written and illustrated by Iron Eater
It was actually a rather warm winter, but that didn’t stop the Norseman from complaining about the cold at every opportunity. The Norseman had a name, of course, but he didn’t use it much, and since the both of them lived out in the ass-end of nowhere nobody else needed to use it or even know what it was, so “Norseman” and “hey you” did all the dirty work. It made enough sense if you were just going to be called “Skraeling” (or “hey you,” but this time with a weird nasal accent). He’d actually made the effort to try and learn a proper language in addition to the noise the longship-riders used, which was nice, but he was so bad at it that he might as well have stuck with Norse. At least it was fun needling him about it.
The Norseman’d stopped fussing about how their food tasted once he’d finally gotten off his ass and started to help with the gathering; for various reasons he wasn’t allowed in the qajaq (he didn’t know how to paddle it right, it probably wouldn’t fit his too-long legs even if he did, and there was the whole “shipwrecked” thing that was just begging for more misfortune), but it was nice having a second pair of hands forage for berries and things, and so long as he was nowhere near the shore during high tide he could sometimes catch something when he went fishing. When the weather wasn’t good enough to be outside for long he carved trinkets out of leftover bone. “We can use them to trade with later,” he’d told the Skraeling when he’d made the first one, showing how the little animal he’d whittled had legs that went round and around themselves in knots. They looked nice and it kept him out of trouble, so what could it hurt?
It turned out they did hurt if you sat down on them unexpectedly.
“Is it too much to ask you put your things away when you’ve finished making them?” snapped the Skraeling. He brushed bone dust from his parka. Even through a few layers of fur he’d managed to put a bruise on his buttock, and it made it uncomfortable trying to stretch out on the bed, which he’d been wanting to do since about two hours into his last hunting trip.
The Norseman looked sheepish. “I said I was sorry.” He picked up a few stray shards from the floor, hiding behind his long red hair. “I thought you’d be out a little longer.”
The Skraeling harrumphed. “I got lucky. You want to apologize, there’s a big fat seal out there that still needs to be skinned and cleaned.” Usually he dressed his kills immediately, but mild or not, it was still winter, and being inside by the fire had sounded better than hauling who knew how many pounds of pinniped in from the weather. He gestured vaguely at the door. “Better hurry before all the soft parts freeze to each other.”
“It’s cold out there.”
“I’m aware of that,” said the Skraeling. His moustache was still crisp with ice.
“And I was out in that all day while you were here sitting by the fire. Out!”
A few muttered complaints the Skraeling chose to ignore followed the Norseman as he pushed his way out through the tent flap. Something clattered, then something else thumped, and the muffled grumbling soon became loud swearing in Norse as he dragged the seal carcass from where the Skraeling had stashed it.
The Skraeling had known several good cursewords in the wave-riders’ tongue before he’d pulled the Norseman out of the sea, but the past few months had been an education in just how much variety they had to them.
It had been a big seal, big enough to last them a few weeks if they rationed it properly, and the Norseman was bright with sweat by the time he’d finished rendering it down into useful bits; he went straight for the washing bowl as soon as he stepped back into the warmth of the tent. By then the Skraeling had gotten some warmth in his bones and was feeling a little less murderous, to the extent that he even scooted over to make room on the furs once the Norseman had gotten the worst of the blood off his hands. It was very easy to lose patience with his guest-turned-long-term-tentmate, but the Skraeling had never been much of one to hold a grudge–which was more than he could say for his estranged family, who the sea was welcome to take whenever it had the time–but aside from being irritating the Norseman was helpful, and he genuinely contributed to their modest household, so it was pretty easy to forgive him, too. He was also the only wifeless man for miles, so necessity might have also helped a little.
They sat quietly with bowls of broth and watched the fire. Sometimes they had days where they scarcely stopped talking to each other and sometimes they didn’t say a thing from sunup to sundown; it wasn’t really something the Skraeling thought about. Today was looking to be one of those quiet days. That was fine.
After a while the Norseman palmed his knife from his boot and started fussing with one of his unfinished carvings. This one he kept over the floor so the dust didn’t get anywhere they expected to sleep, so the Skraeling left him to his work. It wasn’t a carving of any kind of animal the Skraeling had seen before, which meant it probably came from the wild places to the east where they grew pale, long-nosed seafarers like wildflowers. There was probably a story behind it. The Norseman was pretty decent with stories when he wanted to be.
Outside the wind picked up, ruffling the tent against its whalebone struts, and right on cue the Norseman shivered. The Skraeling rolled his eyes but stoked the fire anyway. Just because his guest was a delicate baby from warmer waters didn’t mean he was going to be a complete asshole about proper hospitality.
A horned head emerged from beneath the Norseman’s knife as he worked. The sound of metal on bone scraped just above the crackle of the fire and whistle of the wind, and it was the only other thing breaking the silence until he said something, half-distracted.
“Hrm?” said the Skraeling. Sometimes it was difficult for him to distinguish all the different sounds in Norse when it wasn’t being spoken clearly. True, he’d had more chance to practice it lately than ever before, but haggling with men in wooden ships used an entirely different skillset than trying to make out what someone was saying when they were pointed away from you and busy working with their hands.
“That seal. It’s got a really good fur, all soft and thick. You have plans for it yet?”
The Skraeling rubbed his chin. “That’s a good question. I don’t know yet.” He ladled himself another bowl of broth. “Do you have any suggestions?” he asked.
“Well, it’d fetch a pretty good price if you feel like taking it to the closest landfall, but I don’t know how often you’ll see sailors this time of year.” The Norseman tapped the tip of his knife against his teeth. “Something that nice wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep. You could probably use some new clothes, right?” Because replacing mine took all summer, was what he didn’t say but the Skraeling heard anyway. You didn’t get swept out to sea twice in the same clothes and expect them to last much longer, especially if you didn’t have so much as a spare shirt to change into. That was another useful thing about someone staying home: you knew who would be able to make and mend most of the clothing, even if the Norseman had a ways to go before he was any good at either.
“New mittens might be nice. You keep making those little statue things and we won’t notice the loss of one fur, anyway.” He drained the last of his bowl and put it by the fire to dry. “It’s all strung up to dry, right?”
The Norseman scoffed. “Of course it’s strung up to dry. So’s all the sinew, and I put away the meat and fat the way you showed me. Everything’s in the storage tent out by the kiviaq. It’s not the first time you’ve had me do this, you know.” It wasn’t, but the one time the Skraeling hadn’t thought to ask him to check a storm had hit the next day, and when they’d finally been able to leave the tent again the previous hunt’s hides had vanished into the winds. Things had been tense between them for days because of that. “Tense” wasn’t very fun when you shared a bed.
Running his fingers through his hair, the Skraeling leaned back until his shoulders bumped against a tent strut. He wasn’t in the mood for a fight no matter how good the make-up sex would be. “Sorry,” he said, and he more or less meant it. “We just can’t afford to waste anything until spring comes. It’s my first winter actually watching out for someone else’s ass.” He gritted his teeth as soon as the words left his mouth; it hadn’t sounded as suggestive in his head. The bad wordplay was the Norseman’s ourve, not his, and nothing would be worse than two men both trying to out-joke each other in the dark of a blizzard. He was relieved to see that if the Norseman had noticed he’d diplomatically let that one slide.
Aside from a grunt of acknowledgement the Norseman said nothing, and that was the last thing out of him for another while, save for the scrape-scrape-scrape of his knife. Outside the waves hissed against the shore where it hadn’t already caked over with ice. This time last year the Skraeling had spent his evenings lonely for anyone to talk to–even a dog would have been nice back then, but he hadn’t owned dogs since leaving home–so the sound of the Norseman breathing, the way the bed shifted slightly when he made deeper cuts in his carving, and the way he filled space was all far more comforting than the Skraeling cared to admit.
The shift in the air and the change in the pitch of the wind meant the snow was coming down outside, and that meant they’d probably be stuck inside for hours. The Skraeling ran down their supplies in his head: decent amounts of dried food, a lot of fresh water, enough blubber to serve as snacks and lamp fuel alike, plenty of things to put on the fire….
“I’m bored,” said the Norseman, jolting the Skraeling from his thoughts. A grin bloomed across his face. His teeth were very white behind his beard. “You want to hear a riddle?”
That was more or less how this whole thing had started, with a riddle. Sure, it had started-started when the Skraeling had first found the Norseman clinging to a smashed figurehead on the beach, but that was just being a decent human being helping out some poor bastard who’d had the sea get the better of him. The riddle of what a man with no wife could do for another man in similar circumstances to show gratitude had turned out to have a pretty distracting answer.
Truth be told, the Skraeling was a little bored, too. “Fine, tell me your riddle.”
A cackle like that had no business coming from anything other than the fell things that drifted in the dark, but the Norseman managed it anyway. He stowed away his whittling and brushed the dust from his clothing before propping his foot up on his knee.
“So let’s say two stoats are out in the forest–”
“I don’t know what a stoat is and I’ve never seen the kinds of forest you talk about. We have a problem already.”
“Let me finish!” said the Norseman, though he hadn’t lost his rakish grin. “So two small furry things are out in the wild places, regardless of whether or not you know what they look like, and they’re doing what small animals do when nothing is trying to eat them, when a storm comes up.” He waved his hands around, miming winds of his own. “It’s big and fierce and far too much for them to outlast, so they go to ground, and they end up in the same burrow.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this.”
“Let me finish. So these two stoats are trapped in the same burrow by the storm, and the wind howls and the snow swirls, so they are well and truly stuck until the sun comes out again. The cold is so bitter it soaks into their bones right through their coats. Icy, like a giant’s breath! If they do nothing, they freeze to death. Whatever could they do to keep warm?”
The Skraeling snorted. “That riddle is awful. There’s nothing subtle about it, and I don’t want to think of myself as some kind of hairy animal. You might as well be saying ‘do you want to fuck?’ At least then we’d save time.”
“Okay. Do you want to fuck?” He probably should have expected the Norseman to say that.
“Yes,” snapped the Skraeling, though by then he was smiling a little, too. “Now strip.”
It had been months since the first time they’d been naked together, but there was still a lot of novelty to be found in how the fire made the Norseman’s milk-colored skin glow, to say nothing of how the thatch at his crotch was the same bright color as his hair. He’d finally started filling out, too, once the shock of being shipwrecked wore off. The bruises all along his neck and shoulders were a constant presence, some fresh and fierce and others mottling back down to nothing, but he always appreciated being given a new one whenever they spent time together like this, so that was all right. Maybe he’d get a few more before the blizzard cleared.
The Skraeling was a little shorter than the Norseman, just enough to keep them from being different-colored twins without making anything overly difficult, but since he had to row against the tide on a regular basis while the Norseman stayed on land (and since, to be perfectly fair, the Norseman came from reedy stock while the Skraeling very much did not) he was decidedly broader. That came in very handy when it was time to take charge. He stepped forward into the Norseman’s personal space, tilting his head back just enough to maintain eye contact. The cold raised goosebumps on both of them.
“I lead,” he said, because while he always did, it never hurt to be clear.
The Norseman nodded. A particularly loud wave boomed against the rocks outside, making him flinch; it was hard to blame him, having gone into the frigid water and been pulled out again twice more than most actually-still-alive people did. Letting him dwell too long on it would spoil the mood, though, so the Skraeling placed his hand in the middle of the Norseman’s chest and pushed him down onto the bed.
After he rolled to face the fire, the Norseman cocooned himself in blankets, leaving just enough of him peeking out from beneath the furs to be interesting. He let his pale blue eyes go heavy-lidded; given how even on a good day he looked like he needed more sleep, it was quite a thing to see. The Skraeling had recently admitted to himself he was kind of into it.
Not that the Norseman was the kind of man who had the patience for being admired. “Well?” he said.
“You know, I still could change my mind,” said the Skraeling, even as he slipped behind the Norseman, his cock rubbing eagerly against the cleft of the Norseman’s ass. The Norseman made a happy sound at the back of his throat and leaned against him so they lay back to stomach. The Skraeling held him in place and ground a bit more fiercely, one hand splay-fingered against his chest and the other pulling his buttock up and away to expose the sensitive skin there. It had the desired effect: the little happy sound became a grunt, followed by a big happy sound. That was a good start.
“Leading” had a few expectations that went with it. The Skraeling was in charge, of course (and since it was his tent they slept in and his harpoon that brought in the biggest game, to say nothing of how he was the one who’d kept the Norseman from returning to the sea like so much flotsam, they’d agreed he had first choice in the matter), and being in charge meant he had to be sure the Norseman got off at least once by someone’s hand other than his own, otherwise he’d sulk for a whole day. As responsibilities went it was a mild one. In exchange for giving a little bit of a shit about the person he was fucking, the Skraeling was given a lot of leeway in how exactly the whole coming thing was handled.
The day had been a long one, even though he’d come home early, and the Norseman had complained about being bored, so drawing things out sounded like a fine idea.
The Skraeling found one of the Norseman’s nipples and toyed with it, the brisk air having already hardened it into a little pearl. He switched to the other when he felt like changing things up. Sometimes the toying became a harsher tweak or pull, but only sometimes; it was more fun being forceful than vicious, but forceful worked best if there was a little set-dressing established, and anyway it was also fun watching the Norseman twitch and gasp even without anything important getting touched.
Each bruised bite mark on the Norseman’s skin had been placed with care, though since he usually faced the fire most of them were on his right side. They had time to fix that. The Skraeling pulled back–which got a whine out of the Norseman, who had to be pushed away when he attempted to close the distance between them again–and manhandled the Norseman until he was lying on his back, his hair a shaggy halo around his head. It was too cold to get a look at his cock, more’s the pity, but feeling it hard against the Skraeling’s own was almost as good. Judging by how the Norseman coyly tilted his head so the left side of his neck was bared he obviously knew what was coming. There was no sense in disappointing him.
Leaving a mark that would last a while without being so painful it killed the mood was one of those skills the Skraeling had never really realized he’d had until he’d tried it. The Norseman was a little softer than he’d been when they met, likely from months of not training with sword and shield, but that simply meant it was easier for the Skraeling to get his teeth where they needed to go without getting the muscle underneath too badly. Once you had a good grip the trick was to gnaw just enough to change up the pressure and keep things from acclimating, maybe with a light shake of the head or two to really send the point home. That was assuming the person on the receiving end wasn’t running out of steam, of course; sometimes you had to leave the teeth out entirely and just make a suck-mark instead.
The Norseman had enough metaphorical steam to get two bruises on his shoulder and one on his neck. They were angry red-purple in minutes. He’d cried out happily each time.
The Skraeling had been asked what he got out of it once, and it was one of those things that was hard to put into words. It was something about the way it felt, maybe, all raw and visceral like a dog biting at a bone, and knowing that for a little while you had someone at your mercy, and probably something about how it left a reminder that you’d been fucking someone–or it looked like you’d been, anyway, which was why the Norseman had kept wrapped up last time they went to trade at landfall–that they couldn’t wash off or toss away or do anything about other than wait until it faded. You could look at someone you’d chewed on and think to yourself, Yes, it was me that did this. When he wasn’t feeling as introspective the answer was easier: it gave him a hard-on, and it gave the other man a hard-on, and sometimes that was all you needed.
Now there was just shy of six feet of obliging friend panting underneath the Skraeling, and every time their cocks brushed together it was like a crackle of lightning traveling up his spine. It would’ve been very easy to take them both in hand and stroke until they came, hot and sticky, between their stomachs, but that would’ve been over too quickly. Instead he bucked his hips forward–which was very close to agonizing, but he had to make do–and kept the Norseman pinned in place, hands pressed into the bed and the few errant hair-tendrils drifting across it.
“Still bored?” he asked. His smile showed more teeth than it needed to, but exactly as many as he wanted to.
The Norseman wet his lips. His eyes were still hooded and the corner of his mouth turned up. That was good. “I think I’m a little less so now,” he said. They were so close together the Skraeling could feel his breath and see hints of his reflection in the Norseman’s eyes. It would have been close enough to kiss if either of them were the kind of man who did that much.
“Yeah? Only a little less?” The Skraeling allowed himself a smirk. “If things are too dull I could always put you out naked in the storm. Learning to walk between the snowflakes would be pretty interesting, I bet.”
“Try me.” He thought of the face he wore when hunting and wore half of it. Leading meant making sure everything went well. Sometimes that meant playing up the role more than he’d originally expected.
The Norseman laughed–which was proof things were still good, they were out in the middle of nowhere so there was no point in scaring him if it wasn’t good, that could ruin everything–and went limp against the bed. “I don’t know. It was pretty cold out there when I was taking the seal apart. Maybe you should make sure I don’t have frostbite or something.”
“So frostbite makes you bored?”
“Well, it could.”
“You’re trying to trick me into letting you stay in here, where it’s warm.” He rocked his hips again and made the Norseman scrunch up his eyes and gasp.
“I might be,” the Norseman said between panting breaths.
“Maybe you’re an evil spirit wearing the skin of a drowned man,” said the Skraeling, who was having to think of dull things like how many days there were in a season to keep from going cross-eyed with each frot. It was easier said than done. “Clearly the waves took the Norseman away and you’re riding around inside him, waiting where it’s nice and cozy, and when I fall asleep you’ll pull me into the black water, and since we’re camped out just east of nowhere’s asshole nobody’d be the wiser.” He kept his tone light, though ever since his aunt had said a ghost had lured his uncle onto the ice and into the deep he’d held that thought in the back of his mind when he’d been alone for too long.
The Norseman didn’t seem to have such a history, or if he did he was good at keeping flippant. “Yeah, well, skin-thieves can’t stay in a body if they come. They slip right out that way.”
“Do they, now?”
He nodded. “Absolute truth. You should give it a try, just to be sure. If I’m riding around in a stolen body I’ll have to go woo-oo-oo right out the door and you can roll the empty carcass off the beach.” He wiggled his fingers when making the ghost-moan, which looked extra-ridiculous since his hands were still pinned over his head.
“Just to be sure,” agreed the Skraeling, who drummed his fingertips along the Norseman’s shaft. The tap of each finger got another shudder out of him. When the Skraeling closed his hand around the Norseman he could feel the blood thundering beneath his skin. The head of the Norseman’s cock poked out of top of the Skraeling’s fist, pink as a tongue against his tan fingers, and though it’d been slick for some time now he still coaxed a bit more excitement out by poking at it with his thumb. He took his time toying with him. Every time he made to pull away the Norseman jerked in place. Vikings were too proud to beg, at least using words, but the ecstatic desperation on the Norseman’s face betrayed his need.
It probably was a good idea to be sure. The Norseman had been so close for so long it just took a few well-paced jerks to make him come, spattering his belly with white. The Skraeling waited for him to catch his breath before saying anything.
“You clearly haven’t been drinking enough water,” said the Skraeling once the Norseman came down again. He released the Norseman’s hands then tapped his thumb and forefinger together, demonstrating the thickness of the little rope of come joining the two. “Can’t be a skin-thief if you hate water that much.”
The Norseman smirked. “That’s the only reason, then?”
“Also I didn’t hear you wail like a night wind, though you did make some other noises,” said the Skraeling as he rummaged for a bit of scrap fur, which he tossed at the Norseman. If they didn’t clean up now then it’d just get all over the bed, and after the first few times that had lost its charm.
Once the worst of it had been wiped away, he flipped the Norseman onto his stomach and settled down on top of him. Sometimes he’d push between the Norseman’s thighs, or have him use his hands, or find a similar creative way to get off, but the first way they’d actually fucked was always the Skraeling’s favorite: he nestled the curve of his cock against the Norseman’s ass again, held him down by the shoulders, and rutted away.
On quiet nights when neither of them could sleep but they didn’t have the urge to go at one another they’d tell stories, sometimes legends of their respective peoples but more commonly memories of their youths. The Skraeling had yet to entirely figure out what a weregild was and why the Norseman was so concerned about it, but from what he’d gathered it meant you had to apologize for a wrong you’d done with gifts, and the Norseman hadn’t had enough to actually do this, which had strongly encouraged him to go sailing towards Vinland with his fellow miscreants. Miscreants weren’t picky, and the Norseman had boasted of the great many things he’d learned from them, but as far as the Skraeling was concerned you couldn’t go wrong with flesh on flesh. There was no business with worrying about someone choking or if someone else had enough grease in sensitive places, and he liked it that way. If it’d been good enough for the scarce few men he’d been with before heading out on his own, it was good enough for an islander with more charm than sense.
Not that he had much time to dwell on this: while he hadn’t been the one actually being teased, the Skraeling had still gotten fairly worked up with each stroke and bite mark, and after only half a minute of thrusting he spent himself up the Norseman’s back. He had just enough strength to clean up after himself before collapsing heavily onto him, and while that wasn’t entirely necessary it was still pretty fun. He panted into the Norseman’s ear for a while. Not being the kissing type, a nip on the ear would do.
“Definitely less bored,” said the Norseman from under him. He wriggled. “Definitely can’t move, either.”
“Good. That’ll keep you from running off until I’ve thought of another use for you.”
“Weren’t you just now telling me you had half a mind to throw me out into the snow?”
The air was thick with the cozy funk of sex and fire, heavy enough to cover up the salt spray scent from outside, and even as the blizzard shook the tent walls it stayed toasty warm indoors. The rise and fall of the Norseman’s chest was even more soothing than the waves. The Skraeling was fog-headed, but by no means ready for sleep, and they’d have plenty of time for that last one when the weather was raging for the third straight day and the thought of fucking was more tiresome than titillating.
Not that they were anywhere near that state yet. The Skraeling let the Norseman roll back upright before whispering in his ear. “You know, a clever skin-thief would be able to resist a single attempt to chase him out of a body. We’re going to have to check you over again. Got to be absolutely sure, yes?”
“Foiled again!” The Norseman laughed and crossed his wrists above his head again, opening his legs wide to invite the next round. There were worse ways to wait out a storm.
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