The rope itched against his skin. When it was pulled tight, it bit hard and left its mark bright red across his neck, and Athelstan had hated it.
But the rope could be forgotten; it was not tied tight and unless he had fallen too far behind Ragnar, unless he was being directed or needed his attention bought by a sharp tug on the lead, it hung light on him. Its scratch was not so bad - not enough that the rope could not slip from his mind, and so Athelstan hated the rope, but that was only when he remembered it was there, and that was not all of the time.
He had been glad when Ragnar had called Athelstan to him - by words, not by the lead, one still night when Lagertha and the children were in bed, and behind the house only silence surrounded them. Sleep was not coming easy to Athelstan this night, and he thought the distraction a good thing.
The moon was full and it hung large and low in the sky, its light obliterating the stars and casting a pallor over the earth. Athelstan could see Ragnar clearly in muted tones drained of color, and he stood with something hanging from his hands that Athelstan could not make out.
"Priest," he said with a smile when Athelstan was close. "I have something for you."
Athelstan eyed him warily, even as Ragnar beckoned him closer with a finger, and Athelstan paused. The rope hung by his feet and he wondered if Ragnar would reach for it, if he did not move closer.
Athelstan stepped towards him.
"Good boy," he heard the other man whisper, the tone genuinely pleased - and it was the kind of tone Ragnar had used when he had coaxed tales of England from his loosened tongue and fed him mead, the tone he used when Athelstan told him he had more stories to share.
(Athelstan wanted to feel revolted by that, but he wasn't. He drunk the encouragement as deeply as he had drunk the mead.)
He stepped toward him, but Ragnar did move likewise - did not move at all, except to let his eyes cast over Athelstan’s body, covered only by the light tunic he slept in. This was not the first time he had been inspected so by Ragnar, but it made it no less disconcerting to be the subject of the man’s intentions, was no less easy beneath the heavy stare of piercing blue eyes.
“Take it off,” Ragnar commanded.
Athelstan’s fingers twitched, as if his body had leapt alive at the authority in his voice, as if he yearned to obey without having consciously agreed to it - but Athelstan did not know what Ragnar meant.
“Take off what?” he asked, and his voice was weaker than he had meant it to be. He hoped Ragnar meant the rope. He feared something else.
“Your tunic,” Ragnar said - and, ah, yes. There it was.
Athelstan’s eyes widened slightly before blinking once, twice, trying to process what was being said. “Do you need me to do it for you, priest?” Ragnar asked him, and Athelstan quickly shook his head.
“No, I can do it,” he insisted, and he bunched the fabric beneath his fingers and tugged it up and over his head.
The night air bit against his skin, but not harshly - the season was soon turning to fall but the warmth of summer still lingered, and Athelstan could not call himself cold. It was still something of a shock to be made bare entirely to the elements, to have nothing to shield him from probing eyes. Ragnar’s eyes.
Athelstan could not help the flush that rose on his skin, reddening not just his cheeks, but spreading downwards and across his chest as the blood rushed through him and his heartbeat spiked. He is teasing me, Athelstan thought himself. He wants to watch me squirm for his amusement, and nothing else. This is harmless.
But he still started when Ragnar, after many long moments standing still, leaned into Athelstan and took the rope in his hands. His fingers tightened the knot so that it was flush against his skin, resting against the hollow of his throat.
Athelstan’s heart raced even faster, and Ragnar smirked - as if he could hear its thudding against his ribcage. As Ragnar’s eyes shone bright blue in pale moonlight against the grey tones of the world around him, it seemed to Athelstan that even that was possible for this man, who appeared as though he did not come from this world. But then, the smirk slid off Ragnar's face as if it had never been born on his lips, and he loosened the knot instead of tightening further, and he lifted the rope up and off of Athelstan.
It should have come as a relief - when Ragnar had begun removing it, that very emotion had surged through him - but then, once Ragnar had stepped back and the rope was gone, uneasiness claimed him instead.
Athelstan felt as though his tunic had been removed a second time over, and with Ragnar an arm’s length away, he curled his hands around him as if to offer some sort of cover. Ragnar made a tsking noise, admonishing the action. “Hands down, Athelstan,” he said, and he did as he was told.
(Athelstan did not even notice that Ragnar had called him by his name, and not priest.)
“I have something for you,” Ragnar continued, and he held up to Athelstan the thing he had seen earlier but had not been able to make out - it was a strip of smooth leather, and if Athelstan squinted, he could see runes inscribed on its surface.
It was a collar.
“Something more permanent, as I expect you’ll be spending quite some time with us,” Ragnar explained. “I thought you might like it better than the rope.”
“I would prefer to have nothing,” Athelstan said before he could process the words leaving his mouth - though, he would have said them anyway.
Athelstan instinctually flinched and looked downward as soon as the words left him - though Ragnar had never struck him, not fiercely - he had pulled at his hair and cuffed him, had pulled tight on the rope - but he had never hit him, not to bruise, not to bleed. Athelstan expected it anyway. (When he was young at the monastery, talking back had cost him dearly. He had learned quickly to obey, and found he liked it more than beatings. Now there were no beatings at stake - Ragnar held above him a threat much more serious than that, and he did not need to remind Athelstan of it very often, if at all. But then Athelstan remembered that he had found joy in obeying beyond the bruises it saved him, and when he averted his gaze, he wondered still how much of those learned behaviors remained in him now.)
Ragnar, for his part, simply let himself laugh, and Athelstan bent his head further down at the sound of it. “No, no, priest,” Ragnar said when he had regained his voice, “eyes up, look at me.”
He raised his head slowly. Ragnar’s eyes did not leave his own when he placed the leather around his neck, securing it tight - not so tight that Athelstan found it hard to breathe, just enough so that there was little room between leather and skin and it would not slip from where it had been placed.
Athelstan swallowed deeply, and he wanted to hide, but he did not look away. After he had placed the collar on him, Ragnar let a finger trace down the side of his neck, following the the rim of the leather around to the front of his neck, before dipping downwards, finally resting against Athelstan’s clavicle.
“Do you like it, Athelstan?” Ragnar asked him.
Athelstan did not reply, and hoped that he did not expect one.
Apparently he did; Ragnar’s brow furrowed and he tugged at the smooth metal ring on the front (so that he may be tied to a lead again, Athelstan knew, and he was not sure what the emotion within him was at the realization - was not sure he wanted to place it.)
Athelstan had not been expecting the tug and it threw him off balance; he struggled to regain his center but he teetered forward and into Ragnar’s chest all the same, and it was hot and hard against him. His face burrowed into his shoulder, and Ragnar was quick to wrap an arm around Athelstan to keep him in place - to pull him closer still.
“Do you know what it means?” Ragnar asked instead, sliding fingers through both curls and hair that was just beginning to grow back alike, before holding Athelstan at the nape of his neck.
“It means I am a slave,” he spoke into Ragnar’s skin.
Ragnar’s hold tightened. “No,” he said, and his voice was harsh, and his tone was firm. “Try again.”
Athelstan leaned further into Ragnar, as if he could somehow hide from the man by pressing into him. Ragnar would not yield. “Try again, Athelstan,” he commanded again.
“It means I am your slave,” Athelstan told him.
Athelstan blinked. He did not know what answer Ragnar was searching for. “It means... I am yours,” he tried at last.
This, Ragnar accepted; in an instant, he was in motion again, pushing Athelstan down onto the ground before coming to join him, still holding him as Athelstan was laid down against the dirt.
“Ragnar - “ Athelstan gasped, but any other words were stolen from his lips by Ragnar’s, pressing against him and stealing his breaths. Athelstan’s mind took a few short moments before he could process all that was happening - before he fully realized that he was on the ground and Ragnar was above him, one arm curling around his waist, and Ragnar’s lips were on his and he was kissing him.
(His God would have him burn for this, Athelstan knew. But his brothers had been good and his God had let them burn and bleed all the same, and Athelstan had once thought himself thrown to Hell when Ragnar and his men had come - let him burn, then; he was already on fire.)
“Do you like it?” Ragnar asked again after he at last pulled away, and his voice was raw and unshielded, and Athelstan could hear something that, on anyone else, would sound almost on pleading; on Ragnar, it only confirmed the incredible truth that Ragnar wanted him to answer - wanted to hear him say yes.
“Yes,” Athelstan answered, and it was said without hesitation.
Ragnar grinned - a true grin, one Athelstan rarely saw directed at him - before his mouth had claimed Athelstan’s again, teeth biting hard against Athelstan’s lower lip as his hands trailed down the skin laid bare beneath him.
He broke away only to move further down, to press kisses against his neck, to lick against the place where leather met skin; Athelstan writhed beneath the attentions, his hands digging into the ground beneath him - when Ragnar settled between his thighs, using his knee to push them apart, he threw his arms around Ragnar - whether to search for purchase against his back or to pull Ragnar further towards him, Athelstan was not sure. It was probably both.
As this happened, Ragnar’s hand trailed further down Athelstan’s body, finally coming to his cock which was already half-hard; Athelstan had not even noticed the blood rushing there until Ragnar wrapped a hand around him, and before long Athelstan was achingly at attention. Athelstan let out breathy moans as Ragnar stroked him - he could have bitten them back, he thought, but he did not care enough to do so; the only thing commanding his attention was the feel of Ragnar against him, and he thrust his hips upwards into the contact.
Ragnar chuckled against him before biting a warning into his skin - the blood rushed up beneath his teeth, but his skin did not break; Ragnar content merely leaving bruises against him. “Ragnar,” Athelstan whined, and Ragnar squeezed his hand around Athelstan in reply - before, cruelly, taking his hand away.
“No,” Athelstan cried out.
“I expected to hear that word from you at an entirely different point, priest,” Ragnar told him, and it was teasing, but gentle. Athelstan’s face was tinged red, and Ragnar was merely curious if he could flush more deeply than he already had. (Athelstan could, and he did. Ragnar was pleased.)
There was a vial in Ragnar's hand, Athelstan realized - oil, most likely, and he had slicked it over his fingers. With his other hand, he coaxed Athelstan’s legs further apart, and he obeyed, but with eyes curious and trained on Ragnar.
Ragnar grinned, before pressing his hand between the cheeks of his ass and against his entrance there, and Athelstan let out a yelp, muscles tensing as Ragnar pushed against him. “Shhh,” Ragnar hushed him, “relax. Let me in.”
Athelstan bit his lower lip, teeth scraping against the already abused flesh, eyes wide and unsure - but Ragnar’s were heavy on him and demanding and darkened with lust, lust for him - and Athelstan could never refuse him now.
He took a deep breath, and he tried to ease the tension binding him, and Ragnar’s finger pushed inside him.
It wasn’t a pleasant sensation, but it wasn’t entirely bad, either; Athelstan felt himself let out a sigh as he let himself grow looser beneath Ragnar, and soon the man was moving in slow, small circles within him. “Very good,” Ragnar told him, and Athelstan smiled at the praise.
It was not long before Ragnar slid his finger out just enough so that he had room to slide another one in; and this stretched, and Athelstan squirmed a bit as Ragnar slid both in to the knuckle, flexing inside him, curling before, suddenly, something sparked within him.
His mouth fell open and his eyes grew wide; his voice was caught in his throat, but Ragnar was watching him and had seen the reaction, and grinned.
Ragnar thrust further inside Athelstan before withdrawing and sliding in again, fucking him on his fingers in a slow, deliberate pace; now that he had found the place within Athelstan that took the discomfort and turned it to pleasure, he sought it each time he thrust in.
Athelstan’s hands had tightened their hold on Ragnar, one curling fingers around the back of his neck and the other gripping tight beneath his shoulder blades, and as Ragnar moved in him he met the motion, forcing him further inside.
“I think you’re ready for more,” Ragnar said, and a third thinger joined the other. This time, the stretch was welcomed - the burn was laced with pleasure and Athelstan yearned for it, grew desperate beneath Ragnar and it was not enough, not any more, just to have his fingers inside him.
He needed more. He told Ragnar as much, in moans and breathy whines, and Ragnar was more than happy to oblige him.
His fingers were gone, and Ragnar moved to reposition Athelstan; he gripped his legs, slinging each over his shoulders, bending him nearly in half. Athelstan lost his hold on Ragnar, thrown off by the sudden and unexpected movement; he curled his fingers into the dirt, and let his head fall back.
Ragnar had slicked himself with oil, and as he pressed his cock against Athelstan, he paused only for the space of a breath before he rolled his hips forward and sunk within him.
Ragnar’s cock inside him was much larger than his fingers - and though he had been prepared, been stretched open just before, still it was nothing compared to this; Athelstan could feel tears forming at the corner of his eyes and he bit the inside of his cheek, and still a low cry bubbled out of his throat.
Ragnar pressed in all the way before he moved out slowly. Athelstan writhed as much as he could, positioned as he was with Ragnar between his thighs and him bent - but then, as Ragnar thrust in again, the burn bled away and he felt the spike of pleasure once again - and his cries took on a different quality altogether.
Ragnar moved slowly at first, but quickly increased his tempo - posed as they were, Ragnar could thrust deep and hard into Athelstan, a fact which he took no time in taking full advantage of.
“Athelstan,” Ragnar moaned, “do you have any idea how you feel? - no, of course not,” and something that sounded like it could have been a laugh left him. “So tight, you’re so tight around me and yet you take me so easily - take me, and only me.”
His next thrust was particularly hard and it struck within Athelstan precisely the right place, and the man cried out from beneath Ragnar.
“Tell me what you are, Athelstan. Whose are you?” Ragnar insisted.
“Yours,” Athelstan told him, mouth forming the word as quickly as he could. “You, Ragnar, you own me, I’m yours, I’m yours,” he continued to babble, the words sliding fast into incoherent cries.
“Fuck,” Ragnar bit out, sliding into Athelstan again; he was close to the edge, and he would not last much longer - his release was coming on him, fast. Making sure he was properly balanced, he took Athelstan’s cock in his own hand, stroked him in time with his thrusts.
Athelstan, he discovered, had been even closer to the edge than Ragnar. It took only a few strokes before Athelstan fell over it entirely - his hands clenched the ground and his body tightened around Ragnar, his eyes closed as he bent his head back; like this, he was baring his throat, baring the pale expanse of skin encircled by the collar that marked him as Ragnar’s, and he came, thick and white spilling over his chest and Ragnar’s hand.
Athelstan grew seemingly boneless, and he could only blink his eyes wearily open as his mouth, lips glistening and red, hung slightly parted.
Like this, he was more beautiful than Ragnar had ever seen him.
At this thought, Ragnar was finished; with one last push inside Athelstan, his orgasm rocked through him - he pressed himself even further as he spilled inside Athelstan. He held there, breathing hard, before slowly maneuvering them so Athelstan’s legs were no longer slung over his shoulders and Ragnar was resting above him.
Ragnar did not move for a long while; he hung over Athelstan, an easy smile on his lips, blocking out the night sky above him. His eyes shown in the stead of the moon, and Athelstan had no want for the stars in their light.
Ragnar traced his finger over the leather round his neck. Athelstan would never be able to forget its presence, so solid it was against him.
“I like it,” he whispered to Ragnar.
“Good,” he whispered back, but it felt more like “I know.”