Renly didn't realise it until he opened a bathroom cupboard early one morning and a pile of Loras' hair products fell on him.
It hadn't crossed his mind when he found Loras in his bed, because Loras had been staying the night more often than not lately (much to Renly's delight and subtle attempts at encouragement). He didn't suspect it when he tiptoed to the bathroom in the dark, picking his way along a path littered with a football (Loras), rucksack (Loras), and three pairs of muddy trainers (Loras again). But in the bathroom, kneeling on the cold tiles as he gathered the bottles of anti-frizz serums and conditioners meant for curly hair Renly grabbed the last tube of curl corrective something-or-other and grinned to himself, thinking, If anyone else saw this collection, they'd think that Loras actually lives here.
The idea made the smile freeze on Renly's lips and he remained there, still holding the tube in his hand, as another thought sprang to mind.
ARE we living together?
It was right around then that Renly started to panic.
It wasn't that he minded having Loras' things around – or Loras, for that matter, or else he never would have given him the spare key to his flat in the first place – but the sheer amount of Loras-related things was a bit overwhelming once he started seeing them. And once he started, he couldn't believe that he'd never noticed them before: in the bathroom alone there was Loras' toothbrush beside his own (they were both green, but Loras' had yellow trim), their favourite soaps were crammed into the soap dish in the shower, and their towels were hanging neatly side by side (one was grey and white striped, the other a hideously garish floral pattern that somehow seemed adorable because it belonged to Loras, and if Renly hadn't already been panicking he would've started now, because thinking something like that was just scary).
He thought he finally understood why he'd heard Robert laughing all the way in the kitchen that one time he'd dropped by and used the toilet. "I thought I was seeing double," Robert had said when he'd returned to Renly in the kitchen, still laughing. At the time Renly had assumed Robert was drunk – it wouldn't have been the first time that his brother had been drunk in the middle of the afternoon – but now he realised that Robert had been referring to the bathroom itself. There was two of everything. It was obvious just from looking around this room that two people lived there. How had Renly not noticed?
More than that, Renly now knew that if he went through his flat room by room he'd find bits of Loras in every corner and, if he was truly being honest with himself, that wasn't what frightened him. It was the realisation that they were living together – and had been doing so for a while, seemingly without him knowing – that he found so terrifying.
The idea almost felt too enormous for him to handle. Maybe it wasn't official, and maybe they'd never discussed it and maybe Loras was still technically sharing a flat with Margaery, but no matter how Renly looked at it he knew that he and Loras had moved so far beyond the occasional overnight stay that Renly probably should look into buying a second wardrobe because half of Loras' shirts were in a heap on the floor and the rest were getting horribly wrinkled, wedged as they were between Renly's clothes, and-
Later, Renly would fervently deny that he'd startled in fright and leapt to his feet, brandishing the tube of curl correcting gel as if it were a sword. In the doorway was Loras, with his hair sticking up oddly on one side and a bewildered expression on his face. He blinked sleepily at Renly, who slowly lowered his arm and tried not to blush under Loras' bleary-eyed scrutiny.
"I thought I heard something fall," Loras said. "I was hoping it wasn't you." He smiled and rubbed at his eyes, looking terribly endearing in the process. Renly had never been so torn between wanting to gather Loras in his arms and running away in terror.
He settled for finally putting away the hair gel and closing the cupboard door. "We're nearly out of toothpaste. I was looking for more and ended up knocking over all of your hair things instead." He glanced at Loras, who was resting his head on the doorframe and looking as though he might doze off at any moment, and finally gave in to his urge to pull him close. "I'm sorry I woke you," he said, and dropped a kiss in Loras' hair.
Loras wound his arms around Renly's waist and snuggled close with a contented-sounding sigh. "It's alright," he said, yawning into Renly's shoulder. "It's my fault, really. I've been meaning to organise that cupboard. I promise I'm not singlehandedly trying to keep John Frieda in business."
Renly couldn't help smiling at that. "Of course not. You wouldn't want to make L'Oreal and Pantene and all the others feel left out."
"Ha, ha," Loras said, though Renly could tell that he was smiling, too. "There's another toothpaste above the sink, by the way."
Renly checked and sure enough, there was the missing toothpaste. He didn't know if he should laugh or cry over the fact that Loras was better at finding things in his own flat than he was. In the end he decided to ignore it in favour of returning Loras' embrace. Even though he still felt like he was walking dangerously close to the edge of a precipice, Renly slowly felt himself growing calmer in Loras' presence.
Loras spoke again just as Renly was starting to wonder if he'd fallen asleep on him. "It's too early be awake on a Sunday," he said. "Come back to bed." He yawned again but when he tore his face away from Renly's shoulder he didn't look so sleepy anymore. "We'd better brush our teeth first, though," he added as his hands began wandering under the waistband of Renly's pyjamas.
Renly raised his eyebrows. "Planning something, are you?"
"Maybe," Loras said. His fingers dipped lower and lit a flare of arousal in Renly's belly, and after they'd brushed their teeth and crawled back into bed Loras managed to distract him so thoroughly that Renly forgot all about the moment of panic he'd experienced in the bathroom.
At least, until he woke again in a few hours and went into the kitchen to make them breakfast and realised halfway through flipping over the eggs that, before Loras had come into his life, Renly's idea of breakfast was coffee and a biscuit – if he remembered to buy a pack of biscuits, that is. And the coffee. And, of course, if he actually remembered to eat.
Just then the bacon sizzled in the pan, the kettle began to whistle, and the toaster dinged, and Renly realised that he was in deep, deep trouble.
"I'm doomed," he announced as he walked into Loras and Margaery's flat. He slumped on the sofa, an overly squashy contraption with too many pillows that always made Renly feel as if he was sinking into it. Today, however, he didn't mind and instead closed his eyes, welcoming oblivion. "Send help and chocolate."
He felt the sofa sink beside him as Margaery sat down. "You'll ruin your appetite," she said, though she sounded amused as she pressed a Kit Kat into his hand.
That was enough to get Renly to sit up again, suddenly feeling revived. "You're my favourite person in the whole world, you know," he said, stuffing half of the Kit Kat into his mouth at once. "Aside from your brother, of course."
Margaery smiled. "Are you going to tell me what this is about?"
"I was starving," Renly said between bites. Work had been a disaster and he'd skipped lunch in order to leave a few minutes early and visit Margaery before Loras came home. Renly had spent the rest of Sunday feeling anxious about their living situation, and despite the crisis at work it had remained a constant distraction sitting at the back of his mind all day as he waded through the endless stream of emails and phone calls, each one more panicked than the last. He needed to talk to someone about it and Margaery was the most sensible and forthright person he'd ever met. Renly knew that he could rely her to listen, and he also hoped that she would help him make sense of things.
Already she didn't disappoint. "You know that's not what I meant," she said, giving him a pointed look. "Not that I'd ever mind a visit from you, of course, but I do find it interesting that you chose to come over today, when we both know that Loras is staying late with the drama club. That could only mean that you want to talk about him." She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
Renly took a deep breath and told her the whole story from the beginning, from the avalanche of hair things in the bathroom to the eggs frying in the pan. He told her how he'd wandered around the flat on Sunday, noticing all the things that had somehow slipped his attention before, like the plants Loras had given him that now sat in a little row under the window, and the way Loras' books and DVDs mingled with his own on the shelves in the living room. Even the blanket on the bed belonged to Loras; he had brought it over one weekend and neglected to take it home, even though he had said at the time that it had been his favourite blanket since his university days.
Renly described how he could see Loras in every room, in every corner that he looked in, and that it frightened him. It frightened him to think that he'd let someone get so close to him, to burrow into his home and into his heart so thoroughly that he hadn't even noticed it happening. It frightened him even more to think that someday Loras might be gone.
Renly told Margaery all of this, and when he finally finished she smiled and reached for his hand. "Not everyone leaves, Renly."
But everyone did leave eventually, and that was the problem. Renly was used to being left behind. He could hardly remember his parents' faces anymore, and after they died it seemed that everyone else was in a hurry to leave him, too. Robert had left right away and even Stannis had left at the first opportunity, wearing one of his rare smiles. With each passing year Renly had learned – no, he had trained himself – not to expect people to stick around because, in his experience, they never did. It was better not to get too attached to anyone in the first place, he'd reasoned, and in fact it had saved him a world of trouble through the years not to expect anything different. And then Loras had come along, and had not gone away. At least, not yet.
Margaery was watching him closely as if she was following his thoughts. "You should talk to Loras," she said. "It seems to me that you're more worried about scaring him away somehow than actually taking the next step and officially moving in together."
"That sounds about right," Renly admitted.
"Then talk to him! You could have everything settled by tonight."
"No – not yet. Soon. I think." He gave a helpless shrug. "I don't want to push him."
Margaery smiled. "I don't think you could," she said. "He's at your flat more than he is here. I hardly ever see him anymore."
Renly's phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out to find a new text from Loras. Reading it made his heart sink, just a little. "You'll see him tonight. He said he's on his way home." He tapped back a quick response before putting his phone away. "Do you mind if I wait until he gets here? I just want to say hi."
"Of course I don't mind," Margaery said. She gave Renly one of her disconcertingly perceptive looks. "I still think you two should discuss it. What's the worst that could happen?"
I might scare him away and then he'll leave like everyone else, Renly thought. But all he said was, "Maybe Loras likes things as they are. He's never said anything about it either way. I don't want to pressure him into something before he's ready."
Margaery gave him a doubtful look, but it was a real concern for Renly. He knew that Loras had had a few boyfriends before him, but none of them had lasted very long and he had never lived with any of them. Aside from his time at university, he'd only ever lived with family; first in his parents' house and then in the flat he now shared with Margaery. The thought of living with his own brothers seemed like a nightmare for Renly, but the Tyrells were different. They actually, genuinely, liked spending time together. At any rate, Renly didn't want to pressure Loras into moving their relationship forward before both of them knew for certain that it was the right decision for both of them.
Margaery was kind enough not to push him any further on the subject, and the conversation moved on as they waited for Loras to come home. Fifteen minutes later, just as Renly was telling her a little about the disaster that was brewing at work, his phone buzzed again with another text from Loras: Where are u? I got us Chinese for dinner :) xx
Margaery leaned over and read the message over Renly's shoulder. "Didn't you say he was coming home?" She sounded positively gleeful, and Renly knew without looking that she was grinning.
"That's what he said," Renly replied, still staring at his mobile. Loras had called his flat 'home' and maybe that meant something and maybe it didn't, but it still made Renly's heart beat so fast that he wondered if it was going to leap out of his chest and onto the floor.
"If I didn't love you both so much I'd be so disgusted by how sweet you are," Margaery said, though she was still smiling. She pulled him into a hug. "Think about what I said."
"I will," Renly said, hugging her back. "Thanks for listening. And for feeding me."
Margaery sighed and stood. "All this talk about food is making me hungry. I suppose I should make myself something, especially since Sansa said she couldn't come over tonight. Something to do with your crisis at work, apparently." She frowned in the direction of her kitchen, looking as if she'd rather be anywhere else, and Renly couldn't help laughing as he put on his coat.
"Go home," Margaery said, though she was laughing too as she waved him out of the door. "And say hello to my brother for me. Tell him to visit his poor lonely sister once in a while."
After dinner they settled on the sofa, Loras with a stack of compositions to mark and Renly with his laptop perched precariously on the arm as he scrolled through his emails. Another eighty-five had arrived since he left work and Renly clicked through them now with a growing sense of despair.
"What are you working on?" Loras asked after they'd been sitting for a while in comfortable silence. It hadn't taken him long to arrange himself into his favourite position, stretched out along the sofa with his feet dangling over the opposite arm and his head resting on Renly's thigh. Renly had often wondered how he managed to get any work done like that, but when he asked Loras once he'd said that when reading the innermost thoughts of a bunch of eight-year-olds, it was better to be as relaxed as he could possibly get. Sometimes he read his favourite bits to Renly, who had to agree that Year 4 was a wonderfully imaginative – and wonderfully strange – place.
"Just trying to prepare for tomorrow. I've got a meeting in the morning with the Board of Trustees about the new exhibition. Someone started a petition against it and is calling for a boycott of the museum. I'd bet anything that Stannis is behind it."
"Why? Wait, that isn't Lysa Arryn's exhibit, is it?"
"I'm afraid so." Renly pulled up a file of photos and scrolled through them until he came across the larger than life-sized statue of Lysa herself, naked and sculpted into a very interesting pose that didn't look as if it was entirely humanly possible. He turned the laptop around. "Here's the centrepiece of the exhibition."
Loras tilted his head back to look. His grimace was perceptible even upside down. "It's beautiful but that is definitely more of Lysa than I ever, ever wanted to see."
Renly clicked through the thumbnails until he found the sculpture that was causing the most contention, the one of Lysa breastfeeding her son, who was not depicted as an infant but rather as he was now, at seven years old, in a perfect and unmistakeable likeness. He maximised it for Loras to see, and immediately Loras' expression turned into one of concern.
He sat up to look at it more closely. "I'm glad we don't have any school trips to the museum planned for this term. I can think of a few students that would make life really difficult for him if they saw that."
"I can imagine."
"Most of them are probably too young to be interested in this exhibition but I'll mention it to his teacher, just in case. Between us we'll put a stop to any trouble, if we see it." Loras had such a fiercely determined glint in his eye that Renly had to lean over and kiss him.
When he pulled away Loras was smiling. "What was that for?"
Because you're wonderful and I feel so lucky to have you in my life and I hope you never go away, Renly thought, but he all he did was grin and shrug. "No reason."
"Well, I'm not one to complain about surprise kisses," Loras said, still smiling. "Why do you think that Stannis is behind the petition?"
Renly turned the laptop back to face him and sighed. "He emailed me the other day, asking about it. He didn't say anything critical – well, no more critical than usual – but he was quite obviously nosing around for information."
"The fact that he emailed you at all is suspicious to me. He's never cared about your work before."
"Right. Not to mention that that new assistant of his, Melisandre, has been lurking around the museum for the past week. Sansa saw her handing out leaflets across the street this morning. And the online petition contains a whole paragraph of drivel claiming that Lysa's work is inappropriate and that the museum is irresponsible for displaying it. It's just the sort of thing Stannis would complain about. He always was a judgemental prude, but now he's a righteous one."
"He can't do anything to prevent the exhibition."
"You're right, he can't, but I think he'd be happy enough just to make everyone miserable. Or at least, make me miserable. Lysa's been in hysterics since this whole mess started. I spent over an hour on the phone this morning trying to reassure her."
"You're far too nice. Can't you ask Sansa to handle her next time? It's her aunt, anyway."
"Sansa's been busy enough trying to deal with all the newspapers wanting an official statement. Besides, I think she's a little afraid of Lysa."
"Well. I wouldn't blame her for that. She is a bit... intense."
"I'd do the same for any artist, you know. We're a museum. We have a duty to provide a safe space for creative expression. The last thing we want is for artists to feel stifled and to stop creating and sharing their work." He looked back at the picture on his laptop and shrugged. "It's hardly the most controversial piece we have in the collection and besides, I don't believe in censorship."
When he looked back, Loras was smiling. "What is it?"
"You're like a superhero curator," Loras said. "I'm just imagining you with a cape, flying through the museum and shooting lasers out of your eyes at anyone that dares to tread on the arts in any way."
Renly laughed. "That sounds about right. Except for the cape, anyway."
"I'll have to get you one for Christmas. It'll be green, with a shiny rhinestone clasp in the shape of a unicorn."
"If I don't find that in my stocking I'll be incredibly disappointed."
"And if you don't wear it to work at least once, I'll be disappointed." Loras nudged him in the side. "Come on, put your work away now. You've been at it for ages and I know you'll wake up early tomorrow to go over it again. You already know everything about this exhibition. At the meeting you're going to zap the trustees with your Supersonic Lasers of Artistic Defence and everything will be fine. Come and read these compositions with me. Tommen's writing about his kittens again and if that doesn't take your mind off things, I don't know what will."
Renly raised his eyebrows. "Supersonic Lasers of Artistic Defence?"
"That's the official term for them, I believe," Loras said solemnly. "I heard they sparkle when you get angry."
Loras poked him again. "Kittens are waiting."
Renly closed his laptop and put it on the floor. He wished he could shut away Lysa and Stannis and everything else just as easily, but talking with Loras almost made him feel as if he could. "So what did my nephew write today? Did he send the kittens on another epic quest?"
Loras wriggled around so that he was resting his head in Renly's lap once more. "Lady Whiskers was just abducted by the evil Boots and carried away to Catnip Tower. Ser Pounce is on their trail, though, and we'll have to read on to see if he saves the day."
"Well, now I have to know what happens," Renly said. He settled in to listen and had a sudden vision of spending every night like this, curled up on the sofa with Loras as they worked and talked about superhero curators and kittens on a quest, and it was hard to imagine why the idea of being a part of something so permanent had ever seemed frightening at all.
"If I had to look at Petyr Baelish's smug face for another minute I think I would have reached across the table and throttled him," Renly said as he and Sansa stepped into the lift the next day.
"He's really creepy," Sansa said with a shiver. Renly thought about the way Petyr had alternated between mocking Renly and leering at Sansa's breasts, and had to agree.
"At least the trustees are satisfied now," Renly said. "I didn't really think they'd actually order us to close the exhibition but it's good to know that they're on our side."
"Aunt Lysa will be happy," Sansa said. "Do you want me to let her know?" She looked incredibly reluctant at the thought, but it was still nice of her to offer.
"I think I'll email her," Renly said, "and ignore the phone for the rest of the day."
Sansa didn't even attempt to hide her relief. "Good idea," she said. "But first let's get something to eat; I was so nervous about that meeting that I couldn't eat breakfast, so I'm starving now."
Renly offered her his arm, which Sansa took with a grin as the lift doors opened and they strode out together. They'd become excellent friends, him and Sansa, after a brief period of awkwardness when she first started working in the press office and developed a huge crush on Renly. Her crush didn't go away even after Renly had introduced her to Loras; if anything, it merely magnified to include both of them. It was only after she met Margaery that Renly noticed that Sansa had stopped blushing around him (and Loras, whenever they met). Now she saved her blushes for Margaery, and Renly was glad because Sansa wasn't just the best press officer he'd ever worked with (she had a way of making anything sound positive so that even the most disastrous situation seemed no more threatening than a picnic in the park, at least according to the official statements she wrote for the museum) but she was a good friend, too. They had devoted many a lunch hour to offering each other advice on Life With the Tyrells.
"Are you looking forward to the Christmas party?" he asked once they were settled at a table in the coffee shop across the street from the museum. The exhibition would be going on as planned, there was no sign of Melisandre or her leaflets anywhere, and he was sipping a large mocha. It was turning out to be a great day.
"At Highgarden?" Sansa's eyes lit up as she dug into her lemon cake. "I can't wait to go. Last year's was so lovely and elegant."
Renly laughed. "I'm not sure how elegant it'll be this year when we're all dressed like fools."
"I had a feeling you wouldn't be too happy about wearing an ugly jumper," Sansa said, grinning.
"They're the stuff of nightmares for me," Renly said. He couldn't repress a shudder.
"I don't know what's funnier, the idea of you actually wearing one or the look of horror on your face right now."
"Loras won't even let me see what I'm wearing. I think he's afraid I'll unravel it in the night."
"I bet it lights up," Sansa said with an amused glint in her eyes. "And has lots of glitter and fringe. And googly eyes."
"No, no, no," Renly said. "I draw the line at googly eyes."
"You never know," Sansa said teasingly. "You might actually like wearing it. Christmas brings out the unexpected in people. It's like the year my dad gave all of us huskies. I thought my mum was going to divorce him on the spot."
Renly winced. "Five huskies? That was brave of him."
"Six, actually. He got one for Jon too." A thoughtful look crossed Sansa's face as she sipped the last of her latte. "They were really young and not trained very well, and they knocked down the tree, tore open the other presents, and ate all the turkey. We ended up eating popcorn and cake for dinner. It was a bit of a disaster, I suppose, but we all thought it was the best Christmas ever. Except for Mum."
"Hopefully there won't be any disasters this Christmas," Renly said, though he thought that years of 'celebrating' with his brothers had rather thickened his skin. There were only so many Christmases featuring Robert's drunken antics and Stannis' sullen glowering that one could endure before awkwardness developed a new meaning. That was when they had actually spent Christmas with Renly, of course, and didn't leave him to his own devices.
"As long as Loras doesn't make you wear a jumper trimmed with googly eyes," Sansa said. "Or worse." She turned her gaze to the pastry display, looking almost predatory. "I think I'll have another lemon cake now."
Renly pictured himself wearing a sequinned and fringed monstrosity with glowing googly eyes for buttons and shivered. "Me too," he said, and followed her to the till.
Loras showed up at Renly's flat on Saturday with a large carrier bag and an exceedingly happy grin on his face. "Ready for the party?"
"Is that it, then?" Renly said, eyeing the bag warily. "Remind me again why your parents are insisting on ugly jumpers this year?"
"I think they just wanted to do something different," Loras said with a shrug. "Also, they were invited to about a dozen parties this month and Dad said that if he was forced to wear another tie he was going to cancel Christmas."
"I suppose we can't let that happen," Renly said with a sigh. "Right, let's see it."
"Close your eyes," Loras said.
Renly did, and listened to the sound of the bag rustling with an increasingly heavy heart. "Can I look now?"
"Just a second," Loras said. "Okay."
Renly opened his eyes and stared.
"What do you think?" Loras said, beaming at him as he held up the jumper for his inspection. It was violently green with an enormous reindeer on the front, smiling to show two very prominent teeth.
"It's… actually not that bad," Renly said. He took the jumper from Loras and peered at it closely. No sign of fringe, sequins, lights, or googly eyes anywhere. He felt a sudden rush of affection for Loras, for choosing something that wasn't nearly as horrible as he'd feared. "I was expecting something much, much worse."
"Hang on, I almost forgot." Loras reached into the bag again and withdrew a pair of reindeer antlers, which he tossed to Renly. "Now go and put those on. I'll just get dressed in the bathroom."
"What are you wearing?"
"You'll see," Loras said, and cheerfully closed the door in Renly's face.
Renly had showered before Loras arrived, so he dressed quickly and spent a few moments trying to arrange the antlers on his head. They were brown and had little bells attached to the ends, and they jingled merrily as Renly twisted them so that they stood up at a jaunty angle.
Loras was still getting dressed when he finished, and as he approached the bathroom Renly heard the familiar clatter of his hair products falling out of the cupboard and onto the floor, followed by the sound of Loras cursing and muttering to himself.
Renly grinned. "Almost ready?" he called through the door.
"Yeah, just about." Renly could hear Loras scooping up the bottles and throwing them into the cupboard any which way, accompanied by a faint tinkling of bells. "Okay – what do you think?" He flung open the door and Renly stared for a moment before doubling over with laughter.
Loras' jumper was a darker shade of green and was designed to look like an elf costume, with a pointy red collar and a red belt stitched on the front. It was oversized and much longer than Renly's, and to complete the look Loras had added red and green striped tights, soft pointy-toed elf boots, and a matching hat trimmed with tiny bells. He struck an approximation of a model's runway pose and glared, though Renly could see that his lips were twitching with suppressed laughter. "Are you mocking my elfin good looks?"
That set Renly off again, and Loras soon joined in. "No," Renly said once he'd recovered enough to speak. "I'm just surprised that you didn't make me wear tights, too."
"I should have. You have lovely legs," Loras said. He grabbed Renly's hand and tugged him into the bathroom so they could look at their reflections together. "You look adorable."
Renly snorted. "Aren't deer supposed to look noble? Or majestic?"
"Fine, you look majestic," Loras said, laughing again. "Anyway, you're supposed to be a reindeer. I think those usually fall into the cute category."
"A reindeer with rabbit teeth, it looks like." Renly eyed the grinning reindeer appraisingly. "Maybe it's the Easter Bunny in disguise."
"It was either that or a polar bear knitted entirely in tinsel," Loras said. "It looked like it would be really scratchy, so I went with the reindeer-bunny hybrid. I tried to find the least traumatising jumper for you – or at least, the one that was soft and cosy."
Something warm bloomed in Renly's chest at the thought of Loras going to so much trouble for him. He wrapped his arms around Loras' waist and pulled him close. "Thanks for being so considerate," he said. "And for picking out the least worst ugly jumper for me to wear."
Loras grinned. "A little bird told me you were having nightmares about googly eyes."
"Don't listen to anything Sansa says. She's a press officer; she tells stories for a living. And doesn't everybody think that googly eyes are a little creepy?"
Loras just shrugged and pointed up. Renly looked and saw that he'd taped a sprig of mistletoe to the ceiling, and laughed.
"You're so sneaky."
"You love it," Loras said, grinning again
"I love you," Renly said without thinking. Loras looked at him, wide-eyed.
"I love you, too," he said. He seemed to be torn between surprise and delight, with amusement winning the day. "I can't believe we're saying this to each other now, when we're both standing in a bathroom and wearing jingly hats."
"I'm sorry," Renly said. He ducked his head a bit and winced when the bells jingled loudly. "I meant it, though."
Loras' expression turned soft. "Me too," he said before pulling Renly into a kiss that turned into another and another, each one more lingering than the last.
When they finally broke apart, Loras rested his forehead against Renly's and closed his eyes. "If I kiss you for much longer I won't want to go to the party, and then my parents will probably disown me."
Renly was reluctant to let him go but he had to agree. "Come back here later? With me?"
Loras opened his eyes and smiled. "I'd like that," he said, and slipped his hand into Renly's as they went to find their coats.
Despite the ugly jumpers theme, Highgarden looked as elegant as ever. Delicate crystal baubles cascaded from the ceiling, making it look as if it was snowing indoors. Garlands made of evergreen and white flowers were draped around every doorway and holly and candles adorned the windows. At the centre of the living room was an enormous Christmas tree, decorated in gold ornaments and small, twinkling lights.
Most of the guests at the party were friends or colleagues of Loras' parents, along with a number of distant Tyrell relatives that Renly hadn't yet met. Not everyone was wearing an ugly jumper, though most people were, in various and hideous designs. At first Renly didn't see anyone that he knew, but then the crowd shifted to reveal Mace approaching them. His jumper featured a large Santa with an alarmingly creepy grin.
Mace pulled his son into a hug before greeting Renly as he always did, like a long-lost friend. "Glad you could make it," he said, shaking Renly's hand enthusiastically. "I hope you'll join us for Christmas dinner."
"Oh, um. I wouldn't want to intrude," he said, but Mace cut him off with a clap to the shoulder that nearly knocked Renly down.
"Nonsense!" Mace boomed. "Alerie's already set aside a place for you at the table, haven't you, my dear?" he said as his wife joined them. Her jumper was a fringed abomination that vaguely resembled a Christmas tree if one looked closely. Renly was sure that it would haunt his nightmares for years to come.
"Of course," Alerie said as she kissed Loras and Renly hello. "Renly always has a place with us."
Renly gave her a grateful smile. When he first met Alerie he'd felt a little intimidated by her. She had seemed so elegant and poised, and Renly had no experience with mothers, having grown up without one and never really getting to know any of his past boyfriends' mums, since hardly any of his relationships had lasted long enough to reach the meet-the-parents stage. But once Renly had got to know the Tyrells properly he'd realised that Alerie was just as nice as the rest of her family, and she treated Renly with the same kindness that her husband did. All of them had always been very good to him, except perhaps for Olenna, but Loras reassured Renly that his grandmother was grumpy with everyone, including her own family.
Mace pressed glasses of mulled wine into their hands before going on his way with Alerie to greet more guests. Renly spotted Willas and Garlan across the room, wearing snowman and penguin jumpers respectively. He waved at them, but was prevented from going over to say hello by the arrival of Margaery and Sansa.
Margaery's jumper actually had small stockings attached to it all around – "It's like having extra pockets," she said when she caught Renly's dismayed look – and Sansa was wearing a long red and white striped jumper with an enormous glittery gingerbread man embroidered on the front. "Did you hear about Aunt Lysa?" she asked.
Renly's stomach sank to somewhere around his knees. "No. What happened now?"
"You were right about Stannis. Aunt Lysa caught Melisandre outside her studio a little while ago, posting some signs calling for a boycott of her work. She saw it from an upstairs window and thought it would be a good idea to pour wet plaster over Melisandre's head. Stannis was waiting in the car and came running over when he saw what happened, so she threw plaster over him too. Someone called the police and now my mum's over there, trying to calm everyone down."
Renly and Loras were almost breathless with laughter by the time Sansa finished her story. "I wish I could have seen that," Renly said, wiping his eyes.
"You might be able to. Aunt Lysa's always been a bit paranoid; there are cameras everywhere. It's probably all on her CCTV."
Renly heard a shout of delight and turned just in time to see Tommen barrel through the crowd and launch himself at Loras. "Hi, Uncle Renly," he said, giving him a grin and a wave before going back to hugging Loras.
Behind Tommen came Joffrey and Myrcella, followed by Robert and Cersei. None of them were wearing ugly jumpers but all of them except for Robert were wearing red, and Cersei had a look of poorly concealed irritation on her face as she unsuccessfully tried to pry Tommen away from Loras.
Robert laughed and slung his arm around Renly's shoulder. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Renly replied. It was early but he could tell that his brother was already well on his way to being drunk.
Robert jerked his chin in the direction of Loras and Tommen. "The boy worships him," he said. "Your Loras is all he talks about at home."
"That must go over very well," Renly said, eyeing the scowl on Cersei's face as Loras crouched beside Tommen and listened to the latest news about Ser Pounce's adventures.
"Cersei's in a permanent state of rage because of it," Robert said, sounding delighted. "I thought I saw smoke coming out of her ears when Tommen said that he wants to be a teacher just like Loras when he grows up." He nudged Renly in the arm. "You have plans for Christmas?"
"Dinner with the Tyrells. Why?"
"I was going to warn you away from ours. All of the Lannisters are coming. I'm going to have to start drinking early. Or at least, earlier than usual." Robert laughed and tugged Renly closer. His face suddenly turned serious. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when you were a boy. Especially at Christmas."
For a moment Renly was too stunned to answer. Robert had never said anything like this before, and Renly had never expected an apology. "That was a long time ago," he said at last. "It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does. I know I've been a bad brother and a bad husband and a bad father. I don't know how to be better at any of it," Robert admitted. "I've never given you any advice because I always knew I had nothing useful to say. You've always been clever, and more sensible than me. But here's something for you now. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Don't let that one get away." He nodded in Loras' direction once more before heading off to get another drink.
"What was that all about?" Loras asked when he returned to Renly. "It looked serious."
"Some words of wisdom from my brother," Renly said, still in disbelief. He reached for Loras hand and squeezed it, glad to have him back. "What happened with Ser Pounce?"
Loras smiled. "He rescued Lady Whiskers from the evil Boots after a long battle. Tommen said that he had to tell me right now because he was afraid I'd worry too much about the kittens and it would spoil my Christmas."
Renly laughed. "I'm sure their fate was keeping you up at night."
"I'd rather have something else keeping me up," Loras said. Renly laughed again.
"That was terrible, even for you."
"Shut up. You love my cheesy attempts at flirting," Loras said, but he was laughing too as he pulled Renly into a quick kiss.
"I don't see any mistletoe around."
"I don't need mistletoe to kiss you. Anyway, it's hanging over the door and Margaery and Sansa are monopolising it at the moment."
Renly glanced over just in time to see them break off their kiss and disappear through the door. They were already wearing their coats; it didn't look like they had any plans to return to the party.
"Margaery says they've been talking about living together," Loras said. "Sansa might move in after the New Year."
Normally, Renly would have noticed the exaggerated nonchalance in Loras' voice. On any other day he would have recognised it as a method Loras often used to try and discern Renly's opinion about a potentially delicate topic. But Renly still had Robert's words rattling in his mind and Margaery's advice from earlier in the week and his own fears to contend with, and ended up blurting, "But wouldn't that be awkward for you? When you're there?"
Loras blinked at him. A hurt look briefly flickered across his face, but he recovered quickly.
"No. Sansa's stayed the night before and it was fine. I don't really notice it when she's there," he said, shrugging as if it wasn't a big deal, but Renly was still caught on that hurt expression on Loras' face, that horrible look that he never wanted to see again. He realised that he'd blundered badly, and had been blundering for a long while. He would have to work very quickly to set things right.
"I've been so stupid," he said. "I'm sorry. Stay with me?"
It wasn't his imagination that Loras' smile looked a little wobbly. "You mean tonight? I already said that I would."
"No," Renly said, and maybe he was making a huge mistake and maybe this wasn't what Loras wanted at all and he'd only end up pushing him away, but if Renly didn't do it now he knew that he would regret it forever. "I meant, stay with me permanently. Move in officially. If you'd like."
"Permanently?" Loras repeated, sounding stunned. "In your flat?" It looked like he wanted to say more but couldn't. Renly had never seen him look so surprised.
"Well," he said, laughing a little shakily. "It's been as much your flat as mine for a long time now. I don't know how I didn't notice it, but I do now and – and I want that. I want you. I want you there all the time, but only if that's what you want too. I don't want to pressure you into anything, or push you away," he said quickly but Loras was shaking his head.
"Lately it's been getting more and more difficult to leave you," Loras admitted. He smiled, and it didn't look the least bit wobbly this time. "I've stayed as many nights as I dared but I didn't want to overdo it and end up pushing you away. That's why I haven't said anything either, even though I've wanted to for ages."
"We've both been ridiculous," Renly said, thinking about all the time they'd wasted worrying.
"I suppose that means we'd better stick together," Loras said, still smiling. He squeezed Renly's hand.
"Does that mean you'll stay? For good?"
"Forever," Loras said, and Renly's heartbeat stuttered as their lips met in another kiss.
"Could you put that away?" Renly said. "It's the least sexy thing ever."
Loras laughed and threw his elf hat over the side of the bed. The bells jingled as it landed on the floor with the rest of their clothes. "The most sexy thing is me, right?" he asked, nuzzling Renly's jaw. "Aside from you, of course."
Renly laughed and slid his hands around Loras' back, tumbling them both onto the bed. Loras shuffled them around so that he was sprawled in Renly's lap before leaning down to kiss him. The kiss was long and lingering, like the one they'd shared before they went to the party, and when it ended Loras kissed the spot under Renly's jaw that always made him go to pieces. This time it was no different, and when Loras sucked at the skin there a desperate sound escaped Renly's throat.
He reached for Loras' cock and found it already as hard as his own. Renly wrapped his hand around it, keeping his touches slow and gentle at first before moving up to the speed and pressure he knew Loras loved.
Loras bucked into his hand, whimpering. He was shaking all over by the time he finally pushed Renly away. "That's it, I need you to fuck me right now," he said, practically diving for the condoms and lube.
That only made Renly feel even more desperate, especially when Loras straddled him again, biting at his lip as he worked his fingers into himself. Renly was so distracted by the sight that it took him a couple of attempts to fumble the condom onto himself, and Loras must have been just as impatient as he felt because as soon as Renly finished he didn't waste a moment before sinking onto his cock.
They started out slow, but soon Renly was surging up harder and faster every time Loras sank onto him. His hands landed on Loras' hips, helping to guide his movements, and Loras arched his back and moaned Renly's name when he finally came, with Renly following not long after.
Later, after they cleaned themselves up and caught their breath, Loras snuggled against Renly's side and kissed his shoulder. "So when did you finally notice that I'd basically moved in here?"
Renly grinned. "When I knocked over your hair things in the bathroom the other day."
"Was that why you were acting so strange? I thought you were just scandalised by the amount of products I use."
"It did shatter the illusion. I always thought that you were just naturally flawless."
"Oh, I am. The products are just for show, so everyone else doesn't feel too overwhelmed by my perfection." He smiled at Renly. "How much did you freak out, really?"
"More than I'd like to admit," Renly said. "Suddenly it struck me that you really did live here. Maybe not officially but when I finally caught on I realised that you're everywhere in this flat, Loras. And it frightened me a bit. More than a bit, really."
"Because you thought I'd leave," Loras said softly. He poked Renly's side. "You can't get rid of me that easily, you know. I love you."
Renly smiled and kissed him. "I love you, too. I've been a complete idiot about everything."
"Not an idiot. Just someone who isn't used to people sticking around."
"Well," Renly said, thinking of Robert and Stannis and everyone else that had come and gone through the years. "That too."
"That's why I never said anything," Loras said. "I mean, I realised ages ago that we were essentially living together but I knew you'd never been in a such a serious relationship before. I figured that officially moving in together would probably be a huge step for you to make, and I didn't want to scare you away." He shrugged. "I'm not saying that I didn't agonise over it a bit, because I did. But I was also pretty confident that everything would work out as long as I didn't screw things up somehow."
Renly tugged Loras closer. "When did you realise it?"
"That'd I'd pretty much moved in here? When I saw that you didn't seem to mind that so much of my crap was everywhere. You never complained about my clothes crowding yours or my DVDs taking up too much space." He gave Renly a sidelong glance. "I've been subtly giving your flat a makeover since the first time I spent the night here."
"When you gave me the plant?" Renly felt something warm and happy settle in his chest. "That's when I realised I falling in love with you, you know. We had the best sex ever and then you left and came back in an hour with a houseplant. Who does something like that?"
Loras laughed. "You had no plants! I'd never met anyone before without at least one. It was so weird." His expression softened. "But yeah, that was the start of it. I was already crazy about you, but I didn't think you were doing a very good job of taking care of yourself."
"Was it the lack of food in the refrigerator that gave me away?" Renly said ruefully. He remembered what it was like before Loras, when a few beers and a jar of olives seemed like enough.
"You offered me crisps for breakfast that morning," Loras said, sounding fond. "If that's not the epitome of romance, I don't know what is."
Renly hid his face in his hands. Loras pried his fingers away, grinning.
"I kept seeing things you needed that you probably wouldn't even think to buy for yourself."
"Like food," Loras agreed. "The only thing you actually seemed to buy without needing a reminder was clothes. But you never thought to get yourself a warmer blanket. Or a pillow that wasn't sad and droopy and didn't make your neck hurt. So I just… started bringing over some of my things. And you didn't complain."
"I'd never complain about having more of you around," Renly said. "Even if I had noticed it, I mean."
"So, in your expert opinion, what else does this place need?" Renly asked. "Hang on, I know. A Christmas tree."
Loras' eyes were shining. "Let's get one tomorrow."
"For our flat," Renly said, smiling. It felt so good to say it at last, without worrying about the consequences.
Loras smiled in return. "For our flat," he agreed, before pulling Renly into a kiss.