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This is not the way Athelstan expected this interview to go.

He's not some wet-behind-the-ears culinary school graduate. He's worked himself up from commis to chef de partie to sous-chef by his own grit and determination. He knows the ropes. You come, you interview, if you don't make a complete idiot of yourself, maybe they throw you on the line and have you prepare a dish or two so they can see how you work.

But his interview at Shieldmaiden goes nothing at all like he expects. He's greeted by Lagertha and Ragnar, the restaurant's owners and executive chefs, but instead of leading him back to an office to discuss his qualifications, Lagertha takes hold of his elbow and Ragnar slings an arm around his shoulders and together they lead him off to tour the kitchen.

It's impressive, state-of-the-art, and Athelstan tries not to gape.

They don't give him a test, though, don't have him prepare something off their menu to be picked apart and judged. They just stop him in the middle of the kitchen, and Ragnar gestures around. "Cook something for us, then," he says.

Athelstan just stares at them a moment, certain he misunderstood, that instructions must be forthcoming.

A beat passes, and Ragnar's face falls. He starts to look disappointed, and there's no bearing that. Athelstan covers up for the mistake by moving around the kitchen, taking an inventory of the tools they have available, and then he does the same to the pantry and the fridge. They don't follow him into the walk-in freezer, so he takes a moment there to center himself. Then he comes out, turns on the range, and starts cooking.

He makes lasagna, because it's unexpected. What sous-chef in their right mind would try to impress a potential employer with a meal millions of Americans make at home every night? That's the beauty of it, though, the genius of it. And they're under consideration here as much as he is — if they can't appreciate the thought behind his choice, then this isn't the right place for him anyway.

The trick to the lasagna is to make it familiar, but unique. He grinds his own sausage, because they've got a grinder and the right cuts of meat, so why not. This is definitely the time to go big or go home. He uses his body to shield the collection of spices he adds to the meat from Lagertha and Ragnar's sight, and shoulders Ragnar back when he tries to peek. He's gratified when Ragnar laughs and settles back at Lagertha's side to wait, rather than taking offense.

The thing about lasagna is that infinitely versatile, and it's a comfort food. There's a reason that millions of Americans make it at home every night, and an upscaled, inventive variation would fly out of the door as fast as the kitchen could send them out. That's what he wants to get across with this meal — not just his ability to follow a recipe, but his creativity and business sense.

He makes dessert while the lasagna bakes and then serves it up on individual plates for each of them. Spinach, sausage, and grilled portobello lasagna with bleu cheese and béchamel for the entrée, and blueberry lavender ice cream for dessert. Ragnar goes for the ice cream first, which makes Lagertha roll her eyes and smile indulgently as she forks a bite of lasagna into her mouth.

She shuts her eyes as she savors it and hums a little. When she opens her eyes, she looks quietly pleased. She elbows Ragnar in the ribs and shoves a bite in his mouth. His eyes fly wide and flash to Athelstan. He chews, swallows — and grins.

That's enough for Athelstan to know he hit it out of the park. He lets himself breathe, and hopes for an offer of a second interview, maybe an evening to work on the line and see how he fits in with the rest of their staff.

Instead, what Lagertha says is, "When are you available to start?"

He opens his mouth to speak, shuts it silently for a moment. "Immediately," he says. "Whenever you'd want me."

"Good." She nods once. "Dinner service starts at five."

"I— What? Tonight?"

She raises a cool eyebrow at him and pins him with a look. "You are not available immediately, then?"

"I— No, I—" He trips over his own tongue. If this is a test to assess his flexibility, it's one he can't afford to fail. "I'm sorry, that'll be fine. Of course I can be here. Please, just give me a moment, I need to call somebody."

She nods regally and Athelstan moves further into the kitchen, leaving them standing and talking quietly together with their shoulders brushing. Ragnar keeps stealing bites of his melting ice cream and grinning around his spoon.

Athelstan digs his phone out of his pocket and turns his back to the couple as he dials. A pleasant woman's voice answers the line. "Is Mr. Haraldson available? I need to reschedule—"

The rapid snap of footsteps approaching from behind is the only warning he gets before the phone is snatched from his hand. He spins and finds Ragnar behind him, frowning imperiously. "Chef Haraldson?" He disconnects the call without even looking at the phone. "Why are you standing in our kitchen, interviewing for our job, and calling our competitor, hmm?"

His words are pleasant, but his gaze is hard as iron. Athelstan has to fight down the panic that rises up in him like gorge and remind himself that he's done nothing wrong. "I have a follow-up interview scheduled at Siggy's tonight," he explains. "I was calling to reschedule so I can be here for your dinner service. Can I have my phone back, please?"

Lagertha comes up behind her husband, looking unimpressed. "You don't need to reschedule." She nudges Ragnar with her shoulder until he offers Athelstan's phone back to him. Then she gestures to it with a jerk of her chin. "Call him back, tell him you've taken another job."

Athelstan takes the phone, but doesn't dial. He lifts his chin, pulls his shoulders back, and meets her gaze straight on. "Offer it to me," he says, "and maybe I will."

There's a moment where they stare at him, faces unyielding, and he thinks he's gone and blown it. Then Lagertha smiles, showing teeth. She looks ferociously pleased, and she gestures to Athelstan's phone with a tip of her head again. "Haraldson," she says. "What did he offer you?"

Haraldson hasn't offered anything yet, but he's not going to tell them that. Instead, he gives them a number that's on the high end, for a sous-chef's salary, but not exorbitantly so. He expects to be negotiated down to something more reasonable — the first number is just to tell them that he knows his worth, but also that he's not overconfident about it. Nobody wants to work elbow-to-elbow every night with another man's ego.

"We'll give you ten percent more," Ragnar says, almost before Athelstan's done speaking.

Athelstan just stares at him. It's all he can manage not to let his jaw sag to the floor.

Lagertha glances at him, then scowls at Ragnar. "Don't be cheap. Twenty-five percent."

Ragnar relents with a shrug and a smile, and they both turn their gazes back to Athelstan. He can't breathe. Even if he could, he wouldn't know what to say. In a few more years, maybe, he might have expected to make that much, if he played his cards right and fortune smiled on him. Not now. He knows he's good, but he doesn't have the experience to match that sort of salary.

They're still waiting for a response. He forces air into his lungs and manages to stammer out, "I don't know what to say."

They smile as though he agreed to take the job. He suppose he pretty much did. "Say you'll be back here in time for the dinner service. Can you make more of that lasagna? We'll sell it as the Chef's Special, and tomorrow you can start to learn our menu."

Athelstan nods, feeling wild and just a little bit ill, like he's just stepped off a roller-coaster. "Yes. I can do that. I just need to run home and change. I'll be back in a few hours to prep."

Lagertha smiles like he's made her proud. Ragnar thrusts out one big hand and they shake on it. And Athelstan goes home with his head spinning, trying to come to grips with the fact that he's somehow managed to land his dream job, with a salary he wouldn't have ever dared imagine, in the space of one afternoon.

On the drive home, he calls Haraldson back and tells him he's accepted another job. Haraldson's indignant, and demands the opportunity to make him a counter offer. When Athelstan tells him the pay the Lothbroks agreed to, Haraldson sounds like he's choked on his own tongue, and the satisfaction of that keeps Athelstan smiling all the way home.


He settles into the job quickly. Ragnar and Lagertha are great to work with -- they cook with an intensity that Athelstan finds invigorating, and it only takes working under them for one full dinner service before he's certain that he's made the right choice. It doesn't take long before they're all three moving together like an oiled machine, like they've been doing it for years, not weeks.

They like to change the menu up every so often, too, which Athelstan appreciates. He didn't get into this business so he could make the same recipes over and over for the rest of his life.

He's a few weeks into the job when his phone buzzes on a Saturday morning. He's still in bed trying to sleep, because the Friday dinner rush had been crazy and he hadn't even left the restaurant until after midnight. His phone buzzes a second time before he can drift off again, though, so he pries an eye open and peers at the screen.

He's got two texts. The first one says ath, need u @ rstrnt stat, and he doesn't need to see the name to know it's from Ragnar. Ragnar loves technology, he's delighted by every gadget and gizmo designed to make one's life better or easier or more entertaining, but at some point along the way he decided that embracing twenty-first century technology meant texting like a twelve-year-old girl. The second one is from the same number, but has actual punctuation, so he assumes Lagertha stole the phone. He means please. I know it might have been hard for you to tell, since it never actually occurred to him to use the word, but he really does.

Athelstan has no idea what's going on or why they'd need him to come in at eight on a Saturday, but the "stat" makes his heart pound and sends him scrambling out of bed and grabbing up clothes off the floor, consumed by visions of every sort of catastrophe that might befall a restaurant.

He's there in half an hour, out of breath and wearing distressed jeans and a ratty t-shirt because it's what was closest at hand. He bursts into the Shieldmaiden's kitchen expecting fire, or blood, or tears. Instead he finds the kitchen smelling of garlic and lemon and hot oil, and Lagertha and Ragnar leaning their hips against the counter, eating from a plate shared between them.

Ragnar gives him a doleful look and says, "It's cold now. You should have been here ten minutes ago." Then he finally seems to see Athelstan and the sorrow vanishes beneath a slow grin. He rakes his gaze over Athelstan, from the wild hair he didn't have time to tame to the worn shirt and jeans to the flip-flops he'd grabbed as he'd flown out the door because his work shoes had been on the other side of the apartment and he hadn't thought there'd been time.

Ragnar looks at him like a hungry man sitting down to a meal, full of hedonistic pleasure, and Athelstan shifts beneath his gaze, disquieted by the regard. "Is this how you always dress when you're off duty?"

He crosses his arms over his chest and frowns. "I thought there was an emergency."

"Don't pout," Lagertha says. She comes over to him with the plate. It's piled with calamari, battered and fried to a light golden brown. She picks a ring up with her fingers, says, "Try this," and puts it into Athelstan's mouth before he can react. "Tell us what you think."

The calamari's tender, perfectly cooked, though that's no surprise with these two. There's a hint of spice to it, too. Cayenne sprinkled into the dredging flour, if he had to guess, and it gives a nice surprise. He chews it, swallows it down, says, "It's good, but why am I--"

"Good." She looks disgruntled. She pops a piece of the calamari into her own mouth and chews it thoughtfully. "Ragnar, where's the aioli? Bring it here. He needs to try it with that."

Ragnar brings a bowl over -- no fancy white serving dish back here, when it's the three of them, just a plain, stainless steel mixing bowl with the whisk still in it. Lagertha takes another piece of calamari off the plate, this time tentacles instead of rings, curled up and crisp. She dips it into the sauce and feeds it to Athelstan again.

There's a lemon tang from the aioli, and the spiciness of whole-seed mustard. It complements the calamari well and smears across his lip as Lagertha feeds it to him. When she reaches for him like she means to wipe it away with her thumb, his heart jams up against his ribs. He turns his face away before she can and wipes it away himself.

"Very good," he allows. And he doesn't know why he's here, why they're feeding him squid and looking at him like they're genuinely worried he may not like it. They're the owners, the executive chefs, the brilliant duo who've made Shieldmaiden a wild success despite the fact (or because of it, Athelstan secretly thinks, but that's never a possibility that the critics will acknowledge) that everything about them is unorthodox. He's just the sous-chef. Why should they need his approval?

"Is this going on the menu?" he asks, because it's the only explanation that makes any sense to him.

But Lagertha just turns away with a dismissive shrug, says, "Maybe," like she doesn't care either way. She brings the plate back to Ragnar, where he selects a piece off of it, swipes it through the aioli, and feeds it to her as she just did to Athelstan. She accepts it with somewhat more grace than Athelstan managed, and takes the opportunity to bite a little at her husband's fingers as she licks the sauce from them.

Athelstan turns his face away. This is a moment between the two of them, not meant to be shared by another. They just laugh, though, when they see him blushing, and Ragnar offers to make another batch of calamari so Athelstan can try it fresh out of the oil.


It takes a few more weekends of Saturday summonses before Athelstan decides that the reason behind it all is that Ragnar and Lagertha like to play. Despite what they might say, they never put any of the things the dishes they create on the menu. They just throw something clever and unexpected together, insist that Athelstan try it, and then stand back with an air of expectation while they wait for his verdict.

The dishes they make are always brilliant, but they never seem content with that, when Athelstan says so. They make pastries stuffed with a lemon-sage cream and watch with fierce delight while Athelstan tries to bite into it without getting the filling everywhere. Ragnar makes a small bowl of spaghetti bolognese with one impossibly-long strand of pasta that has to be slurped Lady and the Tramp-style and gets sauce all over Athelstan's mouth. He wipes it away self-consciously and tries not to notice the way Ragnar and Lagertha both stare.

The next week it's cannoli, filled with sweet ricotta and crystalized ginger. Ragnar offers it but won't let go when Athelstan tries to take it from him. He watches avidly as Athelstan leans in and takes a bite, while Lagertha rubs his back and smirks.

"Athelstan," he says abruptly while Athelstan is still chewing and making approving noises. He moves in close, catches hold of Athelstan's upper arm when he tries to draw away, and rubs his thumb over Athelstan's lower lip.

Athelstan stares at him, and swallows the cannoli with a gulp.

"You had a bit of confectioner's sugar just there," Lagertha says.

Ragnar sucks the smear of white powder from his thumb and looks unbearably smug. Athelstan tells himself that the tingling he feels on his lip is just the burn of the ginger.

The next week, Lagertha's experimenting with molecular gastronomy. Athelstan shows up (in his ratty, everyday clothes because Ragnar and Lagertha always seem a little disappointed when he shows up dressed professionally; they wear everyday clothes, too, and throw aprons over them to protect against spills, and it's casual and intimate and alarming) and Lagertha's got a bowl of what look like egg yolks, yellow gelatinous spheres that jiggle and bounce when Ragnar takes one up in his fingers and feeds it to him.

Athelstan has to wrap his lips around the little globe and suck it into his mouth. He bites too soon and it bursts, spilling down his mouth and dripping from his chin and jaw. Ragnar drags his fingers through the mess and feeds Athelstan another before he can pull away to find a napkin.

It goes better this time, and the sphere bursts on his tongue to flood his taste buds with a chilled soup, rich with saffron and chardonnay. The sound he makes isn't a moan, it's just a sound of wordless appreciation. Definitely not a moan.

Lagertha and Ragnar don't seem to appreciate the difference, because Lagertha's eyes burn bright and fierce, and Ragnar grins. "Good," Lagertha says. "We'll make those again."

It's then that Athelstan realizes that they've been holding out for something that won't just please him, but will impress him. Something that will make him — not moan, not that, but express his surprise and appreciation, viscerally not just verbally.

The next Saturday, Athelstan's woken at an ungodly hour by another text from Ragnar.

gt outa bed. ryt now. dnt b l8. b hre n 15 mns.

It takes Athelstan two of those minutes to decipher the text. He rolls out of bed and drags pants on over his underwear. He keeps the shirt he slept in. It's hopelessly wrinkled, but they won't care, and he's curious to see what they've got planned. He walks into the kitchen fourteen minutes after Ragnar sent his text.

They've got little bite-sized unfrosted chocolate cakes set out on a plate. They don't even greet him when he walks in, Lagertha just picks one up and walks to meet him, feeds it to him without a word.

He bites, expecting a surprise. Mexican chocolate, perhaps, full of spice and heat. It's the sort of trick they like to play. But the surprise is that they're mini lava cakes, still warm and oozing chocolate inside. It drips when he bites and he lifts a hand to his mouth automatically, licks the chocolate from his lips, sucks it from his fingers. Lagertha stares openly, gaze riveted on his mouth. Ragnar comes up behind her and presses in, one arm wrapped around her stomach and whispering words close against her ear that Athelstan makes an effort not to hear.

He tells them his idea, because Mexican molten lava cake is exactly the sort of unusual dessert they'd serve at Shieldmaiden. The tense, electrically-charged moment is defused when Lagertha's whole face lights up, and she's abruptly dashing off across the kitchen, gathering ingredients into her arms and stirring up a brand new batter.

While she contemplates spices, Athelstan cooks up a custard base for an orange blossom honey ice cream to complement. They eat it all together, boosted up to sit on the counters with bowls in their hands, spicy molten chocolate filling mingling with the cool honey ice cream. Lagertha declares it's going on the menu immediately and tells Athelstan that Odin, god of wisdom, will bless him for his brilliance. He ducks his head and smiles into his melting ice cream, pleased.

The next Saturday, Athelstan arrives to find Ragnar alone in the kitchen with a small cake on a plate waiting for him, simply frosted with a vanilla bean buttercream. But he's drawn what can only be a very juvenile rendition of a penis and testicles on it with a chocolate drizzle. Ragnar waits with his arms crossed and the little smirk that's his default expression, watching Athelstan look at his handiwork.

Athelstan stares at the cake, his mouth gone dry and his face gone hot. He hasn't managed to get a grip on himself when the kitchen's office door swings open and Lagertha comes striding out. She sees them both standing there, sees the cake on the counter between them and stalks over with a terrifying scowl on her face.

Athelstan shirks back, his hands coming up between them to ward off her anger. "I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding—"

"I'll say there has." She smacks Ragnar on the arm hard enough to rock him onto his heels. "You made him yellow cake? Are you trying to insult him?" She punches his arm. Athelstan winces at the power behind it, but Ragnar just slides her a sidelong look. "He's not a waiter! Make him tiramisu, for heaven's sake!"

Ragnar gives her an abashed sort of smile and shrugs and slinks off. Athelstan stares after him, and then at Lagertha.

She gives the cake a disgusted glance. "He's not subtle." She says it like an apology. "But he means well."

"I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding," he says again, low and intent. "I hope I haven't given the impression--"

"Stop," she says easily, and waves a hand as though his protests are no more consequential than errant flies, and just as easy to be rid of. "You've been nothing we don't want you to be. We're lucky to have you here."

He thinks it's the other way around, that he's lucky to be there, lucky to have found a restaurant that embraces the unorthodox rather than scorning it. These Saturdays have started to feel less like work, more like time spent with friends, sharing their passion. He looks forward to them. It's getting easier and easier to roll out of bed at ridiculous hours of the morning and come down here, to cook and talk and enjoy each other's company.

He has definitely overstepped a boundary, whether Lagertha acknowledges it or not. He pulls back, trying to put distance between them.

"Stay," she says, with a hand on his elbow. And then she moves past him and away, to help Ragnar with the mascarpone.

He stays. It would be easier if he could tell himself it's because she told him to and he's a loyal, obedient employee, but his lies are getting easier and easier to see through, lately.

Tiramisu isn't a quick dessert to make. It takes time for the coffee to soak into the cake and all the flavors to meld. Athelstan keeps himself busy making crepes to fill with the leftover mascarpone. His hand shakes where he grips the pan, and he ruins the first half dozen before he's able to get himself under control.

Lagertha comes over and takes him gently by the arm. "Come," she says, and leads him back to Ragnar, who waits with a plate of tiramisu. It's a beautiful dessert -- but it's got genitals drawn on it again, in white chocolate on top of the cocoa powder that dusts the top. Athelstan drops his gaze but stares at it through his lashes.

"If this isn't a misunderstanding," he says quietly, afraid of the answer, "is it a joke?"

Lagertha frowns and clicks her tongue, scornful. She cuts into the tiramisu with a fork and moves in to feed Athelstan the bite. He's opening his mouth for it before he has a chance to think about it, his taste buds flooded with the tastes of coffee and mascarpone and sweet, spongy cake.

He's scarcely swallowed it when Lagertha leans in, hand spread firm against the side of his face, and kisses him. It's not sweet or chaste or anything that could possibly be misinterpreted as more than it's meant. It's slick and open-mouthed and greedy. She hooks her fingers around the back of his neck and pulls him into the kiss, sweeps her tongue across his like he's something worth exploring.

Athelstan is keenly aware of Ragnar behind him, a wall of warmth at his back. His hand is on Athelstan's hip, fingers latticed across Lagertha's, and his breath dusts warm across the nape of Athelstan's neck.

Lagertha ends the kiss slowly, like it's something she wants to savor. She catches Athelstan's lower lip between hers and sucks on it, tugs at it, then lets it slip free. She doesn't put any space between them at all, though, and when Athelstan blinks his eyes open she's right there. There's cocoa powder on her lip that must have come from his mouth. His gaze catches on it. The restaurant could burst into flames around them and he couldn't have torn his gaze away.

Her lips quirk in a sly, smug smile. He's quite certain that she knows the effect she has. Ragnar's hand presses harder against hers, against Athelstan's waist. His breath is hot on the slope of Athelstan's shoulder. No one says anything, they just watch him and wait. Even Ragnar's attention he can feel like the heat off an open flame.

Athelstan drops his gaze and licks the taste of Lagertha's kiss from his lips. He lifts a hand and rubs his thumb across her mouth, wiping away the smudge of chocolate that torments him.

Her eyes light, bright as flame. He isn't even certain he's made a decision yet, but they show no doubt.

Ragnar closes is mouth on the curve of muscle between Athelstan's shoulder and neck. He sucks and bites and fits both hands to Athelstan's waist, pulling him back against the broad strength of Ragnar's body while Lagertha bites at the edge of Athelstan's jaw and manipulates them both, pushing and prodding them across the kitchen, around the counter, and backwards.

Ragnar drops a hand from Athelstan's waist and a moment later a door creaks open and Lagertha propels them backwards into the Shieldmaiden's office. She kicks the door shut. Ragnar peels himself off of Athelstan's back and for a moment he stands alone in the middle of the small room, untethered and adrift.

He reaches out. His hand connects with Ragnar, solid and strong before him, and splays across his chest. Athelstan can feel the strength of him even through his shirt, can trace the contours of his muscles they're so well-defined. The desire to bite and suck and taste catches him by surprise and leaves him breathless.

"We want you," Ragnar murmurs, his voice a rasp like the scrape of his beard against Athelstan's jaw. He catches Athelstan's earlobe between his teeth and pulls at it. Something answers him deep in Athelstan's gut, a tug and a twist that heats his blood until it burns in his veins.

Lagertha's hands find the hem of his shirt and steal up underneath, sliding warm across the skin of his stomach. She nuzzles the shell of his other ear, opposite Ragnar, and scratches her nails across the edge of his navel. "Will you join us?"

He doesn't know how she can ask that, how either of them can doubt, when he's here and panting between them and yearning for more. But he nods dumbly and manages to find his voice, enough to say, "Yes. I want-- Yes."

Lagertha's lips curve against his ear. She slides her hands up higher, pushing his shirt up. The air in the room feels cool on the skin of his stomach. He shivers a little, until she drags the shirt up farther and he has to put room between them both so he can lift his arms and help her pull it off over his head.

Ragnar's gaze roams over the bared expanse of his chest. His lips curve. He moves in to bracket Athelstan between himself in front, and Lagertha behind. His lips trail over Athelstan's shoulder, down his chest. Athelstan's physique isn't nearly as impressive as his, but Ragnar seems appreciative all the same. He tongues Athelstan's nipple until it draws to a hard peak, then smiles like a wolf and bites.

The sharp jab of sensation rocks Athelstan back onto his heels and into Lagertha's arms. She noses aside his hair and smiles against the nape of his neck. Her hands steal around his waist and glide across his stomach. She toys with the waist of his jeans with her fingers.

Athelstan shuts his eyes and turns his face into the heat of her breath on the side of his neck. She leans in and murmurs against his ear, "Ragnar likes to use his mouth."

Athelstan stares down at the crown of Ragnar's head. He can't see what Ragnar's doing, but he can feel it, the pull of the other man's lips against his skin, the sharp scrape of teeth, the wet glide of a tongue. I can see that, he thinks, a little hysterically, but says nothing.

Lagertha slips her fingers past the waist of his jeans and under the elastic band of his boxers. She strokes both hands down, fingers drawing trails through his pubic hair, but she doesn't touch his cock at all. Her voice is a liquid caress when she speaks against his ear again. "I like using my hands."

He turns his face to her blindly. He wants to kiss her again, wants the slick heat of her mouth against his. He wants to lap those suggestive words off of her lips and swallow them down until they're a part of him.

She holds back, just out of his reach. Her nails score lines low on his stomach. "What do you like?" she asks. She lips across his neck to his nape and drags her tongue there. "To touch? Or to taste? We're very curious."

Both, he wants to say. He wants everything they offer him and more. But they've been teasing him for months -- it's easy to see that now, in hindsight, with both their hands on him making it impossible to convince himself that any of it was just a misunderstanding. He thinks of their fingers on his lips, placing food into his mouth. He thinks of them standing together in this kitchen, designing meals just for him, intended to seduce and please.

He thinks of these things, and knows that there's only one choice for what he wants to do first. He kisses Lagertha lightly, then puts his hands on Ragnar's hipbones and sinks down onto his knees.

Lagertha's hands trail up from his hips as he lowers himself, sliding up his stomach and chest and coming to rest on his shoulders. She holds him lightly, steadies him, as he leans in and kisses the narrow stripe of skin between Ragnar's shirt and pants.

Ragnar's hands settle on the back of his head, fingers pushing through his hair to press warm against his scalp. Athelstan pushes the hem of his shirt up to bare more of his stomach and grazes his lips across the muscles revealed there, then down.

The art of cuisine is one of creating contrasting textures, as much as it is anything else. Athelstan presses his mouth to Ragnar's cock through the rough fabric of his jeans, enjoying the scrape of fabric and the bite of the metal zipper against his kiss-raw lips. There's a visceral pleasure to be had when he works Ragnar's fly open and that ruggedness gives way to the soft cotton of Ragnar's underwear. Athelstan mouths him through it, sucks and licks until the material is wet through and Ragnar's panting, face tipped up to the ceiling and mouth gaping open on a silent sound.

When he's had his fill, Athelstan hooks his fingers through the elastic waist of Ragnar's boxers and eases them down off his hips. He kisses every inch of flesh as it's revealed and relishes the way even the fine cotton feels coarse against his lips compared to the hot velvet of Ragnar's skin.

Athelstan wants, more than anything, to taste. He leans in and closes his lips around the head of Ragnar's cock, and laps up the precome that's smeared across his skin there. Ragnar chokes on a sound and tightens his hands in Athelstan's hair, urging him in.

Athelstan has no thought for patience, not after all these weeks of being teased. He feels like a starving man with a banquet set before him, and he wants to gorge. He swallows Ragnar down as deep as he can take him, and only pulls back when he has to breathe. He traces Ragnar's cock with his tongue. Even here with only skin between them there are different textures to explore, the soft, firm flesh at the head of his cock, the ridge that he laps at before it gives way to the shaft, a landscape of veins and ridges beneath the looser, softer skin that sheaths it.

He takes his time. He wants to savor, and he'll have to stop if he makes Ragnar come too soon. Ragnar's silent, gaping cry gives way to gasps and strangled groans. He tugs at Athelstan's hair with his big, broad hands and Athelstan shivers at the little bit of pain that's like a whetstone to the blade of his desire.

Lagertha has sunk down to her knees behind him. She slides in close, her knees between Athelstan's, and maintains the warm pressure of her at his back. Her hips nestle his and her breasts are a soft pressure against his shoulder blades as she slips a hand into his pants again and strokes him lightly, like it's a reward for doing this to Ragnar. Like it isn't its own reward to have the taste and weight of him on Athelstan's tongue and the clutch of his hands in his hair.

She leans in close and breathes into his ear, soft words of encouragement and bits of advice. Some of it he takes, and the rest he ignores. Perhaps Ragnar will get off faster if Athelstan gives him just a hint of teeth as he slides along the shaft, but they've teased him long enough he thinks they can bear being teased in turn, just for a little while.

He doesn't stop until Ragnar's gasps have turned into a wild groans that Athelstan is sure could be heard throughout the whole kitchen, and his cock is leaking steadily on Athelstan's tongue. He sits back on his haunches then, stretching out the ache in his jaw, and takes some small amount of pleasure in the way Ragnar stares down at him like he can't believe Athelstan didn't finish. He tightens his fingers in Athelstan's hair, but Athelstan just turns his face to the side and brushes his wet lips across the inside of Ragnar's wrist.

Lagertha drags him down with a growl, lays him out on his back in the middle of the office floor. Ragnar drops to his knees at Athelstan's side and bends over him. He closes his mouth on Athelstan's nipple and sucks at it mercilessly while Lagertha moves down to Athelstan's legs and strips his jeans and underwear off briskly.

Athelstan's breath gathers thick in his throat as they spread him out naked before them. Ragnar bites across Athelstan's chest to his other nipple and tortures that one just the same. He uses his lips and teeth and tongue like they're precious weapons, strips Athelstan's control from him with the same easy skill that he does everything.

Lagertha kneads his thighs and pumps his cock while she's down there between Athelstan's thighs, then she moves up Athelstan's body. She shoves at Ragnar's head while he's working Athelstan's nipple between his teeth and the sudden scrape makes Athelstan gasp and hitch his hips off the floor. Lagertha smirks when Ragnar lifts his gaze to hers and leans in to kiss him briefly. "You've had your turn, husband." She wriggles out of her pants while she's talking. "Give me mine."

Ragnar just laughs. He leaves Athelstan with a final lick over his nipple, but it's so sensitized by now that even that makes Athelstan twist and hiss air between his teeth.

Ragnar's kisses trail down the center of his chest. As soon as there's room for her, Lagertha swings a leg and straddles Athelstan's shoulders. Her panties are dark lace, and they cling to her skin and wrap around her hip in a way that Athelstan is sure was designed to slay him. She's wet and he can smell her like this, her sex hovering just above his face. The scrap of lace between her legs is even darker with it, and her juices have made a slick mess down the insides of her thighs. Athelstan kisses her there, the soft inner curve of her muscle, and savors the way her taste mingles with Ragnar's on his tongue to create something entirely new and heady.

She slips her fingers into his hair as he kisses his way up, cradling his head. Behind her, out of sight, Ragnar's weight is heavy atop Athelstan's legs. He kisses Athelstan's hip and sucks bruises low on his stomach. His fingers stroke down Athelstan's thighs, scratching through the hair that dusts them. The heat of his breath is a torment and a promise in one.

When he can bear it no longer, Athelstan presses his mouth to Lagertha. He drags his tongue over her, the scratchy lace and slick, sweet flesh together, and works his tongue beneath the fabric to find the heart of her. She makes a sound like a purr, rough and pleased, and tips her head back. And Athelstan almost forgets to be awed by the taste of her on his tongue when Ragnar circles a hand around his cock and exhales warm breath over it.

Her hands are sharp in his hair. They twist and pull, directing him where she wants him, and he's happy to obey. Where Ragnar seemed mostly content to let Athelstan take him apart in whatever fashion he wished, Lagertha is demanding. She knows her own mind, and gives direction in the rock of her hips and the pull of fingers in his hair and the quiet, pleased hum that works its way from her throat when he gets it just right.

He's no less fascinated by the landscape of her flesh than he was by Ragnar's. He works a hand up to catch at her panties and pull the lace aside, giving him free access to lick and suck at her unobstructed. He sucks the folds of her flesh between his lips, delves with his tongue into her heat to find the hidden places that make her breath hitch and the weight of her rock down against his mouth.

She's glorious like this, as much in her element as when she's wielding a sauté pan and a knife. She shivers when Athelstan takes her clit between his lips and laves his tongue over it, but never bends, never breaks. She just slides her fingers deeper into Athelstan's hair and breathes praise. When Ragnar closes his mouth around Athelstan's cock and swallows him down, he gasps against her flesh, and she cries out, too.

The heat they build between them is incredible. Athelstan feels like he's falling apart beneath them, peeled open and hollowed out and remade into something new. He grasps Lagertha's hips between his hands and pulls her down onto his mouth so he can feast from her, and muffles a sob against her skin when Ragnar echoes the movements, and swallows him until he can feel the back of Ragnar's throat.

He's quite certain he'll be the one to come first, with the two of them driving him on toward completion. But he's wrong -- it's Lagertha, pulling his mouth up hard against her as her thighs tremble and her inner muscles shudder against his tongue. She cries out, sharp and high and victorious, and then laughs like she's just won the world.

She slides off him, and Athelstan mourns the loss. He reaches after her, but she doesn't go far, just curls up near his head and pets his hair. He turns his face toward her, seeking her out like a flower following the sun. She smiles gently and kisses him, heedless of the mess of her own juices that coat his mouth.

"Husband," she says, lazy and pleased. Ragnar glances up to her, to them both, but doesn't take his mouth from Athelstan's cock. "Come up here and give us a kiss."

Ragnar pulls off of Athelstan's cock with one final sweep of his tongue. He grins like the cat who got the cream as he climbs up Athelstan's body, dropping kisses across his skin as he goes.

He kisses Athelstan first, holding his head still between broad, kitchen-scarred hands and sweeping into his mouth with long, slow strokes of his tongue. When he pulls away, his smile spreads and he hums quietly. "She tastes good on you," he says.

Athelstan shudders and moans, and his cock throbs where Ragnar's weight pins it against his stomach. Ragnar kisses Lagertha with a hand curved around the back of her neck, then breaks away when she shoves at his shoulder with a laugh.

"See to him," she says. "I have had my fill."

Ragnar says something against her ear that Athelstan doesn't catch, but it makes her smile and ruffle a hand through his hair before she pushes him again.

He slides back down Athelstan's body, just enough to match them together. The friction makes Athelstan throw his head back with a moan. He makes room for Ragnar between his thighs, wrapping his legs up around the other man's hips.

Ragnar braces himself up on his arms and holds Athelstan's gaze as he rolls his hips, letting their cocks push and slide together. Athelstan throws his head back with a gasp and Lagertha is there, petting his hair, stroking the fevered sweat from his brow. She leans in close, her breath a warm caress against the side of Athelstan's face, and speaks softly in his ear.

The things she says are pure filth, and they leave him gasping. She tells him how much she liked his mouth on her cunt, how wet she is again for him already. Ragnar fucks against him and she whispers in his ear about how they fuck when it's just the two of them, how she likes to ride him until he bucks underneath her. "Would you like to ride him?" she asks, a low murmur with lips that curl like she already knows the answer.

"Yes," Athelstan groans. His fingers bite into Ragnar's waist.

She flicks her tongue against the edge of his ear. "Do you want me to ride you, too?"

"God." He shudders and his cock drips against his stomach. Ragnar grins fiercely and rocks his hips against Athelstan's harder, faster.

Lagertha twists her fingers in Athelstan's hair and tugs. Her voice is demanding. "Do you?"

"Yes," he gasps, and comes hard, jerking and shuddering beneath Ragnar. She soothes and strokes him, slips a hand over his cheek and down across the sweat that clings to his chest.

Ragnar laughs, low and pleased, and closes his teeth on the muscle of Athelstan's shoulder. He's still hard, his cock throbbing against Athelstan's stomach, but he stills and lets the shudders coarse through Athelstan, lets him peak and then fall, and rubs a hand over his hip while he twitches and finishes spending himself between them.

When he's caught his breath, Athelstan pushes Ragnar off of him and clambers up to his knees. Lagertha laughs when he drags Ragnar down beneath him and kneels astride him to pin him there.

They finish Ragnar off together, Athelstan with his mouth and Lagertha with her hands. He comes with a shout and a sharp thrust of his hips that fills Athelstan's mouth and he spends himself in long spurts down Athelstan's throat.

Athelstan doesn't relent until Ragnar makes a choked sound and pushes him off his cock. He climbs up Ragnar's body and Lagertha stretches out with them as well, and for the space of a few blissful moments, they lie in a pile together, warm and loose-limbed and sated. Athelstan's chest burns in the best of ways, his lungs heavy and aching like he's run too far and too hard. He presses his lips to Ragnar's shoulder and licks the salt from his skin, turns his head and finds Lagertha there, her lips curved, her mouth begging to be kissed.

They dress Athelstan together, their hands moving his limbs and tugging his shirt down, his pants up. Ragnar keeps his boxers and grins wolfishly as he tucks them into his own back pocket. The seam of Athelstan's jeans dig into his oversensitive cock, making him hiss and twist until he's settled comfortably.

Ragnar laughs. Lagertha drags her gaze over him, head to toe and back again, and smiles slowly, lasciviously.

Together, they lead him out the kitchen, out of the restaurant, hands pushing and guiding and stripping all thoughts from his mind but those of these two. He ends up in their car without quite realizing how he got there. They fight over who drives -- who has to drive, that's how they put it -- and Lagertha wins. Ragnar takes the wheel and Lagertha climbs into the back with Athelstan, pushes him into the seat and buckles his seatbelt, then slides her hand into his pants and jerks him off as they drive. She doesn't let him touch her, just holds him pinned and pulls responses from him as easily as she creates flavors on a plate.

He comes in his pants with her fingers wrapped around him. They use it as an excuse to get him out of jeans the moment he's stepped through their door, and they all tumble into bed together in a tangle of limbs.

Once they've all thoroughly sated themselves, Athelstan dozes, content beneath the weight of the arms and legs thrown across him. He rouses some time later with the light of late evening slanting through the apartment's windows and the faint sense of something missing.

He rolls over and finds Ragnar snoring beside him, sprawled recklessly across the bed. But Lagertha isn't there and the air smells of warm baking things.

He slides out from beneath Ragnar's sprawl, retrieves his boxers from the pocket of Ragnar's abandoned pants, pulls them off and goes out to find Lagertha in the kitchen, wearing only her panties and an apron. She turns to smile at him as he comes out. "You were supposed to sleep longer." She clicks her tongue and moves aside and he sees that she's got a loaf of golden, yeasty bread on a cutting board before her. There's a plate, too, with two slices toasted golden brown and slathered in butter. She brings it over, lifts one of the slices, and feeds it to him.

He bites, chews, swallows. The richness of the butter clings to his lips. "You made me toast," he says dumbly.

She smiles, pleased, and gives him another bite as she nods.

"You made me toast from scratch."

She laughs and sets the plate down, catches him by the waist of his boxers and pulls him with her back to the bedroom. "You like bread, I've noticed." She nuzzles her lips against his ear. "You're always moaning over it in the kitchen. It's quite distracting."

She has flour on her hands. They leave faint white streaks across his chest when she touches him. He catches her hand and kisses her fingers and tastes the raw flour on her knuckles.

"Let's go back to bed," she says, smiling and warm. "Let's see how long it takes us to wake Ragnar up together."

This isn't what he expected. But he can't think of anything he'd like better.