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winter seeds and summer fruit

Chapter Text

“You promised me I would be Queen.”

“And Queen you shall be -- of the North. The Targaryen king will fall, Cersei, and the Baratheon boy has forged himself in a bond with the North in the Tullys, if the Stark girl cannot be recovered. We must do the same.”

Cersei was nearly white with rage. Her father’s unmoving face had stared down at her from his seat, dismissing and imperious, as if she had not just heard her entire life fall to ruin. She had wept into her bedclothes bitterly at it - an entire lifetime of grooming put to waste. It had been known since she was a child that she was to be Queen, that the Lannisters were meant to be the most powerful house, the most feared, the most revered. She was meant to be the most beautiful lady, the most beautiful Queen who sat before the Iron Throne and ruled the Five Realms. She had thought that she had been smarter than this; her father had expected nothing less of her, his little lioness, his most ferocious lion cub. She thought she had been a player of the game of thrones, an equal, as she was always meant to be.

Instead, she was once again nothing more than a pretty, pretty little pawn.

 

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If she were any other woman, or simpler-minded than she was, Cersei would have believed that Winterfell was an earthly iteration of the Seven Hells itself. It was bleak, and grey, and so bitterly cold -- fitting, she thought, for the cold and grey-looking Lord she only remembered in vague moments.

She knew that his people distrusted her.

As they should, she thought bitterly; she was a Lannister of Casterly Rock, a lioness of gold and fury with gleaming teeth and talons. She was meant to be Queen , to be revered and knees bent in her presence, to be poised regal upon the Iron Throne, not wandering barren wastelands in the dull and somber colours of grey and black.

But alas, it seemed her fate had been sealed.

They were married in the Godswood of her husband’s home; a practice she did very little to hide her disdain for, even with the sharp eyes of Tywin overseeing the procession. Around her the weirwood loomed with their frightful faces carved into trunks that wept the bloodied tears that Cersei had felt in her own eyes. She did not fear these bloodthirsty gods; she would not let them see her hate for the North already. She was a lion of the Rock, and she would be wed with her back straight, her chin set and her eyes dry.

Eddard Stark was no jewel, certainly; he lacked the glamour of Jaime, the golden radiance of Rhaegar, or even the charisma of his brother Brandon. Eddard Stark was as grave as the weirwoods he worshipped, and Cersei felt a flare of fiery indignation rise inside her when he stood before her in furs and greys. He was ice, and she was fire, and the flames always won. She did not want this union; she did not want this plain-looking man of ice for a husband - she did not want this barren land for her home, but she would make the best of it, somehow. But he took her hand in his, eyes soft and shy, and when he pressed his lips to her skin, it was warm.

And so Cersei Lannister became a Stark; Lady Stark of Winterfell.

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Her lord husband was a quiet man. Not like Robert, nor Rhaegar - no fire and brimstone and temper that drove things asunder when deep in his cups; no ethereal beauty and thought behind violet eyes. No, Eddard Stark hardly drank at all.

Gentle, Cersei thought. Her husband had a gentle heart.

She was certain it would not last him through to the winter.

At the feast, she sat by her new husband’s side and watched him throughout the dinner and dance and song. Gentle, her husband was, but he was not soft. Lord Stark carried himself with the countenance of a Lord, a stone-faced and unmoving as the weeping trees he worshipped; a stark contrast between the man and the brother she remembered to be Brandon. The Wild Wolf, Brandon was, and she remembered the gregarious Stark from tourneys.

People knew her new husband as The Quiet Wolf. She remembered him as more of a shadow behind his elder brother; reserved and distant, a man of ice. A man of ten and nine and already burdened with the weight of death and war and misery. War was a glory Cersei would never feel, not on the battlefields, but she thought that it was no glory if it took the softness from a man like Eddard and put in its place this man of frost and stone.

Across the room, she saw Robert Baratheon deep in his cups - wine in one hand and the other full of the arse of a serving girl. He laughed uproariously and pulled her into his lap, and Cersei felt her lip curl at the show. She couldn’t imagine what Lyanna or Catelyn would have at the end of their marriage to him. Suddenly she felt a wash of something faintly similar to relief run through her fingertips.

She looked around the room again, and she saw her father and brother; each deep enough in their cups for reasons of their own. Tywin did not look quite so smug as he did annoyed, Tyrion was content to drink himself to silence, and Jaime….her golden knight. Lost to her, somewhere in King’s Landing, keeping guard over the Mad King. All of this was for the same - war and glory, and he was in the deep of it.

Her father caught her eye and gave her a pointed look.

Cersei looked away.

Eddard’s eyes drifted to her at a turn, and Cersei offered him a thin smile that put a flush beneath his beard clear enough for her to see. There was the second son in him; come through in moments, fleeting and quiet, in the shyness of the way he perched in the great seat of his house, as if he were still a boy playing pretend. In the way even meeting her gaze would have him falter in his steps.

“Are you enjoying yourself, my lady?” he asked her, voice a quiet murmur amidst the hoots and laughter of the hall.

His breath held the slightest sweetness of Dornish wine, and Cersei allowed herself the idle thought of wondering if he tasted the same. Instead she gave him another smile and a quiet nod. “Yes, husband. I’m having a pleasant time.”

She caught the sharp breath and the creak of his hand tightening over the arm of his chair, and watched as he leaned back into his great seat. His eyes peered straight into her, unreadable, cold grey whirls of ice, appraising and thoughtful.

“Husband,” he said. “I’ll have to get used to that title.”

She smiled tightly and returned her gaze to the room. And I, to mine. No Lannister, but a Stark. How do you hide a lion in wolf’s clothing?

The bedding ceremony was as boorish and loud as she had dreaded it to be. Cersei could feel her skin crawling at the way the Northmen reached for her clothes with rough, grimy hands; the hoots and cries and lecherous grins made her want to bare her teeth and snarl back. By the time she was carried to the room, she was in nothing more than her small clothes, barely that.

Eddard was standing by the fireplace, naked as the day he was born. The women did not spare him the kindness of small clothes, and though he slouched and reached as if to cover himself, Cersei could see all of the man that was to be her husband. He was broader than Jaime, bulky in the shoulders and shaped with muscle and hair from his chest down to his calves. Scars cut white and pink and dark along his body; battle wounds and places where blades and arrows had sunk and missed.

In the warm light of the room, Ned Stark did not look so unappealing.

Cersei caught herself staring, and looked away, down to her bare feet against the shaggy bear fur on the chamber floor.

Eddard cleared his throat quietly. “My lady.” He stepped forward, hand outstretched to her, and Cersei reached for it, her fingers slipping against the coarse skin of his palm. His long fingers engulfed hers, and Cersei let him pull her to him gently.

She lifted her hand and rested it over the coarse hair of his chest; she felt the steady thud of his heart under his skin, faster as she touched him, the sharp inhale of breath he took that came out like sweet Dornish. She could feel the heat of him between them, solid and warm and steadily growing. There was a stirring in her own belly - heat, but with it the flicker of fear.

Jaime had touched her before, but Cersei had guarded her maidenhood through her brother’s desperate touches and pleas.

She had been promised to a King, then.

“May I kiss you?” The whisper came low and gruff, but Eddard’s hand was tentative as it came to rest against her cheek. The kiss they’d shared in the godswood was a chaste one, but Cersei could feel the heat of his breath, the taste of wine and the smell of the winter clinging to his skin.

She leaned closer, neck arched up to raise her face to look at him. His eyes - cold and grey like the winter storm, bright like the strike of steel to stone.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Kiss me.”

He pressed his lips to hers with a ferocity she did not expect. Warm were his lips, dry, but he kissed her as if he could consume her wholly; her hands sought purchase on his shoulders, his arms, and she felt his arms come down to swoop behind her knees. Cersei yelped - an undignified sound, but a sound she could not control - as he carried her to bed, and she braced for the impact of being thrown.

Instead, he lowered her into the furs, as if she were something as delicate as a winter rose. She laid back, and welcomed the weight of him pressing her into the bed, shuddered when his hands came to spread up over her thighs, her hips, caressing her as gently as one would a babe. She reached out to curl her fingers into his hair awkwardly, if only to give her hands something to do, and Eddard paused.

She twined a lock of dark hair around her finger, and his eyes traveled the length of her body like a physical caress. His hands traveled down to the apex of her thighs, fingers stroking over the golden sparse of hair on her mound, cupping her sex as she squirmed and silenced a gasp behind her teeth.

The anticipation stirred in her belly, and Cersei could feel the wetness building between her legs.

When he looked into her face, it was with softness and awe, and lust burning dark. “My lady -”

“Cersei,” she breathed, and wove her fingers harder into his hair. “You are my husband now; there are no more formalities in the bedroom.”

His eyes flashed dark, and she glimpsed the hungry wolf. “Cersei,” he said, as if speaking a prayer. “May I touch you?”

She felt a shiver of anticipation run through her, a tight coiling sensation in her belly as she felt the rough pads of his fingers pressing against her thigh, the strength behind such a feathery touch.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Touch me.”

Chapter Text

A fortnight later, her husband rode South to King’s Landing with Baratheon and Stark banners waving in the breeze. They rode with the army of the North and the Rock at their backs, and she knew they would converge on their path with the Tully army, newly begotten by Robert’s bargain for a fish wife. She did not know much of Catelyn Tully, only that she had red hair, and like Lyanna Stark before her, took from Cersei all she had ever wanted.

Catelyn did not come to Winterfell for her wedding, but she had seen enough of Robert’s wandering eyes and hands to know that she felt both pity and triumph over the woman. She wondered if Robert felt any true love for Lyanna at all.

Cersei had kissed her husband goodbye that morning, her new fur coat heavy on her shoulders as Eddard came to her with grim, sad eyes. He had kissed her hand, and then her lips, and seemed uncertain with his words.

“If there is a child, I’d hope you would consider the name Robb, for our son,” he said tentatively. “And for a girl, perhaps Arya. If it pleases you.”

She had blinked, and stared at her husband for a flickering moment. He had spent all of his nights in her bed, and it was true that his seed might have already kindled. Winterfell would need an heir of Stark blood, and it would need one quickly. It did not startle Cersei more than the realization that her husband was asking her permission to name their child, not telling. She nodded, and to his face she saw something like relief come.

“Then I shall expect your return, Lord Stark,” she uttered, and in the distance she could see her father shifting impatiently on his white mount. “If I give you a son, then give me your safe return.”

A fond smile seemed to pull at his serious mouth, and Eddard bowed to his wife. “Only if you agree to call me Ned,” he told her, a soft jape in his words. “I have asked this of you since we were married.”

Cersei smothered a sigh. Ned was such an unlordly name, but she had heard it many times over the week. She knew that all of his family called him Ned, but it was such an intimate title; she did not know her husband quite so well yet. “Propriety dictates that I address you to your titles, my lord,” she said primly, but tilted her head slow. “But perhaps I shall, upon your return.”

It appeased him enough, and Cersei watched his form become smaller and smaller in the distance, swathed in black and grey, until he was gone from sight. And then she found herself alone and adrift, like her twin, in a land of bleakness and snow.

 

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She gripped the letter dangerously tight in her hands.

Jaime? Pardoned ? Released from the Kingsguard and returned to their father as the rightful heir he had always been.

Released to marry and breed and to rule Casterly Rock while she withered and wasted away in that forsaken tundra of a stronghold?

Cersei felt an unholy rage consume her in that moment - rage and betrayal. Jaime was to live the life she had always coveted, and the life he had never wanted to begin with; that he was once more taken from her. All she had wanted was Jaime, and she had been denied that, and then even Rhaegar was taken from her, and then Robert -

She crumpled the letter in her hands and flung it into the hearth, watching the flames engulf the regal scrawl of her father’s words. Her cheeks were warm from the flush of anger, her chest heaving - to think, that soon Jaime will wed and bed some vapid court bitch and put a Lannister heir in her belly, while I suffer the frost and scorn of the Northern peasants.

She touched her belly, and Cersei felt some of the anger dissipating softly. The babe had only quickened the night before, and though she was not quite swollen with child yet, she could feel the soft ridge of where her body was already making space for the babe.

Her child.

It should be ours. Mine and Jaime’s, no one else’s. It should be Lannister blood; golden-haired and gleaming.

She would have a wolf cub - a Stark child and heir, and Cersei felt a bitter roiling in her belly at the thought of Jaime fathering golden-haired angels with another woman. A woman who would never be as beautiful, as radiant, as fierce as she.

She did not write to her brother, or to Tywin. Instead she wrote to Tyrion, and asked of the Imp’s news of new Lannister brides.

 

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It was too bleedingly hot inside the room, in the castle of ice. Cersei had demanded the windows to be opened, screaming at handmaids that draped her shoulders in furs; “I’m sweating out of my skin, you brainless imbeciles ! Do not smother me in more furs!”

The babe in her belly roiled again, and Cersei fought back a resounding snarl of pain. The child wanted out and she wanted it out just the same, but still she could not help the sliver of fear that wedged itself into the edges of her mind. She was frightened of the birthing bed; this was her first babe, and it felt as if all of her body was being torn apart, ripped and bloodied to the whims of a phantom being she did not yet know.

Maester Luwin urged her to push, and Cersei snatched her head back from where Old Nan was crooning words of the Old North into her ear. There were too many hands touching her, too many people crowding the bed and filling her head with mindless words. When she felt the first spread of her skin tearing open, the spark of fear bloomed into a steady weight in her chest, and so she prayed. She prayed to the Seven, most of all to the Mother and most to the Stranger - that if he were to take her, take her only when the babe was safe and born and alive.

The babe came at last; noisy and slippery and altogether disgusting-looking in the yellow candlelight and fireplace. Cersei slumped back against the pillows and felt the relief and fear grip her both in the same hand. The maester placed it on her chest and she was at once overwhelmed by the thought that she had carried this little human inside her, had given it life - and by the sheer amount of dark hair adorning its crown. The babe was a boy, as Stark as he could be, but when he opened his eyes, she saw only pools of murky green.

“A wolf cub,” Old Nan hooted, and Cersei thought yes, a cub, definitely . A little lion cub in wolf’s clothing.

The birth of the next babe was slow and painful, and Cersei felt herself calling out to her mother in the midst of it; praying to the Seven and begging once more for the mercy of the Mother. Her ears rang and her mind swayed like swimming beneath the sleep brought from the milk of the poppy, but when Cersei felt the maester pull from her a second child, it was not greeted with hoots, or shouts, nor did it make to wail for its first breath.

Silence. There was only silence.

“What is it?” she panted, hands clutching the sheets and fighting the shrouding urge to swoon from blood loss. “Why isn’t it crying?” The maester would not look at her; rubbing vigorously instead at a small body, and Old Nan began to stroke her hair soothingly.

“What isn’t my baby crying?” she demanded, a shrill and frantic lilt to her words. She could bare see through the sweat and tears, could barely hold herself up against the pillows without the room spinning around her, but Cersei felt a newfound ferocity ignite within her - she was a mother now. She had babies. “ Maester Luwin !”

The maester turned to her at last, his lips pressed thin and white on his face, and sympathy in his eyes. “I’m deeply sorry, my lady,” he uttered quietly. He held the swaddled babe in his arms, and Cersei at last saw the pale blue of her second son.

“The cord...it happens often in twin births, my lady. Sometimes it twists around their little necks, and they do not breathe.”

Cersei felt the world collapse around her. Her womb felt achingly empty, bereft, hollow; resounding in her chest with an agony that birth could not even begin to compare.

 

 

She prayed through the day and through the night; pleading with the Seven until her tongue was heavy in her mouth and she felt as if her words were nothing more that gibberish to her ears, but still she prayed. She knelt to pray in her sept, and knelt to pray before the bleeding eyes of the Heart tree. “Spare me my son, and return to me two once more. I swear my life to this land and this house, to my husband and my children, just give me my son back!”

She stared hard into that wretched bleeding face; tree sap, she knew, nothing more than tree sap, but she felt in that moment as if they bled for every moment her son did not breathe.

The Heart tree gave her no answer, only wept.

 

 

She named the babe Joffrey. They burned the body in the godswood. He had a crown of golden hair, and eyes of clouded grey.

 

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She did not leave her birthing bed for weeks. In her grief, Cersei was inconsolable, defiant and hysterical and curled in her furs around her newborn son with the ferocity of a denning lioness; snarling at anyone who dared to entreat her from her bed. Robb was tended to by only her hands, fed at her breast and held by no other.

“You’ll wither away and rot inside if you stay in that bed any longer,” Old Nan chided her, laying a tray of herbal tea and broth on the bed. “You’ll let grief make you mad, and then what? Leave yer living pup without a brother and a mother?”

Cersei hissed and spat at the old crone until Old Nan retreat, cradling Robb to her chest possessively. Robb was her son, her dark-haired lion cub for whom her heart swelled with so much love it was almost too much. It hadn’t ever occurred to Cersei that she could love anyone in the world more than she loved Jaime, but suddenly she couldn’t imagine loving any other than her child.

When she was well enough to move from the birthing bed, Cersei took up the quill almost as soon as one was within reach. She wrote to her father, and then to her brother, spilling half-truths and idle writings of a new mother. Two, she told them; her womb had flourished with two healthy baby boys. Winterfell and the North was theirs.

She did not pick up the quill to write Eddard. There had been no ravens in the past week; no status of her lord husband and Baratheon’s crusade down to King’s Landing for the Mad King’s head. She knew of the war in letters from her father, or missives sent intermittently from the Stark camps, and Cersei felt the restlessness build in her bones from it.

The babe was nearly a moon old when at last she wrote to her husband.

Robb Stark, she wrote, as you wanted. Our son and your heir. He has your look, but eyes like mine.

She hesitated, quill hovering above the parchment, and Cersei felt a tremor run through her fingertips. It was weak of her, but it hurt still - a cruel joke, from the gods above them; to have one son alive and another dead, that she would always look at Robb and know that he should have had a brother, another half.

There would have been two. Joffrey was his name.

She sealed the letter with the mark of the Stark direwolf, and sent it away.

Chapter Text

A moon later, she saw her husband’s bannermen ride through the gates of Winterfell. The Rebellion had won; King Aerys was dead, Prince Rhaegar was dead. All of the Targaryens had fallen, and Robert Baratheon took the throne.

Lyanna Stark was dead, and so began the reign of the stag King and his fish Queen.

Cersei met her husband in the courtyard as he dismounted his horse, one arm braced and clutching something to his chest. He turned to her, and she saw the look of a shadowed man, guilt in his eyes as he took in the sight of her before him.

“My lady,” he croaked. “I beg your forgiveness. I have dishonored you.”

The bundle in his arms squirmed, and the swaddle fell away to reveal a small, grim face and Stark eyes.

Cersei felt the cold take hold of her bones.

She stared at her husband incredulously, her eyes going from the baby to Eddard’s face, and back again. With each turn of her gaze from man to babe, a cold, vicious gleam took hold of her green eyes, sparking like steel beneath the smith’s hammer. She wanted to slap him - her palm prickled for it, to reach out and lash a mark bright red and blazing on this Ice Man’s face, but they were in the sight of his bannermen, of the common folk peering and whispering around her.

For all that she tried, Cersei could not hide the tremble of rage in her voice. “I would like to speak to you in your solar.”

 

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The babe was small. Weak, from months of journey, but Eddard spoke of the boy’s age to be a moon or so after Robb had been born. Dark hair and eyes nearly silver - Jon Snow looked more Stark than Joffrey did. Cersei cast a withering look at her husband, listening with silent fury as he wove a tale of a tavern wench and his deep belief of his mortality, but Cersei looked back at the boy swaddled in his arms with shrewdness. He was too young to resemble much of anyone yet, but Jon had the long Stark face that she saw in her own son.

His nose, though. Sharp, aristocratic, even for an infant.

She heard Eddard speak of his journey to the Tower of Joy in search of his sister - dead, now. Her body was brought home to Winterfell, and Cersei felt a rush of something stir in her chest.

“I know I can never atone for this, my lady, but I will not have Jon raised anywhere but Winterfell,” Eddard said, and Jon squirmed feebly in his arms. “He is of my blood.”

Jon whimpered, a hungry sound she recognized, and Cersei felt her breasts begin to leak. She thought of her living son; Robb who had his father’s hair and face and nose, but her eyes, who looked every bit a Stark as this bastard boy in front of her.

Whose eyes are these that you hold, Jon Snow? Whose nose rests upon your grim little face?

She thought of Joffrey, her dead golden boy; how even he had Lord Stark’s nose and chin. She tried to remember the face of Lyanna Stark, the wild beauty that she was. It was a vague memory; she had always thought the girl pretty, in a Northern sort of way. She remembered that Rhaegar had an equally long face, graceful and kingly and beautiful.

Jon Snow was a beautiful baby.

And how she hated him.

She was livid with it; “how dare you,” she hissed, gripping shaking fists at her side. “How dare you bring this shame into my home - to your wife and trueborn son!”

Eddard pursed his lips, but held the boy no less stubbornly. “Baseborn he may be, but Jon still carries Stark blood.” He clutched the baby to his chest, and Cersei felt a whirl of incredulity, as if addressing a petulant child clutching a toy. “I won’t have him gone from me.”

“So you would rather submit me to a lifetime of whispers behind my back of a whoring husband and an incompetent wife?” she snarled, and in his arms the babe began to squall. “How many more bastards are out there? Am I to walk the streets of Dorne and see Eddard Stark’s blood in each of those street rat children?”

He said nothing back, damn him, and Cersei fought with mighty strength not to reach out with her hands and wring his neck. She hated him down into the core of her being; she could feel what little affection she had for her husband burning away into nothing but resentment, and more so she could feel the true hate in her fingertips for the noisy, weak, mewling little bastard boy in his arms.

Jon cried and flailed and sobbed, and Cersei felt the pressure in her chest building. She pressed her lips together and spun away from them, feeling the blood rushing through her ears like the crashing waves against the rocks of Casterly Rock.

She gripped her skirts tight in her hand and left her husband standing there, Jon’s cries haunting in her wake.

 

 

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She went and fed their son, and when Robb was asleep safely in his cradle, Cersei went to her sept and prayed.

She prayed for the Seven to take the bastard boy. Cursed him with death that would sweep him through their lives and into the nether realm with the ashes of his burial hearth. She prayed, and prayed, and prayed, until the words were gibberish in her ears and like lead on her tongue. She clasped her hands and prayed until the blood ran from her fingers and they ached nearly white with numbness. Cersei knew that she could take the Gods’ will into her own hands - she could very well lay the child to eternal sleep herself.

But she couldn’t.

No matter how much she felt it tremoring in her bones, Cersei could not choose her poison, could not pick up his pillow to smother him in his cradle.

She did not speak to Eddard through the week, though he did not make many attempts to reach her. He came to her once and asked to see Robb, but Cersei had only needed to look at him for Eddard to retreat.

Three days passed, and three days Cersei dreamed of wailing babies and bleeding eyes and the clash of steel and fire.

And then one day, she woke to the sounds of urgent chattering.

 

“The boy has the pox.”

She looked into the cradle of this small infant; weak and pale, each breath a rasping struggle to cling to life, and Cersei felt in an instant the shame come down on her like Valyrian steel. It was a bitter triumph, she told herself, but a triumph nonetheless.

The look on Ned’s face was a devastation that she only felt carving into her chest. Maester Luwin was bent over the boy’s cradle, prodding and checking the boy, and Jon’s trembling whimpers were followed by hoarse, barking coughs.

“He might not live through the night,” Luwin sighed, shaking his head sadly. “His fever is high; his lungs are already weak.”

“Surely - there’s something to be done,” Ned croaked, staring at Luwin beseechingly. “Maester -”

Luwin shook his head slowly, his chains rattling as if in quiet, ominous chimes. “For a babe this young, the best I can do is keep him comfortable.”

The Lord of Winterfell swallowed thickly, and spoke with the lace of tears in his voice. “I’ll stay with him,” he said. “I’ll stand watch -”

She felt inclined somehow to play her part. She was Lady Stark of Winterfell, after all - her duty was to care for his people, or at least pretend to. “No,” Cersei said, stepping forward. She clutched her arm to her chest, as if to grip and cling to her own body for support, but when Luwin and Ned looked at her, her eyes were trained on Jon’s feeble squirming. “I can stay. I have milk to feed him.”

Luwin shook his head. “Have you had the pox, my lady? It would not be wise to have you exposed if you are feeding young Robb -”

“It came and went when I was seven,” Cersei said evenly, swallowing a surge of bile in her throat. She made to move to the cradle, but hesitated then. “But - perhaps you are right. I can’t risk infecting my son.”

Ned looked as if he wanted to speak, the confusion and fear and bewilderment moving quick over his features. Cersei braced for an outburst - a demand for her to stay and mother this dying bastard boy, and perhaps somehow she sought it, but instead Ned bit his tongue and stepped back, face smooth with disappointment and yet understanding.

She hated him in that moment.

“I will stay,” he said gruffly. “I will stay with him.”

Jon began to whimper and cry in his cradle, waving his small hands out, searching almost for what little comfort he could, and Cersei turned away.

 

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I didn’t want this.

She could still hear Jon’s cries from her end of the castle; hear in even from within the stone walls of her chamber, over the crackling fire. I didn’t want it to be like this .

It was as if the sound was coming from the stones itself.

“It’s not my fault!” she hissed at the fire, cradling Robb in her arms. “I didn’t ask for this!”

But you did , something whispered, coiling within her mind, slithering from within the darkest chambers of it. You asked for this, exactly this. You asked for all of it .

She could feel the eyes of the Father bearing down on her, the hovering figure of the Stranger that lingered in the periphery; waiting, almost, for her price. All of this over an innocent child, who had done nothing and still came to the world with his lot in life - like Joffrey who had come from her womb pure and golden, and yet only meant for the flames.

Robb burbled in her arms, hiccuping into sleep, and Cersei stared down at her son. He looked as if he could very well be Jon Snow - or Jon Snow might’ve been him. They could be brothers, she knew, but why would she want them to be? Robb had only one known brother, and he was dead, but isn’t this what she’d asked of the Seven?

Return to me two once more .

I swear, I swear, I swear

I swear my life, my life

To this land and this house

A Lannister always pays his debts

Cersei surged out of the rocking chair, whirling around the room as if someone had spoken, but all she could hear through her heaving breaths was the sound of Robb’s quiet snuffling and the crackle of the hearth. Behind the stone walls, Jon Snow wailed still, and Cersei felt a tremor go through her fingers.

She looked down into her son’s face, and took in every detail of his little features; the flutter of his lashes, the button nose all babies seemed to have, the strong Stark brow, but her Lannister chin.

“This is a lesson to keep through your life, sweetling,” she whispered, pressing a soft kiss to his crown. “Your words may be Stark’s, but you have lion blood in you, and a Lannister always pays his debts.”

She laid him in his cradle, swaddled warm and comfortable, and Cersei took a deep breath. She was not a religious woman in any deep sense, but Cersei knew warnings when she saw them.

 

When she went to her husband’s solar, she found him rocking Jon helplessly in his arms, doing nothing that would soothe the boy. Jon squalled and wailed and sobbed in between ragged breaths, and Eddard seemed as lost as the baby.

She stepped forward. “Give me the boy.”

Eddard stared at her. In his arms, Jon’s sounds were becoming loud and fussy, impatient for a meal, and his squirms were angrier. “My lady -”

“Give me the babe,” she said, voice hard and eyes sharp on his face. “He needs feeding. Can’t you hear him cry?”

Yet her lord husband stood, unmoving, until Cersei had to all but snatch the babe from his arms. Jon whimpered at the jostling, and Cersei held him in the crook of her arms, and the little bastard boy opened his squinted eyes and peered into her face as if he’d known her all his life.

The baby blinked at her.

Cersei pulled one full breast from her gown. “There now, no more crying.” She eased her nipple into his mouth, and Jon rooted hungrily, latching without trouble. The babe let out a shuddering little sigh, his eyes fluttered shut as he began to suckle. Cersei rocked the babe in her arms almost without thought; he looked so much like Robb.

Eddard was staring at her with eyes she could not read; she never could see into her husband’s mind, and now the thought of it infuriated her all the more. It was a moment before he spoke with some hesitance.

“You do not need to be here, my lady. I can summon his wet nurse.”

“Don’t bother,” she said snidely. “I saw the cow drooling into her own arm as I walked here. Jon is fine now; he’s quiet.”

And so much smaller than Robb. Weak, she knew, from his journey and from sickness, but even with the fever warming his small body, Jon’s eyes were clear and calm, now fluttering shut with sleep.

“His mother,” she murmured, tracing an elegant finger down Jon’s small cheek. “Who was she?”

“No one. She died in the birthing bed.” She looked up at him and saw him shifting in place, eyes lowered from the sight of her bare chest, as if he had not seen all parts of her when they were married.

Cersei allowed her mouth to twist with disapproval. “So a whore, then.”

“Not a whore,” he snapped suddenly, harsh and reproachful, and she startled, clutching the babe to her chest. His face shifted; anger first, then shame, and he became once more the unmoving Lord of Ice. “I apologize, my lady. But his mother was no whore. She was just a woman.”

“Not a whore, you say, and yet you were weaving tales of a tavern wench who wooed you between her legs,” she said acidly. “I did not realize wenches and whores were not the same in the North.”

Eddard kept his silence.

She glared at him for a long moment; she wanted to scream at him, to curse him into Seven Hells and beyond, to damn him into a life of misery, but somehow she found that she could not open her mouth to speak.

Jon released her breast with a soft gurgle, settling deep into his swaddlings to sleep, and Cersei looked down into the babe’s soft lashes and smooth cheeks. It was almost as if she was looking into Robb’s face, and yet not. She looked back up at Eddard, and she set her jaw sternly at him.

“She must have been some woman to have the honorable Lord Eddard Stark forget his vows,” she spat. “I cannot express to you my disappointment that a man who claims to be as righteous as you would bring your own wife such shame.” Her husband seemed to flinch, and Cersei took triumph from that.

“It is your right,” Eddard murmured, surrendered and contrite. “I have done you a disservice, and you are right to scorn me.” He looked at Jon in her arms, gesturing with a careful hand. “But the boy is innocent; he did not ask for this.”

Cersei was quiet for a moment, rocking the baby gently in her arms. Jon’s sounds were different, his weight different in her arms, but not very much different at all.

A knock came to the door. Robb’s nanny appeared, and curtsied nervously before them. “Pardon, m’lord, m’lady. The little lord has woken for a feeding.”

Eddard’s brow furrowed, confused. “Doesn’t he have a wet nurse?”

“I feed him,” Cersei said simply. “I have breasts and they have milk. Our son takes no other milk but mine.” It was not the way of most highborn women, but Cersei had found that after the first feeding, she could not stand the thought of Robb being nourished by anyone else.

Eddard’s eyes shifted from Cersei to the nurse, and then back. His face seemed to light with a hope that made him seem younger then. “Our son is lucky to have a mother so dedicated,” he said gently, eyes searching on Cersei’s face. “You named him Robb.”

“Yes,” Cersei said curtly, waving one hand to dismiss the nanny. “As you asked.”

“I - I have yet to see the boy.”

“And you shall not yet,” Cersei told him harshly. Once more she felt that mother instinct inside her - to protect her kin, her little lion cub waiting for her for his meal. Small and vulnerable and utterly dependent on her. And now with this little one in her arms - a bastard born to her husband, older than Robb? Younger?

It made no difference.

She felt spiteful in that moment - desperate to shame and hurt her husband the way he had shamed her. “Robb stays in my chambers until I decide you are fit enough to see him.”

Eddard seemed taken aback by her outburst, and looked at her with an open hurt and confusion. “Cersei - please, I have been gone for almost a year; I only know Robb in letters.”

She pursed her lips, and hated her mother-heart for wavering at the honesty in his words. Motherhood had softened her, and Cersei hated that she had not yet hardened herself against these frailties. “Perhaps I might be kind enough to let you see your trueborn son after supper.”

“Give me Jon, then,” he said coldly. “I won’t trouble you with him further.”

Cersei clutched the boy to her chest. It was a rush of memories; the day her sons had been born, and the maester who had to pry her grip from Joffrey’s dead body to burn. Here in the North, they burned their dead, and she had been certain that a part of her went to ashes with him that day.

Jon gurgled in her arms, one small hand poking out of his swaddlings to clutch the edges.

“I don’t imagine that you brought the boy all this way just to hide him in the shadows,” she said snidely, and Eddard’s brow pulled together in confusion and irritation. “You wanted them to be raised as brothers, didn’t you?”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you -”

“No?” she scoffed. “Then perhaps explain yourself to your son, when he asks you one day, why his brother was born to the name Snow, and he a Stark.”

“Many lords have bastards,” he said, if somewhat hopelessly, and Cersei wanted to laugh in his face.

“Are you like every other lord now?” She curled her lip at him, but when Jon whimpered, she softened, peering down into the baby’s face without malice or discontent. Something inside was still aching for her dead son, but more so it was aching for the hole he’d left in his wake - she was meant to have two with her, and even if it was temporary, she would hold onto it as long as she could.

She heaved a sigh, shoulders sagging as she reached to pinch the ridge of her brow to quell the burgeoning ache there. “I’m too tired to fight you on this anymore,” she said wearily. “I will tend to your bastard for now, Lord Stark.” She looked back at him, eyes indifferent and hooded. “I shall send for you should the urge come to me.”

Eddard frowned at her, but said nothing else.

“Good day, my lord.” She swept up her skirts in one hand, clutching the babe to her in the other, and left the Lord of Winterfell to the silence of his solar.

Chapter Text

She took the bastard boy with her to Robb’s nursery, suddenly reluctant to release him from her breast. He was asleep, fed and content, and even when a servant girl offered to take the boy from her, Cersei had reduced her to tears before she could get her hands on the babe. She dismissed the girl and strode to where she could hear Robb fussing in his cradle; the loud, angry cries of indignation at being ignored. The babe calmed when she leaned over the side of the cradle, soothed when she crooned down at him lovingly, and lowered Jon into the cradle beside Robb.

In that brief moment, she was struck by the resemblance of the two - babes looked the same always, especially when they were pretty, and Robb and Jon were pretty babies. Robb had hair that curled black but shaded brown in the sunlight; Jon’s hair was black as coal. Robb’s eyes were green, and Jon’s bright grey.

She knew a lie when she saw one. She was no simpering maiden of the courts, no other house but from the House Lannister - she was smarter than a mouthful of lies spoken from the lips of men. She knew empty promises of gold and jewels and songs like Jonquil and flowers in her hair, but Eddard was not capable of such empty words. He was the honorable Ned Stark, his bannermen called him. His vows and oaths were sacred to him, she knew, and she had taken one the same when she had been mourning Joffrey.

So whose child was this, that he was so adamant on claiming? Who was Jon’s mother, if not the tavern wench, if not the whore, then who?

Robb gave a reproachful howl, and she swept her son up into her arms by instinct, cooing to the little lord as she bared her other breast to him to suckle. Robb was a hearty drinker, noisy at her teat and greedy, where Jon had been quiet and gentle. Her son was strong ; he had the lion’s blood in him, together with the wolf.

“Whose blood runs through your veins, little Jon?” Cersei whispered, and in the cradle he snuffled in his sleep. “Perhaps you are a Stark after all, but whose loins did you come from?”

The babe gave no answer, and Cersei did not expect one.


-----

Cersei did not join her lord husband in the dining hall for supper. Instead she sat on the edge of her bed and watched the boys rest on their backs in the grand sprawl furs. They kick and push the soft skins, staring with wide-eyed curiosity at each other. Robb was a stronger kicker, burbling as he struck out once and nudged Jon’s knee.

“Don’t kick, sweetling,” she chided him gently, smiling despite herself when Robb pressed his little hand into Jon’s mouth instead. Together on the bed, they were not very different; dark-haired and small, though Jon was smaller, a little easier to be turned onto his belly. “Don’t make the little pup cry.”

Jon cooed at her voice, turning his head to her whenever she spoke. He was a peculiar babe, she realized; quiet mostly, fussing only when his belly was empty, or nappy soiled. He liked to look at her, to hear her speak. Her golden hair was a fascination to this bastard boy, reaching to clutch at the tendrils of hair that would rest over her shoulder. It was too cold in the North to keep her hair in the intricate braids of the South, too cold to wear the light dresses she had worn for most of her life.

Someone knocked at her chamber door, and Cersei turned on the bed just as Eddard came into her rooms. He paused in the doorway, shifting almost uncertainly as he gave her a bow, “my lady.” He looked at the bed, and all of his countenance changed. His shoulders slanted softly, the harsh lines in his face gentled, and a fond, hopeful smile pulled beneath his beard. He lingered by the door still, but Cersei knew in the way he moved from foot to foot; the childlike hope and impatience.

“Forgive me,” he said, eyes still on the boys. They were turned to him now, staring at him with wide, curious eyes and burbling among one another. “You didn’t come to supper.”

“I wasn’t hungry,” Cersei said primly, gently caressing Robb’s back and adjusting Jon’s loose nappy. She crooned and cooed at the boys, and they gurgled at her, wriggling and kicking against the bed as if to move closer to her. Cersei smiled at them, lifting Robb into her lap, where the boy eagerly settled against her chest, curled up into a small little lump. With her other hand she gently maneuvered Jon into the crook of her arm, tucking him there as he kept his somber eyes staring into her face.

Eddard stared at her wordlessly, hands flexing and unflexing at his sides. There were words he wanted to speak; to ask and to tell, to explain himself and ask for explanation, but somehow the sight of his lady wife perched on her bed, his two sons in her lap and in her arms - it struck him dumb.

“It’s rude to stare, Lord Stark,” Cersei said irritably, and he blinked.

“Forgive me,” he began, braving a step closer to the bedstead. “You cannot blame me for my surprise, my lady. I didn’t think you would want my bastard to be anywhere near our son.” Their son, whom he had not seen at all; but he saw now looked everything like him, except for maybe Cersei’s lips, and certainly her emerald eyes.

Cersei pressed her lips together, shrugging delicately. “The boy is motherless. My son is brotherless. If you dared to bring him this far, I cannot imagine that you would’ve kept him hidden in the dark crevices of this fortress of ice,” she told him, stroking Jon’s dark hair lightly.

“Perhaps not, but I did not expect -”

“I don’t care what you didn’t expect,” Cersei snapped, harsh and spiteful suddenly. “You brought him here, so here he is.”

Eddard pursed his lips, and nodded curtly. “As you say, my lady.” His gaze softened then, tilting his head to the boy in her lap, dozing contentedly on her chest. “He’s a strong lad.”

Cersei looked down at their son; Robb gave her a reflexive smile in his sleep. “Yes.”

He swallowed, hesitating a moment before moving to the bed with arms outstretched. “May I…?”

Cersei narrowed her eyes at him, but did not protest. She couldn’t, after all, deny her lord husband his son and heir. Gently she peeled Robb from her chest and turned him to his father, lifting the squirming boy up and holding him out to Eddard.

She watched him take his son carefully, awkward in his ways but not entirely; she supposed that travelling from Dorne and back with Jon had taught him a thing or two about holding a child. He cradled the boy in his arms and bounced him gently, murmuring something soft and crooning to Robb, even as the boy blinked awake and stared in bewilderment at his face.

Eddard chuckled. “He does not know me yet.” He tickled Robb under his chin and smiled when the boy burbled in delight. “There’s a good lad. You’ve got your mother’s smile, little pup.” He glanced at Cersei a moment, eyes softening as Robb nestled comfortably into his arms. “You’ll break a thousand hearts in your time.”

Cersei looked at him coldly, and Eddard did not speak further of her. In her lap, she held Jon now, stroking his dark hair and letting him nestle into the warmth of her arms. She watched him tend to his son, murmuring low and caressing Robb’s hair, making to tousle his dark curls, and Cersei could not help the twitch in her lip when Robb burbled at his father.

“He had a brother, you know,” she said then, and Eddard’s smile faded slowly from his face into a grim mask.

He nodded. “Aye, my lady. Joffrey was his name, wasn’t it?”

She felt a deep ache in her chest, a vice tightening around her heart at the mention of her golden boy. Two moons, and still that was too soon. Cersei looked down into her lap. “Yes.”

Eddard nodded slowly, holding Robb closer to him then. He took a moment, pondering his words before he spoke again, in a careful voice, “I cannot claim to know your grief, my lady, but my heart will carry his loss all the same.”

Cersei bit down the inside of her cheek and took a sharp breath, lifting her head to look her husband in the eye. She held it for a long moment, and then she nodded curtly.

“Will you need to visit my rooms tonight?” she asked with a sigh, rising from the bed with Jon in her arms. The babe squirmed and fussed quietly at being roused from his sleep, and Cersei gently crooned at him and lowered him into Robb’s cradle. The question startled her husband, and Cersei curled her lips inwards to keep herself from smirking. She didn't want him in her bed, frankly, so soon after birthing her sons, but the maester had pronounced her fit enough for rigorous activities.

A flush spread across his cheeks, hidden beneath a beard unruly and thick on his face. She didn’t think he had time to consider his appearance in the heat of war, but still. She was relieved to not have to kiss him yet. “I - hadn’t thought I would be welcome,” he admitted, and for a moment she remembered once more the shy second son she’d married.

He missed her; truly, and strangely. For as cold and distant Cersei may have seemed in their brief time together, war was no kinder a companion. At times he had found himself missing the dry wit she held in her words, the lightning fast candor she had that was never grating to the senses unless she willed it to be. He hadn’t been given much time to appreciate his wife, and now it seemed that he had done away with that chance.

But Gods, how the sight of her with his sons stirred in his belly.

Cersei sighed again, reaching for Robb, and Eddard reluctantly let the boy go. “I can’t very well refuse my husband if he were to demand it of me,” she said, but Eddard shook his head.

“I would never force myself on you,” he said roughly, eyes dark and angry suddenly. “I would never take from you what you wouldn’t willingly give.”

Cersei arched a brow, rearranging Robb’s wrappings and turning her back to her husband. “Then ask if you want it, Lord Stark,” she said flatly, placing the dozing infant into the cradle beside his half-brother. Even in their sleep, Robb and Jon seemed to seek each other; squirming close until they were pressed just so.

A peculiar, tingling sensation bloomed in her belly, warm and not altogether welcome as she watched the babes in their slumber. Her chest swelled and clenched at the sight - there was always meant to be two; Robb was meant to share his cradle and her breast with a brother. She hadn’t thought that it would be a child outside of her blood.

Gold be their crowns, and gold their shrouds.

She burned Joffrey in Lannister gold.

Cersei startled when Eddard rested a hand on her arm gently. His eyes were soft when she looked at him, his hand warm on her skin.

“You mother them beautifully,” he murmured, affection soft in his voice. She could feel the heat of him behind her, weight of his hand as it stroked along her arm and willed her gently to turn to him. Cersei turned, reluctantly, but did not resist when Eddard led her into his embrace.

He was solid against her; war had taken away his softness, in body and spirit, though Eddard held her to him as he did Robb. Cersei let her hands coil tight into his jerkin, let her nails sink into leather and mark pale half-moons there as she held this strange man that was her husband. He was as foreign to her as a stranger still, but his body at least was familiar to her.

His hand came up to rest in her hair, uncertain, but Cersei pressed closer to him, eyes falling shut as she remembered this smell - earth and ice, and beneath it the stink of blood and grit and days of journey. She felt his hand caress her hair, the thread of his fingers through it in awkward movements - learning, she supposed, to love her - until she pushed away from him to level him with a look.

“It would not be unpleasant to have a body to warm me tonight,” she said lightly, reaching to touch his grizzled face. Her pretty mouth twisted at the bristles. “Perhaps after a bath and a shave.”

Eddard laid his hand over hers on his face, eyes keen on hers as he turned Cersei’s palm to his lips, and held it to a lingering kiss. “Anything you command of me, my lady.”

Chapter Text

He came to her in the night, newly shaved and shorn, and it was as if she was discovering a new man entirely. He stood before her in a near-identical fashion as he did on their wedding night; shy, uncertain, but now she could see the assuredness in his broad shoulders, the steady calm of ice. Cersei watched him stand by her door, eyes glancing worriedly to where she laid his sons in their cradle.

“Will they….they won’t be aware of us, will they?” he asked her, shifting uncomfortably at the thought.

Cersei almost smiled, but instead she twisted her lips into a wry smirk and rolled her eyes. “Not if you’re quiet, my lord,” she said, and shed the warmth of her furs and nightgown. The birth was still so fresh in her mind, its grasp on her body lingering, but Cersei did not feel shame in the way her husband’s eyes blackened as he took in the sight of her. She was fuller in the hips yet, fuller in the belly than she was before she was a wife, but Eddard did not seem to desire her any less.

Good.

She saw his eyes fixate on the fullness of her breasts, heavy with milk and aching gently, and Cersei could not deny the warmth that was blooming within her. “You look warm,” she told him, laying herself onto their marriage bed. She beckoned him over, and like a ghost tethered to her fingers, he moved to the side of the bed. “Perhaps you should be rid of those things.” She reached out a hand and tugged at the edges of his tunic, and before long, Eddard was nude before her.

“You are a beauty,” he rumbled, lust darkening his words into a low, husky growl. The words of a starving wolf as he drank in the sight of his lion wife, bare and pale, the sharp gleam in her green eyes as she lounged on her bed. He reached out to touch her; curled her golden locks around his fingers and allowed himself to fall into bed with her.

Cersei felt the press of his weight over her, reveled in the reverent touch of his war-roughened hands sliding over her body, worshipping her skin as he nestled into the cradle of her hips. Gone was the shy second son, and here was a man who kissed her as if to steal the very breath from her lungs; who touched her with hands callused and hard from war and possessed her with his body. His hands held the weight of her breasts in his palms, and Cersei let out a gasp.

“Gently,” she whispered, sharp and chiding. “They’re tender still.”

Ned’s eyes softened with guilt and he nodded, easing his grip from her body. He slid them along her sides, caressing the soft, pliant form of her as he kissed and mouthed the ivory skin of her chest and neck. “I do not deserve a woman like you,” he murmured, the scrape of his beard bristling along the elegant column of her neck, marking her skin a tender pink in its wake. “Not a woman as strong and radiant as my lioness.”

It stirred in her belly to hear him speak those things. Cersei had long grown accustomed to the empty words of praise from men eager to get under her skirts or into her father’s pockets, but something in the warmth of his voice, the tilt of the words he spoke - he genuinely believed her to be all of that.

Cersei arched into the solid weight of his body, leaning her face away and sighing from the heat of his lips against her neck. “You already have me in your bed,” she murmured, breathless as she wound her fingers into the thickness of his hair and tugged. “There’s no need for simpering when you’re already between my legs, husband.”

The bristles of his beard were almost startling when he lifted his head to kiss the high ridge of her cheekbones. “I do not speak these words lightly, Cersei,” he rumbled, reaching one hand to caress her cheek. “You honor me. Luwin says you have been invaluable to him while I was away; there could have been no other wife as capable as you with running the castle in my stead.” His free hand came to rest against the soft skin of her belly, his eyes warm. “And all while you carried my children.”

“Enough,” Cersei said, pulling her husband close. “I did not ask you into my bed to talk, Lord Stark.”

His eyes flashed a hungry, wolfish black, and he closed the distance between their lips with a low obliging growl. The coarse hair of his chest bristled against her delicate skin, teasing over her sensitive nipples and blooming her skin pink as Cersei gasped and keened into his lips. She was wet, the heat pooling and coiling deep within her belly, a slickness that was growing against her thighs as he pushed her legs further apart with his hips. The weight of his manhood against her folds was a welcome friction; heat, raw and wild and purely instinctual - she lifted her hips and rocked against him slightly, seeking more.

He pulled back just enough to whisper against her lips, ragged and rumbling. “Are you sure?” His hands slid down over her hips, dipping down between her legs to touch her gently. “I do not wish to force you -”

Cersei reached down to take the length of him in her hand. “You’ve been gone long, husband. We need to reacquaint ourselves.”

 

------

She considered allowing her husband to stay in her bed that night.

Eddard had pressed against her beneath the furs, their bodies rapidly warming and cooling, slick with sweat as he curled around behind her, one broad arm banded around her waist. All of her body was still thrumming, nerve endings alight with sensation and tender in places where Eddard’s mouth and hands and beard had touched her. Between her thighs there was an ache; pleasant enough, but nevertheless a reminder of how recently the birth had been.

One large, callused hand cupped her breast, his fingers stroking over her sensitive nipple.

Behind her, Eddard nuzzled into her hair, nosing into the honeysuckle scent, kissing the delicate line of her ear. “I have missed you,” he told her, thick and slow with sleep; one hand stroking warm, idle circles over her midriff. “We didn’t have long to know each other, but I missed you.”

Cersei did not reply, but neither did she remove herself from the cage of his arms. Her rooms were never cold, but the heat of her husband’s body warmed her through better than even the thickest furs and cloaks. The cradle beside her bed jostled gently, followed by the mewling, gurgling cries of a babe slowly waking, fussy and petulant. She rose, pushing his arms from her body, but Eddard stilled her.

“Let me.” He gentled her back under the furs, rising from the bed to gather his breeches and tunic.

Cersei rose on her elbows to watch; her grim-faced husband, made of ice, leaning over the cradle where the babes wriggled and fussed to coo at them. He reached for Robb, cradling the squirming boy in his arms as he murmured and crooned to the baby in a low thrum. “There now, there’s a good lad. Hush.” The love she saw in his face for their son put a roiling, aching weight in her belly, coiling tight - if nothing else, she at least knew that he would love his children.

At least that was something they could share.

“He’s hungry,” Cersei said, and Ned looked up at her. The ache in her breasts were not just from her husband’s attentions to them, and so she reached out her arms for their son. “Give him to me.”

Ned relinquished the boy into his mother’s familiar arms, rocking back onto his heels to regard his lady wife - her golden hair wild around her shoulders, ivory skin flushed with marks of where his mouth had worshipped. The softness in her face, that mother-warmth that glowed beneath her skin as she held the baby to her breast to feed. Her elegant fingers caressed their son’s brow and nose, stroking over his soft cheeks, and Ned only found himself drawn away from the sight when he heard a soft, plaintive whimper emanate from the cradle.

Cersei lifted her gaze from their son, her face smooth and eyes cool. She looked from the small bundle in his arms for a long moment, and then turned her green eyes to his face expectantly. “Well?”

He stared at her uncertainly. “I -”

“He’s either hungry or wet,” she told him, exasperation coloring her words mildly. “Check.”

Ned unraveled Jon’s swaddlings, bouncing the baby in his arms as Jon stared up at him insistently, squirming and kicking his small legs. His little hands clenched and unclenched, as if seeking for something, reaching for something to cling to. “He’s dry,” Ned said, looking somewhat helpless as Jon made another small sound of displeasure.

Cersei hid her eye rolling behind her hair. She adjusted Robb against her breast and held out her other arm testily. “Give him here, I have milk still.”

Carefully, Ned knelt onto the great bedstead, Jon tucked into the nook of one elbow as he moved to perch beside his wife. He pulled the pillows into a plush rest for Cersei, easing her back against them before placing Jon into her arms.

“There now, little pup.” Cersei watched Jon root at her nipple, the way his hungry mouth latched before he gave a deep sigh of contentment with his first suckle. Jon wriggled against his swaddlings, his small hands coming out to rest trustingly against her chest.

In her other arm, Robb nursed himself into slumber, pulling milk from her in reflexive suckles. Ned watched her with a whirl of emotions in his eyes; a true, honest softness and warmth that Cersei made a pointedly effort of avoiding. He hovered by her side, shoulders touching as he reached to tickle Robb on the chin. “He’s a hearty pup,” he remarked fondly, brushing his palm over Robb’s swirl of hair. “He’s such a beautiful baby, our son.”

Cersei hummed, shifting back into the pillows comfortably. The babes nestled themselves deeper into her arms, already deep into sleep again, but she did not feel inclined to return them to their cradle. She looked down at Jon, taking in the angelic, sweet features of his face; the sweep of dark lashes and tiny fingernails on tiny fingers. The aristocratic swoop of his nose and brow - where had she seen all that before?

She glanced at Ned, resting against the pillows and watching her. His brow was too deep, his nose not as straight. His grey eyes were soft as fog on a murky night, and his hair was dark, but not as dark as Jon’s. Cersei frowned, and looked away before her husband could notice. The woman who birthed Jon must have been some great dark beauty - one of pale skin and dark hair and a Northern, frostbitten sort of beauty. The kind of beauty that rarely came from someone common born.

Jon released her breast with a hiccup, milk lingering on his lips as he smacked them sleepily and curled down into his swaddle.

“Let me lay him down,” Ned said, offering out his arms.

Cersei obliged him; Robb in her arm was getting heavy, and she was grateful to have both arms to hold and rock him as Ned took Jon into his arms. She looked at them together - father and son, as it were. It gratified her to know to Robb looked more like a Stark than Jon did, even if only by fractions, and she saw the same love in Ned’s eyes for the bastard boy as she did for their son. It only made the bitterness fester inside her.

“You’re a quiet boy, but I see your fire,” he whispered to Jon, pressing a gentle kiss to the baby’s crown. “I see the wild blood inside you.”

It struck her like a great sword.

Yes, she saw it now. Rhaegar’s long face, the curve of his nose, the pensive arch of his brow. The widow’s peak that slanted right of his hairline - she remembered Rhaegar’s hair parting the same. Lyanna was a beauty, a wild beauty, but this was beauty from a bloodline of royalty.

Targaryen in his eyes and Targaryen in his face. Jon Snow was no boy of the North.

Chapter Text

That was the last that Cersei let him in her bed.

If her husband had any inkling why, he did not show it. His return to Winterfell had the castle bustling around him; there were things a Lord had to attend to, and Cersei did not find any reason to keep him from those duties. But Eddard, it seemed, had other thoughts.

“Won’t you be joining me at the hall?” he asked her one morning. Breakfast was a fairly silent affair between them - Cersei’s simmering temper at her husband was only growing steadily, and she remained indifferent to his attempts at conversation for the most part. “Maester Luwin said you were the one responsible in my stead.”

“Yes,” she said shortly. “But you’re here now. There is no further use of me there.”

Eddard frowned from across the table. “I’d like you there,” he admitted, and Cersei blinked at him. “You were the one making the decisions. I’d need to know the goings on in Winterfell; the things I had missed.” He gave her a warm look, searching and confused, and Cersei felt only more rage at the gentility she saw in her husband.

She turned her head away, prodding at her eggs with her fork. “I’m sure Maester Luwin is capable enough to brief you. I’d rather spend time with your sons.”

I’d rather spend time looking at the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and learning why you thought it was wise to bring him here.

Eddard’s countenance softened at her words; affection and awe and an open look of respect that Cersei fought the urge to sneer at. He was easily pleased , that husband of hers - so easily placated by her words. It was as if everything she did was a new realization to him, and perhaps it was. They did not know each other well, only enough for her to have done her duties as Lady of Winterfell.

She had sworn it to the Seven.

“Do you know much about trade, my lady?”

The question startled her enough for Cersei to blink, leveling her gaze on her husband. “I know of some things about trade,” she told him carefully. “Lannisport’s gold trade was known throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Even as a daughter, I had my lessons, my lord.” Her mouth twisted wryly at him.

Eddard seemed unfazed by the dig in her words, chewings his bacon thoughtfully. “Perhaps you would like to join me in the hall after you’ve tended to the boys,” he said, peering at her. “We’re in talks of new trade with House Forrester and House Karstark for ironwood and steel. I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts would have to offer us in that realm.”

She regarded him silently, weighing his words and the lilting earnestness and hope in his voice. Even as a Lannister, she had never been taught the same way Jaime was. After all, he was a son, and their father’s heir. She had been nothing more than a pretty maiden to place into positions across the kingdoms where her father saw fit. Never mind the fact that she had taken to her lessons better than Jaime ever had; that as a child she had gone in his stead - dressed as Jaime, no one ever could tell the difference at first -, that she had proven herself worthy .

And yet.

“Perhaps I shall,” she said eventually, rising out of her seat. “So long as your Northmen can find peace with having a woman present.” She swept up her skirts in one hand, giving him a short curtsey. “I need to tend to the children.”

“They’ll make peace with it if they want to trade with us,” Eddard said stubbornly. “Winterfell is yours, as it is mine.”

She gave Eddard a droll little look that belied the fire blazing inside her chest. Was it anger? Excitement? Righteous indignation at being compared to a woman of the North? Was she grateful that her husband seemed to care about her words and thoughts, instead of preferring her quiet and warming his bed like any other insipid wife?

Whatever it was that she felt, she did not deign to discuss it with her husband.

Almost begrudgingly, Cersei inclined her head at Eddard. “I shall be available in my sept once the boys have been fed.” Feeding the babies would give her time to think, to regroup and focus her attentions on confronting her husband with the truth behind the harbored infant sleeping beside Robb in his cradle.

A spark of bitterness rose in her belly, and Cersei remembered once more that she was a lion of the Rock, and woe be unto those who dared to dance with lions.

 

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The trade meeting between the Houses Stark, Karstark, and Forrester was not entirely as unpleasant as Cersei had expected it to be. Northmen were brusque and spoke their true intentions, for good or ill. She received the men draped in the grey furs of her husband’s house; perched upon a seat to Eddard’s right the same way she might’ve sat upon a golden throne. Rickard Karstark had looked at her over his narrow nose with suspicion on his gaunt face, but Cersei simply straightened her back and curved her lips at him in what was a passable imitation of goodwill.

“Pardon, m’lord,” he grated slowly, casting his eyes from Cersei to Eddard. “I did not expect an audience to our discussions.”

Eddard’s hands flexed against the aged wood of his seat, his face a cold mask as he regarded the men before him. “There is none. The ones you see in this room are the ones making the discussion.”

Karstark’s mouth curled at him, his eyes cutting into Cersei’s face, hackles rising further when Cersei met his glare coolly. “You forget what the Lannisters do to their friends, Lord Stark. Even if she wears your colors.”

“Lannisters attend to their friends, Lord Karstark,” she said, folding her hands primly in her lap. “We’re not prone to making enemies out of people with whom we can share benefits.”

Benefits ,” Karstark spat, eyes blazing. “And what would you know -”

“You would be wise to remember your place, Lord Karstark,” Eddard rumbled, clear and sharp within the walls of the Great Hall. His grey eyes were hard and reproachful on Karstark’s face. “You shall address Lady Stark with the respect you’ve held for me; the same that I have held for you and your family.” He held the other man in a brutal glare until Karstark tilted his head down, rightfully cowed.

“As you say, Lord Stark.”

Cersei turned her head to Gregor Forrester, tilting her chin down to look at the man. He was certainly far more attractive than Karstark, but no less severe-looking and grim. “Have you any protests to my presence here, Lord Forrester?” she asked him, a gleam in her eyes that nearly dared him to speak.

The man pursed his lips, shaking his head shortly.

Eddard turned his head to look at Cersei, eyes gentler than the cold winter fog they were before, and Cersei looked at him with a predatory gleam and a sweet smile. He turned back to the men standing before him and leaned forward in his seat.

“So we begin.”

 

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She did not want to admit it, but the trade meeting had left Cersei with a rush of exhilaration thrumming through her body. Karstark and Forrester were intelligent men, if blindly pigheaded; worthy enough adversaries for her underused mind and wit. Eddard in the seat of his house was a man she was only discovering now - stern and grim-faced as ever, but his words held weight with his men, if only for the great sense of honor and duty he seemed to expect from them.

The Northmen respected Eddard for his honor. It occurred to Cersei that perhaps she was gradually coming to do the same.

Eventually a maid came searching, full of whispers of unruly tantrums from the heir of Winterfell, and Cersei rose from her seat. “Forgive me, my lords,” she said, curtsying gracefully. “My son calls.”

“We will speak of this further,” Eddard promised her, and even Karstark and Forrester looked at her with something less than animosity.

She left the Great Hall once initial agreements had been made and signed - she was not so demure to believe that they would’ve indulged her words without her there to make it happen. It would’ve given her no greater glory in that moment than to have had the final say to the agreement, but even Cersei knew her own limits. Eddard was still Lord, and she was but his wife.

For now, she had a different war to wage with him.

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It was nearing midday when Cersei found him. “That boy,” she said, entering the chambers of her husband’s solar. “Is no Snow.”

Ned turned in his seat, face smooth and calm as ever, but still with the warm crinkle in his eyes that seemed to be present whenever he addressed his lady wife. “Perhaps you could be a bit more specific, my lady.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed at him, sparks of emerald cut through with gold. “You know exactly who I’m speaking of, Eddard.”

Her husband made a quiet sigh, carefully replacing his quill on his blotter and pushing himself out of his seat. “Jon is my son,” he began softly, and the kind, patient lilt of his voice only made Cersei fume all the more. “But he is a bastard, and he shall always be such. He’ll be of no harm -”

“He’s a Stark.”

Ned paused, staring at her with a wary, unreadable mask. It was one of the things she had hated at first; loathed that her husband was meant to be nothing more than stone and ice brought to life. In some part of her, Cersei took pride in knowing that she had melted down the ice, that she had tamed the wolf - if only because of Ned’s horrid sense of duty and honor. “Would you prefer him to be?” he asked tentatively, gesturing between them with an upturned palm.

Cersei near rolled her eyes at her husband. Instead she folded her arms and looked at him with all the Lannister pride she had. “That boy is a Stark...and a Targaryen.”

The shift on Ned’s face was quick and dark. “That boy is no more a Targaryen than he is your son.”

It was meant to hurt her, to sting her resolve and break it, but Cersei was no meek maiden of the court. She was a lion of the Rock.

“That boy is more my son than he is yours,” she said cruelly. “It is my duty, is it not? To tend to the people of the North and to cherish them as the Mother would, and I did the very same to the child you brought into our home - my home.”

“Jon Snow is my son, and I will not hear anything more of it!”

“I have cherished and cared for that boy as if he were from my very own womb, Eddard. I had chosen to overlook your indiscretions the very same as your bannermen have, but knowing that you house the Targaryen heir -”

He is my son!

“Then prove it!” Cersei snarled, and her emerald eyes gleamed at him with the feral brightness of the lion inside her. A flush had ridden high over her cheeks, ruddy against her pale skin as she reached out to jab him sharply in the chest with a narrow finger. “Proclaim it to the kingdom or write to your dear friend Robert and tell him that his beloved Lyanna was dishonored by the Dragon Prince -”

“He’d kill the boy,” Ned said coldly, eyes blazing into her face; begging her to understand, as if he could somehow move her to accepting Jon’s presence there, the gravity of exposing such a truth to the realm. “Do you understand? He’d ride North and slaughter Jon in his cradle. ” His face twisted into a snarl, fury burning in the stone of his eyes. “Do you know what your own father ordered? Do you know what he made Gregor Clegane do to Elia?”

She curled her own lip at him. “Why should I care -”

“He took her babe from her breast and smashed his skull into the wall,” Ned roared, his voice resonating through the room, swallowed into the stone walls. “And then he raped the queen with her son’s blood still on his hands. Imagine what Tywin Lannister might suggest to Robert if he caught wind that his own daughter was harbouring the Targaryen prince.”

All the color ran from her face, her eyes shuttering from wide-eyed fear to glazed indifference. “You’re lying.”

Ned scoffed, shaking his head. “I can assure you, my lady.” His voice was cold and sharp like the great sword he carried. “Your father wears that order like a badge of honor.”

Cersei brought her other hand up to shove at his chest, but Ned caught it, and she struggled against him for a moment, until she went still suddenly, calm and distant. The fire in her eyes cooled into a glowing ember, and he released her carefully.

“Write to Robert,” she said evenly. “Tell him that your bastard boy died from sickness, that he was weak and small and did not survive the journey. Tell him you came home to twin boys.”

Ned’s brows pulled together in confusion, mouth curving into a hard line as he held Cersei’s wrist and kept her hand spread against his chest. “I do not understand.”

She arched a brow at him and sneered. “Of course you do.” She gave a harsh tug and pulled her hand away from him, spinning on her heels to stride across the room to their fireplace. She folded her arms, and took a breath, staring into the flickering firelight as she willed her temper to wane. Her skin prickled with it - an heir of House Targaryen. As if she would ever stand to have a bastard raised in her house, let alone harboring the stolen heir of a fallen bloodline right under her nose. She could feel the indignation crawling over her skin up into her scalp, and Cersei glanced at him over her shoulder with cold eyes.

She needed to convince her husband that this was a compromise - a sacrifice she was making at great cost. It was her duty, after all, as Lady of Winterfell, as his wife. It was the duty she swore to The Mother when she lost Joffrey.

“If I must keep the boy under my roof then I shall do so under my terms. I will not have you shame me to the eyes of the realm, Eddard.” She looked away, pursing her lips together as she moved away to the window of his chambers; the one overlooking the resting place of Joffrey’s ashes. “I did give you twin sons. I would rather the seven kingdoms believe that Jon had come from my womb than to look at me with sympathy and judgement in their eyes for my husband’s bastard son.”

Her words were harsh, and Ned felt the deep cut of them, and he shifted uncertainly in place. His legs moved him towards his wife, daring to be close enough to Cersei’s temper to reach out and touch her, but Cersei jerked her shoulder away from his outstretched hand.

She turned to him with cold fury and something else underneath her pretty features. “Jon Stark is second-born to his brother, Robb. He was born smaller, as younger of the two.”

Ned regarded her for a long moment, a shuttered look on his grim face, and Cersei hated the way she could not see the true thoughts in his eyes. It was something Ned was good at, most times - keeping secrets. But she was better.

It was a long moment before Ned spoke again, and then it was a stilted, forced diplomacy. “Would you be willing to submit the memory of Joffrey to that of a bastard son?”

The name of their son on his lips ignited her mother-rage inside her again, fiercely protective and selfish for the memory of her golden boy. He was not there when Joffrey was born, he did not hold the boy in his arms or looked upon his face. Ned had no right to speak of him. By some great act of will, Cersei smothered the ugly coiling heat in her chest and gritted her teeth.

“Yes,” she forced out slowly, hands in tight fists. “Joffrey is a memory I will always keep dear in my heart; make no mistake of that, Lord Stark.” She spat his name like it was poison on her tongue.

“He was never meant to taste the bitter truth of life, but my body has prepared itself for two babes, to care and feed and love two.” She looked away, gritting her teeth again as if too overcome to speak, but to avoid seeing her husband’s face soften with guilt.

“Cersei….” She did not like the way her stomach warmed at the gentle way he spoke her name. “I cannot dare to ask these things of you.”

She curled her lip at him. “You are not asking. I am giving it willingly, Lord Stark, and you would be a wise man not to make me question my decision of kindness to you.” She folded her arms across her chest and felt the swelling ache of milk filling her breasts.

The babes would need feeding soon.

“I do not like being lied to, Eddard,” she said stiffly, glancing at him with reproach. “I would have been kinder even, if I had known the truth from the beginning.”

Ned did not deign to reply, standing with a slouch to his shoulders and a deeply guilty look on his face. It was a quality she did not admire in her husband much; the level of responsibility he burdened himself with. Eventually he spoke again, in a quiet mumble, imploring, “all I ask is that you swear that you will tell no one. Please, Cersei.”

She paused. It was something she could hold over his head, even her father’s head - if Tywin did not already know. She had received a raven from him the day after Ned had returned with Jon in tow, and Tywin had only told her to be rid of the boy, nothing more. She did not imagine this was a matter the Old Lion would’ve kept to himself, if only to ensure the murder of the boy.

She could still kill him, she thought. It would be one less hungry mouth to feed, one less threat to her son’s right to his lands. But no sooner did the thought come to her, Cersei felt a rush of something cold and ominous brew in her belly. Gold will be their crowns, and gold their shrouds .

She was not Queen, but Joffrey was born golden-haired. She had sworn to do her duty.

Lannisters always pay their debts.

Cersei pursed her lips. “It is your secret to keep, Lord Stark.” She turned her head away. “Good day.”

“Thank you.” Cersei faltered in her step at the words, low and coarse in her husband’s voice, but no less sincere. “Thank you, Cersei. You’ll have me in your debt for all of my life, and I may not be a Lannister, but I pay my debts.”

She did not look back. “I suppose we have that in common.”

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Ned did not find her until it was nearing dusk. The words they’d shared in his solar had kept in his mind through his day; even when speaking with Rodrik and Mikken and Hullen, while he had walked the streets and spoke to merchants and common folk of their stores and crops. He had learned, from his talks with the residents of Winterfell, that his lady wife had been rather efficient with delegating duties in his stead. She proposed better stores for the seasonal crops, persisted in seeking import from the South, and apparently hounded the groundskeepers into building sturdier pens for the pigs and sheep.

“She thinks us Northern folk simple and barbaric,” Rodrik told him, though the stout man held something like approval in his eyes as he said it. “Farlen said even the dogs were cowed. She ruled Winterfell like a caged lion, he said. Teeth bared and claws ready to sink into anyone in sight.”

Ned let out a puff of breath. Cersei certainly brandished her temper like the barbed whip it was. “I heard no such complaints from Mikken or Hullen,” he said, rubbing a hand through his beard thoughtfully. “She’ll come around to it. I must admit it would’ve been hard for her; adjusting to Northern life. Alone here while the the kingdom was at war.” A shuttered look of something like guilt passed his face.

Rodrik harrumphed. “She’ll need to gather her wits about her for the coming winter. Lions are made for the summer, but direwolves thrive in the cold.”

Ned pressed his lips together, looking at Rodrik mildly. Beyond that, they spoke of Winterfell and the villages around it. When they were finished, he walked out into the courtyards, watching the sunlight dip low beyond the horizon as his men began to light torches.

He came upon the sept, slowing to a halt in front of it somewhat hesitantly. He never thought the Lannisters were altogether religious; not pious or god-fearing, but he knew Cersei had kept her gods well after her journey North. A part of him wondered what she was praying for now - his untimely death, for shaming her so? For a new husband, golden and bright, and many little fair-haired Southron children to her name?  

His thoughts faded away abruptly when the doors opened, and from the candlelit depths of the sept emerged his wife. Cersei looked up from where she was clutching her skirts, and her emerald eyes hardened at the sight of him. They stood like that for a moment; uncertainty on his face, and cold indifference on hers. Cersei’s jaw tightened, and her chin tilted into the air.

“Lord Stark.”

He shifted on his feet, heard the sounds of fallen leaves crushed beneath his boots. “My lady.” He tried to give her a small smile, but Cersei’s sharp gaze was quick to smother it. “I was coming to find you. It’s almost supper.”

“I am aware,” she said archly.

Ned persisted. “I’d like it if I could walk with you to the hall.”

Cersei’s mouth twitched, as if only barely controlling the urge to curl her lip and sneer at him. She made him feel like a boy again, punished for what wrongdoings he had done. Perhaps he did deserve it, but he was a man grown; he had come from war.

And yet.

“That’s hardly necessary, Lord Stark,” she drawled icily. “I’m quite capable of finding my own way.”

He pressed his lips together and inclined his head. “As you say, my lady.”

She strode past him, taking long, purposeful steps across the courtyard and through the bristle of dead leaves. He watched her for a breath, and then followed.

Cersei glanced behind her sharply. He kept a steady pace by her, just within the periphery of her vision, just along the side of her elbow, and Cersei narrowed her eyes at him in a sidelong glare. “What are you doing.”

“Walking, my lady,” he said simply, ambling slow and content beside her.

“I don’t recall consenting to an escort , Lord Stark.”

At her biting words, Ned shrugged innocently. “I’m not, my lady.” He looked at her sidelong as well, catching the slight flare of her nostrils from irritation. For whatever reason, her ire amused him, even when he knew it shouldn’t. He knew only of her temper in stories; felt it in the rush of their meeting in his solar, but Ned could not bring himself to be repelled by her sharp barbs and bristly glares.

She was angry at him, as she was rightly allowed. But beneath the viciousness he had seen the shadows of a soft heart guarded by stone walls and flames.

Cersei rolled her eyes at him, moving in longer strides to overtake him. He simply widened his own. She glared at him exasperatedly. “Then why are you still here ?”

“We just happened to be walking in the same direction, my lady,” he told her, and despite himself, Ned felt the edges of his mouth twitch into a small smile when Cersei muttered something under her breath.

“It’ll take more than just your charm to placate me, Lord Stark,” she said, slowing her pace to a full stop. She turned to face him, and Ned looked at her in the fading sunlight. The gold of her hair loose around her shoulders but for the whirl of hair braided around her head like a crown, pale against the Lannister red gown she had changed into. Perhaps it was meant to spite him and his house, but Ned rather enjoyed the sight of the grey furs and black of her cloak shrouding her.

He stepped back from her, nodding his head. “I know.” His eyes dimmed with guilt, and Ned remembered himself in that moment as he bowed his head to his wife. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, and when he looked up, he saw Cersei visibly stunned. “I should not have raised my voice to you before. It was unkind of me to have said those things to you, when you were right to be angry at me. I won't let it happen again.”

Cersei’s brow arched slowly, eyes heavy-lidded with doubt as she regarded him. Her hands disappeared into the length of her sleeves, clasped in front of her. “You apologise too easily, Lord Stark. Did you bare your throat on the battlefield the same?” she asked, snideness in her lilting tone.

“The men I put down were not my wife,” Ned said easily, honestly. His voice and gaze lowered, serious and grim as he looked at her. “And I did not subject them to the things that I had to you when I returned.”

If there had been any mirth or lightness in his wife’s face before, it had gone now. Cersei’s lips thinned and her brows when smooth with renewed anger. “It's a true wonder that you hadn't wooed a tavern wench into your bed yet. From what I understand, it's certainly a skill you Northmen seem to enjoy indulging in. Perhaps Jon really is your bastard after all, to match the numbers your beloved Robert has already spread across the kingdom.”

It stung, certainly. He hadn't thought to wonder if anyone beyond those in the North knew - or cared to know, for that matter - of Robert’s natural daughter in the Vale. How Cersei knew was another wonder. But Robert was king now, and he supposed that interest in the Baratheon bloodline could only grow from there. He wondered if anything would have changed, even if Robert had Lyanna for his bride.

“I'll swear it in front of your gods and mine if you'd like,” he told her gruffly. “I have never taken another woman into my bed. Nor will I ever. I made my vows to you, and I owe you all of my life and everything I can give you, for what you've done for Jon.”

“Did you write to the king?” she asked then.

Ned pressed his lips together. “Aye. As you said. The realm will know Jon as a Stark, as second-born to Robb.” He did not call Jon a brother to their son. He did not think it would have endeared him any to his wife.

Cersei glanced away for a moment, a distant flickering rush of emotion on her face he could not dissect. “Then it is done.” She turned away from him to continue walking.

“I will sup in my rooms tonight,” she said. “Good day, Lord Stark.”

He stood, and he watched, until the shape of his wife was nothing more than a distant shadow disappearing into the bowels of the Great Keep.

 

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Cersei leaned over the babies in her bed, her long golden hair falling in curtains over the infatuated boys as they burbled and cooed in delight. Robb was quick to a smile, even at three moons old; he reached out a fist to clutch at his mother’s hair, batting at the golden curtain. “That’s my little boy,” she crooned, tickling over his round belly. “My handsome little cub.”

Jon squirmed beside him uncertainly, his eyes searching her face as he kicked and gurgled. He was smaller of the two, but Cersei knew he was as intelligent as any babe could be. She saw it in his eyes - Rhaegar’s son. “Come here, sweetling,” she said softly, lifting the boy into her arms. Robb was more than content to be turned onto his tummy, inspecting the stitching of her blankets, so Cersei held Jon to her for a quiet moment. She looked down into his serious face, stroking a delicate finger over the ridge of his nose and brow. In time, she could see herself loving the boy as her own. The boy was no bastard to her house, nor to her marriage. She held a love in her heart for Rhaegar still.

But now, instead of the glowing glory of King’s Landing, she presided over the frigid wastes of the North, with a healthy son and a husband who seemed to be gentle. It was not so bad, in the grand scheme of things. Robert Baratheon was handsome enough, and gregarious, but she knew enough of the stories about his habits of wine and women. He had been the one to strike down Rhaegar, and Cersei did not see herself happily married to a man she hated. Had it not been for the Mad King or that brute of a Baratheon, she might have been Queen.

Perhaps she might have given Rhaegar a son.

“He would have been fairer than you, I think,” she murmured, and Jon’s eyes blinked at her mincingly. “Like Joffrey. But you, my little wolf,” she leaned in close, whispering to him as if in conspiracy. “You are lucky you have more Stark in you.”

She sighed, and unraveled her gown to put him to her breast. They fed from the wet nurse in the day when she committed to her duties around the castle, but Cersei felt a swell of pride whenever the boys took to her breast, as if infinitely preferring to suckle from her.

Jon latched, and the babe’s eyes at once glazed with contentment, his small frame heaving with a deep sigh.

Cersei stretched out onto the bedstead gently, resting on her side as Jon nursed. She looked at her trueborn son resting sleepily against the blankets, and reached out to lay a hand over his dark head.

She could have laughed. In her arms, she held the sons of ice and fire.

 

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The months passed with a delicate truce between her and Eddard. There were no more discussions held in the height of anger; no raised voices against each other. She continued to attend meetings with him - sat, as she always did, at his right hand and presided over even Maester Luwin and Rodrik Cassel. Eddard made a point of ensuring that the decisions were made together by them, and Cersei found herself reluctantly acknowledging the sense of endearment she felt for her husband because of that. He did not ask to come to her bed since she discovered the truth of Jon’s birth, and Cersei found herself entertaining herself on cold winter nights with letters.

Her letters back home to Tyrion and to Jaime have yielded stories of the crownlands and Casterly Rock -- marriage, it seemed, had not tamed King Robert’s lust, and it was not yet half a year into his reign.

Jaime had yet to have made his decisions about a wife, much to their father’s annoyance. There’s too much to see, too much to do and discover before I make more vows and breed , he wrote to her. I miss you, dearest sister. Perhaps I might venture North for a brotherly visit soon. It would do well for you to see a familiar face in the cold.

The thought of Jaime coming North sent a thrill through her. She had not laid eyes on her twin for more than a year, and Cersei felt the ache of missing him acutely. She did not reply to him immediately; as much as Eddard deferred to her, he was still the reigning Lord of the North, and invitations of guests were to be extended with his approval. The seasons were changing, and with it the trades and routes and workings of Winterfell. The boys were growing as well, and the bigger they grew, the more attentions they demanded of her.  

She often walked with Eddard through the halls and the courtyards with the boys in their arms. It was in those rare moments that Cersei and Ned would share quiet words and japes about their day, with Robb and Jon held in their arms, twisting this way and that to peer out at the world.

“I want to show you something,” Eddard said, and Cersei looked at him curiously. There was a small smile on his face, and he held Jon with one arm as he reached out with his free hand to her. “Come with me.”

Cersei took his hand somewhat warily, following her husband across the courtyards and down along the path leading towards the godswood. “If it’s another tree with bleeding eyes, I’ve seen enough of those,” she told him, but Eddard’s eyes simply crinkled at her in amusement.

They crossed through the guard halls and the First Keep, passing by the Broken Tower before coming to a stop.

The glass gardens.

Cersei paused in front of it, craning her neck up to stare at the tall glass walls, to take in the sunlight glinting in streams and rays. Robb burbles in delight in her arms, reaching out chubby hands towards the dancing lights in front of them. She looked at her husband, and he smiled.

He gestured with his chin towards a gardener emerging from the glass garden. “Look.”

Blue winter roses.

Cersei stared at the bouquet in the gardener’s hand, looking from her husband to the flowers. She watched Eddard thank the man, taking the flowers into his own hand as he turned to her with a small, affectionate smile on his face. There was a soft downturn in his eyes as she accepted the bouquet, burying her nose into its lush smell.

“This is the first time they’ve bloomed since…” he looked down at his feet, hugging Jon close to him and stroking the boy’s dark hair. “Lyanna loved them. I thought you might enjoy them the same.”

She caressed the velvet petals, admired the colour of it as Robb cooed and marveled at the roses the same. “They’re beautiful, Lord Stark,” she said quietly, and her smile was shy when she turned her eyes back to her husband. “Thank you.”

His eyes crinkled again, warm and relieved, and when they walked back to the Keep, Cersei allowed herself to walk arm-in-arm with her husband.

She did not write back to her brother that night. Instead, she slept with her sons in her arms, and the smell of blue winter roses on her pillow.

Chapter Text

The frost between Ned and Cersei thawed enough for her to welcome him back into her bed; once the boys were moved into their own nursery to sleep. “They’re growing boys, love,” Ned said. “They need to learn to sleep by themselves.”

 

“You just want me for yourself,” Cersei replied, putting away her needlework. She looked at Ned, spread out on her bed and watching her with a fondness in his eyes that eventually gave way to a simmering heat as she approached the bed.

 

He reached for her, pushing himself up onto an elbow and pulling Cersei to him gently. “Is that so bad? That I wish to have my lady wife for my own in her bed?” He tucked her hair behind an ear and rolled her beneath him, peppering soft, bristly kisses over her cheek and neck and collarbone. “I would surely be a man of ice if the sight of you didn’t make my blood warm,” he rumbled, caressing her hips and thighs with war-roughened hands.

 

Cersei sighed quietly, tilting her head aside to allow his kisses to travel easily along her skin. She allowed her own hands to stroke along his shoulders, to card through his dark hair and to dig into the muscles in his back. Ned Stark liked pain with his pleasure; another trait they seemed to share. “For a man so noble and good, you certainly have ways with words, Lord Stark.” She spread her legs beneath him and tugged her shift over her hips as Ned pressed down into her, feeling her breath catch as she felt the length of his erection grinding into her.

 

He rumbled into her neck, letting his teeth sink just hard enough into her soft skin for Cersei to arch again him. “Perhaps you have rubbed off on me, my lady.” His hands reached to part her thighs to him, his fingers pressing between her legs to find the growing wetness there.”You certainly feel like you enjoy it.”

 

Cersei shuddered into a moan as his fingers pressed inside her, sighing as he kissed it from her lips. She sank her teeth into his lip with the burn of his fingers stretching her, baring her teeth against her growling husband as he began to thrust his fingers slowly inside her. The slick sound of it filled her belly with heat, and Cersei felt it up into the edges of her hairline.

 

She spread her legs and flexed her hips.

 

“Harder,” she panted. “Don’t tease me.”

 

“Not yet,” he rumbled, pulling his fingers from her. Ned smirked at her disapproving whine, his eyes dark and hungry as he brought his fingers to his mouth to taste her. “I want you bare for me.” He yanked his own tunic off, and Cersei unravelled her own shift carelessly.

 

And then they were skin to skin, and Cersei sighed again at the bristle of his coarse chest hair against her. She caressed her husband idly; stroked and petted his hair and head and back, cupping the back of his neck as he kissed and mouthed his way down her body. She liked having her husband in her bed. It was one of the few places Ned Stark dared to touch her with anything more than a gentle caress - the only place he would pull his teeth back and snarl into her skin like the wolf he was.

 

In the bedroom, they were equals. The lion and the wolf caught between teeth and nails and bodies pressed together beneath the furs, and Cersei bared her own teeth in a hiss when his mouth took claim of her breast. She dug her nails into his scalp and tugged until she heard him growl; felt the stirring and pooling of heat between her hips as he licked and sucked and cupped his hands over her breasts worshipfully. Cersei’s body writhed and arched beneath him as his teeth raked a path along her belly, biting down just enough to leave a mark on the curve of her hipbone.

 

When he looked up at her, his eyes were nearly black - a hungry wolf rumbling between her legs.

 

He lowered his lips to her, and Cersei let her head drop back onto the pillows with a stifled cry.

 

They did no more talking that night.

 

-------

 

 

Robb and Jon’s first nameday came and went. Robb Stark had his father’s colour and his mother’s eyes, with a hidden gleam of something softer than black in his hair when the sun was bright in the sky. Jon Stark was all North; pale and serious with hair like coal that curled like Robb’s. Robb was quick to a tantrum where Jon was pensive, with a temper that brewed slow and great. When the boys learned to walk, Ned brought them to the stables and presented them with two leggy colts, shagged from the cold and solidly built.

 

Cersei eyed the steeds dubiously, hugging Jon close to her. “They’re yearlings yet. The boys won’t ride until they have their third nameday,” he soothed her, holding Robb back from stumbling headfirst into bay colt’s feet.

 

Her lord husband gave their sons a pair of handsome palfreys; one a rich blood bay, and the other a dark blue roan the shade of frozen steel. “They’ll need names,” he said, smiling at her as Jon reached out one chubby hand to press against the roan’s head. “I trust your tastes, my lady.”

 

“Brightfyre,” she said, stepping forward to rest her palm against the bay’s velvet muzzle. “For Robb.” She turned to the roan, scratching its cheek as it threw its head back and regarded her with gleaming slate eyes. “Black Ice.” The colt snuffled at her face, nuzzling into Jon’s curls. “For Jon.”

 

“Soon they’ll be riding alongside you,” Ned said fondly. As part of her bride price, he had given her a mare the day of their wedding; a gleaming beauty amidst the grey, white like snow but with a mane and tail of shimmering gold and cream in the sunlight. Riding was not a pastime Cersei partook in often, but she did enjoy her time with Jewel in the stables and on the quiet rides she took with Ned. The roads in the North left much to be desired, and Cersei knew there was much to discuss with her husband in time.

 

“Perhaps when they can walk without falling on their heads,” she told him.

 

The boys’ nannies emerged from somewhere, and Robb and Jon were passed along to them.

 

Cersei bent to kiss each of them warmly on the head. “Rest well, sweetlings.” She turned to Ned and slid her arm into his, and as they pathed their way back to the Keep, Maester Luwin scurried out to meet them.

 

In his weathered hands, he held letters. “From King’s Landing, my lord.” He passed them to Ned, bowing slightly. When Luwin looked at Cersei, there was a curious, wary look in his eyes. “One from Casterly Rock for you, my lady.”

 

Cersei reached out immediately. “I will read it in my rooms.” She folded her hands back into her sleeves, casting a look at Ned. “We might adjourn to your solar, my lord. I have thoughts to address with you.”

 

Ned’s brows furrowed curiously, dismissing Luwin with a wave of his hand. “What did you wish to discuss, my lady?” he asked.

 

“Your solar, Lord Stark,” Cersei repeated mildly, glancing sharply around them.  

 

---------

 

 

Ned poured his wife a goblet of wine, turning to Cersei as she perched herself on his chair. “What were the thoughts you wanted to address, my lady?” He placed the goblet before her, watching in amusement at the way she twirled his quill between delicate fingers and perused his letters without shame. It wasn’t like he kept them from her, for that matter. Cersei was nothing if not persistent, and there was no stopping her when she wanted something.

 

Cersei looked at the goblet, but made no move to drink. “The North,” Cersei said, looking at her husband. “You command the largest region of Westeros, and yet your castles are crumbling and your roads are more hazardous than the forests that grow around it.”

 

Ned frowned mildly, sipping from his own wine. “The North is vast, as you say, my lady,” he said, leaning against his desk. "We cannot tame the North the same as the South, my lady. The Kingsroad is clear, it's safe. All who travel North --"

 

"What of your castles, Lord Stark?” she asked then, gesturing to the room around them. “The ancient homes of your Northmen, crumbled and abandoned for any to seize. Should an army march North, you'll burn in your homes."

 

The Lord of Winterfell pressed his lips together tightly, eyes dark and guarded as he regarded his wife. "...you think us weak, my lady?"

 

Cersei’s brow arched, and she took her time in answering her husband. "I think you too soft on your vassals. The Rebellion may have ended, Lord Stark, but there are those who still seek blood. If not from the South, then those wretched wildlings hiding in your Wolfswood." Her lip curled at the thought of ever letting Jon and Robb out that deep into the countryside.

 

"I suspect you're thinking too far ahead of yourself, Lady Stark." It sounded a lot like a warning to her, and Cersei felt a flare of defiance bloom inside her.

 

"I'm thinking of our sons ,” she replied sharply. “When they're old enough to ride, to run, to play. If one of them climbs the Broken Tower, or if the stones come loose in your First Keep -- then what? I won't have my children crippled or killed because their father was too ignorant to consider these things."

 

Ned shook his head stubbornly. "They are not the first children that will grow within the walls of Winterfell, and they will not be the last. Robb and Jon will learn to play as all other children of the North do.”

 

Cersei sighed, looking away into the blackened hearth. She swirled the quill idly in her hand, wondering how much would she need to fight her husband on the matter. Surely he could understand her concerns? Winterfell was vast, larger than Casterly Rock by far, but severely lacking in its grandeur. She supposed that men of the North didn’t need grandeur like the Southron Lords did, but it wasn’t as if she wanted to drape silks upon its walls and embed diamonds into its windows.

 

She placed the quill back onto the table carefully. “It’s not as if we don’t have the gold to fix that blasted tower,” she said petulantly, leaning back in his seat.

 

He eyed her thoughtfully, reaching for the jug and pouring himself more wine. “I understand that Winterfell cannot compare to the comforts of Casterly Rock, my lady, but I didn’t expect you to take offence at a crumbling castle tower.” He moved to fill Cersei’s goblet, but she covered it with her hand.

 

“I take offence at your indifference towards it,” she replied mildly, and caught the strange look he was giving her. “What?” She glanced at her wine, untouched and still filled nearly to the brim. Slowly she lowered her hand, shrugging. “I’m not in the mood for wine.”

 

She gave him a pointed look, something sparkling and bright in her eyes as she brought her hand down to her stomach.

 

Ned stared.

 

Cersei smiled at him, and in his wild rush of sweeping his wife into his arms, he did not see the uncertainty marring her pretty face. She let him hold her and kiss her, nearly laughing as she wriggled out of his ardent embrace. “I spoke with the maester this morning,” she told him, when Ned let her step back far enough to look upon him. He had his arms around her waist still, and Cersei allowed herself to rest her hands on his hands where they were circled around her.

 

“Truly?” he asked, almost in awe as he peered down at her belly. “Another one?”

 

She squeezed his hand. “Yes,” she said. “Perhaps two again, even.”

 

With a startling amount of tenderness, Ned pressed a kiss into her hair, holding her in a gentle embrace. “Perhaps a girl this time,” he murmured warmly, twirling her golden hair between his fingers, eyes crinkling and soft as he looked at her. “Yes. Fair like you, and sweet.”

 

Perhaps not fair, she thought anxiously. Not so fair at all.

Chapter Text

The boys flourished, as did Winterfell around them; Cersei sat with her husband through nearly all of his council meetings, and those she did not, he asked of her opinions anyway. Imports and exports were vastly improved, considering the post-war recovery of the North’s wood and steel and men, and the Northmen began to speak of Lady Stark with something like respect. As the new Lord of Winterfell, Ned took his duties seriously; dedicating his time with handling lords and smallfolk alike, taking lengthy walks and meals with farmers and builders and workers of the North the same way he did with the vassals of his house. There was no man above the other, no Lord more worthy of his time than a stableboy. Cersei held some respect for her husband’s calm and steady temperament, although she considered his honour something of a hindrance at times.

When she was too big for walking the grounds of Winterfell, Cersei took up the seat of her husband’s solar.

“Lords are Lords for a reason,” she said. “Not all men were created equal.”

He snorted quietly, glancing at her with something like amusement and reproach. “A Lord is a Lord because he had the great fortune of being born into a noble house. Noblemen are no more noble than the smallfolk - sometimes even less so.” The smile on his face was bitter and rueful, and Cersei thought him weaker still for it.

“And the smallfolk are no less scheming,” she retorted. “You think they don’t talk of you behind your back? When their great Warden of the North pretends he is equal to those who bow their heads when you walk - you might as well lay yourself belly up for them to gut you.”

“I don’t intend to guard the North by tyranny, Cersei.” He sounded incredulous that she would think to suggest it - and truly it was an incredulous thought for Ned to consider. “I fought a war to stop one tyrant, and one was enough. That died along with the Targaryen line, and the men of the North are not the same as those in the South,” he said calmly. His eyes were clear and steady on her face, like he was seeing through her.

Cersei held her tongue, smothering her sneer into a mild twist of her mouth. Sometimes it was easy to forget that the wolf had fangs too. But the howl of a wolf was no match for the roar of a lion. “You give them too much face,” she accused.

“They are my people,” Ned said placidly. “I give them as much face as they give me.”

Cersei rolled her eyes, a derisive sound in her throat. “A lion doesn’t concern itself with the opinions of sheep.”

“It is a good thing that I am a wolf of the North then,” Ned replied, an edge to his voice. He looked at his wife, and Cersei turned her gaze away stubbornly. Pregnancy made Cersei very bold; bolder than usual with her sharp tongue and piercing eyes when it came to matters between her and her husband. The Lord of the North was not quick to temper, but a low, warning look from Ned was enough to quell Cersei’s indignation.

She rubbed a hand over the growing swell of her belly and the babe kick against her palm. “The little cub agrees with me,” she said smugly, although her pride was quickly replaced with a furrowed brow of discomfort.

Ned’s eyes softened as he watched her, ever gentle with his wife; ever willing to overlook her scathing words and burgeoning temper. “Are you hurting?”

“No,” Cersei said stubbornly.

It didn’t stop Ned from moving to her, reaching out to brace his large, warm hands against her belly. Cersei could barely hide her annoyance, but felt no real inclination in her bones to push his hands from her body when he stroked over the globe of her stomach gently. At the heart of it all, she was like any woman; preening at the warm affections her husband held for her. She hadn’t wanted to marry him, but they had a marriage and two sons, and he was gentle with her. All things considered, it was not so terrible.

“You ought to rest,” Ned told her, reaching up to brush her golden hair behind an ear. “Maester Luwin says you've been more tired with this pregnancy.”

And she hated it for the truth it was. The constant fear for her child’s life did little to ease Cersei’s sleep, nor cherish the moments she felt their babe move within her. Each morning she woke with the cold dread of blood on the sheets, or pain spearing her belly, and still now, so deep into her carrying, she still dreaded each coming of the dawn.

But to her husband, she made no such confessions. “I didn’t have two wildling sons to chase after the first time,” she sighed, bracing her hand against where she could feel the baby’s knees pressing against her belly.

Ned chuckled quietly, pulling Cersei close to press a lingering kiss on her head. His large hand caressed her belly tenderly, and his eyes on her face were just as warm. “They have the blood of lions and wolves in them. I imagine we’ll have our hands full yet.”

 

---------

 

Cersei carried long enough for it to be more than blood and tissue; for her to see through the haze of pain and delirium that the small, lifeless body had a head of golden hair.

Ned had been there for the birth. It was he who held her in his arms when she’d howled in her mother’s grief, who pushed her hair back and kissed her crown and murmured to her the steady thrums of a soothing husband. All the words she spat at him, he endured - wiped her damp forehead with a towel and fed her water and let her crush his hand in hers when she pushed.

It was he who bundled the blood-soaked cloth in trembling hands when the maester told him to take the child, who carried the child to be burned like its brother before it.

“At least tell me what it was,” Cersei begged him, nearly incoherent from her sobbing, eyes swollen and red against the pallor of her skin. Her hair was wild around her, caught against her cheeks from sweat, eyes wide and bright like a frightened animal cornered. The handmaids held her pinned to the bed, kept her from fighting to reach for her child, until she had looked upon Ned’s face and begged again.

“A girl,” he told her, low and aching. “It was a girl.”

Cersei mourned her daughter deeply. She was shut off again within her rooms, with her sons at her skirts at every moment of the day. What bridge built between her and Ned withered to nothing; she wouldn’t speak with him, or at the very least she did not look him in the eye when he came to see her throughout the day. Ned tried his hardest to keep the connection between them, even when she hardly acknowledged his presence. A woman’s grief was not something he was accustomed to - how did he soothe her? How was he meant to tell her that a loss of a child would leave the deepest wounds, yes, but Death came for all - rapers, thieves, mothers, babies. They were all the same to Death. He was quite sure Cersei would have slapped him if he dared to speak those words to her.

Instead he took his meals with her, sat with her, tried to hold her. At times, she would let him play with the boys, but Cersei took up a deadly gleam in her eyes whenever Ned would suggest taking the boys for walks. It wasn’t long before Robb and Jon were restless, and at last Cersei reluctantly emerged from her chambers.

Ned met her at the door, brows pulled tight and low with worry. He hadn’t been around when she had Robb and Joffrey. He didn’t know the grief that ate at his wife from the loss. To him, she was too thin, too pale, too weak - withering as the blue winter roses abandoned in a vase at the edge of her table.

“Cersei…” He reached out his hand to touch her, but Cersei kept her hands folded in her sleeves.

She looked at him blankly, the fire in her eyes gone to nothing more than a bare ember. “Lord Stark.” It was the softest he had ever heard her speak. She looked down at her hands, wrung them hard in front of her as she heard the boys babbling down the hall with their nannies. She stared after them longingly, darting glances from Ned to their sons, and back again. He held his hand out to her still, lingering between them as she looked at his hand and then his face.

“Walk with me,” he urged her. “The day is warm; it’ll be good for you. The boys will like walking with you.”

She slipped her hand into his; it was cold to the touch.

“Take me to the Godswood,” she whispered, a distant look in her dull emerald eyes. “I want to pray.”

 

-------

 

He sat with Robb and Jon in his lap, accompanying her in silence; perched on the roots of the heart tree and watched her with his own thoughts roiling. She knelt with her hands clasped tight - he hadn’t thought Cersei to be religious in any way, let alone willing to kneel before the Old Gods, but he had heard the stories from Nan and Luwin of Lady Stark’s despair when she had lost Joffrey. He pressed his lips together and watched sadly as his wife whispered prayers under her breath, her eyes blazing as she glared into the heart tree’s bleeding face.

Jon squirmed in his lap, reaching out chubby fists for his mother and whimpering. “Mama.”

She looked at them sharply, eyes sad and distant as she looked at the boy. Without another word, she reached for him, and Ned lowered the boy into her arms readily. She cradled Jon against her chest, one slender hand curled into his dark hair as she hugged her son close, and it seemed to Ned that she was trying not to cry.

“I prayed for Joffrey when he died,” she whispered, eyes lost in a whirl of memories. “I begged the gods for him back. I even prayed to your old gods.” She sniffled, pulling back just enough to press a kiss to Jon’s forehead, to let the boy cling to her hair and dress. “Perhaps I should’ve bargained harder.”

Ned pressed his lips together, shifting against the aged roots of the heart tree. With Robb dozing in his arms, it was difficult for him to hold his wife, so instead he sat as close as he could, until their thighs were touching. “If it is one thing I have learned from this war,” he began quietly, peering down at his sleeping son’s face. “It is that Death comes without prejudice. It takes the strong as much as it takes the weak; it takes the innocent as much as it takes the guilty.”

“I was four when my mother died," she told him. "She died giving birth to that twisted little Imp. I prayed to the gods to bring her back, and you know what my father told me?" She made a sound of something caught between a scoff and a smothered sob, her lips almost pulled back into a bitter snarl. "The gods have no mercy, that’s why they’re gods. He told me that no matter how hard I prayed, I would never have my mother back.”

His lips pressed together in a thin white line. What little love he held for Tywin Lannister was rapidly deteriorating. “Four is too young to hear these things, my lady.”

From the corner of her mouth, Cersei almost smiled, but it was full of nothing more than grief and irony. “I believed him, you know. Until I came here. Until I had Robb and Joffrey. The night they burned Joffrey’s body, I prayed in my sept until I could hardly understand the words I was saying. I came here and I knelt in front of your bleeding trees and --"

Cersei sat silently for a long moment, her skirts spread out around her in dark crimson like blood. Her hair had grown even longer in the cold, and it fell like a curtain of wheat and gold around her gaunt face as she stared up at the rustling leaves.

Her words came as quietly as the breeze. “I had a name for her, you know. It came to me in a dream.”

“What did you name her?” he asked.

“...Myrcella.” Ned saw her swallow hard, and when she spoke next he could hear the tears caught in her throat. “In my dream she was so sweet, so good. She was too pure for this world.”

He felt a tremor of agony piercing into his heart, colder than ice and hotter than forged steel at once. “At the very least --” he felt a bitter catch of grief in his throat, and Ned cleared his throat discreetly. “At least we know that she did not have to suffer.”

He reached out tentatively, and laid his hand over hers.

Cersei looked down at their hands, tried to feel something more than the resonating cold in her bones. “Yes." It was nearly lost in the sway of the leaves above them. "At the very least, we have that."

Chapter Text

There were no more babies for a little while after. When the boys were nearing three, she asked her husband to return South.

“I feel as barren as the lands the longer I stay here,” she told Ned. “Let me go home, even if it’s only for a little while. My father hasn’t seen his grandsons. My brother hasn’t seen his nephews.”

Ned had frowned at her. “That is a long journey to make on your own,” he murmured. “Are you sure you’re well enough to go so far for so long?” The winds were no less kind as the seasons changed; it was the Long Summer, but still his wife’s skin would pale and frost in the breeze. Even her cheeks seemed immune to the winter’s blush, and Cersei seemed only to grow colder inside.

Her rooms were the warmest rooms of the castle, and yet whenever Ned ventured into the realm of the lion’s den, the frigid air between them was always colder than the winter storm.

She was no less beautiful to him, but the cold seemed to make the lion’s claws sharper still. In the late nights, he could hear her grief give way to shattered dreams and tears. They had not shared a bed since before losing Myrcella, but still when Ned kept the late hours in his rooms, he sometimes heard the whimpers and stifled sobs of his wife. In those moments, he went to her, and held her in his arms even as she gnashed her teeth and cursed at him, sank her nails into his skin and wished him dead.

“Golden, like she said,” she would sob, half muffled against his broad chest. “Gold crowns and gold shrouds.”

He didn’t understand it, did not know how to question it, so Ned gave her what little comfort he could.

And then one morning she went to him with intentions of venturing South.

The thought of having his sons in the clutches of the Lannisters did not sit well with the Lord of Winterfell. Married as he was to the Jewel of Casterly Rock, Ned held no love for her father or brother. Jaime Lannister was a constant source of strain between them - an endless debate of loyalties and honour. The Kingslayer had been pardoned by King Robert, but removed from the Kingsguard and returned to his rightful place at Casterly Rock as payment of the debt that Tywin Lannister and his army had incurred.

What fairness was it, Ned wondered, that a man who forsook his oath and duty was now being rewarded in titles and lordships and gold.

Cersei loved her brother too fiercely; twin to her that he was, but Ned had judged the man guilty as soon as he'd walked into the throne room and found Jaime seated upon the Iron Throne with the Mad King dead at his feet. What love she felt for the man, Ned did not feel.

He supposed he should be grateful that Robert didn’t need to worry himself about the Kingslayer at his back.

"Let them come North," he said at last. "The boys are too young to travel so far, and I don't want you straining yourself."

She wept at him bitterly, cursed and spat at him for never truly loving her. "You mean to punish me for the children I owe you, is that it?" she cried. "You want me to rot in this frozen forsaken land."

“I want you to be well,” he said quietly. “I know you don’t like the cold, but the way you fret - it worries me. Wait another moon or so; Benjen’s coming back to help recruit for the wall. I can ask him to extend his stay a while, then we can go together.”

Cersei spun to the table, snatching up the carafe of wine. Her hands were trembling so hard, wine spilt over the mouth of her goblet before she slammed the carafe back down and took up the goblet.

Ned moved towards her. “Cersei --”

She took half of it down before he wrested it from her grip. Wine had become her balm to grief and everything else, and when he pried the goblet from her hands she spun on him with her hands reaching to hurt.

“You monster! Craven fool!” she snarled, reaching to slap him with eyes bright like glittering stones, swelled with tears. “Even this you deny me! All of my comforts you take from me!”

He held onto her gently, grasped her wrists when she fought his touch, braced himself against her beatings as her cursing and blustering faded into low, aching whimpers. "I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing her cheek softly. "I'm sorry." He kissed her cheeks, her hair, her crown - kissed her and whispered to her until Cersei had crumbled into his arms.

Her nails dug like claws into his skin.

 

-----

 

That night, she came to him in his rooms and kissed him so hard he tasted blood. Slender and pale, her hands were strong when she pushed him down on the bed and seated herself in his lap. She tugged at his tunic, yanked at his breeches, and when he opened his mouth to speak she had stolen the words from his throat with her mouth. He looked up at saw a blaze in her eyes that he had not seen in many moons; the lion’s fire, jewelled in emerald and haloed in gold.

Her thighs were strong against his, smooth and soft like velvet against his palms as he caressed them with the urgency he could feel burgeoning inside his wife.

“Cersei….” It came out like prayer, like vulgarity coarse and harsh in his throat. It came out like it was the only word he knew.

She took him in hand, and then he felt her thighs flex against his, and he was inside her.

Her fingers pressed divots into his chest, her nails raking dark and red over his skin. He felt them like the sweetest kiss.

It felt more like a battle; nothing gentle and sweet - nothing less than what he expected. She rode him with a viciousness that almost hurt, hurt all the same when she dug her nails in and bent to kiss him. His hands were on her, reaching for every part of her he could reach, spanned over the curve of her hips up over the ridges of her spine, the heavy weight of her breasts hidden beneath silk. He tried to reach further, to brace his hand against the back of her neck and pull her down to kiss, but Cersei shoved his hands off her body, pinned them with a grip like steel on the bed.

He looked into her face and saw grief. Anger, rage, hurt, fear - all of it, he saw on his wife’s beautiful face, drawn tight with intent, hard as stone with wildfire brewing beneath. All of it, he understood; knew them more intimately than he seemed to know the lion in his bed, in his lap. Deep beneath the layers of pride and fire and brimstone, he saw the fissuring cracks of something more. Something so young and raw and sweet - a girl put in the place of woman.

Her breaths came out in harsh pants against his lips, the taste of Dornish red and blood in the air between them. A golden curtain fell around their heads, and Ned strained his neck upwards to kiss her, but Cersei pulled her lips away, burying her face instead into the corded line of his pulse.

Her teeth pressed sharp against his skin, fangs that bit down to bleed, and Ned felt the groan she kept behind gritted teeth as her body went taut over him, the shudder of her peak shaking them both.

He followed quickly, and through the thrum of singing steel in his veins and white behind his eyes, he felt her tears the clearest.

When the sweat was cooled between them and her tears dried in the sheets, when Cersei scurried to the fire to warm her shivering skin and redress, Ned looked at his wife in the firelight. She carried the signs of motherhood on her, pale silvery lines over her belly and thighs that flashed only in the right light, the softness of her in her hips that he liked to feel against his hands. Three babes and two pregnancies - and yet she was still the most beautiful woman in all of Westeros.

“It’s a cold night; we shouldn’t have to spend it alone,” he said, and Cersei looked at him over her shoulder. “I’d like you to stay.”

She spent another moment warming her hands and rubbing them over her arms. After a while she seemed to give up on the fireplace, padding quickly back to the bedstead. “Move then,” Cersei said to him, nudging him over on the bed before she slid eagerly under the furs. She curled into them with relief; he could see gooseflesh on her arms, so he reached to cage his wife in his warmth.

Cersei huddled deeply into his arms, burying her face into the dark spread of hair on his chest, and Ned felt his belly warm with affection. “Your rooms are always so cold,” she complained, and Ned held her tighter to him.

“I’ll keep you warm,” he rumbled, nuzzling his face into her hair. His fingers reached into her golden locks, twirling them like a child around his fingers. “Not all of me is made of ice, you know.” He nudged his nose against her head teasingly.

Cersei scoffed at him, but Ned squeezed his arms tighter around her. “Sometimes I do wonder, Lord Stark.” The acerbity of her words stung somewhat, but he had long grown accustomed to his wife’s show of teeth.

He simply kissed behind her ear, and he knew that exasperated her more. They laid together in something like a companionable silence, though in the air between them he could feel the lingering words unspoken. Cersei’s breath was warm and light against his arm, her hair spilt over his chest like molten gold, and Ned reached for the edges to twirl around his finger.

Cersei’s breath was slower and deeper against him when he spoke again, quiet and firm. “You can go South. I will stay if you wish it, but I want Jon to stay North with me.”

She felt her breath hitching tight in her chest at the thought. “He’ll cry for me,” she said, eyes sharp as she pushed upright from her husband’s arms. “He needs me to put him to sleep at night.”

“I won’t have him be anywhere near your father,” he said darkly. “Not unless I’m there to watch them.” He looked at her then, and instead of the gentleness she was so used to seeing on his face, she saw the Lord of Winterfell.

Cersei’s brow arched, and it was both a challenge and an accusation. “You think my father would dare harm his own grandsons?”

“I think he would dare slaughter a babe in its cradle if it very well suited him.” Or at the very least command another man to do it for him.

Cersei’s fingers curved into talons against his chest, and Ned felt the pinch of his hairs catching underneath her nails. “You wanted Jon for a son, and you have him,” she said coldly, eyes cutting like glass against his stony face. “Jon is more my son than he is yours, and all of the Seven Kingdoms believe it the same.” She shook her head incredulously. “You don’t think the people will talk of why I take one boy and not the other?”

“It will be lonely when you’re not here,” he said lightly then, but she understood the weight behind his words. “We have two sons - let me keep one with me so that I won’t miss you so terribly.” Let me keep the son with dragon’s blood safe.

“He’s my son .” The conviction in her words felt like a blazing coal in his chest. She had been overly protective since Myrcella. The boys went nowhere without her, and sometimes slept in her bed still. “If we hide him North and lie to people about it, they’ll start to wonder why.”

He tried his best to quell the frustration building inside him. His wife was short of temper and rash at the loss of it; Cersei liked having her way at all times, but this was a place he wouldn’t give in. To fight fire with fire would only stoke the flames higher.

“There must always be a Stark at Winterfell,” he said. “Jon is a Stark as I am.”

“I thought that was what your brother was for,” Cersei retorted. “Or were those just more lies from the mouth of wolves?” She pulled away from his arms abruptly, pushing back the covers and bending to snatch her robe off the floor.

Ned pushed up onto an elbow to watch her, sighing at the anger emanating off his wife as she dressed. “Cersei, you know why he cannot go.”

Cersei bit down hard on her cheek, tasted the sharpness of blood on her tongue as she glared at her husband over her shoulder. Of course she knew, but it didn’t make her want it less. “He looks nothing like them,” she said. “No one will think to wonder.”

“I worry still,” Ned insisted. “Your father has no love for Targaryens, and no matter how much we deny it, I know you see the Dragon Prince in his face.”

Cersei’s face twisted sourly. She knew exactly what he wanted, and why he wanted it so. Bringing Jon to the South could complicate things, especially if anyone were to suspect his true origins. It wasn’t suspicion that her husband feared most; she knew he feared the truth coming from her own lips.

“I won’t tell my father,” she told him, voice tight. “It’s no benefit to me for him to know the truth.” Tywin Lannister would sooner brand his daughter a traitor to the family name for it. “If he wanted Jon dead, he would’ve done it already.”

Ned’s face changed, shrouded in a blank sort of anger and suspicion. “Does he know?” he demanded.

Cersei stared at him, blinking once before her brows pulled together. “Not unless your castle walls have ears,” she said. “Not unless your people have such little love for me and you that they would do it in spite.”

Her eyes pierced his. “Would your Northmen turn on you so, Lord Stark?”

“Never,” he replied gruffly, shaking his head. That would break thousands of years of tradition and fealty - it would break the North into shards.

Cersei’s brow arched again. “The people like to talk,” she told him quietly. “What about the people of Winterfell that saw my son burned and buried before you ever came into sight? How can you be so sure that none of your household has spread whispers through the North about our dead trueborn son?”

Ned’s brows wrinkled hard on his face, and it made him look older than the three and twenty years he was. “The North is not the same as the South, my lady,” he told her. “We are not folk of courtly aspirations - not here, not in Winterfell.” He grasped her arms gently, held her to him.

“You think my people hate you so?” he whispered, eyes searching her face with a curiosity and confusion. “You came North with no regards for the customs we have here, with your nose in the air at our Old Gods, aye.” Cersei looked away from him angrily, but Ned reached up and cupped her cheek, brought her eyes back to him. “But you would house your lord husband’s bastard son as your own; you’ve fed him at your breast and kissed his hurts and sang him to sleep. For your love of Robb - and most of all Jon -, I know they’d lay their lives down for you.”

Some of the fight left her, though begrudgingly. It was the only thing she had left, so far away from home; so far away from Jaime. “They are my children,” she said. “I’ll love them until my last breath.”

Ned held her close and kissed her cheek warmly. “And that is enough for me.”

Once more they fell silent; Cersei endured her husband’s warm caresses and followed his ushering hands back to the bed. The frigid winds of the cracked open windows were nipping at her skin, and Cersei huddled back under the thick furs with relief. When Ned slid in beside her, she turned over to look at him.

“You’ll write to my brother,” she said. “You’ll invite him North.”

Chapter Text

At the behest of his lady wife, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell extended a formal invitation to her dearly beloved brother. With the invitation, he invited Lord Tywin of Casterly Rock to the North, alongside his heir and eldest son, to visit with his daughter, and to acquaint themselves with her sons . The extension of his letter towards Lord Tywin had been a courtesy at best - both men knew what little love there was between them, and for all the honour that Ned held, he had little thought for the insult it might have been to address the letter solely to Jaime.

“You mustn’t anger him,” Cersei chided him. “He’s your good-father. The Warden of the West.”

“Aye, and I am Warden of the North,” he told her. “We are equals on this plane.”

Cersei curled her lip at that, but said nothing further as he sealed his letter and sent it with a raven. When Ned went out for his walks into winter town, she sat in his seat, reading ledgers and letters while the boys stumbled around their father’s solar, giggling and tussling with each other on the carpet. “Not so rough, my sweets,” she told them mildly, studying Winterfell’s expense ledger intently. On the slight chance that her father replied and joined Jaime’s journey North, they needed to have supplies ready.

The boys had grown much through the moons. Robb had the strong Lannister jawline and fiery temperament, and Jon seemed to become more and more of the North as he grew. They spent almost every moment together - waking, eating, playing, sometimes fighting and screaming and crying together. Jon slept with one hand reaching for his brother, and Robb slept with his body nearly curled around Jon’s.

That didn’t mean that there wasn’t sibling rivalry.

The boys rolled each other on the floor, grunting and straining against each other. Jon grunted and huffed as he struggled under his brother, mashing his hand against Robb’s cheek, but the heir of Winterfell only laughed.

“Got you!” Robb said, grinning at his brother’s pouting face. “I win! I win!”

“Ow!” Jon complained, wriggling out from where Robb’s knees were squeezing into his ribs. “No fair, no fair! Stop!”

Cersei looked over to them, watching her sons carefully. “That’s enough now, boys,” she called to them. She caught the way Robb stuck out his tongue at his brother, and Jon’s face flushed red with anger.

“Cheater!” he cried. “You’s a - a-a-a naughty naughty cheater!” Jon accused him, thrashing harder.

Robb’s face shifted from triumph into indignation. “I no cheater!”

“Cheater, cheater, cheater!” Jon chanted.

With an enraged shout, Robb pounded his fists against his brother’s chest, and soon both the boys’ faces were wet and hot with tears, their little voices hoarse from screaming.

Cersei rushed to them, lifting Robb off his brother and holding the flailing boy against her. “Robb, stop that this instant!” She pinned the boy’s arms to his side, glaring at her son until Robb turned his teary eyes and dark brow to her with a glare. She matched it coldly, and waited to see her son’s face go blank with fear and shame.

She helped Jon to his feet as well, dusting off the sulking boy’s clothes and gently wiping his snotty face. “You are brothers,” she told them firmly, glancing between the boys as they glowered at one another. For such a ripe age of three, they had quite a knack for grudges. “You shouldn’t fight each other like this.”

Jon sniffled, his serious face scrunching into a miserable frown that made Cersei’s chest tighten with sympathy. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and stood shifting from foot to foot.

“Apologise to one another,” Cersei told them, nudging Robb as he grumbled and huffed and folded his little arms petulantly. Robb was very much his mother’s son.

With a much put upon sigh, Robb turned to his brother. “Sorry,” he mumbled, eyes staring hard at everywhere that wasn’t Jon.

Jon looked at Robb squarely in the eye, guilt already swimming in his wide innocent gaze. “Sorry.”

Cersei pinched Robb’s ear gently. “Look your brother in the eye when you say it,” she said, disapproval in her warm voice. “Your temper is mine, but you must learn your father’s honour the same.”

Robb huffed, though his shoulders slumped and he looked sufficiently chastened as he looked his brother in the eye and mumbled another truer apology. When all was said and done, Cersei pulled both her sons into her arms and squeezed them tight.

“Soon enough you’ll be holding swords in your hands with armies at your backs,” she told them, pressing a kiss to each of their heads. “Leave the fighting to men, my darlings.” She bounced them in her lap, taking Jon’s hand in hers and kissing his palm. “Soon you’ll be old enough to travel, my little pup. Then we can go to the seaside, and you can meet your grandfather and uncle, wouldn’t you like that?”

“Like that,” Jon echoed happily, pleased at simply being in his mother’s arms. He was getting too big to carry, and Ned had given her that quiet look of worry whenever he saw her with the boys in her arms. Soon enough the boys were giggling among themselves again, wriggling out of her hold to start a new game.

She sat and watched her sons for another moment, with eyes sharp for more bickering, until there was a knock at the door. “Enter.”

The rattling of his chains announced Maester Luwin’s arrival. He bowed at the door. “My lady.”

“Lord Stark is on his rounds,” Cersei told him, sighing as she watched the maester nod along.

“News, my lady, from the King.” In his hands he held a roll of parchment, and his eyes and smile were bright when she looked into his face. “Queen Catelyn has given birth at last.”

 

-----------

 

“I’d like to visit your rooms again tonight, if I may.”

The Warden of the North was perched on the edge of her bed still, lacing up boots and breeches. He had come into her bed the night before, smelling faintly of ale and the wilderness and the earthen scent she’d learned to be his alone. The throne was finally celebrating the birth of its first child - a girl, she’d heard; about as Tully as she could get -, and Ned had led the celebrations with his men in well wishes to Robert.

She did not think to be present at the feast, and Ned did not demand it of her. They had sons, after all; sons who were loud and demanding and wanted nothing more than their mother’s attentions and her caresses at night to gentle them into sleep. She was surprised when her lord husband had come to her door, staggering slightly, but Cersei did not mind the taste of ale on his lips as much as she would’ve thought. It certainly put an amount of brute strength to his thrusts that she enjoyed.

She perched herself at the dressing table, picking up a brush to tame the mess his hands had made her hair the night before. “Yes, dear,” Cersei said absentmindedly, brushing out her golden locks. “You can have your fill of me once our sons have been put to bed.” She looked at him in the mirror and blinked when she saw a queer look on his face. “What?”

There was something like a fond smile there, curved in the edges of his grim face. “That’s the first time you’ve called me anything but Eddard. You’ve only ever called me Eddard, or Lord Stark, and perhaps the rare ‘husband’, but never ‘dear’.”

She felt the heat flush through her cheeks, and Cersei made as haughty of a sound as she could, and continued brushing her hair with feigned indifference. “We are married, after all, dear .” She made a note of sweetening the word. “It was bound to happen.”

“Mayhaps,” he said, and the bed creaked with him as he rose to his feet. He was mostly dressed now, lacking his coat, but in her rooms, it was warm. The heavy sound of his feet on the stone floors brought Cersei’s eyes up to him again through the mirror, and she watched as he came to her, laying his broad, warm hands over her shoulders.

“But I did not expect it to happen so soon.”

Cersei let her mouth twist into a wry smile. “I’ve given you sons, Lord Stark. We have known each other well enough.”

He bent to kiss her crown, and then her shoulder, and through the mirror’s reflection, she saw a ghost of a smile beneath her husband’s beard. “There are many facets to you, lady wife. I would not insult you by presuming you to be so simple.”

That night, he came to her, and she called him Ned.

Chapter Text

Her next moon’s blood did not come, nor the one after, but Cersei was too consumed with the preparations of her brother’s arrival to notice. Jaime had replied a fortnight after the raven was sent, and Ned had told her the answer she’d been waiting for.

“Your father won’t be joining him,” he said, and Cersei saw no real disappointment in her husband’s face. “But they said to wait another moon or so — your father’s in King’s Landing treating with the King. When he returns to Casterly Rock, Ser Jaime will come.”

It was just as well — Winterfell was not to Tywin’s tastes. Outside of the workings of the castle and of Winterfell, she was consumed in that moment with the fact that Robb and Jon were running through the hallways of the castle, slippery from their bath and naked as the day they were born. Their nurses — useless Northern idiots who were better off serving as tavern wenches — had come to her chambers begging her for help with rallying the little lords.

She followed the sound of scurrying feet and giggles, and found her boys crouched in their nursery, desperately trying to wriggle out of Old Nan’s astonishingly firm grip.

Old Nan gave her a near-toothless grin as she calmly deposited Robb into his bed. “Yer boys are Stark blood, through and through. Brandon and Ned did the same when they were young.”

“I should have a finger cut off for every time those useless hogs pester me with something like this,” Cersei said, and strode to them with her hands planted on her hips. Robb was clutching the end of the bed, bouncing on his heels and giggling up at where Jon was still firmly grasped in Old Nan’s arms. His mirth dissipated quickly when Cersei’s shadow came upon the bed, and the heir of Winterfell’s eyes went wide.

Cersei gave him a hard look. “Stark or not; even little cubs wear their fur.”

Robb broke into a squealing giggle, babbling happily at her as he reached up pudgy hands to her eagerly. The boys were only just past their third nameday, but as sure-footed and wily and stubborn as any other of their father’s men. “Play, Mama!” Robb bounced on his feet again, hands flexing impatiently for her embrace.

She peered at him with a mild look on her face before Cersei surrendered with a sigh. “Vicious little wildlings,” she said, scooping her son into her arms. Robb nestled himself contentedly in her arms while Cersei brushed back his unruly mane of curls, and looked at the grim-faced Jon on Old Nan’s hip.

For the rest of her days, Cersei would blame her affections for the boy on the fact that motherhood had softened her, and that whatever love she held for the boy was nothing more than the flame she held onto for loving his father.

That was the only reason why she spoke to him as lovingly as she did. “And you, little wolf?” she asked him gently, unable to keep the smile from reaching her face at the somber child staring back at her. “I think it’s time you and your brother were dressed.”

Jon looked at her with the same kind of serious face her husband did, but in an instant he blinked, and he was a darling little boy. He reached out to her with a hand not quite as chubby as his brother’s. “Dress then play, Mama!”

“You shouldn’t coddle them the way you do,” Old Nan chided her, but Cersei was ever skilled in ignoring the old crone as she took Jon onto her hip too. “They’ll be clutching at yer skirts ‘til they’re men, and that’ll not do.”

“They’re boys yet, and my babies still,” Cersei said, rolling her eyes. The boys pressed in as close as they could to her, nuzzling her neck and giggling conspiratorially with each other before she deposited them onto their bed. She wagged a finger at them. “Now, you stand there like good little lords while I find those useless nannies of yours and get you dressed.”

“No dress!” Robb whined, but she shook her head.

Old Nan reached to her suddenly, and Cersei jumped as a pair of wizened old hands came to touch her breasts through her gown. “What in the world -!”

“Yer teats’ve grown,” Old Nan grinned. “Soon enough you’ll be so big ‘round yer middle the boys won’t know what to do.”

Cersei did not deign to reply to that.

For the rest of the day, she kept her distance from the old crone, and her sons. There was much to do before her brother came, and the last thing she wanted now was another pregnancy bogging her down while she ran the godforsaken castle. She had carried large with two in her belly the first time, and the memory of her second pregnancy was still a raw wound in her heart.

There was no way her body was ready for another pregnancy, not so soon. The boys were not yet three, and her milk was only just starting to dry from the last babe she had lost.

“They should’ve been weaned when their first tooth sprouted,” Ned always chided her, gentle as ever in his gruff and quiet way. “They’ve got more teeth than the pups in the kennels. Boys with teeth ought to take their meals with us at the table, not at their mother’s breast.”

Cersei had tucked the boys primly to her side, lounging on their great bedstead with Robb and Jon dozing against her. She brushed her fingers affectionately through the spring of curls on Robb’s head. “It would’ve gone to waste, anyway. They were still so young then, and they needed me to put them to sleep.”

Ned had given her a look that night; gentle as ever, if indulgent with a lingering look of something darker, more carnal to the edges. When he spoke to her then, it was with a low, growling breath. “Perhaps I should pup you again, since you take to motherhood so well. Then you’ll have more babes to feed at your breast.”

And ‘lo, here was another seed planted in her womb.

Nevermind that she had suffered in the birthing bed bringing Robb to life, that she had nearly died with his little brother, and then her precious Myrcella. Bitterly she thought of Tyrion; the little monster who had torn her lady mother apart, who lived to this day while Joanna Lannister withered and faded from the earth as he should have.

Would Robb and Jon hate their sibling the same? They were too young to understand it yet, too young to know hate the way she did. Ned surely wanted more children from her; wanted the hallways of the castle filled with the sound of life and laughter and their children’s voices, and for a fleeting moment she wondered again if he would simply burn her body and forget her existence now that she had given him heirs already.

Cersei ground her teeth together hard. No, she would not die. This bleak land is mine now, and I will make of it something worthy of my children. I will not be a weak woman in the eyes of the Gods or my husband’s men. I am a lion of the Rock. That is who I am.

She would not lose another child.

------

 

Another two moons passed before she went to the maester, and by then her belly was no longer soft, flat. Her gowns would not pull tight around her waist, and her breasts were nearly spilling from them. Old Nan had laughed at her, hooted that Winterfell would have another two more lordlings to tend to. Cersei had hissed at her to be quiet, and looked around to be sure Ned was nowhere in sight.

“Lord Stark cannot know yet,” she spat. “There’s no point in telling him only for me to bleed his children from my body.”

“You’ll carry them well, girl,” Old Nan said, her cloudy eyes knowing and warm. For all of her distrust of the Lannister girl, she knew enough of the mother’s love Cersei had for her children. “You carried two in your first pregnancy, and you might carry two again. The body changes to suit the babes, and your body has learned what it must do now to keep two alive.”

Cersei wanted to slap the old crone. She did not need a reminder of the way her body had failed her then; she did not need a reminder of how she might’ve stopped Joffrey’s and Myrcella’s deaths. It was all in the past now, in the hearth and the grave and in her prayers.

She did not think of herself as a religious woman, but that evening she wove a prayer wheel and lit the candles of the sept.