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'nd m'wife

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The route Sweden had taken from Denmark's house was circuitous and difficult, the nights cold and snowy more often than not. It was not the ideal time of year to have fled, Finland thought, huddling closer against Sweden and staring up at the stars. He'd really done it now. There was no way he'd get out of this without help, and Sweden was the only person around to help him. I mustn't get on his bad side, he thought, glad despite himself of the arm round him. He'll keep me safe from other strong nations. I hope.

"Will we be there soon?" he asked, not looking into Sweden's forbidding face.

"Yeah."

There was no other answer. Finland fought the urge to fill the silence with babble. It was so difficult to know if Sweden wanted him to talk or not. It was easier to close his eyes and let the pretence at sleep gradually become the real thing.

They walked on the next morning, Finland looking about him nervously, expecting attack. There could b dangerous animals out here, he thought. Or Denmark could come after them. Every shadow behind a tree made him jumpy, which was ridiculous, given that he himself came from so wooded a territory. Sweden must think I'm a fool, he thought, as Sweden looked back at him, face unreadable. Finland resolved to do better, and kept himself as calm as he could, following Sweden's lead. A day and a half later, they reached Sweden's old house. It was in some disrepair, ivy thick on the walls and a smell of damp tickling Finland's nose when they went inside.

"Huh," Sweden said, looking round. He dropped his bundle on the floor, took off his cloak and propped his sword against the wall. He rolled up his sleeves and started hauling debris out of the main hall. Finland looked at him for some time before realising he was being lazy and an inconsiderate guest. He pulled off his cloak and helped in the clearing. With both of them working they got at least half the hall clear before Sweden grimaced and stretched. "'S enough f'r now." He lit the candle stubs that were all they had left and watched Finland fussing over the tight rations they had preserved. They pulled dusty chairs up to the end of the heavy table they had brushed clear of filth and cobwebs and ate the first meal they'd had indoors since fleeing Denmark's house. It was a pity Sweden had made Poland angry, Finland thought, remembering Poland and Lithuania's clean, warm house. If he hadn't, maybe Estonia would have been allowed to take them to the kitchens and to give them fresh food. There was no point in thinking about it, he told himself. The past was past.

At least there's no wind, he thought, spreading out the blankets. It won't be so cold. He paused as Sweden came over and picked up the blankets Finland had laid out for him, moving them so they were up beside Finland's. I don't need you to keep warm seemed a rude thing to say in Sweden's own house, and it wasn't really true anyway, Finland thought as he gingerly lay down and was pulled against Sweden. He lay still, looking at the dim shape of the old table at the other side of the hall, uncomfortably aware that Sweden was still awake. Gradually the arm over him got heavier and limper as Sweden fell asleep. Finland closed his eyes as some of the tension in his shoulders eased, and he could let himself sleep too. When they had the house properly cleaned and heated he could think about changing this.

 

* * *

 

By the end of the first week Sweden had found a new mattress that didn't smell of damp at all, and had swept his bedframe free of cobwebs and dust. Finland spent almost half a day thinking it would be nice to sleep in the hall by the fire without worrying about getting elbowed accidentally during the night. Then he saw his belongings neatly stacked on a chair in Sweden's bedchamber and found Sweden himself headfirst in a large wooden chest, carefully making sure it was clean.

"I put s'me camphor in," Sweden said when he resurfaced; he started refolding Finland's clothes and laying them in the chest. "Y'don' need t'worry 'bout moths."

"I can sleep in the hall," Finland said quickly. "You'll have plenty of space."

"Bed's big enough for two," Sweden said, as if that settled the matter.

It was big enough. Big enough, Finland thought, that they didn't need to lie close together. The first night, he huddled at one side, leaving as much room for Sweden as possible, and nearly fell out on the floor when Sweden crept close behind him, muttering something about staying warm. It was warmer, Finland had to admit, once he had at least learned not to jump when Sweden touched his hair or held him too tight for comfort. It was still worrying, even if Sweden had never done more than hold him. You're ridiculous, he told himself. You're imagining things, he just wants to give you somewhere comfortable to sleep. It was a sign of trust and esteem, he decided, to be allowed such contact even when Sweden was vulnerable and defenceless. Not, he thought, that Sweden looked all that vulnerable even while asleep. If I worked harder, Finland thought, looking sleeplessly up at the darkness, I'd fall asleep straight away. He smiled. If I worked longer than Sweden, he thought, then he'd fall asleep. And it would be very unfair to disturb him. It would be much fairer to sleep in the hall, if that happened.

The next night, Sweden looked exhausted. The fence around what he claimed was an orchard looked very good, Finland thought. The brambles and scrub had been cut back, revealing some of the apple tress to sight. He felt a little dishonest in not having helped as much as he could, but more than a little pleased with the way Sweden kept almost falling asleep into his dinner.

"Sweden?" he said, taking the plate away before Sweden landed in it face-first. "Why don't you go to bed? I still have a few chores to finish, but I won't be long."

"I c'n help," Sweden said, rubbing at his eyes.

"No, no," Finland said soothingly. "Look, here are your glasses. I'll clear up here."

"Hm," Sweden said, shoving his glasses on. "OK." He weaved his way off.

Finland took his time in clearing the plates, in deciding which of the leftovers were worth keeping, in banking down the range fire in the kitchen and the fire in the hall, in finishing the jug of beer by having a nice, solitary drink in the kitchen with his feet propped up in front of the range, perfectly warm and toasty. His own eyes were drifting closed when the kitchen door crashed open to reveal a wild-eyed, half-dressed Sweden, a long-bladed knife in his hand.

"Hyaaah!" Finland screamed, falling out of his chair and crawling beneath the kitchen table as Sweden yelled something incomprehensible.

There was an uneasy silence.

"F'nl'nd?"

"I'm sorry! I am!"

Sweden peered under the table. "F'nl'nd?"

"Wh-what's the knife for?" Finland gasped.

Sweden looked at it as if he hadn't known it was there. "Huh," he said. "Y'weren't there, an' I couldn't see any of y'r things an' I thought I heard a noise -"

Finland took a deep breath and another, trying to calm himself. It was as near to his own anxious babbling as he'd ever heard Sweden come in two hundred years. He wanted to help you, he told himself, trying to calm his racing heart. He doesn't want to kill you. He frowned – whatever Sweden had yelled, he was almost sure he'd heard the words kill and Denmark. He crept out from under the table and poked just enough of his head above it to look across at Sweden.

"D-did you dream Denmark had come raiding?" he said.

Sweden slowly went a horrible, deep red, and took a step back, like he thought Finland was the frightening one. "I –" he said. " – s'rry." He stumbled out, looking ashamed and miserable.

Finland kept a tight hold on the table. He just had a nightmare, he told himself. He had a bad dream and got a fright, and thought you needed help. That's all. He winced at a crashing sound from the hall and a string of muffled profanity. And now he's blundering round in the dark wearing one shoe and without his glasses, and he's carrying a naked blade in his hand, get out there before he falls on the stairs and hurts himself. He made himself stand and pick up the candlestick.

"Sweden!" he called, "Wait! I've got a light!"

The relief on Sweden's face was clear, even from a distance. Finland walked beside him up the stairs and undressed and got into the bed without a word. Sweden put an arm over him and was asleep within moments. I give up, Finland thought. I just want a peaceful life, he thought. If being held like a child's toy brings that peace, fine. He closed his eyes and kept them closed to fool himself into thinking he got any sleep at all.

It took time, but the house began to look better, like it remembered being lived in. Finland scrubbed it from top to bottom, admiring the way the pale pine of the floors and walls came up, looking soft and golden in the morning light. Sweden went out, purpose all over his face, and brought back things Finland remembered from Denmark's house. Finland tried not to think too much on how much effort that took, finding it hard to watch Sweden steel himself for the inevitable fight, and return tired and aching. When Sweden came back with a cut on his face and a black eye Finland felt very guilty.

"I should be helping you," he said, bathing the cut as gently as he could. "I'll come with you –" He paused as Sweden's hand came up over his.

"J'st glad y'r safe," Sweden said. "Stay h'me f'r now."

Finland nodded; he had to do as he was told, he reminded himself. Sweden might have fled to gain his freedom, but he had merely changed one master for another. He chided himself for such an ungrateful thought, and carefully smoothed ointment on the wounds.

The walls seemed straighter and stronger as Sweden carved out a place for himself in the world. His old place, Finland thought, dimly remembering visits to Sweden in the past. If he closed his eyes and thought really hard he could remember Sweden, tall and imposing, dressed in a bear-skin cloak, sword and battle-axe ready to hand. The weapons had still been prominent in later years when Sweden came to visit him, to tell him about a new religion of peace and love he'd better follow if he knew what was good for him. Finland had nodded obediently, whisking his shamans out of sight till Sweden's attention was elsewhere and he'd gone off again. They'd never really spoken, though, not even when they were both living in Denmark's house. Their chores had kept them apart most of the time and anyway Sweden had always been the quiet sort who only really let go in battle - he'd got more and more reserved in Denmark's place. No one could have accused Denmark of being quiet, Finland thought. Maybe if he had been, he wouldn't have goaded Sweden into the fights that had shaken the house from bottom to top.

"At least you got to take some nice stuff from Denmark's house," he said unguardedly, fingering an embroidered hanging. Denmark had probably stolen it in the first place, he thought. He quailed as Sweden gave him a long, silent look. "Not that getting rich is any compensation for foreign domination," he babbled, " - and you'd have got wealthy anyway, and I don't think of you as foreign, I mean, not that I want you to think I don't acknowledge you're not Finnish, and -" Sweden's expression was unreadable. Finland sank into confused, wary silence. "I'm sorry," he said at last. "My lord Sweden." Sweden put a large hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

"'S all right," he said. "Don't worry."

Finland tried. He had his daily chores, but once he had done the really big ones like washing the whole house, he had little else to do than watch Sweden get things running again. It was tempting to ask for time to visit his home, to see the lakes and forests he missed, but what if he were refused? And what would his people see if he went as he was, he thought, looking down at himself dressed in Sweden's old clothes, painstakingly cut down to his size. It was kind of Sweden to have taken such trouble and to have given him his favourite old clothes, retrieved from storage and not moth eaten at all. Still, when Finland caught a glimpse of himself in the old mirror Sweden had - before he got interested in peace and love - looted from some Irish princess's boudoir, he saw someone who looked like he was trying to be a smaller version of Sweden, not - not Finland. He should at least ask for his own room, he thought, just a small room at the back of the house. Sweden had already fixed up one of the other bits of the house, there was plenty of space. They didn't have to share a room, not really, even if Sweden's chamber was large enough, and his bed more than big enough. Finland sighed, remembering Estonia's face when Sweden had called Finland his wife. He hadn't used the word since in Finland's hearing, and Finland didn't know what to do about it, other than carry out his chores, lie rigidly awake and worried at night, keep the house neat, and have Sweden's dinner hot and ready when he came in. It was still a surprise, the contrast between the silent presence meekly chewing whatever Finland had decided to cook that day and the energetic, aggressive face Sweden presented to the rest of the world. It would be nice if there were some middle ground, he thought, and they could have a conversation.

"Y'still want it easier t'see y'r fr'nd?" Sweden asked suddenly. "F'r a spot of comp'ny?"

"Es-Estonia?" Finland said, aghast that Sweden seemed to have read his mind. "Oh, yes, that would be very kind of you!" It would be lovely to visit Estonia, he thought. He'd known Sweden wasn't such a bad sort -

"Wait h're," Sweden said, standing up. He drained his mug of beer and went to take his greatsword from where it hung on the wall.

"W-wait," Finland said, but Sweden had already grabbed up his cloak and gone. He didn't come back that night or the next. Finland sat in the empty room fretting and wringing his hands till the door finally opened again. He covered his mouth as Estonia and Latvia crept in, followed by Sweden, who had a faintly satisfied look on his face. He hung his sword up again; the blade was clean, but dark new stains blotted the hilt's leather wrappings. He was wearing clean new clothes, a doublet and breeches of his favourite blue, though in a nicer material than Finland had seen before. There was even embroidery on the doublet and seed pearls accentuating it. He'd come back with more than Estonia and Latvia, Finland realised, with a sinking feeling that this had all been his fault.

"Anyth'n t'eat?" Sweden asked.

Finland ran to get his supper, setting places for all of them. He, Estonia and Latvia all picked at their food, while Sweden ate methodically and silently. He stood abruptly and they all looked at him, wide eyed.

"Goin' t'get some wine," he said, and went to the cellar door.

"He said the most awful things to Poland," Estonia whispered quickly, leaning across the table.

"He said we had to come with him," Latvia breathed. "He was too scary to refuse, even when Lithuania tried to hold on to us."

"How does he treat you?" Estonia said urgently, as the door opened once more.

"Very well," Finland said, a little too brightly. "Very well. He's a good person, just a bit hard to get talking." He smiled - he hoped convincingly - as Sweden set out four goblets and poured wine for them all.

"C'ldn't get full custody of y'r fr'nds," Sweden said. "Got mor'n half though." He pushed the goblets towards them all, and patted Latvia's shoulder.

"We'll be happy in your household even half the time," Estonia said as Latvia, white-faced and silent, nodded along with his words.

"It's so good to be together again," Finland said, to take Sweden's attention away from his friends. "Thank you, my lord Sweden."

"D'n't have t'call me m'lord," Sweden said, going a dull red and remaining silent for the rest of the meal.

Afterwards Finland rushed round, making the nicest of the newly cleared rooms ready for his friends. They crept in when he was done and sat on the bed, looking at him.

"I promise you'll have a room each," Finland said. "This is just for tonight."

"W-what's he really like?" Latvia said, clinging on to Estonia's hand.

"He's - quiet," Finland said helplessly.

"He's got you doing domestic stuff for him, even more than we were doing for Poland and Lithuania," Estonia said, giving him an odd look. "Do you mind?"

"No! No, it's much better than in Denmark's house. He took you there once, you know what he's like. He and Sweden, they fought all the time, it was horrible. It's much better here, he doesn't really ask me to do much, and he only yells when he hits his thumb with a hammer or something." Finland heard again the noisy clamour of Denmark's house, where people had yelled all the time, and he'd made himself keep silent. Servants or not, the others were Denmark's brothers, and he had never let himself forget that. "You had it better with Poland and your brother, I think."

"Poland and Lithuania treated us all right," Latvia said. He stroked the reindeer skins covering the bed. "Soft," he murmured.

"I thought you'd like them," Finland said, proud. "They're mine."

"And here they are in Sweden's house," Estonia muttered. "Sorry," he said as Finland looked hurt. "It's good if we can really have our own rooms, even if he didn't get full control over us. It's generous, it makes me feel safer here, I suppose." His tone went neutral as he continued, "He said he didn't want you to miss us."

"Really?" Finland said with a laugh that left a hollow feeling in his chest that Sweden could say such a thing to others he'd only seen once before but not to him. "That sounds like more words than I can get out of him in a day."

"He must think highly of you," Latvia said. "You're lucky."

"Why?" Estonia said. "What does he see in you?"

Finland looked away. "I don't know. I suppose he needs Finnish forests for ships and that sort of thing. It's not like I have your good ports or your amber."

"Don't talk like that!" Latvia said. "Forests are nice! Very - very restful." He gave Estonia a pleading glance, and Estonia shut his mouth on whatever he'd been about to say and just hugged Finland instead.

"It really is good to be with you," he said. "It's not like Sweden took our independence, so don't worry. I'm used to living in other people's houses."

"It'll be all right, he's nice," Finland said. "I mean, he's big and scary, too, sometimes. But it's just because he's so quiet. You'll see."

"He can't be that bad," Estonia said. "You're so keen to convince me, after all." He shifted a little so his face was out of Latvia's line of sight. "Are you sure you're all right?" he whispered. "Do you need help? I've been so worried."

Latvia inched closer. "Why are you whispering? You always whisper when you think I'm too small to hear something, Estonia."

"I was asking Finland how many sheep you'd be worth," Estonia said sitting back, the worry on his face turning smoothly to brother-tormenting mischief. "He says you'd barely be worth a lamb."

"Maybe two lambs," Finland said. "You need to go to bed now, Latvia. So do I, I'm tired."

"Thank you for giving us this room," Estonia said, his gaze level and clear. "It really is reassuring to have your own."

Ah, Finland thought. Estonia had counted doors and come up with one too few for four people in this part of the house. He was sensible like that, Finland thought - always cool-headed. His letters to Finland from Denmark's house hadn't had any of the misery in them Finland had felt during his own later time there, and he'd done well for himself in Poland's house too. He'd be all right with Sweden. A horrible, unfriendly thought crept into his mind. If Estonia wanted to be at the top of Sweden's servants he was probably better suited to it than Finland. He had more experience, better resources, he didn't babble like a fool - Stop, he told himself. He's your friend, not your rival.

He smiled at them both, feeling disloyal. They'd have to do what both Poland and Sweden wanted; it didn't seem fair, and to think it might be his fault - No, it was far more likely Sweden just wanted good trade routes. And maybe someone cleverer than Finland to run his house. He kissed them both firmly on the cheek before he could worry any more and left them to sleep. Maybe he would go down to make sure everything was all right in the kitchen, he thought anxiously, in case anyone needed a snack in the night. He was capable of that much at least.

"F'nl'nd?"

He stopped. Sweden's door was open. He dithered a moment before deciding he had no right to refuse a summons. The room looked bigger and better than it had even earlier that day, as if Sweden really was feeling safely his own master again. The fire was nicely built up, and Sweden sat on a high backed bench by it, wrapped in his heavy cloak for extra warmth in the cold night. He jerked his head, a clear order to come closer. Finland went up and hid a sigh as he saw how Sweden was occupying his hands.

"Is that Poland's flag?" he said.

"Pol'nd 'nd Lithuania," Sweden said, still fiddling with needle and thread. "Be a good backin' f'r th'quilt, huh?" He looked up. "Got y'r fr'nds settl'd in?"

"Yes, yes, thank you. They really like the room, Estonia said you're very generous and of course Latvia thinks the same, and -"

"You settl'd in?"

Finland opened his mouth, ready to babble, and shut it again as Sweden laid the stolen flags aside and patted the bench beside him. Finland sat by him and let himself be wrapped in the cloak, drawn close against Sweden's side. He smiled up politely as Sweden fussed about getting the cloak more comfortably about them both, sliding a supportive arm around Finland's shoulders.

"Warm enough?"

"Yes."

Silence.

"You all right, F'nl'nd?" Sweden said, staring firmly at the fire. "In m'house?"

"Yes!" Finland said quickly. "You're so, so kind to take me in, I know I have a lot to learn, I mean, Norway did most of the cooking, unless Iceland insisted on that thing with the whale blubber, and I know Iceland had a better head for figures than me, and Denmark always said the only thing I was fit for was scrubbing the floors – not that I mean to be rude about your brother even if you didn't always see eye to eye with each other –"

Sweden was looking at him in that way he'd sometimes had in Denmark's house, like Finland was an interesting small animal he hadn't decided whether to hunt or keep as a pet. "Not seein' eye to eye," Sweden said, squeezing the arm about him tighter in an awkward hug. "That's one way of puttin' it." He gave a single low huff of laughter, looking sidelong at Finland.

Oh, Finland thought in relief. It's a keep as a pet look. Silence fell again. It wasn't so bad, he thought, being snug against Sweden, under his protective arm. It wasn't as confined as he'd felt in Denmark's house as the lowest of the servants. He remembered Sweden's explosive arguments with Denmark - never much for words even then, he'd made his feelings clear by punching Denmark in the face more than once. The whole house had shaken when they really got into it and it was a lot easier to remember them as they had once been, the terror of northern Europe. The last fight had been the worst, a full scale battle with weapons drawn, ending up with Denmark with a broken ankle and Sweden grabbing up what he could - Finland's hand included - and fleeing into the night. At the very least, Finland thought, he'd gone from the lowest of the servants to the highest, running Sweden's household for him. The greater the household, the more responsibility he'd have, the more status. He had to be more careful, he decided - Sweden had given him everything he asked for, the rest of the world be damned - he needed not to ask for more friends to stay, not unless he was really sure they wanted to belong to Sweden.

"Y'r not m'servant," Sweden said suddenly and quietly as he half turned to face him.

Finland curled closer, shutting his eyes as Sweden shifted round more to be able to wrap both arms around him. Ah, Finland thought, as Sweden stroked his hair and kissed his forehead. This was it, at last. I should say something, he thought, as Sweden lifted one of his hands and kissed his fingers, one by one. I don't want this to be simply one of my chores for him. Other nations would think he was so ungrateful, he thought, wanting more than his position deserved. It wasn't like he hadn't shared Estonia's assumptions that when Sweden called him "wife" he would want more than his dinner waiting for him when he came home. He owed his freedom from Denmark to Sweden, and had never been treated other than well by him. He'd never forced anything on him, not even the escape. Finland could have pulled away, not let himself be drawn from the house. "C'mon!" he remembered Sweden yelling, actual emotion showing in his face as he held out a hand. People will say you took his hand, Finland thought. That you didn't need much persuasion.

"Sweden," he said. "Thank you for taking me from Denmark's house. Thank you."

"Had to," Sweden said. "He didn' treat us that good."

"And thank you for my friends, and for giving me a home, and thank you for looking for me when you thought I was in trouble and I don't mind being your servant, I don't, and I know I owe you so much, it's just, could this be something other than work?"

"Shh," Sweden said, looking both confused and unhappy as he tried to find something to say. "F'nl'nd, y'don't –" He sighed and kissed Finland's face very softly, his cheeks, his eyebrows, his temples, all so feather-light Finland could barely feel it. He opened his mouth as Sweden kissed his lips at the last, and felt the breath leave him as Sweden squeezed him tight in response, the hesitant touch of his tongue in Finland's mouth gentler and more careful.

"F'nl'nd," Sweden said, resting his forehead on Finland's. "Y'don't owe me anythin' 'nd this isn't work. I just – I always – In Denmark's house y'were always so -" He went quiet as Finland squinted up at him, then cleared his throat and went a deep red. "N'ver been any good w'words," he muttered, stroking a thumb over Finland's cheekbone. "But I want – if y'want -" He sighed, closed his eyes and said, fast and low, "D'you want to? B'cause I –"

"It's all right," Finland said. He wasn't going to be overwhelmed it seemed. He looked towards the bed, noting the new covers carefully smoothed down, the bright copper handles of warming pans visible against the clean sheets. The carved headboard looked like it had been freshly repainted, and Finland had a sudden image of Sweden hurriedly retouching it to make it as bright and cheerful as if this were really his wedding night. Oh, he thought. Oh. Maybe he doesn't see it as my duty. Maybe I can have something to give me some status in this. "My lord Sweden," he said, as politely as he could, putting his fingertips against Sweden's lips to stop the complaint. "You could carry me there by right of conquest. Would you prefer me to walk there beside you? As your -" He couldn't say it, he found. It was too ridiculous. Sweden, though, simply sighed as if relieved that someone else was doing the talking and stood, pulling Finland up after him.

"As m'wife," he said, and with a hesitant smile added, "Don't you call me Lord Swed'n no more."

"Dear Sweden," Finland said, keeping his voice steady, "I'll go wherever you lead."

"Won't lead y'wrong," Sweden said, taking him step by step to the bed. He pulled out the warming pans and carried them back to the fire as Finland started to unlace his doublet. Sweden flung his cloak onto the bench and crossed the room in a few intent strides. "Sheets'll be cold if y'r that slow," he said, pulling the laces from Finland's hands. Finland hurried to open his breeches before Sweden could help there too, and staggered as he tried to shove them down at the same time that Sweden tried to pull him out of the doublet.

"Shit," Finland said as he fell, half-dressed, against Sweden's chest. He looked up and blushed. Sweden was laughing, his almost soundless laugh more easily felt than heard, and his grim expression had been replaced by one that seemed to say, How didI get this lucky? He steadied Finland upright again, taking off his glasses and putting them carefully on the headboard's shelf. This is going to be all right, Finland thought. I hope. He kicked off his shoes and stepped out of his breeches. He stood there in his shirt, pulling off his stockings as Sweden started on his own clothes.

"Get in," Sweden said. "Don't want you catchin' a cold."

Finland obeyed, sliding between the warmed sheets as Sweden untidily dropped his clothes on the floor, raising one long leg like a particularly ungainly heron as he pulled off his stockings. His shirt was a fine lawn, expensive and suitable for someone gaining prominence in the world, but nowhere near warm enough to stand around in.

"You get in too," Finland said. "You'll freeze."

Sweden climbed in the other side of the bed and they lay there, a yard of empty sheet between them. This is ridiculous, Finland thought.You've slept in this bed night after night. You should be used to him - He moved closer just as Sweden, with much the determined look on his face as he had while fighting, suddenly did likewise. They ended up nose to nose, awkward against each other.

"'S all right," Sweden said.

He unlaced the neck of Finland's shirt and kissed his throat as Finland held on, stroking his hair. The fact they were taking turns to reassure each other touched him, and he kissed Sweden's head carefully. Sweden's hands moved up under his shirt, gentle and light, like he had never held a weapon in his life. It was reassuring as well, and Finland felt himself start to relax into the light touches of Sweden's fingers and lips.

"Dearest Swe-" Finland said, and was cut off by a desperate kiss. Sweden shifted up and over him, his long frame pressing Finland down into the mattress. "Could, could you blow out the candles?" Finland said, taken aback at his sudden haste after such gentle slowness.

Sweden looked down at him silently, then muttered, "F'rgot somethin' anyway." He rolled off and dived out of bed, snatching a small pot up from the nearby table. He blew out the candles, leaving only the firelight for illumination. Finland could barely see him as he pulled across the bed's thick curtains, leaving them both in darkness, then clambered back in. There were no more possible delays, Finland thought, nor any reason for them. He rolled closer.

"Mind y'don't spill that goose grease," Sweden's voice said in his ear.

Goose grea- oh, Finland thought. "Your nice clean sheets," he said regretfully.

There was a pause, and then as if it had taken time to realise that silent looks were useless if the other person couldn't see you, Sweden said, "We c'n wash 'em."

"Yes," Finland said, cheered by such a simple, ordinary response. "We can." He found Sweden's face, traced his fingers over his cheeks. "I'm yours, Sweden, willingly." I mean it, he tried to say with his hands. I do.

"Hm," Sweden said, a small, happy noise.

Finland twitched a little as Sweden touched him then with slippery, greasy fingers that slid carefully over his cock and balls, and further back between his legs. He ran a hand up Sweden's thigh, pushing up his shirt to his hips. They could wash the shirts too, he thought, regretting the damage to the fine cloth. Blast it, Sweden could afford more shirts, he decided, and closed his fingers round Sweden's cock, marvelling at the sound the other made then.

"F'nl'nd," Sweden gasped, and kissed him as he pushed his index finger in, slowly and more easily than Finland had expected.

"Oh," Finland said. He moved his hands up to touch Sweden's face, bringing him close for a kiss before putting a hand back on his cock. "I - oh, Sweden, that's nice."

"Good."

Sweden had lost his urgency, it seemed, as if he'd got to the stage of a campaign where he knew exactly where he was going and how he was going to win. Finland gasped against him, matching his own hand's pace to that of Sweden's. He might not say a lot, Finland thought, but it was very easy to follow his lead. Sweden pulled his finger slowly out, slid two even more slowly in, like he thought they'd have centuries to finish this. Centuries, Finland thought. He'd like to spend centuries right here, letting Sweden show him what he'd learnt from watching his people. He made a small disappointed noise as Sweden at last took his hand away, and then pulled Finland's hand away from his cock.

"Roll over," he said, his tone somewhere between an order and a question. Finland did, lying on his other side as Sweden fitted himself against him, holding him for a moment as if they were simply huddled together against the cold, before positioning his cock against Finland's ass and starting to push in. He wrapped an arm round Finland's waist, holding him still as he moved in little by little. "F'nl'nd," he said, his breath warm in Finland's ear as he kept his thrusts slow and careful, "You all right?"

"Yes," Finland said, pushing back to make them both gasp. Sweden wriggled his other arm under him to hold him in a tight embrace. The linen bunched between them was annoying, Finland thought, robbing them of even more closeness. "We should just have taken these off," he said.

"What, go to bed naked? That's indecent!" Sweden said without the trace of a mumble, as scandalised as Finland remembered Denmark's queen - a woman with very definite views on propriety, whom Sweden had openly loathed - as being when faced with Sweden's accent or almost anything to do with Finland's culture. He started to laugh helplessly, and seconds later Sweden joined in, not his soundless laugh but loud guffaws, his face pressed against the back of Finland's neck as he gasped for air. It sent jolts right through Finland, inside and out. He liked the sound, he thought; he hoped he'd hear it more often in future. "Oh, F'nl'nd," Sweden said fondly, and thrust in hard and fast. Finland seized his hand, moving it to his cock and then just braced himself as best he could while Sweden took them both where he wanted to go, moving in him strongly as he stroked him hard. Sweden made a quiet sound at last and shuddered against him as Finland felt him come deep inside him, then he sped up his fingers' movement till Finland jerked and came in his hand. He sighed as Sweden pulled out and rolled him over to face him, holding him in a fierce embrace that said he had no intention of ever letting him go. Finland wrapped his arms round him and held tight too; he had yearned for independence in Denmark's house, but right then he didn't care. A strong neighbour like Sweden would have made independence difficult anyway, he thought sleepily.

"Ask me for somethin' tomorrow," Sweden said quietly. "For y'r mornin' gift."

Finland blinked, then smiled to himself. It was better to be a publicly acknowledged, cherished wife than a conquered vassal or the spoils of a raid. Embarrassing, but better. He snuggled as close as he could while Sweden stroked his hair, his silence now restful and calm. The moment Estonia sees me, he'll know, Finland thought. He'll be so worried - I'll have to let him know I'm all right.

They were worries for another time. He was too warm and relaxed right then to care about anything but sleeping in Sweden's arms. Maybe next time they'd take off their shirts, he thought. Or keep the candles burning - he could manage that, he thought, next time - so he could see Sweden's shocked face when he suggested not wearing anything. With a grin he wound himself tighter around Sweden and let himself drift into sleep, feeling for the first time that he was lying exactly where he wanted to be.