“Ned,” the king says, “I think he should go with you.”
What in the seven fucking hells, Jaime thinks.
“What – sorry?” Ned Stark asks, sounding properly horrified. Of course he would. Given how he looked at Jaime when he walked into the throne room and found him with Aerys’s body lying on the ground, this plan probably does not work well for him.
The new king shrugs, entirely too lighthearted. Jaime thinks he could have stayed in King’s Landing for Cersei, even if guarding this man isn’t a good prospect, but –
He couldn’t have been as bad as –
“I understand he paid us a service,” Robert Baratheon goes on, and Jaime wants to kick him in his fucking teeth, “but I’d rather not have kingslayers on my guard, you know, for precaution. And I certainly cannot reward him with Casterly Rock now, can I?”
As if I fucking want it. Jaime also hates how they’re talking about him as if he’s not even there.
“Never mind that his father might get ideas. I agreed with marrying his daughter, but he can’t also have the son unpunished. He goes to Winterfell with you for a while and then we shall see.”
“I imagine you will need this cloak back, Your Grace,” Jaime hisses, but Baratheon just shakes his head.
“You can keep it,” he says. “If I decide that we shall see, I might want a competent swordsman on my guard. So, pack your bags, ser. You’re going to Winterfell.”
Fuck that, Jaime thinks, but he knows he can’t refuse.
Not when it’s a miracle he’s not dead, and just because he is the reason Baratheon could claim his throne and it would be fairly hypocritical of them to kill the man who killed the king they rebelled against, otherwise –
He kind of wants to cry, but he’s not going to even assume that. Not in front of them.
Honestly, what the fucking hell, is Baratheon seriously shipping him to Winterfell like he was some kind of cattle because of course a kingslayer should not go around court, but at the same time he doesn’t want him to inherit Casterly and so his father’s kept somehow under control?
Fuck, he is.
The only positive part of it is that Stark looks more horrified at the prospect than Jaime himself is.
“Ned. It’s not going to be for a long while, I’m sure.”
Stark sighs, obviously realizing it’s a lost cause to argue an already taken decision. “Very well. Ser, pack your bags. I am leaving on the morrow – I should like to see my son as soon as possible.”
“Of course, my lord,” Jaime replies. “The one that’s not the babe you’re bringing with?”
Stark stares at him with such angry grey eyes, it feels like looking inside a storm. “Ser, if you know what’s good for you, you shall never open your mouth on the topic again. Understood?”
“Understood,” Jaime spits back, and goes to pack his meager belongings.
As if there’s anything he wants to bring back from this nest of vipers.
And now he has to go North dying of cold with a man who loathes him openly and who has no bloody fucking clue of why he did what he did, that he saved the entire goddamned city, and that Aerys sure as hell was no fucking helpless maiden or harmless old man.
But what does he know.
That’s what breaking oaths does to you, Jaime thinks bitterly as he packs what clothes he has in his rooms. Of course he only gets looks of loathing as he walks through the corridors.
What do you all know, he thinks and doesn’t say.
He doesn’t even attempt to pass in front of the rooms that used to be Elia Martell’s.
He can’t fucking think about it. Of course he knows he couldn’t have done anything, not when he was the only Kingsguard around the Red Keep and if he hadn’t been with Aerys they would all have died regardless, but still –
If only I had been quicker maybe she wouldn’t have been dead, and I know my father was behind it, but of course Stark thinks I knew.
He wishes Cersei were here. But Cersei is at Casterly. Preparing to travel here, no doubt, because she’s going to marry the bloody King, but not she’s not here yet. Tyrion isn’t here either.
And Arthur Dayne is, of course, dead.
It’s sad, realizing that that’s the amount of people he wishes he could talk to, and none of them are here.
Jaime does try to sleep, that night.
Trying, being the key word.
The next day, no one asks him why he doesn’t speak or why does he look so haggard.
He wouldn’t tell them he dreamed he was too late and the entire city erupted in wildfire just as he walked inside the throne room just to hear Aerys laugh, and of course Ned Stark doesn’t ask, and Jaime can only think, I killed the man who burned alive your father and brother and scorn and judgment are all that you have to offer me?
From someone who holds honor in such high regard and who was obviously very displeased with the way Elia’s children (and Elia herself) died, sure as the seven hells he really can’t seem to look beyond his own bloody nose, can he?
He wants to nag the man and ask him what will his lady wife think when he shows up with another woman’s baby. He really wants to. But he remembers how Ned Stark looked like when he asked, and he doesn’t, because he likes to think he cares for his own skin.
Stark really was angry, though.
Could the mother have been Ashara Dayne? Could be. It might explain why he’s so sensitive about it. She’s dead, after all, and by her own hand, and he cannot imagine Ned Stark being proud of causing her demise.
Still. From what he’s seen, the infamous bastard son is all his father. There isn’t a drop of Dayne blood in him if the mother really was Ashara, and he’d know, since he’s been around Arthur for a hell of a long time.
He shrugs and rides on. As if he bloody fucking gives a damn. Stark can hang, for all he cares, and if his wife is displeased with his behavior, even fucking better. Serves him well for not caring about his precious honor when it was about him, and serves him well for judging everyone else without knowing shit about anything.
What would you have done in my place, Lord Stark? Jaime wants to ask, and then keeps his bloody mouth shut.
It’s a long ride to Winterfell, after all, and he’d like to make through it in peace.
What Jaime’s entirely right about is that Lady Catelyn does not appreciate Ned Stark showing up with a bastard boy in tow.
Lady Catelyn, though, is apparently more reasonable than a lot of other people might have been, and accepts it when Stark pretty much pleads her to let the baby grow up with their other son – who’s all his mother, incidentally. Jaime hears it just because his room is next to theirs, for the moment – it was the only available accommodation.
He sighs and hopes that Lord Stark is better to his lady wife than most men are, especially than Aerys was.
That first night, he wakes up screaming himself raw, and he knows they must have heard him, but he says nothing the following morning, and Stark says nothing either.
Lady Stark sends him a concerned look, though.
“Ser,” she asks as they break their fast, “are you doing all right?”
“Perfectly,” Jaime replies curtly. He knows she’s just being concerned, and he knows she knows he’s not, but he hasn’t told Ned Stark, sure as the seven hells he’s not going to tell her.
She leaves him to his bacon with the face of someone who’s entirely not convinced of it.
Later, he’s moved into another hallway entirely – he figures that no one wants him to wake up Robb Stark with his screaming, when he’s not up already.
He ends up next to the room where the wet nurses are staying, along with Jon Snow, of course.
He kind of hoped they’d stay awake because of both him and the blasted child, but it turns out he is the only one out of the two of them who screams at night. Whenever he hears Ned Stark’s bastard crying at night, it’s never screaming. It’s always some kind of pitiful sobbing that ends not long after it’s started. That baby doesn’t even need a bloody wet nurse anyway, but where would they put him, all things considered, since he certainly couldn’t share a room with Lady Stark?
Jaime hopes that Lord Stark pays them well, and goes back to sleep just to wake up not long late with Aerys’s face burning behind his eyelids.
Fuck that mad bastard, he thinks one morning after he decides he’s not going back to sleep. He’s dead and he has to come to me even after he should be buried for the entire bloody continent. Fuck him.
He slams the door behind him as he goes for a stroll.
Maybe he’ll clear his head. Some. Maybe.
And then he runs into Catelyn Stark, who apparently had the same idea, since she’s walking across the empty yard with her redhead firstborn clutched to her chest.
He scoffs – damn. He’s going to have to change his plans.
“My lady,” he grits through his teeth, figuring that it won’t to to be too rude. “Have a good morning.”
“Ser, wait,” she calls after him as he turns his back on her.
“What?” He thinks he’s exhausted his capacity for good manners today. Too bad, since it’s barely dawn.
“I – I would like to speak to you.”
“It seems like we had the same idea,” she says. “The godswood is over there. You can walk with me, if it’s good with you.”
It’s not, but he’s tired and he hasn’t slept and he did want to take a walk.
“Very well,” he says, and falls into step next to her. He glances at the baby in her arms. He thinks, she’s what, one year older than I am?
He thinks of all the times Cersei promised him that they would have a child someday.
He shakes his head and walks forward.
“So,” he tells Lady Stark, “what did you want to talk about, my lady?”
She hoists the baby up higher.
“You aren’t sleeping well,” she says, and it’s not a question.
“I’m not,” he agrees, “thanks for inquiring.”
“My lord husband doesn’t either,” she goes on.
“I beg your pardon?”
“He doesn’t sleep well, either. I had imagined he wouldn’t. But – he doesn’t scream the way you do – I can hear you all the way to our rooms.”
“My lady, are you expecting me to apologize?”
“No. I know it cannot be helped. Still, I was wondering.”
“What were you wondering?” He knows he’s being unnecessarily hostile, but she’s looking at him with pitiful eyes, as if she can’t understand whether she should pity him or scorn him or remind him that he broke his precious oath to that mad fool, and it’s not a look he likes. Any of those looks.
She stops and shakes his head. “Ser, I don’t know you. I don’t have much reason to think highly of you, given that you killed your king. However, my husband seems to think you’re an oathbreaker of the worst kind and that you do not regret your actions, but I don’t think men who don’t regret a thing they do sleep that badly.”
“Oh, now it’s clearer,” Jaime mutters. “Well, my lady, that would be somewhat correct, but you’re assuming that I regret something and that’s what causes me to keep half of your household awake.”
“Am I wrong?”
He laughs. “You’re less wrong than your lord husband is,” Jaime finally says. “But he’s right on one thing.”
“Which would be?”
“My lady, I regret absolutely nothing of what I did, and I had my reasons. But before you proceed to judge me and declare me a lost cause like your precious lord husband saw fit to do, ask him if he would have relished standing in front of his father and brother when they died. I think Lord Stark knows, but do please inform him that burned human flesh doesn’t have a pleasant smell, and seeing a man being slowly strangled without being able to lift a finger to help him because you swore your service to the man who’s murdering him isn’t much of a nice experience, either. Ask him that.”
“Have a good day, my lady,” he spits, and then he storms back towards the castle.
He slams the room behind him and doesn’t get out of it for the entire fucking day, which is admittedly a very bad choice, because the only thing he can do is sleep, and if he sleeps he wakes up drenched in cold sweat and smelling burned flesh and hearing Aerys laugh and laugh and laugh –
And then he hears pitiful sobbing coming from the next room over for a while, at least until some maid or wet nurse or Ned Stark whatever comes by and calms down the poor kid.
Jaime thinks he can relate to the goddamned pitiful sobbing, except that he has some pride and he’s not going to cower in front of anyone or to show up in public when he’s not able to hold Stark’s stare and tell him where he can shove his damned honor.
Says the one who started a rebellion while Jaime saved the lives of the entire city, but he is the one with shit for honor.
Fine, given that his bloody father ordered the deaths of those two poor children along with Elia’s, Lord Stark does have a reason to distrust his family, but would it have been too much to at least ask him why?
Fuck, he could have a few choice words with his father – why kill Elia and the children when she’d have brought them back to Dorne? It’s not as if he ever guarded them since of course it was the easiest job and it was never left to him, and he couldn’t been in two places at once after Rhaegar brought all of the Kingsguard away from the Red Keep, but she had always been perfectly nice and courteous to him and Rhaenys had a lovely laugh and Aegon was a fine-looking child, and he had decided he loathed Robert Baratheon the moment he smiled when he saw their dead bodies.
And Stark disapproved, but it’s not as if he’s told Baratheon their friendship is over, is it?
And then Jaime is the hypocrite.
Stark’s son keeps on sobbing on the other side of the door and Jaime resolutely does nothing.
He doesn’t speak to Lady Stark for another two weeks, because he avoids her resolutely.
That is, until she ambushes him in the godswood. She’s always bringing the damned baby with, but then again he can understand she’d be loath to not have him in her sight.
“Have you asked your husband?” He asks when she sits down to him and says nothing.
“No,” she says, “but I asked him why do you sleep so badly, according to him.”
“And what does he say?”
“That maybe it’s the weight of your actions.”
“And what do you say?”
She looks at him with huge blue eyes that are the exact same as her child’s and who don’t seem to impressed with either him or her lord husband.
“That if you don’t regret it, then it’s not that. Or maybe not just that.”
“Fine. No, it’s not, by the way. I regret nothing.”
“Did you kill him because he forced you to watch my – Brandon and Rickard Stark die?”
Jaime snorts. “That certainly helped taking the decision, but no, my lady, that wasn’t why I did it, or I’d have done it a long time ago. And maybe someone else would have been more grateful than about anyone else, King Robert included.”
“My lady, pardon me for the blunt question that you will no doubt find inappropriate, but does your lord husband care for your pleasure when you bed him?”
“Ser, I don’t see how –”
“Because I can assure you, my lady, that if he does, you’re luckier than Queen Rhaella ever was. The Mad King did not care for that. Actually, he did not care if she wanted him in her bed at all. Certainly, she’d have been glad to have him out of her life. Or maybe she’d have been glad that someone in the Kingsguard raised a hand to help her, since no one of us ever did, but let your husband keep on believing that Aerys deserved anything but a sword in the back. Excuse me,” he says, and then stands up and leaves, knowing she won’t follow him with a baby to carry around.
His room is empty and Ned Stark’s bastard is still sobbing in the next room over.
He kind of wanted to see if he could get some more sleep, damn it, and of course when he does get some, having a sobbing child in the next room over means he ends up having a very, very horrible dream about the poor children he saw draped on red sheets, courtesy of Gregor Clegane.
He throws up in his chamber pot.
The maid says nothing when she brings it out of the room.
A month later, Lady Stark is still watching him as if she’s trying to figure him out, Ned Stark is still looking as if he wishes he didn’t have to share his bread with the worst oathbreaker in the Seven Kingdoms, both his sons seem to be fond of each other in the way children of not even two are, Jaime is still sleeping like shit and the only thing he can reasonably spend his days doing is training. Too bad that Winterfell’s master at arms is no match for him whatsoever and about no one else is, and the North is cold, the food is all right but no match for what you can get in a warmer climate, and Jaime thinks he will have to spend at least part of the winter here and he thinks he’ll go fucking insane. Because his room is silent, except for what goes on in the next, and when it’s silent he can’t escape thinking about Aerys or anything else that he had to witness since Harrenhall, and he wishes he couldn’t, and it’s the only thing he can think of instead –
And it would help if Cersei sent him letters, but for now only Tyrion ever wrote some.
In one, he told Jaime to go see the Wall because his books say it’s a magical place that has no equal in Westeros, and maybe he could go see it and write him about it, because of course their father won’t let him visit the North, never mind the Wall?
Jaime wishes it was, and he knows Stark is never going to let him ride off anywhere on his own, either.
Then, one evening, there’s a knock on the door.
It’s Lady Stark. She’s alone, for once.
“Where’s your son?” Jaime asks.
“With his father and – Jon Snow,” she settles on. “And I think I should like to talk to you.”
“Ser,” she says, “you’re not telling the whole truth, and it’s obvious that you think that if my husband knew why you really killed Aerys he’d change his mind about you, and I am honestly curious of why you keep it hidden, if it would.”
“So what do you want?”
“I want to know why you broke your oaths.”
She’s staring straight at him, and Jaime has an idea that this is the kind of woman you do not antagonize lest you’re a complete madman.
Is he one?
“And why do you care?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
He laughs, bitterly. “The King didn’t bother asking. My father didn’t bother asking. Your husband walked into that room and sent me such a loathing look, I’m surprised it didn’t kill me on the spot. Why should you, that’s the question, since no one seems to think my reasons are important.”
“Fine. I’m asking now.”
Gods be good. She’s staring straight at him, she’s not backing down, and she sounds like she’s willing to not think him the worst oathbreaker in the realm for now.
Maybe he should try her out and see if she’s another hypocrite or not.
“Fine. Then you shall have your answer. Aerys took me into the Kingsguard when I was fifteen. I meant my oaths when I swore them, regardless of what your husband thinks. Arthur Dayne knighted me, does he really think I went into the Kingsguard out of scorn? I wanted it. I thought it would be a great honor and everything else your husband most probably believes. Then I found out that being in the Kingsguard meant not ever questioning what your king does, even if it’s raping his own wife and you have to stand outside the door every other night, or killing whoever displeases him even just slightly, or roasting a man alive inside his armor while his son chokes to death trying to save him. But then again, it also means doing nothing when your king has realized he lost a war and decides to have the last laugh by blowing up King’s Landing.”
He thinks that all blood has left Lady Stark’s face – she’s white as a sheet and she’s come closer to him, slightly. “He – he wanted to do what?”
“There were stacks of wildfire under the city. I heard him talk to some maester who was supposed to carry out his orders and light them up. He was about to kill half a million people, and that poor terrified arsehole he gave the order to would have done it. I know he would. On top of that, I had just been told that I would burn like all the others if I didn’t bring him my father’s head, but that really was not the most relevant thing, against the entirety of King’s Landing dying, among which the army who was approaching, I suppose.”
“It was either killing him or that. And of course I killed him. What was I supposed to do, let him burn the entire city and us with him, and the entirety of the population? And did that mad bastard even deserve to live? He tortured your husband’s brother and father as they died, and they weren’t the only ones. He was going to blow up the entire city. He was mad for a fucking reason, and I had to see him getting madder and madder for two whole years that I spent ever regretting pledging myself to that insane bastard. Yes, I killed him. No, I don’t regret it. But all of that is what I dream of at night, so pardon me if I sleep poorly, my lady,” he finishes, and to his horror he realizes that his voice has broken on the last couple of words, and that his vision is blurred, and –
“Fuck,” he blurts, wiping at his face. Shit, shit, why did he do this, why is he crying, why –
“Ser,” Lady Stark says, moving closer, putting a hand on his shoulder very tentatively and squeezing it. “Ser.”
“You can go,” he says. “Now you know. Are you happy?”
She shakes her head and sits next to him on the bed. Why?
“No,” she says. “I mean, I’m not happy that this is why you cannot sleep, because if you’re not lying – and I don’t think you are – it’s quite unfair at best.”
“It seems to me like my husband might have been very wrong about you. Or at least in assuming you care for nothing.”
“You cared for too much, it seems to me,” she sighs. “I don’t know what anyone else might have done, but half a million against one mad king doesn’t sound like a hard choice to me. And you’re crying.”
“… Wait, are you –”
“Ser, I’m saying I believe you, what were you thinking I was doing?”
For a moment, he’s just so flabbergasted he can’t even compute it.
“You – you do?”
“Either you’re a very good mummer or you were not acting when you gave me your little speech before. Why wouldn’t I?”
He says nothing – he hadn’t thought she would, or that she would so easily.
And she’s sending him a fairly sympathetic look, on top of that.
“I – because no one else did?” He asks, figuring that at this point he might as well tell her the truth.
“They – they should have asked,” she agrees.
“As if. They didn’t even think about it. And now I’m exiled here because the king doesn’t trust me to not kill him, as if he gave me any reason to, and your husband also thinks I’m complete scum with shit for honor because my father ordered Rhaegar’s children dead, as if I knew.”
“How? Of course I didn’t. Gods be good, I swore that I’d protect them, if I had known I wouldn’t have waited for them to come to the throne. Did you see me taking it? And then again, Rhaegar only left me in King’s Landing. How was I supposed to protect them and keep an eye on Aerys at the same time?”
“You couldn’t. And no, you didn’t take it,” she agrees.
“That’s because I didn’t fucking want it. I saw what it did to Aerys, I was not in any goddamn hurry of following in his footsteps. I – I meant my bloody vows when I swore them. I – I couldn’t believe he actually ordered them dead. I’d have tried to do something if I had known,” he says, belatedly realizing to his own horror that he’s crying in small, harsh fits, and he wishes he could stop himself from doing it but he can’t and the thing is – is – “I couldn’t give a damn about Aerys. He deserved it. I don’t regret that. But I regret that they died.” He doesn’t think his voice has ever sounded so small in his entire life.
He doesn’t expect Lady Stark’s hand to touch the back of his head tentatively, and he doesn’t even try to get out of it when she cautiously puts an arm around his shoulders. Shit. He can’t believe she is trying to make him feel better.
“One can hear it in your voice, ser,” she says quietly. “I – I will try and talk to Ned. Maybe he’ll come around.”
“Don’t you even dare telling him –”
“It’s your story to tell, my lord, not mine. But now, can I just tell you I am sorry that no one asked you why you did it?”
“Yes,” he blurts, “fine, you can.”
He expects her to leave, but he doesn’t, not until she hears sobbing coming from the next room over and she goes rigid for a moment.
“You don’t have to be here,” Jaime tells her, tiredly.
“It’s just –” She starts, then shakes her head. “It’s just, I married him because it was my duty, he leaves for war just after the bedding, and then he comes back with another woman’s child?”
“I understand it,” he says, and it’s true, he does, “but from what I heard and from what I see, your husband is honorable to a fault. Whatever the reasons are for that baby’s existence, I don’t think you should be worried in that sense.”
“Ser, are you defending him?” She smiles.
“I am stating a goddamned fact, my lady.”
She looks at him for a moment, two, then –
“Call me Cat if you wish,” she says, “I think we’re past formalities and you’re the only other person in this castle who’s not from the North. There’s no point.”
The last think he’d have thought this morning would be that he’d tell her, “Then just call me Jaime as well, if it please you,” but as she leaves the room, he decides it’s nothing he regrets.
Not for now.
Fuck, she believes him.
He’s so elated at the prospect that he bursts out crying again, good thing no one sees him.
In the next few weeks, he can see Stark looking at him strangely and he knows it’s because Cat might have tried to convince him to talk to Jaime, but he’s not doing that yet.
Meanwhile, every other day whenever Jon Snow is in the room next to his and not spending time with his half-brother, he hears pitiful sobbing all the damned time, as if everyone who sets foot in that room or is paid to look after him or whatever assumes that letting him do it is the best way to make sure he stops.
Maybe they’re right and maybe not, but sure as hell it’s not good for his nerves, and one day, after he’s been turning in his bed for a very long time and can’t even close his eyes without the constant sobbing in the background, he decides that Ned Stark needs to find new staff to look after his son, because it’s beyond ridiculous.
He leaves his own room and walks into the next one, huffing and staring down a maid who’s indeed cleaning the room without paying attention at the crying baby in the nearby small crib.
“He’s been crying for a hell of a long time,” Jaime tells her.
“No one told me he was my responsibility,” she says, and Jaime shakes his head as he moves over and looks at the baby instead – he’s sitting up inside the crib and he looks wholly goddamned miserable under his mass of dark hair and with his pitiful, large gray eyes shining with tears.
And he’s still sobbing.
“Gods, you’re useless” he scoffs, “I guess I’ll have to do it myself.”
It’s not as if he’s never done this with Tyrion a million times, he thinks, picking the baby up.
He stops crying maybe a moment later – the hell, Jaime thinks, and then the baby reaches out to grab at his hair and Jaime realizes that maybe he just wanted some human contact, poor thing. Not that he can fault Cat for not even wanting to see him, but still – he’s cute, and he didn’t choose his father, and he certainly didn’t choose the incompetent maids who should look after him and don’t.
“Sorry about your lot in life,” Jaime mutters. “Seems like you didn’t get it that great. Not that I can’t relate.” He doesn’t even have to tell the kid to be careful with his hair since he’s pulling at it but very shallowly and not enough to hurt. “Aren’t you heavy,” Jaime sighs. “Something tells me you’re at least as old as your brother if I’m not wrong –,” he says inconsequentially, and then he does the math.
If Jon Snow is as old as his brother, or at least in that same range, then who the fuck could Stark have had him with if he was off rebelling? Sure, maybe a tavern wench or a camp follower, but honest, Jaime cannot see Ned Stark screwing that kind of woman or a whore, even worse. Never mind that if he does the math, one year or so ago was about the time when Stark got to the Tower of Joy
(and killed Arthur Dayne)
wasn’t it, so how would Stark know some nameless tavern wench or whore he had screwed could have been with child?
The more he thinks about it, the more it doesn’t add up.
He leaves and moves back into his own room, sitting on the bed, putting the baby in front of him. He takes a better look at him.
Jon is definitely around the age he had placed him at. He does look like Ned, all right, but –
Wait. A year and something else ago, Ned was at the tower of Joy, wasn’t he?
His sister was at the Tower of Joy. And his sister was –
She ran with Rhaegar, didn’t she?
Jaime feels like the ground has just been pulled from under his feet. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t have.
Then he looks at Jon’s grey eyes, which are… not long as Ned Stark’s and Lyanna’s. No, he remembers her eyes. They also were longer and not as round. Nor with lashes this long, but never mind that, either.
Because Jaime recognizes the eye shape.
He does. It’s not the color – that’s all Stark’s. But the shape –
Oh, fuck him sideways, Jaime thinks as he grabs Jon and holds him up again, pulling him to his chest and realizing that unless he’s colossally wrong Rhaegar still had a last living son and he’s right there in front of him.
The baby immediately goes quiet again the moment Jaime does, and it causes a pang in his heart that he couldn’t even describe.
Shit. Shit, what was Ned thinking, Jaime wonders, and then –
Well, all right, he actually was thinking straight because Robert would not have appreciated another Targaryen in Westeros, alive, wouldn’t he? It made sense he’d pass him off as his, and admittedly he can see Stark accepting a stain on his precious honor for his sister’s and his family’s sake. That makes sense. But why wouldn’t he tell Cat? She asked him about his kingslaying, he has a feeling she’d understand and maybe then she’d be nicer to the poor kid, or at least she wouldn’t pretend he doesn’t exist, but then again fine, he’d make her complicit of treason.
He leans back. The baby in his arms is honestly looking up at him as if he’s overjoyed of his presence which makes no bloody sense because children that young shouldn’t be, but who even knows. For a moment, he thinks of how happy his brother was when he saw him back in the day (and never his father or sister), and he thinks, what if Cat never changes her mind and keeps on ignoring him, how would he even grow up.
And then he realizes –
Maybe I still do have a chance at honor, after all. He has the last of Rhaegar’s children here. He swore to protect them. Maybe he couldn’t do it for Elia or Aegon or Rhaenys and he’s absolutely gutted and he will always be, but –
“Maybe,” he whispers, not moving at all when Jon’s hand closes around his fingertip, “Maybe I could do it for you,” he goes on, his voice trembling, and –
He had thought the part of him who cared for vows and oaths was dead, but maybe seeing that someone seemed to care about his feelings on the matter didn’t kill it after all, and now –
Now he thinks, Arthur Dayne’s dead, Rhaegar’s dead, Lyanna’s dead, Elia and the children are dead, of course you ended up here. Of course, you did, and who’s even going to know except Ned Stark? He can’t help wondering why in the name of everything would Arthur have died to make sure Stark did not get to the top of the tower, though maybe it was for Rhaegar, and Jaime doesn’t know what the hell the both of them were thinking, but he’s learned enough about what people might do for their oaths when they conflict, and that it’s not usually the right thing or the smartest one.
He’s still around. He wanted to keep those vows. He loathes to be known as an oathbreaker, he does, but who even cares, if he can keep at least one of those damned oaths after all?
He has a clue Lord Stark would gut himself before accepting any pledges of his, though, but first of all he was an idiot for not telling his wife, and second thing, it’s not as if Jaime has to pledge to him.
“Fuck that,” he says, and storms out of the room, child in his arms and all, until he reaches Stark’s room, knocks and enters without waiting for a reply.
Both Catelyn and Ned Stark are in it, thankfully clothed, the lady checking over her firstborn, and Jaime doesn’t miss Stark’s horrified face when he sees he’s carrying his supposed son.
“Lannister, what are you –”
“My lord, do you think I’m bloody daft?”
“And most of all, when were you planning to tell her? Or were you planning to tell her at all?”
At that, Catelyn’s eyes go slightly narrow as she stares at him and then at her husband and then at him again. “What should he have told me?”
Jaime looks back at Ned Stark and is very pleased to see most blood has drained from his face.
“Ser –” He starts, “I don’t know what you think you know –”
“My lord, I was at the goddamned Red Keep and I knew when Arthur left it and I knew when Rhaegar did, and I know when you got there and when you came back. There is no bloody way you could have found time to bed anyone who wasn’t a camp whore and have a bastard child of his age – no, not even if it was Ashara Dayne, he should have been older.”
“Never mind that I might have been forced to guard his father, but you don’t think I’ve ever seen Rhaegar up close?”
Suddenly, understanding dawns on Catelyn’s face. “Ser, are you saying –”
“I’m saying your lord husband got very lucky that he could pass him for his son, but Rhaegar’s eyes were exactly the same shape as his and the timing adds up a lot better if he’s his nephew.”
Jaime can see that he has pretty much done the equivalent of opening the floor under Stark’s feet – when he looks up at Jaime again, his brow is sweating cold sweat, and he looks like someone who knows he could suffer serious consequences for this.
“Is it true?” Catelyn asks, sounding half-surprised and half-horrified, but more at herself than at her husband – Jaime can see he’s looking at the baby with an apologetic face rather than angry.
Stark sighs and stands up. “I didn’t want you to make you complicit in treason, my lady,” he says, his voice lowering. “But I guess now you are. And we should probably plan a hasty escape.”
“Why would we?” Catelyn presses.
Stark glances at Jaime. Of course.
“Ah,” Jaime says, “and the wolf judges the lion all over again.”
“Stark, you’re assuming that the first thing I will do now is writing a letter to my father and informing him of this.”
“… Why, won’t you?”
Jaime shakes his head and doesn’t even try to stop himself from laughing – as if. “My lord, honestly, you really should reconsider your judging ways. You might think I hold my oaths in very little regard, or that my oath to my king trumped everything. Until it did, I had to stand outside his door while he raped his wife, or to watch him murder people just because he could, or to not lift a finger while he cooked your own father inside his armor as your brother strangled himself to death, which are all very honorable things that I am sure you approve of. Then I decided that my oath to protect the weak trumped the one I owed him, and you should thank me, because if I hadn’t killed the mad bastard he would have ignited a stack of wildfire under King’s Landing and blown up the entire city and most probably your army as it got inside it, as well. If you think my father informed me of his plans, you’re sorely wrong. Why, has my little tale turned you silent?”
It – it has, because Stark is just staring at him in…
Is it shame? I hope it is, Jaime thinks.
“However,” he goes on, “that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to uphold my vows when I took them. By the way, I was your sister’s age when I took them – when she disappeared with Rhaegar, I mean. Would you have expected her or someone like her to uphold them without even questioning their rightfulness once, my lord?”
“Lannister, my sister couldn’t have –”
“Oh, she took part in a tourney, she might as well have wanted to. Don’t look at me like that, we all know who the knight of the Laughing Tree was. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that I took a vow, among the rest. That vow was to protect Rhaegar’s family.”
And then he sees that Stark is finally understanding where he’s aiming at.
“Lannister, are you seriously saying that –”
“Lord Stark, I’m saying that I swore that goddamned vow, and I couldn’t keep it because I was too busy making sure Aerys wouldn’t burn King’s Landing entirely, and I know it’s my father’s fault if the other two died. I never wanted it. I would have stopped it if I could. I couldn’t. I wake up at night because I dream about what Clegane did to those poor children. I can’t do anything for them now. But he is Rhaegar’s family, and I’m not going to tell a soul, as long as you let me keep my damned oaths.”
For a long moment, they stare at each other, and Jaime knows Stark hadn’t even remotely imagined it could go like this.
“Ser, have you just said –”
“I’ve just said that it looks like your supposed bastard son is my last chance at honor, which I will only know about, and if you’ll let me keep my goddamned vow you shall be surprised at how much I can not be an oathbreaker, Lord Stark. I’m still in the Kingsguard after all, am I not?”
“I don’t think –”
“Let him,” Catelyn finally says, and Jaime releases a breath he hadn’t known he had been holding.
“I’ve – I’ve talked to him a while ago,” Catelyn says. “I knew about the Mad King actually, but I figured he would rather tell you himself. I think he means it. And – my lord, I understand why you wanted to keep it secret, and I know we barely know each other, but he does have a point. Were you planning on keeping it a secret forever?”
“… The least people in the know the better, my lady,” Stark says. “After all, I couldn’t let you be a complicit in treason.”
She shakes her head, holding her own baby tighter to her chest. “Fine,” she agrees, “but – didn’t you think that maybe I would have felt better knowing that you did not betray me not even a moon after we married?” She replies quietly, and Stark finally seems to notice where he got it wrong – he does look pained at that.
“My lady,” he says, “I’m honestly sorry, but it seemed like the best course of action.”
“Maybe, but – I suggest you let him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Ned, as much as this revelation changes my feelings about him and about your admittedly strange behavior, given your reputation, I think people might get suspicious if I start playing mother with him, too.” Jaime can hear also, never mind that I spent months pretending that child didn’t exist, you can’t ask me to change completely at once, but he keeps his mouth shut. “And of course you should be his father, I will not stop you from that and I never would, but you won’t be there all the time. Neither will his brother, I suppose. And I would not feel too happy knowing that he’d have no one if you’re not there. Never mind that right now he is technically complicit, too, and if he wanted to sell you out he wouldn’t have come here telling you he knew.”
“Thank you,” Jaime interrupts.
“You’re welcome,” Catelyn tells him, and then puts a hand on Stark’s wrist as she sits down next to him. “Ned, really, he’s just told you he’d give his life for that baby. He slew a madman who might have killed you and the entire city. And you were planning to lie about… Jon for the foreseeable future. Why shouldn’t he? At least he wouldn’t wander the godswood without a purpose for the entire time he’s to be here.”
Jaime wishes he could say she’s wrong, but she’s not, so he keeps his mouth shut.
Stark looks at the both of them, then obviously at the baby, then up at him, and Jaime does not look down lest he loses his battle, and he knows it would happen.
“Ser, I’ll be watching you very closely,” Ned says, “but then again I guess he could do worse than having the best swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms watching his back, if you meant it.”
For a moment, Jaime doesn’t even process it. “Wait, have you just said –”
“I shall keep an eye on how you keep your vows, Ser, but yes, I’ve just told you that if that’s what you want, please do go ahead with it. The gods know that child will have a hard life regardless, he might as well have a sworn sword with.”
Jaime doesn’t know who’s more surprised, him or Stark, when he genuinely grins at him and says, I will keep them, my lord, and means every damned word of it.
The maids send him very weird looks when he tells her that he wishes to move in the child’s room, or the contrary. In the end, they move him to his, because it’s apparently the best of the two. They aren’t too convinced when Jaime tells them that it’s because they’re terribly incompetent and he wants his sleep and he can calm the kid down more than them, even though it’s true.
It’s no matter. They don’t have to know, do they?
Gods, on one side he knows he’s just committed treason and his father would have his head for this, or close to it, and he knows that he’s just pretty much condemned himself to stay in this cold hell of a kingdom for the rest of his life, but –
He never wanted to be an oathbreaker. And if Arthur died for that child, for good or bad, maybe this is his last and only chance of living up to Arthur’s name – he can’t have knighted me for nothing, can he?
He takes off his cloak and clothes, changing into nightwear, and then he hears the usual, quiet sobbing coming from the crib that has just been pushed into the corner of his room.
He leans down and pulls Jon to his chest again, thinking Aegon wasn’t so much older than you when –
He never finishes the thought. He can’t. He sits back on his bed, looking down at the child on his lap, who’s definitely trying to put handfuls of his shirt into his mouth. He thinks, if he hadn’t been at the Tower of Joy, he’d have met that same end.
“There’s really nothing of Aerys in you, is it?” He whispers, knowing he’ll never get an answer, but honestly, the kid has such a sweet look to him, it’d be difficult to imagine that.
And he hasn’t cried since Jaime picked him up.
He’s probably being a colossal idiot all over again, he knows, but then again –
Has anyone tried to get him back? He’s been here for months, Tyrion is the only one writing to him and he doesn’t mention any effort to make him come back to King’s Landing. From what he hears, Cersei is enjoying being Queen, and of course she is, whether he’s in the Red Keep or not. His father hasn’t written him once.
It’s not as if his vows mean anything. Sure they don’t.
I wanted to be like Arthur Dayne once, he thinks again. He laughs without being able to help it when Jon tries to somehow stand up and his tiny fists grasp at his night shirt.
No, he thinks, no, I’m not letting anything happen to you as long as I live.
Of course, Ned Stark’s around most of the time. Jaime merely shadows him. He shadows him when he brings both brothers outside or when they spend time together, and if he’s not shadowing him he doesn’t refuse offers to take a walk with Catelyn, whose stomach is turning into a rounded bulge all over again.
“I hope it’s a girl this time,” she tells him after she’s obviously showing.
“Why, the other one was too much of a handful?”
“You wouldn’t believe that,” Catelyn laughs. “And what of –” She starts, not saying his cousin nor his brother.
Of course Jaime would know better than her, since whenever Ned Stark isn’t around his supposed child, he is.
“He’s not,” Jaime replies truthfully. He’s never been around a quieter kid in his life, and the fact that since he’s in a room with him he sobs pitifully a lot less than he used to before, and that was all the handful he could have been.
“The maids tell me you’re sleeping somewhat better,” Catelyn snorts.
“Wait, have you asked?”
“I inquire after my guests’ health, Ser. Well, that’s good your arrangement is working.”
Jaime doesn’t even look at her, but he knows he’s flushing.
“It might be.”
“My husband will come around,” Catelyn replies to a question he never asked, but he thinks maybe she heard it anyway.
“I know you’re worrying about that. He’s – he’s a good man. Maybe too stubborn, and I think he has to reconcile a lot of things from your story yet, but he will come around. I know that.”
Jaime really hopes she’s right.
If only because he doesn’t want Stark to disapprove of whatever he is that he’s doing, even if he cares little. He’s going to do his duty whether Stark likes it or not, but admittedly, it would be nice if Stark decided to get the hell over his issues with Jaime’s lack of honor and stop looking at him with distrust.
He does sleep better since he has someone else to worry about.
That doesn’t mean he sleeps well all of the time.
He knows it’s the anniversary of Brandon and Rickard Stark’s death same as Ned Stark does, since he’s gloomy for the entire day and speaks little, and Jaime remembers the day clear as rain, and he speaks little, too.
It doesn’t surprise him when that night he closes his eyes just to smell burned flesh that’s not here but that he had to smell while he desperately tried to think of Cersei a couple of years ago, and he knows he’s sweating and cursing under his breath, and he knows he’s dreaming but it doesn’t mean he can wake up, not until it’s done and over, not until they’re dead in the dream, too –
But then he wakes up with half a scream on his lips as he feels a tiny hand tugging at his own.
He groans and turns on to his side, to find that Jon – who, at two and something, can speak but won’t to many people, and if he does it’s to Ned or Robb or maybe him, but not more than a few words at a time, and can walk fairly fast but as far as Jaime knew could not exactly manage to get out of bed on his own (not when he’s become too large for a crib and the maids brought Jaime a normal bed that’s pretty damned high – as much as his own, which means it’s taller than the poor kid) – is pulling his hand downwards probably trying to wake him up in lack of better ways.
He also looks as relieved as a two-and-something year old can be at any given moment, Jaime thinks, and for a moment he thinks he might cry for real. Instead he sits up and leans down, picking Jon up.
“Hey,” he says, “I woke you up, didn’t I?”
Jon shakes his head. “Was cold,” he says instead, and Jaime is going to check if he has enough covers tomorrow.
“Well, that won’t do,” he replies, and the kid does feel kind of cold to the touch even if Jaime is sure that he woke him up. He raises his covers and Jon readily moves next to him, and Jaime doesn’t want to say he feels like someone’s just squeezed a fist around his heart same as every damned time this happens, so he won’t.
He miraculously manages to go back to sleep again and it’s dreamless, and when he wakes up Jon is cuddling against his chest and Jaime keeps an arm around him and stays there until Jon wakes up.
He’s definitely not cold anymore now, is he?
“This is embarrassing,” Jaime tells Catelyn not long later.
“What is?” She sounds amused, as she always seems to be around him these days, but if it means she will support him in his endeavor when it comes to keeping his damned oaths.
“I have a question for you.”
“What – what do you happen to sing to your son?”
For a moment, she looks very perplexed.
“Why do you need to know?”
“Because – because his cousin, or brother, if we prefer, doesn’t like to talk much but I sort of understood he heard you singing to him and he might feel left out, and while I wouldn’t ask of you to do it because I understand your issues with it, if you tell me maybe I could supply for you. Or for Lyanna Stark. Or whoever.”
Catelyn stares at him as if she still can’t compute the fact that he just asked that.
“My lady,” Jaime huffs, “should I remind you that I have a younger brother and it wasn’t too long ago that he was born? I’m not that useless with children.”
“I – I noticed,” she finally says. “And – it’s not you, I just – I sing whatever runs through my mind. It’s not always the same thing.”
“Ah,” Jaime says, “then I guess he’ll live with the songs I know being fairly inappropriate, I suppose.”
“Catelyn, I’m not going to sing him the Rains of Castamere, but I’ve been around soldiers for a long time. I think The Bear and the Maiden Fair is the least bawdy one I can remember.”
“Oh,” she says, “I get the problem. Still, you shall do perfectly, I think.”
“I wish,” Jaime mutters, and lets the matter drop there.
That evening, he’s trying to remember if he knows anything more suited than songs he used to belt in taverns on his rare leaves from the Kingsguard as he helps Jon into his night clothes, and shouldn’t he be worried that when it comes to the ones he wears during the day he picks always dark colors, when there’s a knock on the door.
“Uhm, can we help you?” Jaime asks.
“I think,” she said, “that there’s nothing wrong if I sing them both to sleep and he’s spared your most probably off-key renditions.”
“I am not off key, but please do go ahead,” Jaime says, letting her in – of course both Jon and Robb are delighted, and Catelyn’s a better singer than he is for sure, and by the time those two are asleep in Jon’s bed she decides that she’s just going to let them be.
“Well, thanks,” Jaime tells her. “I mean, that was –”
“It was time I got over myself,” Catelyn cuts him. “It’s not as if it’s his fault and I’ve had a year to make peace with it. I don’t think I can be his mother, never mind that people might start being suspicious at this point, but it doesn’t mean I have to make him miserable.”
“You can be the nice aunt,” Jaime tells her – she snorts and asks him how can he manage to actually make anyone laugh with those lines, but she’s laughing, so Jaime ignores the question and decides that things are going a lot better than he ever thought they might.
He’s not too surprised when Jon asks the question at the ripe age of a moon past his fourth name day, nor that it’s what makes Ned Stark sort of come around.
At least Catelyn was apparently fairly laid back when she had to explain him what a bastard was, and given that she does come over sometimes to spend the evening with the both of them – always with Robb, but does it even matter when she does –, he had figured it would go over fairly well.
“Why I don’t have a mother?”
Of course Jon would ask him. He has a feeling Lord Stark isn’t going to be much forward on the topic, and Jaime knows he cannot tell him it’s Lyanna Stark.
“Hasn’t your father told you?”
“He said he couldn’t tell me.”
Jaime sighs. “Some people don’t have mothers. I don’t have a mother.”
“No. She died having my brother when I was seven.”
Jon’s large, grey eyes suddenly turn sad. “I’m sorry,” he says, and he obviously means it, bless him.
“It’s all right,” Jaime says, “it’s been a long time ago. And I – I think she’d have wanted my brother alive. No one can know, but I think she would’ve. Anyway, he grew up plenty all right and he never had one, either.”
Jon nods solemnly, even if Jaime can’t help thinking, not thanks to my father or sister, and where did that come from?
They’re having this conversation in the godswood and Jon doesn’t notice that Stark’s behind one of the heart trees – he was probably taking a stroll and run into them. But then –
“Do you know who she was?” Jon asks.
“No,” Jaime lies, even if he doesn’t want to. “I’m sorry.”
“But – if Lord Stark is my father and she’s not your sister or anything –”
“Let me guess, the question is who am I? Don’t look down, you shouldn’t look down on anyone.”
Jon looks up at him and Jaime leans closer.
“I’m your knight,” he whispers, though not so low that Stark couldn’t hear, and Jon’s eyes go wide all over again.
“Sure,” Jaime smirks, “did you ever notice people call me Ser?”
“I did, but – why? Robb doesn’t have one.”
“Your brother is going to be a lord. Not many lords actually want to be knights, it’s a lesser title.” Except for me, I guess. “He will be fine either way.”
“But – the King’s children have knights. They’re the only ones,” Jon goes on.
If only you knew. “They do,” Jaime agrees, “but knights can pledge themselves to whoever they want. So, it’s the king’s children, and there’s you. Hey, everyone or mostly everyone has a mother, but not many people have knights. You can tell that to anyone who tries to make you feel bad about your mother.”
Jon smiles for a moment, but then his face falls. “Uh, could you be Robb’s too, from time to time? I mean, I’d feel bad if he didn’t have one.”
Jaime laughs openly, but of course that’s what Jon would ask first – he’s sweet like that, seven hells. “From time to time and if you ask,” he promises, “I don’t see why not. Sure. But I’m yours on loan.”
Jon quite literally beams at that, and given that he’s really not too prone to smiling the way his brother is it’s such a heartwarming sight, Jaime can’t really bring himself to regret his life choices. He ruffles Jon’s hair and notices that Stark is still behind the tree, but he’s… sort of smiling?
Wait a moment, Jaime thinks, but then Stark leaves and lets him be.
He comes back in the evening, knocking softly on Jaime’s door. Jon is sleeping in Robb’s room, they insisted for some reason Jaime didn’t quite catch but they let them share and Jaime is halfway sure they will share permanently at some point.
“Ser,” Stark says, “can I come in?”
“Do go ahead,” Jaime says, and lets him in. Ned Stark hasn’t been in here in years, differently from his wife, and so he hasn’t seen that there are a few fairytale books on his shelves and that his closet has a drawer full of child-sized clothes and that there’s a pair of scissors in front of his mirror, which he also uses on himself but not as much as he uses it to trim Jon’s hair.
“I – I think I owe you an apology or more than one,” Ned Stark blurts, and Jaime barely stops himself from asking, and how long did it take you?
“Well, I’m listening,” Jaime says instead. “Was it because you heard me today?”
“Partly,” Stark says. “I mean, that would have convinced anyone that you only have honorable intentions when it comes to Jon unless you’re an exceedingly good actor, and I don’t think you are. And my wife has been taking your side in this discourse for a while, and she’s fairly convincing when she wants to. I just – I didn’t realize how I misjudged you until you pointed out that you weren’t that much older than my sister, and I don’t know what I’d have done in your place. But I know you had to take a decision no one should have to take. And I can see that you mean what you say, whether it’s insulting me or not.”
“Why, thank you, my lord. Took you long enough.” He could have avoided it, but he also couldn’t resist.
“You will find, Ser, that I might be a tad too stubborn when someone’s honor is taken into account.”
“My lord, I had imagined. I also might be a tad too stubborn when someone doesn’t even bother to ask me why I did something.”
Stark has the decency to look ashamed. “It just – it didn’t look – it’s just, we thought we’d bring Aerys to justice. I wanted to bring Aerys to justice, not to kill him.”
“You’d have found it mildly amusing,” Jaime snorts, “he was completely, raving, stark mad. You couldn’t have brought him to justice. He’d have killed you first or killed himself. I would know that, since he always personally made sure I’d guard him only and not his family and Rhaegar didn’t want him to lose a crutch since he feared my father and figured that if he kept me close then nothing would happen to him.”
Stark nods and runs a hand over one of the fairytale books Jaime has on his shelves. “You’re taking this very seriously, aren’t you?”
Jaime shrugs. “I’ve read thousands of those things to my brother back in the day, until I realized he was quicker than I was so I told him we should switch. It’s nothing I haven’t done already. But yes. I’m taking it very seriously. I meant my oaths. The fact that Aerys didn’t deserve it doesn’t mean I’m not willing to keep them with people who do, and – there isn’t a inch of Aerys in that child. Of course I’m taking it seriously. And even if no one outside this castle knows that I am trying to be the honorable person, I don’t even care.”
“Gods,” Ned Stark sighs, “I really was wrong about you.”
“Apologies accepted, my lord, as long as you stop looking at me like my dishonorable person is sullying your household. Well, fine, you haven’t done it for a while, but –”
“No, I deserved it. It’s – it’s all right. And – I’m glad he’s taken to you, anyway.”
“If you never figured it out, I would have done the same as I am doing now, and I would have been his father, but I don’t know if Cat would have warmed up to him as much as she has now. And I don’t know how happy he might have been when I wasn’t there, or his brother wasn’t. I wouldn’t have thought you’d be that good with children, admittedly.”
“Appearances lie, my lord. I told you, if you asked my brother who was the one out of his siblings who was good with children, he wouldn’t have said Cersei.”
Stark seems to consider the option with a somehow disturbed look, then he shakes his head.
“Regardless,” he says, “I – I won’t be as hostile as I’ve been until this moment from now on.”
“It’s all right,” Jaime tells him, “though I’ll appreciate it. Still, I should probably tell you that I’m also glad I figured it out, but purely selfish reasons.”
“I mean, before I did, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think of anything but Aerys. Or the entire realm taking me for the worst kind of oathbreaker. Or my father murdering Elia and the children. At times, I just felt like I couldn’t handle any of that. Then I found out I could still keep some of those damned oaths and – never mind. I owe that child for having kept my wits about myself without having turned as mad as Aerys, of course they’re purely selfish reasons.”
They stare at each other for a long moment, then Stark actually smiles at him?
“Ser,” he says, “do you think I also didn’t doubt for a moment about sacrificing my honor for purely selfish reasons, since I couldn’t ever risk the life of what I had left of my entire family, not counting a brother in the Night’s Watch?”
“Maybe,” Jaime says tentatively, “maybe we were more similar than we had thought, weren’t we?”
“Just keep on being his knight, Lannister.”
Stark leaves the room and Jaime releases a breath he really hadn’t known he had been holding and lets himself fall on the bed – well, that was – that wasn’t what he had imagined, but he feels so relieved he could burst with it.
That is, until Jon barges into the room the next morning.
“But if you’re my knight,” he says, “should I be your damsel or something?”
Jaime laughs for a good couple of minutes before shaking his head – Jon is looking at him as if he can’t figure out what was so funny about it.
“Tell you what,” Jaime wheezes, “I don’t think you’d make a very good damsel, but you can be my squire in a few years if you’d like.”
“Would you teach me how to best Robb in fights?”
“Sure I would, I’m in your service now, right?”
No, he thinks as Jon puts him off his balance by throwing his tiny arms around his neck, he wouldn’t change his choices for the world.
“I have to go to the Iron Islands,” Stark says as he shows Jaime the raven. “We can’t let Greyjoy assume that he can secede at will.”
“I understand,” Jaime says. “Does that raven say I should come with?”
“Actually, the raven doesn’t mention you at all.”
I’m not surprised, Jaime thinks. Tyrion is still the only person who writes him regularly. He hasn’t heard from his father or sister in years.
“So, what do you want to do?” Stark asks. “You can go or you can stay. Though I am sure my wife would rather have you staying, and all things considered, maybe so do I.”
“My wife likes your company and I’d rather leave knowing there’s someone capable defending the children, especially with another on the way.”
Jaime shrugs. “I’m staying. I don’t really care for fighting another war against another madman. You can have it, for all I care.”
“Very well,” Stark nods, “then I hope to see you as soon as this war lets me come home.”
How far have we come, Jaime thinks, and nods as he shakes Stark’s hand.
“Is there a chance he might not come back?” Catelyn asks him tiredly a moon after Stark is gone. They’re the only two people in her room, sitting near the fire with – Jon and Robb are most probably sharing Robb’s bed, but they’re also bunking with Sansa since it’s cold and they figured keeping them all in the same place would make the room warmer. Jaime’s drinking some fairly passable wine, for being from the Stormlands, while Catelyn isn’t, but then again she wouldn’t, not when she’s having her third child in two moons at most.
Jaime shrugs. “The Iron Islands don’t really have an organized army or anything. Most of them are bloody pirates. I highly doubt Lord Greyjoy has a chance in hell of winning his quest for independence. Their soldiers are also not adjusted to fighting on the ground. Unless he’s really unlucky, he should come back.”
She nods, her hands going to his stomach. “I hope you’re right.” It’s obvious she isn’t telling everything, but Jaime thinks he knows what the rest of the question was.
“Catelyn, I never swore myself to him. If he dies, I’m going to stay exactly where I am, unless you’d want Jon to foster somewhere else –”
“Robb would hate me for the rest of his days if I did that, and I wouldn’t want it either, not when I know Ned didn’t find someone else just after marrying me. I doubted he would, but – never mind. Well, that’s what I’d have wanted to hear,” she declares, and says nothing more on the topic.
He doesn’t tell her that it had made something inside him feel warmer at that admission
(at least someone who’s not Tyrion wants me somewhere)
and finishes his wine.
Stark should better come back, he thinks, but even if he doesn’t, he’s not going anywhere.
Stark does come back.
He brings back Greyjoy’s last son as a hostage, Robert Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon and apparently also some of the court, because they get a raven from King’s Landing saying the queen will come to meet the king at Winterfell before going back to the capital.
Stark arrives before everyone else though – he apparently took a faster ship. He asks for a talk with Jaime while his eldest son marches towards the Greyjoy heir, who has been sitting in the courtyard without saying a word since they arrived in the morning, with the face of someone who’ll drag the lad out of his silence kicking and screaming if he has to, which is – a thing Robb Stark would do, Jaime figures.
“Robert told me that it’s been enough time and that he might consider letting you go back to King’s Landing, if you ask nicely,” Stark tells him when they’re alone.
“If I ask nicely?” Jaime repeats, not exactly getting the damned point.
“Well, he won’t let you leave here just like that, I guess. Anyway, if you do it, he would take you back.”
“And your point is?”
“My point is, Ser, that I understand that you might want to go back if anything because your family is there, and while I’ll admit I don’t particularly want you to go because both my sons are smitten with you and you did good on your vows, if that’s what you want –”
“Stark,” Jaime interrupts him, “thank you for considering that, but I already told you, I killed Aerys because it was the right thing to do, not because I didn’t take my vows seriously. So, unless you want me to bring your bastard son to King’s Landing along, and I don’t think you do, I will stay here.”
“I think the farther from King’s Landing he is, the better. So, you won’t… ask nicely?”
“My lord, I don’t think the King has understood something very obvious about me.”
“That you don’t ask nicely?”
“I don’t,” Jaime confirms. “I’m not begging him to take me back to King’s Landing when I don’t even want to be there. And I don’t miss the Kingsguard. I shall fulfill my duties here, thank you very much.”
“No one is stopping you then,” Stark says, and does he sound sort of happy about it?
At least he knows he’s not grating on his host’s nerves for good.
The next day, he doesn’t even bother being there when the rest of the parade arrives – if his father or Cersei want to talk to him, they can come find him. He’s really not in mind of being the one running after them.
Then Cersei finds him in what’s a most probably not so dignified position.
Well, he did promise Jon (and Robb, by proxy) to teach them some serious sword moves – which Ser Cassel does not approve of, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him – and Theon Greyjoy is also here because Robb has decided that he can’t be allowed to sulk around the castle and so he’s dragging him around wherever he goes, which is admittedly heartwarming, not that Jaime is ever going to voice that.
He did teach them a couple of dirty tricks that can be pulled with wooden swords, while Greyjoy stood by and watched intently, and then it kind of degenerated into some mock fight that had him and Jon versus Robb and Theon which also had somehow degenerated into Jon fighting them from his shoulders, which in turn made the entire thing fairly unfair since Greyjoy is shorter than Jaime so it was never going to work out –
And it doesn’t work out anyway because someone clears his throat from their left and Cersei’s standing there looking at him as if she’s wholly not pleased about how he chooses to spend his time.
Of course she wouldn’t.
“Cersei,” he says, smiling out of courtesy, “fancy seeing you here.”
“You weren’t receiving us with Lord and Lady Stark.”
“No one requires me to,” Jaime shrugs. “I’m not in their service or anything. Boys, you mind if I have a word with my sister?”
“You’re nicer than she is,” Robb declares as he gets down from Theon’s shoulders, “at least you introduce yourself when you meet someone you don’t know.”
Cersei’s mouth twists in a scowl and Jaime has to bite his tongue to not start laughing like a madman – he’ll have to teach Robb some extra dirty trick just for putting that expression there.
“Your father will know,” Cersei replies instead.
Robb just shrugs, absolutely not impressed with her, and motions for Jon to come with – Theon has already started leaving the scene. Jaime has a feeling the lad has understood he won’t want to be here for the following conversation.
“Can I ask you something first?” Jon asks in a tiny voice.
“Sure,” Jaime says, kneeling down, and if Cersei has to wait… well, she can afford to.
“Your sister lives in King’s Landing?” Jon asks, his voice so tiny that Cersei certainly couldn’t hear him.
“She does,” Jaime confirms.
“Does that mean you’re going back with her?” He’s obviously trying to sound as if he doesn’t mind either way, but he’s utterly failing, and he’s also sounding very displeased at the prospect, never mind that he also looks like he might cry at any moment, which – well, it’d have made anyone change their mind if they were set on leaving.
Except that he wasn’t, and he doesn’t think he could go back if he wanted to, especially if he compares what he has here to the prospect of going back to the goddamned Red Keep. The idea itself is enough to make his stomach turn on itself.
“Sweetling, I’m not going anywhere. Knights don’t take vows just for fun.”
Jon gives him a fairly grateful nod, then glances at Cersei who is staring down at him as if she’d like it if he disappeared right now and he swallows before running after Robb and Theon – Theon mutters something under his breath before ushering the both of them towards the castle.
Someone here has understood a lot, Jaime thinks.
“Well,” Jaime says, “it has been a long time.”
“Jaime, what was that?”
“Why, can’t I occupy my time making sure children in here are properly trained?”
“Be serious,” Cersei hisses.
“I’m perfectly serious. I see that regency is looking good on you.”
“Well, right now that scowl isn’t doing you any favors, but you look well-rested. I assume an heir is coming soon, is he?”
She shakes her head, then comes closer and her hand clutches at his shoulder. It hurts.
“Jaime, stop japing. You know the one reason there’ll be a heir with Robert’s eyes, if there ever is, is that you weren’t there to give me one.”
“Cersei, you haven’t written to me once since I was sent here,” he replies, pulling her hand off his shoulder. “For being your second half you surely didn’t seem to care overtly much, and don’t mention Father, because he hasn’t written me either. Tyrion has, but I somehow doubt you inquired after me, or he’d have told me.”
“Tyrion is a liar –”
“Not to me, he’s never been. So, Cersei, what is the damned point?”
“The point? The point is that you weren’t greeting us at the front!”
“I didn’t particularly care to,” he shrugs.
“You didn’t – Jaime, do you know how long it took me to convince Robert to pardon you?”
“Ah, if I ask nicely.”
“Well, of course I couldn’t convince him to just do it outright –”
“Cersei, maybe you forgot, but we share the same name. I don’t beg anyone to take me back in their service when I only paid them a bloody favor. I’m not begging him nicely to take me back to King’s Landing.”
“So what, you’d stay here out of bloody pride?”
“Maybe,” he replies, “but that’s not it, either. All of it, I mean.”
Cersei just stares at him. Well then.
“I found that Winterfell is not as dreadful as I had feared.”
“Not as dreadful.”
“It’s cold, indeed, but the lady is excellent company – just friendly, don’t assume I’m defiling her because I know it’d make Lord Stark angry –, the people are fairly refreshing to be with and I have responsibilities I quite enjoy carrying. Differently from the ones I enjoyed carrying in King’s Landing.”
“Jaime, you cannot possibly say you’d rather stay here in this frozen wasteland when we could –”
“Cersei, there hasn’t been a we since I never received one word from you during the rebellion or after. Especially when Tyrion informs me that you and the king are getting along decently.”
“But you’re the one that I want,” she pleads, but – her voice is pleading.
Her eyes are angry.
He wonders if he’d have noticed here years ago, or if he’s doing it now because he’s been away from her for years and somewhere he actually wanted to be, without mad kings to protect.
He moves closer and drops his voice. “Cersei, I spent two years of hell in King’s Landing and in the bloody Kingsguard, which I might have joined because I admired Arthur Dayne, but also because the payoff would have been being with you. And you weren’t there.”
“I couldn’t know –”
“You couldn’t,” he agrees, “but you could have sent word. First. After. Did I ever receive a letter? I was hoping you’d ask why I killed Aerys, I was hoping you’d ask how I was doing, I was hoping you’d tell me you were missing me, and I had absolutely bloody nothing. If Tyrion could write me, you also could. I understand why Father would not, after all he never wanted me to take the white even if he certainly didn’t complain when I killed Aerys and he could get you on the throne in exchange. But you? You, I’d have expected. And you didn’t. King’s Landing is no good for me, and I don’t want to set foot in that damned room ever again if I can help it. Forget it. I’m staying.”
She stares at him, as if she can’t believe a word he says. He stares back.
He’s kind of not surprised when suddenly she backhands him before moving back. “You’re serious,” she says.
“I’m staying,” he replies. “Enjoy your kingdom. I’m done protecting kings. I barely survived one.”
“Robert isn’t Aerys, it’s plain obvious!”
“Nonetheless, I was miserable every other goddamned day in King’s Landing, and here I’m not. Excuse me if I would rather keep things that way. Besides,” he adds, figuring that he might as well say it and make sure she understands it’s a done deal, “if I went with you I would horribly disappoint Ned Stark’s offspring. Especially the offspring who shares their room with me.”
“… You’re sharing a room with Ned Stark’s sons?”
“Just one of them. Not Robb.”
“You’re sharing a room with Ned Stark’s bastard?”
“He’s definitely better company than most of my old Kingsguard and certainly than Aerys.”
“That’s outrageous. He put you in a room with his bastard?”
“Cersei, I bloody fucking volunteered for it.”
The betrayed look she sends him would have made lesser men feel like dirt for having dared to disappoint her, but he’s had years to harbor resentment.
He can take it.
“You debased yourself voluntarily?”
He snorts. “His room was near mine. I could hear he was miserable. I also was miserable. I figured I’d see if worrying about someone else might make me less miserable. Guess what, it’s working splendidly, and I’m not ruining the arrangement for anything or anyone. Especially not when it means going back.”
He doesn’t tell her he feels cold sweat run through his back just at the mere fucking thought of setting foot in that castle again. Or in the throne room – he feels like vomiting when he thinks about that specific scenario.
Gods, he’s not giving up anything for anyone else, not even her, not when she hasn’t done a thing to give him a reason to.
He kind of expects it when she shakes her head and moves closer to him, her chest pressed against his own, grabbing his hands and moving them around her breasts.
Of course, he thinks, remembering how right it felt when he touched them for the first time, and how right it felt when she slotted against him and how it felt like kissing his mirror, how reasonable it sounded when she said, we’re two halves of a whole, and for a moment he is tempted to lean down and kiss her, but –
“Jaime, you must be japing,” she breathes against his mouth. “Come back with me. Here? Really? Sharing a room with a bloody bastard son? What kind of mad talk is this? You’re better than that. You’re – you’re my other half. I can’t live without you. Is a little pride such a price to pay for it?” she pleads, again, and what is she thinking, they’re in public, and even with that part of him does want to grab her waist and kiss her, but –
“No,” he says, and she kisses him anyway.
He moves back and breaks it off – the moment it happened, it felt different from the last time they did it.
It felt wrong.
“Would you beg Robert to let you stay here?” He asks, trying to back away.
“Let’s say I convince Stark to let you stay here for a while. I find you a room just next to mine and I send Jon to share with his brother. Would you beg Robert to let you stay here because I am here?”
“Jaime, I’m the Queen. I cannot –”
“What if you weren’t?”
She doesn’t answer, not the moment he asks that question. And then – “Of course, but –”
“You’re lying,” he snorts.
“You’re lying. I can hear it. You had to think. I didn’t have to think before you gave me the last reason to join the Kingsguard, when you said we’d be together in the Red Keep. Now let me ask you, if you really were my half, would it matter where we’d live?”
“It wouldn’t, because it didn’t to me. I just would rather be here now. And you wouldn’t. And I would have to stop doing a number of things that make me happy, while everything I did in the Red Keep didn’t. I’m not sacrificing anything anymore. For anyone. Not even you.”
“You cannot mean it.”
“I do. I’m staying. I’m not fucking begging Robert to drag me back to the only place in Westeros I don’t want to ever see again. Enjoy your throne. I left it to Robert for one reason.”
“Fine,” she spits. “Then I don’t think you shall wear white for much longer.”
“Good riddance,” Jaime says. “If Father wants me back at the Rock, I imagine I might go one day. But not now. I’m fine right here.”
“Are you sure you’re not fucking Lady Stark on the side, sweet brother?”
Jaime laughs. The idea is so preposterous, he can only do that. “She’s my friend, not my lover. The only woman I ever was with, is you. And as it is right now, I might as well keep that celibacy vow. No, I’m not fucking Lady Stark, and no one is going to believe you if you try to convince them of the fact. Are we done?”
“This isn’t over here,” she hisses, and stalks out of the courtyard.
He should feel sad.
Why does he feel free instead?
“Your sister,” Robb tells him later, while the three of them are eating in a corner of the room – Jon has to be there because of his status, and Jaime went with him, and Greyjoy joined them muttering that he didn’t want to be anywhere the king would see him, and Robb came with because of course he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else –, “is not a nice person.”
“… I don’t think she is,” Jaime has to agree.
“But you are,” Jon says, obviously meaning it. “I don’t understand. Why is she so mean if you’re not?”
Jaime shrugs. “Who knows. Finish your food instead of thinking about my sister, it’s better for all of you.”
“Fine,” Robb agrees, “but she treats you wrong and I don’t like her.”
“She does what?”
“We saw you in the yard before, some,” Jon tells him quietly. “She wasn’t nice to you at all.”
He shrugs again. “I cannot disagree, I guess,” he says. “But it’s not important. As long as she’s not nice to me, and not you, I can handle it.”
He hopes so.
Neither of the other three seems to convinced, but they go back to their food and Jaime thinks that no, he wouldn’t change this for anything.
Especially a free pass back to King’s Landing.
King Robert obviously expected him to beg to be taken back.
Jaime just smirks and tells him he quite likes this Winterfell arrangement and no, he doesn’t wish to come back to the capital.
Of course, since he’s not begging for it, the king doesn’t press. Cersei looks like she’s seething, but Jaime can’t find it in himself to give a damn about it – she can seethe as much as she likes, he took his decisions also because of her and she can live with it.
“I think,” the king says, “that then it’s a bit redundant for you to be on the Kingsguard, Ser. Since you aren’t where you’re supposed to be.”
Jaime figures it’s fair. He shrugs his white cloak off his shoulders. “Very well. Then you’re free to appoint someone else to it.”
He hadn’t known it’d feel so damned liberating.
“But,” Jon asks him later during dinner, as they sit in the exact same arrangement as during lunch, “if you’re not in the Kingsguard anymore, you aren’t a knight anymore?”
“Of course he is,” Theon replies before Jaime can, “hasn’t your master taught you? You don’t need to be in the Kingsguard to be a knight.”
True, Jaime thinks, even if it would technically release me from the vows I swore.
But I don’t think I want to be.
“He’s right,” he says, “I’m still one. And I’ll be one with less obligations.”
“Like what?” Robb inquires.
Jaime stuffs a piece of bread into his mouth. Theon’s cheeks go slightly redder, and Robb notices.
“Like what?” Robb asks him.
Theon groans. “Let’s say I think he could take a wife if he so wished, and he couldn’t before. At least. Am I wrong?”
“No,” Jaime confirms, “but I don’t see any wives on the horizon, and Lady Stark will have your hide if you don’t finish your food.”
Robb seems to understand that the conversation is done, and he goes back to his food.
Later, though –
“You should get a wife, though,” Jon says from the other corner of their room.
“You should,” Jon says. “I mean, my father is happy with – Lady Stark, isn’t he? And marrying someone makes you happy, and you should get one.”
“Why, because that’d make me happy? I’m plenty all right now,” Jaime laughs.
“Well, sure, but you still should. A nice one, though, not like your sister. Sorry, I shouldn’t have –”
“Jon, she’s not a nice person. I get it. Don’t worry, I promise that if I ever find a woman I want to marry I will consider it.”
Jon seems satisfied with it and rustles a bit in his bed – he’s obviously turned his back on him and went to sleep.
As if, Jaime thinks, he’s not going to find any woman he wants to marry, but it’s not his main worry. He’ll live. Never mind that who’d marry him right now, given that he technically should be the heir to Casterly but is not going there anytime soon and he doubts he will anytime soon, never mind that he gave it up a long time ago so who even knows if he even is, but what is even going to do with a wife? He doesn’t have his own keep and mostly likely won’t go back to Casterly for a long time, he certainly couldn’t offer much in the bargain and what would he even talk to a lady about?
He’s fine where he is, really.
He does get a number of ravens from his father and Cersei in the following months, finally. He’s not surprised that they remembered that he’s in Winterfell just now. He burns them all.
One year later, he’s tearing apart the latest one when Theon Greyjoy out of anyone shows up from behind one of the heart trees next to the one he was sitting on.
“Ser,” he says, obviously heading for the other direction, but he looks kind of troubled.
“If you wanted to sit down, you can. I haven’t bought these woods off.”
Greyjoy snorts and sits down against the bark of the nearest one. He looks kind of troubled. Jaime doesn’t know if he should enquire or not – probably not, it’s not his business. Then again, he can feel uneasiness coming from the lad, and he can somehow relate because wasn’t he in the exact same situation a few years ago?
“Oh, for –” Greyjoy starts, and then, “Do you mind a question, Ser?”
Jaime isn’t surprised. “Do go ahead.”
“How do you do it?”
“Lad, I fear I could use a bit more specifics here. How do I do what?”
Greyjoy huffs. “Live here and ignore letters from your family and go on with your life without feeling like you’re betraying them just by talking to anyone?”
Jaime had a feeling it was going to go there. “Well, I wasn’t a hostage and I’m still not one, but if your father had the horrible idea of trying to rebel again, I don’t really think your head would fall.”
“Oh, because Lord Stark wouldn’t do it?”
Jaime snorts. “He would think he had to, but let’s just say that after a conversation we had a while ago, I have a feeling that the moment Robb pointed out to him it would be idiotic, counterproductive and wouldn’t eventually solve anything, never mind that it would be a complete slight to him if he killed you when he’s spent the last year attached at your hip, he would reconsider it.”
“That’s a feeling, though.”
“Don’t worry, that conversation concerned a matter a lot more complicated than such an happenstance. And he had to admit he was wrong. If he could understand why I killed Aerys, he will listen to people telling him killing you would be idiotic.”
Greyjoy, thankfully, doesn’t press on Aerys.
“Fine,” he says, “but how do you do it?”
Jaime shrugs. “I realized I was a lot better off here. For a lot of reasons. I can’t say which, but they were plenty good ones. I hadn’t seen my father or my sister in years and I hadn’t realized how better off I was for it until I saw them again. I miss my brother, but at some point he’ll be able to visit, I hope. You’ve got to put yourself first and the only question you should ask yourself is, where do you feel better off? Here or there?”
Greyjoy laughs, but it’s so bitter it’s barely even one. “If only it was that easy. Neither.”
“Now that might be a problem,” Jaime says, standing up and leaning against the tree.
“It wasn’t that great on Pyke except for a couple of people, I suppose. And it’s not that great here except for Robb, and Jon somehow, too, I guess.”
“Who you like to be with best is also a very valid question. Ask yourself that,” Jaime sighs, thinking that he does miss Tyrion like a limb sometimes and maybe he should ask Catelyn if she can convince her husband to let him visit at some point, even if he’s halfway sure his father wouldn’t let him.
Neither of them says anything else, but Jaime had a feeling the conversation was closed.
Still, when he glances at Robb and Theon the next day while breaking their fast, he sees that Theon’s looking at Robb without the residual guarded look he always has had since he arrived here.
Look at me, he thinks, what has my life even become.
And then, at some point, of course someone would have informed both Robb and Jon that he actually, well, killed a king. Specifically, the king who killed their grandfather and uncle. Theon Greyjoy probably knew already but never said a thing, Jaime figures because he had noticed no one seems to hate him for it.
To their credit, though, neither of them looks betrayed or anything – maybe Ned Stark did really learn a lesson when it comes to not making your kids think honor is the beginning and ending of someone’s world.
“Why did you do it?” Robb asks him, and he doesn’t sound too judgmental. Just… curious? Jon’s face is kind of unreadable, but Jaime figures he’ll deal with one problem at a time.
Jaime considers lying, then decides that no, it’s not worth it. After all, the tide turned when he told Catelyn the truth, didn’t it?
“He was a horrible man,” he starts. “He – he hurt his wife. He hurt everyone he came in contact with.”
“He killed Uncle Brandon, too, didn’t he?” Robb asks.
“That, too. I – I was there. It wasn’t something I relish thinking about. Anyhow, at the end of the Rebellion, he was about to order a few trusted men to burn all of King’s Landing with wildfire.”
Jon and Robb’s faces turn utterly horrified. Greyjoy, in the background, looks disgusted.
“I – it was either that or everyone else would have died.”
“But why doesn’t anyone know?” Robb presses. “It’s – Maester Luwin says the entire realm thinks you an oathbreaker, that’s not fair!”
Jaime snorts. “I don’t care what the realm thinks. Or what’s fair. I’m fine where I am, honestly, but – you wanted to know why I did it. That’s why I did it. If everyone else thinks me an oathbreaker for it, I cannot really care less. Just, sometimes you can’t value oaths higher than real people.”
Robb nods forcefully and says that it sounds obvious. Jon says nothing, but later he tells him that he imagines it must have taken a lot of courage and he hopes he could have half of it one day.
If only you knew, Jaime thinks, and resolutely does not wipe at his eyes before telling Jon to go to sleep already, it’s late.
If only it could be that easy explaining it to anyone else, but – he also hasn’t seen Aerys in his dreams for a very long time.
He likes to think he’s over it.
Time passes. Nothing of import happens except that Ser Rodrik obviously doesn’t approve of Jaime teaching both his pupils dirty tricks. Catelyn and Ned seem to have indeed the most successful marriage in Westeros, given that they’re at the fourth child.
And then Ned gets a raven from Tarth.