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Family, Duty, Honor

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Technically, the intention is for Jaime Lannister to marry Lysa Tully, but a few things happen to make that impossible.

(“Thank the gods,” he will say often in the years that follow, prompting a stern look from his wife, always followed by a poorly hidden smile.)

Jaime is sent to Riverrun to meet his potential betrothed, as if it matters whether they get along. Lysa’s sister, Catelyn, older than Jaime by several years, is more to his tastes both in looks and in personality, but she’s betrothed to the eldest of the Starks. Except then Brandon gets himself killed in a hunting accident near Winterfell that’s rumored to have actually been a fight of some kind, possibly over a lady. Catelyn is grieved in the way that you grieve for someone you’re supposed to grieve for but don’t know enough to care about, which is to say she keeps her pretty eyes lowered and her mouth in a grim line during dinner as her father and uncle and brother talk between themselves about who she’s going to marry now. Ned Stark, Brandon’s younger brother, is apparently the most likely candidate. Jaime feels sorry for her, as Ned is dour and uninteresting, but mostly he’s too busy feeling sorry for himself. Lysa’s attempted flirtations are awkward and uninteresting, and he can’t imagine ever agreeing to marry her, no matter what his father says.

Then the king, Aerys, dies rather suddenly, and Jaime’s father sends word that he’s traveling to Riverrun to hasten along the arrangement of the marriage with Lysa, with the end goal being so they can be back in Kings Landing in time for Jaime’s sister to marry the new king.

And then some serving woman catches Lysa at something that makes Tywin call off the betrothal. Jaime is never quite informed of the details, and he doesn’t care enough to ask. He didn’t want to marry her anyway.

In the end, Tywin Lannister is too shrewd a man to be cheated out of the alliance he wants, and so Jaime Lannister and Catelyn Tully are wed in a ceremony that manages to be grand enough to suit both fathers, even under the time restrictions.

Jaime supposes he should be happy that he doesn’t wind up married to Lysa. He has enjoyed Catelyn’s company in the time he has spent at Riverrun. She’s lively and funny and kind. But Jaime doesn’t want to marry anyone at all, unless it’s his sister.

 


 

He does his best not to mope through his wedding feast, but the wine doesn’t help, and neither does his stiff-backed Tully bride beside him. He keeps thinking of Cersei. Cersei warm and inviting and wanting. Begging him to join the Kingsguard to protect her. Why had he said no? He would have had to stand by and watch her with Rhaegar, but wouldn’t it have been worth it? She still would have been near, and they could have continued on in secret, the way they always have. They’re meant to be together. Hang what the laws say. The laws allowed the Targaryens to wed brother and sister for ages! Rhaegar’s parents were siblings! Why not Lannisters?

It was Cersei who first proposed that maybe Lannisters could be as divine as Targaryens. But when he said that they should run away to be together, she turned away. She was meant to marry the prince, she said. She was not meant to spend her life running from their family, living as refugees in some faraway land where no one knew them. She was Cersei Lannister. She would be a princess.

Now, she’ll be a queen.

The last time he saw Cersei, she was dismissive. Cold and almost harsh, and sometimes he remembers that. Allows that last memory to infect the warmer ones he usually chooses to dream about. Softer years, when they were younger and always playing together, loving each other for more than just what their bodies wanted. That was years ago now, but still he craves her. He wonders how she feels about his marriage. Was she jealous when she heard? Was she angry? Was it anything like what he felt when he heard she was betrothed to Rhaegar?

He can’t imagine it. He can only think of her coldness. That last time, when she was furious with him because he didn’t want to join the Kingsguard. He remembers her coldness now, at his wedding, sitting beside Catelyn Tully. Catelyn Lannister. His wife. She’s not any happier to marry him than he is to marry her.

The female guests carry him away to his chambers when the feast is near enough to finished, and the wine has addled his head so it’s almost terrifying, the way they strip his wedding clothes from him. But it’s terrifying afterward, too, when it’s just he and his wife in their room, left alone in the quiet, with only the ghostly sounds of the merriment elsewhere in the castle keeping them from true silence. Catelyn has already covered herself with a dark green silk robe, and she’s sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling her hair loose from her braid. She isn’t Cersei, but she’s beautiful all the same, and he admires the sight of her there. She looks peaceful.

“They took their time with you,” she says wryly. She gives him a look over that might be appraising, and Jaime finds his hand is shaking as he runs it through his hair to try and tame what the ladies have mussed. “Such a silly tradition isn’t it?”

He thinks she’s trying to make him more comfortable, so he nods and tries to calm his racing heart. He feels vaguely sick with nerves. He expected her to be the nervous one. That’s what all the married men said to expect. There were dozens of them, coming out of the fucking walls, trying to give him advice on how to make his wife less anxious “so she’ll let you fuck her good”, or whatever other horrible thing they thought he wanted to hear. “There’s a difference,” they all said, “between fucking your tavern wenches and deflowering your highborn maids”, of course not realizing just how little experience Jaime had with either.

 Catelyn is brushing her hair now, still looking at him curiously, and he’s the only one who seems at all rattled.

He can’t do it. He won’t be able to. His cock hasn’t so much as stirred, and he knows it won’t. It’s only Cersei, for him. Catelyn is pretty and fierce and he likes her. He genuinely does. She’s kind and funny. She’ll make a good wife.

She just…isn’t Cersei.

“We don’t have to,” he says. He remembers that he can be charming when he wants, and he flashes her a smile. “If you don’t want. We can wait.”

“Wait?” Catelyn asks. She’s amused, he thinks. She’s even prettier when she’s amused, and she’s prettier in the soft firelight here, the way it plays over her face and her hair and what he can see of her pale skin. But it doesn’t matter how pretty she is when she isn’t Cersei. “Why would we wait?”

“I know you were expecting to marry Brandon Stark,” Jaime says. “If you wish for more time to grieve…”

“I have no wish to grieve a man I barely knew,” Catelyn says. She is still so dry, knowing. Her eyebrows are arched perfectly, and he thinks she might be on the cusp of mocking him. “I know neither of us wanted the match, but I thought we would both at least know our duties.”

Duties,” he echoes, incredulous. But he supposes she’s right. Husbands and wives don’t choose each other. Not when they’re from the great houses. Jaime only knows fucking as an act of love between himself and his other half, but to Catelyn it’s the way to make the Lannister heirs that her father promised Tywin.

There’s something of Cersei that he can find in Catelyn now. Her detached amusement hides a quiet, simmering resentment. Not only because of him, he doesn’t think, but because of the fact that if she wishes to be the good Tully woman, the embodiment of those self-righteous house words, she will have to endure him. Fuck this man she doesn’t want and who now, apparently, doesn’t want her. Jaime knows it’s nothing to be pitied, but he does feel sorry for her. It isn’t her fault. It isn’t her fault Cersei is his other half, and it isn’t her fault that Tywin Lannister is ambitious and that her younger sister gifted her maidenhead to someone she wasn’t betrothed to and now Catelyn is forced to keep the promise that Hoster Tully made.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“What do you need?” she asks, awkward and annoyed about it. Like there’s something she thinks she needs to do to make this easier for him. She’s trying to sound unflappable, and he has no doubt that there were women all around her during the preparations, telling her things the same way the men told him. He remembers the things Cersei used to complain about being taught. How to smile and laugh at a man’s cleverness, even if he didn’t have any. How to anticipate his needs. What about my needs? she had asked once, when they were both very young. Do you have to spend all day learning how to make ladies happy? Defiant, because she knew the answer was no.

Catelyn reminds him of that day now, how angry Cersei had been. His wife sits facing him like a man steeling himself for battle. Her shoulders are squared. If he didn’t know how to read men readying for battle so well, maybe he wouldn’t know that she’s hiding her nerves behind bravado.

It makes him feel a bit better, a bit more on even ground. After all, she has more to fear from him than he does from her. She’s a maid. She’s never done anything like this before. He knows it can hurt, sometimes, if the man isn’t gentle. Jaime’s done this with Cersei more times than he can even remember.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, because he is. “I’m not…you should know I’ve…before, more than once, I’ve...”

“You think I was expecting you to be…what was it that that Frey man kept saying? Pure as driven snow?”

Jaime laughs at the unexpected humor in her expression. He thinks it might be more from the relief than anything else. She’s still Cat. During that first week of his stay at Riverrun, she had been lively and engaging, trying to coax him into seeing her flighty little sister’s charms. All it had really done was show Jaime that she would be the better match for him by far. She had teased him when he was awed and too obvious about his admiration for her uncle The Blackfish. Lysa had simpered and tried to flirt with him, but with Catelyn he had developed a back-and-forth that sometimes, sometimes made him think of Cersei when they were younger.

Sisterly, he thinks. She had been sisterly. It almost makes him laugh, because yes, he thinks he probably can do this if he remembers who she is and that he really does like her.

And maybe it’s fitting, after all, that he and Cersei are both to be married off to other people. They mirror each other. Reflect each other. Everything else is the same. Why not this? Cersei will fuck Rhaegar. She will likely do it gladly, from the way she gushed about him before she and Jaime were parted. Why should Jaime not gladly fuck his own wife? His pretty Tully wife.

“I loved her,” he admits. “The woman I was... If I have seemed unenthusiastic. I didn’t mean to be so ungrateful. I…”

“Jaime Lannister, our fathers are, thank all the gods, not in this room with us,” Catelyn says. She stands up from the bed. He doesn’t think she’s even trying to be alluring. The robe falls around her legs, but he catches glimpses of her pale skin as she walks towards him. Her hair falls around her shoulders and down the front of her robe, and the firelight on it is enthralling. Almost golden. The glimmer of steel in her eyes is mesmerizing. She seems to grow stronger the closer she gets. He likes the look of challenge on her face. Her clenched fists. Her expressive eyebrows and the way they furrow disapprovingly at him. “You don’t need to woo me with pretty words. You need to consummate this marriage so that our fathers will be satisfied. And then you will need to lay with me, whenever the time is right, so that we may produce heirs.”

“Family, duty, honor,” Jaime says dryly, and Catelyn’s smile is sharp.

“You mock my house’s words, but they’re good words. And I live by them. I haven’t seen much roaring from you. Just bluster from a scared boy.”

Jaime’s answering smile tries to emulate her sharpness, but it feels strained. He is scared.

“I’m trying to be…I’m trying,” he says, and Catelyn places one cold hand on his chest. The other holds to his shoulder. She’s delicate about it. Much softer than Cersei has ever been. And he feels something new boiling inside him. Not want, because though his cock is finally at least showing some interest in the smell of her and the closeness of something so soft and lush and so Cat, he knows lust well enough, and he knows this isn’t it. It’s something older, something he had forgotten. Safety. Not physical safety. Not knowing his body wouldn’t be harmed. It’s something greater and yet smaller than that at once. Just knowing that he is safe with her, knowing that he can trust she won’t hurt him. He doesn’t think he’s felt anything like it since he was a child. Maybe it stopped when his mother died, or maybe it stopped when Cersei grew old enough to have ambitions and learned that the quickest way to quiet him was with cutting words. But Jaime feels a yearning for that feeling again, and with Catelyn’s hand soothing his erratic heartbeat, he knows that it’s so close.

Trust, maybe. On a scale he hardly remembers ever knowing, but he can have it. She’s offering it.

“Neither of us wanted this marriage,” she says. The sharpness of her words and her vaguely scolding tone are so different from the gentleness of her touch. “But we are married, and we must make the best of it. Old loves and old hurts won’t serve either of us anymore.”

Jaime kisses her, because her head is tilted up to look at him, and her eyes are mirthful and amused, and her hands are growing warmer on his skin, and he knows no better way to respond to whatever this trusting, wanting feeling is. Catelyn makes a sound of surprise, but she grips his shoulder tighter, and then her other hand slides up from his chest to his neck. He shivers and cups her face in his hands to deepen it.

His fingers slip into her hair, and he pulls her closer, and he begins to press her backward so she takes several delicate steps towards the bed, laughing when he breaks the kiss so he can see how close they are.

It’s easier when she’s laughing. Easier when he remembers that she’s not some unknown, unmet girl. Cat, who laughed at him and did a wicked impression of his gaping hero-worship for her uncle and who had taken pity on him more than once when she could tell he was overwhelmed by her sister's persistence. Duty, she said, and it would be harder if it was only duty, but it isn’t. He gently opens her robe once they reach the bed, and he exposes her. If she’s afraid, or bashful, she doesn’t show it. She stares at him with a challenge.

It makes him think of Cersei again. The jut of her chin. The daring in her eyes.

Little else brings his sister to mind after that. The softness of Catelyn, the way she looks in this light, extends to the feeling of her skin. The roundness of her thighs. The curved shape of her, her hips. Wider than Cersei’s. She has freckles on her arms, and on the skin of her chest, just below her throat. He can see them, and touch them, and bring his mouth to them as she makes delightful sounds that turn from quiet laughter to quieter whimpers.

He was left only in his smallclothes when the bedding was done, and he can see her eyes wandering with obvious nervousness to the hardening shape of his cock beneath the thin fabric, so he gently pushes her back, onto the bed, urging her toward the pillows.

“I need to,” he starts. He feels awkward, suddenly, saying it. He’d say any number of filthy things to Cersei. But Catelyn…“Get you ready,” he finally says.

“Oh,” she says, like she’s curious and amused all at once. “Get me ready? How?”

“Let me show you,” he answers. Her eyes go wide at that, and wider still when he urges her knees open and kneels in front of her. “If you don’t want to…”

“Do it,” she says, still curious, if slightly less amused.

He kisses her the first time he slips his hand between her legs, mostly to hide how nervous he is. With Cersei, this was easy. Cersei was always ready for him. It was the way their love evolved, from the time they were young. She always wanted, and there was no need to be gentle. He’s worried that he’ll hurt his wife, worried that he’ll shock her, worried that she won’t like something that Cersei did. It makes him more careful and gentler than he’s ever been, and he thinks that it might be what Catelyn wants. She sounds surprised as she breathes heavier, like she never thought it would feel good, and the first time she comes she gasps. She’s quiet, like Cersei, except she doesn’t need to be. It’s just some rigidity, some holding tight to herself even as he bends his head between her legs and licks her. Her fingers grasp at his hair, and he moans louder than he meant to, and he’s embarrassed at how hard he is now, but Catelyn is quiet all the while. He likes the sounds that come out, the ones she tries to stop. The way they sound so shocked and glad. Like all of it is a pleasant surprise.

 


 

Catelyn Tully had not wanted to marry Jaime Lannister. She hadn’t wanted to marry Brandon Stark, either, but at least Brandon Stark was serious and courteous, even if she knew the rumors of his fondness for women. Jaime Lannister is arrogant, unserious, more interested in hearing old tales of knighthood and glory than in getting to know Lysa.

And yet, through a series of things that are not in any way her fault, Catelyn Tully becomes Catelyn Lannister, and Jaime Lannister is her husband.

She’s surprised to see his arrogance vanish so quickly after the wedding. He turns into a nervous boy who can’t even muster up the courage to cross the room without being met by her first. She’s able to coax him into overcoming his fears and bedding her, and he’s gentler than she expected him to be. She supposes she isn’t so surprised that he has lain with others before. He’s beautiful, and eighteen, and has surely had plenty of offers in his life, looking the way he does. She is surprised when he claims his nervousness is because he loved the woman he used to be with. Catelyn imagines that this bedding must feel like a betrayal of her, whoever the woman was. Of low birth, likely, or at least low enough that Tywin Lannister wouldn’t entertain the idea of a marriage. She feels sorry for him, but she supposes she might also be relieved to know that she isn’t the only one dissatisfied.

She finds herself glad for his experience on their wedding night, when she finally understands why women marry even when they aren’t forced to. He’s gentle with her, and he kisses her and shows her what pleasure is. It still shocks her, days later, when she remembers the feel of his mouth on her, to say nothing of how surprising and good it felt, when he was fully inside her, after the initial surprise of such a foreign feeling.

What’s more shocking, as weeks pass and they travel to Kings Landing for his sister’s wedding to King Rhaegar, is how much she enjoys spending time with him. She had liked him at Riverrun, mostly despite herself, because he’s charming and eager to please and amusing despite his arrogance—and perhaps sometimes because of it. After their marriage, after their successful wedding night, it’s easier to remember that he’s more than just the man she was forced to marry.

He is irreverent and incorrigible and always mutters annoyances to her in a low voice that only she can hear. She is practiced in keeping herself from laughing (thanks largely to a childhood spent with an extremely mischievous Petyr Baelish) so she does, tamping down the urge. But the urge gets stronger because she’s relieved, as the days pass, to find that she gets along so well with her husband.

She heard all sorts of things before the wedding from nearly every woman she knew—every woman perhaps, save for Lysa, who wasn’t speaking to her, and who blamed Catelyn for stealing her beautiful golden husband as if Catelyn planned for Lysa to give her maidenhead to Petyr and then get caught doing it.

Every woman in her life, from the visiting relatives to the handmaids to the washerwomen had advice and opinions, and they all contradicted each other. Catelyn had no idea what to expect. There were warnings of harshness and promises of pleasure and whispered, giggled allusions that she hadn’t understood at the time. The one thing no one ever said was that it could be fun. Simply fun, if one’s husband had the right temperament. She’s surprised to find how much she likes sleeping with hers.

After that first nervous night, he becomes more confident. In their bed, she allows the laughter that she tries to stifle everywhere else. He mocks people they saw throughout the day as he kisses her, and she scolds him while his grin glitters at her and he makes some silly jape about ‘making it up to my lady wife’. She worries, sometimes, that it must be false, because he is so much more good-natured than she expected. She knows he didn’t want this marriage, and she fears that he is merely doing his duty better than she expected, but as the days pass, she begins to trust him. Why would he pretend so well if he cared nothing for her? What would he have to hide?

 


 

Kings Landing is not what she expected. It’s as if every person who has ever visited and gushed about its grandness forgot the filth and the stench of it the moment they left. The ladies at court wear heavy perfumes to keep themselves in a bubble of protection from the smell, and if anything it makes the stench worse. Everything cloying and false and overpowering. It makes Catelyn’s head swim. She misses the fresh air and the smell of the woods around Riverrun.

Jaime can tell she isn’t happy, and it causes a sort of giddy mania in him to realize it. He’s pleased, he informs her, because he doesn’t much like the city or the court, either. He’s irreverent and rude and even funnier in his bitter sharpness. Sometimes Catelyn feels as if she can’t keep up with him.

She meets Cersei Lannister as a sister only several days before the wedding to Rhaegar is to take place, and she finds her perfect for her new home. Glittering and beautiful and courteous and kind, but with a hollowness that feels threatening. She may be able to fool the women she chooses to surround herself with, who all worship her, gushing over her beauty and her cleverness and her graciousness, but she can’t fool Catelyn. Catelyn is a Lannister now in name, but she will always be a Tully first. She has no care for the jewels and gold that Cersei drapes herself in, or the mask she wears that can’t quite hide her distaste.

Still, Catelyn is polite. Dutiful. She and Cersei talk of the journey from Riverrun, and the grandness of the city, and how they both agree that Rhaegar will make a fine king. Cersei’s eyes are sharper than her twin’s, and more piercing. Catelyn knows the future queen is looking for flaws, but she doesn’t allow it to bother her. Cersei has nothing that Catelyn wants, and Catelyn has nothing that Cersei wants. They don’t need to think about each other beyond these few weeks. Why would it bother Catelyn at all?

Later, back at their rooms, Jaime is distracted. Almost anxious.

“What did she say to you?” he asks. For the first time since their wedding night, his voice has that odd quality to it. Vulnerability.

“She was very kind,” Catelyn says, because she doesn’t know what Jaime is asking. He seems relieved, and he nods.

Maybe he sees what his sister is, too.

 


 

Jaime loathes court. He loathes the games that his father and sister and even his little brother so enjoy playing. He loathes the people who fawn over him and Catelyn because they know it might gain them some favor with whichever other Lannister they are most eager to impress. He isn’t interested in any of these people or their absurd conversations. The only person he wants to speak to is his sister, but of course it can’t be that simple.

Cersei manipulates events so that they are never in a room together with fewer than fifteen people, which means she must be angry with him for marrying. Tywin, too, always seems to be between them, and the careful eye he keeps on them makes Jaime nervous. Tywin never gave a reason for hastening along Jaime’s marriage and eventual planned removal to Casterly Rock, and Jaime isn’t sure why he thinks that Tywin knows. There’s just something about the expression on his face, the way his head swivels from Cersei to Jaime and then back again. Jaime would have thought that his father would have lost his head at the first realization that there’s something beyond sibling affection between his two eldest children, but it’s too pointed, that Tywin is always watching them, to hope that it’s caused by anything else.

Jaime asks, but Tyrion knows nothing about Tywin’s thoughts, apparently. He laughs in Jaime’s face when Jaime asks if he might, and he’s less than interested in speculation. What he is interested in is spending time with Catelyn. She seems bemused by Tyrion’s joviality at first, but by the end of their first week in Kings Landing, she smiles every time she sees him. Jaime tries not to feel a little jealous about it, but he can’t seem to help himself.

“At least you married someone who can endure Cersei,” Tyrion says one morning at some sort of garden breakfast party Cersei’s throwing in anticipation of the wedding. They’re doing their best to avoid their father’s notice, standing in the shade of some trees on the outskirts of the gathering. From here they can see Cersei charming all her friends, though they can’t hear what she’s saying—which, Tyrion gleefully points out, is part of why he chose the spot. Jaime has trouble telling if his sister is actually happy or not, because she has erected a beautiful wall around herself. She laughs and speaks and smiles in unfamiliar ways, as if they have been years apart and not merely months. Jaime aches to speak to her. To tell her why he’s married. To apologize, even, if it will make her smile at him the way she used to, when they were young.

“She certainly doesn’t like our sister,” Jaime admits. Catelyn sits in the ring of Cersei’s admirers, a fitting position for a good-sister, but on the outskirts. She looks beautiful as ever, and seeing them beside each other gives him an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach that he doesn’t like, as if he wants to get Catelyn away from Cersei. Keep her from harm. She doesn’t look right with the women of Kings Landing. Not like she had looked when she first gave him the tour of Riverrun, when he was meant for Lysa and she was meant for Brandon and they were free to be as chatty and friendly as they wished. She looks awkward and out of place, and she always looks at Cersei like she’s trying to figure her out. Like Cersei is this beautiful species of bird that Catelyn has never seen before. Jaime wants to laugh at her and tell her not to bother, but he’s afraid to. He has married a shrewd woman, and he thinks she might see more than he wants her to if he so much as speaks his sister’s name.

“Not everyone has your appetite for cruelty,” Tyrion says mildly, and Jaime glares at him. Tyrion’s return look is unbothered and just slightly disgusted, and it deflates Jaime’s prickliness immediately. “Oh, relax. Your puffed up pride. You know how it makes me feel.”

Yes, Jaime knows how it makes Tyrion feel. He still doesn’t even know how Tyrion found out. It doesn’t seem very like Cersei to tell him; even if she were looking for a blow to strike against Tyrion, she is too paranoid about their secret getting out to let him know. But Tyrion has a way of knowing things, somehow. Jaime supposes it was only a matter of time.

The truth, Jaime thinks, is that Tyrion would be disgusted and disappointed by Jaime’s devotion to Cersei even if the twins never once touched each other beyond what’s appropriate. As long as Jaime can support Cersei, love Cersei, defend Cersei...it’s the one thing that Tyrion loathes about Jaime, but Jaime cannot stop loving one sibling to protect the feelings of the other. Jaime wants to remind Tyrion sometimes that Tyrion should be glad of that, because it would have been a difficult choice to make, and it may not have been one made in Tyrion’s favor.

“Do you think she’s cruel to Catelyn?” Jaime wonders. Tyrion snorts.

“Your wife is too smart to fall for Cersei’s empty courtesies, unlike you. She hears the words Cersei doesn’t say, and she knows their meaning. False kindnesses are a form of cruelty, when you know them for what they are. Trust me to understand that, at least. Luckily for you, I doubt your wife gives much of a shit about what our sweet sister thinks of her or your marriage. Still, it’s good you’ll be going back to the Rock soon.”

“Good,” Jaime scoffs. “I’ll be parted from Cersei.”

“Yes,” Tyrion agrees gleefully. “Good you’ll be parted from Cersei.”

 


 

Jaime’s favorite part of court is mocking it, and he’s fortunate to find that his wife is of a mind with him.

Oh, not outwardly. It takes him a few awkward dinner parties and inane gatherings to realize what it means when she presses her lips into a thin line and averts her eyes. At first he takes it for disapproval. It’s a bit annoying, because Cersei always disdained him for his lack of interest in court life and social politics, too. He had hoped that Catelyn would be more like Tyrion in this, since she seems to get along so well with his irreverent little brother.

But then one time he groans under his breath when he sees the approach of Lady Tanda, who always manages to make every conversation at least ten times more boring than it has to be, and he catches sight of Catelyn pressing her lips together, and she turns her head, and he sees that she’s smothering a smile.

He never leaves her alone after that. He sticks by her side, whispering his criticisms of everyone. When Rhaegar sits down at a harp in the middle of a feast, Jaime merely has to look at his wife with a blank expression before she’s hiding a snort behind a polite cough and a long sip of water. When she gets stuck talking to Maester Pycelle about whatever boring fucking thing that old cretin wants to talk about, she sends Jaime increasingly desperate glances while he laughs openly at her and snacks at the food table. When she’s finally able to slip away, she swats him on the arm and steals his wine glass directly from his hand so she can take an enormous gulp.

“That man,” she says. “Makes Walder Frey’s conversation seem enlightening. How has he remained Grand Maester for so long without anyone killing him?”

“Who would take the risk?” Jaime asks. “If he spotted the assassin coming, they may have to make conversation with him.”

“That’s why they invented crossbows,” Catelyn returns, which makes Jaime laugh loudly.

Cersei and Tywin both hate them, once they find their rhythm in public. Catelyn is still every inch a Tully. Dutiful and staid and polite, when left alone. But they are a lethal team when together. Jaime’s so glad to be able to make her laugh that he clings to it, makes more japes than he used to, spends his time thinking of clever things to say. A wooing, sort of. Not that he’s particularly interested in winning his wife’s heart. But at least he wants them to be friends, and he wants her to think he’s worth more than just his Lannister name.

His heart is Cersei’s, yes. He belongs with Cersei, and he knows he cannot love anyone else. He wasn’t made for it. But things with Catelyn in those weeks in Kings Landing are better than he ever expected. His wife has a softness that he craves, and she has a kindness that he appreciates, but it’s her sharp temper and her wit that make him want to be around her always.

Fucking his wife is no longer the difficulty he feared it would be. His cock has no trouble responding to her presence when they shut the door behind them and she lets down her hair. The more confident she grows, the more he wants her. And the more they get along, the more he enjoys it.

Cersei and Tywin glare at them when they whisper and laugh together instead of being Proper Lannisters with the right amount of gravity, but their disapproval cannot touch him once the door to his bedroom is closed and locked. They’re safe, alone. Weeks pass, and it becomes friendship and care even if it isn’t love. A happy marriage, Jaime thinks. Happier than most in their position. He knows they’re lucky.

It is still difficult to watch Cersei marry Rhaegar. To watch her smiling and awe-struck as she and Tywin walk to Rhaegar in his red and black finery. To watch that blasted cloak cover her shining gold dress. Catelyn seems surprised by his willingness to behave himself during the ceremony, and he feels a bit guilty for it, knowing that she probably thinks he’s being a good brother, refraining from mocking his sister’s wedding. She doesn’t realize he’s sulking because he’s heartbroken.

That guilt carries, and he feigns exhaustion the night of the wedding. He avoids his bed on the second night, preferring to stay up with Tyrion long after Catelyn has fallen asleep. Then he lies beside her in the dark and tries not to think of what Cersei and Rhaegar are doing, and he tries to be big enough to hope that Cersei is happy without him by her side.

On the third day, he receives a message from his sister, passed by her handmaiden, asking him to meet her in her old quarters so that she can gift him with some of their mother’s jewelry to give to his wife. She’s always sure to find some valid reason for them to meet. Jaime has always been so annoyed by that. They’re brother and sister. They’re twins. No one would think it odd if they sometimes supped together or talked even long into the night. As long as their conduct was unimpeachable when guests were present, there’s no reason Jaime couldn’t be a devoted, adoring brother who sometimes sees his sister in private. But Cersei never wants to hear that.

He goes to meet her at the appointed time, sneaking out of bed after Catelyn is asleep and finding his way to Cersei’s old quarters. She has managed to avoid any sort of guard escort, and she’s alone and dressed in a filmy red night dress and a black silk robe when he enters, sitting in a chair by the fire. She’s smiling at him, indulgent and soft and ready for him.

“Cersei,” he breathes.

It seems impossible now to accept that he could have any sort of feelings for his wife when Cersei is in front of him. Hasn’t he always loved only her? Hasn’t he always desired only her? How had he ever managed to trick his body into wanting anyone else?

“I wasn’t sure you’d answer my summons,” Cersei says lazily, and Jaime feels his whole body go stiff with wanting but also with tension, because he knows his sister well, and he knows what that tone means. He thought she summoned him here because she wanted him. When will he learn? She stands slowly from the chair, and her robe ripples around her, its movement casting shadows on the opposite wall that seem to grow from the black silk. It reminds him of a painting he once saw of The Stranger, bathed in shadow. “You’re a fool,” she says. “Coming here instead of heading for the Rock.”

“Father insisted I be here for your wedding,” Jaime says. It’s a faraway voice. He wishes he was farther.

“Father knows,” Cersei says, and everything snaps back into focus.

“What? He can’t.”

“He does. A serving girl told him, he claims. He confronted me, and you know how he is. He saw through my lie.”

“No one saw us. We’re always careful.”

I am always careful,” Cersei corrects. She’s standing in front of him now. Her chest is heaving with indignation, boiling towards fury. “Father knows, and he has brought you here to make sure you see that there is no chance. You should have joined the Kingsguard.”

“He wouldn’t have let me.”

“He wouldn’t have had a choice. Aerys would have done it just to see father squirm.” She’s even closer, her green eyes glittering with her anger. She wants him now. He knows what it looks like on her. It’s all he’s known for years. “Rhaegar will do anything I want. I could have him dissolve your marriage now, and beg him to let you into the Kingsguard, and he would do it.”

Jaime doesn’t dare say it, because he knows better than to contradict Cersei when she’s like this, but he’s not so sure of Rhaegar’s devotion as she is. He has no doubt that Rhaegar would go to many lengths to please his new bride, but what she’s talking about...it would be a scandal. An enormous scandal. The Tullys would be infuriated. Tywin would be infuriated. And the last thing Rhaegar needs is more trouble after all those rumors about Aerys and how mad he was getting in his final years. People are already wary of Targaryens and their propensity for fire. Such an erratic decision would make Rhaegar look flighty at best.

Cersei must know it, too, though she’s refusing to admit it. She has the stubborn set to her shoulders that brings Jaime back to their shared childhood and her inability to ever admit defeat.

“I can arrange for us to stay here,” Jaime suggests. “But we can’t dissolve the marriage. Father would be furious. He’d do worse than send me to the Rock.”

“Stay here?” Cersei asks incredulously. “In Kings Landing? With your wife so plainly miserable?”

“Well, I can take her to the Rock and then come back! Find some reason…”

“Gods, you never listen!” Cersei spits. “Even to yourself. If you think father would allow you to leave your wife at home without a babe in her belly and allow you to come back here...”

“Perhaps within a few moons she’ll be with child and I can send her back to the Rock then.”

“You think to stay here months?” Cersei laughs. She’s quivering with rage and want now, her chest heaving dramatically in front of him, stoking her own internal fire with her growing anger with him, and Jaime feels a helpless tug of pleasure, wanting to be closer to her when she’s like this. Wanting to touch her, because it’s always when she’s angriest that she wants him most. “And what reason would you give the gossips of court?”

“You’re my sister! My twin! There’s nothing odd in a brother wanting to support…”

“Nothing odd?” Cersei asks. Her hand surges forward, and he thinks she means to slap him, but she grabs his cock through his breeches instead. Not roughly, but hardly gently, either. It surges to life, and she surges with it, kissing him, insistent and hungry as she directs him back toward the bed. Jaime’s blood rises, relief filling him. Cersei is still angry. They’re still going to have to part. Things are still horrible. But she wants him, and he wants her too. “Fuck me,” she breathes. “It will be the last time for so long, my love.”

So he does, driven to desperation and need as Cersei writhes and moans beneath him. She’s leaner and more powerful than Catelyn, and familiar, too. He wonders how he ever thought he could want the softness of Catelyn Tully when the sharpness of Cersei Lannister exists.

After, as he’s dressing hurriedly, he says something of that effect to his sister. The impossibility of being with anyone but her. She laughs at him, cruelly. Incredulously.

“You’ll have to find a way, dear brother,” she says. “You’ve got yourself into this mess, so now you’ve got to fuck your way out of it, if you want to get an heir on her. Show father that you’re capable and willing, and maybe he’ll start to believe that the serving girl lied to him. It will be hard to doubt, once he realizes that his spy has disappeared from the castle and it becomes clear that she was paid handsomely to lie to him.”

She smiles, pleased with herself for handling it, and Jaime turns away, unsure how to respond. He never knows exactly what Cersei means when she says these things. Sometimes he thinks she means for him to carry out the threats she doesn’t speak, and he always wonders afterward who it was she got to disappear whatever nanny or cook or serving girl displeased her.

For the first time, it occurs to Jaime that he should perhaps be worried for the safety of his wife.

It’s an intrusive thought, and one that he hastens to suppress. No, Cersei wouldn’t do anything that might harm Catelyn. It would be a risk to the power she has gained through her marriage to Rhaegar, and Jaime knows that she wouldn’t. Not just to hurt him. Not even just to have the excuse to force him to join the Kingsguard. Right?

“Cersei…” he starts, feeling slower and more stupid than ever, trying to untangle the words in his head. How to warn Cersei without warning her? How to make her see how futile and cruel it would be to harm Catelyn without letting her know that he’s worried about that?

“Close your eyes and think of me, dear brother, if you must,” Cersei says. There’s something proud in her expression. “But the marriage must be consummated, and you must do your duty, or father will never let us be together.”

 


 

He thinks of that, on his walk back to his room. Before he was married, Cersei never would have entertained the idea of sharing him with another woman, but things are different now. She has an eye ahead to the future, and if she must be with Rhaegar, then maybe she has decided the same thing Jaime did: that he must do the same, and mirror her in all things.

But the fact that she thinks he hasn’t yet consummated his marriage…

How is it possible that she thinks he’s avoided fucking his wife thus far? He feels sick with guilt at the thought. Cersei thinks he’s still hers entirely, and meanwhile he has been laying with his wife nightly. He has been enjoying it. He has enjoyed her softness and her kindness and the wit that she keeps hidden from most people behind a mask of politeness.

He has enjoyed his marriage far more than he meant to, which seems impossible now that he has been with Cersei so recently. The hard-edged way Cersei wanted him. The anger rising in her, the way it always did before they fucked. Her wanting so possessive and all-consuming. How could he ever love anyone but her? How could he feel those strong, impossible, almost painful feelings for another person? He can’t. He won’t.

Catelyn is asleep when he enters their rooms, and he nearly sleeps on the long couch across the room, but he talks himself out of it. Cersei was right. He has to pretend.

He climbs beneath the covers, and Catelyn rolls over to look at him. Her eyes are heavily lidded with sleep, and she smiles a bit, and there’s a tug on his heart. A lurch of care. He’s an idiot. He likes her. His wife. He likes her and he wants her like this. Not to fuck, not so soon after Cersei. Not to touch, even, with Cersei still lingering on him. But he just wants her near.

“Are you all right?” she asks him. It seems an odd question. He only nods, as an answer, and then he turns on his side, away from her. He hears her turn the other way, too.

Chapter Text

Casterly Rock is grander than Riverrun, and Catelyn can’t imagine it will never feel like home. She likes the salt smell of the ocean and the way the heavy breeze blows through her hair. She likes the coolness of the nights after being so long in Kings Landing, where the air was always warm and humid and stifling. But it still isn’t Riverrun.

It’s big and stone and cold, her new castle, and she sets about immediately to try and liven things. Improving the gardens and making sure that there are cut flowers in every vase. Switching out the dark, heavy curtains for a less opaque material that allows the light in. Commissioning tapestries and new artwork to bring as much of Riverrun to Casterly Rock as she can.

Before they left Kings Landing behind, Tywin had given her “permission” to improve things as she saw fit, telling her that Jaime hasn’t ever shown much interest in learning how to care for his ancestral home. He hoped, he said in that same dry tone in which he said everything, that she could bring “a woman’s eye” to things, the way his wife once did. Catelyn certainly didn’t need his blessing to try and make things feel a little less oppressive, and she resents him for saying it for about a hundred reasons, but she’s happy to do it anyway, and Jaime seems to like the changes she chooses to make.

Things have been strained with Jaime since that night in Kings Landing when Catelyn knows he sought the bed of his former love. He seems oblivious to her awareness, and she wants to laugh at his naivety. He crawled back into her bed hours after having crept out of it. He looked amazingly guilty when she woke up. He smelled of perfume. But that was the last time during the trip that he smelled of it, and he hasn’t left her bed at odd hours since, and Catelyn has chosen to ignore it. She cannot avoid feeling betrayed. She cannot avoid resenting him for breaking their vows, especially since she knows that the consequences if she broke them would be unfathomable. But she can feel some empathy for his situation, and she can allow him that one night. After all, she can’t possibly understand what he gave up in agreeing to marry her. She gave up so much of her own, but she didn’t give up love. It can’t be easy.

She can forgive a single night. A final goodbye. Even if she wanted to stay angry, Jaime makes it difficult. He doesn’t seem to suffer from the lack of whoever it was he left behind in Kings Landing. He dedicates himself to learning all the things that he didn’t care to learn before about running the household. Tywin staying in Kings Landing to serve yet again as Hand of the King takes some of the pressure off Jaime, and he becomes lighter. He seems more like the boy she met at Riverrun. He asks her often for her input, trusting her advice, and she gives it freely. At night, they spend more time talking than anything else, though sometimes, when she asks, he does his duty. He is always still gentle and kind with her.

But they were closer, Catelyn is sure, before that night.

She finds, after several weeks have passed and things are still somewhat stilted between she and her husband, that she wants to repair it. Jaime doesn’t love her, just as she doesn’t love him, but she wants to make their marriage good. She wants to move towards love again, the way it felt when they were traveling from Riverrun to Kings Landing, and everything seemed new and fun. She’s not her sister—Lysa always had a head for romance, and for pretty songs and stories. No, Catelyn is the eldest child. She always had a head for taking charge and fixing the things that needed fixing, rather than waiting for them to sort themselves out. She and Jaime are both very young, and their marriage already has a decent foundation. She just has to keep building. Adding brick after brick until it’s sturdy enough to last them the rest of their lives.

 


 

The night she decides to try to seduce Jaime, some of that bravado has faded, replaced with a deep discomfort. She doesn’t like to show so much of herself. Not physically, but generally, emotionally. She doesn’t like telling anyone what she wants.

Most of her days in Kings Landing, when she wasn’t in audiences with Cersei, were spent surrounded by women who gossiped about various things that they learned from their marriages or their previous lovers. Different things that their men enjoyed. Different ways of taking control or ceding control or finding a balance. Many of them had husbands who had to be persuaded to give even half a care towards the pleasure of their wives, and those women all listened hungrily and disbelievingly to the rest, who told of how good a marriage could be when both parties were equally invested. Catelyn had giggled with the rest of the highborn girls and pretended to be scandalized at such frank conversation, but of course she was listening. And sometimes she’d note certain things that Jaime seemed to like. Like when she held onto his hair, or when she voiced something that she wanted. He always seemed to like that. She’d match up the stories of those ladies with the things she had noticed about her own husband, and she would lay awake beside him on those nights and wonder.

The night she decides to make her move, she excuses herself early from dinner with some of Jaime’s companions from his time as a squire, and she heads up to their rooms. She brushes out her hair so it’s soft and shimmery, the way she knows he likes. She puts on her favorite robe—a deep emerald green that she thinks looks nice against her skin. She has seen Jaime’s eyes go wide at the sight of it before, and she knows he likes it too. She lays back on the bed, reclined against the pillows, and her heart races. The mirror across the room reveals that her face and chest are red, blushing already. She hears her husband’s footsteps in the hall.

He pauses in surprise when he sees her. She isn’t posed, really, because she thought that would feel too humiliating. But she’s comfortable, languid, and she feels more powerful as she sees that Jaime swallows.

“Cat,” he says, as if surprised to see her, though this is exactly where she told him she would be.

“Jaime,” Catelyn answers, and she sits up a little against the pillows. “Come here.”

Something shifts in Jaime’s eyes. Some deepening of desire. He approaches the bed obediently, and Catelyn smiles.

“Thank you,” she says, a reflex, and Jaime sucks in a sharp breath.

“Cat,” he says again.

“Take off your clothes, Jaime,” she says.

A firm hand,” one of the gossiping court women had giggled. “He likes it when I boss him around a little. That’s all some men want, really. For someone to tell them what to do.”

Catelyn had thought of Jaime, then, and the way he sometimes looked at her for direction in their bed. And she couldn’t help but think of that woman recently as she watched Jaime take on responsibility after responsibility in an attempt to live up to his father’s expectations. He must be tired of making decisions. He must want someone else to decide, even if it’s just for a while, and even if it’s just about something silly like this. She directs him with a steady voice that sounds more confident than she is. Kiss me. Take my breast into your mouth. Stop. Good, you’re doing so good. Lower, now. Good.

Jaime’s breathing hard by the time Catelyn has reached her first peak, and she pulls him into a kiss, grabbing his hair the way she knows by now he likes, because he always moans when she does it.

“What has gotten into you?” he breathes when she pulls away. “Cat…”

“Do you like it?” she asks. He’s still panting, and he nods, and his hips stutter forward like a reflex when she runs a hand up his side and lets her fingers trail over his cock. He’s hard to a point where she knows he’ll do anything, and it makes her smile when he’s overcome and has to rest his forehead down against her shoulder to take a breath.

“Yes,” he admits aloud. She takes another piece of advice to heart, and she urges him onto his back, and she kneels, plants her knees on either side of him. She’s nervous. Until she heard it described in Kings Landing, she never knew that a woman could be on top for this. But Jaime’s eyes are wide and wanting, his mouth parted as he gazes up at her, and she knows that he wants this.

“Good,” she says. She smiles at him. “You’re so good, letting me have what I want.”

Jaime’s hips buck up slightly again, and she shushes him, and together they guide him into her.

After, as her second peak fades, Catelyn feels a bit of worry. Was that too much? But Jaime lays close to her as their breathing settles, and he kisses her on the shoulder and he pushes her hair away from her neck so he can kiss her there, too.

“Where did you learn to do that?” he asks. She’s defensive only for a moment, before she realizes that he doesn’t sound anything but curious and pleased.

“Court was good for one thing,” she admits quietly. “The women were…generous. With their experiences. The moment I said I was newly married, I was given all manner of advice and instruction. A few of the things they described seemed…exciting. And some of them, I just thought you might like.”

“You were right,” Jaime admits with a smile, still on his side facing her. Catelyn swallows back her nervousness, and she reaches out to cover his hand on the pillow with her own.

“I want things to be good between us,” she says. “As good as they can be. I want us to be partners.”

Jaime nods, and there is relief in his expression.

“I want it too,” he says.

 


 

Jaime knows that, at least outwardly, things have improved between he and his wife. They work well together when they’re both trying. And in those weeks after Catelyn draws him back, Jaime does try.

Tywin has found him a smart wife in addition to a pretty one, and Catelyn proves to be steel strong. The perfect woman for a Lannister lord. She cannot be cowed or intimidated by the minor lords who come to visit and test her mettle. She’s polite and kind, but she’s rigid in her kindness. She never lets anyone take advantage of her.

Think of me, if you have to, Cersei had said, and it sickens him when he remembers, because he never has to. Catelyn isn’t Cersei. Her skin is freckled and windburnt because she spends so much time by the shore. Her hair is a riot of red. Her dresses are practical and soft and comfortable rather than ornamental, and her pride is the quiet kind. She knows the names of all their servants, and she’s patient with Jaime’s poor reading ability. When they lay together, nearly every night now, she’s gentle. She’s demanding only in a very careful way. She doesn’t judge him for the fact that he likes it when she takes control. She doesn’t ask anything of him that she doesn’t think he’ll want to give. She always makes sure he feels valued. He trusts her. He feels safe with her. How could he think of Cersei when Catelyn is nothing like Cersei at all? Cersei is rage and passion and an unrelenting storm, and Catelyn is something else entirely. She’s that yearning feeling he still can’t manage to name.

He wants to love his wife, and he wants to keep her, and he wants to give her children. He never thought much about children before, perhaps because his father was so insistent on them that it soured him on the whole enterprise, but he knows that Catelyn longs for them, and he wants her to have them. If nothing else, he can try to be a better father than his own was. He doesn’t even think that would be so difficult.

Nothing about this is difficult, but that makes it hard to stomach. He wonders if Cersei is happy with her husband. Does Rhaegar make her smile, the way Catelyn does for him? Does she hunger for Rhaegar the way Jaime hungers for his own wife? Is she happy? Jaime is. Does he want her to be happy without him?

He’s guilty and blissful and yearning and a hundred thousand things at once, and he isn’t sure how to cope. Catelyn is soft with him and around him but she’s adventurous in their bed in a way that he never had time for with Cersei.

And after. It’s his favorite part, though he’ll never say it. Cersei never let him snuggle close afterward, because she found it sweaty and disgusting and because he needed to leave to remove all suspicion. It was a secret and it burned as much as he loved it, because he wanted something more.

With Catelyn, he has it, and it’s impossible not to feel horrible with his arm around her or with her forehead pressed into the back of his neck and her hand on his belly. Horrible and wonderful all at once, because this is the love he has always wanted to share, but it isn’t love. It can’t be love, because she isn’t Cersei.

Several moons after they have returned to Casterly, there is still no pregnancy, and Jaime knows his wife worries. Jaime doesn’t, not yet. They’re both so young, and once they’re settled down enough…there’s time.

But then a raven arrives from Kings Landing: Tywin writing to announce that Casterly Rock should expect to play host to the king and queen of the Seven Kingdoms, along with the Hand of the King. Catelyn makes japes about who will be running the country if Tywin is out of the capital, and Jaime returns with something half-hearted about Jon Connington in a silver wig pretending to be Rhaegar, but Catelyn can tell that he’s nervous.

“We can handle a visit,” she says with confidence. “I’ve no doubt your sister will find flaws in our presentation, but she’s queen now, and used to better things.”

She smiles and reassures him, but it only makes him feel worse. Cersei doesn’t do things for no reason. He can’t imagine why his father would arrange such a visit, so that leaves only his sister. What is it that she wants? What does she hope to find? Does she want him miserable or happy? Does she want his marriage cold or warm and filled with fucking? He doesn’t know. He can’t tell. Cersei has never felt so far away. Will she even want him when she sees him again? Will he still want her?

 


 

Catelyn knows that Jaime is worried about the visit from his father and sister. His tension is obvious, and it grows more obvious the more he tries to hide it.

When they were in Kings Landing, most of the women Catelyn spoke to, even the ones who were yet childless themselves, were already asking her about her plans for children. They spoke gently, almost sympathetically, as if they expected her to be concerned that she wouldn’t be able. She wasn’t at the time; she would smile and say something inane about being patient and trusting in the gods, but truly she thought they were being ridiculous. She and Jaime had not been married very long, and they had been traveling for most of it. Those weren’t the best conditions, and everyone knew they weren’t a love match.

But now that they’ve been back at Casterly Rock for months, she feels a stirring of anticipation. Cersei will ask, of course. She’ll dress it up in concern and make it sound like pleasant conversation from a sister, but Catelyn won’t be fool enough to believe that. It won’t matter that Cersei and Rhaegar have also been married for a few months without an announcement; Catelyn and Jaime married first, and therefore Catelyn should be the one to fall pregnant first. And Tywin will probably have questions, too. Catelyn doesn’t know much about him beyond what little she saw at Riverrun and in Kings Landing, but the impression she has formed of him isn’t a favorable one. Jaime doesn’t speak much about his time growing up with Tywin as a sole parent, but Catelyn notices things that he probably doesn’t mean to show. He seems startled by casual affection. He always looks baffled when she tells stories about her own father, like Hoster Tully’s kindnesses are something completely foreign to him. She can’t imagine that Tywin will be subtle in his disapproval that Catelyn is not yet with child.

She can’t tell, though, how Jaime feels about it. She knows he’s happy to try for a child; even the hesitation of a few moons ago is gone now that they have found a pleasant rhythm between them. But she finds herself wondering how much he cares. Does he yearn to be a father? Or is it simply his duty? Is he disappointed that she isn’t pregnant yet? And if he is, is it for himself or for the pressure he likely feels on Tywin’s behalf?

Catelyn would like to be a mother. She thinks she would be a good one. She likes the thought of it, a child of her own. Two, maybe, or three, or as many as she can have. She imagines them golden or auburn-haired with glittering green eyes, or maybe Tully blue. They’ll be beautiful, she thinks, these children. But what kind of father will they have?

She watches Jaime prepare for the visit. He has a grim sort of acceptance to him. He seems defensive, hunched, like he’s waiting for a blow to land.

She tries to take his mind off it, and she offers him a place to rest his burdens, counseling him every time he asks for an opinion. He always listens, his eyes locked on hers like she’s offering him more than just a few words of advice. Every time they lay together, he pulls her close afterwards, and he buries his face in her hair, and they fall asleep like that, tangled, warm skin on warm skin, and Catelyn feels safe. She hopes he does too.

The days wind down until the party is due to arrive, and Catelyn shoulders as much of the planning as Jaime will let her. He spends more time training out in the yard, taking out his fears on whichever visiting knight or local youth was foolhardy enough to challenge him. Catelyn watches him sometimes from her window upstairs. My husband, she thinks, admiring his form and his grace and the way fighting seems to lift his tensions in the same way their evenings together do. She smiles when she watches him. She feels curiously light inside. My husband.

 


 

Cersei and Rhaegar arrive with all the pomp due a royal procession. Catelyn and Jaime are both stiff and unused to being so formal, but Tywin looks vaguely pleased with them—or as pleased as he gets, anyway—when he sees the household has come together as the very picture of propriety.

Rhaegar descends into informality almost as soon as they’ve finished the greetings, and Catelyn dismisses the household so they can go about finishing the feast for tonight.

As soon as she’s able, Catelyn dismisses herself as well, and she sets about ensuring that everything is perfect. She hardly sees the family for the rest of the afternoon, darting in and out of the kitchens and the various bedrooms to check that everything will be fit for the king and queen. When at last she runs into Tywin, he looks almost approving.

“I assume I have you to thank for the state of the place,” he says. Only the very slight smile on his face indicates that “the state of the place” is a positive thing.

“I’ve done my best to intermingle our houses,” she finds herself saying. “In Riverrun I was used to flowers and life. I wanted to bring some of it here.”

Tywin nods, and his eyes graze a nearby wall, where a small table rests beneath a portrait of Joanna Lannister. Catelyn had filled that vase with flowers she cut from the garden herself.

“It reminds me of when my wife was still alive,” he says shortly, and then he nods his head once and leaves, allowing Catelyn to breathe more freely once again.

 


 

The dinner that night is a subdued affair, because Cersei claimed exhaustion from the road, and she wanted an intimate family dinner for her first night. The proper feast is pushed off until the next evening, and Catelyn is careful not to show any of the strain she feels as she runs around to make it happen. It is a competition, she is sure, between she and Cersei. The fact that she doesn’t understand what the competition is about doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to win.

Rhaegar is unfailingly polite, if a bit boring, droning on at dinner about how he believes that a king must know his kingdom, and how he plans to eventually travel his entirely to see it through a king’s eyes. Jaime sends one long look in Catelyn’s direction that fails to hide his mirth at the king’s expense, and Catelyn ducks her head to hide her smile. When she looks back up, she finds Cersei’s eyes on them.

“I believe,” Cersei says suddenly, sweetly. “That we should share our happy news with my brother and his dear wife.”

But it’s obvious, of course, when she says something like that. Even more obvious when she lays her hand on her flat stomach. Rhaegar beams at her and then at the rest of the table. Tywin sits up a bit straighter, his smile alarmingly wide, for him.

Jaime, though, goes very still. Very pale.

Ah, Catelyn thinks. So he does care.

“I’m so happy to hear that, your grace,” she says. “And so soon after the wedding! It’s a blessing!”

“Yes, it is,” Cersei replies happily.

Something very strange passes then between Jaime and his sister. Catelyn might not have noticed it at all, except she is watching, and she understands her husband’s expressions better now than she used to.

Cersei smiles at Jaime, but it isn’t a kind smile. There is something victorious and cutting in it that doesn’t seem like mere competitive spirit at being the first to fall pregnant. And Jaime looks…devastated. Stricken. His hand shakes on his goblet for a moment before he picks it up and downs it. Cersei strokes her stomach again, her smile growing.

Catelyn feels a hot wash of shock, followed by a ringing sound in her ear, as if she has been struck, like the time Edmure accidentally threw a rock at her head when he was trying to skip it across the river. She looks again at Jaime, and she sees the miserable tension in him, and then she looks at Cersei and sees everything.

It’s disgusting. It’s impossible. She’s mad for even thinking of it.

She keeps her expression blank. She refuses to lose her grip on herself for even a moment. She embraces Cersei as a sister before Cersei retires for the evening, and the smell of her perfume is strong and cloying, just as it was in Kings Landing. Was it her perfume that Jaime was draped in when he returned to her bed that night?

She sees Tywin watching the twins when they interact. She sees the way he’s rigid with anger, and the way he glares fiercely when he meets Cersei’s eyes, and the way Cersei ducks her head and moves away. Yes, Catelyn sees everything, and she keeps her pleasant smile on her face all the while.

She wants to retire to her own chambers, but she has barely used them. It would be too obvious. She feigns a headache and lies awake, curled on her side in Jaime’s bed. Jaime doesn’t wrap his arm around her. He doesn’t curl close, like he normally would. He lies on his back on his own side of the bed, and Catelyn pretends to sleep.

It can’t be true, she tells herself. It can’t be. You must be wrong.

When the hour is late, Jaime rises from their bed, and he leaves the room, and Catelyn allows herself a few tears as the truth sinks in.

She has come to care for her husband, these past months. She has done her duty as she was raised to do, but she has also done more than her duty by him. She has given him warmth and affection and kindness, and all the while…

Was he thinking of his sister every time they lay together? His cruel, beautiful sister? Was he wishing for her every time Catelyn showed more of her heart and gave more of herself to him? Did he simply endure her for the sake of this marriage, which was clearly made to keep up appearances and keep people from guessing the horrible truth? She had thought him false before, when he was so kind in those first few weeks, but she couldn’t think of a reason he would be so desperate to hide his true feelings. It just didn’t make sense.

It makes sense now. His initial reluctance. Tywin’s insistence on the match. The way Tywin watches them. Cersei’s distance at court. The way everything seems to be a competition between them. Catelyn is his wife, and his sister loathes her for it.

She is still awake when Jaime returns to their bed, and this time there’s no mistaking his sister’s scent.

 


 

Jaime doesn’t know exactly what has happened to his wife, but he knows enough to dread the end of the visit, because he knows that she is holding herself together only because of it.

Cersei has been cold to he and Catelyn both since the first night, when she took Jaime through the halls and into an unused bedroom they used often when they both still lived here. She begged him to fuck her, and he did, and afterward she was sated and triumphant.

“You still belong to me,” she told him. “I knew you would, my love.”

“The child,” Jaime had said, still shaky and boneless and now sick with guilt, a troubling new sensation that happened lately whenever he so much as thought of Cersei. The same guilt he used to feel when he was with Catelyn, except now turned in the wrong direction.

“What about the child?” Cersei asked.

“Is it mine?”

“I don’t know,” Cersei answered, as if that was a profoundly stupid question. “He’s my husband. I had both of you on the same night. It could belong to either of you. What does it matter? It will never be yours.”

She was hurt when she said it. He could recognize the pain in her voice well. She didn’t want to talk about the child with him. She didn’t think it should be any of his concern. Still, the cruelty of her voice still shocks him days later. She has been harsh with him before. She has been rude to him before. But she has never sounded so much like she hated him. He tried to ask her if she was unhappy with Rhaegar, but she had only laughed. He tried to tell her that he loved her, to reaffirm that he would do anything for her, but she had only called him pathetic, and she hasn’t looked at him since.

Was it the time apart that made him feel like this? Is Cersei different from how he remembers? Is he different? She had been sometimes cold to him before, and he never wavered in his love for her, but now he finds her presence difficult to bear. They are two parts of the same person. They are meant to be together. Those words used to be enough, but now they aren’t, and he finds that he can’t reconcile the man he knows he’s supposed to be with the man he has become. Maybe that’s why he disgusts Cersei now. She can sense it in him. His reluctance. His fear. His changes. Her rage and passion repel him now when before they were the only thing that could excite him, and the gentleness of Catelyn’s touches is what he finds he wants. He is meant for his sister. Meant for Cersei. But he can’t lie to himself anymore about what he would want if he was free. 

Catelyn remains distant. Cersei remains cold. Jaime finds that he has betrayed each woman in his life for the other, and he is left with a hollowness inside him for all his sins.

He asks Catelyn if everything is fine, and Catelyn is unconvincing and sharp and worrying when she asks, “why wouldn’t I be?” He imagines that Cersei in private moments has taken every opportunity to make sure that Catelyn remembers that she is the first Lannister woman to reproduce. He’s sorry for it, especially since he knows it’s likely his fault for displeasing Cersei the way he did. He tries to kiss her one night when she’s taking down her hair, but she jerks away from him as if his touch has burned her.

“I’m tired,” she tells him, defiant, and he nods and readies for bed, and his shoulders are tense, and he knows that something terrible is coming.

 


 

Catelyn may not be a Lannister by birth, but she is a Lannister in bearing, and she is a consummate hostess until after Tywin and Cersei and Rhaegar and all the rest are on the road.

But the moment they are gone, the last of their retinue trailing down the road, she turns to Jaime.

“We need to speak,” she tells him. “Meet me in your chambers.”

She stalks off, all the warmth and softness melted away like it has been dissolved from her flesh, turning her harsh and cold like a winter wind. Jaime follows her more slowly. He keeps hearing her: your chambers.

Your chambers.

Has she ever called them that before?

When he finally enters the room and closes the door behind himself, he finds her standing before the window. She turns to look at him. Her expression is one of such fierce loathing that he finds he cannot move.

“Sit down,” she tells him.

He has privately adored that firm voice when she makes demands of him. A thrill of something primal rushes through him every time he gives in to her requests and does what she asks. A thrill made hot and wanting by her gentle praise afterwards and the way she always runs her fingers through his hair before she kisses him. Rewards for little acts of service. Jaime has always loved being of use to the people he cares about. But now her voice is cold, and it promises nothing of warmth, and he finds himself adrift as he follows her command. He sits down on the edge of the bed, never taking his eyes off her. She approaches him, moves to stand in front of him. She hasn’t looked so faraway since their wedding feast. Straight backed and stiff necked, with eyes that blaze with hatred. 

“Cat,” he starts, giving in to his impulse to apologize or beg for forgiveness or he hardly knows what, just to clear this up and make it go away because he can’t stand the way she’s looking at him.

“Don’t speak,” she says. Her long skirts shift as she begins to pace. Her long fingers on her pale hands twist around each other. “The woman you loved. The woman you left behind. I know it’s your sister.”

Jaime can hardly breathe for the shock of the accusation. He takes a gasping gulp of air, and Catelyn is looking at him, and her disgust deepens.

“Cat,” he says again.

“Don’t bother denying it,” she says. Her voice is colder than it’s ever been. Cold like Cersei’s when she fucked him last. “And her child. Is it yours?”

It has never in his life occurred to Jaime to do anything but lie about Cersei. He almost does it now. The truth meant death, dishonor, execution, banishment. It meant his own life was forfeit, and it meant Cersei’s life was too. Lying was protection. Lying was living. But Catelyn asks him, and she stares at him, and he realizes that he doesn’t have to. He can’t.

“I don’t know,” he answers. “She doesn’t even know.”

Catelyn’s expression crumples slightly, and she looks away. Jaime starts to stand, starts to go to her, wanting to offer her something, but she takes a huge step back and holds up a hand, palm out, to ward him off.

“Sit down,” she hisses, and so he does. That hollow feeling deepens. He might as well be somewhere else. Apart from his body.  

“I’m sorry,” he says, because he is, and Catelyn laughs.

It is harsh, humorless. She looks at him with wide eyes and a snarl of an expression.

“Sorry,” she repeats. Dry and damning. Dread is building within him. He already feels weightless, wretched. How much worse can it get? She begins to pace again. “If I were the man, I would tell your father that you had been unfaithful, and the world would demand that I set you aside. It wouldn’t matter who it was you dishonored me with. I wouldn’t even need any proof. I could return home, leave you here to rot as you deserve, and move on with my life.” Her voice has gained strength, but it splinters as she speaks, and Jaime can see that she is furious but hurt, mostly hurt. She stops pacing, and she whirls on him, her voice and her figure all trembling with rage, beautiful and terrible at once. “But I am not the man, and that means I must stay. That’s what women are expected to do when their husbands dishonor them. Unless you wish to cause me further shame by sending me away.”

“No,” Jaime says, though his voice is hesitant. Is it what she wants, to be sent away? In this moment, he thinks he will do anything.

No,” Catelyn sneers. “I am a convenient lie for you and your sister.” Her voice breaks again, and he sees the horror and disgust on her face, and he feels as if he has shrunk in size, gotten smaller, hunched on the bed. His hands are curled into the fabric beneath him, because he wants to reach out and touch her, offer some comfort to her. He doesn’t know any other way to make things better. He isn’t good with words, and he can’t seem to find any, now.

“We,” he starts, though he hardly knows where he means to go from there.

“I don’t care,” she says. “I don’t care when. I don’t care why. I care that you swore vows to me and then dishonored me in my own home with your twin. You have lied to me and used me as a pawn, and that’s at an end.” She calms gradually as she speaks, her trembling lessening, and she begins to pace again. A short circuit back and forth in front of the bed. “We still need an heir.”

“Cat,” he starts to protest, because she sounds so disgusted and so near horrified, but she rounds on him again. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I am. But you don’t...”

“Spare me your courtesies, my lord,” she spits. Her eyes take him in, blue and trembling with unshed tears that he wishes he didn’t see. “Neither of us have any use for them anymore. I know exactly what you are. I will be using my own chambers from now on, but we will continue to do our duty. I will not have my name maligned as a failure of a wife because it interferes with your own disgusting wants.”

“Yes, of course,” Jaime hears himself say. Catelyn is plainly expecting more argument. She looks uncertain by his quick acquiescence, and then she turns on her heel and strides through the door that connects their chambers. Ever the dutiful Tully wife, she doesn’t even allow herself to slam it.

 


 

A monster. He lies awake that night. Why did the gods make a man such as him? What amusement or pleasure did they take in making a creature with such unnatural desires? He loved his sister before he hardly understood what love was. He loved his wife after marrying her. His heart was large enough for the two of them at once, and he hurt them both. Men are not meant to love like this, with this intensity.

Catelyn treats him with cold politeness when they are among the household. With visitors, she is little warmer, but sharp and clever and amusing. These visitors love her, and they always clap him on the shoulder and congratulate him on his choice of bride while Catelyn watches, her smile plastered on her face and her eyes cold as stone.

If they ever have occasion to be alone, she ignores him with a bitter contempt. When he tries to speak to her, she gives him an answer to whatever he asked without meeting his eyes, her tone gravel-laced and warning, and then she devises some reason to leave. In desperation he asks Nell, a woman who used to tend to he and his siblings as children, what he should do if his wife is unhappy with him. He obviously undersells it, because her suggestions of little gifts and courtesies are surely meant for smaller offenses. Still, he cuts flowers to leave for her, and he commissions small tokens, necklaces and rings and broaches. Things in the shapes of flowers and small, adorable animals. Any time he sees anything at the market with a fish emblem, he buys it. He fills her life with Tully symbols, giving her what he can of her old home. Sometimes he sees her wearing them, and he feels a tingle of relief, but it doesn’t change her demeanor. At least it’s something. At least she likes them.

A month passes, and she never comes to him to try for an heir, and he begins to believe she won’t. He’s almost relieved at that. He’s not sure he could do it. Catelyn so changed and plainly loathing. Whenever he takes himself in hand, it’s her remembered softness he thinks of, not the newly formed ice.

He buys her a horse, sent special from Kings Landing, picked out by Tyrion. It’s a beautiful brown mare, spirited and good-natured but not likely to cause her any problems, and he presents it to her in the yard one day, and he doesn’t think he’s ever been more nervous.

She has just happened upon him on her way to the cliffs for a walk. He hadn’t even meant to tell her. He was going to give it to her the same way he gave her all the other gifts: through the servants, or with a note left behind on a table when she was out of the room. But then she’s there, and looking at him curiously, and he says, “she’s yours. I had Tyrion pick one out. I know you like walking down to the shore, so I thought you might like to take rides. I remember you saying you used to ride quite often, at home.”

Catelyn smiles. Not at him, of course. It’s the mare she smiles at, and she and the horse are instantly charmed by one another, and the sound of her helpless laughter as the horse nuzzles at her ear…

Jaime leaves after directing the stablehand to help her. He wonders if it looks strange to the household. If they understand just how deeply his wife hates him. Perhaps they think him just another cold and unfeeling Lord who can only show his affections in private. They can think whatever they want, he decides. As long as it isn’t the truth.

 


 

It’s the dressmaker that finally sends her over the edge. She bursts into his quarters one morning, still dressed in a blue robe and an ivory nightdress, and she looks so soft and tempting that he drinks in the sight of her before forgetting himself.

“A dressmaker?” she asks, furiously, as if he has done something ludicrous. “If you continue this campaign, you’ll have to resort to gifting me castles, soon.”

“Would you like a castle?” he asks, and she clenches her jaw to keep from shouting at him as she no doubt wants to. “They’re just gifts.”

“You can’t buy me off with trinkets,” she insists. “I won’t forget or forgive for the sake of horses and dresses.”

“I know,” he admits. “I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“You don’t need to do anything,” she insists harshly. “I don’t want anything. I want to be left alone, and I want a child.”

She’s looking at him as if she expects him to fight her, but fighting is the last thing on his mind. He feels oddly relieved to hear her express her wants so clearly.

“Then I’ll give you a child,” he says. The fight seems to leave her, too. She looks at him warily.

“Fine,” she says. She hesitates. She gives him another lingering look that he doesn’t understand. Her chin rises again. “I prefer to make my own dresses,” she says. Jaime finds himself nodding, trying to keep his eagerness off his face.

“Speak to the steward,” he says. “Tell him…whatever you want to order. Whatever you need. You’ll have it.”

She gives him another incomprehensibly long look, and for a moment he entertains a fantasy where this is enough, and she will crawl back into bed to sleep beside him. He might literally weep if she did that. He doesn’t even want her to touch him. Just sleep there, where he can hear her and know she’s beside him. Instead, she turns and leaves the room, and he is left alone.

 


 

It isn’t too many more days before she comes to him in his room, wearing another silk robe, her hair down just the way he likes, and she says that the maester told her it’s a good time to try. Jaime wants to say “whatever you need” again, but he doesn’t. He only nods.

He’s humiliatingly soft when she first approaches him. When she takes off her robe. She doesn’t seem to notice. She pushes him back against the pillows.

“You like it this way, right?” she asks him coldly, as if this is a business transaction. “Is it easiest for you like this?”

“I,” he says. She stares at him, and his cock is already hardening at the memory of the way she’d ridden him before. “Yes,” he says. She uses her hand on him, gentle and careful until he’s fully hard and gasping her name, and then she sinks down onto him.

It isn’t gentle, then. She isn’t rough with him. He doesn’t think it would ever occur to her to be. It’s not entirely like it is with Cersei, where they have grown to be bruising and rough with each other on instinct. Cruel, even. But she isn’t gentle, either. She sets a punishing pace, and she shoves his face away when he tries to kiss her. He presses his lips instead to her throat, to her jaw. She clutches him, one hand on his back and the other gripping his hair as he pushes up into her.

“Faster,” she tells him, breathy in a way she never was before.

She still likes this, he realizes with relief. She still wants this, though she disdains every other part of him. She isn’t cold anymore. She’s warmth, heat, fire. She’s passion, but there’s a hollowness to it that feels too familiar, because this is exactly how it felt with Cersei. The last time, especially, but for a long while before that, too. There was always this sense of needful, frantic passion. Nothing like what it used to be like with Catelyn, and he realizes now as he’s literally inside her that it isn’t what he wants anymore. Cersei fucked him, especially in the end, because she wanted to possess him. Because he was hers, and because fucking him was a way of claiming him for herself, and because it was a way of claiming her own life. Jaime was hers, her twin, her other half, and he was the only person who cared for her, and so she did whatever she had to do to make sure that he would always feel bound to her.

He doesn’t know what exactly Catelyn is thinking now as she fucks him with that same passionate need, but it isn’t what it was before. It isn’t that she likes him or that she likes laying with him. She needs something from him. His body. A child. To prove to herself that he belongs to her in a way that he can’t belong to Cersei with so much distance between them. He doesn’t know. But it isn’t for him. It isn’t because of him.

It takes him out of his body, the way more and more things do, lately. It’s easier like this, when he can convince himself that it’s just like it was with Cersei and that it’s what he deserves. He can’t do anything else for her. She doesn’t want anything else from him. But he can do this. He can give her the child she wants. He can fuck her whenever she wants. Just like Cersei.

Afterward, she lays beside him, catching her breath, and he wants to touch her like he would have before, but he doesn’t dare. He stares across the pillows at her, slowly coming back to himself. She stares at the ceiling. He sees her wipe a tear from her cheek, and he looks away, back at the ceiling himself.

After a time, Catelyn gets out of bed. She puts her robe back on. She leaves the room, and he hears her lock her door against him.

He already felt guilty and wretched and terrible, and all of that only increases now as he lies there. He finds that he’s dreading the thought of lying with her again. But she’s right, of course. They need an heir, and she wants a child, and if he can give her nothing else that she wants, at least he can give her that. It’s the only thing he’s ever been good for, anyway: his body. His ability to produce an heir. He thinks Catelyn wanted him for more, once. She liked spending time with him. But of course he fucked that up too, the way he’s fucked up everything else.

Chapter Text

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.