we have lingered in the chambers of the sea
Upstream, in the midst of the outer waves,
your parallel body yields to my arms
like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul,
quick and slow, in the energy under the sky.
“Drunk With Pines”, Pablo Neruda
One of Cersei’s women comes up behind Jaime, putting her hand on his arm and leaning in as close as courtesy will allow. “The queen wishes to take the air,” she says softly, “and requires a companion. Will ser oblige?”
“I will oblige,” he says, and his mouth twists wryly into a smile he would not normally allow himself so openly, but the guests of the banquet have begun to disperse and the remainder is by and large drunk past sense—in emulation of the king, of course, who sits at the head of the table with his crown slipping low against his brow, his meaty paw on Cersei’s shoulder. Jaime grits his teeth and watches her shrug it off lightly as a slip of gossamer, like the shoulder of one of her dresses to reveal the bare flesh underneath. He bites that back, too, sits more stiffly in his chair. Being home is making him indiscreet.
Ah, he thinks, but Casterly Rock is no longer home, not by rights; he has been a creature of King’s Landing for many years now, but now more than ever he is severed from it. For Cersei has finally joined him truly in King’s Landing, Cersei sits in the seat of queenship, and the thread that binds them no longer stretches taut over the south of Westeros but instead twines them comfortably side by side. Here is a pilgrimage, then, not a homecoming. Home has never been bound in rocks and architecture: instead, it is swords and Cersei, the things that quell his restiveness, the things that anchor him.
Still, there is much to be remembered in these rocks, and he glances up to the head of the table. The queen wishes to take the air. His sister tosses her fair head back, laughing at something the king says, her teeth biting bright and white into the air around her, and he stands, pushing back his chair. Her eyes flick towards him for one still instant, and then she turns back to the king, but he feels himself pulled inextricably toward her even before he moves an inch. The little woman in her plain skirt keeps her arm on his, eyes on his face as she escorts him to his sister’s side. He stands silently behind her chair.
“I shall leave you to your revels,” she says to the King—to Robert Baratheon, whose face is flushed with wine, mouth slack with jest. Jaime keeps his face stone: a statue of the Kingsguard, cloaked in white, his sword beneath his obedient hands. Against the pommel, his knuckles clench white.
“Where’re you going?”
“I would walk the soil of my ancestral home,” she says, and Jaime hears an edge like cool steel in her voice, “my lord.”
“No,” he says promptly. “Can’t walk alone, m’Queen. Too much—danger, there’s danger about.”
“I will not be alone.” Cersei tips up her face and the flickering light from the sconces on the wall catch and ripple along the sharp, glorious planes of her face, gilding her skin as brightly as her hair and the embroidery of her gown. “My brother will escort me.” Her lashes flicker, shading in long spidery shadows onto her cheek. “He has been longer away from home than I; indeed, his hunger must be twice as potent as mine.”
“Indeed, lord,” Jaime says, and silently, unheard by the drink-heavy king, he swallows a dry rasp of breath in his throat.
“There, then.” Cersei rises, the skirts of her gown falling into a graceful column of red and gold. “Milord will not lack for companionship—”
“Go, then.” Robert lifts his goblet toward her, and Jaime does not miss the way his lips wrench downward, but the dissatisfaction of a king is nothing when it will go forgotten in the morning and Cersei’s fingers are already wrapping around the crook of his arm, as if permitting him to move at long last, a statue knight brought to life at the queen’s bequest. Yet that has always been Cersei’s prerogative: if ever Jaime has tried to craft himself stoic as stone, it has ever been undone at the touch of her fingers.
The night is warm, the same breath of summer that they’ve always known to linger over Casterly Rock weighty and caressing in the air. Cersei wears a cloak clasped lightly over her shoulder, but it brushes in the breeze, pale folds of beaten gold rippling behind her steps. “And where would the queen take me?” he asks her.
“No,” she says violently. “Never titles, Jaime—not between us.”
“But you are the queen, and a long time coming it’s been,” he says, and he feels her shudder against him.
“I am a paltry excuse when I am queen to such a man.”
Baratheon has never been worthy of his sister, Jaime knows, nowhere near. He tracks a finger over her spine and in spite of the fabric between them he both feels and hears the breath she sucks in. “Drunken idiot,” he says. “Ply him with wine and you’ll have anything you want out of him.”
“I want nothing from him.” He can see her teeth bared in the moonlight. “It’s simply what he has that I want—”
“You would be king,” Jaime says, unable to keep himself from smiling.
“Of course I would.” She laughs, a small, bitter sound, and he can imagine it: Cersei clinging to the Iron Throne with iron fingers; he is sure she has dreamed of it and can envision it as clearly as if the dreams had been his. “But let us not speak of it, not tonight, we’re home.” She presses herself tight to his side as if the home is the juncture of their bones, and they fall silent, the both of them. Their breaths match as they walk to the stables; on horse, he falls just a handsbreadth behind her: the position of guardship, following.
She keeps the silence, but it does not take him long to figure out where she is leading. When they were children, they used to make footpaths between Casterly Rock and the shore, would seek out shortcuts over rocky expanses and bramble-trapped forests. Their clothes had torn and their hair had tangled and their skin had gone scratched, but it had not mattered: they had changed their clothes and they had mixed their blood and no one could have said who was brother and who was sister. They had lost their way a thousand times over and never been lost, for they had held hands and guided themselves against the compasses of each other. He had offered to protect her once, slipping his arms around her waist, and she had twisted in his arms like an eel and bitten her teeth against his skin, furious at the idea that she might feel fear. Her skirt had been torn and she had left it on the ground, then, had slipped her legs into his breeches, head and hands up under his shirt, and they had been clothed first in the feel of each other’s skin. They had known direction and had not cared about the way; now, on horseback, the path winds neatly before them and they make shorter work of the distance. From a mile away, he can smell salt bright in the air. The wind flares around them, ruffling her hair like a banner into the air, and she looks back over her shoulder at him with a quick smile, easier than before, and he catches it and returns it, an eyebrow lifting toward her. She tucks her chin down and laughs, leaning in against the horse’s neck and goading it into a canter.
They ride surefooted through terrain that gets rockier as they go along, until they reach the sandy slope of private shore. This is Lannister land, still, by the outskirts of Lannister forest, all the way to the unbound sea. Jaime steps down from his horse and catches his sister by her foot, cupping his hands around her slipper and feeling the shift of weight through the thin fabric. She lets herself fall against him, clasping her arms around his neck and laughing, pressing her cheek to his and breathing warm and ragged against his ear; “come,” she whispers, and stands with her feet on the ground, stepping out of her slippers and taking his hand in hers. They walk to the edge of the beach, and beside the jut of rock and the crash of warm waves, she leans in full against him, looking out at the starlit chop of water.
“We were children here,” she says.
They have not been children for an unfathomably long time, yet in the clasp of their hands, the lasting touch of their skin, there is something that has never been lost. He looks down at her. “Maudlin, sister?”
Her eyes, half-lidded, flick open up at him. “You are an ass sometimes,” she says, taking her hand back, and he grabs her by the waist, pressing his mouth to her neck.
She gasps, a sound wrought half of fury and half of pleasure, and her hands tangle in his hair, pulling as she sighs, pulling him into the sea, which laps at her bare ankles and kicks waves against his boots. When she steps back, it is to unlace her gown, her smallclothes, until she stands moonlit and luminous and bared white before him and the sky. Before he can step forward, before he can touch her, she steps forward into the water, and she turns back when it is up about her hips, and there is sweetness and mockery in her laughter. “Will you catch me, brother?” she asks, arching toward the stars, her hands tracing through the waves, and he swallows, hands scrambling at his shirt, his breeches. Naked as she, he dives in, and the water carries him like warm hands until he reaches her: this is remembered, too. The sea carries stories wherever it touches. They say on the Iron Islands some women mate with squids and bear tentacled children; they say the peasants of Riverrun bear scales beneath their smallclothes if you care to look; they say in Lannisport that there are women in the waves with seafoam tits and sea-singing voices, that ships dash themselves against rocks for their beauty, and looking at Cersei submerging, anyone would believe the myths.
He catches her, the crest of her hipbones curving in the palms his hands, and when he surfaces he sputters and presses the last of his saved breath in a kiss against her ribcage. Inhaling against the curve of her breast, he catches her nipple in his mouth, taut against his tongue, and she arcs in against him, the lines of her body calling out against his above the water. As he stands with his feet planted on the sea floor, her thighs wrap around him, his hands clutching her hips to his, as she slides herself over him, slick and close and joined. She moans instead of singing, but he can still imagine the shipwrecks it would cause.
There is no place where one of them stops and the other ends, then, and the water washes the division away, dashing away the remainders of the world outside them. They fit here, like this. They have always fit.
He kisses his sister’s skin, and he drowns.