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Empathy & Apathy

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The music had begun again but he fully intend to sit at least one of the turns out. On the floor the silks were already beginning to spin- the golden light of the candelabras glinting off bright eyes, laughing smiles, and the best jewels that such lives could afford. All around was the blithe sound of women's laughter and the tinkling of punch glasses being set down as hands were delicately lifted, bows were made, and glee contained behind unfurled fans.

"Have the ladies tired you already, my friend?" The familiar voice sounded to his right.

Davos turned, "I will admit, the last one did leave my foot rather sore."

"Yes I saw that one," Sal's eyes glinted, "I had to look twice to make sure you hadn't picked the pig off the table like some madman."

"There's no call for cruelty," Davos said, smiling despite himself, "No one had danced with the poor thing the whole of the evening."

"And you wonder at that?" Sal scoffed as he sipped at the punch glass held almost delicately between two fingers.

Davos chose not to reply and leaned back to survey the room. The pace for this turn was lively and he was glad he'd chosen to step to the side, his boots were beginning to pinch at the toes. It had been altogether longer than he cared to recall since he'd dressed this fine. It was a relatively small affair to be sure, as far as these things went, but such events were not quite his usual habits. But this was what he'd chosen now was it not? 'The Quiet Life'- wasn't that what they called it? At the moment it was a good deal too loud to be properly considered anything other than boisterous in his humble opinion, but the tumult felt almost comforting. It had been too long since London, and the clamor of the streets, the bellowing of the public if you turned down the wrong corner. But no- he was a country man now.

Sal had scoffed to be sure- sworn that he wouldn't manage to last more than three days before he came scurrying like the rat he was back to 'proper civilization'. He'd sworn it the whole way across the channel to retrieve the goods and back again. Sworn it as Davos sold his boat and cut his ties and signed the papers for the small cottage that smelled of the sea, old stones, and good peat.

"Too young-" He'd said shaking his head in that over dramatic manner of his, "Both of us- far too young, and especially you- eight and twenty and you say you are done. I know you, Davos, retirement's too dull of a word for you."

"It's not retirement," He'd told him dozens of times, "It's adjustment- to something with less swaying nooses and gaping black gates looming with ominous persistence --"

"And dark nights- with only the moon to light the sea," Sal insisted poetically sweeping his hand before of him.

"The moon will shine all the same," Davos said- despising that part of him felt like she might not afterall.

But she did, of course, and it had been far too many years since that cold november night when he was still a small skinny boy with a crushing emptiness in his stomach who told himself it would just be once- just once, just for now, and that will be that. But it had never been once, not even twice, and he had grown sick of habitually noticing the number of red coats on any given street. 

So finally enough had been enough and Sal had paid him the last of what he was due and clicked his tongue and waggled his head as he bought a small cottage by the sea, determined to live the 'quiet life' - or at least one that was not as silent by professional necessity. 

"Is this your plan now, my friend?" Sal suddenly said, shaking the reminiscing from Davos' thoughts.

"What's that?" He asked, turning to glance up at him once more.

"Dancing with piglets until one with enough money steps on your toe and takes you home to her Papa Hog?"

Davos laughed as he shook his head.

"What?" Sal gestured widely, "It's all they do, or didn't you realize? Ride around and shoot things with their guns and bragging of their cushioned victories so they can find ladies with pockets too large and beds too lonely."

"I didn't 'retire' to find a wife, Sal." Davos said for what felt like the ninth time that night alone.

"And what else will you do, pray? Die alone longing for the moonlight on the sea? I know you must feel after so many years at my side that women do not notice you- but find one with enough meat on her bones and longing in her eyes and she might just settle on a face as plain as yours. See-" He said, leaning forward and pointing subtly with a flourish, "That one who's so neatly caved in your fine new boots is still staring."

"Truly?" Davos said without looking, "Your luminant presence hasn't blinded her?"

Sal laughed with one short burt so loud that several closer guests turned and stared.

"You've too much good humor to waste on this lot, Davos. But you can't hide it from me- I know where you learned to dance." He said when he had recovered.

Davos took a sip of his punch, trying not to notice that some people were still staring.

Sal had noticed and shook his head. He sat down finally in the chair beside Davos, the smell of cloves and sweet wine wafting off him in the fashionably subtle way it always did. 

"Is this really what you want my friend?" He asked, voice lower now and when Davos turned to look at him his eyes were almost genuine in their concern.

"These people… they have different lives then we. They have different minds- minds full of useless things and all crowded with greed--"

"So spake the apostle who shunned all worldly goods--"

"Yes- yes, fine, fine, greed is not such terrible a vice… but you know my meaning."

"I do."

"And you still wish to be part of this world?"

 "I didn't think I had a choice which world I was part of," Davos said, smiling at him, "Or was I under a misapprehension that there was only one?"

Sal smiled back at him endearingly, "My poor friend- do you truly insist on making things so simple?"

"It's always served me well," He said, "Things are simple, Sal, that's the real secret. I'm not 'joining a world' I'm not taking 'the quiet life'- I merely bought a house by the sea."

Sal leaned back, "Fine- fine, but you can't tell me you don't have a plan… you're too smart for that much folly, and you bore too easily without one."

"Perhaps I wish to bore." Davos smiled, but the little knot that had hidden in his stomach tightened despite himself.

There is no plan.

He hadn't the faintest clue what he was supposed to do with himself. Yes, he wanted to peace- yes, he wanted the life without the fear of prison's black gates shutting him in forever without even the smell of the ocean to keep him company- even the gallows would be preferable to that fate. But now he was here and for the first time in his life he was utterly without inclination as to which way the winds would blow him. 

Marriage. Well, of course that would be the proper and sensible path to pursue. That's what people did after all- he didn't need Sal to tell him as much as that. But that meant so much more and well- as someone who had just recently become accepting of his own path in life he doubted he would be eager to seek that manner of approval from another. And all that meant… he couldn't simply find some unsuspecting girl with a kind enough manner and a begin by lying to her face, and he couldn't exactly go about trading in perfect sincerity either- but the lies were certainly worse. Maybe Sal was right after all, and he didn't belong here, with people who might spit on him without thought to the impropriety if they learned what he really was. 

No, he reminded himself viciously, not what I am- what I have been.

That was it really. He was here to make what had been a past, and what could be a future, no matter what it contained it would be new and he slept better somehow knowing it would be anything but what had come before.

Sal sighed heavily beside him, "Shall I empty more rum into that punch while these laced backs are turned? Maybe that will liven them up." He said as he stared disdainfully around him.

Davos, who was enjoying the steady, almost lazy glow of the evening, rolled his eyes, "I'm sorry that the lack of breaking glass and screaming women puts you ill at ease."

"Women can scream many ways for many reasons," Sal said, thankfully barely above a whisper, "And some of those would certainly be welcome."

"Remind me why I ask you for a visit?" Davos said with a faint smile on his lips.

"Ah," Said his friend leaning over, "But you did not- I came here in search of quarry and you have indulged me."

Davos stood with a stretch to his back and eyed him, "Only so far, mind."

Sal chuckled, "I would have thought you would be proud of me, Davos. After all I am perusing these 'clean' interests that you seem so very keen to embrace."

Davos twirled his punch as he watched the dancers, "You've always had legitimate business… it's that you've always had illegitimate to match that's made me constantly uncertain."

"It is the best way," Sal grinned widely, eyes on the bodice of one of the nearer ladies, one pretty enough that she certainly didn't need Davos to ask her to the floor and probably would have laughed if he'd tried.

"You take the best of both worlds- one feeds the other, there is a balance there. Not all of us have your dedication. And if particular endeavor comes along as I hope, who knows, maybe one world can slip quietly off into the night like some old friends of mine." Sal finished.

Davos suddenly felt uncomfortable. Perhaps this had been a bad idea in the end. Sal was here for perfectly legitimate reasons. His trading routes through India were gaining ground and this was the best chance he'd had in years to secure contracts good enough to end the illegitimacy once and for all. But despite it all the knot in his stomach persisted uncomfortably.

"It's been hours… how do you even know they'll come? Isn't this sort of thing out of their 'sphere' ."

"They'll be here." He said simply, and almost as if on cue the crowd hushed.

Davos couldn't help but roll his eyes and smile, wasn't that always how it was for Sal? If he had said they'd be here the roof probably would have caved in.

The room quieted to the muted but rather shrill sound of nearly every lady whispering behind her hand to her neighbor and the men's buttons straining as they pushed out their chests. Skirts rustled as figures pushed closer to the door in anticipation. The silence clustered so tightly around that Davos could almost hear the stepping of feet over the marble of the foyer. 

All at once a booming laugh shattered through the room and somehow the spell was broken. The people began to move and titter eagerly as the group entered to the cry of the caller.

"LORD ROBERT BARATHEON, LADY CERSEI, MISTER STANNIS BARATHEON, MISTER RENLY BARATHEON, AND MISS MELISANDRE RUTILUS."

They did make a striking picture, even Davos had to admit. 

The women were striking to say the least. The blonde woman held herself highly, back straight and neck tall but at the same time seeming almost relaxed in her manner. Her eyes saw everything and seemed less impressed with each new article of her attention than the last. From her posture and casual manner she seemed to be staring down her nose at nearly everything and the gold shine of her hair piled high on her head seemed more of a crown than anything else. Her gown was something Davos concluded must be the very height of fashion given how it stood out against the clothing of the other ladies inhabiting the room. She was clad in gold and red, but the red seemed dull compared to the shade adorning the woman who held her lightly about the arm. 

Where Lady Cersei shone bright and proud her companion glowed deep and rich, like the light of the last fire in a dark room. Her hair was such a deep shade of auburn that it was almost red itself and her pale skin made it glow with even greater luster. She wore her gown in a cut that left her shoulders utterly free with nothing but a glowing red gem against the white of her skin. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, and he heard Sal grunt appreciatively beside him, but there was something in her eyes that he did not like. While Lady Cersei surveyed the room as if none of it was worth her attention, Miss Melisandre looked into each corner and each face in a manner that Davos had seen before in places far darker than a country dance.

The men who pushed their way into the hall entered with noise to contest the lady's silence. One- Robert, he knew almost instantly- was utterly gigantic. He seemed to fill the room as soon as he entered it and wasted no time running his eyes over almost every woman and finally resting them on the punch bowl, stampeding toward it like a loose bull and laughing lightheartedly as the 'commoners' scurried out of his path.

The other brother lingers by the ladies, and he did not have to make a show of himself to attract attention. Near every woman in the room was outright gaping at him, and Davos couldn't help but stare for a moment himself- he had never seen a man dressed so fine in all his life. His waistcoat was embroidered with silken flowers that spread upwards towards his green silk cravat pinned in place with a pearl he knew Sal would sell his teeth for. The man smiled back at the room, oozing charm and grace from every pore and indeed it seemed that within moments nearly all the occupants of the hall had fallen half in love with him.

They commanded the space utterly- the beautiful women, the giant of a man who seemed to spill good humor over his top like an overfull goblet, and the charming boy who smiled as easily as if he were born that way. Everyone was staring at them, watching them with every bit of their attention. Everyone except Davos.

He'd always been good at seeing things that didn't wish to be seen, at noticing things no one else seemed to. Perhaps it was a force of habit after years working as he had, or perhaps it was a strange gift he'd always possessed, but regardless of the source, there was a part of him that saw such things and in the face of them the world quieted and they stood out quicker and more brilliantly then anything else, and the moment the group had entered the room his eye had gone directly to the shadow amongst the light.

It was almost strange he thought, that no one seemed to so much as notice him. He was just as tall as his elder brother, and his blue eyes shone with fervor equal to the younger, he held himself as proudly as the regal blond, and surveyed the room with the quick and deliberate care of the woman in red, but there was something else about the man standing behind the others in the dark, plainly colored but sharply cut apparel, looking at the same time as if he could care little or less at yet at the same time all too much.

He was young, older than the charming boy of course but younger than Davos- that much was apparent, but he somehow felt older. There was a distain and an exhausted irritation to him that seemed to give his face far more years then it was due and when he looked on as one of his brothers sought out the punch as if it were the last floating wreckage of a sunken ship and the other smiled through his teeth at every attractive occupant in the room, Davos saw his jaw tighten and didn't think he had ever seen anyone frown so deeply in his entire life. 

What reason could there possibly be for such misery?

"Come!" Sal said, tugging on his arm.

"Sal!" Davos protested, "You can't simply--"

"ROBERT!" Sal cried out to Davos' compete and utter shock.

The massive man spun with confusion written on his face that at the sight of them erupted into gleeful recognition.

"SALLADHOR!" His voice boomed as he made his way through the clearing that magically formed in the crowd before him towards where they stood.

Davos tried to swallow his surprise. Of course they would have met before- even Sal wasn't as brazen as that. 

"What in god's name brings you out of London and into the country, Sallador? I didn't think you shot!" Robert Baratheon continued, laying a fat hand good naturally on Davos' friend's shoulder. 

"I only shoot when I know there's no chance I can miss." Sal said, with teeth shining and a waggle of his brow that Davos thought all together inappropriate until the large lord laughed so loudly half the room turned to look at them. Davos couldn't help but notice Stannis Baratheon's eyes lingering on their group in a wholly disapproving manner.

"But no," Sal continued, "I am hear at the invitation of one of my oldest friends." His arm wrapped around Davos' wrist and pulled him forward, forcing him to look away from Stannis Baratheon' strict visage and into the rosy, almost purple glow of Robert Baratheon's beaming face.

"Lord Robert, allow me to introduce Mister Davos Seaworth." Sal said. 

Davos gave a small bow, "An honor my Lord."

"Mine! Indeed the honor is mine!" Robert said, but the look of humor in his eyes told Davos he knew most certainly that it wasn't and in almost that instant his attention was gone.

"Tell me Salladhor, have you enjoyed the company of many handsome women tonight?"

Sallador laughed, "Indeed my lord I have, but all their beauty is now dulled by the image of your enchanting wife."

Robert's face twisted slightly, giving Davos the impression that "enchanting" was perhaps not the word he would have chosen, but he rallied admirably.

"Yes! Yes, Cersei of course- you must meet her and the rest, come along, come along!" He said, locking a hand around Sal's neck and turning him just as his friend caught Davos's eye and gave him a fat wink.

As they approached the group Davos couldn't help but catch the ends of a conversation.

"Stannis if you don't dance with at least one lady everyone in the room will consider you an utter ass." The boy's lifting agile voice sounded low against the hum of the crowd.

"You know very well that I could care less for the opinions of the occupants of this room and will certainly not make a fool of my self soliciting arms at a country ball." The older man said, gritting out each syllable as if he were stoically enduring some form of torture, "You've danced with enough already for the both of us, and leave it at that."

The lad sighed dramatically, "If you insist on embarrassing us again I--"

Stannis spun on him this time, "I am the last person who has embarrassed this family- in fact I seem to be the only one remaining who recalls how to behave in a civil manner."

"Civil?! Half of London thinks you despise them and the other half is sure of it. And even those who have never had the pleasure of your acquaintance know you for a rude, insufferably dreary--- "

"Come, come, Renly-" A flowing voice sounded, "You should not chastise your brother so."

The woman in red slipped between them and smiled easily up at Stannis Baratheon who returned her gaze for a moment and then snapped his attention towards their approaching group. His eyes narrowed.

"Come along, come along!" Robert ushered, "Introductions!"

"Robert--" Stannis began warily as he stared at them but his brother gave him a look and he fell into a stewing silence.

"My dear," He began, turning towards his wife as she looked at Davos and Salladhor as if she were assessing second hand rugs, "May I present Mister Sallador Saan, and Mister…." His voice trailed off but Davos picked up for him without hardly a moment's pause.

"--Seaworth, Davos Seaworth."

"Ah- yes, that's right." Robert said, and Davos was sure he'd already forgotten.

 "My wife-" Robert continued, "Lady Cersei,"

The Lady's mouth smiled without the aid of her eyes.

"My brothers," Robert continued, "Renly and Stannis--" Renly bowed handsomely but Stannis hardly moved his head, "And finally Miss Rutilus, who is visiting from abroad."

"A pleasure," The woman said, he voice slinking forth smooth as silk.

"The pleasure is mine," Sal said taking her offered hand, "Do I mistake- or is that a Venetian accent I perceive?"

"You have a keen ear, Mister Saan," She smiled, teeth shining, "And if I may be so bold, I might call your own… Catalan?"

"Very good!" Sal said, still holding her hand, "I believe you are one of the first to guess on the first try."

Miss Melisandre nodded gracefully. 

"Madam, I do hope it would not seem an impertinence to ask for a the honor of a dance?" Sal oozed.

Robert laughed, "Directly to it- just as in London, I knew you'd be you--"

"It would be my pleasure," Said Miss Melisandre thankfully stopping Robert before he made off with Sal's impertinence.

Sal took her arm with exceeding grace and Davos couldn't help but marvel at him. He'd never be able to summon that amount of poise in his little finger. And now he was left alone, standing awkwardly beside the Lady who didn't seem to find a worse possible evening conceivable and the dichotomous brothers.

Robert was already booming away at Renly about some manner of London diversion Sal had treated him to. So Davos turned towards the only remaining option,

"Mister Stannis, are you enjoying the country?"

The man hardly turned, looked down at him, and promptly left his company. 

Davos stared. And once he realized it had truly happened after all found himself instantly having to smother a sudden burst of laughter.

"I- I must apologize for my brother's behavior." The smooth voice came from his elbow and Davos made himself turn.

"I hope I have no caused offense." He managed, still trying not to laugh at the utter absurdity of it.

Renly sighed dramatically beside him, "Not that I can perceive Mister Seaworth, but there is quite honestly no real telling with my brother. He's never been what anyone could call 'at ease' with society, or even any of it's individual members."

Davos nodded slightly, still trying to glance after the tall man but he'd vanished into the crowd. 

"I'll go after him," Renly insisted shaking his head, "I'm sure he'll want to make apologies for such rude behavior."

"No," Davos said calmly, "Please, it's nothing, I insist."

Renly gave him a confused look but evenly shrugged and after a few moments of pleasantries it seemed utterly forgotten.

Sal returned from the floor only to sweep the resisting but ultimately obliging Lady Cersei into the next dance and when he returned once more he ushered Robert off to one side to discuss the business matters that had led him through this course of action in the first place. Davos managed to step away and contented himself with simpler company for the remainder of the evening.

By the time Sal found him again it was well past any decent hour and Davos was more than happy to follow him out the door after he'd begged Robert's forgiveness and made his farewells.

"Enjoyed yourself?" Davos asked as they stepped out. The cool air was shockingly refreshing after the confined heat of the hall and the breeze smelled of the sea still hardly a mile or two off, and getting closer with each step. 

"Certainly," Sal smiled, "Beautiful women- drink, company of an old friend, what else could one ask for?"

"Of course business proposals to a drunken Lord would have nothing to do with your good humor?"

"Drunken? No more so than myself- the man can hold back more than I would have given him credit for."

Davos shook his head with a wry smile, "He's got room for it that much is certain."

"What didn't you enjoy yourself?" Sal called to the night in general, "You did not dance with the beautiful ladies- for shame, Mister Seaworth!"

"I'm sure they wanted little and less to do with me." He laughed.

"You should not be so hard on yourself- they are not all as insufferable as the thin one with the face like he's already seen the second coming and found it thoroughly disappointing."

Davos snorted.

"Was he as dull as he seemed?" Sal asked, arching a brow.

"What do you mean?" Davos asked.

"I saw you speaking with him, the younger one with the look of some a grecian temple boy said he offended you."

Davos smiled into the cool breeze of the night, "It's not offense to be spared a miserable man's company."

Sal laughed in that short loud manner of his, "That bad?"

Davos chuckled himself, "Yes quite that bad."

"They call him a hard man." Sal said.

"They?" Davos asked.

"In London."

"Ah."

Sal rested his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, "He could prove a difficulty…"

"To you?" Davos asked.

Sal nodded, "As I say."

Davos kicked the stones ahead of his feet idly and watched them roll into the darkness of the trimmed grass, "It's nothing to me. Thankfully, I'll never have to lay eyes on the man ever again."

Sal grinned into the night, "Then for once I get to be the jealous one."

By the time they arrived back at the cottage the moon had almost settled over the horizon and there was a dull grey glow all around. Sal found his way inside on his own, without a doubt collapsing in the first room in his path without regard to it's intentions. 

Davos let him find his own way and walked over towards the rocky face the jutted out towards the sea. Standing there he could feel the breeze the strongest. For a moment he closed his eyes and could almost imagine his feet stood on the solid boards of his ship. But that was folly and he opened them again. It wasn't dawn as of yet, but when it came he knew just how that first red light would catch against the changeable tides and clatter brilliantly into the world. 

This was home now. This house. This place. The ocean was something to look at, night something to sleep through, not hide behind. He knew this was right- that he had made the correct choice and he felt the comfort of it deep in his bones. But then why did the knot still linger in the pit of his stomach?

He found himself thinking back to the evening- the way that man had looked at him with those hard blue eyes as if he was nothing or less. The way he'd turned without so much as a word and his tall frame shouldered it's way almost desperately through the crowd and away from him.

His arm panged suddenly and he looked down with surprise to find he'd been squeezing it tight enough for the buttons to dig into his skin.

It didn't matter. None of it mattered. Sal had met his quarry and it had little and less to do with his own affairs. This was his affair now, this cottage and a view of the sea: 'the quiet life'.  And maybe, if he persisted at it quite patiently, one day or another he might just believe that to be the truth.  

 

Chapter Text

"Sal! For god's sake it's still raining, there's no way he expects you in all this weather." Davos insisted helplessly.

It had been raining for near a day and it didn't seem to give any indication of letting up soon. The rain clattered persistently against the glass windows pressed deeply into the stone and plaster of the cottage and outside the sea roiled against it's bounds.

"The letter was most insistent." Sal said as he pulled his left riding boot into place.

"You know as well as I that even Lord Baratheon won't be shooting in this weather." Davos said.

"I know no such thing," Sal smiled.

Davos muttered something that might have been "you bloody well do" and sat heavily back down to tea at the table.

"It's very rude to leave in the middle of tea you know." He said as his friend stood and straightened his coat.

Sal bowed with a flourish, "My good host will excuse my impertinence."

"Fine," Davos said, "Go. If you catch pneumonia I won't have to be bothered by your company any further."

"Ah, but how dull would your life be then? It is one thing to live in a cottage by the sea but when no one comes to call any longer I fear you take an involuntary turn into hermitage."

"I would be so lucky," Davos grinned, "Well if you are going, in what I still insist is madness since he won't be so much as expecting you in the rain, then you'd better do it now. It's let up but it will come back again soon enough."

Sal furrowed his brow and leaned over to peer out the windows, "Hmm, it has let up… how very vexing."

He turned back to Davos with an innocent smile, "I'll leave a little later on. Tea?"

Davos' eyes widened and then a knowing grin spread over his face, "You devil- you want it to be raining! You'd simply adore it if you arrived all wet and bedraggled and with even a sniffle and a cough and had to stay the night."

Sal sat casually and took a cup in his hands, "I have no idea what you could mean."

"Oh, and of course you'll have to stay- they wouldn't send you away in such a state- and that's all the more time to charm your way into Lord Robert's confidence and secure your contract."

"A man must eat, Davos." Sal said simply.

"Oh excuse me, if I'd realized you were starved I would have had Mrs. Brown make and extra cake."

Sal gave him a sarcastic look as he sipped his tea.

Davos sighed, "Just go, Sal."

"But as you see it's stopped--"

"Go," Davos insisted with a smile, "You can always mime a cough."

Sal grinned widely and headed for the door. He grasped the frame and turned to leave but stopped just before and peaked his head back around.

"You know you could come along- keep me company. Robert did extend the invitation to 'my host' as well."

Davos leaned back and lifted his tea, "Ride three miles in the rain to have super with Mister Distain. As tempting as that proposal is…"

"Oh come now, you mustn't let him spoil your fun. The rest are really quite diverting."

"I'm sorry Sal, but I don't find the notes spilling out of their pockets nearly as delightful as you do."

"Fine- fine," His friend muttered as he turned towards the door, "Enjoy the tea." - the vowels on the last word lasting a good deal too long.

The door shut and Davos watched out the dripping window as Sal spun his fine white mare around the yard twice and then sped off down the drive, towards the main road, spraying mud wildly the whole way.

Davos smiled to himself in the warmth of the parlor. His cottage was small but there was no need for much space, it was just himself after all. But it was quiet and there was a comforting feel to the rooms. The old stones were whitewashed and simple and the walls thick but somehow the sounds of the sea was always there. The whole place smelled of peat and salt and was cool in the summer season when he'd first visited and cozy now as fall began to seep in around the corners.

It had come with a small library, the contents of which had been remarkably well protected against the damp of the sea-air. He'd never admit it to Sal but he spent at least a few hours in that room each day. He'd only learned to read several years ago and still found in necessary to practice. It shamed him in a small way that there were still words that he couldn't make sense of from time to time.

He'd learned the advantage of being able to speak intelligently long ago, and indeed he was sure that many who met him would be shocked to learn that he was just literate. But he knew that like all things it took practice, and it was something that somehow meant a good deal to him. He enjoyed it more than he ever thought he would, and as frustrating as those hours in the library could be at times it was a reward quite unlike any other.

Perhaps he could retire there even now- it was always pleasant when the rain was falling and he could start a fire to drive out the chill. Sal had been shocked that he did not keep a house maid or a man servant to do those things for him and had complained bitterly about the lack of a fire in his chambers, but Davos always made his own fires and he didn't like the idea of someone else making them for him. It was strange enough for him to have a cook and a groom, but he'd never been able to cook and even though he rode when he needed to he had little skill at it.

In any case he'd gone so many nights treasuring something as small as a warming flame that the idea of them wastefully lit across everyone room at all times for his comfort felt severely out of place.

With a stretch he stood and scooped his tea off the table, walking into the library. Within a few moments he had a small fire and let himself sink into the chair still pulled close to the hearth from the last night he spent struggling into the wee hours.

Paradise Lost was still lying in wait where he left it. He sighed slightly, but at least this one provided the reward of beauty within a structure of purpose instead of mere ambiguous poetry that floated merrily in a distant ether of uselessness.

He set down his tea, lifted the sturdy leather volume, furrowed his brow, and spread the pages open before him.

 

A pounding on the door jolted him back to reality.

He sat up rather too fast and his head throbbed. How long had he been reading? The fire was almost out and he hadn't so much as noticed. He glanced towards the window as he stood and indeed it was almost dark.

The banging sounded against the door again and he hurried out of the library.

He moved though the darkening halls quickly as more pounding sounded. He reached the heavy metal handle and pulled it back. There was a boy standing on just outside the door, near doubled over and breathing hard as his lathered horse paced anxiously behind him.

"Mister Seaworth?" He managed.

"Yes, come in! Please," He insisted, rushing the exhausted boy inside the house and out of the rain that was still falling with vengeance out of the sky, "What is it?"

The lad caught his breath in the relative warmth of the foyer just enough to speak again, "Mister Saan- the doctor- he's--"

"Oh," Davos said suddenly feeling relieved, "Let me take a guess, he's fallen ill and will have to stay the night at Storm's End?"

"Yes but--"

"No, I'm sure it's all fine and your Doctor and masters will take good care of him. Have some tea and dry off won't you before you have to head back again?"

"No!" The lad insisted, "He's not fallen ill, he's, well, he's fallen!"

"Fallen?" Davos asked suddenly confused, why would he fake a fall?

"They were out in the wood and his horse slipped and, and well the Doctor says it's his ankle."

Davos sighed angrily at his friend's utter imbecility and reached for his hat.

"Mrs. Brown, I won't be hear for supper after all!" He called for more irritation than he meant.

 

It was well and truly dark by the time he and the lad turned their horses up the drive towards Storm's End.

As relatively close as he lived to the place he'd never in fact seen it before and tonight was not changing that habit. The rain thick sky left hardly enough light to see three feet in front of his steed, but thankfully the lad was a far better rider than himself and his horse followed the one before it gladly.

He only knew that the drive had begun when the gravel crunched under the steady trot of the horses and the dull orange glow from the lit rooms of the house shone pleasantly out, barely illuminating a well kept lawn and marble steps leading up to the entrance.

Davos dismounted sore, wet, and miserable- already thinking of ways to tell Sal what a complete fool he was for bringing this sort of mess on himself if he was indeed injured, and what an unforgivable ass he was if it turned out to be merely and unfathomably elaborate ruse after all.

A pair of grooms emerged from the darkness to take their horses and Davos hurried towards the warmth of the house.

The large but relatively simple doors opened before him and Lord Robert met him straight off. The man seemed to fill most of the foyer and Davos was unsure wether to be irked or touched by the amount of concern on his visage for someone whom he had only met more than a handful of times.

He met Davos with a warm large handshake.

"I must truly apologize for this situation, Mister Seaworth." He said with sincerity, "I must admit I hardly excepted Sal to be up for a hunt in such weather and when he surprised me by having the gusto to appear after all, well, I can surely say I was too glad to judge the weather properly and too anxious to catch it before it got worse that we were certainly riding harder than was safe."

"Sal has never been what one might call cautious." Davos said.

Robert laughed at that, "No and I am afraid I am just as poorly off in that field as he. But as I invited your friend I must take responsibility for his injuries and recovery."

"The Doctor has been?" Davos asked.

"Yes, yes of course," Robert said, "And he's said it's a bad sprain but not a break, so at least there's that."

"Yes," Davos agreed, "But we cannot possibly impose on your kindness any further. My home is not far- Sal will be most comfortable recovering there."

"Nonsense!" Robert almost roared as he lay a fat hand heavily on Davos' wet shoulder, "I absolutely insist that he remains here until he has recovered."

"But, Lord Robert--"

"No!" Robert cried almost rudely, "I won't hear a word more on the subject. The man was injured at my invitation and you both shall remain here until he is well again. The Doctor has said that it should only be a week or two until he can start to walk once more and we would be happy to have you until then."

"Lord Robert, I am sorry but-- excuse me but you said, both of us?" Davos said with a growing sense of dismay.

"Of course! I cannot deprive you of your house guest, nor indeed our patient of his only friend in the country."

"I'm sure your Lordship is company enough for Sal," Davos began.

"Nonsense! You invited him here for a visit and it's only fair that he has it, even if extraordinary circumstances have forced him to remain elsewhere."

"I--" Davos was lost. Somehow this man was shockingly hard to refuse and he did not wish to appear rude and destroy Sal's chances, or for that matter leave Sal here without explanation, "May I see Sal?" He finally asked.

"Not tonight I'm afraid," Robert said, "The Doctor gave him something to sleep through the pain, I suppose we could have sent for you in the morning but I assumed--"

"No, no, quite right, quite right, he should sleep." Said Davos, treading water as well as he could manage it, "I suppose I should stay the night at least and speak with him as soon as he is able."

"Just so!" Robert said, giving his should a squeeze, "And we will insist on you remaining for the duration of his recovery, which I'm sure will be all the sooner for your company."

Davos doubted he could pull Sal out of the comfort of Storm's End and Robert's company if he tethered horses to him, but he nodded even so.

"Thank you, your Lordship."

"Robert!" He smiled, "I insist upon it."

Davos smiled weakly, "Robert, thank you."

The Lord beamed down and suddenly Davos realized he was walking, the large hand on his shoulder easily propelling him forward.

"You'll say 'hello' to the others," He said cheerfully, "They're just in the front parlor."

And before Davos could protest they had turned the corner and entered the room.

For a moment he felt as if he were staring into a painting, the rather resplendent group of composed aristocrats looked mutely in his direction, complete with fine furnishings adorned with various fabrics from Robert's trading empires, a piano forte of darkly polished wood in the corner, and above the portrait of a dark haired man in uniform with a fine lady on his arm smiling down at all of them.

The image was broken as the pretty boy stood to greet him.

"Mister Seaworth, I am sure Robert has apologized for his folly and assured you we shall take full responsibility for this tragedy."

Davos found himself still slightly dazed at the sudden and brilliant company, "Yes, it's all very kind." He managed as the boy smiled up at him.

"Utterly imbecilic." The blonde woman almost muttered where she sat tall and grand.

"What's that my dear?" Robert said behind them with rather more venom than Davos found strictly comfortable.

She stared at him hard for a moment before continuing, "I said, that it was utterly imbecilic. Riding in the rain like that. And for what Robert?"

The Lord ignored her.

Davos couldn't help but feel eyes boring into him and looked across the room. Stannis Baratheon's dark stare was almost livid as it evaluated him and Davos suddenly followed it and realized what a mess he was.

He was covered in mud, almost to his thighs and he hadn't changed from the simple clothes he had worn that day just to enjoy his own company. His hair was disarrayed from the wind and the rain and he realized he might even have mud on his face from the rather dry feeling on his right cheek. His coat was simple and his boots merely functional and everything was utterly and thoroughly soaked. He was sure he must be leaving a wet spot on their floor and hurriedly stepped a few feet back off of the rug.

"I-- I must apologize for my appearance." He managed.

The beautiful woman with the red hair was staring at him with an amused expression.

"No, of course not-" Renly said, even though the disgust and bemusement on his face was hard to hide, "We know how quickly you must have come, and it is after all raining."

Davos suddenly felt altogether wrong standing there in that room. If only that damned man would stop staring at him like that.

Lady Cersei saved him, although he expected the effort was not without self serving motivations.

"Robert, I'm sure Mister Seaworth is quite fatigued from the strain of the evening and what must have been a rather unpleasant ride."

"Ah, yes…" Robert managed although shockingly he seemed disappointed. Davos supposed even company the likes of himself might be preferable to this family, "Of course, if you would like to retire, we will be happy to have someone show you to a room."

"That would indeed be most welcome," Davos said, "If you will forgive me."

"Of course!" Renly chimed, "You must be throughly exhausted! You'll join us for breakfast of course."

"Of course," Davos agreed.

Could he really still be glaring at him? It took more effort than it should have not to turn and look.

"Thomas will be happy to show you to your room." Renly said.

Davos nodded and managed a small nod to the occupants of the room before turning and following the man away.

He could almost have thought he heard tinkling laughter behind him as he turned down the corridor.

The dark back of the servant holding the candle moved steadily before him and Davos was truly beginning to realize just how exhausted he was from the ride. His legs and shoulders ached and the cold was seeping in around him.

"Will you be wanting a bath, before retiring, sir?" The rather elderly but friendly faced man in front of him asked.

Davos barely managed a grateful reply, "That's most thoughtful- yes, thank you, it would be very welcome." When suddenly another voice sounded behind them.

"Thomas, you may go see to that."

Both Davos and the servant spun to see Stannis Baratheon's tall figure looming in the darkness of the corridor.

"I will show Mister Seaworth to his quarters."

"Sir, I--" The man began, but Stannis simply looked at him and he bowed apologetically, "Of course, Sir, right away."

The poor man awkwardly handed Davos his candle and turned to hurry down the hall.

Davos stared back at the man standing straight and hard as an iron rail before him. He was taller than he had realized at first, taller than him certainly, and although he seemed thin as the darkly clad figure lingering in the back of rooms this close he could tell that there was indeed some substance to him, even if it was mostly about his shoulders and severely lacking in his cheeks which gave his whole face quite a stern hollow look to it. But his eyes were bright, especially against the shine of the candle.

"Mister Baratheon, I--"

"Capatin." The man said suddenly.

Davos stared, "Excuse me?"

"Captain Baratheon."

"You-- I'm sorry I didn't realized, I--"

"Robert doesn't make a habit of properly informing people of my titles and Renly even less so." He said.

Davos didn't know what he was expected to do or say, and was altogether too tired to think of something so he simply stood there.

Stannis gestured curtly down the dark hall before them and Davos began to walk. The man remained a few steps behind him the whole way, saying nothing. Davos was beginning to feel viciously uncomfortable. He could practically feel the man watching him walk in silence and it was becoming almost unbearable.

"Captain, I certainly do not need the lord of the house to escort me to my rooms."

"I'm not the lord of the house." The rough voice behind him said through gritted teeth.

Davos actually stopped and turned, "But Robert's home is in-- I was sure you were Robert's… you surely aren't younger than your brother Renly?"

"No." He said simply.

"But--"

"This is Renly's house. Not mine." He said and something deep in his stare flared with fresh venom and Davos felt his feet turn himself back around and his lips clamp shut over his questions at the sight of it.

After a moment more of silence creeped by with nothing but their steps to fill it he spoke again.

"If Renly or Lord Robert have asked you to make sure I am settled comfortably I can assure you there's no need."

"Renly is not at liberty to command me to do as he pleases, and I can assure you I take this action solely I on my own accord."

"But--"

"Your room, Mister Seaworth." He said stopping suddenly.

Davos halted a few feet in front of him and turned to candle towards the door.

"Well," He said uncomfortably reaching for the door, "Thank you-"

Stannis placed his hand firmly against the door. Davos stared back at him.

"I know what you are." Stannis said simply.

Davos felt the knot in his stomach sink uncomfortably, "What I am?"

"Yes, what you are- you and your friend recovering so comfortably under my brother's care. I know why you are here."

Suddenly an unexpected rage sparked inside Davos, "I am here, sir, because my friend fell of his horse."

"You are here for my brother's money. You are here for your own purposes, and do not insult me by pretending it is otherwise."

"I may be many things, Captain Baratheon," He said, "But I am no liar."

Stannis snorted in the dark and Davos felt his fists tighten at his sides, "Is something amusing to you, sir?"

"You deny this? You deny the purpose of this visit and these attentions to my brother?" Stannis said.

"I am here for my friend." Davos said, "To his actions and purpose I cannot speak- they are just that, his."

"And of course as his friend you would have no knowledge or part in his actions?"

"Sal is my friend, and as that I respect his right to conduct his own affairs. I will say that I am confident that his business interests with your brother are strictly honorable in this instance and if they were otherwise I would not be party to them."

Stannis stared back at him, hard and almost naively confident in his distrust, "I know who you are Mister Seaworth. I know where you have come from. I know the manner of your character."

"You know me? You know my character? I'm sorry, sir," Davos said, finding it strangely difficult to keep his voice calm, "I was not aware that we had met on a previous occasion."

That quieted him. The cold blue eyes stared back, flickering in and out of the light with the gentle waving of the candle Davos still held between them.

"This is Renly's house- and I am dutiful to Robert, you are here at their invitation."

"That much was clear enough when they themselves invited me." Davos said sharply.

"You are not here at my invitation- indeed you are here despite my insistence to both of my brothers' transparent better senses that it be otherwise."

"How kind." Davos almost spat.

"I do not attempt to be 'kind' as you well realize, Mister Seaworth, do not insult us both with sarcasm."

A small laugh escaped Davos at that, a bitter and exhausted sound almost too loud in the quiet of the hall, "Why are you telling me these things?" He said, the wear of the day suddenly seeping in amongst his anger, "Did you follow me down the hall in the dark just to tell me that you don't want me in your family's house?"

"I came to tell you that I know your character. That I am not as easily charmed as my brothers--"

"Oh no one could mistake that," Davos said, "But you need not fear, I am afraid I am quite charmless."

Something changed in Stannis' eyes. It was minute, hardly even noticeable in the dark but Davos saw it despite all of that, even if he didn't know what to make of it.

"I will be watching you, Mister Seaworth."

Davos had to laugh at that, "Making sure I don't pocket silver?"

Stannis did not answer him.

But now Davos was angry, angry and tired and he was thoroughly sick of the way he was looking at him with those burning blue eyes and the way it made his stomach tighten and anger that he rarely felt swell in his chest.

"Keep an eye, afford me your dislike and your displeasure," Davos said, "It matters little and less to me. I know what manner of man I am, but you Captain Baratheon do not. We have never met. You have never spoken to me before this insulting conversation, so do not pretend otherwise." Davos stared him full in the face, "You assume sir, you assume a good deal too strongly and you insult yourself in your pompous ignorance."

And with that he pulled the door open before Stannis could recover from his shocked outrage and shut it behind him.

Davos stood with his back against the door for a moment. It was quiet in the room and the fire that was lit in wait for him danced it's shadows across the fire furnishings. He stayed there, still, trying to breathe the anger out of his chest. Finally, after what felt like on of the longer moments in his life, he heard the steps outside the door begin to move away and he righted himself.

He was angry, and he hated it. How had this happened? It had been a long time since he was this truly furious, a very long time indeed, and then the rage came for something far more deserving than an arrogant aristocrat telling him he would rather not have his company.

Davos prided himself on being someone who was slow to anger, but in this moment his stomach felt as if it were on fire. Why had it maddened him so? Was it truly that insulting to be called a thief by a man who he certainly had no reason to respect or consider even slightly worthy of his concern? There was just something infuriating about him- about the way he had looked at him as if he saw everything and knew it all and hated for it. But he didn't, Davos reminded himself furiously, he does not know me, and yet he acts as if I have caused him personal insult- a man who knew nothing of suffering, who knew nothing of choice and sacrifice and he looked at him as if he were a pestilence.

Davos put the candle down on the bedside table at little too hard and the wick fell and rolled across the floor, the flame shuttering out almost instantly. He knelt by the light of the fire, picked it up, and lay it back on the table beside the holder.

All he wanted was to collapse into the comfort of the bed but as he turned he saw his filthy hands and then his mud caked boats and in a sudden surge of anger he kicked the chest beside the bed all together too hard and swore as the pain shot up his foot.

Remonstrating himself under his breath he sat down in the nearest chair and rolled his foot back and forth. Tired. That's all it was. He was exhausted. He hadn't ridden like that in a long time and now he was forced to be here in this house with these people and it was all Sal's damned fault. It was merely exhausted spirits that cause his anger. He took a deep breath and leaned back in the wooden chair that creaked slightly against the stillness of the room. He would take a bath. He would wash the mud off his face and hair and hands and then he could sleep, and in the morning he would see Sal.

And he would see him.

He thought of how Captain Baratheon's face would look as Robert and the boy insisted that he stay another day and another, and he thought of how he himself might smirk into Stannis' fury as he accepted. Just the thought of that, in the dark room, still chilled from the ride in the rain and tired down to his very bones with the embers anger still glowing in his chest, he let himself smile.

Chapter Text

Davos woke rather bleary eyed to a brilliant morning. The sunlight crashed almost rudely through the old glass panes of Storm's End, forcing him back into wakefulness. He sat up clumsily, sinking somehow even deeper to the comfort of the bed as he looked about. 

Last night he'd hardly taken the time to notice the room but now he saw that it was indeed as fine as he had assumed it would be. There was a chest over near the door that seemed somehow out of place until his sleep muddled brain recognized it for his own. Some one must have sent for his things. He was torn between feeling grateful that he would not have to wear the same clothes two days in a row, especially in their condition, and irritation at the presumption that he would indeed be staying and needing a chest full of articles.

Was he indeed staying? They hadn't renewed the invitation in the light of day but the chest seemed to speak to that on it's own. Last night he'd taken a rather sick pleasure in imagining the discomfort his continued presence would cause Stannis Baratheon but now he was not so sure if he was truly that committed to the inclination…

The conversation from the night before came upon him all too clearly now in the light of day and he sighed gruffly as he turned in the bed and rather clumsily stood.

He let his feet carry him towards the nearest window and leaned on the frame, glancing out at the world beyond. He was on the east side of the house- that much was clear from the sunlight battering it's way into the room, but the first thing that struck him was the sea.

How strange that he had not realized before how close they were to it. The estate sat well back from a ledge that dropped off towards the churning grey ocean, but it was still quite visible just beyond the gardens that opened in it's direction with the apparent aim of making it always and undeniably present.

It was very, well very pleasant. 

An almost shy knock sounded.

"Sir?"  

"Yes?" Davos turned.

"Lord Robert sent word that your friend is still resting, and the family was wondering if they might expect you for breakfast?"

"Yes," Davos managed, "Yes of course, I shall be right down."

The door shut the small amount it had opened and with a sigh he turned to face the chest waiting on the floor.

 

He'd made his way downstairs as quickly as he could but by the time he entered the dining hall the younger Baratheon's, Lady Cersei, and Miss Melisandre were already seated and serving themselves various fruits, breads, and meats. Lord Robert was no where to be found, which surprised Davos- a man of that size didn't seem the sort to miss a good breakfast.

As he entered the room everyone turned to face him, everyone that is except for Stannis Baratheon who seemed suddenly very interested in his tea. Davos almost smiled at that. Perhaps he had managed to make him feel a bit of an ass after all.

"Mister Seaworth!" Renly said as he stood with a smile, "Please, please sit."

"Thank you," Davos nodded. He hand't realized just how hungry he was until he saw the food, but after missing dinner the night before and in all likelihood sleeping later than he should have, it took an effort not to simply pile his plate with anything that was closest.

"Did you sleep soundly, Mister Seaworth?" The musical voice of the women who seemed to only wear red came from across the table.

"Yes, thank you," He said without looking up as he buttered a thick slice of bread, "The rooms were quite comfortable."

"Well we are certainly glad to hear it," Renly said.

He raised his eyes in search of jam as was almost shocked to see Captain Baratheon staring at him quite intensely, but as soon as he met his eyes the younger man turned them back to his tea.

"Were you looking for something, Mister Seaworth?" Lady Cersei asked, and he realized that in his shock he'd frozen for a few moments with his hand floating aimlessly in the air.

"Oh- no, no, it's nothing," He said, grasping his raspberry quarry, "Just the jam."

Out in the hall a door slammed and heavy footsteps pounded towards them. Davos looked towards the door just in time to see Robert make his way through.

"Mister Seaworth! Good- glad you've made your way down." He said with a smile as he saw him, "The Doctor has just left. I had him come back this morning to be sure everything was still well."

"What does he say?" Asked Davos.

"Just what he said when he left last night- a sprain, all's as it should be, it will just take time." Robert said as he sat heavily into the seat at the head of the table and reached for a side of ham.

"Is he awake? May I see him?" Davos asked.

"Yes, and of course, you needn't ask." Robert said as he reached for even more to fill his plate while Cersei stared at him in disgust.

All Davos wanted was to rush upstairs and enjoy the company of someone he actually cared for but he kept his seat to finished at least what was on his plate already.

"We go for a hunt tomorrow, Mister Seaworth- after the Tyrell boy joins us, you're more than welcome to come along as well."

"You're expecting company?" Davos asked, "I can't possibly put you out further."

"Nonsense!" Robert almost roared, "Of course you'll stay."

Something about the way he said those words- as if he couldn't imagine Davos wanting anything more in the world irked him and he was about to open his mouth when Captain Baratheon did it for him.

"Robert, Mister Seaworth I'm sure has other business that demands his attention." He said, eying his brother fiercely, "Business more important than traipsing through the woods killing whatever happens to move."

"Sal told me he was a country man now, isn't that right Mister Seaworth." Robert said as he leaned back in his seat, not taking his heavy stare off of his younger brother. Davos couldn't help but he somewhat shocked at how his voice changed when he spoke to him- what had been easy affability suddenly became stern condemnation.

Davos suddenly found himself remember some of Stannis' words from the night before- something about how Renly had no right to order him about… Robert's name suddenly felt conspicuously absent from that statement.

Davos hardly knew if he was expect to answer.

"Do you have other business Mister Seaworth?" Renly asked from his right, and suddenly everyone was staring at him.

Davos looked around almost helplessly- at Robert's stony expectancy, Renly easy charm that seemed as if it could care little or less, Lady Cersei who still appeared utterly disgusted to be breathing the same air as him, Lady Melisandre who always seemed to be evaluating his every action with care, and finally he caught Stannis' stare and he held it. He could almost see the man's jaw grinding away but he held his gaze and after a moment Captain Baratheon looked away.

"No," Davos said evenly, "I do not have other business, not as of yet."

"Good!" Robert said, "Then you can join us."

Davos couldn't help but notice that Captain Baratheon was handling his knife with a bit more pressure than was strictly necessary.

"You said you were expecting company?" Davos asked.

"Yes!" Renly smiled, "We were fortunate enough to meet the Tyrells this season in London and we'll be expecting Mister Loras and his sister Miss Maergery within the day."

Renly eyes lit up brilliantly as he spoke but Davos tried not to notice it. 

At least some of their guests will be welcome.

 

After more moments that seemed a good deal longer than they rightly should Davos finally made his way up the winding steps to find Sal in a comfortable room with a rather irritated look on his face and a foot elevated by a stack of pillows.

"Where have you been?" He asked sharply.

"Breakfast," Davos answered, "And you're welcome."

"For what?" Sal asked, apparently in quite a mood.

"For coming at all." Davos smiled as he sat down in the chair beside the bed.

Sal grunted angrily and moved to shift himself but stopped suddenly with a vicious wince and Davos couldn't contain a smirk at his discomfort. 

"Does it hurt?" He asked trying to contain his smile.

"Yes!" Sal almost roared, "Yes it does!"

Davos started chuckling.

"Oh, it's amusing is it?" Sal shot at him.

"Yes, it is rather, you idiot." Davos laughed, "It's all your own fault, and I had to ride out in the rain and enjoy the company of Captain Distain despite it all, so you'll indulge me if I enjoy your discomfort."

Sal shot him a nasty look and rolled back to trying to adjust himself in the bed with irritation.

After a moment he crossed his arms over his chest and spoke to his friend without looking back at him, "You have to stay you know."

"Do I?" Davos asked almost indignantly, "And why is that?"

"Because I'm here," Sal said, "I'm here stuck in this bed with no one to talk to and more importantly no one to talk for me."

"I am not," Davos said sternly, "And I want to be very clear on this point: not, about to begin to solicit you affairs."

Sal rolled his eyes and made a wretched sound in the back of his throat.

"I brought you here!" Davos protested, "That's all you wanted! There's no reason what so ever that I should stay and try to sell your services for you."

"Fine!" Sal almost yelled, "Fine, fine…"

Davos stood and cross the room with quick steps to stare out the window. It was already turning into a fine day, which seemed almost spiteful against the mood he'd developed over the wretched evening and a day promising to top even that. The sea was calm, lapping against the stony shore and cliff sides almost amiably. 

He recognized the dark tall figure walking down in the garden along a small gravel path with as much tenseness as he thought humanly possible. A white and orange hound ran up to him eagerly and he stopped and knelt down to rub it behind the ears. His stern face turned up towards the house and Davos stepped back from the window.

"But you will stay…" Sal muttered from the bed.

Davos turned and saw that he was looking at him with almost a pathetic expression on his face.

"You will stay?" He asked this time, "Won't you my friend?"

Davos sighed heavily, already hating himself for the answer he'd known he would give.

"Yes of course I'll stay."

Sal smiled then, "And you'll talk to Robert--"

"No!" Davos insisted, "I will not talk to Robert, and if you mention it again I will leave."

Sal snapped his mouth shut like an angry child and huddled deeper into the blankets with a quiet seething irritation.

"But I will stay…" Davos said, "If only to make sure you don't jump out of that bed before you're better, fall down the stairs, and break your damned neck."

Sal had to smile at that, no matter what sort of a mood he was in and for this moment at least Davos let himself smile back.

 

It was near midday by the time he manage to stomach walking away from his friend and back down the stairs into the den of the dismal and deprecatory.

To his surprise the beautiful foreign woman was waiting for him at the bottom of the lolling marble steps.

There was no denying that she was a very attractive woman. Her face was round and fair and her skin seemed to proclaim soft and yielding welcome to the world at large. She apparently preferred clothing that clung to her rounded hips and let her hair fall softly, almost indecently so. 

"Mister Seaworth," She smiled.

It was a lovely smile, but it felt as if it knew exactly how lovely it was, that it measured it's loveliness in teaspoons specifically for each receiver. He didn't care for it, nor for the way her eyes seemed to squint in calculation when she looked at him.

"Miss Melisandre," He said rather more curtly than he'd meant to.

"I thought I would show you out to the garden," She said, taking his arm without permission, "We've decided to take luncheon there. It is such a lovely day after all."

"Quite." Was all he seemed able to manage in response.

Her touch was somehow gentle and firm all at once and very warm. He didn't know why it seemed to make his skin crawl and why he was suddenly trying to think of ways to untangle from her hold.

"Your friend Mr. Saan has said you were in the trades." She said, making it sound as if making your own living was as exotic as her accent.

"Just so." Davos answered, glancing ahead to try and gauge just how much longer this awkward situation might continue.

"What trade?" She asked with almost innocent curiosity, but he saw through that easily enough.

"Shipping." He said simply.

"How interesting." She said with just a hint of mockery that might have not been so apparent in anyone less clever than she apparently was.

"Not truly." He said.

"Oh but it must have been," She said smiling up at him with her carefully measured congeniality, "Seeing new places, meeting fascinating people."

"I'm sure you are not one to be so easily charmed by new places and new people, Miss Rutilus."

"Miss Melisandre, please." She oozed, tightening her arm around his ever so slightly.

Maybe if he pretended to trip she'd let go of his damn arm…

"But indeed new people and new places are one of the greatest pleasures in life." She continued, "It is quite delightful, for example, to have the novelty of your presence in our little company."

"I'm sure it's quite a welcome change." He said, unable to hide the sarcasm.

She laughed lightly and prettily laying her hand over his for a short moment and making him wince ever so slightly.

"You seem quite thrilled yourself for the chance to make to new aquentiences." She said.

He didn't answer her. She quite apparently did not require a response.

"But tell me, what has brought someone as young as yourself into the country?" She was staring at him again in that discomforting way that seemed to see more than it should, "Did novel people and places disturb you so greatly?"

"No," He said, staring straight ahead seeking the inevitable exit.

"Than what?" She asked, "Did moonlit coasts become too perilous?"

He looked at her now. 

She held his gaze firmly and easily.

"Ah! There you are!" Renly voice sounded just a short ways in front of them.

Davos dropped the woman's arm without apology and headed out the glass doors towards the rest of the party.

It was a warm day but the heat of the summer was long gone and at this point the chill of fall was still waiting for it's entrance. The breeze from the sea was almost intoxicatingly refreshing and suddenly Davos felt as if he had been indoors for years. The group looked picturesque as ever- with the exception of whatever brooding corner Captain Baratheon inhabited, which happened to be in this particular situation standing awkwardly off to one side while everyone else sat.

He sat down in the nearest seat and the red woman managed to vex him further by plopping down right beside him and leaning against the side of the chair closest to where he sat.

Davos couldn't help but notice how Stannis glanced at them with a frown somehow deeper than usual.

"I'm afraid Robert can't join us," Renly said, "He wanted to take the dogs along the trail before tomorrow…"

Lady Cersei rolled her eyes dramatically as she stood.

"You'll excuse me." She said coldly and made her way back inside.

Davos stared after her for a moment but Renly was already apologizing.

"You must excuse Cersei," He said as he sipped on his beverage and lolled back in his seat, "It's been quite a trying month for her- she and Robert's son Joffery was sent off to school at Robert's insistence, and her brother Jamie, who frequently stays with us in the summer… in all seasons really, was called back to by their father for business matters."

Davos could almost hear Stannis snort from where he stood.

"Thankfully Miss Rutilus here has come to share her company." Renly said raising a glass towards the red woman.

Davos had his doubts about that already. If she were hear for Cersei's company why did they stay sitting with them and not walk with her?

She knows a good quarry when she sees one. Davos thought glancing at her quickly. Perhaps she and Sal could share their cause. But which one was she after? The boy was certainly prettier and had this house, the specifics of which Davos still wasn't sure he understood. It seemed to him that the boy was the sort who would rather go without food for a month than London for a fortnight. He was rather young for her but despite all that he seemed to be the obvious choice.

Then again Captain Baratheon wasn't inconsiderable. He was tall, and even though he hadn't seemed it at first Davos could tell that he had strength to him, particularly about the shoulders, and there was something about his face…

"Is your knee hurting you Mister Seaworth?" The woman's voice asked quietly beside him.

Snapping back to reality he looked down in shock to see his knuckles almost white tight on his own knee.

"What? Oh, no…" He muttered, "No… it's nothing."

He couldn't help but glance over at Captain Baratheon who swiveled his head away as soon as he met his eyes, but he had seen the slight flicker of confusion.

Probably wondering why his rebukes haven't sent me hurling myself into the sea. Davos thought spitefully.

"Tell us Mister Seaworth," The woman began again in that floating voice of hers, "Do you enjoy the country?"

Was this going to be his lot until Sal recovered? Mundane questions and vexing company?

"I enjoy the sea." He answered.

"As your name would suggest," She smiled.

He could feel Captain Baratheon staring at him again and somehow felt he shouldn't notice it quite so keenly.

"Stannis!" Renly cried, "Do you hear- the sea?"

"Yes, Renly, I do in fact have the ability to perceive sound." Stannis grumbled.

"But you were at sea for years, surley--"

"Indeed I also, shockingly enough, still have a memory."

Renly frowned slightly and waited for a moment, but when it became apparent that he was not going to speak for himself Renly took the liberty.

"Stannis was at Trafalger." He said idly.

Davos couldn't help but start, "Truly?"

Stannis met his eyes for a moment and nodded slightly.

"Robert made sure he had a good position." Renly continued.

Stannis spun towards the group, "I was promoted into the fleet on my own merits."

Renly almost laughed and Davos couldn't help but feel a treacherous sting of pity at the look the sound splashed across Stannis' face.

For a moment he wasn't sure if the stern man would leave them but he spoke again, "I was hardly ten and six… it is true that Robert arranged for my entrance into the service but I was recognized for my conduct and promoted on my own accord."

Somehow Davos thought that only this man could make such a statement lack boast. Indeed it sounded as if he were reading a list of reports to a court and not speaking of his own accomplishments. It wasn't as though he were making sure his brother was not disrespectful- rather that he wanted to insure he had his facts correct before reporting them.

But Renly simply waved his hand in the air as if suddenly it was all quite dull indeed. 

"You are still a Captain in the Royal Navy?" Davos heard himself asking.

Stannis paused for a moment, as if he were almost surprised that Davos would have the audacity to speak to him.

"Yes." He said finally.

"But you are not fighting in the war?" Davos asked.

Everyone seemed to go rather still for a moment and Davos could almost hear Stannis' teeth grind together.

"Tell me Mister Seaworth," He said simply, "Do I seem to be in America?"

"No, but I thought perhaps--"

Stannis gritted his jaw harder, "No- I am not fighting in the war."

Renly apparently amused by his brother's discomfort smiled and leaned forward, "Robert thought that it would be best for Stannis to spend some time with the business. For the good of the family. You should have heard how loudly they yelled when--"

"That's enough Renly." Stannis snapped.

The lad rolled his eyes and leaned back with a smile.

Somehow Davos was caring less and less for the boy's company with each passing moment.

"But the sea is beautiful," Miss Melisandre rallied admirably, "Do you not think so, Mister Seaworth?"

"Yes," He said, feeling slightly irritated that he had already answered that question.

"Especially at night," She smirked.

He didn't answer her this time.

"Quite riveting," Renly said in an airy tone, "Indeed I have been inspired of late to try and compose some sonnets with the sea as muse."

The look on Stannis' face almost made Davos burst out laughing and he had to cover his mouth to hide his mirth but Renly was too quick and noticed his efforts.

"Do you not care for poetry Mister Seaworth?"

He should smile, smile and keep his answers appeasing and pleasant but he was tired and not her here by choice and indeed what did he care what they thought of him?

"No, Mister Renly, I'm afraid I do not care for it." He answered.

Renly almost laughed in his face and Miss Melisandre held a hand to her chest in mock alarm.

"But poetry is the very soul of the world!" Renly insisted, sweeping his hand dramatically across the landscape, "It captures the heart of nature and the nature of heart! What can surpass that?"

Davos leaned back, "Do you ask in earnest?"

"Of course," Renly smiled.

"Then I would say that I would rather stand and observe the sea with my own eyes than read someone else's reflections. I can smell the scents and hear the sounds of my own volition… and as to the nature of heart I think that if poets manage to crowd their sentiments any further no one will be able to make sense of them, much less their intended recipients."

Renly leaned forward eagerly, "But isn't true love only fully expressed through poetic language?"

Davos chuckled to himself, "I'd say that poetic language makes a very good excuse to avoiding simple truths."

"Some truths are not so simple."

Stannis' voice was so suddenly part of the conversation that Davos almost jumped. He turned and saw the tall man staring down at him with those hard blue eyes, but his own surprise was short lived.

"I'm sorry, Captain Baratheon, I did not realize you were an admirer of poetry."

"I find it exceedingly distasteful." Stannis said simply, "But unfortunately not everything can be surmised into a simple truth."

"And poetry is the answer to that predicament?" Davos almost laughed.

"No." Stannis said, somehow more irritated that he had seemed moments before as he turned again and looked him full in the face, "But can you really pretend that the expression of admiration is as simple as stating it."

Davos stared back at him.

"Yes." He said, suddenly wondering when had his own throat gone so dry, "Yes I do."

Renly clapped his hands together and just as quick as that Davos pulled his eyes away, but somehow he could still feel Stannis' burning stare.

"Well, no matter what you two say- I still find it quite riveting and I'm sure once the Tyrells are here they shall agree with me."

"When do they arrive?" Melisandre asked.

Renly furrowed his brow slightly, "They said they would be here before midday but it is possible they were delayed in town."

Stannis made a grumbling sound but nothing more. Davos glanced at him quickly to see the man staring out to sea, the reflection of which almost made his eyes seem peaceful under his frowning brow.

He misses her too.

 

Indeed it was near midnight when Davos finally heard the carriages clatter to the gate from where he lay in his chambers searching for sleep. He'd allowed himself to retire early after thankfully escaping dinner when Stannis had gone out to drag Robert from the woods to save some of the game for everyone else's pleasure and Renly had taken to pacing anxiously in the hall waiting for company and finally riding half down the road to make sure they hadn't lost a wheel or any such disaster. 

Up in his chambers Davos climbed out of the bed and crossed the room to look out the window, but he could only dimly see the shapes of well dressed figure greeting each other warmly and making their way towards the house as laughter and loud voices echoed through the night.

With a sigh he turned back to bed and climbed deep into it's comforting warm. He shut his eyes and told himself firmly to go to sleep. But it didn't work. It hadn't worked for the past hour.

He grumbled and rolled to one side. He tried not to think about the hunt and how he had hardly ever even held a gun much less shot one- a fact that might surprise Captain Baratheon… but perhaps the man knew that about it. He had seemed furious enough last night but today, well he had at least stooped to speak to him, more than he'd spoken to anyone else as a matter of fact- and he'd looked at him as if he actually cared what his replies would be. How could that possibly be? He didn't want his company- he'd told him himself in quite definitive terms…

It doesn't matter. He scolded himself, just go to sleep.

But sleep meant dreams, and then another day to follow and somehow, despite the lingering dread he felt at another day in such company, the tightness to his stomach was not completely dissimilar to excitement.

Eventually he did sleep and when the dreams came they shone with dark blue eyes and dark ocean, whispering with the creaking of wood and, rustling sails, and the feel of steel on his shoulder.

"Some truths are not so simple."

Chapter Text

It was a cool morning and the fog hung heavy over the landscape. He'd never thought he would be glad of a hunting jacket but as he stepped down the long stairs towards the sound of hounds and the pacing of horses he pulled it close against the chill.

The mist was so thick that he had hardly even been able to see the sea from the window in his chambers, and he had doubted a continuation of the day's planned diversions until he'd been informed, almost morosely, that indeed the hunt would continue as planned. So Davos had sighed a sigh as he dressed, looked in on Sal who was still fast asleep- no doubt from a night of jubilant drinking with Lord Robert, and made his way downstairs.

Davos stepped out into the drive and looked about at the hardly controlled chaos around him. Renly had attempted to climb onto his horse and not quite managed it while a rather stunning pair of human beings, whom he could only assume were the Tyrells, laughed and cheered him on. Robert was roaring jovial orders to a few men he didn't know who he only assumed had been summoned for the hunt, Lady Cersei and Miss Melisandre stood idly on the steps watching as the events unfolded with mild amusement, and then all he saw was Stannis Baratheon striding across the drive angrily on long legs driven into tall country boots, toward Robert's turned back.

"Robert!" Stannis called just loud enough to hear.

The larger man ignored him with an ease that Davos felt spoke to years of practise.

But then Stannis was at his elbow, almost hissing through his teeth at him, and Robert couldn't pretend he wasn't their any longer.

"Robert- this is madness, the horses can hardly see three feet in front of them. There'll be an accident. Some one could get shot for god's sake--"

Robert pushed past him towards his own mount, "Don't be a fool Stannis, we'll be careful."

"Care, does not factor into it!" The younger man said following him closely, "It's utter foolishness and I won't allow it!"

Robert turned on him now but he didn't even seem angry, indeed he hardly seemed irritated, and somehow that made it all the worse.

"You won't allow it?" He asked carefully.

Stannis met his gaze and nodded shortly.

Robert laughed hard and loud and near everyone turned at the sound, watching as he laughed in his brother's face.

Davos felt his hands suddenly tighten into fists at his side.

When Robert had finally finished he simply stared at his brother with distaste, oozing a sense of superiority. Stannis stared right back at him and Davos suddenly feared that his jaw might actually break he was clenching it so hard.

"Come along," Robert said, "Before the horses get too anxious."

And with that he walked past him towards his steed.

"Davos!" Came a voice to his left and he turned just as he saw Stannis' head jolt upward at the sound of his name and meet his stare for an instant with something Davos could have almost mistaken for shame.

Renly was hurrying up the steps with the two resplendent guests in tow. Davos could't help but smile at the boy's apparel. It was certainly quite fine for hunting and he almost wanted to remind him that nature did in fact include such distasteful things as mud, wet, and brambles.

"You haven't met Maergery or Loras!" Renly said as he reached him, "We missed you last night for their arrival."

Davos bowed his head politely, "Apologies,"

This close he studied the two with more care. The boy was almost as beautiful as Renly himself, only his hair was gold instead of black and there was a small smirk hiding in the corner of his eyes that he shared with his sister. She smiled back at Davos freely, and although her look did seem to have something hiding under it, he found even her relatively sincere good cheer refreshing compared to what he'd found himself so recently ensconced in.

"Miss Tyrell, Mister Tyell," He said bowing his head.

"Loras- please," The boy said with an almost obscene amount of charm, "My brother bares the honor of 'Mister Tyrell'."

"Mister Seaworth," The girl began, "Renly's has just told us how your poor friend suffered a fall!"

"Ah- yes, well it was his own fault truly."

Maergery laughed, "What a wicked thing to say!"

Davos was almost surprised to hear himself chuckle as he scratched his beard idly.

"Well, we are sorry. We shall miss him today." Loras said amiably.

"So shall I," Davos replied in earnest. If Sal hadn't gotten them both into this awful mess he could be at home with his feet in front of a fire not clutching a hunting jacket close to him in the damp. His thin frame had never let in the cold so keenly at sea and he was irritated that it chose to do so now.

"Have they brought out your horse?" Renly asked turning to look.

Davos had almost forgotten he'd brought a horse. He glanced about quickly, sure that he would hardly be able to pick his own out from the rest. The small crowd was still milling about in anticipation but somehow he couldn't seem to see the tall straight shape of Stannis Baratheon anywhere amongst it.

"I don't believe so, but truly I would rather walk."

"Walk?" Renly laughed, "But that's not the point!"

"It will suit me fine. I do not wish to follow Sal's misplaced steps and impose even further on your kindness."

"Likely a wise choice," The girl said with a friendly smile.

Renly rolled his eyes like a child but nodded, "Very well, I suppose there will be birds in the wood."

"I should hope so," Loras smiled, "Or else this is all quite a dashing waste of time."

Davos almost laughed. Could he possibly be genuinely enjoying this novel company?

"Just so," Davos said, putting his cap over his short brown hair and fixing it tight, "I suppose I need a gun, don't I?"

Renly handed him a rifle with a ridiculous grin on his face. Davos sighed and leant it over his shoulder as he made his way down the steps behind the glittering group and into what he was sure would become a day of damp, discomfort, and drear, but at least with the horses so enthusiastically engaged, he might be alone, and who was to say, perhaps he'd even find some peace.

 

Life rustled gently around him in the mist as he walked along the small trail that led him ambling to and fro through the wood. Every once in a short while the sharp crack of gun fire would echo coldly amongst the trees followed usually by loud laughter and an almost constant barking of dogs. At least they were enjoying themselves.

And indeed it wasn't a wholly unpleasant time. It was cold, true enough but he'd seen enough chilled misty mornings to appreciate them in their own silent still manner. At least with the cool it felt refreshing, far preferable to smothering humidity of land he had grow to loathe after so many years of the ocean's breath on his face.

Though, he could do without the crashing of gun fire invading the stillness of the wood. His own rifle lay almost heavily against his shoulder. He should have left it behind, he had no intention what so ever of firing it. Captain Baratheon had seen the situation right enough, anyone could be shot in this murk and he might end up even catching Robert himself and then Sal would never let him hear the end of it.

The small trail he'd found through the wood was pleasant enough and it seemed too small for the horses since no one had passed him as of yet. He was glad of it and quite content to remain as far away from the gunfire as he could without loosing himself amongst the mist. The dead leaves that had already begun to fall from the trees quieted his steps and the whole space smelled that fresh fall smell of decay edged with cold. Davos breathed in deeply and sunk his hands more snuggly into the pockets of his coat.

Suddenly a shot echoed a good deal closer than the rest. Davos couldn't help flinching downward toward the trail at the sound and staring about wildly in search for the source of the sound only to hear a dull thud in the underbrush.

There was some cracking of branches and swishing of bracken and then an all together incandescent spaniel popped out of the bushes in front of him and stopped to stare up into his face, tail wagging furiously with a thick pheasant clutched gleefully between it's jaws. Davos watched as the bird's head lolled side to side, the colorful feathers seeming almost loud against the cold blue grey of the misty morning.

"Sascha, here!" A stern voice called and Davos couldn't help spinning all together too quickly towards the sound of it.

Stannis Baratheon came trudging out of the wood and almost stumbled onto the little trail Davos stood on. As he righted himself he saw him almost all at once and frozen. Davos stared back at him, still rather rattled from the proximity of the shot, but not so much to fail to notice the way Stannis swallowed sharply and stared in that intense way of his- his eyes seeming somehow even bluer through the grey of the mist.

Sascha broke Stannis' surprise by scratching once at his shin as she dropped the bird at his feet.

Captain Baratheon almost shook himself and ran his tongue over the corner of his upper lip in an utterly artless way as he bared his teeth in what almost felt like a grimace.

"I didn't know there was anyone out here." He managed as he knelt down and lifted the bird, giving the dog a rub behind the ears as he did.

"Neither did I," Said Davos truthfully, unable to stop staring at the corner of his mouth for some reason.

"I wouldn't of…" Stannis grumbled, clearing his throat once more before going on, "Well, I would have taken more care had I realized."

"Not that desperate to be rid of me yet?" Davos jibbed, but the way Stannis' stare hardened against him made Davos swallowed his own smile and feel somehow uncomfortably warm in the wool of his jacket.

"No, well," Davos tried to rally, "I suppose I am off from the group."

Stannis nodded shortly as he leaned his gun against his shoulder, "You didn't wish to ride out with the rest of them?"

"I don't exactly relish the idea of getting shot, or breaking my neck for that matter. It's fool hardy- you were right enough on that score."

Stannis' mouth became a hard line and Davos realized all too late that he hadn't been aware that he had overheard that conversation, and instantly he felt an utter fool.

Why? Why should I care if I embarrass this men who's gone so far to make me feel unwelcome?

"He never listens." Stannis said suddenly.

Davos wasn't sure wether or not to answer, wasn't sure wether or not to leave. His body chose the middle ground for him and stayed standing awkwardly in the misty trail with his hands tight in his pockets.

Stannis knelt down on his long legs and rumpled the dogs ears without looking at him.

"He'll never listen." He said, "He's always been too foolish and too headstrong and a good deal too idiotically brave and lucky to learn his lesson as he should have."

Davos said nothing. He was so surprised to be subject to these thoughts that he suddenly began to wonder wether the stern man had simply forgotten he was standing there at all.

"He's always been so," Stannis continued, "Even when we were young, and now Renly seems to find it likable, even admirable… it's nothing but foolishness, foolishness, folly, and ignorance."

"Renly's just a boy," Davos heard himself say, "He'll learn soon enough, boys always do."

Stannis stared up at him all at once, "Why? Why will he learn? He hasn't yet- why should he now?"

Davos couldn't seem to find an answer, he didn't even know how he'd started speaking in the first place but his mouth seemed to want to continue without his brain to keep in company, "We all outlive arrogance… even if we must suffer for it before the humility finds us."

Stannis snorted with what Davos almost could have mistaken for a bitter laugh as he stood, "Robert will never find humility… death will be his only humbler and even then he'll likely to laugh his way through most of it and the world will continue in it's apparent blindness to his faults."

"His faults are no so hard to see as all that." Davos said, "Men who cannot see their own foolishness and take no shame in their actions often become fools in the eyes of those around them. Perhaps that's the worse punishment when all's said and done."

Stannis made a small almost grumbling sound in the back of his throat as he lifted his head towards the sky as if to see if the mist as lifting, pulling his neck partly out of his collar, and Davos couldn't help but notice how he already had a thin layer of stubble over his skin.

Davos cleared his throat sharply and the sound seemed to jolt the man beside him out of whatever reality he'd ambled down, leading him to speak in such a manner.

He caught Davos' eye sharply and then dropped his gaze down to the pheasant in his hand.

"They'll have had their fun," He grumbled almost to himself, "And I'm sure the damp and the wringing of necks will have sufficiently smothered the romantic notions for Renly and his companions."

He began trudging down the path ahead of Davos who found himself plodding behind.

Captain Baratheon walked in the same attitude with which he did almost all things- his body was stiff and straight as if all the troubles of his life and everyone else's were jammed in around him making it only possible to walk tall and straight but with deliberate steps, as if he felt he could out pace the cares if he walked quickly enough, but never so quick that he might accidentally fall leaving them to swallow him up from all sides. There was formality all about him but strangely there was a lack of care as well that Davos felt must be unintentional, like the way he seemed to lick his lips every so often without noticing it, or how he never seemed to have a perfectly clean shave. His hair was short and pitch black but never perfectly neat, always rather askew were his younger brother's was pristine- as if things of that nature mattered little to Stannis Baratheon and it was easiest to simply keep them manageable and not take the time to preen each day. His clothing spoke of that same manner- it was fine and well made, but he wore it functionally not fashionably.

As he walked his hand swung lightly by his side and the excitable but well mannered dog danced around him eagerly, hoping that she might be lucky enough to get another fetch out of the morning. He hardly seemed to be looking where he was going truth be told. His head was slightly bowed as if he was deep in thought and his rifle had slipped slightly to one side on his shoulder but his hand looked almost painfully tight around the barrel.

Davos' attention was so inexorably stuck to the man before him's gait that he didn't even notice the root under his own foot until it was too late.

He felt his boot catch just as he started to fall. He cried out shortly and the dog barked and he shut his eyes ready for the bite of stone into his knees but something surprisingly strong caught him about the arm and seemed to lift him almost effortlessly back upright as his rifle clattered harmlessly unloaded to the ground with a wooden thunk.

Davos managed to get his feet back where they should be, the large strong hand around his arm feeling almost consuming. And very much there. Still there.

He swallowed before finally looking up but the sight of Stannis Baratheon's intense stare suddenly so close above him made him have to pause for a moment longer.

I could almost think he looked afraid.

Stannis dropped his arm. Slowly.

"I--" Davos began, "I'm sorry, I suppose I wasn't looking where I was going."

"You have a gun," Stannis gritted out, his breath coming out foggy and warm in the chill of the air, "You should take more care."

Davos wasn't sure if the spark that suddenly surged in his chest was irritation for the assumption that he was careless enough to leave a rifle loaded or the fact that he was still for some reason still standing close enough to him to almost feel warmth radiating off his body in the misty dull light of the wood.

"You can see it isn't loaded, I merely lost my footing," Davos muttered, wanting to push past him but somehow not quite managing to move.

"Don't do it again," Stannis said, with a strange grit to his voice, "I don't want to be forced into hauling you back to the house with a twisted ankle."

"You wouldn't just leave me out here?" Davos asked, unable to keep with anger out of his voice which for some reason had decided to go rather rough and rushed, "You seemed anxious enough to be rid of me."

Stannis' eye narrowed and his jaw tightened but he simply turned away and continued back up the path, albeit at a slightly faster pace than he had set before.

Davos felt furious and confused all at once and the sight of the infuriating man walking away down the path in that stern determined way of his with his hair just slightly muddled from the weather somehow made him all the more angry and he wanted to turn and head off down the trail in the opposite direction just for spite but that would be utterly foolish and make things worse in the long run so he pulled the gun back over his shoulder and set out at pace, determined to over take him and push his own way forward, back to the house without the sight of his constantly looming ahead on the close winding trail.

His steps had carried him to just a few paces away from Captain Baratheon's turned back when the shot shattered through the woods. Both men stopped mid pace, the spaniel going still and straight at their feet.

The shot had been close, so close that Davos' could almost hear a dull ring in his ears and not much else. Stannis spun around staring back and forth into the wood, was he calling out something? Somehow Davos couldn't hear- he was staring at what seemed to be an approaching shape growing larger and closer out of the fog behind Stannis Baratheon's turned back.

"Captain Baratheon…" He heard himself say, still staring over his shoulder.

He didn't seem to hear him. And then Davos heard the hooves.

The massive horse plunged out of the mist only meters away, bright red blood spilling down it's shoulder and madness pouring from it's eyes.

Davos didn't think, he couldn't, there hadn't been time, and the next thing he knew he and Stannis Baratheon crashed into the brush at the side of the trail as the crazed beast thundered past.

Davos heard himself groan.

There was a sharp branch digging into his ribs and some brambles had scratched past his face as he fell, one hand was deep in the mud on the side of the road, but somehow he hardly seemed to notice any of that.

I pushed him. I've pushed him out of the way.

And it took him almost a full moment to realize that he was still almost completely on top of Stannis Baratheon in the bracken by the side of the road.

It took all he had not to swear as he tried to stumble back up to his feet, but the bracken was making it far more difficult than it rightly should be. He refused to look at him even though he could feel the man practically seething underneath his body. Davos pushed his hand into the ground but it only sunk deeper into the mud and he stumbled forward and caught himself with his opposite hand against Stannis' chest and felt the man's heart thudding warm and frantic against the palm of his hand.

Why on earth was he suddenly so dizzy- it was making things almost infuriatingly difficult and for some reason the smell of mud and the leathery warm scent with hints of salt and soap that could only be coming from the man he'd shoved himself against into the bushes, was making it all so much worse. And the damned man wasn't helping! His body seemed almost paralyzed- rigid as the roots they'd fallen amongst and Davos somehow found himself just as tangled in amongst it until finally, after what had truthfully just been a moment, but felt a good deal longer than that, he felt the hard long fingers lock around his shoulder and push him sturdily upright.

Davos stumbled to his feet and back onto the path, turning his back as Stannis made his way to the trail. His neck felt all hot and scratchy and he ran a hand through his thick brown hair and then involuntarily cursed himself as he realized it was still covered in mud.

"Why did you do that?" The rough voice suddenly came from behind him and he had no choice but to turn around.

Stannis was standing towards the center of the trail looking all together flustered and seemingly unsure of wether to be angry or something else all together. His coat was still thrown to one side and there was a dry leaf sticking off the back of his head and a line of mud slashed across his cheekbone.

Davos swallowed and tried to answer him coherently but not words found their way out.

"What on earth made you do a thing like that?" Stannis asked again.

I have absolutely no idea.

"It would have run us down." Davos managed, somehow feeling small and ashamed and yet still brimming with confused anger. He had saved him after all, "Didn't you see?"

Stannis nodded roughly- seemingly still as incapable as Davos was of looking him straight in the face.

The silence seeped in around them awkwardly and they both tried to speak at once.

"I didn't mean--"

"I suppose--"

They both fell quite once more.

Davos suddenly noticed with a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach that there was a fat muddy handprint right in the middle of Stanni's chest where he'd tried to right himself.

Only too late he realized he was staring and Stannis caught his gaze and followed it. The man made an almost groaning sound and Davos couldn't help but see how his neck flushed suddenly in the cold of the wood.

Something crashed behind them onto the trail and they both turned, equally grateful for the unfathomably welcome distraction.

Renly came stumbling out of the bracken with the Tyrells still on horseback trotting down the trail behind him. Maergry seemed to be containing laughter even though Renly did not seem altogether pleased with the turn of events and even less pleased when he saw his brother waiting on the path ahead.

"Stannis!" He called out, almost in disgust, "What on earth are you doing out here?"

"Not getting shot," He grumbled, "Was that your horse?"

"You saw it?" Renly asked, staring about like a lost child, "Where'd he get off to?"

"It was bleeding, Renly!" Stannis snapped.

"Was he?" Renly asked, somehow lacking concern, "That must have been from the shot. The foolish thing slipped and tossed me off and my gun went off."

Stannis turned away shaking his head angrily with a grind of his teeth.

But suddenly Renly's attention was caught, "But… dear lord, what's happened to you two?"

Davos felt his face heating up as a small smile crept over Renly's cheeks as he stared back and forth at the two of them, no doubt noting the mud and the stuck dried leaves and the general disarray.

"Your horse near ran us down," Stannis said roughly as he turned back angrily.

But then he was facing the small group and at the sight of the fat muddy hand print in the middle of his shirt the Tyrell boy seemed no longer capable of containing himself and made a snorted chortling sound as he tried to contain his mirth and his sister grabbed his leg tightly to try and steady him but seemed to be having an equally hard time keeping her own glee silent.

Stannis looked from one to the other in pure fuming fury and finally tossed his gun over his shoulder and soldiered past them all steely straight and seething.

"Don't forget your horse, Renly," He spat as he went, "If it hasn't died yet."

Davos couldn't make himself watch the man leave, much less look at the rest of them.

"Are you alright Mister Seaworth?" He heard the woman ask, "You seem to have cut your face."

Davos ran a hand over the side of his cheek, "It's just a scratch, just the brambles."

"How… awful," Loras said, still hardly able to keep himself from exploding into laughter.

Davos wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. It was funny. He knew it was funny and he should rightly laugh and move on with his day but his throat still felt hot and scratchy and he was still having a rather hard time standing up properly and so he simply picked up his cap from where it had fallen, secured it over his now filthy hair, and trudged past them back towards the house after Stannis Baratheon, who, thankfully, was far enough ahead that Davos could not see his tall, lean shape through the lingering mist.

Chapter Text

By the time he arrived back at the house it seemed most of the party had already returned. The dogs were still running in excitable circles around the drive and he could hear Robert roaring to some of his companions a short ways off, no doubt bragging about how much he'd manage to kill and asking how soon they'd be ready for an encore of the day's events.

Davos hardly saw any of it in truth, things were still rather blurry and he didn't know why and it was starting to irritate him. His senses seemed dulled and heightened all at once and his breathing was still a little raw- as it used to get before slipping past the lights on a particularly risky sail not so long ago.

One of the animals bounded up to him and nuzzled against his hand and he shook himself out of the fog with a start.

Sascha stared up at him happily, tongue lolling, docked tail wagging. Davos stared.

She made a small whining noise.

Davos looked around quickly, but he couldn't see the tall thin shape anywhere about. With a sigh he bent down and rubbed the creature behind the ears, feeling stupidly uncomfortable about the whole thing.

"Do you understand him?" He asked her absentmindedly, "Maybe he talks to you without thinking as well."

She licked a warm pink lick across the back of his hand, staring up at him with warm simple eyes.

Maybe he has no one else to talk to…

 

Davos had made his way inside and spent what was left of the afternoon in his chambers. Just shortly after his own arrival back at the house Renly had returned with the Tyrells, quite apparently after what some might generously call a half hearted attempt at a search for his injured horse.

The grooms had been sent out to search the darkening wood, and after an hour or so had passed, they returned with the poor creature, which Davos was surprised to see still walking, albeit favoring one side. It seemed that the shot had just grazed the shoulder thankfully and the horse would recover, which was perhaps more than could be said for Davos' respect for the boy, which if it had been present at any time preceding was vanishing as quickly as the landscape outside his window fell into darkness.

The kindly man who had shown him to his room on that first night - or at least tried to- had arranged for a bath as soon as he returned and Davos found himself almost devastatingly grateful for it, although still rather vexed for needing to quite literally wash the filth off himself twice in as many days since coming to this place. But as he shed layers of clothing, staring into the appealingly steamy water that lay in wait, he let himself ignore that fact.

He was already shivering as he shrugged off his waistcoat. He'd always been a slight man, but exposure to the manner of weather you got on the sea he'd thought would have tempered him better against cold. Unfortunately all that previous experience seemed to come to naught this particular evening and he slipped off the rest of his apparel as quickly as possible and near threw himself into the hot water.

He couldn't help letting out a grateful moan as the warmth seeped in around him, hissing slightly as he sunk even deeper into the almost overpowering heat of the bath.

He closed his eyes, sighed deeply, and leaned back, letting the water fill his ears and seep in amongst his hair, loosing the hard-dried chunks of mud that had glued themselves there so ferociously.

It was so warm and so very still there under the water. He tapped his finger against the coppery bottom of the bath and the sound echoed dully through the water around him. The warmth seeped in around his limbs, still tingling from the cold of the day, feeling all together numbingly blissful.

A small abrasion on his side stung slightly against the water. Without lifting himself from the comforting silence of the water he reached up and ran a thumb tentatively over his rib, rewarded for his efforts with a dull throb and the feeling of a swollen lump of flesh.

He groaned slightly to himself and opened his eyes. It had been a root hadn't it? A root or a branch or something sticking out of the bracken he'd… well…

Davos shut his eyes again tightly- no, it wasn't worth thinking about, the entire thing had been absurd and ridiculous and all the prissy lad's fault truly, and not even something worth considering, not even something worth making yourself consider it was not worth considering.

They would have been run down! He'd had to do something- he would have done the same in any similar situation. Anyone would have done the same in any similar situation!

Well… anyone perhaps except him. If Stannis Baratheon had seen the horse he would have likely just stared it straight in the face and the poor thing would have ground to an inescapable halt under the sheer force of the man's will.

Davos suddenly realized he was smiling and stopped that right away.

He's a miserable man and nothing what so ever to smile over.

But then was thinking about just how deeply Captain Baratheon managed to frown and how it almost made him look absurdly comical at times and then he was smiling himself all over again and so he dunked his head completely under the water with finalizing dedication.

The water rushed in up around his hair and his nose and his eyes and was so blissfully silencing, blinding, and full of warmth that he clung to it.

It had been cold today- colder indeed that it had been yet this season. He'd hardly looked like the cold touched him out in the wood, in his coat that wasn't even done up against the chill. But he must have been cold- his breath had caught frozen in the air standing so close and Davos could have sworn he'd seen goosebumps along where his neck lay under the height of his collar.

Had his hand felt cold as he caught him? It must have been, without gloves out in that wood, long fingers handling the metal of the firing mechanisms most of the morning...

But it hadn't felt cold had it? It had felt altogether warm, even through the layers of his own clothing, and when they'd fallen- he hadn't felt cold then either had he? He'd felt warm- warm and so very solid- almost painfully so. Looking at the man you'd think he was made of iron and indeed he felt so in that moment. Heated iron. His neck had flushed red- the skin there couldn't be as hard to the touch as the rest of him, could it? Around the sharp line of his jaw shadowed ever so slightly with almost careless stubble. No… Davos was sure, it would be warm surely- and softer… it had to be.

There was a tight tingling sensation lacing it's way around his stomach from below... and he realized only just too late the source of such a feeling.

Davos shot upright out of the warmth of the water with almost a gasp- shocked confusion transforming with record speed into embarrassed horror.

He swore at himself through his teeth and scrambled out of the water with such clumsy haste that he slipped and knocked his knee sharply on the floor, causing him to cry out and roll over onto his back gripping it hard and cursing like the sailor in times like these he so undeniably was.

Someone knocked at the door and he scrambled off the wet wooden planks grabbing desperately at the blanket nearest to him.

"Just a moment!" He called, voice shamefully high and panicked.

"It's just dinner shortly, Sir, I thought you would like to know," Came the voice of the kind older servant.

"Yes," Davos began and then cleared his throat in an attempt to sound his own sex once again, "Yes, yes, thank you- I'll be down presently."

There was a pause.

"Are you alright, Sir--"

"Yes! Yes I'm perfectly well!" He called, a good deal more sharply than he meant to.

Another pause ambled past.

"Thank you…" Davos finally managed, voice thankfully somewhat back to normalcy.

"Very good," Came the answer, and then the blessed sound of short steps shuffling away down the hall.

Davos sighed a shaky sigh and let himself sink down onto the bed behind him. He let his head sink into his hands for a moment and his eyes occupy themselves with the grain of the wood under his dripping feet. His knee was throbbing, his head was banging, and his breath was almost on fire in his chest.

"Christ…" He muttered to the room at large.

 

When he finally made his way to the steps towards the main body of the house Miss. Tyrell was coming down the stairs across the way.

"Mister Seaworth!" She called amicably, "I do hope you're feeling better."

"Was a feeling poorly?" He asked as they continued down towards the murmuring sounds of the house below.

"You did take fall. Did you not?"

"I was hardly a fall," Davos said, running two fingers quickly over the small scratch on the side of his face.

"Well, I am glad it's nothing serious." She smiled.

Davos nodded shortly.

"We shall be glad to meet your friend this evening." She said eventually.

"Friend? You don't mean Sal?" Davos said, turning to look at her now.

"Oh yes!" She answered, "Did you not hear he'd be joining us?"

"What downstairs? At dinner?"

"Of course," She answered, raising a brow slightly at his confusion, "What else could I have meant?"

"No, it's just… well I didn't know he was that well just yet."

He should have checked on him when he'd arrived back, but somehow he'd almost forgotten he was even within ten miles, let alone the very reason for his own continued stay at this place.

"Apparently he is well enough to join us for dinner at least," She continued blithley, "I'm looking forward to making his acquaintance."

"I'm sure he'll be quite glad to meet you Miss. Tyrell," Davos said, forcing a smile.

They stepped down the final carpeted steps and into the general assembly.

Indeed, Sal was there, sitting just off to the side with his foot up on an ottoman in front of him. Davos had no idea how he'd managed to get dressed, but it could be surmised that the idea of Robert riding out and enjoying himself and leaving poor Sal sitting up trapped in cushions and comfort without a chance to wheedle influence into his ear was just too heart breaking for his friend to bear.

There was still no sign of Stannis Baratheon, and as Davos scanned the room as casually as he could manage he met another pair of eyes searching for what he assumed was a similar object. The red woman smiled when he caught her gaze, easily turning to Lady Cersei as if she had not been looking about for the room's missing occupant. Davos watched her for a moment, unsure as to why his eyes narrowed and he felt his gut tighten at the idea that she was eager to know Captain Baratheon's whereabouts.

"Mister Seaworth," Came a musical and cordial voice to his right, and he turned to see the Tyrell boy rolling a wine glass nonchalantly between his fingers and glancing about the room in an almost blasé manner.

"Mister Tyrell,"

"Loras," The lad smiled easily, "I've told you."

Davos didn't quite care for his tone but tried to ignore it, "I see the horse made it back."

Loras sighed, "Yes, yes, and unharmed, quite a deal of fuss really…"

"Fuss?" Davos almost snapped, "Fuss over what, sir? Looking for an injured horse in the wood or going out shooting in the fog without proper care?"

Loras ignored his tone with seeming practice, "Both, indeed."

Davos shook his head ever so slightly and looked about for an escape.

"All a dreadful bore, truly," The lad said, "Isn't it better to be indoors where things are properly presented? Do not misunderstand me- I do love to ride, but it is really best done in pleasant weather, or else what's the point?"

Davos stared at him for a moment in almost awe, but thankfully Renly's entrance saved him the trouble of summoning an answer free of sarcasm.

"You will excuse me," Loras smiled, hardly looking at him as he crossed to the beaming Baratheon.

Davos didn't fail to notice the way their hands clasped for a moment longer that they needed to as they met, or how closely they stood, almost whispering to each other as they examined the people surrounding them.

He moved away from the stairs finally and walked for Sal where he sat throned upon the Indian fabrics drinking whiskey steadily with Robert beside him.

"Good evening," Davos said when he reached them.

Sal looked up at him and Davos knew instantly he was irritated about something.

"Seaworth!" Robert roared, "How many did you get? It was good weather for it- I think we managed to surprise them- didn't think we had the stones to go out today did they?"

Sal laughed almost as loudly at the jest as Robert did himself.

"Go on then!" Robert urged, "Tell us how many?"

"None, I'm afraid My Lord," Davos said, still rather irked by the familiar shortening of his name.

"None?" Robert stared, nose already red from drink, "Nonsense!"

"Perfect sense." Davos muttered and Sal shot him a look but Robert didn't seem to notice.

"Even Renly got two!" Robert continued without aid, "And he lost his bloody horse! Just what's your excuse, sir?"

And with that he stared down his flared nostrils at him in mock accusation.

Davos refused to look at him, "None, but a poor shot, I'm afraid."

Robert laughed again, "Surely not as hopeless of a shot as Stannis!"

Davos did look at him then, "Is Captain Baratheon a poor shot? Did he not get any birds today?"

Robert flustered, "Well- four or five, but--"

"Five? Is that so? What a terrible shot the Captain must be--"

"You needn't call him that you know, no one does." Robert continued, finishing the glass of port in his meaty fist.

Davos stared at him evenly, trying his best to keep his face innocent enough, "Call him what, My Lord?"

Robert stared at him, and Davos could have almost thought he was evaluating- if the man was less of a fool.

To his left he could almost feel the anger radiating off Sal in singeing waves.

Robert's great face finally broke into a smile, "You must be wanting a drink, Mister Seaworth,"

"No, thank you."

"Davos will have a cognac." Sal said sharply.

Robert looked from one of them to the other in the treacle thick silence and finally cleared his throat, "Right, well, I'll just have a servant fetch him one shall I?" And with that lumbered off into less agitated company.

"What on earth was that?" Sal hissed, leaning forward almost comically agitated in his confined range of movement.

"What was what?" Davos asked half heartedly, taking another chance to glance around the room, still finding nothing.

"You know damn well what." Sal continued, "All that, with that 'Capatain Baratheon' nonsense and calling him a good shot--"

"I didn't call him a good shot, and that's his name Sal, Captain Baratheon. It's not my fault that oaf won't recognize it."

Sal made an utterly comical desperate "shushing" sound.

"What is wrong with you, Davos?"

"There's nothing wrong with me." He answered, suddenly turning to him, "But I could ask you the same thing. Weren't you mortally wounded? How do you manage to join us from the sick bed this evening?"

"Maybe I wouldn't need to if I had a true friend to help me with my affairs."

Davos laughed, but it came out more bitter than he'd meant.

"Or at least a friend who cared enough to visit," Sal pouted, "I know it is a thoroughly tiring journey twenty paces down the hall, I can understand why you weren't quite up for it after a day of what I hear was rigorous exercise."

"Just what do you mean by that?"

"Throwing aristocrats into bushes and other such nonsense- what could have possibly come over you? Were you trying to kill him?"

"There was a horse! A bloody horse!"

"Alright! Alright! My god," Sal said, staring at him as if he was a mad man, "It was only a jest."

Davos felt his face heating up solidly and suddenly wished he did have that cognac.

Sal was still staring at him.

"What?" Davos shot.

"No, no nothing," Sal said looking away with a shrug, but he glanced back quickly with an evaluating look to his eye before turning back into his own glass and sipping delicately.

Davos glanced around the room yet again but met the gaze of the two pretty lads standing a ways off. The Tyrell whispered something to Renly without taking his eyes off of Davos and Renly choked on his wine as he tried to contain a giggling laugh.

What on earth am I doing here? What could have possibly made me make such an idiotic decision as this?

"He's over there," Sal said casually.

"Where?" Davos asked spinning his head sharply, only realizing too late what that response must have clearly indicated to his wily companion.

But that thought hardly registered, for indeed Stannis Baratheon had made his way through the opposite doors almost immediately as the call for dinner came.

He stood at the entrance to the room, pulling almost anxiously at the cuffs of his coat, glancing around sharply.

He met his eyes and his blue stare caught them for a moment. Davos felt himself swallow. But in almost that same instant Lady Melisandre seemed to materialize beside Stannis and must have started speaking because he looked down and let her lead him towards the dining room after hardly a moment.

Davos stared after them, watching as she smiled up into his stern face with so much ease, almost brushing the bare skin of her arm against his as they walked all together too close.

Sal cleared his throat.

Davos snapped out of whatever had caught his attention so solidly and turned to him.

"What?"

Sal stared up at him, eyes slightly narrowed, mouth almost upturned in one corner with what might have passed for a smirk.

"What, Sal?"

"You know," His friend answered, reaching for the cane beside the chair, "I suppose you don't have to stay here… it was rather selfish of me to ask it of you. Maybe you'd like to go back to your cottage?"

"No," Davos said, realizing just too late how quickly he'd answered, "Not- I mean- well, I want to make sure you're well."

"Concerned?" Sal asked, the seriously expression on his face almost too close to mocking.

"Alright," Davos said turning his back, "If I've no right to care maybe you can help yourself into the dining room."

Sal laughed, "No, no, apologies, apologies!"

And Davos turned back with a small smile, giving his friend a shoulder to hold as he stood, keeping the injured foot off the ground as they made their way carefully towards dinner just behind the rest of them.

It was easy enough to get Sal seated and only Lady Cersei seemed to take notice, staring shamelessly during the whole of the event as if intruders were attempting to seat a dressed orangutan at her table.

The orangutan in question happened to be seated beside Miss Tyrell who Davos was only too glad to introduce.

"Robert!" Sal called as the Lord settled himself in only two seats away, "If you keep presenting me with such enchanting women I am going to have to break my ankle properly and you'll never be rid of me."

Robert laughed with gusto as Lady Cersei rolled her eyes and Miss Maergery laughed prettily.

Davos settled himself into his own seat, which was uncomfortably enough between Mister Tyrell and Renly. He was already cursing his misfortune when Stannis Bartheon sat directly across from him truly securing the awkwardness of the situation.

Davos tried to occupy his attention with the place settings instead of looking at the man across the table, and indeed it was quite enough to keep him diverted. Which one of these forks was be supposed to use first, and how on earth was he supposed to hold it without looking an utter fool?

The first course dropped down almost as soon as he began to consider and he took up time unfolding his napkin while he watched the Tyrell boy of the corner of his eye before mimicking his actions.

"Will we be enjoying the rewards of your sport, tonight Lord Robert?" Miss Maergery asked.

Robert practically shone, "Yes! And quite right to- I've shot more than enough for each of us to enjoy."

"I managed a few myself," Renly beamed.

"Is that so?" Sal asked. Davos felt the tone was almost patronizing but no one seemed to notice.

"Are you as good of a shot as your elder brother?" Sal continued.

"Oh, of course not," Renly said, "I doubt I'll ever be, I'm not the sportsman Robert is."

Davos couldn't help but feel a slight pit in his stomach at the seemingly effortless way everyone knew that there was only one brother Renly could possibly be referring to.

He stole a glance across the table but Stannis Baratheon seemed quite dedicated to staring at the place in front of him.

"How's your horse?" Davos asked.

Stannis glanced up, caught his eye, and immediately shifted his gaze but in a frantic searching way that couldn't seem to find anything else to look at and finally rested on his younger brother.

"Quite fine, thank you Mister Seaworth," Renly said turning to him and sipping his wine, "And how are you- I see you have a wound."

"Alright?" Stannis' voice suddenly joined, "Is that what you would call being shot, Renly?"

"Oh, it was only grazed, Stannis !" Renly almost chided, "It's nothing."

"Nothing," Stannis muttered to himself with what one might have called a sneer.

"At least he managed to take a horse," Robert grumbled at the head of the table.

"And we see just how much that resulted in," Stannis returned sharply, "He's lucky he didn't shoot himself."

"I'd like to think I'm not quite that incapable!"

"Ah, yes, you've proven that today if nothing else."

"At least I didn't ruin my jacket being hurled into mud by--"

"Lady Cersei!" Miss Tyrell interrupted suddenly. The escalating tension stopped in it's tracks and silence lingered, sticking in the air around them all uncomfortably.

"Yes, Miss Tyrell?" Cersei asked cordially. Davos didn't miss the hint of gratefulness to her tone, but also the way her voice seemed to catch slightly as if she'd added an extra 'l' to the end of the ladies name. Was that her fifth glass of wine?

"Your brother is not with you this season? I must admit we expected to see him."

And somehow the silence tat followed was even more uncomfortable than the raised voices that preceded it.

Cersei's mouth smiled in a purely mechanical manner, "Our father has called him back to town."

"Are there important matters that bring him there?" Mister Tyrell asked.

Cersei sipped her wine deeper than she rightly should have, "I cannot say, only that it is what my father wishes him to do."

"Good on him," Robert muttered from the head of the table, "Family affairs, very important, I keep telling Stannis--"

"A good time for business," Sal suddenly broke in.

Dead lord. Davos tried to focus on his soup.

"Is it, indeed?" Mister Tyrell asked, the aristocratic disdain nearly dripping in his tone.

But Sal shrugged it off easily.

"Yes indeed, sir," He turned and looked him straight in the eye, "I believe your father has an invested interest in shipping."

Loras bristled, "I'm not sure I would say shipping, exactly."

"Father invested in naval trade based on Gramama's suggestions, Loras," Maergery broke in, "And it has proved a prudent decision."

"Just so," Sal smiled at her, "There are many opportunities indeed."

Davos was new to such company, but at least he knew that monetary affairs were not exactly desirable dinner conversation.

"You were telling me about some of your navel interests, Sal." Robert suddenly called, apparently not caring a bit for the unsuitability of the discussion.

"Robert," Stannis began but the large man easily ignored him.

"India is it?"

Sal nodded as he took a sip of wine, "There's no reason for wars to stop trade, in fact those with the means to continue it often fair better for such… distractions."

Stannis put his spoon down just hard enough for most of the table to turn and look at him.

"I should like to go to India," Renly began, staring off in reverie.

"Would you?" Miss Tyrell asked.

"Oh yes- it sounds quite riveting."

"Good hunting," Robert added, nodding approvingly.

"It hot." Was all Stannis said but the bite to his tone seemed to suggest that was the least of it's faults.

"Heat is not such a vice," Miss Melisandre said in her smooth liquid tone.

She leaned closer to Stannis as she said it and looked directly at Miss Tyrell. The girl met her gaze for a moment, held it, and turned back to her plate as if nothing had happened.

She is after him. Davos realized with a jolt. And she wishes her to know it. She's marking him for gods-sake.

"Is there really so much to detest in more mild weather?" Melisandre asked the table at large but directed her voice ever so subtly towards Captain Baratheon.

"Detest is not the word I would use, no." He answered.

She smiled in that manner of hers that Davos was quickly learning to hate, and lifted her chin to look into his hard blue eyes as she spoke again, "There you see? I'm sure you've face worse than pleasant climates in all your accomplishments, Captain Baratheon."

Davos dropped his fork.

It clattered down to the wooden floor noisily and he felt Stannis stare at him as he leant to pick it up once more.

A soft sound at his ear stopped him.

"Please Sir, I'll retrieve it." He glanced to see the face of wigged servant looking back at him with concern and only then did he realize what a fool he must look.

He sat back upright to the silence of the table. They weren't looking at him- it was worse- they were very much not looking at him. They were looking at their plates, their glasses, anything but his face. All of them that was except for him. Davos met his eyes, those cold blue eyes and felt shame claw over him with fresh vigor.

The soft rustle of a clean fork being laid down beside his plate sounded almost impossibly loud in the room.

Robert cleared his throat sharply, "Ah! We should have the pheasant now."

And as quickly as that doors opened at the steaming trays streamed out, banishing the moment instantly.

Davos waited for the others to start again before beginning himself after their example but there was no shaking the now almost painful knowledge that he didn't belong here. They all knew it, and he knew it, and this was all just some game of hospitality and novelty for them. Renly probably only spoke to him because he found it half a joke. Perhaps there was good nature in Robert Baratheon but there was cruelty as well. At least Lady Cersei did not make false show of understanding or cordiality. They all probably felt just as she did under these layers of pretense, and they all must want him gone.

But I'm not the only one who does't belong, am I?

At least he wanted him gone for actions he had taken not for things he could not help being. If Davos had been the most honest and honorable of civilians it would not matter to the rest of them. They would see him for the way he held his fork before seeing anything else. Only Stannis was different, only he despised him for things that he had done, but was that truly so different? If he hadn't been born on a street where the rats ate better than the children then he wouldn't of had to steal and sneak and smuggle. But he hadn't stopped had he? He could have stopped, stopped after the first good job and done something 'respectable'. He hadn't had he? And somehow whenever Captain Baratheon stared at him in that hard way he knew that he knew that, that he saw the choice that had been made and the road that had not been taken, and now was it truly to late to make the right decision?

Then why was the man speaking to him in the wood and catching him from falls, as if he was almost a companion, as if he hand't told him just a day ago that he wished him gone and would afford him no welcome.

Davos glanced across the table and met his stare as if he had been watching him all the while. He held it, silently against the noise of the table- clattering of plates and conversation alike- and he held it back.

"Stannis will be returning to town tomorrow after all," Robert's voice suddenly echoed across the space.

Davos turned suddenly to stare as he went on.

"So it won't be any trouble at all to travel with him."

"What won't be trouble?" Stannis asked suddenly.

"Weren't you listening?" Cersei asked sharply, "We were just speaking to you."

"Indulge me," Stannis managed.

"Robert was just saying you can escort Miss Rutilis and myself back to town tomorrow since you're going that way already."

"You're going away?" Davos heard himself ask.

"Yes," Miss Melisandre answered, carefully assuming the question was to her, "We can't let Captain Baratheon return to London without anything in the matter of company can we?"

Her eyes narrowed on Davos' own in a disturbingly calculated way and he glanced to Stannis but he seemed suddenly quite focused on his glass of water.

"Yes, well, I would like to see how Joffery is getting along at school." Cersei said dryly, "He's sent some quite disturbing letters and I am convinced the institution is fully incapable."

Robert drained his cup in one gulp, "No fear Mister Seaworth- there's still plenty of sport to be had! And we won't loose all our company- the Tyrells are here for at least the next week."

Davos glanced to either side of him where Loras and Renly seemed to have developed the miraculous ability to stare directly through him into each other's eyes.

He looked back to Stannis but now the man seemed determined not to meet his glance.

"And you'll depart tomorrow?" Davos asked emptily.

"Yes," Cersei said, slur just noticeable in her voice, "Preferably sooner than later."

The rest of the meal passed quickly and without comment, but when the group stood to retire Davos excused himself and retired early, pleading exhaustion which Mister Tyrell and Renly heard without slightly amusement. He glanced about once but it seemed Captain Baratheon had already made his escape.

As he departed he met Sal's eye for a moment, and there was something he could have almost mistake for concern in his look.

His room felt cold when he entered it again. The bath was gone, and someone had cleaned away the water he'd spilled across the floor. There was a small fire, but it was growing low- likely no one had expected him to return here this early.

Easily he made his way under the cold of the sheets and attempted to force his mind into the blissful silence of sleep. It had turned out to be a miserable day in the end after all.

Chapter Text

The sun was up, pressing him to join it. But he didn't want to. Not just yet. He'd slept harder than he thought he would and was still in that lingering part of sleep where it to held on with warm arms and begged him not to leave.

The sensations of dreams still drifted around his mind and body. He could almost still feel the heat of a body pressed against his, the scratch of stubble on his neck and chest.

But he had to wake up.

"You're going away?" He heard his own voice reflect dully through his mind.

"Preferably earlier than later," The biting voice of Lady Cersei echoed.

He was looking at him, with those eyes, so very hard and so very blue and so very dark that he might as well have been looking into the sea.

The chill of the wood seeped into his bones and the smell of fall crept in all around. He felt a hand on his shoulder, as if to push him back to his feet, but it fumbled and landed along his neck, slipping up to cup his cheek, to dive into his hair and pull him closer.

"You're going away?"

And then he was standing, alone in the cold. Was it snowing? He reached for his own neck for some reason but there was nothing there.

"Don't go... I don't want you to go."

He reached out in the dark but there was nothing. Nothing.

Davos opened his eyes.

The sun glared down at him through the glass of the windowpanes, still brilliant with the colors of dawn. The orange and gold danced around the shadows of the room, tempting the place into the light of day with small eager fingers.

Early. Still early.

He sat up as solidly as he could. They'd said they would be leaving early.

Quickly he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, hurrying to dress himself and making rather a clumsy show of it, his hands still several seconds behind his mind so soon after waking.

Eventually, he did manage it and made his way down the hall and into the main rooms.

It was all quite still in the house. Indeed- most of them were likely to still be asleep. But they had said they would leave early, and it couldn't be much longer till that, could it? Unless they were gone already. Why did that thought hit his stomach like a stone?

Suddenly the sound of dragging wood pervaded the peace of the morning and Davos turned to see the source as a servant turned the corner dragging a heavy chest.

"Excuse me?" Davos said and the boy turned to look at him with some startled confusion.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Has- well- have Lady Cersei and Captain Baratheon left for town already?"

"No, no," The lad said shaking his head and continuing on, "This is just Mister Stannis' case- but Lady Cersei and Miss Rutilis will be down within the hour I'm sure."

Davos looked about, "Is no one else awake?"

"Well, no one except Mister Stannis, wouldn't have the case otherwise, Sir."

"He's awake? In the house, here?" Davos asked, hating how his voice almost wanted to fluster and scramble away from him- despising the effort it took to keep his questions casual and contained.

"No, not here," The servant said, "Out on one of his walks."

Davos felt his heart sink slightly in his chest, "Oh, well I suppose he'll return shortly?"

"Not very shortly, sir, I'm afraid. He said he'd walk about for an hour or so until we were ready to depart, might even meet the carriage on it's way so he won't have to--…"

The man trailed off, realizing his mistake, but Davos didn't need to hear him finish to know what he meant.

So he won't have to see his brothers a moment longer than he has to.

Davos felt the rock in his stomach some how plummet just a little deeper. It had been foolish to begin with. He knew that now- why had he even wanted to know? Did he want to see him? Speak to him?

He sighed and turned, "Ah, well, thank you."

"Did you wish to speak to Mister Stannis, sir?" The lad asked.

"I… well I suppose, I thought he might be here, but--"

"He's not far." He servant said.

"Not far?" Davos repeated stupidly, feeling his gut react to the way his chest almost fluttered, "How do you know?"

"Well, he always walks the same place… down by the sea, just along the path there down along the coast. It's not far- hardly a distance." The lad smiled back at him, eager to be helpful.

Davos stared at him for a moment and then couldn't help but nod in the face of his enthusiasm.

"Yes… yes I'll do that, thank you."

"Pleasure," The lad said, and turned back to the task of hauling the chest across the floor out to the carriage.

"Want some help with that?" Davos asked.

The boy blinked up at him for a moment, and then when he realized it wasn't a jest suddenly turned away, discomfort scrawling across his looks and tone.

"No… no, thank you Sir, I'll manage alright on my own, Sir." He said, averting his eyes and turning back to his work.

Davos turned away. Was he never to fit anywhere again? The masters laugh at him behind their hands and the servants stare at him as if he's some hydra in a waistcoat. Why did it all have to be so bloody absurd?

He walked out of the house quickly, and was almost half way round the gardens when he finally let himself slow and see the morning for all it was, and it was quite something indeed.

The sun was just over the distant line of the sea's horizon, and shining full fury- determined to make up all it's lost ground from the day before. But it was certainly a fall sun- somehow more golden than it had been in weeks previous, and it gave the morning and all together calm brilliant feeling. The chill from the night still lingered in the air, and all around was the smell of salt and the distant hum of the sea against the shore.

Davos stood still for a moment there in the garden, the almost frosty dew of the grass against his boots, the cool ocean's breeze buffeting his hair just slightly out of his eyes.

He could see the path well enough, a small thing thing leading down the hill towards the shore and out of sight. His mind was still catching up with his feet as they turned and started for it.

What on earth was he doing? Why was he here- what could he possibly want? To speak to him? Why?

Because he's leaving. Because you won't get the chance again.

And that shouldn't matter whatsoever! But it did. And his feet kept walking through the cold dew of the grass shining against the golden light of dawn.

Perhaps he didn't even wish to speak to him. Perhaps he merely wanted to see him- see him once more and know for certain that he was just a miserable aristocrat who assumed a good deal too much for his own good with an insufferable distain and general melancholy that did no one much help whatsoever.

The path was rocky under his feet and he stepped carefully so as not to slip and tumble down the hillside. He couldn't yet see the sea, after starting down the embankment, but he could hear it growing closer and closer. It had been at least a week since he walked the shore. Even if the lad had been wrong, and he wasn't here after all, it wouldn't be such a loss. He could stand on the shore and feel the wind in his hair and watch the rolling tides slip over and over again towards his feet. It wasn't winter yet- maybe he'd even leave his boots a little ways back, roll the cuffs of his trousers, and let the water chill his feet once more before the season took the final turn and such pleasures were lost until spring.

Finally, he rounded the leveling corner of the path and within a few steps the soil turned to soft rounded stones under his feet. The cool breeze off the water caught around him all at once, shooting his coat out behind him almost gently and push his hair back from his eyes. The sight of the sea from it's own level crashed into him, golden and brilliant. He almost shielded his eyes from the brightness of it, but simply squinted against the light and stared, defiantly attempting to take it all in.

The waves weren't large, the wind wasn't that strong, and the sky was a lazy pale blue, utterly devoid of clouds as it often is on morning such as this one. The sound of rocks being pulled back and forth by the ever turbulent tided clattered gently all around and far off a gull cried sharp and fresh against the morning.

The sight of the sea was so striking that it took him a moment to see the dark straight shape standing so starkly against the gold of the morning light, but when he did, somehow the rest of the world seemed to fall silent.

He was still a ways off, too far indeed to even see him properly. But even as a simple shadow, standing so close to the gold of the sea, silhouetted by the brilliance of dawn, there was something so undeniably powerful about the sight.

He stood so straight, and so tall staring out with his chin lifted towards the churning ocean- not looking to the shore, or even at the closest waves, but further out, towards the deep, where the sun hit the water almost brightest. His hands were in his pockets and he was just slightly leant to one side, but he hardly moved- simply stood and watched as the sun continued to rise.

Davos would remember that sight for the rest of his life.

He felt his feet moving over the stony shore before he even realized what they were doing. His mind had the dreamy feeling of blurry and yet all to sharp sensations again, so perhaps the best thing was to simply ignore it.

He was closer now, close enough to see the way the breeze caught up the tails of his jacket and tossed his short black hair ever so slightly about.

Did he hear him approaching? The sea wasn't that loud, was it? He was nearly at his elbow, near enough to smell that almost leathery scent that he seemed to have, to see how the golden light of the dawn lit up the blue of his eyes in an almost blinding way.

Why did his mouth feel so dry suddenly? Hadn't he come here to speak to him- or had he? Why had he come at all? He was standing almost right beside him by now and he couldn't for the life of him remember how he got there or what on earth he was supposed to do now.

"You were wrong." Stannis said suddenly.

Davos felt his heart jump in his chest. He hadn't even turned. Hadn't even looked at him.

"I'm sorry?" Davos managed, licking his dry lips quickly- his voice still emerging almost rough.

"You were wrong… you were right as well, but wrong."

Davos couldn't seem to find the words to answer him, if he expected an answer...

"I'm sorry… I don't--"

Stannis turned his head ever so slightly, the blue eyes caught up in the light of the morning landing on him while his body remained facing the sea.

"I did assume. About you. I didn't know your character… I suppose I still don't."

Davos couldn't seem to make his head work properly. Why was everything beside the man in front of him suddenly a little blurred and soundless?

"But I suppose you're not a rouge… or at least not a terribly convincing one." Stannis said turning back towards the sea.

Davos heard himself laugh, "No, I suppose not."

He could almost have convinced himself that he saw the corner of Captain Baratheon's mouth twitch upwards ever so slightly, as if tempted towards a smile.

"Your friend is quite another matter." Stannis said.

"Yes, well I cannot deny that." Davos answered, "But fortunately his vices are not my responsibility."

Stannis lifted his chin ever so slightly, "Unfortunately, my brother's vices are mine."

Davos felt his heart bob in his chest, "They needn't be…" He said, voice softer than he'd known it would emerge, "You know that, don't you?"

Stannis lowered his head, staring down at his feet idly kicking one of the small rounded stones away, "It's not as simple as that."

"Why?" Davos asked, "Why do people continue to say things are not so simple… why can't they be?"

There it was again, that almost twitch in the corner of his lips.

"Because," He finally said, "We must do our duty."

Davos' chest felt very tight inside his jacket.

They don't deserve you. He wanted to say, none of them do.

But he said nothing. Simply stood in silence, hoping that standing almost behind the man he couldn't tell if he was looking out to see or staring at the shape his face made against the brilliance of the sea.

"You said I was wrong." Davos remembered suddenly.

Stannis nodded, "Yes."

"About what?"

Stannis turned then, facing him about half way, sending sharp shadows across the hard lines of his face.

"About me," He said.

Davos swallowed, trying to bring some moisture back to his mouth, "Was I?"

Stannis made a small affirmative noise in the back of his throat that made Davos' legs feel a little less real.

"You said I assumed… that it made me ignorant and pompous, and perhaps that's true. But you assumed as well Mister Seaworth, and I'm afraid to say you've made a bit of a dissembler of yourself.

He's insulting you- stop smiling like a bloody fool.

"Is that so?" Davos asked, somehow unable to obey his own advice. But he had assumed hadn't he- he'd assumed so much and the man who stood before him now was something quite different then he'd ever imagined he could be. In fact, he didn't think he could, ever had, or ever would meet anyone else quite like him.

Stannis turned back towards the sea, "You said I didn't understand suffering… or sacrifice."

"I--" Davos began, suddenly feeling more ashamed then he ought to.

"No," Stannis interrupted, "It's not my brothers. They are, well… vexing, we'll say, but I do not pretend they constitute any true form of suffering. Suffering is a heavy handed word- and feels more dramatic than I would truly wish to associate with any events of my life… but if I am to use it, I have suffered… I do suffer."

He turned to look at him then and his stare was so powerful, that the way the light caught up against his face so… well, so beautiful, that Davos found it hard to breathe properly.

"But I do not wish it to seem a complaint." Stannis said, "All men suffer… it is our nature, but we bear our burdens and we continue on and that is what makes us as we are. Some bear what we must easier than others, some hide from what they fear, but in the end we all suffer."

You don't have to, Davos wanted to say. But he did didn't he… no one had ever told him he didn't, no one had ever shown him that he couldn't.

Stannis' hand was resting by his side, long fingers still against the salty air. Davos felt his own hand start to move.

"Sacrifice, is something else altogether." Stannis said, a grit of anger to his voice that surprised Davos suddenly, his hand fall back towards his own waist.

Stannis lifted his face towards the sea and Davos could see almost every muscle of his body tighten, the jaw sharpest of all.

"I watched our parents die." He said, gesturing out into the sea, "Right there, just by that cliff."

Davos heard the words but didn't all at once. There was a thick pain growing someplace deep in his chest that he hand't felt before.

"That's how I knew it was you," Stannis said simply, turning to glance at him, "Coming down the shore… it wouldn't have been anyone else. Robert never comes here, and neither does Renly, even if he was too young to remember any of it."

"What happened?" Davos asked, his voice a good deal more raw and a good deal more soft than it had been.

Stannis paused before answering, staring out over the water.

"They drowned."

Davos found himself staring at his hand again, unsure even of what he himself wanted to do, "A storm?"

Stannis nodded, "The had been away… our mother had said she would miss me, that I must look after Renly until she got back."

The ocean lapped against the stones of the shore, quietly, gently.

"And I've tried," Stannis said, gritting his teeth, "Lord knows that I have tried but Robert, he simply has to make things so--"

"He's happy." Davos said.

Stannis turned to look at him, his face suddenly more flustered that it had been.

"What?"

"Renly- he's happy," Davos repeated, "There's that at least…"

Stannis stared at him. Davos had the strange sensation that he'd said both the shockingly wrong thing and the painfully right thing all at once.

The sun was higher in the sky by now, high enough that the brilliance off the ocean was not quite so blinding as it had been and the light more evenly spread through out the scenery- shadows less black, shine less golden.

Stannis had turned back to the ocean, but the way the light was now Davos could see the back of his neck more clearly. There was a small white scar there in the shape of a "v", just where the black of his short hair started.

"Oh," Davos began, somewhat startled that he'd even made a sound as Stannis turned towards him.

"Is that…" He continued, gesturing towards his neck, voice a little higher than usual with his need to explain the sudden noise he'd just made, "I'm sorry, that must have been from yesterday when…"

He trailed off all at once as Stannis stared hard at him, eyes slightly wide and glassy. Davos knew it was absurd- the scar was no where even close to fresh, but he'd had to say something. All at once Stannis seemed to realized what he was talking about and ran a hand quickly over the back of his neck before dropping it back to his side.

"What? Oh- no, that's… Robert and I used to fence when we were younger. I beat him once and he threw a rock at me."

Davos couldn't help but laugh- even if it was a short almost choked sound as he tried to hold it back.

Stannis stared at him at first as if he was offended but then, hardly a moment later his mouth twitched in that way of his and this time it stayed there- smiling, just barely, but still so very much there as he looked at him.

Davos felt the bottom of his stomach sinking as his own mouth smiled even more at the sight.

His hand was moving. Why on earth was his hand moving?

It was lifting, and suddenly it was right there between them. Stannis' smile slipped as his mouth opened just slightly and Davos felt his own mimic it.

Before he could stop himself his hand was just barely touching his shoulder. Stannis' body was rigid and hard as stone and his eyes looked almost terrified staring back at him so blue and dark and yet somehow that made them even more striking.

Davos let his thumb lift and slide ever so slightly over the small white scar on the back of his neck, hearing his own breath catch at the soft warmth that met him.

Stannis' hand shot up almost instantly and locked around his own as if to throw it away, but somehow as he grabbed it, Davos' thicker fingers seemed to slide almost seamlessly between his longer ones and as Davos stared back at him through heavy eyes he saw something flare in the darkness he met there.

"Captain Baratheon!" Called the lifting female voice.

Davos wasn't sure if Stannis dropped his hand first of if he himself tugged it back, but they both fell from each other in one clumsy step.

His guts were one tight knot and he felt heat cascading down his neck as he turned his face away, down towards the shore to avoid looking at absolutely anyone or anything.

Further away, down towards the path, he knew, he heard the light steps stop, "The carriage will be departing soon, you don't want us to leave you behind do you?"

Davos knew the owner of that voice. He could almost see her standing there by the path with her round pale face and red hair bound loosely behind her head.

He heard Stannis clear his throat beside him.

"I'll be there momentarily." He said, voice rough and low.

Davos tried to breathe properly but it was idiotically difficult somehow.

"Would you mind helping me back up the path?" Miss Melisandre called towards them, "It is a rather treacherous journey."

Davos glanced up at Stannis now and met his eyes for only a second before the man dropped his gaze and almost grumbled a sigh as he started to walk towards the waiting woman.

After a moment Davos followed behind, trying not to see how she held his arm, trying not to care how elegantly she laughed, how fresh she looked in the early light leaning close against him. He tried not to wish that she would fall and break her damn neck.

He couldn't help but see them sitting in the carriage together, bouncing against the other as the horses trundled down the long road to London. He imagined how she would smile at him and speak softly enough that he had to stand close to hear.

Suddenly anger was pounding in his ears, and when he reached the top of the climb behind them he was breathing a good deal harder than he should have been. Stannis glanced back at him quickly with concern but when he met his eyes his face flushed and he turned away with a grit of his teeth.

It only took them a moment longer to reach the house. Lady Cersei was calling firm instructions to the servants as they loaded the chests onto the carriage. The horses were pacing against their reigns, anxious to be on their way. Renly and the Tyrells stood on the marble steps, talking amongst themselves and making general merriment of the morning.

"Ah! There they are!" Renly called out, as they turned along the drive towards them.

"We were worried you'd gotten lost." The lad smiled, infinitely amused with himself.

Cersei looked beyond annoyed as it was, and Davos noticed the slight swollen aspect to her face and the way Maergery's high laugh made her wince and hold her head slightly, "If we're quite ready, I would like to depart." She said, making her way down

Renly made quite a show of kissing Miss Melisandre's hand before bidding them farewell as they made their way to the carriage. Loras and Maergery made their own farewells, expressing all their pleasure at having met them all and hopes to see them soon. Davos stood back from the rest in silence, trying not to watch them as they made their way into the carriage.

The ladies were already stowed away before Stannis finally headed for the doors. He looked inside at Melisandre's quiet expectation and Cersei irritation, paused, and then turned away once again.

Davos felt his heart thudding in chest but tried his best to pretend it wasn't.

The tall man called to one of the grooms and asked him to bring his horse about and Davos' heart sunk. Of course he's still leaving. What on earth did you expect?

Once the animal was brought out and Cersei had called twice more for their departure Stannis swung his long legs over his mount and gathered the reins as the carriage began to trundle down the drive.

He turned the horse around once, caught Davos' eyes for a flashing moment, and then spun down the drive after the carriage.

Renly and the Tyrells turned and made their way back indoors, laughing amongst themselves, talking about all the things the day would hold. Davos stayed.

He stayed and watched the retreating shapes until he could not longer see them, and several moments longer than than.

He said mother'd told him she would miss him.

Was she the last person to say a something like that to him, the last one to care enough to miss him? No… Davos knew that now. She certainly wasn't the last.

Finally, finally Davos turned away and returned to the house.

Happy voices echoed out of various rooms about him, but none of them were particularly clear. HIs feet continued on their way up the stairs and down the hallways past his own chambers.

Sal was awake when he entered, breakfast tray off to one side. There were clothes laid out over a chair a short ways away.

"I see you're planning on prolonging your recovery by making an effort at socialization once again," Davos said as he saw them.

Sal smiled, "We must do as we must do, Davos."

Davos sat on the chair beside the bed and leaned forward, staring carefully down at the patterns of the rug that clambered across the floor.

"Did they leave, for town?" Sal asked, his tone strangely careful.

Davos nodded.

"Are you…" Sal began but he didn't seem to know quite how to finish that sentence.

"Am I what?" Davos asked reproachfully.

Sal shook his head, "Nothing, it's nothing."

Davos felt suddenly angry with him but he knew it was foolish so he swallowed it back.

"You know," Sal started again, "You know you don't have to stay…"

Davos sighed roughly, "Yes, I know."

"Will you go?"

Davos leaned back, "Will you manage without me?"

Sal laughed, "I'll manage a good deal better without you snapping at my potential clients and dropping your fork in the middle of dinner- trying to pick it up yourself like a damned fool."

Davos couldn't help but smile back, "Aye, I know."

"Just come back to visit at least once before I'm well," Sal said, "So they won't think you've completely forgotten me… that should be enough."

Davos nodded solidly.

The silence stretched on for a moment longer.

"When will you leave?" Sal asked.

Davos sighed, staring about at the lavish furnishings, the silver dinner ware, listening to the sound of pompous laughter echoing down the halls where no doubt Robert was busy planning the next excursion.

"As soon as bloody possible."

Chapter Text

It was one of those particularly stormy fall afternoons where the sea lashed the rock of the cliffs with admirable vigor and rain erratically ran from the sky- as if all the water were as eager to escape the driving fury of the storms as anything else with half a mind might be.

It was days like this when he sat, with his feet up in front of a fire, and his latest foray into literary competency lain across his lap with warm tea beside him that he knew he should be glad for this the change of pace his life had taken. But somehow, like the utter fool he knew he must be to think so, days like this were even harder than those that left the sea as calm and pleasant as a rolling blue countryside.

All he could seem to do was remember how the boards of his old ship creaked and groaned under his feet and the thrill that shot through your heart each new swell of the storm that shattered over the deck and left you wondering if the whole thing would simply come apart under your feet- knowing that it was just you, you the crew that stood between that reality and a safe return.

He was a good deal too irritable most of the morning. The sound of the wind rattling the panes of his little cottage had woken him early and he hadn't been able to let sleep take him once again. Not that he particularly tried as hard as he should… He kept telling himself the dreams would stop but they didn't seem to be giving ground- if anything they were gaining strength. He told himself they would end but each time he said so they seemed even more eager to defy him. It had been over a month since Storm's End… he shouldn't even rightly still be thinking of it, let alone having dreams of, well, dreams that had simply woken him this morning and though the sky was still mostly dark he'd risen at the ungodly hour and stood by his window to watch the storm roll in with a dark and dreary dawn.

It started over the sea, the blackness of the clouds hardly visible against the night, but he knew the signs well enough- the low feeling to the air, the almost stillness that began to shake under a swift steady breeze. It broke with ferocity over the little cottage and he watched it for a while standing beside the window in his bedclothes. The rain trashed the glass of the pane and outside the wind beat against the grass and shrubs covering the hillside.

Standing there his face seemed to pervade Davos' mind. He saw him standing on the shore as he had but surrounded by a day such as this in place of the brilliant fall dawn. It would have been so would it not have, when he watched his parent's boat break against the cliffs. He'd said as much himself. Somehow it was hard to imagine him as a boy, the only image Davos could summon was merely a smaller version of the grown man- the same stern expression, the same deep frown, same ferocious blue eyes- maybe slightly larger than they were now, or at least in relativity to the rest of him.

Had he been so before, or only after? Had a storm such as this one shattered against him and he'd hardened to meet it's wrath, or had he been a little boy made of stone before it all?

With a sigh Davos eventually turned from the window, groaning as he stretched his arms above his head. He let himself plop back down on the bed once again and rolled a hand through his hair and across his beard.

Another day.

There was breakfast waiting downstairs even though it was later then he usually came down- simple: eggs, bacon, bread. He brought it with him into the library and lit a fire.

Simply another day.

The wind was still blowing outside the window. He'd taken to walking the shore most everyday, even trying to get out riding at least once every several in an effort to become less than hopeless at it (as of yet to no avail). But today, it would be books and that wasn't such a trial. He was too irritable from lack of sleep to be properly pleasant or at least tolerable to anyone… if there had been anyone to tolerate that is. But books were fine- he truly did feel he was getting better. He only had to pause about thrice a page or so and although he'd be most incapable of reading aloud he could manage at a good pace on his own time in the quiet of the room with only himself for company.

It was Thomas Aquinas today, the steady development of the logic did have an appeal for him even if the often saintly occupations did not, and so with a sip of his tea he leaned back and settled in as best he could for what promised to be an afternoon of "therefor"'s and "if so"'s.

The room was dark- despite the lit of the fire. The storm outside colored the space all grey and almost indigo. He had to squint slightly to see the page in front of him through the dullness of the afternoon.

"Because of the diverse conditions of humans, it happens that some acts are virtuous to some people, as appropriate and suitable to them,"

The sound of the steady wind and the pattering of rain against the window was so gentle there in that room, the glow of the fire dancing softly over the blurring words on the page before him.

"--While the same acts are immoral for others, as inappropriate to them…"

Was it darker than it had been before? Was the rain louder, or was that the sound of the sea.

Slowly, he opened his eyes.

It had been the sea after all.

The waves lapped against the light of the morning sun, gentle but strong and never ceasing. The wind played in his hair, lifting it against the coolness of the weather and filling him with such a feeling of life and pure peace that he let his hands rise out on either side of himself, turning his face towards the sky and breathing in deep all the glory of the dawn.

He smiled wide and almost laughed, but another soft sound echoed forth and he suddenly turned, looking to where it had come from beside him.

The laugh had come from the man beside him. He was there, smiling at the sea, smiling at him.

But that couldn't be right. He didn't laugh did he?

"Do you miss the sea?"

The voice seemed to come from nowhere- had he asked or had the question come from his own lips?

He was looking at him with quiet expectation and Davos was suddenly unsure of wether the sound had been 'sea' or 'me' but it mattered little or less. The answer was the same.

"I do." Davos heard himself answer, "I truly do."

The man beside him nodded in silence, staring out at the water, the smile suddenly gone from his lips, and it hurt- it hurt so much more that it should have to see the peace go from his eyes.

Davos wanted to reach up, to hold the side of his face in his hand- carefully, as carefully as if his skin were made of glass. It was foolish, he knew, the man was made of stone and steel and unforgiving will. He wouldn't break.

Then why am I so sure he will?

Maybe he himself was the fragile one. Maybe he feared that if he lifted his hand to hold him his own body would shatter and there would be nothing left. But if he continued to stand there, with something so much worse than despair for the resignation of it, he would have no choice. He would touch him and nothing could stop him, even if he shattered into pieces so small no one would recognize him for what he had been. And if even one of those shards filled the part of the man beside him that was somehow gone, the lack of which made his brilliant eyes darken so… if he could repair that hole, even if just for a moment- he couldn't even pretend it would not be worth all the pain in the world.

I have suffered. I do suffer.

He'd looked at him then. He'd looked at him and for a moment, and at the emotion he met there, Davos thought he might be looking back at his own visage. His chest had surged with heat at that perhaps imagined knowledge, the thought that he felt what was crawling and clawing against his own chest, what was making his finger flex numbly, his mouth go dry, his stomach twist into a tight hot ball.

But he was looking at him now, and he knew he had imagined nothing.

Some truths are not so simple.

It was almost a plea- that look. A plea that was just sneaking through the smallest crack in a face carved of will and sacrifice, like a small ray of light in a cave of stone.

Please.

Davos moved faster than he'd know he could, hand snatching about the back of his neck and pulling him down to meet his lips with a crash of heat and a short bite of pain. He felt the roughness of stumble against his own cheeks, under his hands, and the inestimable softness of his lips as they met his. The world flickered around him and in the dizzying feel of his arms around him Davos suddenly tumbled.

They were falling, falling but not landing.

Floating. He realized in a slow hazy part of his brain. He tasted salt, felt his hair lifted by watery fingers, heard nothing but the dull void of water all around.

But it didn't matter, none of it mattered. Hands tightened against him, fell almost gently over his bearded cheek, pulling him closer, desperate, terrified. A deep pulsing need in his gut slid over his limbs, making him almost shake, almost cry- he needed him, all of him, needed to show him he didn't have to suffer, that he didn't have to sacrifice.

Davos opened his mouth and the salt of ocean water rushed in. He gasped- shooting the water down into his lungs. His hands scrambled but there was nothing, nothing. He opened his eyes, terrified, lashing at the water all around him. It was so dark. Nothing but black all around and above him green lights danced.

Someone banged on the door.

With a great gasp Davos shot awake.

The book clattered to the floor at the teacup he'd propped on the edge of the chair shattered noisily as it fell to the ground.

He swore louder than he meant as he turned to see the mess, moved to stand and then instantly sat back down as he groaned, leaned over and tried to think of something, anything to alleviate his situation.

The door banged again.

"Davos! Are you in there?"

Oh bloody hell. He knew that voice.

Maybe he could still pretend he was asleep, at least until he was in a less humiliating condition.

No- too late, the knob was turning, it was opening.

The book!

He reached down with scrambling fingers, snatched the saintly visage of poor old Aquinas off the floor and laid the volume spread across his lap as if he had merely put it down from reading just as Sal strode into the room.

"Are you deaf Davos? I've been calling outside!"

"I-- what--"

Sal stared down at him, obviously seeing a disheveled man with a book on his lap, a broken tea cup on the floor and an altogether bleary startled look on his face.

"What on earth happened to you?"

Davos felt his cheeks reddening despite himself and used it as an excuse to rub his eyes hard with the heels of his hands.

"Never mind that," He managed, trying to get a hold on himself once again, "What- what are you doing here?"

"I'm not allowed to visit? I haven't seen my old friend for near a month!"

Davos made himself look up. Sal was still staring at him.

"Don't you want to clear that up?" Sal asked almost teasingly, gesturing to the splintered cup on the carpet.

"No." Davos answer with a definitive bite to his tone, "Now tell me properly what you're doing here. You don't come for visits- you come for favors."

Sal clicked his tongue chidingly as he sat down in the opposite arm chair and threw his feet up in front of the fireplace.

"So very disparaging." He tutted, "Perhaps he rubbed off on your more than I realized."

Davos reddened even as he feigned his ignorance, "Who?"

Sal gave him a look.

Davos rolled his eyes and shifted in his seat, "Really, Sal, why are you here?"

Sal sighed as he leaned deeper into the chair, "Well, if you won't believe my good intentions--"

"I won't."

"That's just fine. I'm here for someone else's."

"And just what does that mean?" Davos asked, feeling unnecessarily irritated.

Sal raised an eyebrow at him, "You've become quite vicious in your hermitage."

Davos sighed, "I'm sorry, Sal- I just, well I certainly didn't expect you."

"I can see that much." Sal answered, eyeing his lap quickly in a way Davos didn't miss.

"But are you really so unhappy to have company?" Sal asked, "What on earth do you get up to out here? Is it so dull you have to go off throwing perfectly good cups to the floor?"

Davos almost chuckled despite himself, "It's better than London."

Sal sniffed, "Nothing is better than London."

Davos did laugh at that, albeit spitefully.

Sal turned to him, "You can't be happy here- I won't believe that, not Davos Seaworth."

Davos shifted in his seat, "It's better than before."

"Is it?"

"Yes, Sal- it is, as I've said, and I'm not keen on uselessly repeating myself."

"But it must be so terribly dull!"

"It isn't! I'm- well, there are many things to occupy my time."

Sal sighed in a pitying manner, "And you don't wish for any company."

"No- I…" He managed before his voice trailed off,

Distorting truths was only useful until a point, wasn't it?

"Well- alright you have me there, it would be good to have more company."

"Yet you rebuke me as I enter!" Sal cried with mock horror.

"You surprised me- that's all," Davos grumbled.

Sal smiled, "You didn't think I might be someone else."

"Don't me a fool- who else would you be?"

"I don't know," Sal said innocently shrugging his shoulders, "No one I suppose."

Absentmindedly he reached inside his jacket and pulled out something that almost looked like a letter. Davos watched as Sal rolled the thing around his fingers as he watched the fire. It was a letter- that much was plain, small though- perhaps merely a note, certainly not a correspondence.

"What's that?" Davos asked, fully aware he was falling into some form of trap.

"Oh, nothing you'd be interested in," Sal said casually, as if he didn't intend for him to ask that very question, "You've said yourself you're quite happy here and have no need to leave."

"Leave? Why would I leave? What is that- is that- does that have my name on it?"

Davos made a grab for the paper but Sal pulled it just out of his reach and gave him a devious smile as Davos struggled once more to reach it without dislodging the book from his lap.

He failed and fell back again with a glare, "Yes, well of course, I suppose it's too much to ask for things addressed to me."

Sal tossed the thing over and it landed squarely in Davos' lap. It did have his name on it in slanted small letters.

"I happened to come across Lord Robert in town just last week." Sal said casually.

"'Happened to'?" Davos said arching a brow.

Sal shrugged, "More or less. We are still discussing potential arrangements… I'm afraid the man does not have much of a mind for business."

"Really?" Davos said sarcastically, still somehow resisting opening the small folded paper in his lap. It felt almost heavy there and he was almost afraid to press the sealed sheets apart and stare into whatever they might contain.

"Unfortunately so… he can't hear more than ten words on the subject before demanding a drink or a pretty girl to look at or something to kill."

"How dull for you."

"I am not opposed to vice, as I'm sure you well know, but I would like to get affairs in order in a timely fashion."

Davos looked him then, "Is there a pressing concern?"

Sal suddenly looked rather uncomfortable in his seat, "No, nothing pressing."

"Sal--" Davos almost sighed.

"Well, fine." His friend shot in an almost childish manner, "There's cargo waiting."

"Cargo?"

"Cargo- yes that is what I said Davos, for a chider of repetition you certainly don't heed your own advice--"

"What sort of cargo Sal?"

"The sort that I should like to unload as soon as possible before anyone happens to stumble upon it."

"Sal!" Davos yelled suddenly, "You told me- you told me that your involvements here were honest!"

I lied to him. I told him he wasn't involving them in illegalities, I promised him.

"Calm down! It is, they are!… As soon as I unload that cargo."

"Lord, Sal," Davos said, feeling sick suddenly as he ducked his head into his hands.

"No, no, now don't go on like that- look, I've been honest with you my friend. I merely can't unload the cargo until I am assured that there is new cargo to take it's place. I need to use those returns towards loading ships for Lord Robert's purposes. I can't end one task without knowing there is another coming short behind it or I would have been poor long ago."

"Don't tell me that those are promised goods, Sal- don't tell me that you've been keeping your blasted greedy hands on someone else's goods."

"Baelish can wait." Sal said leaning back.

Davos felt something tighten in his gut, "Baelish… no Sal I think we both know from past experience Baelish most certain cannot wait."

"I won't leave all of my potential capital in the hands on someone who gets a considerable discount without being sure that I will have the means to fulfill that loss again once it's taken. If I cannot ship out again with more honorable intentions under funding, those goods will have to supply the means for my next journey east."

"You can't seriously be considering selling the goods behind Baelish's back- cutting him out of the equation and bringing them straight to the streets at market prices." Davos asked, that terrible feeling in his stomach getting worse and worse.

"No I am not considering it- I am certainly making sure that I am not forced into such a position. But I will do what I have to, Davos, that much you should not doubt. Baelish can wait. He will wait. He needs us to much."

"You, Sal, needs you." Davos said, "And he doesn't need you as much as he needs his profits. If you take those from him…"

"Well, the bloody whore-monger will just have to make do." Sal said crossing his arms and staring into the fire, "I won't blindly saunter into respectability, Davos, I can't take that risk."

"I did!"

"Yes!" Sal yelled, "And look at you! You're sitting around in some cramped cottage enjoying books- if I may say so- a good deal too thoroughly, breaking teacups in your boredom and the only correspondence you get besides myself is from some despairingly dull man who looks like he's had a steel rod inserted into him medically."

"He-- What?" Davos stammered, dropping the letter in his hands back down to his lap, suddenly staring intensely at the small neat handwriting spelling out his own name, slightly slanted across the pale yellow paper.

Sal sighed with almost a grumble, "Yes it's from the insufferable Captain Baratheon."

Suddenly Davos' heart was half way up his throat.

"What- I don't--" When had words gotten so damn difficult, and when did paper get so bloody heavy? The thing was almost pressing down into his legs like it was made of iron.

Sal leaned back, "As I've said Robert isn't exactly, well, fluent with business matters. When we finally managed to get to the offices to try and make arrangements your friend was waiting for us."

"He's not my--" Davos began but Sal gave him that look again and he fell silent, staring at his own name written across his lap.

"It doesn't matter- you seem to have made an impression, which is more than I've managed to do."

Davos tried to focus on his friend but it was getting somehow more difficult.

"He and Robert went to one side. There were some distinctly raised voices. I may or may not have heard the word 'pirate' mentioned several times by one party in particular. And when they emerged again Lord Robert seemed quite pleased if rather flushed with what surly must have been formidable rage, and your Captain in as much displeasure as usual. Robert's invited me to his estate- to spend some time, discuss matters further."

"Kings Landing?" Davos asked.

Sal nodded, "In truth I'd rather make a deal and be done with it but I suppose another week or two with the man wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."

"And Captain Baratheon is fine with this arrangement?" Davos asked carefully.

"Fine might be the word I would use. Pleased is certainly not. He hardly said a word in truth- but he did give me that, and said I should see it made it to you."

"What is it?" Davos asked, staring at the thing warily.

"I'm not such a vandal that I would open your mail, Davos." Sal sighed, "But I suppose it's an invitation."

"What?"

Sal looked at him, "An invitation, you know, a formal request to spend time in a specified location."

"What? Not at King's Landing…"

"Where else?You seemed friendly enough. Well, friendly's not quite the word… amenable maybe."

"I… why would they want me?"

"I didn't say they did."

Davos stared into the fire for a moment, took a breath, and opened the letter so quickly he almost ripped it.

"Well?" Sal asked after a moment.

Davos swallowed, wetting his throat again, "What?"

"What does it say?" Sal said in a patient yet mildly patronizing way.

"Just as you said," Davos said, staring a moment longer before folding the thing and pressing it inside his waistcoat, "An invitation- to King's Landing, with you- to come with you- stay a while."

"Nothing else, nothing…." He trailed off.

"No Sal," Davos sighed, "Nothing regarding you or your questionable affairs."

His friend snorted at that as if he wasn't sure wether to believe it or believed it all too well.

"Well?" He said after a moment.

"Well, what?" Davos returned.

"Well, what are you going to do then?"

Davos looked out the window. It had gotten dark somehow already, it would be dinner soon. Another dinner, fish most like- the same bread, the same wine.

"We'll eat." He said finally stretching his head over his hands and feeling the weight of the letter in his waistcoat, "And I'll think it over."

 

The storm had let up just after dark. The rain has stopped and the skies had cleared but there was still a slight breeze knocking against the windows. The moon was bright, almost in defiance of the lack of light the day had shone. And he still couldn't sleep.

The moon shone in the windows, blue across the space in strict lines, making it all feel almost colder in the small room. The breeze on the windows and that cool light brought the sense of approaching winter sneaking in around him and Davos huddled deeper into the comfort of the blankets.

He tried to shut his eyes but they merely opened again on their own. The letter was lying just there on his bedside table beside the extinguished candle. It was opened, laying partly folded. In the blue light he could almost see the small, scrawled black of handwriting.

With a sigh he reached out and pulled it into his hands. Davos leaned back against his pillows, unfolded the thing to stare at the contents for what could very well have been the 100th time in the past hour.

It was quite possibly the shortest letter he'd ever received. In the dark of the room he could barely see the ink against the blue of the night but he knew the words by now. He didn't even need to look at the paper to see them across his mind, but somehow it felt right to hold it in his hands. He peered at the bottom of the page.

"Sincerely, Captain Stannis Baratheon"

He let a finger brush across the slanted neat letters. Rather like him really, so neat and strict and yet just slightly misaligned- all purpose and function without much care for grace or art.

The words ran in his head and he tried to think of how his low rough voice might sound biting out the syllables.

"…If you would come to King's Landing, as a guest."

A guest. That part stuck rather uncomfortably in his mind. He could almost hear the emphasis. It wasn't an apology of course… it couldn't be.

 

When he woke with the sun bright on his face the letter was still grasped loosely in his hand.

He made his way quickly down the steps, feeling fresher than he had in weeks for a long absent solid night of rest.

Sal was already at the table waiting for him, applying a frankly shameful amount of jam to his toast. He lifted his tea in salute to Davos as he pulled out a chair and plopped down beside him, suddenly feeling ravenous.

Sal swallowed the toast he happened to be having with his jam, "Well?"

Davos let himself smile slightly as he focused on loading eggs onto his plate, and found the words slipping out of his lips without a moment's thought.

"When do we leave?"

Chapter Text

His horse whined in protest as he tried to turn it after Sal's mare up the approaching hillside. The poor thing most certainly did not want to step up the muddy slope and Davos' unconvincing urging was not helping matters.

Sal sat above him resting his arm casually over the front of his saddle, smiling against the sunlight as Davos struggled below.

"Amused?" Davos shot at him irritably as he tried to pull the horse by the bridle around to face the hill again.

Sal chuckled from on high, "Yes, quite. You truly are awful at this, you know."

"I had noticed." Davos grumbled as the horse shook it's head violently and paced under him, "But of course, stay there, no need to help."

"Help?" Sal laughed, "What do you suggest? I get out and push."

Davos clicked his tongue at the animal but it made little or less difference. He groaned loud and rough as he leaned back feeling utterly useless.

"For God's sake Davos, just give him a little kick- and don't pull him by the mouth like that."

"How else am I supposed to pull him!?"

Sal sighed and turned his horse, leading it off out of sight.

The steed suddenly surged under him to follow, and Davos yelped slightly as he held on and the beast took the hill in three quick strides and then cantered merrily after Sal's mare.

The country spread out before them- fine, broad, greying from gold as winter grew closer and closer.

"There's the road," Sal called, pointing off over the soft hills towards a small strip of brown that disappeared towards the wood.

Davos sighed, "I don't know why we left it to begin with."

"Glorious country!" Sal proclaimed, "Isn't that what they say?"

"Who?" Davos scoffed.

"You people- The British!"

Davos smiled slightly, "Beautiful enough without a half crazy beast between your legs."

"All the better for it I would think." Sal winked lewd and jolly.

And with that he put his heels to his horse and galloped off towards the distant line against the rolls of the hills and the golden shape of the wood. King's Wood they called it, Davos knew. They were getting closer.

The traveling had gone better than he'd thought. Strange how time could seem to pass quickly and slowly all at once. It seemed ages since they'd set out from his little cottage, but he could hardly remember the days between now and then. There had been some inns, some roads, some rain, some sun, and now they were expected- set to arrive before tea.

How strange- something that felt so heavy in his chest, so solid in his guts and light in his heart and thick in his head quantified to something as simple as, "expected by tea".

His horse seemed contented enough to follow Sal's lead, so Davos let him gallop along behind, trying his best to keep his already sore body from getting any worse. The wind did feel good- he would allow riding that much, almost like a ship really, the rolling of an independent force under your body pushing you ahead through the air.

They were close now- so close.

Expected by tea.

God it was strange. He'd tried to hard not to consider it, not to let his mind amble down those thought filled corridors. He wouldn't admit that he still had the letter tucked away inside his waistcoat. He really should leave it somewhere more practical. What if he fell and it came tumbling out? Lord only knows what someone might think, but... well it just felt strange without it there. Colder somehow.

And knowing he had it made him less afraid… less, but not fearless. Somehow he couldn't shake the sensation that he would turn up the drive, walk through the doors, and instead of the slight smile he'd glanced in the light off the sea he'd instead meet the cold biting hatred of those dark eyes in the hallway illuminated only by the flickering of a candle.

He's invited you. He wants you here. If he didn't he wouldn't have written.

He'd told himself hundreds of times, stared at the words over and over and yet he couldn't forget the way he'd looked at him all those weeks ago- the distain, the disgust, the utter disapproval. It burned into him and Davos could not seem to shake it. There were other things as well, of course… pleasanter things. But those seemed somehow less powerful in the face of the fear that lingered as a bitter taste in the back of his throat.

He closed his eyes briefly- letting the breeze slap against his skin. He breathed deep and tried to imagine the boards of a deck under his feet. But he couldn't smell the sea. Not here. London was hardly a day's ride away and the ocean certainly further than that.

His eyes opened again. Somehow they'd made it to the wood. The dried leaves rustled overhead and cast crinkling shadows over the crunching dirt under the hooves of his horse. The air was fresh and sharp and cool here. He took another deep breath and the muscles of his stomach loosened a fraction.

Sal was calling something up ahead but he couldn't hear him at this distance.

His friend reigned his horse around and trotted back towards him.

"Are you?" Sal repeated.

"Am I what?" Davos asked.

"Are you ready?" Sal said almost irritable at the forced redundancy.

"Ready?" Davos said, "I don't--"

But by then their horses had turned the bend and the words slipped out of his mind.

He'd seen many things in his life, been many places, but that did not diminish what now lay before them.

The green hills spread out before them, a wide blue lake running along one side, the wood snaking about it and along the other, leaving the house- estate- castle, truly- nestled amongst a vast spread of gardens between the powerful countryside.

Even from this distance he could see the grandeur of the house. The whole thing was made of red stones, giving it a powerful appearance against the greying green of the land and the wood. Spires stretched into the sky, parapets circling level upon level of ornately adorned windows, doors, walkways.

It was massive. Davos couldn't even start to guess how many people it simply took to keep the dust clear of what must have been hundreds of rooms. The stables and other such buildings sets off from the main estate itself were larger than his old ship and his cottage put together.

And all this grandeur pressed between beautiful lands and spreading gardens with weaving paths and stone lined ponds well…

"Bloody hell…" He almost breathed.

The fear was back in his stomach and it had grown fangs.

Sal laughed shortly beside him, his own eyes still glued to the spewing wealth, "Yes… quite."

Davos suddenly felt his throat was getting smaller. The cool of the day was almost burning and his hands felt heavy and hot on the bridle.

This was a mistake. A massive mistake.

"I--" He began, "I can't do this Sal. I'm going back."

He tried to spin his horse but the damn thing was still decidedly defiant.

"What?" Sal cried turning to look at him.

"This! This whole mess- it's absurd- look at this, I can't be there- it's absurd! Utterly absurd! I'm just a sailor- less than a year hence I was a criminal! This is… I just can't. I can't."

How could he have thought he would have welcomed him? To a place like this? Someone like him? No- no, it was all wrong.

He pulled the horse harder and it snorted angrily, tossing it's head with threatening to deal with the situation on it's own if this continued.

Sal laid a heavy hand on the beast's head, grabbing hold of the bridle and holding it steady.

"What's the matter with you?" He asked Davos seriously.

"I don't know--" He almost stammered, "I don't know why I thought this was acceptable, I don't know what madness possessed me, I--"

"Davos." Sal said.

"It's absurd. Absurd! "

" Davos! " Sal almost yelled.

Davos quieted, staring down at his hands still fumbling on the bridle.

"Look at me." Sal said carefully.

Davos breathed heavily against the scent of fall.

"Davos…" Sal persisted.

He glanced up, meeting his friend's friendly smile.

"It's fine." Sal said simply.

Davos continued to look back at him for a moment and finally, finally, nodded once.

"Good," Sal said, carefully removing his hand from the bridle.

"Now… they are expecting us."

Davos took a deep breathe and shook his head.

"It's just so…"

Sal put a hand on his shoulder and squeeze reassuringly, "Look- if it's just that terrible, you can always leave. It's that simple."

Davos looked back at him and smiled almost weakly before nodding again.

"Good!" Sal grinned, giving his slight frame a solid slap to the back. And with that he turned his horse and headed full tilt down the winding drive towards the looming red shape before them.

Davos hardly had time to sigh before his own horse followed suit and then there was little else to consider except hanging on as best he could.

 

They trotted into the drive as several stable hands rushed out to meet them.

Sal was saying something to the servants, asking if their luggage arrived from the inn in good order or something along those lines. Davos was too preoccupied trying not to look directly at the massive shape of the castle in front of them. It wasn't exactly the easiest occupation. He could see the stables just down the south side of the garden, and while Sal was busy conversing with (or rather at) the sudden surge of servants, making sure it was indeed their luggage, giving instructions regarding his horse, Davos turned his own successfully for what felt the first time that day, to trot off towards the stables before someone came to take it from him and force him into company a moment sooner than could be avoided.

His efforts to ignore grandeur were not well rewarded by taking the turn through the garden. Every possible corner of shrubbery seemed to be occupied by some fine statue, and all converging of paths equally employed with presenting fine fountains to the overall aesthetic.

Davos heard himself grumble slightly as he turned to horse into the thick warm smell of the stables. The beast seemed to settle and calm underneath him at the presence of other animals and the promise of oats surely shining over the horizon of it's simple mind.

No one ran up to help him, thank the lord, they must all be out on the drive- might have not even noticed him turn this way. Well, he was plain enough that no one would assume he was worth attention.

He smiled at that. There was a upside to looking common after all.

Davos moved to swing his leg over the horse and dismount but the animal paced suddenly under him and his boot stuck awkwardly in the stirrup. With a grunt of frustration he pulled at it but the thing did not seem inclined to loosen.

This being perhaps the twenty-seventh thing that had decided to go wrong today he determined not to countenance it and gave his leg a massive pull, freeing his foot but also dislodging him from the saddle.

He yelped slightly as he started to fall, waiting for the cracking pain of the floor as he hit.

But he didn't hit. He stopped.

With the shock of his sudden unhorsing it took him a moment to realize someone had caught him under the arms- someone rigid and unyielding and good deal taller and before he knew it Davos was scrambling to regain his footing as the heat flooded up his neck.

The large hands pushed him upright awkwardly and quickly and Davos stepped back a few paces before looking him in the face.

Stannis glanced at him quickly before dropping his eyes, but Davos couldn't help but notice the flush he felt over his own face was not a solitary experience.

Stannis cleared his throat, "Alright?"

Davos ran a hand through his hair and tried to swallow some moisture back into his throat, "I-- well yes I think so, I'm sorry, I…"

"You should take more care." Stannis said simply, but something in the way his eyes focused made those words seem gentler than they had been said.

"I know," Davos almost smiled, "I'm afraid I'm hopeless at it,"

"Riding?" Stannis asked.

"Quite," Davos answered, shrugging his shoulders as he caught a hand behind his own neck and looked up at him, "Too much time at sea I suppose… it never had much use."

Stannis made a short disapproving noise in the back of his throat.

"There is use," He said, turning to face him again, "Unless you plan on returning to sea."

Davos felt his stare turn suspicious and hated how it made his stomach tighten.

"I--" He began, "Well no, no not presently."

"Then you should learn. Properly."

"It's no use," Davos almost sighed, "I have tried, I simply can't--"

"I could show you." The rough voice suddenly echoed.

Davos stared.

The man's dark blue eyes looked back at him as it were the simplest thing in the word. Nothing at all. But it wasn't, was it? Why did he feel as if the floor had dropped from under him.

"Pardon?" Davos managed.

"I could show you." Stannis said, straightening his gloves, "It's of use. As I've said. You should at least become competent."

There was a tinge of disgust in his voice but the way he glanced up at him, as if he were almost afraid he'd refuse…

"You are staying, aren't you?" Stannis asked, "That's why you're here?"

Davos cleared his throat, "Well, yes…"

Stannis was still staring at him- that frown deep on his face as if he could care little or less but hiding under his eyes remained the almost strangled plea.

"Yes," Davos finally broke through, "Yes, that- well, that would be welcome. I could certainly use instruction, as you see."

Stannis sniffed, "I should warn you that Renly found my attempts at instruction… arduous."

Davos heard himself laugh in the closeness of the stables, "Yes, I'm sure he did."

Stannis' mouth pulled ever so slightly and ever so quickly up to one side as his eyes flashed to Davos' for a moment.

But it was gone just as soon as it came.

"Well," He said simply and with that walked past him, long strides carrying him towards the house.

Davos stared after him for a moment and then followed at a distance back towards the drive.

 

By the time they arrived everyone else seemed to have made their way out to exchange greetings, even if they were sparsely spread and diversely given.

Stannis did not so much as look as Sal as he strode past, into the house and out of sight, but Sal seemed far to involved with Robert's boisterous welcome to notice.

"SEAWORTH!" Robert roared across the drive as Davos stepped closer. The man caught Davos' hand in his meaty paw and squeezed it altogether too hard, "I see you decided to join us."

"Yes, well I--"

"So, Sal!" Robert cried, pushing Davos' words aside as if he hadn't so much as heard him begin to speak, "Are we riding out tonight? Got the stomach for it?"

Sal laughed and shook his head, "Not tonight I think- we've been riding most of the day!"

"Well, tomorrow then- but no later, mark me! But you must be famished, we've a right spread prepared." He locked a heavy hand over Sal's shoulder and turned him towards the house. Davos followed, the waves of uncomfortable uncertainly crashing over him anew.

"Here, Renly!" Robert cried as they reached the steps and the boy, "Look who's come!"

Davos glanced up and was almost stopped dead with shock at the look of the boy. Where he had been all easy smiles and glimmering eyes a month or so hence there was nothing but a melancholy that would make a greek god despair.

He didn't even make an effort to smile as he looked at them quickly, only nodded and sighed in a dramatic fashion, giving Davos the impression that this demeanor was not entirely effortless.

"Yes, howdoyoudo." He said shortly as they passed and then turned to walk past them out towards the garden.

Robert tutted slightly as the boy's dreary haphazard steps led him off into the shrubberies and fountains.

"Poor lad- we left those Tyrells in London last week- utterly inconsolable since."

Sal made a little sympathizing sound.

"Right to be broken up over it," Robert continued, "We don't have nearly enough company and that Miss Maergery, well, I don't need to tell you do I, you've got eyes."

"Indeed," Sal agreed with vigor and then he and Robert were laughing again like cawing gulls and striding back into the house.

Davos lingered on the steps for a moment, watching as the boy wandering through the garden.

He'd known Robert was an oaf, but he hadn't quite known him for a fool until now. But perhaps that might be too hard- after all, it wasn't in people to see what was directly in front of them, was it? It wasn't in people to notice how the Tyrell boy and he had looked at each other, the way they stood just that much closer than necessary. The way they laughed and held the other's eye for just a moment longer as their laugher faded from the air and left only silence. But Davos as seen it, Sal had seen it he knew- perhaps here they simply pretended it didn't exist- perhaps that made things easier.

But Davos had seen it before and once recognized it was hard to forget.

It had been one of his earlier voyages- perhaps he had been thirteen- maybe even younger- there had been two boys who had looked at each other like that, laughed with each other like that. He'd been young- he'd thought nothing of it, not realized the raised eyebrows and the tongues in cheeks that the other sailors gave each other when either of them passed. He'd thought they were friends- close of course- almost brothers perhaps. He was almost jealous really, a lad of his age on a ship where everything seemed hard and everyone seemed ready to see him break or harden to meet the challenges they set. He wished he'd had someone to laugh with, to smile for, but of course he hadn't understood- at least before the storm.

It had been his first true storm and if it weren't for the rope around his waist and the strong swim he'd been developing since he could walk it would have been his last. It caught them around the Cape and splintered the mast before it was done. He'd never known rain could hurt before- never truly feared the sea until then.

In the morning it passed, a calm cool dawn rolling in as the ship limped to the southern shore with half the crew it had held. Davos had been set to mending ropes on the deck and he'd seen him- just him, not them- sitting towards the bow.

His legs dangled over the edge of the ship, and his back was to him but he could tell he was staring out at the rising sun. The ocean was almost pink after the grey of the storm clouds in the early light of the day, and the lad stood out against it all, limbs dangling uselessly, the rest of him so very still, watching the sea.

He remembered feeling sad then, knowing he'd lost a friend, wishing he could speak to him and perhaps help. But he didn't. No one did. They left him be and so he sat, all of the day.

Finally, when night came and the port was in sight Davos had stomached the courage to approach. Someone had to. Someone had to say something. He'd began walking towards him, ignoring the one man who gently tried to grab his arm and hold him back.

After a few steps he reached him. The lad didn't move.

Davos said something, he hardly remembered what- perhaps something about food or water, if he'd had any, if he wanted some. He didn't seem to hear him.

Carefully, he'd reached out his small hand and laid it on the man's shoulder. The lad had looked at him then. Davos wished he hadn't. He still saw that face- even now- clear as anything present and most nights he couldn't help praying that he never saw anything like it ever again.

By morning, when they docked safely and made the calls he was gone. They'd called his name thrice, but no one had answered.

Davos had cried that night. He'd been young- little more than a child truly- and proud and tried to hide so no one would see. The mate had found him. He'd expected the back on his hand but received words instead. The older man told him not to worry- told him he must have snuck off before the roll call, gone to find another ship with memories less fresh and voyages less dangerous. But even then, even at thirteen Davos had seen enough to know a lie when he heard it.

People didn't see, he supposed. People didn't notice, or didn't want to, or didn't even know they could. But he'd put his hand on a man's shoulder, and he'd seen the face that turned to meet him, and ever since that day Davos had never questioned where love chose to bury itself.

Renly ambled past a rosebush in the garden, wilting against the frosts of the season. Davos watched as the boy let his fingers catch against the paper petals, carefully not to crush them into nothingness.

The lad was arrogant- for certain, and dramatic, and ignorant, and spoiled… but you couldn't truly blame anyone for love.

The boy glanced up and Davos turned away, heading back indoors to follow the rest.

 

They had made it for tea after all, despite the fact that his horse had been determined to do whatever it pleased the entirely of the journey. Davos hadn't know what to expect from a man who certainly relished a meal but could be said to not care for delicacy- but it turned out that food triumphed in the end and there was a lush spread laid out in a conservatory off in the east wing.

Entering the house had been as unnerving as Davos had predicted- vast marble floors decorated with many colors and shapes had spread out under them, Great paintings hung down the walls and each and every possible inch of the place simply crawled with opulence while frankly a fleet of servants had hurried to secure his and Sal's luggage in their respective quarters.

Davos had been hurried to his chamber and hardly had time to catch his breath before having to change and make his way down towards tea. But even the short time he did have was more than enough to take in the height of the ceilings, the wealthy of the drapery, the shocking view out the tall windows of the sloping plains and spreading golden wood.

He stepped down the main steps again, hardly managing not the get lost on the way, just in time to catch Robert as he began to lead Sal towards the waiting meal that Davos was starting to feel his tightened stomach would not let him touch.

Robert led them down halls lined with mirrors against the walls that reflected the frankly outstanding work of the mural adorning the ceiling, all the while chattering away at Sal who didn't seem to look twice at all of this while Davos found himself lagging behind, craning his head about dumbly in an effort to take it all in.

He almost stumbled backwards as he sought to see all the ceiling, causing Sal to turn and give him a scolding look that almost made Davos flush before he turned away from the sights and hurried his pace to catch them up again.

The conservatory they entered was spectacular in an entirely different way. Davos might have thought he was entering a jungle with the number of planets sprawled across the interior. There were even a few cages scattered about with various birds chattering away. Thick furniture lay sprawled across the center of the tall ceilinged space, surrounding the trays brimming with fruit, pastries, and an utterly voracious amount of other delicacies.

Davos was staring with such wide wonder that when the voice came from almost at his waist it took a good deal more effort than it should have not to jump.

"Mister Seaworth, a pleasure to see you again so soon." She almost cooed.

Davos stared down at her in utter surprised and she smiled back with white perfectly aligned teeth and eyes and were slanted ever so slightly in calculation. Thankfully, Sal swept in to his rescue, although Davos quite doubted that to be the main intention of the action.

"Ah! Miss Rutilus," Sal fawned as he took her hand and kissed it with flourish, "I must admit I was hoping we might be graced with your lovely company."

Miss Melisandre smiled easily back at him, turning her head slightly as if in almost mock modesty.

Davos had to swallow a snort.

Her eyes suddenly swiveled and Davos followed them to see Captain Baratheon sternly enter behind them and take a seat. Renly slipped in just after, still decidedly morose and sat further away from the rest of, turning to rest his head on his closed hand and stare listelessly about at the greenery.

"Well! Come on now- sit, sit!" Robert ushered, "No sense letting it spoil!"

Davos dropped into the nearest seat, albeit stiffly. He hadn't realized just how sore riding had made him until this moment. His ankle still smarted rather from jerking it free from the stirrup, but then he was remembering how easily he'd caught him despite the awkwardness of his steely limbs and Davos shifted in his seat.

He glanced up at Stannis as Sal and Robert droned on about something or other- met his eyes quickly and suddenly felt rather foolish for feeling so distinctly out of place here. He was without a doubt- utterly and completely, but he wasn't alone. And the man glancing back at him had been out of place here far longer than himself.

Davos wished suddenly he was sitting closer. Perhaps he could talk to him then- it was somehow so much easier speaking to him then the others. Robert left him feeling irritated, Renly was pleasant enough but vexing in his own ways and didn't seem to wish to talk to anyone besides, and the woman was worse then all of them together. But Captain Baratheon, well, somehow he never seemed to intend to speak to him but the words just came on their own and he found himself smiling and even laughing despite it all.

Does he feel the same? Davos wondered, does he speak to them as easily as he speaks to me?

He didn't think so- he couldn't imagine it and hadn't witnesses it as of yet, unless it was to scold or chide or disparage. But he spoke to him. Perhaps it was the same strange accidental thing that seemed to take hold of himself, a simple beginning and then speaking without meaning to.

"Davos!" Sal suddenly almost called.

Davos turned sharply, as Stannis moved his own attention back to the group in somewhat surprise- had someone been speaking to him, to them?

"I'm sorry," He managed.

"Lord Robert was asking if you managed to get out for any further sport after leaving Storm's End," Sal repeated patiently, eyeing Davos critically all the while.

"Yes!" Robert boomed as he drove a pastry into his mouth, "I'm sure we left enough for you to at least get one or two."

"No," Davos said, collecting himself again, "No I'm afraid not."

"Pity," Robert muttered.

"But tell us Robert," Sal picked up enthusiastically, "Where is your lovely wife this evening- is she not at home?"

Robert grumbled something under his breath but Renly shockingly enough answered the query himself.

"She's gone to fetch him," He said.

"Fetch whom?" Sal asked.

"Joffrey," Renly answered with a distinct tone.

"Ah," Sal said turning to Robert, "Your son!"

Robert nodded solidly, taking another fistful of food, "Complained about the school, so she hurried up there a few days ago… should be back tomorrow at the latest."

Davos glanced up at Stannis who suddenly seemed intensely annoyed.

"I'm sure it will be a pleasure to have him home again," Sal smiled.

Stannis couldn't contain a snort and Renly almost laughed bitterly where he sat- or rather lounged- in his seat.

Davos tried to ignore it.

The day was already fading out over the countryside- golden light intensifying against the land as the sun drooped towards the horizon. It would be dark soon, but the clarity of the sky seemed inclined to linger and the night promised to shine blue against a large yellow moon. He hadn't realized how tired he was. But now, sitting in this chair with the weight of his nerves and all this wealth around him he suddenly wanted mightily to merely slink off to the towering chambers he'd been assigned, slip under the comforting warmth of the blankets and let numbing blissful sleep take hold.

A cool female voice suddenly broke through his thoughts.

"And what have you occupied yourself with since we last met, Mr. Seaworth." Miss Melisandre asked easily.

"Nothing of interest." He said simply.

She laughed easily, "Surely not! Come, tell us, we have missed your company."

She smiled prettily up at him and he glanced quickly at Stannis who lowered his eyes back to his tea.

"I…" Davos stammered, hardly even able to think of anything himself. The past month had seemed one endless afternoon of boredom and desperate attempts to pretend it wasn't.

"Reading," He finally managed, "There is a small library at my home, and I've been taking the time to explore it."

"Ah!" Melisandre exclaimed, "You're a great reader I am sure."

"I assure you, Miss Rutilis, I am not." Davos said, not caring for the way her eyes twinkled almost in mockery.

But suddenly Renly joined the conversation with fresh vigor.

"Have you been reading Byron, Mister Seaworth?" He said leaning forward and reaching inside his waistcoat.

"I have not," Davos said, suddenly viciously regretting starting all this to begin with.

"Oh, you must," Renly insisted, wide blue eyes full of robust emotion, "He's all the fashion, and deservedly so."

The lad pulled his hand out of his coat with a small volume clutched in his fingers.

"I have it hear you see- it's so diverting I can hardly be convinced to lay it aside."

Robert grumbled slightly where he sat, "Young lads have better things to do with their time."

Renly shot him a disparaging gaze and held the volume tighter as he turned to Davos.

"You must read it- it's a revelation!"

"Perhaps, you could read some now." Miss Melisandre said quietly.

Everyone turned to look at her, but she simply stared back at Davos with slanted eyes.

"You could read some now… for all of us."

Davos felt sick.

He glanced over at Sal who was staring back at him in utter panic.

"Oh, yes!" Renly joined, "Please do! It's been too long since we've read, and I know you'll enjoy it."

"No." Davos said simply, the fear sneaking up his throat. He knew what would happen if he opened that book. He would stumble over each and every word. It was one thing to seem rather common, it was another altogether to reveal that you were just literate.

"Come, Mister Seaworth," She insisted playfully, "Don't keep us waiting."

She knows. She bloody knows.

"Perhaps," Sal began, but Renly was standing now, stretching the book out towards Davos.

"Here!" He smiled, "Page eighteen would be a good section to begin at."

"Yes, please." She insisted.

"No, I--" He tried.

"Here, just take it and--"

"NO!"

The room stilled.

Renly remained where he was half out of his seat, the book outstretched, staring at him in utter shock. Sal sat in horror as Lord Robert stared and Davos could almost feel the woman's small smile burning as hot as the blood that rushed into his face.

"I--" He stammered, desperate fear crawling up his face.

"I will read." The stern voice suddenly sounded.

If the shock Davos had witnessed on their faces just a moment ago had been flooring this new surprise was utterly devastating.

"What?" Robert almost roared.

Renly turned, "You? You'll read!?"

Stannis sat, leaned back against his chair and if Davos hadn't know better he might have described him as furious.

"Yes, that is what I said, Renly." He grumbled through his teeth.

"But--" Renly stammered, "But you never, read! Not ever!"

"Well, you seem very intent on getting your reading, don't you. If your desperate enough for that particular diversion to harass a guest in this house, I suppose I might indulge you." And with that he snatched the book out of his hands and pulled it to his face.

Davos' heart was thudding hard against his ears.

Stannis opened the book. Robert and Renly were still staring at him open mouthed as he started to read.

It was one of the more awkward things Davos had ever experienced in the entirely of his life. Captain Baratheon was without doubt the most utterly hopeless reader of prose that anyone had ever heard. He read quickly, each word dripping with distain, stopping at least twice to stare at the page with squinted eyes as if he didn't quite believe the words were acutely written- more than once interjecting his own objections to the contents, and finally after a truly painful series of minutes shut the offensive article and placed it gingerly back into Renly's dumb hands.

It had been awful, truly and distinctly awful. But somehow Davos had not been able to stop himself from smiling.

Only a moment or two later they'd been forced to retire and dress for dinner, and it seemed that his outburst had been near forgotten. The meal passed quaintly and quietly compared to the last they had shared together, all the while filled with Robert and Sal's laughter as Davos managed to make it through what was set before him. Afterwards they'd retired to the parlor, to cards and music and drinks, and when Davos finally managed to excuse himself for the night, escaping the spreading room teeming with Robert's laughter, Renly's melancholy, and Miss Rutilus' slanted gaze he had to sigh heavily in relief.

He stepped quietly through the now dark halls, but even his slight gait seemed to somehow echo.

His hand reached out and caught the cool marble of the bannister. God he was tired. How had he managed to stay cognizant all of this time.

The yawn swelled in his throat and he raised his forearm to catch it.

Someone cleared their throat behind him.

Davos turned a good deal to quickly, the yawn suddenly strangling on it's way out and sending him into a cough.

Stannis stared at him in confusion as he tried to control his hacking in utter embarrassment.

"Are you unwell?" He asked, stern stare slanted in almost concern.

"Yes," Davos stammered, swallowing back the disturbance, "Yes- I just, you just took me by surprise."

Stannis made a small acknowledging grumble before looking up at him again. His tongue quickly slid over the corner of his mouth in that way of his and Davos realized too late he was staring but the man hardly seemed to notice.

"Were you still inclined to learn?" Stannis asked shortly.

"I'm sorry?" Davos stammered, pulling his attention away from the corner of the man's lips.

"To ride. Properly." Stannis said simply, pushing his hands almost awkwardly into his pockets.

"Oh!" Davos stared, managing to do something with his own suddenly cumbersome hands, "I- well yes, I mean to say- I, well I wouldn't want to take up your time."

"It's no trouble." Stannis said quickly, turning away almost in that instant and then turning back sharply, "Tomorrow? I would like to be out of this place when Cersei returns."

Davos swallowed, "If you like."

Stannis nodded sharp and directed and turned on the heel of his boots, vanishing back into the dark of the house.

Davos stood there for a moment on the stairs in the indigo shadows of the house before finally, he turned and let himself by the cool white light of the moon spreading through the tall windows, find his way back to his own chambers.

Chapter Text

"The bridle goes in your left," Stannis said patiently, holding it out from his own horse to show him, "And bounce lightly before you swing up to give her a sense of your intentions before mounting."

"Yes, well I'm not quite that ignorant in these matters at the very least." Davos managed, swinging himself up and over the steely grey back.

Stannis gave him a skeptical look but nodded nonetheless, leaving Davos staring at him as he easily swung his own leg over his steed and rocked his hips slightly in the saddle as he landed.

Davos looked away sharply and patted the horse under him against the neck. The mare snorted appreciatively and shook her head, sending the silver of her mane swaying prettily in the grey morning light.

Stannis had said her name was Rhea- she had been Renly's, years hence when he was learning to ride but he hardly took her these days of course. She was a silver that was almost white around her flanks and grey abound her snout. She was and gentle tempered, and old enough to not be inclined towards any particularly strenuous efforts. Her familiarity with inexperienced riders was comforting as well. For that Davos liked her well enough, she seemed inclined to at least pay him heed wether or not she would listen, and that was more than could be said for the headstrong thing he'd ridden most of the way there, a trip he was still mostly sore for.

Stannis turned his own tall black steed out towards the path and Davos' mare followed quietly behind as he shifted and tried to get comfortable where he sat.

Davos half expected him to stop and turn back in his direction, give some further instruction perhaps, but he did not. Instead he let his horse walk on at a steady pace until they were out of the gardens and heading towards the small winding trail that led past the pond towards the King's Wood.

The morning was cool and overcast- grey clouds gently pushing their way across the sky, not to be hurried by the gentle breeze rattling the dry leaves on the trees overhead.

He almost sighed at the pleasantness of it all. He'd been truly fortunate this morning and seen utterly no one. He'd risen early, feeling almost foolish for the excitement coiled tight in his chest. Stepping down the stairs he'd heard no raised voices, no clattering of activity, merely peaceful stillness. Apparently Renly had taken to sleeping later in the day, and Robert and Sal had stayed up far past he, drinking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. It seemed Miss Melisandre had gone to meet Cersei on her return journey and they would arrive closer to midday. So truly it was just them.

Stannis had met him just at the bottom of the stairs and hurried him out the door, obviously eager to be free of the place before anyone else was awake and the house returned to it's normal pace of activities.

He wishes to escape, Davos remembered thinking.

He had almost let himself smile at that without quite knowing why, but it was an escape, wasn't it. Things were somehow so much easier with just him and the quiet and the grey of the morning.

"Here," Stannis said suddenly, turning his horse about.

Davos' horse stopped on her own and waited patiently as Stannis' approached.

"Feet," He said simply, looking down with a critical brow.

Davos leaned over to look, "Oh, I- are they wrong?"

"Yes." Stannis said.

"Oh," Davos muttered.

"You shouldn't have them fully in the stirrup- it's what cause you to catch yourself yesterday. You only need the first third of your foot there- and don't let your legs get that far forward, you're not sitting in a chair. Keep your heel and shoulder aligned along your hip."

Davos stared down at his feet as he tried to slide them where Stannis seemed to think they should be, scooting himself back in the saddle slightly.

Stannis nodded once before moving his own horse forward again, slower this time, keeping pace with the mare and eyeing Davos critically.

Davos couldn't help but feel his neck start to heat under his collar at his companion's stern scrutiny. He wet his lips quickly and tried to think on something else.

"Fine morning," He tried.

"You have to move with her." Stannis said sharply, "You're trying too hard to sit still."

"I was told you have to sit straight--" Davos said with surprise.

"Your back should be straight, yes," Stannis continued, "But not your arms or your seat."

Davos could not be more grateful that he knew at least that bit of jargon and did not have to ask for further clarification.

He swallowed and then tried to loosen his hips against the motion of the trot- it was more comfortable that was for sure, despite the, well, familarity of the action to other things.

Davos glanced towards Stannis out of the corner of his eye to see if he was still scowling at him or if maybe he might be starting to get it right.

He was watching him- well he would be wouldn't he- that was the point. But some treacherous part of Davos mind only noticed how his lips were just barely separated and the way his brows were furrowed somehow deeper than usual and that watching could easily be called staring.

Stannis turned away all at once and muttered something under his breathe that he might have heard as, "Good," - if his own heartbeats weren't suddenly filling his head.

"It's better," He said after a moment and Stannis looked part way over towards him, "It feels easier than before."

"It's not supposed to be 'easier'." He said sternly, "But it is correct."

"But isn't that why things are correct," Davos said, "Because they are easier."

The corner of Stannis' mouth tugged in that way of his again as his dark eyes almost gleamed for a moment.

"No," He said, "It is because they are practical."

"Ah," Davos answered, turning back towards the trail, "Of course… very different."

Stannis gave him a sideways look that Davos might have described as irritation if it had not felt so amused, "Yes, very."

Davos smiled to himself, staring up through the dying leaves towards the grey sky.

"Will it rain, do you think?" He asked absentmindedly, still craning his neck back.

"Keep your eyes forward." Stannis said sternly.

Davos dropped his head back into place, still smiling slightly despite it all.

"No," Stannis said after a moment, "I don't think so."

"No," Davos agreed, "No, neither do I."

The horses stepped quietly over the fresh mulch of the wood. It was so very still, hardly a breeze disturbing the wood and just the occasional sound of small paws scampering over the leave litter.

Davos let himself glance over at the man beside him.

He sat tall and straight, bobbing ever so slightly in that rather circular fluid motion with each step of his horse. His short black hair was slightly rumpled to one side and Davos wondered if it had been pushed there as he'd pulled his shirt over his head. His shoulders stood out proud and stern as ever, and his legs rested easily over the sides of his steed as his slim hips moved in time with the trot. His dark eyes remained straight ahead, but there was something to them- almost a distracted concern that locked his stare directly before him to the path, although Davos had the distinct impression that he saw little of the wood around. His thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.

"Will you be glad to see your nephew?" Davos ventured.

Stannis darkened instantly, strict jaw tightening visibly.

"No," He said with terse frankness, "I will not."

"A shame," Davos sniffed, "And I though he might be gifted with his mother's charm."

He let himself glance over to Stannis then and was rewarded with the sight of a smile on his lips.

"I assure you, she has taught him well." Stannis said looking over towards him again and then furrowing his brow, "Keep your knees back."

Davos hurriedly looked down and tried to get his legs back in line, "Is he much like your brother?"

"Who? Joffrey?" Stannis answered.

Davos made a small sound of affirmation.

Stannis' turned his horse down the bend in the path, "Less than you could possibly imagine."

Davos found himself frowning at that. There was more to those words he felt but he was't entirely sure he wanted to know any more than he already did about the contemptuous woman and her offspring.

"I can't imagine how you can countenance her." Davos said, words slipping out before he could catch them.

Stannis turned to face him sharply as Davos realized only too late how utterly improper his words were. But the man beside him didn't seem to mind, in fact he almost looked grateful for some unfathomable reason.

"No," Stannis said, with what might have been a sigh if it weren't so constrained, "Neither can I."

The trail suddenly opened before them into a wide hillside. The tall grass was almost golden in the season and still scattered with pale frost that shone dull and lovely against the grey of the morning. The air felt so cool and so lovely and Davos breathed in as much as he could take, watching from the side of his eye as Stannis pulled his horse up and turned to look at him, blue eyes stark against the gold of the field and the grey of the day. He might have said he looked almost happy.

"Now," He started, "You're going to have to learn to move her properly."

Davos patted the old mare gently on the neck, "She seems to be doing just fine…"

Stannis shook his head, "She knows the trail, knows to follow me. That's all."

"Oh," Said Davos, admittedly slightly crestfallen. He'd thought he'd been doing rather well but until now.

"First," Stannis continued, obviously quite unsympathetic to his disheartened turn, "You have to stop pulling at her mouth. I do not doubt they find it incredibly vexing and it does hardly any good whatsoever."

Davos loosened his grip on the bridle quickly, "I'm sorry I--"

"Don't apologize." Stannis almost commanded, "Now- how should you move her forward?"

Davos shifted slightly in his seat, "Sal insists that I should kick her--"

"But you don't."

"No, well," Davos fumbled with the bridle, suddenly feeling quick uncomfortable under Stannis' stern attention, "It felt… wrong, somehow?"

Stannis nodded with a sniff, "It is wrong."

Davos had to stop himself from sighing in relief.

"If they are irritated enough by flies landing on their flanks, they certainly do not require 'kicking' to become aware of your presence, do they?"

He seemed to want an answer, "No…?"

"Right, so you should use your calves, simply press her lightly, and she'll know what you're asking."

Davos nodded into his chest and adjusted his chilled fingers about the reins. Why did he so desperately wish to get it right? Could he tell him to stop watching him like that? It would make everything considerably easier…

Gently he tightened his calfs around the warm girth of her grey sides. As easily as that she started stepping forward into the grass of the field, still glittering with crystalized dew.

He laughed a short surprised laugh as he watched her easily step forward, legs spryly stepping tall against the cool damp of the frost.

"Good." The rough voice said simply.

Davos turned his head to look at him then, smiling as he caught up easily and feeling his heart beat a little harder at the heat that eased it's way into his cheeks.

Stannis held his stare for a moment before clearing his throat and looking back to the horse, "Now turn her."

"I… you said not to pull her mouth?"

"Pull the reins to the side, just to the side, and press with your outside leg."

Davos lifted his hands awkwardly to the left and pushed her once. She turned her head slightly and continued on straight.

"Keep the pressure." Stannis insisted sternly.

He tried again, this time making sure he kept his leg tight to her.

And she turned. As easily as that.

Davos turned back to Stannis unable to help beaming and was rewarded with that small fragile smile looking back at him.

"Now the other way." He said.

Davos obediently pushed the other leg against her, letting his hand pull out to the side, feeling almost confident now that she would go where he wanted her to.

With a slight shake of her head she turned, skimming through the cold grass as easily as that.

"Is that right?" Davos asked turning back to him.

Stannis smiled slightly and nodded before looking back down to his own steed and giving him a solid pat to the neck.

Turned that way Davos could see where his neck broke from his collar- just observe the small diagonal scare he'd known was there. He remembered how warm it had felt under his hand, rough and warm and the sharp edges of his hair just barely there. He wondered how it might feel to run a hand through the dark of his hair, wondered if his blue eyes would flicker shut or remain tight and terrified against his own.

He'd smelled of salt and leather when they'd fallen. Salt and leather and something else… something he couldn't quite place.

"Canter," Stannis said.

"Pardon?" Davos answered, his eyes resting as he tried to drag them away from his neck.

"You need to canter." Stannis said, swinging his horse about easily to face him again.

"That is to say… faster." Davos said, feeling utterly foolish and a good deal too embarrassed with himself to be ignorant enough to not assert the statement with more confidence.

But Stannis seemed content enough to ignore that.

"Keep her at pace, move your outside leg back, and apply the pressure. Roll your shoulders forward. Don't slump. And keep your, well, tilt your hips forward." Stannis had turned away from him by the end of that sentance, and busied himself with fiddling with his own reins.

"There's a lake ahead. Try and keep up."

And as simply as that he nudged his horse and it began to hurry across the field.

"I--!" Davos called after him but he was almost gone already.

He cursed lightly under his breathe and then tried to steady himself.

"Press calves," He mouthed, doing it and feeling a little jolt of exhilaration as she obeyed moving forward under him easily and almost enthusiastically.

"Outside leg…" He muttered, pushing it back and pressing in. She sped underneath him and it took all he had not to laugh out loud.

He pushed himself up slightly, rolling his hips forward along with his shoulders and focused on the dark shape of Captain Baratheon and his horse hurrying through the grassy hillside.

The air was fresh as it beat again his face and if he closed his eyes he could almost hear the creaking of boards, the rustle of sails. But he couldn't close his eyes, wouldn't, for he might loose sight of him. The black of his coat flew gently in the air. Davos knew he was riding far from fast but the thought that he might outpace him and he would be alone in the field ready to forget everything he'd been shown was frightening enough. It was foolish but it was there- not unlike small strings wrapped around him that pulled and twined and that he was suddenly too afraid might snap if he went too far, if he lost sight of the stern shape almost graceful in it's rigid motions silhouetted against the pearly grey of the sky.

The black horse came to a sudden stop at the top of the knoll and Davos suddenly realized with a sharp sting of panic he wasn't sure he knew how to make his own halt.

But quick as that Stannis' hand reached out and caught her about the bridle and she slowed easily to stand beside his steed, as Davos realized how slowly they had truly been going and hoped dearly that his anxiety hadn't shown in his face.

He took a rather shallow breathe as he looked at Stannis' hand still tight on the reins and then up to his face- but he wasn't looking back at him- he was looking out and Davos followed his gaze to see the lake.

The trees had found their way here, snaking from the wood the linger along one side. The water lay utterly still, until his horse tossed her head with a whinny and several ducks startled from the reeds, skittering across the dark surface into the distance. A small island sat towards the middle of the steely water, holding a stone gazebo that stood ornate and serene against the landscape. One or two small golden leaves had tumbled onto the surface and floating mutely in ambling circles over the surface.

"Why did you come?"

The rigid voice sounded almost soft against the stillness of the place.

Davos turned to look at him, but his blue eyes were tight against the landscape ahead. The letter still tight in his own breast pocket suddenly felt heavy against his chest.

"I… you invited me. You said I might come."

"Yes, I am aware." Stannis grumbled, his tone almost biting.

Davos remained silent, staring down at the tiny ripples the spread across the water, distorting and shifting the trees they reflected.

"I did not think you would come." Stannis said finally, voice somehow rougher for it's quietness, "I had almost convinced myself you wouldn't."

Davos shifted in his saddle. His throat felt vexingly tighter than it had. Perhaps the ride…

"Then," He began, unable to look at him now, "You meant for me to refuse… you didn't want me--"

"No." Stannis broke in. He caught his gaze for a moment before the almost wide indigo eyes looked back towards the still surface.

"No… I mean to say… I did not think you would wish to come."

Davos looked down at his hands and tried to grasp them together against the chill but somehow he couldn't feel them despite the effort.

"I may have hesitated- to accept I mean…" He said finally, "I do not pretend to feel at ease here."

Stannis made a short bitter sound that may have been a laugh, "I have never felt at ease here."

Davos smiled at that, laughing as light as a breathe, "No… no I can see that much."

Stannis glanced towards him at that and for a moment he feared he had presumed too much, but the stony man simply held his eyes.

"Yes. Yes, I know you can."

Davos' chest tightened and he smiled back at him, small, sincere.

They sat there, in the stillness, horses lightly picking at the grass at their feet, one or two birds calling off in the wood.

Silence felt somehow full at his side, Davos thought, and time almost seemed something simple.

"But I am glad," Davos finally said gently.

Stannis turned to look at him again, brow furrowed questioningly.

Davos patted his horse, sending a soft warm solid sound amongst them.

"I am glad I came… I may not feel at ease there but, well, I suppose feel so here. With you."

Davos could feel Stannis' eyes laying against him for a moment before he turned back to the water. He was sure he would say nothing, contented and ready for the peace of the silence once again. But he did speak- low, and quick, and almost gruff.

"As do I."

 

By the time they returned it was well into the afternoon. Davos had hardly realized how far they had ridden until they began the way back, but it had hardly seemed any time at all… and yet it had felt almost as years all crowded into a handful of moments.

As he walked towards the house, leaving Stannis to see to the horses as he'd insisted, he did feel some of the results of his exertions. His legs were certainly sore and he knew they might be worse by the morning. But perhaps repetition would eliminate such ailments.

The chill of the day had been exhilarating on the ride, but now his steps were already quickening toward the warmth of the house ahead. He was sure there would be a fire in his chambers and the thought of changing before dinner and letting himself linger by that warmth for a while was increasingly motivating.

His hands were almost numb- but they hadn't bothered him until now.

They'd ridden through the wood and over the fields, stopping here and there so Stannis could correct something he was doing or exchange some quick words. But mostly it was quiet- still and peaceful, simply sharing the other's company.

Davos had learned long ago to appreciate silence and it seemed he wasn't alone in this affinity. With Robert's boisterous manner and Renly's constant charm, he gained the sense that rides like this, moments such as these, were treasured reveries for Stannis Baratheon. He might have felt intrusive at that acknowledgement, but indeed he did not feel so, rather the opposite, as if somehow just his own presence was pacifying in it's own right.

Davos rubbed his fingers together as he stepped lightly up the marble steps towards the house, glancing over quickly to see a fine carriage sitting empty on the drive.

He could guess easily enough it's owner and source and felt his stomach sink slightly at the recognition. It had been a thoroughly pleasant afternoon and suddenly the reality of obligations and company crashed in around him with a solid weight. There would be dinner with Lady Cersei's disgusted looks, Renly's distemper, Robert and Sal laughing louder than anyone had a right to, and Miss Melisandre doubtlessly taking every chance she could to slip into Captain Baratheon's affections.

Anger suddenly slunk around him and he stepped roughly up the remaining steps.

Inside there were chests and cases piled in one corner. Davos glared at them as he walked past and then stopped suddenly to avoid crashing into the back of a small figure standing idly in the hall.

The boy spun to face him and Davos was instantly shocked at the pure resemblance he had to his mother. His face was fine and fair, longer blonde hair tumbling from his brow in a way he was sure many young ladies might swoon over. He couldn't have been more than twelve- perhaps even ten, but he was already tall enough- his stance exactly that of his mother, straight and proud and almost regal. But the greatest resemblance lay in the eyes: green and cold and watching in a way that said whatever it saw did not deserve it's attention.

"Who are you?" He said sharply, glancing him up and down.

"You must be Lord Robert's son, Joffrey." Davos said easily.

"You will address me as Mister Baratheon," He corrected, "And I asked you a question."

The boy stared at him with a contempt and what felt almost like gleeful cruelty under his cold green stare. Davos suddenly had the urge to kick him in the ankles.

"Seaworth," He said, "Mister Davos Seaworth."

The lad nodded once, staring down at him somehow even though he was shorter than Davos by about a head.

"And you are a guest in this house?" He asked carefully.

"Yes," Davos nodded, "That is in fact why I am standing in it."

Joffrey smiled ever so slightly, "I thought you might be a new footman- or perhaps a gardner."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you." Davos said simply, the child was a prat to be sure but he'd experienced more than his fair share of distasteful human beings.

The boy waved his hand in a bored manner, "I suppose it's merely your hair."

"Excuse me?"

"Oh," Joffrey said, running those icy eyes over him again, "You don't know?"

Davos didn't answer him and moved to leave his wretched company but the boy's musical voice called after him.

"You see," Joffrey continued, voice simple and plain as if he were the one talking to a child, "My mother always said that our hair showed the world where we came from- gold for gold, it declares my nobility, our family's status. Gold from gold."

Joffrey inched a few steps closer, "I'd say your hair was the color of dirt."

He looked up at him with mocking innocence, "Is that where you come from? Dirt?"

Davos had never been so tempted to give someone a good hard smack across the mouth.

"Joffrey." Stannis snapped behind them.

Davos felt a shoot of delight course through him at the utter fear that crawled across the insufferable child's face.

"Yes, Uncle."

"You will apologize." Stannis loomed beside them like some great monolith of severity, "Now."

Joffrey oozed hatred as he glared back up at him, "Mother said you aren't allowed to order me about. She said I don't have to listen to you."

Stannis' stare hardened as he continued to scowl down at the boy. He let the silence go on for just a moment longer.

"Are you refusing?" He finally said, voice hard and low and just quiet enough to feel almost threatening in it's restraint.

The boy could only manage to look at him for a moment before dropping his eyes and muttering under his breathe, "It's not fair."

"Pardon?" Stannis asked.

Joffrey winced, "I said: 'I apologize for my behavior, Mister Seaworth'."

"You will look people in the eye when speaking to them Joffrey." Stannis reprimanded and the bitter little green glower snapped up to Davos' face.

"Apologizes." He almost spat.

Stannis raised his chin, "Now go dress for dinner."

"Mother said--"

"That you would be joining us for dinner." Stannis said simply, "Was she wrong?"

"No, but--"

"Go, Joffrey." He gritted, "Now."

The boy took one more glare at him before pouting his way at a quick pace up the stairs.

"I apologize for his behavior." Stannis said, watching as the lad's angry steps carried him up and out of sight.

Davos laughed, "I'm quite sure it's not your fault- there's no need to apologize."

"There is." Stannis insisted teeth still tight, "He is my nephew and I--"

"He's not your son," Davos smiled, "I'm sure if he was, his manner would be a decidedly different creature altogether."

"But as it stands--"

"As it stands he seems a perfectly spoiled little monster." Davos said simply.

Stannis made that choked bitter noise again that might pass for a laugh and Davos smiled, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye.

"Trust me," He said, "I have seen far worse."

The way Stannis looked at him seemed to indicate he didn't think that was the case but he nodded despite it.

"Well," Davos said after a moment, "I should…"

Stannis glanced at him quickly and gave a short nod as he turned to walk up the stairs.

Davos made it three steps before he stopped and turned; "Did I… well- thank you, for helping, with the riding, I mean."

Stannis stared at him and nodded shortly.

"But, well, I don't suppose I am fully… well, I mean to say--"

"There is room for improvement." Stannis said shortly, grasping at the threads Davos was frantically trying to weave together.

"Yes, yes that's what I meant to say." He managed.

Stannis' blue eyes remained tight on his own, his hands wound carefully behind his back as he stood straight and tall over the spreading marble design of the floor.

"If you'd care to go again--"

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Of course- I mean, well, certainly. Yes. I would."

Stannis bowed his head and cleared his throat. His eyes snatched at Davos' for just a moment more.

"Good."

And with that he stepped away down the long cold hall.

Tomorrow passed much as it's predecessor, and that night he didn't bother with asking. Stannis was there the next morning, waiting in the cold of the dawn as Davos walked out of the sleeping house, through the still gardens, and towards the stables. Davos would approach and Stannis would see him- eyes without surprise, without expectation, but his mouth would pull, just slightly in that corner, and when he held his glance, Davos now knew it indisputably for what it was and he couldn't help but smile back.

Chapter Text

The buttons on his cuff had apparently decided this was a good time to be disobedient. His hands were still stiff from the afternoon and the wretched things slipped and stuck under his clumsy fingers with admirable determination.

It was well and truly cold now that the season had set in, and riding through most of the day (gloves or no), had left him sore and chilled. But, there was the deep satisfaction as well; of the same kind he'd carried with him these past weeks. The afternoons left him flushed and exhilarated and indeed he found himself smiling through what would have otherwise been wretched dinners in worse company.

The exercise, he told himself. It was doing him good, and didn't everyone know the benefit of such things- know that outdoors and exertion only lead to better health and temperament?

The consistency's positive effects did not seem limited to his own person. During dinner he would glance across the way, or afterwards look across the parlor, and notice how Captain Baratheon seemed somehow a little less pale, face not quite as hollow as it had been, eyes just that much brighter. Rushing about on horseback in the cold did such things, Davos supposed. But sometimes, when Stannis' mouth tugged in that manner of his, or he glanced at him with his chin cocked ever so slightly upwards and eyes almost soft- sometimes he let himself wonder… but it was foolish and he wouldn't let the thoughts linger.

The button slipped under his finger for what must have been the tenth time and he cursed quietly to himself in the stillness of the room. Behind him the fire flickered friendly and warm against the bounds of the hearth and he was already wishing for the moment when he could crawling into the warmth of blankets and softness of the down. Indeed he was less sore this week than he had been the one before- it was getting easier, each time, and there was a sense of satisfaction there that he remembered feeling when he was first learning to sail. His father had taught him at first, and the sensation of each day's corrections lessening bit by bit and the simple ability to know that you were no longer a burden, was rewarding and exhilarating in it's own very particular way.

Finally the blasted thing slipped into place and he let himself glance quickly up into the mirror that faced him. He sighed, quick and gruff, at what he found. He'd never been handsome. He'd always known that- and certainly looked quite common indeed. If there was one thing to be said about him, it was that he was a fine example of the utterly ordinary. He ran a hand quickly through his brown hair, trying to push it into place, but it was useless. With the wind and the weather in its usual distemper, he knew it would remain as unkept as it pleased. His clothing was no better than his looks- simple and plain and little more, but he brushed his hands down the jacket and fiddled with his collar despite the painful awareness that it made utterly no difference whatsoever.

He took one last glance at himself, tried as smile, sighed at the fact that it did little to improve matters and still fiddling with his cuffs turned towards the door.

 

Downstairs the house was all aglow- somehow brighter against the chill of the season. Thankfully, Lady Cersei and her little terror were not with them this evening, but Sal and Robert were already booming away as Renly stared dejectedly into the fire and Lady Melisandre calmly watched Davos enter.

Stannis stood by the hearth, resting one arm up against the mantle and Davos smiled at him quickly as he made to cross the room. He didn't smile back. He was listening, to Sal and Robert, and there was a crawling sense of disgust and anger to his visage.

Davos slowed just short of reaching him, holding back skeptical of the mood he might find, but soon enough the source of his discomfort was clear.

"The ships could be ready as soon as you need them." Sal said easily, rolling his drink in his hand, "I have more than enough to carry a fair number of goods, and the investment will reward indisputably."

Davos felt his stomach sink with a firm tug.

"You might even come along if you wished it," Sal smiled, "There's a good deal more fun to be had in India than one might think, and I do not think I mistake your taste for adventure."

"Certainly not!" Robert roared, "I'm sure there must be some proper sport over that way."

"I did shoot a rather fine tiger last time I had the fortune to pass that way." Sal said casually, knowing very well how much diversion his words caused.

Robert's eyes lit up like firecrackers, "You never! You must be having me on Sal, old boy."

"I would never be so cruel." Sal laughed, holding a hand up in solemnity.

Robert stared off into what must have been the growing jungle of his mind, "A tiger… that would be quite a trophy indeed."

"Would you be joining them?" Miss Melisandre asked quietly to Davos as the giddy adventurers gabbled on.

Davos glanced down at her sharply, "No."

"But you have been to India?" She persisted.

Davos tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but with Sal and Robert's roaring and the persistent noise of Captain Baratheon grinding his teeth together in utter ire, it was making it rather difficult to restrain anxiety, "I have been yes."

"As have I," She said simply, leaning back, "I thought perhaps it would be exhilarating… sailing towards the sun's home, but I saw little and less that I cared for."

Davos couldn't hide his surprise, "You... have been to India, that's--"

"A long voyage for one of weaker sex, yes, I have been told." She smiled at him, "But tell me, why not journey there yourself once more? It sounds as if it is to be quite the adventure."

Davos was hardly listening, too occupied noting the daggers Stannis was shooting across the room towards the oblivious occupants, "I've had more than enough adventures for a lifetime."

"Pity," She said, "But I would venture to say they have not had enough of you."

Davos looked down at her now, "And just what do you mean by that Miss Melisandre?"

She easily ignored his tone, "Merely that we are who we are. There is no escaping it. We may pretend we are otherwise, we may enjoy a masquerade for some time, but in the end it is simple enough…"

She looked him right in the eye, "There is black," And she turned to look towards Captain Baratheon, "And there is white… dark and light, night and day, good and bad, and although we might find it diverting to act, to play at being other than we are, it will never be so."

When had the anger lit in his chest? Suddenly he could hardly hear Robert and Sal's ribald voices, as the satisfied look on the face of the woman before him drowned out all else.

"And what are you, Miss Melisandre? Is this a diversion for you- or is this the truth that cannot be denied?"

She smiled back at him, easy, calm; "Why it is the truth of course? Is it not apparent… I see your truth Mister Seaworth, I would have thought mine was just as transparent."

"You are transparent enough, Madam." He answered quickly, glancing quickly to where Stannis stood seething at the rest of the room.

She laughed then, a pretty lilting sound, "I make no efforts to avoid being so. But at least I know my aims."

She lifted an eyebrow at him and Davos felt his neck heat as he turned away from her, "I don't know what you mean."

"Of course you do not," She said, "That is precisely what I mean."

"How did you even come to this place?" He asked suddenly in a low voice that was almost a hiss as he turned back to face her, "A 'companion' of Lady Cersei's? I haven't seen you exchange more then ten words with our hostess, neither here nor at Storm's End. It must be a very close friendship indeed to understand each other so without the aid of words, to continue in such confidence without keeping any company."

"Lady Cersei is a woman who sees clearly the world and the opportunities it allows for." Miss Melisandre said simply, "I became acquainted with her during this past season in London. She thought that I might be welcome company here."

She leaned slightly closer to him, and he could smell the dark scent she wore wafting over him, making his eyes heavy.

"She thought I might be welcome company to some who seem to deny all company, company that might do this family well in the future. And I must say, it is company I would enjoy keeping. Company I plan to keep. For I am exactly where I should be Mister Seaworth, they all know it, and I know it. How many times a day must you wonder if you are were you should be…"

She stared off slightly, almost meditative, "Aims must be so much clearer on the sea, compared to here- this place you do not know… I see the confusion on your face. It's as plain as your sense of discomfort. There is no shame in it. It's simply black and white, dark and light…"

She looked at him, "Do you ask yourself why you are here? You must struggle for an answer… perhaps it is time for you to find another adventure."

And with that she stood gracefully and crossed the room to where Captain Baratheon stood as the rest began to make their way in towards the waiting meal spread out for them.

Davos stood where she left him, staring emptily into to patterns of the rug. He would not notice she took Captain Baratheon's arm, leading him towards the laden dining table as he stewed in furious distraction.

After a long moment Davos followed them in silence.

 

The morning broke colder than the last.

He'd been awake, watching half without seeing as it slunk across the fine floors with grey fingers. Somehow it was cold- even under the warmth of the blankets. From where he lay he could see nothing out the tall windows but grey- seemingly endless grey.

Snow, he thought idly. It almost looked like snow, but that was foolish wasn't it… it wasn't quite that cold yet.

He should rise. It was past dawn. He would be waiting by now, down past the gardens, the stable doors ajar, waiting with the horses, silver and black, breathing hot steam in the cold of the morning flicking their heads side to side, eager to depart.

He would be standing just there, tall, despite the weather, never hunched over for warmth, hands defiantly at his sides, or perhaps crossed tight against his chest at the very most. Would he be looking for him? Waiting for him? Perhaps if Davos just waiting long enough here, as he had been, he might leave. Perhaps he would grow tired of waiting, even angry with him and go on his own.

Her words wouldn't leave his head. They'd dug in as deep and sharp as her stare.

"We are who we are. There is no escaping it."

He rolled over, hard, almost angrily.

"Do you ask yourself why you are here? You must struggle for an answer… "

It wouldn't be long now. If he just waited, he would go. He must. He would be angry to be sure, angry and frustrated… that was if he was even waiting for him. Did he have any reason to think he would? He had for weeks now, that much as true, but what was to say he would be there this particular morning? Davos had seen his face, seen him listening as Sal wriggled his way into Robert's favor further. Who was to say that he wouldn't think he was just the same? Sal was his friend. Even Davos did not deny that. There was no reason Captain Baratheon would not judge him to be of the same manner, to not see him with equal distain.

"Black and white, dark and light…"

He might have let himself think Davos was different, there alone in the fields and the wood. He might have forgotten who he truly was. But there was no denying it after last night. The talk had only gotten worse as the evening wore on and by the time Davos had no choice but the retire for the shame of it all, Robert and Sal were on the verge of choosing the best guns to take on the voyage.

Davos had seen how angry he was without so much as glancing at him. It had radiated off him in heavy waves and he hand't spoken to him the whole of the evening. Hadn't so much as glanced in his direction.

He wouldn't be waiting.

Davos saw her face again, heard the words. She'd made it all seem so simple- the simplest thing the the world. He wasn't like them, and that's all there was to it. He knew it. They all knew it. It was simple.

"Black and white, dark and light…"

But Stannis knew that, didn't he? He'd known that from the first time he saw him.

She'd made it sound so simple. But it was another voice he heard now in the quiet cold of the grey morning.

Some truths are not so simple.

 

By the time he reached the garden, his feet were moving with such haste he almost felt the frosty grass slipping under his riding boots. The ice crystals were everywhere- covering each and every object of the world in a thin shining coat of white and silver to match the sky that still sat as one universal swath of pale grey.

His own breath slipped out rushed and white in front of him as he hurried around the edge of the lawn. The ground crackled under his feet but he hardly heard it, hardly noticed, as his cheeks began to go red against the cold of the morning. He could see the roof of the stables just beyond the next line of shrubs and turned it quicker than he should, slipping out suddenly and barely catching himself before tumbling down to the cold grass.

He'd half expected a hand to catch around his arm, but it didn't. As he stood he let himself look.

Nothing. No one.

The stable door stood open. He could see one or two hands moving slowly against the cold as they went about their chores, breathing hot white clouds and holding their arms close to their sides. But no grey mare perking up her ears as he appeared, no black stallion pacing roughly at the ground in anticipation, no stern faced man holding them steady.

He had been right. After all of it. And so had she.

"You're late."

This time he did turn too fast, but thankfully his feet did not decide to abandon him.

"I--" He stammered, the weight of shame and foolishness crashing heavy over his shoulders.

Stannis eyed him hard, evaluating, "You were coming this way I take it."

"Yes," Davos said, not realizing that his journey here had left his quite so out of breathe, "I just- well I suppose… I'm sorry. You are right. I am late. Shamefully."

Stannis looked away from him and Davos followed suit, turning his attention down to his own feet, but he couldn't help glancing back out of the corner of his eye.

Captain Baratheon seemed as he always did- stern, frowning, distant. He might have even said irritated, but there was something else to it, something he might have called concern. His breathe was catching in the air almost as quickly as Davos' own.

"It's cold." Davos said finally.

"Mm," Stannis nodded with a small rumbling sound that must have come from his throat but somehow felt deeper.

"I put them in." He said, "It's too cold for them to wait without moving. I wasn't sure--"

"Oh," Davos said unable to hide his disappointment, "Well, I suppose if you've already gotten them settled--"

"No," Stannis answered rather suddenly, "I, well- they are still ready. I thought you might merely be late."

Davos couldn't help smiling up at him, "You had the right of it. And I do apologize."

Stannis looked back at him for a moment and then sniffed as he turned away, "Yes."

And with that, he was striding towards the stables.

Davos followed him as best he could, but somehow he always seemed to outpace him just slightly- wether walking on legs a good deal longer than his own or riding certainly better than he thought he would ever manage to.

Once inside, the warmth of the beasts swept over them and Davos realized just how cold it must be to feel the change so keenly.

Stannis was busy taking the reins of both horses from one of the hands.

"It looks like snow, Sir." The lad said nervously as Stannis patted his horse along the nose.

"Yes, I can see that." He answered.

"I'm sorry, Sir, I just meant to say--"

"We will be aware of the weather," Stannis said as he began to lead the steeds away, but stopped short and turned back, softened just slightly, "There's no need for concern."

The boy nodded but the worry was still plain against his face. Davos tried to smile at him reassuringly but it didn't seem to do much good.

Stannis led the horses out towards the garden and Davos followed close behind, stopping as soon as they were free of the doors to give his mare a friendly pat.

"Where are your gloves?" Stannis' voice sharply.

Davos glanced over to him and then back at his hands.

"Oh, I…"

He was in such a rush to leave he must have forgotten them. Bloody fool.

"I must have left them, I can go back--"

"No," Stannis snapped, Davos could see his jaw tightening in impatience, "Robert wanted to.. well, it doesn't matter. We'll leave now. Here--"

And with that he started peeling off his own black leather gloves.

"Oh no!" Davos tried to protest, shaking his head a good deal too hard, "No, I couldn't."

"Don't be absurd." Stannis frowned, tossing the gloves towards him.

Davos caught them, feeling the warmth of the leather seep into his hands in a distinctly, well, pleasant way.

"But what about you?" Davos insisted, not wanting them, and yet holding their warmth altogether too tightly, "I can't--"

"I insist." Stannis said in a way that combined with the manner in which he planted cold blue stare on him, well, it brooked no argument.

Davos sighed and nodded his head as Stannis turned back to his own horse and began mounting up.

Davos ran his thumb over the fading heat of the leather once more and then tentatively pulled the things over his own fingers. They slipped on easily, fine and soft and too big for him by half, but the feeling of warmth- his warmth, still clinging to the fabric, pressing into his hands that sat now where his own had been so shortly before…

He cleared his throat sharply, hoping his head would followed suit and turned towards the silver mare who was nudging at him in her eager benign way.

He swung up onto her and rummaged the reins into his hand quickly, fumbling slightly against the oversized gloves as Stannis headed straight down the trail and into the wood.

Davos followed him as quickly as he could, turning down the path and onto the frozen trail. But as soon as Captain Baratheon hit the wood he picked up speed, rushing faster than Davos had ever seen him ride ahead and towards the fields.

With a nudge he sent the mare speeding after him and was surprised at his own ability to keep apace, even if he could never quite get alongside him.

The fields broke open in front of them and Stannis didn't pause before turning his steed sharply to the side and shooting across them into the cold grey of the morning.

Davos hardly had time to think before he was forced to follow. He was riding harder than Davos had ever seen him ride, tearing across the field as if escaping something. The frosty grass rolled under them like one silver sheet, matching almost seamlessly the pale of the sky overhead. The cold air slapped against him as he tried to keep pace, slicing across his cheeks and his ears, catching up under his coat and sending the cold into his very bones. But he tried not to feel it, tried not to let his eyes blur with water against the wind so he could keep sight of him, the streaking black shape against the silver.

Stannis didn't slow. Not over the next hill, nor the next, not through the wood past the lake and not even along the path that wound further along then they had ever gone before.

And then he stopped. Suddenly, sharply, and quite definitely.

Davos caught up beside him within a moment, slowing his horse down at quickly as he could, almost gasping for breathe himself as she tried to recover from the ride.

He leant over the saddle, breathing hard and hot and blinking his eyes against the tears that had formed there in the cold. His ears burned and his cheeks were raw and despite the biting weather he hated himself for accepting the gloves. He could only imagine what cold Stannis' fingers felt after that…

Glancing over he looked towards them but his attention caught half way there.

Stannis was breathing hard as well- the ride had been energetic to say the least- but he didn't seem capable of unclenching his jaw and so his chest heaved just enough to see as he breathed heavily through his nose, lips sealed tightly shut. His cheeks were red and raw as Davos' own must be and his hair was askew from the haste of the journey. Davos glanced down- Stannis' knuckles were bright red against the reins, and tight. Quite tight.

"I can't," Stannis said suddenly, voice hoarse and almost panting after the exertion, "You know that."

Davos was still recovering himself and his mind was working slower than it should be- the meaning of his words becoming caught and confused as his breathing.

"Can't what?" He settled for helplessly.

"Can't let him go." Stannis said, "I can't allow it."

Davos' stomach tightened in a way that was becoming sickeningly familiar, "You mean to say… Sal and Robert?"

Stannis nodded, hard and tired against the cold, "My family- you must understand..."

Davos almost laughed, "I don't. I don't know if I ever will."

Stannis tightened his brow in irritation, "There are considerations. I cannot allow Robert to associate--"

Annoyance was starting to snake around Davos' throat, "It's nothing to do with me." He said sharper than he meant, glancing up at him, "Truth be told it's little to do with you."

Stannis ground his teeth, "It is very much to do with me."

"Why?" Davos asked, voice rushed and louder than it should have been from his shortness of breath, "Why must it be? It's Robert's life- his choices, be they poor or otherwise. Why should they effect you so distinctly?"

"He is my brother, they both are, no matter how much it might vex me." He shook his head, "His decisions effect more than himself. We have a legacy to consider."

Davos almost laughed, "What? To that boy? You care for Robert's affairs for the sake of the legacy you will leave that spoiled creature?"

Stannis looked away from him, "There are other considerations."

"He doesn't have other children." Davos said simply, "What other considerations could there be?"

"His choices reflect this family. And this family is not limited to him." Stannis said definitively, "I cannot allow it."

He turned and looked at him then, almost desperate, "You must know that. You must be able to understand."

Davos looked away, "It's not my affair, as I have said."

Stannis almost growled to himself in the cold, "You cannot make things that simple."

"They are that simple."

"No," Stannis said turning, "You are his friend, that much is apparent--" The word sounded strange against his tongue.

"Old friend." Davos corrected.

"Is there a difference?" Stannis asked, and Davos almost laughed, until he realized with a rather sickening feeling that Stannis did not know. He had never known.

"Yes," Davos said with a sigh, "Quite a significant one."

"And that is?" Stannis asked.

Davos rolled a hand against his hair, "I suppose it's tolerance more than friendship."

Stannis made a snorting sound that might have been a laugh and Davos turned to him in surprise.

"What is it?" Davos asked.

Stannis smiled at him in that half pained manner of his, "I might say the same… tolerance more than brotherhood."

Davos laughed, shortly, "Yes, I suppose you might... But I don't let Sal's affairs concern me."

"Perhaps you should, if you care for him." Stannis said, and as he spoke his tone darkened in a way that made Davos' skin prickle uneasily.

He didn't answer him right away. But when he did, the words were somehow easier than he felt they should have been.

"He can care for himself."

Stannis nodded as he stared out over the fields. Davos followed his attention out, towards the hills and where they all too easily met the sky. How late was it in the day? In this weather, it was hard to tell. They sky had been an encompassing pale grey throughout it all, but now he began to wonder.

A single pale flake of snow drifted past his face.

He sat up sharply.

Another fell. And another.

He glanced over towards Stannis, but the Captain was still staring out at the field with a furrowed brow and didn't seem to have noticed.

"Stannis," Davos said almost softly.

He turned on him suddenly, eyes wide and so very blue against the silver the the landscape. He looked surprised and only then did Davos realize he'd said his name. But it was too late now, wasn't it? It would only be foolish to apologize, and something in the way he was looking at him seemed to say that he did not find it an impertinence.

"It's snowing." He finished carefully.

Stannis glanced around them at the scattered white flakes, brow furrowed almost comically at the weather. But, Davos didn't let himself laugh or even chuckle no matter how absurd he looked scowling at the snow.

Stannis shook his head slightly, "We'd best head back… it might get worse, and it will be dark before too long."

"Dark?" Davos said, "We can't be that far."

"We are." Stannis said simply and turned his horse rather hurriedly back towards the path.

The poor beasts were thoroughly exhausted from their earlier strain and so they did not push them past a trot as they soldiered down the trail.

The snow was not so hesitant. Each flake seemed to multiply and by the time they had been on their way for hardly half and hour it was coming down with sever persistence. If it had not been concerning, Davos might have called it beautiful.

Stannis spun his horse about. "It's no use. We'll have to stop."

Davos looked around. The snow was falling thicker each moment in gathering silence and he knew he was right.

"Where?"

"The parsonage."

Davos shivered as the snow seeped in against his coat, "It's not--"

"Robert took issue with the last parson," Stannis said, not entirely without venom, "It's been empty two months hence."

Davos glanced about, it did seem to be getting dark, if only just, and the trail ahead was harder to see through the thick of the snow than it had been only moments before.

"Is it far?" He asked.

"No." Stannis said, and with that he turned his horse round and down a bend in the trail they had not previously taken, the hoof prints of his horse disappearing steadily under the weight of white.

Chapter Text

By the time the small shape of the parsonage emerged out of the trees and the steady sheet of descending snow, Davos could not have been more thankful. He was already shaking, and his nose felt almost numb. He was wet through, and knew that if they did not stop soon, at least one of them was sure to catch cold.

It was a fine little house- rather lopsided, but charming. The roof looked as if it could use tiles, and the garden seemed overgrown, but overall a well appointed quaint place that would make anyone a cozy residence.

Ahead of him Stannis swung down from his horse and hurried towards the house. He caught up the handle heavy iron handle of the thick front door, fiddling with it as Davos dismounted and approached the door behind him.

Davos heard what might have been a curse and looked down to see Stannis' fingers, so red that they must have been numb, trying their best to move against the cold metal.

Without thinking, Davos reached forward and gently but persistently pulled his fumbling hands away. They felt like ice, even through the gloves that he quickly shed and pressed into them hastily.

 "Here," He said roughly. Stannis stared.

Davos tried to ignore it as he turned back towards the door. The lock was frozen shut, but he grit his teeth and shoved his shoulder against it.

It cracked.

He shoved again, hard enough to hurt this time and the thing gave under him as he stumbled slightly inside the doorway. It was dark, and smelled of dust and cold. He looked around, but there wasn't really much to see. Stannis pushed past him into the little house, reaching down towards the side table near the door for what must have been candles and a light. Davos couldn't help but notice that he'd put the gloves back on after all.

"We'd best start a fire." Davos said, looking around for the quickest way to go about doing it.

"Around the back of the house- by the kitchen's door," Stannis said shortly, still groping at the light, "There should be wood. There's a hearth in that parlor." He jerked his head sharply towards the dark passage way down to their right.

Davos took one deep breath, and pushed back out into the snow. It was falling even thicker somehow, and he had to blink hard to keep it out of his eyes. Everything seemed utterly still- the snow falling heavy and wet in unwavering courses down to the earth. It didn't seem to be sticking, or at least not much of it, but it was cold and damp and his jacket was almost soaked by the time he found the wood, which was thankfully stowed dryly under an awning.

He was about to turn back when he stopped, already hating himself for it, and shrugged off his jacket to cover the pile for the journey back. He shivered hard against the cold and the snow was soaking his shirt much faster than it had his coat, but he blinked against it and hurried towards the door once more. By the time he kicked it back and pushed in, it seemed Stannis had managed to get the candle lit and was rummaging through some cabinets.

He looked up as Davos dropped the wood heavily to the floor and his blue eyes went wide with shock.

"Your… what's happened? Where's your coat?"

Davos was still catching his breath from his hurried retreat back indoors and simply jerked his head towards where it lay splayed across the logs.

"Wet through anyhow," He said, "Not much use."

Stannis was still staring at him and Davos tried not to let his attention send that warm sparking feeling into his gut.

"Your…" Stannis began, raising his hand to mime some vague shapes around his head.

"What? Oh--" Davos answered, as the understanding dawned. He shook his head slightly and white chunks of fluff fell away from his hair and down onto the floor.

"Oh… I didn't mean--"

"Nothing," Stannis rasped, clearing his throat once, "It's nothing."

And with that, he walked past him towards the door.

"I'll see to the horses, if you'd start the fire."

Davos wished the poor man didn't have to go out into the snow, but Stannis was gone before he had time to protest, so, with an encouraging sniff, Davos turned to the logs and hauled what he needed off into the parlor.

It didn't take long. The wood had been dryer than he'd let himself hope for, and within a few moments a jolly little flame was sending orange shadows dancing across the floor of the parsonage. Most of the furnishings were covered in drab white cloth, awaiting the next inhabitant in stony silence, but Davos took the liberty of tossing one of the sheets aside and pushing the settee it had covered closer to the fire. He might find it perfectly acceptable to sit upon the ground, but he somehow thought he should not ask that of someone as well born as Stannis Baratheon.

Sitting on the faintly mouldy-smelling settee, he fed logs bits steadily into the hungry flame, feeling somehow calm as the heat seeped in around him, drying his shirt and warming his hands.

The door out in the hall opened with a bang and he turned to see Captain Baratheon hurry back indoors, arms clasped tight across his chest. Davos put his attention back on the fire, suddenly eager for it to be even warmer at the sight of the snow blowing in the door, and to that effort, he piled on a larger log towards the back. Behind him, he could hear Stannis rummaging with something. He heard the wood of cabinet doors, clinking of glass, and then the heavy stern steps headed towards the parlor.

Davos turned to see him as he entered, "Are they alright?"

Stannis stepped into the room. He still had snow in his hair and on the shoulders of his jacket. It seemed somehow whiter against the black, and his eyes glowed sharply in the small light of the fire.

"Yes," He said quickly, furrowing his brow in the direction of the flames, "There's a small stable. They should be fine there at least until the snow stops."

"Do you think it will?" Davos asked, staring out into the indigo of the evening as the snow persisted in its steady march towards the earth.

Stannis followed his gaze, "It must. It's too early in the season, far to early for this sort of thing."

"Yes, I know," Davos said carefully, "But it might not stop. Not tonight at the very least."

Stannis shifted uneasily, "Then we shall simply have to remain here until it does."

Davos was determined not to let his chest go all light and fluttering, again, throughly determined.

"But what about your brothers, and Sal, and the others? Won't they be concerned if we do not return?"

"What do you suggest?" Stannis snapped in irritation, "That we go back out, ride in the dark, in this weather?"

"No," Davos said, turning away, "No I… well, I was only concerned."

Stannis made a quiet raspy sound that might have been a restrained sigh, "No… yes, quite right. But I would not worry yourself with their concern. I'm sure they will surmise we have done exactly what we are now occupied with."

Davos nodded, pushing the log towards an angle slightly so the air could catch under it all the better. The clinking glass sounded again.

"I thought-" Stannis began uncomfortably and Davos turned again to notice that he was holding a bottle of amber liquid, and a single glass.

He held the things out awkwardly towards Davos.

Davos stared.

"For the cold." Stannis gritted out, "Or against it, rather."

Davos eyed the things suspiciously. It was certainly whiskey of some sort. The bottle was well dusted over and in the dim light he could see little else to clarify matters.

"There's only one glass." He said finally.

"Yes." Said Stannis sternly.

Davos frowned, "You'll catch cold."

"The fire will serve."

"It's not enough," Davos insisted, "I've seen men die from less. The pneumonia sets in unless--"

Stannis cut him off as he sighed roughly through his teeth and turned back round, returning after a moment with another glass.

He sat on the opposite end of the settee and began working at the cork but his hands slipped.

Still too cold.

Davos reached out easily and took the thing from him, noticing perhaps a bit too clearly how his thumb brushed past his. It was cold. Even now, too cold.

Davos pulled the cork with his teeth, smiling to himself at the look it put on Stannis' face. But it didn't matter. He'd made them a fire. He was allowed to not be a perfect gentlemen. Davos poured two glasses and passed one to Stannis. His companion stared at it with what might have been disgust, swirling the amber liquid back and forth tentatively.

Davos watched him, half smiling with one eyebrow cocked, "Looking at it does not quite carry the same medicinal effect."

Stannis glanced at him with what might have been a sneer and tipped some of the liquid back, leaving Davos to watch as his long neck arched out of his jacket and bobbed as he swallowed.

Davos pulled his own glass to his lips, feeling the warm peaty heat of it slip down his throat and into a glowing center around his stomach.

Scotch after all, he thought absentmindedly.

He glanced back at his companion, "Your coat's wet through."

Stannis said nothing, he was staring down at the drink in his hands.

Davos fell silent, but after a moment Stannis stood, tall, casting long black shadows across the floor and shrugged it off, hanging it close to Davos' own near the heat of the fire before sitting back down and sipping again.

Davos leaned back and stretched out his legs, letting his eyes rest on at the jackets. They hung close enough to touch, there against the hearth. His own, a plain faded brown, Stannis' black and fine. One or two drops of water fell from them, joining together in a small puddle on the floor.

He breathed in deep, the warmth of the scotch wrapping its comforting fingers around his stomach and chest, making his head dance ever so slightly after so long without food. He could smell the fire, and the snow, and him- leather, and salt and that other scent he could never quite seem to place… He shouldn't feel calm. He shouldn't feel happy. They'd ridden hard and gotten themselves trapped in an anomaly of a storm with no food and no ready means of extraction. But, he did. Just now, in this place, with the fire warming him, and the smoky taste on his tongue.

They sat there, safe from the snow- falling so hard that the inaudible noises of thousands of flakes muffled out all other things. Every once in a while the fire would crack and Davos would lean forward to add a log. The little room was almost warm now, or at least certainly not cold. Davos did not ask permission to refill their glasses but Stannis did not protest. He simply sat, staring into the flames, looking almost peaceful in the flickering orange light.

Davos found himself wondering hazily if they might fall asleep right like this, sitting side by side in the light of the fire. It was a rather nice thought. Perhaps in the night they might slip closer together, leaning ever so slightly against the other against the cold. But no, he mustn't fall asleep. If he did, the fire would go out and the cold would slip back in. Stannis could sleep. He would let him sleep. Perhaps even after he drifted off his coat would be dry enough and Davos could place it over him to keep to cold as far off as he could.

"When did you learn to make a fire?" Stannis said suddenly.

Davos realized he had been staring at him, but somehow he didn't quite have the energy to stop himself now.

"Oh, long ago," He said sleepily, "Quite long ago."

Stannis stared into the flames. One hand lay loose at his side, holding the glass easily. The other arm, Davos found himself wondering at- when he had thrown the thing casually over the back of the settee? But it must have been a while hence. Strange that he hadn't noticed…

"Who taught you? Do you remember?"

Davos nodded, "I do,"

Stannis glanced at him them, eyes sharp against the firelight and Davos realized he hadn't answer his question fully.

"Oh," Davos stumbled, "My mother. My mother taught me, when I was a boy."

Stannis watched him carefully, "Not your father?"

"No," Davos said shaking his head, "He was at sea more often than on shore. I hardly remember him to tell it true… but he taught me to sail when I was quite young. I certainly remember that."

"What happened?" Stannis said. His voice sounded heavy, but Davos wasn't surprised. His own tongue felt rather clumsy against his teeth.

"Lost," He said simply, "Lost at sea. With all the rest."

Stannis looked away and Davos felt a stab of regret as he remembered his own parents had been part of that rest, claimed by the deep.

Watched them drown, he said.

"I'm sorry, I--" He began.

"What about your mother?" Stannis said, ignoring his apology easily, "Is she living?"

"No," Davos said as he stretched out his legs and leaned back further, "No she is not."

"Was she…" Stannis seemed suddenly unsure of himself, "Was she with him? With your father?"

Davos laughed gruffly, "No, no- he was a crabber. He drowned with his boat- in autumn, I remember that much. No, she-- well that winter was hard… the flu came and she was down for months. I remember thinking she wouldn't get up again. But she did…"

He found himself staring into the flames. It had been a long time since he'd thought of her. Too long.

"She lived. Another year, and then another. And then one day she was merely crossing the street- I didn't see, a bread seller told me afterward- a horse, he'd said. Someone had frightened it. It'd ran- rushing down the street. Some chickens were knocked over, one cart, three crates-- and her."

He knew he must be watching him, staring at him with those hard blue eyes of his that seemed so incapable of warmth, but it didn't matter. He was hardly talking to him any longer.

"They'd wrapped her up. Came in a cart, simple really, quite similar to the one that the horse knocked over. They picked her off the street and wrapped her up. She'd dropped her basket, but someone took that, one of the street sellers. Someone took the bread she'd bought as well. I didn't stop them."

The glass somehow felt heavy in his hands. He looked down at it, into the amber liquid that almost appeared as fire itself against the light.

"I watched. I stood to the side, watching as they wrapped her up. I didn't quite understand then… there was no blood. I'd seen dead before. There were plenty, especially in the winter. They did not look like she did there. They looked white as bones with hollow eyes and stiff hands- half skeletons already… She didn't seem dead. Her cheeks were still pink, eyes still bright. No blood. But she must have been, because they wrapped her up, a put her on the cart and pulled her away."

He smiled to himself, "It's so foolish truly… I should have told them she was my mother. I should have. They might have stopped and given her to me. But what would I have done then? Seen her to the church, a service, a proper burial? I couldn't have done that. I remember wondering how people got others to the church, to their graves. She was too big for me to carry. I knew that. So I said nothing. I watched. And finally they wheeled her away."

His hands twitched on the glass, "I did't even know where they took her, where she might be buried… Later, years later, I was at the pier after a long night and I saw them. I watched as they pulled up to the far end of the dock. I recognized the cart- I'd seen more than enough of them by then. I watched, as the long white shapes slipped into the sea, simple as that… Perhaps I should have been angry. But it's as it should be."

He found himself looking up, and Stannis' eyes were there, as he'd known they would be.

"She's with him now, as she would have wanted." Davos said, "At least that's what I've told myself."

Stannis opened his lips, but it took a moment before the words found their way out.

"Does it help?"

Davos' eyes were somehow heavy. Had they been sitting so close before? If he wished it, he could just lean his head hardly at all to rest it into the crook of his shoulder, feel the white starchy fabric of his shirt and the smoothness of his waistcoat and the scratch of his cheek against his…

"I suppose…" He said, "Yes. Yes it does."

His eyes were so very bright and there was something there, something young and almost afraid but more than that something that needed, needed so very desperately that it almost hurt to see, but he couldn't make himself look away.

"Because they're there," Davos heard himself say, almost too quiet to hear, "In the sea… part of it. And the sea is never too far away."

He could feel Stannis' breath against his cheek. So close. When had they gotten so close? The whiskey was bitter against his heavy tongue, and everything seemed… somehow… blurred.

He felt his own hand slip over long fingers still clutching a glass altogether too tightly.

Cold. But no, that couldn't be right… he couldn't still be cold.

He felt breath catch- felt, heard, both, neither.

The fingers moved, one slipping just enough to rest over his.

The room was gone, and the cold, and the snow. There was the light of the fire against his hazy eyes, and that smell, the smell of leather, and salt, and…

"Lemon…" He murmured.

"Mm?" A rough, frail sound echoed back- far away and yet somehow impossibly close.

He could taste his breath, feel the heat of him so near and too distant.

"The smell…" He must have said, "It's lemon…"

He lifted his chin, hardly an inch, that was all that was needed. His lips brushed his, just enough to know they had.

They were rough and still but warm, unreasonably warm. And then it was gone. With more effort that it should have taken, he pulled back, just enough to let him know he had. A brush- that was all… that could be all.

Davos felt him breathe in, a small strangled sound. He let himself look up. And he looked down. Stannis' eyes were heavy, pupils large in the darkness. He could almost feel his heart beating.

Davos' lips slipped open on their own, and that was all it took.

Stannis darted forward, crashing into him hard enough to wake every inch of his body back to life.

He felt his glass slip from his hands and fall dumbly to the ground. He felt the long arm that had been draped across the back of the settee catch him hard enough to hurt about the shoulder. But more than anything he felt the heat of his own mouth slipping against his and the surge that shot through his stomach harder than anything he'd known.

Their lips pressed, uneven and moist- he tasted of scotch and lemon and within a moment Davos' hands were in his short black hair, pulling him closer, impossibly close, feeling his stubble sharp against his lips and the way his long fingers grabbed against his side, clumsy, desperate, and so painfully strong, the other hand catching around the back of his head, digging deep into his hair, holding him so tight that Davos couldn't help but gasp, breaking their lips apart and leaving only heavy breaths pressing against the silence.

Davos pushed forward to catch his lips again with the smallest moan.

Stannis pulled back.

Apart.

Away.

The jolt went through Davos' chest with more stinging pain then he ever could have thought it would have. For he knew what would come next even if he didn't.

Davos wouldn't look at him. He couldn't. His forehead clumsily found Stannis' and rested there as he screwed his own eyes shut as tight as he could. He could hear him breathing, hard, rasping.

Finally he looked.

He wished he hadn't.

Shame. Horror. Guilt that was so plain and so pained that it almost screamed out of his eyes.

Davos felt ill- rapid, devastating sickness was crawling up his insides but he pushed it back.

No, no- it isn't fair.

He tightened his grip on his shoulders. He knew he must be hurting him but suddenly he didn't care.

"Please," He heard himself whisper.

It wasn't fair. He had him now. He was here- right here in his arms, right where he needed him to be so very much his chest felt as if it would burst. That wretched shame scrawled across Stannis' face, the utter terror spilling out of him, it was nothing, nothing nothing. Davos had him, and he was never letting him go. Never…

Then why?

Why were his hands loosening? Why did his fingers slacken against the strained fabric of his shirt? Why did he feel the heat clambering up his throat?

"I can't," Stannis' voice sounded, hoarse, broken.

"I'm sorry."

And with that he was gone.

The cushions rose slightly as he stood all together too quickly. Davos heard the feet stumble across the floor, clumsy, frantic.

He heard the door open.

Davos spun. Suddenly standing, rushing after him.

The snow--

It was cold- far too cold.

The snow was still falling and slapped across his face as he tore back the door just in time to see the black shape of a horse speed down the trail. He tried to call out, something, but it stuck in his throat and he couldn't seem to free it.

He stood there in the open doorway, snow falling silent and still all around him. He should go- get the mare, go after him, stop him.

Why?

He wouldn't stop for him. He would ride faster. Away. Away from him.

Davos turned back to the house, shutting the door behind him. He stepped into the stillness of the parlor. He should go. He should get his coat and go after him.

Why? You saw what he thought of you, you saw it in his face.

He saw her, smiling up at him through mocking eyes.

"Do you ask yourself why you are here?"

The scotch bottle sat quietly in the flickering light and suddenly it was in his hand. He threw it as hard as he could, regretting the action as soon as the glass left his fingers and when the shatter came, it felt as though he had merely struck himself and he let his body slip down the wall behind him into a small huddled pile.

His eyes were burning but he blinked it back. He glanced towards the damage he'd done like an utter fool and saw the jackets. Two jackets.

The sob shot through his chest and he covered his mouth instantly to hold it back, but if it didn't escape, the tears had to, and one streaked hotly down his cheek as he shut his eyes tightly and buried them deep in the fold of his arm.

He stayed there. Breathing hard, absorbed by the dark.

A moment passed. And then another, and finally, finally he made himself stand on shaking legs, trying to swallow the sickness that swelled in his throat as he reached out and took both jackets from the hearth, pulling his own over his shoulders, as he hurried as quickly as he could towards the open door.

Chapter Text

The snow had stopped- at least there was that in his favor. After all was said and done it only lay an inch or so deep. How strange- all the bluster and show for just an inch of steadily melting slush that would soon enough be gone from the earth that it covered. The moon was low against the horizon, just bright enough to spread long black shadows across the trail, illuminating the wide spread hoof-prints speeding away down the path. Years in his occupation had built him for hiding, not for finding, and that fact was becoming abundantly clear.

Davos squinted against the dark. The sickness was still tight to his limbs, the warmth from the coat pressed into the saddle in front of him making it only worse. But he wouldn't think about that. He wouldn't think about how cold his own hands were in the remembrance of the fire, wouldn't think about the taste that was somehow still on his lips. He couldn't think or else he wouldn't be able to fit anything else in his mind and he had to focus, had to squint against the dark to see the faint shadows of the hoof-prints he was following.

Not fast enough- not nearly. 

That much was clear. He couldn't risk pushing the mare any harder, he might loose track of the prints and if he lost them- well, perhaps he should be concerned about losing himself in a wood he did not know, but the image of Stannis Baratheon falling somehow in the slush, perhaps breaking an ankle or a leg, perhaps worse, trapped in the cold and the wet… But he wouldn't think of that.

It didn't matter if he caught him. He didn't even truly wish to catch him. The only thing that mattered was that the hoof prints kept appearing, a set at a time, each small circle a promise that he hadn't fallen or worse, that he was still moving and that was what mattered.

If only the bloody fool hadn't forgotten his coat…

But no, he wasn't going to think about that. He wasn't going to remember the look on his face. But somehow he knew no matter how hard he tried, no matter how successfully he pushed everything else away, he would never forget that.

The blue light caught in the wood was slipping into grey, and Davos let himself glance to one side to see the sky just through the trees as it was beginning to lighten. He ignored it. It didn't matter- only meant warmth and that was all the better.

His eyes found the trail again and he tried to tighten his hands against the reins but they hardly moved. He glanced down- they were red and raw and-- well, it was pointless wasn't it, his hands were numb as it was...

With a swallow he pushed them into the warmth of the coat in his lap and tried not to think about the feel of the fabric, putting his attention back to the trail before him.

He noticed the bridge before he saw the house. The hoof-prints he followed suddenly seemed to be melting into stone and the mare's steps echoed more hollowly than just before. They were on the bridge, the small stone bridge leading out of the gardens and into the wood and he looked up sharply to see King's Landing looming through the grey dawn.

He should feel relief he knew. He'd made it this far- he hand't crashed to some cold exhausted fate in the wood, but somehow now that the simple task of following footprints was behind him the sickness in his gut grew new claws and the stare in his memory burned even harder. Would he have to see it again, now that he was here? He realized in that moment that he couldn't see it again- wouldn't, no matter what. He would rather abandon his face forever then see that excruciating shame for even one more moment.

Perhaps he should simply go. Wouldn't that be for the best? It wouldn't be hard. He could go to the stable, get the horse he had ridden here, leave a note for Sal, make some excuse and simply disappear into the growing morn.

But where would be go to? Back to the cottage, back to little and less and the pressing lie he told himself that this was right, that it was where he was meant to be? No… he didn't have to go there. He could leave. Buy a ship- he'd had enough stashed away from the sale of his last vessel. He could purchase a smaller ship, small enough, and go. Go somewhere. Anywhere.

Run. Like him.

No. That wasn't right. But now was not the time to think of such things. He felt ill- he hadn't eaten in over a day, had no sleep in just as long, and no matter how much he cursed himself for it, he was still desperately concerned for the health of the fool who had ridden through the cold with hardly a care for his own person.The stables loomed ahead and he remembered just in time to pull his hands out of the jacket in his lap.

The lad came running out to meet him, "Thank God, Sir- we didn't know what to think!"

"Captain Baratheon," Davos found himself saying, "Is he- did he make it back?"

The boy nodded hurriedly, reaching up to help him down, assistance Davos was ashamed to find he needed. His whole body was so stiff he almost fell as he swung off his horse.

"He arrived well before dawn- it's been hours since then." The lad said as Davos righted himself.

Davos sighed hard and turned to go.

"But he left again," The boy said sullenly, obviously struggling past a throughly stressful night, "I tried to- but- it didn't matter. He'll have been gone half an hour already."

Davos didn't know wether to feel relieved or anxious. The truth was so much was struggling for attneiton in his exhausted head none of it really had much meaning any longer

He noticed the boy was staring at the fabric clutched in his arms, "Is that…"

Davos blushed like an idiot and pushed the coat into the boy's hands, "He shouldn't have ridden out without it."

The lad didn't quite seem to know what to say so he simply nodded his head and held onto the thing gingerly.

Davos turned to head back to the house but stopped midway and faced the lad again, "Is he- well did he seem--?"

The boy seemed to shift where he was standing and swallowed before finally answering him, "He was angry. I asked, Sir, about his coat-- I didn't mean-- I was just, well, it was so cold and…"

The lad looked up to Davos.

"He was very angry."

Davos nodded, trying not to think about how dry his throat had become. Almost mindlessly he turned back made his way to the house.

It was all still, in the early light of the day. Strange that it had been only a day since he left this place at almost this exact hour. It felt years since- longer. He didn't notice as his feet stepped over the marble of the stairs, didn't feel his hand tightening around the cold handle of the door, pulling it back. He didn't even realize that he'd come to his room until he collapsed onto his bed, boots and all, and sleep found him in a matter of moments.

--

 

He woke with a short sharp jolt to the sound of someone banging against the door.

Instantly, a painful throb shot through his skull and he almost collapsed again as he reached up a hand to hold his temple. His stomach was tight and pulsing and he found himself hazily remembering how long it had been since he ate anything.

He groaned as the banging sounded again and the sound went through his brain like a knife.

"Bloody hell Davos! Open the door!"

Was it Sal's voice? It must be, but where were they? He'd sounded like that on the sea, when they spied the white sails looming over the horizon, but that wasn't the Sal who was supposed to be here- not the Sal who oozed charm and affability. The voice behind the door was afraid- even terrified.

Davos lurched to his feet, feeling like he might faint and vomit all at once but he caught himself against the wall and pulled the door open.

Sal pushed past him into the room, shutting the door behind him quick and sharp.

"Where the hell have you been?" He was glancing about frantically, as if looking for something or someone.

"Here-" Davos managed.

"Last night? What happened? They were ready to send men out after you and that conceited vigilante!"

"He's not--" Davos began impulsively but his voice fell from him. The memories were flooding back through the haze and he felt the powerful need to sit down.

"There was snow- a storm- we had to stop." Davos said carefully as he pulled a chair close and almost collapsed into it.

"I saw that well enough! What the hell were you thinking?"

Davos couldn't seem to find an answer. Sal was pacing across the floor at a rapid rate, eyes flitting here and there. He walked quickly to the window and glanced out. He wasn't this anxious for Davos' safety- in fact on many occasions he had demonstrated an almost laughable lack of care for that very cause.

"What's wrong, Sal?" Davos asked carefully.

His friend caught his hands on the sill of the window, staring out, obviously trying to calm himself.

"I'm leaving. Now."

Davos tried to make sense of the things happening around him but his head and his stomach were making it considerably more challenging than it should have been.

"With Robert… to India?"

"No," Sal said spinning on him and now his fear was plain, "I-- I have to go Davos. I have to go right now, and I don't know when we might meet again."

He was being dramatic. That was all. He had always been dramatic.

For the first time since he entered Davos noticed the small piece of paper clutched in his hand.

"I don't understand… I thought--"

"No," Sal interrupted, "No you didn't think. You've been having your fun, riding about the country with starry eyes and that damned smile on your face and. You. Did. Not. Think!"

He was yelling now, really truly yelling and Davos tried to silence his own head enough to understand.

"What are you talking about, what's happened? Just tell me what's happened--"

Sal strode across the floor in two furious steps, "Your Captain. That's what's happened."

He balled the paper in his hand into a tight knot and hurled it into the glowing embers of the fireplace, catching his hand on the mantle and watching as the flames ate it piece by piece.

"He rode to London before dawn. He's contacted authorities. He's told them to take action against me."

Davos tried to swallow but he couldn't seem to make his throat work. He saw his hard blue stare, heard words echoing painfully through his head…

"I don't let Sal's affairs concern me."

"Perhaps you should, if you care for him."

Sal clenched his knuckles against the marble of the mantle, "I have to go. Now. Or they'll seize my ships tomorrow."

Suddenly the room seemed hazy, the light dull through the pain in his head. He heard his own voice- cold, colder than it should have been.

"He can care for himself."

"What about you?" Davos asked, voice uneasy, "Will they arrest you?"

Sal stared into the fire, "I don't know. I do not wish to find out… but even if they don't--"

Davos felt the word slip from him, "Baelish."

Sal almost smiled, but it was a bitter thing. "Oh, I don't think I will be Baelish's main concern. This is what he might call 'uncontrollable circumstances'. No, I think he will blame his losses on other parties, who are a good deal more responsible for this misfortune."

Davos felt his stomach sink.

What has he done?

"But surely, Robert could--"

"Robert can do nothing." Sal said turning, "Stannis Baratheon seems to have gone directly to the authorities. For Lord Robert to take issue now would only bring his own character into question, and brash as the man may be such actions would be foolhardy- even for him."

Sal looked at him now and his anger was plain, "It seems your friend wants you all to himself."

"Sal, that's not--" Davos tried, "I don't--"

"No," His friend said turning on him, "No, I know you don't. I know you haven't. None of this mattered to you. I know that. I know you did not help me- that you wouldn't have, that this isn't your affair. You made that clear enough. I didn't expect aid… but I did expect friendship, and I see now perhaps that was too much to hope for."

He crossed the room in three strides and was gone. The door shut sharp and loud behind him.

Davos sat where he was left, but this time he remained there, sitting in silence with his head in his hands, fingers curled up against the dull banging pain in his head.

Finally, after a moment or two, he made himself stand and ring the service bell that he'd stared at with such distain these past weeks. A servant arrived soon enough. Davos asked for food. Something simple. He asked for the man to make his excuses the the family. He was ill. Nothing to be concerned over, he merely needed rest- one night's worth and that should be sufficient.

The servant left and he let himself focus on removing his boots. Simple things. For now. Just for now.

The door opened again, the tray was place, the door shut, and he sat in silence, making himself eat what he was given. By the time he had finished, the sun had set. No one had knocked on his door to inquire after his health. Robert had not barged in on him to beg for more company or knowledge of the situation. Lady Cersei had not come to demand his departure from her home. There was that- and for now, that had to be enough.

He put his dish aside and fell back to the bed. In the morning, the food would have settled him stomach. In the morning, his mind would be clear. In the morning, he would know what to do. But for now he slept, and did all he could to forget the taste of lemon and scotch, and the sight of a burning ball of paper in the heat of the hearth behind him.

----

 

When he woke, he half expected none of it had happened after all. It may well have not, there in the stillness of the morning and the quiet of his chambers. He lay in the same bed, in the same room, the same early light slipping across the floor just as it had any of the other days that had filled the weeks before 

He should shut his eyes once more, slip back into sleep. It would be dark and silent and when he opened them again he could linger once more in these moments of hazy uncertainly where it could all have been merely a dream, and he could try to convince himself that Sal was down the hall, happily asleep after a night of revels, that Stannis Bartheon was waiting by the stables with her stern face and two pairs of reins in his hand.

But it wasn't the same now. And he knew that. There were many things that he might call himself: foolish, thoughtless, naive… but he had taken action, and no matter what else he might be, he could yet prove himself less than cowardly. There was no hiding from what he had done, and he would not be so dishonest as to deny it. His actions had consequences- to deny them, to fear them, to hide from them, amounted to nothing.

With a sigh, he rolled over and sat upright. The sickness was still there, but it was deeper somehow and less pained, as if his stomach was merely a few pounds heavier than it ought to be. And it was not alone. His whole body felt somehow weighted- each motion slightly harder than it ought to be. But he tried to push it aside. Simple- he had to keep things simple, if he let it all rest on him at once he wouldn't be able to stand.

The light spilling into the room seemed brighter than it had been. Perhaps today the sun would make its way out of the clouds. But maybe it already had. He couldn't remember what the light had been the day before- everything seemed confused and blurred against his memory, everything except the words and the looks and a sinking feeling that just remembering it all brought him.

He pushed it aside as best he could and stood. His back cracked loudly, and he gritted his teeth as he turned towards his clothing and began to pull it over his slightly shaking limbs. He needed to eat again, he knew that much at least. He'd join them for breakfast- perhaps Robert would be able to tell him more, and then he would begin gathering his things and be on his way.

But where?

It didn't matter. Not now- not yet. He'd speak to Robert, he'd learn what he could and then he would decide on a course of action.

Once he was dressed, he turned to his things- it was humiliating enough to have someone else packing his case and he would not ask that of any of the servants, whom he was sure would slip into his room as soon as he announced his intentions to Robert and start packing away wether he willed it or no. Best to at least make the a go of it himself before that inevitable outcome…

He managed the shirts and coats fine, few that he had, but when he finally had to reach for the riding boots he'd left thrown across the floor from the night before he felt with suddenly intensity that perhaps the servants would do a better job of it after all.

With a sigh more angry than he'd meant he turned towards the door and the rest of the house.

He opened it sharp and fast and stopped just as suddenly.

There was a man in the doorway- a tall man that couldn't possibly be who he knew all too well it was.

"I--" The rough voice stammered, obviously as surprised as he, "I was about to knock."

Davos stared.

His hands were suddenly itching at his sides but he didn't know wether he wanted to strike him or embrace him.

Strike him. Definitely, strike him.

He was staring down at him, and Davos might have said it was as though nothing had happened, if Stannis did not seem so utterly incapable of looking him directly in the eye.

"What are you doing?" Davos said simply, utterly incapable of caring how hard his own voice was.

Stannis did not seem to notice.

"May I come in." He said simply, as if it was not so much as a question.

No, no you may not. He wanted to say. He wanted to slam the door and make him feel as large a fool as he'd made him. But before he could stop them, Davos' feet turned him just to the side, leaving enough room for Stannis to enter, and he did so, almost gingerly, looking about in quick sharp glances.

Davos could not seem to stop staring at him. How was he here? How on earth had he simply appear at his door and asked to enter as if nothing had happened between them, between him and London authorities and Sal's future?

Suddenly Stannis' attention caught on Davos half packed case and his brow furrowed, "Were you planning on leaving?"

He sounded surprised- surprised! That couldn't be right- he must have known he was leaving, why would he possibly think any differently?

"Of course I'm leaving." Davos said almost angrily, crossing the room and shutting the chest tightly.

He could feel Stannis watching him, even then.

He wanted him to stop. He wanted him to leave. Each time he saw his face, he saw the look it had held hardly a day hence. He didn't want to remember that. He didn't want to remember any of it. He wanted him gone with such sudden fury that he felt a pain stab against his chest.

"You can't leave."

The voice said it simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and Davos felt himself turning to face him.

"Pardon me?"

Stannis looked away, still unable to meet his eyes, but his jaw tightened defiantly, "You can't leave."

A short sound shot from Davos' chest that he only realized later had been laughter.

"Can't? Is that so? Should I expect the Royal Navy to come knocking at the door to lead me away towards the gallows any moment now?"

Stannis' stare hardened but he seemed intent on ignoring his tone.

"That is not what I meant, and you know that."

Davos laughed again, "I certainly do not know that- I could not be further from knowing that."

Stannis locked his hands behind his back in a tight knot.

"I do not wish you to leave." He said, voice almost attempting to be soft.

Davos blinked. He couldn't seem to make himself answer.

"I wish you to remain. Not here- but with me." Stannis said as if it were the simplest thing in the world, "To return to Dragonstone with me."

His eyes met Davos' for the first time and then darted away sharply, "As a consultant…"

Davos' throat tasted bitter.

A consultant- he cannot even bring himself to say 'friend'.

Stannis looked at him then, "I have struggled against the obvious, but I see now there is no helping it. Your company is valuable to me. I wish to retain it."

He paced a few steps across the floor.

"I realized that it is foolish, and I have tried to convince myself of just that during these past weeks. I recognize that your past and the occupations you have held could certainly cause shame and discomfort to my family."

He tightened his hands behind him and looked down at the carpet under his feet.

"You are not the manner of man that I should be associating myself with. You are the very last, to tell it truly. Your past is shameful and disgraceful, and to keep your company is rightfully something I should abhor."

He looked at him then, "But, it seems as if there is nothing to be done for it. Your counsel is valuable to me, despite the quite apparent distastefulness of the situation, and I have determined that I do not wish to be separated from it."

Davos stared.

He had never been spoken to so, not once in all of his life.

"You wish me to stay." He managed, "With you?"

Stannis tightened his jaw in irritation, "As I have said."

Davos couldn't help the words that came next, hating them even as they emerged but knowing it needed to be said.

"To what end?"

Stannis stiffened, "I believe I have made myself clear."

"Yes," Davos answered, "Yes you certainly have."

He felt the fury burning in his chest but it was too late now to turn back, "You have made it clear that despite what I may have let myself believe, you still consider me lesser than you. You have made it clear that I am nothing more than a smudge against your infallible character- that I am a burden you must so painfully bear so very apparently against your will."

"Would you have me lie?" Stannis suddenly shot, "Have me tell you that my association with a vagrant smuggler would be a shining glory to my name and family? That your past is nothing and easily forgotten?"

"I would have honesty," Davos said bitterly, "And you have provided it- more clearly than I could have possibly foreseen. You said you had misunderstood my character when we met, but I see now that in the end, it all amounts to the same: criminal, and undesirable, and that is something you cannot deny."

"I do not seek to deny it," Stannis ground out, "But I have said that it is a burden I shall bear."

Davos laughed, "Of course! And what more could I want then to be employed as your burden? You say these things as if they are nothing! As if my own mind has no presence!"

"I know it has presence- a very vivid presence and that is exactly why I am willing to make the sacrifice I have--"

"I do not wish to be a sacrifice!" Dave almost yelled, "I do not wish to be your act of painful resignation! Your shame, your guilt, your absolutely idiotic persisting sense of duty! You speak to me as if I will have no other possible answer but 'yes, of course, and thank you'. As if I could want nothing more. You say I will stay, you say you have determined that to be the course of action. Did you not think for an instant that I might not wish it to be so?"

Stannis eyes shot to him with sudden sharpness, "Do you not wish it to be so?"

Davos shook his head and turned from him.

"How can you ask this of me? How can you even presume to come here as if nothing has happened- as if you hadn't just destroyed any chance for a friend's success at a life free from persecution and criminality?"

Stannis' voice hardened noticeably, "He was a pirate. You cannot have expect me to take any less than the drastic actions that the situation called for to prevent the involvement Robert intended."

Davos spun on him, "Yes- he was a pirate- had been. He was trying to do something right, trying to make things clean once more. He looked to me- he called me a friend and what sort of friendship have I shown him?"

"I asked for your judgement. You said he could care for himself- you said it did not matter to you--"

Davos felt the illness scratching at his stomach, "So this is my fault? It's to lay on my conscience that if he returns to England his life could very well be destroyed?"

"I asked for your counsel."

"I had no idea of your intentions!" Davos cried, "Had I known you meant to utterly destroy the man I might have told you to consider another course!"

"It is done." Stannis bit out, "I have taken actions and I do not regret them. The man is a criminal, and I cannot let my family associate with such."

"But you are willing to 'bear the burden' for my sake? Oh how grateful you must expect me to be for such favor."

Stannis turned on him sharply, "It is favor. Do not see it as less. You cannot pretend that this would not be a self-sacrifice to me, a risk to my family and my position. You cannot shut out the world or its realities, but I am willing to bear them."

Davos stared at him then, "And what do you expect from me? Joy? Grateful acceptance?"

Stannis turned away but Davos stepped closer to him and he had no choice but to look back.

"Do you truly imagine, that you can say such things to me, and I will willingly be a source of pain to you?" His voice came, softer than he'd meant.

Stannis turned away from him but he did not step apart, "I do not care about that. I have said as much."

"But you cannot deny it," Davos said simply.

Stannis said nothing, he shut his eyes for a brief moment and opened them again as he turned his back to him.

Davos' words fell from him.

"Do you expect me to forget- as you seem to have forgotten? Do think I can simply pretend that nothing occurred? That I did not see how much you hated me in that moment?"

Stannis looked at him hard, "I do not hate you. I could not hate you."

"Why?" Davos almost laughed, "I am a burden, a sacrifice, a criminal and something so abhorrent that you ride through snow and cold to escape it!"

"That was foolish," Stannis muttered.

"Do you regret it?" Davos' voice shot suddenly.

Stannis turned away, "No- no I do not."

Davos felt his his chest tighten in an almost painful way.

"You cannot think I'd forget that." Davos said, "You cannot think I would forget the shame I saw in your face. You cannot think I would ever wish to cause that pain again."

Stannis turned, "I'm not asking for that. I would not ask for that."

Davos' voice turned bitter against his tongue, "You are- you are even if you think you are not."

Stannis' hands suddenly tightened against his side, "I do not care."

Davos laughed, hating the sound even as it emerged.

Stannis turned on him, fury clear enough on his face, "It's the truth of it. This cannot be simple- you cannot force it to be, but I am willing to make the sacrifice- sacrifice, yes- I will not paint it as less than it is. Sallhador Saan is a criminal, you have been a criminal, there is no denying that. I will not deny it, just as I will not deny the knowledge that I do not wish you to leave, that I do not want to be free from your company, from your counsel."

Davos felt his heart thud in his chest, but no matter how hard he closed his eyes, no matter how much he pushed it aside, all he could see the guilt on his face, the shame, the horror. He was a hard man who spoke as if his words were unquestionable truths, he had ruined Sal and acted as though he had done nothing wrong, as if he had even asked his permission and he had given it, but above all of that, more than any of it- he had looked at him filled with a pain Davos had caused, pain he never wished to see again as long as he might live.

"No," Davos said, "I can't."

He swallowed the lump in his throat and made himself speak the words he knew he had to.

"I won't go with you. I can't. And nothing you say or do will ever be able to make me consider otherwise."

The silence hung around him. He knew he must be looking at him, but he couldn't make himself look back. After a moment the steps sounded. The latch on the door clicked. He was leaving, but then the steps stopped.

"You need not worry about seeing me again," The voice echoed, hollow, bitter, furious, "I will inconvenience you no further."

And with that, the door shut and he was gone.

Chapter Text

Davos stepped down the marble steps for what he could only pray was the last time. It was a bright day, and all traces of snow had gone. The chill lingered, but it was nothing to what it had been, although he did not doubt that it would be back in full fury before too long. 

His cases were being piled onto the carriage, but he'd asked for most of them to be sent along to the cottage- keeping only one to himself for the time being. It would be at least a few weeks more before he found his way back to the white washed place beside the sea.

"If there was more I could do--" Robert managed as Davos turned to face him.

"I wouldn't think of it." Davos said simply.

The man was still furious- that much was clear. He'd been utterly livid when Davos had spoken to him the day before, but at least he'd managed to tell Davos what he knew of the situation- not that it had made any difference. Davos knew where he needed to go if he wanted to know more, and even if it made his skin crawl, it was a simple fact that there was little choice in the matter.

Lady Cersei and her detestable offspring had ceased to recognize his existence as soon as Stannis had departed, and for that at least he was thankful. Miss Melisandre seemed to be accompanying the Lady of the household in her reveries- Davos had managed to avoid her for the day it took to gather himself, and fully intended to do his best to keep the habit.

Captain Baratheon was gone. He had been since they spoke. As he said he would be.

"Is there much you think you can do?" Robert asked, following Davos down the stairs.

"No," Davos said shaking him head, "No I doubt there is much at all to be done. But I intend to learn what I can- at least knowing he's made it away would be something to hold to."

"From the Navy…" Robert managed almost shamefully.

Davos said nothing. He was sure this man knew little or less of what took place below their eyes. There was no need to trouble him. He would not understand even if he did. The Navy was one thing, but Baelish and his separate world was another matter altogether.

Davos pulled the door to the carriage open himself and climbed in as Robert wandered morosely back up the stairs when suddenly Renly propelled himself out of the front doors and came hurrying down the steps past his brother.

"Mister Seaworth!" He called out as he rushed down to the carriage and caught the window of the door.

He was smiling- beaming really, and Davos almost couldn't form words in the face of his so altered demeanor. For weeks, the lad has been nothing but morose and desolate. Davos had not seen him for a day, perhaps two, and now he was met with a radiant face full of jubilant emotions struggling for their place.

"You're leaving us?" Renly near panted.

"I-- yes," Davos stammered, still recovering from the young man's elated presence.

"I'm glad to have caught you," Renly said, shockingly enough, reaching inside the carriage to hold Davos' hand firmly and look him dead in the eye.

Renly lowered his voice, "The truth is Mister Seaworth, I may not be seeing you again."

Davos almost laughed, "No, no I would suppose so."

"No--" Renly began, but his voice fell off and he only smiled, "Well, I suppose you shall see soon enough."

Davos couldn't understand- didn't the lad know he would never see him again? Any of them again? Had he not been told?

"Renly--?" Davos began, but boy was already out of the window, slapping the roof of the carriage hard as he jumped down.

"Drive on!" He called and quick as that the horses lurched forward and the carriage began to steadily roll and jolt down the drive.

Davos sat back in his seat, brow crinkled slight in confusion. What had that all been about? He'd seemed happy… truly happy.

Davos shook himself. It was useless. It was behind him, soon enough quite literally so, and that was how it would stay. He'd made it so, hadn't he? He couldn't think on it now. London was ahead, the darkened cobble streets, the sound of rats, the scent of filth, and Baelish- he had to stay clear headed, focused. He couldn't afford any less- for Sal's sake.

---

He jolted awake as the carriage came to a halt and he opened his eyes to see the dark sky and grey stones glowing gently in the orange light of the lamps. Groggy and unsteady He sat up from the slick wood of the seat under him to stare out the window. 

He'd been dreaming. 

Davos ran the back of his hand over his mouth sharply, trying to forget the taste of scotch and lemon, the scratch of stubble under the moisture of his lower lip.

He had to forget. It was useless to remember. He'd made sure of that. 

Kicking open the door to the carriage shortly he stepped out onto the uneven cobble stones and the city flooded in around him. It had been longer than he remembered.

The scent was no different, nor the sounds- they crashed around in a cacophony of sensations that was always simultaneously thrilling and sickening. It smelled of piss and smoke and filth, crowded by the sound of upraised voices, horses hurrying down the cobbles towards their varied destinations, the rattle of carriages and carts endlessly pushed and pulled hither and thither.

Squinting against the light of the nearby lamp, he looked up to the inn as he pulled out his purse to press a few pence into the driver's hand.

The inn was a simple place- just what was called for. Part of him was eager enough to step down the streets just then, but that was folly- it was a good several hours travel yet, and he was not seeking the manner of business that was done under the cover of darkness. Even he was not quite that much of a fool. Tomorrow would serve well enough.

The inn-keep seemed a friendly enough woman- fat, with practice to know better than to pay more attention than was required. Davos laid a few shining coins onto the table and she swept them neatly into her apron, hardly so much as glancing at his face as she told him where he could find his room. He did not miss the small scar above her eyebrow and found himself wondering if she had learned on her own not to remember faces or if she had been told.

The room was small, simple, sufficient, but he found himself standing in the doorway longer than he should have taking it in. It was a simple place. The mattress was surely straw- one candle, no hearth, bare floor, one chair sitting stoically in a darkened corner. He might have stayed in better accommodations but he had not particularly wished it. He'd spent more than enough time the past weeks sleeping in a room that could have housed three families. But now, standing there, seeing so suddenly the difference between this place and where he had been…

<i>"Black and white, dark and light…"</i>

With a grit of his teeth he pushed his way into the room, shutting the door, pulling off his boots, blowing out the candle, and falling into the lumpy straw of the mattress before there was time for his mind to move anymore than it already had. He was tired of it- thoroughly tired of it. He would sleep. Sleep was best- it would be silent then, still and silent and in the morning he would find what he needed. Perhaps he would sleep sounder here. Where he belonged. Perhaps tonight he would not dream…

------

Morning came cool and dim.

Davos stepped hurriedly down the wooden stairs,  ignoring the way they groaned and creaked ominously under his feet. He was buttoning he jacket as quickly as he could cursed himself silently all the while. He'd slept later than he meant and the day would be well begun already. He'd meant to rise early, set out, find the answers he needed, know what there was to know and do what had to be done.

Half way down the stairs he saw the girl. She watched him carefully, hard and attentive. She was young. Younger than she had a right to be- young enough to make hatred start to boil in his chest and it was too early for that. She watched him- large watery eyes, sharp and hard with nothing left in them but calculated caution. Her skin was pale, paler still against the dirty blonde of her hair. The rouge was still faintly visible on her cheeks, but she had pulled a shawl over her shoulders and head- masking a neckline he was sure enough would be considered vagrantly inappropriate for daily dress if the fringe of her gown rustling about her feet was any indicator.

"You won't be staying another night." A rasping voice came from behind him. He turned to see the round face of the innkeeper. She wasn't looking at him. She was looking at her- and although some may have heard her words as a question, Davos knew better.

"No," He said, "No I will not."

She nodded stiffly, never taking her eyes from the small shape of the girl beside the door, even as she turned to leave.

Davos walked towards the frail shape, "I didn't think he would be expecting me."

"'Spects everyone." She drawled, "You've ought've known that well enough."

Davos nodded to himself, "Yes, I suppose I should have."

"Alright?" She asked him, turning towards the door expectantly.

Davos cleared his throat and stepped out into the dull grey light of the day.

The girl began pushing her way through the crowds and Davos followed behind, through the thronging masses shouting back and forth, the clatter of carts, the rushing of carriages and horses. They passed women hanging out of windows shouting down into the street, men bustling back and forth, grim and filth caked onto their faces. He felt small hands tug at his coat but he didn't need to look down to know what he would find- he could see the wide slack eyes staring from the small hollow faces each time he closed his eyes if he wished it.

The streets spread before them, shooting out trails and alleys like a renegade stream, all uneven cobbles, dirtied white stone walls, and sooted brick pressing up into the grey of the sky. All along the side of the streets the gutters pushed the sludge along as quickly as it could, which even at it's quickest was nothing past a crawl. 

Markets pressed and shoved and the cries sounded loud against his ears but steadily, as he followed the snaking shape of the stick thin girl before him, the streets began to change. A wigged barrister pushed past, paper clutched in his arms. The sound of carriage wheels grew louder as the harsher voices faded. The filth under his feet thinned from tossed debris to a mere slinkiness to the stones. Tall hats bobbed up and down as they moved around them, skirts rustled, once in a while a laugh would sound cold and carefree against the day.

The girl slowed, walking almost beside him now that the street allowed for it.

Davos found himself glancing down at her again though, he tried to stop himself. She was thin- very thin. Her hands could have almost been half starved birds clutching tight like an ivory brooch about the shawl around her neck.

"How old are you?" He heard himself ask.

She looked up at him and her eyes narrowed as her lips smiled in a way that made him feel rather ill; "Old enough."

Davos tried to ignore the tone, "How old is old enough?"

She shrugged her bony shoulder as she turned back to the street, "Can't quite say."

"You don't remember?"

"Don't matter. Not really. Twelve- thirteen- no difference in the end."

Davos was getting angry, and that was really serving no purpose. He did not wish to be angry. He wished to speak to the bloody man and then cease speaking to him as soon as he possibly could. He wished viciously to be free of the stench of the city, the feel of cobblestones under his feet- longing with sudden vigor for the feel of grass or better still sand beneath his boots. Even the air here seemed sickened and stifled.

A passing gentleman raised his hat the the girl and turned to watch her as she passed, eyes lingering lewdly. A pair of women arm in arm turned their faces away and eyed them suspiciously. How had he lived here so long? But no- it wasn't his fault; he hadn't had a choice, had he?

The girl stopped so suddenly Davos almost crashed into her.

"Here." She said simply.

Davos glanced up- the building was quite striking. It was quite a different place from the last he had known the business to be conducted from. The walls were adorned with several fine statues, and it seemed as if it might have been a theatre- or even an opera house in years past. Perhaps that's what it was still called by some counter of coppers who tallied taxes far from the sight of it, but Davos was sure enough what it's true functions were and did not doubt that those who did not wish to acknowledge such things were content enough to pass it by while others could make a note and return after the cards had been good to them and the drink effective.

"'E's waiting." She said, pushing the door open.

Davos almost glanced at her again, but then thought the better of it and pushed into the shadowy interior. She did not follow him.

He could hardly see about him in the gloom but other senses made up for that well enough. The place smelled strangely of opium and crushed roses, the air feeling somehow thicker than it had been on the street, cloistered and warm even in the chill of the season. Silks and rich fabrics seemed to be draped over most surfaces, fine furnishings filling the spaces in-between.

"Here-" Came a voice: female, older.

Davos glanced up to see a woman standing just at the top of the stairs that loomed out of the foyer he'd entered.

"Come along- come along," She urged impatiently, wafting her hand at him for additional encouragement.

Davos stepped up the scarlet carpeted stairs gingerly.

"Ah- I know yah, don't I?" The woman said and Davos looked up to see her for the first time. She had a round healthy face- dark hair pulled tight behind her head, and frankness to her eyes, but a coldness as well. There was something vaguely familiar to her, but then it would have been she, not he, who would have been making the effort to commit faces to memory.

"It's possible," Davos said simply.

"Ooo yes," She said, tapping the side of her nose, "I used to manage down dockside- I remember you."

"I wouldn't be surprised." Davos said. Something about the cold in the woman's stare was making him uneasy. He thought about the thin girl who had led him here. He wondered if this woman smiled at her when she'd done what she was told.

"You would be there with that girl- the one with the hips and the pretty pink cheeks. She could dance, that one- you too if I remember correct."

Davos' anger glowed tight in her chest, but he'd come this far. It was too late to turn back now.

"What was her name?" The woman smiled.

You know her name well enough- just as you know mine.

"Marya." He said.

The woman watched him, still smiling.

"That's right," She said, eyes never leaving his, "Shame that."

Davos looked away, the way her stare squinted against her cheeks was suddenly a bit too much to have to witness.

"Yes." He answered simply.

The woman evaluated him a moment longer.

"Come on then. He's been waiting."

Davos followed her in silence through the silk hung halls. Their steps were quiet against the thick of the carpet, and when she finally reached the door he found himself wondering with suddenly vinegar what had possibly possessed him to ever consider this course of action.

The woman knocked her knuckles against the door once.

"Yes," Came the voice, always bright- as bright as knives can be.

She nodded sharply at Davos, and with a swallow he pushed the handle down and entered.

It was brighter here. A wide circular window he had seen from the street opened up the room to whatever light the day could spare. The space was rich as all those they had passed had been- but there was a pervasive tidiness to the office that made it feel strangely controlled and quite deliberate in each function. A desk sat opposite the window, many papers stacked neatly atop it along with a set of scales, several small chests, a rather pretty dagger, and framed picture: a silhouette of a woman's face. Davos knew well enough whose, anyone who met the man knew who the pretty profile belonged to and if they did not, the owner of the piece would soon inform them.

"Ah," The voice called amicably, "If it isn't our reformed smuggler."

Baelish turned away from the window to face him. He hadn't changed. Not a bit.

"I trust you're well," He smiled easily, offering Davos a seat. Davos did not take it.

"Fine," Davos answered curtly as Baelish sat himself down and fiddled with some of the fine silk embellishment of his cuff, watching him all the while.

"I have been waiting for you." Baelish said as he leaned back in his seat, making a small steeple of his fingers in front of his face.

"I don't know why that would be," Davos said, unable to keep the irritation from his tone, "I have no business with you. I haven't for some time."

Than man smiled behind the temple of his thin fingers, "Is that so? Then I might ask you how you have made the embarrassing mistake of wandering into my office. I know London streets can be confusing after so long but even so--"

"I'm here for Sal," Davos said, "I need to know what's happened."

Baelish leaned forward, placing his sharp elbows onto the desk, "Ah- now this is quite interesting. You seem to have come seeking the very information I thought you had come to deliver to me."

"Is that right?" Davos said simply.

"Well yes, I'm afraid so." Baelish leaned back once more, "How ever shall we sort ourselves out?"

"Is he gone? Did he manage it?" Davos asked, already more angered than he knew he should be at the man's infuriating manner.

"He did." Baelish said, "I'm told he left three days hence- pursued by none, it seems. But that is not the issue at hand."

Davos shifted where he stood. This had been an utterly idiotic idea.

"I must admit I am rather dismayed with this turn of circumstances." Baelish said, drumming his fingers lightly against the surface of the table.

"I'm sorry to hear that." Davos said bitterly.

Baelish raised and eyebrow but let it lie, "Quite."

"Do you know where he's gone?" Davos asked, "How I might be able to contact him?"

"I do not," Baelish said almost impatiently, "Trust me Seaworth, if I did I would have reached him already. Not that it would do much good."

Davos' heart sunk slightly. He'd hoped he would have known. At least, he was sure he'd made it out to sea and wasn't slowly rotting in some cell or worse yet feeding crows from the gallows.

"I must say this company you two have decided is preferable to mine has proven quite an irritation."

Davos shifted his gaze, "It was not meant to happen like this--"

"I'm sure it wasn't." Baelish said, eyes hardening, "I can't imagine such an unfortunate turn was expected, or else we would have quite a separate issue."

Davos said nothing.

"I have a business." Baelish said, eyes not leaving him, "I have a position I have acquired, one might say harvested- piece by piece."

Davos suddenly found himself wondering how quickly he could get to the door. God, why on earth had he come?

"This…" Baelish trailed, seeking the correct word, "Regrettable turn of evens has lost me considerable yield."

"Sal hasn't--" Davos began.

"No," Baelish cut in, "No, I have known Mister Saan for a number of years and our transactions have always been quite without difficulties. This does not fit that pattern."

He leaned forward, "I do not like difficulties. They allow for uncertainties, which is far from desirable. A business depends on certainties, and if those can not be assured then one must rely on the accepted normalcy of society for security. There is a system. There is a balance. It has been so and it must continue to be so. No one can tell it otherwise or else they have stepped outside of the system, fallen out of balance, and those that push these things out of their carefully cultivated equilibrium must be careful not to tumble down themselves."

Baelish locked his eyes on Davos'.

"I would not worry for your friend's sake."

He smiled, a thin sharp thing, "I cannot afford this loss. I will not afford it. If someone insists on shoving so hard against the accepted system that the scales tip- well, it is only a social service to right them again."

Suddenly Davos' heart was beating harder than it should have been. 

"You'll have your friend home soon enough." Baelish smiled as he leaned back and threw his thin arms out expansively, "And all will be balanced once more."

Davos knew he had to speak but his throat was dry. He wet his lips.

"You're taking action?"

Baelish nodded, "I have no choice, do I? This 'Captain Baratheon' has interrupted my business quite rudely. Things must be allowed to flow freely once more."

"They're a powerful family-- their position…" Davos trailed off and tried to keep his voice calm, "You can't simply--"

Baelish laughed once, cold and hard, "I certainly can. The family is strong yes- but I would not expect retaliation. The information I have informs me that I would receive little or less in the form of vengeance and perhaps even a solid pat on the back for removing what appears to be a universal inconvenience. But you saw them- you must know that as well as I. Or have I been mistaken? Is there a great love between these brothers that has gone without my notice?"

Davos opened his mouth carefully, "No- no there is no love lost between them."

"There," Baelish smiled, clapping his hands together, "It shall be an irritation dispelled for us all and I am sure we can expect dear old Sal's return within a fortnight, likely before Captain Baratheon is cold in the earth… if he can get colder that is-- I have heard evidence to dispute that expectation."

Davos' heart was pounding in his ears. He had to stay calm. He had to think.

"I don't suppose…"

Baelish looked at him.

"I don't suppose you would let me have that honor." Davos said easily, meeting his eyes as hard as he could, "Let me remove this inconvenience..."

Baelish narrowed his eyes, "Have you turned from smuggling only to thread along this colder course of criminality?"

"No," Davos said, "But I have done what is needed before."

It was a lie- a lie that made him sick even at the sound of it from his lips but he kept his stare hard and constant.

"Sal is my friend," Davos said, "He has been my friend longer than I can recall. If Stannis Baratheon had his way he might even now be hung. I would appreciate the chance to show my regard for those actions."

Baelish evaluated him carefully, "You know him."

"I do," Davos nodded, "All the more reason- he will let me in, he won't question."

Baelish stood and walked toward the large circular window, "It's a lovely offer, but unnecessary I'm afraid. We have a way in."

"Even so, I would--"

"I'm sorry to have denied you your vengeance Seaworth- I am, but I'm afraid it's quite too late."

Davos' stomach plummeted so quickly he feared he might be ill, "Too late?"

Baelish nodded as he smiled, "I've already sent a man. He should arrive at Dragonstone before midnight, and this will all be behind us."

Davos turned to the door, realizing only an instant later it was a good deal too quickly.

"Well-- thank you," He managed, glancing back at Baelish.

It took everything he had to walk to the exit slowly, carefully, casually.

He felt Baelish's eyes tight against him until he shut the thing behind him. He felt them even then. But it was too late now. He was walking- walking as quickly as he could

The large woman pushed in front of him in front of the stairs, "A hurry is it?"

Davos slipped past her. The steps fell under his feet quickly as he made his way towards the front door. He caught it, and he pushed: hard.

It fell outward and he fell after it, the city crashing back into him as he blink into the light of day staring about almost wildly looking for something, anything.

The words sliced through his mind--

"It shall be an inconvenience removed for us all…"

Davos scanned the street as his hands began to shake. He had to go. He couldn't think. There wasn't time. He knew where to find Dragonstone well enough, it wasn't far but what he had considered close now seemed an impossible distance. He would have to ride. Fast. Now.

Horses. They were there, just to the side, waiting patiently by the iron gates. He was beside one in the second and on it's back just as fast, urging it down the street as the cries echoed in his ears but he could hardly hear them any longer. Another voice was in his ears, stern and hard as it corrected his posture, the way his legs were positioned, the hold of the reins in his hand. He could see blue eyes, strict and cold and yet in the right light, almost afraid.

"I do not wish you to leave."

Davos pushed the horse harder, galloping down the street so fast he could hardly breathe. But not fast enough. Not nearly fast enough.

Chapter Text

It was dark now. It had been dark for some time. Part of him knew that well enough- the part of him that could no longer feel his fingers on the reins, the part of him that was so sore he felt he might fall apart at the creases, the part of him that thought despite it all: too late- it will be too late.

But that part was useless to him now. It had been useless for some time, that was if time still had meaning. That part was gone too. All that mattered was haste, not the extension of moments previous or preceding, merely each moment, each breath, each clatter of the hooves against the road and the need to go faster, faster, faster.

He'd left the city behind him hours hence, the frozen road hard under the horse's hooves. She was fast. He'd been that lucky so far. Perhaps he would be lucky yet.

The bare branches flitted past his head, skeleton-like against the indigo of the sky. There were stars there he knew- winter stars, cold and crisp and stark and white. He did not need to see them to know they were there- he could feel the freeze of the air well enough, see the light thankfully shed across the road. He should be going slower, he knew that, if the horse should trip it would all be for naught… but if he should slow, allow for even an ounce of speed lost. No. No- it could not be risked.

But he was close now, and his stomach tightened under him. He hadn't thought. He had ridden. It was simple. Ride. Fast. As fast as he could. But now… now he might be too late, now it would not be as simple. But that was wrong as well. It was still simple. He would find him. No matter what. He would find him as quickly as he could, and knew somehow, despite the inkling in the back of his head that insisted with ferocity it was useless, he knew he would not- could not let anything hurt him.

A hill began to steep under the horse's hooves, and he pushed her forward down the slope. The loose stones skittered as she sniffed in protest, but soon enough they were back on level ground, and he could see the lights. It had been closer than he had thought after all.

Through the thin black branches the small orange shapes glowed, and he did not have time to see much else. Davos snapped the reins under his hands and sped towards the dark shape of Dragonstone.

The estate sat surrounded by water, reachable by a small bridge that cleared the distance. Davos pulled the horse to a stop as she clattered onto the stones. There was a gate. It was already open.

Too late. You're too late.

No. He wouldn't be. He couldn't be.

The horse sped through the gates, clattering over the bridge and skidding to a stop in front of the looming height of the house. Davos jumped down, just managing to stop himself for falling hard on the gravel of the drive. He rushed up the stairs, ignoring how hard he was breathing, ignoring the blood pounding through his head, reaching out for the door.

Please. Please.

The door was open.

"No," He breathed, "no, no--"

He didn't feel the door as he shoved it to one side.

The house closed in around him, high ceilings disappearing into the black. He had to do something. There was still a chance, and if there was still a chance, there was only one thing to do. 

Davos yelled. He yelled as loud as he could.

"STANNIS!"

His voice shattered through the darkness, echoing hard and strange against the cold, but he didn't care.

"STANN-"

The bludgeon caught him hard across the jaw.

Davos hit the ground, gasping out as he tried to see- tried to blink out the white lights suddenly popping in front of his eyes. Blood was filling his mouth. He tried to stand.

The kick shattered into his side, knocking the wind from his lungs and tightening his chest into a hard ball of pain.

But he saw him now, the dark shape looming to one side with the bludgeon in his hand. He was walking away- walking quickly.

Davos staggered to his feet and before he could think, he threw himself at the man's back.

For one horrible moment he thought he would miss him, but then he felt he man's feet crush into his chest and knew better.

They hit the ground together, rolling into the parlor across wood and marble. The man cursed sharply as he tried to pull himself back to his feet, but Davos was already there and before he could think the man's shoulder was in his hand, and Davos' fist was shattering into his jaw.

The figure didn't even stagger. He was big. Davos could see that now, but it hardly mattered. He swung again. The man caught his hand. Easily. All too easily.

He smiled. And then he squeezed.

Davos cried out as he crumpled to the floor, but he was lower now, and that had its own advantages. He hit the man as hard as he could between the legs and the massive figure let him go with a gasp, doubling over in furious pain.

Davos scrambled backwards. It was no use- he needed something. Anything. He hit the nearest table hard, sending vases shattering to the floor. His hands clawed across the surface and then a candlestick was in his hand. He spun and swung in one motion, and caught the man across the face with a satisfying crack.

He raised his arm to swing again but before he could, his left knee exploded in pain under the bludgeon and fell out from under him. A hand was on his, crushing his fingers, pulling the candlestick away. He tried to hold on. He had to hold on. But he had never been strong.

A fist shattered against his cheek and the blackness began to leak into his eyes. It must hurt. It must hurt so very greatly but he was past that now- there was just the black of the shape that pushed him back, knelt above him, raised the candlestick high and--

Stopped.

Just stopped. Davos tried to focus but it was hard through the fog. Had he gone already? Didn't they say time stopped just before the end… but no. There was something else. There was a small thin slice of moonlight pressing under the man's neck… No- not moonlight. A sword.

It snapped upwards quick and sharp and the man gasped as it sliced ever so slightly into the heavy meat of his neck.

"Drop it." The voice said. A steady voice. He felt somehow he knew it.

The candlestick clattered to the floor. Davos blinked. The world was slipping back around him, and it hurt like a bloody bastard.

"Are you alright?" The voice sounded again, and this time he was sure he knew it.

Davos glanced to one side and saw feet. Bare feet. And above them ankles, and above them legs- covered by the wafting hem of a nightshirt worn by a tall thin man with broad shoulders, and rumpled black hair, holding a sword tight and hard under the throat of a wincing rogue. His eyes were bright- ferociously bright against the moonlight that streamed into the room, but somehow Davos couldn't tell if they were furious or terrified. Both, perhaps. No- certainly. Certainly both.

Davos groaned and rolled to one side, spitting and tasting that wretched metallic tang dripping from his lips. He wanted to stand, but he knew he could not quite manage it yet. His hand throbbed. His knee pounded. But it was all nothing to the pain pulsing across his jaw.

"Cressen!" The stern voice called and hardly a moment later, a stooped older man in his own dressing gown turned the corner to the room and almost dropped his candle as he gasped and threw a hand over his mouth.

"Dear lord!"

"If you would be so good as to summon Doctor Simmons--"

"Stannis! We must call the officials at once--" The man gasped.

"The Doctor--" He insisted, and then to Davos' shock added almost gently, "Please."

The older man shook his head firmly once or twice, and then scurried away down the hall.

"Can you stand?" Stannis asked.

Davos tried to silence the shattering pain in his jaw.

"I think so." He groaned, making the exertion as he did. His knee shook violently under him in protest and his ribs almost screamed in pain as he straightened his spine, but he tried to ignore it.

"Ropes- from the curtains," Stannis said jerking his head to one side, pressing the sword further under the man's chin and making criminal wince as Stannis gritted his teeth harder.

Davos stumbled across the floor and pulled the cords into his hands. Thankfully if there was one thing he could do half conscious it was tie knots.

"The chair." Stannis said.

Davos didn't know which one he meant but hardly cared. He took the first one he saw and pushed it towards the man.

"Sit." Stannis said through gritted teeth.

The man on his knees stared at him with narrowed eyes and carefully backed himself into the chair. Davos bound his wrists quickly, standing after hardly a moment to look back towards Stannis- but something else caught his eye. There was a figure lurking in the doorway. A small figure.

"Papa…?" A weak voice called.

Davos stared. He must have misheard. He'd been hit too hard and too often. There couldn't be a girl no more than five delicately holding the door frame, standing there in a little white nightgown, staring up at Stannis with large frightened eyes from a small homely face situated between two large ears and a mess of black hair.

"What's happening?" She asked weakly.

Stannis turned and looked and her sharply, "Go back to bed, Shireen. Right now."

She stared back at him for a moment, and then with a small nod, retreated back into the darkness.

Davos tried to think but it wasn't quite working as well as he wanted it to.

"I know you--" A rough voice shot out, saving him the trouble altogether.

Davos looked at the tied up man, truly taking him in for the first time. He was large- broad mostly, not quite as tall as he'd seemed at first. His hair was red as his face, and there was a jagged scar across his cheek. Somewhere in his sluggish brain he did remember that scar- he'd seen it before…

"Whaling…" Davos said, "You got it whaling."

"That's right," The man growled, "Knew I seen you… the docks. You're that smuggler."

"Be quiet." Stannis said sternly. Davos glanced at him- he'd put the sword down, but the anger in his eyes was still startling.

"It's alright," Davos insisted, "Nothing I don't know."

"What going on, eh?" The man asked bitterly, staring up at Davos through narrowed eyes, "You turned posh? You gettin' yourself beat for this kind?"

He laughed- almost croaked, really.

"That's good that is-- think you belong here with them? You're a traitor… that's all you are."

Davos didn't answer him. He didn't need to. It didn't matter. He moved to turn, and the man spat in his face.

Davos froze and saw just from the corner of his eye Stannis' hand tighten as the man's wretched face peeled into a smile.

Stannis hit him. Hard.

The sound thudded thick and meaty about the room. The man's head snapped to one side with the force of the blow and a thick spurt of blood shot from his mouth and splashed across the floor. His jaw went slack as he slumped where he sat, eyes dim and hardly conscious at all as Stannis turned away from him, shaking his hand and wincing slightly.

Davos blinked. But it had happened. There was no denying that.

"You--" He stammered.

"Stay here." Stannis said sharply, "Just for a moment. I'll get someone to watch him until the magistrate can be informed. I'll send a rider."

"But--" Davos managed turned quickly after him and falling back slightly as his knees screamed in protest.

Stannis turned back and met his eyes, almost gently, "Just for a moment."

Davos closed his mouth and nodded in silence.

Stannis held his gaze for a moment longer, and then turned away and silently stepped out into the hall.

The house was well alive now. Candles scurried down the steps on all sides and lamps lit out on the drive. Within a moment or two ,several footmen made their way into the parlor and Davos stepped out of the way. He moved to sit down in a seat off to one side, but then decided he did not want to look at the slumped form in the chair for a moment longer, and stepped out into the hall, sitting in the nearest seat he could find and leaned back, running a hand gingerly over his knee and closing his eyes as he tried to rub the pain aside.

Feet stepped all around him as voices cried and horses whined out in the drive, soon enough there would be more voices, moving the man tied to the chair, taking him away, a Doctor surely to poke and prod and make sure he was well. But somehow despite all the noise and chaos and promise of more yet to come, all he could think of was the small frightened shape standing in the door frame.

Papa. She called him Papa.

Davos suddenly felt unfathomably tired. The chair was pressing hard against his ribs and his jaw thudded with dull rhythmic pain but even through it all his eyes were drooping. He wanted sleep. He wanted it perhaps more than he ever had.

The chair next to him creaked slightly suddenly and he felt the warmth of someone else close to his shoulder.

"Here--" Stannis said.

Davos cracked his eyes open and look at him.

He had managed to dress himself and was staring back at him with an uncomfortable look on his face. Davos might have smiled if his jaw was not steadily expanding to a swollen rock the size of a grapefruit. Stannis held up his hand cautiously. He was holding a steak.

Davos reached out to take it, forgetting about his hand a moment too long and wincing sharply when he tried to wrap his fingers around the thing.

Stannis made what Davos could have sworn was a "tutting" sound and cautiously raised the thing up to Davos' face. He pressed it forward clumsily and despite his best efforts Davos couldn't help a sharp intake of breath as he jerked slightly to one side.

Stannis pulled back slightly and muttered something that must have been "Apologies." Before trying again- slower this time. The cool of the meat pressed gently against the throbbing pain in the side of his face and Davos couldn't help sighing in relief as he lifted his own hand to carefully hold the thing in place.

"It was Baelish-" Davos found himself say, "For Sal- you--"

"Shh," Stannis muttered sternly and Davos was so surprised he did in fact quiet.

"Cressen will be back soon enough- with the doctor." Stannis said. His voice sounded so quiet there in the hall. It must be his own hearing. He'd be hit hard enough for the world to blur around him.

"I'll be fine." Davos said.

"You will be seen to." Stannis snapped.

So much for quiet. Davos almost laughed but then thought better of it for his own comfort.

He glanced over at Stannis again. Even sitting the man was taller than him by almost a head, albeit Davos wasn't quite sitting up straight himself and the man beside him seemed incapable of anything else. Stannis' brow was furrowed tight and his frown was deeper. He seemed as if he wanted to say something but couldn't quite think of how to manage it.

"Anything broken?" He settled for.

Davos sighed and leaned back, holding the cooling relief of the steak heavy against his face.

"I don't think so."

He shifted slightly and the pain shot through his side again as he made a little discomforted noise that caused Stannis' head spin rapidly to stare at him with concern.

"Well," Davos conceded, "Maybe a rib."

Stannis looked down into his own lap, flexing his knuckles lightly.

"How's your hand," Davos heard himself say.

Stannis glanced at him quickly and then looked away, "It's nothing."

Davos swallowed, "And your- your daughter?"

Stannis did look at him then and held his gaze for a moment before answering, "She'll be alright. She was afraid. But she'll be asleep soon enough and then it will be morning."

Davos held his eyes, "I didn't--"

"No. No I know you didn't." Stannis said simply.

The door at the opposite end of the hall opened sharply and the older man from before bustled in with a rather groggy looking gentleman in tow clutching a black bag in one hand.

Stannis stood as they approached.

"Shireen-" The older man asked urgently as he approached, "Is she alright?"

"Fine," Stannis said, "Fine."

He glanced back at Davos once more, "I'll take my leave now, Cressen will make sure you're settled. If you do not feel capable of breakfast downstairs in the morning, it is perfectly understandable."

He turned to stride away and then stopped sort and turned back, "Goodnight."

Davos stared at him, "Yes, goodnight."

And with that he was gone.

---

Davos woke slowly. The pain creeped in as persistent as the light but it wasn't nearly what it had been and he found himself sitting up soon enough despite it- or perhaps to spite it.

His entire body ached, from the bottom of his feet straight up through his jaw- the pain from riding certainly harder than he ever had for what had surely been hours, combined with a solid beating, combined into a fairly wretched state of affairs. But he was determined not to be fed in bed and to that end carefully swung his legs over the side of the thing and moved to stand.

His entire body screamed in protest but he did his best to ignore. His back cracked and his knee shook but Davos made himself step forward once and then again. He'd always abhorred the idea of someone else dressing him but this morning he was beginning to see the benefit.

The doctor and the old man had done the best they could and it had helped. His chest was bound tight about where the bastard had kicked him. He had broken a rib- but only one so in the end it was not all that terrible. They doctor had bound two of his fingers together- sprained he'd said, but there wasn't much he could do about his jaw. He hadn't lost any teeth- there was that at least, but the thing still bloody hurt and soon enough he knew it would be an ugly shade of green. At least he had a beard to hide it. Not much to be done about his knee either- it would be shaky for a day or two the doctor had said- but it shouldn't cause him any long term problems.

He dressed carefully, wincing sharply each time he had to raise his knee or his arm too high above his head, and finally he was fit to make his way downstairs. He reached for the door but found himself pausing.

He was safe- that's what he'd come here for, wasn't it? He had hardly thought at all truth be told- he'd simply gone and acted, and now here he was. He had refused him. He had told him to leave. And now he was right where he said he could not be. What was he doing?

Well- simply acting had gotten him this far, and it would be foolish to leave without at least feeding himself. And there was the girl… He found himself wanting to see her again, for somehow he couldn't shake the sensation that he must have imagined it.

He pushed the door open cleanly and realized almost immediately he had no idea where he was going. The house was fine and grand but there was a definitive lack of the ostentatious manner that had covered King's Landing in a thick veneer of opulence. It was well- well all quite practical. There were stairs ahead- that was a good start at least- the dining room could not be on the second floor after all, so he made his way down slowly, holding the banister tight in case his knee decided it would rather abandon him.

Once down the steps he found himself in the foyer he'd entered the night previous. He glanced half heartedly towards the parlor, only to see a maid on her knees scrubbing something red out of the carpet.

"You're the clumsy man." Came a small voice at his side.

Davos turned and looked down into the sharp little face staring up at him with piercing dark blue eyes. He hadn't seen her clearly the night before- it had been dark, shadowed- he hadn't seen the trails of deep scars tracing up her neck and along her cheek.

"My name is Shireen." She said as she glanced down at her toes. Shy, he realized- shy, but brave enough to try not to be.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Davos said with a smile.

"What's your name?" She asked, managing to meet his eyes for a second.

"Davos," He smiled.

"That's nice." She said with a small smile, "Are you coming to breakfast?"

He forced a smile over his throbbing face, "Yes, I think so."

"Well, come along," she said simply, turning and walking lightly down the hallway.

Davos followed her- still somehow seeing the blue of her eyes even though she was not facing him. It was exactly the same. How had he not said--?

"I'm sorry you fell." The girl said, turning back to look at him as she walked down the hall.

"Fell?" Davos asked.

"Yes- you and the other man. Mister Cressen said you fell- that's what happened to your face and the other man had to be taken away to get better."

Davos nodded, "Mister Cressen- he's your--"

"He's my teacher." The girl said plainly.

"I see," said Davos.

They turned a corner and the dining space opened before them. It was mostly simple fare, but his mouth began watering just at the smell.

A sound of a chair being pushed back echoed suddenly and he glanced up to see Stannis standing as he entered.

"I didn't think you'd be joining us," He said, shifting uncomfortabley where he stood.

Davos felt a warmth slinking into his chest at the sight of him but he tried to swallow it, "I'm perfectly able."

"Yes," Stannis said, "Well…"

"May I have a biscuit this morning, Papa?" The girl asked meekly.

Stannis nodded once, "If you ask properly."

She stared at her feet, rolling her ankle bashfully, "May I have a biscuit with my breakfast, please?"

"Yes, sit down." Stannis said as he took his own seat.

The little girl smiled in a fragile way and began to run towards the table but Stannis' eyes snapped up and she slowed to a reasonable pace, finally seating herself and swinging her legs under her as she reached for the coveted biscuit.

Davos suddenly realized he was still standing and made his way to a chair, reaching for toast and tea a good deal more quickly than he should have.

"Are you staying?" The little girl asked suddenly.

Davos and Stannis glanced up in the same moment- meeting each other's eyes before turning away sharply.

The little girl glanced from one of them to the other, suddenly blushing as if she feared she had done something wrong.

"I'm sorry," She mumbled.

"No," Davos cut in, "No it's fine."

"Stay for today," Stannis said suddenly.

Davos glanced at him and he held his eyes.

"Please- I'd appreciate the chance… I'd like to speak to you. Before you go." He managed awkwardly handling his fork as he spoke.

The little girl smiled in such a way that Davos suddenly felt such expressions did not come as easily to her as they should.

"Will you?" She asked him almost eagerly.

Stannis watched her and Davos did not miss the small smile the slipped over his lips for a mere moment.

"Yes, alright-" Davos said finally, "For today."

Chapter Text

Davos finished his tea and cleared his throat as he pushed his seat back. Stannis watched him sharply and stood himself, fiddling with his cuffs and looking altogether uncomfortable. He seemed as if he wished to speak but couldn't quite find the words, and the look in his eyes suggested he wasn't sure if he wanted them to emerge at all. Davos was about to open his mouth and save him the trouble, when he felt a small hand tug timidly against his jacket.

He looked down into the little ruined face and she glanced away shyly. She was younger than he'd thought at first- surely no more than five years old.

"May I show you my pony? His name is Snowbell." She asked, staring at her feet.

"Not now, Shireen." Stannis grumbled.

The girl's face fell but she nodded despite it.

"No," Davos suddenly heard himself say, "No it's fine."

He looked up, and Stannis met his eyes in a rather startled manner.

"It's fine," Davos repeated- holding his eyes, and for hardly a fraction of a moment, Stannis almost seemed to smile.

Davos turned back to the eager little face staring up at him, "It would be my pleasure."

The girl's face lit up and he was struck by how her eyes seemed to brighten in the cautious way that her father's did- as if they were afraid to smile but at the same time wanted to do so desperately.

"Is that alright, Papa?" She asked cautiously, turning towards Stannis.

He looked to her briefly, and then glanced up to Davos who tried his best to look reassuring.

Stannis nodded once.

Davos held out his good hand for the little girl next to him.

She stared at it as if she did not understand, and Davos realized with a jolt that she might not understand, that perhaps- no, certainly- this was not something she was used to. He was about to pull it back to his side and pretend it had all been something other than it was when he felt the little fingers slip cautiously, clumsily around his own.

Davos smiled and gave her hand a small squeeze and with a smile she started to lead him out of dining room. Quickly, Davos looked back towards Stannis but he wasn't looking at them, he was staring down at the table in a very concentrated way, but within a moment he was out of sight.

Shireen led him carefully through the house and out into the yard. It was a warm day compared to the one before it. Such days were fewer and fewer now that it felt winter had finally started to settle around them. The trees were almost bare and the grass crunched under their feet as they walked through the garden. It was an old house- solid and ornate in places along the outside of the stonework with spires reaching up towards the sky. There were even a few grotesques and gargoyles along the parapets. He couldn't see them clearly from this distancel, but he knew from the general knowledge of the place that they were carved in the shape of the dragons from which the house derived its name.

The sound of the river echoed around them from where it ran along the front of the estate, secluding Dragonstone on it's small island with it's simple garden and almost modest grounds. Everything seemed to be kept just as rich as was necessary- and far from ostentatious. It was almost strange- the house itself was quite fine indeed, with its carvings and towers, but everything else was simple- everything that could be reasonably controlled at least. And that was just it- the things that could be kept modest were. Looking at it he was suddenly reminded of Storm's End- it had been similar, but in the opposite fashion. Renly's house Stannis had told him, and in those days, before he had known them as well as he did now, it had seemed perfectly natural for the house to be furnished richly- almost flamboyant in certain places. But the house itself had been much like the manner in which this place was treated- simple but strong, not trying to be more than it was but proud for what had been and determined to continue to be as it was.

"Did you change your mind?" Shireen asked suddenly looking up at him in a sideways manner.

Davos pulled his attention from the scenery, "Pardon me?"

"Did you decide to stay after all?"

He furrowed his brow, "I've just said I would stay--"

"I mean," She said shyly looking away again as she led him on through the garden, "Papa said you weren't coming."

Davos felt his stomach tighten uncomfortably, "Did he?"

She nodded into her chest as she stepped lightly over the grass.

"He wrote me a letter. He said you would come to stay with us."

Davos couldn't seem to answer her. It was colder than it had first seemed. He should have had her take a jacket.

"And then he said you couldn't come." She said quietly.

He could see the stables up ahead, but by now he was hardly noticing their surroundings. It wasn't his fault. He didn't know. How could he possibly have known? He wanted to be angry with him- more angry than he had been for so many reasons and this one most of all. But somehow when she turned and looked at him, he couldn't summon the rage he knew should rightfully be there.

She looked so like him, almost unfortunately so with the hard line of her jaw and the heaviness of her brow. But her eyes shone- hopeful under it all, and her mouth seemed to want all too badly to smile despite everything else.

He should be angry. He should leave. He knew all of that and more. But she smiled at him with blue eyes shy, hesitant, and yet somehow brave. And he smiled back.

 

---

 

The day passed steadily with the small hand tight around his. Once they had seen the stables there was a painting, and once that had been properly examined there was a piano and favorite books and sculptures hiding in the garden.

Part of him knew that this was useless, that he should turn and leave as he said he would. Nothing had changed after all. The words had still been said, the actions had still be taken. He should speak to him. He'd said as much. He should speak to him and go, as he inevitably knew he would.

But this thin girl, with the scar on her face continued to pull at his hand and with each hour she smiled a little more easily, voice became a little more sure, and he couldn't quite bring himself to leave her alone, to say no the next time she asked to show him something more.

It might have been easier if Stannis had come after them, told her that he needed to speak to him and just gotten the whole business over with. But he didn't. Davos couldn't help glancing about for him as they moved through the house, across the gardens, but it made no difference. He was nowhere to be seen. It seemed whatever needed to be said could wait another hour, and then another.

By the time the sky started to slip into dusk and Davos and Shireen made their way towards the waiting dinner, he was wondering if he would even see him then. But he was there, sitting quietly in his dark jacket and watching with what might have been puzzlement on his face as the girl talked to them. She recanted through most of the meal, telling him about all the things they had done that day, all the things she had shown him, the things he had said.

Davos tried to focus on the plate before him but every now and again he couldn't help but glance towards where Stannis sat at the head of the table as Shireen's quiet little voice continued eagerly on. He wasn't looking back at him, he was looking down at his meal and then up at his daughter. He seemed confused somehow, brow furrowed deeper than it had been. It seemed he wasn't so much listening to her words as her voice. Every now and again she would pause, obviously expecting some response and he would nod or grunt a small affirmative noise and she would continue happily on with her stories, until finally the plates where clean and the candles were half what they had been.

Stannis cleared his throat and the little voice fell from the air gently.

Davos suddenly found himself shifting awkwardly in his seat.

"It's time you were in bed, Shireen." Stannis said.

She nodded silently into her plate.

"You may be excused." Stannis said simply.

After a moment she pushed herself back in her seat and inched off until her little feet touched the floor.

Davos stared down at his empty plate. His hands felt strange and heavy in his lap so he tried knitting them together but it did little to help.

The soft little footsteps echoed across the floor towards the doorway and then suddenly they stopped.

"Papa…"

"What is it?" Stannis grumbled. Davos could have almost sworn there was irritation in his voice.

She shied slightly, but she was braver than she seemed.

"Could I have a story? Before bed."

Stannis made a soft noise strikingly similar to a sigh, "You may ask Cressen, but if he is already asleep--"

"No," She interrupted, instantly quieting as Stannis' head shot upwards at the small disobedience.

"No?" He asked sharply.

"I only meant…" She said, as most of her seemed to try and wriggle it's way safely behind the doorframe.

"Meant what? You must finish your sentences Shireen or no one will pay you any mind." Stannis said.

"I only meant," She managed, "Could Mister Seaworth tell me a story?"

Stannis went quiet. Davos couldn't seem to find a place to fix his eyes.

"Mister Seaworth has been more than accommodating today, Shireen."

"I'm sorry," She murmured as she turned to the door.

"No-" Davos suddenly broke in, feeling Stannis' eyes snapping to him.

"It's alright." He smiled at her, "I'd be happy to."

The little girl's blue eyes danced but all the same she glanced over his shoulder toward her father. Davos didn't follow her gaze.

He must have nodded for she smiled and hurried across the floor to take Davos' hand once more and gently pull him after her toward the door. Davos swallowed and summoned the will to look back. Blue eyes met his- eyes that could almost be smiling.

Shireen led him up the stairs and he waited patiently outside the door to her room as a maid helped her get tucked into bed.

Why on earth had he said he would tell the poor thing a story? He had only stayed to speak to him, hadn't he? To speak to him one last time- to make sure he was safe and be done with this entire business once and for all. It was no use prolonging it. Maybe it was the girl who had convinced him to spend this day thus. Or perhaps it was himself, and nothing more. But why? Was he afraid to speak to him? His head had almost been broken in half with the man's own candlestick mere hours ago. That thought itself should be terrifying. But he hadn't been afraid, had he? At least not for himself. Strange that sort of fear, it was almost the same as being brave.

"I'm ready!" Called the small voice and Davos turned, noticing suddenly that the door was open.

He passed the maid as he entered and the older woman smiled at him gently as she departed. Davos turned towards the bed. It was almost comical. He had never seen wealthy children's rooms before. Her bed was the size of his own and she looked even thinner squished into the mass of white lacy blankets, but happy as well, very happy, and eagerly waiting, sitting up straight and leaning forward with her little hands knitted together. Davos smiled. Her father did that as well, with his hands, but he kept them tight behind his back.

There was a chair to one side of the bed- most likely the seat of the usual story teller. He moved towards it and then stopped suddenly.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"Nothing," He said finally, forcing a smile as he sat.

He didn't know stories! Why on earth had he said he did? The only stories he knew were of outpacing navy vessels along coastlines and dodging pirate flags on the open sea, and such stories he had a feeling her father would not approve of.

"Umm…" He managed eloquently.

"Once upon a time…" The girl began helpfully, her large blue eyes shining bright and expectant.

"Yes," Davos smiled uneasily, "Once upon a time…"

The fire crackled and the girl pulled her knees up to her chest under the blankets and waited.

Davos cleared his throat, "What sort of story would you like it to be?"

"I don't mind."

Davos sighed and leaned back, "Once upon a time…"

Shireen leaned forward.

"There was a king. A king without a throne."

"What happened to his throne?"

"It was stolen- by a lion."

"Lions can't sit on thrones!" She protested.

Davos smiled, "This one could. But the king wasn't the only one who wanted to throne," He continued, "There were others."

"More lions?" She asked almost sarcastically.

"Do you wish to tell the story?" He asked casually.

The girl blushed and shook her head.

"As I said… there were others who wanted the throne: a beautiful stag with golden antlers, a wolf with eyes as cold as winter, and a dragon looking across half the world with greedy eyes."

Shireen wriggled her chin into the blankets around her knees.

"The lion who sat the throne was only a cub, but he had fearsome protectors- a ferocious mother who killed anything that stepped to close, and an old proud lion with a mane the color of gold who watched from the hills beyond the castle to make sure nothing would hurt them. But the lion cub was cruel, as cats can be. It was selfish and hurt things that were smaller because it could, which is no way for a king to be."

The girl shook her head slightly.

"The true king watched the lions from an island made of stone, and knew they must be stopped. He knew that being king is not about doing what you please- it is about doing what you must even when it very hard indeed. He knew that being a king means being more than a man, it means being truth and justice and such things can be hard but they are the right things. He knew that being a king is not easy. He knew it should not be. And that is why he was the true king and he knew it to be so, even if he did not wish it."

The fire crackled behind them as Davos continued.

"But the king's island was small. There were boats surrounding the stony shores on all sides and many sailors to steer them well, but there were few soldiers, and fewer knights, and the king would need both of those things to fight the lions for they had many and the castle walls were high and thicker than a dragon's belly. So the king asked for aid."

"From who?" The girl asked quietly.

"Many years ago, the king had been walking in the forest and had found the beautiful stag collapsed on the ground. The king had been traveling since dawn and had not drunk a sip of water all that while, but when he found the stag, he knew it was exhausted from thirst and so he let it drink the water he had brought into the wood. The stag was grateful and promised to love the king always. But years passed and promises fade. The stag grew golden antlers and called itself the king of the forest. The stag wanted the throne and had raised an army of all the creatures of summer to destroy the lions and take the throne for itself."

"Why?" The little voice asked.

"Because it was proud." Davos answered, "And like many beautiful things, it felt it could do no wrong."

"But not the king?"

"No," Davos smiled, "No, the king thought he did many things wrong, and that is what made him the king- because he was always trying to do things right, not assuming that he already had."

The girl smiled weakly into her knees and waited for him to continue.

"The king had known the stag for many years, so he came to him and asked for his aid. He told that stag that he was the king and that he knew he must sit the throne and said that the stag and its army of summer must help him do this."

Davos adjusted himself slightly where he sat.

"But the stag laughed at the king. It was beautiful and had many friends and companions from all across the wood who would all die to see it take the throne. The stag said that the king had no friends, that he offered them nothing but truth and justice and that was why he had no army."

The king became angry at these words. He told the stag that being king was not about friendship- that being a king was about knowing that truth and justice were what mattered most. Being king meant giving up friendship to serve the people and the land before yourself or your companions. He told the stag that he must give him his army, that he must help the king take the throne and defeat the lions. But the stag only laughed again and refused."

The little girl shook her head in frustration.

"So angry was the king, that as he left the forest he wished that the stag would be punished for it's foolishness. And he received his wish… Late in the dark of the night the Stag went to the river to see it's golden horns reflected in the moonlight. It leant too far, fell into the water, and drowned. Terrified to be alone in the forest when the lions came the creatures of summer ran to the king and told him what had happened, begged him to take them now that their stag was dead."

Davos paused for a moment and glanced at the girl to make sure he wasn't boring her but her eyes were quite wide staring back at him.

"The king felt angry with the creatures. They had served the stag so readily and refused him only hours hence. They seemed simple and afraid and as if they could not think their own thoughts without someone to tell them how and where to put them. But he needed them to defeat the lions, so he agreed to take them and told them that together they would win the throne. And all the while, though he tried to be brave, he could not help but remember his wish against the stag and if it had somehow done him harm. But doing what is right is not always easy, often it is quite hard indeed, and because he knew such things--"

"He was the true king." The girl finished.

Davos nodded, "That's right. He was the true king."

He leaned back and stretched out his legs, "The wolf and the dragon were far from the castle so the king decided to strike while he could. He sailed on his many ships for seven days and seven nights and when he reached the castle he fought as hard as only a just man can to reach the throne and claim it for his own. But just as he was about to reach the final door there came a great roar that shook the very stones of the castle, a roar that he knew could only come from the mighty lion that watched the castle from the hilltops. The roar was so loud and so fearsome that all the creatures of summer cried out and fled in fear at the sound of it. The king tried to stop them, he tried to tell them that it was only a roar and there was nothing to fear, but it was too late. They were gone, and he had no choice but to leave with them."

"He lost…?" The girl murmured.

"He did." Davos answered.

"But that's not how it's supposed to happen."

"Things do not always happen as they are supposed to happen."

The girl looked away, down into the blankets with a confused sadness in her eyes, "Then it's over?"

"Did I say 'the end'?" Davos asked.

She looked back and shook her head, a small smile sneaking back onto her lips.

"The king lost the battle and returned to his island of stone, but it was a lonely place now. The animals of summer had gone, and the ships had shattered after a long battle. He was left alone to watch the land across the sea as the others snuck closer and closer to the throne.

First came the wolf. The wolf was brave and had a pack of thousands who loved him dearly. But he trusted too much and did not notice that some wolves had begun to whisper, whispers that the lions heard. The lions promised the wolves the freshest of meat and more gold than they could ever use and one day when the wolf finally spied the castle, he felt teeth in his neck and claws in his back and before those loyal to him could stop it, he was dead."

Shireen held her knees tightly, "What about the dragon?"

"Well, the dragon had no army, so she decided to make her own. She laid thousands and thousands of eggs, but when they hatched they did not all emerge soldiers, and she found soon enough that they all needed her. She was their mother after all and so as she tended to her thousands of children she turned her eyes from the lions and the throne and her wings became so stiff that one day she found she could no longer lift them."

"Then…" Shireen began hesitantly, "The lions won?"

Davos smiled, "The lions kept the throne, and each day the king watched them until one day he looked beyond the castle and saw ice forming on the sea. He looked across the land and saw that it was cold and dead. The land had been so busy fighting itself, clawing and tearing at each other to reach the throne, that none had noticed that each day grew a little colder, that each night more crops failed and more frost formed. So the king did what no one had been brave enough to do and he forgot the lions. He made a sword of light and sailed the last of his ships past the castle and further and further into the cold. He sailed past a great wall of ice, and forests white with snow, until he saw a bright blue light."

Shireen shivered but inched forward all the same.

"It was so cold that he felt as if his teeth would freeze and his limbs would crack and he would break into a million pieces but he continued, closer and closer to the blue light until he could take no more, until all around him was nothing but cold and brilliance. He took one more step and then drove the burning sword into the light. There was a great noise, like a mountain breaking in two and then the light was gone."

"And so he turned his ship around once more and sailed back to his island of stone," Davos continued, "And as he sailed he saw that the land was no longer cold and dead. Each day it seemed more alive than the last and by the time he arrived at the castle the lions had gone, fled from the man that had conquered winter and all the people of the land welcomed the king to his rightful seat for he had seen the ice and the cold when all the others had seen only the throne and the power that it promised. And so the king had won his kingdom and took his place upon the throne, where he would rule just and true for many years to come…"

"The End." Shireen finished quietly.

"Yes," Davos smiled, "The end."

She leaned back and furrowed her brow in a very familiar way as if she was considering far too many things at once.

"It was a good story." She said finally.

"Oh yes?" Davos said as he stood.

"Yes," She said, "But…"

"But what?" He asked turning to face her again.

She blushed slightly but continued anyways, "But it didn't seem fair…"

"What didn't?"

"The king."

She looked up at Davos and when she met his eyes they filled with powerful concern.

"He was all alone." She said.

Davos' throat felt dry suddenly. He swallowed, "Was he?"

She nodded, "The lion cub had its mother and its protector, and the stag had all of its friends. The wolf had a pack… even the dragon had her children. But the king was all alone."

Shireen shook her head steadily.

"He couldn't have done it all alone. He shouldn't be alone."

"No," Davos said finally, "You're right. He shouldn't."

He reached out and squeezed her hand briefly.

"The next time I tell it, he won't be."

She smiled back at him, "Promise?"

He nodded and stepped away, stopping when he reached the door and turning back, "Now go to sleep."

And with that she smiled and tossed herself back into her pillows, shutting her eyes obediently and curling up tight.

Davos watched her for a moment longer and then turned, took one step, and stopped just short of crashing into Stannis' stony chest.

He fell back so quickly he almost tumbled over but just managed to right himself, looking back at Stannis as he looked to one side, obviously viciously uncomfortable.

"You were listening?" Davos asked shaper than he meant.

"I did not wish to interrupt," Stannis grumbled and gestured sharply down the hall to his right. It was dark, but Davos could see an open doorway several doors down and light that must have come from a fire within.

Davos tried to focus but the smell of lemon was still somehow caught up around him and making his head fog obnoxiously. He shook it aside and walked past him towards the room he'd indicated, hearing the steps behind him follow after a moment.

He reached the door quickly enough. Inside was a small office or perhaps a library- most of the walls were covered in various books and odds and ends. There was a fire glowing in the marble hearth against the wall and two chairs faced it. Davos took one quickly before he could think too much further and didn't watch as Stannis stiffly lowered himself into the other.

The fire crackled against the quiet of the room and Davos stared at it defiantly, thoroughly determined to not be the first to speak, which was utterly foolish really- what did he care? They'd speak and that would be that, it made no difference.

"Thank you." Stannis said quietly.

Davos glanced at him and then thought better of it.

"For what?"

"For coming," He said, staring into the fire, "For stopping him."

Davos almost laughed, "I truly did not do much to stop him." Raising a hand to his cheek which still smarted ferociously (and he was sure was sickening shades of green and purple already).

"You did." Stannis said in a hard voice, turning on him all at once, "I knew I might expect something from that wretched man, but I did not think he would have the gall to assault my home. He timed it well. There was a fair- in town, most of the servants were there, if you hadn't come, and if he had somehow found Shireen before myself…"

He let his voice fall away.

Davos watched him for a moment longer and then turned aside.

"You should have told me. About her." He said finally.

Stannis said nothing.

The fire crackled in front of them. There was an tight anger in Davos' chest but vexingly enough it was trying to settle all on its own. There was something about sitting next to him- something calming, even if he did not wish it to be so.

"She's fond of you." Stannis said, "I should thank you for that as well. For taking the time."

"It's no trouble." Davos insisted quietly, "She's a fine girl."

Stannis shifted stiffly in his seat, "It's not… she does not often get the chance. To spend time with those who are not myself or her teacher."

"There's no one her age? No one whose company she can enjoy?"

Stannis' jaw tightened, "Not as she is."

Davos' brow tightened, "I'm sorry, I don't--"

"She had a sickness- as a babe, the remains of which I am sure you haven't failed to make note of."

"Is she still ill?" Davos asked with concern.

"They say she is not," Stannis said, "But unfortunately the words of learned men to not always dispel the fears of others, and they would rather dissuade their offspring's association."

His eyes turned bitter as he stared into the lapping flames, "Children can be extraordinarily cruel."

Davos said nothing. He knew the truth of that well enough and found his stomach turning at the thought of what the wretched blond heir of Lady Cersei would have to say to a girl such as Shireen Baratheon.

"Her mother?" He heard himself asking.

"Dead." Stannis said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world, "The birth was too much for her. She was always of a weak constitution."

"I'm sorry," Davos said.

Stannis snorted and Davos looked to him in shock, meeting the hard blue eyes that seemed to almost soften with guilt as they met his.

"Thank you," He said, "But you need not be sorry on my behalf. I am sorry that Shireen has no mother to guide her. Certain things are… difficult for me to provide."

Davos knew quite well that was the case. The girl had been confused when he offered her his hand- he tried not to imagine the last time she might have received a kiss or so much as an embrace from her father. It was not his fault. He knew that. But a child needed such things and the way her face had filled he joy when he squeezed her small hand…

"You must have been very young." Davos said finally.

"I was hardly ten and seven." Stannis said roughly, "And it was the largest folly I have allowed myself to partake in. But Robert insisted- veminhantly. And I could not refuse. It was sensible, and it was dutiful, but I did not love her."

Davos' mind was rolling silently behind his eyes. He tried to imagine him at seventeen. He could not have been much different than he was now- had it been four years, five? It could not be more. He tried to imagine him holding a woman's hand. Somehow he could not see his long fingers slipping curiously, timidly over the others as they had done to his own. He saw him snatching at her hand almost defiantly, uncomfortably. Had he kissed her in the same manner? Made love to her with rough hasty motions? Davos felt his eyes growing heavy under the light of the fire and sensations slipped in as memories. Had he shaken under her hands as he had under his? Had his eyes flared in the dark, blue and alarmed and strangely young in the stone of his face.

"Do you have children?" Davos head Stannis ask, voice almost distant through the haze of thoughts and the light of the fire.

"No," He said shaking his head with a rather begrudging sigh, "And I certainly would have told you if I had."

Stannis looked away sharply, face tightening almost in defiance of its own sneaking guilt. But his mind seemed hard set on persisting in what it had begun.

"Did you ever wish for them?" He asked.

Davos gazed into the flames, "Once, but that was many years ago."

Stannis remained quiet and altogether still, so Davos took his silence as a manner of docile encouragement.

"There was girl, and I thought- hoped truly- hoped that we might… I see now that was foolish. I was a criminal. I don't know how I might have raised children in any way I might have wished to. But she made me wish for it all the same."

Stannis wasn't looking at him but Davos felt his presence strongly all the same, pressing against him in a manner that should have been uncomfortable but instead was strangely soothing.

"Did you love her?" Stannis' rough voice asked.

Davos sighed, "Yes, I did."

"Where is she?" The voice came again.

"Gone," Davos said, "There was a bar fight- where she served, down on the eastern pier. Somehow she was knocked, thrown, I never learned what exactly. No one could say after it was over- there was too much taking place all at once. All they knew was when the violence finally settled there was blood on the edge of a table and she was on the floor with a cut to her forehead. There wasn't much blood. They tried to wake her. But she wouldn't wake."

Stannis' jaw was tight and fast, "You were not there."

"No," Davos said with a small shake of his head, "I was at sea. I didn't return until a year hence and by then hardly anyone remembered her name."

They didn't speak for several minutes, leaving only the sound of the fire cracking and lapping against the hearth. Davos felt his eyes growing heavy in the warmth of the room and the softness of the chair surrounding him with the almost indiscernible sound of his breath beside him.

"I wanted children." Stannis said suddenly, "Sons."

Davos glanced to him over his shoulder.

"Joffery," Stannis grimaced, "The thought of that insufferable brat inheriting all our family has strove towards… I did not wish to let that happen. And Renly I somehow doubt will produce much where family is concerned."

"No," Davos agreed with half a smile, "I would count you right on that score."

"I merely wanted that. I wanted a son." Stannis said quietly, "Perhaps too greatly."

Davos watched him with his head half turned, watched the way he looked down at his hands in his lap as they knit themselves together in frustrated concern and more emotions struggling against him than he was quite apparently used to.

"One part of myself thought perhaps love was something that came with time…" He said almost angrily, "Another part knew that I would never love her, and I should have listened to that insistence. But I cared more for what she could provide, and when Robert pushed, I did not push back. I merely accepted."

Davos said nothing, but now that he was watching him, he couldn't seem to stop.

"It would have been easier," Stannis said roughly, "It would have been so much easier if I didn't know."

Davos felt his lips part, "Know what?" He asked softly.

Stannis glanced at him, quick and almost worried and then looked back to the flames.

"That love was a truth, not a fantasy for cloudy minded fools."

His frown deepened, "My mother and father loved each other. Truly loved each other. You could see it- anyone might. The manner in which they spoke, how and when they looked at the other. It was an obvious thing, and there was no denying it's reality or its power over both of them."

His eyes hardened as he stared into the flames.

"Sometimes I find myself wishing they hadn't. Then I might have been capable of convincing myself, easily believing that what I had was entirely normal, and that there was nothing else. But I know better, and sometimes I find myself hating them for that."

Stannis ground his jaw, "I hate them for making it seem a simple thing."

A small place deep and low in Davos' chest tightened as he watched him. His brain was doing things he wished it wouldn't. But worst of all, his body was listening.

"It is a simple thing," Davos heard himself answer softly, "It should be. It can be."

His hand began to move. He tried to tell it not to, but that part of his mind had gone somehow quiet in the strange calm of the fire and his presence and it did not insist as fervently as he might wish it to. And so his arm shifted, slightly, but in the quiet it still made a gentle noise as the fabric of his jacket moved against the chair. His hand stretched out, just enough to rest between where they sat. He would not touch him. His mind had that much sense left at least. Rightly he should pull it back- it was foolish and he'd said as much himself- insisted in fact, passionately so.

A moment passed and then another and still his hand rested, hung slightly out into the space between them. He didn't watch him- he couldn't quite manage that. The wretched sinking feeling was beginning to set into his stomach and he moved to bring his hand back to his lap, but just as he started to slip away he felt the fingers snatch it.

It was a quick motion but almost in that moment it was as if the roughness was recognized and instantly attempted to reconcile for it. The fingers loosened, almost clumsily and tried in a slow uncertain way to slip between his own.

He doesn't know how, Davos thought with a sharp burn that came stinging at the back of his throat, he understands such things as little as she does 

And with that, he easily moved his hand to wrap around Stannis' fumbling fingers, securing them tight and warm and safe.

He didn't hear him sigh but he felt it and the stiffness of his hand softened and almost relaxed against him and Davos felt that lightness in his chest that he knew to be only a harbinger of things he was sure would not- could not take place, but it didn't matter. Right now, here in this place with the warm comfort of the room and his hand in his nothing else seemed to matter. The world seemed to fray at the edges and slip away from him and he didn't mind.

He felt a thumb run timidly over the back of his own with infinite care- as if making a map of him. It continued, slowly and almost curiously until he reached where his thumb met his wrist and Davos couldn't stop himself from shuddering slightly as the thumb traced below his hand to the softness under his wrist and back again.

He felt his breath catch in his chest and suddenly his heart was beating far faster than he knew it should. Davos swallowed once and glanced over his shoulder towards where Stannis sat. His eyes were shut and Davos might have thought him asleep if not for the shallow and quick way he seemed to be be breathing. His mouth was open, just, and his head was leaned back against the chair, displaying the length of his neck and the strict line his jaw formed out of it. It was late in the day so the stubble ran across his cheeks and just down his neck like a shadow. His brow was creased deep and concentrated but his mouth wasn't tugged as far downward as it often was.

The thumb on his wrist slid upward slightly, pressing into the soft skin under his forearm and Davos' eyes fluttered as he breathed in sharply and felt heat snaking up his limbs in small sparking waves. His own hand tightened and he felt the warm roughness of his skin over the hard bones of his knuckles and wished with sudden ferocity that those same knuckles were running down the side of his neck, up his back, over his thigh.

Davos moved his thumb just enough to slip it under Stannis' hand and press it gently into the softness of his palm, watching with wide sleepy fascination as Stannis shuddered just enough to notice and his lips parted an inch further. Davos' stomach tightened hard and all an errant part of his mind could do was imagine running that same thumb across the thin line of his lower lip.

The grip on his hand tightened and he saw Stannis' shut his eyes tighter, as if trying to seal out, push away all the weight of the world, leaving only the feeling of his hand in his.

"Master Stannis!" Called a voice.

A sharp urgent knock came at the door and Stannis' eyes snapped open, blue and hard and full of alarm, dropping Davos' hand just as the door pushed open and the older man bustled his way into the room in what seemed to be a near panic.

"From Robert, a letter- I'm sure it's urgent," The man said half out of breath, holding the thing out to Stannis frantically.

Stannis stood in one swift motion and pulled the thing into his hands as Davos stared, still trying to clear the fogginess from his head and the tingling out of his fingers.

Stannis opened the letter sharply, eyes running across the page and it seemed that with each word they absorbed more life fled from his face, until he was left standing there staring at the sheet in his loose fingers, face pale and eyes filled with a kind of muted horror.

Cressen stared on in anxious concern, waiting wide wide eyes, "What is it?"

Stannis did not seem to hear him.

Davos swallowed to wet his throat, "Stannis?"

He heard that, and turned on him in one quick startled motion, as if remembering the world all at once.

"Renly- it's Renly. He's gone."

Chapter Text

Stannis hurried down the stairs as he pulled on his jacket and Davos struggled to keep up. His knee was still throbbing furiously but he tried to ignore it.

"I have to leave. Now." Stannis said as the steps fell quickly under his booted feet. He reached the bottom of the stairs and turned on his heel towards Cressen who Davos was frankly amazed had managed to keep up all this while.

"A horse, now- please see to it. And do not wake Shireen, when she wakes you shall just have to tell her I have had to go away for several days."

"Yes, of course," Cressen nodded as he hurried away down the darkness of the hall.

Stannis adjusted his cuffs sharply, pulling on gloves and Davos wondered if he had forgotten he was even still there until he spoke.

"I apologize," He said quietly, "About this."

Davos watched him carefully, "What's happened?"

"It's Renly, he's--" And his voice fell away. He glanced quickly about the hall as if the ensure they were alone and then stepped closer, speaking more quietly and carefully than he had but there was no disguising the anxiety clutching around his tone.

"He's run off…" Stannis swallowed and looked down at his gloved which seemed to be giving him trouble, "With that Tyrell boy."

Davos remember the last time he had seen them, the way they had stood just that much closer than was necessary, the way their eyes danced when they looked at each other speaking soft enough that no one could hear. He remembered Renly hitting the side of the carriage before Davos left, shaking his hand with eager warmth, the suddenly light in his eyes after weeks of dismal gloom.

"I may not see you again."

Davos nodded, "I see,"

Stannis shook his head, "Robert doesn't understand- he'll be furious."

And you, Davos found himself wanting to ask. Do you understand? Are you furious?

But he didn't say the words. He hardly needed to. Stannis jaw was tight and hard and his motions frantic and hurried, but the truth was in his eyes the pure scrambling worry etched there overwhelmed any trace of anger.

"Where have they gone?" Davos asked.

"I don't know," Stannis said as he straightened his coat, "Robert says he knows they are in London and nothing further. They had some plans of leaving apparently, catching a ship somewhere or other, but it seems it's not too late yet."

"So you don't know where they are in the city? What ship they plan to take?"

"No," Stannis grumbled, "But I will find out."

"You won't," Davos insisted quietly, "It's a large city, larger than I think you understand."

Stannis' eyes snapped to him, "I will find them. I must find them."

"You won't," Davos said, hating himself already for the words that followed, "Not without help."

Stannis looked at him for a moment and then nodded just as Cressen came hurrying back along the hall.

"Never mind about the horse Cressen," Stannis said roughly, "We'll be taking the carriage instead."

-------

Davos tried to think as the carriage trundled down the darkened road. The night had gotten colder than he would have guessed possible after the mild temperature of the day and he found himself huddling deeper into the seat under him and trying not the think about the cold fog forming around his beard each time he took a breath.

He glanced quickly across the way to where Stannis sat huddled against the window on the opposite seat. He was looking out it, he'd hardly glanced away since they started out. It was a clear night and his blue eyes flashed bright and dark as the inky shadows of trees fell interspersed with the pale brilliance of the moon. At first it had been too dark to see much of anything but his eyes had adjusted now, well somewhat at least. He could see the collar of his coat was pulled up against the chill, the way his breath caught against the air just as cold and clouded as his own. His hands looked like knots in his lap and still he stared unflinching out into the night, almost as if he had forgotten Davos was there at all.

Davos watched him through the darkness of the interior. What was he doing? He left and he had come back and he had planned to depart once more and now here he was dragged right back- but no that wasn't right, not dragged, not dragged at all.

He felt his own eyes narrow as he watched the figure across from him huddle against the seat. How could he take some perverse pleasure in seeing him shiver after being too stubborn to sit on the same side of the carriage as himself, and yet all at once wish so strongly to move to sit beside him and slip in own hand between the knot of Stannis', forcing their anxious scrambling away and into the warmth of his own.

What was he doing here? He should stop the carriage, get out, walk back to London, certainly return the horse he'd stolen like a madman to get here in the first place.

He opened his mouth but in his increasing frustration only treacherous words slipped out.

"It will be alright." He said.

Stannis didn't seem to hear him and Davos was already feeling the usual; resentment tightening his guts when the tall stern shape shifted slightly against the seat.

"I am aware." He said. His voice was hard, more so than it had been- as if confidence in the words spoken could make it so.

Davos stared at him a moment longer but a light outside suddenly caught his attention and he turned to stare back out the carriage window. A streetlamp flashed past, and another: they were getting close.

--------------

"No, and I won't repeat myself for a third time." Stannis said, voice straining under the effort it took him not to yell.

At least he had stopped pacing- but Davos was starting to have serious concerns for the arms of the chair that he could almost hear cracking under the force of his grip.

The Crowned Cat was certainly a step above the last inn he had occupied in London (which felt a fortnight hence and was strange to recall had hardly been more than a day ago). And while this location had amenities that were more similar to the usual situations he'd become used to with the Baratheon family, it was not so fine that they would attract more notice than was necessary.

"You can repeat yourself as often or as little as you please, but it will not change the matter." Davos insisted.

Stannis stared at him as if he was seriously considering knocking him down and making a mad dash for the door.

"Look, it just isn't the thing to do- and you know that well enough," Davos tried again.

"I do not see how you going out into the streets wandering about on your own is any more of a reasonable action."

"If they know you're coming after them, they'll run. It's that simple."

"I was not planning on shouting from the street."

"You cannot help but 'shout' from the streets!" Davos suddenly yelled, "You're far more noticeable that you'd like to believe. Anyone who knows you could pick you out three streets away as the strange straight shape that seems somehow bless by some spherical gravitational miracle which imbibes the capability not to come within three inches of another human being and shed vexation like something physical!"

Stannis stared as Davos tried to catch his breath. After a moment he glanced away and Davos could have sworn his cheeks reddened just slightly.

"I can attempt to be more… subtle."

"I don't think you are in any kind of state to be attempting such an alteration of character." Davos sighed, "And I'm sure by now Baelish has heard that you have survived what might have been a nasty accident. It isn't safe."

"I might say the same to you." Stannis snapped, "And Baelish is a rouge- nothing more. I can have him pulled into the Bailey whenever I wish, and after this incident they should be coming for him in a matter of days."

"That would be quite impressive, truly." Davos said disbelieving, "But rats have some quite impressive abilities of their own, especially those with smoothed out coats and gold filled sewers."

Stannis looked confused.

"It doesn't matter." Davos sighed, "Someone will see you. Someone will know you. It's too much to risk."

"And no one will know you?"

"Not in that part of the city." Davos almost laughed.

"I still say--"

"Look- you've accepted aid, refusing it now would be rather moronic."

Stannis' fury rolled in waves through the room. But he didn't answer, and that was something at least.

"Now, I'm leaving," Davos said, "And if I return and find that you've wandered out into the street on your own--"

"You won't." Stannis spat as he turned his back on him and stared out the window.

Davos didn't wait for him to change his mind.

-----

It had started to snow by the time he reached the outside of the hotel. It was a sparse and slushing showing but it was there all the same and he pulled his coat tighter as he stopped just out of the nearest streetlamp and leaned against the cold stone of a nearby building to evaluate.

They weren't hard to find in the end. He'd know it would be easy- the first three places he had checked had asked about for had nothing in the manner of residents, but a guest whose attention had been drawn by his inquiries noted that he had seen two lads of that description that night at the Opera and noticed the direction in which they departed afterwards. Davos had known there were no accommodations of the standards he expected Renly Baratehon and his companion were enjoying, but there was a club on that street, cards, other gambling- and when he inquired there more than a few members of the staff remembered the two lovely laughing boys from the night previous. After a slight prodding one of the table dealers muttered something about the hotel they had requested any winnings forwarded to.

It wasn't far- and well on his list of one of the twenty or so he had meant to try that night: grand, almost obscenely so, and lavish enough that enjoyment and frivolities were not so disparaged as with some of the more traditionally run establishments.

The falling slush was making the activity on the street slightly more frantic than usual so he remained where he stood, off to one side of the bustle, and peered through the darkness up to the shining squares of the hotel windows, glowing out their promises of warmth and comfort. In one a woman stood very still and straight, staring out at the street below. Another held a fat man in a strained waistcoat, laughing jovially with a rounded whiskey glass held in his equally rotund fingers. A curtain stirred on the floor above the drinker and Davos' eyes shifted sharply. There was a blonde boy standing in the window- from this distance he couldn't see his features but the weight and height seemed about right and the way his cheekbones were catching the light from the street left little doubt. After a moment another figure joined him in the window, just as young. He stepped up behind the blonde boy and after a moment leaned his dark haired head into the crook of his neck.

Davos looked away. Foolish. They couldn't possibly be more foolish.

He glanced back up. The curtain was still pulled aside but they were gone from it.

He stared at the empty window for a while, forgetting momentarily about the slushy snowfall trying to find it's way down his collar.

It would be easy- wouldn't it? He could jsimply turn around- leave, say he never found them, or better yet say that it was too late and they had already gone. They could go, leave and never look back. They might be happy. And that was worth it wasn't it?

But no, he wasn't quite that foolish. They had been easy to find, too easy. They had stood in a window as if the world could not see them. They were foolish and young, and yes in love but it had to be worth something more than that. You couldn't treat it as something to be throw away and if they kept going as brazenly and foolishly as they were now that's just what they would do- although torn away was rather a better description. But wasn't that just the action that he was about to instigate? Would he really expect anything less than rage and demanded actions and in the end nothing but misery and pain and fury?

They could leave. He could tell them to leave- help them find a ship tonight with someone he trusted and maybe, just maybe if they were lucky enough they could manage find some kind of happiness in this world. He could stand on the dock and watch the boat slip through the black water, and walk back along the silent slushy streets. He would open the door of the inn and find Stannis again, perhaps already asleep- but no that wasn't right, he wouldn't be. He would be pacing the floor anxious and livid, and as Davos stood there on that corner and imagined the way the light would slip from his eyes and his jaw would tighten hard against his grief if he told him they were gone and there was no way to get them back again…

No. He couldn't do that to him, no matter how much he might deserve it, no matter how much he might think those boys standing in the window deserved their own happiness, for it wasn't anger or even grief that had struck Stannis' face as he opened that letter- it was fear, and in that fear there was love, even if he did not see it. He loved his brother, and he was here now not solely to prevent the shame he might cause but for fear of his safety. Even if he could never say as much the truth was plain, and with that thought Davos looked once more at the window and turned his back on the golden glow of the hotel, trudging back through the darkness towards the inn.

------

He heard the voices as soon as he entered, in fact most of the people sitting down to their meals in the close warmth of the inn or speaking to the keeper around wooden front desk seemed to be glancing over their shoulders or up towards the rafters at the sheer volume and tone of the unseen conversation.

Davos recognized the booming voice despite the layers of wood separating them and forced his feet to move him forward as quickly as he could even if they tried to hold him back and turn right back out the door again.

By the time he reached the top of the stairs he could just make out the words from one another.

"HOW DARE YOU!"

"Renly wrote the letter- he did not misspeak. This is not some romantic gesture towards the young lady. It is a lad and you know it."

Davos quickened his pace.

"STANNIS IF YOU SAY THAT ONCE MORE--"

"I will say it as often as I must to make you realize the truth. He's run off- with the boy, and you've let him."

Davos shoved the door open seemingly just in time.

Robert's fist was raised and Stannis stood rooted to the spot, staring up at him with dangerously contained rage, as if daring him to try it, but the instant the door pushed open their eyes swiveled sharply to Davos standing there.

Robert's meaty fist loosened and he stepped back once as Stannis stayed where he was, quite still indeed except for the way his chest seemed to be rising and falling a good deal more noticeably than usual as he breathed hard through his nose like some caged animal.

"Oh," Robert managed stepping back, "What the hell's happened to you?"

Davos had almost forgotten about his face, "Nothing," He managed, "I fell."

Robert didn't seem to believe him but the tension of the space almost burned enough to let that slip and the large man's natural good will seemed to have been seriously damaged in whatever conversation had taken place before Davos' arrival. He couldn't seem to look at anything without fury and so he turned his back on both of them and walked towards the window, opening it sharply despite the cold and gripping tight to the sill as he took several deep breaths.

Davos stared, suddenly realizing that perhaps, no certainly, he should not be here at all.

"Did you find anything?" Stannis asked suddenly, and the way he looked at him then, with such startling trust and dependency… maybe he wasn't so unwelcome or out of place after all.

Robert turned at the question and was look at him aswell, both of them, staring at him, waiting, boiling rage and cold concern both pressing tight and anxious and there was still time to lie…

"Davos?" Stannis asked.

He looked back at him and swallowed once, "Yes. Yes I've found them."

The relief that poured over Stannis' face almost made it worth it.

"Where?" Robert asked through his teeth, walking across the floor now to stare down at him through the thick black bristles of his beard.

"The Yellow Rose," Davos said, "It's not too far."

Stannis was looking away from them now, brow furrowed, as if he was considering something very deeply and didn't quite hear the words that were being exchanged.

"And…" Robert began again. Davos looked back to him.

"Yes?"

"And did you… did you see them?"

Davos frowned, "I certainly would not feel comfortable informing you with any certainly of their location unless I had."

Robert's brow deepened in struggling confusion, "And was it… was he with--?"

And suddenly there was a tight anger in Davos stomach, "He was with Loras Tyrell. They have been seen together at the opera and at a club nearby, and I saw them from the street standing in the window of the room they share. Happily. Quite happily."

Robert looked as if he might strike him. But he didn't.

"We should go." Stannis said suddenly, voice strangely calm, "Now," He added, looking up at them, "Before it's too late."

"Too late--" Robert stammered, "You don't think they haven't-- that we can…"

"Before they leave, Robert," Stannis said in what might have been a sigh if his jaw was not set quite so hard and fast, "Before Renly is gone and we have little chance of finding him again."

"I'll kill him." Robert muttered to himself shaking his head back and forth as if that would dislodge the truth of their words.

"That would rather defeat the purpose." Stannis said sharply.

"It's done," Robert said, voice growing louder once more, "If it's as he says they've been seen and it's too late."

"Too late for what?" Stannis asked sharply.

Robert glared at him, "You know for what."

"Are you suggesting that we let them leave?"

"I don't…" Robert managed before trailing off. He paced sharply across the floor and turned his back before finally answering, "No, of course not. Bloody hell…"

"There then." Stannis said, "If you'll ask them to bring the carriage around..."

Robert seemed eager for the distraction of a task, disturbingly docile in the manner in which he headed for the door… although perhaps he merely wished to escape his brother and the shocking calm of the realities he was planting around them.

Robert reached the door.

"And not yours," Stannis reminded, staring down at his hands as he adjusted his own gloves, "He'll spot it ten streets down."

Robert stared, some wildness in his eyes suggesting that he might start shouting again just for the sake of it, but he clamped his lips tighter together and headed quickly towards the fresh air, shutting the door behind him.

Stannis crossed the room quickly and silently shut the window he'd left open, locking it back in place. Davos stood where he had been left. The room felt somehow smaller and larger all at once without Robert there, and quiet, strangely quiet, without even the sound of grinding teeth against the gentle puttering of the flames in the hearth. He realized that Stannis had stopped where he was- staring out the window and into the black night only broken by the small circles of orange light scattered across the city outside.

"How was he?" Stannis asked suddenly, "Did you speak to him?"

"No," Davos answered quietly.

He turned then and looked at him with those startling blue eyes, and there was anger there, but only alive as a small sparking thing and the concern was still drowning it, a concern turned almost inward, as if there was so much happening behind his stare that he could only just manage to focus on what was before him.

"But you saw him?" Stannis continued.

"Yes," Davos said, "As I have said."

Stannis nodded once and his brow tightened and for a moment Davos thought his voice might catch, but it didn't.

"You said he seemed… that he was happy?" Stannis said.

Davos swallowed, "Yes. They appeared very happy."

Stannis smiled slightly but it was a bitter broken thing and hardly more than fleeting.

"It was always easy for him to be happy."

"It's easy for anyone to be happy," Davos said, but as soon as the words had left him Stannis looked up at him and he knew immediately he had been wrong.

It wasn't easy. Not for him. And now suddenly he realized that he almost wished he hadn't. He'd thought Stannis had been responsible, brought all this weight and consequence on himself and burned the duty into his very skin so deep he could never let himself see anything else. Davos had thought it was just a matter of choice, Stannis' own foolish, arrogant choice. But it wasn't was it? He couldn't help his unhappiness. It wasn't that he simply chose not to smile- it was that he simply couldn't. He couldn't help it. Any of it. It was as tied to him as the blue of his eyes.

Davos turned towards the door.

"You're leaving?" Stannis asked. His voice was strange. He didn't normally ask- he asserted or assumed or affirmed, but his voice now- it was questioning, carefully.

"You'll be quite busy I'm sure. I should not infringe further than I have on these matters."

"You're not…" Stannis began and then quieted as if he realized the foolishness of his own words before they emerged.

"Did you think I would come with you?" Davos asked, hating the pity that found it's way into his voice.

Stannis looked down at the floor boards and crinkled his brow in that tight manner again, "No. Of course not."

Davos nodded and reached for the doorknob.

"Thank you." Stannis said.

His voice was so soft that Davos might not have heard it had the room been any less than silent. But it wasn't so he caught the words, and he glanced over his shoulder but Stannis was still staring tightly at the wooden boards under his feet.

He didn't know what he'd expected to see.

He turned back towards the door but something was tugging at him, something small but present enough that he knew if he simply turned and left it would only get worse, as if there was a small thread tied to that door and the further he walked the further it would unravel.

"What will you say to them?" Davos asked without turning towards him.

"I don't know." Stannis said silently, and then with his voice hardening: "What I must."

Davos winced ever so slightly and felt himself turning before he realized it.

"Just find a way." He heard himself say, and then the words were coming and there wasn't any stopping them.

"You're angry- of course you are, and that's fine, that's fine because he's been foolish and hasn't considered his actions and so many other things, but he loves him. He loves him and they… I saw them, and they were happy and you can't pretend you don't see that. Even if Robert doesn't, even if the other's don't, you can't pretend you're blind to it. And perhaps you hate him for it- perhaps you wish he could just seal his happiness away in some tightly locked box the way you do, and maybe he is selfish and close-minded and truly altogether spoiled but he's in love. He's found a way and that must mean something to you and if he has a chance of being happy, truly happy, then…"

Davos let his voice trail off and fall away. It sounded altogether too quiet again and he could feel Stannis' eyes on him but he couldn't quite manage to look at him. Not yet.

"And you do love him," Davos said quietly, "Even if you wish you didn't."

He couldn't stop himself from looking now, and when he did he met that blue stare as he'd known he would, but he hadn't know it would make his heart flip inside his chest.

"I do." Stannis said roughly, staring at him so hard and there was nothing, utterly nothing but hope and fear inside his eyes, "I truly do."

His breathe was gone, and there was nothing left but the look in his eyes.

"STANNIS!"

Davos' breathe caught back around him all at once and Stannis jolted, turning to see where Robert must be waiting beside the carriage outside the window and down below.

Stannis made a rough noise in the back of his throat and he turned, glancing at him with something so painfully close to a search for consent or approval or any kind of direction that Davos felt as if a hand had tightened hard deep inside him.

"Go," Davos said with a thick nod, pulling his eyes away.

He felt the breeze as Stannis hurried past and made himself exhale, for if he breathed him in now he couldn't quite be certain what he would do. He heard him stop at the door for hardly a moment, almost saw out of the corner of his eye his head turn slightly as if to look back, but he didn't and then the door was open and he was gone.

---

It hadn't changed. He didn't know why he might have thought it would have. It had only been a month- two perhaps.

It was colder, there was that difference at the very least, but the stones still kept the wind at bay as it came off the sea and broke against the rock of the hills. There had been snow- there were still some thin fragile drifts slapped up against the white washed sides of the cottage, but most of it had gone. The sea was far from frozen, but it had that grey look that spoke of nothing but cold and dark, perhaps not trapped in ice itself but still sending the coast into a frozen state of stunted stillness.

He was alone here now. He'd told the few people he had employed that he would be away for he did not know how long months ago and somehow had forgotten to inform them of his return, but now he felt it was for the best. It seemed right to be here alone.

He would make a fire and he would find what was left in the pantry. There would be something and the next day he would go to the village. Perhaps he'd read… perhaps he'd simply sit and watch the fire lap the hearth's edges. Somehow it didn't seem to matter what he did. He was here, back where he should be. Home.

He'd let himself linger in the room at that inn for an hour. Maybe two. But eventually he had left it behind. At first he hadn't know where to go. Back to Dragonstone? But no- that wasn't right, and King's Landing was less so. And then there was only one place left. It was simply enough, it hardly took a week, and now here he was, standing once again in the halls that were quiet with the ceiling a bit too low and the sound of the ocean playing against the stones.

This was as it should be. He was where he should be. It should feel right. Comforting. Something. Anything. But it didn't. It felt like nothing.

Home.

Chapter Text

"A wedding? Truly? Mister Baratheon? Here in the village?"

Davos stopped, the bread halfway under his arm as he stood in the close warmth of the shop. 

"So says Mrs. Stern- who does the laundry up at the house," Said the older woman behind him, speaking in that tone of intentional quiet that declared the secretive nature of her words while still echoing loud enough to make sure anyone close by might be able to hear them eminating from her

"Sir?"

Davos turned sharply. The baker was smiling at him in a helpless sort of way.

"Of course, apologies," He muttered, rummaging in his waistcoat for his money.

"It promises to be quite the event," The gossip continued behind him, "There hasn't been a proper wedding in the village since Lord Steffon and Lady Cassana all those years hence. Not since Lord Robert gave the house up to the younger Mister Baratheon and married in town."

"And who's the lady?" Asked the other eagerly.

Davos could feel the coins against his fingertips but continued as if he was still in search of them, listening harder than he rightly should be.

"Surely a beauty," The eager voice glowed, "I do not know her name, but I'm sure I will before the day is out, when Mrs. Stern returns for tea. They're arriving this evening, starting the preparations."

Davos pushed a few coins into the shopkeeper's warm rough hand and turned, pushing his way out of the shop before he let himself stop and listen further.

The air outside hit cold and sharp after the warmth of the bakery and he tucked the heated loaf tighter under his arm, using the other hand to hold his collar close as he started up the path out of town and back towards the cottage.

The wind was cutting now as his hurried steps carried him out of the cover of buildings and out onto the hillside that led up and up and finally to his own home, but he found himself taking a turn, choosing the path that led more gradually up the slope from the western side and had the view that spread out over the valley towards the sea.

It was getting dark already- and the sky had been an ominous grey that threatened snow for most of the day but his feet seemed to be moving without his permission now and he let them, even if it meant clambering up the last of the rocky path towards the cottage in the darkness. The fire he'd left there would still be alive, if barely, and he could find his way well enough. Anyways it was too late now. The turn was already well behind him, and somehow even if it did begin to snow and the darkness came thick and heavy he knew he had to see it .

"And who's the lady?"

He wouldn't think about it. He pulled the warmth of the bread closer to him even though the heat was hardly present any longer.

Had it been so long? No, surely not- he'd only arrived here a week hence. But no, it didn't matter. It was gone now. He was here, he'd put himself here, away from it and was where he belonged once more and he was done with it as he'd said he would be.

Part of him had been waiting, for something. He'd be lying to himself if he said when he checked for the correspondence he didn't hope for the small slanted letters. But there were none- had been none. But had he truly expected any such communication- when he himself had left without any word to his intentions? For all he knew he couldn't even guess where to reach him, how to reach him. For all he knew he might assume he had taken a ship and left without a trace. Perhaps he didn't know where or how to for some sort of contact, or more likely he did not wish to. It wasn't as if he'd encouraged him or even implied any form of willingness for such actions. He'd said he would stay. For one day. He had. And he had gone, and that was all there way to it. Nothing had changed.

Davos reached the top of the slope and the land trailed off below him, brown and scattered with white and grey almost everywhere else. Storm's End sat on the edge of the sea- shadowed and permanent, so starkly visible against the pallor of the sky and the darkness of the ocean.

Davos stood on the hillside, holding his coat closed against himself. His cheeks were feeling numb as the breeze picked up and his nose was already red and frozen but wind was better than snow so he simply tightened his arms against it.

"They're arriving this evening, starting the preparations."

From this distance he could see some details of the house. There was a carriage pulled up in the drive but just one. There seemed to be some activity on the grounds, but not much. He could see the gardens spreading out behind the house, just make out the corner of the kept lawn where they had sat that first day.

"Can you really pretend that the expression of admiration is as simple as stating it."

Davos felt his throat tighten as the voice fell against his memories.

"I do." The voice echoed, a voice broken, and terrified, and so very different he would never have known it could come from the same man: "I truly do."

Davos turned away from the sight of black stone walls standing against the sea. He adjusted the bread under his arm and steadily, but perhaps a little more slowly, began to trudge back up the stony path in the growing dark.

The wind only grew thicker and harder as the light dimmed and by the time he reached the slope that he knew led down to the cottage he could barely see through the water the wind and cold was drawing from his eyes. He peered against the dark, straining to see if the fire was still alive and shedding some orange light into the parlor.

It took him a moment to focus his eyes against the cold: there was light there, shining from one of the windows. It was bright. Brighter than it should be and as he stared he thought he even saw the shape of several candles lit within, and that couldn't be right. But as stared he suddenly noticed the orange glow shining off something outside, something boxy, dark, and tall and he peered as his feet began to move him forward again until he saw it for what it was. A carriage. There was a carriage in front of the cottage- his cottage.

His stiff feet hurried forward, knowing the way well enough now to not stumble so on the darkened stones. The closer he got the more details became clear. It was a fine carriage indeed- four horses waiting patiently in the dark with the driver hunched over against the cold. There were candles lit inside and he suddenly felt his heart thudding against his chest

He gave a quick look to the driver but he didn't recognize him and the man seemed too consumed in preserving his own warmth to pay him any heed.

Davos reached the door and found himself stopping despite the cold still gripping tight to his body. He stared at the door handle for a moment longer, shut his eyes tight and with a deep breath pushed hard.

The door gave way and he stumbled inside. There was no one in the hall but he could see the golden shine from the candles that were lit in the parlor leaking onto the floor boards and he didn't stop to remove his coat before stepping hurriedly towards the room and entering into the light with one quick motion.

At first it seemed no one was there. There was no stern tall shape standing against the light of the fire with it's back to him as he had half expected to find. There was nothing, and for a moment he wondered if he were going mad until a soft rustle sounded from the chair behind him.

He turned and green eyes flashed in the firelight.

"Mister Seaworth." She said simply.

He couldn't quite seem to speak for a moment. He looked about, the candles, the fire.

"Perhaps you would like to relieve yourself of your loaf." Lady Cersei said, eyeing the bread he carried with something like amused disgust in her eyes.

"I see you've made yourself comfortable." Davos said finally, placing the bread down on a nearby table.

"I would hardly call your… situation, in this place, comfortable." She answered looking about the room not without her usual distain.

"Then I might ask," Davos said, "Why you would choose to inflict such discomfort upon yourself without so much as an invitation."

She looked at him then and narrowed her eyes, "We have matters to discuss."

"No, my lady," Davos said, feeling the anger already boiling in his stomach, "I do not believe that to be true."

"I assure you it is."

"There is nothing we could possibly have to discuss," Davos hissed through his teeth, "Certainly nothing of such importance or familiarity that you would make yourself comfortable in my home without the slightest indication of curtesy--"

"I owe you no courtesy," Cersei said sharply, raising her chin proudly in the firelight.

Davos stared at her, "Leave. Now."

She remained where she sat but now a thin smile played on her lips, "I shall, soon enough, but I shall say what I have come to for before I do."

Davos felt his throat tighten, "I wish you to leave, there is nothing we have to say to one another and you are in such apparent discomfort that I would not wish to inflict further pain on your ladyship--"

"My brother in law," Cersei cut in impatiently, "Considers you... a friend."

The final word was pronounced with more venom than the definition could be expected to glean.

"I was not aware that our friendship continued." Davos said simply.

"Is that so?" She said, and for the first time she seemed to be genuinely questioning him.

"You're asking," Davos said, "Is that why you're here? Don't you know?"

"I seek to assure myself with affirmation, an affirmation I would have from you."

"And what is that?" Davos asked sharply.

Cersei stared at him through the dark, "I would have you assure me that your relations are at an end. I would hear from you that whatever friendship you may have stumbled upon in these past months should not continue. It shall not continue."

Davos blinked. Her face remained rigid in the dark but it was not as stable as he had first assumed. Something was pulling at the corner of her brow and the corners of her mouth, and there was a twitching inside her eyes that gave her a distracted manner.

Davos watched her for a long moment.

"Why are you here." He said finally.

"I believe I have just expressed--" Cersei began impatiently.

"No," Davos said, stepping closer to her now and fixing his eyes on hers firmly, "Why are you here?"

She held his gaze for a moment, her own narrowing in the firelight that made her hair shine an even purer gold than it did otherwise.

"He's to be married." She said finally.

"Is that so?" Davos said as calmly as he could.

"It is." She said turning her jaw proudly, "Miss Rutilus is just the woman that this family needs in association with Stannis Baratheon. She is fashionable where he is rigid and charming when he is decidedly not."

"Indeed," Davos managed, "How serendipitous for you to make her acquaintance."

Cersei almost smiled at him, "You insult us both, Mister Seaworth, with your feigned ignorance." She turned her eyes to the fire, "Indeed she knew exactly what I could offer her when she met me in London, but there was no advantage taken on her part. I saw her promise and I knew well enough myself what she could bring to this family and placed her accordingly, trusting she could take responsibility for the situation into her own hands."

"Then you are to be congratulated on your success," Davos said shortly.

Cersei stared back at him, "It is a sound match. Even you with your limited understanding of societal implication cannot deny that. Robert is an oaf. I know that better than anyone Mister Seaworth. Renly has shown himself to be what I always knew he was. He will doom this family if his actions are not culled, but he is young and perhaps it may be excused. Stannis is respectable. He is perhaps the only thing holding this family I have found myself shackled to from tumbling into the jests of a world that holds importance to me."

She leaned forward where she sat.

"I will not be made more of an object of ridicule than I have already suffered to become, Mister Seaworth. Stannis keeps Robert at bay even if he believes he doesn't. Stannis appears in courts and at the events he should. Stannis is the Baratheon family and it's only remaining item of pride."

She leaned back once more.

"I will not suffer my father's contempt if this family falls further from favor."

Davos looked at her again. She truly was a beautiful woman, beautiful and proud, but tired. Very tired.

"I'm afraid my ignorance pervades, Lady, for I fail to understand you. I fail to comprehend how I have inflicted such risk of destruction."

Cersei's eyes snapped to him once more, "Don't you?"

Davos felt his stomach tighten under him and cursed it inwardly.

Cersei stood sharply, "It is of no matter. I came here for one thing and I will have your assurance."

Davos stared back at her, "What is it that you fear so that makes such a thing so very necessary?"

Cersei considered him for a moment and then stepped closer. Her eyes softened at the corners and she looked at him directly- indeed they were almost the same height.

"He has a chance for happiness. He has a chance to become what his father would have wished him to be. Do not take such an opportunity from him."

The anger pounded through his ears as he stared into the green pools of contempt that watched him with such livid distain.

"I assure you madam," He said as calmly as he could, "I have never held such intentions."

"Despite your past I have the sensation that you are a man of your word." Cersei said tightly, "Swear it. Swear that you shall not see him again."

Davos' throat felt dry but his anger pulled the words from him despite it, "I wonder why you require such promises from me, my lady?"

Cersei's shoulders tightened, "He is to be married."

"So you have said."

"There is no reason for your association to continue."

"I perceive that as your contention."

"Promise me." She snapped.

"No."

She stared. For a moment he thought she might slap him. She looked as if she dearly wanted to strike him, strike someone, anyone. Her lips tightened into one dangerously thin line.

"It is no matter." She said finally.

She stepped back and looked at him from head to toe and that small smile spread across her lips but this time it did not seem forced. It seemed a natural thing, sharp and prideful and cruel and it grew as she stared.

"I see that now," She smiled, "I do not know why I troubled myself with the journey."

She turned, but paused at the doorway and looked back once more, "I see you Mister Seaworth… I see you as you see yourself, in this place, alone… I see it all quite clearly now. I see a broken man. I need no promises from you. You've already made them all to yourself."

And with that she was gone.

Davos stood where he was left, hardly listening as the carriage pulled away with a clank of wheels and the horses trotted easily down the path and towards the estate in the distance.

He was moving soon enough, hurrying towards a small cabinet to the left of the hearth. He knelt down on shaky legs, pulling the small doors open, and reached inside. His hand closed on the first bottle he touched and thanked god silently when it emerged as whiskey. The cork was out of the top almost as fast and he felt the smooth glass of the lip hitting his own with a heady swath of relief that burned only brighter as the auburn liquid crashed into his mouth. He swallowed once, twice, thrice and then pulled back and gasped, running a hand over his lips and shutting his eyes tight against the burning in his thoat.

It only lasted a moment and then the bottle was back against him. It stung and warmed all at once and he felt the floor starting to slip under him as the room began to tilt ever so slightly at the edges. Like a ship. That's all. Just like a ship again. Home again.

He felt a laugh swell in his chest and swallowed it down with another gulp. But the taste was filling him now, swimming around his mouth, the burn of whiskey, tasting so familiar he suddenly wanted to scream…

He felt himself slip back, thankfully catching against the side of a chair instead of the floor. The firelight danced across the wooden boards, blurring through his vision. It could easily be the same room. That very same room. If he squinted his eyes- the blurry orange of the firelight, the taste of scotch hot on his tongue, the cold lingering in his fingers, it could almost be… almost.

Outside the wind pounded against the stones and his eyes opened foggy and pained. No. It wasn't that night. There had been no wind that night. Only the snow.

The bottle felt heavy in his hand but he lifted it anyways, and shut his eyes even tighter as he drank again. Maybe if he shut them tight enough he wouldn't hear the wind, maybe he would forget it was only his own hand under his, that the warmth against his cheek was nothing but the chair and not the fabric of a jacket stretched over a bony shoulder. Maybe if he drank enough he wouldn't remember the look on her golden face, as if she had won some game she hadn't even needed to play, as she shouldn't have even bothered to try it demeaned her so.

Maybe if he pulled the bottle back once more he wouldn't see blue eyes staring back at him, feel a hand catch his arm in the mist of the wood as he fell forward, taste the bitterness of lemons against his tongue.

He swallowed again, and again, and watched in idle fascination as the black slipped in around the corners and finally decided to remain.

---

The pounding woke him. But he didn't know if it was the door or his head.

His eyes opened a crack and the light of the day shot into his head with such ferocity that he squeezed them shut again but he squeezed too hard and a mightly throb pulsed through his skull, shooting a groan from his lungs.

He had to get up, someone was knocking, it couldn't have been his head. But there was no pounding now was there, so he could easily be have been mistaken.

Davos moved to roll onto his side and immediately fell back, the taste of acid climbing up the back of his throat.

There was a metallic clink somewhere in the corner of his brain that almost sounded like the door opening. Perhaps it was Cersei, perhaps she'd brought Miss Rutilis with her this time to see what a truly pathetic thing he was and wouldn't they get the full showing this morning.

He felt the sick rising again as he tried to move but he swallowed it back with a grit of his teeth and managed to roll onto his knees and elbows, breathing tight and ragged against the pain in his skull.

Wood creaked. He wasn't imagining that. It was certainly footsteps. He squeezed his eyes tightly. Just two more breathes, two more good breathes and he'd make himself stand.

A low whistle sounded from the doorway.

"I had my suspicious, but now truly I know what my absence can do to a man," The voice sounded.

Davos' eyes opened without his consent, forgetting all about the blinding pain of the light. He turned and saw something he couldn't possibly see.

"Sal?"

The rouge leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed casually over his chest, staring down at him with a worried smile on his face, "God save you, Davos, if I didn't know better I might say that was reverence in your tone."

---

It took an hour to clean himself up. By the time he made it downstairs again his stomach was somewhat settled (that is after utterly emptying itself thrice over out in the scraggy shrubberies of the hillside) and at least the cold water he'd splashed on his face had brought his brain somewhat in time with his body. Fresh clothes helped as well, ones that didn't smell of ash and scotch and general wretchedness.

He entered the parlor carefully, silently blessing Sal for the dry toast he found waiting on the table.

"Much improved?" Sal asked as he entered the room, holding a pot of tea and two cups.

"As much as I think reasonable for the moment," Davos said, reaching for the welcome beverage.

"Well thankfully I have been told I have quite a soothing voice for pounding skulls." Sal smiled easily as he slipped into the seat opposite him.

Davos stared at him evenly, "So… you're…?"

"Not in prison?" Sal smiled as he poured the tea.

"Not in India, or America, or Cuba, or anywhere else someone as reasonable as yourself might find themselves in a time such as this."

"Cuba," Sal said in an amused fashion, "I hadn't even considered…"

"Sal!" Davos insisted as loudly as he could manage but apparently misjudged as his head pounded in protest. He clutched his temple sharply and tried again, "What are you doing here?"

Sal smiled easily, "What? Not happy to have help getting your drunken self peeled from the floor boards."

"Sal," Davos insisted, staring at him as hard as he could manage, "Please."

Sal took pity with a shrug of his shoulders, "My accusations have been withdrawn."

"What?" Davos asked, still not sure if his chemically destroyed brain was perceiving the world correctly.

"Withdrawn, lifted, removed," Sal repeated, leaning back as he quite literally soaked his toast in jam.

"I don't understand…" Davos managed intelligently.

"I received a letter just before setting out from Marseilles. I was free to return, at my leisure, although I did receive a rather stern chat as soon as I stepped off the deck."

Davos peered at him from under his furrowed brow, "Not…"

"The very same. Your little tin soldier." He smirked lewdly and Davos felt his stomach start to roll again.

"He's not my--"

"Oh stop it with that would you? I'm not that daft Davos."

Davos swallowed the sickness that was threatening to return, "He spoke to you?"

"To my unending surprise and lingering sense of discomfort." Sal said airily.

"What could he possibly have said?"

Sal cleared his throat and spoke the words in his best rough stern tone: "'Don't do it again.'"

Davos stared.

"Truly?"

"He may have used five or six more words, but that was the general summary. Oh- and he informed me that Baelish is gone, but you knew that."

"What?"

"My god, Davos," Sal tutted, "Have you been holed up here lolling about with scotch bottles this whole time?"

Davos ignored him, "Where's he gone?"

"Who knows…" Sal said idly, "Some say Edinburgh. But I'd bet on further… perhaps Rome."

"Rome." Davos repeated, trying to hear the words again, "How?"

"I wouldn't be the one to ask." Sal said simply, but he adjusted himself a moment afterwards and leaned closer, the hint of concern back in his stare, "I would have thought you would know better than I…"

Davos leaned back, "Yes, well, I do not. As you see."

Sal stared at him for a moment, "Yes, as I see…"

Davos suddenly felt violently ill again but shut his eyes and tried to breathe it away. Sal waited. Thankfully, in silence. But when he finally opened his eyes again he was still watching him with concern.

"What is it Davos?" He said finally, "Why've you done this to yourself?"

"You're one to talk," Davos tried to grin, but he couldn't quite seem to manage it.

"You and I are not the same." Sal smiled gently back.

Davos almost managed to laugh, but it felt strange in his chest and became a wince instead.

Sal waited. Quietly. Patiently.

"It was Cersei," Davos said finally.

"What? Not Lady Cersei?"

"The same," Davos continued.

Sal stared, "She…"

"Came here. Last night."

"What for?"

Davos did manage to smile this time, "To ask me to never see him again."

Sal didn't smile back.

"What did you tell her?" He asked softly.

"It doesn't matter," Davos almost spat, hating the pounding in his head, hating the taste of acid in his mouth, and hating the way his stomach seemed to be tight for different reasons all together.

"Why not?" Sal asked, voice vexingly patient.

"Because, I haven't seen him, not for weeks, and I'm sure I never will again."

"Is that what you told her?"

Davos shook his head slightly but didn't answer.

"Do you wish to see him again?" Sal asked.

Davos leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling, "God Sal- it just doesn't matter."

Sal laughed, "Of course it matters."

"Why?" Davos suddenly cried, "Why on earth does it matter? I won't see him again- he's a pompous fool, too arrogant to even know it. He can't apologize, or even give thanks. He could hardly stand in the same room as me without wincing, he sent you away--"

"And brought me back." Sal said shrugging.

Davos shot him a vicious look, "It doesn't matter."

"Why?" Sal pressed, eyes narrowing.

"Because he's marrying that woman. Because I told him I wouldn't see him, told him I never wanted to see him, or as good as! Because I left and he must think... and-- it just doesn't matter!"

"It seems to matter." Sal said simply, "It seems to matter a great deal."

Davos stared at him and then looked away, shutting his lips tightly and focusing as hard as he could on his tight knit hands where they sat on the table.

"Davos, what do you want?" Sals' voice came eventually.

He didn't answer.

Sal leaned closer, "Davos."

He looked at him now, but barely managed it.

Sal stared back, his face as calm as it always was, friendly, and charming, and vexingly smug. His voice was gentle, "It's a simple question."

It was a simple answer.

"Him."

Sal smiled as he leaned back, "See. Simple."

Davos laughed now, truly laughed for the first time in what felt like weeks.

"Yes, simple. Of course. Perfectly simple."

Sal shrugged.

"Sal," Davos insisted, "The last thing this is is simple."

"Why?"

Davos shook his head, "Because… he's not simple."

Sal sighed as he leaned back, "You don't wish to see him marry this woman?"

Davos ran a hand through his hair, "I don't even know any longer."

"You despise her." Sal said simply.

"Well I wouldn't say… alright, fine, I despise her. But if she makes him happy--"

"Not as happy as you." Sal said.

Davos blinked at him.

"What?" Sal said, "I would have thought that was obvious."

Davos stood suddenly and walked towards the window in frustration, "No… no, it's not- it's doesn't matter."

"You keep saying that. But I'm not sure it makes it any more true." Sal said with a tinge of irritation, "How do your desires cease to hold importance?"

"Not all of us can maintain your obvious lack of sentimentality for anything but your most clear and base urges." Davos snapped harsher than he meant.

Sal quieted at that and Davos felt his stomach grow tighter as the regret slipped over him, but he stayed where he was, staring down at his hands on the window sill.

FInally, he heard a chair move behind him.

"It is simple Davos, as you've always said… You two- this nonsense between you. It should be simple, you know that well enough. But it isn't- you seem to see that clear enough."

Sal stepped closer but Davos still couldn't seem to look at him.

"It should be simple. If it's right it's simple. But it's not. He's not. And if he won't let himself be then you have an answer."

Davos said nothing. There was nothing to say.

After a moment he heard Sal gathering his coat.

"I'm staying at the Inn, down in the village… but I'll be leaving again, soon. There's a shipment- one you would approve of. I could use the company and someone who I can depend on knowing the sea well enough to at least make sure I get us there in one piece... Maybe tomorrow we can can discuss it further?"

Davos couldn't seem to answer him, but his head dipped down in something like a nod.

Sal waited for a moment longer and then turned, and silently made his way out of the door.

Davos watched from the window as his horse turned down the path and out of sight. He glanced up toward the sky- it was almost midday already but it was only a guess through the thick layer of clouds. It looked like snow again.

He turned back to the parlor in one motion, swallowing the surging in his stomach that he felt was no longer associated with his nightly pursuits.

He pushed past the table and towards the door, grabbing his coat on the way. He was out of it in a matter of minutes, pulling the wool over his shoulders even as he shut the thing tightly behind him.

The smell of icy ocean crashed into him and he shut his eyes and sucked it in, tasting the salt on his tongue, feeling the slice of the air on his skin. It felt so good, and before he knew it he was walking, a slow steady pace along the hillside, nowhere in particular, merely, walking. And as he did, slowly, steadily, it began to snow.

He walked across the hillside, as the flakes floated down around him. He walked all along the line of the stony face that met the ocean. He walked until finally his fingers began to ache against the cold and he turned back the way he came, this time his feet crunching slightly over an inch or so of freshly fallen snow under his boots. By the time he saw the cottage coming back into view through the thin vale of white it was growing dark.

It looked lovely from far off, standing where he was, it truly did, perhaps as lovely as he had found it when he first saw it. It had seemed so welcome then- a small welcome escape. Simple, and free and stable, and now standing a short ways off he could almost pretend it still held the same charm. Perhaps it did… now that he knew he would be leaving it soon enough.

He smiled slightly and continued his journey back.

At the turn of the path he saw the horse, nuzzling it's nose into the snow and plucking at the grass there. At first he thought it must be Sal's, returned for some reason, but no- it was darker than Sal's horse and a hand or two larger.

Davos almost started as a figure suddenly moved away from the shadow of the cottage to reveal it's self. Whatever it was didn't seem to notice him just yet. It was pacing back and forth along the front, looking in the windows as if searching for something. Davos felt his pace quicken.

He stopped just inside the garden. He should call out, he knew that, but somehow he couldn't.

He watched in silent fascination, watched the tall shape peer against the windows, steps frantic and almost anxious as he moved from one to another, searching helplessly. Finally the broad shoulders fell in acceptance that whatever they sought was not be be found. He turned and then he saw him. His breath caught white in the air against the snow, misting against the cold and clouding his face but it didn't matter, Davos knew it already.

Chapter Text

Stannis took a few steps towards him. Davos knew he should do the same, but his feet seemed quite incapable of allowing him to take such a practical action.

"I--" The stern voice began, closer now, close enough to see him well now in the gathering dark. His cheeks were red and flushed, hair slightly askew from what must have been the ride. It seemed to have been a rather vigorous experience if the speed of his breathing was any indication.

"Shireen has written you." Stannis said.

Davos knew he should speak, but he couldn't quite seem to make the words form, somehow just looking at him standing there in the dusk seemed to demand all the energy he had within him.

"Well," Stannis adjusted awkwardly, "I suppose dictated the writing…"

Davos was waiting for him to reach inside his coat to retrieve it but he did not.

"I may be here with more frequency," Stannis managed, glancing up quickly, "In the country I mean to say, now that I am at Storm's End."

"Storm's End?" Davos asked, words slipping out before he could catch them.

"Yes," Stannis said sharply, "I've purchased it… from Renly. He will surely prefer to be in town now."

Davos felt his stomach clench wretchedly. They stood there in silence for a moment, the snow falling silently about them.

Stannis cleared his throat sharply, "Cersei was here."

It wasn't a question, but he answered him anyways.

"She was."

There was anger in his face stern but something else as well, something Davos knew could not truly be there at all.

"How did you know?" Davos asked.

"I heard her speaking of it." He said, "To Miss Rutilus--"

"Congratulations," Davos heard himself say in a voice so calm that it couldn't have possibly been his own.

"For what?" Stannis asked sharply, brow furrowing tightly.

"The wedding." Davos said.

"Yes, well… It's as much your accomplishment as my own." He said uncomfortably.

"...My accomplishment?" Davos repeated cautiously.

"Yes," Stannis said impatiently, "Surely you must have seen your influence in it."

Davos stared, "I truly don't know what you mean."

Stannis looked back on him in confusion, "Renly… and Miss Tyrell." He looked away, "I thought you would approve… it was the only way they, well. It was an agreeable situation for all parties. The girl is bright, and she was fully informed… approved with shocking haste at the arrangement--"

"Renly's to be married?" Davos suddenly said.

"Yes." Stannis said in a confused manner.

"Renly?" Davos repeated stupidly, "Not…"

"Of course, what did you…" Stannis' voice trailed and then caught up against with vicious restraint, "I see… Cersei's certainly has found ways to amuse herself."

Davos could hardly hear him, suddenly he could hardly hear anything.

Stannis titled his head sharply as if trying to push the anger away with admirable effort, "It is of no matter. Renly is to be married. And I know that I should not have come but…"

The word slipped away, catching against the snowflakes in the air, and Davos felt as if the wind was pushing them right through him, searing at his chest as they passed through.

"Cersei seemed to find it quite amusing when recounting the events of your encounter that you had refused to give her particular assurances…"

He was looking at him in that desperate way again, and Davos knew if he didn't look away soon it would be too late but somehow he didn't care.

"Particular assurances regarding myself… assurances which before overhearing her I was led to presume you would have no qualms about making."

Stannis looked back at him, that poignant hope slipping painfully through the blue of his stare, "Was she misleading in her testimonial?"

Davos swallowed, "No… she was not."

Stannis' eyes shone through the falling snow and they stood their together in simple silence that was suddenly so much more than mere stillness. Davos felt fingers slip around his. He looked down in surprise and watched in slow shock as Stannis held his hand. His fingers were half frozen.

"You're cold," Davos muttered, but now Stannis seemed to be the one who couldn't quite speak.

"Come on," Davos managed, jerking his head slightly to one side, "It's far warmer inside."

Stannis nodded letting his hand slip away and Davos headed towards the door. He found himself fumbling with the handle which was foolish but somehow Stannis standing so close behind him was making his hands heavy and clumsy. Eventually it gave way to him and he pushed it in. He turned to shut it again, and nearly ran into Stannis' chest.

"Oh."

Stannis pushed the door shut behind them with his foot, quickly walking further inside. Davos stepped backwards, thinking he would stop and turn towards the parlor. But he didn't. He kept walking, and Davos kept stepping backwards like an idiot, until he felt the plaster wall hit his back in the same instant frozen fingers cupped both side of his face. His stomach flipped inside him and--

"Ah-"

Stannis kissed him. It was clumsy and quick, like a child taking some dare and not wanting to be called a coward for hesitancy. His lips were chapped and rough from the cold and stiff and unsure but it didn't matter, it simply didn't matter at all.

He held firm- as if he needed Davos to know with utter and unquestionable certainty that he was taking this action- him and no one else. He didn't move, didn't press further, didn't let his lips slip apart, but somehow it was devastating all the same and Davos felt his whole chest surge as he knees seemed to forget why they were there to begin with and he gave a silent cloudy minded thanks for the firm wall behind him.

They stayed like that for a moment and then one more, and gently, carefully, Stannis pulled back, the soft sound of their lips parting caught almost noisily in the still dark of the cottage.

Their breathing caught between them, already wild and ragged which was just madness but damned if he cared and Stannis let one hand slip from his cheek to his shoulder and squeezed it so tightly Davos nearly winced. It was almost as if he had to hold onto something stable, had to anchor himself here in this moment and without a hand that tight was afraid he might drift away.

Davos' eyes stayed closed, he couldn't seem to open them, and there was nothing but the dark and the smell of him so close and so warmth, the feel of his hand on his cheek, cold but still so very much there, the taste of his breath between them like snow and cold and salt…

He felt a cold strong finger catch up his jaw and tilt his head upwards slightly. Davos opened his eyes sleepily and there was nothing but blue, staring so hard and so full of want, igniting Davos' hazy relaxed peace into something furious as Stannis held his jaw in such a way it was as if he wanted him to see just that same need in his face, needed him to see just that.

"Alright?" Stannis muttered, voice quiet and loud and low and utterly perfect.

Davos swallowed hard and nodded against the grip of his fingers, "Yes- yes." And with that he caught him about the back of the neck and pulled him down once more.

Stannis breathed in sharply as they met again and now Davos couldn't help the way his lips slipped instantly apart under the sudden heat of Stannis' mouth. He felt Stannis start underneath him, neck tensing beneath his hand, and maybe he should stop, but no, no, no and in that same moment he felt hands pushing him back against the plaster wall even harder as the chapped lips parted thoughtlessly, lower lip well below his own, teeth almost catching him in his haste, pushing so persistently that Davos felt the stubble scrape against his cheek, and shuddered like some maid under it.

And he certainly wasn't going to be outdone by some sententious aristocrat, especially not when even such clumsy kisses were making his chest burn like a hot rolling pool of want, and with that thought Davos let his hand slip up into Stannis' black hair possessively and ran a tongue across his upper lip.

He felt Stannis' knees give out slightly under him with a little strangled sound and flush with pride Davos did it again and this time Stannis couldn't seem to help the way his mouth fell open stupidly and his hand tightened against him in a silent painful pleading of their own: more, please, please, more--

Davos pressed his tongue between his lips easily, too damn easily, and let it slip over the roof of his mouth. Stannis let out a straggled groan and blinked sharply as if just realizing the sound came from himself. He pulled back suddenly in surprise at himself, lips parting with a wet soft noise and he started down at Davos, cheeks flushing bright pink, eyes wide and alarmed and so utterly beautiful that it actually hurt and Davos couldn't stop himself from grabbing his shoulders, spinning him fast, and pinning him back against the wall.

Stannis gasped loudly and Davos took the chance to tilt his head to one side and dive at him again, the little growl he felt against his lips and chest snapping part of his brain into incoherence and making his hands do things he couldn't control.

One scrabbled frantically up the side of Stannis' neck and into his hair, the other gripping tight to his hip under the woolen fabric of his trousers. He felt the sharp bone pushing into his palm and ran a heavy thumb over it. Stannis almost whimpered under him and Davos found himself pulling back sharply.

Stannis arched forward, subconsciously seeking out the warmth of his mouth again, but Davos was too consumed staring into him: lips parted and sharp jaw hanging slightly, eyes heavy, hair tussled. Davos slid his thumb over his hip bone again and Stannis shuddered hard, biting his lip ferociously as if holding back another unwanted moan, his neck craning up and out and suddenly Davos was diving forward, tongue slipping up the side of his throat thoughtlessly, and it was mad, mad, mad and god he didn't care--

"Hngg--" Stannis choked desperately as his knees buckled under him and Davos caught him with his chest, pressing him tighter against the wall, face still nuzzled into the safe scratchy darkness of his long neck, openly kissing once deep and hard and rubbing his nose up into the underside of his jaw. Stannis was shaking and Davos felt his jaw tighten harder, and realized suddenly that each and every muscle was tensed and rigid and… terrified.

Davos pulled back sharply, hands still tight on Stannis' shoulders, staring up at him. He wasn't looking back, his eyes were shut viciously tight and his breathing was heavy and strained and Davos felt his stomach tighten in a short stab at his own thoughtlessness.

He let one hand slip from its tight hold on Stannis' shoulder and grasp as gently as he could around one of Stannis'. He lifted it up, running a thumb over the palm and it opened, softly, beautifully- he was still shaking, but it was slowing. Carefully, Davos pushed his open lips into his open hand. Stannis eased under him, and when Davos did it a second time, brushing his nose against his index finger Stannis sighed softly, barely, but his whole body seemed to loosen, as if it were melting towards him, into him.

Davos glanced up and saw him staring down at him, his blue eyes were heavy, fogged but sharp on the edges and for a moment Davos couldn't move. He was lost, lost and stuck and staring and he almost started when he felt a rough thumb brush over his lower lip. His eyes fluttered, the one hand still on Stannis' shoulder gripping into the fabric even harder.

Stannis stared down at him, but he was no longer looking into his eyes, he was staring at his open lips as his thumb ran across once more and then, steadily, slowly slipped up and caught on his teeth, pulling his mouth just that much more open. Davos felt the growl swell in his throat and swallowed it roughly and wanted to reach out so very badly but was somehow trapped- as if this man was holding all of himself hostage with one finger.

Stannis tilted his head to one side and Davos followed helplessly, letting his eyes slip shut and then he felt another hand lift- the back of one knuckle tracing over his jaw line. Davos sighed, feeling his hot breath catch on the thumb still pressed again his lip.

The knuckle slipped, running down the tendon of his neck steadily as a soft noise fell from Davos' throat which suddenly caught and shifted into a stifled groan as he felt cautious lips softened from kisses press into the nook where his jaw met his ear.

Stannis kissed carefully, timidly, but there was a heat in his breath that seemed to be controlling him more and more each second. He pushed the next kiss under his jaw, Davos squirming at the feeling of his sharp nose against his beard. He kissed against the tight length of his neck, pressed his pounding pulse point--

Open your mouth, god, please--

And when he did it Davos would have wondered if he had actually spoken aloud- would have wondered, if he could even manage to fit one thought into his mind beside the feeling speeding through his gut and pooling deep inside him, making him throb painfully and almost swear aloud.

He felt Stannis' mouth twitch slightly against his neck and realized all at once he was smiling against him, smiling like he was almost proud of what he was doing to him, proud of how utterly he was destroying him with such simple things and suddenly Davos couldn't stand not kissing him a moment longer.

Davos caught his stony face in his hands so roughly he felt his cheekbones hard under his palms and crashed his lips into his and their noses knocked and teeth banged and nothing could matter less. Davos wasn't holding back any longer, how could he possibly when he felt Stannis' body so loose under his hands, melted and stiff all and once and pushing back against him as if he wasn't close enough, couldn't possible get close enough.

Davos licked into his mouth and he shook and when he caught Stannis' lower lip in his teeth he whined actually whined and now Davos was smiling and he could tell Stannis must have felt it, for he pushed back furiously, running a hand up the side of his neck to catch hard in his hair and tilt his head to one side so he could dive even deeper and now his tongue was more sure, pressing against his needfully and urgently.

Davos suddenly realized that he still had his snow scattered coat over his shoulders and that was impossibly foolish. His hands left Stannis, not without small murmurs of protestation, and began fumbling with the buttons that sealed it shut only to feel his hands pushed away roughly as Stannis' replaced them. Davos stared down in shock as the long fingers pulled and tugged, heat curling around his stomach in tight spirals and suddenly his own hands were on Stannis' collar, slipping as coherently as possible around the fabric of his necktie and baring his neck even more. He tossed the thing aside, managed one button, then a second, and when he saw his collarbone peeking out of his shirt he couldn't help diving down and pressing his lips against it, but Stannis seemed shockingly ready for him and let his own hands slip inside Davos' now unbuttoned coat, pushing it easily off his shoulders.

It fell into a silent pile around their feet, and suddenly Davos was leaning backwards, relishing altogether too much in the way Stannis bent forward painfully rather than part from him. Stannis was working at his collar now and Davos let his own hands trail down his chest to his jacket as he stepped backwards clumsily, almost falling on the way towards the parlor where the embers of that day's fire still glowed gently against the growing indigo of winter's darkness.

Davos snatched the last button on his coat away and shoved the thing rudely to the floor but Stannis seemed altogether consumed in the little sounds Davos made when he tugged at his hair slightly to bare his now free neck and lay his open mouth upon it once more.

They hit the back of some unseen item of furniture, the shock of it forcing their lips apart for a moment. Davos tried to catch his breath, watching with glassy eyes as Stannis' fingers moved in a strangely focused way across the buttons sealing Davos' waistcoat, already unlacing the top of his shirt. He stared up into his face, in utter awe of the way the shadows from the darkness of the room caught along his temples and turned his hair utterly black except for the streaks that caught the dull light of the fire which also crashed against the bridge of his nose and up in his eyes. His jaw was slack and his eyes so focused on their task, brow slightly furrowed in fascination and everything about him was so painfully perfect and so utterly beautiful and if he kept looking at him like that, like Davos was something completely miraculous then Davos knew he would simply slip apart and never fit properly back together again.

Stannis' blue eyes snapped to his face and in that same moment Davos felt one of his still cold hands slip under his shirt and up the slope of his back and that touch, just something that imbecilely simple sent Davos' reeling and suddenly his hands were tight on Stannis' hips and he pulled him hard into the space between his legs.

Stannis yelped in his hands at the sudden motion but a moment later the swollen hard heat of him was tight against Davos' equally straining erection and they groaned in the same breath, and god it felt so good, too good, more than good, right, just perfect and right and not enough, not nearly enough.

In an instant Davos was tugging frantically at Stannis' waistcoat but Stannis hardly seemed to notice as he placed his strong hands tightly on the back of the settee on either side of Davos, and simply ground against him.

Davos groaned shamelessly and he could hardly see, let alone make buttons function they way they should and when Stannis' mouth hit the bit of his chest revealed from the unlaced strings everything went hazy and he hardly felt as his own hand tugged hard, pulling the waistcoat down. Stannis slipped his hands almost gracefully behind his back and let the thing fall to the ground, all the while leaning into him even deeper, breathing even harder and hotter against the skin of his chest, stiff black hair scratching against his neck just that much less rough than the stubble on his cheeks and Davos simply couldn't work the ties on his shirt fast enough.

The roll of Stannis' hips was growing steadily more erratic and thoughtless and he was making a small frustrated noise in the back of his throat and Davos realized he was in no state to be thinking at all rationally about the logistics of the situation and as much as he simply wanted to shut his eyes and feel nothing but the rough slide of his cock against his own through the tangled fabric of their trousers, he wanted other things more, and he grabbed Stannis firmly by the shoulders and pushed him back enough to step to one side of the settee blindly, Stannis already kissing him again, sloppily and hard enough to hurt and didn't show any signs of slowing or stopping.

But he seemed to get the gist of Davos' intentions even with his eyes screwed shut for as soon as Davos felt the arm rest behind his knees, he was being shoved backwards.

"Ah-!"

He just managed the sound, but then his back was pressing against the cushions and Stannis' lithe strong limbs were climbing over him, on top of him, like something half crazed, hands grasping for something anything, more and more and more.

And it was bloody contagious, for Davos found his hands scrambling into his hair and pulling his mouth back to his own, tongue pressing hot and eager into his lips. Stannis gripped his shoulders and pulled himself further onto him and Davos heard his boots catch on the edge of the settee and somewhere deep in a muted rational part of his brain realized neither of them had bothered to take them off but then Stannis' hips found his again and he drove his cock back against the crease of his thigh and Davos groaned into his mouth wantonly, Stannis' tongue catching the sound eagerly as he gasped his own pleasure into him, tasting of lemon and smelling of snow and god if he did that again--

Fear suddenly clutched at Davos' gut that this would all be over far sooner than he wanted it to be. He wanted to pull out every sound, trace every inch of him, see every shudder, but that simply was not realistic under the current circumstances. They couldn't last that long. Not this time. But he could still do something.

He pulled one hand away from Stannis' back and moved to slip it down his side and catch it between them but suddenly he felt strong long fingers catch about his wrist and pin it sharply above his head and part of him growled in frustration but the growl somehow became a whine and he found himself bucking his hips into Stannis' even harder.

Stannis gasped and Davos took his chance and threw the left side of his body hard, rolling them over. But, it was too far and Stannis crashed back first onto the floor- hardly seemed to even care as Davos' was still tight in his arms, but he was shocked enough that his grip loosened and Davos lifted himself up, knelt on top of him and quickly shoved and hand down between them, gripping around him hard and fast.

The sound Stannis made was so utterly artless and so exquisitely guttural and rumbling that Davos feared for a moment he would loose himself right then but he managed to grit back and move his other hand to focus as clearly as he could on the buttons of Stannis' trousers.

They gave way thankfully quick, not due in the least to the way he was virtually wrenching at them and then his hand was scrambling under the linen and he felt the heat of him pulse against his fingertips- a moment later the full throbbing length tight in his fist as he pulled down firm and sure.

Stannis' eyes flew open, blue and startled and stunning, gasping helplessly as his whole body seemed to come apart, shaking and starting and relaxing all at once as his back arched and his hips surged wildly against Davos' hand, but Davos was too quick and pushed his other hand against his hip bones, holding him steady against the floor and Stannis bit back a whine, but just barely.

Davos paused as long as he dared and then stroked again. Harder.

Stannis swore, thick and hard and unthinking and god that was enough just on its own to end this but Davos had to see that look on his face again.

He stroked him, surer now and was so utterly absorbed, staring at the way his blue eyes fluttered that he hardly noticed the way Stannis' hands had found his hips until he felt the longer fingers brush against him.

"God--!" He gasped his own hand stuttering at the sudden shock of it and Stannis smiled. Actually smiled, pushing himself up with his other hand until he was sitting up against him, tugging Davos' trousers away, as Davos opened his mouth against his neck, thankfully now close enough to taste. He felt - knew, he would never be able to stop himself from the wave of dizzied confusion that hit him at the salty taste of his skin.

Stannis was fumbling, but so eager it hardly mattered and then the obstacles were passed and his hand closed over the head of Davos' cock, and there was no stopping the cry that fell out of him.

Stannis slipped his hand down the length of him roughly but he was muttering something and had leaned back, staring down towards his face and Davos made himself focus, made himself hear.

"Davos, I don't-- I haven't--"

And Davos hardly managed to nod back, before quieting him with open lips. He pulled back finally, trying to focus even as Stannis pulled his shirt down past one of his shoulders. He pulled his hand away from Stannis, hating the little noise he made as he did so but promising himself he would make up for it soon enough.

He spat roughly into his fist and Stannis understood just quickly enough to move his hand away before Davos caught them both together in his wetted palm and pulled down in one sharp motion.

Stannis cried out against his neck but Davos hardly heard him through the sound that shattered out of his own lips and he knew already it was too late, they were too far and he pumped his hand down faster.

Stannis was slipping apart underneath him, hands grasping blindly, hips thrusting in wild thoughtless confusion, eyes open but hardly seeming to see through the blissful fog that clung tight around him, all the while his breath shooting out between them in hard frantic pants that could almost sound like words but Davos was just as far gone and couldn't manage to grasp any of them. Nothing had felt like this, utterly nothing and somehow he had known that all this time that nothing would, nothing could--

"I love you--"

It tumbled out into the air between them and in the pace of their motions and the speed of their breath and the unfathomable heat that was growing and growing he hardly heard the words form themselves from the jumble of mutters and moans, realizing in that moment that he didn't even recognize the voice as his or Stannis' or no one's at all and it didn't matter, it was there, just as it should be and suddenly that was simply that.

He had to see him- needed to see this, and with a shaky fumbling hand he grabbed at Stannis' cheek, lifting his contorted face and the eyes flashed open blue and wild and met his and Davos' wrist snapped hard with his hips and Stannis cried out, just as Davos' vision flicked and faltered and he felt himself give and go and with a surge and a strangled gasp they were falling, spilling, loosing themselves in the same moment in the tight warmth of the other's presence.

The world went bright- sightless and breathless and there was just nothing, a nothing Davos had never known could feel so much like everything.

Finally, finally, the world began to slip back. There was a sticky heat between them that should absolutely not have felt as utterly glorious as it did. The last embers of the fire were still warm enough to shed some heat into the room, heat he felt on his bare back and realized suddenly he didn't know when his shirt had slipped from his skin. He felt stitches forming in his thighs where his knees were bent and knelt, but it didn't matter, none of it mattered in the face of the feeling of Stannis' head resting in the crook of his neck, his breath calming and slowing over his skin as his hands wrapped tighter about his waist, one slipping up into Davos hair to lock there with weakened strength.

"Thank you," He breathed.

Davos felt his brows knit tight at the words and a heat grow in his throat but that was foolish, he was here now, they were here, and he didn't know why, but he knew this was not it- it couldn't possibly be. Something had locked between them, something that neither of them had any form of choice in and it would not be letting go, no matter what raged against it.

Davos lifted his chin and kissed him gently, once, twice, again and again, pushing his hair away from his face gently, running a hand up his back, and Stannis kissed him back simply, calmly, as if it were the easiest thing in the world and joy swelled in Davos' chest, so warm and so large that he though Stannis must be able to taste it slipping out on his breath.

 

-----

 

The fire surged into life as Davos prodded at it with the poker several more times before turning back to the room. 

There were blankets spread out across the floor and over the settee which had been pulled closer towards the fire. The coats and waistcoats still rested in small woven puddles where they had been dropped. On the end table by the settee there was a kettle and two cups, a loaf of bread that had been haggardly hacked at along with some equally ill treated cheese.

Stannis' hand blindly found Davos' wrist and tugged him gently back to the seat, staring all the while into the fire with half closed eyes.

Davos sat, leaning easily into the fold of his shoulder, as if he had always belong there, lifting up the sheet of paper he had been reading.

"What does she say?" Stannis mumbled, one hand slipping between the fingers of his.

Davos let his eyes flutter, still both amused and vexed at how after their previous activities such a simple action could still set his chest flying. He lifted Stannis' hand and kissed the knuckles he found first, the breath of his answer catching against them.

"Snowbell doesn't care for the cold."

Stannis snorted slightly and Davos smiled up at him.

"That's presumptuously ironic for a pony." Stannis said almost smugly.

Davos chuckled, pressing himself tighter against the other man's body.

His attention slipped down the page until his eyes caught on a handful of words and he found himself repeating them even as his gut tightened in protest.

"She asks if I'll be coming back-- if I decided not to stay after all…"

Stannis hardly moved, "Have you?" He asked simply.

Davos turned and looked up at him, the blue eyes shifting down to him once more, still strangely calm.

"You haven't asked me."

Stannis almost smiled, "I have."

Davos shifted slightly to face him better without breaking his neck, "But that was before…"

Stannis stared at him firmly, "Nothing has changed."

Everything has changed. Davos thought, but it seemed Stannis shared the sentiment for he smiled slightly and shook his head a little.

"I mean to say… nothing in regards to my previous clumsy requests."

His hand tightened against Davos'.

"I've been stubborn- quite stubborn and rather unforgivably foolish." His jaw tightened slightly and he looked away, back towards the fire, "I see that now…"

His voice trailed and his brow tightened and somehow Davos couldn't quite find his voice.

"I dreamt last night…" Stannis said, his voice so quiet Davos almost felt it more than heard it.

"I dreamt…" His brow tightened again and his eyes stared deep into the fire, "There was snow, more snow than I have ever seen, and it was dark, and cold- so impossibly cold."

His eyes flashed against the light of the fire and there was a fear there, hidden in the blue.

"You weren't there," Stannis breathed, "I knew you ought to be… it was as if there was a cold place beside me that ought to be warm, and I saw your face. It was older, but so was mine… and then it was gone, and there was nothing but the snow and the cold."

His hand tightened almost painfully against Davos'.

"You weren't there," Stannis said, "And I missed you so."

Davos couldn't stand it any longer, he snatched Stannis' face in his hands and pulled him down, kissing him warm and quick and pushed as much love as he could into each embrace.

Finally, he pulled back, leaning his forehead against his, "I'll always be there," He muttered, "If you want me."

He felt him smile against the hands he still held tight to his cheeks. Stannis swallowed once and nodded roughly, diving forward to catch his lips once more, pushing him back against the softness of the settee, hands fumbling down his chest, breath already catching hard and warm, breaking the kiss to trail down his neck once more.

Davos felt himself smile and then almost laugh, hands tangling in his short dark hair. It was that simple in the end, simply "yes" and nothing more and perhaps he should sit him upright again, stare him dead in the face and ask what on earth he thought they would do… but he didn't. Somehow he knew already. Well, didn't know, not exactly, but with each open kiss that slipped over his skin, with every small unrestrained noise that fell from the man pressed against him the future was proclaimed.

Davos let his eyes slip shut. He could almost see it all already- Renly smiling prettily as he lightly kissed the lovely girl, her brother smiling behind them and putting an arm around each. He could see Cersei staring in distain and it hardly mattering at all, Robert booming praise, one arm flung around Sal's shoulder. He could feel Sal clutch his hand warmly, muttering something lewd and jovial in his ear as the dancing began. He could hear Stannis grumble in his throat at the ornate wastefulness of the event, almost feel the way he would silently, secretly slip his hand over his knee under the darkness of the table, running a thumb over his thigh soothingly.

He could hear the carriage, clattering down the drive of Storm's End, hear Shireen's voice older and more sure as she ran down the steps to see them, holding Stannis tightly and waiting for Davos to pick her up and toss her once into the air before putting her back down again. He saw her walk between them down the stony shore of the ocean and then fall exhausted into the warm comfort of her bed. He could feel Stannis' long fingers slip around his own and pull him down the hall persistently, trapping him against the back of their door, lazily slipping each layer from his body.

He could smell the sea. He could see his smile. It was simple. Just as it should be.