The drakkars docked at the pier and a horde of shrieking and howling men launched themselves off the longboats on the wooden dockside; carrying coffers and yanking along a column of strange featured people with ropes around their wrists. There were women welcoming back their husbands, their dresses and long skirts making powder dance in the air with every step of the wives’ patter.
The sight before Steve was not at all uncommon, the icy blue sky over them and the deep blue one of the sea disrupted by the noises of happy, delighted men. He counted the arrival as the third of the day and pushed a piece of dried fruit into his mouth, chewing lazily his food and savoring the sweetness of it prickling on his tongue, in the back of his mouth and down his throat.
Steve hummed at the sight of long, blonde hair swishing not far from where he was seated; and ducked his head at the right angle to follow the path of the maiden’s spine downwards, up to her rear.
“By Odin’s beard, are you in flesh and bones or am I looking at a specter?” Steve turned towards the source of the voice and his tensed up features, together with the previous sly gaze disappeared from his face the moment he recognized the woman standing in front of him.
“Natalia Sigurdsdóttir,” Steve greeted in between the turmoil the other men were producing, “the woman of the King.” He called, a witty smile painted on his dark crimson red lips.
The two shared a rather, yet powerful, hug – it was more like a peaceful clashing of a body against the other – cloaks flapping against each other in the process.
“I was losing my hope and starting to think the King never wanted to let you go. Keep you at his side forever.” Steve commented, once a safer distance was put in between them. “Seated at his table, eating delicious meals and drinking expensive ale – how that pigswill taste like?”
Natalia shook her head, reddish braids falling back from her shoulders. The woman let out a quiet chuckle, while hoisting a sack on her back.
“Ah, you know what they say,” she replied, beginning to walk beside Steve all the way towards the dry land, “Close to the King, close to the gallows.” She finished, raising her hand to pat Steve’s shoulder twice.
Steve nodded his head in agreement, his lips strained in a smile.
“What did you bring this time?” He inquired, briefly eyeing the crew, still fumbling and rummaging through the chests and what appeared like new slaves.
“The usual,” She replied, “North Wales is not that generous with us poor barbaric people.”
They both laughed at the words used from others to call them and made their way farther into the village.
“We missed you on this expedition, Steve,” Natalia said, shrugging down the sack, right in front of a hut’s entrance. “You should consider sailing again.”
“Never been a man for sailing.” Steve replied, shortly.
The woman grabbed his forearm with a steady, firm hand and gave it a squeeze.
“But a man of war, that’s what you are.” Natalia muttered, before letting go of Steve and slamming her fist three times on the closed door of the hut. “And the war is near, my friend, Tyr is coming and he’s livid and aching to see our foes’ blood shed.” She resumed talking, voice pitched high and green eyes full of what was close to insanity.
The wooden door of the hut swung open, a child looked up at them.
“You are crazy,” Steve said in a huff of laughter. The woman before him bent over to hold the child in his arms, kiss her cheeks and adjust her blonde hair behind her little, pink ears, “there’s no war coming and you, my friend, need to stop drinking that poison the King has been giving you for the past weeks.” Steve uttered in all his honesty, even though through a small laughter, watching as Natalia’s daughter seemed to stay quiet and calm in between her mother’s arms. A feeling Steve had never experienced while being held by any member of his family.
Just the memory, the feeling of arms around his body, was revolting, repulsive. Yet, Aslaug was content in the arms of a woman who had killed men and women with no hesitation.
“What can you tell me about the others?” Aslaug tightened her tiny arms around her mother’s neck, not moving her eyes elsewhere but on Steve.
The warrior’s eyes moved on the face of his companion, icy.
“Still karls, after King Halfdan united these lands under his dominance there’s very little space for a jarl to raise his head.” Steve took a brief intake, before starting again, “The last one was your father.” He replied, clenching his jaw and feeling his teeth almost gritting under the pressure he was forcing upon them.
“My father brought devastation and poverty,” Natalia spat on the ground and grabbed the sack again from the doorway, “Aslaug, say bye to Stewan.”
The child’s little hand waved at him slowly and Steve blinked, as his sight started to get fuzzy and disjointed; Natalia and her daughter were blurry in the timid light of the sun, their figures were confused before Steve’s eyes and he felt a droplet of sweat running cold down his spine, under the garments.
Natalia took a step inside, before turning again and say, “Bucky was on the drakkar with us, didn’t you see him on the pier?”
Natalia’s words, which had seemed too difficult for Steve to comprehend, were now suddenly clear to his ears.
His friend, the best man a jarl could have counted upon on battlefield, the only man Steve trusted. Bucky. His Bucky.
Steve stared at her, blinking again, quicker this time – how could it be possible he had not seen him?
The woman snorted, completely unaware. “May Thor strike me with his thunderbolts if I’m not speaking the truth, Steve –” Natalia pressed Aslaug to her chest, as if to protect her. “– that man is a ruthless, bloodthirsty bastard.”
Steve kept his eyes on Natalia’s features, seeing how her mouth shaped itself around the words she was saying, but he was not listening to any, not even paying attention.
He did not recognized if she was talking about the king or any other man.
Steve’s mind was somewhere else.
Steve quaffed the mead contained in his horn and observed Bucky from the other side of the fire, the fur hooded cloak protecting him from the cold of the northerly waft threatening to rage later during the night.
He took his time to look at Bucky properly, trying to find anything that could have changed since the last time he had seen him: naked underneath the fur covering half of his body, eyes closed and lips parted, still swollen from all the kisses Steve had made love to them with.
Bucky stared back, his icy sapphire, sunstone-like eyes shimmered in the light of the camp fire for the others to see, but – a crackle of twigs, and the tongues of fire revealed the intense ogle concealed underneath that piercing gaze.
They had not seen each other for months and Steve had stopped counting them the moment he began to lose track of the time and not even the runic calendars could help him. But he had missed Bucky; him and his voice, his dazzlingly skilled hands and the low rasp of his voice in the shell of his ear at the night, in the turf house, where no one could find them, where they were free to love each other gently, quietly; wanton and loving hands everywhere, warm and plush lips pressing, fighting against each other. Mouth to mouth, hips to hips.
Steve had missed everything.
“Going to stare all night long?” Bucky asked. The others around them were way too busy laughing and wassailing to pay them any attention.
Steve noticed the tensed features of the other man relax, even if just a bit, when he smiled in return, “didn’t think you’d come back.”
“Wanted me dead?” Bucky retorted, eyes narrowing at his own words.
Steve flicked out his tongue briefly, just past his lips, to lick them and savor the sweet taste of the mead on them, “wanted you back,” he whispered, smartly.
Bucky’s eyes sparkled in the light of the fire again and they suddenly turned out to seem wider, the most beautiful thing Steve had ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
In the eyes of the others, Bucky was nothing but a respectable commander and raids’ leader who would have given everything and anything for his cause. He was not just a leader for them, he was the leader, a man for sailing, a man sent by the gods themselves to lead the most magnificent expeditions. In Steve’s eyes, Bucky was the only man he could ever think he would ever love.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Bucky prompted, standing up and holding his horn high, “it’s been a positive day. We came back from the expedition to Gwynedd, we have slaves and gold and gems and other precious stones in abundance to gladden our hearts, but–” Bucky turned, his eyes now set on Steve and that usual, playful twinkle was alive and cheerful in his clear eyes, “– it’s time for me to leave you to your revelries.” He added, then made a brief pause, before speaking again, “you’re free to choose your slaves as you please.” He said then in a darker and lower tone, in the outburst of merry screams and shrieking noise coming from the others.
“Skål.” Bucky said, rising the horn to his lips, gaze still firm on Steve.
The other men echoed Bucky’s words before drinking.
Steve took a final sip from his horn.
The turf house was not far from there. Fortunately for both of them, though, it was rather isolated from the rest of the farms surrounding the land.
The garments Steve was wearing and the prickly cloak of fur were now resting on the ground, scattered all around the pallet and forgotten.
The back of his thighs was pressed against Bucky’s hips, moving at a deep and fast pace, they were snapping forward, burying his body inside Steve’s. Bucky kept going on, until Steve’s arms started to strain even more underneath him, his strong and muscled arms trembling with the effort of bracing his body up for Bucky to take.
Bucky kept a hand on the small of Steve’s back, pushing him down on the furs, his thumb occasionally trailing down to the crease of his lover’s rear up to where they were connected.
It all was a blur to Steve’s eyes – the rare moments in which he managed to keep them open – and a buzz into his ears, his mouth hanging open and gaping into the furs; back arching under Bucky’s hands to the point of pain.
Bucky leaned down, pushing his hips forward while bringing his thrusts to a halt and reached around Steve’s waist with an arm to keep him still. He nuzzled into the quite longer hair at the back of Steve’s head, right where his hand had now found its place, entangled through the damp locks. He tugged at Steve’s hair, yanking his head back, – a gentle movement despite all the force he had showed him moments before – and, “you’re beautiful,” he whispered into Steve’s ear, before biting down on the small portion of skin he had just bit and kissed crimson red.
Steve’s lips parted in a smile, only to get cut off a split of second later in a soft sound, when Bucky buried himself into him with a final, deep thrust; eyes shut for a moment and a low groan in the back of his throat.
“Don’t move.” Bucky demanded, still catching his breath, the moment Steve started to squirm underneath his weight.
Steve’s arms trembled some more and his knees finally gave in, making him go limp down onto the pallet.
“Get off.” Steve mumbled into the furs.
Bucky let out a chuckle against Steve’s sweaty skin on the back of his neck. “I said, don’t move.” He repeated, before grabbing a hold of both Steve’s spent and tired arms and pinning them down on the mattress, just above his head.
“Do you love me, Stewan?” He asked, kissing up to the back of Steve’s earlobe. “I do, I love you.” Bucky said, then, not waiting for a reply.
Steve shifted uncomfortably under him. “I –” a groan cut off his voice, as Bucky gently moved to get off of him, “I do.” He responded, utterly defeated and already feeling his eyelids heavy.
Aware of Bucky’s now soothing hands on him, Steve adjusted on his back, muscles straining and screaming to get rest, except they melted under Bucky’s following ministrations.
The heat spreading through his veins and chest was like the one he liked to imagine he would feel once in Valhalla; and his back arched on its own accord, tired muscles holding it up for the time Steve needed, and then it rested flat against the pallet once again, every fiber of his body radiating satisfaction.
Sunstone-like eyes stared down at him, a pair of wet and plush lips smiled at Steve’s glassy blue eyes.
“I missed you.” Bucky said, adjusting himself in between Steve’s soft thighs and kissing him open-mouthed.
Steve kissed him back lazily and wearily, letting Bucky take the lead and following the motions of his tongue in the velvety insides of their mouths.
An elbow dipped into the furs was bracing Bucky, so that his body weight was not entirely on Steve, and a hand cradled the latter’s cheek, thumb caressing the cheekbone.
The paint on Bucky’s upper arm had grown and somehow thrived, patterns and runes were decorating his skin, from his forearm up to his shoulder.
Steve blinked, slowly, and swallowed. “Who did that?” He asked in a whisper, hand raising from the pallet to brush Bucky’s arm and trace the pattern of a rune.
“Sigurd did, just after we sailed from Gwynedd.” Bucky replied, glancing at Steve’s fingers on him. “Does this bother you?”
Wood crippled into the hearth not so far from them, giving Bucky’s eyes that particular twinkle Steve had fallen in love with the first time.
No matter how many seas Bucky would witness, Steve was sure the most amazing blue was the one Bucky held into his eyes, jealous it might escape.
“You are a free man, Bucky.” Steve reminded him, a soft smile painting itself on his still kiss swollen lips.
Bucky did not reply. Instead, he hid his face inside the crook of Steve’s neck, pressing his nose into the hot flesh and nuzzling into it, only to pepper kisses all over the delicate surface of his lover’s throat, right above his Adam’s apple. He sucked the skin into his mouth, just the right amount of teeth grazing against it, before releasing and watching it glisten in the light of the fireplace through his dark eyelashes.
Steve closed his eyes in response, baring his throat even more, offering it for Bucky to mark and kiss; giving in to the sparkling and tingling sensation at the base of his tired back.
Then, Bucky moved an inch from Steve’s neck, and resumed speaking.
“Sigurd’s expedition has been a blessing by the gods, because –” he placed a sweet kiss under Steve’s earlobe, “– I may have brought us something from Gwynedd.” Bucky whispered, almost singsonged, on the skin of Steve’s neck and Steve fluttered his eyes open at the words, eyeing Bucky’s dark hair close to him.
“Come on in, litill ulfr.” Bucky said, then.
Steve turned his head to the left, where Bucky had sneaked a mischievous glance a moment before.
He gazed into the darkness, narrowing his eyes to take a better look: there was a shuffle of feet against the ground, as if whoever had just been called had some severe problems at walking steadily and Steve’s body jerked upright, sitting up.
A man stood in the penumbra near them, little and delicate hands, tiny body-shape, his eyes and hair dark – but not quite like Bucky’s; they were dark as a raven’s plumage, black as Fenrir’s fur.
There was no wonder that man could not manage to walk properly on his own: both his hands and ankles were cuffed, a chain linked a limb to the other and there, the skin was rough and shiny with fresh blood; a clear sign the man had been trying to free himself.
“Ah,” Bucky exhaled, looking up at him, “I called him Halfdan, as the King – may he die soon.” He said, getting up from the pallet in all his glorious nudity. “And he will be ours, since–” he pretended to think about his own words, reaching up to the man’s back and shoving him forward towards Steve forcefully, “– the very moment I decided to gift it to you.”
The poor thing stumbled upon his own feet and landed on the ground with a loud noise. Steve saw and heard him exhale a whimper as he hit his shoulder and all his body followed with its weight, collapsing down on itself.
“You must be crazy,” Steve erupted, glancing down at the man and forcing his straining muscles to react and get up to help him, “you know I don’t want such a thing, what were you thinking? I will not – we will not let him stay here, Bucky, I’m not one of the beasts you go on expeditions with.”
Bucky remained silent, watching as Steve helped the younger man to stand back on his feet. Steve examined him, from his naked limbs to his barely covered chest and thighs and then searched for his gaze, black and distant eyes that slid over Steve’s shoulder, before the man turned his head to side, as if to prevent Steve to look at him.
“See? He’s just as ungrateful as a wild horse.” Bucky considered, walking closer once again. “We keep him.” He claimed, once he was close enough for Steve to hear him clearly. The man’s eyes were just like the ashes in the hearth, charcoal and illuminated by the fire’s light. Beautiful.
Bucky kissed Steve, all teeth and lips and fierce sweetness, exactly as he was, in the same way he showed Steve his love.
Steve followed Bucky walking around the house with his gaze, a little far from they were and covered back himself in furs. Hospitality and kindness was something his parents had always taught him, since he was a child and he did not want to share his wooden toys with his siblings. Being a brute, as the other reigns liked to call him and his people, didn’t mean he was really one.
In fact, Steve had always liked to think something else about himself – as arrogant as it could sound – he wanted to think he was not like the men Bucky used to sail with. Desperately, he wanted to think he was anything but a brute and plunderer. In reality, Steve never loved sailing or going to war much more than necessary. Raids and murderers were not the things he liked the most.
“Can you understand me?” Steve asked in a whisper, eyeing the litill ulfr and seeing him shaking visibly due to the coldness of the night.
It was, indeed, a cold night, but still nothing Steve and Bucky – or really, everyone at the village – could not stand. On the other hand, that man was from a foreign land.
Though he did not reply, his eyes moved up to Steve’s face for a brief moment and his lower lip, split to the side with blood clotted over the wound, quivered.
There were more of those wounds and bruises strewn all over the man’s body: on his temple, cheek, neck and collarbone, not to mention the nasty looking scrape he was showing around his wrists and ankles.
Steve guessed it was due to the treatment the men had reserved him along the way.
“Alright litill ulfr,” Steve said again, watching over his back to see where Bucky was, “let’s start from removing these chains.” He tried to use his calmer and softer tone, as he extended his arms to reach the man’s wrists in front of him.
The litill ulfr jerked away with a clinking noise and Bucky narrowed his clear eyes in the distance. He didn’t utter a word while Steve managed to start working his hands over the cuffs and the linked chains to free their new slave.
Bucky brought a horn to his lips and sipped the liquid inside, marveling at the rather soft curves the younger man seemed to show even more now, from under his tunic.
“He needs to bathe.” He stated, then, striking the complete silence.
“You need to shut up.” Steve replied, sharply.
Bucky ignored it, but he noticed, he saw the litill ulfr’s mouth twitching imperceptibly at Steve’s words, as if he was amused by the reply. He mirrored the expression, red lips stretching slyly, before resting again on the horn.
To say the truth, Tony – or the litill ulfr as they liked to call him, did not know what that was supposed to mean. That language was almost a total stranger to his ears, unused to the sound of it. If he could have compared it to something, he would have said it was like touching a rough piece of clothing, itchy under the skin of his hand.
As far as Tony knew, the norsemen’s language was taught in all Gwynedd and in the rest of the country only to the King’s offspring.
He looked down at the chains, when the other man withdrew his hands from him. They were now abandoned on the ground, right where they belonged.
When the other two men spoke again one to the other in their language, Tony felt a swelling warmness growing and spreading through his entire body as his ears could recognize some of the words spoken around him.
His body trembled again against his own will, as a new and cool shiver ran down his spine. His heart pulsed in the wound on his mouth quickly, unforgiving, reminding him of its bruising existence.
Though now a slave and a repelling feeling in his mouth, Tony knew those discarded chains at his feet didn’t belong around a prince’s wrists.
They did not belong to him.