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Into the Long Night

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Prologue

The hour was exceedingly late as Jaime Lannister arrived at the inn on the kingsroad about a day’s ride from White Harbor.  He had been riding for days and had slept very little in all that time.  The moon was high and full tonight, and he had taken advantage of its brightness to help him navigate the road long after the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon.  But even the notorious Kingslayer could not ride forever, and so he had reluctantly stopped, intending to allow himself a few short hours of rest before continuing on to Winterfell.

Jaime had ridden hard on his way up north, encountering more snow than he had ever seen before in all his life, but it hadn’t fazed him in the least.  His heart was broken, his soul turned to ashes, and nothing mattered to him but doing what little he could to redeem himself before his time in this world was at an end.

No matter how far he rode, no matter how much distance he put between himself and King’s Landing, Cersei continued to haunt him.  She was there every time he closed his eyes.  He could see her before him, hear her voice.  No one walks away from me.  He could see the look in her eyes as she’d nodded to the Mountain, giving the command to end his life.  Although Jaime had been able to walk out of the Red Keep alive, he felt dead inside.  Never again would his heart be whole.  It was just a matter of time before he dissolved into nothingness.

The inn was quiet as Jaime entered, the only sound the soft tinkle of the bell above the door ringing to let the innkeeper know that a traveler had arrived.  A lone lantern burned on a small table just inside the doorway, and Jaime waited to be attended. 

It wasn’t long before a portly man appeared from a back room, shrugging into his robe as he approached.  He looked Jaime up and down.  “Evening, Ser Jaime.  It is an honor to have you here in my humble establishment.”

Jaime scowled at the innkeeper.  He was suddenly regretting not camping beneath the stars as he’d originally intended.  Of course, had he camped outdoors, he would have had a blanket of snow for a bed, but he suspected it would have been better than renting a room from a sycophantic northerner who probably wanted to slit his throat as he slept.  Jaime didn’t wonder how the man had recognized him.  He was too tired to be thinking clearly, and all he wanted was a good night’s sleep.  “I’d like a room for the night.”

“But of course.  I will show you to my best room.”  The innkeeper scrambled from behind the table, fumbling to grab a single key from the rack behind him as he moved.  The key slipped through his fingers, and Jaime waited impatiently as the man bent down to pick it up.

The innkeeper was nervous, that much was obvious.  But whether it was because he didn’t like the idea of hosting a Lannister in his establishment or something else was going on, Jaime didn’t know.  All he knew was that once he was alone in his room, he was going to bolt the door and sleep with one eye open until morning.

The innkeeper led him upstairs to a door at the far end of a long corridor.  “Here is your chamber, Ser Jaime,” he said as he passed him the small iron key.  The instant the key was in Jaime’s hand, the innkeeper offered him a quick, “Sleep well,” and toddled off back down the hallway. 

Jaime didn’t know why the man hadn’t stayed around to show him his room.  An unexpected apprehension prickled down his spine as he wondered what awaited him on the other side of the door.

Jaime put the key in the lock and turned it.  He then pocketed the key and drew Widow’s Wail, expecting to find danger waiting for him.  Of course, no one had known he was making his way to this particular inn, not even himself, so there was no possible way any kind of trap awaited him inside.  Even so, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Slowly, Jaime pushed open the chamber door and peered inside.  The room was dark and quiet.  The shutters had been left open to allow the moonlight into the room, but not a single lamp burned and there was no fire in the hearth.  Still, it was enough light to see by.  If anyone was hiding in the small space, the moonlight would easily expose them.

Jaime rounded the door and stepped fully into the room, his sword still at the ready.  He scanned the shadows, taking in every last inch of the chamber, and that’s when he saw her.

Jaime’s heart halted in his chest, and for a moment, he disbelieved his own eyes.  After all, he hadn’t slept in ages, and as such, he knew he was susceptible to hallucinations.  But there was no denying the truth that stood before him.  She was as real and as solid as he was, and he wished she was anywhere in the world right then but there in his chamber.  Although he was more than ready to fight the Night King and his entire army of the dead, he was not ready to fight Cersei Lannister.

“Are you planning to use that on me?” she asked, nodding toward the sword still gripped in his left hand.

Jaime thought for a moment.  He had never held a weapon on his beloved sister before, but tonight, he questioned the wisdom of facing her without one.  “Are you alone?” he asked.  “Where’s your monster?  The one you ordered to kill me back in King’s Landing?”

“Ser Gregor is outside the inn making sure that no one enters without my approval.”

“You expect me to believe that?  Don’t you need him by your side at all times?  Isn’t that how you operate now?”

“I knew if you saw him standing outside the door, you wouldn’t come in, and I wanted to speak to you alone.  It’s why I came all this way.  It’s why, despite my better judgement, I left King’s Landing and ventured north.  I didn’t like the way things ended between us, and I needed to see you.”

Her voice had softened, and there was genuine emotion in her tone, though Jaime knew he couldn’t trust a word she said anymore.  He didn’t know if Cersei was there to make amends or to take her revenge, and until he did, he didn’t think he could put his weapon away.

The door still stood open beside them, and Jaime kicked it closed, wanting to put something between himself and the Mountain should Cersei’s living corpse come to her aid.  Had Jaime had two working hands, he would have locked the door as well, but he didn’t want to let go of his sword, so he reluctantly left the door unlocked.

“That’s better,” she said.  “Now, would you mind putting that thing away?”  She nodded toward Widow’s Wail.

“Not until I know why you’re really here.”

Cersei laughed.  “What is it that you’re expecting me to do, dear brother?  Draw my own sword and engage you in combat?  You have nothing to fear from me.  I promise.”

A cynical laugh escaped Jaime’s throat.  “I fear everything about you, dear sister.  Everything.”

She stepped forward, closing the distance between them, and it took all of Jaime’s resolve not to retreat.  He stood there, stock-still, as she approached.  She reached up and placed her fingers against the edge of his sword, then gently pushed the blade to the side so that Jaime was forced to point it toward the ground.  Of course, had he really wanted to keep his sword on her, his hand would not have moved so easily, but the truth was, Cersei was still his one great weakness, despite everything she had put him through.

Reluctantly, Jaime sheathed Widow’s Wail, his gaze breaking hers for the briefest of moments.  When he looked up at her again, she was impossibly close and his whole body ached to touch her.  He clenched his jaw, steeling himself against the primal urges building up inside him.

“Now, maybe we can talk like civilized adults, yes?” Cersei said, her voice as sweet as honeyed wine.

“What do you want?” Jaime asked.

“You know what I want,” she said as she placed her hand against his chest and slowly slid it lower.

Jaime’s cock instantly stirred, but he stayed resolved.  He took a step back, breaking the contact between them before she could touch him too intimately.

“You wound me, dear brother.  All I want is to love you.”

“The only person you love is yourself.  I’m not about to lie with you again.  Not ever.  You’ve made your choice, and I’ve made mine.  I’m headed north to help put an end to this war, and if I survive, I shall choose a different path when the war is over.”

Cersei laughed. “Oh, you will survive.  I have no doubt about that.  And you will come crawling back to me, just as you always have because you can’t live without me.  You’ve proved it time and time again.  It will always be me, Jaime.  There will always be something for you to come back for.” 

She rested one of her hands against her belly, immediately drawing his attention there.  Jaime wondered if Cersei really was pregnant or if she was just trying to manipulate him again.  He wanted to believe that his child grew inside her, but he had long since lost all trust in her.  He knew that the babe might be just another one of her machinations, or worse, it might be Euron Greyjoy’s.  Jaime prayed that it wasn’t.

“Do you really think that you can desert us, Jaime?”  Cersei’s voice cut through his musings. 

He looked up at her again.  Her eyes were just as cold and unsympathetic as before.  Had they always been that way, he wondered.  Had there ever been a shred of genuine feeling in her at all?  It was difficult for Jaime to remember.  It had been so long since she had been soft or yielding or hopeful.  She was no longer the woman he had fallen in love with all those years ago.  She was a stranger now, a stranger whose company he could barely tolerate.

“You cannot tempt me with the promise of another child,” he replied.  “I can no longer trust you.  If you are expecting, how am I to even know if it’s mine?”

Her eyes turned stormy, but her voice belied none of her anger.  “I would never bear another man’s child, you know that.”

“You bore Robert’s.  What’s to stop you from bearing someone else’s?”

Cersei laughed, though the sound was bitter, and Jaime knew he had struck a nerve.  “I bore Robert’s child back when I was young and foolish and had hope for the future.  But I quickly learned the folly of such hope, and I made sure that his seed would never again take root.  I would never bear any man’s child but yours, my beloved brother.  Even now, after all that’s happened, you cannot doubt that.”

But he did doubt it.  He doubted everything as he had never doubted before.  Suddenly, the veil had lifted, and he saw things as they really were, saw Cersei as she really was, and it horrified him.  “I have no faith in you anymore.  And you certainly can’t expect me to.  We are done, Cersei.  It’s over.  I am heading north.  If I survive, maybe I’ll take the black and go live at the Wall.  But either way, you will never see me again.”

He turned away then, intent on leaving, but she reached for him, grabbing his arm and stopping his retreat. 

Jaime stared at her from over his shoulder.  “I am leaving, and there’s nothing you can do or say that will stop me.”

“Nothing?” she asked, letting go of his arm.

“Nothing.”

“In that case, will you grant me one favor before you go?”

Jaime was wary of everything Cersei did and said now, but he could not walk away without at least hearing her request.  He turned back toward her.  “What is it that you want?”

“A kiss before you go.  Just one last kiss, and we can say goodbye forever.”

Jaime laughed.  “How stupid do you think I am?  Do you think I would forget so quickly how Myrcella died?  Do you think I would ever be so foolish as to let you use such a despicable trick on me?  The fact that you would even think of such a thing disgusts me.”

Cersei’s face turned dark with rage.  “And the fact that you think I would try to kill you in the same way our beloved child was murdered is unforgivable.  Get out of here.  I can’t even stand the sight of you.”  She turned away, waiting for him to leave, but he couldn’t.

Jaime stood there, suddenly feeling remorseful.  Myrcella’s death had been the worst tragedy either one of them had ever suffered.  Their daughter had been a pillar of beauty and virtue.  She had been everything good about this world.  And she had died so senselessly.  Even Cersei could not be so stonehearted as to use the means of Myrcella’s death to end his life.  He had misjudged her, and he instantly regretted it.

“I’m sorry,” Jaime said, the words low and quiet.  “I should never have—”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” she snapped.  “Just leave.  I never should have come here.  I should have stayed in King’s Landing and just awaited reports of your death.”

Jaime wanted to reach for her, to pull her into his arms and kiss her, but he feared the consequences of giving in to that impulse.  If he kissed her, he’d end up bedding her.  And if he bedded her, he’d be vulnerable to any manner of manipulation.  He had already made up his mind to leave Cersei.  To falter now would only mean disaster.

“Even so, I am sorry, Cersei.  I never meant to hurt you.”

She turned her head to look at him.  “All you ever seem to do anymore is hurt me.  Ever since you chose loyalty to that traitor Tyrion over loyalty to me.”

“One thing has nothing to do with the other.”

“Of course, it does.  Go,” she said, nodding toward the door.  “Go to him and never come back.  I shall rule the Seven Kingdoms without you.”

Jaime longed to stay behind, to tell her that he loved her and that he would always be by her side.  But he had long since made his choice, and so he resisted the call of his own heart and turned toward the door. 

As he reached for the handle, Cersei flew at him.  “You bastard!”

Jaime turned around just in time to see a dagger brandished in her hand.  She lunged for him, and he caught her wrist just in time to spare himself a fatal wound.  Cersei struggled, trying to twist her arm free, but Jaime held her tight.  She clawed at his fingers with her free hand, but he would not relent.  He increased the pressure on her wrist, squeezing it tightly and finally forcing the metal from her hand.  The dagger fell, clanging loudly against the bare wooden floor.

“Damn you,” she said, her voice like poison.  “I told you no one walks away from me.  You need to die.”

“I am not going to die.  At least not here, not now.  And you are not going to be the one to kill me, dear sister.”

“Let me go.”

Jaime stared at her for a long moment.  He knew he should leave as quickly as possible.  No doubt the Mountain had already heard them struggling and was on his way to rescue his queen.  But Jaime wasn’t ready to go.  He had never imagined that things could be so bad between them, and he was still in shock. 

“If I let you go,” he said, “what is to stop you from trying to kill me a second time?”

“I’ve lost the element of surprise.  Besides, I don’t have another weapon.  I am completely helpless.”

Jaime laughed.  “You’ve never been completely helpless.  Not even when you were a newborn babe.”  He released her wrist.  He was suddenly tired of this game and simply eager to make his escape.  “What are the chances that the Mountain isn’t waiting for me on the other side of that door?” Jaime asked.

“He isn’t.  I told him this was something I needed to do alone.  He’s an excellent watchdog.  He always does as he’s told.”

“Well, that makes one of us, I suppose.”  Jaime turned toward the door.  He held his breath as he pulled it open.  The corridor beyond was empty and quiet.  There was no sign of Gregor Clegane.

Jaime looked back at his beloved sister.  “Goodbye, Cersei.  I know you won’t believe this, but I do still love you.  And I always will.” 

She didn’t reply, and he didn’t wait for an answer.  He simply turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

As he walked down the hall, he heard glass shatter against the closed door.  Cersei’s temper was just as violent as ever.  He prayed that he would never again be the victim of her wrath.