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stage blood is not enough

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He wants to be tender
and merciful.
 That sounds overly valorous.
Sounds like penance. And his hands?
His hands keep turning into birds and
flying away from him. 


for i think of you, flung down brutal darkness;
crushed and red, with pale face.
i think of you, with your hair disordered and dripping.
and myself, rising red from that embrace.




Her first decision had been to wait until morning. But like most first decisions this was abandoned in favor of a second less considered plan. 

The first was left in favor of a second, hastily hatched plan. 

In fact there was no plan at all. She grabbed a wineskin and filled it with water herself and then snatched a cloak, told her guards she wished to walk the grounds, visit the godswood, that they were to leave her be -- that it was safe now. 

It was a lie, but a lie she chose to believe.

And, now (it is safe, she said). Now, the walk to the dungeon feels a walk to her own gallows. Darkness grows with each step, the dragon skulls menacing and in shadow when she passes them. Cersei adjusts the cloak, the hood about her face, a lazy attempt at disguise and subterfuge. 

But it is Ned she has come to see. Ned is down below. There is no one else above left to question her actions. 

He should have known a stand for the truth is a lonely route to take.

She takes a torch from the wall and continues on. 





[ Her son will bring her his head. It will not be what she asked for, not like this.

She will take a deep breath and ascend the stairs. 

Looking up at the heads mounted over the tower, Cersei will not feel much of anything. 

She will think this a hollow victory over Ned, but a victory all the same. ]





He is in chains when she reaches him. The dungeons are empty, save for him (the dragons, her). In the darkness, she imagines he has no idea who approaches. 

If he knows before she pushes the hood back to her shoulders, he makes no indication. He squints into the light of the torch, but his face does not sour when he realizes it is Cersei before him. Instead he looks merely curious; it makes Cersei’s mouth twist into a smile.

“You were expecting different company?” she asks. When she laughs, she can see her breath before her.

“Your Grace,” he offers, hoarse; his voice cracks in the middle. He looks older to her, tired and trapped, as though his time alone down here has been enough to age him much as a man’s own deathbed might. 

“Here,” she offers. She extends the wineskin to him. She catches the way he eyes it wearily, not yet taking it from her hand.

“There’d be no use in poisoning you,” she says quietly, “not down here anyway. A death like yours requires an audience.” She arches an eyebrow, and Ned still watches her with exhausted skepticism. “Go on. Take it. You must be thirsty.”

He does take it, his fingers brushing against hers as he takes the wineskin and he gulps thirstily from it. She watches his throat as he swallows noisily. 

He weighs the wineskin in hand and after another sip he sets it off to the side. Rationing for later, she thinks; how optimistic.





Cersei unties the knot at her throat with one hand and her cloak falls to the floor. The torch remains in her other hand.

“What do you think of down here?” she asks of him. “You have so much time for it now.” He inclines his head toward her but he does not answer. “Your sister? Lyanna,” she stretches the name out, colors it with her own disdain. Ned’s silence, stony as she expected, drives her to goad further. “Do you think of her? Is it your daughters? Your Sansa has offered such a pretty plea for your life -- so pretty. Almost like a song. Or is it your eldest? Robb, is it? The young lord of your vast holdings. He marches south now, with all your bannermen. Knowing you, it must be all of them you think of -- your little pack of wolf pups. So many of them, filling up your head.” She takes a step forward, the sound echoing through the empty dungeon but Ned does not move, only stares coldly back at her. “Your wife? You think of her, even though she is not of your blood?”

Ned’s dead sister, she thinks. Ned’s wife who was meant for his dead older brother. She’d ask him how it feels to rise to the top merely because all the rest who share his name are dead, but she thinks this is how they all rise to the top here. All but her. She needs Jaime by her side, not dead, not under her feet. By her side, inside her. It must be lonely to know a life absent that.

Ned has a collection of the dead hung about his neck, yet he still stands tall -- almost as though he is proud to bear it. But pride doesn’t belong to a Stark. Just honor.

He snorts at that all the same. “Seeing as I am neither Lannister nor Targaryen, I do not require the wife I take to be born of the same mother as myself.”

“Our dungeons have sharpened not only your tongue but your wit as well.”

Ned looks down, a faint hint of amusement. When he looks back up, Cersei smiles, small.

“Confess, Ned,” she says, almost kindly. “Tomorrow, at the Great Sept, you confess. Admit your treason, admit my son, King Joffrey, is the rightful heir and you shall find mercy.”

“Mercy,” he repeats. 

“You may join your bastard at The Wall and live out the remainder of your days in the black.”

He almost smiles. “This is your idea of merciful,” he says. “Trade my honor, the truth, for The Wall.”

“For your life,” she hisses, his face shuttered against her again.

“I am a soldier, Your Grace. My life has never been my own to bargain.” He looks up at her, his eyes cold. “I have been prepared for this day for a long time.”

Cersei holds his gaze. “But have your daughters?”

His face is all silent fury and he wears his emotions too obvious, with too much earnestness. For a man much regaled and well known for his cold demeanor (a manner to match his homestead), he cannot hide what he feels. He cannot hide his own weaknesses.

She knows she has him. She knows that it is honor and family and duty, a trio of strings to pull to drag Ned Stark into the action she requests.

Cersei takes another step closer.

“Do you remember when we first met, Lord Stark?” He does not say a thing. Cersei mounts the torch onto the wall Ned leans against and looks down at him. “You were covered in blood. Head to toe, you were covered in blood. It dried brown, but it was blood. Your sister was dead, and you were to take your bastard back North to your new wife. Do you remember this?”

“I do,” he says tightly. “I do not know why you recall it now.”

Cersei steps back from him so she can look at him fully, the torch illuminating him moreso than her. His face is inscrutable, tired, haggard, but he reveals no more than that.

“We’ve come to the end, Ned,” she says, the last word -- his name -- spoken like an epithet. “And I’ve often found that it is at the end of things one likes to look back on the beginning.”

“Is that so, Your Grace?” The question is dull, filler, but she has his attention. Like all men of glory, he can not resist the past. 

She doesn’t know what she’s driving at though. There was a plan: she would wait until morning. There was a plan: she would convince him to confess.

She could leave now. She is not sure what it is she wants from him.





“I think of the first time I saw you,” she says quietly, her voice heavy, loaded with things she will not bring herself to say. Ned must recognize this. She catches the way his posture straightens, the slight raise of his chin as he watches her. “You were all Robert spoke of,” she says, even quieter than before. 

She blinks; she switches gears effortlessly. “Do you ever wonder what might have happened had Rhaegar not taken your sister? If Lyanna,” she stretches the girl’s name into a hiss, “had lived, had married Robert, and I had taken Rhaegar? I’d still be queen,” she muses quietly. “That part would not . . . but you, what would have become of you. No war, so your brother lived. No Tully wife then, not at least the one you have now.”

“I see no point in such a thought,” he says tightly. 

“You wouldn’t be here,” she adds. “You and I might never have met.”

“I see no point,” he says.

Her posture slumps just that much, the tight hold of her face slackening, and to him she suddenly looks tired. Tired and older, older than he ever remembers seeing her. Cersei has no way of knowing this, no way of knowing his thoughts, but she can read the expression that flickers across his face. 

“You hate me so, Lord Stark? Or do you lack room in your heart for it. For me.” She fixes him with a mocking, pitiful grin, her mouth closed. “After all, had you the stones and had you taken the throne, so, so long ago, and had you been king, I would have married you after all.”

“And would you have arranged my death as well?”

Cersei does not bother denying it, her hand in Robert’s death. There’s no need for it now. Ned’s political strategizing and gamemanship might have been as on point as a child’s, but he is still a reasonably intelligent man, able to piece the puzzle together on his own. “He may have been your best friend, but you, Ned, are no Robert Baratheon.”

“You would have let me live then?” he snaps.

She looks almost fondly at Ned. “I might even have bore your children,” she mocks. 

It’s a lie and they both know it.





[ She can remember it. Jaime had just killed the Mad King, and Robert was to be king. 

And she would be queen.

He had married Catelyn Tully. Her intended had died, so she married the brother. Cersei wondered what that could possibly feel like, the thought abstract, impossible, barely touching her at all. To think you have Jaime, and then wed and bed Tyrion. Though what little she knew of Eddard Stark was that he was no half-man. He was no Brandon Stark, but he was not a cripple. He was not her brother -- neither of them.

And what she would learn is that she was not his sister. She was no Lyanna.

(Later, Cersei would think Lyanna was lucky to find death when she did, merciless as the thought might seem. She lived on. The girl’s body may have been gone, entombed deep beneath Winterfell in that claustrophobic hall of corpses, but she had managed to live on, live on fiercely, in the hearts of too many men Cersei has come to know).

She first saw Ned when he was covered in blood. He was not her brother, he was not beautiful. He was the brother of the girl who had taken first Rhaegar from her, and now, now she did not know it, not yet, Robert, too.

His sword was sheathed, but he rested his hand on the hilt of it as he approached. She was a girl then, seventeen years ago, she was a girl -- but he was a man, rust-colored blood splattered across the side of his face.

“I apologize, Lady Cersei,” he said. He meant his appearance, but perhaps he meant a great host of other things. Probably not; he was a Stark, and Starks were confined to the realm of immediacy, only that which lay directly in front of them.

“Your Grace,” she corrected. His head cocked to the left slightly. She thought of Jaime then. She thought the words Kingslayer. She could remember what Jaime had told her when she arrived at King’s Landing -- that Stark was there, not Brandon, the brother; that stupid Northern cunt, the throne could have been his.

“Your Grace,” he repeated, but he did not offer an apology this time. Instead he stared at her, his eyes narrowed, mouth tight, and if they both were thinking of Lyanna, then they both were thinking of her. 

Maybe Cersei hated him then. Maybe Ned never stood a chance. But there was one thing she knew, one thing she fought to deny: she wanted him then. In the same way she wanted Jaime, the same way she would want Robert when she would meet him at the Sept, bodily and hungry -- she wanted him.

He left her to Robert though. He left her to his dead sister.

When they next met, it was Winterfell. It was on his land, and she found they both had changed, though not enough.

Bodily and hungry, she thought. ]





This is something that never happens. This is something that dies with Ned Stark or disappears into the great cold void of the North, The Wall.

She lowers herself into his lap. Ned does not make a sound, but he glares at her, equal parts wary and indignant. She swipes the pad of her thumb over his bottom lip as she settles herself against him, her hips flush with his; his mouth opens slightly, just enough, and although his lips are dry she can feel the wet heat inside. “It’s death or The Wall, Ned. You understand that much, I presume,” she murmurs. She leans back from him slightly, far enough to be able to look him squarely in the eye, the only parts of them touching their hips, her thighs, his, his injured leg trembling against her. “And both such lonely prospects,” she says. The rest, she imagines, is implicit. He will never touch another woman again, not even his wife. 

This was never part of a plan. This is no third plan. This was not thought out, not as she grabbed her cloak, not as she passed the dragon skulls. Not as she watched him resign himself to whatever fate she had created for him.

If there is a design to this, it was established when she met him. She thinks he knows this, too.

He reaches for her. For the first time in this entire exchange, he makes a move for her. His hand reaches and he fingers the ends of her hair, his eyes fixed there, his brow furrowed as though in question. He does not say anything. Whatever question he is considering he keeps it to himself.

And so she kisses him. Cersei kisses him. 

Her fingers curl into his shoulder, harsh, the nails threatening his skin if they can bite through the thick fabric of his shirt first. Ned is still beneath her, his eyes open, but so are hers, the both of them watching each other, two animals circling, imagining the other as prey. She can smell him -- so different from Jaime, so different from Robert. She can smell the salt of stale sweat, the heat of him, entirely masculine in such an unfamiliar way. She sucks lightly at his bottom lip, her fingers digging in that much harder against the muscles bunched at his shoulders, and his mouth opens to her on a reluctant groan. 

He kisses her back. Tentative, but he kisses her back. Cersei can’t help but laugh softly against his mouth, more breath than sound, cruel and ill-humored. She knows what this must cost him, what price this tolls against his honor. Ned pulls back from her then, eyes dark -- even in this dank dungeon she can see that -- and stares first at her mouth and then up, taking in her entire face. She schools herself against him, but a mild edge of triumph must shine through because his face sours that much more.

What she expects then is for him to throw her off. She expects for him to finally fight back against her, call her the whore she knows he views her as, cuckolding his best friend with her own brother -- the taste of that must just curdle on his tongue. He does neither of these things: he grabs at the length of her hair, he pulls her down to him, and he kisses her full on the mouth this time -- his tongue pushing in, filthy and demanding, invasive in her mouth, and it is the taste of him, his flesh, that wets her tongue. 

His mouth is hot, all teeth, against her own. His hand reaches up and grabs at her throat, his fingers insistent just under her jaw, digging in, and she sucks in a sharp breath. His chains rattle. She can feel the metal at her throat; she can feel him between her legs. 

He is under her, his leg wounded, and the sound he makes is guttural, painfully deep when she presses her weight against his injured leg. 

His mouth slips against hers, a thin line of spit connecting their mouths as he pulls back slightly. “This will not buy my silence. Your Grace,” he bites off, his top tooth snagging against her bottom lip. Her hips jerk involuntarily, she is loud as she sucks in a breath. 

“I rather expected not,” she hisses back in kind, knowing his silence has already been bought and paid for, grinding her hips against his, feeling the small minute way his undulate under her. “It’s not your silence I want,” she says against his mouth, and there is the smallest hitch in his breathing before she grabs him by the back of the head and kisses him again.

She snakes a hand down between them; she finds him half-hard, the tendons tight in his neck as she squeezes, deceivingly gentle. She undoes his laces quickly, ignoring the, “Lady Lannister,” he mutters roughly in warning, her no longer a queen, the protest more half-hearted than she expected. 

“You would have made a terrible king,” she says quietly, his cock in hand. He is thicker than Jaime, though she does not think longer. She reaches lower and Ned’s hips buck, he can’t stop the grunt that escapes him when she cups him. “You don’t have the balls for it,” she smirks, and then lets her hand slip away, ignoring the quiet, disdainful bark of laughter from him. 

She hitches her dress up to her hips. 





[ What Cersei can never know is how desperately Ned wants to be good. He wants his wife, he wants to have never come here; despite any protests to the contrary he does not wish to die. But her body is warm, and he is hungry.
The problem with honor is you believe all others possess it same as you. You think they measure their actions along the same parameters you do, that there is a moral code each is bound to and all moral codes ring the same. This is not true, and Ned should know this. Ned should know better. Ned is supposed to be better.

Yet he still slants his mouth over hers. His tongue licks behind her teeth.

He groans and wants to fight his way inside her. ]





His hand is still at her throat, watching her as she pulls back from him -- his hand at her throat, her hands drawing her dress up over her hips. His fingers drag down the column of her throat, stilling over her chest as he palms her breast through the fabric, his fingers rough, unforgiving as they tweak and pull at her nipple. She bites her lip, fumbles with the shift under her dress as Ned grabs at her bared hip.

“Fuck me,” she murmurs, “fuck me.” She spreads her legs wider over his lap, bracing herself against his shoulders as she raises herself up. Ned’s hand slides from her hip to the curve of her ass, his grip tight enough to bruise as she slicks herself over him. Ned holds her body firm against him, her cunt wet and dripping over the length of his cock, rubbing himself against her, and she says, “fuck me,” again, even though it’s her reaching between their bodies, her fisting his cock as his head lolls back against the wall, him under her. 

It’s her that lowers herself onto him, fighting not to cry out at the slow burn she feels, flesh dragging across flesh, stretching her open to him.

Ned grits his teeth, his jaw twitching, a single syllable of oh dragged out of him, voice gravel thick, when she slams her hips down and takes him in full. She rises quickly, refusing to let her body adjust to this, the size of him, the fit of him inside her, and rocks her hips back down hard. The pace she sets is frantic, and the dirt of the packed dungeon floor scrapes against her bared knees.

She can feel the muscles of her inner thighs tense, start to tremble, her entire body on edge. She had forgotten it could feel like this: angry and spiteful and hateful, him full of the same darkness directed at her, her full of him.

He matches her thrust for thrust, and she drags a hand through his matted hair, yanking his head back to look at her. But she has made a mistake: 

she has misjudged him. She never thought he had it in him to be cruel, but perhaps this is what happens when you tether a wolf to a post: it forgets all it has ever learned and starts to bite back. She realizes this when his eyes meet her own.

He swats her hand away, all but snarling, the both of them panting.

He turns them then, his chains limiting his movement, but he still manages to get her body under his. Her eyes widen, his hand back at her throat. Cersei does not move, not an inch. She considers her options, already sure in her mind that he is going to kill her. He whines as his injured leg bends, his weight pressing down on his good leg, the leg holding her down, wrapped around hers -- the hand holding her down, tight at her throat, the dungeon floor cold and dirty against her cheek, his other hand at her ribs, the pressure against her bones almost enough to make her feel fragile.

She hears herself speak.

She says, Ned. She says it like a question.

Even now, even here (he’s almost enough to make her feel fragile), she will not beg his name.





[ His first kill came early and efficient. He never bragged of it, never felt a need for that. The man had gone up against him, and Ned had taken him down.

The man -- even boys become men when they raise a sword and find themselves impaled on their opponent’s blade. Or perhaps not. Ned looks on bloodshed with honor, but there is little honor to be found in a squalling, begging kid bleeding out at your feet. Whimpering to the Seven Gods, whimpering for a mother who cannot hear him, not here, too far away from home.

He does not tally his kills. The war brought too many corpses, too many dead men with opened throats and severed limbs. The grass underfoot went first red then brown then almost black, mud and blood and horse shit mixing into a dark sludge that clung to their boots as they marched onward, leaving the dead behind in their own shared filth. 

They say poison is a woman’s weapon.

Tomorrow he will take a deep breath and the blade will come down. ]





The hand holding her down (the hand at her throat) does not yield, but it also does not tighten. Not yet. They are both out of breath and he stares down at her.

She understands it then: he will fuck her, but he cannot kill her. His depravity, his cruelty -- neither extends far enough. 

(Perhaps they do though, perhaps they could. His bulk is too heavy atop of her for her to be able to reach up, grab him by the hair and ask him if he even knows what he is capable of, if he ever thought he could do this. Because she knows, she has always known: you trap an animal in a corner and there is no predicting what it may do to escape -- if not for itself, than others of its kind). 

He screws his eyes tight shut as he rubs the head of his cock against her before he pushes in, too slow for what she wanted this to be. 

“Does this betrayal sting more or less than confessing?” she rasps, and his hand at her throat finally tightens. Her breath is loud and wheezy as she struggles to inhale, and he sinks slow into her, his body dropping down to hers.

“You know nothing you speak of,” he hisses along her jaw, just above the vise-like grip of his fingers. His hands are dirty; she is already thinking of the fingerprints he must be leaving on her skin. 

“Yet I know everything of loyalty,” she gasps, unsure if she is more breathless because of the hand gripping her throat or because he has almost filled her completely. She shivers when he draws himself out of her and then drives back in, the angle altered from before, deeper somehow, this much farther out of her control.

She drags her body up to his as he ruts into her and smears her mouth over his, less a kiss and more a bid to return what power she possessed over him to her. He denies her this. The hand at her throat pushes her back to the ground again; the hand at her throat keeps her face pressed in the dirt, and it makes her gasp, it makes her bite against his mouth, and he bites back in kind. 

His metal chains warm against her body, against his, keeping his reach in check.

She can taste blood in her mouth. She thinks it is his.

It has always been about blood.

For her, always for her, but for him as well.

He brought a bastard home from the war with him -- his bastard, his own blood running in the poor brat’s veins. Ned Stark understood blood, she knew that much. 

Now she can taste it.





His body against hers is brutally foreign -- completely unlike her husband’s or her brother’s. She imagines the same is true for him -- the unfamiliarity, the way he is snarling as he thrusts, no rhythm just brute force -- that he does not bed his lady wife like this. 

Cersei has no leverage under him, his body boxing her in, his body heavy on top of her, his leg unable to bear his weight. The noises he makes are that of a wounded animal, the sound buried in the curve of her neck. 

She has slid her hand down the back of his shirt, stretching the collar, her hand grabbing blindly at his skin as he fucks her. They’re not kissing, not anymore, but she can feel his mouth open over the cut of muscle, where neck connects to shoulder, and then she feels his teeth. She sobs, his hips losing their rhythm, her leg slung over his back, his ass under her heel, and as her fingers dig into his shoulder blades her nails break the skin and come away sticky with his blood. He grunts, attempts to speak.

Her name sticks, like sludge in his mouth, thick, a word he cannot pronounce. He spits her name out at her, but it gets lost in her flesh, no space for it between his mouth and her skin.

Each time she tries to speak -- his name, a curse, anything, something, anything, the pressure building is too much, she wants to call out (his name, a curse, the same, anything) -- the hand at her throat tightens again and she chokes. 

Ned raises himself over her, only to drop his body to hers once more (never letting go of her throat, he won’t let go). His mouth brushes against hers, their foreheads pressed together, and she can’t breathe, her hands are clawing at his back again, his eyes dark and furious, and he hates her, he hates her, she hates him, he’s too deep, each thrust sloppy and rough, brutal, unforgiving, bringing her that much closer, but she doesn’t come, not yet, she doesn’t come, she can’t breathe -- she doesn’t know what she wants from him.

“Please,” he breathes against her mouth, broken, a mirror image to herself she has never seen before, “please.”

He says the word again, and her body begins to shudder.

She comes before he does, but by then he is not saying anything at all.





They lay there, after, him still inside of her. She is sure now they hate each other, that the hate she feels for him is mutual, but neither of them moves. His body is warm, the weight of it solid.

“Confess, Ned,” she says plainly, any mockery absent from her voice. It sounds more like begging than it does commanding. Ned does not say anything but the hand at her waist tightens and he sighs against her ear, his breath hot, her hair sticking to his mouth.

She does not know why she cares. The risk to herself, to her children, has been rendered all but negligible by arresting Ned. He could stand before all of King’s Landing at the Sept and announce the truth, that Joffrey belonged to her brother and not her husband, and it wouldn’t matter. Joffrey would order that they take his head, and they would, silence earned through execution. Yet she urges him to confess.

Cersei turns her head away from him sharply, refusing to acknowledge whatever thought has begun to bloom -- confess, Ned, she said, (begged, she amends and then redacts) -- and his hand drops from her waist as he awkwardly moves away from her. He winces as he leans back against the wall, his injured leg stretched out straight in front of him, and he sighs heavily once more. 

She does not look at him as she rises, her fingers steady as she fastens her gown closed, dusts herself off. Her hair is tangled and she pushes the mass of it back away from her face. As she stands there she can feel his come leak from her, her thighs wet with the both of them. She runs the back of her hand over her mouth, her lips swollen; she knows what she is feeling is not shame, but rather something closer to terror.

It unnerves her; it does not belong to her, she thinks. 

It’s why she does what she does next, her motivations easier to chart the more desperate, the more lost she becomes. 

“Clean up your mess,” she says to him, her legs on either side of his face. She aims for authoritative but she misses her mark, too out of breath, too close to that dual edge of panic and desire. Ned looks up at her at first in surprise, and Cersei looks away as something else begins to drift over his face. Whatever it is, it does not stop him from grabbing her thighs, his hands huge and callused as they bracket them. It doesn’t stop him from pressing his mouth against her, his lips, tongue, tentative against her cunt. She can feel his breath on her, and her chin drops to her chest. She braces herself against the wall, the stone cragged and rough under the palms of her hands, and when her knees start to buckle, when her balance shifts -- he is at the center, he is at the center of her, and her balance shifts -- she scratches her skin against the stone. She cuts her palm open, and she can smell her own blood. 

Hesitancy has given way to urgency and his mouth is relentless against her. Over her own breathing she can hear him, licking and sucking noisily, wetly, the sound of it lewd and too intimate. She tries to think of Jaime, but his face won’t come to her. She tries to think of her brother, but all she hears is Ned, all she can think is Ned Stark, his come, her come, his mouth, how he’s groaning small and muffled, almost inside of her, and the thought of that alone is enough to make her gasp. She wonders what he tastes like. She wonders if all men taste the same, salty, and sharp, but Robert never tasted like Jaime, and she doubts Ned would taste like either of them. Different blood, she thinks. Different blood underneath their skin.

Cersei is thinking of blood when she comes. She scrabbles a hand through Ned’s hair as she feels that clench in her gut (the hand with the blood on it, the hand with her blood), and she is so wet, too wet, his tongue, and he has his fingers inside of her now, plying her open once again. She comes thinking of blood. She bites her lip, but a soft, strangled cry still echoes in the dungeon, all that darkness that surrounds them. 





“Men like you were meant for a trial anyway,” she says before she leaves. The only evidence she has been here is the high flush on her cheeks, the reddened swell of her bottom lip. He has left no other discernible mark. She wraps her cloak tight about herself, hiding her rumbled dress beneath. 

Ned’s eyes are narrowed toward her, his trousers already laced, his hair damp with sweat and sticking to his neck, an errant strand along his cheek. He looks at her both with anger and with pity. She knows which bothers her more, but she shrugs it off -- she forgets both, stares past him. The torch she brought with her flickers and a dark shadow casts over his face, hiding his expression from her.

For the first time since she came here, she takes a full and relaxing breath.

Ned says nothing. She leaves him.





[ It will be later, days later, days into a new world she had not planned for, that she will realize it.

She will be unable to recall his last words to her.

She is scarcely sentimental, but for her, it will be a matter of historical record.

She will still have his first words to her -- an apology, I apologize, Lady Cersei -- but she will not be able to remember his last.

She will think it was her name. She will think the last words he spoke to her was simply her name.

She will be incorrect; regardless, history is left to the victors to recall as they see fit. 

She will choose to recall her name. ]





[ He said, please. ]





On her return, Lord Varys approaches her in the corridor just outside her chambers.

“Your Grace,” he says, his voice always this side of a courtly simper when addressed to her. Cersei scowls, she lets him see it. 

“Lord Varys,” she replies.

He studies her carefully, his hands clasped in front of him, and when he speaks, he is quiet, his words a riddle as always, like trying to tease meaning from a sphinx.

“I was unaware, Your Grace, that lions took to play with their meal prior to eating it. Though, to be fair, wolves do have such sharp, tempting teeth.”

Cersei says nothing, her face tight as a wet knot.

“Begging your pardon, Your Grace. Did I say tempting? For I surely meant threatening.”

Cersei’s eyes widen, but only for a beat.

“The two at times,” he continues, “can be so easily confused."

Only for that long.





The Great Sept of Baelor would stand waiting for the both of them. Judgment comes not from the gods, but rather, other men. A woman. A boy. 

Her son brought her his head then placed it on a spike on high.

Cersei did not think he lived on, not as his sister had managed. But her husband was dead, Ned was dead. She imagined that must mean Lyanna was finally gone as well. Cersei had taken them all.

She stood on the narrow open bridge staring up at the unrecognizable faces, the faces now without eyes, pocks of skin missing from the crows that came calling for flesh, injudicious in their hunger. 

There was no breeze, the summer day hot and stifling. 

She took a deep breath and looked away from his face. 

Perhaps, she thought, this had been the plan after all.