Ned runs through the snow, laughing. Robert follows, shouting, "Come here you, I'll get you for that!" The snowball Ned hit him with is still clinging to Robert's furs, clumps of it stubbornly hanging on.
Ned's chest feels light as he runs around the courtyard. Lord Jon is watching indulgently from a window, Ned knows, because he always is. The winters would be lonely in the Eyrie, except for Lord Jon and his hearth, and Robert and their games. At seventeen, Ned is growing lean and strong, Robert thick-muscled and stronger.
Robert catches up with him and they crash to the ground. Ned is still laughing, though the breath goes out of him as Robert lands on top. "Oof," Ned says, grinning.
Robert kisses him, a quick firm kiss. Startled, Ned automatically kisses back. Before Robert can pull away and Ned can ask what that was for, he feels a cold mass hit the side of his head. "Got you," Robert says.
"That was a trick," Ned says, glaring at him over the short distance between their faces. "You tricked me."
"I did," Robert grins. "Told you I'd get you."
Ned bucks him off and scoops up some snow to throw at Robert's stomach, but Robert is too fast. He jumps up, and now Ned is the one chasing him, Robert laughing.
* * *
The door bursts open and Renly strides in, looking as though he's doing his best not to run. "How bad is it?" he asks.
"It's fine," Loras says. Maester Jurne finishes bandaging the cut. "Tell him."
"Nothing but a scratch," Jurne says, smiling reassuringly at Renly.
"It happens all the time," Loras says, shrugging with the shoulder that isn't wounded. "Normally you're not there to see it."
"I'd have noticed if you'd been wounded this badly," Renly protests, as Maester Jurne takes his leave. He closes the door behind him, leaving them alone in Loras's chambers.
"I told you, it's fine," Loras says, rolling his eyes. "You know I practice with real steel now —"
"You said it was tourney swords," Renly says.
"Usually," Loras says. "That's why this one was so bad, it was a proper blade today." He shrugs again. "Really, it's fine, it'll heal in a day or two."
"You must be careful," Renly says. He looks so worried that Loras can't help but laugh.
"I want to be a knight, Renly. Some day I will be jousting and fighting, and fighting for real if there's a war. A little thing like this is nothing."
Renly crosses the distance between them in one stride and strokes his hand through Loras's hair. Loras startles at the contact, tingles going all through his body. "If you knew," Renly says, voice quiet and so sincere, "how I would feel if anything happened to you —"
Heart pounding, Loras looks up into Renly's eyes. "Nothing's going to happen to me," he says. "I promise." He reaches up, trying to smooth out the creases in Renly's forehead with his fingertips.
Renly kisses him, almost drinking it from his lips. Loras is frozen for a second, all of his wildest hopes coming true for real, until it hits him that Renly is kissing him. He kisses back, surging up to stand next to him, deepening the kiss. Renly makes a small noise in his throat and wraps his arms around Loras, holding him gently and close, kissing as though he's been waiting for years. Perhaps, like Loras, he has.
* * *
Jon is huddled down in his furs, but it's still not enough. Ghost is hunting somewhere in the wood, brothers of the Night's Watch all around Jon, but none close enough for it to make a difference.
"Sam," he whispers, hoping no one else will hear. Sam looks up. Jon beckons him over, and he shuffles until their furs are pushed together, Jon draping one side of his over Sam to make a cocoon.
"That's better," Sam whispers, but he's still shivering. Jon shifts closer, and Sam's arm automatically goes around him, Jon's around Sam.
Jon is starting to be warm, but Sam's still shaking. "Still cold?" Jon whispers.
"Erm." Sam sort of nods, but he's a bad liar.
"What is it?" Jon shifts a bit closer, settling their knees into a better place together.
"I want to kiss you," Sam says, like he didn't mean to say it, only think it. It's dark, but Jon can see he's gone bright red.
Jon tilts his chin up and kisses Sam. It's a light kiss, not Jon's first, but from the way Sam talks it might be his. Sam, who has come with them beyond the Wall despite how afraid he is, Sam who has made being so cold all the time bearable, Sam who Jon hopes comes back from all this alive. Sam, who kisses back, and then looks at Jon with wide eyes.
"I wanted to kiss you too," Jon whispers, and smiles.
* * *
It's relentless, Catelyn knows, the pain of losing him. She watches Brienne keep an impassive mask all day, with every other person. It's only when Catelyn emerges from her father's sickroom, and calls Brienne up to her chambers, that Catelyn ever sees how much she is suffering.
It's not that Brienne talks of it. Catelyn never speaks of Ned, either. She needs Brienne, she realises, needs to know that there is someone else here who understands the depth of her loss. The wretched cold winter that has taken hold of her heart. She sits with Brienne and talks of her son's war, and all she can see is Ned's face. And beside her, Brienne talks of service and duty, and Catelyn knows all she sees is Renly.
The night Catelyn kisses her, Brienne reacts at first by returning the kiss with an air of duty. It is not duty Catelyn needs, but comfort, and so she shifts to face Brienne and cups her face with one hand and kisses her harder. Brienne seems to soften for a moment, and then she's running her tongue along Catelyn's lips and sliding it into her mouth, kissing her with a ferocity Catelyn hadn't even known she had needed.
Brienne breaks the kiss and says, "My lady, I am sorry. I should not have —"
"Yes," Catelyn says. "Yes, you should. Please, do it again."
Brienne nods, leans in, and kisses her again.
* * *
Margaery finds Sansa in the godswood. She has an air of waiting about her, and for a moment Margaery hesitates to disturb her. "Are you well?" she asks.
Sansa starts, turning towards her. "Yes," she says, "I am — yes. Thank you."
Margaery smiles at her. "I was sorry you were married so suddenly, my lady. I’d looked forward to seeing you at Highgarden."
Sansa looks like she's about to cry. "I would have liked that," she says, and Margaery rushes forward to hug her.
Sansa jumps at the touch, but leans into the hug. She's shaking, and Margaery strokes fingers through her hair. "What's the matter?"
Sansa says nothing for a minute. When she does speak, her voice resounds with unshed tears. "I thought it would be like it is in the songs. A brave knight, handsome and true, would fall in love with me and give me a rose and I'd give him beautiful children."
Margaery strokes her hair. "You thought it might be Loras."
Sansa shakes her head. "Not really. I wanted to think — but love isn't anything like that, and neither is marriage."
"Do you love Lord Tyrion?" Margaery is so startled she pulls away from the hug to look into Sansa's face.
Sansa laughs. "No. He's ... kind to me. But he's so ... no, I don't love him."
"But you love someone?" Margaery hopes it isn't her brother. She could bear any other man to have Sansa's heart, but it would be too much if she'd married Loras's love and then he'd stolen the heart of hers.
Sansa nods. "With all of my heart," she whispers.
"Who is it?" Margaery isn't sure she wants to know, but then Sansa is looking up at her and the look in her eyes takes Margaery's breath.
"You," Sansa says, half misery, half hope.
Margaery kisses her in answer. Sansa makes a small sound and shifts closer, kissing back. Her lips are soft, her breath sweet when Margaery deepens the kiss. Sansa's tongue brushes along hers with a hesitancy that makes Margaery's heart melt.
When the kiss ends, Margaery smiles and says, "I hope that made my feelings clear."
"Could you tell me anyway?" Sansa says, biting her lip.
"I love you," Margaery whispers, and leans in again.