Robert can't remember the first time he saw Lyanna Stark. He knows it had been when Ned's siblings had come to visit the Eyrie a few weeks before the tourney at Harrenhal. He remembers a vague curiosity about her, but no real excitement. Jon Arryn had suggested months before that Robert should marry her, had even exchanged ravens with Rickard Stark, and while Robert had hardly been opposed to the idea of marrying Ned's sister, the idea of marriage had made her seem so much less thrilling. She had been beautiful, of course, but the world was full of beautiful girls. And it had seemed unnecessary to waste his last months of freedom on the girl he'd spend the rest of his life with.
But Robert would always remember the moment he fell in love with Lyanna. The moment he realised that he could not possibly marry any other girl than this one. That marriage might not be so bad if it was to her.
The Starks had been at the Eyrie for a few days when Lyanna stayed behind one afternoon, while Ned ran off with his brothers, laughing and exchanging stories about the people they knew back at Winterfell. Robert and Lyanna had been alone, smiling a bit awkwardly, exchanging pleasantries until he had tried to kiss her. Not so much out of passion, but she was his betrothed, there was no reason why he shouldn't kiss her.
Lyanna had leant in close, her lips brushing Robert's ear as she whispered that he'd have to catch her if he wanted her, and then she had laughed and run off. He had chased her for an entire afternoon through the halls of the Eyrie. Sometimes he caught her, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he only managed because she let him. His arms would tighten around her then, he'd pull her close for a kiss, and she kissed him back with a fire he had never felt from any other girl. But only for a brief moment before she'd laugh again and twist out of his arms, like a wild animal that would only be petted for so long. It was a game, a hunt, and every time he caught her their kisses lasted a bit longer than before.
That's when he saw how beautiful she truly was – her hair messed up, her eyes sparkling with mischief, her lips red from kissing him, her dress dirty and even torn in one place. His whole life Robert had only known ladies and whores, but Lyanna was neither. She was like a wildling girl from the North, independent and stubborn and so full of life. She was so much like him and he only loved her more for it. Robert had never been happier than when they had both stumbled down into the grass at the end of the day, breathless and laughing, limbs entwined as they kissed and she finally stopped running. Robert didn't even try to do more than kiss her, she was too good for a quick tryst in the dirt. When Robert had started chasing girls, Jon Arryn had told him that making love to a woman was not the same thing as fooling around behind a barn, but Robert had never quite seen the difference until he held Lyanna in his arms.
"You will marry me, won't you?" he said when she lay against his chest, his fingers stroking her dark hair. She smiled up at him then, ran her fingers over his cheek. Rougher fingers than a lady should have, but still beautiful. He kissed them.
"I will," she said, and for a moment there was sadness in her grey eyes. "But not yet."
* * *
Robert can't remember the first time he saw Rhaegar Targaryen. It must have been one of the times Jon Arryn had taken him and Ned to court, and as Lord of Storm's End he had probably even been introduced to the prince, but Rhaegar had left no impression whatsoever. The court was full of legendary knights and beautiful girls, and some effeminate princeling with a soft voice had hardly been worthy of Robert's attention when there were so much more exciting things to discover.
At first he didn't pay heed to the prince at the tourney of Harrenhal either. All of the Seven Kingdoms were there, great lords he had never met and whom Jon Arryn insisted he talk to, powerful warriors, and the most beautiful women he had ever seen, but in Robert's eyes they all paled next to Lyanna. She was not by his side all that often, preferring to stay with her brothers. After being almost constantly around her for a fortnight at the Eyrie, always a hand on her arm, his lips on hers whenever nobody looked at them, he found himself missing her. He even felt an irrational surge of jealousy towards her brothers, Brandon who whirled her around and danced with her to keep other men away, Ned who talked to her in that calm, serious voice and Robert could not help but wonder if they were speaking about him. Even little Benjen, barely more than a boy, seemed to have more of Lyanna in these days than Robert.
But she always smiled at him when their eyes met, that coy, teasing smile that made Robert's heart race. Sometimes she touched her lips or played with her hair, and whenever they actually ran across each other she kissed him on the cheek. Why would he pay attention to some prissy prince when his eyes were only on Lyanna?
He only noticed Rhaegar once the actual tourney started and the prince won one joust after the other, but Robert was still unimpressed. Jousting had always seemed ridiculous to him, a flashy game for show-offs, for pompous flower lords from the Reach. Real men fought in the mêlée, where strength counted, not the money one had spent on a horse. But it was entertaining enough, especially after Brandon started pointing out that the other knights seemed to be going easy on the prince. It made sense, from what he had heard Prince Rhaegar had only taken up jousting recently and the other knights seemed too careful to hurt their prince. Ned glared at them, asked them to show some more respect for their future king, but Brandon and Robert kept giggling like little boys.
There had been no real malice in his laughter until the end of the tourney, when every smile died on his lips. Robert couldn't believe his eyes when Prince Rhaegar crowned Lyanna, his Lyanna the Queen of Love and Beauty. He was paralysed with shock, with disbelief, or else he might have thrown that pompous prince off his horse and throttled him right then and there. Robert was sick with anger, his fury like a heavy stone in his stomach. Prince or not, no man, no married man had the right to crown another lord's betrothed, like she was a maiden ripe for the taking, just waiting to be swept away when she already belonged to another.
Yet what was worse than the humiliation, than the insolence of that princeling whose name and title alone had won him this tourney and who seemed to think that being heir to the throne put him above common decency, what was worse than Rhaegar's insult was that Lyanna smiled.
His wild Northern wolf, who wouldn't blush if he kissed her, who was unimpressed by big names or expensive presents, blushed and smiled at this fop like any other dumb girl in the realm would have. As if a crown of roses and a handsome smile made her forget about the days she had spent with Robert. He was as disappointed in her as he was angry at him, and the fact that Brandon was seething as much as he was hardly helping him stay calm.
If one had asked him how he had spent the hours between the tourney and the feast, he couldn't have answered even a few days later. The day passed in a cloud of rage; he wanted to kill Rhaegar, he wanted to confront Lyanna, he wanted to yell at her and kiss her and make her forget any other man in the world even existed. Ned and Lord Arryn were doing their best to calm him down, to convince him that it was just a royal whim, the kind of stupid thing princes do because they were princes and they could do what they liked, but nothing more, nothing to worry about.
They managed to reassure him until the evening, and he could smile at Lyanna again when he sat down next to her at the feast. Yet his blood started to boil once more when Prince Rhaegar asked for silence, took his harp from a servant's hands – an ugly thing with giant dragons on the frame – and started to play. He was singing some love song, some cheesy courtly tune, and that alone would have annoyed Robert enough, who preferred bawdy songs about bloody battles and lusty wenches.
But Rhaegar's insult during the tourney had been more than a momentary whim, for his eyes found Lyanna, he stared at her across the room while he sang about a fair maiden, ten stanzas about her eyes and ten stanzas about her hair and another ten about her lips, about a man who knew that maiden to be his destiny and who'd go to the end of the world to find her. It made Robert sick. Ned's hand came to rest on his forearm, tightened around his wrist.
"I'm going to kill him," Robert growled quietly.
"He's the prince," Ned replied only, as if that somehow made everything better, as if that was an excuse.
And at his other side, Lyanna was smiling again. Smiled as much as on that first day when they were running through the Eyrie, as flushed as when he had captured her in his arms, her eyes gleaming. When the damned song ended after what felt like an hour to Robert, she clapped louder than anyone, joined in when the other lords and ladies asked the prince for another song. Robert jumped up and left the table. He couldn't bear to see any more of this mockery. Ned's eyes followed him, but he let Robert go – probably thinking it better if his friend stayed away from the prince.
Robert grabbed a flask of wine from a servant's hand – Dornish red, he thought when he took a swallow, strong, the kind that would get him drunk in no time. Good. He wandered through the halls of the castle, not really knowing where he was going, but it didn't matter. Away from Rhaegar making eyes at the only girl Robert had ever cared about. Away from Lyanna being flattered by a crown of roses and a dumb song.
He had already gone through half of his second wine flask by the time he stumbled on some servant girl, a pretty little thing with a soft mouth and soft breasts, and that was all he needed now. He had hardly been with anyone since Lyanna had first kissed him, only one kitchen maid at the Eyrie when Lyanna's teasing had become too unbearable, and it had seemed better to take his pleasure elsewhere than to scare his bride away with his lust. But even that had been over a week ago, and while Lyanna's smiles were all he really needed, the thought of her smiling at another was too much to bear on his own. He didn't even look at the girl as he kissed her, grabbed her, buried his face against her neck and her breasts, his hands possessive all over her slim body.
"Lyanna," he mumbled, sure it was some dream, that he was imagining her saying his name in that curious, happy voice of hers. That she was here with him now, that it was her skin he was kissing.
"Robert." The voice came from behind him, and that was all wrong. He straightened up in confusion, pushed the girl away and turned. Lyanna was standing only a few feet away from him, still in her blue dress from the feast, her face a mask of shock and disappointment.
"I was looking for you," she said quietly. She had always said that in the Eyrie, whenever she came to him, her voice light and happy. Now it was as numb as the look in her eyes. Numb and dull, as if all her brilliant smiles had been used up for Rhaegar Targaryen. Robert's hand tightened into a fist.
"You seemed busy last I saw you," he snapped back. He gave the servant girl an angry shove and she ran off with a gasp, her skirts still in disarray. Robert didn't even spare her a glance, his eyes were fixed on Lyanna. "Swooning after that damn prince like those Southern airheads you always laugh about!"
He expected her to get angry as well, to yell at him, to defend herself, maybe to slap him like she sometimes did. Instead she only shook her head. Her disappointment hurt more than anything else.
"I can't believe you have the nerve to be jealous after I found you up some other girl's skirts." She scoffed, and it sounded so much like Ned when he disaproved of something Robert had done. "All because I was listening to a song."
She shook her head again, ran the back of her hand over her cheek. Robert couldn't believe she was crying until she looked up and he saw the wet gleam in her eyes. He had never seen anything but happiness on her face, he had never made her cry until Rhaegar had come along and ruined everything. Lyanna bit her lip. It made her look so young, so lost, like a little girl who didn't know what to do.
"Ned was worried about -" She gestured in the direction the girl had disappeared in. "- this, but I told him he was an idiot. I told him you had changed." Her voice was ripe with disappointment. "But it seems men are all alike, after all. One leaves his betrothed to chase skirts, the other tries to woo a girl while his wife is in the room. I don't know which one of you makes for the bigger disappointment."
"Lyanna ..." He made a step towards her, somewhat unsteady on his legs, but she stepped away from him, still shaking her head as if she was half trying to deny what she had seen.
"Not now, Robert." Lyanna took a deep breath, gathered herself. Even through all his anger and drunkenness, it hurt how beautiful she was, how strong. He loved her even when she was mad at him, even when he was mad at her. "We should talk when you're sober."
She turned and left. He stretched out his hand, caught the hem of her sleeve, but it slipped through his fingers as she started to run. Part of him wanted to follow her, to beg for her forgiveness and kiss her until she loved him again, but at the same time his anger was still eating at him. That she had dared to compare him to Rhaegar, as if his jealousy wasn't justified. That she had either been too flattered by the prince's advances, or cruel enough to make Robert think that she was. Robert bent down to pick up the discarded flask of wine, almost fell in the process, and emptied it in one gulp.
The wine soothed his temper a little. A small mistake. A small argument. He would go and apologise in the morning, and then she would apologise, too, and all would be well. In a month they'd laugh about the tourney, about this pompous prince with his silly songs. He could already see Lyanna by his side, back home at Storm's End, lying in his arms while they were looking out at the ocean. He could imagine the way she'd start mocking Rhaegar, imitating him like she did with her brothers or even Lord Arryn. And they'd laugh and kiss and not waste another thought on what had happened today. Robert was smiling by the time he stumbled into his bed.
* * *
When he woke up the next day, Lyanna was gone.
So was Prince Rhaegar.
Nobody knew what exactly had happened. Some said the two had disappeared in the early morning hours, laughing and smiling and holding hands. Others said that she had been unconscious and he had carried her. Again others said that he had dragged her, that she had been screaming and fighting him every step. But no one really knew anything, it was all rumours and gossip, half-truths that were distorted even more every time someone told them.
Robert was out of his mind with fury, and it was all Ned and Lord Arryn could do to keep him from jumping on a horse, following them and killing Rhaegar where he found him. They were so focused on his raging and screaming that they barely paid attention to Brandon, who had been seething quietly since he had heard of Lyanna's disappearance. Nobody noticed that Brandon had left the castle until an hour later.
Worse than even his concerns for Lyanna and his rage at Rhaegar was that nagging feeling in the back of his mind that maybe, maybe some of this had been his fault. If he hadn't been drunk last night, if he hadn't argued with Lyanna, if he had stayed by her side as he should have, Rhaegar couldn't even have come close to her. And if he had tried, all the better, Robert could have killed him then and there. But he swore he wouldn't miss another chance. Swore that he'd kill Rhaegar Targaryen the next time he saw him, if the man had but touched a hair on Lyanna's head. And then he'd take her home. She could hardly be mad at him anymore after he saved her.
But in the end, Robert couldn't save her. He went to war for her, he killed Rhaegar for her and probably a thousand other men, but he never took her home. She died too far away from him, without ever hearing all the things Robert had wanted to say to her that night, without ever lying in his arms by the ocean, without ever knowing how happy he would have made her.
Lyanna never saw Storm's End, and Robert never went home.
* * *
Robert would always remember that the last time he saw Lyanna, she was angry at him. We should talk when you're sober, she had said. But they had never talked again after that night, he had never got a chance to apologise, to tell her how much he loved her, how he'd give up everything just to be with her. We should talk when you're sober.
Robert never wanted to be sober again.