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Family, Duty, Honor

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Catelyn hates him. Her husband. She hates his remorseful looks and his long silences. She hates the way he hesitates before he tries to speak to her, and she hates the way he looks hurt and resigned whenever his attempts fail. She hates that he makes her feel guilty, or like the angry, irrational wife, even though she knows she has every right to loathe him for what he did.

He had been content before to play the part of dutiful husband, lover, friend, but she knows him better now, and she refuses to allow him to reclaim any of the peace they’d forged. She won’t be made a fool again. Fodder for his letters to his sister. She finds herself wondering if Cersei is the one who sent him those ideas. Little gifts and trinkets turning to bigger gifts as time passes and she refuses to soften towards him. She imagines the queen must be concerned that Catelyn will draw attention to it. Expose the affair in some way. That makes Catelyn even more annoyed, because she wouldn’t. Especially not now that Cersei is with child. It doesn’t matter how disgusting she finds it. It doesn’t matter how hurt she is. She isn’t sure how Rhaegar would react if he ever found out, and she won’t be the reason he does.

It becomes easier after she goes to Jaime and says they must try for an heir. He doesn’t argue. He lays with her with the same enthusiasm he always has. It still brings her the same pleasure. She still craves him. But it’s different. She lets her anger and resentment fester in a way she swore she would never do when she was a child.

I will be a good wife, she used to tell herself, as if it was that easy. As if it was up to her to be good no matter how foul the husband. She is a good wife. She doesn’t tell anyone the truth about Jaime’s heart. She doesn’t even mention it to him, or bring it up in arguments, or even fight with him at all. She doesn’t demand that he change or show her resentment in front of the lords and ladies that come to visit. She doesn’t even show her resentment in front of the household! She buries it all inside where it turns into a wound. She is cold and polite and distant, but that is all.

The worst truth, the truth she keeps most deeply buried, is that she misses him.

She knows it was all a lie, that he was playing a part with her to keep her from suspecting, but she had so enjoyed their time together. Sometimes she wishes that she hadn’t confronted him. He was funny, before. He made those weeks in Kings Landing bearable with his jokes and his gladness to make her laugh. She isn’t sure now how much of that was Jaime and how much of it was a pretty facade meant to keep her from discovering his secret, but she misses it, whatever it was. Without it, Jaime is stiff and awkward and too careful of causing her further injury. She’s grateful for it, in a way. At least he doesn’t try to reignite their past camaraderie, and at least he isn’t cruel. But she misses him. Her days are filled with the tasks of running a household, and she speaks to the people who work for their little family, and she visits with the lords and ladies from around the Rock. But mostly she stays away, hiding from him. Sewing herself new dresses. Embroidering them. She goes for long walks, and long rides, and she jokes with her guards and befriends them, but it’s not the same as when she thought she was friends with her husband.

She remembers his teasing at court, and the way he would always look at her with amusement, and how she felt that they truly had come to know each other well in just a few weeks of marriage. She thought she could see his thoughts written on his face so easily. It was no wonder she felt contented, when they were behind closed doors and he was only hers. He would mock aloud, then, and they would jape back and forth, making each other laugh helplessly until he would kiss her in that way he did, like he was pouring all his emotion into her. But it never truly belonged to her. It was his sister’s, borrowed only for a time when his true love couldn’t be with him. Had he snuck out after all those nights? Had he gone to Cersei always? Had she just been too sated and trusting and foolish to notice?

She thinks of asking sometimes, once the first moon has passed. She sits through another silent dinner, or asks him placid questions about the state of the castle that he trips over himself to answer, as if the right combination of words will make her warm to him again. Like an eager student who doesn’t want to get another answer wrong. She thinks of asking him for details, because she knows he would give them. How long? Why did it start? Where did you do it? How did you avoid being caught? Will you go to her when I’m finally with child?

She tries to imagine it. Jaime leaving, his duty done. Catelyn’s stomach swelling as she sits alone in this castle. She doesn’t think she would mind very much. The people are kind to her, and there would be so much to do. She could keep busy. She could learn more about running it, to take over in his stead. She thinks she might be good at it.

“Will you go to Kings Landing?” she asks one night. She cannot bear the silence anymore. The clank of cutlery against plate. It’s almost hilarious, and it makes her want to laugh, this sham of politeness that sees them eating dinner together every night as if they care for each other’s company. Jaime stares at her, his utensil halfway to his mouth.

“What?” he finally asks.

“Kings Landing. When I’m with child, if I…will you go to Kings Landing?”

He stares at her still. Warily. He lowers his hand and leaves his food uneaten.

“Do you want me to go to Kings Landing?” he asks. She rolls her eyes before she can help it, forgetting that she prefers blankness now.

“I’m not asking you what you think I would want. It isn’t a lesson. I’m asking for your future plans.”

“I haven’t thought of it,” he says. “But I’ll go if you want me to.”

“I wish you would stop doing that,” she says.

“Doing what?” he asks, hungry for advice, and she wants to laugh again.

“I’m not going to run and tell the world what I know. I don’t want you to appease me. I just want things to be as they are between us, with no more lies.”

“All right,” he says. He looks vaguely let down. “I don’t have any plans. I would like to be here for the birth.”

“You don’t need to be. Men don’t enter the birthing room anyway, and sometimes the child is born weak, and it may take a few days or weeks before we know it’s going to live.” She remembers seeing a stillbirth, once, when she was young. One of her mother’s cousins had been staying with them. She remembers the horror of it. She had been too young to understand fully, but now she knows more, and she knows how dangerous a birth can be. Pregnancy isn’t a guarantee of anything except future pain, one of her maids used to be fond of saying. She’d had three children living, though she had given birth to six.

Jaime’s looking at her with something odd in his expression.

“Why can’t men be in the birthing room?” he asks. “Is it not allowed? I remember my father being in with my mother when she gave birth to Tyrion.”

Catelyn remembers the way Tywin had looked at the portrait of Joanna that hung in the hall. Yes, she imagines he would have been there.

“It’s not forbidden,” she allows. “But it’s a messy business, and most men prefer to be far away from all the blood and screaming.”

Jaime makes an expression that makes it very clear how he feels about that practice, and it almost makes her laugh, like she would have once.

“I’m not most men,” he says.

 


 

If she thinks about it too much, it hurts that Catelyn will not be the first woman to bear her husband’s child. She knows that men have baseborn children, and she supposes she’s lucky that her husband is at least discrete about his own affair, out of necessity. To all appearances, he is loyal. She doesn’t look to the rest of the world like a woman who has been wronged. It could be harder. But there is something deeply primal inside her, deeply furious. She wanted to be a good wife. A good wife? What would a good wife do in this situation? Would a good wife stay? Would a good wife pretend? Would a good wife shove her feelings down until she could stomach smiling at her husband again? Perhaps she isn’t a good wife. Perhaps it’s impossible to be a good wife to a man such as Jaime Lannister.

She wants a child. Perhaps she wants one too much, and that’s why it seems to be taking so long. The maester says everything is as it should be, and that she just has to have patience, but Catelyn wants a child so badly that it makes her ache. She wants to be a mother. She wants to hold a child in her arms. She wants to raise them, teach them as much as she can. She wants something to do.

She wants to stop laying with her husband.

She wants to stop because she loathes herself when she’s with him. Every time, she tells herself that she will not enjoy it, that she won’t find any pleasure in it, but she and Jaime seem to be of opposite minds on it. Even when she is impatient and short tempered and as rough and rude as she can be to him, he makes sure of her pleasure. It makes her angrier, after, but he doesn’t seem to mind. There’s a grim determination to it every time, as if it’s a personal goal he has set for himself, and she always feels herself forgetting that she hates him. Wanting to forget. He looks at her, and she cannot read his expression, but it makes her feel empty and hollow and terrible, the way his eyes are on her, begging her for something she doesn’t know how to give.

For as long as he is inside her, she forgets everything but them. No matter how angry she tries to stay. No matter how much she hates him when it’s over. When it’s happening, she almost loves him again. She almost feels that same swelling feeling that she had begun to feel before she discovered the truth. After, she will lie beside him, her heart rate slowing, and she will remember how he used to tuck himself around her, curling close to her, his skin warm and soft, his own heartbeat erratic when she rested her head against his chest. Now, she lies beside him silently and wants him closer until her sanity returns and she remembers that all those times he held her, all those times it seemed like he might care for her too, he was only missing Cersei.

She thought once, before she really knew him, that he must have had many women. He’s still beautiful and arrogant the way he always was. When she watches him fight in the training yard sometimes, she sees the brash and cocky youth she remembers from those first days in Riverrun. She never would have guessed such a man could be so loyal. That it’s to his sister, a woman he can never be with, is probably a tragedy. Catelyn wonders if her continued stubborn attachment to this husband who can never love her is a tragedy too.

She would rather have an honest husband than a penitent one, and as Jaime’s facade never turns from the guilt he wears, she begins to believe it. Maybe he is sorry for deceiving her. Maybe he does care for her in some way, at least enough to feel sad that he has caused her pain. She doesn’t expect him to ever love her, or to ever feel about her the way that she thought she was beginning to feel before it ended. But maybe they can find some kind of peace. His desire to stay for the birth—to actually be in the birthing room—at least indicates that he wants to be a father. A family, even if it’s one that neither of them wants anymore. Maybe that’s something they can give each other.

 


 

At last, she begins to notice some signs, and she goes to the maester, who confirms that she may be with child.

“It’s early days,” he warns her. “Most women prefer to keep the news to themselves so early. You may tell your husband, of course, but I would refrain from a more public announcement.”

Catelyn nods, and she brushes her hand over her still flat stomach, as she remembers Cersei doing, like the motion was involuntary. She understands it now. This impulse to hold the child you know is there. Keep it safe however you can. She wishes she could speak to Cersei about it. She wishes she had anyone.

The maester answers all of her questions, and he gives her a seemingly endless sermon of advice and things like foods and activities to avoid, and what she can expect from the next few months of her life. Catelyn leaves his office feeling light, like she’s back in Riverrun, skipping through the forest with her brother and sister and Petyr, pretending at being faeries or pirates or whatever it was they wanted to be. Her hand goes to her stomach again before she can stop herself. A child. She will have a child.

She finds herself outside in the yard, and she wants to tell everyone she sees, but of course the maester is right. She doesn’t. She greets them happily, asks after their families. She receives requests that she promises to pass along to Jaime.

She climbs up to one of the walls so that she can face the sea. The sunlight is warm on her face, and she closes her eyes and allows the wind to take her hair. She will be a mother, soon. She can hold her child and take them down to see the ocean. It’s her favorite part of living here. The smell of it and the way the waves glitter in the morning sun. She can hear the sound of swords in the training yard below, and she turns to watch her husband beat four men into the dirt. He has always been a good fighter, she knows, but he has lately dedicated himself to his training. She wonders if he means to ride out, soon. If there’s some campaign he will be joining. Or perhaps he’s just bored here. If he was in Kings Landing, there would at least be tourneys he could participate in.

She’s feeling more charitable towards him, so newly glowing with her private good news, so she watches him. He looks particularly golden, particularly bright. He cracks a smile at some joke his sparring partner makes, but when he fights, he’s serious and careful. He brings the same kind of dedication and determination that he brings to their bed, and she finds that she wants him. She thought that she wanted to stop lying with him, but she can admit to herself now that she doesn’t.

It’s early days, the maester had said, and he was right. She need not tell Jaime yet. She need not stop her visits. He always wants her, he’s always ready for her, and there are those moments when they’re together that she knows they both crave, when they can forget who they are and what they have become. Even if he only thinks of Cersei when he’s with her, she can allow him that, and she can get what she herself needs.

You aren’t the only one who can lie, she decides, as she watches him below. It feels like a victory, even if it’s a hollow one.

 


 

For Jaime, the days have begun to blend together. He learns more about running the castle than he has ever wanted to know, and he works privately on his letters, since he has lately been out of practice and finds them as difficult as ever. He trains, and he spars, and he grows stronger. His people like him, he knows, almost as much as they like his wife. His father may be disappointed in a great many things about him, but Jaime knows he won’t have any complaints when next he returns from Kings Landing. Unless, of course, he picks up on the coldness between Jaime and Catelyn and manages to guess the source, but that nightmare scenario seems unlikely.

As the days continue, Jaime receives letters from his family. From Tyrion, chiefly, asking Jaime to take Catelyn with him and visit Kings Landing again. From Tywin, suggesting rather bluntly that he should at least make an appearance in the capital. From Cersei, asking if Catelyn will come with him when he returns from the Rock. “I would treasure an opportunity to see my good-sister, though of course it may be kinder to leave her at home, lest she feel disappointed with her own lack of happiness”, as if it is a personal failing for Catelyn to not be pregnant yet.

He burns those letters, because he has no desire to go, and because he doesn’t want Catelyn to think he does. She has thawed slightly towards him of late, and he doesn’t want to risk a refreezing. She already asked him if he would go back to Kings Landing once, and he still can’t decide if it’s what she wants him to do.

More, he doesn’t want to know what he would do if he saw Cersei again, so soon, carrying a child that might be his. It’s easy to sit safely in his home and tell himself that he is done with her. Much harder to look her in the face and tell her. Much harder, maybe impossible. He’s never said no to her before. He’s never wanted to before, and now he does, but will wanting to do it be enough?

It’s easy now to look back and say that he should have stayed away from his sister. Easy to say that he should have stayed loyal to Catelyn once they were married. Maybe she could have forgiven his history, if he ever gained the courage to tell her, but she can’t forgive the lies and the infidelity, and he understands that. The disgust only makes it worse. And it makes him feel some disgust for himself, too. The love he has for Cersei is faded, exposed by the time apart and by the time he has spent with himself of late, evaluating the things he wants. He wants the softness Catelyn offered him.  He wants that quiet, gentle companionship they used to share. He wants to make her smile, and he wants her to laugh at his foolishness. The love he felt for Cersei was so different from all of that. It was all he knew. It was all the love he was allowed, and he craved it and wanted it and became exactly what Cersei needed to make her share her love with him. But he knows now. He knows now, and it’s too late.

All he can give his wife is what she wants. And all he can take is the same. She comes to his bed and he gives her everything. It’s just like with Cersei, always like with Cersei, but there are scraps of feeling and almost affection that he clings to later, when the bed beside him is empty and he hears her sliding the lock on her own door. The way she’ll grip his hair. The way she’ll kiss him sometimes when she forgets. The way she breathes his name. Scraps of it, and he hoards them.

 


 

Catelyn appears in his room one morning, holding a letter crumpled in one hand. She wears her battle face, her battle stance. Jaime stops in tying up his shirtlaces, knowing that something has happened.

“What is it?” he asks. It’s hard not to sound wary.

“A letter from Tyrion,” she says. “Why haven’t you been responding to his letters?”

Jaime cannot help but roll his eyes, and he goes back to tying his shirt.

“I respond to his letters as much as they deserve,” he says. “Most of them are just Tyrion trying different ways to talk me into returning to Kings Landing.”

“He says your father has requested your presence as well.”

“Yes,” Jaime admits. He doesn’t want to say it, doesn’t want to bring Cersei into this marriage any more than he already has, but he begrudgingly must admit, “as has my sister.”

“And you’ve answered none of them?” she asks. “Should I expect your sister to write me to intercede on her behalf, next?”

“If you receive a letter from Cersei, throw it in the fire,” Jaime says. “The possibility of poison…”

“Poison,” Catelyn says flatly. He chances a smile, and now it’s her turn to roll her eyes. “You’re joking.”

“A bit,” Jaime admits. “But only a bit. Cersei isn’t used to feeling slighted. Not by me.”

Catelyn stares at him, and he can see that she’s trying to figure him out. He wants to move towards her. He wants to move away from her. He wants to give her space and he wants to show her that he doesn’t want to give her space at all. He only stares back, and lets her see what she may, and it feels a lot braver than it probably is.

“Why don’t you return her letters, then?” she asks. “It’s not because of me.”

“And why not? You’re my wife.”

“I’ve made it perfectly clear…”

“Yes, you have,” he interrupts.

“Then why?”

He wishes she could see more than she can. He wishes he could read the expression in his eyes. He’s so used to hiding himself behind a careful neutrality and some kind of wry, shitty amusement. Maybe it’s the hour, or maybe it’s just been a gradual wearing down, but he doesn’t have the energy now to become that man.

“We need an heir,” he says. “And I won’t take you back to Kings Landing. I know you hated it.”

“I’m with child,” she says.

She has acted strangely the past few weeks, coming to him often, more often than she had been. Jaime hadn’t asked, hadn’t questioned. Assumed the maester had advised it, or maybe that Catelyn had grown tired of waiting and wanted to take every possible opportunity. She wasn’t any more gentle, any less hating. It didn’t matter why.

“You’re with child,” he repeats, numbly. “The maester…?”

“Still early days, but he’s certain, and he says everything looks well.”

Jaime is…surprised. Not at the announcement, not at the cold way she delivers the words, but at his own emotions. Something wells within him, turning his insides soft and warm. A child. A child that will be his.

“Oh,” he manages to say, and he hopes that she doesn’t hear that he is slightly choked with emotion.

“So you can go to Kings Landing whenever you want,” Catelyn continues. His eyes go to hers, and he sees that she’s standing tall and stiff-backed, the way she does.

“I thought we agreed I would stay here,” he says.

“I don’t see what the point would be,” Catelyn replies. “Cersei’s closer to her time anyway, if you wanted to be with her when the child comes.”

“I don’t,” he says. He cannot blame her for not understanding the things that drive him away from Cersei now, but he feels frustration for it anyway.

“It’s your child.”

“It may be that I’m the one who helped create them. I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, unless they’re born with Targaryen features and I can say safely that they aren’t mine, but no matter what happens, I am not that child’s father. Cersei made that clear the last time I spoke to her.”

“Is that why you don’t answer her letters? She insulted you?”

“I don’t answer her letters because I don’t want to,” he says. “If I stopped speaking to her every time she insulted me, I would have stopped speaking to her when we were children.”

Catelyn makes a face of mild distaste to be reminded that Cersei is more than just the other woman in this horrible triangle.

“I don’t need you here. I don’t need you to stay through the pregnancy,” she tries. “I don’t expect much from you.”

“Yes, you’ve made that clear as well.”

“I only mean that if you want to go to Kings Landing…”

“I’ve told you I don’t.”

“You’ve told me lots of things to win my silence. Forgive me if I find it hard to take you at your word.”

“Win your silence?” he wonders. “What are you talking about?”

“Please, let’s not rehash the first few moons of our marriage,” Catelyn says, and Jaime simply stares at her. Does she truly think…? “Does this mean you won’t go?”

“If you want me to go, tell me to go,” he says. “Send me away. Tell me you don’t want me to be a father to our child, either. You’re the second women I’ve ever fucked. You may as well be the second one to break my heart as well.”

“A bit dramatic,” Catelyn says wryly, just as dry and almost amused as she had been on their wedding night. Still an undercurrent of resentment. Disgust. But amusement, too. She’s holding her hand to her stomach, and he imagines that he can see a slight swell. How has he not noticed? He’s seen her holding her stomach like that for a few weeks now, but…

A thought comes to him, slowly.

“How long have you known?” he asks. Catelyn stares at him. She snatches her hand away from where it rests against her dress, following his line of thinking.

“It was early days,” she says. “I didn’t want something to happen.”

Something to happen, he repeats to himself darkly. She would have been miserable, and she would have kept it from him. She would have avoided him, lost the child quietly, in her room, muffling her sobs. He hates himself.

“How long have you known?” he asks again. “Why have you been coming to me so frequently?”

Caught, now, Catelyn glares. She reminds him sometimes of a fox. Wily, slippery. Defiant when trapped. She all but snarls at him now, and he’s reminded why she’s on the defensive: because of him.  Because he has trapped her.

“You don’t need an excuse to fuck me,” he says. Her eyes widen in outrage, so he holds up his hands, a mute sign of surrender. He sits on the bed. He watches the blush rise in her cheeks. “You can fuck me whenever you want.”

She stares at him. Rage and desire warring on her face. She places the crumpled letter on his desk.

“Take off your clothes,” Catelyn says. So he does.

She approaches the bed, and he falls into that familiar place. Not quite leaving himself, not quite going away, but allowing his instincts to take over. He listens to her commands. He notices that her voice is shaking. He does his best to make her fall apart, to loosen her control little by little until she’s boneless and arching under his touch. She kisses him, the way she does when she’s losing herself, too. She climbs on top of him, and she has her arms tight around him, her fingertips digging into his skin. Not scratching, like Cersei sometimes used to do, but blunt and grounding, steadying. Reminding him of where they are and who they are.

She didn’t tell me, he thinks. Because she didn’t want to stop. And he cannot afford to feel hope, but he also can’t stop himself from aching for it.

 


 

Catelyn remembers herself quickly, as she always does after. Normally, she would gather herself, dress herself back in her robe, and be out of his room before her breathing had even fully slowed. But today she stares at the canopy above them, and she remembers, and she frowns.

“The way you said it,” she decides aloud. That was the part that was strange. She turns to look at him, and she sees that he’s staring back at her with wide eyes. There’s a furrow between them. Like he’s surprised she spoke and now has gone extra still to keep from frightening her off. “You said I could fuck you whenever I want.”

“You can,” Jaime says, quickly. She shakes her head, and she props herself on one elbow beside him.

“What do you want?” she asks. Jaime frowns at her, like it’s a trick.

“Whatever I can do to make it right,” he says. “To fix things.”

“Jaime. That’s not…” She is vaguely horrified by how casually he dismisses his own desire. “If you don’t want to lie together, you can just say you don’t want to.”

“But I do,” Jaime says. He laughs, a little. Wry and a bit self-loathing, like he always is lately. “I do. It’s what I’m for.”

He looks away at the ceiling again, and Catelyn cannot control the expression on her face. Incredulity. Fear, maybe. It would be easier for her if she just left. If she let things carry on this way. But there’s something so solid and steady and understanding in his tone, and it makes her feel like she has been missing something. Something that should be obvious.

“What do you mean it’s what you’re for?” she asks. Jaime half shrugs, and he frowns at the ceiling, still not looking at her.

“I don’t know what I mean, exactly,” he admits.

“Try,” she says. He rolls over to prop himself up beside her. There’s space enough between them that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, though it’s been such a long time since they’ve talked in bed like this.

“Giving my father an heir,” he says. “Continuing the line. That’s the point of me. And with Cersei, it was always…not that she wanted a child, but that she wanted me. I’m good at it. Surely even you’ll admit that.”

“Jaime,” she says, meaning to protest, but he continues.

“Fighting and fucking. That’s what I’m good at. I’m not a very good reader, and my letters are atrocious. I have no patience for politics or social niceties. I don’t know any trades. My wife hates me, and my servants pity me, I think. But I can do this. I can give you this. A child. Myself. Whatever you want.” He gains more confidence as he speaks, as if he’s saying something good, something that makes sense, and not something that’s half-panicked and pathetic. He finishes with, “it was all Cersei wanted, near the end. I didn’t realize that until recently, until it started being that way with us.”

“Hate fucking?” Catelyn asks, and Jaime laughs, surprising her.

He looks beautiful when he laughs. She hates that she has forgotten that somehow, and she hates that he turns the force of that laughter on her now, loud and barking and beautifully amused as he looks at her.

“Yes,” he says. “Who taught you that?”

“I told you, the women of Kings Landing don’t possess filters. But you love Cersei,” Catelyn answers, reminding him of the topic, trying to ignore the urge to smile back at him. “It wasn’t hate fucking with Cersei.”

“Oh, and you were there, were you?” Jaime asks. “I think I’d know better.”

“But then why would you…?”

She can’t even finish the sentence. She doesn’t even really know what she wants to ask. Jaime finds an answer anyway.

“It was all I knew how to do,” he admits. “When we were back in Kings Landing, she suddenly wanted me again, and I let her have me. I was so glad to be with her, I didn’t think about how different it felt. And then when she was here, again. It was the same. We loved each other the same way, once. But we don’t anymore. I wanted something different, and she wanted that I’d always given her.”

“Is that why you won’t answer her letters?” Catelyn asks. Jaime groans slightly and puts one hand to his forehead.

“Enough about the letters,” he says. “I can’t go back there.”

“Why not?”

“Because she’ll try and fuck me to reclaim me for herself. I don’t want her to.”

“And you don’t think you could tell her no?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I could. Maybe I’d be strong enough, but I don’t know. I want to be…” He sighs, shakes his head. Catelyn knows what he’s going to say somehow.

“Loyal,” she says. “To me.”

“Family. Duty. Honor,” he says dryly. “I should have it embroidered on one of my pillows as a reminder. Cersei is my sister. I love her. I always will. But I don’t want…it’s a compulsion, at this point, giving in to her. I don’t want to be that man anymore. I want this child. I want…”

He breaks off, and he looks at her again, looking for another finished sentence.

“Me?” she asks, incredulously.

“Yes,” he breathes out, relieved.

She thinks of the way he has been looking at her, since she found out about Cersei. The way the look in his eyes always makes her feel empty and hollowed out. The way his whole personality seemed to change.

“I need you to be honest,” she says.

“I will be. Whatever you want to know.”

“Before. Before I found out. Was that real? You were…a good husband. You were kind. You always tried to make me laugh. Even in Kings Landing, it…”

“Every bit of it was real,” he says, and he looks horrified that she might not have known it. He starts to reach for her, but thinks better of it, and so she reaches for him instead. She trails her hand along his jawline, and she watches breathlessly as he closes his eyes and leans into the touch, like a long-neglected dog searching for warmth in a gentle hand. He opens his eyes again, and he admits, “I had no idea it could be like it was. You were very gentle. And you gave me what I wanted. But it was fun, with you. Always laughing at other people.”

“That was mainly you,” she points out, and Jaime laughs helplessly, and he leans further into her hand.

“Fine. Mainly me. But you laughed.”

“I did,” she concedes, and Jaime smiles wider for a bit before it fades.

“But I fucked it all up,” he says. Catelyn nods, and she takes her hand away, reluctantly. Jaime bites his lip when her hand is gone. That stone inside her, that hard core of anger and righteousness and frustration has begun to fade away. She had almost forgotten what it was like to live without it.

He betrayed her. He hurt her. She was so sure that nothing he said or did would ever compel her to forgive him. And she knows that she isn’t there yet. It will take more time than this. It will not be this easy. But her heart is thawing, now that she better understands. She can see a path out of the darkness.

“You did,” she admits. “I…I cannot forgive it. Not yet. But I can…” She sighs, and she reaches for him again. She touches his jaw, his throat. She slides her hand down to his arm, and she takes his hand. She brings it to her lips, and she kisses his knuckles, feeling a fool. But it’s easier when his skin is touching hers. His eyes stay on her hand the entire time, watching where she touches him. “I can learn to forgive,” she finally says. “It may take some time, but I am willing to try.”

“Cat,” he breathes, and she smiles, because she believes the awe and disbelief in his voice.

“I won’t forgive another indiscretion,” she warns. “I can’t turn away and ignore it again.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” he says. “I didn’t expect you to forgive this one.”

“Neither did I,” she admits. She shuffles, a bit more awkwardly than she’d like, until she’s lying closer to him. The space between them smaller. Jaime’s hand is tentative, but it rests against her stomach. “But I think…we could be happy. If we try.”

“I’ll try,” Jaime promises. She wouldn’t have believed him even yesterday, but she believes him now. She knows him better now.

“I’ll try too,” she says.

 


 

Epilogue

 

Catelyn Lannister does her best to hide her smile as she walks down the hall. The whole of Casterly Rock is in a flurry of activity, with people brushing past her and apologizing and darting from room to room to prepare it for the visit from Tyrion, who should be arriving tomorrow.

She heads to the balcony that overlooks the training yard, following the sounds of shrieking and laughter.

As expected, her husband is in the center of the chaos. Jaime is splattered in mud, and he has thrown his head back to laugh as the children around him continue to try and fight each other. The master of arms is red-faced, blustering, but the children are having too good a time, especially with their Lord standing among them and carrying on the way he is. Their training is utterly forgotten.

The two girls sit off to the side, watching the melee with envy, because Catelyn has informed them both that they are still too young to play at swords with the older children. Minna, her red hair a beacon that draws the eye, is talking, which is no great surprise. Catelyn’s daughter inherited her father’s need to endlessly fill the silence with chatter. The princess, Rhaegar’s sister, Daenerys, laughs at whatever Minna is saying, and the two of them start harassing one of the older boys. Catelyn can’t hear what Minna says, but it makes Jaime laugh even harder.

He finally catches Catelyn’s eye, and he heads in her direction until he stands directly below her, grinning up.

“You look like a fool,” she calls down to him, which makes him smile.

“He fell in the mud, mama,” Minna shouts.

“I told you not to tell her that!” Jaime shouts back, which makes both girls giggle and shriek as they hurry away. At four, Minna is already reminding Catelyn of herself at that age. She’s glad that they agreed to foster Daenerys when it became clear that she and Cersei’s son didn’t get along, because Minna needed the friendship of a girl near her age. Seeing them together always makes Catelyn miss when she and Lysa were close. They get up to endless mischief together, always finding trouble. The people who work in the kitchen are the girls’ favorite victims, just as they were the favorites of Catelyn and Lysa.

Their second child, a boy Jaime insisted they had to name Tyrion—mostly to infuriate the rest of the Lannisters, Catelyn suspects—has been much easier in comparison. When Minna was two, she was an absolute nightmare. Tyrion has been much easier. She wonders what the third will be like.

Jaime joins her on the balcony, and she allows him to kiss her, though she laughs and pushes his hand away when he tries to touch her.

“This is a new dress,” she says, scolding. “And you’re filthy.”

“It was your daughter’s fault,” Jaime says. “She said I couldn’t beat all twelve boys at once.”

“You’re a grown man,” she reminds him.

“Which is exactly why I couldn’t lose face in front of my child. Of course, the boys won, so I did that anyway.”

Catelyn sighs, but she leans up to kiss him again, because she truly loves him when he’s like this. Light and filled with enthusiasm for the day. He’s excited about his brother’s arrival, she knows. Maybe also excited that they now know for sure that Tywin hasn’t traveled with them. The queen, it’s said, is pregnant with her second child. (“This one’s definitely not mine,” Jaime had remarked to her when she’d read the news. He had spoken with the air of someone who says a joke even though they know they’re like to suffer because of it. But it has been four years. Catelyn was ready to laugh.)

“I saw the maester,” she says, and Jaime draws back to look at her.

“Well?” he asks.

“It’s early,” she says. “But…”

Jaime’s grin explodes across his face, and he pulls her into another kiss.

“Another one? Gods, woman. We’ll have our own army.”

“It’s three children,” she reminds him incredulously. “And we’re both still young. I want at least two more.”

“Two more, seven hells,” Jaime says, his breathless wonder in direct contrast with his words. “What did the maester say about two more?”

“He said I was ‘born to be a mother’,” Catelyn drawls.

“I’m sure he says that to every woman. He is a maester. I think they think that’s all you’re good for. Strange he hasn’t noticed how much my penmanship has improved since I married you.”

“Ah, so I’m good for birthing babies and handling the household messages. Is that all?”

“That’s it, I’m afraid,” Jaime says with delight, and he leans in to kiss her again, exaggeratedly keeping his dirty hands off her. “Let me go bathe and change, and then we can take the afternoon off and get started on this army.”

“I’m already with child,” she reminds him.

“Maybe we’ll get twins,” he says, barely holding back his laughter enough to get the sentence out. Catelyn keeps her face stern only through immense effort.

“That isn’t how that works,” she says.

“Well, no. But can you imagine?”

“I’d really rather not,” Catelyn replies, and she finally allows a small smile.

“It worked out pretty well for my father. There’s a possibility of a full-blooded Lannister taking the throne one day.”

Catelyn groans aloud and shoves him away as he laughs and starts to back down the hall away from her, keeping his eyes on her. Four years. Four years ago, she never would have believed that they would joke about that.

“You’re an ass,” she says.

“I’m your husband,” he replies, mock-wounded.

“My husband is an ass.”

“Your husband loves you,” he says.

“Mum, please,” Minna groans from down below. Catelyn laughs.

“Your wife will see you in thirty minutes in her rooms,” she whispers, quiet enough so Minna can’t hear. Louder, she says, “Take a bath, Jaime.”

Giving her a bit of an ironic salute, Jaime turns and heads back down the hall, and Catelyn watches him. Her husband. The man she married. The man who betrayed her and possibly fathered a child on his own twin. The man who has loved her since. Four years.

She heads down the stairs into the yard to greet her daughter and Daenerys, and she cannot contain her smile.

Tomorrow, Tyrion will arrive. In some moons, she will give birth to another child. In the years that follow, she will perhaps have more, and she will watch her children grow, and she will be their mother. A good mother. And she will love her husband. And she will be loved by her husband.

Her father once said, in a tone of voice like he believed it was hopeless, that she might one day come to love the man she married. Like it would be a chore. Like it would be a miracle. She still thinks of that sometimes. Married off to a man she didn’t know. Married to a man who wanted nothing to do with her. Her sister is married to a man too old for her, and she lives high up in the Vale, and she still doesn’t return many of Catelyn’s letters. And Cersei is the queen, but Tyrion often writes of her unhappiness, of her desire to be away from the rule of her father, who follows her still, allowing her no true power. One day, Minna will have to face a world where a woman’s worth is tied to what she can do for her husband. With any luck, maybe things will have changed.

Maybe they won’t. And if they haven’t, Catelyn knows she will need to have the right advice for her daughter. To try. To allow herself to love. To forgive that which can be forgiven, and to hold firm on the things that can’t. To build a home, even if it’s not the home you thought you wanted. To try to create love, to build it slowly, stone by stone, in the place where love did not exist.

She thinks of the girl who first met Jaime Lannister, and she thinks of the woman who spent a miserable first year of her marriage hating him, and she thinks of the woman she is today. It hasn’t even been very long. Women older than her would probably call her a fool for thinking that she has all the answers now, but she doesn’t mind being called a fool. She has a daughter. She has a son. She has a husband who loves her, and a foster daughter she will care for, and a household full of people who respect her and listen to her and treat her like she matters.

She would have been content with so much less than this. But with all she has, with all the gifts the past few years have given her, she’s happy.