigger now that it's not full of our crap anymore,” Ivar observed in a rather detached tone. “If if didn't smell like the inside of a vacuum bag and look like a dirty old pair of granny underwear.”

Silje couldn't stop the snort that came after his comment. It was an astute description as far as she was concerned. The placed looked positively decrepit.

“How sexy,” she replied with a slight smirk. “You still must have good memories here. It can't just be an empty place to you now,” she continued when she realized he was trying to put off talking of how he felt by joking around with her.

Silje loved to joke around with Ivar, but sometimes, circumstances called for seriousness.

“There,” he started, pointing at the wall with the painting shapes still on the paper, “was our worn out leather couch. I liked it when I was a kid because it was so old and used that I sunk all the way to the floor when I sat on it.” A smile danced on his lips. “I didn't get to sit here often because my dad was lying there half the time, eyes glued on the TV.” His smiled dropped. “In hindsight, I didn't spend much time here after I became old enough to understand what was wrong with him being slouched here all the time.”

“How old were you?” Silje inquired, reluctant to interrupted his story but also curious.

“Not old enough.” He swallowed, blinked a few times and then looked away from the now empty corner of the room. “The alcohol stains on the floor are a testimony to his occupations back then. Doubt they'll ever come out.”

Silje looked and saw what he meant. Ivar turned around toward the window, walking to the one which had a small one-person balcony with its rusty balustrade. It felt refreshing just to step out onto it instead of being trapped in the deserted, dusty apartment full of stifling memories.

Silje never thought Ivar's life had been so rough/miserable even before he was forced to live in the streets. From what little he had told her about his parents, she assumed they had a good relationship. But after his anecdote about his father slugging around on the couch from dawn to dusk, drinking himself into oblivion, it didn't look like the picture she had painted in her head.

Her train of thought was interrupted when he huffed. Something on the ground seemed to have caught his attention. An ashtray.

“Can't believe they took everything except this.” He nudged it with his foot. There was still a cigarette butt in it. “Of all things, they forgot this.”

“You used to smoke?” Silje wondered, standing back because there was really no room for more than one person on the balcony. She leaned against the wall, ignoring the small voice in the back of her head listing all the diseases she might get from getting too close to these walls.

“Yeah, sometimes,” he laughed. “But this wasn't mine. That's where my mom went to calm her nerves whenever my dad was passed out on the couch or spending all our money on horse races bets, or gambling online.”

“Oh.”

Dumbest answer ever, Silhe thought to herself. Ivar was finally telling her about his family and that's what came out of her mouth!

“Yes. 'Oh',” he repeated. “She really did have a lot of patience with him, and she worked long days while he failed to keep any job, or even find one! I was so angry all the time toward the end! I wanted to go away, leave this place and my useless parents behind with all their debts and ways.”

He came back inside and stormed past Silje. His long strides forced her to scurry behind him and to the kitchen, whose state was no better than the main room. It was a pretty small place, there were only two other rooms aside from the bathroom. The room was narrow and only had the bare minimum. Out of curiosity, Ivar opened the tap but no water came out. He didn't try to turn on the lights but he figured electricity was out too.

“Look at that. Doesn't it make our little kitchenette look like a housewife's wet dream?” Silje mused out loud to make Ivar's burst dissipate.

“Believe it or not, it was much worse when there was furniture in there,” he assured her with a shake of his head, no doubt remembering what it used to look like. “Do you smell that? You can tell my mom spent a lot of time here.”

“Cigarette,” Silje said. “Yes, it's in the walls now. Nothing like the good ol' stench of cold cigarette to make you wanna buy a flat.” She opened a cabinet but it only lifted the veil of dust inside, which made her start coughing.

“I stopped smoking after their death. Not just because I couldn't afford it anymore, but because I'll never associate this smell with anything but my mother.” He shrugged when he caught her gazing at him with concern shining in her eyes, asking a silent question. “I'm fine, Sil. I'm just taking a walk down memory lane. Everything's not shiny in my past. In fact, the only impeccable thing in my life I can think of is my school record and my taste in girls which is out of this world.”

This brought back the smile on her face though she hated that all it took was a little compliment to make her forget the solemnity of the situation. How vain she was! She needed to work on that – later – and stop getting distracted by boyfriend's honeyed voice.

“Don't use your sexy voice on me to deflect my attention!" she rolled her eyes. “I'm not buying it. You're putting up a strong face for my sake, which is dumb. I'm not going to think less of you if I see you cry or show vulnerability.”

“What a relief,” he chuckled. “Actually, coming here isn't as terrible as I thought it would be. Not that I ever even considered coming back an option. When I was kicked out...” A sharp intake of breath. “I just accepted that it was no longer my home. I never entertained the possibility of returning here ; to me, this place was gone. At least, as I knew it.”

Dragging Silje behind him, Ivar led them to a small room next to the kitchen. Words weren't needed here: it used to be his room, she knew it. Untangling their fingers, Silje also went to the window to open the shutter and let some light and air come in the narrow room.

“I didn't spend much time here either. As soon as I realized I could hang out in libraries for free I just went there as much as their opening hours allowed. It's so dark here.”

Silje nodded in silent agreement. Even with the sun shining bright outside and the window wide open, some corners remained dark – probably because of the deep blue wallpaper. The atmosphere was oppressing. She couldn't imagine what it could have been like for a child to grow up here – a person's bedroom was supposed to be their personal space, where they could express themselves and feel safe and cosy.

“Why didn't you leave?" she couldn't help but ask.

His head whipped towards her, a questioning expression on his face.

“You said you wanted nothing more than to get out of here and make a new life. What held you back?" she clarified.

Confusion gave way to dolefulness and his gaze softened.

“Because I was scared,” he admitted under her intense eyes, feeling the weight of every word on his tongue. “It was a shitty life, but it was my life. It was familiar and so I stayed. Frankly, I thought I'd never escape this hellhole. At least until...” he trailed off;

“Until today, three years ago.” It was an easy guess. What else could put her Ivar in such a gloomy mood. “It's their death anniversary, right?”

His eyes told her the answer. Ivar turned around and went for the wall, leaning against it and slowly sliding down to the floor, knees up. Silje shoved aside any worries she had about the sanitary menace this place was, and joined him on the floor, sitting next to him but facing the other way. Their hands found each other and held on tight.

“I thought I did at better job at hiding how much this particular date still affects me,” he confessed with a weak little smile. “Guess not.”

“I don't think there'll be a day when this date leaves you indifferent. You're allowed to miss your parents, Ivar. However much your relationship was complicated.” If she held him any tighter it was going to cut off his blood supply, but she was desperate to take some of his sadness away.

“They don't deserve it,” he said, his tone harsher than usual but also wavering with tears. They didn't fall but Silje knew he must have summoned a lot of strength to hold them back. “Three years later, their mistakes still affect me. Sometimes it feels like I'll never be able to move on and be free from my past. I just wanna forget them.”

“You don't mean that.” Her free hand rose up to his face and gently grazed his jawline. “Love isn't about what someone deserves. They were your parents, you can't snap your fingers and erase them from memory. I'd be worried if you didn't mourn them on the anniversary of their death. Losing both your parents the same day must have been terrible.”

“It's the day my life was put upside down, yet I don't remember it at all. Everything from that time is a blur in my mind.” He looked down to avoid her eyes. “I wish I could get over it and stop dwelling on the past. But I didn't have the guts to leave in their lifetime, and even after their death I couldn't bring myself to get out of this place.”

“It's full of memories!” Silje argued.

“Bad ones,” he immediately scoffed.

“That can't be true! Tell me one good memory you have about your parents,” she demanded. “Anything, just so long as it's nice.”

“Stop it, Silje,” he asked, and if his voice wasn't so supplicant, she would have pressed on. “Not everybody has a warm, loving family with caring parents. I did not have any kind of relationship with my parents past age 12. After that I shut them out like they did to me, and we each lived like roommates. I focused on school and they dilapidated what little money we had and ignored me as usual. End of the story.”

“That can't be it,” she insisted, like any privileged child who grew up surrounded by love and who wanted for nothing would do. “You never had movie nights with your parents? Your mom never made you pancakes for breakfast? Your dad never taught you to drive? You never went to the beach in summer?" she fired question after question while Ivar shook his head.

No. He didn't do any of this. His mother worked day and night, she was too tired to wake up extra early and make pancakes, or to want to spend her day off with her feet in the damp sand. His father was a jobless parasite, the black hole who sucked in all the hard earned money his mother brought home. A mess of a man who did the world – and Ivar – a favour by never returning from that drive three years ago.

Irony wanted that they crashed their car the day his father decided to do something for someone other than himself and drive all the way to Fyn because an old friend needed help to move. His mother was enrolled as well, though he didn't know why she agreed. It didn't matter anymore. They were dead. Ivar had been alone from then on. Alone in this dump, wondering what the hell would happen now.

Fate had worse things in store for him before he finally got to crawl out of the hole he had spent his whole life in. The day Silje extended a hand to help him out of his misery was the turning point. The pinpoint moment when his life took a turn for the better.

“Please, let's drop it,” he begged her, which made her lean even more into him, their joined hands resting on top of his knees. “I don't hate my parents Silje. I'm not insensible to their death. But I think I've earned my peace of mind now, I need to say goodbye and start a new chapter.”

Acceptance shone in the blue of her eyes, still somehow managing to catch the light. At least she wasn't going to argue with him on this subject anymore. He knew how much she cared about her large family, and he understood that it must be hard for her to fathom not having this kind of bond with one's parents. But right now, Ivar needed her to understand his point of view too.

“Alright,” came her hushed voice. “I suppose it's a good thing we came here right before you leave then. You really are about to start a new chapter very soon.”

She made a valiant effort to smile but he could read the dispiritedness behind it. He appreciated the effort though, and straightened out his legs to pull her to him. She shifted to his lap and let him encircle her with his strong arms.

“Thank you for coming here with me,” he whispered in her ear. “I promise it won't be as long as you think it will be.

She had her fair share of doubts about that, but now wasn't the time to argue about the relativity of time.

“How is it that I already miss you and you're not even gone?" she asked, only realising how silly it sounded once the words were out.

Ivar didn't laugh at her though, he didn't poke fun at her for saying that. No, he stared longingly into her eyes, brushing back a strand of her long hair to better see her face. He cradled her face into his palm; Silje, as per usual, nuzzled into his open hand like a cat, because soon she would be deprived of his rough, warm touch. His hands weren't smooth and soft, but they always handled her with care and gentleness.

Their eyes met and they got lost in each other for a brief moment – or perhaps a long moment, they wouldn't know, what with time skipping by so quickly whenever they were together. This is what had Silje so needy all of a sudden – the fresh memory of this one night she had spent on Ava's couch, turning and tossing and staring at the ceiling without so much as dozing off because she wasn't with Ivar still burning.

How would she occupy her days once he left? By picking up knitting again? Learning French like her mother always wanted her to? Enrolling in Hvitserk's stupid gym class? The thought made her shudder, which Ivar noticed.

“That's because I'm a nearly perfect boyfriend with a wicked kind of charm,” he finally answered and though it was said in good humour, she couldn't say it was a lie.

“I guess I'll just have to make the most of what time we have left now. You're all mine for the next,” she glanced at her wristwatch, “63 hours.”

She looked very proud of her basic math skills, grinning at Ivar who still gawked at his beautiful girlfriend like a love sick fool. And a love sick fool he was.

“I'll stay all yours long after those 63 hours end,” he assured her tilting her chin up with two fingers.

He heard her take a sharp breath and then hold it as he trailed the tip of his nose along her cheek. The two of them were still cuddling on the dirty floor of his former home, drunk on each other's very presence.

Their lips met in a quiet but deep and meaningful kiss. Ivar's back was already pressed against the wall when Silje leaned against him even more, her chest flat against his while her hands slowly slid upwards. One wandered a few centimeters under his shirt and the other found its home in Ivar's neck. Her thumb brushed along his jaw, feeling it move as they lost themselves in that kiss.

It was hot but caring, it taste like sin and sugar: it wouldn't have taken much for Silje to completely forget where they were and let their embrace lead somewhere else. Instead, they broke apart when their lungs began to burn from lack of air. Silje's lips felt warm and swollen when she ran her tongue over them. Ivar's pupils were blown wide and his hands couldn't let go of Silje's waist.

Ivar kissed her again. The sweet taste of her against his lips fueled him with passion and ardor. He would have burnt for her, consumed himself entirely if her cool hands weren't nestled in his neck, keeping him from pulling back. She was addicted to his kisses too and so they sunk deeper in this whirlpool of affection.

For once, it wasn't too pressing. It wasn't meant to lead to sex at all - and it had nothing to do with them being in this dump instead of Silje's delicate sheets. It had everything to do with the preciousness of the moment they shared presently. It called for physical restraint and emotional abandon.

They had proved it to each other a thousand times in a thousand different ways already, but some things were worth saying nonetheless.

“I love you.”

Neither of them could have imagined what those words could do to them. They floated in the air around them, like a puff of smoke. It was hard to believe they were that easy to say in the end. After all the time and energy spent on worrying over those three words. Was it too soon? Was they be coming on too strong? Would they be reciprocated?

Nothing was sure until the moment they grew the courage to put them out into the world. And since they did, they smiled like fools, incapable of wiping that smile off their faces. No, they simply kept on grinning. They were in love and they didn't care.

 

 

1 The Little Mermaid, famous statue in Copenhagen.

2Thank you... have a good day.

 

Chapter Text

The day Ivar flew off to Ireland, Silje was quiet. She was pretty proud of herself for not even crying when she damn well wanted to, especially when he kissed her one final time before hurrying off to board his plane. Quite the deed for someone who usually started sobbing within the first thirty seconds of a cute dog video montage or airport reunion videos.

She half expected the tears to well up during her train ride back home after parting ways with Ivar at the airport. They did not. Her eyes stayed totally dry and she walled herself up in silence the rest of the day. It was still early, barely past noon, and she had yet to eat lunch. Cooking seemed like an insurmountable task.

It was so still and quiet in here all of a sudden. There was no one to talk to. What did she do all alone in her apartment before Ivar moved in? Did she talk to herself? Read? Hum along to a tune? What the hell was she supposed to do all by herself? Chat up her upside-down reflection in her spoon?

She dropped it back into her mug and the clatter sounded louder than usual. Silje glanced at the digital clock on the microwave and groaned, letting her head fall back. Her eyes were trained on the ceiling, and she wondered if she ever took the time to look at it. It was white with light wooden beams. Who even cared about her ceiling? At least she would be back on the benches in a couple weeks, and univeristy would keep her busy enough to stop wondering what to do with her free time.

Ivar had been away for two hours and she was having a quiet breakdown on her couch, slouched in the most unlady-like fashion. Going out was out of the question because she had removed her makeup as soon as she came home and she wouldn’t wish her sullen company to anyone.

The loud music of Nicolaj’s ringtone nearly gave her a heart attack. She fumbled around to try and find the damn thing. It took her another chorus of Raining Men to find it.

“Yeehaw motherfucker,” her friend yelled into the phone. Was he high? Drunk? No it was too early, even for him.

“Chill out, cowboy,” Silje replied, not entirely sure what to answer to his singular greeting.

“Sorry, I panicked,” he said with an awkward laugh. “Thought you’d be a sniffling mess by now. How’s dear Ivar? Catch his flight on time?”

“Exactly. So why are you interrupting my pity party?” she fired back without much conviction.

“We’re not interrupting!” Laura’s voice came through the phone too.

“We’re crashing it baby, and you can’t stop us,” Nicolaj kindly informed her.

“Absolutely not, I want to be alone with my dark cloud,” she immediately told them. “Leave me be.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Ava’s voice now spoke. “Did it sound like we were asking permission? Because that’s not what’s happening.”

Silje held the phone away from her ear and covered it with her hand while she let out the longest sigh she could muster. Then she put it back.

“Alright. But I’ll be complaining the whole time. Don’t say I haven’t warned you!”

It was a miracle none of her friends crashed at her place while Ivar was still there. She should consider herself lucky that they only decided to impose now that he was gone. Maybe it would do her some good to not be alone. At the very least she would be able to speak without feeling like she was slowly spiralling into madness. Seriously, what did she do when she lived alone?

She might have to pick up crochetting just to keep insanity at bay.

“We expect as much,” Laura answered, followed by other people laughing.

The gods knew how many of them would soon crowd her living room. They would have do deal with the empty mugs sitting in strange places and the general mess – she wasn’t in the right state of mind to clean up, and Ivar and her had made quite the mess while they packed.

“Oh, we’re already here by the way. This was merely a heads up phone call, just in case you were sleeping it off or something,” Nicolaj said. “Open up, bitc-!”

Silje hang up before he could finish his sentence. What an endearing dumbass. She conjured all of her energy to get up and buzz them in, hearing the sound of their footsteps in the stairway.

The entire band was here – Laura, Ava, Nicolaj, Matthias and Asmus. Now she did wish she was still wearing makeup.

“You don’t look fresh,” Nicolaj immediately commented, and Silje flipped him off because she wasn’t in the mood. “Oh man, sorry. Someone’s grumpy.”

“Of course she is.” Asmus pushed his brother aside to hug Silje. Silje stuck her tongue out at Nicolaj while she hugged Asmus, just to spite him. “You’re still crying over your ex everytime you hear a Rhianna song playing. She’s allow to be bummed about her boyfriend leaving for a year abroad.”

“Excuse me?!” Nicolaj screeched in offense while Ava doubled over in laughter, and Laura and Matthias went off about this being the most shade anyone’s ever thrown Nicolaj. “Forgive me for finding Diamonds emotional.”

“Excuses, excuses,” Matthias said. He slapped Nicolaj’s back as he walked past him and into the apartment. “Just own up to it, man.”

“Mus, as my brother, you should side with me and not use sensible information against me!”

“What fantasy world do you live in? Of course I’m using my status to dig up dirt about you and use it against you!” Asmus laughed with Silje. “I usually do it just for fun, but today it’s to get a smile out of this one.”

“Thank you, Mus. It does lift my spirits to hear about Nicolaj’s misery,” Silje admits before letting them all in and closing the door. “It’s a mess. That’s what you get for coming here unannounced.”

“Ehm, we did announce our coming, technically,” Ava argued. She threw her arms around her best friend’s shoulder and held her tight for a moment, until Laura got tired of waiting for her turn and simple joined in.

“I’m feeling left out here,” she said as an explanation. “Do you feel the love yet, Silje? Should we hug longer?”

What a group of nerds.



*



Silje couldn’t sleep. Her bloodshot eyes glared at her alarm clock, staring at the angry red numbers, watching them change. 1:12am.

She blinked slowly. 1:13am. Her alarm was set for 6pm, she had to get some sleep otherwise she would start dozing off in the middle of her presentation for her 8am class. Was it stress that kept sleep at bay? Or the fact that her bed was empty and cold?

All she wanted was a minute in Ivar’s arms, to feel warm and safe. A minute was all she needed to finally fall asleep. But her hand stretched up to the edge of the bed and still, there was nothing but her sheets and no Ivar. How much could one miss another person? She felt she would find out soon, because every day she clammed up a little more, what with the eerie silence and stillness of everything in her apartment.

It hasn’t been this quiet and lifeless in a long time. Every day when she came home from university only to find the place plunged in the dark and utterly silent, she wanted nothing more than turn back on her heels and leave it. Ivar was missing from the scenery, and from her life.

But even then, life didn’t stay on hold because Ivar wasn’t there anymore, and she had to deal with her problems alone. Grumbling to herself, Silje threw the duvet away and stood up, quickly wrapping herself in her fuzzy robe to fend off the cold. It was only early October, but Denmark had said goodbye to Summer a few weeks ago already.

In an attempt to think about something else than her dearly missed boyfriend or her upcoming presentation, Silje decided to change her bedsheets. Maybe clean linens would help her rest tonight, and if not then she wouldn’t have to change them in two days like she had planned. It took her a while, as per usual, because changing a duvet cover on a queen size bed on your own can be quite the ordeal, especially if you do it in the middle of the night in a zombie state like Silje.

Eventually it was done, and then Silje thought it was useless to go back in the fresh sheets if she wasn’t clean herself, and went to take a quick shower, hoping that the smell of her shampoo would soothe her enough to make up for Ivar’s absence. He always used the same shampoo as her, she even smuggled one into his suitcase without telling him, so he would have something from home while he was away.

She had never been one to depend on someone else. She never missed not sleeping alone before, she actually liked having a large bed all to herself, but now it just felt a little wrong. Did Ivar have the same issues? Did he lie awake at night and wish he could hold her instead of his pillow?

Mushy romantic thoughts aside, Silje did wish he missed her a little. And perhaps she also wished he couldn’t sleep tonight, no matter how selfish the thought. After wrapping her hair in a towel turban, she returned to bed and slipped under her soft, clean smelling sheets, feeling a new person.

But still, she didn’t fall asleep, and in a last attempt to get any shut eye tonight, she grabbed her phone and opened her messages. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard a moment, not knowing what to type or if she should type anything at all, but she eventually did and hit sent.

To Ivar: Are you asleep?

A silly question, she knew it. However, even just reaching out to him felt good and made her smile. He probably wouldn’t see the message, he must be sleeping. Hopefully waking up to this in the morning would make him smile, even just a little.

Her phone lit up.

From Ivar: No. Watching a movie… [Download file]

Silje’s eyebrows shot up, and that’s when she realized that she really didn’t expect him to answer. She just wanted to reach out. Her thumb slid on the file he sent. It was a picture of his computer sitting on his lap, with Gladiator playing.

From Ivar: Bad choice. Made me cry twice already.

A big smile crept on her face now, and she typed a quick response.

To Ivar: Want me to watch it with you? How far into the movie are you?

From Ivar: You have a presentation in the morning, you should sleep.

To Ivar: You have work in the morning.

From Ivar: Time zones tho.

A second message popped on her screen.

From Ivar: Okay fine, WE should be sleeping.

To Ivar: Why don’t you?

The bubble signalling her he was writing appeared, then disappeared. Silje waited a moment. It did it again, and this time she huffed when the bubble went away. The third time she saw it, she began to type too.

Her phone buzzed at the exact moment she hit sent.

To/From Ivar: I miss you.

Her face grew hot even though there was no one to witness her embarrassment, and she couldn’t do anything but stare at the identical messages. So, he did share her sleeping issues. She knew it shouldn’t make her glad, but it did a little and she couldn’t hold back a small, satisfied grin – he wasn’t there to see it after all.

Knowing they both suffered from the distance between them was comforting in a way, and she was sure he felt the same.

From Ivar: The place they gave me is very nice, but it’s not home.

Upon receiving this message, Silje’s mood changed altogether. From smiling to herself she went to fighting back tears. Reading those words tore a hole in her chest and made her feel his absence in her bones. She missed him so much! What follies she would do to be able to see him again right now.

Home. He considered her place like his home, and this thought alone was overwhelming enough, but Silje had to add to it the agony of missing him like a lost limb.

To Ivar: It doesn’t feel much like a home without you here.

From Ivar: Are you okay? Do you want me to call you?

If she concentrated a bit, Silje could hear Ivar say these words, she could hear the concern in his voice and see it in his eyes.

To Ivar: No, don’t call. I’m fine, just sleep deprived and emotional. I might cry if I hear your voice.

This time his answer didn’t come as quick, and she guessed he was trying to find something adequate to say. Maybe he too needed a moment to find the right words and not give in to the urge to get all sappy and romantic at this late hour where their brain functions were at their lowest. After two minutes or so the bubble came back.

From Ivar: I’m 20 min into the movie.

To Ivar: But you said you already cried twice??

From Ivar: I know, don’t mention it.

Smiling, Silje grabbed her laptop off the floor and put it on the bed, quickly finding the movie and starting it at twenty minutes.

To Ivar: I’m all set.

Silje buried herself further under her duvet and snuggled her pillow, feeling a bit warmer and fuzzier than before now that she had some company in her loneliness – even if it wasn’t what she craved at the moment, it was as much as she would get and she knew it. Knowing that Ivar was holding onto his phone and texting her in the middle of the night on a weekday, even if he was in another country, was comforting.

Her phone lit up again a minute later.

From Ivar: Have I told you I miss you a lot?

*



Silje stared at her macro-economics assignment with a deep frown on her face, and she was pretty sure that it glared back at her.

Life was going slow these days, as though she just hopped on a carriage after having driven a sports car for months. It was boring. Or maybe she was just done with university? True, she had thought that her classes would keep her busy enough to stop whining about Ivar’s absence and how much she missed him – her friends were endlessly grateful for that – but it became harder and harder as time went by.

The truth was that Silje wasn’t enjoying herself at all, and it worried her. She was a practical person, who put rational thinking ahead of her other impulses, then why did she feel more and more like she had wasted the last five years of her life doing something she didn’t even like?

Anyone would say that no one really enjoys their job, they just have to have one if they want to afford the life they want. She could get behind that, but did it mean that she had to spend her entire life doing the same, boring activities every single day? It got her thinking. But what was more: Ivar told her something shortly before he left, and it had been on her mind ever since.

She had been rambling about Ava’s new crush and how the girl always acted like the was the main character of a chick flick whenever she had a boy on her mind ; Ivar was sitting on the kitchen stool, watching her, listening quietly with a smile on his face, until she became self-conscious and asked him what he was looking at so intently.

“You,” he had said. “You’re fascinating.”

It had made her heart jump in her chest and the pink rise to her cheeks.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she had denied, looking away now that she was hot in the face.

“But I think you do. You like telling stories. You’re good with words, do you know that?” he had continued, grabbing a piece of red bell pepper and eating it.

“So what of it? Want me to become a bard and go from city to city to serenade pretty ladies in big hats?” she had teased him, slapping his hand away from the bowl of red pepper before he could grab another one. “Hands off, these are for dinner.”

“You should be doing something artistic,” he had suddenly blurted out. “I mean, I know you’re good at what you do, but sometimes it looks like it’s sucking the life out of you. You’re always stressed out. I can imagine you studying literature, art, fashion, be at a cooking school, I don’t know.”

She had bitten the inside of her cheek and pouted, pondering what Ivar said. He wasn’t in the wrong, but she had her reasons for not going off to live the dream and move to Paris, to the left bank of the river Seine.

“These things don’t pay, they are fantasy jobs,” she had argued, and Ivar grinned as if he had been expecting her to say that.

“Listen, I know it might sound rich, especially coming from me, but money isn’t everything.” Silje had been about to reply but Ivar had kept talking before she got a chance to. “You need to do something that makes you happy and creating makes you happy, I know it. It’s an outlet for the emotions you can’t voice. You’re just good at those things, you make things with love and it shows.”

To this, she didn’t have a counter argument, and she still didn’t.

Well done, Ivar. He had planted these words in her head and now they grew. There were little sprouts of “what if I dropped out and starting doing art?” growing in her mind. She had half a mind to fly all the way to Ireland only to grab Ivar by the shoulders and shake him like a tree for the way he had messed with her head.

Before he had said that, her life was perfectly clear: she had boring, practical skills that would land her a job at the end of her master’s degree, and pay her bills. What else was there to ask? Who even thought about silly concepts such as professional fulfillment? Ivar, apparently.

“Damn you, Ivar!” she cursed him, throwing her pencil away, out of rage.

The fool was right, of course. And she needed to figure out what to do now.

The black cloud hovering over her head dissipated when a friendly hand came to rest on her shoulder.

Hej!” she welcomed Ava.

Her friend smiled gently and sat down next to her in the library.

“What’d that pencil do to you?” she asked. Silje blinked when Ava placed said pencil on the table in front of her before taking out her laptop.

She had been sitting in the library for hours now, the sun was starting to set and the last rays hit Silje in her face through the blinds.

“Nothing,” she sighed and slumped back. “Just thinking ‘bout Ivar.” She distractedly twirled the pencil around, not looking at Ava – she didn’t need to, she knew her friend was rolling her eyes.

Bless Ava, she was the most patient friend in times of need. Though, everyone’s tolerance to other people’s whining had its limits, right? Ava reached hers six weeks and five days after Ivar’s departure. Which was two days ago, when Silje called her on the phone while sniffling in front of a kids’ movie, crying about how much she wished Ivar was here.

Even Silje knew she was pathetic; she needed to get a grip because soon, Ava would stop being nice, and start smacking heads.

“Colour me surprised,” she chuckled. “So tell me, what did dear Ivar do to get you so frustrated?”

“He told me to do what makes me happy.”

“Oh, I see. Very problematic. Can’t imagine where that comes from,” Ava answered.

“Stop being sarcastic, I’m serious!” Silje groaned and shot her a look. “I hate this, I’m overthinking everything he told me because he’s gone. Maybe I’m starting to lose it, that would explain it all.”

Ava’s laptop made a soft powering up whirring noise while both girls sighed in unison. They had gone over this topic what felt like a hundred times.

“You’re not crazy, you’re in withdrawal. I don’t know exactly how much time you spent with Ivar when you weren’t with us, but you clearly don’t know what to do with yourself now that he’s away,” she stated.

Silje was a bit shocked by how accurate a description Ava made of the situation, and it brought to the forth something else that had been on her mind…

“About that,” she started, fiddling with the pencil now. Ava’s eyes darted to the thing until Silje stopped and spoke again. “I think it’s time I tell you how Ivar and I met.”



*



Quite frankly, it had been a bumpy conversation that lasted well past the library’s closing hours and prevented any work from getting done that afternoon. It ended at the coffee shop round the corner, and Ava was practically buzzing both because of the amount of coffee she ingested and the shocking revelations Silje dropped on her.

Getting past the part where she had found Ivar, who was homeless, sleeping on a bench, and invited him, a homeless stranger, into her home for dinner and a night’s sleep, was hard. Ava kept interrupting her and pointing out all the moments where Silje could have been killed if Ivar had been a psychopath.

Silje hadn’t been drinking coffee, she was downing green tea by the liter to calm her nerves and stay open and understanding of her friend’s reactions. Only when Silje mentioned Ivar’s injury and his getting a job as soon as he was able to eased Ava’s worries.

“You are insane. I take back what I said earlier, you’ve lost it, completely.” She finished her coffee. “I don’t even know what to tell you now. I guess we’re well past the part where I give you the “be careful” speech because he’s just a stranger you picked up on the street. You guys are in a relationship, hell, you’ve been living together without me knowing! I am kinda mad about that, not gonna lie.”

“I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t approve!” Silje said to defend herself but realized too late that it was a bad point. “Well, I mean… I didn’t really know what I was doing in the beginning, I hadn’t planned on taking him as a roommate before he got beat up, and then he was there and I was stuck with a hot stranger on my couch, what did you want me to do? Throw away this chance to turn my life into a romance novel? That’s how they all start!”

“You’re always so down-to-earth, what happened?” Ava cried out in a hushed tone. “For Odin’s sake, you sound like me, and it’s not a compliment.”

“I get it, I do. But can we rather focus on the now? Everything worked out in the end, don’t forget that,” Silje said, pointing her finger toward Ava who fought back the urge to jump over the table and strangle her friend. Silje saw that. “Please, don’t be angry with me. I liked him, and once I had introduced him to you all, it became his secret to share.”

“What changed? Why are you telling me now?”

“Because… he’s moved on from that now. It’s in the past and no longer holding him back, at least I think so. He has a job, a place to live, he’ll continue his master’s soon. His life is on tracks now, and he can look back and laugh about the past, knowing he pulled through.”

Ava seemed to think about it. Her lashes fluttered a bit and she pursed her lips – a clear sign that she was conflicted. Silje kept quiet because she had been talking for the last three hours, her throat was on fire and she was sweating through her shirt. Was it the air in the coffee shop that was stifling or did Ava’s approval matter more than she thought it did.

“You know-” she started slowly, probably for suspens. “I like Ivar. He’s a good person, and he’s so in love with you that it makes us sick,” she stated as if it was nothing. Silje’s puzzlement was evident. “I suppose that I wouldn’t have been so inclined to welcome him in our group, had I known his past, so I can’t really blame you for hiding it from me. I can also understand that it wasn’t your secret to share, I can respect that you wanted to let him come clean when the time was right. But he didn’t.”

“Because it doesn’t matter anymore.” Silje had jumped in to defend Ivar without thinking. “It’s not who he is. It shouldn’t define the way people look at him, and that’s why neither of us said anything in the end – before now. And this should go without saying, but I’m trusting you to keep this to yourself.”

Now Ava looked very displeased.

“You can’t drop this bomb on me to relieve yourself of the weight of your secret and then demand that I keep it for you!” She sounded positively scandalized and ready to storm off.

“You’re my best friend, who the hell can I tell this if not you?” Silje replied, equally offended. “I knew you wouldn’t be thrilled to hear about this, but I thought you’d understand.”

“I understand that you have lost your mind because of some pretty boy!”

Silje swallowed her comeback and started blankly at her friend. A poor friend, as it turned out. If her closed off expression said anything, Ava must have understood it. The conversation had come to an end and it was time to leave before either of them said words they would regret later.

It was deadly silent and the air had become cool between them when Silje grabbed her bag and stormed off.

She power walked back to her apartment and threw herself face-first on the sofa, screaming into a couch cushion until she felt better. Then she kicked off her shoes, stripped and went directly to bed because it was late already, and she did not want to get lost in her seething thoughts under the shower.

It was a restless night of tossing and turning and angrily crossing her arms over her chest while cursing Ava. Then she thought back to what Ivar told her and cursed him too, for being away and not holding her in his arms after she fought with her best friend, for not being there to talk about her doubts concerning university.

Fuck, now she was crying. She wiped away the tears with such force that her skin burnt under her eyes and she bit hard on her lower lip to calm herself. She had become such a mess in the last few weeks, she didn’t recognize herself anymore. Where was the headstrong, independent woman she had grown into? Her parents would be ashamed of her behaviour. And Odin be damned, Ava was right, she had acted recklessly by letting a stranger into her home, she should have sent a safe message to all of her friends the second she invited Ivar into her apartment on julaften.

When she woke up the next day, her face was stiff because of the dried tears and she felt as awful as she looked. Today was Saturday, she had no business being up before noon, especially since she had come to the conclusion that her life was in complete disarray anyway – what was the point of being an early bird for the sake of it? To cease the day? Bullshit.

But a loud banging on her front door made her lift her head from her pillow. What was that now? Couldn’t a girl have a breakdown without being interrupted?

“Go away!” she shouted, though whoever was outside her apartment couldn’t possibly hear her weak protest through the closed door of her bedroom.

The banging didn’t stop, and so Silje grumbled and crawled out of bed, wrapping herself in a robe and combing back her hair with her fingers. She nearly lost a hand amidst all the knots.

“What do you want?!” she asked as she swung the door open.

It was Ava, who looked tired and sorry.

“Hej. You look like death,” she said as a way of breaking the ice after their fight.

“Right back at you.”

“I thought I should rip off the bandaid sooner than later, so I came here to apologize,” she explained with her usual down-to-business voice that she used when she didn’t want to get too emotional over something – like when she tried to explain the plot of Star Wars to someone who had never seen them without sounding like an absolute nerd.

“Apologies go well with freshly baked goods,” Silje pointed out, feeling merciless this morning – and hungry: she hadn’t had breakfast yet.

Ava knew her well, and she quickly opened a bag to show she didn’t come empty-handed. Silje nodded solemnly, granting her access to her home.

“You may enter.” She pushed the door wide open though she refused to smile until she extorted proper excuses from her friend. One should have a minimum of dignity.

“Please, Sil, don’t be like that,” she whined.

It seemed that she understood just how badly she had hurt Silje with her hurtful words and obtuse thinking last night. Silje’s arms were still crossed on her chest, to give herself countenance even though she wanted to hold Ava in her arms very badly and forget it all.

“I’m really sorry. I was so taken aback, I almost forgot to look at the bigger picture because I was worried about you. It doesn’t justify anything, so I brought you this, to make amends…”

She pulled a folded sheet of paper out of her pocket and held it between her fingers until Silje deigned taking it to look at it.

When she did, her eyes widened.

“Go see your boyfriend, Silje. And by all that is holy on this earth, stop with the pity-party. I just want you to be happy, and he clearly does a damn good job of it, so… that’s all I, or anyone else for that matter, needs to know about him.”

Silje threw her arms around Ava’s shoulders, taking great care of not wrinkling the printed plane ticket in her hand.



*



If this wasn’t the right building, she was truly lost. Her heels clacked on the pavement and the steady rumble of her suitcase’ wheels followed her steps. She pushed the heavy oak double doors and walked in. It wasn’t dark yet, so hopefully someone would still be there. This wouldn’t have happened if her plane hadn’t been delayed!

Now wasn’t the time to complain though, he would soon be there. Her eyes searched for a sign and fell on a small golden plate on the wall to her left. “Secretary’s office” it said. She followed it, happy to see there were arrows painted on the floor to help clueless people like her find their way.

One narrow door stood ajar and soft light came out of there. Gently, she knocked on the door.

“Come in!” A woman’s voice called.

Silje pushed the door wide open and stepped in, feeling like she was in high school and being called in the principal’s office all over again – it had been Nicolaj’s fault, he dared her to sneak into the boys’ locker room. Would there ever come a day she wouldn’t feel shy and guilty when talking to a figure of authority?

“Hi! I’m sorry for bothering you. I’m a bit lost I think,” she said as way of introduction.

“You’re not bothering me at all, dear, come on in,” she gestured her to sit down. “Where are you headed? You’re not from around here, you have quite the accent,” she observed with a warm smile.

She seemed to be in her fifties, her hair was already getting gray in some areas and she wore thin glasses.

“I’m from Denmark,” Silje told her to satisfy her curiosity. “I’m actually here to surprise my boyfriend. He works here as a teacher assistant?” she explained, trying to get a reaction out of the woman that would indicate she was in the right place. “His name is Ivar Lothbrok, could you point me in the direction of his room?”

“Oh dear! I’m not allowed to let a stranger wander around school property sadly. You come a bit late.” She looked embarrassed and sorry for Silje. “It’s the rules, I’m afraid.”

Silje’s face fell. So much for the surprise then. She had pushed off calling Ivar directly because she wanted to surprise him, but nevermind.

“I understand.”

“Wait. What did you say his name is?” the woman asked, obviously feeling sympathetic for Silje who had flown all this way to see her beau. The young woman’s face lit up again.

“Ivar Lothbrok. He works here part time as a history teacher assist. You must have noticed him if he’s been around here: quite tall, brown hair, blue eyes,” she described. “He should be living on school grounds.”

“Oh I think it rings a bell, let me check in the system.”

The woman pushed her glasses further up her nose and typed on her old keyboard. She was swift and seemed to know exactly where to look. A little smile soon appeared on her face.

“Oh yes, I see,” she hummed to herself. “He does work here, so you’re in the right place. However, I see here that he does indeed live on school property, which is why I still cannot let you go on your own. It is technically still a school day, and family and friends are only allowed on school grounds during the holidays, that is, starting tomorrow.”

Silje tried to follow her fast speaking rhythm – she wasn’t used to speaking english that much, especially not the irish accent.

“The best I can do is try to call him,” she offered, ever so kindly. “It’s the end of the day, he should be back in his quarters if we’re in luck.”

“Thank you so much! That would be wonderful! Don’t tell him that I’m here though,” Silje exclaimed gratefully.

She sent Silje a conniving smile and dialed the number. He seemed to pick up, which was a relief – she wasn’t sure she could hang around here much longer – and the woman made quick work of it, asking him to come over because she needed him to sign a paper. Then she hung up, and Silje took a sharp intake of breath.

“There you go, sweetheart. It’s the end of the day for me, so I’ll be leaving too. You can wait on the bench outside the office.”

That was a dismissal if she ever saw one. But she nodded and gave her thanks again. This woman had stayed a little longer at her office to accommodate a total stranger who wanted to surprise her boyfriend. She was allowed to shoo Silje out now that her good deed was done.

A grand total of five minutes after the woman locked the office, Silje heard footsteps coming this way and stood up from the bench, her race racing uncharacteristically. It must be Ivar! Her palms became a little sticky and she was more flustered than she cared to admit seeing her boyfriend again. It had only been two months since they parted ways, but on the other hand, it had been two whole, long months that she spent thinking about seeing him again.

She barely had the time to rub her hands against her dress and give herself some countenance before the double doors swung open, and in strutted a nonchalant Ivar, both hands in his pockets, whistling to himself like he didn’t have a care in the world. The hallway had been in the dark since Silje sat down because she hadn’t moved at all, but as soon as Ivar arrived the automatic light turned on and revealed the presence to his left.

He stopped in his tracks, Silje saw surprise and a bit of disbelief in the way he looked at her and shook his head as if he thought he was having a hallucination, but then he smiled. She smiled back, and her heart leaped at the sight of him.

“Silje?“ he asked, his voice fairly cautious but ecstatic still as he already took a first step towards her, a disbelieving smile plastered on his face.

Without saying anything Silje lunged forward and they met halfway, throwing their arms around each other and holding on. The rush of warmth and comfort that erupted inside her when she felt Ivar’s arms engulf her in a hug was indescribable. With her head on his chest, Silje heard his chest rumble as he laughed – at least he seemed happy to see her, even if she popped out of nowhere without giving any warning.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” he sighed, pressing a kiss to her temple but not letting go yet, not even enough to give her a proper kiss.

For now, he just needed to hold her a bit – gods he had craved holding her again for weeks now! At any moment someone might walk in on them, but he couldn’t care less, even if it was a student.

“You better start believing it,” she giggled, letting her hands fall down his back and onto his sides. She pulled back reluctantly; she wanted to see his eyes – and maybe his lips too. He smiled so wide and bright she was moved to tears. He really was happy to see her, and here she was worried she might arrive at a wrong time or mess up his holiday’s plans. “Kiss me like you missed me,” she told him.

Silje didn’t need to say it twice, Ivar grabbed her face and crashed his lips against hers in a split second, all too happy to accommodate her. They both smiled like total fools in love in the kiss, but they couldn’t care less about this somewhat awkward kiss. Silje’s hand slid up to his neck and grabbed a fistful of his hair to hold onto and she pulled him down even more, pressing him harder against her lips, urging him to kiss her deeper.

Instead he broke their embrace and placed a quick, feather-like peck to the tip of her nose, startling her.

“I did miss you,” Ivar admitted, smiling fondly at Silje and her rosy cheeks. “Let’s go to my place, shall we? We can’t be caught making out at my workplace,” he reminded her.

A little laugh fell from Silje’s lips when she realized she got carried away so quickly after seeing him again.

“Well at least you won’t be able to say I wasn’t glad to see you again,” she said, shrugging nonchalantly and turning around to go grab her luggage.

Ivar laughed, shaking his head – he had missed her antics and little innuendos – and he followed her, carried the duffel bag while Silje dragged the small suitcase behind her, and together they made their way to his apartment.

“I wanted to come knock on your door directly but the woman behind the desk said I couldn’t go there because it was on school property,” Silje said when they approached a big Victorian-looking building with an impressive number of windows and giant wooden double doors through which an elephant could no doubt fit.

“Yeah they actually gave me the building’s superintendent’s’ apartment, he retired last year so I’m getting his place – and his job too, I have to make sure the doors are locked after a certain hour and signal it to the administration if students sneak out,” he explained, holding the left door open to let Silje through.

“Which happens often?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He sighed. “You’d be surprised how creative these little shits can get when a night at the pub is at stake.” He rolled his eyes and lead her to a door at the back of the hallway, almost hidden behind the main stairway. “Here we are. Me casa es tu casa, you know the drill,” he told her.

Ivar unlocked the door but let Silje step in first, closing behind her and turning on the lights. He sucked in a breath and held it without really thinking about it while Silje silently took in her surroundings, looking around her.

The place was bigger than her tiny student apartment in Copenhagen, and much less stuffed with various unnecessary things such as the unreasonable number of blankets she owns, or the piles of books covering every single square inch of horizontal surface. It felt a little more… empty, but it was nice, clean, and it was Ivar’s.

For a week in her life, Silje would be living at Ivar’s place, and that was strange in an upside-down kind of way, but also thrilling. She wasn’t sure how she should behave because so far, she had been the one 'at home’, and for the first time she realized how odd it must have been for Ivar to spend all this time living under a roof that wasn’t his, sleeping on a couch, and basically squatting someone else’s place.

Now she understood with full force why he needed to leave Denmark, why he needed independence so badly. A tinge of guilt tugged at her heart when she remembered the way she first reacted to his news about leaving.

“I haven’t really taken the time to make it mine yet,” Ivar said behind her when the tension became too much for him to handle. This silence was too thick. “I meant to decorate a bit, but I just never got around to it.”

The bare walls and nearly empty shelves did scream 'a man lives here’ to Silje, which made her smile. The whole place looked rather old – not in a crumbling way, just as in a historic way. This was an old building and the inside reflected the outside. The walls were a dull shade of forest green, and every piece of furniture apart from the kitchen corner was in dark wood.

“What do you think?”

“I think you miss the Scandinavian minimalistic aesthetic,” Silje teased him, nudging him after they dropped her luggage. “You know, as long as there’s a little room for me in your life, I don’t really care what it looks like.”

“Oh yeah, I dare hope so, because it was a proper mess when we met,” he reminded her.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and lead her to the back, towards two closed doors. The house tour didn’t last long. Ivar opened the doors to show her where the bathroom was, then the bedroom, and that’s when Silje decided the tour was over.

She pushed him inside and told him she needed to take a closer look at the bed, because she couldn’t possibly form an opinion without trying it out.



*



Ivar’s phone lit up next to them for the third time in a row, making them both sigh. Silje sat upright and climbed off Ivar to go grab it and have a look at who was continuously interrupting their activities. He saw her frown at his phone, which had him on his feet faster that the speed of light.

“What does ’hey man, how’s she cuttin’? Don’t forget we going out on the lash and mottin’ with the lads tonight’ mean?” she asked slowly, as if she were reading an obscure foreign language, her brows still knitted together in complete and utter confusion.

Ivar’s groan, followed by a chuckle made her turn around, cocking a brow at him while waiting for a translation.

“I completely forgot I agreed to go pub crawling with my friends tonight,” he told her, rubbing his face.

Silje had been here for four days now, and to be frank, Ivar and her and done nothing but walk around town hand in hand, get lost in each other’s gaze to the point where they didn’t hear the voice of the waiter at the restaurant they were at, and then went back to his place to undress each other with more than their eyes.

He had tried to show her around, had taken her to museums, bookshops and fun attractions, but nothing in the world appealed more to Silje than her dear, handsome boyfriend, and so they clung to one another like their life depended on it, not caring what other people thought of their public displays of affection.

Today, Ivar had insisted on taking her outside of the city and into the gree nature of Ireland. She knew him well and expect as much, which is why she came with adequate shoes for climbing around muddy hills and sharp rocks. They were tired and sore, but not too tired and sore to end the day with a bang. However, the thought of having to go out again really didn’t sound appealing anymore, especially now that Silje was here, half naked, and Ivar had a semi-hard on from their heated make out session on his bed.

“I still don’t understand anything that’s in this message,” she told him, handing him his phone so he could answer.

“It’s dumbass for ’hey, what’s up? Don’t forget we’re going drinking tonight’,” he explained. “And mottin’ means women chasing. Cillian is feeling lonely these days,” he laughed when Silje sent him a nasty glare at the mention of their planned activity. “I’ll tell them I can’t come.”

Ivar was already typing when Silje snatched the phone from his hand.

“You can go,” she said. “You don’t need to babysit me, I’ll just read a book or watch a movie while you’re out.”

She had taken up so much of his free time already, she wouldn’t deny him a night out with his guy friends – the Norns know boys need their boyfriends.

“Nonsense!” he retrieved his phone. “Either I cancel, or you join us,” Ivar said, his tone final.

“But I don’t know them, and you had plans. I don’t want to intrude on your boys’ night or whatever these are called,” she insisted. “Also, it’s rude to cancel plans last minute.”

Ivar couldn’t hold back his smile when she gave him that motherly glare that meant he had to stick to his engagements.

“Alright, then you’re coming.”

“Ivar…” Silje started with a deep sigh.

“No, no, no you need to come. They need to see you’re a real person and that I haven’t made you up,” Ivar argued, holding onto Silje’s hand to pull her towards him. Silje’s eyebrow rose at that, an expression of confusion and amusement painted on her face.

“Your friends think you have an imaginary girlfriend?” Silje laughed when Ivar nodded. She pondered the thought for a short moment, leaving Ivar in waiting. “Well, then I guess I have to come.”



*



Needless to say, they didn’t make a quiet entrance. The moment Ivar stepped through the front door of their pub of choice, tailed by Silje who looked around in fascination, taking in her surroundings, a round a disbelieving cheers greeted them. Three boys around their age stood up and raised their glasses, so Silje assumed these were Ivar’s friends. By the gods, what have I agreed to?

Ivar did head towards the merry group, and he greeted each one of them while she stayed back, waiting for her turn. She was fascinated by everything around her. It struck her that the place was already filled to the brim with jul decorations, while also having a few pumpkins, glow-in-the-dark skulls and spider webs here and there for Samhain next week.

“Ivar, man! Ya boyo, why have'na told us ya were comin’ with such a fine thing?” one of them said, and although the sentence was dotted with words Silje didn’t quite catch, she did understand he thought her pretty.

“Shame on ya, Ivar! Don’t ya have a mot back home?” another one said, shaking his head in disappointed. Ivar was just about to protest and introduce her when the last one spoke up.

“Shrupp, ya dickbrains, can’t ya see the lady’s awaitin’?” The third one told them off and stood up to greet Silje.

All three spoke with heavy accents, rolling their r’s and using slang Silje had never heard before. Ivar caught her glancing at him for help, looking thoroughly lost. She ended up opting for attack as the best defence, before Ivar had a chance to step in and translate for her.

“Hi, I’m Silje. I’m gonna assume Ivar told you about me?” her Danish accent was a bit heavier than Ivar’s.

One of the boys at the table clutched his chest and exclaimed, “I’m in love!”

“Told us? It’s hard to make him shut up!” the other one declared dramatically, raising his pint to Ivar who glared at him.

“I’m Dean,” the one who had stood up introduced himself, and Silje shook his hand. “The love sick fool ove’ there is Cillian, and that’s Caleb.” Each of them waved their hand at her when Dean mentioned their name and Silje returned the gesture with a little smile.

“So you didn'a makeup that story, eh?” Cillian teased Ivar, elbowing him in the ribs.

“Havin’ ya girl fly all the way heyar just to prove us wrong is a bit much, innit?” Caleb added.

“Well, you didn’t give me much of a choice, now did you?” Ivar snapped back good naturedly shoving his friend in the shoulder.

Dean gestured Silje to sit on the bench next to her boyfriend before he sat down himself.

“Ivar told me I was quite the cryptid around here, so I jumped on the first flight to make a surprise appearance at the pub and freak out the locals,” Silje said, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. Now that she was here she had to make the best of it, and not shrink back on herself while the boys chatted the night away.

“'tis a good thing ya came, ya fella wouldn'a take that puss off his face because he missed ya so,” Dean told her, nudging her gently.

She stared at him with big eyes, then turned to Ivar who wore an amused expression. But he was once again interrupted before he could even start speaking.

“He’s telling ya your man missed the heck outta ya, girl!” Caleb said. “Ivar wouldn'a stop sulking and rambling about his amazing girlfriend,” he added with a grin that showed he was quite satisfied with himself for having both supplied Silje with a translation and having made Ivar blush.

“Alright, it was nice seeing you guys, we’ll go now,” Ivar declared but Dean sat steady and didn’t let him and Silje get up.

“Don’t get ye knickers in a twist, man! We’re just teasin’. Ya brought us a pretty lash, we’re intimidated,” Dean tried to calm him down.

Their exchange made Silje smile, and she rid herself of her coat to get more comfortable.

De fortæller mig ikke noget, jeg ved ikke allerede1,” Silje told Ivar, placing a hand on his arm. Her words seemed to have an effect on him, though his friends had no idea what she said, Ivar ended up nodding and shrugging off his jacket too.

“It’s like she’s speaking magic words,” Cillian told the others upon seeing Ivar’s annoyance melt like snow in the sun.

Kan du se hvad du har rodet os ind i ? Fortryder du det ikke?2” he asked her back, if only to bother his friends who didn’t understand a single word of Danish – thank the gods for that by the way.

Nej det gør jeg ikke,3” Silje answer with a triumphant smile. “Should we get drinks?”

Her question woke the others from their fascinated gawking at the couple speaking foreign words to each other and made them snap back to reality. Ever so reactive, Dean raised a hand to call for a waitress from their corner table. The place was packed with people – they chose a Friday night of all days to go out.

Soon as the waitress was there Cillian raised a hand.

“Five pints of brown beer, lovely,” he told her, making the girl smile.

“Oh wait!” Silje called her before she could scurry off to get their drinks. “Make it three pints and two glasses of white wine.”

The girl took note of the change of order and ran off.

“Christ, Ivar! Your mot been heyra for a couple hours and she’s leading ya by the nose already! Ordering fancy drinks, eh?” Caleb teased before downing the remaining of his beer to make way for the next one.

Silje blinked in slight confusion. She was leaning on the table with both elbows when she looked at Ivar, waiting for an explanation. He merely shrugged, but he was mistaken if he thought she was going to drop it and make it easy for him. He wanted her to tag along, he would have to own up to it.

“Why Ivar, haven’t you told your friends you don’t like beer?”

Her question was followed by a round of choked up screeches and a variety of downright offended protests. Meanwhile Ivar closed his eyes and groaned, causing Silje’s devious grin to widen even more.

“We’re in Ireland Sil, I wouldn’t have made any friends if I didn’t drink beer,” he grunted unhappily.

Silje nodded. It made sense of course, but she couldn’t pass up such an opportunity to tease him in front of his friends. It was usually the other way around since they spent a lot of time with her own friends.

She gave him a gentle smile and pushed a strand of his hair out of his face, effectively making the three boys at the table stop rambling about the beer thing, and start poking at Ivar for being such a sap when his girlfriend was here. He didn’t pay attention to them, and instead chose to enjoy the moment. For weeks now, he hadn’t had a moment like this, he could only dream of it. To have Silje sitting next to him for a drink, and not halfway across the world, should be something to appreciate to the full, regardless of the presence of his merry group of idiotic friends.

Jeg kan ikke vente til jeg har dig for mig selv resten af ugen,4” he whispered in her ear, making all three of his friends lean towards them in hopes to catch something even though it was all Chinese to them.

Throughout the evening, whenever Ivar said something only meant for Silje he switched back to Danish both because she wasn’t as comfortable speaking English as he was – especially the local slang that was difficult to grasp -, and because it was more private. His friends looked confused as all hell at first but after hearing the tone of their voice and seeing them smile at each other, Cillian came up with a theory.

“Ah, I see! You’re speaking that silly language of yours to talk dirty in public! I get it.”

Silje and Ivar both frowned and shared a glance.

“Man, that’s not at all what’s happening,” Ivar told him.

“Yeah, right,” his friend replied, giving them both a conniving wink as though he was now in on a secret.

“Don’t mind him. Han er lidt dum5,” Ivar told Silje, making her chuckle in her glass.

The pub crawl was adjourned due to Silje’s presence – not cancelled, never cancelled – and they decided to spend the night here instead. The place became even more crowded if that was possible, to the point where it was impossible to call for the waitress. All the staff was behind the bar, pouring drink after drink.

Silje volunteered to go get their next round of drinks and went to the bar. She hopped on a stool when one became available while she waiting her turn, her fingers tapping rhythmically against the sticky counter top. The waitress from earlier spotted her and yelled over the noise to ask her if she wanted the same. Silje nodded and smiled at the girl.

There weren’t many girls here tonight from what she could see. But there sure were a lot of inebriated men, as proven by the one trouble maker who elbowed his way towards her until he was leaning against the counter right next to her. Silje leaned in the other direction ever so slightly.

“What’s a ride like ya doin’ alone?“ he slurred, giving her a once over in an obvious manner, which suggested he meant it as some sort of compliment.

She scrunched up her nose and pretended she didn’t hear him over the noise, hoping he would take the hint and go away – though she was positive he wouldn’t take a hint smaller than her fist in his face. Maybe she should just do that from now on – hit first and talk later. A thought to ponder.

Silje wasn’t one to complain about slow service in any kind of place, be it a pub or a fancy restaurant, but these drinks sure took their sweet time to get to her. All the while the drunk guy attempted to flirt with her with as much subtleness as an elephant in a china shop. How much longer now?

From the other side of the room, Ivar stretched his neck to see where Silje was with their drinks – Caleb grew nasty when he didn’t have a cold one in his hand – and what he saw made his jaw clench. Seeing that beefy dude drool over his girlfriend made him glare holes in the back of his head and he stopped listening to the story Dean was telling him altogether.

She said something then, but the gods have mercy it only seemed to entice the guy even more, though she wore her disgust like a pearl necklace and shot him annoyed glances.

He felt his hand tighten its grip on his empty glass. He wished he could read lips because there was no hearing what they were saying over the ambient chatter, and he didn’t want to cause a scene for nothing even if he really wanted to get up and teach this asshole some manners. Ivar was left breathless by the force of his urge to mark his territory. Silje would flick his forehead if he ever voiced his instincts.

“Hey man, your mot in trouble?” Dean asked, finally taking notice of Ivar’s change of mood and following his gaze. “That chump acting the maggot. Go get her.”

Silje exchanged a few more words with the stranger, no smile in sight as she pulled away slightly when he scooted closer. Then she turned towards the table and pointed right at Ivar. Good. This fucker needed to know she was taken. Happily taken. Now he better back off or the gods have mercy on him because Ivar won’t.

He was ready to storm across the room at the slightest hint of distress on Silje’s face. But when Silje saw the look of rage on her boyfriend’s face her expression softened a bit and she raised her palm discreetly. He blinked, then looked back at his friends and dropped the frown on his face, forcing his rage down.

“Nah. S'all good. She can handle herself,” he told his friends to their utter bewilderment.

A second ago he looked like he was ready to stab the guy in the throat and now he acted like it didn’t even bother him to see his girlfriend being hit on. He stared a little harder than he normally would at his empty glass and couldn’t help glancing towards the bar every other ten seconds, but he calmed down.

This was her sign. The little hand gesture. He knew it meant she had things under control. He didn’t need to come to her rescue - even if he damn well felt entitled to and it itched him greatly to sucker punch this idiot. He trusted her, Silje wasn’t overconfident in her skills or reckless at all. If she sensed actual danger coming from this guy, she would call him. After another while of tense silence between the guys where everyone was staring at the exchange except Ivar who glared at his glass like it was guilty of something, his suffering came to an end.

His back muscles relaxed as soon as he felt her familiar gentle hand on his shoulder. She laughed when she felt him literally melt under her touch. She expertly set down the plate of drinks she held with one hand, and joined Ivar on the seat bench, pressing into his side and snuggling him a bit despite the very public space to reassure him.

“Good thing you got rid of that wanker,” one of Ivar’s friends chuckled in his glass. “Ivar was about to pop a vein.”

“I would have popped his head like a champagne bottle,” Ivar countered, scowling and leaning back with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I know you would have, but I like to try solving situations my way before letting you maim anyone who dares look at me.”

“This is about that guy at the park this summer,” Ivar groaned and rubbed his face. “I thought we wouldn’t bring it up again.”

This triggered his friends to ask a lot of questions what exactly went down last summer at the park, and Silje happily obliged them and told the whole story, much to Ivar’s despair. It wasn’t even his fault; the other guy had started it.

The gang and them were out for the day, enjoying the sun. And some dude at the park kept losing his ball while playing volleyball with his friends and it somehow always ended up at Silje’s feet. Ivar’s patience ran out after the fifth time and he threw the ball back full force. It hit the guy in the face so hard it sent him stumbling backwards and falling on his butt. Their friends laughed but Silje didn’t.

She finished her story with a fond smile on her lips, looking at Ivar with such whole-hearted tenderness that it melted the frown right off his face. She leaned back into him.

“Next time a guy hits on me I’ll punch him in the face, promise,” she whispered to in his ear. Then she grabbed her glass and the boys carried on their conversation like nothing happened. “Oh look, they have-” Silje stopped and visibly searched for a word, snapping her fingers as if to summon it. “Ivar, hvad hedder dartspil på engelsk?” she finally gave in, turning to her boyfriend.

“A dart game,” he provided, and Silje snapped her fingers again, this time in victory.

“Yes! A dart game. Let’s play darts,” she said, waiting to see if the boys would agree to her challenge.

“I can’t accept, it would break me heart to crush ya at a game,” sighed Cillian as if it was a sacrifice on his part in the name of chivalry.

“Can’t hand their asses to pretty girls like ye,” Dean agreed with his friend, drinking the last of his beer and chuckling to himself while Ivar’s grin grew wider and wider. Silje saw it and smirked a little.

“If you’re scared of losing it’s alright, I understand you don’t want to lose to a girl in public,” Silje said nonchalantly, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to let slide this blow to their ego. Boys were so terribly easy to manipulate, it was a wonder the human race survived so long.

As expected from a bunch of young men slightly drunk off beer, they all immediately puffed out their chest and stood up, accepting her open challenge while claiming they wouldn’t be held responsible for her crushing defeat. Only Caleb seemed to sense there it wasn’t a good idea and remained by Ivar’s side.

Ivar leaned back and kept smiling to himself like an all-knowing Cheshire Cat. He followed Silje but declined the invitation to participate – he knew better.

“No mercy, Sil,” he told her with a wink. “I’m going to sit this one out and enjoy the show.”

The two of them watched Silje slowly but surely crush Dean and Cillian’s self-confidence with each dart she threw exactly where she intended. The two boys lost their mind – along with a fair amount of people who watched the game, one beer in hand, placing bets – and quickly understood their mistake. That’s what they get for underestimating girls.

Silje never lost her grin and she scored more and more points.

“Ivar, ya jammy client6,” Caleb mumbled in his beer, nudging Ivar in the ribs to get his attention.

He had been entranced by Silje’s gleeful smile and lethal aim. Yeah, he sure was the luckiest man alive.

*



It was already time to say goodbye and they both hated it though they knew it was coming. The wind was blowing strong, the sun wasn’t even up yet, it was dark and cold and yet neither of them wore gloves because they needed that skin-to-skin contact just a while longer.

Soon, they would be able to wear gloves again as they wouldn’t see each other until jul. At least this time, it wasn’t a vague goodbye with no idea when they would meet again. Ava’s part in their little reunion was much, much appreciated and Ivar would need to thank her, but they had arranged their next meeting ahead of time this time.

No surprise visit, no wandering about on school property to find the right building; Ivar would go two hours early to the airport and wait for Silje with a cheesy note written on a poster that he’d hold very high for her to spot from a distance once she had collected her luggage. She was going to hate it, he thought, amused.

“The bus is coming,” she said, spotting the headlights coming round the corner of the street.

She squeezed Ivar’s hand and turned to him, her eyes glowing under the streetlight and looking a bit too glossy for Ivar’s liking. If she so much as shed a tear, he wasn’t going to let her leave. He didn’t care about the consequences, he would pull a proper kidnapping and keep her all to himself, screw Denmark.

“I wish I could come with you,” he said, cradling her face and kissing her softly. Their lips were still swollen from all the kisses they exchanged these last few hours. One would think they were never going to see each other again instead of parting for roughly two months.

Ivar couldn’t escort Silje to the airport because he was working today, bright and early; he could only walk her to the nearest bus station and wave her goodbye until she was out of sight.

The bus stopped and the doors opened: it was time.

Jeg vil savne dig7,” Silje whispered before leaving.

Jeg elsker dig8,” he answered.

Right before the doors closed on her, he stole one last kiss and felt her smile against his lips.

 

 

TRANSLATIONS

1They aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know.

2See what you got us into? Any regrets yet?

3No, I don’t.

4I can’t wait to have you all to myself for the rest of the week.

5He’s a little dumb.

6Lucky bastard

7 I’ll miss you.

8 I love you.