When they return from Harrenhal, a kitten is Rhaegar's peace offering. When Rhaegar doesn't know how to apologize to his wife, he dotes on their daughter instead — and Rhaenys has been in a pout ever since Aegon's birth.
She's a bright girl, but Arthur's not sure how much she understands — whether she resents her brother for the attention he's stolen, or because she knows how closely Elia brushed death birthing him.
It won't hurt her to have one thing that is solely her own— if Arthur could find the damn animal.
He's laid out flat on the ground — arm under the bed up to the shoulder and groping around to find the black cat amongst the shadows — when he hears the door open and shut.
It's Jaime, come to relieve him. "What are you doing?" he asks, and though Arthur can't see him — his face is half under the bed, too — his tone is warm with amusement.
"Can't find Balerion," Rhaenys says from where she's perched on Arthur's back. She's helping, or so she thinks — her little head rests on his shoulder, and her eyes peer into the darkness alongside his. Sometimes she points to what might be a scurry of movement or a glint of dim light on orange eyes, and once something sharp had pounced on him before skittering away, claws scraping on stone.
"Balerion?" Jaime asks, kneeling down to peer under alongside them.
"The cat," Arthur answers shortly.
"A fearsome name," Jaime says.
Rhaenys growls and shifts around on Arthur's back — he can't see, but he knows she'll be flapping her arms around like wings.
"Ser Arthur is no dragon, but I could help you fly if you like, Princess," Jaime laughs, and with a squeal she is lifted away.
Arthur dedicates a moment more to sweeping his hand as far as he can reach, before sitting back and looking up to see Jaime flying her around the room, giggling and shrieking. Jaime so often tries to be serious, puffed up like he has something to prove — it doesn't suit him — but now he's relaxed and grinning, and Arthur suddenly remembers that he is an elder brother, too. Does his brother love dragons, and did they play like this once?
It's a sweet thought, but Jaime notices him watching, and his smile falters. He lowers Rhaenys to the ground.
"You're good with her," Arthur observes. He's had to learn how to act around children, himself — he and Ashara are close enough in age that she never seemed like much more of a child than he, and he left Starfall long before Allyria was born — and it's never felt natural. He's had squires, but they're older— and in any case he can't treat Princess Rhaenys like a squire.
Perhaps he errs on the side of indulgence, but her smiles are sweet and her laughter is music and someone should be happy in these trying times.
Jaime's smile comes back, a bit dimmer than before, but still there. "Is he still under the bed?" he asks.
Arthur nods. He hasn't seen it leave.
"Do you want to know how to catch a cat?" he asks Rhaenys. She nods eagerly, and he sets to unwinding the fraying ribbon that's always around his wrist — a token from a sweetheart, perhaps, from before he was named to the Kingsguard.
"Back at Casterly Rock, where I grew up, they keep lions," he explains to Rhaenys, "Fierce hunters— and a cat is like a little lion. If you give him something to chase, he'll come out."
Rhaenys watches, wide-eyed, as he runs the ribbon along the floor just beyond the edge of the bed. Something moves in the darkness. The tension stretches thin— Rhaenys is holding her breath, and even Arthur cannot look away.
Then a bundle of black — all flailing limbs and flashing claws — bursts out. Rhaenys shrieks with glee, and Jaime pulls the ribbon away, drawing the cat further into the room. It rolls around on its back, snatching at the air and snagging the darting bit of fabric— mouth stretched open, exposing a pink tongue and needle-sharp teeth.
When, suddenly, it darts away, lurking around the corner of the wardrobe, Rhaenys begs, "Let me! Let me!"
"Be careful," Jaime instructs, pressing the ribbon into her tiny hand, and coming to sit next to Arthur. "They learn from playing with their brothers and sisters— he won't know how to be gentle yet."
"I'll teach him," Rhaenys decides.
"And your brother?" Arthur asks. "You'll teach him, too?" The master-at-arms or any of the Kingsguard could teach Aegon to be strong and fierce— but it is his family who must teach him to be kind, to be gentle, to be wise; to have the loving heart a king should have beneath his strength.
A pause. Balerion leaps through the air and misses the bouncing ribbon.
"Yes," Rhaenys promises. "I will."
Hide-and-seek is her favorite game, and the Kingsguard have come to the unspoken agreement of indulging her as far as their vows will allow. They'll hide her so long as no one asks directly— and Rhaegar and Elia, and sometimes the Queen, will play along.
The Princess knows this — and she always comes to them first.
Arthur stands with Jaime outside the King's solar, flanking each side of the doorway, when she comes barreling down the hall.
"Hide me from Papa," she asks, stumbling a little as she slows to a stop. She can run startlingly fast, but at a walk she's still a little clumsy.
"Of course, my princess," Jaime says, stepping forward and moving Arthur's cloak aside with a flourish. Arthur gives him a look that probably comes across more questioning than sharp — he's not actually irritated — and Jaime only smiles.
Rhaenys darts behind him, between his cloak and the wall at his back, and settles behind his knees.
Jaime makes a show of arranging Arthur's cloak around her, tucking and smoothing and trying to make it look natural— "You have to keep still if you don't want him to see you," he admonishes, and she giggles.
"Hush," Arthur murmurs, just loud enough for the two of them to hear— booted footsteps are striding down the hall towards them. Rhaenys stills and Jaime steps back to his post, just before Rhaegar turns the corner and sees them.
"Have you seen Rhaenys?" he asks, distracted.
"Who?" Arthur asks, straining his cheeks so as not to smile.
Rhaegar gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look and glances down to where Arthur knows there will be a lump under his cloak. A giggling lump. At the other side of the doorway, Jaime chokes back a laugh.
"Have you checked with the Queen?" Arthur suggests. He knows the King has been harsh with her of late, and that spending time with her sons is a rare comfort now that Rhaegar has taken to the realm of schemes and intrigue.
"No," Rhaegar says. "I think I will, though." Before he turns to leave, he leans close and whispers, "Keep her away from my father." But is he speaking of his daughter or his mother? "I've finished my business here— I intend to remove to Dragonstone. Soon."
The pieces are finally beginning to fit into place.
"I will, Your Grace," he answers.
Rhaenys marvels at the night sky — so much brighter at Dragonstone, away from the city's lights — and pesters the maester incessantly until he finds her books that map out the stars. Then she pesters Arthur until he sits out with her in the evenings to help her find the constellations, and tells her the stories behind each one.
He obliges, because a Dayne who doesn't know the stars would be a disgrace— and because there's something magical about seeing the world anew, through a child's eyes.
He shows her the Ice Dragon, whose eye looks north and tail points south, the King's Crown, the Ghost. He points out the seven Wanderers, one for each of the gods, and over the months they track the progression together.
By day, he watches Rhaegar pace his solar and fret and compose letters to the lords he's convinced to support his claim. It's a sizable number — Elia writes to her brother and the lords of Dorne, and her uncle Lewyn prepares in secret to lead their armies, should it come to that; Ser Oswell is their connection to the Riverlands, and Ser Gerold to the Reach; Rhaegar has put much effort to mending the insult his crown of winter roses did to Baratheon and Stark, and if he sways them, Arryn is like to follow; Aerys has alienated Tywin Lannister and has few remaining allies in the Crownlands.
The Council Rhaegar intends to call may yet go smoothly — but even this is not enough to be foolproof.
"There's every possibility this will lead to war," Rhaegar worries. "We'll need to bring my mother and Viserys here— in secret if need be," and plans for a garrison of ships to guard the island. King's Landing will be dangerous, but there's the possibility Aerys might attack here, too, to strike Rhaegar where it would hurt most.
Jaime will stay here to protect the family— He should be brought into these discussions, Arthur argues, for he will have to command the soldiers and ships, if it comes to that, but every time Rhaegar shakes his head. Not yet. Jaime can be trusted, Arthur insists— he's protested Aerys's treatment of the Queen, he's snapped back at some of the scorn Elia endures from the court, and it is plain to see he loves little Rhaenys—
"He was brought into this, not willingly, but as an insult from my father to his," Rhaegar says. "Let him know a few more days of peace."
Unwillingly, Arthur holds his tongue.
Sometimes, when Rhaegar and Elia have requested privacy, Jaime sits out with them in the evenings to watch the stars. He listens, just as rapt, to Arthur's stories, and when Rhaenys quizzes him, only smiles sheepishly.
"Do you know anything?" Rhaenys asks once, with the kind of derision only a three-year-old can muster.
He stifles a laugh, and says, "I know the Sword of the Morning," glancing up at Arthur only briefly.
"What's that?" she asks.
"It won't rise for a while yet," he explains. "Out there—" he points out over the water, low to the horizon— "just before the dawn."
"I want to see," she insists.
"Your mama would be very displeased if I kept you out of bed so late," Arthur says.
She pouts, but to cheer her up—
"Do you know the story?" Jaime asks her. "Ser Arthur's sword is made from a fallen star—" Arthur loosens Dawn in its sheath, and lets Rhaenys carefully touch the flat of the blade— "and he is called the Sword of the Morning."
"They named the stars for you?" she asks, looking up at Arthur in wonder.
"No—" Arthur tries to tell her, but Jaime grins impishly.
"Yes— for the greatest knight in the Kingdoms."
"Greater than Papa?" Rhaenys asks.
"I'm not—" Arthur protests, cheeks heating—
Jaime shrugs. "That's a matter of opinion," he says, and when he smiles again, there's something in his eyes that gives Arthur pause.
"I want to see Ser Arthur in the sky," Rhaenys says, fisting her hands in Arthur's cloak and tugging.
"Not tonight," Arthur says, but she only glares up at him, determined.
A few days later, Jaime's voice wakens him— "Ser Arthur— Ser Arthur—"
Arthur reaches for his sword. "What's wrong—" but Jaime stops him with a hand on his chest before he's gone far.
"Nothing's wrong," he says. "Princess Rhaenys woke early and wants to see the Sword of the Morning, and she insisted— I shouldn't have woken you, I'm sorry—"
"It's fine," Arthur says, sitting back and blinking. He takes a deep breath to calm his heart, and scrubs a hand across his face.
He dresses quickly, picking a heavy cloak to keep off the early morning chill and folding up an extra blanket because Rhaenys will have forgotten about the cold, and they walk to the eastmost parapet together.
"There." He points, kneeling next to Rhaenys — cocooned in the blanket up to her nose — so he can see from her vantage. "The hilt has risen— That bright star is the pommel, and there is the crossguard—" he sketches the line with his finger. "The rest will come soon."
Then she wants to see their swords— Jaime holds his up to the sky alongside the rising stars, and she wraps her tiny hands around Dawn's hilt, studying the sunrise etched into the pommel. He prays this is an art Rhaenys will never have to know, that necessity will never force her hands to grasp a sword like the warrior-queens of old. But Rhaegar speaks of prophecy and three heads of the dragon and defeating the gathering darkness.
Perhaps, someday, she should learn, but Arthur will do his damnedest to keep her from needing it.
When it is risen, she stares at the sky for a long time. "It doesn't look like you," she says, and Jaime presses a fist to his mouth and turns away for a moment to collect himself.
"No," Arthur says. "It is more enduring than that."
The sun begins to rise, painting colors across the gathering clouds, and Rhaenys cracks a yawn. They'll put her back to bed and advise her nursemaid to let her sleep a little longer today.
As they retreat back inside, he tells Jaime, "You don't have to call me Ser." Jaime looks up at him dubiously, so he explains— "We're more familiar than that—" or at least Arthur thinks they are—
But Jaime smiles, almost shy, and the purple-red skies of dawn reflect in his eyes. For a moment, Arthur cannot look away. Rhaegar will return to King's Landing soon, and Jaime will not join them— Arthur doesn't want to forget this particular shade of green.
"Yes, we are."
When, two years later, they are reunited, Elia is sunny and strong as a queen should be, Queen Rhaella looks at peace for the first time in Arthur's memory, some of Prince Viserys's anger has calmed, Aegon is walking, and Rhaegar's new sister beginning to wobble around. Rhaenys, so much bigger than Arthur remembers, is ecstatic to see them, but Jaime is distant.
They, too, have changed. Arthur has accumulated new scars, and Jaime's shoulders are a bit broader, and somehow he's even more golden than before. His eyes, though, are the same green Arthur has held in his mind over many months.
And he says Ser Arthur again. Each time he hears it, Arthur feels a patter of disappointment in his chest, but he knows he deserves it. They had left with little warning, and of course Jaime would bristle at that— he is not so young as he once was, but he still thirsts to prove himself.
Perhaps with space he would come around, and they might again share the same friendship they once had.
But his eyes grow harder by the day— except when they burn with determination at the tourney to celebrate Rhaegar's coronation, when they face each other down the lists. Arthur's not entirely surprised when he feels himself unseated and crashes to the ground.
Jaime doesn't look back as he rides away, and at tourney's end, he crowns Rhaenys with roses.
"You have a talent for capturing hearts," Arthur jokes later at the feast, after the third time she's insisted on claiming Jaime for a dance— only he's not sure if he's joking anymore.
Jaime turns and walks away.
Over the next weeks, Rhaenys takes to plucking flowers from the gardens and weaving them into circlets, crowning someone new every day. All of her family, Elia's ladies, each member of the Kingsguard in turn— she weaves red poppies into Rhaegar's crown, and he wears it regally as he sits the Iron Throne. Ashara looks lovely in puffs of verbena, Elia glows in golden peonies, and no one dares laugh at hard-faced Gerold Hightower in a wreath of hyssop.
And Jaime— she crowns Jaime most of all. Each day, a new color of the rainbow perches on his head, each one more lovely than the last. But when Rhaenys comes looking for Arthur, Jaime is her escort, wearing gardenias.
"Ser Arthur—" she says, holding up an armful of purple flowers. "But first, you must do something for me."
"What quest would you give me, my princess?" Arthur asks, going to his knees before her.
"Talk to Ser Jaime," is her request.
Arthur hesitates, looking up. Jaime, for just a moment, looks panicked— then impassive.
"I shall do so immediately," Arthur says, getting to his feet. Jaime closes his eyes, but follows him to just outside the door.
For a moment, they don't speak.
"It's been a long time," Arthur says quietly, unsure of how to start.
Jaime's mouth tightens. "You left."
Arthur nods. "I did."
"You left me behind." There's something vulnerable, in those eyes.
"We had to—"
Jaime cuts him off. "Did you not trust me to be by your side?"
"That's not it—" Arthur stops, and starts again. "We trusted you with what is most precious. We trusted you with the innocent— we trusted you with our futures."
The silence stretches again, until Jaime says in a small voice, "Did you not want me to be by your side?"
"Jaime—" His name is a sigh, lingering on Arthur's lips. "This was never about what I wanted."
"But did you?" Jaime asks again.
Softly, he says, "I wanted you."
When they return to the room — the quiet between them comfortable now, not stony — Arthur kneels so Princess Rhaenys can place a ring of bellflowers on his head.
"What is a wedding like?" Rhaenys asks. "What happens?"
Ashara is to marry Ned Stark, something Arthur thinks she is pleased about, and Rhaenys has never seen a wedding before.
"There's a ceremony, and a feast— jesters and singers and dancing, and sometimes a tourney," Ashara explains. "Not for us, though— Ned doesn't want so much of a fuss."
Arthur really couldn't blame him, considering the last tourney the Starks had attended.
"What's a ceremony?" Rhaenys asks.
It is Jaime who answers, this time. "They change cloaks, and the Septon says things and does something with tying their hands together, and they say their vows," he says. It's an accurate, if inelegant, description. "Then they kiss."
"Show me," Rhaenys demands.
"What?" Jaime trips over the word.
"You're both wearing cloaks," Rhaenys says, looking between the two of them. "Show me."
"And you're both wearing white," Elia observes, one brow raised and eyes dancing with mirth.
"I'll be your septon," Ashara volunteers, standing and pulling a ribbon from her hair.
"Ashara," Arthur says, warning—
"You don't want the princess to be unprepared, do you?" she asks, innocently. "It's so confusing if you haven't seen it before."
Arthur shuts his eyes a moment, and steps away from where he's stationed by the door. He doesn't look at Jaime as he comes to stand by his side.
But Ashara looks satisfied. She recites something from The Seven Pointed Star — her rendition is quite inaccurate, but it sounds pious enough — then, "You may now cloak the bride and bring her under your protection."
"It's symbolic," Elia explains behind them. "To show the bride passing from her father's protection to his."
Arthur unhooks his cloak, and so does Jaime. They meet eyes for a moment—
"I am not your bride," Jaime says, and that's true enough.
Arthur sweeps his cloak around Jaime's shoulders, and he does the same— lion pin at Arthur's throat, and sword-and-star at Jaime's. His cheeks have gone pink, and something flutters alongside Arthur's heart.
Ashara loops her ribbon around their hands and ties it, and says something else. Arthur doesn't hear it— he glances over at Jaime, whose eyes are closed. His lips are moving inaudibly, and Arthur can't help but wonder what he is telling himself.
When he looks back at Ashara, she is staring at him expectantly.
"Father—" he starts, and Jaime joins in. They recite the gods together, and— "I am yours and you are mine," they say in unison, "from this day until the end of my days."
"With this—" Jaime continues, but he stops when he realizes Arthur isn't speaking along with him anymore.
"Go on," Ashara says quietly— Arthur squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head.
When he looks again, Jaime's mouth is tight, and the corners tip into a slight frown. Arthur takes a deep breath.
"With this kiss I pledge my love," he says.
Jaime's lips part, just a bit, and he's watching Arthur's mouth. Arthur hesitates, leans forward, and presses a kiss to his cheek. When he draws away, Jaime's eyes have shut and he lets out a heavy sigh. Is that disappointment Arthur sees when those eyes open again, or is it only wishful thinking?
"That's not a real kiss," Rhaenys complains, but when they both refuse, she doesn't insist.
Arthur leads Rhaenys away from the feast as it nears its close— Elia thinks her too young to see the bedding ceremony, and Arthur has no interest in seeing his sister disrobed by the men of the court. As they leave, Jaime falls in alongside them, his cheeks wine-flushed.
"Not going to defend your sister's honor?" he asks, and Arthur laughs. Maybe he's had a bit too much to drink, too.
"She's more than capable by herself," he says. She has a sharp wit and quick hands, and he knows Barristan will be lingering anyway, to prevent anything untoward from happening.
"Why would you have to defend her?" Rhaenys asks. "It's her wedding— why would someone want to hurt her?"
Arthur doesn't know where to begin explaining this, but Jaime gives it a try.
"She's— er— she's very beautiful, and sometimes men can be too— too, eager?"
"Eager for what?" she asks.
"To act as a— um, as a husband would," he says. The red in his cheeks deepens, and Arthur wonders what else might make that color rise.
"But they're not her husband," she says. "They should behave better."
"Yes," Jaime and Arthur both agree.
"But Ser Barristan will protect her," Arthur assures her, "so we can escort you to bed."
Rhaenys frowns. "Ser Barristan is sad today," she says. "Why?"
Arthur looks over at Jaime. He looks about as lost as Arthur feels, but Jaime's already explained— Arthur will try this one. "He's in love with my sister," he says.
"And she's not in love with him," Rhaenys says slowly.
"No, she's not."
"Even if she was," Jaime says, "he could not marry her."
She looks up at them. "Why?"
"He is of the Kingsguard," Arthur explains. "We have sworn never to marry."
"Never?" she asks, looking back and forth between them. "Why?"
"Because our devotion is to you, my Princess," he says. She squeezes his hand. "To your family— to your father. Protecting you is the most important thing. And a man who is married must give his devotion to his family— his wife, his children. If we were to try to have both—"
"It would tear us apart," Jaime finishes.
Arthur nods. "If a man had to choose between his vows to his wife and his vows to his king, which should he choose?"
She doesn't answer— for a long time, she is quiet. "But to be without love is sad. I don't want you to be sad." She grabs Jaime's hand, too, and looks up at the both of them.
Arthur feels his lips turn up into a smile, but it tastes of bitterness. "It is our choice, Princess," he says softly.
But Jaime says— "Love doesn't always mean marriage, and marriage doesn't always mean love. Many husbands and wives hold no love for each other— and then there are those like your uncle Oberyn."
She nods. "And Ellaria."
"Yes— they will never marry, but are they not happy?"
Her eyes glance between them again. "They are," she decides, and yawns. "I'm sleepy."
She trudges up the stairs slowly, turning her head to peek down each hall they pass, and Jaime and Arthur trail behind. But then she looks curious, and alert, and—
"Balerion!" she shouts, and darts down a corridor bathed in flickering darkness.
It takes half a second longer than it should for Arthur's wine-weary head to catch up, and Jaime curses before he follows. She's fast— she's always been fast— and they follow the patter of her tiny feet. When Arthur hears that she's stopped, he skids to a halt, stopping a yard away from her— Jaime knocks into him and they both stumble, grabbing at each other, at the wall—
"He's in there," she whispers, pointing through a dark doorway. "I'm scared—"
Jaime's in the room before he's had time to think, but Arthur looks at her suspiciously a moment — she hasn't been afraid of the dark in years. When he turns his attention back to the doorway, her little hands shove him, hard, in the back— he tumbles forward, startled—
And then the door slams behind him, and there's the click of the lock turning.
He hears more than sees Jaime go directly to the door, his hands shaking the handle— to no avail. Rhaenys has locked it from the outside, and they definitely don't have the keys. Something about the entire situation strikes Arthur as funny, and a low laugh escapes him.
Letting out a deep breath, Jaime helps him to his feet.
"I don't know what she's trying to do," he says, but Arthur thinks he knows. The light is dim, but he can still tell Jaime is determinedly looking at his shoulder, not his face. Has he looked Arthur in the eye since they acted out the wedding? Arthur can't recall.
Perhaps it's the wine that makes him think this is a good idea— Jaime's arm still lingers against his from when he helped him stand, and Arthur twines their fingers together— he brings his other hand up to cup Jaime's cheek, but Jaime flinches away. He stops.
"Do you not want…?" Arthur asks.
There's a moment where all he can hear is Jaime's breath, and then he says— "Yes— I want—"
Arthur steps forward, and their bodies meet— another step, and Jaime's backed against the wall. He runs his fingers up Jaime's throat, along his jaw, to his cheek again — his heart is pounding, or is that Jaime's? Or both?
When he brings their lips together, it's the sweetest thing he's ever tasted— Jaime immediately allows him into his mouth and tilts his head for better access, and a low moan rises from his throat.
The way Jaime reacts to him is exhilarating— it's easy to pull noises from him, his neck is so sensitive— First running his fingers down to the dip in his collarbone — Jaime shivers — then bringing his mouth to the pounding of Jaime's pulse — he presses forward, bringing their bodies more firmly together — then nipping along Jaime's jawline — he clings to Arthur as if he's the only thing anchoring him to this world.
"Goodnight," Rhaenys shouts, and she pushes something through the crack under the door.
Arthur pulls away, just a moment, pressing their foreheads together. Jaime's breath is ragged against Arthur's lips — he tilts his head to bring their mouths together again. Lingering, gentle— a little clumsy from drink. Arthur smiles against him and kisses him firmly before bending down to see what Rhaenys had given them.
It's the key. He laughs.
"We should see her safely to bed," he says, and Jaime groans— Arthur strokes a hand through his hair, and he quiets. "Patience," Arthur murmurs. "We have all night."
Their princess is already tucked into bed, Balerion curled up at her ankles. "Goodnight, Princess," Arthur whispers through the darkness— she stirs but doesn't wake, and round orange eyes blink at them through the night. "Goodnight, Balerion," he whispers, too, and they beat a hasty retreat.
When they are back in his chambers in the White Sword Tower, the door closed and barred behind them, Arthur lights candles— this time, when he kisses Jaime, he wants to know how much his cheeks will darken, wants to make a mess of his golden curls, wants to see the moans and sighs he pulls from his throat. By the time he's finished with the candles, Jaime's hands are under his tunic—
"Bold of you, ser," Arthur says as Jaime helps him shed the garment.
Jaime looks up from where he is already kissing across Arthur's chest— candlelight catches in the green of his eyes. "I certainly hope we're more familiar than that," he says.
Arthur wouldn't be able to keep the smile off his face if he tried— it keeps bubbling up through his chest, so much that he feels stupid with it. "Yes— yes we are."