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Omniscient Monks and Irish Drunks

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In Finan’s defence, the whole scenario regarding Sihtric’s wife had been rather amusing. And if Father Beocca, a man of the cloth, could make jokes about it well… that more than made it acceptable for the rest of them too. He (and the others, he’d like to point out) had assumed that the marriage wouldn’t make it to the year mark, and Sihtric would learn a valuable lesson about not falling in love with whores and be all the more mature for it. Except the marriage endured. And Sihtric remained hopelessly in love with a woman who still made her living sleeping with other men. It was around the point when Sihtric happily announced the birth of his son, Wilfred, that Finan reluctantly realised it was time to take this seriously.

“Sihtric? What’s your wife’s name?” Finan asked him one day as they returned back to Wintanceaster, deciding he should probably know that at least.

Sihtric understandably looked more than a little hurt. “Sigeburg. How do you not know?”

“I, ah, forgot. Must’ve been hit on the head one too many times. Time for a helmet, eh?” Finan didn’t have the heart to tell him that he tended to blank out whenever Sihtric talked about his wife.

Sihtric hit him. Just hard enough to make a point.

“Alright alright.” Finan held his hands up in apology.

“You should stay with us for a while.” Sihtric offered. Finan knew the offer was genuine, and came from a good place, but he could think of nothing worse than spending his nights listening to a screaming baby. Except, perhaps, listening to a screaming baby mixing with the sounds of Sihtric and his wife humping.

“I think I might find a whore of my own.” Finan replied. “I’m sure Osferth would just love to take you up on your offer though.” He added, with a sly look back at the monk.

“I would not.” Osferth said amicably.

“Come for food, at least. Sigeburg is always asking about you both.” Sihtric said.

“Probably wondering if she could get another customer or two.” Finan muttered to Osferth, who hushed him. “Alright, we’ll come for food. And ale.” Finan said at a normal volume. “But I’m warning you, as soon as that boy of yours starts howling, I’m out of there.”

****

Finan was almost disappointed that Sigeburg didn’t make any sort of advances towards him that he could have used to show Sihtric the folly of his marriage, but ultimately he was too full of food and ale to care. Sihtric certainly seemed overjoyed to be reunited with his wife, and if young Wilfred did seem fairer of hair then was to be expected of one of Sihtric’s blood well… what would be the harm in leaving that particular line of thought alone. Ridding Sihtric of a wife who whored behind his back was one thing, but taking away a child was too much. So Finan let it be, and tried to be respectful of Sihtric’s relationship, but over time the old jokes crept back.

“I’ll stop saying she’s a whore, when she stops being a whore.” Finan drunkenly told Osferth one night as the monk manhandled him out of an alehouse.

“I think you care about this a bit too much.” Osferth told him, dunking Finan’s head in a nearby water trough. Finan happily shoved Osferth’s head in afterwards to see how he liked it. Not a great deal, it seemed.

“The rumour amongst the women of the night is that she had another child while we were away. A ginger one. Sent to the Church.” Finan told Osferth once the other man had stopped spluttering.

“And?”

“A ginger one, Osferth. There’s no way Sihtric would have a ginger child. Look at him. And, if it was Sihtric’s why would she give it up to the Church?” For some reason, Finan decided it was highly important to press the point.

Osferth sighed. “Lots of parents give children to the Church. And lots of Danes have red hair: it’s in their blood.”

“Why are you defending her?” Finan was moderately outraged, which was perhaps the fault of the barrel of ale he drank, but was mainly the fault of Osferth defending a cheating whore.

“Why do you care? He’s happy, Finan, leave him be.”

“I care, because Sihtric deserves someone better than a woman who takes his silver, and his kindness, and his home, and still humps other men for money. She’s using him, Osferth. Sihtric’s too good for her.”

Osferth gently propelled Finan back to their room at the inn. “I think you’re just jealous.”

Finan snorted as he fell face first onto his bedroll. “I don’t need to pay for my women.”

“I didn’t mean jealous of Sihtric.” Osferth said quietly.

“Hmmm?” Finan mumbled, already giving in to unconsciousness.

“I said God bless you.” Osferth gave him a nudge with his toe. “Now don’t go throwing up in the night.”

****

It’s years later, when it came to selling any jewellery they had for food and horses that Finan felt a twinge of regret for the way he’d always talked about Sigeburg. Sihtric was wearing the expression of a puppy left outside in the rain as he took the wedding band off his finger to add to their collection, but was as stoic as ever and didn’t protest. More worrisome was that he didn’t even respond with a joke or a shove as he normally would have when Finan warned him not to spend their money on women: he just silently walked off in the direction of the nearest settlement. Finan pondered on it for a moment then ran after him.

“Look, don’t sell your ring. It’s not going to make that big a difference to what we can get. Keep it.” Finan told him. To his surprise Sihtric shrugged.

“I will sell it.”

“Look, Uhtred losing Beocca… I just think now’s not the time to go throwing away what little you have to remind you of your family.” Finan playfully ruffled Sihtric’s hair in an attempt to liven the other man’s mood. “Maybe sell some of that lovely hair of yours instead.”

Sihtric battered Finan’s hand away. “I said I will sell it. My marriage is long dead anyway.”

Sihtric turned and carried on his walk, leaving Finan more than a little confused. Certainly, Sihtric “I have a wife” Elflaedsson might have been unusually quiet on the subject of his wife recently, but proclaiming that the marriage was over was another thing entirely. Especially when he’d said not a word of it to any of them.

“Wait wait wait.” Finan once again jogged to catch up to Sihtric. “You’re going to have to do just a little bit of explaining here. When did this happen?”

“Around a year ago, perhaps more. When I arrived home to find her in bed with another man.” Sihtric didn’t stop walking.

“A year? Jesus, Sihtric, why didn’t you tell us?”

“There was no need.”

“No need? Sihtric, we’re your friends.” Over the years, as their friendship grew, Finan had got into the habit of telling Sihtric everything. Every woman he’d bedded, every funny anecdote from his past, and it had seemed that Sihtric was equally open with him. They’d been to hell and back together, talked about their pasts and their hopes for the future so much so that Finan could almost recount Sihtric’s life story as if it were his own. Which was all the more surprising that Sihtric had kept this from him. He didn’t want to admit it, but Finan was a little hurt.

“I did not want your pity. Or your laughter that it took me so long to realise that she didn’t love me. As you’ve always said.”

Sihtric finally stopped walking. Finan couldn’t tell if the dark look on his face was anger or sorrow: Sihtric was so rarely upset or remorseful. They’d fought, and joked, and sat in silence together for years, and yet only now was Finan realising that he’d never seen his friend show a vulnerable side. He’d assumed that just because Uhtred wore his heart on his sleeve so completely that all Danes must do, and kicked himself for always assuming that Sihtric was fine, that Sihtric didn’t need comfort or consoling. How wrong he had been.

“We wouldn’t have laughed. Well, maybe later. But not then.” Finan said earnestly.

“Good.” Sihtric nodded, apparently satisfied, and carried on his way, leaving Finan set to tear his own hair out in exasperation. He would never understand Danes.

He walked back to the others in a huff, immediately seeking Osferth out. He knew they had bigger things to worry about right now: Beocca’s death, their journey back down south, Uhtred’s reconciliation with his son- all infinitely more important things than Sihtric’s revelation. And yet.

“Sihtric’s marriage is over. And he didn’t tell me.” Finan sat down on the grass next to the monk.

“I thought you’d be happy.” Osferth had his eyes closed, though whether he was in prayer or pain Finan couldn’t tell.

“I am. But. He didn’t tell me. Why didn’t he tell me, Osferth?”

“Because he knew you’d say “I told you so”?” Osferth cracked one eye open to look at Finan.

Finan huffed. “I wouldn’t. Well alright, I would. But not when he needed my support.”

“That’s one good thing amongst all this at least. Now Sihtric can find a woman who truly loves him. You can stop worrying so much.” Osferth closed his eye again. Finan got the impression the monk was goading him somehow.

“I suppose.” He agreed, for want of something more substantial to say. For some reason, the idea of Sihtric going off and finding another woman didn’t sit right with him. Probably because the thought of Sihtric marrying twice in the time it had taken Finan to be married precisely no times just wasn’t fair.

“If you say so.” Osferth said. Finan was certain he hadn’t spoken aloud. Sometimes the young monk scared him.

Thankfully, Sihtric’s mood was considerably lighter when he returned with horses and food. As he was distributing the food about he tossed a ring towards Finan, who realised when he caught it that it was one he’d taken off himself to sell.

“You were right.” Sihtric called over. “One ring less didn’t make much of a difference.”

Danes, Finan had heard, often left finances to their women to sort out, which would explain both why Sihtric had remained married to Sigeburg for so long and why he’d foolishly decided not to sell Finan’s ring. Or perhaps he was just kind. He watched as Sihtric adjusted Osferth’s sling, then broke apart his bread into more manageable chunks for him. He was certainly kind. But he was also certainly still an idiot.

****

Finan’s conclusion that Sihtric was indeed an idiot was proved at Tettenhall, when the man nearly got himself killed by letting a Dane yank him down to the ground. If Finan hadn’t been looking out for him, Sihtric would doubtless be amongst the dead. A fact that Finan took great delight in bringing up as they made camp for the evening.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I definitely saved your life back there.” Finan casually remarked as he threw another handful of sticks onto the fire.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I would have survived.” Sihtric had removed his armour to wash himself clean of blood and mud, and now sat next to the fire wrapped tightly in a blanket. He looked content, cosy even, and Finan idly wondered if he could get away with joining Sihtric in his cocoon. Sharing body heat was the best way to warm up, after all. He shook his head to untangle himself from the thought. He had his own blanket. There was no need to share Sihtric’s.

“Even so, I reckon you owe me.” Finan poked Sihtric with one of the sticks. Sihtric kicked him.

“Very well. What do you wish for? Though having sold my jewellery I have little left to offer.”

Finan had already considered this. “Name your next son after me.”

“Finan Sihtricson?”

“It has a good ring to it, you have to admit.” Finan grinned.

“It does.” A peculiar look spread across Sihtric’s face. Finan was interrupted from asking what the matter was when Uhtred and Aethelflaed arrived back at the camp.

“What’s the plan, Lord?” Finan asked, nobly pretending not to notice the bruises on Uhtred’s neck that certainly hadn’t been there before he’d disappeared into the woods with the Lady of Mercia.

“We ride to Saltwic at first light to get Stiorra and the Lady Aelfwynn. We should get there before nightfall.” Uhtred sat down by the fire, and shot a glance at Sihtric. “Get some clothes on, we have a lady present.”

Sihtric smirked and got up, carefully holding onto the blanket as he left. Aethelflaed took his spot and warmed her hands on the fire. She seemed distracted.

“How long will we be staying at Saltwic, Lord? I need a change of pace after all that blood.” Finan asked Uhtred.

“A few days. Then back to Coccham once it is safe.”

Good. Finan was looking forward to a proper bed. And more than a few hours sleep at a time. He was also looking forward to no longer having to bear witness to whatever was going on with Uhtred and Aethelflaed, whose eye contact with each other over the fire was making him feel decidedly awkward. In a rare moment of devotion, he decided now was as good a time as any to join Osferth and Young Uhtred in evening prayer, and left the two together in peace.

****

Things took a turn for the decidedly strange when Finan ended up on parental duties along with Sihtric and Osferth at Lady Aethelflaed’s estate. Tettenhall had been brutal, and draining, but when Finan had said he fancied a change of pace after the carnage he’d more been thinking of a mug or two of ale and a willing woman back in Coccham. Not playing mother to four children. He had protested being assigned the role of mother, but was over-ruled by everyone except the boy Aethelstan, who hadn’t a word to say about the matter either way.

“Surely, Stiorra is the mother here.” Finan argued.

Stiorra glared and folded her arms. “I’m done playing mother. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“Sihtric, then. He has the longest hair.”

“Which makes him like father.” Stiorra retorted.

“It’s because you have the nicest singing voice.” Sihtric offered, less than sincerely. Sihtric enjoyed Finan’s repertoire of bawdy tunes, but always made it clear he thought the manner in which they were sung was atrocious.

“I do, don’t I.” Finan grinned dangerously at the children who he’d been trying to get rid of for the past half hour. “So which of you little runts wants to hear a song before bed?”

Unsurprisingly, none of the children fancied hearing him sing, and they scattered like ants. The children, along with Young Uhtred, shared the two large bedrooms between them, leaving the three men to draw lots on who got to share the smaller servant’s bedroom at the back of the hall. Whoever drew the short straw that night had to sleep on the floor in the main room, keeping an ear out for any visitors. They’d been there three nights, and yet Finan had somehow drawn the short straw every time. He was beginning to think Osferth was fixing it.

Osferth, however, had no chance of fixing the lots tonight, as he’d fallen asleep over his book a short while ago, no doubt worn out by chasing after children all day. Finan was looking forward to sharing the servant’s bed with Sihtric. By which he meant, he was looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed. Which would just happen to have Sihtric in. The man in question was currently alternating between drinking from a mug of the old ale they’d found in the kitchen, and doodling intricate inky designs on the sleeping Osferth’s sleeves.

“It will wash out. Probably.” He told Finan, realising he was being watched.

“God preserve me, I don’t need another child to look after.” Finan rolled his eyes.

“Would you prefer I drew on his face?” Sihtric asked, a dangerous glint in his eye.

“I would prefer it if you poured me some of that piss water.” Finan nudged his own mug towards Sihtric, who obligingly filled it up. Finan took a long drink. It was bordering on vile, but he hadn’t yet brought himself to ride to the next village over to buy anything better yet. Besides, he’d always been a man proud of the fact that he’d drink anything.

Somewhere from upstairs, Aelfwynn shrieked, and both men sat up in alarm, reaching for their weapons.

“Just a spider. The baby.” Stiorra called down quickly.

“God, being a father must be so stressful. I don’t know how you and Uhtred cope.” Finan said, sheathing his dagger. His heart was still jumping from the shriek.

Sihtric nodded in agreement, recommencing his drawing on the somehow still-sleeping Osferth.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t worry about Wilfred. Even though I know now that he’s not mine, I can’t forget the years I was his father. I would still die rather than have any harm come to him.” Sihtric took a drink and chuckled. “You worry too much even now, I think the fear would kill you if you ever became a father.”

“I do not worry.” Finan argued.

“You nearly shit yourself when Aelfwynn came in covered in berries today.” Sihtric was still laughing.

“I thought it was blood, alright?” Finan glared at him. “There’s nothing wrong with being careful.”

“Of course not.” They sat in silence for a while, listening to Osferth’s soft snores accompanying the crackling of the fire. The light outside had entirely faded, leaving only the fires inside to light the room. Sihtric stopped his drawing in favour of lounging back in his chair, cradling his mug of ale. The dim light illuminated him from behind, making the ends of his hair glow in a way that could almost be described as angelic, if the man in question wasn’t a born heathen.

“Do you miss her? Your wife, I mean.” Finan wasn’t sure why he asked: overcompensation perhaps, for hardly ever enquiring as to how Sihtric was doing, or maybe morbid curiosity.

“I did. Before I realised she never really loved me. Now I just miss having someone who cares about me.” Sihtric stared out of the window, as if it let him see into a time long past. Perhaps the Danes believed it could. In what was fast becoming a regular occurrence, Finan felt a wave of sorrow for the other man, and reached out to place his hand consolingly on Sihtric’s knee.

“Hey. We all care about you. Uhtred, Osferth; I’d wager even Lady Aethelflaed would be a bit distraught if something were to happen to you. I care about you.” Finan squeezed Sihtric’s knee. Sihtric’s expression didn’t change, didn’t shift away from the window.

“I know you do. But not in the way I want you to.” His voice was low.

Finan laughed. “I don’t think you want me to care about you the way a wife does. For one, I’m insatiable in bed.” He nudged Sihtric’s shoulder, hoping for a laugh, but instead Sihtric reddened, straightening up and turning to look at Finan.

“I didn’t mean you you. I just meant… generally. Of course I don’t want you as my wife- not that you would be a wife but-” Sihtric suddenly stood up and cleared his throat. “Did you hear a noise outside?”

Finan hadn’t heard a thing, but Sihtric was already gone. Perhaps he’d just urgently needed to take a shit. He finished off the dregs from his flagon and did some staring out of the window himself, wondering what Sihtric had been seeing in the glass. Across from him, Osferth shifted himself upright and blearily opened one eye.

“That was painful.” The monk commented.

“Do you think he’s alright? Or did he somehow get drunk on this sorry excuse for ale?” Finan asked him.

“He wasn’t drunk.”

“Well he certainly wasn’t making any sense either.” Finan replied. It was hard to make out Osferth over the smoke of the fire, but he was fairly certain the monk rolled his eyes.

“You’re an idiot. You’re both idiots.” Osferth told him, standing up and stretching. “Well, no sense in drawing lots if Sihtric isn’t here. I’m taking the bed tonight: whichever of you two decides to share it with me better not try to care for me.”

Osferth left, and Finan wondered when his friends had decided to stop making sense, and what he had done to deserve it.

****

“I’m bored.” Stiorra dropped onto the ground next to where Finan was sharpening his sword.

“Have you tried tidying your room?” this was the third day in a row she’d done this, and Finan was running out of suggestions. He envied Sihtric. He’d suggested a game of hide and seek with the two young ones after lunch and hadn’t been seen since. Bastard was likely napping on the roof.

“I don’t want to tidy.” Stiorra started tearing out blades of grass from the ground, shredding them between her fingers.

“Well, you can’t be that bored then.” Stiorra threw her handful of grass at him.

“I’m sure Osferth would be happy to teach you how to read. That would keep you occupied.” Finan tried.

“I don’t need to read.”

“Your father can read. When he chooses.” Finan had learnt early on during his stay that both of Uhtred’s children possessed unparalleled levels of stubbornness. Stiorra was an incredible girl, crafty and strong-willed, but he wished she’d bother Sihtric or Osferth half as much as she bothered him.

“Can you tell me about my father?” Stiorra asked. That at least Finan could do.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

She shrugged, plucking the longest strands of grass and weaving them together. “Anything. How you met.”

“That’s not a particularly nice story.” He warned her.

“I’m sick of nice stories.” She said savagely.

He almost laughed, but thought better of it. So he told her of the slave ship, and of Islond. He told her of Halig and Ragnar. Stiorra, unbelievably, was silent for most of it. Though his life as a slave was years ago, thinking back in such detail was painful. So he changed tone and told her of the time he and Uhtred had got absolutely, thoroughly drunk one time staying in Wintanceaster and attempted to sneak into Alfred’s library to add themselves into his chronicles. Steapa had caught them, of course, and thrown them out on their ears. Sihtric had been annoyed they’d attempted this without him, and had sulked for a day and a half until Finan promised to pay for his ale for a week. That had turned into a devastating week. They’d both ended up naked in the herb garden of a nunnery.

“I asked about my father.” Stiorra reproached him without malice when he went off on his tangent. “Not Sihtric.”

“Do I hear my name?” Sihtric appeared from around the side of the hall, Aelfwynn on his back. He had been letting her braid his hair again, and his mess of curls now had several impressively delicate plaits running through it. It suited him.

“Does she have to be here?” Stiorra sighed. “We were talking about my father.”

“She can listen too if she wants.” Sihtric swung Aelfwynn down from his shoulders and settled himself on Finan’s other side, lounging on his elbow.

“Where’s the wee lad?” Finan asked him.

“Reading. Or writing. Church things.” Sihtric shrugged. Stiorra snorted.

“Heathens.” Finan directed to both of them. “At least Aelfwynn here is a good Christian girl. Aren’t you?”

Aelfwynn smiled and nodded. Finan grunted in approval.

Sihtric seemed to suddenly remember something, as he sat up straight and searched through his pockets.

“Talking of heathens.” He said, pulling out a rough wooden charm on a thong that he handed to Stiorra. She stared at, a smile spreading across her face, and Finan squinted to work out what it was. It was a small Thor’s hammer, surprisingly neat and symmetrical for something that Sihtric had clearly made. He’d even carved in intricate swirls as embellishment.

“Thank you.” Stiorra beamed at Sihtric as she slipped the necklace over her head, pausing to stick her tongue out at Finan.

“I want one too.” Aelfwynn piped up.

“No you don’t.” Finan and Stiorra told her at the same time. Sihtric just laughed, pleased with himself.

It was pleasant, sitting outside in the sun with no work to do. Osferth was on food duty that day, and better still, had finally drawn the short straw meaning Finan would get to sleep in a bed tonight. The afternoon turned to evening, and the evening turned to night all without incident. The usual threat of a lullaby from Finan sent the children to bed, and eventually he was ready to retire to bed himself.

“You’d better not steal the blanket.” Finan warned Sihtric as they both slipped under the covers. Sihtric promptly gathered up the whole blanket, leaving Finan no option but to wrestle it back from him.

Finan sighed contentedly as he stretched out on the bed. It was good to have a proper mattress beneath him again. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the shifting of Sihtric beside him. The damn man took forever to get settled. As soon as Sihtric was still though, Finan realised he was cold. He sat up, intending to get out of bed and retrieve his furs from where he’d dumped his pack.

“What are you doing?” Sihtric murmured sleepily.

“I’m getting my furs. It’s as cold as your Hel in here.”

“Come here.” Sihtric shuffled across the bed and wrapped his arms around Finan’s waist. He was like a furnace. So warm, in fact, that Finan could no longer bear the thought of leaving the heat to cross the cold hall and collect his furs. He lay back down under the covers and moved further back into Sihtric’s embrace.

“Did you do this with Osferth too?” Finan asked, hoping it came off a joke rather than the weird pang of jealousy he felt at the thought.

“He didn’t complain about the cold like you.” Sihtric replied into Finan’s hair. His breath was as warm as the rest of him. Finan was no stranger to huddling close to another man for warmth when the occasion called for it, but this felt different. More natural. Sihtric’s chest pressed against his back was strangely comforting, and Finan found himself drifting off to sleep in no time.

****

The next night Sihtric drew the short straw, and Finan shared the bed with Osferth. He planned ahead that time, and made sure his furs were already laid out on his side of the bed before he got in. Though warmer than the night before, it took him longer to fall asleep, and to his embarrassment he woke up in the middle of the night to find himself curled up against Osferth. In his dreams it had been Sihtric and his hearth-like warmth lying next to him. He couldn’t get back to sleep after that.

His lack of sleep affected his mood throughout the next day, his tolerance for Stiorra’s complaining and Aethelstan’s blank stares much lower than usual. It wasn’t even midday when he decided the only thing for it was to go back to bed and try to at least regain some lost sleep. It was strange, having the whole bed to himself, and Finan found himself still only taking up half of it. He closed his eyes and tried to rest, but the sounds of Aelfwynn playing with Sihtric outside prevented him from finding sleep. It sounded like she was using him like a tree to climb again- she’d discovered the other day that Sihtric was strong enough to hold his arms out and have her dangle from them, causing her no end of fun.

Being with the children suited Sihtric, Finan thought. It brought out a caring side to him until now only seen in the aftermath of a fight. Sigeburg had truly been a fool to throw such a man away. Finan frowned to himself. He seemed to be spending an awful lot of time thinking about Sihtric recently.

Unbidden, a memory from years ago came to his mind: Osferth quietly telling him that it wasn’t Sihtric he was jealous of, but more likely Sigeburg. He remembered the way his heart had stopped at Tettenhall when Sihtric went down, and how his heart now quickened every time he saw Sihtric smile. God help him, was he falling in love with Sihtric? How long had that been going on?

To add to matters, Finan ran through the other night’s conversation.

“I care about you.”  he had told Sihtric.

“Not in the way I want you to.”

Was it possible Sihtric felt the same? This was rather a lot to process, and Finan shoved his head under the pillow in frustration. He wished they’d gone back to Coccham, where between spending time at the alehouse or with a woman he wouldn’t have had time for things with Sihtric to get so confusing.

As if he knew Finan was thinking about him, Sihtric appeared at the door.

“What are you doing?” He could hear the smirk in Sihtric’s voice, before he extracted his head from the pillow and saw the other man nonchalantly leaning in the doorway.

“Trying to get some damn sleep.”

“You did not sleep well?” Sihtric asked, concerned.

“Osferth is all knees and elbows. Uncomfortable to lie next to.”

Looking at Sihtric now, Finan wondered why he hadn’t figured out his feelings before. Sihtric was more handsome than any man had a right to with only half a head of hair, and that smile of his...

“I will tell the children to be quiet if you wish.” Sihtric offered.

Finan shook his head. “No, let them play.”

Sihtric cocked his head to one side, as if he were sizing Finan up. “Are you too cold to sleep again?” he joked. “I feel getting under the covers would help, to start.”

“Well where’s the fun in that?” Finan knew that exploring his revelation about Sihtric slowly and carefully was the best course of action. Unfortunately, he hardly ever took the best course of action, and saw no reason to make an exception now. “Why don’t you come and warm me up.” He said, looking levelly at the other man.

It was a line, and tone of voice, that had worked wonders for him in the past. Sihtric, however, took him at face value, and obligingly settled into bed pressed against Finan’s back as he had done before. Perhaps it was the language barrier, Finan thought, and struggled under the weight of Sihtric’s arm to turn himself over so that he was face to face with the other man.

“That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.” He said, and kissed Sihtric.

He’d meant it to be just a small kiss, over in an instant to test the waters, but Sihtric responded immediately, parting his lips slightly against Finan’s and tightening the grip he had on Finan’s body. Finan barely had time to register what was actually happening when Sihtric’s tongue flicked out, and with a groan that would have embarrassed most whores Finan opened his mouth to let him in. They kissed for what felt like an age, Finan’s hands sliding up under Sihtric’s shirt, feeling his muscles tense and relax as they started to move against each other. His hair, his ridiculous long hair was perfect for Finan to grab a hold of and use to angle Sihtric’s head into a better position. Sihtric moaned as Finan pulled his hair, and Finan grinned, seizing the opportunity to roll them both over, so that he was on top. He paused for a moment, to look down at Sihtric, taking in his dilated pupils and reddened lips.

“How long?” Finan asked breathlessly. He didn’t know why he asked. It wasn’t important right now. And yet.

“A while. I do not know exactly.” Sihtric ran his hands up Finan’s thighs, coming to rest on the top of his trousers. He was hard, Finan could feel him, and God help him he was just as hard.

“And you didn’t say?”

“Did you?” Sihtric rolled his eyes and fisted his hands in the material of Finan’s shirt, pulling him down for another kiss. Finan decided he should stop talking. For now at least.

He gave himself over to Sihtric’s mouth and God, Sigeburg was a demon for charging for this. Sihtric was a hard kisser, nothing like the women Finan had bedded before. It wasn’t long before Finan was rubbing himself against Sihtric’s hip, humping him like he was barely out of childhood again. Sihtric stilled him, deftly tugging the laces of Finan’s trousers undone, pulling them apart enough for him to slip his hand under the fabric and grab his cock. Finan choked back a moan, and moved his attentions to marking Sihtric’s neck, as Sihtric’s hand deftly brought him closer and closer to the edge.

“Stop.” Finan managed to get out, grabbing Sihtric’s hand. Sihtric withdrew immediately, concern on his face.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Finan laughed, pulling his trousers completely off, then his shirt.

“More than alright.” He replied, working on Sihtric’s trousers. “It just didn’t seem fair to not return the favour.”

Sihtric’s furrowed brow cleared, and he took his shirt off before helping Finan pull his trousers down. Finan climbed back on top and carefully lined them up together, spitting on his hand before wrapping it around Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric’s hips inadvertently thrust up off the bed into the touch, and he bit his lip, hands clutching uselessly at the bedsheets.

“Good?” Finan chuckled, rubbing his thumb along the slit and spreading the precome there over Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric nodded, and reached his own hand down, back towards Finan. It was an embarrassingly short amount of time before Finan was coming, covering Sihtric’s hand and stomach. He rested his forehead against Sihtric’s as he caught his breath, Sihtric’s hand still gently stroking his cock. Sihtric’s own cock had been neglected at some point during Finan’s orgasm, and ever the gentleman, Finan shifted positions so he was now sat behind Sihtric, reaching around him to take his cock in hand again.

Sihtric moaned, low and quiet, and lay his head back against Finan’s shoulder. Finan used his other hand to cup Sihtric’s balls, circling them in his palm as he steadily picked up the pace on Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric’s damned Dane stamina meant by the time he finally came Finan was certain he had irreversible cramp in his hand, but it was worth it for the way Sihtric collapsed back into him, boneless and sated.

“Believe it or not, I only came in here to see if you were hungry.” Sihtric said after a while, contorting his head round to look at Finan.

“Well I’ve certainly worked up an appetite now.” Finan thought he’d tease Sihtric by licking his come from his fingers, but spat it out immediately. “Jesus that’s vile. How do women do it?”

Sihtric laughed. “It’s not so bad.”

Finan paused wiping his fingers on the bedsheets. “You’ve done this before?”

“Once or twice.” Sihtric offered no further elaboration.

Finan didn’t much like the idea of being the inexperienced one in whatever this was, but he’d be damned if he admitted that. He settled for wrapping his arms around Sihtric in a hug, but recoiled when he came into contact with the mess on Sihtric’s stomach.

“I’ll get you some water.” Finan offered, extracting himself from his spot between Sihtric and the headboard and tugging his trousers and shirt back on. Sihtric made no effort to move, or dress himself, and just stretched out on the bed, propping his head up on his hand to watch Finan leave.

The kitchen was thankfully next to the servant’s room, minimising the number of people Finan could potentially run into, but in a cruel twist of fate he entered the room to find Osferth and Young Uhtred preparing food. Uhtred seemed determined not to meet his eyes, but Osferth looked at him directly, a worrying smile on his face.

“Are you better rested now?” the monk asked innocently.

“Yes.” Finan answered slowly, edging round the corner of the room to grab a jug and dunk it into the water barrel outside the window. There was something incredibly disconcerting about Osferth’s expression.

“I assume you’ll be washing the bedding before I have to sleep there?” Osferth called after him as Finan backed out of the kitchen.

He as good as ran back to the bedroom. Once safely inside he slammed the door shut so hard the jug of water almost emptied itself over the floor. Sihtric raised an eyebrow at him.

“We can never leave this room.” Finan told him.

****

The best thing for it, Finan decided, was to pretend he had no shame. He wouldn’t give Osferth the satisfaction.

“If it’s all the same to you, Baby Monk, I don’t think you’ll be sleeping in that bed for a long time.” Finan told him as they sat down for lunch. He was gratified to hear Sihtric chuckle.

“How are you going to make it up to me then?” Osferth asked.

“I will personally massage those shoulders of yours every night for a week.” Finan said.

Osferth shook his head. “Not enough.”

“We’ll do your share of the cooking. Until Uhtred gets back.” Now it was Sihtric’s turn to shake his head in alarm at Finan’s suggestion.

“Deal. If you also take on Young Uhtred’s share for a week too. The poor lad’s traumatised.”

“I’m not traumatised.” Uhtred muttered, looking traumatised.

“I don’t want to eat Sihtric’s cooking for a week.” Stiorra objected.

“Now young lady, there’s nothing wrong with Sihtric’s cooking, and if you don’t want to eat it you can cook for yourself.” Finan pointed his knife at her to punctuate her words. Stiorra made a gesture she had no right in knowing at him.

“He’s lying, I’m a terrible cook.” Sihtric whispered rather loudly to Aelfwynn and Aethelstan, who giggled.

“Hey. Don’t undermine me in front of the children. Or I’ll have to punish you later.” Finan turned his knife pointing of shame towards Sihtric. Stiorra gagged dramatically. Young Uhtred looked legitimately ill. Aelfwynn looked sweetly concerned on Sihtric’s behalf, not wanting to see her friend punished.

Finan happily realised he now had another weapon along with singing to try and get the group of children to behave.

Chapter Text

“Enjoying cooking?” Osferth asked, as he caught Finan toiling away in the kitchen on his own. 

Finan gave a non-committal grunt. Sihtric had excused himself earlier with a mumbled excuse and a kiss, so it was up to Finan to cook the evening meal for the seven of them. Osferth had come in not with the intention of  helping, but of stealing a handful of berries. And to torment Finan, of course.

“I knew all along.” Osferth said, popping a berry in his mouth and looking annoyingly smug.

“Did not.” Finan said reflexively, then added: “knew what exactly?”

“Knew about you. And your feelings for Sihtric.”

“Lucky guess is all.” Finan said. “You couldn’t have known. I didn’t know.”

“No, I knew.” Osferth nonchalantly ate another berry. “I could see it.”

“Now that’s a very pagan thing for a monk to be saying.” Finan told him. “Claiming to see things that aren’t there.”

Osferth leant in close, and Finan braced himself for some earth shattering revelation. Honestly, at this point if Osferth told him he could predict the future or read minds he’d be halfway inclined to agree with him: Osferth’s general demeanour was far too calm and collected to allow him to travel with Uhtred all these years without some dark secret, surely. Instead, just as Finan was tensing for what was about to come, Osferth simply said:

“I look forward to that shoulder massage.”

The monk pulled away and smiled, walking out of the kitchen to do God knows what. Finan instinctively reached for the cross around his neck, then stopped himself- he was being foolish. Osferth had just made a lucky guess. One lucky guess. Years ago. It didn’t mean a thing.

“It wasn’t a guess.” Osferth called from outside the kitchen. Finan crossed himself.

****

Realising he had cared for Sihtric as more than a friend had led to a rush of new, supplementary feelings that Finan supposed he had subconsciously been stoppering up all this time. His heart now stopped whenever the other man looked at him, for example, and seemingly the most important thing he could do was make Sihtric laugh. It was no longer a bore to sit and wait around for Uhtred and Aethelflaed to return, and Finan found himself starting to enjoy their weird moment of domesticity.

The other feelings that had been awakened in him were trickier to navigate in an estate full of children. Namely, he could now no longer look at Sihtric without wanting to drag him into the nearest secluded spot and take his clothes off. Which, admittedly, he’d got very good at doing in a relatively short period of time. They had to take their moments where they could, and God knows things would only get worse once they finally set back on the road to Coccham. Best to get it all out of his system now. Literally.

“Found you.” Finan poked his head round the corner of the stables, where Sihtric was crouching in the shadows behind one of the horses. Sihtric put a finger to his lips, and silently gestured for Finan to join him. Finan squeezed his way past a very disgruntled horse to huddle down in Sihtric’s corner.

“You’re not the one who was supposed to be looking for me.” Sihtric said softly when Finan was safely out of sight to any children passing by.

“Does that mean I don’t get a reward for finding you?” Finan reached out to cup Sihtric’s face in his hand, stroking his cheek. He couldn’t help himself. Even in the shadows of the stables, surrounded by the smell of horses, he wanted him. Sihtric took Finan’s hand from his face, pressing a kiss into Finan’s palm before gently brushing his hand away.

“I will reward you later, if you wish.”

“But I’m here now.” Finan said. Sihtric simply shook his head, a slight grin playing on his lips.

Deciding he would have to show rather than tell Sihtric how much he wanted to have his way with him, Finan leaned in to mouth along Sihtric’s jawline before delicately nipping his earlobe between his teeth, a surefire way to get Sihtric warmed up. On cue, he felt Sihtric tense beneath him, and Finan set to work sucking marks into his neck, relishing the noises Sihtric tried to muffle.

“The children are looking for me.” He protested, hands coming up to rest on Finan’s waist as if to push him away, but staying there instead.

“Let’s hope they don’t find you then.” Finan placed a kiss on Sihtric’s lips, then another, trying to coax a response out of him. Sihtric was very resolutely not giving in, though Finan could tell by the way his hands tightened their grip on his waist that he wanted to. “We’ll be fast.” He promised, slowly running his hands down Sihtric’s chest.

“Finan.” Sihtric’s tone carried a warning as he finally mustered the strength of will to stop Finan’s hands from wandering downwards. “I will come to you when the game is over.”

Finan sighed. “Alright.” He stood up and brushed some errant strands of hay from his shirt. “But I still want my reward.”

“After.” Sihtric promised, sinking back further into his corner.

It was scary how well he managed to make himself blend in with the shadows. And oddly attractive. Finan lingered, for a moment, admiring his man, until the same horse he’d pushed past to get in nudged him back out of the stables, with more than a little force. It was Osferth’s horse, Finan realised. Of course it was.

When Finan returned to the main hall he found Aelfwynn checking inside the large chest by the main door. She looked almost in danger of falling in as she peered down to the bottom to see if anyone was hiding there, and Finan readied himself to pull her back should she topple. Not that a fall into the chest would hurt her, particularly, but her fair skin looked like it would bruise awfully easily, and Finan wanted to avoid Aethelflaed’s wrath if possible. If only because Aethelflaed’s displeasure would also mean Uhtred’s.

“You might want to try the stables.” Finan remarked as he watched.

“Thank you!” Aelfwynn slammed the lid of the chest shut and went racing off out of the hall with barely a backwards glance. Finan managed to find Aethelstan searching under the tables in the next room and offered him the same advice. Best to double his chances of getting Sihtric back to their bedroom sooner.

“That’s cheating.” Stiorra reproached him from her seat by the window.

“And what of it?” Finan grinned at her.

“They’ll never learn if you just give them everything.”

“Yes, mother.” Finan teased, then promptly fled when Stiorra looked like she was searching for something to throw. Aethelflaed’s candlesticks looked heavy.

Children all seen to, Finan happily made his way back to what was now his and Sihtric’s bedroom: Osferth had relinquished any claim to it, rightly deciding that he’d prefer a hard floor as a bed than the risk and shame that would come from Finan and Sihtric humping in the main room of the hall. Someone had to think of the children. And Aethelflaed’s honour. Finan would have felt guiltier if he wasn’t now cooking nearly every day for their little family. Young Uhtred ate just as much as his father, despite only being half his size, and cooking that much food took more time than Finan cared for. It didn’t help that Sihtric was, as he’d said, a terrible cook. Uhtred’s proclivity for fire had clearly passed on to the younger man, as Sihtric’s attempts at cooking more often than not ended up thoroughly charred.

Finan made sure to close the shutters on the window before dropping down onto the bed. He’d barely got his boots off when Sihtric joined him.

“Oh no, did you get caught? I suppose it wasn’t the best of hiding places.” Finan didn’t even try to sound sincere.

“You need to learn some patience.” Sihtric told him, closing the door and leaning against the wall. That wasn’t right- he should be on the bed, Finan thought, and beckoned him over.

“Patience is overrated.”

Sihtric shook his head, slowly walking towards where Finan sat on the edge of the bed. He crawled up onto the bed, legs on either side of Finan, forcing him to move backwards until his back was against the headboard. Sihtric sank down on his knees so they could kiss, combing one hand through Finan’s hair. It was a much better kiss than the one Finan had tried to initiate in the stables, and Finan groaned as Sihtric forced his tongue into his mouth. Sihtric’s other hand, Finan was pleased to notice, was already undoing the ties of his trousers.

“Is that my reward for finding you?” Finan asked as Sihtric pulled his cock out, slowly stroking it into hardness.

“It is.” Sihtric knelt up, bringing his cock into perfect alignment with Finan’s mouth, though rather disappointingly a good few inches away.

Finan ran his hands up Sihtric’s thighs, coming to rest on his arse. He used his new handhold to urge Sihtric towards him, and flicked out his tongue to lick the tip of his cock, before slowly taking the head into his mouth. God, he’d never much cared for other men’s cocks before, but Sihtric’s was something else. The smoothness of the skin, the weight of it on his tongue was nothing short of perfection. Finan had become accustomed to the taste of both Sihtric’s cock and his come, and sucked hard, trying to coax the first bit of precome out.

He was by no means an expert, but he had always been a quick study, and had soon learnt what to do to get Sihtric to fall apart in his mouth. Sihtric was beginning to lose himself, his hips shallowly thrusting forward, almost causing Finan to gag as Sihtric’s cock was forced deeper down his throat. Finan forced himself to relax, but moved his hands to steady Sihtric’s hips and hold him in place. It wasn’t much later that Sihtric shuddered, his cock pulsing in Finan’s mouth. Finan swallowed, and coughed, then licked the last drops from the tip of Sihtric’s cock for good measure.

Sihtric dropped backwards to slouch on the bed, idly tucking himself back into his trousers. Finan graciously gave him a moment to recover before not so subtly palming his own hardness through his trousers. Sihtric noticed, and with a low chuckle leaned forward to mouth at Finan’s cock through the material, grazing his shaft with his teeth. Just as Finan reached for his laces though, Sihtric batted his hands away.

“You’ve had your reward. Now you need to learn your lesson.”

“Sihtric, come on, you can’t leave me like this.” Finan begged. It was damned rude for one, and besides, he was plenty patient. Hadn’t he left Sihtric to continue playing his game, instead of taking him there and then?

“Finish, if you want. Or don’t. But if you want my mouth you’ll wait until night.” Sihtric had a devilish glint in his eye, that both infuriated Finan and made him even harder.

“You’re going to hell.” Finan told him, fingers itching to grab hold of his cock and finish the damn job. But he couldn’t give Sihtric the satisfaction. Wouldn’t let him win.

“I’ll see you there then.” Sihtric replied as he left Finan alone in their bedroom, trying desperately to will his cock back into submission.

****

“You and Sihtric- how does that work?” Stiorra asked as they walked the horse along to the village for supplies a few days later. Finan had planned to go on his own, and Stiorra had never asked if she could come along with him, yet here she was. Finan hadn’t minded at the start: she’d wanted to hear more stories about Uhtred, but her new line of questioning was more than a little uncomfortable.

Lord give him strength.

“I do not want to discuss that with you, and your father wouldn’t thank me for it either.” Finan said sternly. Stiorra looked horrified.

“Not that. I meant… life. Can you get married? Does it not bother you he’s a Dane? What about children? Will father mind?”

“That’s an awful lot of questions coming out of one so small.”

Stiorra aimed a kick at his shin. Finan felt like he was getting a lot of abuse these days, just when he’d thought the fighting was over.

“You can’t hit everything that displeases you.” He told her, before bumping into her shoulder and forcing her off the path into the field.

“Hey!” Stiorra charged back at him, and he staggered into the poor horse, laughing. The horse, disgruntled, butted him back.

“Alright alright. Truce.” He held up his hands. Stiorra grinned and agreed to the peace. The horse did not.

“You didn’t answer my questions.” Stiorra reminded him, as they continued to trudge along.

Finan sighed. “I don’t know how it’s going to work, honestly. Maybe things will change when we get back to Coccham, I don’t know.” As much as he missed the excitement of having more purpose to his life than making sure a load of children didn’t injure themselves, the laid back domesticity was perfect for his and Sihtric’s relationship to grow. Judging by the last week or so he was by no means ready to become a full-time father just yet, nor did he want to give up adventuring with Uhtred to start a family, but Sihtric was definitely good with children. And if they started with a baby, one he could raise to not kick him whenever they were upset, that could be easier…

“You’re better off without children any way. There’s no point to them.” Stiorra assured him.

“Have you forgotten that you yourself were a child not so long ago?” Finan asked. “And more of a handful to look after than the Lady Aelfwynn I’d imagine. God, the stories Uhtred’s told us of when you were little.”

“That’s different.” Stiorra picked up a branch from the side of the path and started aimlessly swinging it as they walked. All Finan could think was that it was only another implement for him to be hit with in the near future, and resolved to get Stiorra to drop it as soon as he could. He decided to move to the other side of the horse to put a barrier between them, just in case.

The village soon came into view as they made their way out of the woods, and Finan had to remind Stiorra to hide her wooden hammer pendent away.

“They won’t take kindly if they think you’re a Dane here.”

“I am a Dane.” She reminded him, thankfully tossing her stick aside into the bushes rather than hitting him with it. Nevertheless, she tucked the necklace away, and Finan could rest a bit easier.

The folk in the village seemed to recognise Stiorra, which made buying food and supplies much simpler. There was no news or gossip about Aethelred beyond that he was dying, so Finan figured they’d be staying at Saltwic for another few days at least, and therefore it was worth arranging for the local brewer to deliver a barrel of ale the next day. It was especially worth it when he remembered it was the Lady Aethelflaed’s money they were spending.

The journey back was slower, as the horse had clearly been enjoying not having anyone on its back, and didn’t take happily to being loaded with their goods. No less than three times it decided to run Finan off the path, and he began to wonder if somehow Stiorra had conspired with it against him. It was a relief when they returned back to Saltwic, and he could be free of the troublesome beast.

The children were unusually quiet when he entered the hall, and after a quick investigation the cause turned out to be Osferth patiently helping them with their letters. Young Uhtred was reading, and Sihtric was peacefully whittling what looked like a rather angry dog out of a chunk of wood.

“Is that another pagan charm you’re making there?” Finan sat down opposite him. “Is one of your gods an angry dog?”

“It’s a wolf. Just a wolf. For Aethelstan.” Sihtric turned it round for Finan too see better. It was certainly more dog than wolf, in Finan’s expert opinion, but it had an expressive face, he’d give Sihtric that.

“That’s a relief. He’s a good Christian lad, he doesn’t need you corrupting him.”

“Though Loki did have a son by a giantess who was a hideous wolf.” Sihtric told him with a smirk.

“The more I hear about your gods, the more I think I understand why all you Danes are madmen.” Finan said without malice.

“Perhaps.” Sihtric agreed, beginning to carve the tail of the dog. Wolf. Finan watched him work for a minute, but soon got bored. 

“I was thinking,” he said slowly. “Of going to the river to wash.”

“You need it.” Sihtric replied, completely missing the point Finan was trying to make. Finan cast a quick look round to make sure none of the children were in earshot, then leaned in towards Sihtric, lowering his voice.

“I’m going to wash. Away from here. Where I’ll be naked. Very, very naked. And wet.”

That at least got the message across, and Sihtric’s knife slipped on the wood, almost cutting the tail of the wolf clean off.

“I’ll meet you down there.” Finan stood up, satisfied with himself, and dropped a kiss on Sihtric’s head before heading out to the river, relishing the way Osferth wearily shook his head at him.

****

It wasn’t unusual for one of them to grab the other whilst they were bathing. Things normally ended with them bringing each other to completion in the water, or momentarily retreating to land to get their mouths on each other. This time though, when Sihtric embraced him from behind, Finan felt a hand ever so lightly trace the cleft of his arse.

“I want to fuck you.” Sihtric murmured, his voice low. “Properly.” One finger dipped in to ghost over Finan’s hole, barely touching, and Finan’s body tried to both retreat and push back at the same time. He’d thought about it, of course he had, but in all honestly the prospect seemed more than a little terrifying. He wasn’t opposed to it, he just needed time.

“Why should I be the one getting fucked? I’m the older one here.” Finan asked.

“Because you’d look so pretty sitting on my cock.”

Finan couldn’t argue with that. He would look damn pretty on Sihtric’s cock.

“If you like, you can fuck me first. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Sihtric’s fingers moved from Finan’s arse to gently circle his nipple instead, before pinching it into hardness.

“There’s an idea.” Finan could get on board with that. If Sihtric was willing to be fucked first, how bad could it be?

“Go back to the hall. Find some oil, and something to bar the door with if you can. I’ll join when I’ve finished washing.” Sihtric nuzzled into the spot behind Finan’s ear, before taking his chin and twisting his head round to kiss him. It was a filthy kiss, full of promise, and if he didn’t have the prospect of taking Sihtric properly ahead of him Finan would have insisted they finished this now. As it was, he only just managed to tear himself away from Sihtric’s lips and swiftly struggled back into his clothes.

Not wanting to pass anyone, Finan decided to sneak into the hall through the kitchen window (they didn’t call him ‘the agile’ for nothing), pausing to pick up a jar of oil, then after a thought a couple of apples too. He was always hungry after a good hump. Sihtric clearly had the same idea of stealth as Finan when he returned, lightly rapping on their bedroom window to get Finan to open it so he could climb in.

Sihtric was still damp from his wash, his hair plastered to his forehead and his shirt clinging to him in a way that made it almost a shame to remove. But remove it Finan did, along with Sihtric’s trousers, and his own clothes. They fell into familiar movements of kissing, and stroking, and sucking until Finan was achingly hard and keening at every touch.

“Did you get the oil?” Sihtric asked breathlessly, pulling away.

Finan nodded, fumbling on the ground by the bed for where he’d put it, tossing it up to Sihtric.

“Ever been in a woman’s arse before?” Sihtric asked him, settling back on the pillows and carefully coating his fingers in oil. Finan mutely shook his head, watching as Sihtric hitched a leg up to let him reach down to his entrance. He had never seen such a captivating sight before, and absently stroked himself as he watched.

“It’s good.” Sihtric promised him, pressing a finger into himself before slowly beginning to thrust in and out.

“Will it be good for you too?” Finan asked, as Sihtric had winced with the addition of a second finger.

“It better be.” He replied with a crafty look at Finan. Whatever pain he had felt had clearly subsided, as after a moment he started fucking himself on his fingers with more speed, his breath coming out in small pants and his head falling back onto the pillow.

“Here, let me.” Finan coated his own fingers in oil and tentatively replaced Sihtric’s fingers with his, watching Sihtric’s face carefully for any discomfort as he pushed inside.

“I’m not going to break.” Sihtric reproached him, and Finan took that as his cue to speed up. At some point, he brushed against something that made Sihtric moan, and clench around him, and Finan tried to repeat whatever it was he had done. He soon hit his stride, working his way up to three fingers, and Sihtric writhed beneath him, canting his hips up to meet Finan’s thrusts. As wonderful as using his fingers on Sihtric was, Finan began to wonder when was enough preparation. His own cock was aching as he watched Sihtric fall apart. He was spared having to ask by Sihtric wordlessly removing Finan’s fingers, and sitting up only to push Finan down onto the bed.

Finan’s breath hitched as Sihtric used more oil to slick Finan’s cock, before positioning himself above Finan and slowly lowering down. Sihtric was tighter and warmer than Finan had ever imagined, and it took all of his self control not to grab hold of the other man’s hips and pull him down. It seemed to take an age, but eventually Sihtric bottomed out and sat flush with Finan. The sight of Sihtric above him, his eyes dark with want was too much for Finan, and he involuntarily thrust up into Sihtric’s heat. Jesus he felt amazing.

“You alright?” Finan asked, and Sihtric nodded.

“Keep up.” The Dane told him with a smirk, leaning forward ever so slightly to brace his hands on the headboard. Finan was about to make a snarky reply when Sihtric rolled his hips, and Finan lost his train of thought. The outside world became a blur, and all that mattered was Sihtric riding his cock like a man possessed. Sihtric seemed to sense when Finan was close to coming, for he slowed right down, moving languidly, that damn self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“Let’s change.” He said suddenly, getting off Finan completely and positioning himself on hands and knees in front of him. Without a second thought Finan knelt up and mounted Sihtric, grabbing his hips to better pull him in. The new position was somehow even better than before, and Finan tried desperately to keep a steady rhythm going. Unexpectedly Sihtric shifted, and Finan realised he was now only held up by one arm, as his other hand had disappeared beneath him to jerk himself off in time with Finan’s thrusts. The sight of it triggered Finan’s own orgasm, and he faltered in his movements, pushing deep into Sihtric one last time before collapsing, panting on the bed.

Sihtric gave him no time to recover, moving to hover over Finan as he furiously stroked his own cock, finally coming with a moan over Finan’s chest. He dropped down next to Finan, and they lay side by side as they caught their breath. Finan felt like he’d just run for miles, and was so ridiculously sweaty he was due another dip in the water.

“That was… incredible.” He eventually managed to get words out. Sihtric just laughed.

They lay there for a while until Finan finally disentangled himself to get up. He looked down at the mess on his chest in disgust.

“Next time we should do this by the river.”

“Agreed.”

At the least, Finan had got into the habit of keeping a basin of water and a washcloth in the bedroom, and quickly wiped himself down before throwing the cloth over to Sihtric. He pulled his trousers back on then flopped onto the bed, offering Sihtric an apple and taking one for himself.

“About to rot apples. My favourite.” Sihtric studied the apple suspiciously, but ate it anyway.

“Don’t ever say I don’t treat you right.” Finan ate his own apple happily, basking in the afterglow. He would gladly stay in this moment forever, if he could. Hang up his sword, and spend his days in bed with Sihtric, eating apples. And drinking ale, too, preferably. Tossing the apple core out of the window, Finan nestled into Sihtric and closed his eyes, peacefully dozing.

Unusually, it was Sihtric who first broke the silence.

“When we leave… when we return to Coccham. You should live with me.”

Finan’s heart skipped a beat. He opened his eyes and turned to look at Sihtric.

“Absolutely not. Your house is tiny. You’ll live with me.”

****

Finan was having an incredibly good day. The sun was shining, he’d been woken up by Sihtric’s mouth on him, and the ale from the village had been delivered. Even the children were remarkably well behaved, with Aelfwynn playing with her birds and Aethelstan working on his letters. Stiorra hadn’t even complained about being bored all day.

It was such a good day, that of course it had to be ruined by Stiorra’s shout that men were approaching. As quick as anything they were all alert, and Finan said a quick prayer of thanks that he’d decided to keep his sword so near. He only wished he hadn’t got complacent and stopped wearing his armour.

The children thankfully all came running, and Finan wracked his brains, trying to think how their small group could fend off fully armed men. Damnit, he’d got too used to having Uhtred around to solve his problems; he’d forgotten how to think.

It was Stiorra who saved them, in the end, and though it clearly didn’t sit will with Sihtric to hide instead of fight it was the only plausible means of survival. She really was her father’s daughter, Finan thought with no small amount of pride as she lied in the face of an armed man and got away with it. Uhtred too, was proud and relieved in equal measures when he arrived barely a minute after the men departed.

There was little time to talk as they collected their belongings and set forth for Ceaster, bundling the children into the cart along with whatever food they could grab. They travelled as fast as they reasonably could, but the distance they had to cover meant they still had to stop and make camp for the night. Aelfwynn was silently sobbing, and likely had been all journey, and no amount of cajoling from Sihtric or Osferth could lessen her tears. Aethelstan, however, was viewing the whole upheaval with a weary sort of acceptance. He clutched a book in one hand and his wooden wolf in the other, watching the men spread out furs and blankets with wide eyes. Finan gave his hair a ruffle to remind him they still cared.

“I’m cold.” Aelfwynn sniffed as they settled down for the night.

“Stiorra, share your bedroll with Aelfwynn. It will warm her up.” Uhtred said.

“I will not. Her crying annoys me.” Stiorra didn’t move.

“Stiorra!” Uhtred barked.

“The wee Lady can have my blanket, Lord.” Finan stepped in, trying to hide the smile at Uhtred’s familial antics. “I’ll share with Sihtric.”

“Won’t Sihtric mind?” Uhtred frowned.

“I am with Finan.” Sihtric intoned. Finan couldn’t help but laugh at the directness of his Dane.

“It’s true, Lord.” he finished tucking his blanket around Aelfwynn. She gave him a weak smile then curled up on herself, the occasional sob still making her whole body jolt.

“I leave you alone for a fortnight.” Uhtred groaned.

“Take me with you next time, please.” Osferth joined in. “Don’t leave me alone with them again.”

“Yes, please do, Lord. Take him away.” Finan agreed, curling up next Sihtric, who obligingly wrapped his arms tight around him. Sihtric was as warm as ever, making the loss of his blanket no great deal.

“You are forbidden from taking watch at the same time, understand?” Uhtred told them both. “I will not have men sneak up on us because you two are distracting each other.”

“A pity.” Sihtric whispered in Finan’s ear. Finan grinned, shifting about so he could use Sihtric’s arm as a pillow. An unexpected benefit of realising his feelings for the other man meant that nights on the road were set to become a lot more comfortable from now on. Although perhaps not for Sihtric.