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They do not talk about it. They slip from the fireside, after night has drawn, and into the trees. There is a silent understanding between them, that they don't need to voice.

They're somewhere in Mercia, and their wives are so very far away; Sihtric's in Winchester and Uhtred's in Valhalla. They could seek out other women, of course. They could be waging war in the deepest, coldest valley of Jotunheim and prostitutes would somehow still find their way into the army camp. But Uhtred can't risk taking a woman, while Skade’s curse lies upon him.

And besides, this is a different kind of touch.

The others would not – cannot – understand. Finan is a good man, a better man than most, and Sihtric would die for him. Osforth has turned out to be a decent enough lad, and Sihtric might even die for him, if the time comes. But they are Celt and Saxon; they are Christian, and they cannot understand.

He and Uhtred are Danes. Uhtred might play at being Saxon; he might be torn with sympathy for the Saxon cause, or whatever conflict is raging in his ever-complicated mind. But his heart has been turned Dane, and there's no going back from that. Uhtred dresses like a Dane, he keeps his hair long, he touches Thor’s hammer before he meets his enemies on the field, and when he curses, it's in Danish. They're Danes, both of them, the only two among the whole company, and that means that they share something unspeakable.

It is Uhtred that Sihtric is loyal to. Not Wessex. Not Alfred's "England", which does not really exist, and in all honestly, Sihtric does not care if it ever will. Winchester is a pleasant enough place, and his wife is Saxon, and his child half, but his fealty to Uhtred is deeper than his fondness for them. He is a warrior, a Dane warrior, before he is a husband or a father, and Uhtred is the man that he follows, and that bond is greater than any marriage vow.

And that is what it means, to be Dane. Following the strongest man, the man whose spirit shines the brightest, whose name will linger on the earth long after his death. The man who will bring you wealth and glory and the chance to earn a place in Valhalla.

Uhtred leads him into the trees, as he leads him into battle. Not too far from the camp as to lose its sounds, but far enough. And then Uhtred stops, and turns around, and faces him.

Sihtric heard pretty boy thrown his way enough in his youth, because of his face, because of his stature. It is true, that bastards grow up quicker than other children, and he soon understood just how much he had to prove. He spent his teen years sharpening himself, to show them all that a slim knife is still a sharp one, and can even be the sharpest and the deadliest of the lot. He took the eyes of the first man who had called him argr; unmanly.

Sihtric does not feel unmanned by what he and Uhtred do in the dark. There is no moon tonight; magic is weak. If Skade's curse can touch them, they do not feel it. There is so little light that barely anything can be seen, only shadows. Are they really doing anything at all, if they do it in this thick of darkness, with no one but their skin to ever bear witness?

Uhtred’s hands find him, find his cheeks, his lips. It is cold, Mercian cold, and they are far from the fire. They need to keep warm.

Sihtric leans into Uhtred's hotness, runs his hands across Uhtred's bare shoulders, slipping underneath the furs. So different to a woman. Coarse and scarred and muscled and strong. A different kind of touch, and yet still a good one. It's still skin on skin, and Sihtric still desires it, as Uhtred must desire him. The truth is that sometimes, the men who use their hands for violence crave this kind of touch especially. Sihtric’s hands are tools of brutality; they have sliced and killed; they have touched death so often that sometimes, he almost felt like a shadow walker, a sceadugengan, as Uhtred is always calling himself. Sometimes, he needs to be reminded that blood still flows within him, that he still belongs to the realm of the living.

And the gods made Uhtred beautiful for a reason. His hands feast upon Uhtred’s skin. He can feel Freyja’s eyes upon them, the Æsir of love and sex and war and death all at once, because she understands, the Danish gods understand, that those who are together in one must sometimes also be together in another.

It always takes too long to get out of the leathers. Sihtric’s hands pull at the bindings of Uhtred’s breaches impatiently, and Uhtred breathes out a soft laugh, and then a moan.

When they're done, they stay together for a while, sharing the furs. Their bodies overlap as they enjoy the fading pleasure. Sihtric doesn’t know what their companions might think. He feels no guilt, but what he and Uhtred does is enjoyable, so the Saxons probably have something against it.

Sometimes they talk. But most times, they simply lie together, until their skin has cooled and the chill of the night air has begun to nip at them, and then they return to the fireside.