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i. Ser Gerold Hightower

A small, instinctive panic fluttered in Jaime's throat every time the Lord Commander said his name. Even after months he'd had nothing worse from his brothers than mild corrections, yet he couldn't shake the feeling that he didn't truly belong. Perhaps that was because of the way it began, with his appointment less an acknowledgement of his skill than an insult to his father. Jaime's dismissal from the Harrenhal tourney, in spite of Hightower's offer to go in his stead, told him everything he needed to know of the King's opinion.

Not that any of the knights of the Kingsguard had made him feel unwelcome. There was nothing frightening about them — no, that wasn't right. There were many frightening things about them. But they had accepted Jaime into their order and never voiced the doubts that must be prickling beneath their skin. He didn't feel unwelcome, exactly, but each morning he wondered if today would be the day they finally tired of this joke and sent him away. Or would it be the King who decided to expel him? All the better to insult Father. He'd dismissed a handful of Hands already — what would stop him going further, dismantling his Kingsguard?

By the end of their meeting Jaime was concentrating on sitting without fidgeting, rather than paying attention to Ser Arthur and Ser Jonothor politely bickering over schedules.

"The master-at-arms has spoken to me, Ser Jaime, about the obstruction you pose in the training yard," the Lord Commander said sternly, and all of the other chatter stopped.

Jaime's only intelligent thought in the past five minutes was that Ser Arthur had a very nice voice, even when he was just talking about times and numbers and other things that Jaime couldn't keep straight in his head. "The what?"

Whent smothered a snicker into his fist.

"Impossible to navigate the training grounds whenever Ser Jaime picks up his sword, he says," Ser Gerold continued. "No consideration given to space or the flow of traffic — who needs the armory, who needs to pass through."

"I've done nothing of the sort," Jaime protested. Was that true, though? This morning— this week— this month? He couldn't find any memory that would warrant censure. Perhaps a few weeks ago, when he'd lasted minutes against Ser Arthur — the reach of his sword cut a wide path — but then why was Jaime the one singled out?

"You've gathered many admirers among the ladies of the court," Ser Gerold said. Whent wasn't the only one who laughed this time. "They come to see you train, and they pay more attention to you than to anything else around them. They don't understand how Ser Willem keeps order, and he has grown quite cross over it."

"So talk to them about it, not me," Jaime said. "I can't control anything they do." How could this be his fault? He hadn't even noticed it happening.

"Many a young man would be pleased by it," Ser Lewyn said.

"No," Jaime rushed to say. "It's not— It's annoying." Cersei was the only girl he wanted, and she wasn't here. Others had never held his attention.

"You avoid them," Hightower observed. "There's no harm in talking to a lady — it's Spring, and we could all use some light-heartedness, I think. But—" this was going to be a significant but, Jaime could tell. "But, do not forget your vows. Do not let it become a distraction. Do not give any lady reason to expect more of you, or compromise her honor. That we will not tolerate."

"I understand, Ser," Jaime said, feeling heat rising in his cheeks. What would he have to talk about with any lady of the court? They were unlikely to have similar interests, and, in his experience, many were eager to simply agree with anything he said. He found it intolerably boring.

When Hightower finally released the meeting, Jaime couldn't hold his ire in for long. "How in the seven hells is this my fault?" he burst as soon as the room emptied.

Ser Arthur was the only one left to hear. He hadn't laughed earlier, but now he did. "The Lord Commander and Ser Willem are old friends, but they bicker like my grandparents." That was rich, coming from someone who'd just spent a quarter of an hour arguing with Ser Jon about the most efficient way to station the throne room with court in session. "Ser Willem always has something to complain about, and Ser Gerold only shares it if he thinks it's funny. He's not upset with you."

"And he thought it was important enough to mention in front of everyone?"

"It happens to all of us," Arthur said. "Oswell laughs too loudly, I spar with Prince Rhaegar too roughly, Prince Lewyn gets inventive with his weaponry and breaks things. You happen to have a lot of admirers."

Jaime felt his ears heating again. "And why did he have to say the rest of it?" he grumbled.

The tight smile tugging at Arthur's lips said he was trying not to laugh again. "Try not to get so flustered," he suggested. "It's endearing, but it'll only encourage them."

Them?

 

 

ii. Ser Oswell Whent

"Shy, are you?" Ser Oswell said. "I didn't expect that from you."

Jaime looked up. Ser Oswell's eyes darted over to the girl Jaime had just circled the courtyard to avoid.

"I'm not shy," he protested.

"Afraid, then?"

"No— I just don't care to—"

"Are you a maiden, Ser Jaime?" Whent asked with a teasing grin. "Is that why you're shy?"

"No," Jaime snapped, cheeks heating. "I've slept with a girl—"

"What was her name?" he asked.

Jaime stopped — his mouth must be hanging open like a dead fish. That was a question with no good answer.

"So you haven't," Ser Oswell concluded.

"You don't know—"

But Ser Oswell only laughed. "Joking aside," he said, lowering his voice, "you were so young when you were appointed." Jaime bristled, but Ser Oswell cut off his protests before he could start. "I'm not doubting your talent or sincerity. Only that you haven't had some of the experiences a man should. If it is something you should like to experience once, there are madams in the city who understand the meaning of discretion — I would keep your secret for you."

"It's as I said," Jaime repeated, offended. "I'm no maiden, I'm not interested, and I'm not afraid of girls."

"If you say so." He grinned. "Then you won't mind speaking to one?"

Ser Oswell was introducing him to every young lady in the gardens when Ser Arthur found them. "Jaime, there you are— It's inconsiderate to keep people waiting."

Jaime was almost certain he had no plans with Ser Arthur today. "What are you talking about?"

Arthur shot him an exasperated look. "Never mind that— you're late," he said, ushering Jaime away. Ser Oswell's laughter echoed down the corridor after them.

"When someone gives you an excuse, you should take it," Arthur murmured, but Jaime was too incensed to listen.

"Did you just— Did Whent tell you I'm afraid of girls?" Jaime asked, heat prickling across his cheeks. "I'm not, and you didn't need to come—" he sputtered— "rescue me, or whatever it is you intended. I'm not incapable."

"I don't think you incapable— the furthest thing from it. I have no doubt you could've endured, but I don't like to see people I'm fond of suffer." Heat flooded Jaime's cheeks again. "You looked miserable."

"Only a little," Jaime admitted.

He liked Arthur's laugh much better than Ser Oswell's.

 

 

iii. Ser Barristan Selmy

"You needn't fear love," Ser Barristan said.

Jaime barely bothered to restrain his groan. Not this again.

"Love — and restraint — makes us into better men. A lady may be an inspiration who drives us to greater chivalry and virtue, but it is not our place to go beyond," he said. "Still, it is... gratifying to attract her notice."

Jaime would rather march through the seven hells barefoot than have this conversation, but he didn't see a way out.

"You find our histories interesting — I've seen you reading the White Book, sometimes. Not many have any interest in it."

They were Jaime's heroes once, and he read hoping to see his own likeness reflected in the pages. Now he was just trying to make sense of it — how the pieces fit together, what part he played.

"Some of our greatest had a lady love as their inspiration," Barristan said. "Prince Aemon the Dragonknight—"

Did he really think Aemon the Dragonknight hadn't fucked his sister? That was one thing Jaime had in common with him, at least.

Ser Barristan was still talking — he went on to mention Ser Criston Cole and Ser Lucamore Strong and Ser Terrence Toyne, who had broken their vows, sullied their honor, and suffered greatly for it.

Greatness and darkness and everything in between — heroes were only men, in the end.

When Ser Barristan finished his lecture and left, Jaime let out a long breath of relief. "What the fuck," he whispered to himself.

"When it comes to love, I'd be cautious about accepting anything he says as fact," came Ser Arthur's voice.

Jaime flinched so violently that he almost fell out of his seat. Arthur was never very talkative after a long day, but he usually sat at that bench over by the window, quietly occupied — when he was in a good mood he played cyvasse with Ser Lewyn, and when he was tired he cleaned or repaired his armor and equipment. He seemed to like the company, the noise around him of people coming and going.

Today he had a book. Jaime shut his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to stop himself cringing into a little ball on the wooden floor. "Why is that?" he asked unsteadily.

Arthur silently closed the book he held. He thought a moment, and the corner of his mouth did the little twitch that only happened when he was arranging his words tactfully. "He thinks himself in love with my sister, when he has little understanding of who she is below the surface."

So he'd noticed. It was obvious, yet it was something Arthur had never acknowledged. "Does it bother you?" he asked, not adding, that he wants to fuck your sister.

"Why should it?" Arthur said, but he didn't sound completely unconcerned. "I know there will be no impropriety from him. He is dutiful to a fault, and in any case, Ashara taught me not to meddle long ago."

He hadn't actually answered the question, and Jaime didn't want to pry.

But he didn't have to say anything, it turned out. Arthur continued, after a long silent moment. "Sometimes, I worry. She found it upsetting when we were younger — realizing that there are many whose interest begins and ends with her beauty." He smiled, but that expression didn't come out quite right either. "You'd be wise to be wary of it, too."

"What, for Cersei? She knows — she finds it funny, I think. That people underestimate her." Or, at least, Jaime hoped that was why she sometimes encouraged the flirtations.

"Her too, I suppose — but no, I meant you."

Jaime bristled. "I am not a woman."

"I'm aware," Arthur said. His eyes danced as if laughing at him. "Women aren't the only ones who can have beauty."

 

 

iv. Ser Jonothor Darry

Ser Jonothor wanted to speak with him. Hiding emotions didn't come naturally to Ser Jon; it was easy to read his intentions on his face, especially in the company of their brotherhood. His childhood must have been a bit odd, Jaime thought, that he hadn't learned to do it.

Jaime managed to avoid him for almost three days before he caught Jaime leaving the stables, returning from riding with Prince Rhaegar.

"Walk with me," he said, without preamble, and then was silent until they were further from the bustle of the busy courtyard. "Don't let their teasing make you ashamed of who you are," he said then. "They mean well, but they don't understand."

"What am I?" Jaime asked, half dreading the answer. "And what don't they understand?"

"They assume that what they feel is so universal that they can't imagine what it is to be different," he said. "There's nothing wrong with you for not feeling desire."

"I— I wouldn't say that I never feel it," Jaime hedged, wondering how exactly his life had turned to this. "Are there people who never feel…?"

"It makes some parts of the vows easier," Ser Jon said.

Jaime stared at him a moment. "You've never wanted—" he squeezed his eyes shut. There were some things he never wanted to think about, and Ser Jonothor Darry's cock was one of them.

"Never," he said. "Stay true to yourself — don't try to force a feeling that isn't there. Especially not for the sake of their jokes. If you want them to stop, I can—"

Jaime shook his head vigorously. No, he didn't want Ser Jon barging in like a nursemaid to stop the others' teasing.

"I thought not. You'd do well to find another way to divert them," said Ser Jon. Jaime wasn't sure anymore if he was talking about the ladies, or about their sworn brothers. "You'll attract notice as long as you avoid them—" he was pretty sure they were talking about ladies— "and there are less obvious ways to accomplish the same ends. Watch Dayne. He pretends to be so oblivious that most of them have given up, yet he's so courteous that it would be difficult to take offense." He frowned. "Or at least I think he does it intentionally. It's difficult to tell, with him."

Ser Jon thought Arthur was difficult to read?

"Why are all of you making such a big deal out of this?" Jaime asked instead, trying to push the focus off himself.

"Had my life taken a different path— if I was so inclined, I could have a son your age now. That thought does not escape me. I think it is the same for the others."

Ser Jon wasn't quite as old as Father, and Ser Barristan was perhaps a little older. Ser Lewyn must be about that age, too, though he looked much younger. Ser Oswell and Ser Arthur were more in the realm of brothers, but Ser Gerold was old enough to be Jaime's grandfather.

"I am not a child," Jaime said. How many times would he have to prove himself? "And I already have a father."

Ser Jon nodded in acknowledgement. "You are not a child, but neither do you have the same experiences we have — and we have few to share them with. It's irresponsible, the way some of them are going about this, but they mean well."

Jaime was ready for the discussion to be over, but as they continued walking, he couldn't help wondering, "You've never loved anyone?"

"Never been in love— not never loved," he said.

It seemed a subtle distinction, but, Jaime supposed, an important one.

Over the coming weeks, Jaime noticed Ser Arthur did have admirers. They stayed at a distance, mostly — he looked intense, even angry when he was lost in thought — but in softer moments, some were brave enough to come closer. Like when Princess Rhaenys, now at the age when she asked questions as often as she drew breath, chattered at him incessantly. He answered each one patiently, and one of Princess Elia's ladies joined them for a moment.

Something about the way her eyes lingered on Ser Arthur made Jaime's stomach twist, and he almost bit his own lip when she touched Arthur's hand in farewell.

"She likes you," Jaime observed, as he fell in alongside. She was pretty, he supposed. A sweet sort of beauty rather than striking, like Princess Elia next to Lady Ashara.

Arthur nodded. "She's growing up so quickly," he said.

"No," Jaime said. "I mean Lady what's-her-name. She likes you."

"What?" Arthur glanced back. "No, she doesn't."

"She does."

"She's good friends with the Princess and with Ashara — that's all," he protested.

Jaime looked back. "She's still watching you," he pointed out.

Arthur kept his eyes trained rigidly ahead, and the tone of his cheeks grew slightly warmer.

"Did you really not notice?"

"It's never the first thought in my mind," he said tightly. "I'm not very interested in women."

Was he also like Darry? "You too?"

He slowed to a stop. "Yes," he said, hesitating on the word in a way Jaime had never noticed before. "And you?" He looked Jaime over, his gaze lingering just a moment longer than seemed natural, and for some reason that made Jaime's face burn.

Jaime shrugged, trying to keep the movement casual. "Mostly." Not entirely.

Arthur nodded, and they walked back up to the tower in pensive silence.

 

 

v. Ser Lewyn Martell

"I want you to meet someone," Ser Lewyn said, and they went into the city together one afternoon. Plain clothes, he instructed, and Jaime followed with a hood drawn up to hide his hair.

They went to a house on a quiet, winding street on Visenya's Hill and met with a woman Ser Lewyn greeted with a kiss.

Jaime froze, shocked, in the entryway. They both laughed at him.

That was how he learned of Ser Lewyn's paramour. She was kind, gracious to Jaime's appearance alongside Ser Lewyn. The way they moved around each other hinted at years of familiarity, and the quiet looks they exchanged between words spoke volumes of their intimacy.

"We have been lovers since we were your age," Ser Lewyn explained. She, too, was starting to show the signs of age — the lines of smiles settling into her face, a few strands of white peppering her dark hair. "She is not my wife. We will have no children."

"I have never expected it," she said, gently laying her hand over his.

"We have both accepted it, and are content with it. I have broken no vows."

By the most literal interpretation of the wording, he hadn't. "But they mean—" Jaime started—

"I know their intention as well as you do," Ser Lewyn said. "That we should hold no loyalty except to the King, and treat him as if he is as infalliable as the Gods. It troubles you. I see it."

"No," Jaime protested. "I am loyal to the King—"

"Was Ser Aemon the Dragonknight a hero?" Ser Lewyn asked, looking weary and older than his years. "Or was he as unworthy as the king he served? The songs never wonder that, but I find myself dwelling upon it. Are we any better than the orders we follow? When do we turn from man to monster, and how much can one soul bear? I fear for my niece, and for the babes. I fear he will put them in danger, and what will I be then — man or monster? I cannot say for certain."

Jaime sat, heart pounding, but couldn't find the words to contradict anything Ser Lewyn had said.

"It is our love that makes us men," he continued, tracing his fingers over his lover's cheek. "Do not sacrifice yourself to your vows, Jaime. Find comfort where you can — I fear there will be little in the years to come."

As they returned to the Keep and the tower, Jaime's stomach tied itself in knots. But Arthur — by the window as usual, stitching reinforcement into the straps that held his armor together — looked up with a smile when he came in, and Jaime's heart did a little flip.

When Arthur set his work aside and invited Jaime to come sit, his heart did the thing again.

 

 

+ Ser Arthur Dayne

He and Ser Arthur had night watch together, patrolling opposite ends of Maegor's Holdfast while the royal family was fast asleep. After the sun was risen, the others came to replace them and he returned to the White Sword Tower alongside Arthur, feeling so agitated that his gut coiled and tightened. Standing watch all night always made him feel a little ill from the abrupt shift in schedule, but this wasn't the same feeling. Not at all. Nor was his jittery energy the usual kind that took him in the hours of the early morning, born of exhaustion.

No. That too was different.

He looked over at Arthur, moving sluggishly through the morning gloom. Arthur was a creature of habit, always an early riser, but a night spent on duty left him more unbalanced than the rest. His hands couldn't find the right straps, and so Jaime helped him off with his armor.

"Thank you," Arthur said when they were both down to their tunics again, going to fetch himself water. Jaime watched him go — his slow, careful movements as he navigated the room, hands he forced to be steady as he poured water for them both.

Perhaps Jaime watched a few moments too long, enough that Arthur gave him a questioning look when he returned.

Jaime fumbled for an excuse. "Just thinking that maybe— maybe Ser Barristan wasn't completely full of—" Where was he even going with this? "—not completely wrong."

Arthur frowned. "About what this time?"

"Er—" Jaime regretted ever opening his mouth. "His advice, the other day."

It was a moment before Arthur seemed to remember. "What made you think of that?" he asked.

Jaime really hadn't thought this through enough before he spoke, and stumbled through his words. "Just— the idea that love—" he swallowed. He was starting to understand that he didn't understand at all. "Love could make us into better men."

"That's not what love is for," Arthur said, looking up. His eyes were so deep and dark that Jaime suddenly felt he might drown. "It's not to be used as a whetstone to create goodness — that, I think, comes from within."

Anything Jaime could say felt too petulant to put to words, so he didn't say anything at all. How, then, was he to become anything? Was he anything, anything more than he'd been born into?

"Do you think you are undeserving?" Arthur asked. He was closer now, looking up at Jaime carefully. "That couldn't be further from the truth."

He was close enough to touch, if Jaime was brave enough, but as he carefully took Arthur's hand, even that felt brazen. The flutterings of worry — that he'd misinterpreted — died as Arthur came forward to meet him. His hand slipped up Jaime's face, stroking his thumb over his cheek.

"Love isn't something you must earn," Arthur murmured. Jaime shivered, feeling the ghost of the words against his ear. "It is given freely, or not at all."

It was something Jaime thought he could learn to believe, given time.