The first time Jaime sees the Dragon Queen after the White Walkers are defeated, he realizes that somewhere along the line she has gone quite mad.
She is no Aerys, not yet; perhaps to most she seems sane, if utterly terrifying. But Jaime has seen madness before.
There are no options now, no more than there were options when he first became the Kingslayer. Jaime still believes a king must feel the assassin’s blade, if his reason has gone beyond hope and into indiscriminate carnage. He sees no reason why a queen should not meet the same fate.
He will leave a note behind for the young Starks, for so he thinks of them even now. Jon Snow may have been discovered to be a Targaryen, and newly wed to Daenerys the Conqueror, but it was Ned Stark who had the raising of him. His blood may be Rhaegar’s, but his soul is Stark. And Sansa, Lady of Winterfell, is the head of her family now, bound to lead the North through the long slow process of rebuilding. They must be told why he does what he will do, for they will have to mend the wounds.
It is by chance that he meets Brienne in his tent. Despite the gossip, he has not bedded her. While Cersei lived, he would have found it difficult to play her false, even though she was untrue to him; and since Cersei’s death, he has been unsure whether Brienne would even wish it. He is a Kingslayer with one hand and a dead sister-lover to his name. He has little to offer. And in any event, there has been little time, here at what has seemed the world’s ending.
Now Brienne’s eyes search his face, and find what they were looking for. She nods. “You have seen it, then.”
He knows her too well to dissemble. “I have seen the madness behind the Dragon Queen’s eyes, yes.”
Perhaps all Targaryens go mad. Perhaps they should be watching the man who was Jon Snow as well; Jaime has heard the rumors about his death and resurrection. If he tries to stand between Jaime’s blade and his bride, Jaime will not hesitate to cut him down.
“You will kill her,” Brienne says.
They have fought side by side in these last weeks, as all around them people died screaming. There is no space now for great speeches or pious self-justifications. Jaime is bone-tired, exhaustion seeping through every vein and into the very heart of his bones. It is time to make an end, but he will not go into the dark alone.
He thinks that it is restful to not have to explain this to Brienne. She knows, simply from reading his face. Here at the end, there is no need for many words. “Yes,” he says.
She has laid her sword on his sleeping roll in order to wash the worst of the blood from her face. Now she picks it up again. “I will go with you.”
Jaime has seen Brienne in battle. He does not doubt her ferocity or skill. Still he cannot imagine her at his side in this last fight of his. It is not that he wishes to spare her the corruption of the soul, that heavy weight of Kingslayer - or not that only. It is simply that this is his task, and only one is required to bear the toll.
“Westeros needs you,” he says, resting his hand on hers to stay her preparations.
Brienne snorts, an inelegant sound in an inelegant face, and yet it warms Jaime’s heart. “Westeros needs us like a wounded man needs a winding sheet.”
“Brienne,” he says, her name soft in his mouth. “Let me do this knowing that you survive me.”
She looks into his face. Her cheeks are on fire, but his candor provokes her own. “I will not let you go alone. Not this time.”
He kisses her.
It has been a long time coming. And here at last it is, with a sheathed sword held awkwardly between them, with both of their clothing stained with blood. It could not be otherwise.
Jaime kisses her, at first simply, and then with mounting intensity. He dies today, and if this is the last joy he will have, he will seize it to the fullest. Her body is solid against his, and her mouth is intoxicating, and she is making little sounds, little gasps, that he drinks into himself as if they are the richest wine. Her hand is in his hair, and he loses himself in the kiss.
When they fall apart at last, he rests his forehead on hers. “If we had not the task ahead, my lady, I would bear you to my bed.”
He feels the way she relaxes at this acceptance of her offer to join him in death. “If we had not the task ahead, I would let you.”
Jaime kisses her again, affection instead of hunger on his lips. “Then come, my sweet, and let us make our bridal bed on our funeral bier.”
He will go to his end with the sound of her outraged huff of laughter in his ears. It is enough.
Unlooked-for, un-hoped for, they find themselves escaping the camp and melting into the countryside, as behind them the foul murder of the Dragon Queen ignites suspicion and furor in all quarters. Eventually someone will find the note Jaime left for the Starks, and will raise the hue and cry. (Unless the finder chooses to suppress it for their own ends. Jaime had not thought of that until now. But he cannot have been expected to think of everything.)
They make for the coast, stopping for the night in a half-burned farmhouse.
“We may be taken and killed tomorrow,” Jaime says, standing at the door and staring into the darkness.
“We may,” Brienne agrees.
The bird of hope flutters in the air between them, unvoiced. It seems impossible that they should reach the coast, that they should escape the shores of Westeros for a new life. And yet is not hope the very essence of humanity?
Jaime is a pragmatic soul. He hides the hope in a corner of his mind, and turns instead to what he can control: the feeling of Brienne’s fingers linked in his, the warmth of her shoulder pressed against his own, the quiet hush of the night and the sound of her breathing.
“Until tomorrow,” Brienne says, tracing the curve of his jaw in the darkness, “come to bed.”
Jaime is still bone-tired, still marked for death, a double Kingslayer and eternally forsworn. Yet as he kisses Brienne in the moonlight, his heart beats faster within him; and for the first time in forever, he can just glimpse, as if from a great distance, a light on the far horizon.