The news reaches Renly's camp four weeks after the shadow tried to kill him, just days after his meeting with Robb Stark, and when he reads the report, the King in Highgarden and Storm's End isn't at all sure how he is supposed to feel. He stares at the paper in his hands until the hastily written words blur before him, though that might be his hands shaking...
Why won't his hands stop shaking?
Renly takes a deep breath, oddly grateful that it is Brienne guarding him and not Loras, not now. Because he isn't sure what he would say to his Lord Commander, to his best friend and lover, if he could see him right now. He isn't sure, and he doesn't trust himself to find out, because of what is written on this paper.
Stannis is dead. His Red Woman left him three days ago, called by one of her 'visions' and that night the assassin struck. Davos Seaworth was killed in an attempt to defend him but he failed. Stannis is dead, and with his most loyal man gone too, no one will support Lady Shireen's supposed claim. Your way is clear, Your Majesty.
If his way is clear, why does he feel sick? It's ridiculous, Stannis had tried to kill him for the Seven's sake, had had his Red Woman send a fucking shadow after him, black magic to kill him sneakily. But... Renly had never expected that, he hadn't imagined... He'd really thought Stannis would give in, that his usually sensible brother would realize that he couldn't win against Renly's numbers. And anyway, Stannis didn't want the crown, he'd have laid odds on that. He's pushing for it... He had been pushing for it out of a grim determination to claim his rights.
It isn't just that his brother is dead by an assassin's hand that makes him feel so ill. He didn't do it, he knows he didn't, and he supposes it could have been the Lannisters. The Imp is cunning enough and connected enough to hire the sort of assassin who wouldn't be caught, even if Cersei hadn't thought of it. She could have too, either of them might have – or Tywin, for that matter. It could have even been the Northmen; the Starks wouldn't do it, but one of their bannermen might have taken the warning that Robb might be next to have a shadow try and murder him to heart.
All of this is possible, but it's unlikely. Because the person who stands to gain the most from Stannis' death, from the transferred loyalty of his bannermen – newer reports say they are pledging to him already – is Renly. He didn't order this, he... He wants to believe he would never have ordered this. In all honesty, he's not sure anymore that he wouldn't have, as a last resort only, he tells himself it would only be then.
But the point is that he did not order it. However, it's likely one of his supporters did. And he remembers the morning after the shadow attack, remembers seeing Loras and Garlan whispering urgently together, out of earshot but looking tense and furtive. The point is this: he thinks that it's likely his brother was killed by a professional. The point is that he cannot know for certain, not until he asks, but he believes that the Tyrells ordered it.
He believes they ordered it to secure him. He won't know until he asks, and he does not want to do that. But he will. He owes Stannis that, because while they didn't get along, he remembers the siege of Storm's End, and looking back as a man rather than a boy, he can see that Stannis tried to protect him. And he owes the Onion Knight too, since he is also dead so that Renly's crown can be slightly less uncertain on his head.
So he has to know. Even though he does not want to.
~ ~ ~
“Did your family order Stannis' death?” he asks Loras later. Three days later, because he really does not want to ask, and it takes that long to force the words from his throat during one of the rare times he and Loras are alone. Loras looks at him, golden eyes surprised, confused – and then, wary.
“What would it matter, Renly? He tried to kill you, you should be relieved he's dead, if not outright happy about it. He would not have regretted your death.”
Renly smiles, but it's mirthless. “Are you sure about that?” I loved him once, you see; is it so strange to think perhaps he once loved me too, and even if it had been on his order, my death might have caused some pain?
“But he ordered it, or at the very least must have made some sort of comment to compel his witch to do it! Of course he wouldn't regret it, it would secure his power base. As his death does yours.” Loras shakes his head. “I would understand if your family had ever been at all close – I would grieve for my brothers. But you, Stannis, and Robert all hated each other, or were indifferent at best. Why grieve now?”
“I don't know!” To his horror, Renly hears his voice cracking, and he turns away from Loras, clenching his teeth and running a hand through his hair. “Seven hells, Loras, I don't know. I never... I never wanted them dead, either of them, even if I didn't particularly like them. Robert I couldn't have done a thing about, that bitch he married would have seen him dead one way or another. But Stannis... I thought he'd see sense. I really did.”
“Then you were a fool to think it.”
Renly turns around, blue eyes blazing. He doesn't quite like that tone. “And you never answered my question.”
“Do you want to know?”
“No. But tell me anyway.”
“I don't want to hurt you, Renly.”
“Just say it, Loras. Say it and have done with it.”
“Fine. Yes, we did it, or Father did. He'd been planning it for a while, planted someone to do it. There. Now you know. Does it make it better, or worse?”
“I don't know.” And that is really the only truth Renly has, in this moment.