Note: Rating for this fic is super-conservative, but I wanted to be safe. If you're reading A Song of Ice and Fire, then this is essentially PG. But there's some cursing, and some violence, and some mention of body parts specific to the male gender and what the male gender can conceivably do with them. If that offends you, I won't be offended if you leave.

But if you do stay and would like to review, that'd be pretty cool of you.

Set around five years before A Clash of Kings, when Renly is 17 and Stannis is 30, for no particularly special reason.

A thick chill oozed around the windowpane, almost liquid in its heaviness. The keep was never designed with high comfort at the forefront, a design error for which Renly had never forgiven it, and did not expect to. But there were other ways of driving away the chill. Other ways of making the night less dark and fearful.

He was naked, but did not miss the protection of clothes. Not with the blankets running woven fingers along his skin, and not with Aryn's arm hanging across his chest, the smooth glowing warmth of a highly welcome restraint. He smiled and nestled his head against Aryn's neck, burrowing into the warmth of him.

"Clearly I need to convince Maester Cressen to absent himself more often," he said, his voice raspy with the pleasant confusion of late night and early morning. "Any excuse would do. A hunt he needed to supervise. A dusty old manuscript to translate. An unusually shaped cloud."

Aryn laughed and curled a hand around Renly's shoulder. "You're the Lord of Storm's End, aren't you? Can't you fuck who you like?"

"Lord Regent, for another six months." Renly grinned. "But full a lord in bed."

"If you lived in my house instead of I in yours, you'd not have half so many problem. No maesters in house Morec, no leering looming brothers staying halfway between Dragonstone and the Landing, no visiting lords whose lands I can't pronounce …"

"There is no House Morec, love," Renly teased.

"Ah, but there is so, Renn. We've got a house. My father lives in it."

"You ass," Renly said, not at all annoyed, "you know what I meant."

"Seizing the occasion to draw attention to my ass, I expect?"

Ask another man of Storm's End, and he'd say it would take three or four drinks of strongwine for Aryn Morec to be anywhere near this loquacious. None of his fellows in the armory would ever believe Aryn was capable of a laugh, let alone open flirting with a wink and a suggestive motion of his hips beneath the sheets. But Renly knew better. From the first, Renly had always known better. Leave them alone, and words and thoughts flowed like water. Of course, a little physical motivation never hurt matters.

"It should be illegal for you to be such a damned good fuck," Renly said. "You've infuriated a hundred thousand whores tonight."

"I'm more than well compensated for my trouble."

Aryn grinned and silenced Renly with a kiss, which was met with more than enough enthusiasm to encourage the young smith. The smooth, firm muscles of his shoulders under the sheets twined with Renly's, a dance both knew well. One stroke of his fingers, two, a flick of the wrist, and Renly let out a moan that made the smith laugh, because already not two minutes gone and here he was, hard again. But what was he supposed to do? They were both young, with all the care and caution their combined thirty-six years could buy. Renly was Lord Regent, perhaps, but also young, and only very slightly drunk, and in the highly willing presence of the most beautiful man he'd ever seen — beautiful, and, for what it was worth, a positive water dancer with hands, mouth, and cock.

Let it come, and come, and come, because however long the pleasure lasted, the sun would always rise again, leaving Renly's bed cold and half-empty, and Renly the same.

Aryn had abandoned the use of his hands, and as his tongue traced a narrow path along the base of Renly's pelvis, moving slowly, painfully slowly southward. Renly's back arched against the sheets, and he heard himself cry out as he had already that night, the ache no less sweet for the recapitulation …

"Renly. Get up. We've had a raven from the Bywater, you must …"

The door had opened so suddenly Renly nearly fell from the bed. With a blast of cold air from the drafty hall without, a wavering golden light cast an ever-expanding ring through the darkened bedchamber. A torch, and a hand holding it, and a man whose hand it was. Fully dressed, though the bells had just rung two, all in black and beaten leather. A stranger would have taken him for a man of the Watch, not for any lord of name. But Renly knew the close-cropped hair, thinning years before it ought to, the prominent cheekbones and hollow eyes. His heart beat so quickly he feared he would swallow it.

Stannis had come with urgent news from the Bywater, or surely it could have waited until the morrow. But whatever it was, it withered on his tongue. He had expected to find his younger brother in bed, which he had. Plainly he also expected to find him alone.

Aryn sat upright, silent and horrorstruck. But Renly nudged the blanket casually up to cover his hips and graced his brother with the most winning smile he could manage. The light from the torch seared his eyes, and inside he fought the urge to vomit, but outwardly it did not show.

"Good evening, brother," he said. "Well, I suppose it's good morning, now. The Bywater, did you say?"

Not for the first time, Renly wished that Stannis had been the one to tear the Iron Throne from the dusty claws of the Targaryens, and not Robert. Not for the good of the realm, of course. Stannis was a strong candidate for the worst possible king in all the Seven Kingdoms. But at least then he would not be here. Robert would have stared for a moment or two, then burst into laughter and ask Renly if he hadn't noticed something odd about the composition of this particular young lady, and there would be the end of it.

But Stannis. Stannis was another matter entirely.

He stood in the doorway, his clenched jaw the only immediate evidence he hadn't died on the spot.

"What," he said slowly, "is this?"

"This? It's exactly what it looks like. I don't suppose you want more technical details."

"How long?"

It was plainly not the question Stannis wanted to ask, but this was one Renly could answer.

"Always. Surely you knew. I think even Maester Cressen knows, though of course he's too well-mannered to say any—"

"Stop. Talking."

Stannis' voice was loud, sharp, almost a cry of pain, for mercy. It shocked Renly into silence. He stepped at last into the room, stowing the torch in an empty sconce beside the door. Renly thought for a moment his brother was going to scream.

There was no tactful way to move forward, but it had to be done. Pressing his lips together into a thin white line, Renly slipped from bed onto the cold stone floor, scooping up his breeches and stepping wordlessly into them. Again, he thought with longing of Robert's easy, indulgent laughter. Stannis gritted his teeth so hard Renly feared they would shatter in his skull. It was almost as though he'd never seen a man unclothed before. Perhaps he hadn't — Stannis Baratheon was the type one could well imagine wearing smallclothes under his smallclothes, so as never to lay eyes on his own manhood.

"If you'd only knocked, Stannis …" he began. But a beginning was all he was granted.

"You are the Lord of Storm's End. Of our father's house, and almost a man. You will rule alone soon, not by Maester Cressen's decree. And this is how you play at lordship? This … this …"

"This what, exactly?" Renly asked coolly.

Any questions, anything to keep his attention trapped on his words and on his younger brother, while Aryn seized the distraction to dress silently, unnoticed. A few steps from the door and the smith could slip away without Stannis ever registering his face. He wasn't the type to notice a man who bore no sigil. And when Aryn was safe, well. Renly could bear his brother's rage then. It would not be the first time.

"This … this godlessness," Stannis managed at last, and spat against the floor as punctuation.

"And which god am I offending? The Maiden I leave undefiled." He smiled to himself. "And I'm certainly not wronging the Smith."

He was stalling now, shamelessly stalling. Bare feet against the freezing stone, he stepped toward his brother, toward and to the left. Away from the door. Stannis moved to mirror him, and when the gap opened Renly's heart soared. Aryn was so near. Near escape. All that mattered. Only this. Keep him talking.

Stannis shot out a hand and gripped Aryn by the front of his shirt.

Surprised, the smith had no time to react, or to catch himself before he was flung roughly to the ground. He gasped as his shoulder cracked hard against the floor. Renly's breath caught. He moved to interpose himself between Stannis and Aryn, but his brother was thirteen years older than he was, and had fought more battles than Renly had counted name days. He staggered back, rebuffed.

"Stannis." Renly swallowed his panic whole — his voice was a lord's voice still. "I order you to let him go."

"You order me? Who are you to order me, little brother?"

"The Lord of Storm's End," Renly shot back. "Who are you to refuse, guard of Dragonstone?"

Stannis let a breath hiss through his nose and drew his knife from his belt, a long curved blade that shimmered in the torchlight. Of course he would have a blade with him, even in his brother's house, even after the second bell. Renly knew this knife. He'd seen Stannis hunt with it times past counting. Once, as a boy, he'd watched his brother skin a deer with it, cleanly, in under five minutes. An ill omen for a man with a stag for his sigil, he thought wildly, as his brother stood before him, weighing the balance of the blade.

"You are the Lord of Storm's End," Stannis conceded, coldly. "But you are still a boy. A foolish, stupid boy, playing at a man's office. It's years past time you learned that."

Renly knew what was going to happen next. He threw himself at Stannis in an ill thought-out attempt to knock him off-balance, disorient him, anything. But again he was thrown backward, again driven away. His vision disjointed a moment from the blow, he almost did not see Stannis grip Aryn by the arm, drag him from the ground by the wrist.

But he saw what happened next.

It was not Renly's hand. It was not his blood. And yet he was almost certain most of the screams were his own.

Aryn's left hand landed on the stone floor with a hard, dense thud. Renly was sure he would retch, felt the bile rise in his throat even then and gagged on it. Aryn's scream faded into a high, keening whimper, but the blood from his stump of a wrist came on still, pulsing in time to an ever-quickening heartbeat. It seeped through the fingers remaining him, and filled the cracks between the stones like mortar. The hand itself lay two feet away. Its fingers were splayed spread-eagled open.

"You're lucky it was your left," Stannis said coldly. "Go. Find the septon. You have prayers you've forgotten."

"Aryn," Renly began.

Aryn rose to unsteady feet and bolted through the door. He said nothing. He did not look at Renly. A thin spatter of blood trickling between his fingertips onto the floor demarcated his passage.

The room was nearly empty, but it had never felt so crowded. Renly stood watching the door, weighing what good could come from going after Aryn against what ill was certain to follow. Stannis wiped the blade against his thigh. The leather was old and had seen blood before. No one would ever notice unless they knew it was there.

Slowly, slowly and silently, Renly turned away from the door. He watched Stannis with eyes cold as the winds north of the Wall. He was unarmed and barefoot, his unclothed narrow chest bared to the night air, but even a fully armored warrior would have hesitated at the way Renly Baratheon stood, tall and strong and burning from the inside outward with deadly anger.

"Are you mad?" It was not rhetorical. "Mad as that quilt-faced fool who follows you?"

"If you cannot see the difference between madness and justice, you have no business being a lord."

"Justice?" Renly laughed. "You seem to have confused justice with mindless vengeance. It's a talent, brother. I don't know how you do it."

He'd always been this way, when provoked past bearing. Stannis would shout and swear and beat passing smallfolk out of misplaced spite, but Renly was different. His hatred simmered quietly, in bitter silences and sarcasm that bit like a direwolf.

Stannis was on the verbal defensive, and did not like it. But there was another way to gain leverage.

Renly stumbled backward. A stinging fist-shaped mark rose beneath his eye from where Stannis had struck him. His breath caught sharply in his throat, but he made no sound, spoke no word.

"I am your elder brother, and you will respect me for it."

He put a hand to his cheek, testing the nascent bruise.

"I don't know how the thing is done at Dragonstone, but at Storm's End respect is a reward, not a birthright."

"You. Are. A. Child. This is justice. What offends me is removed. The gods take what is theirs."

"He did nothing to offend you." Renly's calm cut deeper than any shouting. "What I do and who I love are no concern of yours."

"It is my concern. You are my brother. You are my blood. When you are shamed and mocked and made the fool, I am offended. I suffer."

"My blood?"

When he bent to the floor, Renly did not lift his eyes from Stannis. He knelt, clear blue eyes driving through his brother's skull, and swept his fingers near the splayed mass that had once been Aryn's hand. When he rose, he held his left hand for Stannis to see. The fingers from the tip to the second knuckle were stained scarlet.

"You are not my blood, Stannis. This is my blood."

"By the gods, Renly," Stannis managed through still-gritted teeth, "do you think your bannermen will love you for this? Do you think they'll swear to a lord who fucks boys in plain sight of the Seven?"

"Fuck the Seven, if they dislike it so," Renly said coldly. "What do you know about love? Have you ever loved anyone? Not Selyse, not your own child, not your family. Do you know what love even is?"

Again, Stannis moved to strike Renly, but this time the youngest Baratheon was too quick. He sidestepped the blow, and his brother connected only with the cold of the night.

"Will you have my hand as well?" he taunted, flaunting bloodstained fingers. "It offended you just the same, did it not? Here, brother." He held his arm fully extended, a foot from the knife. "Take my hand. Here, brother."

Stannis stood, watching, both eyes on the outflung arm, like a fencer waiting for his opponent's feint to show. But there was no feinting here. And Stannis' hesitation looked, from the outside, not so much like surprise as consideration.

At last he looked away. The tension and the line of sight broke at once. Renly looked on, his arm slowly crossing the other over his chest. A pose not entirely petulant, but not entirely unlike it either.

"You are my brother," Stannis said, after a long pause. In his mouth, "brother" had all the resonance of a crude oath. "I swore to our parents I would protect you. Much as I realize every day how little you deserve that."

"If this is your protection, what do you do with your enemies, I wonder."

Renly swept up his shirt where it lay beside the bed. The sleeve skimmed lightly over the pool of blood on the floor, leaving a faint scarlet ring around his wrist when he pulled it over his head. Stannis, seeing it, clenched his jaw again.

"In the morning I want you gone, Stannis." Renly spoke without looking at him. "And if I ever see you again within twenty miles of Storm's End, it'll be from the wrong end of a sword."

He pushed through the door without another word, and was gone. He had not even taken the time to put on his boots. With his quick bare steps his disappearance made no sound. The moment he turned the corner, all traces of him vanished, ghostlike, as if he had never been.

In the bloodstained silence, Stannis Baratheon, lord of Dragonstone, stood alone with a severed hand at his feet. He looked around the empty room, at the twisted sheets and, through the window, the spattered spray of stars across the blackness of the night. Fingers dropping loosely from the handle of his knife, he sank slowly onto the edge of the bed.

While we are away, Stannis, look after your younger brother. We will not be gone long, but he needs you. Make sure nothing happens to him.

Me? Why? Why not Robert?

Would you trust a boy as young as your brother to Robert's watch? Renn is a good boy, you know that. But he's impulsive, and he fails to think of the consequences of his poor decisions. Just keep an eye on him. That's all. Until we return.

Yes, Father. Until you return.

Only then, and silently, without movement or understanding, Stannis Baratheon began to cry.