Jaime doesn’t remember much after the collapse. There was the feel of Cersei’s body beneath his, but it was quickly followed by darkness.
He dreams of Brienne’s soft smile on the first morning they’d woken up together.
There’s a tugging feeling on his arm. A tight sting of pain blooms from his side. His throat is dry and his mouth tastes as if someone had stuffed an old rag between his teeth, to rub his tongue dry. Someone swears off to his right. Jaime feels tired, so tired. No one will notice if I sleep for a little while, he thinks as he drifts into darkness again. He doesn’t dream.
He opens his eyes after what feels like a century after being buried under rubble. His tongue feels thick in his mouth and his eyes feel gritty, like the dust from the collapsing Red Keep had gotten stuck to his eyelashes. Jaime cracks his eyes open, too afraid to move. He knows that he was under large pieces of debris, and it would explain why his body is covered in a dull ache, as if the pain had formed a cloud and settled over him, seeping into his bones.
His stump throbs, his ribs are in agony and the wound Euron Greyjoy left him with, like a deadly keepsake, aching every moment his heart beats. His eyes flit around the room. There’s a bucket of water on a wooden table next to the bed, heavy furs cover him. The walls are bare, but the stone grey is broken by dark red covers over, what he assumes, to be a window. He’s alone in the room, blessedly, when he tries to take stock of his body. He tries to move his toes and flex his calves. His left leg protests violently, pain shooting through his leg so visceral that his stomach roils, and he instinctively knows to leave it be.
The door opens with a soft groan of hinges that need to be oiled. Brienne enters alone and she is surely the most beautiful thing Jaime has ever seen. Her hair is longer than the last time he saw her, in the courtyard where he left her crying and holding her broken heart. She doesn’t notice that he’s awake, almost as if Jaime being asleep has become normal to her, so much so that she doesn’t even check that his eyes are still closed, merely accepting it as a fact. He watches her as she moves around the room. She has a book in her hand and is without her armour, clad only in a simple dark red doublet and soft looking breeches.
Jaime swallows and tries to wet his lips, but to no avail. His tongue runs over a split in his lip and he groans. He’s closed his eyes in frustration and he knows that Brienne’s head has snapped to him at the noise. There’s pressure on his left arm and hand. Her fingers dig into his skin. Jaime’s struck by the contradiction between their skin; his tanned arm is covered in mottled blue bruises, as is the rest of him, surely, whereas her skin is pale like the most exquisite marble.
“Jaime?” There’s something in her voice that Jaime can’t quite catch. His head is still too fuzzy, much like his mouth.
“Water?” He manages to croak. He’s not sure she’d heard him, he’d barely even heard himself, but the twin pressures of her hands disappear as she bangs around the room. He thinks she’s looking for a cup and he’s proven correct when she lifts his head, one large hand carefully cradling the back of his head and the other holding the cup to his lips.
The water feels like a balm to his thick tongue and throat. It soothes the ache of dryness and he drinks until he can feel the water slosh around his stomach. Brienne pulls the cup back and he wants to chase after the sweet Adam’s ale, but she admonishes him.
“No more. You will make yourself ill, Ser.” Brienne says. Jaime scoffs and quickly regrets it. His throat is still in agony. “I will fetch the maester.” She says, but she’s gone before the words fully leave her wide mouth.
The maester bustles into the room, servants close behind him, and Tyrion taking up the rear. The maester starts mixing something, instructing the servants to fetch this herb or that salve. Tyrion doesn’t say anything, just clasps Jaime’s hand in his. He knows his brother; he knows what Tyrion isn’t saying, reading the unspoken words in his overly expressive eyes. I am glad that you are alive, brother. Jaime wants to return the sentiment, but his body does not want to cooperate.
The next few minutes are turned excruciating. The servants pull the heavy cloth from what he’s correctly supposed was a window, pushing them open and flooding the room with a fresh breeze. The furs are pulled from his body and Jaime finally sees why his left leg was in such agony. His leg is wrapped in large pieces of linen, two thin wooden planks are tightly tied to his leg. His right leg has a large black bruise from thigh to hip, the edges are starting to lighten into an equally dark purple.
At the maester’s instruction, two servants slot their arms beneath his armpits and lift him up. His ribs protest loudly, and his wound pulls against his skin so sharply that Jaime is certain that it has started to bleed again. Tyrion is quiet as Jaime huffs and perspiration dots his forehead as he’s kept at an angle so that the strips of cloth that wrap around his chest can be removed.
The maester carefully washes his wound, places a salve on it that burns like the seven hells, before wrapping him up in long strips of cloth again. They slowly lower him, a soft sack of feathers placed under his head to serve as a head rest. The process is repeated on his leg as the planks are removed and the maester cleans a long, jagged wound that extends from the middle of his thigh down past his knee.
“You know, if you were a horse, you would have had your throat slit by now.” Tyrion says. He’s seated on a chair Jaime hadn’t noticed, next to the bed. His feet dangle mere inches above the steadying plank between the chair’s legs.
“Good thing we’re not at Casterly Rock then.” Jaime whispers. His head is tilted toward his brother. Jaime’s body is in pain and everything aches with a dull throb. The maester has sent the servants away with the soiled bandages and is mixing a liquid into a cup, presumably containing crushed herbs.
“No, we’re on Tarth. Someone actually likes you here."
The maester steps forward with an authoritative, “Ser Jaime,” motioning to the cup in his right hand, “for the pain.” He makes Jaime drink the entire foul mixture. Something thick scrapes over his tongue and he swallows on instinct, not wanting to have to pull it out of his mouth and complain.
Tyrion sits with him, telling him about everything that happened in the apparent fortnight he’d been asleep. Tyrion tells him how the Dragon Queen met her untimely end, Jon Snow’s refusal of the crown and the establishment of the Council.
He tells him how they’d found him purely by chance, how Brienne had arrived from Winterfell, and immediately started helping people, how she had led a team of peasants to dig him out from under the rubble. Tyrion tells him how he found his golden hand, fearing that his brother had perished, and how Brienne had started pulling large blocks of debris away in search of him. She had insisted on bringing him back to Tarth and that they were currently in Evenfall Hall, under the invitation of Lord Selwyn Tarth. He talks to Tyrion until he falls asleep, helped along by the draught the maester gave him.
Neither man mentions that Brienne has not returned.
The next few days pass much the same as each day before it. The servants bathe him each night and clean his wounds before applying the maester's salve and wrapping him back up in linen strips and thick furs.
Tyrion sits with him for the majority of the day, but the reason he is on Tarth is more politically minded than family-oriented. He does provide Jaime with books, with which he is able to keep himself occupied when he isn't sleeping. Brienne hasn't returned either. He contemplates asking Tyrion where she is and why she hasn't come back yet, but he already knows the answer.
He does wonder how long he'll be bedridden. He makes a point of asking the maester before drinking the proffered draught. It's the one thing he feels comfortable asking right now.
"If it would please you, Ser, I shall ask Lord Selwyn if the keep could spare a servant to accompany you for a few hours on the morn."
"Yes, that would be perfect. You have my thanks." Jaime says and he can almost feel Tyrion's brows rise. He voices his apparent shock as soon as the maester leaves the room.
"You're strangely polite. Our childhood septa must be rolling over in her grave that you are actually using the manners she tried to beat into you."
"You too, brother, would be polite if you knew that one rude remark could result in a draught meant for death, not painless sleep." Jaime replies, sipping on his cup of water. His stump feels sensitive and he's been avoiding actually moving it for the majority of the day. He wonders, briefly, where the golden weight upon his soul could be. Perhaps it is still in King's Landing, under the Red Keep's rubble and his sister's body.
Jaime is not sure whether he said the last part out loud, or if the matter has been bothering Tyrion as well. Tyrion pulls it from the same bag he pulled a new book out of. The gold of it catches the light from the fireplace and the glow from the candle next to his bed. A sick feeling bubbles in his stomach.
Tyrion studies the hand, twisting it this way and that. "Is it not strange, brother, that something so insignificant could mean so much."
A lump forms in his throat and Jaime has to clear it a few times to try and get rid of it. Tyrion places his hand on his shoulder. He drops the golden hand in Jaime's lap, before squeezing his shoulder briefly and bidding Jaime a good night. Jaime doesn't hear the door close.
Jaime leans over to the wooden table beside his bed to blow the candle out, but ends up dry-heaving over the side of the bed instead. The hand is heavy with memories and it weighs him down far more than any block of stone from the Red Keep could. He leans back against his feather head rest. Jaime runs his hand down his face, wiping the sweat on his brow and the spit clinging to his mouth. He stares at the stone above his bed and doesn't remember falling into a restless sleep, his golden hand clutched tightly beneath the furs. He dreams of Cersei, her tears and the dust clinging to her wet cheeks as she lay dying in his arms.
Jaime spends the rest of the night awake, in a cold sweat.
The servants are quiet as they wheel Jaime out of his room, the maester flitting around them, checking and rechecking that they have a good grip on the plank serving as a stabilizer for his broken leg. They placed him in a moving chair, much the same as Bran Stark sits in. The mere thought of Bran Stark never bothered him. He never thought what he did was wrong. He did it out of love, even his words at the time reflected as much. He wonders, suddenly, if the young man Bran Stark grew up to be, knew that he would nearly die in the Red Keep, curled around his sister in the same way they were curled together in the womb. Did Bran Stark know that the person he entered the world with, would be the same he nearly left with? Or was he indeed intended to perish there with her?
He feels sick as the servants wheel him out of the keep, down a path to come to a halt next to a large green field, where guards are sparring. He feels sick as the servants lift the plank slightly to place a small stump under it and the maester has a soft folded bedroll placed under his leg. He feels sick as Tyrion appears next to him, quietly observing the same guards. He wonders then, through the heavy feeling in his stomach, why he even survived. If he was meant to die by Cersei's side, why did the gods keep him alive long enough to be found?
"Where is the hand?" Tyrion asks, interrupting Jaime's thoughts.
"What?" Jaime glances at his brother, who is staring at his stump. Jaime frowns, self-consciously sliding his stump beneath the furs on his lap. "I-"
How could he explain to his brother that the weight upon his heart is heavier than he can bear, and adding the weight of a golden hand filled with contempt, disgust and self-loathing might just push him over the precipice he finds himself teetering on.
A shout echoes across the field and two guards lay sprawled on their backs. It saves him from answering Tyrion. It is then that he sees her. She is still as tall and ugly as he remembers, yet somehow the most beautiful thing he has ever laid his eyes upon. There she stands, offering her hand to one of the downed guards and pulling him up, before reaching for the other. She says something to the two men and motions to the hilt of her sword. She is holding Oathkeeper, demonstrating something to the pair. Her cheeks are flushed a rosy pink and perspiration must be dotting her upper lip and forehead.
Perhaps he should have stayed in his room, he thinks. Brienne has been avoiding him for an entire sennight, and if the feeling in his stomach is the same as she could possibly be feeling, he understands why.
Tyrion calls out to her, and Jaime wishes, viscously, that he still had his hand so that he could throttle his brother for drawing attention to them. He knows, logically, that she'd known he was there. Brienne didn't acknowledge him when the servants and maester had left him, which almost made him feel like he was invisible, like he had been to her in the early days, a pest whose presence she tolerates, but won't give attention to.
Brienne turns from the guards toward the sound of her name being shouted across the field. Jaime imagines her sighing as she makes her way over to them. She looks uncomfortable, like she would rather be anywhere else. He would liken it to Brienne looking like she was being marched to her execution, but Jaime brushes the thought aside as she stops before them. She doesn’t bow, but does give a deep nod.
“Lord Tyrion, Ser Jaime.” Brienne won’t look at him. She focuses intently on Tyrion or on the ground, but never at him.
“Ser Brienne. I’ve barely seen you these last few days. I hope everything is well?” Tyrion asks. Jaime can feel Brienne shrink away from the question.
“All is well Lord Tyrion.”
“Good. I would not wish you or your Lord father to suddenly suffer from an ailment as soon as my idiot brother awakes.” Tyrion has a grin on his face, not that Brienne sees it though. She’s stopped looking at Tyrion as well.
“Please excuse me Lord Tyrion, I- there is something I must attend to.” Brienne hurries away before another word. Jaime watches her until she rounds a corner and disappears from view.
Tyrion sighs deeply.
“She’s avoiding you.” He says, though Jaime has never understood Tyrion’s love for stating an obvious fact, except the fact that he takes immense pleasure in doing so.
“Yes, thank you, brother, for informing me. It’s not like I had no idea that she was doing so.” Jaime snipes. He’s suddenly exhausted. His bones feel heavier than before and he longs for the comfort of his sick room.
“I am-“ Tyrion pauses, “aware of what happened between you, you know. You were happy, for the first time, I believe. I don’t understand-“
Tyrion sighs deeply, but pities Jaime enough to let the subject drop. For now, at least. Jaime feels his eyes prickle and his chest tightens. He knows what he did, how idiotic it would seem to others, yet so logical to him at the time.