Once, long long ago, there was a man. He married a woman, and together they had a child; a handsome son. Time passed, and the wife passed as well, leaving her widower to raise their child alone. The man felt that a mother’s presence was very necessary to the health and well-being of a child, and so when the opportunity came to marry a widow in the village, he offered and she accepted.
Now this widow had a son of her own, one of similar age to Vanya, the father’s son. Everyone expected the two boys to be raised equally as brothers, but the step-mother favored her own son, Feofan, in all things.
Not many seasons had changed in this new household before Vanya was little more than a servant, forced to do all the work while his step-brother idled away his time carousing with the other boys from the village.
This did not affect the march of the seasons, and soon enough Vanya was grown into a handsome and charitable young man, his step-brother only slightly behind in looks, but far surpassed in attitude.
“You know, little Vanya,” the step-mother said one winter morning while the icy winter winds blew across the steppes. “I believe you are quite old enough to be married.” She eyed him contemplatively.
“I suppose I am,” replied Vanya, who had not given much thought to the idea.
“I doubt there are any young maidens in the village who would want a husband as repulsive as you,” the step-mother continued. “Not like my own son, for whom I’ve already begun entertaining suggestions.” She smiled dotingly on Feofan. “No, I’m afraid that for you we will have to offer quite a hefty bride-price; which is something we simply cannot afford.”
Vanya smiled nervously. “I have no need to marry,” he said, hoping that it would lay his step-mother off whatever horrid scheme she was planning.
“Yes, yes,” the step-mother waved that away. “But how would it look if my son, who is so much younger than you, married first?”
It was not the first time that Vanya had heard the three months’ difference in their ages referred to as ‘so much,’ and he had long ago learned to stop objecting.
“And anyway, I won’t have you lazing around the house forever,” his step-mother continued. “You will marry and become your wife’s problem.”
“But you said we cannot afford—” Vanya started quietly.
“Oh, of course not,” his step-mother replied. “That is why you will go to your godfather and ask him to furnish you with the proper bride-price.”
“My godfather?” Vanya asked.
“Yes,” the step-mother replied, nodding to the window. “Your godfather Morozko; Old Man Winter himself.”
“Morozko is not my godfather,” Vanya protested.
“Nonsense,” his step-mother said, waving off his concern. “Your father went in search of a suitable man to be your godfather, and along the way he met god, the devil and Mozoko; surely you must have heard this story.”
“You’re making that up,” Vanya accused. “You got that from some fairy tale.”
“Do you see how foolish your brother is?” the step-mother asked of Feofan. “Lord knows why I even put up with him.”
“Morozko is not—” Vanya tried to protest again.
“Oh husband, dear,” the step-mother called, causing Vanya’s father to lift his blurry-eyed head from the table and try to focus on the squabble that was his family. “Isn’t your son’s godfather Morozko, the Old Man of Winter?”
Vanya’s father blinked fuzzily at her a few times, and then waved his mug drunkenly, spilling vodka over the edge. “Yes, yesh, dear, wha’ver you shay; lis’n to yer mosher, Vanya; she’s alwaysh righ.” His head sank back to the table and his eyes closed again upon the world.
“There, you see?” asked the step-mother, folding her arms across her chest. “Now we must prepare you to meet your godfather.” Having said all that she would upon the subject, Vanya’s step-mother now directed him to prepare a small amount of food as an offering to his godfather. She then had him finish all of his usual chores and prepare the family’s dinner—of which he received only scraps. That done, Vanya was ordered to put on his warmest clothing, which was only a ragged coat that let in as much wind as it kept out.
Taking the oldest blanket in the house, the step-mother loaded everything onto the sleigh and drove it deep into the wilderness. Stopping beneath a stand of trees, bare save for a coating of shimmering ice, the step-mother laid out the blanket and directed Vanya to sit upon it. “Morozko will meet with you soon enough,” she said, setting the food beside him. “Just make sure you do not eat any of these cakes, or else he may be insulted and not appear at all.”
“Of course,” Vanya said, tucking his feet beneath himself because he had nothing better than canvas shoes upon them. “I will be dutiful, Step-Mother,” he said. “You need not worry for me ever again.”
“That’s my hope,” his step-mother replied, frowning down at him. “Good-bye, then.” She climbed back onto the sleigh and returned home, pleased that this would be the last time she needed to look upon the child of her husband.
Vanya, for his part, tucked his fingers into his armpits—he had no mittens—and tried his best to stay warm.
The world around him was full of snow, soft and pristine, broken only where his step-mother’s sleigh had crossed. It looked as if the world was covered in a deep and warm blanket, wrapped up and held safely in the arms of someone that loved it. But the appearance of warmth was just an illusion, as a bitter and biting wind blew across the steppes, cutting through Vanya’s thin coat as if it were not there at all.
The last light of the sun sank below the horizon, leaving Vanya in a world lit only by the stars wheeling overhead. With the sunset the last of the warmth went as well, and Vanya could only sit and shiver more and more as the night grew ever colder. In the distance he could hear a cracking and a snapping as Morozko approached, spreading the deep frost of winter across the land.
Vanya shivered violently and his teeth chattered loudly, but death at the hands of winter was probably preferable to a lifetime spent with his step-family.
“What is this?” Morozko asked, spying Vanya sitting on his blanket in the wilderness of white.
Vanya clenched his teeth on their chattering, but made no reply.
“Are you warm, little one?” Morozko asked, bringing the edge of the wind with him as he approached Vanya, and allowing it to slice through Vanya’s coat.
“Y-yes,” Vanya chattered. “Q-quite warm.”
“Oh now, handsome one,” Morozko said, leaning closer until his breath felt like daggers of ice across Vanya’s skin. “Are you warm? Are you warm, dear one?”
“I’m-mm q-quite w-warm,” Vanya replied, though he could barely speak through the ice in his lungs. He used the spasm of one shiver to look at his alleged ‘godfather’ and found him to be a man made of icicles; thin, pale and fragile.
“Are you really?” Morozko asked, leaning closer still, running his fingers along the threadbare cloth that composed Vanya’s clothing. “Are you warm, my lovely?”
Despite the illusion of protection the fabric gave, the skin those fingers passed over felt like it had itself turned to ice, but Vanya forced his lips into a semblance of a smile, which he directed at Morozko. “I am plenty w-warm, dearest Morozko.”
“Warm, I do not know,” Morozko said, opening his cloak, “Delusional, certainly.” He spread his arms wide and cast the coat over Vanya, engulfing them both in fur and warmth.
In the sudden onslaught of heat and darkness it took Vanya a few moments to understand what had happened. The coat had formed a sort of tent or cave above them, full of smooth folds and pleats, the ripples of fur glistening in the flickering firelight.
There was no chimney in the ceiling overhead, but Vanya could not smell smoke; just the hint of musk and of man, as if he’d donned a borrowed coat. Vanya shifted himself to his elbows and found that there was neither entrance nor exit to the cave, that there was no fire to cast the flickering light upon the walls, and that a strangely handsome young man sat watching him.
“Who are you?” Vanya asked.
“Have you already forgotten?” the stranger asked. “You named me but moments ago.”
Which meant he must be; “Morozko?” Vanya asked, taking a closer look at the handsome man. He was built like a tree, strong, sturdy and immovable, his skin dark and his hair appearing almost green. “But how?”
Morozko smiled at him. “Under the cloak of winter awaits the spring; all that is lush and good, waiting warm and protected until it is time to emerge and grow.”
“Is that where I am?” Vanya asked, looking around with sudden understanding. “Under the cloak of winter?”
“Literally,” Morozko said, settling down next to him. “Now that you are in no danger of dying, why won’t you tell me what it is you are doing out here in my domain at night; not many survive such foolishness.”
Vanya sighed heavily and dropped back onto the furs. “I don’t know,” he said. “I should have left years ago, I suppose, but I did not wish to leave my father.” He laughed bitterly. “Not that Father is really there anymore, you know? He left us for vodka long ago.”
“Hmm,” Morozko hummed sympathetically, shifting until he lay right next to Vanya.
“I suppose I keep hoping my step-mother will improve,” Vanya continued. “She—what are you doing?”
“Well,” Morozko said, tugging gently at the ties on Vanya’s coat. “I’ve removed my coat, so I thought perhaps you would like to remove yours.”
“Oh.” There wasn’t much Vanya could say against that sort of reasoning, so he did his best to ignore it as Morozko helped him out of his coat. “My step-mother loves her lazy son more than me, but he can’t marry until after I have, and she doesn’t want to pay the bride-price for m-me.” He stumbled over the last word as Morozko’s fingers slipped beneath the hem of his shirt, rubbing along his bare skin; cool but not cold.
“Yes?” Morozko prompted. “She didn’t want to buy you a bride, and so…?”
“S-so she claimed that you were my g-godfather.”
“Oh, I think I’d remember a godson as handsome as you,” Morozko replied, spreading his fingers out like a spider across Vanya’s chest.
Vanya shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. “I know,” Vanya replied, “but she insisted, and said I’m to ask you for the bride-price.”
“Ah, so it is gifts you wish of me,” Morozko said, rubbing the cool tips of his fingers along Vanya’s heating skin. “I believe the first thing I will give you is better clothes,” he continued, shifting so he lay half on top of Vanya. “These are not nearly well enough made to keep the frost out, hmm?” he snickered at that last, for Morozko meant ‘frost.’ “But I cannot give you new until I have divested you of the old.”
Morozko started pushing Vanya’s shirt up, but Vanya caught his hand. “What are you doing?”
Morozko lifted himself up on his elbow so he could look down into Vanya’s eyes. “I am giving you something,” he said. “Will you not accept my gift?” He placed a soft kiss beneath Vanya’s eye, followed it up with one beneath the other.
Vanya lay stupidly for a moment, but then shifted away, shaking his head to clear it. “What is it?” he asked.
“Life,” Morozko replied, following him forward slowly, to keep from startling him again. “I have taken yours, and now I return it.” He tugged his hand free from Vanya’s and placed a gentle knuckle under Vanya’s chin. “Don’t you want it?”
Vanya swallowed, feeling himself blush hot at the cool touch of Morozko’s finger. His eyes were locked onto Morozko’s deep blue ones, and he couldn’t look away, couldn’t answer, couldn’t think.
Hesitantly, as though expecting to be refused, Morozko leaned forward again, placing his lips gently against Vanya’s, pressing closer when Vanya made no objection. Vanya parted his lips when Morozko’s tongue flickered across them, and the kiss deepened.
Morozko removed his hand from Vanya’s chin, slid it down his chest, leaving trails of ice and fire in its wake until it settled low on his stomach. Vanya whimpered and wrapped his arms around Morozko’s shoulders, pulling him down, pushing him away and rolling on top of him. Vanya sat up, scrambling to get his shirt off, and tossing it to the side when he succeeded, Morozko’s shirt following moments later.
The sight of Morozko’s bare chest reminded Vanya of where he was, of what he was doing, and he sat there staring at it until Morozko’s hands appeared on his knees, slid their way up the inside of Vanya’s thighs, the circling of his thumbs wreaking havoc on Vanya’s thoughts.
“Oh, god,” Vanya moaned, folding forward at the first brush of fingers against his cock. He buried his face in Morozko’s neck, hyper-conscious of their naked chests brushing, of Morozko’s fingers tracing the shape of him through his pants, of the scent and feel of the cool skin beneath him.
Morozko’s tongue flicked out and traced the shell of Vanya’s ear, startling him into wrenching his head away, giving Morozko an affronted look until a carefully repositioned finger sent Vanya’s eyes rolling back into his head with pleasure. Morozko’s hands worked some magic, and the next thing Vanya knew he was lying naked on his back, Morozko leaning above him, wearing nothing more than a wicked smile.
Vanya bit his lip, feeling that hesitation return as his eyes traveled down Morozko’s chest and fixed upon his impressive cock, a pearly-white drop falling from it onto Vanya’s skin. Vanya arched his hips enough to bring their cocks together, wrapped his arms around Morozko’s shoulders and dragged them both back to the ground, biting his lips, biting Morozko’s lips, as he thrust upwards, reaching.
Morozko hummed, and slipped his hand between them, grasping both cocks, now squeezing, now loose. He changed his rhythm so his cock would drag up along Vanya’s as his hand traveled down, his flesh hot and cold, smooth and rough, pressing and rubbing, and driving Vanya mad in all things.
At last Vanya could contain himself no longer and with a strangled cry, his seed tumbled across Morozko’s hand and his own stomach. He thought he was done when the soft pulsing of Morozko’s cock next to his own inspired an extra spike of pleasure and sent Vanya tumbling into darkness.
When he awoke, Vanya was wrapped in furs and silk, the winter sun was streaming into his eyes and the wind was nipping his nose. Confused, he sat up and looked around. He was lying on a pile of think furs in the back of a sleigh, surrounded by gold, jewels, spices and all things rich and wonderful.
The only thing missing was Morozko himself.
“Morozko?” Vanya called, swimming out of the furs—the ones he wasn’t dressed in, that is—and visually searching for Old Man Winter. But the only other living thing from there to the horizon was the snow-white reindeer hitched to the sleigh. “Why did he leave?” Vanya asked it, but the reindeer just shook his antlers and stomped his foot impatiently, huffing out a cloud of steam in the freezing air.
Not knowing what else to do, Vanya moved to the driver’s seat of the fancy sleigh and guided it to his father’s house. When he arrived, Vanya alit from the sleigh and knocked upon the door.
“Who is—oh. Vanya,” his step-mother said when she saw who was there. “You could not even manage this simple task?”
“I’ve managed the task you set me quite well,” Vanya replied, gesturing to the sleigh with all of its gifts. “I believe that this will cover the bride-price quite nicely.” The look on her face was priceless, but Vanya would happily have traded both it and the treasures that bought it for an explanation from Morozko.
“Well, I suppose it will have to do,” the step-mother managed to say when she was mostly recovered. It wasn’t as unaffected as she’d hoped, but it was the best she could manage under the circumstances.
Vanya replied with his own insincere comments, and his place within the family was restored.
His step-mother was not satisfied, however. Seeing the presents that Old Man Winter had heaped upon her step-son, she resolved to get the same for her own son, and the next day she declared her intention of sending Feofan to meet with his ‘godfather.’
Feofan was none-too-pleased with this idea, for he knew that his brother had been sent out to die, and he had no wish to try his own luck against the whimsy of winter, but his mother would hear nothing said against the idea and had Vanya prepare a feast for Feofan’s offering.
At first Vanya was jealous that his brother would be allowed to go—he wished to see Morozko again himself—but he knew that if he offered to his step-mother that he go in Feofan’s place, then she would claim that he was trying to keep all the riches to himself. Instead, Vanya decided to take a subtler route, and late in the afternoon he managed to corner Feofan alone.
“Let me go instead, Brother,” Vanya said to him.
“What, and let you receive twice the riches?” Feofan asked, always as clever as his mother.
Vanya shook his head. “You may have all the riches, those from this past visit and those from the next visit, if I should return.”
“You would give up the fortune of a king to die in the snow?” Feofan scoffed.
“I have my reasons.”
“It won’t work, anyway,” Feofan said. “Mother won’t go along with it.”
“She need not know; if I dress in your coat, hat and scarf, then she will not be able to see enough of me to notice the switch. You need only keep out of sight until she returns; she won’t brave Morozko herself once the sun goes down.”
Feofan hemmed and hawed for awhile longer, but at last he agreed to Vanya’s plan, and once he was dressed in all his winter clothes, he slipped off and exchanged them with Vanya, who silently took his brother’s place in the sleigh.
“I don’t know what that horrid boy said or did to Morozko,” Vanya’s step-mother said as she drove them towards the same stand of trees where she’d left Vanya, “but I am sure that you’ll be able to repeat it—nay, that you’ll be able to better it, and return with twice the riches that lazy brat received.”
Vanya, disguised as Feofan, did not reply, instead watching silently as the snow-trimmed forest slid past. At last they reached the same tree, and the step-mother laid out a beautiful blanket, settled Vanya in the middle of it and spread the offering of food all around. “I’ve a bit of food for you as well,” she said, pulling out a bundle of cakes. “Make sure you don’t eat the offerings lest Morozko take offense. You’re trying to receive gifts from him, not death.”
Vanya nodded and muttered something appropriate, trusting in the thick wool of his scarf to muffle his voice.
Satisfied, the step-mother returned to her sleigh and drove away.
Feofan’s winter coat was much warmer than Vanya’s own, and he had only just begun to shiver when he heard the cracking and snapping that indicated the approach of Morozko. He watched silently as the old man grew closer, the white coat of winter stretching and freezing him so his hair was like a frozen waterfall and his fingers like the barren branches of the trees.
“Are you cold, pretty one?” Morozko asked when he reached the edge of the blanket, the icy edge of the wind blunted only slightly by the coat Vanya wore.
“I am quite warm, icy one,” Vanya replied, smiling behind his scarf. This close he could see the first hints of spring beneath winter’s disguise.
“You are? You are warm, handsome one?” Morozko asked, coming close enough to run a hand down Vanya’s arm, the touch feeling like ice even through the thick fur.
“I am quite hot, my dear frost,” Vanya replied.
“You are hot?” Morozko repeated, as if he had never heard the word before. “Is that true?”
“I am not as hot as you are beneath your coat,” Vanya said, flipping his head so the hood feel back, even as he reached up to pull down his scarf. His smile faltered when Morozko hesitated, his hand hovering between them.
“Why did you come back?” Morozko asked. “No one ever returns.”
“You gave me something worth more than all the gold in Russia,” Vanya said, reaching to clasp that hand in his own, “but then you took it away again, and I’ve returned to reclaim it.”
“I took nothing from you,” Morozko replied, though he made no move to pull his icy hand away from Vanya’s. “Well, nothing tangible or returnable,” he clarified, remembering.
“It was something that I gave to you before you gave it to me,” Vanya said, pulling Morozko closer, “which you then took away again, all unwitting.”
“Vanya,” Morozko said, resisting the pull. “What is it you speak of?”
“My life,” Vanya said, leaning forward to cover the distance Morozko would not. He pressed their lips together lightly, then pulled back when Morozko didn’t respond. “Don’t say I am a fool for this, Morozko.”
Morozko shook his head. “You are a fool for many things, I am sure, but not for this.” He stood up and offered his hand to Vanya. When Vanya was on his feet, Morozko wrapped his coat around them both and flew upon the wings of the wind to his castle beyond the farthest star, where they reside to this day in happiness and in plenty.