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We're Only Taking Turns Holding This World

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Jaime kills the Mad King, and suddenly everything is different.

Cersei has been hidden away at Casterly Rock for the duration of the Rebellion, locked up with Tyrion, her sour-faced septa, and witless Uncle Kevan while her father marches the Lannister forces to King's Landing. No one will tell her anything, acting as if she is some dim child, but Cersei is not stupid; she understands that King Aerys is keeping Jaime by his side to keep her father in line, and it makes anxiety knot in her stomach and bile sting her throat. There is no one better with a sword than her twin brother, and, if it came to a duel, Jaime would win.

But everyone knows Aerys Targaryen fights his battles with wildfire, and even a Lion of Lannister can burn.

A raven arrives from the capitol, and Cersei is suddenly forced into a litter with her best gowns with strict instructions to make herself as beautiful as possible. She wears a silk gown to bring out the green in her eyes, twists her golden curls and pins them up, wears the pendant Uncle Gerion gave her which once belonged to her grandmother. Cersei does not need to be told why she has been summoned; she understands long before her father ever explicitly makes the promise.

“You are going to be queen.”

Robert Baratheon is a handsome man: tall, black-bearded, and fierce. Cersei shivers at the way he looks at her, hunger in his blue eyes, and she thinks he is not as beautiful as Rhaegar was, but there is something far more masculine about him. She simpers and giggles like a silly maid, resisting the urge to smile with pride at the way her father seems to approve, and Cersei waits for the official betrothal.

And then King Robert announces he is going to marry Lady Catelyn Tully of Riverrun, and Cersei realizes she is, once again, being passed over for a woman who is not as beautiful as she is, who is not as smart as she is, who is not as accomplished as she is. Catelyn Tully seems much like Elia Martell was: quiet, demure, the sort of woman who would rather embroider handkerchiefs and wipe children's noses than do or say anything of true value.

Cersei knows she was built for greatness, not for the bolstering of some man's ego; if Robert Baratheon is as stupid as Rhaegar Targaryen was, Cersei hopes he ends up meeting the same end.

Jaime tells her she is too good for Robert anyway, that he is a whoremonger and drinks too much; he kisses her and caresses her, says he'll give up the white cloak if she wants and they can return to Casterly Rock together. Cersei knows it is a stupid fantasy, the latest in a long line of stupid fantasies from her younger brother, but she allows him to indulge in it as he thrusts inside her, spilling his seed on her belly.

She doesn't know that, as Jaime is tonguing her cunt, working her towards orgasm, her father is arranging a different marriage with a different high lord.

When she returns to her room, her father is waiting. She makes up a lie about walking in the gardens, but, if Tywin is suspicious, he doesn't say anything. Instead he announces, “You are going to marry Eddard Stark of Winterfell. You'll be wed in a fortnight before heading North.”

Cersei manages to choke out, “No, Father - “ but that is as much rebellion as she can stomach under her father's icy glare.

Eddard Stark is not golden like Jaime or loud like Robert; he lacks Rhaegar's grace and Brandon Stark's handsomeness. As Cersei stands in the godswood, barely able to hide her disdain at being wed outside rather than in a sept, all she can think is her father must be a fool if he thinks marrying her to the North is a grand scheme. Jaime looks as if he might draw his sword as Lord Stark removes her crimson cloak and replaces it with a grey one, but Cersei minutely shakes her head; she manages not to pull away as Eddard brushes dry lips against hers in the saddest excuse for a kiss she has ever received.

Cersei barely tastes her food, the rich dishes turning to ash in her mouth; she drinks too much wine, and her head is swimming by the time Robert begins to call for the bedding. The lords tear at her gown, and, by the time she is deposited in the bedchamber, she is wearing only her smallclothes. There is decidedly less fervor in stripping her new husband; he comes to her nearly fully dressed and blanches at the sight of her nudity. It offends her so deeply, Cersei meets his gaze defiantly as she strips off her smallclothes, revealing every inch of a body she knows is exquisite.

Eddard drops his eyes, and fury begins to fill her veins. “Do I not please you, my lord?”

He starts at the question, blinking in surprise as he eyes her warily. “You please me very much, my lady. I do not want you to feel uncomfortable.”

“The only thing which makes me uncomfortable is you seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

Eddard Stark is better looking without his clothes on; his body is bulkier than Jaime's though no less muscled. His chest is covered in dark hair, and Cersei feels a peculiar curiosity stir within her; Jaime's chest is smooth, his waist slim. There is a solidity to Eddard Stark which intrigues Cersei even as it frustrates her; there is no desire or attraction on Eddard's serious face, and Cersei hates the idea that he sees bedding her as a duty. She has no want to be bedded by him, but, by the Seven, she does not want to be undesired either.

He takes care to be gentle with her, and Cersei moans in feigned pain as he enters her; Eddard stills above her, and she is stunned when he clumsily brushes her hair off of her face with the backs of his fingers, whispering, “I'm sorry, my lady.”

Underneath the snow and ice, Cersei suspects her husband has a gentle heart.

It is not a quality she respects.

Cersei hates being pregnant and hates Winterfell more.

She has never been so far from Jaime, so far from civilization. No one at Winterfell seems to take to her, and Cersei does not understand their ways; it is always cold, everything is always austere, and Eddard does not believe in delegating authority to his steward or castellan. Cersei often finds herself alone, and, as her pregnancy progresses, she begins to fantasize about sending ravens to Jaime, begging him to come and take her away from Eddard Stark, from Winterfell, from Westeros even.

We can escape to the Free Cities. You can be a sellsword, and we will have a dozen children, she writes one afternoon before giving the parchment over to flames, knowing she can never risk those words being read by anyone else.

The child she carries makes her body ungainly, and Cersei hates the feeling of her body not being her own; she is carrying low and the crazy old woman Eddard has such affection for tells her that it will be a boy. Cersei flinches from her gnarled hands on her belly, reminded of the old wise woman from her childhood, but she begins to make clothing for a son rather than a daughter.

Her labor is intense and seemingly endless; by hour ten, she is convinced she is going to die, and Cersei is embarrassed at the way she shouts for her mother. She can barely remember Joanna Lannister anymore, but Cersei cries for her anyway; she shouts for her mother and Jaime, even her father, wishing for someone familiar, someone who would help her other than Maester Luwin.

Cersei is certain she is going to die in the birthing bed when Eddard enters the room. She is stunned when he takes her hand firmly in his own, and Cersei can see the genuine concern in his grey eyes as he assures you, “You can do this.”

Their son looks like her, like Jaime; he is golden-haired and green-eyed, but he has Eddard's chin and nose. Maester Luwin severs its navel cord, cleans him of blood and wraps him loosely in a cloth; Eddard has already stated his intention of naming the baby Robb, and, as Robb is given to her, Cersei is overwhelmed by the rush of love she feels for the squirming bundle in her arms.

Cersei loves Jaime more than anyone else on earth.

The love she feels for her newborn son is seven times that which she feels for her twin.

Robb is followed by Myrcella two years later, a peaceful girl with blonde curls and a giggle which brightens up the dreariness of Winterfell. Cersei is surprised by the way she takes to motherhood; it had never been a desire of hers, had always equated children and motherhood with the sort of vulnerability and weakness men used as an excuse to treat a woman as less. But, with the birth of their children, Eddard begins to thaw to her; he soon begins to consult her on matters concerning the running of Winterfell. She swells with pride the day, after listening to her explain the complicated political ties of the Westerlands, he says, “Sometimes I think you'd make a better lord than most of the men I know.”

Jaime is the only person to ever respect her intelligence, to recognize that she is more than just the pretty daughter of a rich lord.

That is the day Cersei stops calling him Eddard and starts calling him Ned.

He gets a child on her before he leaves to help Robert and Jaime put down the Greyjoy Rebellion. By the time the Ironborn have been beaten into submission and she has received the raven that they will be fostering Balon Greyjoy's last remaining son, Cersei has delivered another daughter. This one is all Stark in looks, and Ned requests they call her Arya.

Robert invites them all to King's Landing to celebrate their victory, and Cersei finds herself traveling south for the first time in nearly five years. When she sees the Red Keep rising in the distance, she feels her heart begin to skip beats in anticipation of seeing Jaime, of being able to hold him and be held by him. She doesn't think it a betrayal of Ned; Ned does not love her either, and, though they have developed a fair friendship, Cersei cannot see herself ever loving Ned Stark the way she loves her twin.

Jaime takes her with such force that first night, Cersei is certain she will be unable to walk the following day. When Ned comes to her in the morning, she hopes he cannot taste Jaime's seed in her cunt as she cants her hips up against his tireless mouth.

When Tommen is born nine moons later, Cersei does not see a bit of Stark in him, and she knows the truth.

Ned cradles Jaime's son as gently as he cradled his own, and, if Ned wonders why Tommen bears him absolutely no resemblance, he never breathes a word of it to Cersei.

There are many words Cersei would use to describe her husband, but spontaneous is never one of them. Ned is methodical, logical, irritatingly even-tempered; there is nothing impulsive or wild within him. It is why, when Ned pushes her against the stone wall of a corridor, kissing her passionately and pulling up her skirts, Cersei finds herself returning his kisses ferociously, wetness already forming between her thighs.

“What - “

Ned presses his mouth to hers as one hand jerks at the laces of her gown; his lips slide down to her breasts, capturing a nipple between his teeth as his fingers find where she is hot and aching. Cersei loosens the laces of his pants, shoving them down, and she bites his lip to muffle her moan as he thrusts into her, her legs wrapped around his waist, her back rasping against the stone.

“You're so beautiful,” he grunts against her ear, his breath warm, and it is only then Cersei catches the scent of beer, remembers seeing the large mugs the Umbers brought with them. “You're more beautiful now than the day we married. Oh, I love you.”

Cersei freezes at the declaration, but Ned moans, spilling his seed deep within her. His fingers find her nub, rubbing her to a quick orgasm Cersei can barely enjoy, and then she is righting her skirts, needing to put distance between herself and Ned Stark.

She has no such luck. He stays in her chamber that night, takes her twice more, each time spouting more declarations of love, praises of her beauty, and confessions of how he never thought he'd have this life but how glad he is to be sharing it with her. By the time he passes out, Cersei is ill with conflicting emotions. Ned Stark is a good man and has always treated her well, but she knows she does not love him the way he apparently loves her; she cannot, for her heart has always firmly belonged to Jaime.

Something like guilt licks at her, and Cersei murmurs, “I wish I could love you.”

Ned's even breathing is her only reply.

Joffrey and Joanna are born within minutes of each other on an unbearably hot afternoon. Just as the last time a Lannister woman bore twins, the girl baby comes first, the boy baby following; unlike the last time, this set of twins have dark hair, grey eyes, and the lightest dappling of freckles.

Every Northern lord sends gifts and Robert does as well, but it is the gift which arrives in the envoy from the capitol, the gifts which could only have come from Jaime, which Cersei adores and places in the twins' cradle. She has not seen the ragged crimson blanket with a golden lion on it since she was a child and Lord Tywin threatened to burn it if Cersei did not stop keeping it with her; she never knew where Jaime hid it to keep it safe, but here it was now, warming her twins.

They should have been our twins, Cersei thinks and she imagines Jaime believes the same.

But they are Ned Stark's children, and even Cersei can admit how much her husband loves his children.

Cersei thinks about happiness a great deal.

As a little girl, she thought all of her happiness could be found being Rhaegar Targaryen's queen. She thinks of him now, dead 14 years, and cannot even remember his face. During the Rebellion, she thought happiness could be found being Robert Baratheon's queen. She scoffs at the idea now; Robert is fat, rumored to have 16 bastards throughout all the kingdoms, and poor Catelyn Tully spends more time at Riverrun with Prince Steffon and Princess Sansa than she does in King's Landing.

She is a woman-grown now, a mother of six children, the Lady of Winterfell; it is certainly never what she imagined growing up at Casterly Rock, but she loves her children with a ferocity she never knew existed until the moment Robb entered the world. Ned Stark has never raised his voice, let alone his hand, to her, and he often consults for her opinion before seeking out Maester Luwin or Rodrik Cassel. If she could not have a life with Jaime, the life she has with Ned Stark is certainly not bad.

Cersei wonders if every woman always feels so unfulfilled, if they ever find true satisfaction, or if every woman's life becomes a series of compromises. Cersei isn't certain she will ever be able to find a balance between what she wants and what she has.

And then the raven arrives from King's Landing announcing Jon Arryn's death, and Cersei thinks the Seven are finally answering her prayers.