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you yourself, with your rose-red youth

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"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful."

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

The room was heavy with the odor of peonies, humid in the lethargic, pregnant way of late summer afternoons, and Loras felt a twinge of offense that under this dense crush of heat and stolid perfume Renly had chosen to take a warm bath, to add damp curls of steam to the fragrant malaise in the solar. Loras felt as though the storm clouds of the evening before had taken up residence beneath his skin, as though the stifling rains had been reborn as the sweat beneath his collar.

"Come away from the window," Renly entreated, and Loras tensed, once again suffused with an unbecoming tension at odds with the langor that had settled over the whole of Storm's End. He concentrated on a particularly large cloud that billowed against the sprawling blue sky, loathe to turn and face his lord. Of late, Renly's nakedness had become a barrier between the two of them, causing Loras's stomach to twist and churn in a way that only fueled Loras's irritation.

Loras took a breath. "Can you not bathe yourself, my lord?" he asked, still focused on that cloud, watching it drift and split and scud across the sun. "Do you need me to make sure you wash behind your ears? Am I your squire or your nursemaid?"

Renly laughed despite the bite in Loras's tone, and Loras heard him shift in his bath. "I suppose you're right; I often confuse you with my nursemaid. Perhaps it's your stooped back."

Eyes flashing, Loras finally turned, his anger a lump in his throat he thought would choke him. Renly lay back in his bath, his arms spread out along the sides of the long tub, his lips curled up at his own wit, his eyes on the ceiling. After a long moment during which Loras bit his tongue against several scathing retorts, Renly met his eyes, and his face softened.

"Come now, Loras, I'm only jesting," Renly said. "I need you to lay out some clothing for me; I confess I'm quite at a loss as to what to wear to this feast tonight."

"Yes, you've hardly anything to wear," Loras muttered, but he was grateful that this new task allowed him to turn his back on Renly once again. He crossed the room to the armoire that dominated one wall and tugged the heavy wooden doors open on a riot of clothing in every color and cut. "Will any of this do, or shall I call for a seamstress?"

Renly laughed again, and his mirth stirred Loras's anger. "I think I'd like a lavender doublet--no, not that one," as Loras tugged an item of clothing free, "the other one, the one in silk. I'd suffocate in the velvet."

The possibility of Renly's suffocation placated Loras for a moment, gave him something to contemplate besides Renly's lithe, bare form distorted but lovely submerged in his bath water. Loras found the doublet Renly had requested and wrested it roughly from its hanger, knowing Renly disliked seeing his clothes handled in such a manner. Indeed, Renly was frowning when Loras held the garment out for his inspection, his brow furrowed.

"No, that's the wrong one, too." The hint of irritation in Renly's voice gratified Loras, who tossed the doublet carelessly to the floor and raised an eyebrow expectantly.

"I had that one made three moons ago and it's tight around the shoulders now," Renly explained. "There's another one in a slightly lighter color, with lace embroidery around the cuffs--that's the one I want." He sat up, the water sloshing around him, and reached for a bar of soap and a small towel set on a fine metal pedestal next to the tub.

Loras watched, unable to help himself, as Renly worked the soap to a lather in the towel and began to wash himself. After a moment of silence, Renly looked up expectantly, his lips tilting upwards again as he caught Loras staring. Loras quickly turned back to the task of rooting through Renly's wardrobe; Renly's eyes had seemed to stare right through him, to see something in Loras that Loras could not yet see in himself. When Loras found the doublet Renly had specified, he threw it carelessly over a divan, then went back to the armoire.

"As for the shirt, the Myrish silk should do." Renly's voice was softer than before, and Loras wanted nothing more than to drown him in his own bathwater.

"And which Myrish silk would that be?" Loras huffed. "This one?" He threw a green shirt to the floor. "Or this one?" Another shirt floated down to the tile. "Or perhaps this one?" He held up a truly hideous ruffled creation that faded from bright crimson at the collar to deep green around the hem.

Renly snorted. "I was five and ten when I had that made," he said, as though that absolved him of the monstrosity. "And I only wore it once; I kept it because I had a mind to give it to you, though I suppose you're too slight to carry it off."

"A small mercy," Loras snapped. Then, again, "Which Myrish silk?" He snuck a glance back over his shoulder and watched as Renly combed soapy hands through his coal-black hair. Renly's hands had become a particular source of fascination for Loras lately, and so he hated them as fiercely as he was growing to hate most things he had once found harmless about his lord.

It was terrible, Loras reflected, that he could no longer tell the difference between desiring Renly's company and detesting it; this duplicity of feeling had snuck up on him over the past year with a ferocity like the waves in Shipbreaker Bay during a summer storm. At some point he had begun to take notice of Renly as a man, stronger and taller than Loras himself, with dark hair across his chest and down his forearms. Loras supposed his growing distaste stemmed from a sort of appreciative jealousy; wasn't it terrible, he thought, that such a strong form should be wasted on a man who refused to set foot in the training yard? That a body with such lean and dangerous lines should be swathed in fortunes of silly damask rather than molded for some future battlefield?

Renly didn't answer Loras right away, leaning back instead to partially submerge his head, rinsing the soap from his hair. Loras distracted himself by throwing another shirt to the floor, then another and another until he was surrounded by colorful fabrics. He wondered how much damage he would have to do before Renly would send him away in irritation; experimentally, he ground his boot into a crimson doublet under the pretense of shifting to sift through another clutch of clothing, but Renly said nothing.

Then, finally, "That one, the one you just passed over--"

"This one?" The shirt was the color of the horizon at twilight, a dusky blue only a shade or two lighter than Renly's eyes.

"That one," Renly confirmed happily. "And I've a pair of breeches in that same color, those should be in one of the middle drawers."

Loras sighed heavily, throwing the shirt on top of the doublet before yanking open a drawer with too much force. He rooted around in it, his frustration mounting.

"I'll find it myself," Renly offered after a moment. "Bring me a towel, would you?"

Loras heard Renly rising from the bath and froze. The room was much too warm.

When Loras didn't move, Renly sighed. "I suppose I'll get it myself. You just keeping stepping all over my clothes. Silks do so well under your boots."

Loras had wanted nothing more than to goad Renly into impoliteness, but Renly's sarcasm stung in a way Loras had not anticipated. Loras did not know how long he stood there, his back to Renly, his hands rifling aimlessly through a drawer, but the silence felt heavier even than the air. When Renly didn't speak, Loras knelt down and began to pick up the clothing he had thrown, then busied himself carefully hanging it back in the armoire. He could hear the soft rustle of silks as Renly dressed. Loras had never known Renly to stretch a silence so long.

"You should dress for dinner," Renly finally said. "It won't do to keep the Wyldes waiting." He refused to meet Loras's eyes, focused instead on pulling on a pair of immaculate leather boots. He seemed empty somehow, his shoulders slumped, but when he looked up there was a smile on his face, a smile that Loras knew was false. "You should wear the emerald doublet I had made for your name day."

Loras nodded mutely. He was still angry, but he wondered now whether his anger was directed at Renly or at himself. He left Renly's solar, crossing Renly's bed chamber to get to his squire's quarters, more aware than ever of the sweat beneath his collar, under his shirt, slick on his palms. He wished the peonies Renly had had placed on his windowsill were roses.

***

Night had fallen by the time the feast began, and Loras stood dutifully at Renly's elbow, his hands clasped behind him at the small of his back. The hall was lit by low-hanging chandeliers and candelabras placed at lengths along the wooden tables, and the smells of roast meat and spices and sweet wine permeated the air. Loras felt as though he were standing in a giant oven, the heat so heavy on his shoulders in the half-light that he felt almost dizzy. Lord Casper Wylde sat on Renly's left, his tunic emblazoned with the turquoise swirl on a gold field that symbolized his house. He looked worn and shabby next to Renly, but he seemed pleased enough at his reception in the great hall. His daughter sat on Renly's right, and Loras had known from the moment she sat down that his ire this evening would be reserved for her and her alone.

Garowyn Wylde was lovely enough, Loras supposed, although he thought her pale pink gown an ill fit against her bronzed skin. She had a spattering of freckles across her nose and a wide smile that played across her face and up into her dark eyes. Her raucous laugh seemed a match for Renly's, though Loras hoped Renly saw through it; Garowyn had clearly been paraded to Storm's End by her father for the sole purpose of catching Renly's eye, of perhaps securing an advantageous match for her house. But if Renly knew this, he made no sign of it; Garowyn's mirth only spurred Renly on, and as Loras poured drink after drink into Renly's goblet, Renly became ever more attentive to his guest.

When the last course had been taken from the tables, Renly led Garowyn onto the dance floor. They were soon joined by others, lords and ladies in Lord Wylde's entourage and knights in Renly's household, and the music swelled to a pitch that made Loras's head throb. He retired to a table with the other squires but found himself unable to touch the food the servants placed before him. The duck looked too rich and the pastries too dense, and so Loras opted for wine to dull the sharp anger cutting through him. It didn't matter how sweetly Garowyn smiled or how poised she looked on Renly's arm; she didn't truly care about him, not like Loras did, and once she knew she would never be the next lady of Storm's End, she would reserve her gaiety for some other lord.

Loras rested his elbows on the table and took another swig of wine. It sat poorly in his stomach, and before long his head spun. He barely registered the first dull crack of thunder over the din of the hall; it seemed to come from somewhere inside him, the thunderstorm beneath his skin finally breaking free. He wanted nothing more than to leave the hall, to run to his room and unlace his doublet and stand before the window praying for rain. Instead he drank more wine, and now the heat rising up inside him was dull around the edges. He couldn't tell where his anger ended and the flush of drunkenness began, and he was uninterested in the difference between the two.

Renly had one hand on Garowyn's waist, his fingers bunching in the fabric of her dress, his other hand pressed to hers as they spun. Renly pulled her close to murmur something in her ear, something that caused her face to light up with laughter, and then Renly missed a step and Garowyn pressed against him to hold him up, and they were both laughing, laughing so hard Loras trembled at the familiarity of it. The thunder was louder now, but Loras was sure no one could hear it but him; he was the only one who knew that beyond all this the sky was raging, churning against the levity and merriment below.

Then Garowyn stumbled, and that was enough to start Renly laughing again; Garowyn slapped him playfully on the arm, but then she, too, was laughing, and then they were doubled over on the dance floor, and Loras felt sure, somehow, that he was the joke.

By the time the music faded and Renly bid his guests goodnight, Loras didn't trust his legs to hold him. But he forced himself to his feet and took his place at Renly's side as Renly left the hall. He wondered if Renly would catch him if he stumbled, would clutch at his waist and laugh into his hair and pull him back against the wall until he got his balance again. Nausea caught Loras off guard and he had to close his eyes and steady himself to keep from being sick all over the hallway.

"Are you well?" Renly asked. He reached out to place a hand on Loras's shoulder, and Loras could feel the heat of his hand as though it rested on bare skin. It was far too warm. Loras lurched away from Renly, knowing only that he had to get out from under the walls, from under the candlelight, before the weight of it all buried him.

"Does it please Lord Wylde that his daughter dresses like a slattern?" Loras asked bitterly as he backed away from Renly. He didn't know where he was going, knew only that he needed to find his way somehow out into the rain. "Perhaps not, as he seems perfectly happy to have her play the whore where the king's brother is concerned!" Distantly he noted that his words slurred dangerously, as slanted and rushed as his gait.

Renly's eyes widened. "Lady Garowyn," he began, forming his words slowly and carefully, "is lovely, and I should be lucky to marry a woman half so witty. There are worse things than being a whore, and being a dullard is one of them!"

Loras gritted his teeth as he continued to back away. He waited until he was nearly too far away to be heard, then called down to Renly, "Does she ignite in you a sudden passion for women, my lord?"

If Renly replied, Loras didn't hear it, not over the thunder and the pounding of the rain and the pounding in his own head. He turned down another hallway, then another, the walls spinning around him, and then he pushed open a heavy door and found himself out on the ramparts atop the walls of Storm's End. The rain didn't offer the relief Loras had been seeking; it was warm and heavy and did nothing to clear his head. He grasped at his doublet, shrugging it off and leaving it behind him. Now the rain could soak through his thin shirt, now he could feel it on his skin, and then it was too much effort to stay upright. He slid to the ground, leaning back against the wet stone and looking up through tendrils of sodden curls at the lightning sparking across the sky.

Loras swallowed, fighting the sudden urge to cry. Storms in the Reach were gentler than this; they gave to the land rather than trying to destroy it. Everything in the Reach was gentler, and Loras wished for the first time in many years that he had never been sent to Storm's End. He was still biting back tears when Renly lurched around the corner and slumped down beside him, and Loras found himself unable to look at his lord.

"It's raining," Renly offered after a long moment, and Loras let out a laugh that was mostly a sob.

"You're drunk," Loras offered back. The heat and weight of Renly's side pressed against Loras's made Loras inexplicably nauseous. He wanted to pull away and he wanted to press closer, and he hated himself for one of those impulses--but he wasn't sure which.

"You should come back in." Renly had to lean close to be heard over the rain, his breath warm on Loras's cheek. Too warm. His breath was much too warm, and musky with the half-remembered sweetness of the wine.

Loras swallowed thickly. "They were laughing at you," he managed. "They see through you, and they were laughing at you."

Renly sighed. "Perhaps. But at least they were laughing."

"Doesn't it bother you?" Loras asked, his hands clenched into fists. "Doesn't it bother you that she only danced with you--she only laughed with you--because she wants you to take her to your bed? And once she finds out you'll never make her the next lady of Storm's End, her gaiety will be reserved for whatever lord can give her children and a castle--"

Renly stiffened. "I could give her children and a castle."

"But you won't."

"But I won't."

Loras let out a long breath. "Then why carry on like you might?"

"And what should I do, Loras?" Renly demanded. "Find a comely hedge knight to twirl around instead? Offer my name and castle to a stableboy?" He laughed, and it was harsh and unpleasant and so unlike him that Loras started. "When I was one and ten I kissed a kitchen boy, and Penrose had to send the family away to Tarth, and that's when they started laughing, Loras. And they'll keep laughing, and it doesn't matter what I do, and I'd rather laugh with them than sulk about it!" He tried to stand and nearly lost his footing, slumped back down instead.

"I've never laughed," Loras finally managed to say. He reached up to cup Renly's jaw with his hand, forcing Renly to meet his eyes. "I've never laughed," he repeated.

"No," Renly agreed, turning his head away. "You've never laughed."

***

Loras woke the next morning to an unbearable pressure behind his eyelids, his head pounding as though his skull had been opened by a morningstar. He knew from the angle of the sun that he was late to the training yard; he should have brought Renly his breakfast hours ago.

Gingerly Loras swung his legs over his bed, fighting the nausea brought on by the sudden movement. He tested his legs, and when they seemed to hold him he stumbled out of his room and into Renly's, not surprised in the least to find Renly still abed. Renly had kicked his blankets away during the night, and he lay sprawled across the sheets in his breeches from the night before, his doublet and shirt discarded beneath him. Loras bit his lip, knowing he should wake Renly, but instead he crept over to sit on the edge of Renly's bed, poised to stand if Renly showed the slightest sign of waking.

But Renly's mouth was slightly open in sleep, his breathing even, and Loras noted the swirl of dark hair that led down Renly's stomach and trailed off beneath his trousers. Such a shame that Renly never trained. Such a shame that no one saw him as Loras did, powerful and beautiful, and before Loras could stop himself, he reached out to press a tentative hand to Renly's chest. The hair there was rougher than Loras had expected, and wiry, curling under Loras's fingers.

Loras drew himself fully onto the bed, and now he could study Renly more closely. He slid his hand across Renly's chest as Garowyn had done the night before; but she was not the one in Renly's bed, and that thought made Loras strangely giddy. He let his fingers trail over Renly's collarbones, then up over his jaw, and then Loras found himself stroking Renly's hair, tucking the loose dark strands behind his ear.

Loras ghosted his fingers over Renly's lips; they were softer somehow than Loras had expected, full and soft, and Loras wondered if Renly would want to kiss him. It was an idle thought, and Loras tried to push it back, but then he thought of the way Renly had pulled Garowyn close and whispered into her ear.

He hated Garowyn. Hated the attention Renly paid her, the soft but meaningless touches they had shared, their whispered jokes and peals of laughter. Loras's mouth was dry, his fingers still pressed to Renly's lips. Renly stirred, shifted so that Loras's fingers now brushed his cheek, and then his eyes opened and he smiled up at Loras, sleepy and uncomprehending.

"What're you doing?" Renly murmured, reaching up to catch and still Loras's hand. Loras stared at his hand clutched in Renly’s. Warm. It was all much too warm.

"I was trying to wake you." Loras hated the way his voice sounded, high and thin. Weak.

"Well, you shouldn't have," Renly groaned, dropping Loras's hand and rolling over to bury his head in his pillow.

Loras reached out to touch him again, his hand trembling slightly. The smooth skin of Renly's back, the ridge of his spine--Loras couldn't stop touching, even when Renly tensed, even when Renly asked, his voice lower now,

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to wake you," Loras repeated.

"I'm quite awake now, thank you." Renly's voice was rough, as though he hadn't used it in awhile. “And the master-at-arms is likely looking for you in the training yard.”

Loras swallowed, stilling his hand. "You’re right. I should be off. I only wanted to see to it that you woke." He scrambled off the bed before Renly could answer, and he didn't breathe again until he was out in the hallway with the heavy wooden door between them.

Loras wasn’t the only unsteady squire in the training yard that day, but he still found himself knocked into the dirt far more often than usual; and so he trained until the sun set, until his body was sore and reeling, until jealousy and anger were foreign concepts supplanted by pain and exhaustion.

***

The sun had not shone on Storm's End since the night of the banquet in the Wyldes' honor, and Loras hated the sudden squalls almost as much as he had hated the muggy bright days that had come before them. The mud in the training yard sucked Loras's boots down, made him feel slow and ungainly as he sparred with the other knights and squires. A group of hedge knights had ridden into Storm's End a few days before, and they provided Loras with new opponents to pummel into the dirt, which sated his ever-present anger a little. And the more time he spent training, the less time he had to spend with Renly, and right now that suited Loras just fine. Renly had been uncharacteristically withdrawn these last few weeks, and Loras didn't know how to fill the sudden silence that gaped like a chasm between them.

Loras had to go back inside eventually, though, and this evening when he finally made his way back to Renly's chambers he found Renly at his desk, head bent studiously over a letter. Renly didn't look up when Loras entered the room, nor did he seem to notice the mud Loras deliberately tracked across the solar. These long twilights were the worst part of Loras's day; he had taken to reading in order to distract himself from Renly's presence, and Renly, for his part, seemed utterly caught up in the business of running Storm's End.

It was with some satisfaction that Loras, still in his muddied training clothes, flopped down on the divan in Renly's solar with the thick tome he had selected at random from the library. The book was long and dreadfully boring as no instruction on the mechanics of breaking a siege should be. But Loras opened it dutifully and began to read, picking up where he had left off the night before. He dared Renly to comment on the way that he was sullying the thick upholstery of the divan, to order him to clean up the mess from his boots, but Renly did neither; when he spoke, it was only to ask a perfectly banal question.

"Loras, do you recall whether the word 'seamstress' is spelled with one 's', or two?"

Loras looked up from his book to find Renly frowning thoughtfully down at the parchment in front of him.

"Four, my lord," Loras muttered. "One at the beginning, one in the middle, two at the end." Renly had always been hopeless in his studies, preoccupied as he had been with trying to furtively dip Loras's curls in an inkwell when Loras was bent over a book. And Loras had used to enjoy this game between them; it had made him feel useful, and smart, to correct Renly on small matters. Now he was only offended by Renly's lack of care, and by the way Renly's hand held a quill, and by the way Renly's brow furrowed above his blue eyes. "Surely you're not writing to have more clothes made for you?"

The ghost of a smile appeared on Renly's face as he shook his head, still focused on his work. "I received a letter from Lady Garowyn this past week," he explained, slowly, carefully. "She wishes to have new gowns made for her name day, and I thought to provide her with a suitable seamstress, and perhaps to advise her on the colors I find appropriate for certain occasions."

Loras froze. "You're still writing to her, then?"

"I find her very agreeable."

"You find her frivolous and vain, you mean."

Renly looked up at that, his lips pressed into a thin line. "Frivolity and vanity are easier to forgive in a woman, it seems. I find women are far more likely to appreciate the aesthetics of a thing than men, who are so consumed with the function of an item that they forget to see its beauty. Besides," he continued, "I thought on what you said, the night of the feast, and I assumed you would be pleased to see me making an effort to find a suitable match." He dropped his gaze back to his letter, though he seemed to be looking through it. "So that no one will have cause to laugh at me."

Loras slammed his book shut. "They'll still know you prefer the company of men." How was it possible for a man--a lord, at that--to be so naive?

"Ah, 'the company of men'," Renly said bitterly, and he held Loras's gaze, his eyes hard. "In my bed, yes, I prefer 'the company of men,' but that doesn't mean I shun the company of ladies in other areas of life. I've simply no interest in what lies between their legs. I feel that only makes me more honest than other men; I'm not courting Lady Garowyn with the intention of bedding her, but with the intention of finding a companion to spend my life with."

"To spend your life with?" Suddenly Loras felt cold. He wanted to break eye contact with Renly but found he couldn't.

"Yes, to spend my life with once you've sulked off to Highgarden with stories of your vain, frivolous, cocksucker of a lord." Renly seemed to have found an inner reserve of anger, and that gratified Loras, gave him something to hold onto. "Here--" He spun the letter to face Loras, offered up the quill. "Would you like to tell her what you think of me? Tell her how, now that you're old enough to know something of desire, you're afraid I'll turn my debauched attentions on you?"

"I'm not afraid of you!" Loras exclaimed, throwing his book down and standing. He hated Renly's voice, the dark look in his eyes. The tendrils of dark hair that had come loose from their silk tie to frame his face. "I'm--"

"Humiliated by me!" Renly finished for him. Now he stood and came around his desk, pointing an accusing finger at Loras. "And yes, frightened of me! You flinch away when I undress, you won't sit with me in bed and play cyvasse late into the night, you won't--" He lowered his hand, and his voice caught. "You won't talk to me, Loras. Not the way you used to. Tell me something, Loras. Do you worry that I'll force myself on you?"

The idea had honestly never occured to Loras, and he felt his face heat up as he thought of all that Renly's words entailed. He dropped his gaze to his boots, to the dried chunks of mud clinging to the toes. "I'm not afraid of you," he repeated. "I know you would never hurt me."

"I don't look at you that way," Renly said plaintively. "And if I've given you cause to be uncomfortable, I'm sincerely sorry, but I can't bear to see you miserable. And you are plainly miserable here. With me."

"Not miserable," Loras mumbled, but he didn't have a name for what he truly felt. He was somehow deflated by the knowledge that Renly did not find him desirable. Would it be better if Renly watched him with hungry eyes, dreamed of taking him to bed? If Renly studied his body the way Loras had found himself studying Renly's, but with fervor rather than curiosity? Loras felt a sudden surge of jealousy at the thought of the men Renly had taken to bed, at the way they knew Renly more intimately than Loras ever would. Why couldn't it be enough to be Renly's friend without being his lover, or his wife? Why were there suddenly so many people between them, when before they had been as close as brothers?

"I'll find someone to knight you," Renly finally said when Loras refused to break the silence. "You can go back to your family and forget about me." He returned to his desk, dunked his quill in the inkwell, and began to write furiously, clearly finished with their conversation.

Loras stood still for a moment, then ground his heels into the rich green rug until mud flaked off his boots. When he felt he had done enough damage, he grabbed his book from the divan and stalked off to his room, slamming the door behind him.

***

Loras did not know what time it was when he woke, startled from his sleep by noises from Renly's bedchamber. It was still dark, and Loras frowned. Renly slept deeply and rarely woke before Loras left for the training yard; it was strange, then, that dim light still filtered in from underneath the crack in Loras's door. Loras crept to the door, his stomach sinking, and inched it open before he could stop himself.

He had known what he would find. Had known he would see Renly on top of another man, both of them turned away from Loras as they panted and gasped and moaned on the bed, naked and shameless, their silhouettes melded together in the candlelight. Blood rushed to Loras's head, and though he thought he had fully plumbed the depths of his anger before, now it raged on a new level, raged until spots formed at the edges of his vision and he gritted his teeth so hard he thought his jaw might crack. Behind it came a surge of curiosity, and then a strange stirring in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't look away. He had never seen Renly like this, and he was fascinated and appalled by Renly's broad shoulders, the curve of his arse, the way his body tensed and his muscles strained as he pushed against the other man.

Loras tore himself away after what seemed like an age, closing the door behind him as quietly as he could manage. He sank back onto his bed, eyes wide on the ceiling as he listened to the desperate rutting in the room beyond. Distantly he noted that his breeches had become uncomfortably tight, and he lacked the strength to stop himself from reaching down to loosen them, from taking his cock in hand beneath his smallclothes and stripping it furiously as he listened to Renly's growls of pleasure. That was what Renly's body was for, then, beneath the bright exuberant silks. This was who Renly was when all of his finery was stripped away, when no one watched but the moon and the gods, and Loras ached, desperate, not knowing what he wanted, only that he wanted something dark and dangerous and so very, very wrong.

Anger and arousal built in Loras until he could no longer contain them, and he turned his head to bury it in a pillow and muffle a cry as he unravelled to the sounds of inarticulate cries in the night. He didn't know how long he lay there after, how long it was before the darkness grew still and quiet once more. He knew only that shame tasted as bitter in the back of his throat as anger did, and that the source of his shame was not Renly, not truly, no matter how much Loras wished that it were. No, his shame was his own, and his anger had only ever been directed at himself, even as he took it out on his lord.

***

Loras attacked his training with a new vigor the next morning. It didn't matter that the sun was back in force and the air hung as heavily as ever; he drove himself as far as he could, striking and parrying and feinting until his clothes were stained with sweat and his hands were so slick he was afraid he would lose his grip on his pommel. After a particularly vicious match with an underdeveloped squire, Loras retreated to the edge of the courtyard to gulp water from a pitcher. He fought a wave of dizziness, leaning against the wooden fence that divided the sparring ground from the stables. Three of the hedge knights still residing in the castle rested beside him, seated on overturned buckets and watching as the master-at-arms corrected a young swordsman's posture.

Loras knew he was driving himself close to the edge of exhaustion. He had seen other men he trained against collapse after too many hours in the draining sun, and he didn't much like the idea of humiliating himself so. Still, though his muscles ached and his head pounded, he had no urge to head back into the cool shadows of the castle. When he left his chambers that morning, Renly had still been asleep; his lover of the night before was gone, but Renly had not bothered to dress himself, instead lying sprawled naked on the bed, his legs tangled in the sheets. Loras had brought Renly's breakfast up from the kitchen and left it on the table in Renly's solar, and then he had fled, determined to get the image of Renly's bare form out of his mind.

Loud, clear laughter rang out behind Loras, and as he turned, his stomach sank. Renly was walking towards the training yard, jesting with three young kitchen girls whose arms were laden with platters of bread and fruit. Renly himself carried a large pitcher of water, and the maids seemed to find it truly amusing that their lord had deigned to help them with their burdens.

"Aye, Lord Renly!" one of the hedge knights called, standing from his bucket and propping his elbows lazily on the fence next to Loras. The man was named Ser Bryan; he was tall and lean and fair, his hair the color of wheat, and though he was good with a bow Loras thought him rather a sloppy rider and only an average swordsman.

"Ser Bryan!" Renly exclaimed, grinning broadly as he and the kitchen girls entered the training yard and made their way to the fence. Renly clapped Ser Bryan on the shoulder, but his grin faded when he saw Loras and he only nodded the briefest acknowledgement by way of greeting. Then his smile was back, and once again focused on Ser Bryan as Renly and the kitchen girls spread the food and drink out on a low table.

"So I see you'd rather spend your time with kitchen girls than exert yourself in the training yard?" Ser Bryan teased, biting into an apple.

"I find other means of exertion to be more satisfying," Renly shot back, and the look that crossed between him and Ser Bryan left little doubt in Loras's mind as to whom he had seen in Renly's bed the night before.

Now Loras really did think he might vomit, and he forced himself away from the laughing gaggle by the fence. This was a thousand times worse than seeing Renly with Lady Garowyn. It was the worst thing Loras could imagine, somehow, and his stomach churned as he left the training yard, nearly fleeing for the castle.

"My lord?"

A high, sweet voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned to see that one of the kitchen maids had followed him. It was Clara, who had Renly's breakfast waiting on a platter for Loras every morning and sometimes let him sneak pastries from behind the baker's back throughout the day. Loras summoned the courtly courtesies he had been taught from birth, but his smile felt tight. "Yes?"

"Are you well?" Clara asked, her plain skirts swishing around her ankles as she hurried to catch up to him. She was much prettier than Lady Garowyn despite her lowborn status; her wild red hair framed a soft round face, and she had wide green eyes, honest and sincere. Loras tried to imagine himself bedding her, or any other lovely woman, but the thought gave him no pleasure.

Loras took a deep breath, the laughter from the courtyard still raucous and merry behind him. "I'm well enough," Loras assured her, but she raised an eyebrow as though she didn't believe him. He found he couldn't be angry with her; after all, she was a young lady, and Loras's mother and grandmother had drilled the concept of chivalry into Loras from birth.

"Tired from the sun, is all," Loras tried again.

"It's cooler down in the wine cellar," Clara offered. "Lord Renly asked me to bring a flagon out to the yard." Her eyes flashed conspiratorially. "And Edelle is baking those lemon pies again; she's got them all set up to cool off on a windowsill where anyone could filch one."

The thought of food made Loras's stomach turn again, but the wine cellar seemed a good idea. At the very least, he could steal a flagon for himself and take it to his quarters. He looked back at the training yard, and Renly's eyes were on him, his face unreadable from this distance. With a pointed jerk of his chin, Loras turned away, taking Clara's arm in his. "The wine cellar it is," he said, trying to sound jovial. He wondered if Renly's stomach clenched at the sight of a lady on Loras's arm.

The wine cellar was indeed a welcome respite from the summer day; it was shadowy and cool and smelled of the earth it had been carved from. Loras helped Clara drain wine from a barrel into two wineskins, but when they stepped back into the hallway, Loras paused. The last thing he wanted was to face Renly again, especially in the company of Ser Bryan. Looking down at the wineskin in his hand, Loras made up his mind quickly.

"I think I'd best take my leave here, Clara," he said, noting the flash of disappointment in her eyes. "I think I should retire for the day."

Clara glanced down at the wine in his hands. "I've never known you to retire from the training yard early," she said with a frown. "If you're truly so unwell, I can fetch the maester--"

"No, no, there's no need," Loras said hurriedly. "I'm going to lie down is all. Have a glass of wine. Rest my eyes."

Clara shot him another worried look, but curtsied and left him all the same.

Alone, Loras stole through the castle, taking hallways meant for serving ladies and washing women, and once he was back in his own room he slumped to the floor by his bed and took a swig from the wineskin. His skin was still flushed with exertion, his blood still racing, and he decided to set his attention to drawing a cool bath in Renly’s solar.

It took Loras several minutes to drag Renly’s tub to the center of his bedchambers, and several trips to the wells beneath the castle for Loras to fill the large tub with cool water, but finally Loras removed his clothing with shaky hands and climbed into the tub, the wineskin on the pedestal beside him, resting casually atop the soaps and perfumes Renly preferred.

Loras closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the tub. The sweet warmth of the wine tempered the bite of the water, and though Loras could still hear Ser Bryan’s laugh, could still see the look that passed between the hedge knight and Renly, it hurt less with the castle walls between the memory of it and the reality of it.

And really, why should Loras have assumed that Renly had not taken men to bed? It would have been stranger had Renly been chaste as the Maiden. And why should Loras have assumed that Renly would not marry? As the lord of Storm’s End, he would have to marry one day, and give the Stormlands a son to preside over them upon Renly’s passing.

And what was Loras to Renly in the end? Loras took another gulp of wine as a deep sadness settled into his bones. He was Renly’s squire. Soon he would be a knight, and he would leave for Highgarden, and though he and Renly might remain good friends throughout their lives, Loras would never know Renly the way his lovers would know him, the way his wife and children would know him.

Loras hated this sadness nearly as much as he hated his anger, but the two were inexplicable and intertwined, and he could no more banish them than he could untangle them. He mused on that for awhile, until the heat and the wine caught up to him, and then he let his heavy eyes fall closed.

***

Loras woke to the sound of the door opening, and he watched through bleary eyes as Renly entered the room. Loras thought he should probably care that he was naked, and in no fit state to fetch Renly’s dinner or help him dress for bed, but he only felt a little thrill at the thought of being naked in Renly’s presence.

“Well,” Renly said, looking from Loras to the wineskin on the floor, “you’ve got yourself drunk.”

“I did,” Loras confirmed. He reached down for the wineskin and sighed when he found it mostly full. While he had a slight headache, his head no longer felt muddled with the sweet weight of wine, and a slow swell of discomfort in his gut heralded the return of his ever-present agitation. “I didn’t do a very good job of it, though.” Renly was very carefully not looking at him. Indeed, he seemed to find everything else in the room fascinating.

“Hasn’t the water gone cold by now?” Renly’s voice sounded strange. Choked, almost.

“The water was always cold,” Loras confirmed, though once Renly had mentioned it, Loras became aware of the gooseflesh on his skin. It was rather uncomfortable, he decided, and he braced his arms against the side of the tub to stand. But he was still fuzzy with sleep, and his legs had gone weak and tingly as he slept. He slipped when he had one leg on the floor and the other in the tub, one foot going out from under him.

Before he could fall, Renly steadied him, tugging him out of the tub, his arms hooked under Loras’s. Loras froze, his mind filled with a loud buzzing as he realized just how close Renly was, just how sweet Renly smelled. He wanted to press his face to Renly’s doublet and listen to Renly’s heart, but before he could do so, Renly pushed him away gently.

“You should get dressed and get to bed,” Renly said softly, his eyes on his feet. “You needn’t bring me dinner tonight.”

Loras still wanted Renly to look at him. He didn’t know why, exactly, but he thought it would do better than the wine had to keep his anger at bay. Loras took his time sorting out his discarded clothing, both because he was too tired to make much of it and because he wanted to give Renly time to watch. Surely Renly would want to watch him. He was far more comely than Lord Bryan.

But Renly was quiet as Loras managed to pull his breeches on and shrug his tunic over his head, only breaking the silence once Loras was fully dressed.

“Now you should get to bed,” Renly said, his voice still soft, and so Loras did as his lord bid and slumped over to the nearest bed. It was Renly’s bed, but Loras didn’t care. He threw himself down onto the mattress, slightly sick at the thought of Renly tangled in these sheets with another man.

Your bed, Loras,” Renly admonished, but his admonishments were never anything but fond suggestions, and Loras ignored this one as he did all the others.

“I saw you with Ser Bryan,” Loras’s mouth decided to say before his brain could stop it. Renly’s expression was unreadable for a moment, and then his lips twisted in a mockery of his usual easy grin.

“I don’t usually invite the men I bed up to my quarters,” Renly said, sitting beside Loras on the bed. “But seeing as you insist the entire realm knows of my nocturnal activities, I saw no shame in making you aware of the reality of them.”

There was the anger again, working its way up the back of Loras’s throat to burn in his mouth. “You wanted me to see,” Loras muttered.

“I didn’t plan on it, no.” Renly shrugged. “But I don’t particularly care whether you did or not.”

Loras rolled over on his side so that he couldn’t see Renly. He was sick from the wine and sick from the heat and sick from the knowledge that Renly wanted to be seen by Loras but refused to look at him.

Your bed, Loras,” Renly repeated after a long silence.

“No.” Loras kicked his way under the light blankets, cocooning himself in them and burying his face in a pillow. “If you wish to fuck Ser Bryan tonight, you’ll have to do so in another bed.”

Renly was quiet again. Then the mattress dipped and the blankets shuffled against one another, and Loras glanced over his shoulder to see Renly lying on the other side of the bed, glaring at Loras defiantly.

“You don’t want me to court ladies, and you don’t want me to lie with men,” Renly said. “So tell me, Loras, what is it you want from me? What is it you want for me? How should I live my life so that you’ll want to share my confidences again?”

Loras rolled over to face Renly, surprised by the way Renly was looking at him. His tone was biting, but his eyes were wistful; it was strange to see such openness writ across Renly’s features. And Loras had but one answer to Renly’s questions, an answer that sprung up suddenly, full formed, from the same pit in Loras’s stomach that had housed his anger all these moons. An answer he was loathe to give.

Loras liked to think himself a brave man, but he couldn’t say the words he meant to say while looking into Renly’s eyes. Instead he pressed his face half into a pillow to muffle his words, to strangle them and kill the meaning behind them should Renly find them distasteful or amusing.

“I want you to court me,” Loras mumbled. The pillowcase was a soft rose gold, silky beneath Loras’s cheek. “I want you to lie with me . You don’t need anyone else, Renly.” He let out a shaky breath, still staring at the pillowcase. “You don’t need anyone else because you already have me.”

Oh.”

When Loras dared to look up at Renly, Renly’s lips were parted slightly in a hesitant, hopeful smile; it was a smile Loras had missed, one that Renly had once shown him every day when trying to convince him to forsake his studies in favor of some silly adventure. But now it was tempered by a sweet sort of longing in Renly’s eyes as they traveled Loras’s face and the curve of his shoulder and the shape of his body beneath the blankets.

“You’ve been … jealous?” Renly asked tentatively, and reached out to place a hand against Loras’s cheek.

Loras swallowed and nodded. He was sure no man had seen Renly vulnerable like this, sure Renly had never smiled at Ser Bryan or Lady Garowyn with such tenderness. That thought filled him with a newfound buoyancy, sent a shiver of excitement and triumph down his spine, and Loras felt as though he had conquered the last enemy on a battlefield, and stood a victor over all he had hoped to claim.  

“Truly?” Renly shifted closer, his hand sliding into Loras’s damp curls.

“Truly,” Loras managed to breathe. He wondered if Renly would undress him now; he knew little of what he wanted beyond the things he saw behind his eyes when he dreamed, but he trusted Renly to be kind with him, and gentle.

But Renly made no move to do anything more than touch Loras reverently; when he pulled Loras close, Loras went willingly, his heart pounding. Renly rubbed Loras’s back with long, gentle strokes, just enough intent and affection behind them that Loras could not mistake them for a simple gesture of friendship.

“You’d like me to court you?” Renly whispered, resting his cheek against the top of Loras’s head.

“I would,” Loras confirmed. His body was growing lax and sleepy under Renly’s caresses; he pressed his face to Renly’s chest, inhaling the sweet scent of him, and closed his eyes.

“And you’d like me to lie with you?” Renly asked, hesitant again. “Lie with you properly, as a lover?”

Loras hummed. “As a lover, yes.” He wrapped an arm around Renly and rubbed circles at the small of his back. “Though this is nice as well.”

Renly’s arms tightened around Loras, crushing him close, and there was more emotion in the embrace than Loras was used to seeing from Renly. More true emotion than Renly would ever let anyone but Loras see.

“Then I shall court you,” Renly promised with a breathless chuckle. “And I shall lie with you, when you desire it.”

“Can we share a bed tonight? Like this?” Loras wanted Renly to give him everything he had given Ser Bryan; he wanted Renly’s hands and his mouth on his skin, wanted to touch and kiss Renly in return. But he had no experience with such things, and though he thrilled at the thought of them, right now he only wanted to fall asleep beside Renly, and wake in the solid certainty of Renly’s arms.

Renly let out a shaky breath. “We can share a bed like this every night, if you’re so inclined.”

Loras tilted his head up just a little, and the soft skin of Renly’s throat was so close that he could not resist pressing his lips to it. “I’ve never been more inclined to do anything in my life,” he whispered, and Renly’s laugh was so free and loud and happy that Loras forgot he had ever been angry with him at all.

***

Loras was used to seeing Renly direct his easy charm at those around him, but never had Loras born the brunt of it, and never had that charm seemed more pointed and sincere than when Renly wielded it against Loras. Suddenly Renly had become a fixture in the training yard, walking with the kitchen girls every day to bring lunch to the combatants, and the food they brought was always whatever Loras liked best. Renly had bought roses to replace the peonies in Loras’s chambers, though Loras rarely spent time in his own rooms anymore. Today Renly had even furtively pressed a scrap of parchment into Loras’s hand as they passed in the corridors; it bore a hastily-scrawled note:You look more buaetiful in armour than any lady has ever looked in a gowne.

“You misspelled beautiful,” Loras said as he pushed open the door to Renly’s chambers. He was sore from hours in the training yard and looking forward to a bath; he and Renly had done little more than hold each other through the night these past few weeks, but they had taken to bathing unabashed in one another’s company.

Renly looked up from the book spread open on his desk. His expression shifted from guilt to a boyish, giddy excitement when he saw that it was Loras interrupting him, and Loras couldn’t help but smile at Renly’s enthusiasm.

“I found the most colorful book in the library today,” Renly said, ignoring Loras's criticism of his spelling. His grin turned sly as he closed his book and carried it with him to the divan. He gestured for Loras to take a seat beside him, and, curious, Loras did.

“What were you doing in the library?” Loras asked, shaking his hair free of the tie he wore to keep it back when he sparred. He tried to peek at the book in Renly’s arms, but Renly held it so that Loras couldn’t see the title or the cover. “I'd think it more likely to find you in a serving girl’s bed than searching for a book.”

Renly grimaced. “Well, Penrose read over a letter I had thought to send to Robert, and apparently I need ‘further grammatical instruction’.”

Loras snorted, and Renly’s mask of indignation melted away in a moment until the both of them were giggling. “You misspelled gowne as well,” Loras offered, holding the folded piece of parchment between his index and middle fingers and waving it in Renly’s face.

Renly snatched the note away and frowned comically at Loras. “You’ll get no more sweet notes from me then, I’m afraid.”

“I doubt that.” Loras slid his boots off and crossed his legs beneath him. Renly was courting him as he would a maid, and though Loras wondered if the notion should offend him, he was delighted by the amount of attention Renly was lavishing on him. With Ser Bryan and his companions gone and Lady Garowyn leagues away, Loras liked to think himself the center of Renly’s world; Renly was certainly the center of his.

“Now,” Loras said, “what sort of book did you find in the library?”

“The queerest sort,” Renly said, and finally revealed the book to Loras.

It wasn’t a large book, especially compared to those the maester taught lessons from, and the cover was plain and faded, the title spelled out across a gray background:Of Peculiar Copulation and the Pleasures Thereof. Loras frowned, reaching out to take it from Renly, but again Renly held it just out of Loras’s reach.

“It’s quite obscene,” Renly said mischievously, and Loras glared at him. “I’ve no idea how it came to be part of my library, but it was shelved with the primers, so I can only assume that it was placed there to further my intellectual development--”

Loras rolled his eyes and struck while Renly was still caught up in his long-winded explanation. He grabbed the book from Renly’s hands and opened it across his lap, only to blush at the illustration he found before him. “Oh,” he said, a blush creeping across his cheeks and down his neck, and he looked up to see Renly watching him with a gleeful, expectant expression.

The illustration was rather well done given the crude subject matter: one man on his knees, using his mouth to pleasure another man standing before him. There was a caption beneath the image, but Loras’s brain couldn’t make sense of it, buzzing as it was with the idea of Renly knelt before him. Or himself knelt before Renly. Loras wondered what Renly would taste like, should Loras lick down that trail of hair on his stomach and taste him between his legs.

“Do you like it?” Renly asked breathlessly, his voice low. He slid an arm around Loras’s waist, pulling Loras into his side, but Loras couldn’t tear his eyes away from the book. That this book had been written meant that he and Renly were not so base in their predilections as Loras had previously believed, and seeing his fantasies played out across the pages of a book gave Loras a heady thrill and made them seem achingly attainable rather than intimidating.

“It’s …” Loras wasn’t quite sure what to say. He turned the page; the next illustration showed a man sat backward on the lap of another man, his lover’s cock stuffed up his arse. It was obscene, but Loras’s heart sped up all the same. “Is this what you do,” Loras asked stiffly, “with your lovers?”

Renly fidgeted beside him. “Well. Not exactly. Mostly we just--” He reached out and flipped back a few pages, to a picture of two men naked and pressed up against one another; one of the men had a hand closed around both cocks. “I haven’t really had a chance to try much else.”

That surprised Loras enough to pull his attention away from the book. He frowned at Renly. “But I thought you had had many lovers.”

Renly looked away. It was the first time Loras had ever seen him blush, and a rush of affection nearly offset the arousal burning in Loras’s stomach.

“It’s rare to find a man who shares my inclinations,” Renly finally said. “So I paid, sometimes, down in Wavecrest, but then I would always think of my brother, and how he single-handedly keeps half the brothels in King’s Landing in business, and that soured the experience quite a bit.”

Renly’s sudden candor, at now of all times, struck Loras as more than a little absurd, but then he realized the weight behind Renly’s words. Loras could be the one Renly tried all these lovely, forbidden things with. Loras could be the only one Renly trusted with his truest desires, the only one who would not scoff or cringe but encourage and reciprocate.

“Which of these did you mean for us to try first?” Loras asked softly, nodding down at the book as he sifted through the illustrations. He felt as though his entire body was vibrating. Outside there came a low, dull rumble of thunder that matched the rush of blood throbbing in Loras’s ears.

“I hadn’t--” Renly started, but Loras cut him off with a raised eyebrow.

“Don’t say you haven’t thought about it,” Loras reprimanded him. “We both know you’ve been thinking about it since you found the book.”

Renly grinned sheepishly. “And how do you figure that?”

Loras rolled his eyes. “Because I’ve been thinking about it since you brought this to my attention so very recently.”

“And which of these do you mean for us to try first?” Renly nudged Loras’s cheek with his nose.

“Let’s think on it while I have a bath,” Loras said, suddenly aware of the sweat drying down on his skin and tangling the curls at the nape of his neck. If Renly meant to take Loras in his mouth, or take their cocks in hand, or some other thing Loras hadn’t yet thought to imagine, Loras wanted to smell good for him. To taste good for him.

Servants drew the bath quickly while Loras tried to hide his growing impatience. Renly kept shooting him furtive glances laden with suggestion, and all Loras could think about was the way Renly rubbed his back as they fell asleep, and how much more thrilling those touches would be without clothing to dull them.

Late afternoon had faded to dusk by the time the large metal tub was full; once the servants had gone, Loras reached for the laces on his shirt, his fingers trembling. Renly ran his hands down Loras’s sides and paused to rest them on Loras’s hips before slowly, cautiously undoing Loras’s breeches. Loras’s breath caught, though Renly’s hands were quick, his touch clearly not meant to arouse, not yet.

Thunder sounded again, closer this time, and the breeze through the windows was fragrant and surprisingly cool. Loras slowly discarded his shirt, and then his breeches, and then his stockings and smallclothes, silently urging Renly to watch, to imagine. Loras stepped into the tub, the hot water sloshing around him as he sat down, and finally let himself gauge Renly’s expression.

Renly’s eyes were wide, his lips pursed, and he looked to be holding his breath. Loras stretched himself out along the length of the tub, his arms spread out on the sides of it, and tilted his head up at Renly expectantly. “Weren’t you going to decide how best to debauch me?”

“It’s a difficult decision.” Renly laughed weakly, his eyes never leaving Loras’s body.

“Well take your clothes off for me while you figure it out,” Loras instructed, feeling rather pleased at his own boldness. He was used to being forthright and forceful in every other facet of his life, but around Renly he had found himself tongue-tied as of late: at first because he had been far too angry to voice the cruel thoughts that plagued him, and then because he had been too frightened of losing the fragile newborn affection growing up between himself and Renly.

Renly gave Loras a crooked smile as he unhooked the buttons of his doublet. He shrugged it off, letting it fall to the floor at his feet, and didn’t even seem to notice when it wrinkled beneath his boots as he knelt to pull them off. His shirt followed his doublet to the tile, revealing the lean, strong lines of his torso, the dark hair trailing across his chest and down his stomach and under the breeches he slipped out of.

The room was cloaked in a deep hush broken only by the noise of the storm beyond the castle walls. Even that seemed a pale, paltry thing, muted by the sharp, hot tension building between Loras in his bath and Renly, shedding his smallclothes to stand bare and proud on a pile of expensive clothing.

“Your hair,” Loras whispered. “Take down your hair, my lord.” Long hair, long fingers, long legs; Loras shivered despite the heat of the bathwater.

Renly did as Loras asked and shook his hair out around his shoulders. Dark as ink, it fell straight and thick to just below his collarbone. “Is that better?” Renly asked with a lazy grin that Loras knew to be a lie.

“Mmmm,” Loras murmured by way of assent. He plucked the bar of soap and wash towel from the stand beside the tub and began to clean himself, scouring away the dirt of the day’s activities. He pretended not to notice when Renly crouched down beside him, pretended to be surprised when Renly stayed his hand.

“Let me wash you?” Renly asked breathlessly.

Loras nodded. Renly’s hands were gentle, his touches tentative as he ran the towel over Loras’s neck and shoulders to wash away the suds. Loras closed his eyes and inhaled deeply when Renly’s hand drifted lower; he wasn’t sure whether or not Renly had meant this to be agonizing, but gods was it. There was nothing but a towel between Renly’s hand and the skin he gently wiped clean. When he slid the towel between Loras’s legs, Loras moaned involuntarily, arching his hips up into the contact just as Renly turned his attention to Loras’s thighs.

Suddenly Renly let the towel fall into the water. Loras opened his eyes just as Renly placed a hand on either side of his neck and leaned down to kiss him.

They had shared dozens of kisses by now, but none like this; Renly ran the tip of his tongue along the seam of Loras’s lips and Loras opened his mouth on a startled moan. He brought his wet hands up to grasp at Renly’s loose hair and tried to make some sense of the way Renly’s tongue pressed hot against his before curling up to explore the roof of his mouth, the backs of his teeth. Renly tasted like the cinnamon sticks he chewed to clean his teeth.

Loras whined when Renly pulled away, but Renly only moved back to grab Loras’s arms and tug him from the tub.

“I think I’ve decided what we should do,” Renly said slowly, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “But I think we ought to be in a bed.”

Loras nodded frantically, letting Renly pull him down onto the bed. His head spun; he had no idea how to articulate what he wanted, but his body seemed to know well enough, and so he gave himself over to it; he gave himself over to the nervous tension in his spine and the hot rush of blood to his cock and the deep, aching lust thrumming through his limbs and lighting up his skin.

“I want to touch you,” Loras blurted out when they were lying on soft silks, so close to being skin-to-skin. He walked his fingers down Renly’s stomach and curled them around Renly’s cock, testing the weight of it, marveling at the way it hardened fully under his touch. Renly let out a noise so soft and vulnerable that Loras would not have thought him capable of it, and Loras tightened his grip a bit, twisted his hand along Renly’s length, imagined his mouth closed over it, full of it.

“I thought,” Renly gasped, hips jumping, “that I was supposed to--supposed to be--debauching you?”

“Well you took too long about it,” Loras said, wishing his voice didn’t sound quite so weak. He sat up, his hand still around Renly’s cock, and tried to figure out the best way to go about reenacting the first page he had seen in Renly’s book. His head was too clouded for him to come up with any concrete plan, however, and so he simply sank his mouth down where his hand had been.

Loras!” Renly hissed desperately, but that was all he could manage to say. Loras kept one hand around the base of Renly’s cock and tried to move his mouth in the same way he moved his hand. He curled his tongue around the head and Renly’s hips jumped again; Loras pulled back to keep from gagging, then ducked back down to press his tongue to the same sensitive place again.

Loras!” This time Renly’s hand clutched at Loras’s curls to pull him off. Loras frowned, afraid he had done something wrong, but then Renly sat up and pushed Loras down into the mattress, hovering over him, his hard cock slick with spit where it pressed against Loras’s thigh.

“This,” Renly gasped, leaning down to leave a sloppy kiss on Loras’s mouth, “was hardly fair.”

Loras’s brow furrowed. “Fair?”

“I haven’t got to touch you at all,” Renly whispered against Loras’s ear. He propped himself up on one elbow beside Loras and used his free hand to trace Loras’s collarbone. He moved his hand lower and lower, and anticipation built in Loras’s stomach as he waited breathlessly for Renly to take him in hand.

When he did, it was far better than Loras could have imagined. He bit his lower lip against the pleasure of it, trying to stifle the undignified sounds such pleasure seemed to conjure up. Renly’s palm was warm, his grip steady, and when Loras arched his back his chest brushed Renly’s chest above him.

Loras opened his eyes when Renly pulled away, propping himself up on his elbows and watching, his mouth dry, as Renly drew Loras’s cock into his mouth. Loras dropped back against the pillows and dug one fist into Renly’s hair and the other into the silks beneath him. He fought to keep from arching his hips upward, from pushing deeper into Renly’s warm, wet mouth. Loras could feel the tension in his stomach building towards a breaking point, but he didn’t want to spill into Renly’s mouth, didn’t want this to end yet.

Renly,” Loras gasped, tugging Renly’s hair as Renly had tugged his. “Renly, come kiss me,” he pleaded.

Renly looked up, his lips shiny. He pressed a silly little kiss to the head of Loras’s cock and raised an eyebrow. “Like that?”

Loras tried to glare at Renly. “Kiss my mouth,” he specified.

Renly crawled up the bed, rolling Loras until they were lying chest-to-chest, legs intertwined, cocks pressed together. He caught Loras in a deep, breathless kiss, and when he began to thrust against Loras, Loras gasped and followed his lead.

His hands hooked over Renly’s shoulders, his fingernails digging into Renly’s broad back, Loras tried to find some sort of rhythm, but the slick, hot slide of their bodies followed no set pattern; this was not a dance, not a polished set of steps for searching eyes to track and dissect. This was wild and frantic and private, sacred but forbidden, the culmination of everything that Loras had ever felt for Renly.

When Loras spent himself onto Renly’s skin, he could hardly breathe from the force of it; he felt unbound and unravelled and free . He stroked Renly’s hair as Renly spilled onto his thigh, and then he did his best to gather Renly’s spent body up into his arms.

The storms had faded away, and with them the few blessed cool breezes, but Loras was loathe to allow any space between his body and Renly’s. He closed his eyes, trying to memorize the weight of Renly in his arms, the smells of sweat and sex between their bodies, the fragrance of the peonies on the windowsill. Loras wanted to capture and keep the moment, as though it were a flower crushed between the pages of a book.

“We should take another bath,” Renly whispered, just as Loras thought he had drifted off to sleep. “There’s still water in the tub.”

“Do you really think yourself capable of bathing in cold water?” Loras laughed. It had once seemed like such a perfectly reasonable thing to get angry about, Renly’s preference for warm bathwater in the height of summer; now it seemed to Loras just an endearing quirk.

“It won’t be cold.” Renly pressed a kiss to Loras’s chest. “Not with you in my arms.”

The room was heavy with the odor of peonies.