Author's Note: Written for the LiveJournal community GameOfShips challenge, Hear Me Ship: A House Lannister Contest challenge.
"Seven save us, what are you reading?"
Salty wind whipped Jaime's hair into his mouth as he spoke, and he tugged it out with a finger. The other hand held an apple, which he bit into and tasted the spray of the Narrow Sea on it – salt and sweet, his two favorite flavors. The sun shone warm and bright on Blackwater Bay, a few lazy clouds drifted across blue sky, and he was a man grown.
Tyrion shifted on a mossy rock, flipping the leather-bound book to its cover to show Jaime. "A Complete History of Dragons. When I have my own dragon – "
Jaime closed his eyes to conceal their rolling.
" – I'll need to know how best to care for it. Otherwise what sort of dragon master would I be? It's a well-known fact that dragons are more delicate than they look for the first six months, and then …"
Jaime feigned interest and kept his mouth busy with his apple as Tyrion went on. The dreams of a six-year-old shouldn't be trifled with, but his brother had spoken of nothing but dragons since Jaime had arrived in King's Landing yesterday morning.
That blasted book was larger than Tyrion's lap, and as thick as Jaime's upper arm. "Precocious," their father had called Tyrion's early reading. Jaime had never read anything nearly as cumbersome before he'd left Casterly Rock four years ago, and it was doubtful he ever would. "Unlike animals, we think in words, therefore language is thought," his father had informed nine-year-old Jaime as he struggled with the letter-shifting treachery of the written word. "If you can't learn to read properly, how can you learn to think?" Tywin's voice had mesmerized him, soft yet persuasive, reeling him in like a fish that didn't have the sense to struggle. But after that lesson, the sight of his father's rigid spine as he strode from the library had frightened him. Jaime often felt exposed, and lacking, under his father's pale blue gaze, but that day he learned that his back was more terrifying.
No more, Jaime told himself. He'd found his calling, and there was no disputing it. No matter that his father still couldn't manage to murmur a word of approval.
Tyrion was now showing Jaime a schematic of dragon anatomy and rattling off facts from memory. Jaime gazed at his little brother's huge cranium, which probably held a huge brain. Jaime was fifteen now, but perhaps Tyrion was already smarter than him. If the child was reading histories – big, fat histories like that one, even if it was about extinct creatures – he probably was. Jaime didn't like to think of that, so he interrupted his brother's soliloquy.
"Did I tell you yet how I defeated the Peacock in a tourney with a dinner fork?"
As he'd hoped, Tyrion closed the book.
The words tumbled out of him – the splintered lance, the injured horse, the Peacock's pride, the feasting guests seated too close to the field. This was a ditty Jaime had sung to many a drunken squire, knight, lord, and lout. He could recite it in his sleep, and it would entertain the bedbugs. He sensed the familiar flush of satisfaction and wholeness he always felt when he thought about the one thing he did well, followed by a rush of affection for Tyrion for letting him entertain him; at the dinner table their father wanted only facts, not fables of glory and vanity. By the time he finished, crouching over his little brother and threatening his manhood with a twig he'd cast in the role of the fork, Tyrion was squealing with laughter.
"You tell the best tales!" he declared, one stubby-fingered hand protecting his crotch and the other batting away the twig.
"And all of them true," said Jaime. He tossed the twig away and took another bite of his apple as he settled under a scrubby pine with Tyrion.
Yes, Jaime told a fine tale. He could speak perfectly well. Did that mean he could think? His flesh crawled as he stared again at his brother's thick book. Tyrion still giggled while he reached into the leather satchel for the modest breakfast they'd pilfered from the kitchen. As the boy divided up the spoils on a napkin between them, Jaime saw movement in the water.
He sat up straighter. Far below their perch, in a small cove protected from the waves crashing against the rocks, was a woman. He stood and approached the edge of the cliff.
Cersei. Naked. Swimming on her back. Waving up at him.
Jaime's heart began to hammer. He raised his hand in return, then lowered it and bit the apple again. She shouted something, but the wind carried her words away. Something about "baby" and "craven." She seemed to be gesturing to him to come down and swim with her, and she was laughing. His mind returned to all the illicit swims they'd enjoyed together back home, the way they would secretly paw at each other underwater, learning with every touch a little more about each other's bodies, and their own.
How had Cersei known where to find him this morning? She was still abed in her rooms when Tyrion had bounded into Jaime's bedchamber, squawking for him to wake up. She resumed swimming again, giving Jaime a fine view of her rump as she turned in the water. Jaime's manhood stirred, and he walked a few paces away from Tyrion to wait until it subsided.
The cliff faced south into the bay, and morning sunlight glistened on Cersei's golden hair as she swam from one side of the cove to the other. It's gotten so long, he mused again, remembering last night when she'd wrapped it around his cock – what made her think to do that? – and asked him to pleasure himself while she crouched in front of him and watched, her eyes flashing in the candlelight, burning into his. Then, when he was nearly satisfied, she'd told him she'd been drinking moon tea for him. He'd thrown her on her back and taken her, for the first time, and she'd bitten his shoulder to stifle her cries, and he'd tasted blood on her tongue as he spent himself inside her. He was a man grown now, and she was a woman, his woman. Jaime smiled, remembering, but felt worry crease his brow. It must show on his face, what they'd done.
"There she is again," remarked Tyrion, who had waddled up next to Jaime and was nibbling on a hunk of cheese. "She goes there most every day since we discovered a way to get there from below."
"Does she always swim naked?" Jaime didn't like to think of other men seeing her.
Tyrion shrugged, which Jaime took as an affirmative. He chewed his way around the apple and stared at his sister's glistening breasts as she floated on her back. She looked so tiny from here, a slim little siren using her body to call to him. How could he want her so badly, all the time? She was just a woman, and yet she was his master. And she was smart. She knew what to do about Lysa Tully and that absurd engagement.
"Did you hear what happened to Drunk Donal?" asked Tyrion with his mouth full of cheese.
"The old one or the young one?"
"The young one."
"He fell off the cliff. Right from this spot."
Jaime looked at Tyrion and raised an eyebrow. Young Drunk Donal was seven-and-twenty, and a debauched Lannisport oaf for as long as he'd known of him. He and his father, Old Drunk Donal, had come to King's Landing seeking better work shortly after Tywin had become the Hand of King Aerys. Old Donal was a carpenter who had made repairs to the Great Sept last year after burning candles had damaged one of the altars. Young Donal had helped. Jaime knew this from one of Cersei's letters. Jealousy had surged hot and desperate through Jaime's veins, but he'd told himself that Young Donal was a drunken, odiferous, bulbous-nosed foot-licker, because he was.
"Was he in his cups?"
"Most likely," replied Tyrion. "I think he saw a mermaid and he wanted to go and fetch her."
Jaime watched Tyrion, trying to measure in his mismatched eyes how much of this was something more than a drunkard falling off a cliff, but Tyrion turned his attention to balancing with one foot on a twisted tree root. Surely not, Jaime thought. She wouldn't. He took a last bite and threw the apple core off the cliff. He couldn't hear it splash, but the sea breeze was loud in his ears and it was a long way down, with many rocky outcroppings protruding from the side of the cliff. His heart was pounding, and his fingers found the bite wound Cersei had given his shoulder last night.
"Did he die?"
"No, he broke his back. He's crippled."
"He should have died. A cripple is a burden on his family and on society." His father's words spouted neatly from his mouth. "Think for yourself," Tywin would say, but how could he when the smartest person in any room was his father? The best Jaime could do was agree with him.
Tyrion regarded Jaime for a moment and lost his footing on the root, stumbling awkwardly before catching himself. Jaime felt a pang of regret for saying what he'd said, for a dwarf wasn't far from a cripple, in their father's eyes. Tyrion was half a man and always would be, and now Jaime was a man grown, fighting in battles and getting knighted. His brother could never hope for half that much.
Tyrion rejoined Jaime and began watching their sister again. Jaime looked, too. Cersei was swimming fast and hard, her lithe arms cutting through the water like blades. Here, on Aegon's High Hill, it felt almost like home. Jaime put his hand briefly on his brother's shoulder and squeezed.
Suddenly Cersei went underwater and didn't surface again for several long seconds. When she reappeared, Jaime could see that something was wrong. She was struggling. Then her shriek pierced the air, carried by the wind, mercifully, to his ears.
"Cersei!" he screamed. He lunged toward the edge of the cliff, but it was so far down, and Tyrion clutched his elbow. She went under again. "Cersei!"
She resurfaced with flailing arms. "JAIME!" Cersei's terror was a dagger in his gut.
Think! Think! "How do I get down there?" he demanded, shaking Tyrion's arm.
"It'll take a good fifteen minutes to wind our way down from here – "
He took off his boots and was removing his doublet when Tyrion's alarmed voice cut through Cersei's screams. "What are you doing? Lenna says we're not to dive from here. Young Donal wasn't the first, there was Will Waters last year, who died, and before that Eustace Woodwright, and – wait!"
Jaime ran away from the cliff's edge to get a running start. He could do this. He was stronger and taller than Young Donal, not to mention sober. And damn it, it was Cersei. He'd just turned to sprint toward the edge when something heavy and hard struck him in the mouth, knocking him flat. Quickly rising to his elbows, he saw Tyrion's enormous book on the mossy ground, and scuffed little boots standing before him. He reached up and slapped his brother across the face. Tyrion kicked him in the chest and then sat on him.
"Don't do it, Jaime," said Tyrion in a rush just before Jaime wrestled him to the ground and clambered to his feet, knocking Tyrion's hands away from his ankles. "Young Donal has to piss and shit into a pan, and his old mother has to empty it behind the stables! I saw!"
Jaime turned his body toward the cliff's edge for a running jump and heard … laughter. It came and went, garbled by the sea wind, but there was no mistake, it was a girl's laughter. He slowly approached the stony ledge, barely registering Tyrion gripping his shirttail, and peered into the bay. There was Cersei, still naked, curled up on a rock with her feet tucked under her. She was wringing out her wet hair, and laughing, and shaking her head. She looked up and waved him off, as if to say, "Too late," and tossed her hair behind her back. Then she blew him a kiss.
Jaime turned his back to her, his cheeks hot. He dragged the back of his hand across his sweaty upper lip and it came away bloody. "You little pignut," he said to Tyrion.
"I had to stop you," said Tyrion, whose nose was bleeding. "Don't worry, you're still prettier than me."
"Wouldn't take much," muttered Jaime. He gathered up his boots and doublet and left the satchel for Tyrion to carry. He'd go back to the castle for his horse; a ride would make his heart stop its thrashing. Perhaps he'd return to his family later today, perhaps not. He didn't like being made to feel stupid. And seven hells, a six-year-old had just saved his life. Now his legs were shaking just as they did after a fight; they felt watery, like they couldn't hold him. But he didn't have the afterglow of battle, only a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. He should've known Cersei would never drown; she was too good a swimmer. And her jokes had always run cruel, he knew that. When could he think for himself? Did he need her for that, on top of everything else? Damn her.
But there was fear, too, and that was something to which he was not accustomed at all. If he lost her …
As he climbed the hill to the Red Keep, Tyrion called after him; but the boy couldn't keep up with him, and Jaime was glad of it.