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King’s Landing.

He had thought to never see it again.

Jaime dismounted from his horse awkwardly, tumbling gracelessly off the saddle but recovering quickly enough to keep his feet. Around him the crowds jostled and pushed, not sparing more than half a glance for what appeared to be another wounded soldier from the war. Indeed, Brienne with her impressive height and almost destroyed gown was attracting more stares than he was. It felt odd to be so inconspicuous when he could clearly remember being a member of the Kingsguard, the crowds parting for him wherever he went. Powerful, handsome, richly dressed, so evidently at ease in the city it was as if he owned it.

Now he was knocked from side to side by the indifferent crowds, a poor excuse for a knight in rags.

Brienne came to stand at his right side, looking for all the world like an overgrown child in a dress that she’d matured out of. It had been a shame they could not have taken her armour with them from Harrenhal. He would have to remember to get her more made.

Even without it though she had a warriors bearing, feet planted firmly apart, shoulders squared. He caught her eye and smiled but she did not return it...though there was a softening in her face which, for Brienne, was practically the same thing.

They followed Bolton’s men as they shoved, pushed and elbowed their way through the crowds in the direction of the Red Keep.

A man carrying a crate suddenly collided with Brienne, causing her to flinch back, hand dropping to grasp for a non-existent sword.

“Sorry Ser! Oh, I beg your pardon, m’lady.”

Jaime stifled a chuckle as she frowned and muttered “Really, even in a dress…?”

Steelshanks finally managed to shove enough people aside to make his way up to the guards that were on the Keep gate. After a few low-spoken words both he and the guards promptly disappeared inside, leaving the rest of the company to wait out on the bustling streets where the warm midday wind blew dust from the streets into their faces, bringing with it the ripe stench of the unwashed masses. Though, given the last few days, Jaime wasn’t exactly sure he or the band he was with smelt any better.

It took nearly an hour before the gates were opened and they were hurriedly ushered in, admit sycophantic apologies from various members of the guard and household. As he suspected, no sooner had he set foot inside than Varys oozed his way out of the shadows, greeting him with soft platitudes he had little time for. It was only puzzling that Littlefinger had not appeared on his other side yet. This was one thing he had not missed about court, and he wondered how his sister found the patience to put up with dealing with these obsequious cretins…

“Jaime!”

As if his thoughts had summoned her, the doors of the main Keep were thrown open and there she was.

Cersei. Looking as radiant, as golden , as glorious as he remembered.

His pulse quickened and his steps became more hurried.

She practically flew towards him, joy on her face and for a moment he felt like his heart might burst. After so long here was his precious sister, his other half, Cersei.

She came up short just before she reached his arms, her eyes focusing on the stump and a look of horror filling her face.

No one had told her, he thought, fighting the urge to hide what was left of his arm from view. He had assumed Bolton would have mentioned the maiming, if only to deflect blame from himself.

“They’ve hurt you? Did they do this to you Jaime?”

Cersei seemed to be on the verge of demanding that the guards to seize everyone present but Jaime waved off the concern with his good hand, eyes still fixed upon her. She was so close he could smell her intoxicating perfume. Part of him wanted to sweep him into his arms, hold her for hours, days even, whispering promises about never being parted again. Another part didn’t want to touch her for fear of sullying her with the accumulated grime of the road.

 “These men are not the ones who harmed me; they are to be compensated for their services and allowed to return to their liege lord.”

Cersei’s eyes flickered to at his side, eyebrow raising.

“And….this?”

He became aware again of Brienne, steadfast at his flank.

 “This is Lady Brienne of Tarth. She was charged by Lady Catelyn to bring me home, which as you can see she succeeded in.”

His sisters eyes raked briefly across Brienne’s torn, blood encrusted dress.

“Do knights dress in gowns now? I must confess this curious fashion has yet to reach Kings Landing.”

She dismissed the other woman with a flick of her hand, her focus entirely on Jaime again. Her face was just as flawless as he remembered.

“Take her to a cell then, we shall deal with her later…”

“No.”

The word flew out of his mouth before he could even think about it. All eyes turned to him.

“She is to be seen as an honoured guest,” he ordered the dubious guards “Give her quarters, good ones mind, and allow her to refresh herself. “

He paused, glancing up at the Tower of the Hand.

“We have much to discuss with my father.”

 

 

Brienne ran her fingers through her hair, untangling a few snarls and wearily wondering who she had to speak too about a bath. The blood and the dirt she'd accumulated over the past few days seemed like it was ground into her skin, creating an itchy irritating coating.Absently scratching at her neck, she looked around, taking in the room she’d been given. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the bed, a monstrosity of a thing in red and gold all over-stuffed cushions, heaps of soft looking blankets and silken sheets for when the nights were too warm.

She collapsed on it without even bothered to remove her boots. It was almost outrageously soft and welcoming; the mattress moulding to her body with such ease that she immediately decided she was never going to leave this spot again.Throwing an arm across her face to shield from the daylight spilling in, Brienne inhaled the slightly unpleasant mix of sewage and spices that drifted in from the windows, concentrating hard on each breath in the way her swordplay instructor had taught her when checking for injuries.

In….out….in….out….where did it hurt?

 It ached across her stomach, and there was a flare of sharp, bright pain in her shoulder if she moved a certain way but…it didn't seem to be anything irreparable. Nothing that would not heal given time. She had gotten through this journey in one piece, which was more than she could say for Ser Jaime. But right now, Brienne did not have the strength to feel the optimism which should have come with successfully finishing her quest. For now all she could feel was exhaustion.

 

When Jaime knocked lightly on her open door not long after, he got absolutely no response. He pushed it wider, enough to stick his head inside.

“My lady, are you…”

Brienne was sprawled out on the bed in a truly ungainly manner, fast asleep, still in her blood-encrusted and hideously pink gown. He watched her for a moment, a curiously fond expression finding it's way onto his face before moving swiftly to the window and tugging the drapes shut.

After all they'd been through recently she needed the rest, he decided, he would not disturb her merely to drag her through the ordeal of a meal with his family.

 

 

 

Repasts with his family were darker and more sombre affairs than he remembered them being. Or maybe it had always been the case and it was simply that he no longer possessed the same penchant for levity he had once had. At least his food had been thoroughly and handily cut into small cubes for him, being he no longer had Brienne at his side to hold it still. He took a sip from his cup, taking a moment to appreciate how opulently good the wine was, spiced with ginger, its familiar taste warming to him. It made that given to him by Lord Bolton quite pale in comparison. And he didn’t even want to remember anything else he’d had to drink before that…

Tyrion sat opposite him, head down, melancholy and quiet, seemingly deep in his own thoughts. His little brother had been overjoyed to see him back but there was something troubling him, it seemed, leeching him of his usual gaiety and good humour. A fresh scar marred his features as well… worse than those that intersected Jaime’s cheeks. He would have to find time to sit down with Tyrion, to talk through all the had happened while he'd been gone.

Cersei was on her third cup of wine already, and though he ached for her, he could not help but notice the delicate shudder of revulsion on her face every time she looked at the place where his right hand should be. She appeared to be drowning her sorrows at being returned this one-handed old man rather than her golden knight of a brother. Later, he would talk to her and she was sure to adjust to the situation. For now he would allow her the distance she obviously needed to get over the shock.

Tywin Lannister sat, straight backed at the head of the table, as usual eating little and poring over documents. Occasionally he would flicker his eyes over his children, resting them for a split second longer on Jaime than the others.

“I gather we are not being joined by the incomparable Lady Brienne?” Cersei’s question broke the silence, barbed and bold from the wine.

“She is resting.”

She reached for the flagon, pouring herself another glass.

“To my knowledge, traitors from the opposing sides of war are not normally placed in the family quarters, in the best unoccupied room no less. Then again I suppose she did such a good job getting you here in one piece…oh wait, my mistake.”

“Cersei…”

“That creature is responsible for this horror, she should be thrown in cells and still consider it the highest amount of mercy.”

“To be best of my knowledge she never held a blade to Locke’s neck and told him to chop off my hand.”

“Enough.” Tywin’s eyes quelled his children instantly “She returned Jaime to us. We are in her debt.”

“And Lannisters always pay their debts,” Cersei parroted, in as mocking a tone as she would dare use with their father “Tell me dear brother how are you planning on repaying the beast?”

“It is not her I need to repay but Catelyn Stark.” He paused, watching his father’s  impassive down-turned  face “She asks for her daughters back in payment.”

Tyrion’s head snapped up, a desperately hopeful expression appearing on his face.

“No.” Tywin didn’t even raise his eyes from his papers “Sansa Stark is the key to the north and she is to be wed to Tyrion, she’s too valuable to be let go. Arya Stark… has been misplaced.”

Now he understood the source of his little brother’s gloom. Sansa Stark had to be all of…12?

“You married the girl off? And what do you mean misplaced?”

“Yes.” His father finally looked up, folding his hands atop his papers “Joffrey will marry Margaery of House Tyrell, securing their continued aid and, it appears, the good will of the people. Tyrion is to marry Sansa Stark and secure the North. And Cersei will marry Loras Tyrell to secure sympathy in Highgarden and to prevent them from forming any other alliances. And I mean that we do not currently have her in our protection, but that shall be remedied as soon as we have better information. ”

Cersei…

He looked over to her, meeting her agonised eyes over the rim of her goblet. Another arranged marriage, oh sweet sister no wonder you are troubled.

Still given that Loras’s proclivities were strongly rumoured to be similar to Renly’s, perhaps it was a situation that could be made the best of…

“And you…you will quit the Kingsguard and marry, as you stand fit to inherit Casterly Rock.”

He looked up, catching his father’s unflinching stare. Nearly every day of his life until his capture last year, his father had reminded him that he represented the family, the Lannister legacy, in all that he did. That without the Lannister name, without his father, he was nothing.

Brienne had reminded him that he was something beyond the name… he was a knight, a protector. And he would not forsake that duty so easily.

 “No man may compel another to resign his sworn duty.”

 “You think you will be much of a knight now?”

I think I will be a better one now.

 “We shall see I expect.”

His father held his gaze "Yes, I expect we shall."

 

Exactly how late was she going to sleep?

It was well into the afternoon. Jaime had already cleaned himself up as best he could one-handed and was now impatiently waiting for Brienne to wake. He needed to discuss the revelations of his family meal with her, discuss what they would do now his father had refused to release Sansa Stark.  Finally his patience wore thin and he found himself outside her chambers.

He knocked softly on her door, paused, and then knocked a little louder.

“My lady?”

No response.

He eased the door open, peering around it cautiously.

The light that the chink in the drapes let in was scarcely enough to see by…all he could make out was an un-moving lump on the bed.

“Brienne…?” He tried a carrying whisper, hissing her name. How could she sleep so long and so soundly still dressed like that? Wasn’t it uncomfortable?

A ridiculous sliver of fear worked its way under his skin.

Every rational thought told him that she couldn’t be dead, her injuries weren’t anywhere near that severe…Qyburn had said they were more minor than they looked, that they would heal quickly, besides the fact the woman seemed to the constitution of an ox.  And it was unlikely anyone in King’s Landing would’ve had time to enact an assassination, even if she’d given anyone reason. And people rarely just died in their sleep until they were extremely advanced in years, so he needed to not behave like an idiot and let the woman get her rest…

It took him a moment before he realised he’d already moved inside the room.

Moving silently across the floor, he decided there was no harm in just…checking. To be completely sure. Reaching the bed Jaime stared hard at her shoulders for a moment, trying his best to discern movement. Seven Hells it was dark in here, he wasn’t sure…

He leant in closer, putting a knee on the bed for more support,

The sleeper shot bolt upright, nearly head-butting him in the face as she rose, groping blindly for a sword that was not there.

“It’s me!”

He moved hurriedly backwards holding up his remaining hand in a placating gesture and watched the shock dancing across her features. After staring at him, totally lost, for longer than he deemed necessary or good-mannered, she seemed to remember where she was.

What are you doing?”

That was a perfectly valid question, and one he had no idea how to answer. Instead he removed himself from her bed and strode over to the window, flinging back the curtains as dramatically as he could with only one hand.

The golden light of evening flooded the room, setting the equally golden Lannister decorations glinting.

 “Waking you, you’ve been asleep for positively hours. You missed an absolutely enlightening afternoon meal with my family and now the evening meal has come and gone as well. I thought I’d make sure you weren’t intending to starve to death up here. It would be so inconvenient.”

Brienne frowned, rubbing at her eyes in a curiously childish gesture.

“I did not realise I had slept so long.”

“And I did not realise you were so fond of that dress as to keep it for sleeping attire.”

She glanced down, wincing as she obviously realised she was still wearing the hideous thing.

“I could have it laundered for you, if you are so set on keeping-”

No.”

He almost laughed at her vehemence.

“But why not when it looks positively charming on you?”

She looked like she was seriously considering beating him to death with a throw pillow, but he sat himself back down on the side of her bed, snagging her hand before she could finish reaching for one. The dress really was hideous; it’s only charms lay in revealing hers, what little she had.

“Very well in that case I suggest we take it out to one of the gardens and ceremonially burn it. An offering to the gods, though quite what they’d make of it I don’t know.”

Something that was almost a smile flickered around the corner of her mouth…certainly there was that softening in her face again. She tugged her hand away reservedly, reaching up to pluck at the neckline of the awful gown where the dried blood had adhered it to her skin.

“It is probably not wise to offend the gods so, Ser Jaime.”

Well that was almost playful. It was a shame that soon she’d hate him again; this new almost pleasant Brienne was perfectly tolerable.

“Well until we come up with a suitable method of disposal I shall find you some breeches and a shirt and then I suppose I’ll have to talk to someone about getting a dress made for you, because as amusing as the sight of you at official functions in your everyday attire would be I’m not sure it would be deemed acceptable …”

“You don’t have to-“

“I do actually, you’re my guest therefore when you inevitably do something to upset someone it’s going to be my responsibility. Best do what we can to avoid it, or at least delay it.”

“But I’m not going to be here for long, I must return the Stark girls to their mother.”

He looked across; saw her tense as she looked back at him. Her somewhat agreeable mood had abruptly disappeared, leaving in its place a wariness that he had hoped never to see on her face again.

“It will take time,” he explained gently “I talked with my father while you were resting and he is loath to part with Sansa Stark.”

Her lips tightened, her fingers spasming into a death grip on the sheets.

“And the other? Arya Stark?”

“No one has seen her since…since her father’s death actually. She probably escaped the city, smart girl. She’s doubtless making her own way back to her mother now, but I assure you I will make every effort to track her and assist her. Just as I will make every effort to convince my father to release Sansa Stark. Please…trust me.”

Brienne regarded him for a long time, and then dropped her chin in a sharp nod. Relief washed through him, perhaps he had not lost her confidence after all.

“I will not fail you, my lady.”

He bowed his head, acknowledging that he would pay his debt. Somehow.

“You would allow me to remain here until you have secured Sansa Stark’s release?” she asked.

Jaime hesitated. The truth was he had no intention of summarily sending this woman to her death, given the likelihood that she would be hanged as a traitor were she to make the journey North. However given Brienne’s unflappable sense of honour and justice it would be a difficult task to talk her out of it…it would take time…so for now a small untruth would have to suffice.

“Yes, I would.”

He paused, wrinkling up his nose and added,

“By the way you smell awful.”

She look affronted at his comment, even though they both knew it was true. The dress had smelt musty and old the first time she had put it on at Harrenhal, now overlaid with the powerful odour of bear, days’ worth of sweat and the sharp tang of blood it was really becoming quite pungent.

“Just because you have found time to bathe, does not mean all of us have….”

“-No, some of us were apparently taking up hibernation-”

“…and need I remind you that for a large amount of our journey you smelt far worse than me, yet I felt no need to bring it up?”

He smiled at her annoyance.

“I shall have some of the servants bring up a bath and fresh clothes.”

Purposefully he jumped to his feet, feeling relieved that this talk had gone far better than he had expected coming into it. Maybe it was a good omen, maybe he’d figure out a way to make his father release Sansa Stark.

“Ser Jaime?”

He paused, his hand on the door and half-turned back, an inquiring look on his face.

Her eyes caught his and for a moment he was lost in their earnest, clear blue.

“I trust you.”

Chapter Text

“Why do I have to do this?” she muttered under her breath. 

Since Harrenhal Brienne hadn’t really thought far enough ahead to speculate about what would happen when she reached Kings Landing. Before that whenever she found time to think about it she’d sometimes rather optimistically assumed they would be so happy to have Jaime back that they would simply hand the Stark girls over and she could be on her way. Then again when she was at her lowest she’d been expecting nothing more than a one- way trip to the dungeons ending in a quick beheading, if she was lucky.

Instead she was here, fidgeting as she waiting to be marched into the throne room. They'd given her clean clothes, an almost shockingly comfortable room and good food. It didn’t seem like it was leading toward death or imprisonment, but that might just have been her unwarranted optimism talking.

“He is the King,” Jaime replied,

“Hmph.”

“Please just…don’t say anything. Let me do all the talking.”

The massive doors in front of them were drawn back, with an impressive groan. The guards marched in ahead of them, taking up stations on either side of the archway before motioned them through. The effect was probably supposed to be intimidating and Brienne had to admit that it was, the ceiling soared up high above and raised on a dias above everyone was the Iron Throne.

In it a figure was slumped, looking entirely bored.

Why, he’s a child was her first, rather surprised thought. Her second was This might be Jaime’s child, if the rumours were true.

“Uncle, I’m glad to see you have returned to us.”

She watched carefully, looking for signs of the man next to her in this youth. The features were of broadly similar construction- similar eyes, nose, mouth- but on the boy they didn’t quite come together in the same pleasing manner as on Jaime. There was a meanness round his mouth that quite offset the pleasantness of this other features.

He appeared to notice her scrutiny because he turned his focus on her and she immediately changed her mind, his eyes were not like Jaime’s at all… they lacked the warmth and the compassion. 

“What’s that?”

“Lady Brienne of Tarth, your grace.” Varys, hovering on Joffrey’s left, was the one who spoke up.

“Forgive me,” The boy looked amused waving his hand as he spoke, waving away the forgiveness. Everything about his tone suggested he believed he’d never made an error in his life “I had no idea that Tarth was populated by giants.  Uncle, wherever did you find this curiosity?”

She felt, rather than saw, Jaime shift beside her and for one moment she thought maybe he was going to defend her. Instead, he looked across at her and smiled slightly, a warning light in his eyes.  Brienne stared back for a moment, before looking down at the floor. The message was intensely clear- Say nothing, do nothing, I will handle this.

 “Oh, I rather think it was she who found me,”

 “Followed you home has she?”

“Something along those lines, yes.”

“From the Stark camp?”

“Yes.”

The boy leaned forward, looking more eager now.

“And she was at the Stark camp for quite some time?”

She looked up at the little toy king sitting on this throne, thinking he owned the world, talking about her as if she wasn’t standing ten feet in front of him.

“I was.”

Brienne didn’t need to turn her head to know Jaime was shooting her quelling looks. But she refused to be sneered at and talked around as if she wasn’t even in the room. She was not a child and they had no right.

The boy opened his mouth as if to speak, then paused tilting his head to the side.

“Then you must have information that would be of use to us.”

Jaime cut across her before she could finish opening her mouth. His remaining hand clamped down warningly on her arm.

“I’m afraid not, you see we were both turfed rather unceremoniously out of the Stark camp about a year ago. Any information would be sorely out of date I’m afraid.”

We.

A little of her anger fled as she realised that Jaime was attempting to tie her fortunes to his own. It was a brave thing to do, considering they seemed to be getting worse by the second.

“Grandfather has advised me that the Stark’s wish for their daughter back in payment… well, it doesn’t seem like they’ve returned all of you, dear uncle.” He looked around the court, an excited smile growing on his face “Maybe we should return the Stark girl, minus her hand!”

No!

Brienne lurched forward but Jaime pulled her back before she could take more than a step. The Kingsguard had already moved to draw their weapons but he shot a subduing look at them.

The boy’s face crumpled into something sour and he leant further forward, hands tensing on the arms of his throne.

“Uncle, control your dog or I shall have it put out of its misery!”

Jaime stepped carefully in front of her, his hand behind him still holding onto her arm.

“She did not mean anything by it.”

For a second Jaime and Joffrey locked eyes, some kind of communication happening that Brienne could not read, then the boy king shifted slightly, lowering his eyes.

He’s a coward.

“You are dismissed, Uncle. Take your creature with you.”

Jaime pulled gently on her arm, urging her to turn and walk out beside him. She allowed herself to be guided but she was still seething. That insolent child was on the Throne, where Renly was supposed to have sat. Stannis she would never support, he was a murderer, but surely there had to be someone more qualified than that….wretch.

 

They walked in silence along the walkways of the Keep.

 Jaime had not let go of her arm, instead he had tucked it into his so they looked like two friends strolling slightly intimately together. Brienne was aware he was probably afraid if he let go she would turn around, walk back into the Throne Room and punch the King.

She wasn’t entirely sure if he was wrong.

Finally he made an exasperated sound and asked,

“You couldn’t just play nice for five minutes?”

She walked a little faster, feeling vindicated when Jaime had to quicken his pace to keep up.

“That was nice.”

They climbed the steps down into a small yard, which after a moment Brienne recognised as a training yard. The worn wooden dummies and the scuff marks reminded her so much of her own favourite place back on Tarth that for a moment she felt incredibly home-sick.

 Jaime made shooing motions to the squires who were there practicing and they fled, either they knew who he was or they were just intimidated by the pairs appearance. He picked up one of their discarded wooden training swords and handed it to her. They both stared at it for a second, remembering everything that had happened so recently.

Her anger softened, it was not him she was angry at after-all.

No but it’s his son.

“Had I spoken like that to visitors in our home my father would have disciplined me.”

She shot Jaime a pointed look. He was still looking down at where they both held the wooden sword, features troubled.

With a sigh he dropped his hold on it and turned away from her. For a second she thought he was simply going to walk out of the yard, leave her here alone. Instead he made his way over to the targets at the wall and slumped there, finally looking up to meet her gaze.

“Is there any point me denying it?”

His voice was light but his eyes were serious. He leant back against the training dummy and for a moment she tried to imagine what it must have been like to watch those children grow up and to know he could never tell them who he really was to them. Did he even feel like a father to them? Or did he view them as the children of Robert Baratheon?

Hefting the weapon, she stepped back into a swordsman’s stance and swung at the training dummy, feeling the impact in her sore muscles. She knew Jaime was waiting for her response, wondered if she should just leave it be, let him deny it. The more she knew about it, the more dangerous it was, for both of them.

Then again, she already knew one of his deepest secrets. What was another one to add to the burden?

She looked across at him.

“No. There isn’t.”

They regarded each other for a long time; Jaime appeared to be weighing up his next words very carefully.

“The boy has no idea he’s my son, you think I could just raise my voice to him and bring him to line? He’s the King.”

“That’s not a King, that’s a mewling child.”

She swung harder at the training dummy, the impact causing straw to fly from the seams in the batting. Jaime was still leaning casually on the other side of it, seemingly confident that she wouldn’t miss her swing and strike him.

“Renly was a real King, he was kind and just-“

“-Handsome-“put in Jaime

 “-he listened to people, he actually cared-“

“-good beard, pretty blue eyes-“

She smacked him lightly with the wooden sword and he must have been expecting the blow because he managed to almost dodge, laughing even as the wood connected with his arm.

His laughter faded quickly however and his tone became serious as he said “Brienne, do not criticise the King, even to me. It’s dangerous.”

“Your boy King doesn’t frighten me.”

“No? How about all his armed guards? I’ve trained with some of them, I know you’re good but there are more of them.”

She didn’t answer, instead making a volley of jabs at the unresisting dummy.

“Do not make Joffrey angry, be patient. We will get the Stark girl back to her mother, but it will take time.”

The same platitudes he’d given her last night, when she had decided to trust in him. To trust that he would find a way. But the boy- Joffrey- didn’t seem like he would let Sansa Stark go, how could Jaime hope to get them to free her? He was still looking at her imploringly, but she refused to meet his gaze, instead focusing on her attack. He caught her arm before she could land another strike, tugging on her until she relented and looked across at him.

“Promise me you will be patient.”

His hand tightened insistently on her arm.

“Promise me, Brienne.”

Promise him that she would not do her duty? That she would kow-tow to a spiteful little boy playing at being King? While waiting around in King’s Landing not knowing if she was a guest or a prisoner?

Her mouth set and she looked away.

“Please.”

The word was said in a reasonable tone, but it was obviously a heartfelt entreaty. For Jaime, this was practically begging… and all he wanted was for her to be sensible really…but the thought of sitting and doing nothing with Sansa Stark so close by…

“I cannot lose you after all this.”

She looked back at him, surprised, He was looking at her, eyes honest, open and pleading.

Her resolve shattered.

“I promise.”

 

Leaving Brienne in the training yard to work off some of her anger made him slightly nervous. She was still incredibly angry at Joffrey, but once he’d managed to extract that promise from her he knew she wouldn’t do anything stupid, at least not right away. Brienne believed in her promises after-all, believed in her oaths. She was the most morally upright and steadfast person he’d ever known.

Besides, he couldn’t drag Brienne with him everywhere he went and he’d been gone so long, there was so much he needed to do. H'e'd been made Lord Commander of the Kingsguard in his absence apparently so there was much to do there but before anything else his father had summoned him...

“Have you been avoiding me, Jaime?”

Jaime drew a breath, pausing. Almost involuntarily a smile crept onto his lips.

“No. Have you been avoiding me?”

He looked across to where Cersei was standing; obviously waiting for him. She was frowning and smiling at the same time as she often did, as if unable to decide on exactly how she felt.

 “Cersei,” he moved toward her, his arms out. Her eyes flickered downwards and she flinched backwards.

“Keep it hidden. Please.”

He followed her gaze downwards then dropped his arms, pulling the hem of his sleeve over his stump to better hide it, not able to help to small stab of hurt the look on her face caused. He had to look at his stump every day, yes it was hideous but it was part of him now. And that Cersei was so repulsed by a part of him was devastating.

Obviously reading his face, she stepped forward, placing a gentle hand on his cheek.

“I’m sorry, you must think me cruel. I just… can’t bear it, what they did to you.”

Covering her mouth, she looked away, tears glistening in her eyes. His heart melted and he wrapped his good arm around her, burying his face in her neck,

“I missed you.”

Her arms tightened around him, as if she could keep them in this embrace forever and they would never be parted again.

“I’ve missed you too.”

After a few moments she pulled back, the tears gone from her eyes. She smoothed a hand over the front of his shirt.

 “You are aware that Father is wedding me to Loras Tyrell.”

When he tried to conjure up a mental image of Loras Tyrell all he could bring to mind was an expression of slightly self-conscious smouldering. The boy had seemed more concerned with his appearance as a knight than being one, but from what he could remember he was reasonably talented. Young, slightly idealistic, so very flamboyant that his tendencies were obvious to be least observant courtier.

Hadn’t Brienne mentioned she’d beaten him to win her spot in Renly’s guard?

“Yes.”

She waited for a second as if expecting more, then said,

 “I need for you to make it go away.”

So direct, but there was apprehension there- for perhaps the first time in their lives Cersei seemed unsure of how he would react. She moved in closer, her hands fisting in his shirt. Jaime brought his good hand up, entangling it in her golden hair. Burying his face in it, he breathed deep, closing his eyes.

You need for me to kill him, he thought, that’s what you’re saying.

And I would have done it, before. Without even thinking. Because I love you so much sometimes it hurts.

“Jaime…” she whispered, her voice full of pleading.

“I don’t think I can, Cersei.”

He wanted her to understand, even if he didn’t fully understand himself….but he couldn’t do it, not anymore. I love you, please understand he silently begged her.

Pushing away from him, she looked up, bewilderment writ large on her features.

“You don’t think you can?”

Had he ever denied her anything before? He didn’t think so; saying no to Cersei would have been unthinkable, before all this happened, before his hand, before Brienne…

That last thought brought him up short, slightly confused. Brienne didn’t belong in this moment.

“I can’t kill him. He's a boy and he hasn't wronged me.”

She folded her hands beneath her shawl, tilted her head to observe him. Anger and disappointment showed in equal measure on her face.

 “You’ve changed.”

He looked down at him stump, a slightly sad smile making its way on to his lips.

 “Yes, I have.”

Cersei started to walk away but paused, looking back at him. Standing, posed just so, with the morning light causing her hair to shine and illuminating her face, she looked too beautiful to be real.

“You’ll come round. You always do.”

He met her gaze, feeling drained. This was not how he’d imagined his reunion with his sister would go.

“Well, like you said…I’ve changed.”

Chapter Text

Now that Jaime had left others had begun to trickle back into the training yard, squires looking to test out new skills, guards looking to hone old ones…

They were staring.

More than staring, some had begun to mutter behind their hands, eyes looking her up and down. They knew she wasn’t one of them, an interloper. A woman dressed as a man, what higher heresy was there?

Brienne focused on the training dummy in front of her, sweeping in low right then bringing an overhead down on the left.  Her strokes were accurate, strong enough to buckle the dummy… but they’d never stare for that reason.

She felt like she should be used to the staring by now, maybe one day it wouldn’t make her feel so irritated and worthless.

Up on the walkways above the training yard the ladies from the court were taking the air, enjoying the balmy midday sunshine, looking like butterflies in their silks. She didn’t belong with them either, would never be delicate and decorative in the same manner as they were. The same men who were staring with disapproval at her male attire would be the first ones to laugh if they saw her stuffed into some flimsy, gauzy excuse of a dress.

She didn’t really belong anywhere.

Resting for a second, she pushed sweaty hair out of her face and defiantly looked around the yard, deliberately meeting the eyes of those who were watching her. The men that had been staring quickly stopped their gawking and turned back to their swordplay, trying to look as if they’d been doing it all along. Laughter drifted down from the walkways, and Brienne glared up, certain it was to do with her.  Her gaze was caught by one of the ladies, the one with long curly hair blowing gently in the breeze.

She knew that woman… something about her face was familiar…

Brienne had a flash of standing below a raised platform, looking up, having just won her bout. That woman had been sitting next to Renly.

That was-had been- his wife.

Margaery Tyrell.

What was she doing here, in King’s Landing?

She was looking down at the yard, commenting on the spectacle of some of the greener squires to her friend, face lit up with laughter. Her eyes swept across the courtyard…and met Brienne’s.

Recognition dawned on the Tyrell girl’s face.

 Swiftly she spun her companion around, walking quickly in the other direction.

“Come Sansa, we need to…”

Sansa.

Sansa Stark.

Brienne’s eyes widened, her training sword clattering to the ground.

You promised Jaime, a voice in her head warned. I promised I wouldn’t antagonise Joffrey, not that I wouldn’t speak to her, she shot back at it, sprinting up the stairs two at a time.

“Sansa Stark!” she called out, nearly knocking over a group of courtiers, careening around the corner. Fixing her eyes on the girl’s bright red hair she pushed people out of her way. Margaery looked back at her, a flicker of confusion showing on her face and she began to move more quickly.

“Your mother sent ….” She barely avoided crashing into a pair of guards as she raced along the narrow walkway, feet pounding on the stone “Please ….stop!”

Someone seized her arm.

“What do-“

A guard attempted to yank her to stop but she had built up so much momentum that she simply toppled him onto the ground with a thunderous clash.

Immediately two others rushed to his aid, blocking her path and surrounded her. Drawing their swords, they pointed them squarely at her neck.

“What do you think you’re doing, woman?”

Well done, after you promised Ser Jaime that you would be careful and patient it only took you half an hour to bring yourself to the attention of the city guards.

Brienne stood still, head lowered, taking deep breaths and willing herself to remain calm.

“My apologies. I was running to catch up with …a friend.”

That had been Sansa Stark. If only she’d caught up with her, she could’ve explained her quest, let her know that everything was not as hopeless as it might appear…

At least now she knew for certain the girl was alive and appeared to be well enough.

The guard she’d knocked over leaned close, scrutinising her.

“Who are you anyway?”

One of them poked her shoulder with the flat of his blade and she grit her teeth, trying to keep her calm. A small crowd was forming as best it could on the narrow walkway, peering at them to see what the fuss was about.

What would Jaime do in this situation?

Probably pull rank.

Taking a deep breath she squared her shoulders and looked the man dead in the eye.

“My name is Brienne of Tarth. I am a guest of Ser Jaime Lannister. If you have a problem with me, I suggest you take it up with him. I believe he has gone to call upon his father.”

The blades dropped, as if by magic. She blinked, surprised that it had worked.

“No need to disturb the Hand or his son, my lady,” one said, looking slightly stricken. Was Jaime’s father really that terrifying that the mere mention of his name would have these men quaking in their boots?

“Good call, my father does so hate being disturbed.”

Jaime sauntered up, the crowd hurriedly parting to let him through and causing the guards to back away until they were almost in danger of tumbling over the edge. It occurred to her that they might be terrified of Jaime’s father, but they were also scared of him. She’d been so used to him as a prisoner, relatively powerless and at the mercy of others, that it seemed strange.

“I do apologise for your treatment, my Lady.”

He offered her his arm, the picture of courtly manners. Catching on to his performance she drew herself up and took it with a much dignity as she could manage. As they walked away she scanned the crowd but there was no tell-tale flash of red hair in amongst them, absolutely no sign of Sansa Stark anywhere.

“I leave you alone for ten minutes and this is what I return to find?” he muttered.

 “I thought you had gone to see your father?”

“Change of plans.” He seemed slightly agitated by something and she wondered what had happened to make him change his mind “Which was probably a good thing as it rather looked like you were picking a fight with the guards back there. Any reason for that or do you just enjoy causing chaos wherever you go?”

“That your guards are so threatened by one unarmed woman is not my fault,” she told him stonily.

He raised an eyebrow and she relented,

“Margaery Tyrell is here.”

He frowned, obviously mentally trying to fit the name to a face.

“Tyrell, Tyrell…ah yes, I believe she has the honour of being Joffrey’s betrothed, poor girl.”

Brienne grimaced.

How could anyone go from being the wife of someone like Renly to the wife of someone like that? She could barely understand why women shackled themselves with marriage anyway, but to tie your fate to a childish monster like that boy….

“She knows me from Renly’s camp…she might think I killed him.”

He frowned for a moment then shook his head in dismissal.

“What good would it do her to speak of it now? Renly was an interloper, as far as Joffrey is concerned if you’d done it you would have done him a favour.”

He was probably right, it was probably nothing. But it was another worry to add to her ever growing list. The boy Joffrey obviously already saw her as something less than human and his penchant for cruelty in punishments was being whispered at all over the Keep…if Margaery Tyrell convinced him that she was a threat then the best Brienne could hope for was a quick death.

Jaime could obviously sense her disquiet because he said gallantly, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

She bristled, dropping his arm as if it had burned her.

“I don’t need protection.”

He raised his eyebrows, a small smile still on his lips.

“Actually, you do. Not physically maybe, no. But you simply don’t know how things work around here. It’s a different kind of fighting altogether.”

For a moment Brienne missed him as he’d been on their journey, when he needed her as much as she needed him. Now they were in this place, he was more self-assured, he held all the power… he didn’t need her but she had to rely on him for every small thing.

 “They don’t scare me, words aren’t real weapons.”

“No? That’s odd, I would’ve thought you of all people would understand how much words can wound…”

She glared at him, unable to help flushing slightly.

“I meant no insult. Just that people are crueller with words even than swords at times. And trust me when I say in this place words are much more likely to get you hanged.”

Of course he hadn’t meant to distress her. He knew how badly words could wound just as well as she did.

They walked on in silence for awhile until she said,

“You’re right.”

“Oh? On what account?”

All of it and you know it, you smug bastard she thought rather uncharitably.

“This world is foreign to me. I was never presented at court. My father thought it would be a waste of time.”

 “He was probably right.” At her annoyed look, he clarified “Yours, not theirs.”

She permitted him a slight smile then, just the corner of her mouth turning up. Court would never have been right for her, it was true.

“Trust me on this, I’ve seen how my sister treats the courtiers, you would have hated it.”

She made a sound of assent; she’d only met his sister for a few moments on the day they arrived but that hadn’t prevented her from forming the opinion that Cersei Lannister was not a woman that she would particularly get on with.

Jaime tilted his head, considering her.

“I’d like to meet him one day, your father. He must be a very interesting and unusual man.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He raised you.”

They smiled at each other, for once both at ease in the moment.

“I think he’d like meeting you as well. He always admired those with courage.”

Their wanderings had taken them in complete circle and they found themselves once again back at the training yard. Since it was now mid-afternoon the sun was lower in the sky and the sunken courtyard was in shadow, making it feel cooler, better for training.

Jaime led the way down and once again the space became suspiciously deserted as soon as he set foot in it.

The armoury was open this time and he plucked up a sword, holding it clumsily in his left hand.

“Would you care to spar, my lady?”

She hesitated.  

Was Jaime truly healed? She was unsure on that front, he’d told her Qyburn had used some kind of medicinal salve on his stump and it appeared to be healing all the better for it but still...

Swallowing, she remembered what it had been like before… she’d not seen it much, he’d kept it wrapped up even in the baths. But the smell. It had been almost indescribable, even in the baths with the sharp scent of the lye soap overlaying it. Rotting, acrid, decaying, it had seemed to seep into everything around it, turning her stomach, making her want to retch.  And Jaime had to sit there, smelling his own flesh putrefying.

 It was a wonder he hadn’t lost his mind.

He held out the sword to her, handle first. She automatically accepted it, hands shifting into the correct grip as she watched him choose a second one.

“I have to learn sometime. Wasn’t it you who convinced me I was more than my right hand? So come, fight with me. Teach me.”

Dropping back into a fighters stance, he raised his eyebrows in challenge.

He looked awkward with the sword in his left hand, lacking the power he’d once had. Out of habit it seemed he’d picked a two-handed sword and it was far too heavy for him to lift without effort.

“You need to get a lighter sword.”

He examined the one he’d picked, twisting it this way and that in his hand.

“You’re right…I shall see about getting one made. But for now…”

His blade slashed forward, awkwardly placed for her to defend against. It made her parry clumsily, stepping back and giving ground.

Had they been fighting in a tourney then she would have used the fact his attacks were unbalancing him, knocked him to the floor. There were a dozen ways she could have taken him down right then if she’d been minded to. Instead she simply gave more ground, sword poised.

She swung forward, an easily deflected blow that barely skidded along his blade. Again, she advanced, their swords clanging and slipping along each other, just enough to force him to retreat a step. His arm began to waver and she backed off before it could give.

“Come now, you can fight better than this.”

He sounded like he was becoming annoyed with her and she felt a twinge of annoyance herself. What did he expect of her? If she put her full-strength into the fight it would be over within moments and he would scarcely get a chance to train.

He slashed at her again, driving her back. She parried his next thrust, stepping into it, forcing herself into his space. Close-range he would have absolutely no power behind his sword.

After holding their blades there for a second she again stepped away, allowing him to draw his weapon back.

“Stop messing about and fight me, woman!”

Her jaw tensed.

If he wanted this fight over, then she would end it.

“Do you fear me so that you will not come at me full force? Or do your maidenly sensibilities tell you that you cannot hit-OOF!”

She tackled him in the same manner she had Loras Tyrell. Grabbing his one good hand, she trapped it and his sword above his head, knees either side of his hips, weight on his chest to stop him from moving. This time she didn’t have the advantage of the bulk of her armour, but it would be difficult for Jaime to get the leverage to push her off with only one arm.

Brienne tensed her arm, waiting for him to struggle.

He lay beneath her motionless, breathing hard and looking somewhat stunned. She wondered if she’d inadvertently caused him to hit his head.

“Do you yield?”

He stared up at her blankly, as if he had no idea what the word meant. She leant a bit further forward on her elbow, using the hand that was not holding his down to bring her sword up carefully so it was lying near his throat.

“Do you yield?”

The breath he drew was a bit shaky. His voice sounded hoarse, possibly because her weight was forcing the air from his lungs.

“If I say yes, will you get off me?”

The strange thing was, he didn’t sound like he thought that was really a good idea. Brienne frowned at him then pulled back slightly, letting her sword fall to the side and settling her weight more on his abdomen. She still held his wrist but she gentled her grasp now, just holding.

He dropped the hold he had on his sword, letting it clatter to the floor beside his head. His fingers curled and uncurled, as he seemed to be considering what to do, she could feel the minute bones in his wrist shift as he moved. His eyes were still fixed on her face, and she was fast becoming uncomfortable with being watched for so long in this manner.

Finally, he closed his eyes and let his head fall back with a groan.

“Then I, reluctantly, yield.”

She dropped his wrist immediately, clambering off him. He picked himself up awkwardly, dusting off his clothes as best he could. For some reason it appeared that he was avoiding her gaze.

“Don’t be such a sore loser,” she muttered, grabbing both swords and slotting them back into the rack in the armoury with a bit more force than necessary.  Really, it was just childish of him first to goad her into a fight and then refuse to even attempt to throw off her hold. And now because she’d won, he was sulking like a youth who’d just lost their first tourney.

Still, he probably felt discouraged; it would do her no harm to be nice.

“You’ll get better, if you try. It was only your first time with your left hand. Maybe next time we shouldn’t jump straight into it… ”

He looked at her then… strangely, frowning slightly but looking like he wanted to smile at the same time.

Then suddenly he was laughing. Not just a little, but great big belly laughs that made him double-over, clutching at his knee with his good hand to keep upright.

She was entirely unsure what was causing these mercurial mood swings and didn’t appreciate being laughed at for no discernible reason.

When he’d finally got himself under control, she shot him a frosty look.

“Are you quite finished?”

He seemed quite cheery now for some reason.

“Brienne of Tarth, I am inordinately glad that you were never forced to go to court. Your naivety would have gotten you into all sorts of trouble.”

“What are you talking about Lannister?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

Chapter Text

Jaime woke suddenly, catapulted from his dream.

Lying back down he heaved a sigh, trying to catch the trail-edges of the dream as it slipped away. It had all but disappeared the second he awoke, all he could remember were the feelings of being safe, comforted and possibly….yes there had been a lustful component too. It was a shame he could not remember, it had seemed like it had been better than most of his dreams did lately. Possibly it had been inspired by yesterday’s sparring match, the feeling of Brienne pinning him roughly to the ground had been unexpectedly…stimulating.

He lay, still sleepy but knowing soon he would have to rouse himself, it was early but the night sky had already begun to lighten into day.

Maybe today he’d take Brienne out into the city, down to the see the waters of the bay, she’d like that wouldn’t she? Tarth was an island after-all and all the islanders he knew seemed inordinately attached to their water. And it was probably best they didn’t spar anymore, at least not until he’d gotten these unwarranted urges under control.

It was probably partly because Cersei was giving him the cold shoulder, angered by his refusal to dispose of Loras Tyrell from her life. Every time he was near her, he ached for her,  yearned for her and then the only other woman he had in his life decided to pin him to the ground and lean on him in very interesting ways…

It was a natural reaction and one he was just glad Brienne had managed to innocently overlook.

The thought fled from him as a knocking at his door pulled him from the doze he’d started to fall back into.

Groaning, he hauled himself out of bed mourning the loss of his extra minutes of sleep.

“Yes?”

“Your father requests your presence.”

 

No matter how old he became every time Jaime was summoned before his father he felt like he was once again eight years old, being brought to justice over some minor crime of youth.  Stealing sweet foods from the kitchen perhaps, or a minor feat of daring like when he and Cersei would jump from the cliffs at Casterly Rock. The sight of his father had changed little from then, save for his becoming ever greyer and gaunter…he’d always sat in a high-backed chair with documents spread out about him, documents that it was heavily implied were more worthy of his time than his eldest son.

 “You summoned me, father.”

There was a long silence, broken only by the scratching of his father’s quill as he finished up whatever missive he was writing.

“We had a meeting,” Tywin said finally, looking up “One that you did not deign to attend.”

The papers were shuffled into place and put aside. It appeared Jaime would be receiving his father’s full attention for the moment, which was never a good omen.

Tywin Lannister leant forward, eyes fixed on his son’s as he spoke,

“I thought it prudent to reschedule.”

“Father, I…”

Jaime trailed off. He had no reason for why he’d failed to attend his father’s summons. Cersei had upset him and, almost automatically, he’d gone to Brienne. After discovering her worries about the Tyrell girl and then their...sparring session he’d been sufficiently distracted to forget about the meeting entirely.

“What? No snide remarks?"

He stared at Jaime through narrowed eyes for a long time. Then he picked up his papers again, sliding them back in front of him.

“So, tell me about this girl. Tell me what is so very fascinating that you would rather gallivant about the Keep with her for hours than meet with your father.”

The fact his father knew he’d been with Brienne shouldn’t really have come as a surprise.

Tywin Lannister knew everything.

“There’s nothing to tell.”

How could he tell his father anything, anything about Brienne? It was as if they existed in two separate worlds.

He watched as his father pulled his papers back toward him, shuffling them into a new order.

“I knew her father. He was in court for a time when I was the Hand to King Aerys.”

Picking up his quill he dipped it into the ink began to write again, the scratchy sound filling the room.

“He was a fool then and he’s a fool now, if he allows his daughter to go around pretending to be a knight.”

Jaime laughed quietly, under his breath. His father glanced up at him, his quill pausing.

“She’s not pretending.”

Tywin watched him carefully, staring at him slightly too long for ease. It was as if his father’s gaze was burrowing its way into his head, laying all his thoughts open.

“Tarth has yet to declare for a side after the fall of Renly Baratheon.  The girl obviously rides roughshod over her father. You will convince her to declare for us.”

Jaime’s reply was quick and sure.

“She won’t.”

He met his father’s cool, measured gaze and held it.

“She’s too…honourable for that.”

Brienne was the most honourable person he knew. Sometimes he thought that was why he was so concerned about her. Honourable people tended to have short life-expectancies in King’s Landing.

“Very well. I will see her. Today. See that she is properly attired.”

Seven hells, Brienne speaking with his father.  Jaime felt a lump of dread and worry settle firmly in his chest. 

He gave a short, terse nod and moved to take his leave. As he turned, his father spoke again.

“The meeting was about your withdrawal from the Kingsguard. Since you weren’t there I took the liberty of starting the proceedings for you.”

Jaime froze, all the breath seeming to leave his lungs. Not turning, he said as calmly as he could manage,

“Members of the Kingsguard serve until death.”

The reply came back, measured and composed but with an air of finality-

“They have made an exception.”

 

Brienne had awoken early, with the sun.

After dressing and eating her morning meal, she sat on her bed and wondered what now? It was difficult to know what to do with herself in an unfamiliar place, even more so in one where she had apparently no purpose.  

She was honestly unsure what people in King’s Landing did with their time beyond take pleasant walks and eat delicacies, neither of which really appealed to her.  Sitting here in this room, awaiting Jaime’s summons seemed too biddable and she would grow tired of those four walls before long. She could possibly go train, but her shoulder was still sore and practicing too often might cause it harm.

Of course there was another option…

Somewhere, within these grounds, was Sansa Stark.

So if she were to go for that pleasant walk and just happened to bump into her…well it would be a mere coincidence.  She could surely not be chastised for walking about the grounds; Jaime had made clear she was to be treated as a guest not a prisoner after all.

Feeling better now she had a course of action to follow, Brienne tugged on her boots and made her way out of the door.

She barely got five steps down the corridor before she was abruptly accosted by a rather troubled looking Jaime.

Annoyance made her greeting slightly less than friendly but he was distracted enough not to notice. Seizing her arm he dragged her unceremoniously up the corridor and into his room before she could even attempt to convey that she had other plans.

 It was the first time Brienne had been in Jaime’s chambers … if she’d thought the room she had been given was extravagant it was nothing compared to his. Everywhere you looked there was red velvet, gold Lannister lions, each furnishing more opulent than the next. On his bed there was laid some of the finest armour she’d ever seen- all delicate swirling fretwork and pleasing tapered edges. It made her miss her own armour, silently curse the fact that it had been taken by Bolton’s men. True it had not been as decorative as this, but it had been her first suit made purely for her and it had made her feel invincible.

Jaime threw himself down, collapsing onto his bed unmindful of the armour and looking up at her with troubled eyes.

Seconds later, he made the reason for his discomfort clear.

“My father wishes to meet you.”

Tywin Lannister wants to meet me?

Everything she had heard about the man had been bad, tales of his ruthlessness and cunning, his cold manipulation of those surrounding him. The Rains of Castamere. Why did he want to meet her? She opened her mouth to ask Jaime but his attention wasn’t on her anymore.

He was looking ruefully at the armour spread across his bed beside him, running a pensive finger over the designs.

“And he has decided I am no longer to be a member of the Kingsguard.”

Sympathy rose sharply in her. The Kingsguard was something you didn’t leave; it was your life…to leave it was to impugn your own honour.

“Why?”

He laughed without humour, a harsh sound.

“He’s probably using my hand as an excuse. But really he wants me to step up to my position as the Heir of Casterly Rock. Be the man I was always meant to be.” The last words were said mockingly with a bitter undertone.

“You are the man you’re meant to be.”

She said it firmly, with conviction. It caused him to smile slightly and he nodded, accepting of the compliment. Some of the warmth had crept back into his face and she was glad of it.

“Why would your father want to meet with me?”

“He wishes for you to convince your father to declare for the Lannisters.”

“And he thinks I can sway my father’s opinions?”

She considered it for a moment.  Her father had been convinced towards declaring for Renly but how much of that had been her passionate admiration for the man and how much had been her father’s own approval of someone who had shown them such courtesy when he visited their island? She wasn't really sure.

It was unlikely her father would declare for the Starks now, not after one of Robb Stark’s bannermen had held his daughter-his only heir-hostage, endangering her life. He didn’t agree with Stannis Baratheon and his religious fervour. And no one would declare for Balon Greyjoy if they were in their right mind. Unless he wished to remain neutral, it seemed as if her father would have to declare for the Lannisters.

But she refused to be a pawn in it.

Jaime watched her, a rueful smile on his lips.

 “He thinks anyone who allows their daughter to be a Knight is fool enough to be swayed by the opinions of a woman.”

She bristled immediately at his choice of words but after a moment she realised they were in fact probably his father's words rather than his own.

Suddenly without warning, Jaime’s smile turned impish “You know, I may have an idea.”

 

“You summoned me, Lord Lannister.”

Brienne, Lady of Tarth stood in front of him, clad in gleaming armour. He recognised it immediately, of course. It was Jaime’s ceremonial armour, the armour he’d worn in the Kingsguard. 

“I did.”

Appropriately attired indeed, he thought recognising the intended irony in his son’s choice of dress for the woman.

So if he could not be here to protect this girl, he clad her in his armour as a sort of symbolic protection, the armour he’d worn in defiance of his own father’s wishes. How very poetic, how very like his impudent son to come up with such a ridiculous gesture. She even had his sword slung at her side, which irked him somewhat. He’d given his son that sword himself, it being carried by someone who wasn’t a Lannister was vexing.

She stood like a knight would stand before their commander, at attention but not rigid. Unlike his impatient children she did not immediately sit or demand his attention…that she was used to following orders in such a manner could be useful, perhaps. Had he been standing, she would have been taller than he was and possibly broader.

What was it about this plain and homely girl that had his son guarding her like a wretched mongrel with a bone?

“Sit.”

She sat clumsily; the fact the armour did not quite fit her making it a difficult feat. 

He observed her carefully and she met his gaze without trouble. She seemed steadfast, implacable as a rock.

“So you are Brienne of Tarth.”

“I am.”

Picking up the wine, he poured her a cup.  She accepted it, inclining her head slightly but did not drink.

 “I took the liberty of notifying your father of your presence here.”

“I thank you for it. He will be relieved I’m sure.”

She watched him, with a carefully blank face. Every question met with a flat response.

 “He has yet to declare for a side, I believe.”

“I would not know, my lord. As a simple woman, my father does not discuss these matters with me.”

Ah, so obviously his wretched son had warned her of the purpose of this meeting. He almost smiled at the audacity of the whole thing.

“You seem quite loyal to my son. Whatever other talents he has, inspiring loyalty is not usually one of them.”

“I am. And…” she paused for a moment then ploughed ahead “I think you underestimate him, my lord.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, you do.”

He looked over her carefully, weighing up his sons unusual choice in companion. The purpose of this meeting had been to talk her into convincing her father to declare for them, but a different path appeared to be presenting itself.

Jaime would soon be out of the Kingsguard and she was technically a marriageable prospect, her father’s only heir and it would force an alliance. However Tarth was neither as large nor as prosperous a hold as the first son of such a prestigious house should aspire to gain from a bride, nor would it be a particularly astute political match. Tarth would only become militarily significant if the Targaryen girl attacked from across the Narrow Sea and that would surely not be for years, if it came at all. And as a person certainly she appeared to lack any form of social grace or dignity. But Jaime had been so unrelentingly stubborn on the subject of marriage that at this point Tywin was willing to take what he could get, if Jaime was infatuated with this great, lumbering boor of a woman then he’d see to it they were wed as quickly as possible before the boy could come to his senses.

But he was not going to have his son wed to a woman who dressed as a man. It was unnatural.

“If you’re going to remain in my household, as my guest, you will not dress like that. Have someone find you something appropriate. The armour of the Kingsguard is to be worn only by the members of the Kingsguard. To the best of my knowledge you are not a member of the Kingsguard…”

Her mouth twitched, a flash of anger crossing her face.

“I was a member of Renly’s Kingsguard. I believe that gives me the right to wear this armour.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Do you now.”

He leant forward, talking as if explaining to a slow child,

“Renly was not a King. Therefore, he could not have a Kingsguard. Therefore, the next time you appear in front of me you will be appropriately dressed as befitting a lady of your station. I may not be able to choose the company my son keeps but I can at least prevent him from looking like a damn fool while he keeps it.”

He sat back in his chair, regarding her coldly.

“Are we clear?”

Her stare was icy.

“Exceedingly, my lord.”

 

The longer she stood here, the more convinced she was that the dressmaker was deliberately stabbing her with these pins. There could be no other reasonable explanation for this on-going torture. Maybe, somehow, it was Tywin Lannisters revenge for the armour.

“We’re going to need a corset to get some sort of shape.” The dressmaker whipped another bolt of cloth across Brienne’s outstretched arm then clucked as it failed to do anything for the girl’s pale complexion. Lannister reds were brought in, and then discarded for appearing to gaudy against her pale skin. Green’s made her look sallow, Gold’s made her look plain. It was obvious they were fighting a losing battle but they appeared determined to hold every single colour in the rainbow up against her skin and tut disappointedly.

A stand-in corset had apparently been found and so Brienne was summarily deprived of breath and the ability to bend at the waist. The dressmaker complained that her newly small waist simply made her shoulders look even broader.

She wondered absently how her father was going to feel when he received the bill for this dress, he probably wouldn’t mind paying but she was positive he would think it some kind of elaborate practical joke. Brienne had sworn never to wear a dress again after she was nine years old, any attempts to foist them upon her had usual resulted in tragic accidents for the garment.

A dry, amused chuckle came from the doorway where Jaime had appeared, obviously delighted with her predicament. She shot him a glare,

“I fail to see what is so amusing.”

The seamstress rushed up, flapping about Jaime like a flustered hen, obviously torn between protecting the modesty of her lady and her desire not to be seen to be telling a highborn lord what to do…

“My Lord, it’s not really appropriate for you to be here while we are fitting m’lady…”

He waved away her protests, sauntering into the room as if this was an everyday occurrence.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ve seen Brienne in less.”

Her eyes widened in horror and she made to step down from the stool to confront him until the dressmaker and her minions squawked and forced her to straighten again. Her cheeks burned as she glared at him.

Jaime grinned, unrepentant, as he watched the maids bustled around re-positioning the pins she had just dislodged.

 “That one I think,” he pointed to a bolt of blue silk that seemed to be nearly identical to the other’s in Brienne’s view “It matches her eyes exactly.”

The seamstress hesitated.

“Is my lord sure? This one is…somewhat expensive and as I understand it Tarth has limited funds…”

He waved off the protests “Well then it’s a good thing I’m paying for it, don’t skimp on the extras but…no fur.  And definitely no pink.”

He was paying?

She might have been rather ignorant of court protocol but she was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was supposed to work.  Wasn’t her father supposed to pay?

 “Ser Jaime, I cannot allow-“

He raised an eyebrow.

“Yes you can, one dress is hardly going to bankrupt me.”

After he left she was uncomfortably aware of the fact the seamstress and maids were regarding her with a slightly confused air. They think he is in love with me, she thought keeping her eyes steadfastly on the floor, and they are trying to figure out why he’s bestowed his affection on a great hulking creature like me.

They were wrong of course.

Chapter Text

It really shouldn’t have surprised him they’d decided to throw a big celebration in ‘honour’ of his return.

It was a show of course, a way of announcing to the world in general and their enemies in particular that the Lannisters had prevailed and the Starks had caved, that they’d given back their most precious hostage. A way of showing everyone important that he was alive, while probably glossing over the loss of his hand as much as possible.

Brienne was late, which didn’t really surprise him. He imagined it would take a whole team of maids to convince her into putting on a dress. Possibly armed ones. When he’d gone to see her, to ask how her meeting with his father had gone, he’d instead found her being outfitted for a dress… which told him all he needed to know about who’d come out ahead in the meeting.

But he still needed to talk to her about it, so he was lurking as unobtrusively as possible at the bottom of the corridor, hoping to catch her before this farce started up. His white cloak was draped over his arm, hiding his stump from view. He’d had to go retrieve a spare from storage as his own had mysteriously disappeared, almost certainly on his father’s orders. This might well be the last event he could legitimately wear it at and he was going to, come what may.

Movement caught his eye but it wasn’t Brienne. Instead Margaery Tyrell and Sansa Stark were making their way along the corridor. They had obviously made an effort for the event, their dresses were delicate things, jewellery sparkling at their throat, the pictures of courtly elegance. Sansa’s step faltered when she saw him, eyes widening and she shrank into her friend’s side.

Of course, to her he was still the monster who pushed her little brother out of a window.

“Ser Jaime, I don’t believe we’ve met.” Margaery wrinkled her nose prettily as she smiled, appearing to be both endearing and innocent. But anyone who was even considering marrying Joffrey of their own free-will was unlikely to be the former and certainly not the latter “It seems like such an oversight, considering we are to be family.”

“Perhaps not, however we do share a mutual acquaintance.”

Her expression reflected polite amusement,

“Why, yes, of course- you are King Joffrey’s favoured Uncle after all…”

“I meant Lady Brienne, of Tarth.”

She was good, he acknowledged, there was barely a waver in her expression of compassionate interest.

“Of course, how is Lady Brienne? I was rather…surprised to see her here in Kings Landing.”

“Oh I believe she’s fine, settling in quite nicely in fact. I’m sure she’ll be an absolute asset to the household.”

He leaned in conspiratorially,

“There are some terrible untruths being told though, about her actions at Renly’s camp. I believe you were there too, my lady?”

The question hung, loaded, in the silence that followed. It seemed like the question of the Tyrell’s switching of loyalties was one of those topics carefully avoided in court. This one was good though, he thought, her mask didn’t waver for a moment. Instead she composed her face into the picture of regretful contrition.

“Yes, such a terrible tragedy.  For a time I believed Renly was the true King, now of course I have realised the error of my ways, and that King Joffrey-“

Again, Jaime cut her off. He was being almost unpardonably rude, but honestly he didn’t overly care.

“Yes, yes. Renly was terribly misguided and you were…led astray no doubt.”

There was a flash of something in her eyes, but it was too quickly and expertly concealed for him to identify it.

He was very possibly making an enemy here. Probably not a sensible one either, damn that woman what had Brienne done to his sense of honour to keep him falling on swords like this for her?

“I couldn’t care less about whom you swore loyalty too. I only want you to know this.”

Margaery Tyrell watched him with careful eyes and an interested smile, the expression of someone who had spent her life playing these games.

“Should those rumours reach certain people… well the one who was responsible would unfortunately find themselves making an enemy of me. And well… my enemies tend to have limited life-spans. I’m sure, as you pointed out we are to be family, you’ll do your best to help me in discouraging them?”

Margeary’s face gave away nothing, that small sweet smile still fixed in place. At her side, Sansa looked nervous.

“Of course I will, Ser Jaime. Rumours are terrible things.”

There was a pause then,

“How rude of me, I didn’t ask after your sister.”

It was a subtle barb, deliberately placed to let him know he did not hold all the power in this conversation. She was good, she was very good.

“You can convey your own greetings to her inside.”

“Oh I shall… and Ser Jaime? Concerning Renly’s death, I am not the Tyrell you need to concern yourself with.”

With that parting remark, she took Sansa’s arm and swept past him, leaving him wondering exactly what she meant.

Loras maybe?  The rumour was that he’d been Renly’s lover.

More ladies of court started to drift by, sometimes accompanied by husbands. Those not accompanied seemed inclined to talk to him, to try and draw him into leading them into the hall but his short, terse replies discouraged them. Evidently his father was already circulating the fact that he was to be removed from the Kingsguard and was once again a marriage prospect.

It still caused a stab of hurt to think about, so he deliberately turned his mind to other matters.

He couldn’t help wondering what Brienne was going to look like in her dress, no doubt she was soundly cursing his existence right now due to his being partially responsible for it. But it would be best for her to blend in if she could.

He permitted himself a wry smile at the idea that Brienne was ever going to ‘blend in’. A dress did not a courtier make; she was going to be a foot taller than any other woman in the room.

Mentally he compared Brienne to the ladies passing by- they were wearing delicate golden jewellery, hair pulled back in elaborate curls, demure and graceful. Poor Brienne was going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Well if he couldn’t do anything about the hair or the height, nor the lack of grace but maybe he could at least do something about the jewellery.

 

Brienne took a deep breath and stepped out of her door, trying to figure out how to move in her monstrosity of a gown. Is it normal to be worried about tripping over your sleeves? she wondered, trying to shove the fabric further up her arms. How could women wear these instruments of torture on a daily basis?

It was cut in a style that the dressmakers had assured her was in height of fashion in court, as if she would have any idea. The bodice was crossed over, low enough and subtly curved enough to imply cleavage where there was none. The huge bell sleeves hung heavy on her arms in silver and blue, she was uncomfortably aware of how they limited her movement. Though one advantage was how easy it would be to hide a small armoury within the folds and folds of excess fabric, it only she’d had the foresight to bring some knives or short swords with her. Tiny seed pearls were scattered among the detailed embroidery that covered the sleeves, depicting silver crescent moons and suns intertwined with roses. The waist was tight, laced in around the corset the maids had foisted on her, laid over with a girdle of carved bronze metal that called to mind her knights armour. She rather thought Jaime might have had a hand it that, it was the kind of subtle dig at her expense he rather enjoyed.

It was a magnificent dress and she was sure on the right person it would make them look equally magnificent. On her it looked entirely out of place.

“Ah you’re actually wearing it then, I was half afraid I was going to have to get the Kingsguard to wrestle you into it.”

Jaime strolled round the corner, looking slightly too amused for her tastes.

“They could try.”

The scathing look she sent him obviously had no effect as he just chuckled lightly.

“So I am to gather your meeting with my father didn’t go as well as we hoped?”

“I am wearing a dress, what do you think?”

He looked momentarily apologetic.  As he should do, thought Brienne, it had been his idea to dress her in his armour to start with.

“But you didn’t pledge Tarth to him?” she shook her head and Jaime smiled, looking a little relieved “Good, he didn’t win then.”

Brienne glared, unsure how anything had been won or lost in that meeting.  Apart from apparently her permission to wear armour. And her dignity along with it.

“Would you mind?” he gestured to the white cloak he had hanging off his arm.

She helped him on with it and it felt uncomfortably domestic, dressing him in this manner. It probably looked uncomfortably domestic as well if the slightly knowing look one of the maids gave them as she bustled past was any indication…

“There, now I look appropriately dashing.” He smiled, arranging the folds of the cloak so they concealed his stump.

“You looked fine before,” said Brienne frowning. He shouldn’t have to hide his arm like that, it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.

 “Oh…” he fished around in the small bag he had with him for a moment then brought his closed fist up and held it in front of her face, seeming to take great delight in her expression of confusion.

“Here,” Jaime opened his palm and let a pendant drop until it was twirling from his fingertips. It was a pale blue sapphire, set around by slightly tarnished golden lions; small pearls placed here are there in the setting and a slightly larger one dangling from the bottom.

It all looked a bit mismatched to Brienne, but then she knew very little about jewellery and cared even less.

“Do you have nothing to say?”

“Should I?”

“You really are the most obtuse woman I have ever had the misfortune of knowing, you know that?”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting patiently for him to make his point, whatever it was.

“It’s for you to wear tonight.” He looked at the pendant as it swung from his fingertips, seemingly avoiding her gaze “It’s a gift.”

Brienne stiffened, feeling the expensive dress confine her movement as she did so. A dress probably worth more than some of her father’s smallholdings, and now a necklace certainly more fine than anything her Lady mother had ever owned, even if she liked it little.

“I cannot accept so generous a gift.”

He frowned, good mood rapidly evaporating.

“That’s not very good manners is it?”

They stared at each other momentarily, before Brienne called a compromise to the fight before it had truly begun. Her temper was made short by both this obstructive clothing with its ridiculous sleeves and the general dread of the upcoming gathering, she had little desire to fight with her host.

“I shall wear it this evening, but it will be returned to you after.”

“Well you can try.”

She took the necklace from him, unceremoniously fastening it around her own neck before he got any ideas about trying to help her on with it.

“There, see…it looks….”

Jaime tilted his head, eyes coming to rest on her face.

“Rather remarkable actually.”

She made a dismissive noise, she was aware she looked like a joke, but took his arm when he proffered it.

“You’ll be fine,” He told her with a smile, and for a second she almost believed it.

 

 

“Never have I seen a woman look so uncomfortable in her own skin. Who is she again?”

Tyrion looked up at his companion's words and followed Bronn’s gaze to where the woman in question was attempting to hide herself behind one of the columns with little success. She walked a few steps out onto the floor then appeared to abruptly change her mind, retreating to the solace of her stone pillar where she stood fidgeting with the edge of her sleeves, watching the dancers with an uncomfortable frown.

 “I believe she’s the Lady Brienne, Heiress of the small but tactically significant holding of Tarth. A rather eligible young lady, in theory. Here tonight because she was the one who brought my brother back from the Stark camp.”

The eligible Lady Brienne shot a foul look at a young man obviously making his way over to her. He abruptly changed his mind and headed for the banquet table instead.

 “It is a shame, she is a rather… unfortunate looking woman. I mean, the height mainly, the musculature, but the permanent frown doesn’t help matters.”

Bronn grinned “Oh I dunno, I might’ve given it a go. Woman like that, looks like she could crush any man between her thighs… might be an interesting experience.”

Tyrion raised an eyebrow “Then by all means, feel free to approach the Lady. I would love to see her response.”

“I would, if I thought your brother wouldn’t have my head up on a spike before I’d even finished the sentence.”

He uncurled a finger from around the stem of his cup to point to where Jaime had approached the woman, evidently attempting to entice her to dance. Her frown deepened and she folded her arms around herself.

“Oh I rather think Lady Brienne would put your head there herself.”

Bronn snorted, and then gestured with his goblet between the pair. Jaime had obviously made some remark that had annoyed her because she appeared to be attempting to storm off, only halting when Jaime put himself directly in front of her, his remaining hand resting placating on her elbow.

“Never have I seen a man so in denial over the fact he wants to fuck someone.”

Tyrion frowned, scrutinising the twosome. The brother he knew would never have even given thought to someone like the Lady of Tarth, unbecoming as she was. In truth though, the brother he knew would never have given thought to any lady other than Cersei, unbecoming or otherwise.

“Don’t be ridiculous… I think you may have had enough wine.”

“Never,” came Bronn’s firm response, making Tyrion chuckle.

At any rate, Jaime appeared to be giving up on her now, abandoning his attempts to dance with her in the pursuit of another cup of wine.

“She’s popular with you Lannisters today,” his companion noted.

Tyrion drew his gaze away from Jaime to see Cersei making her way purposefully toward the poor unsuspecting woman. It was like watching a particularly vicious cat bear down on a mouse that hadn’t the slightest clue the danger it was in.

 

“So….you are Lady Brienne.”

Cersei Lannister swayed towards her, silk gown dragging on the floor with a heavy ‘ssssh’ noise that caused the hairs on the back of Brienne’s neck to rise.

She was almost impossibly beautiful, chiselled and perfect. Brienne immediately felt monstrous just standing next to her.

 “You are…” she paused for a moment, unsure of the correct title to use. If she had sworn loyalty to Lady Catelyn, surely to address this woman as ‘Queen’ would be a violation of her oath. Instead she settled awkwardly for “…Ser Jaime’s sister.”

“Yes,” Cersei regarded her with something that was almost a smile “And you are his…protector? Captor? One scarcely seems to know the term to use. ”

The smile deepened, showing a hint of teeth.

“Tell me, how does King’s Landing compared to the delights of…” She paused, furrowing her perfect brow “I must confess I have quite forgotten where it is that you come from. These small rural holdings, there are so many of them I must confess I can never keep them in my brain.”

The meaning was quite clear, I am important, you are no one.

“Tarth.”

Cersei nodded her head and when she replied her voice was relaxed, almost musical but there was a dark undercurrent to it.

“Ah yes, Tarth. A quaint little island, if I remember correctly.”

Brienne felt a sudden surge of anger that surprised her.

“Not that small, my lady.”

The woman raised her eyebrow, smile hardening “…your grace.”

She smoothed out her sumptuous gown, her golden hair like a crown in itself. But you are not the true Queen, Brienne thought, fury curling in her chest; you have no right to such a title anymore.

 “I understand things may be different in Tarth but in King’s Landing we address people using their correct terms. You shall address me as ‘your grace’.”

Brienne turned abruptly to face her, gaze steely and her fingers curled at her side, itching for a sword. Her height enabled her to look down on the other woman and for the first time in her life she was glad of it.

“Shall I?”

Suddenly Cersei’s eyes blazed with anger and in one swift movement she came closer, jabbing a finger at Brienne’s chest.

“Why are you wearing that?”

She looked down at herself, wondering what she had managed to do wrong. Admittedly the dress was nothing compared to the majesty of Cersei’s red silk and brocade but it broke no obvious rules that she could see.  “It’s a dress. It was made for me.”

“No- This!” She made to grab the necklace and Brienne took an instinctive step backwards, automatically falling into her fighting stance. Her hand closed protectively around the pendant.  

“Ser Jaime gave it to me.”

It was a small bauble, a trinket even, compared to the opulent cascade of gold and red rubies that hung from Cersei’s throat.  In the dim light they looked like beads of blood.

“He gave it to you?”

Brienne met her accusatory gaze, eyes defiant.

“Yes. If it causes you issue, take it up with him.”

“Oh I certainly shall.” She stepped even closer, eyes narrowed “Do not think I do not see the game you’re playing with him. Be aware that it is a very dangerous one.” And then in a whirl of silks and perfumes Cersei was gone.

 

Jaime was drunk.

He fully acknowledged this fact, just as he acknowledged the fact he intended to become even drunker as the evening wore on. The past year and a half had left so few opportunities for merriment that he was determined to make the most of it. Besides, he was to be unceremoniously wed off to some random woman at his father’s convenience… surely that merited getting ridiculously drunk?

Now all he needed was some good company…where was Tyrion when he needed him? Or Brienne, where had she hidden herself this time?

Finally he spotted her half-concealed behind a pillar. Before he could call out, she sidled away, obviously having had her fill of gaiety for the night. Not that he had seen her touch a cup of wine, nor could all his teasing induce her to dance. It had been rather disappointing actually…he’d been looking forward to seeing Brienne let her hair down. Figuratively speaking of course.

 “So you are now throwing our mother’s jewels around like tokens?” Jaime turned to see at his sister slide into the seat next to him. He tilted his head toward her, taking in the flush of anger on her perfect face.

“Answer me. Why was that beast wearing our mother’s necklace?”

“Because it looked well on her, I don’t see why you care anyway, it’s not one you would ever wear yourself.”

 “That’s not the point.”

“Then what is, sweet sister?”

She smelt of wine, musky and sweet. Her eyes were not as focused as they had been earlier, indicating that she was imbibing just as much as he. Part of him longed to take her into his arms and taste the wine on her lips but he held back, not quite drunk enough for such displays of public affection.

“You’re rather taken with that homely creature aren’t you?

“And what makes you say that?” he watched his own reflection in his wine cup, distorted as he swirled the contents.

“You make eyes at her like a squire with his first infatuation.”

“Does that make you jealous?”

“Should it?”

They regarded each other for a long moment before both taking sips from their goblets. Cersei had that knowing half-smile on her lips but he could feel the cold anger coming off of her in waves.

“You know, her eyes are almost pretty, not enough to make up for the rest of her but…there is something about them I suppose, a certain doe-eyed vacancy,” She mused “Tell me does she look up at you with those big naïve cows eyes as you fuck her? What does she see I wonder?”

He met her gaze, noting the dangerous glitter there.

 “If we were to do such a thing, I imagine she’d see exactly what is there.”

“A cripple?”

A sharp flash of hurt in his chest made him grit his teeth momentarily.

“Perhaps.”

He took another long swallow from his own goblet, watching his sister over the rim as she did the same.

So similar, yet now so different.

Chapter Text

Brienne wasn’t entirely sure what woke her, only knew that her eyes snapped open and she jolted awake.

The moon was bright enough to light up her entire room, painting everything in eerie shades of white and grey, leaching the colour from the Lannister red.

Now she was awake she became aware of the noises from outside her window, the distant sounds of merriment from the feast, punctuated by raucous shrieks and laughter drifting in. And further away the noises of people going about their business even at night…

Kings Landing never truly slept.

Evenfall Hall had always been quiet but the camp’s, both Baratheon and Stark, had taught her to sleep through most rackets. It had probably been the moon that had woken her; the brightness was almost comparable to daylight

Sliding out of bed with Brienne padded over to the drapes with the intent of drawing them but instead she paused, staring out over the glittering lights and listening to the distant music. A wind came in through the window, smelling sweeter than any air she had yet experienced from King’s Landing. She stopped, hands clenched in the fabric and breathed deeply.  It made her want to take flight, run, ride, fight… something. It made her body itch and yearn. Inactivity ill-suited her and this warm wind was reminding her of that.

Clumsily pulling on her shirt and breeches she decided instead to go and see if the training yard was deserted. Mayhap she could get some practice in without distraction, if her shoulder held.

She turned to leave but her eyes fell on the necklace on her bedside table, the sapphire reflecting back the pale moonlight.

Why had Cersei been so angered by it?  Was it the necklace itself or was it more to do with the fact it had been given to her?

The irrational fear came over her that were she to leave it here she would return to find it taken. It might not be a gift she cared for much but… it was a gift.

From Jaime.

Slipping it over her head she settled the cold metal against her chest, out of sight of prying eyes. She still planned to return it but until she did…well it was probably better to keep it on her person.

 

Brienne was half-way to the training yard when a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks, one that was singing loudly and with far more enthusiasm than tune

“And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so very bloody low?”

She ducked into the darkened courtyard, peering around the corner.

There was Jaime Lannister still in all his finery, toasting the sky with a cup of wine. It was a shame he had imbibed so much, otherwise she could have attempted to convince him to train with her.

Maybe he could still order the armoury unlocked.

Ser Jaime!”

She hissed the words quietly, not wanting to draw the attention of the other party goers but he did not seem to hear.

His rambling had however bought him within touching distance and her hand shot out, grabbing the back of his flowing cape and yanking him into the courtyard so hard that he almost lost his footing. The wine is his hand sloshed over his fingers filling the air with a fruity acidic odour.

“It’s me!” she whispered, somewhat redundantly.

 “My dearest Brienne! I thought you had long since retired!”

He was merry with wine, smile lighting up his face.

“I could not sleep.”

“The noise of the party?”

“The moon.”

He glanced up at the sky, making a considering face as he took a swill of what was left of his wine.

“Yes, it is rather bright this evening I suppose. Do you know the tales about the full moon? They say it makes men bold and foolish.”

Jaime ledged his empty cup on a nearby windowsill and grasped her hand in his remaining one, getting her fingers sticky from the wine. Placing what remained of his other arm around her waist he began swinging her around the courtyard in a parody of the refined dances from earlier. She attempted to extricate herself but he refused to relinquish his hold. Instead he leaned his face close to hers and asked,

“Are you feeling bold and foolish, Brienne of Tarth?”

She furrowed her brow, aware she was being gently mocked in some manner but unable to grasp the point he was making.

You clearly are.”

He laughed a little at her response as he executed another turn that sent Brienne stumbling over her own feet. His attempt at a dance was twirling them away from the darkened space and she worried that someone would see this ridiculous farce.

“Ser Jaime, please this is-“

He attempted to pull her in to a complicated dip and half-turn then but coming up against the rigidness of her spine found it an impossible feat and settled for another stumbling spin.

“Come now, my dear Brienne, if you can fight surely you can dance? It is all a matter of footwork after-all!”

He charged them off to the other end of the courtyard, their clasped hands held out stiffly in front of them and now she found herself almost tripping over his feet as well.

“Ser Jaime- Jaime- I-“

Another turn caught her off guard and she lost her balance, her feet tangled in his. Jaime caught her clumsily, hauling her upright as best he could, laughing at how flustered she had become.

“I shall admit your dancing is not as accomplished as your swordplay.”

The way he was holding her against him was rather uncomfortably intimate, their bodies pressed flush and Brienne wondered how best to extract herself from his arms without causing offense. It was not a manoeuvre she had much experience with.

He leant in to nuzzle at her jawline affectionately. The tip of his nose was cool against the skin just under her ear, and his lips a little warmer where they rested briefly on her neck. A small shiver of heat sped down her middle and she froze, trying her hardest not to move.

“I think your neck is the only graceful thing about you, my lady,” His lips brushed her skin as he talked. For some reason she couldn’t help but noticed how good he smelt, earthy and spicy with only the slightest hint of sweat. It was so different from their time on the road. But this was not the thing to be concentrating on, the thing to concentrate on was getting herself free of his grip. In the morning she could chastise him for having no sense of personal space when he was drunk.

“Tell me, Brienne, you never did answer my question, while we were travelling together.”

She was working on freeing her hands from where they were crushed between their bodies , gradually wriggling them up until they rested against his chest, giving her a bit more leverage to push him gently away.

“And what question was that?” she asked absently.

“Have you ever been with a man?”

Startled she looked up, meeting his shameless gaze with her own.

The way he asked it this time was less impertinent but there was a low, lustful element to it she immediately tried to convince herself she was imagining. She wanted to be able to laugh at his question, to get affronted, to argue with him, something. But her voice was caught in her throat and all she could do was work her mouth soundlessly.

He was at the skin of her neck again, his lips brushing up to her ear; his hand on her hips pulling them closer to his.  She felt like her skin was burning in every place his lips touched it.

“Ser-I-“

The sound of his breath in her ear was changing, getting a little faster and a little more erratic.

His lips dipped low again, touching the chain she was wearing.

 “Ser Jaime, please-“

He pulled back to stare down at her neck and she allowed herself a moment to feel a conflicted sense of relief and disappointment.

With exaggerated care Jaime hooked the chain of the necklace and slid it free from her shirt.

Thinking he was offended by her continued wearing of what she had sworn to return, Brienne finally freed her arms from his embrace and reached up to unclasp the chain. He swiftly placed his hand over her own, lowering the necklace back into place.

“Leave it, it looks remarkably well on you.”

She complied, slightly confused by his abrupt shift in mood.

“As I said before it is too much…”

He didn’t answer her, still staring at the pendant round her neck.

“Did you know they are supposed to protect against envy? Sapphires, I mean.”

“I doubt I shall need it then.”

 “I don’t know about that, in fact, I’d say you were in rather dire need of it.”

Unbidden the image of Cersei flashed into her mind, but she dismissed it as ridiculousness.  The radiant ‘Queen’ of Westeros, flawless in pretty much every viewable way, envious of someone like her?

“Sapphires for the Lady of Tarth,” he mused, pensive now “You would prefer golden armour or a sword to jewellery I’m sure, my lady?”

It was a ridiculous statement, anyone with an ounce of common sense would prefer weapons to frippery.

“Well, yes.  More practical.”

She considered it for a moment, before adding-

“Not real gold though, it would be too soft.”

“How about a white cloak instead?”

Jaime was fingering the edge of his cloak, looking wistful. It was the same sadness she’d seen in his eyes before she’d had the meeting with his father and it made her angry… they had no right to take him from the Kingsguard.

“Excuse me?”

“I could name you my successor to the Kingsguard, insist Joffrey take you on in my stead,”

Brienne’s eyes widened.

“I don’t want to guard Joffrey,”

She couldn’t help the horror in her voice and it obviously amused him.

Even leaving aside the fact she had sworn her service to Lady Catelyn guarding someone like that, some spoiled overindulged excuse for a King, would be among her worst nightmares.  Besides... it was always be Jaime’s spot that she had taken, and it wasn’t hers to take. He couldn’t be forced to stop being a knight… he was honourable and brave, so much more so than anyone knew. He deserved that cloak.

“You should just tell your father you’re not leaving. You’re a knight, Ser Jaime, he can’t force you to give that up.”

He looked at her, his eyes shining

“You’re right.”

A genuine smile crossed his face and he tightened his grip on her a little.

“Of course you’re right. You always are.”

His hand came up, pushing a few stray bits of hair off her cheek, fingers lingering on the strands. The look on his face was starting to make her slightly uneasy again…

 “Brother! And why is it at a celebration thrown in your honour I find you hiding in a corner?”

The short man making his way over to them had to be Tyrion, Sansa’s apparent future husband. He was looking at them with an expression that hovered between amusement and concern.

Brienne attempted to move swiftly away but Jaime apparently wasn't going to allow that. He slung the arm that ended with the stump around her shoulders, leaning heavily into her.

“I was just dancing with Lady Brienne, well I was dancing, she was doing some kind of delayed falling…”

She stood stock still, still unsure of what to make of all the casual intimacy his drunkenness had inspired.

Obviously taking note of her discomfort, his brother moved forward and tugged on Jaime’s good arm till he reluctantly gave up his hold on her and moved forward.

“Come now Jaime, let’s leave this charming woman to go about her own pursuits without you bodily harassing her. She will think all Lannisters’ are as tactless and charmless as you.”

“I am certainly not charmless! You must be thinking of yourself dear brother!”

“I am certain I am thinking of you, now out we go.”

He gave his brothers leg an unceremonious push to hurry him out of the courtyard before turning back to Brienne, a slightly odd smile on his face.

“Mother’s necklace suits you well, my lady.” Tyrion smiled politely and bowed his head a fraction before re-joining his brother who was loudly and emphatically declaring that he was indeed not drunk and that they should get Brienne and go back to the gathering.

His mother’s?

Chapter Text

Brienne woke early once again, and lay abed, staring up at the ceiling.

Cataloguing the cracks and irregularities in the stone above her helped her try and get her mind from other things. The bricks were slightly different colours, this one being more reddish in tone, the other grey- Jaime had held her tight against him- there was a small spider determinedly making a web between the corner and the wall- Jaime had pressed his face into her neck-the sunlight filtering in lit up the dust and made it sparkle- Jaime had given her his mother’s necklace.

She was still wearing it around her neck; she’d been somehow unable to bring herself to take it off last night… which was ridiculous.

Suddenly embarrassed Brienne buried her face in her pillow and let out a muffled scream of frustration.

How was she supposed to face him?

Feeling angry at him, and the situation, she abruptly hauled herself from her bed.

Even her plain shirt and breeches felt too feminine after the dress last night. It was laying , crumpled on the ground in a pile of silk and embroidery where she’d left it and she had every intention of letting it rot there, Tywin Lannister be damned.

Defiantly, she picked up Jaime’s Kingsguard armour. It would feel good to have it as a shield between her at the world. With every plate that was buckled into place she felt more like herself, more like a knight…

Maidens get silly and blush at lords who’re too forward after drink, she told herself firmly, you are a knight, not some idiot girl who will lose her head once again over a few kind gestures.

A knock at her door startled her momentarily and she found herself only opening it a crack, just enough to peer through.

Just in case it’s Jaime or his sister… really are you so cowardly? She berated herself.

Finding only what appeared to be a messenger of some kind, dressed in pale blue, she pulled it open fully.

“Yes?”

“Lady Brienne? Lady Olenna of House Tyrell requests your company in the gardens, in order to take tea with herself and her granddaughter Margaery.”

Her mouth went dry, and she considered slamming the door. She’d almost forgotten Margaery in her embarrassment over last night but apparently there was someone who she would like to see less than the Lannisters.

“Uh, I apologise but I am currently busy…”

The messenger reached out, taking hold of her elbow in a firm grip.

“Oh, Lady Olenna insists.”

She found herself steered politely but inexorably toward the person she most hoped to avoid.

 

 

Brienne was led down an avenue of leafy trees to a small secluded area set out with tables. All around, impeccably dressed young ladies were embroidering, chatting with each other, taking tea. Some of them stared at her, obviously a little startled by her appearance. Off to one side, sunshine framing her in a halo of golden light was Margaery Tyrell.

In the centre of all this, under the pavilion, like a Monarch surveying their court sat Lady Olenna Tyrell.

Her escort guided her to stand in front of the old woman then discretely vanished.

A pair of shrewd blue eyes fixed her to the spot.

“So you are Lady Brienne of Tarth then, well there’s no mistaking you. It’s no wonder you crushed my grandson in battle. ”

 “He fought well,” Brienne said, awkwardly. Had she been brought to this place to be accused? Was Jaime wrong about them having no gain in bringing it up?

Chairs and a table were whisked up and Brienne was encouraged to sit, which she did with great difficulty. These were delicate, decorative chairs not meant to support the weight of someone in full armour and she wondered for a moment if it would break. Margaery took the other chair, gracefully, and composed herself to look directly a Brienne, a friendly little smile playing about her lips.

She stared stoically ahead, deliberately not looking across at the other girl. However this meant instead she was looking at her grandmother.

Lady Olenna patiently watched her, head tilted, a polite but expectant smile fixed on her features. The silence stretched out between them, the kind of silence that made her uncomfortable, made her want to fill it. It was strange, normally she preferred silences but this one made her feel prickly and awkward.

Small delicate pastries were brought in, left discretely on the table; Brienne glanced down at them, mostly to avoid looking any longer at the Lady Olenna. They looked suspiciously similar to the cherry ones that had been a favourite of hers in Tarth.

“Surely you have something you want to say, child.”

Child, that stung for some reason.

“I am not a child.”

Lady Olenna held out a hand and as if by magic the retainer appeared with a cup and saucer, handing it to her. Her eyes had still not left Brienne, who was feeling as if they were somehow reading all the things she didn’t want the old woman to see.

At length, after she had stirred her tea, carefully removed the diffuser and taken a sip, the old lady said casually,

“When you get to my age, everyone’s a child I’m afraid.”

Again there came the expectant silence, the old woman watching her.

Finally Brienne took a deep breath and said, “I did not kill Renly.”

“Of course you didn’t. Forgive my granddaughter if she has ever implied otherwise; she is young and easily carried away by drama.”

Brienne shot a sceptical look at the poised, calm Margaery who was watching them with an expression of serene interest. She could ill-imagine anyone less likely to be dramatic.

“You know, I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you for a while but it is quite difficult to separate you from the Kingslayer. He does rather seem to shadow your every waking moment. That must get rather tedious, men are all well and good in their place but one scarcely wants them around constantly.”

“Ser Jaime.”

Olenna raised an eyebrow and Brienne grit her teeth, steeling herself to continue,

“His name is not Kingslayer. It’s Ser Jaime, he is a knight and a good man and he deserves to be addressed with respect.”

“Ah, so that’s it then…” The old woman took a sip of her tea, regarding Brienne with amusement over the rim.

She frowned, unsure what to make of her expression.

Pausing, cup half-way from her lips, Lady Olenna met her gaze and said,

 “Jaime Lannister is, in my opinion, an egocentric self-righteous imbecile who gives not the slightest thought to consequences.”

The words were out of Brienne’s mouth before she could even think about them,

“You are wrong.”

Lady Olenna leaned forward on her elbows, hands still wrapped around the cup.

“And what makes you say that?”

“He’s a good man.”

“Oh?”

“I owe him my life.”

Placing her now empty cup neatly down on its saucer, she waved away the attendant who came to replenish it, eyes never leaving Brienne.

 “And how was it you came to owe him this great debt?”

She looked genuinely interested.

“There was a bear. He jumped, unarmed, in front of it to save my life.”

“That doesn’t really prove to me he thinks about consequences. A bear you say? Quite the opposite,” Olenna shook her head, a wry smile on her face “I doubt you will change my opinion of him but I will concede that he has a loyal companion in you.”

She pushed the plate toward Brienne.

“Pastry?”

 

He was dying.

He had to be, it felt like his brain was trying to escape through his eyeballs and there was no way that was something a man should experience while he was still firmly in the land of the living. Was it possible for his hair to hurt? Because somehow it felt like it was managing it.

With a great effort Jaime managed to laboriously roll himself onto his back, everything aching and protesting. The light felt like it was stabbing into his eyes so he screwed them shut and let out a groan that felt like it came from the very depths of his soul.

When had he gotten so old that he could no longer take his wine?

For the matter when had he decided it was a good idea to drink so much? Tyrion had always been the drinker of the family, able to hold his drink better than men four times his size. Cersei was a social drinker, one who would drink merrily at occasions like last night; he’d always been the one who’d stopped after a few cups…

Cersei.

He’d talked to Cersei last night. There was a muddled image of her looking at him with disapproval. He could vaguely recall dancing as well, poorly. Maybe that had been with Cersei?

Oh gods, what had it been about? The dull pounding in his skull was no conducive to thinking, bringing up memories of last night appeared to be a lost cause.

Pulling the sheets up cover his poor eyes, he instead decided to embrace blessed unconsciousness, for a few more hours at least.

 

After escaping the leafy domain of Lady Olenna, Brienne felt rather on edge.

She was walking absently about the Keep, replaying the conversation in her head, trying to work out exactly why she’d been summoned. There was something about the old lady and her little kingdom that unnerved her, it was a world she didn’t quite understand. She felt she was breaking the rules simply by being there.

It was cold this morning, a sharp breeze blowing in off the sea. It reminded her of home, the tang of salt in the air. How long before she would be back there?  Before going to join Renly’s camp she’d never left Tarth, never set foot off her island. Convincing her father to let her join the war had meant so much to her… she would be able to have an adventure, she could prove herself as a warrior despite being a woman.

What had she actually managed to prove?

She rounded a corner and across from her, in a long narrow space, the knights of the Kingsguard were training.

Automatically her eyes looked for Jaime, trying to see if he was among those practising. Of course, she had his armour so if he had been surely he would have been easy to spot…

“Oh it’s my Uncle’s dog.”

Joffrey strolled up to her, crown perched on his head at a deliberately jaunty angle. She wondered how long it took him to find the exact angle to attempt to make it look like he didn’t care how he’d placed it. Guards flanked him, of course, making sure he was protected even as he watched his own knights training.

She directed her gaze back to the knights, keeping it fixed there. Looking him in the eye for too long seemed dangerous somehow, like staring in challenge at a rabid dog.

He was looking at her, consideringly “You know, I had a Hound once, nearly as ugly as you but he ran away. Are you going to run away, Dog?”

She wondered briefly is he meant a person or an actual dog. It did not matter really; he’d probably feel the same lack of concern for either.

“No.”

Out of the corner of her eye she could see he was smiling and she immediately felt on edge.

“You know, it’s funny, I don’t remember appointing you to my Kingsguard.”

She looked back at him then, saw the gleam in his eye.

“Take it from her!” he ordered his guards. They strode up and seized the armour, stripping it from her roughly. It took everything she had not to strike out at them, not to think about Locke’s men taking her own armour from her in the same way…

And this was Jaime’s armour.  It was not hers to lose.  She clenched her fist.

“That too,” he gestured lazily to her under-jacket “Women should not wear the clothes of men, it’s unnatural.”

Roughly they forced it over her head.

The brisk sea wind whipped through the thin fabric of her shirt, chilling her. She stood before him, shivering and mentally cursing.

“So you think you’re a knight do you?” His eyes flicked over her form “.... let’s see then.”

He walked toward the seat placed out for him to watch the training, gesturing back over his shoulder,

“Give her a sword.”

One was thrust unceremoniously into her hand. It was a real one, not a wooden tourney sword, however its blade was so blunt and nicked it looked like it would barely cut bread. She would never care for her own weapon so poorly.

“Ser Trant will be your opponent, Dog.”

The man walking toward her had full armour, a helm and shield as well as his sword, which looked in considerably better keep than the one she’d been handed. It rang as he withdrew it from its sheath, the clear ‘sshting’ hanging in the air.  She glanced across at Joffrey, considering making a plea for a shield at least…but it would do no good.

He’s the same as Locke, she thought, they both just want to watch me fail and bleed because I am a woman. Not matter than in a fair fight I could win… I am a woman and therefore must lose.

Readying her sword, she forced herself to remain calm. They would underestimate her, as all men did and in that there might be a victory…

She stared at the gap in her opponents’ helm, trying to weigh him up.

Her challenger was not a small man, nor was there the least flicker of hesitation on his face about facing so disadvantaged an opponent. Of course there wasn’t, Joffrey wouldn’t put her up against anyone who had the slightest qualms about beating her to a bloody pulp.

His first attack was almost insolently obvious, making it clear he expected an easy victory. The strike didn’t come within a meter of her.

Knocking his blade aside with the flat of hers, she forced it to the ground, using the strength to keep it there while she slammed her good shoulder into his gut. The armour protected him from the vast majority of the impact and all she got for her effort was two aching shoulders rather than one.

He slammed his mailed fist into her other shoulder, causing the still healing scabs to break open and a stream of blood to gush its way down the front of her shirt.  His gauntlet caught in her shirt and he pulled his hand away sharply, leaving a long rip in it.

Cursing, she put space between them. It felt like she’d only just gotten herself clean of blood and here she was covering in it again. Still he was slow, hampered by the armour…if she kept her attacks fast then she might have an advantage.

She needed to get his sword somehow, her own was only good as a blunt club. If she could strike at his hand hard enough, maybe he would drop it.

Their blades met again, striking then withdrawing in a measured attack. He was trying to gauge her strength now, taking her more seriously…which meant she was losing her advantage.

Feinting left, he then swung in low, getting under her defences before she could bring her sword down to defend.

The slash and withdraw motion of his blade was precise, slicing neatly into her thigh, a clean cut.

She could see the wound, see the blood but there was no pain yet, just numbness and wetness. Her shoulder hurt more.

It meant he was smart though… when it began to hurt she would lose the one advantage her lack of armour afforded her, manoeuvrability.

Would they actually kill her? She thought suddenly, grip tightening on the sword. Would they leave her to bleed out on the ground like a pig killed for the kitchens?

Taking a split second glance at Joffrey she saw the excitement, the…fascination on his face and had her answer immediately.

Of course they would.

 

 “Jaime Lannister.”

He was too hungover to wrap his brain around the complexities of court intrigue right now and he could not even bring to mind who this old woman was. Surely a noble from the way she dressed and spoke so familiarly but he didn't think he recognised her from court. The roaring from over the way where the knights were practicing didn’t help either. Oh gods, his head felt like it was going to break apart. What had possessed him to leave his bed chamber again? Oh yes, his servants had insisted he needed fresh air. It was almost sadistic.

“Since you look a bit at sea, I am Lady Olenna of House Tyrell.”

Tyrell. Oh well that made sense, he could at least remember that part of last night…

“If you are coming to scold me for speaking ill to your granddaughter…”

“Nothing of the sort. Can you spare a few moments to walk with me?” she took his arm before he could offer it and set them off.

Having no other choice it appeared, he answered,

“I would be honoured, Lady Olenna.”

They walked along for a way, in measured but purposeful strides, then she spoke,

“I am aware of the fact your sister is ill-pleased with this little marriage arrangement, probably no more so than Loras but still.”

He tried to muster up some false enthusiasm. Difficult considering even mastering speech still felt beyond him…

“I am certain my sister is over joyed at joining-”

“Oh psah, don’t lie to me boy. Your sister is as ill-pleased at marrying someone who buggers men as Loras is in marrying a woman so bitter she makes lemons look sweet.”

He shot her a look, wondering why this old woman had accosted him simply to insult his sister. There were better things he could be doing with his time than listening to this, like slowly dying in his bedchamber…

“Oh did that upset you? You contest that your sister is bitter?”

He said nothing, watching the old woman’s knowing smile. It suddenly occurred to him that he should be careful… there was something about Lady Tyrell that warned him to be.

 “I must confess out of your paramours I much prefer the more recent. She may be rather boorish and the girl hasn’t the faintest clue how to behave in a social situation but at least she is sincere. A rare quality, especially in a place like this.”

There was no question who she was talking about.

“You are mistaken.”

She raised her eyebrows,

“You do not believe she is sincere?”

“You are mistaken in your assessment of our relationship.”

“Am I now?”

Again that knowing smile, and they strolled on for a while, Jaime trying to figure the old woman out.

“I don’t like to beat around the bush and play word games, and you look in no fit state to do so anyway, so I would like to put forward to you a certainty.”

She stepped closer to him, her voice low and still perfectly pleasant,

“Should any of my grandchildren come to harm, by your hand or your sisters, then she will suffer the consequences. You may be nigh untouchable, but Lady Brienne… well that’s a different matter.  It would not be hard to convince the King that having someone who ruthlessly slew his competitor put to death would be a good idea.”

He forced himself to keep his face neutral.

“And why do you think I should concern myself over her fate?”

“Oh I think you concern yourself a great deal.”

The twinkle in her eye was a good deal too knowing.

“So,” she seemed almost cheery “Either she is a hero who fought bravely against assassins sent by the dreadful Stannis Baratheon and only fled after she was traitorously turned on by Renly’s own men. Or she is a turncoat, in the employ of the Starks, who cowardly slew Renly Barartheon when his back was turned. A…Kingslayer if you will.” He couldn’t hide his wince and her smile widened slightly “It is entirely your choice.”

It was no choice and she knew it.

“Your grandchildren have nothing to fear from me, I swear it.”

“And your sister?”

There was a pause,

“I cannot speak for her.”

“Really? And here I’d been informed you were so very close.”

Her eyebrow raised and she looked a good deal too amused considering the situation.

“I will do everything in my power to see that she appreciates the situation.”

“Good, then we understand each other. I’m rather glad. Watching Lady Brienne’s presence irritate your sister has become one of the highlights of my day. I’d hate for that to have to end.”

With that she made her exit, leaving him to wonder how he had just been so thoroughly bested by an old woman. Brienne had been used against him, the one person outside of his family he held in any regard.

She was his weakest point and Lady Olenna had gone straight for her like a well-shot arrow.

 

The pain from the slice had finally hit her and it was making it difficult to move as quickly, just as she’d predicted. Her opponent was circling now, looking for a weakness, for a way under her defences again.  

How would they explain her death to her father? She wondered, mirroring Trant’s movements. Would it be that she had insisted on taking on another knight who was simply too zealous in his attack? An accidental death, lamentable but the kind that was sure to happen when women insisted on fighting? Or would they pretend she had simply succumbed to wounds from the Bear Pit, say they were more grievous than previously realised…a sad tale, but not an uncommon one, many a knight had come back from a war to suddenly perish from wounds he was thought to be recovering from.

Trant drove forward, pushing upward so that the pain in her shoulder spiked as her arm was forced back toward it. He struck her, shoulder to shoulder, the plate of his digging into her wound causing a sharp, bright flare of agony.

The blade was knocked from her hand, flying too far for her to consider retrieving it.

He struck her again, across the face this time. More of a slap, had it not been for the gauntlets… a move used to chastise a woman rather than beat a fellow knight.

Her head rang, making it difficult to keep her footing, but anger coursed through her and she forced herself to remain upright.

There was a flicker of gold and Ser Jaime’s necklace tumbled to the ground.

No! She thought, panicked. She had already lost his armour; she could not lose this too. Diving onto her knee’s she closed her hand around it just as Trant’s steel boot caught her in the ribs.

The pain shuddered through her and she automatically curled into a ball.

No, I’ll not lie on the ground like the dog he thinks I am.

Looking desperately around, she saw her sword was almost within reaching distance but still a hairs breadth out of her grasp. Trant was standing over her, sword in hand, but he was drawing out the moment, presumably for the benefit of the King….

He raised it.

She struck out with her boot instead, catching him behind the knee, in a spot where she knew there would be no armour only mail. His legs swiftly buckled and he went to his knees, curled forward. His sword clattered from his grasp as he went down but Brienne ignored it, hands already closing on his shield.

Grabbing it she brought it down on the back of his neck with all her might.

He crumpled to the floor, his armour preventing it for being a killing blow but she had him floored now and that was all she needed.

Quickly, before he could recover, she flipped him onto his back, scrabbling for his sword in the dust.

She attempted to yank off his helmet but the dent had nearly welded it to his head and her arms were already quaking. Instead she forced his head backwards so his throat was showing.

The useless thing didn’t protect his neck, wasn’t full-face. Her own had been far more practical….

“Yield!” she shouted, shaking from exhaustion and adrenaline.

The edge of the sword pressed into the soft part of his throat, drawing a thin line of blood and for a second she was tempted to just cut, consequences be damned.

Finally, angrily, there came back “I yield.”

Standing again, she looked across at where Joffrey was frowning at them, looking like a child deprived of his favoured toy. This was not the way this fight was supposed to go, and she was happy to disappoint him.

Her eyes met Jaime’s as he rounded the corner, horror dawning on his face.

I beat him, she thought a fierce thrill of victory running through her, you don’t need to save me this time. I did it myself.

 

 

“You set a member of the Kingsguard against an unarmoured knight, a woman? One who was still recovering from her injuries?”

Jaime strode over to where Joffrey was sitting. The boy looked only slightly worried, like he’d been caught pulling the wings off flies rather than having a woman beaten on his order.

“I was teaching her a lesson, about wearing the armour of men.” He shifted, his mouth thinning “Women should know their place.”

Gods, are you really my son? He thought Because those are Robert’s words coming out of your mouth. Women were martyrs or whores and absolutely nothing else to good King Robert Baratheon…

"I gave her that armour, a show of good faith…of protection. It was not within your rights to punish her for wearing it!"

You did and your protection has brought her nothing but trouble and ill-will, he thought bitterly, looking at where his Kingsguard armour was neatly piled at Joffrey’s feet. He needed to take it back for himself… he needed to stand up to his father. If this is what the Kingsguard had become in his absence…

“This is not what the Kingsguard does!”

“You’re leaving the Kingsguard, you have no say in how it’s run.” The reply was sullen, Joffrey not meeting his Uncle’s stare.

“Am I? I don’t remember saying anything of the sort.”

Jaime looked across to where Brienne was standing, exhausted, armour-less, the front of her shirt and breeches stained red with blood. But she was standing proud, head held high, blue eyes shining with fury and vengeance and pride and he felt a strange surge of something he couldn’t identify.

Turning to Joffrey, he said, in a low voice,

“Touch her again and blood or no, King or no, I will make sure there are consequences.”

The look of fear on his nephew’s face was deeply satisfying.

Chapter Text

Jaime was waiting impatiently outside of Brienne’s room while Qyburn dressed and cleaned her wounds. It had been suggested that Grand Maester Pycelle be called but he had instead insisted on Qyburn- he was a repellent little man but he was knowledgeable at least, Jaime’s nearly entirely healed stump was testament to that. She had refused to let him be in the room while the wounds were being dressed, forcing him to wait outside, which aggravated him somewhat. Letting her out of his sight generally resulted in bad things and he was loathe to do so again so quickly…

He glanced down at the dark, dusty floor… and noticed a trail of drying red splashes. She had been bleeding quite badly when he’d helped her this far, before he’d been told in no uncertain terms not to enter the room. Little spots of blood were on his hand and clothes as well, he wanted to go scrub it off but he needed to know she was okay, even if it meant waiting out here until he was summoned.

It was ridiculous, he’d seen her naked before, what of her modesty was left to protect?

As soon as Qyburn left the room, Jaime caught him by the arm and demanded to know how she was.

“Well had the cut on her leg been an inch to the left it would have been a death sentence. I’ve seen it before, at tourneys, they just nick it and …well it is dramatic. Very little can be done. ”

His mind presented him with a startlingly vivid image of Brienne laying a blood of her own blood, Meryn Trant stood over her lifeless body. He was somehow sure it was going to join his litany of nightmares.

There would be reckoning for Trant, he would make sure of that, Joffey might be protected but he wasn’t. He’d never liked the pop-eyed bastard anyhow, he’d always been the type to enjoy the power a bit too much, to kick an opponent while they were down.

“However luck seems to have been with her, it should heal well in time. I attempted to give her milk of the poppy but she refused,” Qyburn looked at him with reproachful eyes, as if it was entirely his fault “I’ve left some at her bedside, see she gets it if the pain becomes too much.”

After he left Jaime leant back against the cold stone wall. He wanted to see her but he needed to clear his head for a moment. This was not the easiest thing to cope with while dealing with a raging hangover.

Brienne was not made for Kings’ Landing and its politics, that was for certain. Her father had done the right thing keeping her out of it, her naivety, strong sense of honour and unconventional appearance just seemed to invite trouble. She had been his salvation on the road, and nearly his undoing as well but at least there it had been just them, it had been… simpler.

With a sigh, he turned and eased open her door.

She was sitting on the bed, her leg stretched out in front of her obviously examining Qyburn’s handy work on the bandages high on her thigh. Almost involuntarily Jaime’s eyes followed the curve of her leg, taking in the length, the strong muscles…

He immediately felt like the worst sort of person. What kind of man looked at a woman lecherously while she was injured?

Noticing him, she quickly twitched the covers over her leg, a slightly apprehensive look shot in his direction.

He pretended he hadn’t been looking, gave her the slightest nod of acknowledgement and settled down on the chair at her bedside.

They sat in silence for a long moment, Jaime attempting to compose what he wanted to say.

The problem was he hadn’t the faintest idea …

Berate her for not thinking things through, maybe?

Apologise for every man she had ever known, Joffrey, Trant, Himself, Everyone?

The nightgown she’d changed into was lose at the neck and he could see how heavily bandaged her shoulder was. The bear-claw wound, the one which had only just started to heal properly must have broken open again during the fight.

He couldn’t bring to mind what specific injuries she’d sustained in the fight… just the blood.

She’d been covered in it.

Brienne reached out and clasped his hand, taking him by surprise. Her fingers were strong, calloused from swordplay and for a moment he gripped her hand back tightly, as if this way he could keep her safe.

 “Here.”

He looked at the grimy, blood-stained necklace as she pressed it into his palm.

“I told you I’d return it.”

She looked satisfied but for some reason it felt like a blow to him.

“Do you not understand the concept of gift giving?”

He was aware he sounded terse and somewhat harsh. In a show of disinterest he dropped the necklace onto her bedcovers, letting her hand fall at the same time.

Brienne stared down at it, frowning. While she was looking down he could clearly see there were bruises forming on the side of her face, patches of blotchy and mottled red…it looked like she’d been struck hard across the cheek at some point during the battle. The way a lower class of man would slap a whore who’d displeased them.

His fingers clenched in the fabric of her bedspread.

“You’re angry,” She sounded disbelieving and he couldn’t blame her. He was angry and he wasn’t entirely sure why or even at who…

“You swore that you would not provoke him.”

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and he felt vaguely appalled with himself for being so accusatory. But…part of him couldn’t help but think there had to be a way she could have avoided the situation, avoiding getting hurt again.

“I did not provoke him,” she hissed, all righteous indignation.

“You should have walked away.”

“And how exactly how I supposed to have done that?”

He had no answer for that one… how did one walk away from a King?

“You could have been killed, you do realise that?”

“But I wasn’t, I beat him.”

“And you made an enemy of the King. You would have been more sensible to have begged him not to fight.”

“And that’s what you would have done is it?”

They glared at each other, he thought she looked as unsure why they were fighting as he was.

“Have I done something to displease you?” she demanded.

Aside from nearly dying again? He thought, then felt angry at himself. This was not her fault, any of it. It just felt better to blame her than to think that his blood had done this. That had the cut on her leg been an inch to the left he might have arrived just in time to see her take her last breath, all for the entertainment of his son.

“No.”

“Is…” she hesitated, seeming unsure then steeling herself “…if this is about your behaviour last night, it is forgiven. I am aware that the desires of men become less particular after imbibing alcohol.”

He went cold. Please, no….he hadn’t….

“My…what? Did I… do something to you last night? My lady?”

“No,” she was almost flustered, “Merely a few improper remarks, which I’m sure were the product of wine.”

If things had felt on edge between them moments ago, the tension had now doubled.

Improper remarks? By the Gods, what did I say to her?

Nearly all he could remember from last night was the look of displeasure on Cersei’s face, did that have something to do with how he had acted toward Brienne? He would have to find his sister, and find out the extent of his behaviour last night.

 “You are not at fault. It is merely that I feel less than myself today,” he assured her “Too much wine and worry.”

She nodded, face set and serious beneath the bruising.  They sat in silence once again, Jaime feeling very acutely aware of her presence. He kept his eyes lowered; to look at her for too long made him feel an intense guilt that he did not want to deal with right now.

He’d said he would protect her. He’d failed and she could have died at the hand of his own kin.

There was a knock, and he hesitated before bidding them enter.

The door was opened to reveal one of his father’s servants standing just outside. He didn’t cross the threshold, which was a good sign. Anyone coming to drag Brienne to the dungeons would not bother with that little show of respect.

“A summons from Lord Tywin, you are to report to the Tower of the Hand immediately.”

Emphasis was put on the immediately, making it pretty certain that Joffrey had gone running to his grandfather nearly as soon as Jaime had threatened him.

Part of him wanted to send the messenger back to his father to tell him that he could wait. Another part of him was aware that was almost suicidal.

As he wavered, Brienne spoke up.

 “You should go.”

  Still he hesitated and she gave him a slightly annoyed look and then deliberately shuffled her way down till she was lying on her back, the sheets pulled up over her shoulders.

“I plan to sleep, I promise you it will not be that entertaining to watch.”

He saw the necklace still lying in the folds of the covers. Carefully he picked it up and place it on the table at her bedside…she watched him but made no comment.

“Try not to get yourself killed in the time I am gone,” he told her, words slightly flippant but still tinged with concern.

 

His father was sitting, not working, at the head of the table used for meetings of the Small Council, hands clasped in front of him, eyes trained on Jaime as he entered. He noted one chair was crooked as if it had just been vacated and not pushed back all the way, obviously his father had just had company.

Jaime neglected to take a seat, instead standing at attention as if before a commander rather than a family member.

Tywin’s lips thinned as he noted the gesture.

“Do you have nothing to say?”

He held his father’s gaze for a moment, keeping on a mask of indifference.

“I was summoned surely that means that you have something to say, Father.”

It seemed appropriate to stand in front of his father like this, Tywin had always been more of a commander than anything. Moving his children around like pieces on his strategy boards in order to gain the best position.

Jaime had idolised him as a child.

Part of him still did, he couldn’t help it. This was his father.

“Having just convinced Joffrey to leave your friends head on her shoulders, I would expect a little more gratitude.”

The little ball of tension that had been forming inside him eased somewhat and he nodded his head, a gesture of thanks. His father continued without acknowledging it,

“She is of value and he has been made aware of this.”

Of value? Briefly he wondered what ‘value’ his father was placing on Brienne. That meant he had some use for her…and that was generally not a good thing.

“However she should not have provoked him, she has been made aware of the fact that wearing armour was distasteful yet continued to do so.”

Provoked him.

His own words, from his father’s mouth, it made him feel even more guilty. She had not been at fault, that everyone- including him- would rush to place the blame on her seemed ridiculous.

“There is of course another matter to attend to…”

He drew some papers up the pile at his side and slide them across the table

At the top Jaime could see the words ‘Withdrawal from the Kingsguard’ in his father’s patient, even calligraphy. An aggressive display of confidence on his part, having the documents made up, it meant he was sure his son would cave to his demands.

“You need to sign.”

Jaime looked down at the pro-offered quill, then took a deep breath and met his father’s gaze. Suddenly he felt very calm, as if there was no other decision to be made.

He was a Knight. And he would remain one.

“I refuse.”

“You can’t refuse.”

Very calmly he replied,

“I think you’ll find I can actually, as I said … no man may compel another to leave his sworn service.”

The fingers holding out the quill tightened suddenly, until it threatened to snap. The Rains of Castamere started to echo around his head…defiance was not a trait Tywin Lannister valued.

Then the quill was withdrawn, his father’s face impassive once again.

“Very well, if you refuse to leave the Kingsguard I will have to insure succession some other way. Which means I can’t very well let Sansa Stark run off back North now can I?”

He was dangling it in front of him. Quit the Kingsguard, accomplish the one thing he’d promised, sworn, to Brienne that he would do. Free Sansa Stark.

“You can find Tyrion another wife.”

Jaime was aware of the power in the conversation subtly swinging back in his father’s favour.

Everyone, absolutely everyone, seemed to know Brienne was his weak spot. And they all appeared to be determined to use her against him.

“I could. But I won’t. Sansa Stark is the key to the North, marrying her to Tyrion makes the most tactical sense.”

He re-inked the quill, holding it out to Jaime once again.

“However I might be willing to compromise…if you leave the Kingsguard.”

Jaime hesitated, looking down at the quill. The ink beading on the end.

Save Sansa Stark, send her home, keep his promise to Brienne- and lose his position as a knight of the Kingsguard, lose what he valued most about himself. Be crushed under his father’s heel once again.

 “Stop being so damn foolish. All that is being asked of you is that, for the good of your family, you leave the Kingsguard and marry.”

As if it was such a little thing he was asking.

“To be tied to some noblewoman I do not love for the rest of my days. To forsake my duty to the King and to be branded yet again an oathbreaker.”

“Love rarely comes into marriage. Besides you seem fond enough of her, the wretched woman is constantly in your company.”

“…Brienne? You wish me to marry Brienne?”

He couldn’t hide his shock, his incredulousness. Brienne was a warrior, a knight, to even think of her in the same realm as the pampered, ornamental noblewomen who found themselves married off was impossible. They existed in two separate worlds.

“If she is not to your liking we will find you another.”

“Does she know about this? Did you even ask her?”

For some reason it seemed important that he find out if she’d known….if she’d consented to the idea…

His father raised an eyebrow and Jaime finished his own thought

“No of course you didn’t.”

For a moment he entertained the thought- a Lannister name would offer her protection. If she was his wife, she would be safe, he could shield her…

No. She would not want protection in that manner. To be coddled like a child, told what was best for her was trading away her freedom for a title and a husband, he could not think of anything she would want less.

Anger flared in his gut, sharp and fiery.

“Were you even planning on informing her? Or were you just going to herd her into the hall when the time came?”

“Her thoughts on the matter are entirely irrelevant.”

His father seemed impatient with what he probably considered his sons baseless sentimentality.

“We need to ally with Tarth, her father needs a suitor for his daughter. She’s young, strong and apparently remarkably loyal to you. You need to marry, put an end to those disgusting rumours. It’s a mutually advantageous match.”

Sometimes he wondered, did his father really not know about him and Cersei? Or was it that he simply couldn’t accept that his children might be acting in a way that would shame him? Well not his golden son and dutiful daughter anyway.

The ink on the quill had dripped onto the paper, leaving a large dark blotch where his name was to go.

“I refuse.”

He had sworn himself to the Kingsguard and…to Cersei. The feelings he had for her were more complicated now than ever but he could not just walk away from them. But he was still an oathbreaker…

Brienne, forgive me.

Chapter Text

Four days of enforced confinement were beginning to wear on Brienne.

Partly because she was unsure how much of it was for her health and how much of it was to keep her out of the way of Joffrey and other members of the Royal Court. It seemed as if everyone had decided (without her input) that separating her from the general life of the Keep for a while might be the best course of action. It grated because it made her feel as if the blame was being placed with her rather than squarely where it belonged on the somewhat narrow shoulders of the boy King.

Jaime came by to visit every day, taking most of his meals with her, but he seemed detached and agitated for some reason he would not explain.

At this moment he was sitting across the table from her, head propped up with his good hand, staring absently at his plate while she looked at him curiously out of the corner of her eye. They’d had their midday meal served in her room, and had thus far eaten mostly in silence. The only time he’d broken it was to note that she was again wearing the necklace he’d given her, in a slightly amused manner. But his momentary cheerfulness soon seemed to fade back to despondency.

Part of her wanted to ask caustically if she bored him, demand to know what was wrong. Instead she just sat in awkward silence, watching him surreptitiously.  

It was plain that whatever was troubling him he didn’t want to tell her.

Finally he drew a deep breath, pushed away his plate, and looked at her,

“You must be going stir-crazy in here.”

Brienne nodded. They had refused her a sword so she could not train even if she felt like it, the books provided were dull historic affairs, the only company she had was Jaime’s somewhat infrequent visits. Nothing but bed rest, quiet and sleep, Qyburn’s orders.  

“You must want to do something. What is it you wish? Anything that’s within my power to give.”

This was new as well, these mercurial shifts into almost manic kindness and concern with her well-being. Worry she had expected, her injuries from the fight had seemed dramatic but it was almost as if he felt guilty. Which was ridiculous, her fight had nothing to do with him.

She forced herself to stand, made certain she kept her feet despite the pain in her leg. Jaime was immediately on his feet as well, hovering near her with his left hand extended to balance her if necessary. Slightly annoyed, she waved him away.

“I wish to speak with Sansa Stark.”

A strange look crossed his face before he composed himself again.

“I’m afraid that would be…difficult to arrange. My father is keeping rather a close watch on her.”

He hesitated then seemed to decide on something,

“Perhaps... a walk then?”

She tested putting weight on her leg then nodded. It would hold, though it might trouble her later on, for now it was strong enough. It would take more than a few pains to make her pass up any opportunity to leave this room.

And perhaps once outside Jaime would be able to bring himself to talk about what was troubling him.

 

Not too long afterwards Brienne was beginning to wonder if this was not a rather ridiculous idea after-all. Jaime, for some reason known only to him, had decided to that climbing the stairs to the very top of the Keep was an excellent idea for her first outing after a severe leg injury.

Struggling on, she couldn’t help the pronounced limp that was starting to show in her movements, slowing her down. When she fell more than a few paces behind, Jaime stopped and turned back to her, a concerned look on his face.

“You can lean on me, my lady, if needs be.”

Brienne stared at him for a moment, then shook her head in indignation,

“I can walk on my own.”

There was a dull repetitive ache starting up in her leg but it was bearable. It was true, leaning on him might have made walking a little easier but she was not an invalid. She was stronger than that. With a great force of will she stopped herself from limping, taking several strong steps while he was watching just to prove that she could.

He shrugged and turned back to continue climbing the stairs, leaving her to follow at her slightly slower pace.

 “Why do we have to walk all the way up here?”

“The views are quite spectacular I think you’ll find.”

She shot him an annoyed look… he had made her walk all this way for a view?

Finally, finally they made it to the top. In front of them the panoramic sight of the bay stretched out, ships dotting the horizon. She had to admit; it was beautiful…but possibly not worth climbing three sets of stairs.  Turning to say as much to Jaime, she noticed something.

On a bench, looking morosely out to sea was Sansa Stark.

Brienne looked at him sharply; he simply raised his eyebrows, turned and walked away. She watched him leaving for a moment, a small flare of warmth lighting her chest. Then she turned back to where Lady Catelyn’s daughter was watching the ships with a look of sadness on her face.

“Sansa Stark?”

The girl turned toward her, wary interest on her face.

 “Yes?”

She stood, looking over Brienne.

“Oh it’s you. You were following us the other day, on the wall…”

Sansa was tall, though still nearly a head shorter than Brienne. And unlike her she had a delicate prettiness, a willowy figure… she looked like the strong breeze might snap her.

“A-are you alright?” The girl was looking at her bruises, they now ranged in shade from the ugly blotchy purple to a sickening grey-yellow marching across her face from jawline to temple. She could not blame the girl for being shocked; she was an even less pretty sight than normal.

Brienne dismissed the concern uncomfortably.

“Yes, it’s nothing.”

Sansa glanced at the stairs Jaime had just gone down and whispered low,

“Did he give you those?”

She was sure her incredulity showed on her face.

No. No, it was the Kingsguard on…. King Joffrey’s orders.” Calling him King left a sour taste in her mouth but she supposed it was wisest.

Sansa nodded a little, her face pale, hands twisting nervously in the front of her dress.

“What are you doing here?”

It was a fair enough question, she supposed it was rather obvious she’d been left up here with a purpose.

“I am here on behalf of your mother. As I am sworn to her service, I am at your command my lady.”

The girl seemed wary, like a dog that had been kicked one too many times. Not surprising considering she had been betrothed to that monster.

“You’re a knight?”

She sounded dubious.

“Yes, my lady.”

Sansa sat gracefully, making a gesture for Brienne to join her on the bench which she did slightly awkwardly, her leg making it difficult to sit comfortably.

“And…my mother sent you?”

“Your mother bid me to return to King’s Landing with Jaime Lannister and exchange him for you and your sister. However your… wedding…is complicating matters.”

She looked so dispirited, Brienne immediately got to her knees. The injury on her thigh protested violently, pain clawing at her leg but she ignored it.

“I swear to you I will see you freed. By the old gods and the new, I swear it.”

“How?”

“Ser Jaime is negotiating with his father, once he convinces him to release you I will take you back to your mother personally.”

Unexpectedly the girl reached out, placing her fingertips against the Lannister pendant at Brienne’s throat.

“Joffrey gave me a necklace as well…before he took my father’s head.”

The fingers curled, as if she wanted to rip it off and throw it in the sea. Brienne tensed and she seemed to notice because she dropped her hand, folding it neatly on her lap again.

“I trusted a Lannister once too, only it was all a lie and he turned around and killed my father. Because that’s what they’re like, every last one of them.”

The girl’s voice was low, intense, insistent. She didn’t sound upset, but angry. Suddenly Brienne could see more of her mother in her, more of that peculiarly female brand of courage shining in her eyes.

Her wrath was misplaced though. Jaime wasn’t like the rest of the Lannisters.

 “Ser Jaime is different.”

“He's done terrible things. He doesn’t love you, he just wants you to think he does so he can use you. That’s what they do.”

“I don’t think he loves me.” Brienne was suddenly embarrassed, as if Ser Jaime would overhear.  She had to resist the urge to look over her shoulder to make sure he was out of earshot.

She had to be speaking of the rumours of him throwing Bran Stark from the window… Lady Catelyn had said they were true… she wondered if he had reasons for it, what reasons anyone could have for trying to kill a child. But that Jaime in the past, he seemed to be so far removed from the Jaime she knew that sometimes she forgot they were the same.

And she had to believe he would do the right thing.

 “But he is not the man you think, he is honourable and I promise you that together he and I will find a way to get you out of here.”

“You’ll understand if I don’t get my hopes up.”

Gracefully, but with an air of finality, the girl stood and turned her back. Feeling as if she had let her down, Brienne clambered painfully to her feet, bowed her head and turned to leave.

Just before she reached the stairs, Sansa spoke up.

“My mother, is she…well?”

Brienne paused, not turning.

 “As well as can be expected, my lady.”

There was so much that could be said of Lady Catelyn but she settled for,

“She is a strong woman.”

She looked back at the girl, still standing tall and unbroken. There was definitely a lot of her mother in her.

“As are you, my lady.”

Sansa smiled slightly at that and Brienne returned it.

Chapter Text

As Brienne made her way slowly back, she felt a renewed sense of resolve. Actually seeing the girl, talking with her… it had made her anxious to hold up her vow to Lady Catelyn. She could not allow Sansa Stark to be unceremoniously married off to a member of a family she so obviously despised.

Really, if it hadn’t been for Jaime she would have entirely understood the hatred. Had understood it, before being forced to spend time with him. Tyrion didn’t seem to be unpleasant but he’d barely spoken a sentence to her, not enough to judge the worth of his character certainly. But Jaime…Jaime she knew had honour, even if Sansa Stark could not believe it.

Raised voices caught her attention, coming from his chambers.

It was really none of her concern who he was talking too. It would be wrong to invade his privacy by listening…but she did need to speak with him.

Brienne paused, unsure of what to do, hovering just out of sight beside the slightly open door. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she leant forward slightly.

Jaime and his sister were inside, obviously arguing about something.

 “You can’t let him, not to you as well-“

“I won’t. I told him that I’m staying where I am. I would not betray you like that.”

“Then why are you so distressed?”

He was pacing, running a hand through his hair. And it was true, he looked troubled much as he had done for the past few days.

“Jaime, my love-“

Cersei reached up and entangled a hand in his hair, forcing him to stop his restless pacing and look at her.

Brienne had known on some level that of course there had been an affair with his sister. But looking at the way she touched him, hand lingering, swayed her body into him…then their lips brushed.

Her eyes widened.

The door creaked as she leant forward on it.

Both siblings snapped their heads around to look at her, dropping their arms.

She struggled not to cringe and blush like a child caught eavesdropping. Which, to be honest, was exactly what she had been doing even if it had not been entirely intentional. Instead she straightened up and stepped into the room.

“Forgive me, I…needed to see Ser Jaime.”

Cersei turned her back, waving her hand as if dismissing a servant or someone equally inconsequential. However Jaime caught her gaze and shook his head subtly, flickering his eyes toward the door.

His sister's face hardened and she swept regally from the room, forcing Brienne to move quickly aside to let her through. The action jolted her leg a little and she leant her weight against the doorframe for a moment, grimacing.

Jaime was pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes screwed shut

“You should have knocked,” He sounded tired, older than his years.

Finally he dropped his hand, looking across at her. She raised an eyebrow,

“I would have but I doubt you would have noticed, you seemed to be otherwise occupied.”

It came out a little more caustically than she had intended. They stared each other down for a moment before he said, slightly bitterly,

“Don’t be petty, it doesn’t suit you.”

He sounded harsh again and Brienne considered simply asking him what had unnerved him so in the past few days. But given what she had just witnessed…it might have to do with Cersei, in which case it was not any of her concern.

 “I just came to thank you.”

His eyes softened a little as she spoke but he didn’t reply. She pushed on, attempting to draw him into conversation,

“You left. You had other business to attend to?”

He nodded, “I had to go to the armourers… they’re having a hand made. Steel. And a gold covered one for special occasions apparently. It won’t be able to grip a sword but it’s….something I suppose.”

“Gold?” she asked, eyebrow raised. She pushed aside the thought that she would have quite liked to go to the armourers, she needed new armour and a sword of her own. It made no mind, it was not as if she had the money to pay for it.

“A bit pretentious maybe,” he agreed, the slightest smile curling the corner of his lips.

There was a long silence before he finally asked,

“Sansa Stark was…well?”

Conversation had perhaps never been the easiest flowing thing between them but that had always been more down to her natural tendency to be taciturn than any awkwardness on Jaime’s part. Now it seemed as if he was weighing every word he spoke to her carefully.

“As can be expected, yes.”

They stood in silence for another long moment and Brienne wondered if she should address the fact she had seen him nearly kissing his sister…if it was going to make things even more tense between them if she didn’t. Instead she settled for saying,

 “Again, thank you. “

After another seemingly endless silence, she nodded at him stiffly and turned to leave.

“Brienne…”

She paused, looking back at him. He looked…defeated for some reason.

“Forgive me. I assure you my ill temper is no fault of yours, merely…circumstances.”

Jaime spoke gently and she found that she believed him. She only hoped whatever was causing his discomfort resolved itself quickly, for his sake.

She left him to his thoughts, shutting the door behind her. Paused as she caught sight of Cersei Lannister obviously waiting for her just outside, the other woman leaning back against the wall, arms folded, hands hidden by her sleeves. Her eyes flickered for a moment down to the necklace Brienne still wore, but she still kept smiling that strange half-smile.

“I thought you should be informed that my father has graciously offered to let Sansa Stark go back to her home,”

Brienne’s heart jumped and she drew a sharp breath.

“But unfortunately Jaime wouldn’t agree to the terms.”

She wanted to tell her that no she was wrong, that Jaime had sworn. Instead she grit her teeth… why had he refused? What had his father demanded in payment?

His despondent mood of the last few days suddenly made sense.

“So I suppose dear, sweet Sansa will remain with us and marry my brother. An arranged marriage can be hard on a girl, especially the bedding…still I imagine she will close her eyes, grit her teeth and cry her fill in the morning.”

Cersei looked Brienne directly in the eyes and she saw the gloating, the false sympathy shining there.

“It’s such a pity you couldn’t save her.”

 

“You could have sent her home.”

Jaime froze when he heard her voice, his back to the door.  So the moment he had been dreading the past few days had finally arrived…

“She told you.”

Suddenly he was extremely glad of his decision not to tell Cersei about who his father had planned to marry him to. At the time he had merely thought to avoid her taking out her anger on Brienne but this was a complicated enough situation even without Brienne also knowing how narrowly she had avoided becoming his unintentional bride.

 “You swore a vow.”

He turned to face her, looking across to where she was watching him with flat, angry eyes. At least now they were talking again, not forcing words out to fill the awkward silences.  Though he should probably enjoy it while it lasted as he doubted she would ever talk with him again after this.

“You let me swear to her that we would get her home, swear to her that you were an honourable man who would help her.”

“What did Cersei tell you?”

 “Just that your father offered you a deal and you would not take it.”

“He asked me to give up the Kingsguard.”

He saw understanding dawn in her face, for a moment she seemed to struggle with both anger and sympathy. Neither were emotions he wanted from her.

“My apologies,” She bowed her head and he looked at her, bewildered and rather certain he had lost the plot of this conversation somewhere along the line. Surely he was the one who should be apologising?

“The vow to save Sansa Stark was mine and mine alone. I should not have allowed you to take it in my place.”

There was reproach but also understanding in her voice and it made him hate himself even more.

 “I will get her back to her mother myself, no matter the cost.”

The cost. The image of her lying in a pool of blood was suddenly vivid in his mind once again

“Please, don’t…”

She marched from the room without a backwards glance, leaving him staring after her.

 

Later that evening Jaime was slumped in Tyrion’s chambers, morosely.

“What were his demands?” His brother poured out the wine, offering him a glass. He considered refusing, remembering…or rather not remembering… his misadventures with wine the other night. But he decided that drowning his sorrows seemed the appropriate course of action.

“That I quit the Kingsguard, marry, produce heirs, inherit Casterly Rock.”

Tyrion finished filling his own glass, raising his eyebrows as he watched Jaime.

“The usual then. Father is determined to keep Casterly Rock out of my grubby little paws by whatever means necessary, it appears.”

He nodded, watching as his brother seated himself into a chair opposite, careful not to spill a drop from his rather full wine glass. Coming to Tyrion to talk this through had been the obvious choice; he was family but unlikely to use this wretched situation against him.

Of course, Tyrion also had a vested interest in the matter. If Jaime stayed in the Kingsguard, Tyrion would have to marry Sansa something he had made clear he was not particularly happy about, but it was also possible Father might relent and allow him to inherit Casterly Rock. If Jaime quit the Kingsguard and married, Tyrion would be released from a potentially loveless marriage but it would also remove all chances of him inheriting.

Whichever way things went it looked like one or possibly both of them was going to be rather miserable.

Jaime sank down into his seat, even more dejected. Tyrion was more than welcome to Casterly Rock as far as he was concerned, he’d tell Father to name him heir tomorrow if he thought he’d listen.

Sensing his depression, his brother shot him a commiserative look,

“Don’t feel bad. Of course I would love to be released from marrying poor, unfortunate Sansa Stark, but I cannot ask you to sacrifice everything for me. I am, after-all, not our dear sister.”

The mention of Cersei did nothing for his mood. She was still angry at him about his lack of ability to stop her wedding to Loras Tyrell. Before Brienne had interrupted them in his chambers however, she’d almost seemed like she was softening toward him…

Now of course Brienne was the one who would likely be avoiding him.

And she was right to, he could’ve saved Sansa Stark and he’d instead chosen the selfish route, to not give up on Cersei and the Kingsguard.

“The worst part is Brienne knows about the fact I could have sent Sansa Stark home, she will likely never speak to me again.”

“The worst part? Interesting…”

He decided that Tyrion looked far too smug and knowing, grinning at him like that.

“No actually the worst part is our father planned to marry me to Brienne. Without her knowledge or consent.”

“Surely she would not blame you.”

Jaime just raised his eyebrows and took a long swallow of his wine. Tyrion busied himself with refilling his own glass, which was emptying a lot quicker than Jaime’s.

 “So, when were you planning on telling me about you and the giantess…”

“There is nothing to tell,”

His brother leaned across the table slightly,

“When I walked up to you the night of your gathering you were staring at her as if she were the most desirable thing in all the Seven Kingdom’s…” Tyrion handed his brother a fresh cup of wine, which he took without comment “Rarely have I seen you stare at a woman like that, for a second I thought you’d take her on the spot, company be damned. I was preparing to make myself absent, should that be the case.”

He was exaggerating, Jaime was sure of that.  But he imagined that was when he made the inappropriate remarks Brienne had eluded too… he could only hope Tyrion had prevented him from saying too much.

“What pray tell was I saying to her?”

“Apparently you were dancing, so you informed me.”

Well that raised more questions than it answered… he couldn’t imagine Brienne dancing. At least not without a sword in her hand.

 “Do not hold me accountable for a moment of drunken lustfulness,” Jaime cautioned grumpily.

This, apparently, amused Tyrion immensely.

“I hate to inform you of this brother, but you also look at her in a similar manner when you are as sober as the day. Come I will show you, it’s rather like this…” He widened his eyes and let his mouth fall open as if in the throes of either puppy love, extreme admiration or possibly incredible constipation.

“I don’t look at her like that.”

“I’m afraid you do… and I’m not the only one who has noticed.”

Jaime slouched morosely in his chair. If Cersei thought he was interested in Brienne, it might explain her coldness…

 “Would you care to hear my opinion?”

“No but I imagine I shall hear it anyway.”

“In my opinion you should take the towering Lady of Tarth, liberate some horses from the stables and ride as hard and as fast as you can. Put as much space between yourself and our dear scorned sister as possible.”

“I am faithful to Cersei, even if she does not believe it.”

“She sees her own folly reflected back at her, I’d wager.”

Jaime felt his heart thump painfully, all his breath seeming to leave his body at once.

 “What?”

Tyrion looked genuinely remorseful.

“I apologise, it was a slip of the tongue. I would not have you hear such things from me…”

“Tyrion...tell me. “

His brother looked torn, before nodding slightly.

“Cersei and cousin Lancel have been…” he made an oblique hand gesture, pity in his eyes.

Jaime abruptly leapt to his feet, his chair crashing to the floor behind him.

“Sit brother, before you go and do something wholly foolish.”

Tyrion gestured back to the seat, but he couldn’t sit. He was aware he was clenching his fist, tensing as if he was about to hit someone. Was that what his brother thought he was going to do? Find Cersei and their cousin and beat them until they were bloody? Kill them perhaps?

Part of him wanted too. Part of him was screaming that it was not true. But the look on Tyrion's face told him that he was not lying to him.

Abruptly Jaime turned and walked away,

“Where are you going?”

“To do something foolish.”

He could hear Tyrion calling his name but he kept marching purposefully away.

 

Despite the wine he had drunk in Tyrion’s quarters, Jaime felt remarkably sober and purposeful as he marched into the Small Council chamber. He supposed that shock would do that to you.

A page futilely tried to stop him, whispering that a meeting was on-going and he would have to come back and see his Lord Father afterwards. Part of him knew he should go away, cool down and come back with a clear head. It was the sensible thing to do.

Instead he pushed roughly past the man and marched toward where his father was sat, watching him with a mixture of annoyance and interest.

“Father, I have an offer to make you.”

Chapter Text

Brienne was not in her chambers when he returned from his impromptu meeting with his father. It surprised him as it was late, the sun already setting…but he supposed she’d had her fill of sitting about in rooms uselessly.

He came across her eventually in the armoury adjacent to the training yard, she was wistfully pulling swords from the rack and testing her grip, probably wishing her shoulder would hurry up and heal. The sun was setting and the room was already thrown mostly into shadow, but he could see the light reflecting off her pale blonde hair.

“Brienne.”

She started, turning to face him, wariness evident in her expression. After his behaviour the last few days he really couldn’t blame her.

“I have secured Sansa Stark’s release. She will set out for her brother’s camp in a week’s time.”

The smile that lit up her face then was truly something to behold. She looked younger at all once, the heaviness gone from her features.  He had known some very beautiful women in his life, but the sweetness on her plain and homely face right then put them all to shame. It was then, looking at her expression, he decided for certain what he would do.

“You are not to accompany them.”

Jaime tried not to look at her suddenly stricken expression as he continued,

“Instead, you will stay here, as a guest of the Lannister household.”

Abruptly she turned and began striding toward the door.

"Where are you going?"

"Away from you."

“Why? I am simply-“

She whirled to face him,

“You would deny me freedom and expect me to be grateful?” she sounded incredulous.

“I do not intend to deny you anything, except maybe the chance to walk foolishly into your death!”

It was the wrong thing to say, he knew it as soon as it left his mouth. Anger flared in her eyes.

“Then give me armour, give me a sword and allow me to remove myself from your life, Ser.”

“I can’t.”

Irritation sparked in him, and he reached out and grabbed her arm hauling her unceremoniously towards him. She reached up and gripped his hand, trying to pry it from her person. Her eyes were flashing furiously. It made them look remarkably striking.

It almost felt good to fight like this, better than the tension filled silences and the awkward niceness of the past few days.

He wondered if he had some previously overlooked masochistic streak.

 “Do you ever think, do you ever for one moment stop and actually use that head of yours? If you go North, you will die, you will die for nothing and I did not save your life so you could go and throw it away again as if it means nothing.”

“That is not your choice to make,” she shot back, face reddening from rage.

“Maybe not, but I still can’t let you make it. “

“So you would keep me here, playing at being some imitation of a courtly lady while your sister mocks me at every turn? This is not me, Jaime, as well you know.”

His name slipping out in the middle of her tirade gave him a curiously warm feeling in his chest and strengthened his resolve. He loosened his hold on her until his hand was just resting on her arm, no longer restraining her.

 “You did not even ask how I came to persuade my father on the matter. I have had to trade away my own freedom for the girl’s, have to do something I have avoided most of my life.”

Jaime’s mouth twisted into a rueful smile.

“I must marry and I was rather hoping you would be complicit in my misery.”

 “You jest.”

Brienne stared at him with something akin to horror. That…was not the reaction he had been anticipating. He knew she would take some convincing but flat out revulsion was a little more negative than he had been expecting.

“I do not.”

“Yes, you do.”

 “No I most certainly do not.”

She jerked her arm out of his grip and resumed her attempt to storm away.

“No. Find someone who wants the title and the lands and the courtly lifestyle. It is the last thing I crave.”

Jaime darted around in front of her, placing himself bodily between her and her path of exit.  She looked like she was considering simply knocking him aside.

“Ah, so you dismiss the lands, the title and the lifestyle but not me?”

Brienne worked her mouth several times before she could make any sound come out

“T-that is beside the point. Whatever my opinion of you, my opinion of marriage is set and I do not wish it.”

He tried to intimidate her into backing up but found that particularly tactic didn’t work on women who were a good few inches taller than you. All it did was mean he was invaded her personal space a little more than was wholly appropriate.

“I could have just had my father write to yours. A marriage would’ve been arranged even against your objections but call me a romantic, I would prefer not to have an unwilling wife.”

“But you believe I would want an unwilling husband?”

“I would be a good husband.”

“And a better match than someone like me could hope for?”

“I did not say that.”

“You didn’t have too.”

They were staring at each other, both angry and glaring, circling unconsciously as if at any moment they planned to draw their swords and fight.

“Don’t be so damnably stupid, it’s a marriage proposal not a death sentence. If you wish to still tramp about in armour, defending the innocent all it will mean is that you will have better armour!”

“Kingsguard knights cannot marry!”

That made him wince. When he had gone to his father, burning with rage toward Cersei and agreed to his deal it was giving up the Kingsguard…the position that had defined him for most of his life…that had given him pause.  He knew it was a foolish gesture, designed to show Cersei that he too could throw away all their love had meant. It was probably one he would come to regret but he stood by his choices, no matter how foolish.

“You are no more a member of a Kingsguard than I am anymore! We have been removed from those offices and whether or not it was right I am simply suggesting we make the most of it!”

Her fists clenched and he tensed in anticipation of a blow but refused to give ground.

“This is making the most of it?”

Brienne wasn't even trying to hide her anger now, a deep frown creasing her brow. Why she was reacting so violently to his suggestion he didn’t know. If she was so set against it, a simple declining of his offer would have sufficed, however much of a disappointment it would have been.

Suddenly it occurred to him that this could be the first proposal she had ever received…

“You have had suitors before?”

“Yes. They were only interested in my position as the heir of Tarth.”

“Which I am not, in the slightest. I do not ask you to wed me for my own gain.”

He doubted marriage for purposes of revenge was a much better motive but at least it had partly been driven by noble thought. Sansa Stark would get to go home, both she and his brother would be spared a miserable marriage.

“No, you intend to wed me because I, in part, forced this on you by demanding you find a way to release Sansa Stark.”

As if it would be a punishment, equal to imprisonment or execution.

“You need to stop putting words in my mouth, my lady.”

She stiffened.

“Do not call me that.”

That hurt, she had never objected to his referring to her as such before.

“Fine then, do not put words in my mouth, woman.”

Then she did go to hit him, lashing out with her right fist. He dodged backwards, knocking into the sword rack, instinctively putting space between them. Taking her opportunity she made toward the door but Jaime was there first, pushing it shut and putting his back against it.

 “Why would you deny me the one good thing that could come from this whole wretched situation?”

 

Brienne felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. The suddenness of this whole ordeal stole her breath and left her nauseous.

Ladies were little more than bartering tokens in this world she was aware of that, and the gods knew her father had tried to barter her away enough times. Not out of cruelty or lack of love but because it was how things worked. Each one she’d managed to do something or say something or simply just be unacceptable enough that they’d broken the arrangement and let her be.

Now Ser Jaime Lannister, probably now the eventual Lord of Casterly Rock, wanted her for his wife. She supposed she should be thrilled, was sure most normal maids would be, a handsome titled husband who clearly cared for her, but instead there was just a dull anger.

Did he really think she wouldn’t mind being traded away in this manner?

She understood there was kindness behind the gesture, understood that she was probably not the choice of his Lord Father. A great lion, a first son at that, lowering himself to marry an ugly beast of a woman who stomped about in armour.

That Jaime wanted her for his bride struck a small traitorous flame in her heart. Ruthlessly she extinguished it before it could cloud her judgement.

Because for all Jaime’s noble intention, she was sure once they were wed he would attempt to push into the same box as everyone else. Had he not already paraded her around in blue silk? Would it not simply worsen when they wed as he tried to compensate for having a plain and homely wife?

And when she could not be the wife he deserved, well then he would come to resent her.

Looking across at him, Brienne asked,

“Why do you want to marry me?”

Jaime sagged against the door, shoulders drooping. A wry smile crept onto the corners of his mouth.

“Oh I don’t know, I rather like the idea of having a wife and a guard in one I suppose. Saves on expenses.”

“I am serious.”

“So am I, watching you beat up lords who refuse to swear fealty to us would be the highlight of my day I’m sure.”

She permitted herself to briefly entertain the idea, a flicker of amusement pulling at the edges of her mouth. Then shook her head resolutely.

“You do not want me for a wife, Ser Jaime. I would be ill-suited to the task.”

He watched her for a moment, eyes narrowed in contemplation. Finally a resigned sort of sadness seemed to settle on his face.

“Fine, we will not wed. But understand I hold you personally responsible if my future bride turns out to be some unbearable twit of a girl.”

She nodded, feeling oddly deflated for someone who had just won her freedom.

Chapter Text

“I am sorry for your misery, brother. But grateful that my own has been so narrowly avoided.”

Tyrion gave him a commiserative smile.

Once again Jaime found himself in his brother’s quarters, holding yet another glass of wine. This time though he did not intend to drink… he intended to merely deliver the one bit of good news this whole ordeal had afforded.

But Tyrion was unlikely to allow anyone to rest in his rooms for long with a glass of wine appearing in their hand.

Really he should have told his brother the news yesterday but given that his marriage proposal had just been summarily rejected he’d felt justified in shutting himself away and wallowing for a night in his own misery.

“So how did the unrivalled Brienne of Tarth react to your noble gesture?”

Of course, Tyrion had to then bring Brienne up, that slightly knowing smile on his face. Well, news of his dismal failure to win her hand would spread soon enough.

 “I asked her to wed me and she would not have me.”

“You… did what?”

Jaime just stared bleakly at his wine cup.

He had hoped Tyrion might take pity on him and spare him from going over the details but his brother was merciless in delving every last word he had spoken out of him. When he finished recounting it, Tyrion just sat wordlessly shaking his head at him.

Eventually he sighed and said,

“So you will find another bride among the hordes of nubile and willing women that will fall at your feet, does it matter so very much?”

Jaime could imagine his future bride now, inoffensively pretty, impeccably polite and correct, knew which dress to wear for which occasion and how properly to address each member of court. Her curtsy would be a sight to behold. She would never refer to him as anything other than ‘my Lord Husband’ and would come when called, lie motionless and proper underneath him during their bedding and endure her duty from then on until her belly swelled with child.

An easy marriage, a simple one and the last thing he wanted.

Tyrion had been watching him carefully and a rather sly smile formed on his face as he took a gulp from his glass.

 “Unless of course, you had your heart set on a wedding night with the Lady of Tarth?”

“I don’t think of her in that manner...”

It was an honest enough answer, yes he had on occasion been moved to lust by the woman but when he had proposed marriage he had not given much thought to that aspect.

 “So your wish to wed her had nothing to do with any physical desire. It was purely pragmatic.”

“Yes.”

Of course it was, he wanted a wife who knew him, who held no illusions about what he was. Desires of the flesh were secondary concerns.

Tyrion looked wholly unconvinced.

“So if the Maid of Tarth were to stride in here, still adamant that she would not marry you, but demand that you relieve her of the title over there on that table, you would say no?”

Jaime tried to hide his smile behind his cup by taking a sip. The image of Brienne marching in and demanding he relieve her of her maidenhead was an amusing one after-all, almost absurd.

“Oh gods, you wouldn’t would you? Well… looks like I owe Bronn a drink.”

“Stop putting thoughts in my head that don’t belong there brother.”

Tyrion actually looked affronted.

“I am doing nothing of the sort!”

“She doesn’t want to marry me.”

His brother held up a finger to forestall his descent into self-pity.

Yet… she doesn’t want to marry you yet.”

Tyrion settled back into his chair, drumming his fingers absently against his cup and staring at him. Finally he tilted his head and asked,

“Did it never occur to you to be…romantic?”

“She would not have appreciated it.”

In fact Jaime was willing to bet significant sums that she would have thought he was making fun of her if he’d attempted it, given how long it had taken him to convince her to keep his gift of the necklace.

“She’s a woman, of course she would. You can’t just walk up and demand a marriage, there has to be a wooing first. Gifts, copious amounts of wine, subtle suggestions about your prowess in the bedchamber…none of these would go amiss.”

Jaime tried valiantly to imagine making suggestions about his sexual ability to Brienne and failed utterly to visualize any situation that did not end up with him getting some form of terrible injury in recompense. He was entirely sure the only reason he’d gotten away with his lewdness on the road was that she had sworn to Lady Stark to deliver him home alive.

“It’s Brienne.”

“And, despite appearances, she is a woman. And women wish to be wooed.”

There was a pause and then,

“You really told her you wished to marry her in order to avoid employing a guard?”

Jaime sighed,

“It was meant to be a joke.”

Tyrion grimaced and took a long gulp of his wine.

“You know, I think that is a very serious contender for the single worst proposal of all time, you should be proud, brother.”

They clinked their cups in a mocking toast.

 “You might also want to advise your future bride to avoid Joffrey, the news his favoured toy is being given leave to return home has upset him greatly.”

Seven hells, another thing to worry about. He hadn’t known Joffrey was so attached to the Stark girl given that he was engaged to another. He’d have to find Brienne as soon as possible, make sure she wasn’t going to be anywhere in the vicinity of the boy for at least the next month.

The door creaked open and a woman came in, pausing when she caught sight of Jaime. Turning her eyes to Tyrion, she asked slightly apprehensively,

“You are busy?”

“Ah….This is Shae… my… my…”

His brother appeared to be grasping for words that were not there and the woman appeared content to watch him do it.

 “My companion,” Tyrion eventually settled on. It appeared to be the right thing to say because a small smile appeared on her lips and she crossed the rest of the way to the table, gracefully taking a seat next to his brother. She leant forward on her hand; eyes flickered over Jaime, considering.

“And who is this?”

Her accent was pronounced but he couldn’t place it…something from over the narrow sea perhaps.

“This is my brother, Jaime.”

 “He is handsome.”

Tyrion looked rather put out by that.

“Yes, he is. Thank you for pointing that out. He’s also in love with a giantess who I hear is not to be trifled with.”

Jaime sighed, placing his cup down in front of him, looking from the woman to his brother. Very firmly he said,

“She’s not a giantess and I am not in love with her.”

“But she is not to be trifled with?”

Tyrion smiled at him teasingly and he nodded slightly in reply, a small smile of his own forming.

The woman-Shae- tilted her head, dark curls falling over her shoulder as she looked from brother to brother, “I thought I was not allowed to speak with members of your family.”

“Jaime is….different.”

He watched the way Tyrion’s eyes lingered on the woman, clearly a low-born girl, dressed as a lady’s maid. History repeats itself… and he doubted it would have a happier ending this time.

Suddenly any good mood that had been forming deserted him.

“Well I’d best take my leave… I have to inform father about my latest failure.”

 

She was not hiding.

This was what Brienne had told herself as she’d snuck out of her rooms at first light, nervously expecting Jaime to accost her from around every corner. It was not hiding, merely looking for some space in which to clear her rather confused thoughts.

Having found a reasonably deserted rooftop, she’d secluded herself away in one of the little seating areas covered with creeping vines and flowers. Hoped Jaime wouldn’t think to look for her up here. She needed time to sit and work through the idea that he had actually proposed marriage. And had seemingly thought she would leap at the chance.

Someone appeared at her shoulder,

“Lady Brienne?”

She nodded shortly. Apparently avoiding everyone in King’s Landing was near impossible.

Her visitor moved very gracefully for a large man, insinuating himself into the seat opposite her. Large but not tall, she easily dwarfed him by a head and a half.

“I’m Lord Varys, your betrothed may have mentioned me to you?”

His voice was strangely breathy, rising and falling with a musical cadence…she thought she might remember him now, hadn’t he been standing by the throne when she’d first been presented to Joffrey?

There was no point pretending she didn’t know who he was talking about.

Not my betrothed.”

She paused, then begrudgingly added,

“And no he hasn’t.”

“Oh of course, my apologies. Your little love story is rather the talk of court I’m afraid.”

He was looking at her with something like sympathy, but there was an assessing quality to his gaze that she didn’t like…it reminded her of being sat opposite Lady Olenna.

Brienne hated this place, it was like a battleground and she was stranded in the middle without weapons or armour, without even knowing the rules of engagement…and with everyone trying to decide if she was worth making a potential ally. She wished they would all just leave her alone, perhaps a dungeon cell would have even been preferable to this.

“You’re afraid?”

“Yes, there have been those who have taken it with a…less than graceful temper.”

Cersei. She hadn’t even considered how Jaime’s sister would react when she heard.

 “Such an unusual choice in bride does rather stir tongues. Very few people would have thought Jaime Lannister the type of man to choose a bride with any… substance.”

This is what she had been saving Jaime from, from people laughing at him behind his back. If he’d married her they would have constantly been whispering, pointing, laughing with pity.

“Don’t mock him.”

He looked surprised,

“My lady, far from it! I was praising his choice. Most men have their heads turned by the inconsequential…beauty, charm, fleeting things. So few seek true value in their potential brides.”

With his shimmering dull green robe he almost seemed to blend back into the foliage behind him. She found herself wondering who this strange man was and why he’d chosen to seek her out.

 “Why are you telling me this?”

“I rather enjoy curiosities… most people are so dull, don’t you find? And you, my lady, are exceptionally curious. A woman who dresses like a man and disdains the intrigues of court.”

He gave her a small, rather sad smile then.

 “Some advice, my lady…curiosities have a limited lifespan in King’s Landing, unless they find some way to become indispensable. Marry Jaime Lannister, accept the protection the position brings or I fear your time among us may be lamentably brief.”

Chapter Text

Tyrion Lannister cautiously approached the rooftop area where Lady Brienne had squirreled herself away from everyone. He wondered a little at Varys’s motivations in telling him she was up here, the subtle implication given that he should talk to her on behalf of his brother. Well, he understood why he needed to talk to her on Jaime’s behalf…after-all after someone had messed up a simple proposal so thoroughly it was evident they needed help. What it benefited Varys to help in this regard was another matter entirely…

She was hunched up in a corner seat, the look she gave him as he approached evidently meaning that she did not wish to be disturbed. However for the sake of his poor love-lorn brother, he was going to have to.

“Might I sit, my lady?”

The idea had been to go to her, to put her at her ease by being the one to approach her but the suspicion with which she was regarding him was intense.

“If you must.”

He seated himself opposite her, noting that she was watching him as warily as if he might attack at any moment. A rather droll notion considering the sheer amount of size and strength she had on him.

“If the intrusion displeases you I can leave. I do not wish to fight with you, I fight with far too many members of my family as it is.”

Which was in part why he was doing this. Jaime was generally very good to him and in the area of love and...other related activities... at least he had reams of experience that his brother did not.

“We are not family.”

 “Not yet.”

She frowned and said very decidedly,

“Not ever.”

The bite in her voice was making him re-examine his opinion of her. He had assumed he would find a woman merely playing at turning down his brother’s proposal, due to offense caused by the way he had delivered it. But it seemed the Lady Brienne had truly and firmly decided that she did not wish to be wed to his brother. That was rather surprising.

He was rather beginning to understand why a traditional wooing had not occurred to Jaime.  She was so very defensive…

Well, he was nothing if not persuasive and he did so enjoy a challenge.

 “Would you like me to tell you how I know you will change your mind?”

That obviously surprised and irritated her, she raised an eyebrow watching him cautiously,

“Please, enlighten me.”

 “You don’t appear to be a cruel woman. And you care deeply for my brother.”

There was a flicker of emotion in her eyes which told him that much was true at least… that was a relief. If the giantess had only been tolerating his brother, well then this tactic probably wouldn’t work…

“That is why you would not condemn him to a cold, loveless marriage isolated and growing ever more bitter trapped in Casterly Rock.”

She looked disbelieving, hands clutched defensively around her knees,

“You think being trapped in a marriage to me would be better? I am not suited for marriage, as I have informed your brother.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, my lady, but… you are the only heir to Tarth?”

He knew she was, his research had told him as much. The records could be most enlightening once one got over how very dull they were.

“Yes.”

“You have no brothers, sisters, no cousins, no aunts… in fact I believe only a distant great-uncle sworn to the Night’s Watch. Your father is not getting any younger and it seems unlikely he will produce anymore children…”

Tyrion spread his hands in a ‘what-can-be-done’ gesture.

 “Then I’m afraid marriage seems unavoidable for you, whatever your protestations.”

She regarded him coldly, saying nothing. Probably because there was no denying the facts.

Now that he had appealed to reason it was time to go in for the emotional kill…

“Jaime has sacrificed a lot….for you.  All of my unhappiness and Sansa’s misery could not accomplish what you did simply by asking.” An untruth perhaps, but perhaps less of a one than Jaime might have made himself believe.

The words hung in the air, the implications seeming so very obvious to him but she looked confused, she really didn’t appear to understand what he was getting at.

“Is that not love?” he asked gently but with a strong hint of exasperation.

She shook her head, looking a little angry.

“He swore a vow, you’re not a knight you wouldn’t understand.”

“Ah yes… the vows of the Kingsguard, which mean so much to my brother. Tell me again of the one about celibacy?”

She blushed slightly, looking down. It really did not do to forget she was hardly more than a girl, for all her physical appearance… at least fifteen years younger than Jaime, possibly more. Still inclined not to see the harsh truths of the world unless they were spelt out for her.

Very well, it would be his duty to inform her of the grim realities of court life.

“We are nobility my lady, we do not get to choose who it is we wed. See this for the wonderful opportunity it is, you and my brother care for each other…that is more than most people get.”

He watched her as she steadfastly refused to meet his eyes. Such a curious woman for his brother to be enamoured of… he did so hope, for both their sakes, that she came around quickly.

With a sigh, Tyrion gained his feet and turned back to address her.

“I believe my brother would like to see you in his chambers, when you have the time…”

At her stricken expression he held up a calming hand.

“I have been assured he does not intend to repeat his disastrous proposal, merely that he has some business to discuss with you.”

 

There was a knock at his door.

Steeling himself, Jaime called out permission to enter. True to his word, his brother had convinced Brienne to come to him…a miracle in itself, he was certain she’d avoid his presence for at least a month after last night.

She stopped short just inside the door, closing it behind her but making no move to step further into his rooms.

“Ser Jaime…”

Her expression was wary and he noted the return of the formality of ‘Ser’ in front of his name with a little despondency. Still he approached her casually, trying to act as if yesterday had never happened. At least she didn’t back away when he reached her, even if the guardedness never left her features.

“Something arrived this morning that I wanted you to see.”

He moved to grab her arm then brought himself up short at the last moment, instead gesturing awkwardly to the table where a sheet was thrown over a collection of lumpy objects.

Her curiosity had been piqued, he could see that, and after a moment’s hesitation she made her way fully into the room.

“Here.”

Jaime pulled aside the sheet to reveal a set of armour.

 Her armour.

He watched as she almost reverently ran her fingers across the familiar ridges.

“How did you find it?”

“I had someone track it down for me…Locke’s men had sold it but it wasn’t that difficult to find.”

That was nearly entirely a lie, he’d given orders to have it hunted down nearly as soon as they’d reached King’s Landing and when it had eventually been found he’d had to pay more than double its worth to buy it back. But he felt that he owed her so much, especially after the trouble his own armour has caused her…he owed her far more than this set of armour that was for certain.

Brienne was just staring at him, her mouth slightly parted like she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.

"Ser Jaime..."

She looked so unguarded and grateful that he almost acted on the impulse to reach out to her but he was sure that she would not welcome it. Better to keep his distance until a time when she would no longer question his motives…if such a time ever occurred.

He turned, gesturing back to the armour,

“Will your shoulder allow you to wear it?”

Rotating her shoulder a few times she winced, “No I don’t believe so.”

Brienne looked so despondent at the thought. He remembered the wistfulness in her expression when he had come across her testing out swords last night…

“Perhaps we could spar without armour? Just lightly, neither of us is entirely on form at the moment.”

That earned him a small but grateful smile.

He instructed a page to fetch wooden tourney swords, nothing that would injure either of them… she was only just healing, he had no wish to do her further harm. Plus he was unsure if she was still secretly enraged about the proposal, he did not think it was wise to place a bladed weapon in her hand until he was completely sure that he was forgiven.

Once the wooden swords had been produced and the page dismissed they moved to stand a reasonable distance apart, swords held ready as they both fell automatically into fighting stances. He still felt awkward with his, unnatural when it came to using his left hand in this manner. But the lighter weight of the wood was helping.

The swords came together, just lightly tapping each other and backing off. It seemed neither of them wanting to jump in full-strength as unsure as they were about their own fortitude. They moved, circling each other, footfalls mirroring the others.

“We are like squires in their first practise battle,” he muttered, meeting her sword as it came low and pushing it away without much effort. Their moves were poised, almost elegant… a dance, he thought, suddenly amused. He’d thought that about her before … if you put a sword in her hand then there was a certain grace to her movements that was not there normally.

And also a certain joy on her face, just a fierce love of the fight itself.

It made her look…different. Striking.

 “Last time you complained and I beat you,” she reminded him, just a suggestion of smugness on her face, maybe a hint of challenge in the way she raised her eyebrows.

He frowned, bringing his sword down a little harder on hers, chastising himself for getting so easily distracted. That was true… she had pinned him with ease the last time they’d sparred. Fighting with his left hand was proving more difficult to learn than he had hoped…

The parries became quicker, the impact of the swords becoming harsher. Brienne lunged forward, a move impossible to defend against in time with his left, striking him on the stomach.

“First blood,” she said, again that hint of dare in her voice. He just stared at her for a moment, frowning.

Her cheeks were flushed with the exertion, her eyes shining brightly…extraordinary eyes, he’d never seen any that were such a pure blue. The shirt she was wearing was loose and he could see the dip of her collarbone. What was so infernally fascinating about that piece of skin?

He didn’t understand.

It made him feel irrationally angry, as if she were doing it on purpose to torment him. To break his concentration so that he would lose this bout as well….which was ridiculous, of course she wasn’t doing anything of the sort.

His sword whipped around, attempting to catch her on the side but she moved back, just out of reach then darted in again.

She hit him, this time on the arm.              

“Second.”

He grit his teeth and looked for an opening, for a moment when she would drop her guard, even if it was only for a moment….

Now.

In one fluid move he knocked her feet from under her and floored her, fall partially cushioned by the rug.  His weight would not hold her down for long but for this moment… he had done it, he had won. Rather arrogantly Jaime grinned down at her.

Brienne stared up at him, mouth slightly agape.

The shirt had fallen open even further at her neck and he darted his eyes down to take in the long, graceful expanse of neck on show…he could imagine burying his face there, licking and biting a trail down to her shoulder. .Her eyes were wide, fixed on his….there was such clarity, such openness in her eyes…they were utterly stunning. A shiver of arousal sped down his spine.

Does she look up at you with those big, naïve cows eyes while you fuck her? Cersei’s voice suddenly taunted him in his head.

He took a sharp breath. Oh gods, they’re right, they’re all bloody right….

I want her.

Her shock was rapidly wearing off and she had begun to twist beneath him, trying her best to loosen his hold. Instinctively he tightened his grip on her, trying to prevent the movements that were doing some interesting things to his body..

“Brienne, stop moving.”

Undeterred she bucked, resolutely trying to throw him off balance.

“Just stay still for…a moment. For the Gods' sake… please….”

She thrashed, trying to unseat him.

Giving in, he buried his face in her neck and thrust his hips forward, hard.

She froze.

When he looked up at her, guiltily, he didn’t see the repulsion he expected. Her eyes were large and slightly worried, but there was no overt anger.

“Why?” she sounded genuinely curious, as if she didn’t understand.

“You don’t know?”

The confusion didn’t lift, instead her frown merely deepened and he could see she was going to attempt to rationalise this away, was probably telling herself right now that it would happen with any woman.

Damn it all, it was not any woman.

It was her and he was going to show her.

Slowly, carefully he dropped his grip on her wrist. As soon as he released it her hand came up, palm flat against his chest as if she was going to push him away.

He moved his fingers slowly but deliberately to that utterly appealing collarbone, let them softly touch the dip in her skin that had distracted him so much. There was a slight intake of breath, but she did not shove him away just yet.

Bringing his hand slowly down to her side, he carefully but firmly slid his fingers around the curve of her hip

Of course she was going to push him away at some point, probably sooner rather than later (and maybe punch him for good measure) but until she did he was going to make damn sure that Brienne of Tarth knew that he, Jaime Lannister, desired her every single way it was possible for a man to desire a woman.

He moved closer, not bucking into her like before, just lowering his body until it was flush with hers.  Almost subconsciously it seemed she moved her legs a little wider, giving him more room. Her breath was coming hard and a little rough, which could have been desire but just as easily been pure unadulterated panic. He looked up at her face, taking in her wide-eyed stare for a minute. He knew he had to be careful; she was so innocent in this matter. And he was not here to dishonour her.

He just had to show her the way she made him feel, that he wanted her.

 “Brienne…”

He let it trail off, unable to put words to it. If he did maybe then it would become real and she would push him away.

She nodded, but her eyes were still wide and slightly confused looking. He slow inched his hand back up to her neck, stroking the soft skin just under her jaw. It fascinated him that any part of her could be so soft, somehow he expected her to be all hard callouses and roughness.

Brienne was watching his face, looking riveted and he felt a strange surge of power at how trusting she was.  He moved in to kiss her, starting gently with the slightest brush of his lips on hers. Her mouth was still set in a firm, tight line and it felt strange to press his lips against an unyielding pair.

 He moved his tongue along the seam of her lips, gently, slowly, coaxing her into being the one to open. She gasped, giving him an opening and he thrust his tongue into her mouth, more aggressively than he had intended.

Consciously he slowed the kiss, moving his lips over hers in an unhurried deliberate way until she began to tentatively mimic his movements.

They pulled apart to breathe and Brienne licked her lips, seemingly unconsciously.  It drove him on to kiss her again.

For a moment he forgot he was kissing inexperienced, worried Brienne and poured all of his frustration, his desire into the movements of his lips and tongue against hers. The sheer scale of the want he felt was staggering, overwhelming…

It was driving him to rapidly turn the kiss lustful, encouraging him to tighten his grip on her hips, to move himself forward just a little so they were pressed tightly together in a way that startled another gasp from her. Underneath him, he felt her chest rising and falling erratically, hands fisting in the fabric of his shirt.

But when he realized that his aggression meant he was doing something that was beginning to transcend just kissing, he managed to pull back.

Brienne was looking up at him even more astonished. The shock on her face made him feel a little guilty.

He had never been particularly good with restraint. With Cersei, yes there had always been the danger of being caught but there were always reasons he could find to be alone with his sister, the wait had never been very long. With Brienne, he might have only just gotten around to admitting it to himself but he’d wanted her since Harrenhal…before that even, on the journey, far more of his idle thoughts that necessary had been about what she looked like under her armour.

Right now she looked a little shaken, laying on her back under him, staring up at him with a look full of fear and desire. Her lips were swollen and she was blushing so hard he could practically feel the heat radiating off her cheeks. Everything about her was reminding him that she was a maiden and had no idea of exactly what she was doing.

“My apologies,” he was aware of how hoarse and strained his voice sounded.

He rolled off her and just lay flat on his back on the floor, staring up at the ceiling above them.

“Why did you stop?” Her words were flat, framed as if she was asking him about an ordinary- everyday occurrence.

He rolled his head to the side, looking over at her

“I’m not going to take your maidenhead on the floor in the middle of the day when anyone could walk in, what kind of man do you take me for?”

She quirked an eyebrow. Okay, she probably took him for the type of man who would aggressively kiss their supposedly platonic friend after they turned their marriage proposal down..

They had a very odd relationship, now he stopped to think about it.

 “I’m not marrying you.”

“It’s not a requirement.” He responded, slightly put out. She thought he’d been trying to seduce her to get her into marriage?

“I wasn’t trying to make you marry me. I wasn’t plotting.  Gods, I wasn’t really thinking much at all.”

Brienne nodded shortly.

She heaved herself upright, about as graceful as an ox, then reached down to pull him up as well. Before she let go of his hand, she caught his eye and said again firmly,

“I’m still not marrying you though.”

Chapter Text

 

“Might I say that you look radiant this afternoon, Lady Olenna?”

 

“You might.” She sounded amused as she normally did with compliments. Varys rather thought she appreciated them but never believed them, which was a sensible position for a lady in her situation to take.

 

Most of the time he meant his compliments though, carefully worded as they were. Lady Olenna was not a young woman but she also shone in a way those who were…somewhat less gifted in years tended not to. It was the eyes, he thought, everything else might change but the eyes always remained the same and hers were as full of fire as he imagined they would’ve been when she was a girl.

 

Varys rather admired Lady Olenna, truth be told.

 

Today they were taking tea in the sunlight, all very carefully civilised, both waiting patiently for the other to crack and ask the question that they both wanted answered.

 

“Perhaps you would care to enlighten me on your interest in the Tarth girl?”

 

Even despite their mutual patience, Lady Olenna was usually the one to talk first. He found it strange how this did not seem to put her at a disadvantage in any way…it was merely that she refused to play the waiting game, unless it was on her terms. It was all very fascinating.

 

“Much the same as yours, I imagine,” He kept his voice light, inconsequential.

 

Now the patience came into play. She waited, hands clasped and considered him, the expression in her eyes wry. Behind her the afternoon sunlight was starting to fade much too early, giving way to grey clouds.

 

“I merely fear the young heiress of Tarth is in need of a friend,” he added, after he judged a suitable length of time had passed.

 

“And you intend to be that friend.”

It was a statement rather than a question.

 

“She is rather young and almost astoundingly naïve…and such an influence on the Lannister heir. An influence for good, one might speculate.”

 

He raised his tea cup, taking a measured sip.  Around them the wind was beginning to pick up, the sky was turning an angry yellowish purple, like a three day old bruise. A sure sign of a storm brewing in the north.

 

“Good…” Lady Olenna laughed shortly “Or what passes for it in this place.”

 

He inclined his head, either an agreement or merely an acknowledgement….depending who saw it.

 

“And if you have her ear, well…” She gestured with her hand, eyebrows raised.

 

“Yes, I believe your charming granddaughter has shown the…positive influence a wife can have on her husband’s decisions.”

 

A sardonic smile turned the corners of her mouth and she leant forward to respond.

 

“And Jaime Lannister safely married off and out of the way is best for everyone.”

 

Ah, now they came to it…what they’d really come here to talk about. Carefully placing his teacup down, he tucked his hands back into the sleeves of his robes.

 

“For the good of the realm, I believe you may be right.”

 

 

This was ridiculous.

 

It seemed like she was spending her whole life avoiding Jaime Lannister for one reason or another. It was certainly why instead of sitting in her nice, dry chambers she was making her way along the ramparts in the driving rain. It had seemed like the very last place he’d look for her.

To be honest, it hadn’t been lashing rain when she’d started out, merely a light drizzle but she should have remembered storms came about suddenly in King’s Landing, Jaime had warned her…

Jaime.

 

Her steps faltered and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to prevent herself from thinking about what had happened on the floor of his chambers. It gave her so many confused and conflicted feelings, most of which were what had driven her to mumble out a garbled excuse and flee from his rooms earlier.

 

She had remembered to grab her armour at least, even in her haste to flee. With it back on, even if it was making her shoulder ache terribly, she felt more like herself than she had done in weeks.

 

“Brienne of Tarth!”

 

Through the steady impact of raindrops on stone, she faintly heard her voice being called.

 

Oh gods, please don’t let it be Jaime…

 

She turned and found herself face to face with Loras Tyrell, for the first time since Renly’s camp.

The first thing that struck her was that he looked terrible, his curly hair was plastered to his head by rain, his face drawn and his eyes red. The Loras she remembered would never have been seen in such disarray, his attentions to his appearance had always bordered on the vain.

 

The second string of thoughts was that it was dark, he had clearly been drinking, he was armed and she was not.

 

“They set a date for my wedding…to Cersei,” he told her, gesturing to his wine cup as if that would explain it. What he was doing up here on the battlements she didn’t know… she hoped it was purely accidental…

 

“I’m sorry.” She meant that, no one should be forced into a marriage. Especially not to a woman who seemed to like making people’s lives miserable.

 

His head bowed for a moment and his shoulders were shaking, she wondered if it was from the cold or if he was crying.

 

“Did you kill him?” he didn’t raise his head as he spoke but the words shuddered with emotion and Brienne felt her heart wrench.

 

There was no need to ask who he was talking about.

 

“No.”

 

He looked up, meeting her gaze.

 

“I didn’t believe it, I didn’t think you would…but now you’re here, you’re so close to the Lannisters. Were you working for them? Was that the plan?”

 

He looked like a little boy, confused, lost and upset. But a little boy with a sword and reason to believe she killed a person he cared for…

 

“Need I remind you your sister is marrying a Lannister, you are marrying a Lannister. Allegiances change.”

 

He laughed boyishly, but with a slightly manic edge that unnerved her. Her hand came to hover at her side, reaching for a sword that wasn’t there. Why had Jaime not thought to recover her sword with her armour?

 

“Yes, I’m marrying Cersei. Margaery’s marrying Joffrey. You’re marrying Jaime. I shall be your brother-in-law and Margaery shall be your niece. One big happy family.”

 

The cup was raised in a toast, probably more filled with rainwater than wine by now.

 

“I’m not marrying Jaime.”

 

She was getting slightly annoyed with people treating her refusal to marry Jaime Lannister like she was a small child throwing a temper tantrum who would come around.

 

“Do you think you have a choice? Do you think I have a choice? That I want to marry Cersei?”

He paused, staring off into the distance with a grimace, as he brought the cup to his lips.

“Oh gods, Cersei…”

 

Loras drank deeply, slowly sliding down the wall as he did so, thumping down heavily on the damp floor. Brienne wondered if she should try and help him up, he should not be up here so drunk anyway.

 

As she hesitated, he spoke up from his slumped position on the floor, “How did he die?”

 

Brienne sucked in a breath, trying to think how to explain the nightmare of what had happened to Renly. But Loras didn’t wait for answer,

 

“Was it Stannis? Did he send an assassin? You have to tell me.”

 

He struggled to his feet again, seizing hold of her armour at the top, fingers slipping on the wet steel, so close to her now that she could smell the acrid scent of wine on his breath.

 

“You and Lady Stark were alone with him…”

 

Suddenly the rain became heavier, pelting down with more force, compelling her to raise her voice to reply, “It was a creature…a monster…”

 

His eyes hardened. “Don’t LIE to me!”

 

He jerked forward, only for a blade to appear at his throat out of the dark.

 

“Take another step, boy and it is your last.”

 

Loras dropped his hold on her, palms flattening as he pulled his hands away. Calmly, Brienne said in a carrying voice so as to be heard above the storm:, “he’s drunk, Jaime. Don’t hurt him.”

 

“Get out of here, before I cut your throat.”

 

Loras stumbled blindly backward, almost losing his footing and for a second her heart jumped as she thought he would stagger and fall over the edge. But he regained his balance and ran toward the relative safety of the keep, glancing back over his shoulder at them as he went.

 

The rain lessened suddenly, the force leaving it.

 

She chanced a look at Jaime where he stood watching Loras leave. The rain was making his Kingsguard armour shine, darkening his hair to the colour of wet sand, running in rivulets over his features.

 

When she was young, she’d conjured up visions of a future husband, one who was handsome and chivalrous, who treated her like a proper lady. But those dreams had quickly been dashed to be replaced by dreams of honour, glory and knighthood.

 

One dream, it seemed could not exist with the other. And her choice had been made when she was 16.

 

They stood next to each other in the cold, raindrops tinging off their armour. His sword was still drawn, reflecting the light from the keep. For a moment she could make herself believe they were nothing so much as brothers’ in arms.

 

However the illusion was too soon broken, as Jaime sheathed his sword and reached out for her, turning his body towards hers. She froze as his fingers brushing the droplets of water from her lips.

 

Even that single touch felt like too much.

 

Hurriedly Brienne backed away, putting space between them.

 

“I thank you, Ser. But it was unnecessary.”

 

“Ser?” he sounded genuinely perplexed about her use of his title. His hand was frozen in mid-air, reaching out.

 

“He was drunk but he would not have harmed me.”

 

With those words she turned abruptly and attempted to walk away, but Jaime was in front of her blocking her path before she could take more than a few steps.

 

“Are we not even going to speak of it?”

 

She was silent for a few heartbeats, forcing herself to look him in the eyes. Then she said firmly,

“No.”

 

“Well that’s…entirely unfair!”

 

Unfair… it made her want to laugh a little. What was unfair was the he had to confuse her so, in a way he had absolutely no right to. Before Jaime Lannister she had known her path in life, had known what she was to achieve and that marriage did not play a part in it. Now with feverish kisses he had made her yearn for something that she should not…could not… want.

 

“Perhaps I should speak plainer? I do not wish to bed you, Ser Jaime, any more than I wish to be  wed to you.”

 

The words were harsh and he took a step back as if slapped.

 

Regrouping, he again stepped forward, into her space and she steeled herself against the urge to retreat.

 

“Well then, was I imagining your enthusiasm as you writhed under my touch on the floor of my chambers?”

 

She flushed, scowling at him.

 

“Yes.”

 

The word was icy, she could hear her own embarrassment in it.

 

“I beg pardon, my lady but I don’t think my imagination is quite as good as that…”

 

There was a hint of arrogance on his face now and she glared.

 

“Just leave me alone, Jaime.”

 

She tried to walk past him again but he blocked her in, hand against the stone wall. The walkway on the other side of him was too narrow to squeeze past and even she was not so prideful as to risk her life for a chance to escape Jaime Lannister.

 

“No. I want an explanation as to why you are suddenly cold to me.”

 

“You really believe it would be sensible? If I fall into your bed how long before someone finds out and uses it as an excuse to have us wed? Or I go home to Tarth in disgrace with a bastard in my belly?”

 

It was more than she had wished to say and part of her hated him from ripping it from her.

 

“There are precautions…”

 

“That do not always work.”

 

“I could seduce you.”

 

He raised an eyebrow, and she was reminded just how charming he could be.

 

She’d always been faintly aware she was attracted to him, especially after the incident in the Baths …and again when he was drunk but…it had always been safely in the realm of speculation, something that she would never have to make a choice whether to act upon or not because the chances of him reciprocating were minimal. She’d never really considered herself the sort of woman to drive a man into fits of desire and it had been surprisingly gratifying to feel him on the edge of losing his control...

 

But neither of them could afford the consequences.

 

“You could try.”

 

“Ah so you do not believe I would be equal to the task?”

 

A smile was pulling at the corners of his mouth, that cocky confident tone already starting to creep back into his voice. She realised in his head this was a battle he’d already won.

 

Suddenly he was far too near and far too handsome. All she wanted was to push him down on this cold, wet stone and straddle him and kiss him, to pull his armour off, to feel his skin with her fingertips. Her hands almost itched at the thought. She tried to banish the idea from her head, reminding herself that she had turned down his advances for a reason.

 

Swallowing thickly, she answered, “I fear you would be.”

 

His hand came up to her neck again, fingers tangling in her wet hair. Before he could move any closer, she pulled away.

 

“If you respect me, as a Knight, you will not lay hands on me again.”

 

The words were calm, clear and forceful.

 

She was being cruel, far colder than required in how she was turning him away but it seemed necessary for her self-preservation. A big part of her was sure the moment she let her guard down she would blink and find herself the Lady of Casterly Rock. A prisoner, trapped in a life she did not want.

 

He stared at her for a moment, several emotions warring for supremacy on his face.

 

Finally a stony kind of resignation settled on his features.

 

“As you wish,” he bowed his head shortly and stalked away in the opposite direction.

 

She watched him go, unmoving…feeling the streams of rain run down the back of her neck.

 

 



It was her perfume that hit him first, the expensive scent of sandalwood wafting over to him as he ducked out of the rain, his mind spinning with thoughts of the rejection he had just received.

 

“Trouble in paradise already?”

 

Jaime wiped the water out of his eyes, looking across to where Cersei stood just inside the doorway, the apparently now customary cup of wine clutched in her hand. She was drunk, though her speech remained relatively clear. Maybe she could teach her future husband to hold his alcohol, he thought slightly cruelly. It was clear she’d either been following him or Brienne…

 

A stab of hurt went through him when he thought about Brienne… he’d thought she wanted him, had been sure of it. Now he was unconvinced.

 

“So you would kill him for her…” Her voice was soft, one might even mistake it for melancholy if they didn’t know her like he did. “For her. Not for me, oh no, but for her.”

 

A long draught was taken from the cup though her sharp, accusatory eyes never left his. He felt as if he had to explain himself.

 

“He was trying to hurt her.”

 

It was a weak justification and he knew it. Brienne could’ve handled one drunken man, armed or not but he had jumped at the chance to ‘save’ her. He was now acting the gallant knight for her, as he had done for Cersei for all those years. The only difference was Brienne failed to be impressed.

 

Cersei watched him as if she knew every thought going through his head.  “And just trying to marry me.”

 

Part of him wanted to go to his sister, to sweep her up in his arms and turn the clock back to a time when everything had been simple. When it had just been the two of them against the world, when things hadn’t been confused, when he hadn’t wanted anything he couldn’t have…

 

She stepped closer. He could smell her perfume more strongly now, the familiar scent making him close his eyes and breathe deep.

 

“Once you swore you would kill anyone for me, everyone for me. Everyone in the world until it was just you and me…”

 

Her voice had a raw edge to it now and despite everything his head was telling him it still made his heart ache. He clenched his fist to avoid reaching out for her.

 

Her hand came up, pushing his rain-damp hair out of his eyes in an almost loving caress.

 

“Robert had his head turned by a pretty face amongst other things. It hurt but I understood the reasons, he was a weak man. But I don’t understand what it is about her…”

 

Suddenly all his desire to touch her fled. She must have felt him stiffen under her touch but she kept lightly stroking his hair, her voice low.

 

“He betrayed me. I never expected you do the same…”

 

Jaime almost laughed then.  He betrayed her?

 

“Betrayal is apparently an act that runs both ways. How is dear cousin Lancel?”

 

It hung in the air between them, un-denied.  Her hand dropped abruptly and she stepped back.

“So…” she said softly “You would marry a beast to spite me?”

 

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, pushing a hand through his own hair.

 

“No…I would marry Brienne. And in case you haven’t heard, she said no.”

 

The last part came out more bitterly than he had intended and a slight vicious smile pulled at Cersei’s lips.

 

“Oh I did.” She tilted her head, causing her hair to tumble over her shoulder.  “I could have her destroyed. She’s a Stark Loyalist and she sided with the Baratheons. I could have her head stuck up on pike…it might make it prettier, though I doubt it. Who would care?”

 

His mouth seemed suddenly dry.

 

“Apart from me?”

 

“Apart from you.” It was said softly, but savagely.

 

“Father might have something to say about it.”

 

That seemed to deflate her, at least momentarily but he felt angry at himself for falling back on the use of his Father, even against Cersei. He should be able to protect Brienne without anyone’s help.

 

“Yes, I suppose he might.” Cersei’s smile widened. “Though, how long do you think Father will deem her worthy of protection when he hears she has turned down your proposal?”

 

With that she brushed past him, her hand lingering briefly on his arm. He stood, frozen, until long after she had disappeared down the Keep stairs.

 

Once again Jaime found himself outside the door of his father’s rooms in the Tower of the Hand.

 

Was he really going to do this? Was he going to go to his father and beg him to protect a woman who had completely rejected him?

 

Of course he was, it was Brienne.

 

If she died…if she died of something he could have prevented, any shred of honour he might have had left, any chance of being the man he wanted to be would be gone. Whatever her personal feelings toward him, he could not, would not, let her be harmed.

 

He rapped his knuckles on the door, waiting impatiently until he heard his father call out to enter,

As usual his father was entirely immersed in his documents. He had a map of Westeros spread out on the table before him as well, pieces placed strategically all over it. Sometimes, wrapped up in this little cocoon in King’s Landing it was easy to forget there was a war being fought.

 

“Father I need to speak with you.”

 

“Whatever it is can wait.”

 

His father’s eyes flicked over the armour, his mouth thinning a little. He realised belatedly that it probably would’ve been best not to wear it, not to remind his father that they had yet to finalise his removal from the Kingsguard.

 

“I have news…about your wedding.”

 

Everything seemed to halt. With everything that had happened over the past few days he had almost forgotten that his father had taken over organising another betrothal. Seven hells.

 

“It will take place in two weeks’ time, a week before your sister’s. That way all those who are coming for one can stay for the other. A retinue is coming from Tarth to witness on behalf of her father as he cannot afford to leave the island in wartime.”

 

Jaime’s heart thudded in his chest suddenly.

 

“Tarth?” He repeated the word as if it had no meaning to him.

 

“Yes.”

 

Trying to make sense of what was being said he stared at his father. “No. But she said no.”

 

Tywin Lannister raised his eyes to stare back at him coldly. “I am aware of that.”

 

There was a long silence before Jaime asked, trying to keep the anger from his voice.

 

“What have you done?”

 

His father’s gaze dropped back to whatever he was writing. “I merely wrote to her father. He replied with his consent for the match, which is all that is needed. That woman’s view on the whole matter is inconsequential.”

 

Jaime watched as his father continued to write calmly, the quill swooping elegantly over the page, as if he was not pushing a terrible dilemma on his son.

 

Gods, Brienne was going to despise him… marriage or no she’d never speak to him again.

 

“You can’t force her to marry me, she’ll hate me. And she’s one of the few people in this Gods forsaken world that doesn’t.”

 

“That is none of my concern.”

 

“Don’t do this.” It was a plea. He could hear the desperation in his own voice.

 

His father looked up at him again, eyes steely, obviously despising the weakness he saw in his son.

 

“You expect me to let this family be humiliated by her instead? You have made your intentions toward her public knowledge, and if she refuses it would make you a laughing stock. Some lowly heiress of one pitiful little island turning down a Lannister!” He stabbed his quill into the ink well with far more force than necessary “I will not allow it.”

 

Of course…this was not about him. Not about Brienne. This was about upholding the Lannister family name, as if anything else mattered to his father.

 

Jaime opened his mouth, trying to come up with the words but nothing would come out. Part of him was relieved. It was not a marriage to some nameless dutiful bride. Another part of him was horrified, convinced she would never, never forgive him for this.

 

Finally he managed to say, “Is that all?”

 

The quill didn’t even pause.

 

“For now.”

 

Without waiting to be dismissed Jaime shoved back his chair, gaining his feet in a rush.

He strode from the room as fast as he could without running. He needed to find Brienne. He had to be the one to tell her.

 

She apparently hadn’t even had time to change out of her armour when the door banged open.

Instead she was stood by the side of her bed, carefully sponging the excess water from her face and hair with a cloth. Of course, she whipped around quickly as he flung open the door, too agitated to bother with niceties.

 

Her face looked torn between shock and terror, he immediately rushed to explain,  “I don’t intend to intrude and I would not if it were not urgent.”

 

He strode into the room, the door slamming shut behind him.

 

Brienne looked alarmed and backed up until her knees were flush with the side of the bed.  As if he were here to force himself upon her, he thought bitterly, though in some ways she might view what he was about to tell her as worse…

 

“My father…my father has decided that we will wed despite our objections.”

 

Her knees gave and she thumped down onto the bed, looking up at him with her mouth open. “What?”

 

There was a grey sheen to her skin, and he couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eyes, didn’t want to see the accusation in there. Instead he swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, “You can refuse to say the vows, if you wish. I will protect you as best I can from my father.”

 

It would be futile of course; his father was not one to take scorn lightly. If he decided they would be wed then nothing short of their deaths would prevent it. Jaime finally looked up at her and she looked more sad than horrified now. Resigned. And somehow that was worse.

 

“I could,” she said as if considering it but then she sighed. “It won’t work.”

 

“One flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.” He mimicked the pompous tone of a septon mockingly.  “I have no wish to tarnish you with my soul, my lady. Nor my flesh if it be against your will.”

 

Her face softened slightly and she agreed. “The vows are ridiculous, they mean nothing.”

 

Taking a deep breath he reached out for her hand, bolstered when she didn’t immediately pull away. “Here then, of our own free- will…”

 

This would be a ridiculous gesture but he felt somehow he had to make it.

 

He knelt before her, looking up at her in her bright and shining armour and clutched her hand. He bowed his head, so low it was nearly in her lap. A position of supplication, of reverence.

 

“I swear to you, before all the Gods the old and the new, that I will never prevent you from being who you are. You will still be a knight, your fealty will still be to whomever you deem most worthy and not bound by ties of blood or matrimony. I will never force you to bear children for me, no matter how much my father will talk about the need for heirs… the decision is in your hands entirely.  I will…” He swallowed, looking at his own distorted reflection in her breastplate “… I will never force the ‘rights’ of a husband upon you, unless you are willing. I will never mistreat you, nor be wilfully cruel. I will endeavour to allow your honour and goodness to make my own a little less tarnished. This I swear, as your Lord Husband.”

 

He raised his head and saw she was blinking furiously, obviously trying to disguise her watery eyes. His own vision was suspiciously blurry.

 

“Your turn, my lady.”

 

“I swear…” she stopped, frowning, looking for the words “…I swear to never resent you for this choice that has been made without our consent. I swear… to attempt at least to be a lady…”

 

He shook his head sharply causing her to frown at him.

 

“No. No, don’t swear that.”

 

His hold on her hand tightened as he explained,“I swore I would never stop you being who you are; you can’t swear something that contradicts my vows.”

 

The confusion lifted from her face and she almost smiled.

 

“Very well…” She straightened her shoulders, looking more assured now.“I swear to walk around Casterly Rock in the clothing your father despises. I swear to look terrible in gowns and be cross at you when I have to wear them. I swear to knock into the dust any and all who dare question my fighting prowess because I am the Lady of Casterly Rock. I swear to practise with you daily until your left hand becomes strong enough that you can join in on these beatings. I swear to remind you of your own honour when you are doubting its existence. This I swear, as your Lady Wife.”

 

He pulled his damp Kingsguard cloak off somewhat clumsily and settled it round her shoulders, trying to resist the urge to smile at her.

 

“You are now under my protection….well that’s nothing new is it?”

 

She picked up the edge of the cloak and wrapped it round his shoulders as well, looking a little embarrassed. “And you are under mine.”

 

Unable to fight it any longer, a full force genuine smile broke on his face and though the one he got in return was small and slightly weak, that she was smiling at him at all was a victory.

 

Jokingly he asked, “A kiss to seal it, my lady? Or a repeat performance of the sparring incident, if I may be so bold?”

 

Grumpily she shoved him, causing him to lose his balance and fall onto his backside. Surprised, he laughed up at her as she glowered down at him.

 

“Don’t push your luck.”

 

Then to his surprise after a moment’s hesitation she leant down and pecked him lightly on the lips, leaving him looking stunned.

 

“To seal it.”

 

She looked awkward and mildly horrified at her own boldness and he almost laughed again, reigning himself in at the last moment. To laugh right now would undo all the good work in her coming to him. Her shoulders were still held stiffly, her posture almost combative and she was determinedly focusing on a spot in the middle of his forehead to avoid eye contact.

 

He regained his feet and kissed her back before he could talk himself out of it. Unlike their other encounter he kept this one pure, chaste. As a first kiss between a lord and lady should be.

Brienne was still tentative, the slightest movement of her mouth on his, a yielding softness to her lips that he hadn’t experienced before.

 

For a second he allowed himself to entertain a vision of a future in which she was his willing wife all her nobility and honour, strength and purity and she was his





Chapter Text

Jaime lingered outside her door, hesitating before leaning to awkwardly press another kiss to her mouth.

 

Brienne wondered if that was ever going to change or if she would always feel anxious about which way to turn her head, how long to leave her lips against his, what to do with her hands.  If it would always be awkward and slightly dutiful in this manner.

 

He had stayed in her chambers all night, something that would have been perceived scandalous if anyone knew, but it was not what it might be made out to be. They had talked; about the situation, about what would be done, what could be done. They had agreed that upon departing King’s Landing, after Sansa Stark’s release and their…wedding, they would go North. They would appear to be heading toward Casterly Rock and then go east, to where Jaime’s information claimed the last sighting of Arya Stark had been.

Making plans for assisting the youngest Stark girl back to her mother had been fine easy, but when they’d tried to speak of what would follow, of what would happen after they were free to be Lord and Lady of Casterly Rock, it appeared neither of them could quite visualise such a future.

 

Still they had managed some kisses, some smiles…

 

There had been no repeat of the passion of the other day. Instead Jaime’s kisses had remained chaste and as he pulled back from this one, he rested his forehead against hers, single hand still tangled in her hair.

 

“I have things to attend to,” he said, moving back slowly.

 

“As a dutiful wife I shall no doubt sit and await your return.” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm but she smiled slightly to take some of the sting from the words.

 

He looked at her in such a fond manner then that she suddenly became self-conscious, dropping her gaze. There seemed to be a shift between them now, a degree of affection that had perhaps not existed before.

 

It made her feel guilty.

 

She was to become the Lady of Casterly Rock and the thought still filled her with dread even as she resigned herself to it. The kisses were nice, to be wanted was nice… but this newness, this excitement would not last. And when it was all over they would find themselves imprisoned by this new life.

 

Once she might have craved the life of a married woman, satisfied in fulfilling her duty to her father as his expected heir but after so long accepting to herself the fact that this was one avenue of life forever closed to her she had come to regard it as a dull pitiful sort of existence, one that was not for her. Still she had his promises, his vows to her, which she knew he would endeavour to keep and they would perhaps make the life bearable, pleasant even. He did not intend to take her armour from her, did not intend to attempt to make her a meek bauble of a woman sitting at his side.

Jaime had still not left, hovering in the doorway with a question on his face.

 

“I will be in the training yard if you need me,” she eventually conceded begrudgingly. Where else could she go in this wretched place but her chambers or the training yard?

 

After he left, she acknowledged to herself that she did not feel like going to the training yard. Yes, she would like to spar, to work out some of the kinks in her muscles but perhaps the news would already have spread about the betrothal. She did not feel like enduring the stares and the whispers that would inevitably follow.

 

Instead Brienne decided she would write to her father. It had been too long since she had contact with him, too long since she had even thought of Tarth. Thinking of home caused an ache in her chest and part of her hoped that all this would end soon so she could return once more to see it.

 

She entertained a picture of taking Jaime home with her once everything had happened, of presenting him to her father. It would be somewhat satisfying to show those in her father’s household who had always decried her lack of husband that she was indeed capable of making a match. And a match better than any of them could have foreseen… not an ambitious Knight or an aging Castellan but Jaime Lannister.

 

That her father had consented without first seeking her opinion on the match was frustrating but understandable.  He loved her a great deal but as Jaime’s brother had pointed out, as the heiress of Tarth she carried certain responsibilities. That he had allowed her to go to war, the last heir of his own line, it showed a great deal about his wish for his daughter to be happy.

Still, opening old wounds and old rejections that had shaped her too well into what she was would always sting.

 

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts just as she made to put quill to paper. Slightly irritated, she wondered if it was Jaime back already, checking on her to make sure she didn’t get herself killed the second she disappeared from his sight

 

Instead, when she wrenched open the door, Brienne found a page who bowed deeply and informed her that her presence was requested by the Queen.

 

Her footsteps echoed as she walked into the throne room, her eyes fixed firmly ahead. In her peripheral vision. she could see the ladies of court standing around the edges of the room, chattering.  There were some men too, but most would have something useful to be doing, too busy to simply stand about gossiping idly.  Any crowd at all, especially in here, meant one had been gathered, called together by Cersei.

 

Glancing around, Brienne caught sight of Sansa Stark amongst them, catching the younger girl’s eye momentarily. All she saw there was  a slight sadness and a kind of resigned disappointment. The girl had not expected  to be rescued and witnessing Brienne fall victim to the same trap that held her there was no overwhelming sorrow it seemed. But at least soon she would be able to tell her they had secured her release, that she would be able to go home to her family.

 

Even if the price was her own freedom.

 

She didn’t look up when she reached the platform at the back of the hall, instead choosing to stare straight ahead, her bearing almost combative.

 

“I must present to you, the future wife of my brother Jaime. Lady Brienne of Tarth.”

 

There were some muffled giggles and a sudden buzz of whispers all around her. She was labouring to keep her breathing even and her expression neutral.

 

Brienne had chosen to wear her armour despite the wording of the summons being rather precise on the appropriate mode of dress. Better to stay in armour and deal with the consequences, even if last time the consequences could have killed her. If she had worn a dress, she felt like it would have looked as if she were trying too hard to be one of them, trying to fit where she never could.

 

As Queen she realized Cersei would be able to summon her to court like this whenever the fancy took. Perhaps she would hold her here, maybe to torment her, more likely to keep her from Jaime’s side. Perhaps Brienne’s life would be at court now, at the mercy of a woman who firmly believed she had wronged her.

 

Steeling herself, Brienne raised her eyes to where Cersei sat perched.

 

It wasn’t on the Iron Throne, perhaps she didn’t dare even in the absence of her son, but the chair placed beside it deliberately called to mind the grandeur of a throne and the way Cersei surveyed the room was as if she was surveying a kingdom.

 

“It is generally considered polite to curtsey to your Queen.”

 

With all the grace of a cattleherd, Brienne bobbed her knees briefly, causing her armour to creak and rattle. Cersei visibly rolled her eyes, causing another wave of soft laughter to spill round the room.

 

“To think…you would be the Lady of Casterly Rock.”

 

Another ripple of sycophantic laughter. It was starting to annoy Brienne now.

 

“Will be.  Ser Jaime was quite insistent about it.”

 

There was a momentary quiet after she spoke and then a few stifled titters.

 

Perhaps it was wrong for her to take such fierce joy in watching the smirk on Cersei’s face be replaced by a spasm of hatred. An instant later, the revealing expression was gone and in its place, the queen’s usual polished yet scornful facade.

 

“You put too much faith in my brother, Lady Brienne. He always was prone to odd whims but he comes to his senses eventually…”

 

“I suppose he does.”

 

The words were out of her mouth before she could bite them back, scathing and inadvisable. In her mind’s eye, she could almost see Jaime’s exasperated expression after learning about how terribly this audience had gone.

 

Cersei’s eyes narrowed.

 

“I would speak with Lady Brienne in private.”

 

With a sharp gesture, she dismissed the courtiers from the room.

 

They filed out reluctantly, still whispering and casting looks over their shoulders, till Brienne was left alone with Cersei in the vast expanse of the throne room.

 

“So…you’ve won him. Congratulations.”

 

Now that Brienne had chanced to look a little closer, she noticed the queen’s eyes were red, almost as if she’d been weeping and unexpectedly, Brienne felt a stab of sympathy in her gut.

 

The other woman’s movements as she stood were slow, almost too careful and despite the absence of a cup in her hands, it now seemed clear she’d been drinking.

 

"I want to know why. Why do you get to have it all?" She spoke softly but the words carried clearly in the ringing emptiness of the room. "Why don't you have to marry someone you hate?"

Her stare was appraising and narrow as she stepped closer, lifting the hem of her skirts to walk down the steps. As she got closer, Brienne could clear see the flush on her face, the glazing of her eyes, the slight unsteadiness of her movements.

 

“Why do you get to wear armour? And go to war? I was never allowed to do so, oh no, I had to be a Lady. But you…”

 

Her eyes lingered on Brienne’s armour, shiny and immaculate. There was such longing in her gaze.

 

She’s envious of me.

 

It’s not just about Jaime but me.

 

Suddenly Brienne felt grateful for her appearance, her ability to off-put suitors. If she’d been that beautiful, would she have been where this broken woman was now?  

 

In another life I could so easily be you.

 

Cersei paused, still on the steps, giving her the ability to look down on Brienne. It felt strange to have to crane her neck back to look up at another woman.

 

“And now, you’ve taken him,” the queen went on, “the one thing that made my life less of a hell and you’ve taken it.”

 

That riled Brienne unexpectedly. Jaime was not a possession to be stolen.

 

“I didn’t take him.”

 

Cersei laughed bitterly.

 

“Ugly, wretched and misshapen as you are, you shouldn’t have. I don’t see how he can...” She caught Brienne’s chin between surprisingly strong, cold fingers, holding her face still as she stared down at it. “Maybe it’s your eyes, maybe I should have them gouged out, maybe then he’d come to his senses.”

 

 

Brienne met the other woman’s eyes, allowing her sympathy to show through.

 

“I am sorry for what has been done to you,” she said.

 

Cersei recoiled like she had hit her, her eyes wide.

 

“Don’t pity me. Don’t you dare pity me.”

 

Moving back to the chair, Cersei refused to look at Brienne again. Lacking her customary grace, she slumped back down into the cushion, her face turned away.

 

“You bore me. Leave.”

 

The words were spoken softly but with authority. For a moment, a defiant streak made Brienne stand firm in front of her, wanting to say more…

 

But it was only for a moment. She nodded her head, turned, and left the solitary figure to very deliberately not watch her walk away.

 

Chapter Text

Jaime Lannister wasn’t entirely sure what to make of his new hand.

 The armourer had done his best to be sure but it was still rather uncomfortable, the iron was heavier than he’d been expecting and the straps so tight that they bit into his skin. It felt a little like wearing a very solid iron gauntlet constantly. Unaccustomed to the cumbersome weight on the end of his arm, he had already accidentally knocked it into his side twice, causing sharp pain to flare from his stump.

 Still it looked rather imposing, which he liked. He was still rather unsure about the gold version though. What had Brienne called the idea? Pretentious?

 Briefly he wondered what she would make of this one, then felt a little annoyed with himself that his every thought seemed to jump to her. For him to think of the woman who was to be his wife was, of course, natural but… it was difficult to untangle the complex web of thoughts and feelings that arose when he did. After all, though he was fond of her and there was a degree of attraction there on his part at least, it was still a marriage neither of them particularly wished for.

 A helpful diversion appeared in the large and somewhat unpleasant shape of Meryn Trant, making his way purposefully along the corridor with a few other members of the Kingsguard.

 Deliberately Jaime placed himself in the other man’s path,

 “Ah, Trant…I believe it’s time we had a little chat.”

 It was gratifying to watch the flicker of fear in the other man’s eyes. Even so disadvantaged, it was nice to know he could still provoke terror. He let his remaining hand drift down casually the hilt of his sword just resting there, for all intents and purposes unthreatening.

 “Or perhaps we could spar? After all my Lady Brienne informs me you were very nearly a match for her, so you must have improved vastly since the last time we crossed swords.”

 It was a completely unwise challenge, of course; he was nowhere near strong enough to take on an opponent as skilled as Trant just yet, but he did not believe the man would take him up on it. He wasn’t fool enough for that.

 “I was following the King’s Commands.”

 “Yes, nearly beating to death my future wife. Very gallant of you.”

 Jaime drew his sword then, relishing the heavy weight of the Valyrian steel in his hand, the clean way he could manage to draw now without a tremble in his wrist. Trant stepped back, his own hand tensing on his sword hilt. But he did not draw it. The other members of the Kingsguard had also moved back, refusing to associate themselves with his altercation. None of them reached for their swords. They wouldn’t have dared, in any event, not against their Lord Commander.

 “I don’t fight cripples.”

 That stung, as it was probably meant to. He did not want pity from the likes of Meryn Trant but then again it was unlikely to actually be pity, more likely it was a cover arising from self-preservation.

 “Really? Just unarmoured women then?”

 Anger was creeping into his voice now as he recalled how close Brienne had come to death. That she survived had everything to do with her own skill and nothing to do with the mercy of the man before him.

 Suddenly he did want to fight, foolish as it was; he wanted to take his sword and ram it into the the other man’s stomach. To watch that sneer drop from his features as he bled out.

His intent must have been clear on his face because Trant’s stance shifted into a sword-fighting one, his fingertips pushing his sword free of its sheath just an inch.

 “E-excuse me? Ser?”

 It was Tyrion’s page, cringing and terrified at stepping into the middle what was clearly shaping up to be a fight. But doing it anyway, thought Jaime, brave lad that one.

 “Yes?”

 “You’re requested in the Tower of the Hand for the Small Council meeting.”

 That surprised him. Even though he was technically still Lord Commander of the Kingsguard he had yet to be invited to a single Small Council meeting. He sheathed his sword and stepped back.

 “Another time then, Trant.”

 

Jaime made his way to the Tower of the Hand, where the meetings were now being held. A show of power on his father’s part no doubt.  Picking a seat opposite Varys, he watched as his father entered the room deep in conversation with Joffrey. That struck him as unusual as well; he didn’t think the boy would concern himself with the day to day running of the kingdom. Then again, he could just be mistaken.

 “I believe our dear sister called your bride-to-be to court earlier,” Tyrion murmured under his breath as he slid into the seat next to Jaime’s.

 He cast a sharp glance over to where Cersei was entering the room.

 It seemed like she was sober for once or on her way there at least, as she gracefully took her seat looking wan and pale. He wondered what his sister had summoned Brienne about, hoped that she had emerged relatively unscathed but strongly doubted it. Sometimes it seemed to him Cersei collected grudges in the same way other people might collect jewellery and she guarded them just as jealously.

 Seven hells, this situation was difficult enough already without Cersei making it worse.

 He also noticed Joffrey was suddenly looking rather transparently gleeful. That was disturbing; it seemed he rarely saw the boy happy these days unless someone was bleeding or about to bleed.

 “I wonder what Joffrey is so very happy about, killed a litter of puppies perhaps?” Tyrion raised his voice so the last bit could be heard by the boy but it didn’t even cause a flicker in the expression of joy on his face.

 “Show him!”

 Tywin produced a scroll which was passed along the table. 

"We have received a Raven from Walder Frey.”

 Tyrion exchanged a glance with Jaime before accepting it. Walder Frey? Jaime tried to place the name, a Northerner wasn’t he, unpleasant little man with a lot of children, Edmure Tully had been marrying one of them according to Lord Bolton.

Tyrion read aloud, “Rosalyn caught a fine fat trout, her brother’s gave her a pair of wolf pelts for her wedding, Signed Walder Frey. Is that bad poetry or is it supposed to mean something?”

 Jaime thought he might know and the realisation turned him cold. Suddenly, Joffrey’s elated mood made terrible sense.

 “Robb Stark is dead! And his bitch mother!”

 A hush fell on the room.

 At the wedding? Surely not...if they’d been killed at the wedding, it was in breach of every known oath of hospitality. It had been underhanded.

Jaime’s heart thudded painfully. He had admired Catelyn Stark even as he had been her prisoner and she had not deserved that end. No one did. Almost without his instruction the fingers on his good hand had curled into fist.

There had been no honour in her death.

 Joffrey’s glee was making him almost manic and the boy strode up and down the length of the table, gesturing emphatically.

 “Write back and ask them for his head, I’m going to serve it to Sansa at my wedding feast!”

 His stomach turned as he heard those words come out of the boy’s mouth. Quick anger flared in his chest, surprising him in its intensity.

 “Enough!”

 Everyone turned to look at him in unison, in a move that would’ve been comical in other circumstances. Tyrion’s mouth snapped shut on whatever witty retort had no doubt been forming.

 “Enough,” Jaime repeated softly “Isn’t it enough that the poor girl’s family is dead, you would torment her as well? Do you not have any honour?”

 His eyes locked with the King’s and he remembered Brienne’s words. Had I spoken like that my father would have disciplined me.

 “What did you say to me?”

 This was foolish; Joffrey had people killed for less. Cersei was petting ineffectually at the boy’s arm now, looking almost frightened “He did not mean it …”

 Jaime interrupted, talking over her.

 “We said we would release the girl, we should honour it. Allow her to go to what’s left of her family.”

 He turned his head toward his father, caught his steady, unrevealing gaze and held it. Tywin Lannister looked utterly indifferent to his son’s suggestion.

 “All this talk of honour, I think you may have been too long with the Starks.”

 No, not the Starks… too long with Brienne maybe.

 Joffrey was still visibly seething, fists clenched. Wonderful, thought Jaime bitterly, after chastising Brienne for making an enemy of him it appears I have done exactly the same. My own son.

 Tywin Lannister flickered an appraising gaze over those gathered before his eyes came to rest squarely on Jaime.

 “Winterfell is in ruins, Sansa Stark has nowhere to go. It seems far more prudent for the girl to remain with us, now that she has no family to return to.”

 His father had never planned to let her go. It was all so clear now, it had all been a plan…a trap… and he’d walked into it like a blind fool.

 “You are dismissed.”

 

 

Jaime took his time in getting to Brienne’s door, going over and over what he might say in his head. How he might break this to her. As if any wording could make the tidings any easier.

 The first man she’d served, loved or, at the very least, desired (if he read her expression rightly when he’d bought Renly up) had been murdered in this war. And now the woman she’d deeply admired by all counts had been dishonourably killed.

 Gods, how could he tell her?

 He raised a hand to knock before lowering it abruptly.

 Cursing under his breath, Jaime pushed the hand roughly through his hair. She would despise his family and him by association.

 Quietly he opened her door and slipped inside.

 Brienne was sitting by the window, apparently writing a letter to someone. His heart constricted painfully to witness the little smile on her face as she diligently scratched away at the paper.

 Curse Walder Frey, curse his father.

 He must have made a noise then because her head lifted. The welcome faded from her eyes when she saw the expression on his face.


“Lady Stark is dead.”

Chapter Text

It couldn’t be.

Lady Catelyn Stark was dead.

For a moment everything seemed to fade out in front of her eyes. Brienne tried to rise from her chair but she felt her legs weaken unexpectedly, then give. It wasn’t a delicate faint but rather a staggering fall, coming down hard on the stone floor. Dimly she registered the pain in her knees.

When she finally regained her composure Jaime was seated on the floor beside her, his arm around her. He was cradling her carefully, as if she was very delicate, or very precious. The idea of either was ludicrous, of course, but she didn’t push him away.

She could hear him, talking to her about what happened;  about the deaths of Lady Stark and her son, at a wedding in defiance of all known laws of hospitality, about how gleeful Joffrey had been…

He kept talking even though it was clear she wasn’t truly listening.

“Did you know?”

Her words sounded curiously flat to her own ears, unemotional and detached as if they came from someone else’s lips. She felt disoriented, hollow, unsteady. It was different to how she’d felt with Renly. The anger, the deep despair, wasn’t there yet. Instead there was a ringing emptiness.

“Was that why you wouldn’t send me North with Sansa Stark, were you trying to save me from the massacre?”

Brienne remembered Lady Catelyn pulling her away from her grief at Renly’s death, remembered her comforting her. Her hands had been less hesitant than Jaime’s; a sure, steady mother’s hands used to soothing away heartache.

It came to her suddenly that she missed her father very much. That she missed Tarth. If she would not be permitted to fulfil her duty to poor, dead Lady Stark then she resolved to go home, even despite the shame and dishonour it would cause her.

Jaime shifted uncomfortably beside her, his grip on her arm tensing.

“No, I was trying to save you from a summary Stark beheading. They’re not too fond of those who aid the Lannisters if you recall. Robb Stark imprisoned his own mother for treason because she let me go, he would’ve killed you without a second thought.”

He sounded almost angry, as if any of it mattered. As if poor Robb Stark could possibly hurt her now.

“I guess we’ll never know what he would have done now,” she said quietly, still not looking at him.

They sat in silence on the cold stone floor, both wrapped up in their own thoughts, their own regrets.

Finally she took a deep breath and looked across at him, waiting till he was looking back at her then asked,

“Who did it?”

Jaime seemed to hesitate but under her unrelenting stare he gave in,

“Walder Frey but… it seems clear he had some assurance from my father. No one would be fool enough to move against the Starks without it.”

Brienne let the anger flare then, overwhelming the dull grey haze of emotion than seemed to have settled on her. It made her feel reckless and for a moment she considered wresting Jaime’s sword from him and going to Tywin Lannister’s chambers, ramming it into his heart to the hilt and watching him bleed and die as Catelyn Stark had bled and died.

She opened her mouth to shout at Jaime, berate him for his father’s misdeeds, to tell him there had to be retribution for this, something, but instead what came out was a mixture of a gasp and a sob. Tears were trickling steadily out of the corners of her eyes. She swiped a hand fiercely across her face, tried again to talk, and managed no more than another unintelligible sound. No, no she would not do this, not in front of him.

Jaime looked down, paying almost obsessively close attention to the floor tiles. He was obviously trying to pretend he had not noticed her lose her composure, unable to deal with a weak and feeble woman crying piteously on his shoulder.

“Brienne… I didn’t know. You have to believe me.”

She looked up at him, blinking desperately to clear the tears, and felt something lodge, solid and aching, in her chest. He was a Lannister…but he wasn’t just that.

He was Jaime.

“I do.”

It was probably unforgivably foolish but she did. Even amongst the haze of her thoughts, the mix of despair and anger and grief that seemed to want to consume her, she didn’t doubt him. But she also knew that this changed everything.

She started crying again then, not ladylike tears and whimpers but great wracking sobs that shook her whole body. She cried for Lady Stark who had been good and kind, and for her son who had been little more than a boy fighting a war he didn’t truly understand, even for Jaime who had lost so much of himself on their journey, who was almost a stranger to his own family now and for the first time she cried for herself, so far from home and so out of her depth.

Jaime fumbled around until he found her hand, gripping it so tightly it nearly hurt. She clung to it, like it was an anchor.

When she was completely cried out, face red and eyes swollen, Brienne said quietly,

“You cannot ask me to stay.”

Nothing could convince her to become a Lannister, not after this. She would rather die.

“I know.”

She remained still as he leant across and kissed her once, briefly and tenderly.

As he drew away her mouth was tingling where his lips had touched hers and stomach fluttered with desire. Part of her wanted to kiss him again, to push him down…to allow herself to forget the horror.

But the urge passed almost as soon as it came, leaving her feeling vaguely ashamed.

He was watching her, his eyes soft and more than a little sad.

“Would it have really been so very terrible? Being married to me?”

No, she wanted to say, even though she wasn’t sure if it was true or not. Because he wanted to hear it, he wanted her to say they would’ve been happy and that it would have been a good life. A quiet one maybe, one that neither of them envisioned certainly. But a good one.

And perhaps it would have been. Then again perhaps they would’ve killed each other in under a year in a duel over who spilt the salt.

“I suppose we’ll never know.”

Jaime opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, and then shut it abruptly, seeming to second-guess himself. Instead he nodded briefly.

“I will beg my father to push our wedding back a few weeks, I’ll tell him that the Stark’s deaths have rendered you inconsolable and that I need time to bring you around…”

He spoke without hesitation and it seemed clear he’d thought this through. Probably before he came to her, guessing at her reaction to this news.

“Then in the confusion of Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell, I will help you and Sansa Stark flee from King’s Landing. And I charge you, in memory of her mother, with taking her North to her brother Jon Snow.”

She closed her eyes, overwhelmed with gratitude. He was offering her a chance to reclaim her honour and he would not attempt to hold her here.

“And you?”

The words hung in-between them but she thought she already knew the answer.  When she opened her eyes and looked at him he was smiling slightly, a sad resigned smile.

“I…can’t, Brienne. I am needed too much here and whatever else they may be they are still my family.”

“I understand.”

And she did, she really truly did. But her heart broke just a little to hear it.





After Jaime left Brienne in her chambers he had wandered aimlessly around the Keep for some time, turning things over in his head.  He remembered her crying, the grief wracking her body as he patted her arm, impotent and powerless to help. He’d felt lost, angry; he’d wanted to make things better for her but nothing could do that. In the end, it didn’t seem like she hated him, but she was leaving him. In the circumstances he knew that he would have been a fool to expect a better outcome. But it hadn’t stopped him from hoping for one.

So distracted was he by his thoughts that he didn’t even register the fire had been lit or the shape on the bed until he was fully inside his chambers.

For a split second, he thought it might be Brienne, perhaps come to him for the kind of comfort people often sought after such a devastating loss. But the delicate feminine perfume that wafted over to him corrected that assumption swiftly.

The firelight threw long flickering shadows in the room, barely revealing her as she reclined. A log settled with a cracking sound, throwing up a shower of sparks .

“Cersei.”

She stood elegantly, firelight illuminating her as she swayed into the middle of the room, robe trailing after her. Her hair was left in orderly disarray, golden curls pulled back from her face to tumble gracefully down her back.  The robe she wore was a deep red, with a simple embroidery down the collar and was belted at the waist with a modest gold-cloth tie, far less extravagant than the usual gowns  she wore.

“Jaime.”

Even so simply attired Cersei was magnificent. She always was.

“Why are you here?”

He could see wine set out to warm by the fire, two cups. The night was cold, a bitter wind blowing down from the North, an omen of the winter to come perhaps.

A cup would be warming but just recently the hold that the vine now had on Tyrion and Cersei made him hesitate every time he drank, thinking perhaps it was in the blood to go too far with it. And he didn’t doubt that he would need a clear head to deal with whatever his sister had come here for.

She was watching him now with a calculating stare,

“You know why.”

As it was he didn’t but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make an educated guess about the matter,

“Joffrey?” A flicker in her eyes told him he was correct “And what does the King of Westeros have to say about me?”

She winced visible at his tone, so harsh when discussing someone who was, in principle at least, their child. He couldn’t help it, to even think of the boy angered him.

“You upset him, that wasn’t very wise.”

“Being wise is something I am rarely accused of.”

“He’s your son.”

Jaime grit his teeth.

“He’s his father’s son, Robert’s son. A brute and a bully who sees the world only as he wants to.”

Cersei turned her face away then, as if struck. She knows it’s true, he thought, she sees the boy’s folly as clearly as the rest of us. She just won’t admit it.

“Because he is pleased at his enemy’s death? Tell me do you really think Robb Stark would have hesitated to have Joffrey’s head taken if the roles had been reversed?”

He considered this briefly. Robb Stark had, after all, kept him in a stinking cage for the best part of a year, left him chained up in his own filth. But he’d also apparently punished  the men  from his own ranks who were responsible for the death of two Lannister boys.

Robb Stark would not have hesitated to kill Joffrey because Joffrey was no innocent.

“Maybe not. But there are ways of doing things and it wasn’t…right.”

To massacre an entire family at dinner, and if  whispers were true about  Robb Stark’s pregnant wife... It grated on his newly rediscovered sensibilities.

“Father did what needed to be done, for the good of the family.”

A small niggling part of his mind told him that he himself was no different. That he had meant to kill Bran Stark to save Cersei and her children, had meant to devastate one family to protect his own. There was guilt there for it, sometimes, in the dead of the night when the weight of his follies threatened to overwhelm him but mostly he just did not think on it. It had been an action with little thought, born of an instinct to protect. And he had tried very hard to convince himself that was different.

I will not be my father’s son, Jaime thought, and Brienne would not let me become him, not now. She is my conscience.

He became aware Cersei was watching him with a look of steady appraisal.

“Yes, ‘for the good of the family’” he said finally, mockingly “I’m sure that’s what he thought. There was no honour in it.”

Cersei said nothing but her raised eyebrows spoke volumes. She could write an entire treatise with those eyebrows.

Then quietly, with a little laugh she said, “Honour?”

He watched as she moved to stand in front of him, her hands descend slowly to tie of her robe, pulling at it slowly. She slid it loose, allowing him to see that she wore nothing beneath. In the dim golden light he glimpsed the familiar soft curves of her breasts as she shrugged free of the robe, allowing gravity to carry it to the floor. Gracefully she stepped free of the pool of fabric. His voice hoarse in his own ears, he said,

“Cersei, I...”

“Ssh,” she quieted him, moving closer. “Let me.”

It occurred to him then he was still not immune to her, not entirely. That he would probably never be immune to her. She moved forward, pressing herself into him and almost automatically his arms closed around her. She was small-boned and willowy; it felt like she had no real substance at all as he held her. Brienne was always heavy in his arms,  he found himself thinking. All muscle and power. Cersei felt inconsequential by comparison, as if a breeze would carry her away. The scent of her surrounded him as she tilted her head up to kiss him…

“No.”

Jaime stepped back before her lips could touch his.

He couldn’t betray Brienne.

It was ludicrous. She was leaving him, she did not love him and he did not love her but he could not betray her.

That sad, sweet kiss he had given her earlier in the night as he held her in the aftermath of the news had been intended as their last. But he had knelt at her feet and vowed, before the Gods if not before men that she was his wife.

The Gods might or might not exist but more than that he had sworn before Brienne and that meant something.

Hastily he gathered Cersei’s robe up and shoved it into her arms, trying not to look directly at her. This was probably an error; getting his sister back on his side would have made sense. He was about to free the girl Joffrey seemed to love tormenting and  the woman his Father had decided he would marry to save his reputation. There would be little doubt of who had assisted them, he’d be lucky if he was thrown in the dungeons to rot. He would need all the support he could get.

If he was sensible, he’d be handling this differently…

But sensibility had never been one of his virtues.

“Don’t you have another plaything now? Is Lancel alone not enough for you? You are becoming insatiable in your old age, sister.” His words were biting, bitter but cutting, a glimmer of the old Jaime shining through. Foolish to the last. “If you are in need of distraction I’m sure he would be far more up to the task than I am. I have other loyalties now, as I’m sure you’ve heard.”

“So… you are an honourable man now.”  The words were laced with contempt. There were the beginnings of a resentment here that would not easily be forgiven.

“No, but I’m trying to be.”

“For her.”

Jaime smiled a little at that, shaking his head,

“For myself, actually.”

 

“Sansa? Sansa Stark?”

Brienne knocked softly on the firmly closed door.

It was probably intruding to go to her room like this and she was probably breaking a hundred small and petty court rules right now but she needed to talk to the girl…

In her fevered dreams last night Lady Stark had died again and again, blood gushing from her throat, an accusatory look on her face, hands held toward her out imploringly.  Each time Brienne had awoken, catapulted into consciousness, she had wondered about how Sansa had been spending this awful night, how much worse her dreams must have been.

So in the thin grey light of the morning she was here, tapping tentatively on the girl’s door and calling her name.

“She is not going to open the door, you know.”

Brienne started, whirling around.

Tyrion Lannister was sitting on the floor, wine cup in hand, wine jug on the floor next to him. He’d been so far back against the wall, tucked neatly into the shadows that she had not even noticed him when she’d walked up. As she stared at him he struggled clumsily to his feet, knocking the jug over in the process. It clattered to the floor and rolled partially away but nothing split out.

Given how unsteady he was on his feet it was not difficult to see where it had gone.

Why was she a magnet for drunk Lannisters just lately?

“I know, I know. Of course she won’t open it for me. I’m a Lannister and once again her betrothed to add insult to injury.”

He gave the rolling jug a cursory kick as he passed it.

“I’m sorry,” she offered rather stiffly.

Tyrion craned his neck back to stare up at her, their height differences almost making the effect comedic.

“Of course you are. After all, you and Jaime were so very prepared to get married to save us from this wretched fate but once again it appears my father has out-manoeuvred us all.” He offered her a sardonic toast of his cup before downing the remaining wine.

Brienne frowned down at him, hating the way he made it sound as if they had jumped at the chance to wed, as if it had been a voluntary, wanted state of affairs. She honestly didn’t know what to make of Tyrion. Jaime seemed fond enough of him and he seemed far more personable than Cersei but  there was always something shrewd and calculating about his gaze that reminded her too much of Tywin for comfort.

“If you’ll excuse me I’m not in the mood to talk to Lannisters today.”

She started to turn but his voice brought her up short.

“Unless they’re my brother of course.”

Brienne turned back to face him indignantly,

“Ser Jaime is-“

He interrupted, “Jaime absolutely adores you, you know that don’t you?”

Brienne thought of how Jaime had stayed with her until she felt more herself last night. Had gone to the kitchen’s himself for an herbal infusion to help her sleep and had hovered, concern etched into his face until she’d practically kicked him out in order to get some rest. She’d half expected to find him sleeping outside her door this morning.

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m trying to say, that his adoration is rather obvious to anyone who cares to see it and that you should be very, very careful.”

Tyrion, who was watching her carefully, cleared his throat.

“Allow me to tell you a tale. When I was very young...I couldn’t have been more than four years old, adorable little chap by all accounts... my sister had a magnificent toy horse.  Not like the boxy wooden horses they sell at market for any child, no, this one was far more grand. It was painted dappled grey and had a real horse hair mane and tiny amber beads for eyes. It was a beautiful thing gifted to her by a visiting nobleman from Dorne, if I remember correctly...trying to curry favour with our father through his children, no doubt.  She loved it until one day, quite by accident, it fell from her bedroom window and broke on the courtyard slabs below. Even though it was quickly fixed there were now ugly bumpy marks across it. That meant that it was no longer perfect. Our father promised her he would have another made and the grey horse lay discarded in amongst her possessions until her septa found it. Knowing Cersei now despised the thing, she gave it to me and I was thrilled with it. I carted that little wooden horse about everywhere I went, it never left my side.”

The memory seemed like a fond enough one, a small smile hovering on his lips.

“Until one day, Cersei noticed and realised I now had something that once belonged to her.”

The smile faded abruptly.

“The septa would not let her take it back, even after she threw a tantrum. So very early one morning as I slept she snuck into my bedroom. Then later on as I awoke she threw the little grey horse into my bedroom fire. She’d been waiting, you see, there was no point destroying something if I was not awake to witness it. As I watched that little grey horse burn, as far as Cersei was concerned, I was learning a lesson.”

“You’re suggesting Cersei might throw Jaime into a fireplace?” she tried to sound unimpressed, indifferent. It was clear what he was getting at but it was ludicrous. Children were nearly always petty and cruel when it came to their toys. She herself could remember spitefully hurling Galladon’s favourite toy wooden sword into the sea after her father had told her she wasn’t allowed to play with it.

There was a flicker of amusement in Tyrion’s eyes then but it quickly disappeared.

“If she’s going to burn one of you then it is most likely you I’m afraid. What you are meant to take away from my little morality tale is that Cersei does not share her toys and she will punish those who take them. In that regard I’m afraid my dear sister has never changed.”

He examined her for a moment before shaking his head, a wry smile playing on his lips,

“You’re really not very good at this are you? Court intrigue?  You are set to become one of the most powerful women in Westeros and you haven’t the faintest clue what to do with it.”

No I’m not, she thought, I will never be Lady of Casterly Rock. I will never be a Lannister.

“And what should I be doing with it?”

Tyrion looked far too amused for her comfort.

“Using it perhaps? There are so many who would curry favour with you to get to my brother that you could already be building a positive army of spies and accomplices to help you deal with whatever brand of revenge my sister decides to inflict. She is not well liked, even if she is somewhat feared.”

“That’s women’s fighting,” she said dismissively. It was the kind of fighting you had to do only when people refused to be put a sword in your hand because they thought you were too weak.

“Not entirely. And you are a woman after-all.”

“It’s not my kind of fighting,” she said with finality.

Perhaps it wasn’t but it was being made increasingly clear to her that the moment she’d arrived at King’s Landing with Jaime that she’d somehow gained allies and enemies even before speaking to anyone. Suddenly, Brienne was extremely glad she was leaving. She might die, killed by the frozen wastes of the North or stabbed by Bandits on the road, but at least such dangers were straightforward.

“My lady, if you truly knew my sister as I know her then you would be far more afraid than you are right now.  Each day you spend here another piece of Jaime’s heart leaves her grasp.”

He slowly uncurled his fingers as if letting something float away, his eyes never leaving hers.

“And I doubt if she will allow it to go on much longer.”

Chapter Text

Jaime wasn’t naturally disposed toward planning things. He was more inclined to react to events as they presented themselves, rather than engineering them. Still, he thought he’d managed rather well with the plan for Brienne and Sansa’s escape. Horses had been prepared with supplies and were waiting in the stables.  Some careful questioning of Tyrion had led to the best route to get out of the Keep unobserved. His brother was naturally suspicious but would almost certainly be on their side once everything had happened  (he would once again have narrowly escaped a loveless marriage, after-all).

Now, as he made his way to Brienne’s door, Jaime’s only concern was that they hadn’t been able to corner Sansa and tell her about the impending escape. Not that he could blame the girl for hiding in her room, after what had happened to her mother and brother, but it increased the likelihood of things going wrong.

Still, there was  plenty of time to inform her at the wedding and she would surely have no objections to leaving…

He rapped his knuckles on Brienne’s door, barely waiting for the greeting before pushing his way inside.

The scene that greeted him caused a moment of mild, slightly amused deja-vu. Once again Brienne was surrounded by maid’s primping and fussing with her while she stood stolid and mutinous in their midst. She was, however, wearing a red dress this time, heavier than the last one and her hair had been curled into little rows of waves against her forehead which looked slightly odd if he was entirely honest. A maid was busy reddening her pallid cheeks and lips.

“I need a moment alone with my lady.” He gestured at the hand maidens and they bobbed a hasty curtsey before hurrying from the room. Now that he and Brienne were betrothed there was no  hesitation about leaving them alone, along with the looks that implied impropriety...well okay, those were still there, but it was accompanied by a kind of amused tolerance. Which made planning her escape all the easier, at least.

Jaime reached forward with his good hand and tugged playfully on the fabric of her sleeve. She twitched it away, looking annoyed.

“Red?” he asked “What happened to the blue?”

The gown was admittedly something to behold, leaving part of her shoulders and such a lot of cleavage bare that if Brienne were more blessed in that department it would’ve been positively indecent. It also had the unfortunate side effect of showcasing her scars from the bear pit still etched deep red into her skin.

Jaime rather hoped Cersei wouldn’t be wearing red as well tonight, could imagine her face if Brienne walked in to the wedding wearing something similar. He felt a kind of destructive amusement at the thought.

“As your betrothed I am to wear your colours, apparently.”

Annoyance was practically dripping from her voice and he wondered how hard she had fought those poor maids to avoid this.

“Oh dear, had I known I would have insisted they put you in the blue. It suits you rather better.”

She looked wholly unconvinced at that and he didn’t blame her. He swept a surveying glance up and down, taking in the whole unbecoming affair.

“Not that this dress is entirely without its charms…”

He let his eyes flicker downward again rather obviously. Her blush deepened almost imperceptibly and he could tell by the curling of her fingers she was fighting the urge to cover herself.  It was probably cruel to tease her so but this might be the last time he got to, the gods would forgive him if he took advantage of it.

“I suppose it’s intended to be for your benefit,” she muttered, hands fidgeting with the fabric of her skirt.

Jaime reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder. He had intended it to be a comradely gesture but somehow ended up dragging his fingertips along the exposed part of her shoulder in something that was more like a caress. The bare skin of her shoulder was warm as he ran his fingers across the raised scar tissue, moving them along the dips and ridges he found there. Her expression, unexpectedly, grew softer.

This was the last time he’d see her alone.

“Thank you.” His voice was awkward to his own ears, too much emotion in his words.

He reached down for her hand then, feeling her calloused fingertips against his, and bowed low over it, brushing his lips over the skin.

“…for everything.”

This painted, trussed up woman was not truly Brienne. Any fool could see how unhappy she was, how hard she was longing for a sword and armour. To be away from here.

She knew the future she wanted for herself and it did not include him.

Dropping her hand awkwardly he stepped back, avoiding the look on her face.

“We should get on, we have to make an appearance at the wedding at least.”

“Is everything prepared?” she asked

“The horses are equipped, I believe you should leave clothes and armour somewhere easily accessible…unless you are preparing to abscond in that gown?”

The look she gave him might have struck another man dead. Jaime merely laughed.

“My Lady?” he offered her his arm.

For a second she hesitated as if she might refuse then, with a certain amount of dignity and more than a little mockery, she took it.

“My Lord.”

 

The ceremony had gone well, Margaery Tyrell repeating the vows while staring up at her new husband with such a large amount of touching devotion that Jaime didn’t believe it for one minute. Joffrey had cloaked her and they’d waved regally at the politely applauding crowd. Now the feast was underway, people were gradually becoming merrier and more raucous, as was practically tradition at weddings, even royal ones. A few times his mind had tried to present him with thoughts about this was probably how the Starks had been before...

But he shut them out, ruthlessly. Nothing could be done for poor, naive Robb Stark and his fierce mother now. All that was left was to honour a promise he’d made.

Jaime  was leaning against a pillar, trying to unobtrusively search the crowds for Sansa Stark. He’d spotted her briefly at the ceremony but she seemed to have disappeared into the masses directly afterward. She had to be here, though; Joffrey would in no way allow her to miss any part of his wedding, he was sure of that. There was no rush, the drunker people became, the better, it would mean fewer observant eyes to note their departure.

Brienne was on the other side of the room awkwardly greeting Margaery Tyrell, looking like a foothill in red velvet stood in front of the petite bride.  He caught her gaze as she glanced uncomfortably about the room, their eyes meeting for an instant before she looked away with a subtle shake of her head. She had not found Sansa either then.

His father strode into the room gesturing at him as he passed and Jaime fell into step beside him, more out of habit than anything. Though the room was crowded, people hastily backed away as they swept toward the main table.

“I’ve been more than accommodating with that woman. Your wedding will take place next week. No more excuses.”

Tywin Lannister was never one to waste time with pleasantries.

Jaime agreed easily, knowing it would be an impossibility with Brienne halfway to The Wall. Even his father didn’t have the power to marry them in her absence. Not for the first time, he let himself dwell on the prospect of his father’s rage when he realised they were gone. It would surely be a terrible thing to behold and Jaime had to make a determined effort not to think on it too long. There would be time in the days to come to deal with the consequences of his actions. Tonight,  he would simply try and do what was right.

“She’s too dull-witted to be in court,” Tywin noted, “After you have wedded her, take her to Casterly Rock and see she does her duty. You need an heir, the sooner the better.”

He spoke in the flat tones of command, so used to being obeyed instantly. Of course, thought Jaime bitterly, it would never even occur to him to think that his orders might not be followed to the letter. The world knows what happens to those who defy Tywin Lannister, now more than ever.

His father must have noticed the mutinous look that passed over his features because he abruptly stopped walking, turning to face Jaime.

“You will do what needs to be done.”

A spark of anger flared within Jaime. Did his father really think him the type of man who would take a woman who did not wish it? Think he could ever be that callous toward Brienne?

“I would never do anything against her will.”

Tywin fixed his son with a look of cold contempt.

“Don’t be such a damn fool, you need an heir and you will get one by whatever means necessary.” His deep voice was calm and controlled, only the slightest slivers of annoyance working their way into the words. It was the kind of voice one used to talk to an errant child who knew nothing of the world.

Jaime met Brienne’s eyes again then across the room, read the apprehension and concern in them. Subtly, he shook his head—they were not discovered—and watched as she relaxed a little. It was foolish to become angry with his father now; a public argument would draw attention just when slipping beneath people’s notice was important.

“You’re right, of course.”

His father narrowed his eyes, seemingly disbelieving of this quick reversal.

“I usually am.”

There was light touch on his arm then and he found himself facing Cersei for the first time. He’d noted during the ceremony, to his amusement, that she was indeed wearing red, coupled with an elaborate gold headdress no doubt meant to remind everyone that she was the true queen.  He wondered if she’d seen Brienne yet.

“Come now, we need to greet the happy couple,”

Jaime raised an eyebrow at her heavy sarcasm but reluctantly allowed her to take his arm and steer him toward the table where the newly wedded pair were eating.

As they approached he saw Joffrey give an odd like shudder and slip awkwardly from his chair, ending up tumbling to the floor. His cup clattered down beside him, the liquid spilling out into a puddle.

Why, he’s drunk! He’s his mother son after-all, was Jaime’s first somewhat amused thought.

Then he registered the fear on the boys face.

His terror made him look younger, a child again. His eyes were wide open, staring in panic at those around him and his hands were spasmodically clawing at his throat, drawing long deep gashes in the soft skin there. He opened his mouth, obviously trying to cry out, but no sound came, only a hollow, wet gasp.

Jaime froze, staring down at the boy.

Most of the rest of the hall kept laughing and chattering, unaware of what was happening until Margaery, seated next to him, drew breath and screamed dramatically.

It was suddenly quiet, the echoes of Margaery’s scream fading out as everyone looked toward their table.

Then a murmur of sound, gathering and swelling as it went, raced around the room. People began to shout, some began to surge forward to where the King had fallen, pushing and shoving to reach him first. The Kingsguard rushed forward, drawing swords but there was no enemy, nothing tangible to strike...

Jaime stood routed to the spot as his view of Joffrey became obscured by the press of bodies.

Beside him, Cersei swayed, her hand pressed convulsively to her mouth.  A high pitched moan, like an injured animal, was escaping her throat. Without thinking he pulled her close and she buried her head in his chest, clutching him as if he were the last lifeline in a storm.

The most powerful monarch in Westeros lay collapsed on the floor in front of them in an open-mouthed, drooling, confused death, blood caking his hands.

That’s my son, Jaime thought. It should hurt…it should be tearing me up inside… more than that I’m the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard… and I just had another King die on my watch,I need to find whoever did this.

The list of those who would wish the King harm would be as long as his arm and include half the people in this room.

Grand Maester Pycelle had somehow made him way to the front of the crowd and was now checking the boy over with hands that were shaking even more than usual, “Poison, I believe…someone has poisoned the King.” His voice quivered and trembled as he stared up at Lord Tywin. The cup had rolled into the middle of the floor but no one touched it, staring down at it as if it might momentarily explode.

“Poison is a woman’s weapon,” Cersei said softly at Jaime’s side. There were no tears in her eyes but her skin had taken on a pale waxy hue and her shaking hadn’t stopped. She pulled away from him now, walking a few tottering steps towards Joffrey on unsteady feet and fell to her knees beside him, gently moving the boys head into her lap.

Her hands were shaking as she stroked his golden hair, like she used to do when he was only a babe.

For a moment, her eyes settled on Margaery, who was the picture of the grieving bride already, knelt down beside Joffrey, his blood staining the white of her bridal gown, a few tears falling delicately down her face. Uncertainty seemed to flicker over Cersei’s face, as if she was trying to decide something. Then her eyes hardened.

“…we already know someone who has murdered a King and who is not shy about letting her dislike for…Jof…for the King be known.”

She was now looking up, directly across at where Brienne was staring down in shock at the scene. Cersei’s eyes were still distant, still full of pain but there was a fire there now, an intent.

Jaime went cold. She wouldn’t….surely she wouldn’t…not over this...

“What?”

Cersei flung out a trembling hand to point at Brienne.

“Take her!”

The Kingsguard rushed up, glad to have an enemy at last, grabbing her arms and forcing them behind her back. She looked confused more than anything but made to pull away when she realised one of them men seizing her arms was Trant.

Jaime met her eyes across the tops of their heads and tried to communicate to her ‘Don’t fight, they’ll only hurt you, I’ll make it alright’ She must have understood at least a little because she allowed them to kick her legs out from under her and bear to her to the floor without putting up a fight.

Trant drew his boot back and kicked her hard in the ribs, her grunt of pain audible even over the noise of the crowds.

“I’m your Lord Commander! Stop this! Release her!” His voice was lost in the renewed shouts of the crowd. He tried to force his way through the cluster of drunken guests, elbowing people out of the way as they hurried toward the fallen King, drawn by the screams and shouts. Trying to twist past people, he was pressed so close to them that he could smell the heady wine and sickly sweet perfumes that clung to their skin but they wouldn’t move aside for him. He was trapped by them, couldn’t even see her anymore over the tops of their heads. But he heard well enough when it was announced,

“Lady Brienne of Tarth, you are accused of the murder of the King.”

Chapter Text

“Lady Brienne of Tarth, you stand accused of the wilful murder of King Joffrey of House Baratheon, First of His Name as well as that of the Usurper King, Renly of the same house on the orders of the Stark family, more particularly those of the late Lady Catelyn Stark, in vengeance for the justified execution of her husband, the traitor Lord Eddard Stark.”

The words spun round and round in her head as she was half-dragged, half-marched away from the gawking crowds. All Brienne could think was that it was happening again…this time she may not have cared for the King, hated him even, but that did not make this her doing. Her natural impulse was to pull away, to fight them, but before she’d lost sight of him in the crowd Jaime had called out to her to go quietly and she trusted that he would not steer her wrong. So she clenched her fists and allowed herself to be dragged from the room, her side aching where Trant’s boot had made contact.

Her ridiculous skirts tangled around her legs, making her stumble as the guards forced her down a narrow staircase, but even as she almost fell, she was unceremoniously hauled upright and forced to continue forward.  It was colder down here, Brienne noticed as they escorted her along the dank corridors, the lavish red velvet of her dress little protection against the cold. They pushed one of the nondescript doors open and dragged her over to the wall.  Her hands were manacled to it none too gently and then she was left in the darkness.

As soon as the guards' footsteps could no longer be heard echoing in the corridor, Brienne got to her feet, testing out how far the chains on her hands restricted her movement. They were sure to irritate her wrists after a while and she could not sit without her arms being stretched uncomfortably but it was not unbearable. With the light gone, it was inky black in the cell, she could see nothing and the cold was already beginning to bite into her exposed shoulders.

Brienne stood still, head down, taking deep breaths, willing herself to be calm.

Jaime would come.

 

“Will he see me yet?”

The look of apprehension that passed over the servant’s face told Jaime all he needed to know before the boy even opened his mouth.

“I-I’m afraid not, my Lord.”

It had been hours since Joffrey’s body had been spirited away to the sept, leaving his wedding guests milling around unsure of what to do with themselves. Some had wandered back to their food but more stood around in groups, talking in low urgent whispers. No one had been weeping but there had been worry on a few faces, the looks of people who were beginning to wonder if they’d thrown their lot in with the wrong person.

After the shock had deserted him, Jaime had pushed his way through the remaining crowds, determined to follow Brienne to the dungeons. But, almost predictably, his path had been blocked by the other members of the Kingsguard. Apparently they had orders that even he as Lord Commander could not override. Orders from The Hand, acting as he was right now in the stead of the King.

Grabbing a random servant by the collar, he had barked out instructions that his father be told that he demanded an audience and stormed off to his chambers to await the summons.

So far nearly the whole night had passed without his request being acknowledged.

A night in which he had done nothing but pace restlessly about his chamber, unable to remain still, painfully aware of Brienne sitting in the cells, trusting him to do right by her.  The horrors of the day had drawn him back, with one swift pull, to the day he’d killed King Aerys. No one had dragged him off then, despite finding him bloody sword in hand. They may have despised him for it but no one would dare suggest that his actions have consequences.

He was a Lannister, after all.

Maybe if he had made Brienne a Lannister when he’d had the chance she wouldn’t be sitting down in the dungeons, ready to hang for a murder she did not commit. That last thought didn’t remain long enough to be seriously deliberated upon before he cast it aside. Forcing a marriage on her would never have worked out well and it would have not made Cersei any less likely to accuse her. Quite the opposite, in fact.

His new iron hand was heavy on his stump and he considered unbuckling the wretched thing, tossing it aside. He’d almost not worn it to the wedding in the end, not wanting to be seen as hiding his new deformity but his father had insisted. For appearances sake.

Best to keep it on, to be prepared when the summons came.

He considered his options, such as they were. Going to his father was the obvious answer and he had been considering simply storming up to the Tower of the Hand, forcing an audience. But what good would that do him? His father would likely as not send him away, refuse to see him until matters of greater import had been settled. It wouldn’t help Brienne if he set his father against him.

Then there was the possibility of using his own influence to attempt to force a release. The title of Lord Commander still carried some weight and if the guards were green enough they might not question the orders. Of course it was unlikely he’d be able to get Brienne out of the Keep before more worldly-wise guards showed up, ones who would no doubt realise that his word on the matter was not to be trusted.

That always left the option of force, which would have been his preference in times gone by. But disadvantaged as he now was, he was unsure if he could take on one man and win let alone the entire City Guard. There was so little he could do, Jaime realised with a growing bitterness that almost overwhelmed him. Brienne was relying on him and all he could do was sit in his rooms and watch as the dawn gradually lightened the sky to grey.



It was well into the afternoon before he was allowed to see his father.

For once Jaime found him not at work but in his chambers, seated in a deep cushioned chair in front of the fireplace, a glass of wine in his hand. As he watched, a servant was summoned to taste the wine before handing it back to Tywin.

“You are taking precautions, I see.”

“Father is merely being vigilant. We cannot afford to lose him as we did Joffrey.”

For the first time he registered the occupant of the other chair. His sister’s hair was in complete disarray, hanging straggling and knotted about her shoulders. Her eyes were reddened with crying and altogether she would have looked entirely pitiful had he been capable of feeling such an emotion for her any longer.

“Get out.”

“You would speak this way to me? After what that woman you brought here has done to my son, to your King? ” It was clear to see, even despite her grieving that she was taking a certain merciless pleasure in her renewed power over him “We are discussing plans for the funeral of your nephew; will you be so callous as to remove me?”

“I will not discuss her with you present.”

She glanced across questioningly at their father who nodded almost imperceptibly.  

As usual Tywin Lannister expected nothing but blind obedience from his children and he received it, Cersei rising with a look of ill-grace and storming from the room. Had their mother lived it might have been different, Jaime mused--she might have been able to temper their father’s tendency to overrule his children. Then again perhaps even the gentling influence of Joanna Lannister wouldn’t have stood up to Tywin’s ruthlessness.

“If you have come to ask for her release, be aware I am in no mind to grant it.”

Tywin gestured to the chair that Cersei had so recently vacated and for a moment Jaime considered remaining standing, defiant in the face of his father’s wishes. But after that moment’s hesitation he sat, distractedly accepting the glass of wine the servant pressed upon him. He noted with some amusement that they did not taste his first… he was more expendable it appeared.

“You will allow me to see her. She is my wife.”

“No, she was your betrothed. In light of her murdering your nephew I think we can safely say it is annulled.”

Jaime put the wine on the stone beside the fireplace. It would not do to have anything less than a clear head while dealing with his father today, not with so much at stake.

“She didn’t do it, she’s too damn honourable to poison. If she were to kill him it would have been with a sword through his chest.”

“There were horses saddled in the stable packed with provisions, guides for journeying North and some of her personal possessions. Her clothing and armour were found hidden in those same stables. I fail to see how the evidence could be any more damning.”

Jaime closed his eyes briefly. So in helping her, he had once again damned her. When he reopened his eyes, his father was watching him closely,

“Should she demand a trial by combat I have called back Ser Gregor Clegane from the Riverlands to be her opponent.”

They would give her armour, shield and a good weapon, so it would be a fairer fight than her one with Trant and he had no doubt she would fight well. There was even a possibility she would win but the greater likelihood was that Clegane would crush her mercilessly…Brienne had too many rules, was too honourable even in combat.  

“Because she is the equal of any man you must pit her against a monster?”

He kept his tones neutral, composed but was painfully aware that this attempt at self-control would not last for long. His anger was too strong to be concealed indefinitely and any confrontation with his father would surely end badly.

“I will do what I must to obtain the right outcome.”

‘The right outcome’ meaning Brienne’s death, whether by the sword or the noose. His remaining hand gripped the arm of the chair until his knuckles turned white.

“Father…please. Let me have her. I will do your bidding every day for the rest of my wretched life, I’ll go to the Rock and produce dozens of brats and never pick up a sword again if it please you. Just… let me have her, at least.”

It was shamefully close to begging.

Tywin looked appraisingly across at his son, blue eyes as cold as Jaime had ever seen them. Of course he would see this as weakness, as foolishness. He seemed to see everything Jaime did in regards to Brienne as flawed.

“No.”

The calmness, the finality in that word made it hit all the harder. One day, Jaime thought slightly distantly, I shall look back and be able to pinpoint this as the exact moment I stopped being my father’s son.

“A new bride is easy enough to come by, one that will bring more to the table. Now that the North is won, Tarth ceases to be of as much importance.  We will have other strongholds on the Eastern coast.”

Even he knew Tarth was more important against Stannis than it had ever been against Robb Stark. His marriage to Brienne had always been more about convenience and saving face than political gain from his father’s point of view. This was a punishment… he’d favoured her too much and his father was punishing him for it, burning out his weakness.

Jaime swallowed dryly and asked,

“And what if she is innocent? And those who killed the King are still out there?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

And there it was, the honest truth. Brienne’s innocence mattered less than her status as an outsider. Abruptly Jaime wished that he were better at this, this political manoeuvring…for all he had teased Brienne mercilessly about her ineptitude at court he was scarcely superior. Maybe if he was better he would have seen this coming. Tywin continued on:

“What matters is that it is widely believed she did. And justice for the death of a Lannister must be seen to be enacted swiftly.”

He thought that perhaps his father knew who had killed Joffrey but it ill-suited his plans at present to call them out. Maybe they were powerful, maybe he needed them…it would certainly be the case if it was the Tyrells as he was beginning to suspect. Maybe they were family. Maybe his father even went along with this to pacify Cersei. Maybe he’d plotted it himself.

Whatever the reason he would let Brienne be put to the sword in their place, justice would be seen to be done and the Lannisters would continue to be feared.

“Was it you?” Jaime met his father’s stare, feeling the barely contained anger strum through him “Did you kill him? He wouldn’t do what you wanted. He was a liability. He insulted you.”

“I could say the same of you. You threatened the life of the now dead King in the practise yard after he had that woman beaten by Trant. There are many who would view his dying so soon after you threatened him as highly suspicious.”

“So rather she is seen as the perpetrator and not me,” Jaime finished coldly. His father smiled thinly at him, as if he were a dog that had just done a particularly clever trick.

“Then we understand each other.”

It was obvious his father expected him to obey, to do the sensible thing and to step back, disassociate himself from the woman who was seen as the murderer of not one but two Kings. Hopeless situations did require a sense of self-preservation, after all. Jaime knew the sensible, rational thing to do would be to denounce her.

However it was also apparent he was, alas, deficient in this regard when it came to Brienne. It spoke of how little his father knew him that he would ever think otherwise.

“Yes…we do.”

 

Jaime stood, staring down at the pile at his feet.

It seemed so small, so insignificant. Even with all his Kingsguard armour it still did not seem like very much. The signature on the papers had been difficult, coming out awkward and child-like as he struggled to use his left hand. But it was there, still clearly his own and that was enough. The sword had been the hardest decision… he did not like going unarmed. He knelt, running the fingers of his remaining hand over the intricate metalwork of the handle. His father had given him this sword, when he’d returned to King’s Landing…he’d never been entirely sure if it was a subtle jibe at his missing sword hand or merely Tywin Lannister ignoring things that did not fit into the world as he preferred to view it.

But his father would have his way after all; here he was resigning from the Kingsguard. Yet another rash and impulsive decision in a long line of the same, but if his position as Lord Commander could not save Brienne what good was it?

“It is difficult to see one’s life’s achievements so reduced isn’t it?”

Jaime looked up to see Lord Varys making his way along the corridor. He looked a little tired, as if he too had spent the night unsleeping. Plots like this didn’t simply escape someone like Varys, he thought, he would have known about it. Maybe he was even behind it. Jaime tightened his grip on the scabbard.

There was a reason he was called The Spider, after all.

Lord Varys came to stop mere feet in front of him, gazing down at the pile of armour as if about to comment but Jaime beat him to it, “When Lady Stark seized my brother I came perilously close to killing Ned Stark in a duel.  I meant to kill him, before it became an unfair fight. I would have started a war with the Starks over an accusation aimed at my brother. Imagine what I  mean to do to those who have caused the imprisonment of my wife.”

It was almost an accusation and he listened carefully for the reply.

“You appear to be very angry, Lord Commander. Aren’t you happy the death of the King will be so swiftly avenged?”

Before Jaime could even think what he planned to do, he had his sword in his hand and then at the other man’s throat.

“I will slit you from throat to whatever it is you have in the place of balls,” Jaime told him calmly, sword held casually against the soft skin of Varys’s neck. His left hand was still not strong but Varys was soft bodied and physically weak--it would not take much to carry out his threat.

Varys watched him rather languidly, apparently unperturbed by the naked sword now held to his throat. Or it would have seemed had Jaime not caught the single tell-tale flicker of his eyes downward.

“Such an action might have…consequences.”

“And I am famously bad at thinking about those.”

“Yes, I rather suppose you are.”

For a moment they both stood in silence, each searching the others face.  Jaime spoke first, breaking the quiet. “Look into my eyes, Lord Varys, and tell me that I won’t do it.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt your sincerity … I merely wonder at what the action would accomplish. You believe I am responsible for Lady Brienne’s situation? And you believe I am capable of organising so vast a plot single-handedly? Why, I’m flattered you think so highly of my skills but that doesn’t make it any more likely.”

“Very well then. Name those who assisted you so that I may subject them to the same fate.”

“Plots, I have found, are far-reaching things with many tendrils and many, many heads. Cut off one and you will find another three. Would you slaughter all of Westeros to avenge this slight?”

The blade pressed closer, drawing a single line of blood on his throat. To his credit, Lord Varys did not flinch.

“If I have to.”

His expression was odd, and there was something in it that Jaime couldn’t quite pin down. Pity perhaps, or something that looked remarkably like it.

“Perhaps we might come to a more…mutually beneficial agreement?”

“I’m listening.”

“It might be of interest to you to know that are other ways of entering the dungeons. Unseen passages that might allow someone to visit there without the guards knowing...”

“You would help her escape?”

“Oh no, I’m afraid that would be rather beyond me. No, I’m afraid the most I can offer you is passage into the dungeons, it would be entirely up to you what you did once there.”

He kept the blade at the other man’s throat but relaxed his grip slightly. Even if he could get into the dungeons, there would still be the problem of getting Brienne out of the Keep…

“And your only crime would be to show me the way in, pity felt for a poor lovelorn suitor wishing for one more night with his bride no doubt.”

“Indeed, I would know nothing of you perhaps taking the passage hidden to the right of the Western Wall. It would be unthinkable that such an unassuming corridor might take you directly to outside the Walls of the Keep.”

Jaime tilted his head, considering the strangely calm man stood opposite him. Then, slowly, he withdrew the blade, re-sheathing it and stepping back.

“This could be a trap.”

Varys inclined his head in something that wasn’t quite a nod.

“I’m afraid that you will have to trust me, a difficult demand in these perilous times, I know, but there is simply no other way.”



There was a hand on Brienne's shoulder, shaking her lightly from the uncomfortable doze she had fallen into. Her eyes snapped open and found only black surrounding her again. She tried to bring her hands down to push the attacker away but it just jangled the chains. Disorientated, she opened her mouth to cry out, only to find the hand quickly clamped over it.

Brienne glimpsed the outline of a man in armour looming over her in the dimness, and confusion gave way to panic. Bringing her legs up she kicked out, cursing the skirts that got in her way. Her foot met plate metal causing a metallic crunch before her attacker leant his body over hers, effectively pinning her in place. She made a frustrated sound and bit at his hand as hard as she could.

He gave a low groan of pain but didn’t remove it. Brienne knew she had drawn blood, she could feel it trickling over her chin, taste the metallic tang on her tongue and she felt a surge of vicious pleasure at that. If this was to be the way it finally happened then she would fight with everything she had. The sound of her laboured breathing against the restraining hand was all she could hear in the echoing quiet of the dungeon.

“For the gods sakes Brienne… do you wish me to lose my other hand as well?” he whispered low, close to her ear. The pressure of his hand over her mouth ease and she drew a deep breath.

“Jaime?”

“Who else would it be?” He sounded annoyed now, moving back slightly.

“Why didn’t you bring a light?” She hissed back, aware she sounded frustrated but the fear was still running cold through her veins.

“I was trying to be discreet.”

She registered his body heat as he leant over her again, a dull metallic scraping accompanying his movements.

The lock clicked and her arms suddenly slumped down, flaring in agony at the change of position. How long had she been down here? Brienne thought that it might be days but time seemed to pass strangely in the darkness. Long enough for her faith in him to start to waver, something that made her feel unworthy now.

With numb fingers she felt around clumsily until her hand landed on what she hoped was his leg.

“I’m sorry.”

She heard him suck in a deep breath, obviously surprised at her words.

“What?”

“About…Joffrey.”

“Why? He was a malicious little bastard and he deserved all he got.”

Brienne hesitated, not knowing whether it was right to ask about this now.

“He was your son.”

“No. Never mine, not since his birth.”

“Do you…know who really killed him?”

“It was Varys I think…and the Tyrells, perhaps. I don’t think they planned that you should be blamed but I doubt they will come to your assistance. Self-preservation is practically an art-form in court.”

She nodded a little, still slumped against the stone wall as she had been when he’d freed her. What had Cersei said? That poison was a woman’s weapon? Brienne could easily imagine Lady Olenna taking drastic steps to make sure that her granddaughter would not be married to a monster like Joffrey. In that she could not fault her, even if was a cause of action that might lead to Brienne’s own death.

“Come on. There is a way out--if we go soon then we may make it out from the Keep before sunrise. I’ll take you to the cove or the road whichever you prefer.”

Jaime’s warm hand was on her arm, trying insistently to pull her to her feet and for a moment she almost let him. But then she planted her feet, using her weight to keep herself on the floor.

 “I’ll demand a trial by combat. I may win.”

“You may, or the Mountain might tear you into pieces. Why take the risk?”

He sounded totally perplexed and she did not blame him.

“I’ll stay and fight rather than run like a coward from another crime I did not commit.”

The shame of running from Renly’s tent was still there; it still burnt brightly. Knights did not run, they fought, and her honour had been questioned that night. If it happened again…the shame would be too much to bear. Better to stay and fight than run once again.

“You would be dead by now if you had stayed in Renly’s camp. You listened to Lady Stark then, listen to me now. Let me help you.”

“You can’t. They’ll know it was you. I’ll not have you hang with me.”

His grip on her arm tightened so much it was bordering on painful but she did not pull away.

“Stop trying to nobly die for me, it’s becoming a tad wearing.”

His voice lacked its usual bite and she thought he mainly sounded tired.

She heard the sounds of his knees hitting the floor in front of her and felt his hand slide up her arm to her shoulder and then her cheek. Carefully he pulled her toward him, and whispered into her ear. “Brienne…please do not make me lose you.”

Chapter Text

I can’t walk away again, I can’t leave you in a cell again… because I might not be able to come back for you this time.

Jaime took a deep breath, leaning his forehead against hers. It was rather cold and clammy, a not altogether pleasant sensation but he didn’t move back. Brienne was making little uneasy shifts in front of him, as if she wanted to pull away, but to his surprise she instead quieted and leaned a little more into his touch.

He could feel her breath on the skin of his wrist, could almost feel her struggling with what he’d asked of her. Soft hearted as she was at the core, she would not wish to hurt him but her honour would win out, of course it would.  And if Brienne died, whether by Clegane’s sword or afterwards at his father’s bidding, the blood would be on his hands.

He ran his thumb over the surprisingly soft skin of her cheek, then down, feeling the slight indent of the scar above her top lip. He could feel  her draw in a swift breath, his own quickening in response. The intimacy of the darkness made him want to push further, to drag her lips to his one last time and prove to her how important she was to him.

But it would not be the right thing to do.

“Catelyn Stark died because she let herself believe others were as good and honourable as she was.”

He didn’t really know what had happened at that wedding but he would be willing to bet substantial amounts  of Lannister gold that it was Robb Stark who had actually made the mistake of trusting the Frey’s. Lady Stark had been a bit more world-wise than she was given credit for after-all. But Brienne had admired her greatly and if she needed to be reminded that his father had a hand in her death in order to get her to leave then so be it.

“She trusted in the laws of hospitality and my father arranged for her to be butchered. You think, even if you win, he will hesitate in doing the same for you?”

Closing his eyes, even though it was a pointless act in the total darkness, he willed her to listen to him, to hear the truth in his words.

“Run. Live. Come back stronger and prove your innocence.”

She pulled away from him then, the movement forcing his hand to drop from her cheek. As she got to her feet, he was left kneeling before her for a moment before he too struggled upright, unsure of exactly where she was until she spoke.

“And what about you? You think I believe your father will simply allow you to do this?”

It was question to which Jaime would dearly like to know the answer. How far would his father allow him to push before he snapped? Releasing Brienne when she was merely his potential wife was one thing, now she was accused of murdering the King…

It was treason and if they stood to the letter of the law, he would be beheaded.

They’ll think I did it for love, that might lead some of them toward leniency, he thought wryly. Though my father is more than likely to go in the other direction. He’ll think it foolishness. Besides the fact they’d be wrong of course.

He didn’t love her, rather… he owed her a greater debt than anyone realised.

And he would do anything to keep her safe.

“And what of Sansa Stark? Will you damn her along with yourself?”

He heard her intake of breath and knew he’d struck the right chord. Now he had to push, to be relentless. Let her hate him for it, if only she would leave.

“If you don’t escape, she will be forced to marry my brother, she will become a Lannister, everything she despises… and that will be on your head, no one else’s. Take this opportunity and you can still fulfil our promise to Lady Stark, you can take her North...”

“…it seems I have no choice then.”

There was anger in her voice, which meant she knew what he was doing. How he was attempting to manipulate her.

“No, you don’t.”

Let her think that and it would be better for both of them.

After some groping around on the floor Jaime managed to locate the parcel he’d brought in with him. He handed it to her, fumbling about until he found her hand and closed it over the string. She stiffened at his touch but took it without protest.

“It’s clothes, just a pair of breeches and a tunic.  I couldn’t get you armour, I’m afraid.”

There was a rustling as she unwrapped it and then her voice came,

“Turn your back.”

“It’s pitch black! Besides I’ve seen it all before…”

“Turn your back.”

Feeling utterly ridiculous, Jaime put his back to the direction he thought she was in. Of course, it was so dark he could very well have just turned to face her and he wouldn’t have the slightest idea. Ridiculous woman! What did she think he could see?

“Fine, fine, my back is turned are you happy?”

She didn’t answer but there was rustling and then a soft fwoomp as her elaborate court dress evidently  hit the floor. It brought to mind the uncomfortable memory of Cersei’s attempted seduction in his quarters, of her dropping her robe and stepping toward him…

Brienne would never be so bold, he thought. Had there been light enough to see in this place she probably would have clutched the material to her small breasts, unwilling to let it fall even with his back turned.

Then again, in the bath-house at Harrenhal, she had stood defiantly naked before him, seeming almost to challenge him to look at her, to acknowledge her femininity. He’d met her eyes and managed not to stare but the image was still very clear in his mind. Perhaps then she would have been as bold had they married and it had been her waiting for him that night. Perhaps she would also have dropped her dress and walked boldly unclothed toward him. She would be more shy than perhaps Cersei, still searching his face for approval, no doubt, but desire could make her bold. Perhaps her maidenly inhibition would have all dissolved and she would be the one to reach out for him first…

A hand closed on his shoulder and he jumped.

“I’m ready.”

He cleared his throat, grateful that she couldn’t see his cheeks burning hot in the darkness as he gathered the tattered shreds of his composure. It was a ridiculous flight of fancy and not at all conducive  to proper thinking.

Which way had Varys said the passage was again?

 

The stone passageway opened out onto a small stone-paved courtyard that looked familiar somehow.

Jaime moved quickly out into the open air, glad to be free of the cell. Even being there for a short time had reminded him too much of his own imprisonment. He welcomed the chill of the night, the sense of space around him once again, stopping for a moment to take a deep breath and he looked up to see the stars.

In his cell, he’d still been able to see the night sky. And feel the rain and wind, of course which was far less pleasant but still…he’d liked looking up at them. They were so removed from this world, so detached from all this bloody intrigue and posturing and worry. Right now he envied them.

When she emerged next to him, Brienne looked a little ragged from her time in the cell, her hair in even greater disarray that usual, a bracelet of red marks around each wrist where the manacles had chafed her raw and there were dark circles under her eyes. But she walked tall still, the clothes fitting her surprisingly well, only a little short on the arms.

He wondered briefly if he should inform her that the clothes she wore were in fact his own but though the reaction he would get was sure to be amusing it would probably be counter-productive.

“Where do we go now? How are we going to get to Sansa?”

Brienne was watching him expectantly and he struggled to keep his appearance neutral, to appear confident and in control. Evidently he didn’t do a very good job because her expression suddenly darkened.

“You didn’t think about how we were going to get Sansa out of the Keep?” she hissed,

“Admittedly planning ahead is not my strong suit,” he murmured in return. “And when this plan was initially devised you weren’t a prisoner!”

There was a flicker of irritation deep in his gut at her lack of appreciation. They’d only been free of the damned cell for moments and already she was looking at him like he was an imbecile.

“You know, I am risking a great deal in order to rescue you…a little gratitude wouldn’t go amiss.”

The sour look she sent him showed that gratitude might be a tall order. He was sure the heroes in ballads never had to deal with this. Their maidenly heroines swooned gratefully into their arms rather than stomping about with a sour look on their face because the hero had temporarily forgotten about the part of the plan that involved rescuing another girl.

He paused for a moment, looking around the moonlit courtyard trying to ascertain exactly where they were.

“We’re on…the eastern side of the Keep I believe. We’ll simply have to make our way west until we reach Sansa’s balcony.”

It was not much of a plan but it seemed to appease her at little.

“South-east. The training yards are west from here.”

Momentarily perplexed at the confidence she spoke with, he shot her a questioning look. Since when did she know the Keep better than he did?

“You sound very certain of that.”

The look she gave him was one he could not readily decipher.

“You still don’t remember? You were drunk, we…danced here.”

He seemed to vaguely recall Tyrion saying something about that. They had danced, he had apparently made some inappropriate advances toward her. Her blush showed that she still remembered the inappropriate bit at least.

“Danced?”

“Yes.”

Her answer was short, terse and made it clear he was getting no more information out of her.

It came to him suddenly once again that he was breaking a woman wanted for the murder of a King out of a dungeon, as a known Kingslayer himself, and how there was a chance that this action could result in his death and it was strange how at peace he found himself with that. A Lannister paid his debts and she had been the one who had convinced him to live, been his strength when he had none. That debt would finally be paid.

Maybe he would live to see who they put on the accursed Throne next but probably not. It would likely be Tommen anyway, with his grandfather as his Hand of course.  Tywin Lannister would keep ruling with a more agreeable King on the throne. Gods maybe he had killed Joffrey, poor naive Tommen would be a much more malleable figurehead with which to rule the Kingdoms. A little Puppet King with Grandfather pulling his strings. And if things went wrong then the boy would be the one to die, as Joffrey had...

He swallowed, hard.

Tommen had always been the softest of all of them; he lacked the Lannister core of self-interest and ruthlessness. And he had a kind heart. Who had he gotten that from? Jaime wondered. Not Cersei and certainly not Robert.

He’d never considered himself soft hearted but he supposed there were those who would look at what he was doing now, potentially sacrificing his life for a woman, and ascribe that trait to him.

Or possibly soft-headed.

Jaime realised Brienne was still waiting impatiently for him to make some kind of move toward escaping, which probably should be his focus right at this moment. He could worry about his impending death afterwards. Motioning to her to follow he turned in the direction he assumed would take them close to Sansa Stark’s chambers.

Once they were clear of the courtyard the danger of them being spotted was higher. Guards patrolled quite frequently along the walls of the Keep and no doubt since Joffrey’s death the watches would have been doubled if only to prove a point.

“Walk don’t run,” he muttered to Brienne as she fell in stride beside him. The natural tendency of course was to want to stick to the shadows, to skulk and hide but he knew from experience that nothing would attract attention faster. If you walked like you belonged and had purpose, most guards would hesitate to approach you. And a little  hesitation was usually all you needed.

He checked the sword at his side, wishing he’d been able to get one for Brienne.

“I know,” she mumbled back, keeping her head down as if that was going to make her anymore inconspicuous.

Gods, he was trying to smuggle the most noticeable woman in all the seven kingdoms out of prison! They were never going to pull this off!

The bright light of the moon was overhead now, but there already appeared to be a hint of grey though creeping into the sky. Bright moonlight and it would dawn soon? He could not have planned this rescue worse if he’d tried.

It seemed, however, that he had at least some luck because between them they managed to locate the window to Sansa Stark’s chamber without running into any guards and with only a few wrong turns.

The problem was it was a fifteen foot climb straight up.

“Okay so we’ll just…climb up and inform Lady Sansa about the plan and hope she doesn’t scream bloody murder when she sees us.”

Brienne cast a look across at his stump, obviously torn between pointing out the obvious and not wanting to offend him.

Testily Jaime clarified “Fine, you’ll climb up. I’ll keep watch from here.”

She nodded once, brusquely and reached for a handhold.

He couldn’t help but admire how easily Brienne appeared to swing herself up the Keep face. How neatly she found her holds on the wall, the strength in her legs as she pushed herself up. He told himself very firmly it was her athleticism and strength he was admiring,  not anything else that might happen to be in his view.

She disappeared onto the balcony and all he could do was stand there, staring hard at the railing she had just pulled herself over. If there were guards in that room, if Sansa had handmaidens who were liable to raise the alarm, hells even if she took fright at a strange figure coming into her room and screamed… this could all be over before it had even begun.

Jaime shivered suddenly, exposed to the cold air, feeling the chill bite through his shirt. He should have brought a cloak, another thing he’d overlooked in his planning.

It would be a miracle if they pulled this off.

There was a scraping sound from somewhere above his head.

Looking upwards he squinted, just able to make out someone lowering themselves over the balcony, reaching back up to help a second person as best they could.

Sansa’s holds were far more tenuous than Brienne’s, arms shaking as she tried to hold her weight, her long dress flapping about her in the wind. If the other woman hadn’t been there to steady her, she probably would’ve slipped and fallen numerous times.

Jaime hovered underneath them, wondering what exactly he would do if one of them slipped and crushed themselves on the hard ground below. He couldn’t exactly call a maester to attend on their injuries.

But it seemed his worries were unfounded as they inched their way almost painfully slowly down the wall until they were within distance of the ground.

He reached up to help the girl down the last bit but as soon as her feet hit the earth Sansa jumped back, as if his touch was poison.

It seemed like absolutely no one was going to be grateful for his rescue attempts this evening.

“Lady Sansa, it’s good to see you decided to join us,” he greeted cordially.

The look she shot him was pure venom. Gods, the girl really had a lot of her mother about her. Brienne thudded to the ground beside her, seemingly not even winded from her climb.

“Well, I suppose we should leave as quickly as is possible. I know the way, follow me.”

 

The way down to the coves was called the Narrow Stair and it more than lived up to its name. Hundreds of steps set into the rock, some so small that a grown man could barely fit his feet on them. It was little used now there were other, less treacherous ways down. It would have been difficult enough to navigate during the daytime, let alone at night.

But it was little known, appearing only on the oldest maps, thus not only would it be deserted but it was also unlikely, when the alarm was inevitably raised, that anyone would consider they had gone that way. Tyrion had apparently discovered it when poring over books for the defence of King’s Landing during the siege. His brother had told him of it when Jaime had been subtly quizzing him about routes out of the city. It had seemed too risky at that time, far easier just to smuggle Brienne and Sansa out in the chaos of the wedding and set them on the high road.

Of course that had been when easy had been an option.

So far at least they had not fallen, inching their way down the stone steps, feeling carefully for edges that were crumbling.

He hoped he wouldn’t lose his footing and plummet down to the rocks below. It would be such an ignominious end for someone like him. He could practically see what they’d write about him in the White Book ‘Died tripping over his own feet and falling down the Narrow Stair at the cove in King’s Landing attempting to rescue Lady Brienne of Tarth who had been accused of murdering his bastard son.” Well, maybe not the last bit. But death by falling was not the way he intended to go. If he were to die from this he would hope it would at least be an end worthy of a more dignified footnote.

At least with the moon full it was bright enough for them to see.

Just then, as if to spite him, a cloud drifted across the sky, plunging them into darkness.

“Hold!” he called up, as quietly as he could manage.

“We need to keep moving,” Brienne whispered back.

“Not while we’re in darkness, unless you want us to fall to our deaths.”

For a long moment they all clung to the cliff face, waiting for the blackness to pass. He understood Brienne’s frustration. Their progress had been painfully slow thus far. And the blackness was already showing hints of grey on the horizon, suggesting dawn could not be far off.

It seemed as if every time they began to make good progress another cloud would appear, blotting out their light and forcing them to remain immobile, grasping uncomfortably on to the steps, cold and fearful of pursuit. Jaime almost began wishing for dawn to hurry up, at least then they would be able to see where they were putting their feet.

It was in one of these lulls Brienne whispered to him “Jaime…”

“What?”

“What will your father do, when he finds we are gone?”

He answered her as honestly as he could,

“I don’t know.”

For a long moment there was silence, nothing but the howl of the window and the crash of the waves far below.

“Come with us.” She hesitated and then repeated herself more softly “Come with me.”

It had never even been an option, in his mind. Leave King’s Landing? Nearly his whole life he had been here, the good and the bad. And it might be hypocritical, after he had worked so hard to insure that Brienne left, but he would not run. His honour would not allow it.

“I…can’t.”

To her credit she did not push him but the wretched look in her eyes felt like a blow. Perhaps it was the presence of Sansa Stark that kept her from saying more or perhaps she understood his reasons.

Either way it did not make him feel any better

It was cold when they finally reached the end of their climb, even on the sheltered small beach, a wind blowing down bitterly from the north. None of them had thought to bring cloaks so the wind tore through their thin apparel, chilling them to the bone. It wasn’t raining at least, though there was a feel of it in the wind.

Jaime could feel the wet sand sinking beneath his feet, pulling at his boots as he trudged toward where he’d hidden the boat.

It had been hastily purchased earlier in the day after he’d formulated what little of a plan he had, a rowboat only but a large one, comfortable enough for the both of them. He’d stocked it with what food and water he could lay his hands on, it would probably be enough to get them to Tarth before they needed to resupply.

Brienne traipsed up, helping him heave the craft into the swell of the waves, both of them struggling to prevent it from immediately beaching itself as the surf crashed around their legs. A harbour would have made this a lot easier but it would be too easy to have been spotted.

“Get in, I’ll push you off.”

She seemed to hesitate for a moment but then nodded before turning to Sansa. The girl was staring nervously at the boat as if she expected it to presently rear up and bite her but when Brienne gestured her forward though she appeared to steel herself and made her way toward them. She was light enough that it took little effort to lift her up and into the boat.

Brienne negotiated it with little difficulty, hauling herself up over the edge without help. He thought briefly of her getting into the boat when he’d been her captive. She’d been so unyielding then in her armour, in more ways than one.

It struck him then how much he was going to miss this awkward beast of a woman.

It would be the purest folly to attempt to escape from all this with Brienne. Honour aside, there would be nowhere they would be able hide from the wrath that would inevitably follow. It was best to let her go alone, to stay and face what fury was coming his way head on. What else could he do? Go North with them and throw himself of the mercy of Ned Stark’s bastard son? Flee to the barbarian lands and hide from his father for the rest of his life? He’d be branded twice a Kingslayer no doubt.  This was his life, King’s Landing was his life, his world and though nothing was easy this was the way it had to be.  He vaguely remembered one of the religions talking about other existences where things were possible that could never be in this life, where the Gods rewarded those who had been pious in their lives but he didn’t really believe in the Gods. All anyone had was this one life and you had to choose your own path.

In the pre-dawn light the pale blonde of her hair seemed to glow as she turned to face him one last time. He tried to hold her gaze but it was difficult to read expressions in the faint light. Perhaps he was imagining the melancholy he saw there.

“Goodbye, Ser Jaime.” She called across to him, the same words she had used what felt like a lifetime ago.

“Goodbye, my Lady…Brienne” he called back, raising his hand in farewell as the tide caught the boat, pulling it further out.

The sky was lightening above him, the sea crashing about his ankles and as he stood on that beach watching her begin to row away he had never felt more alone in his life.

Perhaps such things could be easy, perhaps some decisions could be selfish. Perhaps even in this world he could have one thing he wished for.

“I’m a hopeless fool,” Jaime muttered to himself as he began to run.

He splashed out into the freezing water, almost falling as the waves sloshed about his waist. Had the boat gone much further he would have had to swim but as it was he managed to grab onto the side.

Brienne appeared above him, confusion writ large across her features.

“Jaime? What are you...?”

“For the gods sakes woman, pull me in before I drown!”

Her hand fastened onto the back of his tunic and she dragged him up into the bottom of the boat where he lay panting and sodden. She fell awkwardly to her knees beside him, the small size of the craft barely allowing it.

Sansa Stark was looking down at him too but there was decidedly less compassion written in her features than in Brienne’s. Gods, he’d be lucky if she didn’t push him overboard in the night and claim an accidental drowning.

Pulling himself upright, Jaime attempted to ring some of the sea water out of his clothing, as much to delay talking as anything. How could he explain this when he wasn’t even sure of his reasons himself?

Finally he looked up at Brienne again,

“Well, after considering what you said about…everything and….”

He trailed off, staring into her fierce blue eyes for moment and then tried again,

“I am now trying to keep all my oaths, I swore you were under my protection and I can’t very well protect you without being there can I?”

Her gaze softened and hesitantly she reached out to push his damp hair out of his eyes.

“You’re sure?” she asked quietly and he thought he knew what she was really asking. His mind flashed briefly to Cersei before he very determinedly put her from his thoughts.

“I am.”

And for once in his life, he was.

Chapter Text

Jaime was silent, looking out at the water as Brienne rowed them further and further away from the shore, watching the reflection of the moonlight, blue and silver on the water.  King’s Landing was gradually fading into an indistinct grey shape behind the clouds; the place he’d worked so hard and so long to get back to, to get back to Cersei and his life.

And now, here he was, running away with no plan and no idea what he was getting himself into.

The wind picked up again suddenly, biting through his thin tunic and chilling his sodden clothes until he shook. He noticed Brienne’s worried eyes on him and forced himself to stop shivering through sheer force of will. She was rowing hard, a sheen of sweat already gathering on her brow, the worry in her eyes only partly for him. Obviously she feared the same thing he did and it was what was making her row so forcefully. A large part of him was waiting for the pursuit, the one that would inevitably come. But they would have no idea of which direction they set out in and the soldiers would need to search every possible route. Maybe the gods would be kind and give them a head-start.

Sansa remained almost catatonic, staring blankly at the horizon without even a single glance in either of their directions. Which was probably a good thing, she did seem to harbour rather a large amount of disdain for him. Still, Jaime thought attempting to be generous, she probably just needed some time to realise her debt to them, they had practically pulled her from her bed in the dead of night and that was bound to be a shock to anyone. She would come around.

The sun had risen fully by the time Brienne began to show signs of tiring. Her strength would normally have meant she could continue far longer, he would bet, but she was fighting the currents and had not yet fully recovered from her stay in the dungeons. He felt a brief flare of anger over the fact he couldn’t be of use, couldn’t offer to row in her stead unless they wished to travel around in circles all day.

“Perhaps we should find a place to anchor.”

The look that flashed across her face at his suggestion was briefly mutinous and he prepared himself for the inevitable argument. But then she nodded shortly, a testament to her weariness that she did not fight him.

“Just for a short while,” he assured her, already scanning the coastline for somewhere they might safely put down anchor.

There was a slight inlet on the shore, they could stop there and get a little sleep. It was sheltered enough that perhaps they might escape detection for the moment. Then again it was infinitely more likely that they would awake to swords in their faces and the City Guard peering down at them in triumph.

They moored a little removed from the shoreline, far enough out so that they could not be attacked without inconveniencing their assailants with a waist-deep wade through the water but close enough that they were protected from the buffeting of the waves.



When Brienne awoke, sore and stiff the hard floor of the boat barely an hour later, she noticed Jaime was still awake, staring morosely back at the grey seas in the direction of Kings Landing.

“What is it?” she asked

“We aren’t going back.”

Brienne, chilled by the early morning air, rubbed her arms and moved to sit beside him. Both of them on this side of the craft rocked it a little but it didn’t seem to disturb Sansa, who was sleeping soundly half hidden under the tarpaulin.

After a moment’s hesitation Brienne slipped her hand into his, a small gesture of comfort. His skin was icy to touch and she instinctively drew his hand between both of hers, attempting to rub some heat back into it. The chill early-morning breeze whipped around them, stirring her hair.

When she looked up, he was staring at her with the strangest look on his face.

“What?” Brienne demanded “You wish to lose your other hand as well?” It came out more defensively than she had intended and he quickly looked away.

His eyes widened as they fell on the shore and her heart lurched, had they been discovered so soon? Quickly she spun around, eyes scanning the coastline for what had caused his reaction.

“Look!”

In the grey light of the early morning, she could make out a lumbering shape on the bank.

A bear.

It was strange to see them this far south, even with the oncoming winter. It was not unheard of certainly, but just uncommon. They  watched in silence as the brown creature carefully dipped a paw into the river, flipping out a fish. Apparently contented with its breakfast, it picked it up its scaly meal and lumbered off back into the woods. Brienne and Jaime both watched in silence until it disappeared entirely into the trees.

It felt like an omen, though of what, she wasn’t entirely sure.

 

It had turned from a grey morning into a grey afternoon and was fading steadily into a grey and dismal evening, with a fine, cold rain persistently falling on their uncovered heads. Mist hid much of the shoreline from view which was, he knew, a good thing in theory as there was less chance of them being spotted in this weather. It was, however, difficult to remind himself of that fact when cold trickles of water were constantly making their way down the neck of his tunic. And if the clouds were any indication, the rain was only going to get worse at it wore on.

Looking at the other occupants of the boat he noted they were faring no better than he was. Sansa was huddled into one corner of the bow, knees drawn up to her chin and hair plastered to her head. Her gaze was vacant, fixed on the floor of the boat.

Probably reconsidering if marriage to my brother would be such a very bad fate after-all, Jaime thought, grimly amused at their whole ridiculous predicament.

The rain worsened and he watched puddles begin to form on the bottom of the boat, wondering belatedly if a small craft might be inclined to sink under such a downpour.

“Brienne,” he called over the steady noise of the rain “Perhaps we should make for the shore? Find an inn?” She nodded, a perfectly miserable sight with rain running with rivulets down her face, and began to turn the boat.

It might be a terrible idea. He was unsure exactly how far out of King’s Landing they’d come. They could make their way to shore and directly into the waiting arms of the City Guard. But then surely a boat with unsheltered occupants, pushing on in what appeared to be whipping itself up into a storm would be even more suspicious?

 

He had hoped for a reasonably crowded inn, where a small if rather bedraggled merchant family might slip by unnoticed. This one however was only inhabited by a few serious drinkers, settled in for the long haul with their mead and somewhat shady groups of patrons who seemed to be sunk into their cloaks in order to avoid detection, muttering to each other. Occasionally there was a chink as money changed hands.

Even this nondescript, dank hole of an inn was marginally better than the sodden ground outside, however, and really the more unremarkable the better. He didn’t think there were three more recognisable outlaws in the whole of Westeros. Still, the rain had darkened Sansa’s hair to an unexceptional brown and he could keep his stump at least partly hidden from view.

“Well I don’t think we have to worry about them turning us in,” he muttered to Brienne as she tried to surreptitiously ring the water from her tunic, leaving an ever growing puddle on the floor around her “Places like this tend to have a ‘see nothing’ policy in my experience. However there’s every possibility they could kill us in our sleep for any coins we have to rub together. It’s a bit of a gamble really.”

He nodded in a friendly manner at the man stolidly cleaning cups, moving forward to lean on the bar.

“My wife and I would like a room please, if you have one and something our daughter would be able to sleep on should you be so kind?”

The man flicked his eyes over them in a considering manner, obviously not convinced of their ability to pay. With a sigh, Jaime dug around and produced a coin, holding it out. It had been lucky he’d remember to stash a little money in the boat. He’d almost forgotten, so used to being able to get anything and everything on his name and the promise his Father would pay later.

The little man favoured them with a wide grin then, flashing unpleasantly yellow teeth and snatching up the coin. He bit it then nodded once, disappearing abruptly into the back room.

“Daughter?” Sansa asked, looking vaguely appalled. He could see a similar exclamation of horror had probably been on its way to Brienne’s lips as well. Honestly, what did they expect him to say? A band of sell-swords with only one weapon between them? Merchants with no wares? Looking at them a travelling circus act might not have been out of the question.

“You’re lucky you’ve inherited my appearance,” he told Sansa in an attempt to lighten the mood but the look she shot back was positively poisonous. “Though apparently you have your mother’s glare.”

“Do not speak of my mother, Ser. You do not ever speak of her.”

He blinked, genuinely startled by the vehemence of her response.

“Do not address me thus where others might hear, lest you wish for someone to get suspicious and for us to be dragged back to King’s Landing,” he admonished, as gently as he could manage but he was aware of annoyance creeping into his tone.

“I obey my father.” Sansa’s face was composed again but her words were imbued with such a great deal of hatred that he wondered if he was going to have to spent this entire journey looking over his shoulder to make sure she wouldn’t stab him to death with a dinner knife.

The little man reappeared from behind the bar and gestured at them to follow him up the winding staircase at the back of the bar.

The room was everything he’d feared it would be.

There were dusty hangings on the walls, colours so faded that it was difficult to tell the original patterns and the whole room smelt strongly of damp. He was sure for the coin they paid they were getting swindled but making a scene would cause them to become memorable and that was something they simply couldn’t afford to be.

The owner, after some cajoling, had dragged a pallet in for Sansa to sleep on by the fire and to be honest, it looked like a better option than the caved in bed. No doubt they’d wake tomorrow itchy with bug bites.

He wondered fleetingly if Brienne would make an objection to their sharing the bed but only a brief mutinous look passed over her face. Keeping up the farce of a married couple and their daughter made it a practical necessity after-all.

“Go ahead, clean yourself up,” she told the girl. “We will see if we can get some food.”

Sansa looked between them and then stalked off into the room, closing the door with slightly more force than necessary.

“Could that girl be any more ungrateful?”

“You crippled her brother,”  Brienne reminded him, voice exasperated. “And nearly every death in her family can be directly attributed to you, not to mention,  your son tormented her mercilessly...”

“Yes, well...” He struggled for a moment under her stare “I still saved her from my father’s wedding plans didn’t I? At least she could keep a civil tongue.”

 

They ate their meagre meal of bread and a dried meat (one that he’d deemed it prudent not to ask too many questions about the origins of) in silence. At least when the Stark girl was gone that would lift the mood, Jaime thought. They could deliver her back to her bastard brother in the North as quickly as possible and he would’ve paid his debt to poor departed Lady Stark. Then he and Brienne would be free to…do what exactly? Go where?

He didn’t know.

Vaguely, he wondered what kind of uproar King’s Landing was in now. Two important political prisoners had been spirited away out from underneath his Father’s nose. They would probably assume a vast plot, try to root out accomplices, not knowing nearly all of it had been simple dumb luck. Maybe Varys would be hauled in as a co-conspirator but Jaime somehow doubted it. More than likely, the Spider would scuttle back into a hole and avoid suspicion altogether.

As for them, their dumb luck appeared to be holding. They were here after-all, and no guards had descended on them just yet.  

“Perhaps we should sleep now,” Brienne suggest quietly “We should probably rise and move on before dawn, to insure we’re not followed from here.”

He stood, awkwardly peeling off his wet tunic as he went and not missing the slight horror on Brienne’s face as he did so.

“What? You’ll get ill if you sleep in wet clothing,” he told her, a grin starting to pull at the corners of his mouth at the unchecked dismay on her face. Still, in order to cater to her prudish sensibilities and the fact there was a child in the room, he left his breeches on given that they were not as sodden as his top half.

She fiddled with the hem of her own tunic, mouth set in a hard line as she battled with the truth of his words. Jaime was amused by her hesitation, her shyness at times when it came to being so physically close to him. It was the one area in which perhaps Brienne showed a certain level of femininity.

Then, bizarrely she swept the straw pillows up and began to pile them up in the middle of the bed.

 

After they had hung their tunics in front of the fire and Sansa had cried herself out on the pallet and fallen into a restless sleep, Jaime lay beside Brienne on the bed listening to the wind howl outside in the dark.  There was no singing from downstairs, no laughter, none of the usual frivolity that would accompany a tavern stay. The quiet was almost eerie.

He ventured to peer over the barricade Brienne had made between them.

“You couldn’t have left any for our heads?” he whispered

“No,” came the very decided reply

“Brienne I am not going to ravish you in your sleep.”

A non-committal grunt was his only answer.

“Besides, the last time you didn’t seem to mind all that much…” he let a suggestive tone enter his voice. Okay maybe she was a little justified with her pillow wall. Not that he’d actually do much with the Stark girl in the room. There was no need to lower her opinion of him even further after all.

“Jaime…” her voice was tired and exasperated. “That was before all this happened, I don’t think repeating the same mistake would help us now.”

Mistake?

“It’s a bit late to back out now isn’t it? I mean you’re taking me home to meet your father with a daughter in tow, we made marriage vows,” he whispered teasingly, to cover the sting that her choice of words had caused.

“They weren’t binding. Go to sleep.”

“I suppose the wedding night is off then?”

“Go. To. Sleep.”

 

Chapter Text

When Brienne woke, the first thing she noticed was that her pillow wall seemed to have fallen during the night, it’s building blocks now dispersed all over the bed. The second thing was that there was an arm wrapped around her waist, a leg thrown casually over her thigh and Jaime was nestled up to her back as if this were an everyday occurrence.

She shifted, starting to sit up, but his grip on her tightened and he pulled her back into his chest, murmuring something into her neck. Blushing, she irritably attempted to remove his grip which was surprisingly strong for a man with only one hand. Next time, he was definitely sleeping on the floor, whether they were pretending to be a married couple or not.

"Jaime," she whispered, giving up on rising without waking him, "We need to rise.”

"Shhh . . ." he mumbled irritably, half conscious, "Go back to sleep . . ." And with that, he buried his face into her neck, letting out a quiet sigh. His breath stirred the fine hairs on the back of her neck, making her shiver.

Brienne grit her teeth and detached him with more force this time, bringing her strength into play to pry his hand from her waist. His eyes flickered but within moments he was soundly asleep again, hair tousled, arm now flung out above him on the pillow. She could still see the healing mark where she’d bitten him in the dungeon, thinking he was a guard. The motion had caused the sheet to slip down, baring a large portion of his torso in the thin grey light of dawn and she couldn’t help her gaze lingering there.

Part of her had to admit he was a beautiful man.

It made her feel oddly privileged to see him so unguarded, so vulnerable. When he had slept on their journey to King’s Landing Brienne could remember there being a tenseness in him, a caution that meant had she watched him for more than a moment he would’ve woken expecting an attack. But there was none of that apprehension now, he trusted her enough to sleep next to her, unarmed and defenceless.

She settled down beside him again, leaning on her folded arm and giving into the temptation just to watch him for a moment. Acting on impulse, she reached out and pushed a few wayward strands of hair from where they had fallen into his face. It was a tender gesture and she knew the look on her face was sure to be one she would have never allowed him to witness waking.

Jaime shifted, reaching up sleepily to scrub at his face and then settled again, snoring softly now. Brienne gently lowered her hand, allowing it to rest tentatively on his shoulder only letting her fingertips to touch his hot bare skin. She bit her lip. It was just his shoulder. If he woke surely he would not object to her laying a hand on his shoulder, she had done it a hundred times before over his tunic. Yet, there was a tingle of excitement in her, the first stirrings of something in the region of her belly.

This didn’t happen often to her, even when Jaime had kissed her impulsively on the floor of his chambers; the nerves, the disbelief at the whole situation, had tempered any such feeling. Each time her desire had been moderated by something else. But now he was asleep and there was no need for her to feel the self-consciousness and the worry. There was no distraction and she was aware of the rapid thread of her pulse as she pressed tentatively closer to him, feeling the warmth he gave off, her face level with his now. For a few seconds, her good sense fought with her baser urges and she found she almost itched to touch him again. To run her fingers down his chest, to kiss him….

Brienne took a deep, unsteady breath and pulled back the hand she’d laid on his arm, clenching it into a fist. Her eyes flickered over his face, looking for the tell-tale signs of wakefulness. This was ridiculous; they were away from King’s Landing now, there were no vows to hold them any longer. They could be partners again, comrades in arms and that was what he would want. All he would want. This journey was not about any silly girlish dreams she might harbour. It was about their honour and reuniting poor Sansa Stark with what was left of her family.

She pressed a hand to her cheek, feeling the burning heat of the skin there, then abruptly rose, throwing aside the covers. Moving quietly so as not to disturb the still sleeping Sansa, Brienne made her way to the window and opened it wide, letting the cold air wash over her burning cheeks and cool her blood. The sky was just beginning to lighten and they would have to leave soon.

She needed to stop this foolishness. To remember she was a knight, not a maiden, to blush and simper over a handsome man who paid his attentions to her.

Gathering what little of her clothing she’d removed before bed last night, she dressed quickly, casting a longing look at the breastplate and sword Jaime had been wearing the previous day, feeling under clothed without any armour. But a woman in armour would only draw attention they could not afford. With a heartfelt sigh, she turned away.

Before putting on her boots Brienne reached in and pulled out the treasure she had stashed there the night before.

The necklace.

It seemed foolish to bring it along; they were playing at being smallfolk after-all but she’d been carrying it with her ever since the night Jaime had given it to her and now it almost felt like a talisman. Carefully, Brienne tucked it beneath sight in her shirt, hoping she would never have to explain its presence to him.

She turned back to the bed, staring down at him speculatively for a moment before abruptly turning and shaking Sansa awake instead.

“My lady, we need to rise.”

 

In his half-awake state, Jaime heard Brienne chivvying Sansa into getting up and dressed. He’d been lying still, his eyes closed since she’d rather forcefully detached his grip on her and escaped his arms.

He hadn’t shared a bed with a woman for many, many years. After her marriage, nearly all of his trysts with Cersei had been hurried, secret moments snatched whenever they could, the possibility of being caught in a compromising position had practically demanded haste. So it had been nice just to lie in the half-conscious state between waking and sleeping and feel Brienne in his arms. Of course as soon as she’d woken she’d pushed her way free, but then…

She had hovered next to him, so close he could feel the heat from her body once again and carefully rested her fingertips on his shoulder. Just her fingertips. He had felt the weight of her stare on him and for a moment he’d wondered if she was going to kiss him. Had felt himself suspended between wanting to open his eyes  and being utterly afraid to move for fear of driving her away.

But predictably, and much to his disappointment, she’d risen instead and gone about the task of dressing. Leaving him continuing to feign sleep to avoid causing her embarrassment, listening to the sounds of her and Sansa packing up their things.

“Jaime,”  she raised her voice, obviously intending to wake him. “We’re going to see if we can obtain supplies from the kitchens.”

He waited until he heard the door bang shut behind them before he sat up, blinking in the semi-dark of the room. The few embers that remained of the fire cast a dim circle of orange light onto the floor and though he could still see stars, the sky outside the window was lightening quickly. Brienne had been right, they did need to rise. To tarry here would be foolish.

He pulled on his shirt, wincing at the feel of the still damp fabric against his warm skin. They would need to acquire more appropriate clothing if they were to be convincing as a family of smallfolk. Last night, soaked through and in the dark they might have just gotten away with the fine fabrics but if they planned to continue their journey, it would probably be wise to avoid having to explain how people of such lowly station were wearing such finely tailored clothes.

Voices carried up to him from the open window and he froze in the act of pulling on his boots. Who would be about this early? And shouting without regard for those in the inn still abed?  For a moment he sat stock still, fighting a rising panic and the fear gripping his heart.

Then he gained his feet and ran to the window, just in time to catch a glimpse of a gold cloak catching the early morning light.

The City Guard were in the streets.

Jaime swore under his breath.

 

No one had been in the kitchens when they’d got there, which Brienne thought a little strange. Her experience from Evenfall Hall was that kitchens were always a hub of frantic activity before sunrise, what with bread to be baked and breakfasts to be served. Still, maybe this inn was not the sort to cater to its guests that way.

They liberated some slightly stale bread from the sparsely stocked larder along with some more of the dried meat and some apples. Sansa counted out the coins onto the worktop, worrying about leaving the correct amount and if the cook would be the one to find them.

“What if someone stole them?’  she had asked, endearingly concerned.

As they walked slowly back to the room, being careful not to bump into things in the dark, unfamiliar corridor Sansa asked her, “where are we heading, Lady Brienne? You didn’t say when you…when we escaped. ”

It struck Brienne then that this girl had willing run away with two people who were for all purposes complete strangers to her. How badly must she have hated her life in King’s Landing to take such a risk?

She was very brave.

“To Tarth to resupply and find a ship.”

Sansa frowned at her. “Tarth is South.”

“Yes, but it is my father’s house. We will find shelter and a ship there. To take us North, to your brother Jon.”

Of course Tarth was also one of the first places they were going to look for them, they would not find safety there for long.  But there was nowhere else that they could be assured of finding assistance.

“Do you… have any sisters or brothers, Lady Brienne?”

There was a sad look in her eyes as she asked this and Brienne was reminded that she’d only just lost three of her brothers, along with her mother and father.

“No. Once, I did but…they died.”

She’d only been four when her brother Galladon had died, but his death was clear in her memories, the image of her father’s men pulling his body out of the sea seemed to have been seared there permanently. The others, her sisters, had died in their cradles before she had been born so she had never known them but Galladon…he had been her childhood companion, sometimes tormentor as brothers were wont to be, but also a protector and a confidante.  His death had changed her.

“I wonder where my sister is,” Sansa said in a small voice, breaking her out of her thoughts “I... wonder if she is safe.”

Brienne swallowed dryly, she had been so focused on one Stark daughter that she could reach that the youngest had barely entered her thoughts. Poor little Arya Stark, lost in the confusion following her father’s death. Who knew what horrors might have awaited a child so young? Jaime had said his sources had placed her heading North. Perhaps after they had delivered Sansa to the protection of her brother, they could pick up the trail of the other Stark girl.

“We’ll find her, my lady. The vow we swore to your Lady mother was to have you both safe and once you are with your brother then we will find your sister, I swear it to you.”

“He won’t.” There was no need to ask who she spoke about.

“Ser Jaime…”

Sansa shook her head, refusing to listen, “He’s only doing this to impress you.”

Brienne almost laughed at the idea.

“He is not.”

It was difficult to explain Jaime’s motivations to someone who had absolutely no faith in his honour, to explain that she had made him take the vow to get both Stark girls home when she had fully expected to die and he had taken it as her final request. That her survival, through his assistance, didn’t make that vow any less meaningful to either of them. She had sworn to Lady Catelyn and Jaime had in turn sworn to her.

They would get them home.

“He is. He doesn’t care about me or my sister. He’s a Lannister.”

“That’s not all he is.”

 

From the window in their room Jaime could see next to nothing of the streets below, so he rushed into the corridor, throwing open the window at the end.  He manoeuvred himself around to look out at the stable yard, straining his eyes to try and catch a glimpse of the gaudy gold cloaks that marked out the City Guard. The roof of the kitchen below obstructed his view but he could just about see men milling around, horses whinnying and huffing. There could be no other reason for them to be here.

“Jaime?”

Brienne was paused, at the top of the stairs, looking rather perplexed as to why he was leaning so far out of the window, Sansa Stark peering around her broad frame.

“They’ve found us,” he hissed “We need to go, now.”

Her eyes widened in horror and she grabbed the Stark girl by the hand. He was already forcing the window up further to create a big enough opening for them to climb through. There was no point trying to go out by any of the doors. The City Guard were not known as King’s Landing’s best and brightest but even they knew to cover the exits when looking for outlaws. Still, if they could manage to get across the kitchen roof and onto the stable there was a chance, however slim, they could slip down the other side unnoticed.

“Sansa first,” she whispered, gently pushing the girl forward.  Sansa allowed herself to be helped over the window ledge and lowered onto the uneven roof of the tavern kitchen below.

Brienne climbed out next, settling noiselessly on the tiles and glancing back up at him.

Jaime slid out after them, and though it was awkward without his hand, managed to lower himself down fully onto the roof. The cold rain from last night was starting up again, making it slippery and treacherous but he managed to find some purchase on the tiles

He looked to his left where Brienne and Sansa were edging along, intending to tell them to be careful.  Brienne laid a sudden hand on his arm, the insistent pressure making him snap his mouth closed again. Her eyes were trained on the narrow bit of alley that was visible between the stables and the kitchen roof. He followed her line of sight and had to resist the urge to swear under his breath.

Seven hells, they’d left guards posted outside.

He looked over to where Brienne was edging along the roof toward the edge, blue eyes large in her drawn and pale face. They would have orders to drag him back to the Keep, kicking and screaming like a petulant child, to face punishment. His father would have Brienne put to the sword and they would all pretend she had never existed.

Oh Tyrion, brother, I understand your pain so much better now and I am sorry for my part in it, he thought bitterly.

It was getting difficult to move along quietly. The roof was far more slanted than it had appeared from the window not to mention wet from the rain. Jaime had barely crawled along another inch when he lost his footing and skidded forward, skinning his leg in the process. He dug in the fingers of his remaining hand and his boots just in time to stop himself from sliding right over the edge and onto the heads of the guards below.

His scrabbling feet accidentally kicked a tile loose.

They all watched, horrified as it slid slowly down the roof and tumbled to the cobbled streets below.

Chapter Text

Lord Tywin had ordered them to ride hard to the South-East, had told their superiors that it was likely the Tarth woman would come this way by water or on foot. Arton was just glad they hadn’t put him in the party riding north, the days already seemed to be getting colder and he had absolutely no desire to tramp about all over the wretched Northlands looking for The Hand’s son and his whore. Bad enough they had to go looking for them anyway, they were the City Guard after-all. This was soldiers work by rights.

No one could quite agree on what happened to make Jaime Lannister flee, there was no official version from his family just yet. Some people said he’d helped kill the King, to kill his own nephew, though no one could really say why except perhaps maybe he was blinded by love for his betrothed. But Arton had seen the Tarth woman one time he’d been in Keep for training and she wasn’t the type for any man to lose their head over. Had it been the Stark girl, he could’ve understood it… she was pretty, he’d given her a far longer look than it was safe for a man of his low standing to give a noblewoman when he’d happened upon her walking in the sunshine. But Lady Tarth was dour, masculine and huge.

On the road, they’d met some travellers who’d seen a group matching their description in an inn a few hours ride away. It had felt like fate had intervened on their behalf, giving them this glorious opportunity to be the ones to recapture them.  And since Lord Tywin was sure to be grateful (everyone knew the Lannisters were wont pay their debts in gold) Arton felt a lot more cheered than he had since being turned out from his bed to begin this insipid hunt.

It would be no arduous task to recapture two women and a cripple, of that he was certain. Some of the stupider fellows in the guard had been nervous. The cripple in question was, after-all, Jaime Lannister.  The man had been a legend, an idol to many a young boy with a sword.  Ruthless, precise, any blade in his hand flashing quick and vicious as a Mereen viper.

But now he had been maimed and no one had seen the famed Kingslayer fight since. And with good reason. What possible good could a knight be without his sword-hand?

It didn’t stop Arton from checking his sword as they closed in on the ramshackle inn, however.

“You two, stay outside,” their leader growled under his breath. “They’re probably still asleep but if they come out, you can kill his whore if you have to but Ser Jaime and the Stark girl are to be left alive.”

Everyone else filed in, leaving him and… the one who looked Dornish but wasn’t, apparently. Had a temper on him. He considered asking him but his name didn’t matter, not really. They positioned themselves in front of the entrance, eyes searching the still dark courtyard.

There was a shattering sound behind them and they both turned, drawing their swords on instinct.

“Just a tile,” his not-Dornish companion said, relaxing and re-sheathing his sword.

“Yes, but why’d it fall?”

“Looks like this inn’s falling apart, why’d you think?”

Arton wasn’t convinced. Cautiously, he began backing into the courtyard, intent on getting a better look at the roof.

There was a further clattering and, to their surprise, the Kingslayer landed awkwardly in front of them, almost falling to his knees. Gods, was this the golden Jaime Lannister? The man in front of them had days’ worth of beard, his shoulders stooped and his  hair tangled. He didn’t anything look like the shining noble knight of legend. He didn’t even look like a Lannister.

The Kingslayer straightened up, smiling at them.

“I think the best thing for you two to do would be surrender.”

The cultured voice carried that undeniable, bloody, air that everyone should do as he said. All the damn nobles were the same. You could dress them in rags but they’d still act like they owned you.

“I think,” his partner said slowly with an air of smug satisfaction, “that the best thing for us to would be to call the other guards. Not meanin’ to disparage your assessment of the situation, m’lord, but you mightn’t see how one unarmed, handless man be a threat to the likes of us so I think we’ll be takin’ you back to King’s Landing now.”

“Yes, I can see how you’d think I was no threat to two such fine, upstanding members of the City Guard...”

The mockery in the tone was clear and Arton grit his teeth, wondering exactly how much trouble he’d get in for punching the uncle of the King.

It probably wasn’t worth it.

Probably.

If it was even possible, the Kingslayer’s infuriating smile widened even more.

“...but you see, it’s not me you should be worried about...”

There was a soft sound behind them and Arton’s not-Dornish partner half-turned. The sword cut his throat before he could even cry out, red pouring down the front of his armour.

It was the damned whore!  Arton fumbled his sword out just in time to block the blow she brought crashing down on him. Gods, but she was strong! And fast!

The next second, she’d feinted to the left, and then the right, and then… it was over too quickly.

He felt the sword grate against his ribs as she wrenched it out from his chest. Blood splattered onto the wet ground.

“Oh!” Arton let out a small sound of surprise.

He didn’t finish falling to his knees before everything went black.



“How do you think they found us?” Jaime questioned later, when they were trudging their way with their stolen horses through the woodland in what they hoped was the right direction. “Do you think it was pure dumb luck or did we give ourselves away somehow?”

“Both, probably.”

Brienne was pushing aside the worst of the branches, assisting Sansa through. The girl was more wary of her now, which pained Brienne a little, but killing those men had been the only option short of allowing themselves to be dragged back to King’s Landing. If they ever caught up to them again, they would have yet another charge they could level against her.

Her mare huffed noisily, butting at Brienne with her nose as if reproaching her for the dreadfulness of their surroundings. She was a fussy thing, Brienne thought fondly, bred for the City streets rather than the countryside, more of a status symbol rather than used for the actual purpose of riding. In a way, the animal reminded Brienne of Jaime, who would doubtless none too pleased to discover her comparing him to a dappled palfrey.

The horses were, of course, impossible to ride with the trees this densely packed but it had made sense to take them. They couldn’t travel by boat and Tarth was still many leagues south. They’d also set the others loose, hoping to create a distraction while they left.  It hadn’t been the most elegant escape attempt in the world but it had worked.

“Well it was certainly luck that let us escape,” Jaime muttered, seemingly accidentally voicing her thoughts back to her “Had we still been abed…well I doubt it would’ve ended well.”

“We cannot keep relying on luck,” Brienne said firmly. “From now on, we have to be careful.”

“Which means camping I suppose,” Jaime sighed, looking down in distaste at the deep drifts of wet leaves he was traipsing through. “Not that the beds in that excuse for an inn were much better, but at least they were dry.”

Brienne grunted her agreement, too involved with preventing her horse from stumbling down a riverbank to reply.  Next to her, Sansa was still struggling along valiantly, her silk skirts snagging on the undergrowth.

It was far too slow-going to feel safe.

At least she had a breastplate and a sword now, both taken from the city watchmen she had felled back at the inn. More than anything, it made her feel like herself. They’d given Sansa the other guard’s sword and she wore it awkwardly on her slim hips. Should they be attacked, the poor girl would have no idea how to use it. Maybe if they had time on the journey Brienne would teach her some basic techniques.

The likelihood they’d be attacked was higher now than ever, after all. Before Lord Tywin’s search parties had been uncertain of the direction they were heading. Now they would doubtless concentrate their efforts on the inn and its surrounding area.  These woods were thick, but they had to stick to the edges as getting lost without supplies would be disastrous and she had no intention of saving Lord Tywin the job of killing them. All he would have to  do was surround this area of woodland….

“Sansa, can you see the coastline?” she called to the younger girl, who’d managed to get a little ahead of her now.

“Yes I can see ships…”

Frowning, Brienne fought her way through the clinging foliage to stand beside Sansa. Ships! This could either be their salvation or their downfall. Lord Tywin didn’t have a fleet but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have hired pirates to track them. On the other hand, if these were merchant vessels they might be open to bribery and might provide a direct passage to Tarth.

Sansa was right, there were ships not too far out and it looked like they’d put down anchor and were sending some boats ashore. That put Brienne on her guard. There were no harbours or even towns of note around here. Why would they be coming ashore? Smugglers, perhaps?

Brienne squinted at the sails for a moment before drawing in a sudden breath.

“Those ships…” she gasped, dropping her horse’s reigns and starting to run. Behind her she could hear Jaime calling her but she had to be right, it had to be…

Careening out of the forest, the Maid of Tarth practically flew down the beach until she reached the party coming ashore.

Brienne froze, staring up at the figure who was stepping off of the boat.

“Father.”

 

Chapter Text

Lord Selwyn Tarth was a large, imposing man who had started to go to a little to seed, but it was still obvious he must have been a warrior in his youth—the  impressive collection of scars and a nose that had clearly been broken more than once showed as much. As they got closer, Jaime could see even more similarities between Brienne and her father, a big man in every way—hands, chest, shoulders, height, width, it was not difficult to see how he’d sired a woman of Brienne’s impressive stature.

Jaime had wondered more than once in his idle moments if all Tarths were as tall and blonde as she was, had imagined a family of gigantic proportions. While he’d apparently been right on the height, her father was darker than Brienne, with hair that was mostly grey now but with occasional streaks of brown to show its original colour, and a beard to match. There was a certain wild look about him that made him think of Northmen, but the hair and beard were kept short, in the more Southern style.

Still,  Jaime could ill-imagine him at court, he looked like he’d be more at home mowing down hordes of intruders than subtly politically manoeuvring.

Jaime wondered if he should formally bow but was saved the hassle of deciding himself when Brienne nudged him, sweeping into a perfect knight’s bow in the sand before the man. Slightly amused, he followed suit, leaving Sansa to curtsey behind them.  It was a courtesy to bow, since no social rules said he had to show deference to such a minor Lord. Still he supposed it was wise to show respect to their rescuer and the father of his ‘wife’.

“Rise, all of you.”

Lord Selwyn gestured them up, and Jaime met the other man’s gaze for the first time. His eyes were a piercing blue that seemed to look straight through him. Different from Brienne’s…steelier in a way, darker, but not without some kindness.

He turned to his daughter while she was still rising from her bow, and smiled.

“As a lord, I appreciate that you must bow before me. As a father, I’m afraid I must demand that you come here and embrace me.”

With an answering smile Brienne walked forward and threw her arms around her father, who actually succeeded in lifting her off the sand a few inches when he returned it.

Jaime felt a curious stab of jealousy run through him, though he couldn’t be quite sure of the reason. The difference in his own homecoming perhaps, when he’d returned to King’s Landing to find his father seemingly indifferent to his arrival.

“Forgive me for interrupting your reunion, but how did you find us so quickly?”  The older man set his daughter down and turned to him, raising an eyebrow. Jaime hastened to explain: “If you can find us so easily, then my father surely can too.”

Lord Selwyn let his daughter go entirely then, but she remained stood by his side.

“I know my daughter, Ser, I know the path she would take home. Tales were brought to me of a near capture at an inn this morning, and I headed in this direction. I had intended to take my party on the South Road to catch up with you, but fortune favours us, it appears.”

“You put yourself in grave danger by assisting us, I thank you for it.”

In return for his courtesy, Jaime received a hard-eyed stare which made him feel a little taken aback.

“I don’t do it for you, boy. My only child stands accused of murder, to be given over to the executioner. Do you think I would sit idly by?”

It had actually never crossed  Jaime’s mind that Brienne’s father would even attempt to come to her aid. Everyone in the Seven Kingdoms knew that to cross Tywin Lannister was a death sentence,  to even attempt it was to see your family wiped out, your lands seized…

But Lord Selwyn had no other family, did he? Only Brienne.

“Most men would. My father…”

“Is a terrible man, that’s for sure, feared and without mercy.”

When Lord Selwyn looked at him, there was such resentment and anger in the  man’s eyes that Jaime suddenly felt the weight of his own father’s reputation weighing heavily on his shoulders. Was he regretting ever agreeing to allow Brienne  be betrothed to a member of such a family?

“I don’t defy him lightly, but for my only daughter I would defy the gods, if need be.”

 

Brienne had been three, perhaps four when her father had first taken her out on the boats. There had been fear at first, then pride as he allowed her to assist him with the sails, and a giddy breathlessness as they caught the wind. She could clearly remember her father’s tempered, tolerant face when she’d demanded with a child’s persistence to know how everything worked, how she’d tottered from one end of the small craft to the other on unsteady legs, with him following closely behind lest she go too near the edge. She’d learnt to sail before she’d learnt to ride, muscles forming early from the pulling of the sails, the drag of the oars.

As she stepped from the small boat onto the ship, she could see birds  wheeling, crying loudly about the high masts, could taste the salt in the air, feel the breeze, see the white clouds scudding by overhead, and feel the deck move under her feet. It almost felt like she was home already.

Her father moved to stand next to her, taller than her still but less tall than he always was in her memories. She would never think of him as anything less than the giant of a man he’d been to her as a child.

He spoke briefly to the captain, arranged for Jaime and Sansa to be taken to their quarters, and then gestured for her to follow him to his own.

Once the door closed behind them, he sighed, as if releasing the weight of command from his shoulders. A warm smile crinkled his features, and he pulled her into a second hug.

Brienne hugged him back fiercely, crouching slightly so she could tuck her head beneath his chin. She closed her eyes and pushed her face into the worn leather of his jerkin, taking in the familiar scents of smoke and sea that clung to him.

“You are unharmed?”

His voice was full of concern, aching with it. She tightened her grip.

“I’m fine. I’m fine, father.”

“Thank the gods, thank all of them…I thought I would be too late, thought I could do nothing even if I got there in time. If you had died…” his voice broke, shuddering to a halt. “I could not have borne it, Brienne. You are all I have left of them.”

Mother. Galladon. Arianne. Alysanne. All of them gone now.

With some reluctance, it seemed, he let her go, holding her at arm’s length for a moment to gaze at her fondly, before turning to move toward the table set out in the middle of the room.

His movements were heavier now, Brienne noticed, and she could see he was favouring his right leg where his left one still pained him. No healer had ever been able to do anything for it. It seemed worse than when she’d left, the colder weather probably doing little to help the old injury. In the privacy of his cabin, her father suddenly seemed smaller, older, wearier.

An old man, out his depth.

She remembered their house words then: ‘We Stand Alone’. Emblazoned under their crest in the great hall at Evenfall. Meant, no doubt, to call attention to Tarth’s position outside of the mainland, of how it stood a lone defender between Essos and Westeros. But her father had pointed out to her when she was very small that to stand alone was to be vulnerable. That’s why you needed to be honourable, he’d said, to let people know you could be trusted, to gain allegiances.

To stand alone was to possibly fall alone.

She watched as he sat heavily in the nearest chair, stretching out his bad leg in front of him with a grimace. The table was covered in correspondence, missives penned in his familiar scrawl, almost illegible to those who did not know how to decipher it. Before she’d left for Renly’s camp, left to make a name for herself as a knight, she’d been writing more and more of his letters for him, to avoid the mishaps that tended to follow when people misread his writing. They did not need another incorrect shipment like the one of hundreds of onions. She never wanted to taste onion soup again

Brienne could read it easily, however, and her eyes lingered on the letter on top of the pile, the heartfelt entreaty for help. Addressed to the only remaining Baratheon, the only one of their old liege lords still living.

Gritting her teeth, she tried to push away the wave of hatred that rose up inside her. Stannis was a murderer and a coward, but who else would her father turn to for assistance against the Lannisters? There was no one else, Tywin Lannister had made sure of that.

“You shouldn’t have come.” Her words were quiet but heartfelt.

Her father smiled at her, his eyes crinkling with real warmth.

“I meant what I said to the Lannister boy. I would not stand by while Tywin Lannister butchers you like a sacrificial lamb.”

“But what did you plan to do? With two ships?”

“Two ships is all that could be spared,” he said  in a tone than hovered between amusement and despair. “And barely enough men to fill them. I planned to do what little I could. Or at the very least go out in a final foolish blaze of glory, and join my daughter in the hereafter.”

She thought then of the Lannisters with their long lineage. No doubt Jaime could reel off an endless list of his ancestors, each more accomplished and highly bred than the last. Her own grandfather had been little more than a hedge knight, from a long line of hedge knights and soldiers of fortune, fortunate enough to be rewarded for his deeds in battle with a noble wife and the title Lord of Tarth. Too much of their land was marsh or mountains, too many of their ports were passed over by ships in favour of pushing on to King’s Landing for a greater profit. Their coffers were always verging on empty, and they did not have enough men, land or ships to do anything about it.

How had her father even thought to go up against someone like Lord Tywin? He would have done better to let them kill her, and quietly accept the money that would no doubt come his way to compensate for the loss of his only heir.

But, of course, he would never have done that. Her father loved her too fiercely to ever do anything but rail against her death with all he had.

Brienne tried to swallow down the sudden emotion that threatened to choke her, gratitude toward the man sitting behind the oversized table. Rallied against the temptation to throw herself  on the floor, put her head in his lap and weep for everything that had happened, for everything that could happen to him and to Tarth. But no, she had to be strong for her father’s sake as much as anyone’s.

“The boy’s a problem.”

He was leaning on one hand, fingers pushing his skin on his face into folds, watching her with his deep-set, concerned eyes. She frowned at him, not quite understanding whatever point he was trying to make. Surely Jaime was the very least of their problems.

“The sensible thing would be to send  him home. I doubt Tywin Lannister would put quite so much effort into finding you, had you not run off with his heir.”

Send Jaime away? The thought caused an unexpected stab on pain in her chest.

“He came of his own free will and…it might not be safe to send him back.”

To send him back to his father, to Cersei, to whatever punishment they would inflict upon him for helping her. It would be her fault, on her head if they hurt him. She’d meant it when she’d said she would not have him hang for her, and she had practically begged him to come with her… she could not send him away now.

“You are too naïve, my daughter, you  believe the best  of anyone, I fear.”

Her father just …didn’t know Jaime. Brienne understood, she had been like that when she first met him, had thought him selfish, spoiled, unaccountably rude, honourless, a million other things. Many of which he indeed was, but… not all of them.

“Not anyone.” She replied softly, wondering how she could make her father see that Jaime was far more than he appeared.

“Will you send him away?” He was searching her face with great intensity, though she wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking to find there. She shook her head firmly. If Jaime wanted to go back to King’s Landing, that was his choice, but she would not be the one to send him away.

They  eyed each other over the expanse of the table, the air suddenly tenser than it had been. Her father drew a deep breath and looked away from her, stumbling over his words now.

“Brienne, he… you and he… did…”

His hands were clenching on the tabletop.

“What are you asking?” Her mouth felt strangely numb, but she forced herself to speak.

“You believed you were to be married.” Her father was as uncomfortable as she was, now staring at a spot several inches above her head. “He may have convinced you to…dishonour yourself.”

Immediately an image flashed into her mind of Jaime atop her on the floor of his chamber and she flushed scarlet. Her father’s frown  deepened as his gaze dropped back to her face.

“Nothing has happened,” she muttered in a small voice, lowering her own eyes to the surface of the table.

“Do you think I can’t tell when you’re lying to me, child?”

“It..it wasn’t like that…” she took a deep breath and composed herself, feeling her cheeks burning as if with a brand of shame. “My honour is intact, you may have a septa prove it once we return to Tarth if you disbelieve my word. Jaime has behaved with nothing but respect toward me.”

Mostly, Brienne added mentally. Jaime’s teasing had been nothing, really, he would never have truly acted on it…it had been play, of a sort.

“I betrothed you to a man known throughout the kingdoms for his perversions. You fault me for worrying?”

She looked up then, startled, meeting her father’s concerned blue eyes.

“Perversions? You mean… Cersei…”

“Aye, he could not keep his hands off his own sister. What was I supposed to think? His reputation…”

He waved his hand as  if encompassing Jaime’s every wrong-doing.

“Paints him as a backstabbing, honourless man. I know. But mine paints me as a twice-kingslayer and a whore. Do you put so much stock in rumour, father?”

He looked taken aback, rubbing  his beard as he often did when he was contemplative.

“If you thought him so terrible a man why did you betroth me to him?” she asked quietly. The slight sting of betrayal was still there regarding the betrothal…she understood why her father had accepted the proposal, why he had expected her dutiful submission to the marriage, but…she wanted to hear him explain it in his own words.

“He’s a Lannister. More than that, the Lannister heir. You would have wanted for nothing, and…”

“Tarth is not rich,” she finished for him wearily.

He nodded slowly. “It was a chance for you to inherit more than just an indebted island. And…Tywin Lannister is not a man you say no to. If it can be helped.”

Surprisingly, then, he let out a low, amused chuckle.

“Though I think this may be the most disastrous way you have broken a betrothal yet, dandelion.” Brienne smiled almost involuntarily at the childhood nickname, but it was a small and sad smile.He was right…broken collarbones and upset suitors were nothing compared to being accused of murder, and possibly leading your former betrothed’s wrathful father to wipe your holding from the map.

“If he finds you have aided us, he will come for you,” she said quietly, reaching across the table and taking one of his hands in two of hers, gripping tightly. “I would not have come to you were there any other way.”

He squeezed back. “My men are loyal. He won’t know that you ever set foot on the isle.”

Her father reached across the table with his free hand then, and tapped her on the nose as he had often done when she was a child, bringing another small smile to her face.

“Do not worry for me, that is a parent’s job. Now, go get the boy.  If you’re so set on keeping him, then we’d better feed him. Little Lady Stark too, she looks far too wan and thin…a good fish stew will do her  a world of good.”

 

One of the crew directed her to where the other two had been quartered, and she knocked softly on the first door, unsure of who was inside. “My Lady Sansa? Jaime?”

“Come in.” Jaime’s voice came back, and Brienne pushed open the heavy oak door.

To her surprise, she found him stood, shirtless, in front of a tin basin, scrubbing briskly at his skin.

“I thought I should do my best to make a good impression on your father,” he offered by way of explanation, dropping the cake of soap back into the basin with a dull clang.

“My apologies…I’ll…” She gestured toward the door, blushing slightly.

“Why leave? You’ve seen far more of me than this.”

He picked up the towel, rubbed at his face and hair vigorously,  and then slung it over his shoulder, turning to face her fully.

“So is your father going to throw me over the side of the boat? Or am I judged befitting of a bloodier end?”

Despite his flippancy, Brienne thought she detected a note of actual concern in Jaime’s voice. Had her father heard it, she thought mildly amused, he would’ve been gratified to know he could still provoke terror.

“I think he’s undecided.”

He ruffled his wet hair and looked at her through the strands, a slight smile curling his lips. Brienne lowered her eyes, her gaze accidentally falling on his chest…remembering how he’d looked at Harrenhal, in the baths… he’d been thinner then, ribs visible even through the dirt and bruises he’d been covered in. He’d still looked as if he should be carved in stone and set atop a plinth, of course, it seemed even sitting around in a cell for a year and losing a hand could not make Jaime Lannister look anything less than a god.

Now, of course, he’d filled out, put some muscle back on, the golden skin of his torso only blemished by old scars, more visible now than they had been  in the grey dawn light back at the inn…

“Ah well, I may live to see another day, then. Provided he does not catch you staring wantonly at my half-naked body, of course.”

She had been staring, she realized abruptly, slightly disturbed by the revelation. Quickly fixing her eyes back on his face, Brienne glared at his smug expression.

“You invited me in.”

“Yes, but you chose to stay.”

His amusement faded slightly, a serious look in his eyes now as he asked, “He believes I dishonoured you?”

“I convinced him of the truth.”

“That you are still a maiden and the terrible Lion did not force you to spread your legs for him the minute the betrothal was secured? Does he honestly believe I could force you into anything that you did not wish ?” There was a hint of bitterness creeping into his voice, but before she could confront him about it his tone changed again abruptly,  became teasing,

“Or maybe he thought you’d been so tempted that you’d thrown yourself at me? I mean-”

Jaime gestured vaguely  at his naked torso, eyebrows raised.

She shot him a look that could’ve frozen fire.

“Put your shirt on.”

“Why? You don’t want you father to learn of your deep, overwhelming desire for me? I’m wounded, Brienne, really.”

She picked up his shirt from where he’d discarded it and slammed it into his chest a little harder than was truly necessary, so he stumbled back a few steps, laughing.

“If you don’t want to be lashed to the front of this boat as a figurehead, put your shirt on, come to dinner, and keep a respectful tongue.”

He had the gall to look slightly offended at that.

“When I am ever not the very model of respect?”

Brienne didn’t even dignify that with a response.

Chapter Text

Jaime had a vague recollection of once telling Brienne he would very much like to meet her father one day.

Well, that had been an utterly foolish thing to say.

The silence in the room was only broken by the creaking of the ship and sounds of the four of them trying politely not to slurp their fish stew but the tension was so thick it was suffocating.  Lord Selwyn’s unrepentant glaring at the top of his head was beginning to irritate him somewhat, as was the demure way Brienne kept avoiding his own gaze across the table.

He didn’t even know she knew how to be demure.

Spooning the stew into his mouth with left hand was also decidedly more difficult that he had anticipated and he thought rather more of it was ending up in his beard than his mouth. Not exactly the glowing first impression he’d been hoping to make.

In the silence his thoughts wandered to their journey North, it was getting colder by the day and if it began to snow heavily the minor roads were sure to becoming impassable. To take the main roads would be to practically invite their recapture, so they were out of the question. They’d have to move quickly, outrun the Winter if they were to have any chance of avoiding his father’s forces. Which probably meant they wouldn’t be able to spend much time on Tarth, with Lord Selwyn glaring accusingly at him… dreadful shame that.

Lord Selwyn broke the quiet of the table, clearing his throat.

“You should be warned Ser Humfrey was at Tarth when I left.”

Brienne looked up sharply, fingers tightening on her spoon. Her expression was oddly taut, mouth thinning with a distaste she was obviously trying to hide. That was curious, he’d have to ask her about what had provoked that reaction later on when they were alone.

She laid her spoon down carefully, not meeting anyone’s eyes as she said, “Oh?”

“Yes he should be gone by the time we return but a little discretion might be advisable…”

Curious and unable to bite his tongue, Jaime couldn’t help asking,

 “Ser Humfrey? I don’t believe I’m familiar with that particular knight…”

“Before your time boy, he’s an old man now. Castellan for House Grandison, he’s been sent here to plead with me to forsake the Lannister’s and join Stannis, on behalf of Lord Hugh. Mainly I think they just want the poor old boy out of the way of the fighting for a time and they know I have a fondness for him.”

“So, if he’s pleading for Stannis why the need for discretion? Surely he’ll not be running to my father.”

“It wasn’t you I was telling to be discrete.”

Brienne drew a deep breath and met Jaime’s eyes, seemingly embarrassed “Ser Humfrey was formerly betrothed to me. He has a few reasons to think of me less than fondly.”

Betrothed?

Somehow Jaime had just assumed he was Brienne’s first betrothal.

‘A few reasons to think of her less than fondly’ well, if he knew Brienne at all that meant she’d probably broken the old pervert’s fingers. He was trying, without much success to recall if he’d ever met the Grandison’s castellan… probably not, they weren’t Lannister bannermen and he’d scarcely concerned himself with the lesser houses as it was. But most of the castellan he’d met tended to be crusty old knights who had long outlived their usefulness, sent to manage castles and use whatever dregs of respect they were still afforded to order about the smallfolk. Gods, what had her father been thinking?

He looked across as Lord Selwyn .

“He’s an old man you say? Yet he was betrothed to your daughter.”

“Aye, he is. Nearing 70 now, a fine old age. But he was a good friend, good mentor to me in my younger days and after Brienne’s first two betrothals fell through he offered - “

I’m sure he did, thought Jaime darkly, old degenerate was probably chomping at the bit to get his lands on a young bride and a fine holding all in one go. An old, lecherous hedge knight, had her father intended to shame the poor girl?

“But… you betrothed her to a castellan? She’s an heiress and Tarth might not be rich but nor are you so desperate as to take a match so far below you. What possessed you?”

The icy stare he received from Lord Selwyn was so familiar he felt taken aback; Brienne had often directed that self-same stare at him in the early days of their journeys. It was the one that somehow managed to clearly communicate without words he was lower than a dog, lower even than mould.

“Not all of us judge purely by breeding, Lannister. Some of us know a man’s worth is in more than his name. I knew Ser Humfrey would oversee Tarth fairly if anything ever happened to me. We’ve got some very good land and we’ll have more if we drain the fens… I knew he would manage it well. And wealthy suitors were not exactly lining up for my daughter’s hand, compromises had to be made.”

At a warning look from Brienne, Jaime bit back an acerbic reply choosing instead to poke listlessly at the floating chunks of fish that were randomly bobbing to the surface in his stew.

“Gods know where we’ll look for your next suitor,” Lord Selwyn chuckled, smiling at Brienne and she smiled a little wanly back.

Jaime kept his eyes firmly on the murky depths of his fish stew, trying not to think too much on what was being said…there would be time enough to sort out the confusion surrounding their betrothal once they’d fulfilled their promise to Lady Stark. And then he could cheerfully inform Lord Selwyn he could take Brienne’s other ‘suitors’ and throw them from a cliff. She’d never need suffer through the indignantly of being forced to marry someone below her.

“Next? Aren’t Ser Jaime and Lady Brienne married?”

They all looked across at Sansa who up until now had been sitting quietly eating her stew, taking in the conversation around her.

“I mean, you did share her bed on the way here Ser Jaime,” she said, her expression all wide-eyed innocence that could only be fake “I thought that wasn’t allowed unless you were wed.”

Brienne flushed an impressive shade of scarlet that only made them look all the more guilty.

Jaime met Lord Selwyn’s stare head on for the first time since they sat down. It was the look of a man weighing up an opponent before battle.

 “I think you and I should have a word, outside.”

 

If Brienne’s father killed him then Jaime hoped she’d have the decency to feel a least a little contrite for not leaping to his defence, for just sitting there looking vaguely worried as her behemoth of a father dragged him bodily from the room and practically flung him into the railings on the deck.

Jaime caught sight of the self-satisfied smile on Sansa Stark’s face as he was dragged away and decided he was going to kill her, promise or no. That was not a girl, that was an evil, manipulative monster in female form.

The ship was swaying under his feet and he felt slightly queasy so he gripped the railing, trying not to look down into the depths of the ocean below. Carrying out this conversation right by the edge of the boat where one push could send him headfirst into the sea was a transparent attempt to unnerve him. The problem was it was working.

“Do we have to do this right by the railings? It’s enough to make a man nervous.” Jaime said it flippantly, making light of the situation but he could hear the undercurrent of worry in his own voice.

Lord Selwyn scrutinised him, “I thought you Lannisters were all brave as lions.”

A spray kicked off the sea, flecking his cheeks with saltwater as he tried to lean nonchalantly against the rail.

“Brave yes, but not foolish.”

The man’s gaze was shrewd and unexpectedly a little compassionate. His mouth softened in the same way Brienne’s did sometimes when she wanted to smile but felt she couldn’t.

“Go home, boy,”

“What?”

“You just said you weren’t foolish. Go home then, beg your daddy’s mercy. Go back to your life.”

As if it was that simple. As if he could go back now.

“Do you know my father Lord Selwyn? I know you do. Tell me, did he ever strike you as a man prone to forgiveness?”

“He doesn’t strike down those who bend the knee to him, I know that much. If you beg him I don’t believe he will kill you. You’re his son.”

“He would still hunt Brienne down, just to prove a point. You attempting to send me away to protect her from him is pointless.”

“Aye, maybe it is. But your father isn’t the only thing I’m trying to protect her from.”

There was silence between them for a long moment, broken only by the shouts of the sailors around them and the sounds of the sea.

“I did know your father, boy… looked down his nose at me because my own father was a hedge knight. He was better at the whole court thing than I was, I could fight with a sword but not with words, not like he could. No one could fight like he could.”

He wondered vaguely when this man had known his father- when he was Hand? Or before that in their youth perhaps, two young lords-to-be clashing in the court, hating each other. It was easy to see how it would happen, two such different men would never understand each other… what had his father called Lord Selwyn?

A fool, for loving his daughter enough to give weight to her opinions.

“You despise my father? Well you’re certainly not the first…”

“Despise? No boy, I don’t despise him. The world needs men like Tywin Lannister to run right. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

That surprised him a little, perhaps Lord Selwyn was a more practical man than he first appeared.

“Soft hearts get crushed at court, I’ve seen it happen. It’s a place for cold, hard people like your father. ”

Jaime was silent, letting the other man talk, waiting for him to make his point.

 “Now Brienne…she is a soft-hearted girl. She’ll find the good in the worst people if you let her look long enough. It’s why I never let her go to court, the women would’ve chewed her up and spat her out and the men…well…”

Lord Selwyn was quiet for a long time then, looking out at the darkening sky. You could see the resemblance to Brienne in him, despite the difference in colouring… they had the same mouth, the same broad face.

“Has she ever told you of Lord Renly’s visit to us?”

“No but… she was fond of Renly, I know that much.”

Lord Selwyn smiled a little sadly at that and Jaime wondered what he’d made of his daughter’s infatuation with a man whose unnatural proclivities were the talk of the Kingdom’s. 

“Fond, aye yes you could use that term. Idolised him is what I’d say. Thought herself in love with him, didn’t hesitate to give her whole heart away without expecting anything in return. He was a nice enough lad, very polite, danced with her a few times, complimented her.  Was nice to her when other men hadn’t been. And then when war breaks out she decides she’s going to go fight for him. Nothing I do can dissuade her.”

He leant forward onto the railing next to Jaime, sighing heavily.

“Do you know how difficult it is to let your only child go off to war? I should have gone with her, I was one of his bannermen but my damn leg… and she’d had the training, she was strong enough but…she was my daughter and her weakness was never going to be about strength, or lack of it. What I’m trying to say to you, Kingslayer is that I know my daughter has her head easily turned by a pretty face and a silver tongue. She might look like a warrior but she’s got a woman’s soft heart.”

He felt like the other man’s accusatory gaze was boring through his head but he kept his face neutral. After one had stood up to the penetrating stares of Tywin Lannister, it was child’s play to remain impassive in the face of any other.

 “I never touched her.”

It was nearly the truth anyway. A little rolling about on the floor did not exactly dishonour anybody.

“Gods, are you really such a blind fool? You have ruined her.”

He saw Lord Selwyn’s hand tighten on the railing as he spoke and felt anger stir in his own chest. Seven hells why did everyone think the minute he’d been betrothed to Brienne he’d had her on her back? Leaving aside his own awful reputation did they really think Brienne was so dishonourable?

“I said have not touched…”

The other man’s fist thumped down onto the railing and Jaime only narrowly avoided flinching away. Lord Selwyn was glowering at him from beneath his impressive eyebrows as if he were the source of all his daughter’s woes.

He felt a flicker of anger then… if it wasn’t for him Brienne would be dead several times over, her father could not show a little gratitude for that at least? Oh no, he was apparently the big bad Lion, villain of the piece, who went around seducing maidens into his bed before marriage.  Ridiculous.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the entire Seven Kingdom’s are talking of my child as your whore. She scarcely had prospects before, who do you think will take her now?”

He’s right, a small part of him piped up. He’d ruined Brienne’s reputation, but gods what did it matter? She was a knight, not some simpering twit of a woman who was waiting around for a husband to come along and run her life.

“You think Brienne cares what people think of her?" Jaime asked angrily "Do you think she cares if you can’t find some backwater idiot with barely a title to his name to wed her? ”

“Do you think titles are the sum of a man’s worth, boy? You think because you’re a Lannister you’re somehow better than them? I nearly cried when the letter came demanding my daughter from me, to send her to the clutches of such a shameful excuse for a man… ”

Jaime’s temper flared “So you did not wish to marry Brienne off to someone as morally reprehensible as me yet you were perfectly happy to do it if it filled your pockets with Lannister gold?”

He turned to face the other man fully, remaining fist clenched.

“You can act like you are upright, moral but you still sold your only daughter! If I leave her here will you offer her up to Ser Humfrey again, a man who’s by all accounts half-way into his grave? Or maybe you’ll just march her through the market square with a sign about her neck , auction her off like cattle -“

Then, suddenly, he was flat on the floor feeling like he’d been hit in the fact by a sack full of bricks, Lord Selwyn looming above him.

“I pulled that punch, boy. The next one I won’t. So, go back to your father, beg his forgiveness, go back to your incestuous sister and your white cloak and leave me to deal with what tattered shreds of my daughter’s reputation remain.”

The deck of the ship was wet under his back and blood was gushing from his nose, running in rivulets down his skin to coat his lips.

Jaime spat the blood to one side, the red standing out against the dark brown planks and struggled to his feet. He wished he were taller, that he could somehow intimidate this giant of a man but he stood as straight as he could and stared Lord Selwyn straight in the face.

“She is my wife.”

He saw the momentary flash of surprise in the other man’s eyes.

“No, she isn't.”

Jaime grinned, blood still running down his face in streams, and stepped closer to Lord Selwyn, eyes serious.

“We said the words, in front of the Gods if not the septon. Get her to come to me, to tell me they meant nothing and I will acknowledge our betrothal broken. Until then she is mine as much as she is yours and you cannot command me to leave her.”

Chapter Text

The room echoed with the sound of the door slamming.

Brienne sat perfectly still; clutching her spoon so hard she was a little surprised her fingers didn’t leave indents in the metal. Her father had just dragged Jaime Lannister outside, possibly for the beating of his life, leaving her utterly unsure how to react. Loyalty to Jaime  urged her to rush outside and protect him somehow, but that would probably be counter-productive if her father truly believed they had been intimate.

Opposite her, Sansa was calmly finishing her fish stew and dabbing at her mouth delicately with a napkin. She seemed entirely undisturbed and almost amused by the turn of events. Catching Brienne’s eye, she asked quietly,

“He won’t kill him, will he?”

She sounded almost disappointed. Brienne wondered a little at what they had done to her at court, for her to face the idea of someone being fatally beaten with such indifference at such a young age. A swell of pity overtook her. She could not feel badly toward the girl for her hatred of Jaime, not when he represented the family who had wronged her so greatly that she had undeniable cause to hate them above all others.

“No.”

There were some raised voices from the deck, followed by a meaty thud.

“Probably not,” Brienne amended, grimacing slightly.

It was probably best to stay where she was and talk to her father once he had regained his composure.  She loved her father unreservedly, but she was well aware that his ideas of what was best for her were not always the same as her own. She was also aware of his lack of restraint toward those he considered a threat to his family.

He always had her best interests at heart, and would go to the ends of the world to protect her. She was all he had left after all, his only surviving child. It had made them close, closer than most lords were with their children. Certainly closer than fathers were wont to be with their daughters.

Had Galladon lived, would she have been as indulged as she was? It was unlikely.

In the years that followed her brother’s death, slowly a little at first, she’d been given the training and expectations of a son, as well as a daughter. It had been unfortunate and to the endless dismay of her septa that she’d only excelled at the role society would not allow her to pursue.

She remembered the first time her father had handed her a small wooden practice sword and told her she would be allowed to learn. How overjoyed she’d been at finally being given permission after so many months of badgering and pleading. At the time he had said, “You need to learn how to defend yourself in this world,” but it wasn’t until years later that  she’d come to understand.

A daughter-- a woman-- was a fragile creature, buffeted around by the decisions of men, not able to protect herself from what the world might throw at her. Maybe her father thought that if he could make her as strong as he was, then she would never be found pale and lifeless before her time, as the others had been.

Finally she stood, intending to open the door just a crack to see what was going on outside, but before she could reach it, it was pushed open by her father.  

He looked tired and haggard, but no longer angry, which she counted as a blessing.

“The winds have been favourable. You may want to gather any items that you bought with you, as we may make port at Evenfall by dusk.”

“Father…” Brienne tentatively stepped toward him, sure the tension she felt was visible in the lines of her body.

He looked at her for a long moment, a searching look in his eyes which she met with confusion. It seemed like there was a question behind his gaze that she couldn’t read.

Then he abruptly looked away.

“Don’t worry yourself about Lannister. He’ll live.”

 

Though the sun was well on its way toward setting as they neared their destination, the waters around Tarth were still as blue as their reputation.

Jaime had grown up by the sea, the crashing of the waves on the rocky shore seemed as familiar to him as his own heartbeat. At Casterly Rock they’d been rather wilder, more intense but in a strange way this still felt like he was coming home as much as Brienne

He squinted up at the castle they were approaching, a dark shadow against the rapidly dimming sky. Evenfall Hall lacked the sweeping majesty of the Red Keep, or even the ominous splendour of Casterly Rock, instead sitting rather squat and plain on a hill looking out at the sea. It was a practical castle, built for stability rather than a show of wealth.

There was movement behind him and he turned quickly, just in case Lord Selwyn had decided to make good on his parting promise of throwing him overboard.

His apprehension lifted upon seeing it was simply Brienne joining him on the deck. She’d donned a heavy jacket against the winds that were whipping down from the North and worry was creasing her forehead.

“What happened?”

The blood on his face had already begun to dry, and no matter how he scrubbed at it with his sleeve, he couldn’t remove it all. He could have gone to his rooms to wash it off properly, but he’d chosen to stay out here for a while longer. A gesture of defiance maybe, or more accurately perhaps a slight hope that Brienne would see her father’s handiwork and be appalled.

“If I said I fell and hit my face on the railings, would you believe me?”

She reached out for him, turning his face gently toward her so she could peer concernedly at his injury.

“No. Why did he hit you?”

The sympathy he’d been hoping for in her voice was absent, but her calloused fingers were warm against the skin of his face as she explored his injury. Though it was far more brusque than a lover’s caress, he let himself lean into it for a moment.

The one thing he missed most about Cersei was being touched. Not even in a sexual manner, just… affectionately

Brienne brushed her fingers gently over the bridge of his nose, pressing gingerly on the swelling. The pain had already subsided a little and he doubted it would be anything more than bruised for a few days, but he let her continue trailing her surprisingly gentle fingers across his face.

“I told your father we were married.”

The words fell out his mouth almost without his permission. She drew back immediately, fingers curling, and he cursed himself for them.

“What? Why?”

“To save you.” He said it languidly, as though it were completely inconsequential.

Brienne was staring at him like she didn’t know what to make of his words, her expression a little wary, but at least she hadn’t laughed in his face. It was obvious she did not put the same weight on the words they had exchanged as he did, but perhaps that would change, in time.

“Really, do you want him marrying you off to highest bidder? This way you get a respite.”

His nose throbbed with a dull ache, but the pain wasn’t unbearable. He rather thought Lord Selwyn was telling the truth when he said he’d pulled the punch.

“You shouldn’t lie to him.”

“No? You wish Sir Humfrey the Hedge Knight to make another play for your hand?”

He spat the blood from his mouth over the railing, noticed the flicker of distaste on her face. Whether it was from the blood or the spitting he really didn’t know.

“He wasn’t the worst.”

The words were small and quiet, almost as if she didn’t want him to hear them. Part of him wanted to push her on it, demand to know exactly how many other betrothals there had been, but it would do no good. This was Brienne. She would either tell him in her own time or not at all, stubborn woman that she was.

“It’s not broken,” she said suddenly, obviously keen to turn the conversation away from her suitors. “I can help you clean it when we land at Evenfall, but it should be fine. I need to go see to Sansa.”

With that she left him standing alone on the wind swept deck.

 

Evenfall Hall was actually a more pleasing building than it had appeared from the sea, and a larger one too. True, it was no work of art, but Jaime found the archways and parapets to be a prettier sight than the ones at Winterfell at least.

Men called out to Lord Selwyn in friendly greeting as the great doors were drawn back. It was clear that he was not a Lord who stood much on ceremony, but Jaime did not doubt that he commanded respect from them, for his size and strength if nothing else.

He wondered for the first time what the people here thought of Brienne, contemplated what kind of ruler she would be when she became Lady of Tarth.

A slight figure stood illuminated in the candlelight of the main hall. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light Jaime saw it was a woman, who stood with her hands clasped patiently at her waist. When they entered, she stepped forward and curtsied.

“My lord, it gladdens my heart to see you return.”

The old man smiled and held out his hand to her, which she took with a smile of her own.

Lord Selwyn’s wife wasn’t tall, in fact she was a petite little thing who seemed to be dwarfed by her husband. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and surprisingly young-looking-- he had to admit he never would have pictured Brienne’s mother looking thus. She was attractive in an unassuming sort of way, he supposed.

Lord Selwyn appeared to notice his look and coughed,

“Ah, this is my… companion. Avis of the Westport. You have no need to fear of her discretion, she is loyal to me.”

Ah, not her mother then. Indeed not even his wife.

He turned his head quick enough to just catch Brienne concealing her expression of distaste. Her posture had changed, becoming straighter and more rigid as she watched her father with the woman.

“Perhaps my lady would care to give me a tour of her chambers?” Jaime questioned boldly.

Brienne looked across at him, obviously startled by the words, but as her eyes flickered back to where her father was, her expression hardened.

“Perhaps I would.”

Her  words were flat and almost aggressive.

“Brienne…” her father’s voice held a warning tone.

“Have a guard accompany us, if you are worried for my virtue.”

He stared at her for a moment, then gestured to one of his men, who peeled off from the rest and shadowed them at a distance. Obviously Lord Selwyn had other things on his mind, Jaime thought dourly.

“He has a new one every year or there about. I no longer take the trouble to learn their names.”

Brienne’s distaste was even more obvious now,clearly disappointed that her father would behave thusly. Of course she would be disappointed, her view of the world so often seemed to border on the naïve. In her heart she had probably wanted her father to stay loyal to the memory of her mother. He wondered if this was why Lord Selwyn was so very convinced that he had seduced his daughter, he saw his own actions reflected back at him.

Brienne stalked along slightly in front of him, head down, keeping her voice low enough that the guard following them would not hear it. It was obvious that she did not wish to disrespect her Lord Father by questioning his actions in earshot of one of his men, as it would make her a less than dutiful daughter.

“I know this one though; her mother was our cook for a while. She used to tell me when we were children that she thought we’d been switched at birth, since I was obviously born to be a commoner with my looks while she was beautiful as a lady ought to be.”

Now that Jaime thought about it, the plain and mousy woman by Lord Selwyn’s side really hadn’t been very attractive at all. Her eyes had seemed decidedly too close together, her skin was far too coarse and she’d had a very ungenerous mouth. A lady indeed-- she would’ve been laughed out of court.

“Yes, she certainly sounds like a lady. Whoring herself out to your father? I’m sure she’s the picture of ladylike ideals.”

He saw Brienne glance behind them worriedly. He had not troubled to keep his voice as low as hers. Let their escort hear, he didn’t care if the entire Hall knew of his thoughts regarding Lord Selwyn. He was reminded too strongly of Robert Baratheon and his endless parade of whores. Jaime wondered if Lord Selwyn idolized a dead woman in the same way fat, over-indulged Robert had. How noble, never deigning to love again and instead finding solace in the arms of woman after woman after woman…

“These are my chambers,” she mumbled, indicating the door in front of them. It appeared she was regretting her brief show of rebellion, her hand resting on the latch but making no effort to actually open it.

“Well I was rather hoping to see it from the other side of the door,” Jaime drawled sarcastically, raising an eyebrow. She flushed, levelling a glare at him and pushing it open.

He stepped through after her and then took great delight in shutting the door in the face of their guard, sliding the bolt home with an audible clunk. Ignoring Brienne’s slightly scandalised look and the insistent pounding on the door he walked over to the bed and slumped down on the coverlet, taking in his surroundings.

It was a large room, but modestly decorated. An oversized Tarth banner hung on the wall and there were training swords gathering dust in the corner. Books were piled on a disused desk, some texts appropriate for a lady of Brienne’s standing, but the more worn ones were clearly those about battle and swordplay.

A fire had been lit in the grate, but it had yet to catch entirely, leaving the air in the room with a slight chill.

“Were these your chambers as a child, my lady?”

“They were.”

He amused himself briefly by imagining a smaller version of Brienne running around the room, sleeping in the bed, miming sword fighting in the expanse of floor in front of the fire. It was difficult to picture her as a child, to picture her as anything but the gigantically tall frowning woman who stood beside him now. He wondered if she’d had companions. Life as an only child must have been lonely. Being the offspring of a lord set you apart from everyone else. You were never just you and you were never treated the same. It had made him close to his siblings, but Brienne had none.

Jaime felt an absurd swell of pity for the child she’d been, wondered if it explained a few things about the woman she was.

She stood, awkwardly, in the middle of the room, appearing to be nervously awaiting his reaction. Or maybe she was nervous for another reason-- perhaps her father’s assertions had made her worry about his intentions.

“Come, sit with me.”

He patted the bed beside him in invitation.

As he suspected, rather than sit next to him,  Brienne opted to perch nervously on the edge of her own bed, her back to him. He couldn’t see her face, but her shoulders were hunched,  and her posture tense.

Her hair was longer now, he noticed, than when they’d journeyed to King’s Landing, but still not long enough to be considered appropriate for a woman. He reached out, lightly brushing his fingers against the hair at the base of her skull.

Brienne jolted as he grazed her skin, jerking round to stare at him as though he’d just pressed a sword to the back of her neck rather than a touch.

“Did you ever have long hair?”

She watched him warily, reaching up to touch the straggly ends of her hair. Her eyes were very bright in that moment, extraordinarily blue even in the dim light cast by the fire.

“I was trying to picture you as a child,” he explained, “And all I could see was a slightly smaller version of you, complete with scowl and armour. Humour me.”

She nodded, the movement barely visible.

He waited, eyebrows raised, until she huffed and gave in.

“I had long hair until I went to Renly’s camp the first time. There was some unpleasantness. I cut it to blend in.”

Unpleasantness? He frowned a little, waiting to see if she would elaborate at all. But rather predictably, she looked away, eyes becoming guarded.

Just how many secrets did Brienne have that she did not wish to speak of? He found it a little galling that she could obviously not trust him with them when she knew the very worst and the very best of him .

But it would do him no good to attempt to drive them out of her, for all her rough manner and tough exterior, Brienne could be quite sensitive about some things.

“Well, a knight has no need of long hair. Gets in the way during battle. Just shows you have more sense than the likes of Loras Tyrell.”

Brienne shot him a slightly exasperated look.

“Jaime, your hair is just as long as his.”

“Which goes to show just how little sense I have.”

Her fond smile caused a glowing sensation in his chest, not dissimilar to the feeling he got when he sipped a cup of warm wine on cold evenings.

“We should probably clean your face of the product of your latest foolishness.”

He’d almost forgotten about the blood still crusted on his face.

“Oh, so your father striking me in the face was my foolishness. Yes, of course.”

Brienne didn’t reply. She merely stood and made her way over to a bowl of water which had been set aside, evidently for her to wash herself with later.

Walking back to the bed she sat down with the bowl balanced in her lap and carefully dipped the edge of the cloth into the water.

“Hold still.”

Holding the dripping cloth to his face, she began to wipe the blood away with care. The water trickled down into his beard and he absently rubbed at it before it could drip down further and dampen his clothes or her blankets. It occurred to him this was the second time she had touched him like this in a matter of hours and he was already realising that he was going to miss it when the injury was healed.

“Brienne,” he hesitated, “Thank you.”

She paused in the act of wringing out the cloth and shot him a surprised look.

“It’s nothing.”

It was obvious she honestly meant that; that these small acts of kindness were nothing more than basic decency to her.

 

 

Jaime was asleep on her bed, snoring lightly in that slightly obnoxious way he did. She’d dragged a blanket from one of the chests to cover him and left him there. It was for the best that he was not with her when she went to talk to her father,his presence  would undoubtedly only make things worse.

As she unbolted the door, the member of her father’s guard who had accompanied them stood up, looking disgruntled. He was someone she knew by sight but not by name, meaning that he was not an important member of the household or at least had not been when she left. Evenfall Hall was not so large that she could avoid knowing most of its inhabitants by sight if not by name. Still maybe it was a stroke of luck that she did not know this guard better, as many of the other guards had known her from the day of her birth, and viewed her with as much affection as they would their own child. Meaning they would have been just as likely to hit Jaime as her father was.

“Your Lord Father said I was to keep an eye on you, m’lady.”

He sounded reproachful, his eyes raking over her as if he could find evidence of her misdemeanour.

“My father need not know of this.” She would not disgrace the man by letting her father know he’d failed, and in turn it would mean that he would have no fresh reasons to anger himself pointlessly over Jaime Lannister.

The man gave her a look that he obviously considered cunning, laughing a little without any real amusement.

“Meanin’ you’ll be wanting me to cover your transgressions. Pardon me m’lady, but I wouldn’t cover for that Lannister dog if my life depended on it.”

“There were no transgressions, I merely cleaned his wounds and he is now sleeping.”

“It’s improper for a man and woman…”

Something inside her snapped.

“I am a knight. You think I have never had opportunity to be alone with men before?  I was surrounded by men in both camps I have been part of.  I could guard my own virtue then and I can guard it now. That you may tell to my father.”

Without looking back, she strode off down the corridor.

There were no footsteps following her, of that she was glad.

Her memories of Tarth had become too dear to her in her time away from home, so that she’d nearly forgotten there were those on this island who little approved of her position as heir. Those who whispered about her inability to procure a match. That while some of the memories were warm and cherished, others were not.

She could still distinctly remember being twelve, newly scorned by her first proper suitor and weeping tears into the shoulder of an unsympathetic septa who deemed it her own fault for being awkward, ungainly, and ugly.  And then being fifteen and gently told that she would never be a warrior, that her father’s indulgence would have to end once she wed, that she must accept that her lot in life was that of a woman. It was with bitterness that she had thought of a future spent behind walls, watching whatever husband they manage to force to wed her riding off to battle. He wouldn’t be as strong or as gifted with a blade as she was, yet she would watch helplessly from her prison of silks and sewing as he rode off to battle, to honour,  and to glory.

It was then she swore, swore to herself that she would never marry a man who could not outfight her. At least then maybe the sting might be slightly lessened.

Her insistence on this had meant that her father had eventually stopped looking for suitors for her, and been content to let her follow her dream of being a knight. For now. But the truth of the matter hung over them, unspoken but no less potent for it, that she needed to marry one day. She needed to bear heirs for Tarth. There were no cousins to leave the holding to, no young relatives to take on the position. It worried her father intensely, she knew that, and as he got older it preoccupied him more.

Yet even so, he could not abide the possibility of her being wed to Jaime Lannister.

“Father?”

She knocked softly on the great door of his study, knowing that she would find him there rather than his chambers.

True to her prediction, he was slumped in a chair in front of the fire, cup of mead in hand and a tangle of hunting dogs snoring on the rug before him.

He waved her over and she stepped in gingerly, making sure there was no sign of Avis  before she made her way fully inside. She had no wish to see that woman.

It was easy to see her father had been mellowed by the mead and the warmth of the fire, he would be in a tractable mood until he took to his bed.

“Where is Lannister?”

After a moment’s hesitation she took the chair opposite him and stared into the fire.

“Sleeping.”

It wasn’t a lie, she had merely neglected to let her father know where Jaime was currently resting. She would probably sleep in the chair by the fire if he was still sleeping when she returned. Though they had shared a bed on their travels, she rather thought that if her father discovered them abed together, no matter how innocently, Jaime Lannister would not leave Evenfall alive.

One of the dogs stretched out, its paws scraping against the hearthstone.

She had sat on that hearthstone so often growing up, close enough to the fire that her father would warn her she’d burn her feet were she not careful. She would read aloud to him from her books, sung little songs for him to make him smile, and then climbed into his lap to be enfolded in his arms. Seeing him now, drowsy in the firelight, made her wish she was still small enough to do so.

She had missed him.

“He says you’re his wife.”

His voice didn’t sound angry or accusatory. It was just flat, with no intonation.

There was still a smudge of Jaime’s blood on his knuckles.

She clasped her own hands together so tightly that her fingers went white. To play along with Jaime’s ruse would be to invite further anger from her father, but to deny it might mean another potential betrothal in her future. Finally, she quietly murmured, “He’s just trying to protect me.”

One of the wolfhounds on the floor stood up with a languid stretch and pushed his head onto her lap, drooling happily on her breeches. This one had been a puppy when she’d left Tarth, a gambolling ball of energy who had lolloped happily about after her wherever she went. Before she’d gone, her father had talked of giving him to her as a companion. He had claimed it was to see if she could train him to be of use to her, but Brienne knew the truth. Her father could see how solitary she was, how lacking in companions. He pitied her for it, but there was no remedy. Women found her strange, intimidating, and sullen. Men only looked at her as something to be bested in whatever way they could, be it the battlefield or the bedchamber.

Sharp and sudden the memory of Hyle Hunt and the other knights at camp rose up in her, but she pushed it down viciously, refusing to think on it. She forced her mind back to the dog in front of her with his eyes closed in contentment as she petted his head.

Before she could even name the dog there had come the announcement of war, and then the summons. Stannis’s had arrived on their island first, but Renly’s had been only a day behind. Both had entreated those loyal to the Baratheon name to rally around them and not the other, to fight for them alone. She had begged her father, begged him to declare for Renly, to allow her to go to his camp and prove herself. Tarth had a reputation for fearsome warriors, she had argued, let her go prove to everyone that this was still the case.

And it would let her be near Renly. That was the part she had kept secret and safe, not told her father, though sometimes she thought he might have suspected.

There was still a tug in her heart when she thought of Renly, thought of his kind smile and the way his eyes had crinkled at the edges. He would have been a good king, a fair king. The kind of king that Westeros deserved. And she would’ve been honoured just to be with him, to be in his Kingsguard and serve him.

What would Renly think of her situation now? Brienne suddenly wondered. What would he make of her devotion to a member of the family who stole his throne? He had always been a fair man, so she had to believe he would see the good in Jaime, see that he was not like his family.

The dog pushed his cold nose against her hand and she scratched absently at his head, rubbing his ears. Across from her, her father had finished his cup and was leaning back in his chair, eyes drifting slowly closed. If she had anything to say, she best say it now before sleep claimed him.

“You shouldn’t have hit him.”

It didn’t come out particularly reproachful. Had she not sworn Jaime Lannister safe passage when she first met him, she rather thought she would have already done the same. He could be incredibly insufferable when he chose to be.

Her father sat up a little straighter, blinking away the sleep that had been about to overtake him.

“He’s a smug little bastard and he’s lucky I didn’t dangle him over the railings for good measure.”

The wolfhound slumped down by her feet so that she had nothing to distract herself from her father’s stare.

“I worry for you.” He added gently, eyes soft.

Of course he did, he’d worried for her ever since it had become apparent she was never going to be a dainty maid who found easy happiness in marriage.

“You love him.”

It wasn’t a question.

“It wouldn’t matter if I did.”

She had let herself love Renly Baratheon, safe in the knowledge it was a hopeless pursuit. It could be a dream, untainted by the realities of the world. He was wed, completely beside the fact that he would never look at her in the way she wished.

There would be nothing safe about allowing herself to love Jaime Lannister.

If she survived this, survived the war, if her father sided with Stannis and he won-- Jaime would most probably be killed. The Lannisters had taken the seat that was rightfully his and they said that Stannis was burning his enemies.

If the Lannisters held on to the Iron Throne, Tywin Lannister would crush her father, probably burn their holds, and then salt the earth so that Tarth would become a barren rock. He’d hunt her down and have her beheaded for treason.

No, Brienne thought as her gaze returned to the crackling flames, there was no possibility of this ending well.

 

Chapter Text

The fire which had been lit in her chambers was burning nicely now, and it warmed Brienne’s face as she settled down in the chair. She’d left her father in his solar, asleep in front of his own fire, snoring loudly enough to wake the dead, and crept back into her chamber. Jaime was still an unmoving lump on the bed, snoring only slightly less intrusively than her father had.

She was home but it felt strange, like she didn’t quite…fit anymore. It was like trying to squeeze herself into armour that was made for another person. No matter how old she got, to most of the people at Evenfall she would forever be that awkward, shy girl who would hide in her chambers to escape visitors. None of them saw her as a warrior; none of them understood the things she and Jaime had been through together…

Restless now, despite the late hour, she gained her feet and walked over to the window. The moon was bright tonight, painting the familiar landscape beyond the window in a clear white light that was almost like day.

“What are you doing?”

She turned to see that Jaime had sleepily propped himself up on one arm, sheets bunched around his waist. He’d apparently taken off his shirt to sleep properly, something that seemed to be becoming a habit of his.

“Come to bed.”

His voice was low, dark, and he was staring at her intently. It was difficult, in this light, to see his eyes…to judge what he meant by his words.

You love him.

Her father’s words came back to her, ringing in her head, and she fought against a blush even though she was sure Jaime wouldn’t see it in this light. It was foolish to blush anyway.

“I’ll take the chair.”

She edged back toward it, for some reason loathe to take her eyes off him.

He held out his hand to her then, beckoning slightly. The glow of the fire lit him up in shades of gold, languorous and so handsome, laid out on her bed.  If not for the missing hand, he would have been perfect but…not Jaime. Not her Jaime anyway.

“There is room enough, besides it is your bed.”

Brienne hesitated, looking at his outstretched hand. Her fingers were curling and uncurling indecisively at her side. She could sit on the bed with him surely… it didn’t matter that he was without a shirt, they’d slept in the same bed at the inn with him in a similar state of undress and yet... This was her childhood bed. The place where she’d dreamt of knights in shining armour, of princes, of courtly kisses since she was a small girl. Then as a young woman the dreams had taken a turn that would make her blush even in the daytime, that would have horrified her septa…the dreams that had made her ache and want for something that she wasn’t even sure how to name. She’d dreamt those dreams in this bed, too.

 In this bed where Jaime lay, shirtless, beckoning her to join him…

“Just to sleep, nothing more.” He assured her quietly, gravely, and she heard the sincerity in his voice. Was, to her shame, slightly disappointed by it.

Brienne let her hand slide into his, feeling the calluses on his palm rough against her equally callused fingertips, and allowed him to settle her onto the bed next to him. She didn’t lie back on the pillow but instead remained sitting, which she could see caused a little spark of annoyance to flare in his eyes.

He could frown at her all he liked, it would not persuade her to lie beside him. If anyone came in while they were like that, innocent or not, it would cause an uproar.

“Are you awake and looking so very serious because your father has finally decided to feed me to the wolves?”

She smoothed her free hand over the quilt…it had been one she’d embroidered herself and she could see the painstaking stitching on the little squares. She had never been good at needlework, but anytime a stitch had been crooked Septa Roelle had made her take it out and do it again. It had produced both a serviceable quilt and a lifelong hatred of sewing.

“We don’t have wolves on Tarth.”

“What do you have, then?” he laughed a little, under his breath “Some particularly vicious seals perhaps?”

A little smile tugged at the corner of her mouth in spite of herself.

“I’m sure my father will find something.”

Silence settled between them, not awkward, but not without tension either. Jaime was absently running his thumb over her knuckles, the touch distracting in its lightness. It seemed strange to her how comfortable it was to simply hold his hand in hers like this, how well their fingers knit together, how reassuring the warmth of his palm against hers felt.

“Where is your mother?”

She glanced up at him, silently trying to understand his intentions in bringing this up. Maybe he was hoping for an ally, seeing as he had  riled her father so very much.

“Gone.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, a few months after I was born.”

He nodded, averting his eyes and not offering his condolences, for which she was glad. It always felt so strange to have people pity her for the absence of a person she didn’t even remember. The things she associated with her mother were nothing more than a few solitary, moth-eaten dresses hidden away in trunk, and a particular sad look in her father’s eyes.

“Was she like you?”

Like me…

Did he mean was her mother ugly? Tall? Mannish?

According to those she had talked to when she was young, her mother had been beautiful, slender, with pale blonde hair and incomparable blue eyes. But those were the same people who had always told her what a pretty child she was, how graceful and charming. Those were the people who lied.

A sudden onslaught of vulnerability rushed over her, and she had to fight back the urge to pull away from him entirely.

 “No.”

She wanted to ask him about his own mother…she’d died giving birth to his brother, Brienne knew that much, but she wondered if Jaime remembered her. He would not thank her for asking, she knew him well enough to know that.

If he wanted to tell her, he would do it in his own time.

When she chanced to look at him again, he was staring down at their joined hands where they rested on the quilt, brow furrowed. His hands were bigger than hers, even though hers were large for a woman. Entangled with his, her fingers looked almost delicate, feminine… I

There was a knock on her door, and she stiffened, almost leaping up from the bed.  Jaime tried to tighten his hold on her hand, but she unceremoniously wrenched it from his grip.

She opened the door to a squire who was only a few years younger than her, she’d fought with him in the training grounds once or twice before she’d left Tarth, but he had not had enough talent to remain her sparring partner for long. His face was pasty, hair in disarray as if he’d been hastily pulled from his bed.

“M’lady, we have news  that your father thought might be of interest to you.”

He was trying his hardest to see around her into the room, but she used her bulk to block the door, holding his gaze fiercely and snatching the folded square of parchment from his fingers.

“Thank you.”

Pushing the heavy door shut behind her, she turned back to the bed where Jaime was now stretched out comfortably as if he were lord of this entire island. The sheet had slipped down far enough to cause her suddenly to wonder if his shirt was the only thing he’d taken off.

Forcing herself not to think of  it, she focused all her attention on the missive in her hand. It must have been important for them to deliver it so late, after all.

She tentatively unfolded it to find,written in a neat hand, the destruction of all their plans thus far.

Her legs went momentarily numb, and she sat down hard on the bed, fingers crinkling the note as they clenched.

“Brienne? What…”

She  passed the note to Jaime without a word. As he scanned it, his face did not fall as she had thought it would, instead there was an odd quirk to his lips.

He suspected this would happen, she thought.

 “So my father knows we’re planning on going North.”

According to the message, Lord Tywin had men on every road that could be taken to safely reach Winterfell or the Wall. Jaime’s father certainly hadn’t been idle since their departure. Brienne felt deflated, shaken, as if they’d lost before they even started. They’d managed to flee King’s Landing, to get as far as Tarth, but Lord Tywin obviously knew where they were headed.

“We cannot stay on Tarth,” she cautioned him, wondering what he intended to do.  Tarth was a harbour in the storm, but they brought more and more danger down on her father the longer they were there.

To remain was to invite destruction.

Jaime balled the message up and tossed it down as if it were of little consequence. Leaning over, he used his finger to sketch an imaginary map on the folds of the bed-sheet next to her.

“We go East then….across the Narrow Sea, to Braavos or Myr. It should be just about far enough to escape my father’s wrath, though even then I’m not sure.”

His finger drew a meandering line across the expanse of her sheet, coming to rest just short of touching her leg.

 “And then?”

“We wait. My father has to die at some point.”

“But half of Westeros will think I murdered the King.”

Jaime nodded slightly, eyes downcast.

 “Yes, and most of Westeros will feel indebted to you.”

 “As they were to you?”

He looked up at her, and she met his eyes without a flicker. Did he think she didn’t realise how she was branded now? A traitor, a murderer, and a whore? That in the eyes of most they were the same? Both vilified.He had killed a king to protect a city full of people, a deed so honourable that sometimes it choked her to think of it, but he had broken his oath, was forever reviled for it.

Nothing she was accused of was true, but that did not matter.

There was silence for a long moment.

“I was a a member of the Kingsguard, I broke my oath…” he started, but she cut him off.

“And I’m a woman who dared to kill two kings.. They would not thank me for Joffrey’s death. Even though he was cruel and mad, they will not thank me any more than they thanked you.”

Jaime nodded slightly, acknowledging the truth of her words. They sat in silence save for the crackling of the fire, until he reached out with his remaining hand and caught her sleeve, tugging her toward him.

“Come, sleep.” He saw her hesitation and raised his eyebrows. “Just sleep, I swear it.”

She could see genuine warmth in his eyes, and this time she let herself be guided down next to him, a pile of blankets decorously between them. The fight drained from her, leaving her tired and uncaring of the consequences. Did it truly matter if her father found them abed together? Why deny herself this one little thing? Of all the things which might befall them in the next few days it seemed the least troublesome. Jaime buried his face against her neck and gave a contented sigh. The weight of his arm around her was comforting, his warmth on her back more soothing than that of the fire, and Brienne found her eyes drifting slowly shut.

 

It was a crisp morning on Tarth, with winds blowing in from the North, but the skies were a clear, deep blue. Brienne tugged her cloak about her more tightly against the sharp wind as she made her way along the parapets of Evenfall, feet following the familiar path almost without her having to guide them. The morning guards were just taking over from the night watch, and those who recognised her nodded their heads respectfully as she passed. She could barely return the gesture, guilt gnawing at her stomach.

If she brought Tywin Lannister down on them… would any of them survive? The people of Tarth were hers to protect, but she could very possibly bring destruction down on all of them.  

She leant on the parapet, the wind ruffling her hair, and squinted out at the clear ocean.

There were no tall masts on the horizon, no Lannister banners blood red against the blue sky.

Yet.

Chapter Text

 

The damp branches were smacking her in the face as she ran, the ground wet under her pounding feet. Brienne stumbled to a stop, heart thudding in her chest, heaving  an almost painful breath. They  couldn’t keep this pace up for long. The path in front of them had been getting narrower for some time, and was now barely visible under leaves and roots, threatening to send anyone who put a foot wrong tumbling to the ground. And if they wandered off of it and got too far west,  they would find themselves knee-deep in the fens before they could even blink. Too far east, and they were more than likely to find themselves in a heap at the bottom of a cliff face.

Lady Sansa came to a stop next to her, leaning heavily against a tree, struggling to catch her  breath. She was wearing one of Brienne’s old dresses, it had been almost the right length but significantly too wide for her narrow frame. The maids had tried to do their best to make it suitable, but she was still drowning in the fabric, like a child who had borrowed her older sister’s clothes. The dress snagged on every low-hanging tree branch, caught underfoot, dragged in the clinging mud, giving the poor girl no end of trouble.

Brienne pushed the wet hair out her eyes and crouched down, shivering. to peer through the trees. They were nearly to the cove now, she was sure, but Jaime had veered off earlier onto the high rocky bluffs to check the main port. She had considered questioning him, calling him back but had caught herself before she did.

He would catch them up, she was sure, and they would not leave without him. And if he needed to see his father’s fleet, then she would not deny him that.

The ships had first appeared on the horizon after dusk, flying golden lions on red flags, in moonless darkness

Brienne had been preparing for bed, half-heartedly arguing with Jaime about sleeping arrangements for a second night, when there was a frantic pounding her on her door.

“My lady! Your father begs you come at once! Ships are coming!”

At the panicky tones of the squire Jaime cursed, jumped up – causing Brienne to give momentary thanks that he apparently did wear his smallclothes to bed – and begun hastily pulling on his breeches.

When they found her father waiting for them in the main hall, he looked as if he had aged a decade in the few hours since Brienne had  last seen him.

“There are ships coming in from the west, flying the Lannister flag. You must go now.”

At his words she felt a shudder run through her, a tightening in her chest. These were Lannister ships expecting to find her here and drag her back to face trial. And what would they do to Tarth when they did not find her? What would Tywin Lannister do to her father?

“Father,” her voice broke a little. “There is no honour in running.”

He reached up to fondly stroke her hair, a terrible sadness in his eyes.

“There is less honour in dying.”

He’d enfolded her in a crushing embrace, pressing a small cloth bag into her hands and whispering so that no one else would hear.

“Go to the cove, I’ve sent a raven ahead… a boat should meet you there. Go as fast as you can, do not stop, do not turn back.”

She’d taken the bag, hearing the clink of coins within…it would doubtless be more than he could afford but she had stowed it in her jacket nonetheless.  There had been such concern and affection in his blue eyes, a darker shade than her own, and she had suddenly remembered—so vividly—being a small child, feeling so safe in her father’s presence, knowing, absolutely knowing with a child’s certainty that nothing could harm her while he was there.

 Her father, the only person in this world who loved her entirely without price or ambiguity. it occurred to her that perhaps this would be the last time she would ever see him.

“Go.”

She forced herself to let go of him, to turn and follow Jaime out of the doors while every fibre of her being cried out that it was wrong to leave him, that he would die, for her, if she did. But even as her eyes blurred with unshed tears she thinned her lips and bowed her head, determined to remain silent.

 Her father had raised a warrior, and his last memory of her would not be that of her weeping.

 

Brienne was startled out of her reverie when Jaime appeared suddenly from the gloom, his face drawn. She opened her mouth to ask what he’d seen but one look at the hard line of his mouth gave her the truth of it.

A shudder wracked her then…her clothes were damp from their trip through the rain-sodden forest and the chill was starting to bite into her flesh, but that was not the reason.

 “Don’t stop,” he warned, urging Sansa into moving again with a hand on her arm. Predictably the girl pulled her arm from his grip and struggled on herself. She had never been entirely unguarded around them, but since they’d been on Tarth it was as if a wall had gone up in the girl’s eyes.

“We’re nearly there,” Brienne whispered back in reply, quickening her pace so she took the lead again. In the distance she could hear hoofbeats, shouts, surprised cries…

What would they do to Tarth when they did not find her?

Their footsteps were muffled by the thick drifts of leaves on the path. They were shielded by the trees as they made their way onwards for the time being.

It was getting colder, bitterly so, making the tips of Brienne’s  breasts ache. There had been no time to find heavy cloaks, no time to fetch warmer clothes, they had left in the clothes they’d been in when the alarm had been raised. She wanted to cross her arms, to warm herself a little, but was somehow convinced Jaime would see the movement and laugh at her.

There was  frost on the ground, causing the shallow puddles to crunch underfoot at every step they took. The ice splintered and cracked under Brienne’s feet, louder than swords clashing, making her wince.

She smelt the cove before she saw it: rotting seaweed and salt. Then, between the trees, there was the glimmer of moonlight on waves. There were no boats on the choppy water, she noticed with a sinking stomach, no rescuers ready to whisk them off to Essos. Instead, there was just the black water and the silver moonlight, undisturbed.

Jaime crouched next to her, his face visibly strained, his one good hand clenching and unclenching.  Sansa hung back, leaning against one of the gnarled trees, her white skin practically glowing in the moonlight.

Brienne shifted, trying to ease her cramped muscles into an easier position as she scanned the water.

Then….there, hidden in the shadows of a rocky overhang, Brienne spotted what looked like a small fishing boat. She didn’t dare speak, so she placed a hand on Jaime’s shoulder, directing his attention to the concealed boat, eyebrows raised in question.

Was that a Lannister boat?

His brow furrowed as he squinted across the cove, but after a moment he shrugged, not really an answer at all. It could be a trap, it could be salvation. There was no  way to know.

She took a deep breath and began to get to her feet but Jaime beat her too it, skidding down the tree-root laden bank to come to rest on the shore.

As soon as he came into view, there was movement from under the shadowy outcropping and a small boat slid out onto the water.  A wizened old man peered over at the shore, laboriously pushing the rowboat closer to where Jaime stood.

“Is m’lady with you? M’lord Selwyn’s instructions were very clear, can’t go without m’lady.”

Brienne thought she recognised the man, but it was difficult to tell in the darkness. Still, what other choice did they have? Taking a deep breath, she grasped Sansa’s arm and, after a moment’s hesitation, stepped forward.

The old man’s face lit up in a toothless grin.

“Well aboard you come then, quickly! There have been noises in the woods I don’t much like the sound of…”

Jaime shoved Brienne unceremoniously ahead of him, and without warning she found herself thigh-deep in ice-cold water. Holding back a gasp, she glared at Jaime’s darkened outline as she reached back to help Sansa while the girl followed her more gingerly into the freezing water.

Jaime was facing away from her, scanning the shoreline for any sign of pursuit, worry still etched heavily into his face.

Sansa was pulled up into the rickety boat first, shivering violently in her soaked gown.

The old man held out a hand to help Brienne, and she took it gingerly, not wanting to offend him. There was no strength in his grip at all, so she grasped the side of the boat and but hauled herself over, more hindered than aidedby his assistance.

With one finally scan of the shoreline, Jaime followed her up, and soon they were all huddled low in the boat, breath steaming in the air

Brienne offered to row but the little man waved her off, looking slightly offended, so she settled back down, with Jaime pressed on one side of her and Sansa on the other providing a little warmth.

“There’s a smugglers’ vessel out of the cove, m’lady, should be able to sneak past them Lannister bastards – begging your pardon m’lord – without notice.”

As they pulled away from the hidden mouth of the cove, emotion almost threatened to overwhelm Brienne but she swallowed it down, brushing hastily at the errant trickle of water which escaped her eye.

 

 

“Where are they?”

Lord Selwyn  looked  faintly ridiculous in his nightclothes, robes hastily pulled round him. Tywin Lannister had not seen the man for quite some time, and the years had not treated him kindly, gifting Selwyn with far more lines on his face and grey in his beard as well as the beginnings of a paunch. It showed a lack of discipline on the man’s part, one that had been present already in youth but obviously come to fruition in old age.

 “Might I be permitted the dignity of dressing? You barge into my holding, unannounced, at night, and have your soldiers drag me from my  bed. The least you could do would be to allow me to properly attire myself, and then we can continue this.”

No, the least he could do would be to put this prattling idiot to the sword as a warning to those who would cross the Lannister family. But Lord Selwyn was more use him to alive at the present time…Tywin would stay his hand.

Battles were fought with swords when needs be, but they were won by words.

“Oh believe me, Lord Tarth, I am being very courteous. Were I not, your wretched little hall would be nothing more than a smoking ruin. Now…my son. Where is he?”

He had not truly expected to march in here and find Jaime making himself comfortable.His son at least had some sense. No, it was doubtful they would still be here but no matter…the roads to the North were closed, and Tywin had bought the allegiance of men in every port in western Essos. Wherever they fled, he would find them eventually. Tywin Lannister was a patient man.

Selwyn raised a bushy eyebrow. “I am not concealing them under my nightclothes, Lord Lannister, I assure you.”

He spread his arms wide as if to demonstrate, causing the aforementioned nightclothes to stretch across his newly acquired belly. A buffoon, or a man who wanted to appear one at least.

“I could order my soldiers to search every wretched rabbit hole in this backwards waterlogged rock of yours.”

“You could,” Selwyn agreed amicably “But that might be considered by some an act of war.”

“You really think I would hesitate to annihilate your pitiful little island? Your daughter has taken my son.”

“And you don’t think he went willingly?”

Yes, of course Tywin knew the young fool had gone willingly.

“That is beside the point.”

“I don’t think it is, you’ve accused my daughter of many crimes.”

 “You think I care what your wretched sow of a daughter does? I want my son and heir returned to me.”

“And here people might be thinking you wanted justice for your poor dead grandson.”

“Be very careful, Lord Selwyn.”

The other man’s smile faded abruptly. When he answered, all the amused arrogance had fled from his voice.

“Search the island, then, with my permission. You will not find them here.”

With his permission…such conceit. As if Tywin needed the permission of some minor lord used to subjugating himself to the Baratheons. Tywin’s armies had crushed Stannis before the man slithered off up North to lick with wounds, and as for Renly, the boy never even set foot on a battlefield before dying.

Pitiful.

“We shall see.”

They had at least to search for Jaime, make a show of power. Lannister soldiers swarming all over this little island would not soon be forgotten by its people. They would see the power that was set against them. And sooner or later, someone would come to him…a nervous member of the household staff maybe or someone looking to get ahead…and then he would know where Jaime and his monstrosity of a companion had fled to.

Until then, Tywin was content to wait.

“In lieu of any hostages, Lord Selwyn will be accompanying us back to King’s Landing,” he told his guards, noting the flicker of relief on the other man’s features as he did so. Really he ought to school his expressions better, how he managed to rule even this backwater was a mystery.

 “I shall appoint someone to oversee Tarth in your absence. Be grateful I am not simply taking your lands from you.”

Chapter Text

Just before midday a storm broke, and the sky grew so wild and black that it was soon too dark to see. They could light no candles in their cabin because the pitching of the ship would have hurled the tapers to the floor, so the three of them sat in darkness, listening to the thunder boom and crack over the sea around them.

Brienne was discovering that Jaime did not get on well with boats.  On the calmer waters of their earlier journey to Tarth he had been untroubled, but in these turbulent seas he had become violently ill. As the waters got rougher he was reduced to groaning and heaving into a bucket while she rubbed his back awkwardly.

“Oh, let me die,” he complained melodramatically.

She had fetched him what little wine there was to be had in an attempt to ease his stomach, but if anything it only seemed to make it worse. Now he was lying at her feet, head practically in the foul smelling bucket, while Brienne perched awkwardly on his narrow bed. Sansa was sitting on the floor, her back to the cabin wall and a blanket wrapped around her narrow frame. There was no fear of the storm on the girl’s face, no emotion at all really…just a mask of pale indifference.

It worried Brienne how little the girl had said on their journey so far.

“My lady…Sansa… it will be alright.”

As if to prove her wrong, the boat gave an alarming lurch to the left, nearly tipping Brienne off the bed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sansa answered quietly as she pulled herself back upright,  tugging the blanket more tightly around her.

Jaime retched violently into the bucket, drawing Brienne’s attention back to him.

“I would not be here on this wretched boat if it were not for you,” he moaned. “I’d be back in the Red Keep, drinking wine and sleeping on an actual bed that wasn’t moving all the damn time…”

“Do not blame me for your choices,” Brienne snapped back, tiring of his self-pitying attitude. “You followed us of your own volition .”

“A foolish, impetuous decision,” he muttered back, his voice echoing in the bucket. “Born of a misplaced sense of honour that you seem to have instilled into me.”

“If you find my company so very hard to bear, Ser, I’m sure you can find a boat when we reach harbour that would take you straight back to your comforts, your wine and your family. Pray take it, and leave me to complete our quest alone.”

“By family, do you mean my sister? Worried that I’m going to run back into Cersei’s perfumed embrace?”

The question was barbed, and Brienne refused to look at him. She could barely see him in the darkened cabin anyway.

After a long moment of silence Jaime’s voice came again, softer this time.

 “I don’t blame you for choices that were my own. My apologies.”

He flopped back, his head coming to rest on Brienne’s thigh. Something squeezed, peculiarly, within her chest.

 The feeling tightened in her as she looked down, watching him as best she could in the darkness – pale and drawn, but seemingly content now he was leaning against her. Her hand, almost without permission, moved to brush his sweat-soaked hair away from his forehead.

A ghost of a smile crept into the corners of Jaime’s lips.

 

It surprised Brienne a little that is was no warmer in Braavos than it had been in Westeros. There was still a sharp bite of cold in the air. Maybe it was inevitable this far north.  They had slipped from the boat while the sailors were unloading, losing themselves in the crowd while being studiously ignored by the captain. There were so many people coming and going on the docks that they were soon swept away from the boat and along the myriad of bridges of the city.

It was a rather strange place, Brienne thought, more like Westeros than she would have thought it would be, yet so utterly different at the same time with its odd little alleys and canals.

The smell from the brackish water was an unpleasant mixture of eggs, salt and sewage, but it didn’t seem to bother the people milling about the dock. Lady Sansa wrinkled her nose and pulled the end of her headscarf up to cover her face.

Jaime pushed his way back over to them from where he had been talking with a group of men unloading a trading ship. Even exhausted, haggard, with his eyes red and his hair unkempt he stood out amongst the masses. Brienne watched as the few women on the docks turned, surreptitiously watching him, obviously taking in his easy grace and white smile.

What she felt wasn’t jealousy, she told herself. Merely annoyance that everywhere they went people would stare at Jaime because of his ridiculous good looks and easy smile, while they would only ever stare at her because of her freakish appearance.

Brienne pulled her cloak close around her tall frame as Jaime explained his plan.

“Apparently the really good inns aren’t open to just any old traveller, so if we want to keep ourselves hidden I suppose we should find somewhere to bed down around here. They’re used to Westerosi coming in off the boats, so we shouldn’t cause too much of a stir.”

Jaime glanced around the throng in the harbour, then reached over and grasped Brienne’s wrist with his good hand.

“Keep hold of Sansa, if you do not wish to lose her in this crowd,” he cautioned her as he began to tug her through the crowds. For a moment she was strongly reminded of their journey to King’s Landing and how he would stride off ahead, tugging her along with the rope she had fastened to his hands, as if he had been the leader and she a mere subordinate who would follow or be left behind. Sometimes it had annoyed her so much she would ‘accidentally’ pull back too hard on the tether and watch him stumble with slightly vicious pleasure.

She had hated him then.

Shaking off her fit of remembrance, Brienne reached back for Lady Sansa, noticing with a pang how the girl hesitated for a moment before tentatively grasping the proffered hand. Together the three of them made their way through the noisy, bustling crowds.

 

The inn held a drowsy, airless warmth that smelt of old sweat and alcohol, but it was not the worst of these sorts of places Brienne had  ever been in. At least the sawdust on the floor was clean, and there was a cheerful fire burning in the grate. In comparison to the last time they’d stopped at an inn, this one was lively, crowded with merchants and locals alike, all talking loudly and drinking enthusiastically. A bard was strumming his lute in the corner, warbling a mostly on-key rendition of The Mermaid’s Lament.

The innkeeper was more than happy to give them a room for the night in exchange for a modest sum of gold. It was a well-sized room with a fire laid out ready to be lit and a large, comfortable-looking bed.

Maybe this time Brienne would be able to convince Jaime to take the pallet on the floor, and she could share the bed with Sansa. It would give them all an easier sleep, she was sure, though each for different reasons.

The girl had already sat down on the bed, studiously ignoring them as she ran her hand over the soft blankets.

“We need to eat,” Jaime insisted, making a move as if to grab her arm and pull her up before Brienne caught his eye and shook her head subtly. With an exaggerated eye-roll, he turned the movement into pulling the bags from his shoulder and slinging them into the corner with as much grace as he could manage one-handed.

“I’m not hungry, I’m tired,” Sansa answered, not lifting her eyes from the bedspread.

She did look tired, dark bruise-coloured shadows marring the delicate pale skin under her eyes. Had she slept a single night through since the news of her brother and her lady mother’s death, Brienne wondered.

The thought of her own father, of what may have happened to him rose up and tried to claim her then, but she refused to acknowledge it. There would be time enough to think on that later, when she was alone and could shed any tears which might come in privacy.

“Well I am hungry,” Jaime responded, slightly petulantly.

It was like being in charge of two children, she thought, as he and the girl glared at each other.  Sansa at least had the excuse of age, Jaime had absolutely no reason to behave as if he were not yet grown.

The door beside theirs slammed open, expelling a rather drunken tradesman and his perfumed companion, who made their way unsteadily down the hallway toward to main room.

“Bar the door,” Brienne told Sansa firmly. “And don’t open it for anyone who isn’t us.”

 “I’d put even odds on her not even opening it for us,” Jaime put in as they walked away. Silently Brienne agreed with him, but she didn’t begrudge Lady Sansa her solitude. She understood the need for a quiet place  to shed tears without being seen as weak.

The inn was busy, so t took them some time to find a spare table and squeeze themselves into seats, but the food was brought quickly: a muddy-tasting fish in a slightly spicy broth.  Though the flavours took a moment to get used to, it wasn’t an unpleasant dish, and it was at least warm and satisfying. Jaime ate like a man half-starved, getting frustrated at having to use his left hand to shovel the food into his mouth with very little refinement. His lord father would probably be shocked, Brienne thought with mild amusement, trying to imagine Jaime eating in this manner at one of the fine feasts in King’s Landing. She ate her own portion at a more subdued pace, not having spent much of the previous week with her head in a bucket.

The bard finished his song to half-hearted applause, and announced that the next one would be his own creation.

“A Westerosi tale,” he proclaimed, drawing a few cheers from those who were obviously of the Seven Kingdoms. “A tale of events which happened mere weeks ago. When the Maimed Lion of Lannister, the famed Kingslayer Jaime Lannister and his beloved Warrior Maiden of Tarth slew the corrupt boy-king Joffrey at his wedding feast! It is a song of passion! Betrayal!  Intrigue ! And two lovers ready to defy all of the Seven Kingdoms in order to be together.”Brienne could feel her cheeks steadily turning redder as the bard strummed the opening notes, could feel the amusement practically radiating off of Jaime beside her.

The man launched into the song, which had only the loosest resemblance to their actual story, seeming to disregard the facts in favour of a more exciting account. She also noted that it took great care to describe her in flattering terms, possibly because a less than attractive heroine would simply not fit with the romantic tale the man was trying to weave. She was a ‘swordmaiden, taller than a man with hair like flax and eyes the colour of the summer sky’.

“If that’s the description they’re going on,they’ll be looking for us for a long time,” Jaime noted wryly, apparently very entertained by the whole thing.

 

Jaime was quite happy to sit in the crowded warmth of the inn and continue listening to the ridiculous song. It amused him to watch Brienne blush various interesting shades of red. After all, the singer was at least being nice about them, even if he did seem determined to turn them into some sort of rather pathetic love ballad. Jaime was certain worse songs had been written about him in his time, indeed had on occasion caught one or two of them being played around the taverns of King’s Landing. He found he rather liked the idea of being the just and brave hero for a change.

“They shouldn’t be singin’ songs like that about a traitorous cunt,” a man, worse for wear and clutching his tankard as if it would presently run away from him, announced loudly for the rest of the tavern to hear. His accent gave him away as a denizen of Westeros, Ashemark to be precise, hardly an uncommon thing in the trading ports.

One of his companions chuckled in amusement.

“What, you think the Kingslayer had nothin’ to do with it?”

“Well she seduced ‘im, didn’t she? Turned him dark,” the drunken man said to those around him. “They say she was insatiable, that they rutted like beasts, she used her dark charms to lure him away from the ri-righteo-good path of the Kingsguard and into a life of fornication and sin.”

Jaime lifted his hand to hide a smile at the look of pure mortification which crossed Brienne’s face.

“If you listen to the tales, he was sinnin’ plenty anyway with his sister,” another man put in, grinning.

“Tha’s what Stannis Baratheon wants you t’ believe,” the first man said dismissively. “That way he can claim the throne. Pack o’ lies if you ask me.”

My, what a Lannister loyalist, Jaime thought.

“King’s dead now, anyhow. Way I hear tell of it, the whore killed ‘im in front of a hundred witnesses because he questioned what she were doing with his uncle…they were going to hang her ‘afore the Kingslayer broke her out and run off with her.”

The first man lowered his voice until Jaime could barely hear him over the general merriment.

“Some say it were magic, ‘cause she wasn’t no great beauty… from behind you couldn’ tell if she were a man or a woman, that’s what they say, an’ her face looked like one of ‘em bullfrogs you get in the southern marshes.So woman like that gets a man like ‘im… must be magic, eh? Black magic.”His companions seemed to think this the height of wit, because they fell all over themselves, roaring with laughter.

Jaime could hear Brienne’s breathing had changed, coming slightly uneven now. A small change maybe, but a telling one.

Forcing himself to look up, he noticed her eyes were lowered, her mouth set in a hard straight line. Suddenly his good humour about the situation completely and utterly deserted him.

“Magic or just a really good fuck,” the second man put in, and the group roared with laughter again.

Jaime slammed his fist down on the table, making to get up. But Brienne hastily grabbed for his arm, holding him steady.

“Don’t.”

Her eyes were only slightly watery, the dim light of the tavern making them shine. She was being sensible, of course, if a one-armed Westerosi man walked up and punched out a man for talking badly of Brienne of Tarth... Well, even those  lack-wits  would probably be able to work out his identity

It didn’t mean he wanted to punch them any less, of course.

“We’ll just go to the room,” she implored him, her grip like iron. “We’ve left Sansa on her own long enough as it is.”

“Well, I’m really not sure if I should be alone with you,” he teased, trying to lighten the mood. “You might lure me off the path of righteousness with your dark charms.”

It was the wrong thing to say.

“I did not mean to cause offense…” he started, but she cut him off sharply.

“They’re right, though.Men never want women like me unless there are other forces involved.”

“Are you telling me you believe in magic?”

“No.” She gave him a disparaging look. “Money.”

Brienne stood without giving him chance to formulate a reply, and pushed her way through the crowd. Jaime watched her until she disappeared from sight, half-wondering if he should go after her, but after a moment’s hesitation decided to stay where he was. She was angry and would need time to get herself together. He couldn’t think of a response in any case, still trying to digest all that simple declaration had implied.

 

 

Brienne pushed her way through the crowd with relative ease and only a few double-takes directed at her.  Most passers-by only took in her tall frame and thought her a man, which was safer by far. Safer than being a tall, ugly woman with a sword anyway.

It was ridiculous for her to become upset, but for a moment it had been as if she were back in Renly’s camp, enduring the taunts and games of the men there. Only this time there would be no retribution, no melee where she could beat them all into the dust one by one, make them pay for their jibes with her weapons and fists.

Jaime didn’t understand, of course he didn’t understand. How could he?

There was a group of men standing casually around the base of the inn’s front stairs, nothing unusual in that, everyone seemed to move in groups here, and this was an inn. But they held no cups, did not seem as if they were making for the rooms upstairs or toward the taproom. They were just standing, pretending to talk but their eyes were fixed on her. The hair on the back of her neck began to stand up. Despite the heat of the room she’d just left, she was struck with a sudden chill.

Abruptly, overwhelmingly, fear washed over her.

Her hand dropped to the hilt of her sword, but before she could even think to draw it there was a knife against her ribs and a familiar voice in her ear.

“It’s been a long time.”

Chapter Text

He was dangling the necklace between his fingers, examining it. It caught the light even somewhere as dimly lit as this, glinting softly.

“Give it back.”

The delicate clasp had been snapped where he’d pulled it from her neck in the struggle and now it hung lopsided and broken. Brienne had known bringing the necklace was wrong, it would’ve been more sensible to simply leave it in King’s Landing. But, Jaime had given it to her and it had foolishly felt like a talisman, something to be kept with her .

He moved closer, close enough that were her hands not restrained she could have struck him, and  then tucked the necklace decisively away into his cloak. 

“Sold your virtue for a pretty trinket, have you?  Spread your thighs for a Lannister pedant and an empty promise. It’s a wonder he’d have you.”

Ronnet Connington hadn’t changed much in the years since he had first laughed in the face of an awkward twelve year old girl at Evenfall Hall. True, he was taller now, and broader, with more scars, but the little sneer of disgust that curled his lip was the same.

“Let me go.”

Brienne made her voice as commanding as she could, straining against the tight hold the other men had on her arms. One of them had a bruised cheek and bloodied mouth where she’d slammed her head back into him when they first grabbed her.

Ronnet looked rather condescendingly amused by her but she noticed that he hadn’t put away the knife he’d earlier held to her throat.

“I don’t think so. Lord Tywin has offered quite a hefty price for your head, whether or not it’s attached to the rest of you.”

Brienne stilled, fear lancing through her. If they killed her who would warn Jaime and Sansa? Who would protect them?

Ronnet reached over and caught hold of her face, hard enough to bruise, quick enough so that she couldn’t bite him, and forced her to look at him. His eyes were still blue, she had once thought them nice, before she’d noticed the sneering disdain in them. He smelt of unwashed sweat and leather.

 “Gods, I thought you were ugly at twelve but I think you’re even uglier n— “

There was a small sound behind him and he turned.

Ronnet almost managed to move out of the way of the punch, but he was wearing armour, heavy and unbalanced, while Jaime moved lightning fast. It landed squarely on Ronnet’s nose with a satisfying crunch and he toppled backwards, crashing into the stairs.

 

 

 

Sansa’s eyes snapped open.

She’d been having a strange, deep dream in which her mother’s face swam in front of her, leeched of colour. In the dream she’d been her younger self, obviously being berated for some misdemeanour, but though her mother had been trying to speak, all that had come out was a strange rasping whisper…

Absently, she wiped at the tears on her cheeks with the back of her hand. The light in the room was dimmer now, fading rapidly and Sansa wondered how long she’d been asleep.

For a long moment, she just lay there, listening to the sounds of the port outside, the shouts and the clack of the carts. The sounds of Braavos, half a world away from King’s Landing, but closer to Winterfell than she’d been in a long time. Closer to home.

They weren’t going to take her North, they weren’t going to take her home. She wasn’t sure if they even knew where they were going at all, or if they were just simply running to avoid Lord Tywin’s wrath.

It was as if she’d been sleeping since the news of her mother’s death had reached her and she was only now just starting to wake up, to find herself half-way across the world with people she neither knew nor trusted entirely. Getting to her feet, Sansa crossed to the door, just laying a hand on the cold wood and trying to think clearly. She felt somewhat lightheaded, as though she might fall if the door weren’t supporting her.

Her mother’s face from the dream, desolate and grim, kept swimming before her eyes.

She could just leave. The door was not barred and there were no guards. No one would stop her.

There would be dangers out there, probably of the sort that had been vaguely alluded to by her Septa when she was younger, and yet how could they be worse than all that had befallen her in King’s Landing? How could they be worse than being the prisoner of one Lannister after the next, living subject to their whims?

Brienne… Lady Tarth… seemed as if she meant well. She was kind in a strange, awkward sort of way. But kind as she was, she loved a Lannister and …he looked like Joffrey sometimes, she thought. Not all the time but… in a certain light, with a certain tilt of his head. It was enough to send a shiver down her spine.

Mind made up, she turned back to the room, finding her warm cloak where she’d flung it carelessly on the bed and slipping it about her shoulders. She settled the hood carefully over her hair, covering her most distinctive feature.

He had left the bags slung carelessly in the corner and, cautiously, she reached in, pushing her way down through layers of spare clothing and food supplies, searching for something she wasn’t sure would be there.

Then….there, the clink of a purse under her fingers. Relief washed over her. Was it much? Would it be enough to buy her passage to the North? She opened it and stared down at the jumble of little coins, uncertain.

Money had never been something to which she had paid attention, it was simply something other people dealt with.  Moreover, this wasn’t her money.To take it would be stealing, and yet if she didn’t take this opportunity, when would the next one arise? They were barely keeping ahead of Lord Tywin, neither of her ‘rescuers’ seemed to know what they were doing, it seemed likely that before long they would be caught and dragged back to King’s Landing.

And she would rather die than have that happen.

Without hesitation, Sansa shouldered the bag and slipped from the room.

 

 

They’d taken the pair of them into a dark, private room and used ropes to bind them together, back to back, winding them so tightly that they were as effective as any shackles. It reminded Jaime of their first capture, by Locke and his band, who had them bound back to back on a horse. At least this time they were not sniping at each other, each trying to rile the other.

Red Ronnet’s face was living up to his name now, practically gushing blood from his nose, a sight which gave Jaime an oddly savage joy. Yes, it had been foolish to give himself away so, and his ribs still ached from the retaliatory beating they’d given him, but he would do it again in a heartbeat..

One of their guards pulled Brienne’s ropes extra tight, startling a slight grunt of pain from her. It was galling that after they had managed to slip through his father’s fingers on Tarth, they were to be trussed up like pigs and delivered back to him by a bunch of half-trained sell-swords.

“Why don’t we just kill the sow? Easier to transport her head and we wouldn’t have to feed her.”

Jaime twisted wildly in the ropes, trying to turn enough to look the man who’d suggested it in the eye.

“Don’t touch her.”

Connington came around in front of him, red hair visible even in the darkness of the room.

“You don’t give orders, Lannister; you’re not Lord Commander here ,” he sneered, but it sounded decidedly less threatening with his broken nose- in fact it was more like ‘D-our no- -ord –Commanduh ere’.

“I’m sorry? I didn’t quite catch that.”

The mocking tone of his voice earned him a swift punch to the stomach but he managed to gasp out-“Per-haps if you…had shown any semblance of manners to…to the lady you’d still be able to speak properly.”

Connington spat to the side, a large gob of blood splatting to the floor and his voice became marginally clearer.

“I think I’ll address her any way I bloody want. I’m her former betrothed you see, a rather narrow escape for me.”

Former betrothed?

Jaime had a sudden, oddly vivid image of Brienne lying beneath this man. Of him touching her. Forcing her down, and rather than whispering sweet nothings, whispering hateful things.. Condemning her for her size and strength, as he took her with no regard for her pleasure.

His stomach clenched.

“Well then you will see you have lost any claim to her. And should you move against her, you will move against me. Tell me, what were my father’s orders? Did they involve bringing back two corpses?”

His ire seemed to drive Connington back momentarily, but he soon recovered.

“Don’t worry, Kingslayer. As long as you’re well behaved, Brienne the Beauty  gets to live another day.”

He motioned for the others to follow him out of the room but one of them seemed to linger in front of Brienne. Jaime strained his neck, trying his hardest to see what he was doing.

“Perhaps you don’t remember me, my lady.” His voice sounded amused, friendly, but when Brienne’s voice came back it was flat, deliberately without intonation.

“I remember you.”

Connington was standing by the door, waiting impatiently.

 “Hunt, get out here.”

The other man left, the heavy door thumped shut behind him and they were left in darkness.

 

It was some time later that Jaime had fallen into a restless doze, hindered somewhat by the pain that was starting to claw at him where the ropes had been bound tight.

He woke with a start at the sound of another man’s voice in the room. When he opened his eyes, he saw the flicker of a candle amidst the darkness. Pain jolted up his arm when he tried to move and he almost swore aloud, checking himself at the last moment. It sounded like the same person who had talked to Brienne earlier, he thought blearily, though it was difficult to judge from her tone whether he was a friend or foe.

Hopefully not another damned former betrothed at least.

“You said you remembered me.”

The man was speaking softly, like he didn’t want to be heard by Connington and the rest, which was hopeful at least. Anyone who’d come in merely to taunt them, or force himself on Brienne would doubtless not care about making noise. Jaime highly doubted Connington was going to try and protect her virtue..

 “Hyle Hunt.”

There was some venom behind her words, if he could judge. Someone who had wronged her in the past then, a list which seemed to include most of Westeros.

“Connington is a miserable cunt. Let me free you…for a price.”

He felt Brienne stiffen behind him. He tried to work his hand free enough to take hers, to communicate that he would not let this man touch her. But the ropes simply bit into his wrist, rubbing the skin raw where he tried to move.

“I will save your life and you will marry me. The Kingslayer and Lady Stark, if she can be found, can continue their journey and we will return to Tarth.”

Jaime stilled in his attempt to get free, drawing a sharp breath.

Oh gods it was another one. Where were all these bloody ex-suitors coming from all of a sudden?

“Lady Sansa is miss-“

He interrupted Brienne harshly, cutting her off.“Lay one finger on her and it will be the last thing you do.”

The man--Hyle Hunt--moved to stand in front of him, and Jaime got his first proper look at him.  There was absolutely nothing remarkable about the man at all, plain face, plain clothes, muddy brown hair. He looked like every other mercenary in Westeros.

“What will you do to me, bound and maimed, Kingslayer?” He sounded more curious than dismissive. “It seems I have the upper hand as it were.”

Jaime made a point of sweeping disdainful gaze over him… “And who exactly are you? Some little hedge knight, with only the clothes on your back and a name worth less than even that.”  It was a fair guess, Hunt was not a distinguished name but the men Connington had brought along with him seemed to be more than common sell-swords. King’s men, or at least King’s men as long as the pay wasn’t better elsewhere.

“I might be a hedge knight, true, but many lords, ugly and scarred, take young nubile wives who are of less noble birth than themselves. I’m merely proposing the lady does the same.”

Jaime could feel Brienne shifting in the seat behind him, probably embarrassed or angry, but she didn’t speak out.

“She’s worth more than you, ten times over.”

“I know,” Hunt agreed amicably “Why do you think I propose the match? Tarth is a sizeable estate—”

“I’m not talking about her holdings,” Jaime snapped back.

The other man tilted his head, considering him for a moment.

“I’m offering you help, at great risk to myself. I need to know my faith is going to be repaid somehow.”

Damn, if only his father wasn’t working against them, he could have offered this cretin all the gold in Casterly Rock to buy his loyalty. But he absolutely refused to use Brienne’s hand in marriage as a bartering token.

“Then demand some other repayment. The Lady Brienne was promised to me. We have an agreement.”

“You do?”

“We do?” Brienne echoed from behind him, sounding rather confused.

“We were betrothed in the sight of the gods and I will honour that betrothal. I fully intend to do my duty and marry her properly when the opportunity allows.”

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sansa Stark crept down the hallway, cloak held tightly about her. She thought it would probably be easy enough to slip down the stairs unnoticed, and the tavern was still rowdy enough that she should be able to blend in with the crowd. From there she could make her way to the docks, there would surely be at least one ship heading to the North of Westeros.

She was so set on planning her escape that she missed the large group of men until it was nearly too late. Only one of them breaking out into raucous laughter brought her attention to them and she paused, still in the shadows, to watch.

Why were they just standing about?  The hair on the back of her neck prickled.

She took care to keep her head lowered. Her face was shadowed by the hood, but even so, she didn’t quite dare to make her way through them. It would be ridiculous to assume that they were here for her and yet…

She caught a word in passing… Kingslayer… and froze to the spot. They knew, they knew Jaime Lannister was here and if they knew he was here then they would be looking for her. Her heart fluttered in panic and she shrank back against the wall.

One of them, a particularly unsavoury looking man, spoke so loudly she could hear him even from her hiding place.

“Screw that, I ain’t feeding that great cow all the way back on a sea voyage. Fuck her if you want and then let’s just take her head off and be done with it.”

Are they talking about Lady Brienne?

There was an open door a little furthur down the corridor, the only escape she could see without walking through the crowd. Quickly as she could manage Sansa slipped through it, out into the sharp cold of the evening.

There were men out here too, two of them sitting on upturned crates and looking completely bored. They were far enough away so that in the rapidly fading light she could press her back into the wall of the tavern and be sure of not being seen. It would be possible to slip past them and down the alleyway, to just keep going to the docks, a boat…all the way to Winterfell.

Her heart squeezed in longing at the thought.

In spite of herself, she instead crept round to the windows of the guarded room, taking care to keep herself to the deeper shadows. The shutters that covered them were cracked and broken and she could hear familiar voices leaking out. She recognised Jaime Lannisters voice first, he spoke the loudest, as usual. 

Sansa crouched beneath the window, the damp seeping into the fabric around her knees, and peered cautiously over the edge.

The dim candlelight in the room barely allowed her to see but she could just about make out the two figures tied back to back. Lady Brienne was the one facing her, she caught a glimpse of her pale hair in the gloom. There was a man pacing back and forth in front of her, talking in such low tones that she couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.

Sansa chewed her lip and leant as close as she dared to the broken window, wanting to hear what was going on. The words were muffled but it seemed like he might be offering to free them.

Jaime Lannister spoke then, his tone angry and dismissive, loud enough that she caught a few words…he was talking about a price, didn’t seem as if he wanted to pay…

No, no, just take him up on it. She felt a surge of anger toward him, why wouldn’t he just accept the help? If the man in there freed him and Lady Brienne then she wouldn’t have to try, wouldn’t even have to think about helping them.

She should just leave, just slip out into the darkness and find her way to the docks. Use the money to buy a ticket to Westeros and never ever think about them again. 

With longing, she looked down the alley to the street beyond. There were people going about their business, even though the sun had fully set now; men in the strange peacocky fashions of Braavos swaggering around, women calling out to them, trying to entice them into the taverns. Between them all, a skinny little girl was trying to push a barrow of oysters too big for her and calling her wares.

The first true hope of escape, of freedom, she’d had in years.

But…Lady Brienne had kept her word to her. More than that, she had been as kind as she could. She didn’t deserve to die at the hands of men like that; no one deserved that. Sansa clenched her fingers in the fabric of her cloak so hard that they ached.

The door opened, startling her, and the man who’d been talking to them stepped out, taking great care to shut the door firmly behind himself. The guards barely spared him a glance

“Get what you wanted from the bitch?”

“Unfortunately not.”

The other guard laughed, a short cruel sort-of laugh.

 “Gods, Hunt, she’s tied up. Exactly how did she stop you from fucking her?”

“Maybe I just didn’t fancy an audience. Hard to get it up with Jaime Lannister swearing vengeance on you every five seconds.”

He waved them off, but to her dismay, instead of walking back toward the tavern, the man strode toward her hiding place. He’s seen me, she thought, panicked, He’s seen me and he’s going to drag me into that room and tie me up with them!

But instead of dragging her from her feeble hiding place, he stopped short several paces away and turned to face the brickwork.

Sansa fought against a horrified blush as he began to unlace his breeches, obviously intending to relieve himself against the wall.  Fear made her limbs feel heavy but she forced herself to step out of her hiding place before he could get much further.

“You offered to help them.”      

Her voice was barely more than a whisper but the man still spun around, obviously startled by her presence. While he was hastily retying his breeches, Sansa took the opportunity to look at him properly. He wasn’t someone she recognised, which didn’t surprise her—these men didn’t seem like the type who frequented court—but he seemed too well-kept to be a mercenary. Not that she had made the acquaintance of that many mercenaries.  He didn’t have an unpleasant face, it looked rather amicable actually. It gave her the courage to take a half-step forward into the light.

He squinted at her face for a moment then let out a quiet laugh, pitching his voice low to match hers.

“Why you must be Sansa Stark. Connington’s got half the tavern in an uproar looking for you, my lady.”

There was something in his voice, at once both sly and amused, that made her wary despite his friendly smile. Maybe showing herself to him had been foolish but her hiding place had only been the merest patch of shadow, it was likely he would’ve spotted her when he turned anyway and this way he did not find her cowering in the dirt.

“You were going to help them.”

He took a step toward her and she steeled herself not to back away, trying to ignore the growing unease in the pit of her stomach.

“Yes, but they wouldn’t meet my terms.”

There was curiosity in his eyes as he watched her and she tried to meet his gaze without a flicker. You are a Stark of Winterfell, you don’t tremble.

“I should probably turn you over to Connington.”

“But you won’t.” She spoke with as much certainty as she could muster “You won’t because you would have called him by now.”

He spread his arms wide and smiled in a way that she couldn’t decide if she found charming or not.

“I suppose you have my attention then, Lady Sansa.  Ser Hyle Hunt, at your service.”

He bowed from the waist, a rough attempt at a court bow while keeping his eyes fixed on hers “Connington would probably be grateful if I turned you over, generous with my pay. Of course, I offered to wed the Lady Brienne and have Tarth as my payment for their freedom, but apparently Ser Jaime will not hear of it so…”

He straightened, shrugging one shoulder, as if there was little he could do.

 “You wanted to marry her?”

She’d assumed he’d simply asked them for money. It seemed strange to think of someone like Lady Brienne marrying at all, let alone being convinced into the kind of marriage Sansa herself kept narrowly escaping. She seemed… stronger than that, more in control of her own fate.

Hyle Hunt eyed her speculatively for a moment. “I did. Do you propose another hand in exchange my lady? Your own, perhaps?” He paused and gave her another of those disarming, friendly smiles “Winterfell would be a pretty prize indeed.”

Sansa balked slightly, blushing despite herself.

 “I... I have money.”

She fumbled with the little purse, thrusting it out toward him, but he made no move to take it.

“Even if that’s filled with gold dragons, I’m afraid that’s not enough my lady” His voice was soft and he looked genuinely regretful, as if he would have really liked to have helped her.

There had been more copper than gold in the bag when she’d looked. Suddenly Sansa felt wretchedly helpless, foolish… a foolish little girl who knew nothing about the world, about anything. Choking back the self-loathing that was trying to clutch at her, she instead took a deep breath.

What else did she have to bargain with? There had to be something.

 “I-I would offer you a suitable hold then, when I take back the North from those who have betrayed my family.”

That seemed to spark his interest. He glanced about and then leaned close to her, close enough she could feel his warm breath against her skin.

“I would want a good one then…” he stared at her consideringly “I will not be put off with some squalid little patch of dirt, my lady. I want a hold at least equal to Tarth in size.”

 “It is yours, when I am Lady of Winterfell.” She wondered how she would ever live up to these promises.

He raised an eyebrow at her, grinning in a way that was slightly lascivious.

“And a suitable lady wife?”

Sansa could feel her cheeks heating, hoped the hood of her cloak hid it from him.

“Yes.”

He inclined his head slightly, still smiling at her. It made her grateful he didn’t try to take her hand, to seal it with a handshake as she had seen men often do after making a deal.

“Then it appears we have ourselves a deal, my lady. Come, this way, quickly!”

 

 

 

There was near silence in the little room.

Jaime could hear vague sounds from outside, the rest of the tavern going about its business, the typical shouts and various bawdy songs. Even the occasional crash and tinkle of glass as the practically obligatory bar fight broke out. He could hear the crude suggestions the guards had thrown at Hunt when he’d left, could now hear one of their rattling snores. But within this room, the only real sound was Brienne’s breathing behind him, coming slightly uneven as if she were upset but she’d said absolutely nothing to him since Hunt has left the room.

Since he’d managed to blurt out that his intention was to marry her.

 “Brienne,” he began, but then faltered into unsure silence once again. It was difficult to know what to say, even more difficult to know what she was thinking.

A broken shutter rattled and creaked. She was warm against his back, comforting in the darkness even if she was still quiet  It reminded him of the few nights they’d spent on Tarth, how warm she’d been in his arms, how good it felt to wake in the night and have her beside him.

“I meant it. I would wed you properly once this wretched business is done with.”

He pulled fruitlessly at the ropes binding his wrists again, feeling a tiny trickle of blood begin to run down his skin where they’d rubbed him raw. Somehow he was certain if he could just touch her, take her hand, he’d know what to do.

“If you would have me,” he added somewhat hopefully, but was still met with silence.

“Jaime…”

He almost jumped at the sound of her voice, despite how soft it was, barely more than a whisper.

“It was good of you to try and save me but you don’t have to say things that you don’t mean.”

She sounded resigned, almost defeated, and it sparked a certain amount of irritation within him.

“We already said the words,” he pointed out, trying not to let the annoyance show in this voice.

“Yes… we did…”

She hesitated, before drawing breath to speak again.

The door banged open, rebounding noisily off its frame. For a second, Jaime thought it was Hunt, come back to try again to convince Brienne to prance off into the sunset with him, but instead it was Connington who stood framed in the dim light of the doorway.

 

“What are you doing here?”

Brienne winced at Jaime’s imperious tone, wondering why he felt the need to make it sound as if Ronnet had walked into private chambers rather than the squalid room in which they were kept prisoner.

Part of her was shamefully glad that she wouldn’t have to reply to Jaime’s declarations, that they wouldn’t have to talk about it properly. At least not yet. That she wouldn’t have to find the courage to ask him why.

Connington sauntered over to them, smiling a grim little smile that made her shiver.

“We’ll be moving you out shortly, different tavern just in case you’ve got friends here. I rather doubt it but better safe than sorry.”

As Ronnet got closer it became rather obvious that he’d been drinking again, his eyes were slightly glassy, steps just a little unsteady. Celebrating their capture perhaps, but it still put Brienne on edge. Sober, Ronnet Connington was mean enough.

Abruptly, he made a grab for her, fisting his hand in the back of her hair and yanking her head back painfully until she was forced to look him in the eye. Behind her she could feel Jaime tense. He began to struggle against his ropes.

Ronnet’s glassy eyes raked over her face, that little sneer of disgust curling his lip once again.

“Most of the men are disappointed, you know. They didn’t believe me when I told them what a freak you were. And Braavos is full of whores, so none of them are hard up enough to bother to wrest your thick legs apart.” He paused, his face sinister.“I think we’ll keep you alive for the journey back. It’s a long way to King’s Landing and I imagine on the road, even you might start to look good.”

Calloused fingertips scraped gently against her palm and she nearly jumped before she realised whose they were. Somehow Jaime had managed to free his hand just enough to take a clumsy hold of hers. It was a useless gesture, it would not save her if they choose to kill her or rape her, but somehow it strengthened her resolve.

Jaime squeezed her hand tightly. It must have been uncomfortable for him but he didn’t let go.

Ronnet finally dropped his grasp on her hair, leaving her with an aching scalp, then swayed back on his feet. He stood there watching her speculatively for a moment before shaking his head.

“Get some sleep if you can, you’re going to need it.”

He turned, as if to leave, then stopped.

“But first, I believe owe you something, Lannister.”

Without warning he turned and let a punch fly, his fist smashing into Jaime’s face. Jaime grunted in pain as it drove his head back, knocking it painfully into hers. For a long moment all she could hear was the sound of him struggling to breathe. When he finally did manage to choke in a breath, he snarled, “Make no mistake, before we reach Westeros I am going to gut you, and when we reach King’s Landing I’ll have your body displayed atop  the Keep to feed the carrion crows, though I fear you will only sicken them,” There was a savagery she had not heard in his voice for quite some time.

Ronnet stared down at him, unmoved. “Big words from a bound man with only one hand. Rage all you like, Kingslayer, I’m still dragging you back to King’s Landing to collect my reward.”

Brienne wondered briefly where her own anger was, the anger that had defined her most of her adult life. Not Jaime’s kind of anger, the kind that roared at the world, but the low, deep simmering anger that had festered in the pit of her stomach for years. The kind that had made her pick up a sword and thrust and parry again and again and again fuelled by the images of laughing faces, of disgust and taunts.  The anger that had driven her to win the melee, the anger that had driven Ser Loras to the ground, the same anger that had driven Jaime to his knees in their fight. The anger-- seething, resentful, bitter-- at her lot in life.At her place in the world.

Somehow it had gradually been quieted by Jaime, by his acceptance, by the touch of his hand on hers. It had been so slow she had failed to notice it until just now, until she found she could look Ronnet Connington in the face and not be consumed by it. It was an almost terrifying thing to realise. The anger was easier, safer by far. The anger was familiar.

 The curious hope that Jaime offered was only heartbreak in disguise, she was sure of that.

 

It seemed only a moment after Connington left that the door was wrenched open again, this time by the one person Jaime thought he might like even less than Ronnet Connington.

“Looks like you’ve been having some trouble, Kingslayer.”

Hyle Hunt looked entirely too amused by the whole thing as he made his way casually across the room. He had a knife in hand, blade catching the scant moonlight and reflecting it back in a slight glimmer.

Knowing my luck he’s come to carve off an ear.

Jaime’s face was still throbbing dully but other than the sharp slice of pain where he’d bitten his cheek it didn’t seem to be that bad. There was more blood than pain. But that didn’t mean he wanted Hyle Hunt adding to his ever growing litany of injuries.

“Go fuck yourself, Hunt.”

To his surprise the other man reached down and used his knife to neatly slice away Brienne’s ropes. She got to her feet warily, rubbing the red marks left on her wrists, her eyes fixed on his knife. It was obvious that she was looking for the catch to her unexpected freedom. If the fool thought to try and force himself on her now, he shouldn’t have untied her; she was easily a match for like of Hyle Hunt unbound.

To his surprise Hunt instead leant over him. After a moment of steady sawing, the ropes around him fell to the ground as well.

As Jaime stood up, Hyle made a big show of putting away his knife and holding up his empty hands. He’d stowed it in a small sheath on his belt, not really secured, and Jaime found himself wondering if it would be possible to overpower him and take it. Brienne would certainly be able to and then they could use what remained of the ropes to tie him up…

Hyle made his way over to the door, pushing it slightly further open to peer out into the courtyard.

“I slipped something into the guards’ drinks, hardly needed it though; they were practically asleep as it was. And lucky for us everyone else is drunk. Makes this a whole lot easier.”

Brienne moved tentatively forward, obviously still searching for whatever trick or con Hyle had planned. “Why are you helping us?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Just because you shunned me doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a deal to be done. Lady Sansa and I have come to an arrangement.”

Brienne’s head snapped up, eyes widening in horror, a positively stricken look on her face. “What kind of arrangement?”

Hyle laughed quietly, shaking his head. “Not that kind of arrangement, have no fear. No, I am still free and able to marry you the moment you decide to have me.” He puckered his lips at her, miming a kiss, which caused her to frown in disgust. 

Never then, Jaime thought sourly. Brienne has far more sense than that.

“And we’re leaving Braavos?” Brienne questioned as they followed him out of the room. True to his word, the two guards were slumped in the chairs, snoring even louder than they had been earlier. Hunt gave one of them a cursory kick as he passed. The man didn’t even twitch.

“Well I certainly don’t want to be here tomorrow when Connington wakes up with a sore head and no captives. But it’s late and there are no ships leaving till morning. And he will search those, he’s not going to let you two go without a fight, that’s for sure.”

The narrow alleyway he led them down took them out onto one of the still busy Braavos walkways and Jaime had to raise his voice slightly in order to be heard over the sudden crowd.

“Not all the ships, the one’s going West. And we’re not going West.”

 

 

The tavern where Hunt took them made the one they’d just left look like the Red Keep. It was situated down a narrow stinking alley, only a grime coated sign flapping sluggishly in the breeze showed that it was a tavern at all.

Inside, he spotted Lady Sansa perched nervously on a chair, as if trying to make as little contact with its surface as possible. He didn’t really blame her for that. The bags they’d left at the other inn were at her feet, partially hidden by  her cloak. He was rather glad to see them, he hadn’t fancied setting off into exile with only the clothes on his back.

Hyle dodged around the other patrons to make his way over to where Sansa sat and dropped an overly familiar hand onto her shoulder. The way he was smiling down at her had Brienne’s jaw clenching and sent her immediately hurrying over the check that the Stark girl was alright.Evidently she trusted the man as little as he did, something which cheered him a little.

After being pointedly pulled away from Sansa Stark, Hunt went off to talk to the barkeep on their behalf, sorting out board and some food and drink. The pervasive odour of rotting fish seemed to have followed them inside from the docks and Jaime wrinkled his nose in disgust. His stomach turned at the very thought of food, especially the kind of food a place like this might provide, but he supposed he would do well to choke it down.His next meal might not come so easily.

Hunt strolled back over to where they were all hovering awkwardly by the edge of the room, each completely unable to bring themselves to sit on one of the strangely greasy looking chairs.

“They have two rooms available and it makes sense for us to stay close.” He paused for a moment to grin at Brienne “I would be happy to share with you, my lady.”

Even without the improper suggestion, the lechery in Hunt’s tone was enough to set Jaime’s temper ablaze. He supposed it wouldn’t do to punch the man who’d just rescued them, but that didn’t stop him from rather badly wanting to.

His eyes met Hyle’s for a moment and, to his annoyance, he saw amusement in the other man’s look. What did Hunt find so bloody funny about this whole situation? Jaime had to will himself not to draw back his fist and let it fly directly into Hyle Hunt’s smug, smirking face.

Obviously unaware of Jaime’s internal dilemma about whether to break his face or not, Hunt ambled up to lean against the bar next to him. Keeping his voice low and conversational so the others would not overhear, he said, “You glare at me every time you see me Kingslayer. Don’t tell me you can’t take a little competition? You’re worried about the fact I might steal her away from you.”

“I suppose it might be that.” Jaime’s words were positively dripping with sarcasm “Or it might be the fact that I don’t like you, I don’t trust you, and I am not entirely certain you’re not planning to put a knife in my belly when I sleep tonight.” He kept his voice winter-cold and cutting, but Hyle just shrugged, the easy smile never falling from his lips. “If it wasn’t for me Kingslayer, you’d still be sitting in that dank room trussed up like a pig waiting for slaughter. What more can I do to earn your trust?”

Jaime was pretty sure nothing would ever convince him to trust this weasel of a man.

The man behind the bar set down four cups full of vaguely yellowish liquid in front of them and held out his hand for coin which Hyle reluctantly parted with.  Jaime wasn’t even sure what the strange, pungent-smelling drink was but he knocked it back before his better judgement could tell him otherwise, grimacing as it burnt its way down his throat. After all, he thought rather grimly, I am a Lannister, and if there is one thing we do well, it’s drink.

Sansa took hers politely and stared down at it, her pretty little nose wrinkling at the smell. After a moment’s hesitation, she edged it back onto the bar as discreetly as possible. Brienne made absolutely no move to even take hers. She was too busy looking worriedly between Hyle and Sansa.

“You’d probably be more comfortable by the fire, my lady,” Hyle suggested to Sansa, obviously noting the way she was pulling her cloak tight around her. “There’s a chill in the air tonight.”

She looked slightly startled for a moment but then replied, “Y-Yes, I would, thank you.”

Jaime felt a spark of gratitude toward the girl. The last thing he’d expected was for her to try and help them rather than to save her own skin. As she moved past him to make her way over to the fire, he took hold of her arm.

“Thank you.”

Lady Sansa turned to face him. There was, he thought, a completely unfair amount of accusation in her gaze.

“I didn’t do it for you.”

He dropped her arm before she could wrench it free, watching as she stalked over to the fireplace, Brienne shadowing her every move like a worried mother hen.  Shrugging, he picked up her discarded cup and drained it.

By his third cup, the stuff wasn’t tasting quite as bad and the burn wasn’t so noticeable. It took away the taste of blood from his mouth at least, dulled the ache where Connington’s fist had connected with his jaw. There was still blood spilt down his shirt, though, drying to a crusty red brown stain. It said a lot about the sort of place this was that the other patrons didn’t even give it a second glance.

The barkeep plunked four bowls in front of him, filled with brown sludge and chunks of greying meat. Half of him wished he had been dragged back to King’s Landing. At least they would’ve given him a decent meal before executing him.

“Allow me, Ser Jaime, let it never be said I do not help those less able than myself.” Hyle appeared at his shoulder to pluck up three of the bowls with an infuriatingly smug grin and carried them over to where Brienne and Sansa were seating themselves by the fireside.

Jaime stayed where he was, watching them through narrowed eyes as he took another mouthful of his drink.

The man was shorter than Brienne by at least half a head. If they were ever to marry,they would look absolutely ridiculous together. She needed a man who wasn’t quite such a diminutive twit. Jaime watched as she almost smiled at the idiot while he leaned closer to her to make some comment or other, not seeming to mind his blatant disregard for her space.

Anger clenched his stomach and, rather than moving to take his own bowl, he instead drained his glass. It made his head spin for a moment and he screwed his eyes tightly shut.

It is probably time to stop, he thought, dragging his finger absently through the sticky rings his cup had left on the wood. After all, I don’t want someone like Hyle Hunt to drive me into losing control.

“Can you direct me to our room?” he asked the barkeep, pleased that his voice was still steady.

 

The door to one of the rooms they’d taken was already ajar when Brienne made her way up the stairs. She’d left Hyle sitting in front of the fire, regaling some of the other patrons with stories so fantastical that she was entirely sure he had made them up on the spot. Sansa had already gone up to the room, claiming fatigue, and Brienne was loath to leave her alone for long.

She left Hyle to his tall tales in the crowded tap room and ventured up the stairs to find their room, feeling the lure herself of hopefully clean bedsheets after such a long day.

She pushed the door open fully, wincing at the tortured creak.

“Jaime?”

He was standing on the far side of the room, naked to the waist with a damp rag in his hand, trying to scrub the blood from his skin. It was a sight she had seen many times now, most recently in the cabin aboard her father’s ship. Maybe one day she would become immune to it, maybe one day it wouldn’t set her blushing.

Apparently today was not that day.

She watched, fascinated, as the water trickled down his stomach, catching other droplets and dragging them with it. They slid down his skin until finally they disappeared into the waistband of his breeches, darkening the fabric there.

He let the rag fall into the bowl, slopping some of the water over the sides and turned to face her, swaying slightly as he did. His eyes were a little unfocused and Brienne wondered just how much he had drunk when she hadn’t been paying attention.

“Like what you see?” It called back to their almost playful conversation in his cabin on the trip to Tarth, Jaime teasing her with what her father might think of them. It seemed a long, long time ago now.

Brienne grimaced at him awkwardly, and made her way into the room. Jaime’s shirt had been flung carelessly on the floor so she picked it up, smoothing out the creases as best she could. It was not that she cared about the state of his clothing, he had left it so on many other nights but it was something to do with her hands, an excuse to direct her gaze elsewhere.

There was something different about the way he was looking at her tonight, a tension in the room that had been absent of late. It made her suddenly both grateful and shamefully regretful that she would be sharing the bed with Sansa rather than Jaime tonight.

She forced herself to look back at him, to keep her face calm. Jaime’s smile was slow and seductive and the way his heavy-lidded eyes swept over her was appraising and vaguely proprietary.

“Going to sleep so soon? I can assure you there are far more interesting things we could be doing.”

There was a sudden pang of nervous excitement in her stomach.

He’s drunk, she reminded herself.

Her hands were, annoyingly, shaking to the extent it was becoming difficult to fold the shirt.  Her heart was beating so fast she could hear it thundering in her ears. It would probably be sensible to leave now but Jaime had moved to lean against the door, a stubborn look on his face.

“I need to prepare for bed. Could you move?”

Brienne gripped the fabric tightly front of her, as if it were a shield, not quite knowing what else to do with her hands. They were still trembling.

“And if I don’t?”

“Don’t be difficult.”

He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out for a long moment. Then he took a determined step toward her. “Let me share your bed tonight, not Sansa. We have bedded down together before, why should that change now that he is here?”

There was a tone of demand about the way he said it and she was grateful he had not come any closer.  Of course she had to bed down with Sansa now they had another man in their party, she would hardly trust Hyle to behave honourably with the girl given the opportunity.

Brienne wished that her hands would steady, become her own capable warrior’s hands again rather than a blushing, trembling maid’s. She placed his shirt down on the chair, trying to ignore the burning way he was staring at her.

“Jaime… don’t be foolish, just go to sleep and—”

He crossed the space between them in two strides and slammed his hand into the wall beside her head. Brienne didn’t flinch, didn’t even look away from him. If he thought to scare her then he was mistaken.

He was drunk but Jaime was no brute.

“Do not pretend you do not want me, Brienne, you are not that good of a liar.” His voice was rough, the way his handless arm curled around her hip possessive. “I’ve never been with any woman but Cersei, I’ve never wanted any woman but her. But, gods, I want you Brienne.”

He let the hand by her head drift down, one finger drawing aimless patterns on the skin of her neck, a thread of excitement prickling where he touched. Her breathing quickened and she had to steel herself not to look away from him.

“When you are restless in our shared bed are you thinking about me slipping a hand between your thighs and bringing you to completion? Do you think about me fucking you?” He said it almost conversationally, as if he were genuinely curious.  Jaime could be vulgar, she knew,but he hadn’t turned the weight of that coarseness upon her since the beginning of their journey to King’s Landing. And there had never been this intent behind it, he’d never stared at her as if he planned to devour her whole.

“Do you remember on the floor of my chambers when I ground against you? I do. I remember how you flushed and gasped and moaned. That was nothing. I could make you scream, so loudly that poor Sansa would be traumatised.”

She became aware that her mouth was dry and her heart was pounding, as hard as it did when she fought. This was a fight of a different kind though, and Jaime appeared to be winning. 

“If we’d been wed, I would have made you scream…there would have been no need for a bedding ceremony, the entire Keep would have heard you crying my name in the throes of pleasure. Do you think Hyle Hunt could make you scream? That self-serving little cunt wouldn’t give two thoughts to your enjoyment. He’d likely be out whoring the minute he’d finished planting a child in your belly.”

Jaime pressed himself against her then, making her gasp as a lightning quick shudder of desire made its way up her spine. She brought her hands up, meaning to push him away, but her arms felt strangely weak and she ended up just pressing them against the smooth hard muscle of his shoulders.

An almost cruel smile curled the edges of his mouth as he leant forward and let his lips brush against hers, lightly, barely there at all. She could smell the alcohol on him, sweet and pungent, but strangely not as off putting as it should have been.

His good hand came to rest lightly on her thigh, stroking her there through the fabric of her breeches in a maddeningly distracting way. His touch made her feel weak with yearning, desperate for the courage to push herself a finger’s breadth away from the wall toward him. That was all it would take, just one movement forward, she could see it in his eyes. The slightest acceptance from her and he would consume her.

“Am I too bold, Brienne? I’m only speaking the truth. You need this as much as I do, want this as much as I do.”

Her eyes slipped closed and a tiny sound of unmistakable desire was dragged from her a mere moment before his lips crashed urgently against hers, clumsy and demanding. His tongue teased along the seam of her lips and almost without thought she opened them to him. The kiss was far more passionate than any they’d shared before, though it took her a moment to adjust to the strange intrusiveness of kissing like this rather than the chaste slide of lips on lips that they’d exchanged before. She’d seen the men in Renly’s camp kiss women like this, had thought it an odd thing too, had not seen how it could be enjoyable, but it made her ache and want and burn in the strangest way. When he finally pulled away, her lips were swollen and her breathing ragged.

“I would make it good, Brienne,” he cajoled, his fingers moving across and pressing upward into the juncture of her legs, making the heat there spike unexpectedly and her knees tremble. “I would make it so that you’d never look at a man like Hunt again.”

Brienne’s eyes snapped fully open.

Of course, that’s what all this was about. Hyle Hunt, Ronnet Connington… and Jaime’s incessant need to win.

“We swore before the gods that we were man and wife, will you deny me a husband’s right?”

He was still pressing insistently against her but all the hazy lust of moments ago had fled her, leaving her cold.

“You promised you would never force the rights of a husband upon me…” She put her hands on his shoulders and forced him back a little.

He allowed himself to be pushed away, but his face was stubborn.

“They call me oathbreaker, don’t they? Has no one told you, my lady, that my vows are worth nothing?”

She could not tell whether the note in his voice now was lust or anger, but she could feel the tension in his shoulders. He abruptly pulled away from her, wrenching open the door so hard it rebounded off of the wall.

“Jaime—”

But it was too late. He was already gone.

 

 

Chapter Text

Brienne was wondering, with increasing seriousness, what she would actually do if Jaime killed Hyle. 

It had been better on the short boat ride they’d taken out of Braavos; at least in the empty cargo hold there had been enough space for the two of them to pointedly avoid one another. But now they were crammed into a low-ceilinged cart and in the close, dark space there was no escape from the underlying belligerent tension between the two men.

Her neck was aching from the hunched posture the low ceiling was forcing her to adopt and she couldn’t help but be aware of just how close Jaime was next to her. It was a small, cramped space and every time her arm brushed against his she had to struggle not to be thrown back to the feeling of being pressed against the wall by him, his breath warm on her neck, his hands clutching at her. If she thought on it too long she could almost believe that she still felt the lewd press of his kisses against her lips, open-mouthed and desperate.

And every single time she thought of it, shame coursed through her. Because a part of her thought that maybe she truly hadn’t wanted him to stop, that if he’d not revealed his intentions were as much about beating Hyle Hunt as anything else, then it was perfectly possible she would have allowed him to have his way with her, right there in that grimy inn on the unwashed sheets, all notions of maidenhood and honour thrown to the wind.

Brienne’s cheeks burned hotly at the thought and she was glad of the relative darkness of the stuffy cart.

 

Eventually the cart deposited them in the middle of nowhere, on a dry and dusty road just as the sun was going down.  Unlike in Westeros the trees along this road were sparse, poorly grown which meant they’d find no shelter but Brienne supposed it meant at least they’d see anyone coming who was likely to give them trouble. Almost unconsciously her hand squeezed the pommel of the sword that rested at her hip.

After the stuffiness of the cart the evening air smelt sweet and fresh, the breeze welcome as they made their way down the long deserted road in the fading sunlight. Brienne wondered silently exactly where they were--somewhere in the South now maybe--but she’d lost most sense of her direction in the boat and Essos was unfamiliar to her. Hyle was the one who asked for directions, the one who procured supplies for them…after all he was the only one who wasn’t, to their knowledge, a wanted fugitive. And he had the kind of open, honest face that meant it was easy for him to deceive people.

As the sun dipped below the horizon they settled down and slept for four hours on the sandy ground, then got to their feet to start walking again.

Clouds scudded quickly across the sky, obscuring and exposing the moon by turns as they trudged silently on along the dirt road. At least here it was mostly warm and dry, she could remember on her journey to King’s Landing she’d often been woken in the deepest hours of the night, soaked to the skin and shaking in the wake of a sudden rainstorm. It had been a wonder that her armour hadn’t rusted to her.

Jaime was walking close beside her now as he had done back then, though he was careful not to touch her, so careful she thought it must look awkward to the other two. Their boots sent up clouds of dust that soon coated their clothing, their skin, their hair, got into their mouths and set them all coughing.

After a few hours Sansa, not a soldier by any stretch of the imagination, began to fall behind, obviously unused to the punishing pace they were setting. Even in the relative cool of the night sweat was matting her fine red hair to her forehead and she was limping, favouring her right foot though she tried her best to hide it. For her sake, they’d have to stop soon even though the rest of them could easily walk on for hours more.

I could carry her, Brienne thought suddenly, there was hardly anything of the girl--she’d be light enough, if Jaime took her pack as well as his own--but somehow she didn’t think Lady Sansa would agree to it. She was proud, like her mother, she would probably insist on walking.

When Brienne called a stop, both men looked surprised but thankfully neither of them protested. Hyle un-shouldered his pack, letting it fall heavy onto the ground in a cloud of dust and immediately began to dig through it for the small, sweet apples they’d bought a few days ago from a trader. In contrast, Jaime stayed standing, watching the other man with hard eyes and a little sneer of contempt ill-concealed on his face.

It was a beautiful night with the light of the moon throwing their shadows long and dark on the sandy ground, not quite full yet but bright enough for that not to matter.  She tilted her face up toward it, eyes closed, letting the silver light paint the inside of her eyelids. It seemed brighter here than it had done in Westeros somehow, as fat and bright as the Maiden’s Moon would be in full summer rather than the waxing winter moons.

Brienne felt eyes on her.

Feeling rather foolish she dropped her chin and opened her eyes. Jaime was staring at her, as if he would be able to read her thoughts through her gaze if he held it long enough.

Maybe he could…

His stillness was almost unsettling and she broke the look, glancing across to where Sansa and Hyle were perched on the edge of the wall. Lady Sansa was easing the boots from her feet, uncovering blistered painful looking skin and Brienne knew then that tomorrow would be even slower.

 

 

A week later Brienne’s skin had begun to redden, blister and peel, great sheets of skin flaking from her nose and shoulders. She would find great clumps of it in her bed roll in the morning, pick at it through the day. It itched and throbbed painfully. Even her head, between her pale hair, was not immune to the miserable pain.

Sansa had wrapped her face and head carefully in a scarf but even so her pale skin had developed the painful pinkish tinge as well. Even Ser Hyle, weather-beaten and used to the elements as he was, had developed an angry red stripe across his nose.

Of course Jaime’s skin had simply turned a rich golden brown, his hair streaked even brighter than usual.

Curse him.

It seemed wholly unfair, thought Brienne as she wiped the slick of sweat off her face, that a Lannister, born and raised in what she considered the North, should take to the sun so thoroughly yet someone born in a more southerly location as she was simply burnt. She hadn’t realised the sun would be quite so fierce here.

And the flies. Nobody had mentioned the flies, constant, irritating and everywhere, every time they tried to eat or even rest they were inundated by them, fat, buzzing black things that crawled on their faces at night, the irritating drone a constant background noise.

It soon seemed that life at King’s Landing was nothing more than a dream of another’s life…or possibly a nightmare depending on how you looked at it, thought Brienne. She would take meagre rations, sunburn and even the flies over the political manoeuvrings of the court. But she worried Jaime did not feel the same, that his outbreak of self-pity on the boat had shown his true feelings…he was so used to that life, he had been so desperate to get back to it when they had been journeying down from the North.

It seemed impossible that the silent sullen man who had barely talked to her over the past few weeks was the same one who had constantly belittled her on their first journey together.

There had been a few more carts, even for a few blessed days a river boat but they were all foot sore and exhausted. The road did not lack for travellers, both those fleeing West from the Dragon Queen and those going East to join her, it was easy enough to blend in if they kept to the edges of everything, heads down and Jaime’s stump covered. Though Sansa’s pretty face had turned a few heads, true, and more than once Brienne had found herself with drawn sword standing between the girl and a would-be suitor.

That night they slept again on the open ground, as they had done most nights. Inns were few and far between in Essos and it was best to avoid them anyway. Too much of a chance, even here, of being recognised by mercenaries looking to make some easy gold.

In the shadow of the mountains that had been rising up on their left for the past few days it was cooler, so they had lit a small stuttering campfire with the little wood they could gather. Brienne shifted, trying to get comfortable on the thin blankets but the stony ground seemed to dig into her no matter which way she turned. Stubbornly she willed herself to sleep, to at least gain some rest before it was her turn to be on watch…

…Jaime was kissing her again, desperately.

They were not in the dreary tavern room as they had been before, she was glad of that. Instead they were under the open sky, thousands of stars above them. The campfire still burned to her left and she could still see the distant mountains but Hyle and Sansa seemed to have disappeared. That should have been important but when Jaime’s lips were pressing kisses down the length of her neck it seemed impossible to keep it to mind.

Unlike in the tavern he was neither rough, nor demanding but gentle, his touches almost tender. His fingertips swept up her arm, raising goosebumps and she drew a sharp breath, murmuring his name. At that he looked up and smiled that smug smile that she’d missed so these past few weeks.

“Brienne…”

But he suddenly he wasn’t looking at her anymore, but off into the distance, a frown on his face. There was something on the horizon, indistinct, nothing more than a smoky blur but for some reason it struck terror into the very core of her. She caught hold of Jaime’s arm, digging her fingers in so hard she was surprised she didn’t draw blood.

“I have to…” he pulled himself from her grasp as easily as if she’d been a child, gaining his feet.

The ground seemed to rise up around them, the mountains closer than they had been before, so high that the light was disappearing. But Jaime didn’t seem to notice, just continued walking away from her as the rocks started to close in on him.

‘Jaime’ she was screaming for him, tears running down her face. But he didn’t hear her, still walking away, toward whatever terrible fate was awaiting him…

Brienne sat bolt upright, a cold sweat drying on her forehead.

“You didn’t scream.”

She turned to see Sansa was awake on the far side of the campfire, staring distantly into its glow. The two men were still sleeping soundly so she must have spoken the truth.

“How did you…”

“When I used to wake up from the dreams, I’d always wonder if I screamed aloud. My maid…Shae…she said I never did though, it was always just in my head.”

There was a rawness to her voice that Brienne had never heard before and she thought for the first time she might be seeing the real Sansa Stark, this broken looking girl sitting across the fire from her.

“In your dreams…” she didn’t know how to finish, trailing off.

“They die. Every night, endlessly.” 

The girl fed fresh sticks into the fire, making it spit and flare, embers spiralling up into the darkness. It painted her face with fresh highlights and put dark shadows in the hollows of cheeks and under her eyes. She was far too young to have such terrible sadness in those eyes.

Brienne clenched her fists until they ached.

“My lady, I won’t let anyone hurt you. Trust me, I would lay down my life for yours…”

The fresh wood popped and cracked, loud in the night. Sansa’s steady gaze didn’t waver from hers, so wretched and bitter.  

“You’re a good person. But I don’t trust you…I can’t….”

The words were strained, a little shaky and Brienne’s heart ached to hear them.

 “I understand.”

 

It was two months before they got as far East as they could without running directly into the little Targaryen queen. The wretched little fishing village they’d ended up in was little more than a glorified cluster of huts on the rocky shoreline.

The house they were standing in front of was ramshackle, not even the finest place in this mundane little place, but it was cheap, with four walls and a roof that didn’t look in imminent danger of collapse. The owner seemed more than happy to rent it to them for a reasonable price.

“It’s too close, we should go back West.”

It seemed to Jaime it was the first time she’d spoken directly to him in weeks. Their journey had been long and in bad company but strangely, he had been glad of baleful Sansa Stark, even glad of that untrustworthy greasy-haired idiot the landlord had thought his brother. Because hadn't he been alone with Brienne, he was no longer sure he could be trusted in her company.

Her eyes when she looked at him, they were such a bright clear blue, so open and honest and all he thought about lately was laying her down on whatever was nearest and making her cry out his name. To have her the way any man would have his wife.

But it would not be right, she didn’t want him, her sullen silences in his presence as of late spoke to that clearly. And half the time he wasn’t even sure why he wanted her, masculine and annoying as she was.

“So you propose we pack up and immediately head back the way we came? Tell me, do you think Hunt and Sansa will take kindly to that? The girl is near enough worn out. Besides, I told you, the nearer we are to the Dragon Queen the less likely my father will find us. And when… if she comes West again then she is hardly going to concern herself with this trifling little village is she? She’ll push on to Tolos or Mantarys to enforce her rule on the poor saps living there instead.”

It was certainly the most he’d said to her since that night.

Part of him expected her to argue, part of him wanted her to argue, to give vent to this tension that was crawling beneath his skin in the way they used to…with hard words and maybe even harsher blows. He realised he was already breathing hard.

Instead she just stood looking at him for a long moment in the lengthening shadows, luminous eyes deeply unhappy. Sea birds called and cried mournfully over the sound of the waves and Jaime wished he had the words to apologise to her.

Finally she nodded, slowly and then turned her back to him, walking over to where Hyle and Sansa were peering in the slightly lopsided door.

 “Spoke to brother.”

The local man who’d agreed to rent them the place walked up to him, hocked back and spat noisily on the ground, forcing Jaime to repress a shudder.

My brother?” he asked, momentarily confused.

A thumb was jerked over his shoulder to where Hyle was making eyes at the Stark girl again.

“Him.”

Jaime felt a surge of annoyance at the thought anyone could believe him even vaguely related to that cretin. But to contradict his story would only invite speculation so he put on his best smile and nodded with enthusiasm.

“Oh yes, well he’s my half-brother really, bastard born… tragic story, raised by Wildlings beyond the Wall, when we first found him he was more creature than man…even now he’s little more than a savage, never really adapted back to life amongst the civilised folk. Of course my wife and I care for him out of the very goodness of our hearts and he’s come so far. One day we hope to introduce him to the world of bathing but...” he paused to heave a dramatic sigh “…it’s a long journey. Don’t worry, we’ll see to it he does no damage to your property.”

Their would-be landlord stared at him blankly, and abruptly Jaime realised the man probably only knew a few words of the common tongue. Most of the speech had probably been lost on him.

Fumbling for the coin purse, Jaime withdrew what little was left of their money and pressed it into the man’s hands. His eyes lit up and a big toothless smile split his wizened face. Gold was the universal language after-all.

Instead of making his way toward the house where the other three were he turned toward the sea. There was desire lingering in his blood from talking with her, so strong that it surprised him. Best to leave a little time before he faced her again.

The wind shifted, blowing strongly from the east now and bringing with it a stench. Not the same kind there had been in King’s Landing with its rich, repulsive mixture of the thousands of unwashed bodies pressed into the streets and all the consequences of so many people together. No, there was a less invasive but no less revolting mix of rot and disease on the breeze. Coming from Mereen, he thought. It smelt like death and despite his earlier reassurances to Brienne he wondered not for the first time if they weren’t running from the Lion right into the jaws of the Dragon.

Chapter Text

 

Lord Tywin considered himself a reasonable person.

So reasonable in fact that he did not execute the idiots who had let his son slip through their fingers in Braavos. Some of them were of noble blood after all and it did no good to anger people unnecessarily. He’d merely sent the fools back to Essos with a decree that they come back with his son or not at all, very fair under the circumstances.

Now he was being equally reasonable in finally going to see the newest guest at King’s Landing rather than having the man dragged before him.

There had been much to do recently, Tommen needed constant guidance. He was little more than a child after all, though a thankfully eager to please one and much easier to manage than his brother had ever been. In many ways Joffrey’s death had been a blessing for him, Tommen was a far more tractable King.

But still… there needed to be retribution for Joffrey’s death. The boy had been a Lannister and his grandson besides.

The room he let himself into was spare but functional, more than the man currently occupying it deserved. But there was no solid proof that he had helped his daughter evade justice so Lord Selwyn was technically a guest of the king for the moment.

“I suppose since you have yet to come to me with news of her capture, that you are here to interrogate me about my daughter’s whereabouts.”

He had lost weight, his face even more lined than when he’d been taken from Tarth. But troublingly there was no look of defeat about him, no broken spirit. In fact he had something akin to amusement in his eyes as he spoke.

“There are far less pleasant ways I could have the information extracted.”

“And I have no doubt if you actually thought I had information I’d be experiencing them right now.”

Tywin allowed himself a small, cold smile. It was true enough. There was probably little Selwyn Tarth could tell him but it had been prudent tocome here and look into the man’s eyes before he came to that conclusion.

“Your daughter will be captured eventually. There are only so many places she can hide after all.”

The other man smiled back calmly, seemingly unperturbed.

“We shall see, won’t we Lord Tywin?”

 

They’d have to go into the town soon, Brienne thought looking at their dwindling larder, trade some of their few possessions for money for food. And when that ran out, she wasn’t sure what they would do. She and Hyle certainly had skills they could employ as sellswords but it might be difficult to find work in such an unfamiliar place.

Her belly already ached fiercely; at their last two meals she’d claimed to have already eaten she had slipped her share onto Lady Sansa’s plate. The girl was so thin already and there were worrying shadows growing under her eyes. If she looked out of the window, she could just about see her now, a pale figure sitting out on the crumbling stone wall a little way back from the cliffs edge. The girl was quite far from their small ramshackle house but it was easy to spot her long red hair being tossed about by the winds.

Lady Sansa was still so distant, to all of them, so distrustful and Brienne understood that, she truly did. But sometimes, just sometimes, there were little cracks showing in her armour, little glimpses of the girl she’d surely been once.

Hyle shouldered open the door next to her, two of their swords in his hands and an intent expression on his face.

 “Ah, there you are. Spar with me?”

He threw one of the scabbards toward her and she caught it easily. It had been so long since she’d drawn a sword-- too long. The weight of it felt good in her hand.

She was better than Hyle, there would be little challenge in it but there was an hour or so till dusk and it would be nice to have a distraction from her empty stomach. After a moment’s hesitation she nodded.

 

Brienne planted her feet wide, the long wind-swept field reminding her a little of Tarth, though the grass here was more yellow than green. Nevertheless it still reminded her of her sword fighting lessons with Ser Goodwin, out on those green hills. First alone, then sparring against half-grown pages and stable boys, then finally against those men on her island who really knew how to use a sword. She’d beaten them all, time and again.

She and Hyle started off tentatively, swords tapping against each other- a typical opening back and forth for a sparring match. Brienne quickly began to correct her posture and footwork; she was a little rusty, had been too long just wearing her sword for show. Had Jaime been disposed to sparring she probably would have practised more, but he showed even less inclination to use his left hand than he had done in King’s Landing, something she found a little concerning. Maybe when they were truly speaking again she would raise the subject with him, convince him to join her out here.

Hyle thrust forward, attempting to use her distraction to score a hit but she easily side stepped it, bringing her sword down lightly on his sword arm. He drew back, smiling at her even as he continued to circle.

“You can strike at me harder than that, I promise that I won’t bite.”

His words were laced with innuendo and she found what used to make her blush back in Renly’s camp now simply made her skin crawl. His next blow was predictable, easy enough to step into and slide cleanly off her sword, the moves coming back to her with more ease and fluidity now.

“If I strike you with my full strength then this would be over too quickly.”

He laughed, making her wonder what he found so amusing.

“I wouldn’t be so sure, my lady. After all-- “

She struck out sharply but he blocked it with ease. Even though she was the better swordsman she hadn’t really expected that he was going to fall for that move. Whatever else he might be, he’d seen enough combat for that.

 “At the camp I was… holding back-- “ Hyle ducked her swing, trying to come up underneath it but she danced backward “--didn’t think beating you black and blue would go over well given--ugh-- what I was trying to achieve.”

Trying to achieve.

Suddenly it was too raw, as if she were right back there again and her stomach clenched, hard. Brienne feinted left, drawing him out into a response that left him open. Quickly she swung into a downward blow with far more of her strength than was necessary for a friendly sparring match. He just about managed to block but it forced a pained grunt from him that gave her a surge of vicious satisfaction.

Putting space between them, Hyle stood still for a moment, rubbing at the shoulder that seemed to have taken the impact of the blow.

“I am sorry, you know.”

Brienne looked across at him, still holding her sword at the ready, sweat trickling down her forehead. His tone seemed more impatient than apologetic to her.

“No you’re not.”

He stared at her a moment then released his grip on his sword, letting it fall with a heavy clunk to the ground. He stood there with his hands spread and a slightly sad smile on his face, looking for all the world like he was the wronged party. As if he were the one who had been treated like a game, like a source of amusement. It had been so easy to trust that smile, that open honest-seeming face with its warm brown eyes. With the others there had always been the vague suspicion there but… it had seemed like he’d really wanted her friendship, like he’d really been interested in what she had to say.

As he closed the gap between them, face still contrite, Brienne refused to lower her sword.

“I offered to marry you, which is far more than any of the others did.”

But she knew, without a doubt, that if he could not have had Tarth and her inheritance then he would have just as happily casually ruined her for what little gold he could have gotten. But then back at the inn, Jaime would have taken her drunkenly, roughly, in the worst sort of way. And she would have welcomed it.

The thought of it still crept up on her unawares, at random moments when she was trying to sleep or when Jaime would pass close by her in the house. It would make her face burn and she was sure anyone who cared to take a second look at her would know what she was thinking about, but no matter what she did Brienne could not prevent the memory from besetting her.

Hyle seemed to take her little blush as encouragement because he stepped closer, hand resting on the slight curve of her hip. She twitched away. It elicited nothing more than a mild disgust in her now.

“Lady Sansa is very beautiful and far less likely to kill me with a sword in my sleep. But I admire your strength; I admired it at King Renly’s camp and I admire it now. Your face is not the sweetest to look upon but I mind that less than most men.”

Brienne brought her sword up between them, a deterrent in case he tried to touch her again.

“No.”

His face clouded briefly with annoyance. A truer expression than his smiles, she thought.

“Do you protect your honour for your own sake or for Jaime Lannister’s?”

He stared at her, a little smile playing about his lips that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Or has he already had you?”

Sweat stained the underarms of his shirt in dark circles and her sword point rested against his chest, just above his breast bone. She fought the urge to push, to see crimson blood blooming under the sharp point of the blade. To see the complacent amusement in those eyes fade.

 “Neither of you seems to know if you are married or not, I’m merely asking if there’s already been a marriage bed.”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

“There has then.” He laughed, stepping back from her sword point.

“I don’t care if Jaime Lannister has fucked you half a hundred times, I would still marry you.”

“But I would never marry you.”

The annoyance flickered across his face again, that hard expression back.

“You might change your mind, I think you’ll find your prospects few and far between now the whole of Westeros knows you opened your legs for a Lannister.”

“And you don’t think my murdering the king might impact slightly more?”

“No, I don’t think it does. A woman’s worth is between her legs after all.”

He was unarmed. She could not strike an unarmed man. Her fingers ached from clutching at her sword hilt so hard.

“No, it’s not.”

“It is, I’m afraid. Bitterly unfair maybe but the truth. I would never blame my wife for past mistakes, nor be cruel to her, never strike her.”

 “You wouldn’t love her either.”

“Love is for children’s stories. And it ends with blood and despair, most of the time.”

The sun was setting red over the darkening sea.

“If you didn’t love that handless aristocratic moron, would you be here right now? Would your father be rotting in some dark cell in King’s Landing? No you’d be safe, probably home with some gold in your pocket.”

Turning her back on him, Brienne began to trudge her way back to the house. He called after her but she did not turn back, could not. Anymore and she would strike him, hard and probably fatally, and they needed him.

 

Jaime poured himself a generous glass of the sour cheap wine he’d found lurking in the back of the larder, drained it with a grimace and then poured himself another.

He remembered drinking wine with Cersei on balmy evenings like this, on the balcony of her room in King’s Landing. The cups had been finely crafted and the seats they reclined on padded with soft cushions. A wave of a hand would’ve summoned a servant for more wine or food or whatever else they so chose.

Right now all he had were rough earthenware cups that lent his wine a vaguely muddy flavour, and a rickety wooden chair that threatened to spill him off should he lean back. Raising his hand was likely to get him no more than an odd look from Brienne or Hyle, if they were even about.

Still there were large red flowers over the door that perfumed the air with their heavy scent, prettier than any of the perfumed oils the ladies of court had worn.  And this might be a rough, poor sort of life but gods he had lived through much worse.

 And it was a nice evening, sitting out here with the last of their wine.

The growing dusk has bought out the insect population, filling the air with their various whirs and chirps. Of course later about half of them it seemed would find their way in through his window to bite him during the night. He reached up to scratch absently at a particularly angry feeling one he’d received last night. The evil smelling candle he’d clumsily lit earlier should prevent him from becoming a meal for them while he was out here at least.

There was the sound of footsteps and then Brienne rounded the corner, walking into his field of view with her brow severely furrowed. Even in the failing light he could see that her hair was stuck to her forehead in wet clumps, her shirt damp with sweat.

She paused when she saw him, sword held loosely at her side.

“Sit with me awhile.”

He gestured generously to the chair opposite but she hesitated, a certain wariness in her face. Annoyance flashed through him, bordering on anger.

“You will spend time with Hunt but not me, is that it?”

Brienne flinched, frown deepening, and then walked over to reluctantly lower herself into the chair, as if she were prepared to bolt at any moment. Jaime suddenly remembered her voice, soft and venomous as she’d said “You need trust to have a truce.” He had never wanted to give her such cause to distrust him again yet he’d done so over and over.

He tried to quell his anger toward her, he had no right to it after all- this was his doing not hers. His behaviour was the entire reason she was avoiding his gaze as he pushed the spare cup toward her. Jaime watched her pour out only the smallest amount of wine then reach for the water jug.

“Sparring?”

“Yes.”

He couldn’t help the stab of ugly jealousy that speared through him.  She could only have been sparring with Hunt after all,who was not maimed, who was instead useful, whole.

Brienne must have caught his expression because her eyes softened a bit and she reached out, laying careful fingertips on his right arm, near the abrupt end where his hand once was. It felt like pity and his first instinct was to pull away but it was the first time she’d touched him since…

Jaime let her touch linger on his arm for a moment longer than he should have then drew back, noting the look of confusion on her face. But it would do him no good to allow her gentle touches, they made him want her too fiercely.

“This is possibly the sourest wine I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste; my sister would not approve.”

It was probably wrong to mention Cersei, he saw her flinch slightly when he did so but it had been the first thing that came to mind. He could smell the sweat on her skin, it was unsettling and it should have been unpleasant. It really should have.

Her hand hovered over the handle of the wine jug for a moment before diverting to the water. When she was done with her own she gestured toward what little of the wine was left.

“Another cup?”

 “Too dangerous.”

He saw her start, the cup almost slipping from her fingers as she realised what he meant. She met his gaze this time, with soft wounded eyes and he found he could say nothing.

“You don’t wish to make the same mistake again.”

‘The tastes of men are less discerning after strong drink, I know.’

She’d said that to him before, months ago in King’s Landing. They’d never talked about that night just as they had never talked about the more recent one. Gods, he’d born his soul to this woman and still they could not really ever seem to talk.

 “It was a few cups. I was not past sense if that’s what you mean to imply, I knew precisely what I wanted.”

She stared at him for a long moment, eyes unreadable in the dim uneven light. The candle threw strange shapes to dance and flicker on the wall behind her.

Quietly he asked, over the sudden constriction in his throat, “Do you want to be married to me? I will release from your vow right now, if it’s what you wish.”

“I don’t know,” she admitted quietly, dropping her gaze to the candle.

 “I know I am not the most patient of men but… I will be here. When you decide.”

It seemed to him that he already knew what her decision would be, that she would eventually come to her senses and realise how little he truly had to offer her.

Brienne nodded, almost imperceptibly.

“Thank you.”

 

Sansa tried never to think of home.

Even sitting out here on the parched and yellowing grass, listening to the gentle sounds of the waves there was a part of her that longed for Winterfell. The howling winds, the driving rain, the shouts of people coming and going…

“It’s getting late, my lady. You should come to the house.”

Hyle placed a hand on the wall and hopped over with fluid grace, ending up a little closer to her than was comfortable. It was probably deliberate, she wasn’t sure.

He leant close, lowering his voice until she could barely hear it over the wind.

“Though before we go back I have something to ask you my lady, now that we are finally alone.”

It was true, she realised. They had not been alone before, rather they’d been constantly shadowed by Lady Brienne who had also quietly, worriedly, beseeched her not to trust a single thing said to her by Hyle Hunt. Told her that he was a scoundrel of the worst sort, with no morals or scruples. Sansa had no intention of trusting him but being cautioned against it as if she were a clueless child grated a little.

“And what is that?”

He crossed his arms, the wind from the sea ruffling his hair and shirt a little.

"I'm representing the interests of a friend of yours, someone who wants you safe and back in Westeros."

Sansa wasn’t entirely sure what she had expected him to ask but it certainly was not that. A friend? She had no friends, not anymore.

Hyle turned his head to look at her, smiled in a way that looked almost fond. Lady Brienne had said he wasn’t trustworthy, however sincere he seemed.

"Lord Baelish."

"Why?"

She could remember he had wanted to help her once in King's Landing but she had refused, worried about possibly exchanging one peril for another. It seemed like such a long time ago, another life in fact.

 “I don’t know my lady, men like him don’t share their reasons with common sellswords I’m afraid. But if you wish it we can leave, I will take you back to Westeros. Lord Baelish has powerful friends who can assist us.”

Leave…

In some ways it would feel like a betrayal of Lady Brienne, of how hard she had worked to smuggle her all the way out here. And it would be dangerous, there were still many people looking for her there.

But it would be home.

“You don’t look as pleased at the idea as I thought you might.”

She had hidden every emotion for so long now that sometimes she wasn’t sure she knew how to show them anymore. Wasn’t sure if she wanted to, especially not with someone she knew so little and trusted even less. 

“Forgive me, I am. Thank you.”

He climbed back over the wall and offered her his hand, still smiling. And, after a moment’s hesitation, Sansa reached out and took it.

 

Brienne woke suddenly, drawing in a gasping breath.

She was lying on her back, confused and half-asleep, staring up unseeing into the darkness and feeling the sweat cooling on the back of her neck. Next to her Lady Sansa’s soft snores continued unabated, mixing with the gentle sound of the waves crashing in the distance.

It had been the dream again, the dream of being with Jaime, feeling his hands on her, his lips… and then for no reason he walked away, called by some unseen force. This time there had been no mountains but instead there had been sea and then cliffs, ones she recognised from Tarth. They’d risen up and shielded Jaime from her, kept her from going to him…

It had felt so real that when she reached down to her legs she was surprised not to find them wet with sea spray.

Carefully so as not to wake Lady Sansa she slid the sheets of the bed back and lowered her feet to the cool well-worn stone of the floor. She took great care to be quiet as she padded her way down the hallway.

It was never truly cold here but it was the dead of night and the gaps around the shutters let in a sharp sea breeze that raised goose bumps on her uncovered arms. Her nightshirt was a flimsy thing that barely covered her thighs and she felt almost as if she were standing there naked. But on the hot stuffy nights when there was no breeze even this much fabric felt like a fur cloak.

Hyle had cheerfully informed them the other day that he slept naked, warm as it was. Sansa had blushed prettily and Brienne had glared at him till he apologised for his indiscretion. He had sounded sincere but she’d learnt a long time ago not to trust that sincerity.

Gently she pushed open the door in front of her, trying not to let it creak too loudly. She could only just make Jaime out, a slightly blacker patch of shadow in the darkness. Then as her eyes slowly adjusted, a little more of him came into focus…the sweep of his hair on the pillow, an arm thrown carelessly over the sheet.

Brienne stood, leaning against the rough stone of his doorway, watching him sleep. Watching for the rise and fall of his chest. Assuring herself he was still there, that he still drew breath. She knew this was so completely foolish, she would be mortified if he woke and caught her watching him like this.

But she couldn’t seem to make herself leave.

 

The next day, still tired and unsettled from the dream, Brienne made her way awkwardly through the marketplace, very much aware of the unabashed stares of traders and patrons alike. Really she should have stayed at the house. Lady Sansa could cover her hair and blend a little, Jaime just needed to cover his hand while Hyle was at home in any crowd. But there was no hiding her height or her pale blistering skin.

She picked up a pot of salve  at random, having no idea how to read the small symbols that were inscribed on it, but the stall owner told her, in a stuttering attempt at the common tongue, that it was good for the burns on her face. It smelt pleasantly clean and fresh and she thought longingly of smoothing it over the painful red marks.

But the little money they had needed to be saved. Reluctantly she placed it back on the stall, shaking her head politely and moved on to the next. This one was selling an array of strange looking fruit and vegetables, absolutely none of which were familiar to her.

As she was pondering between something that looked vaguely like a bright yellow tomato and something else that resembled a hairy apple, there was an unexpected sensation of cold on the end of her nose.

She looked around to find that Jaime was grinning at her slightly mischievously, a dollop of the cream on his finger.

“That’ll clear up that red...” He tapped her face, leaving a smaller smear on her blushing cheek. “…though I’m not sure about this.”

She scrubbed at her nose, the cream melting in and immediately soothing the blistered skin there much to her annoyance.

“We might have to buy it now, we can’t afford it.”

“I already bought it; do you think they just randomly let people walk away from stalls with goods? Here.”

He dropped the small pot into her hand with a smile.

It was a ridiculous luxury they could ill afford but she found herself struggling not to return the smile, his unusually good mood infectious. Like the wine the other night it was probably a peace offering. In his own way he was trying to mend the rift between them.

Brienne opened her mouth, wanting to say something but not knowing what. Even though she couldn’t find the words, she was somehow sure he understood.

As she turned to move away, she noticed there was a man watching them from other end of the stall. Not gawping at her height or staring at Jaime’s lack of hand but watching them with a measured, assessing stare.

He moved forward, casually blocking their path.

“You look familiar.”

The man looked Westerosi, as far as she could judge, probably one of those going to join the Dragon Queen’s cause. Whether he was talking to her or Jaime or even Lady Sansa who had just walked up behind them was uncertain, his eyes kept flickering between them.

 “Just sellswords, trying to make our way in the world, same as you.” Jaime’s ‘common folk’ accent was as appalling as it had been when he’d talked to the Stark men on the road to King’s Landing and Brienne couldn’t help wincing.

“We’re merely passing through,”she added, steering Sansa past the suspicious looking man. For a moment it seemed that they would be allowed to go, to move away. Then his eyes widened in sudden recognition and his hand went for his sword.

“The Kingslayer!” 

Chapter Text

 

There were bodies lining the streets of Meereen.

Crucified by one hand, they hung awkwardly like grotesque puppets, their faces still twisted in agony even after death and blood staining what had undoubtedly once been fine clothing. The stench of it was almost unbearable, flies buzzing around them in crowds. As Brienne watched, a large dark bird fluttered down neatly onto the outstretched arm of one former slave master and began to industriously work its beak into his staring eye.

She turned away, fighting the urge to retch onto the dusty ground as her stomach heaved and rolled. Was that what they would do to them? Drive a nail through their palm and leave them to die? Any insult those men could have offered the Dragon Queen was surely far less than Jaime’s…

Her pulse was still pounding with fright and her hands clenched in front of her, wishing for a sword. There were too many of them anyway, they’d been given an honour guard of lithe and wiry boys with spears after their current captors had explained who they were transporting. There would have been no chance of outfighting all of them even if she were armed and not bound.

It had been ridiculously bad luck to run into Westerosi sellswords heading East to join with the Dragon Queen, even worse luck that one should glimpse Jaime’s missing hand and put two and two together.  The company of sixteen had overcome them quickly, though several were now sporting missing teeth and blackened eyes.

It was the middle of the day and the sun beat oppressively down on them as they were dragged along, yet even in the blistering midday heat there were so many people out on the streets. They were pressing in on them from all sides but the soldiers kept them mostly back. The noise was still deafening though, as people craned to get a look at the prisoners.

Brienne fixed her gaze on Jaime where he was being dragged along beside her, his eyes blank and downcast. Fear thrummed through her so strong that it weakened her knees, almost tumbling her to the ground. What if this woman ordered Jaime killed?  Hyle was a mere sellsword, he would be spared and Lady Sansa was an innocent but Jaime…

They reached the centre of Meereen, the base of one of the great pyramids, and were ordered to climb. By the time they got to the top Brienne’s muscles were burning and she could hear Lady Sansa’s laboured breath next to her.

The doors swung closed behind them, the sound echoing in the massive chamber they found themselves in. The Dragon Queen was sitting on a seat raised on steps high above the floor, in conscious or unconscious parallel of the Iron Throne Brienne wasn’t sure but the effect was imposing nonetheless.

A dragon…

She felt a thrill go up her spine, unable to decide if it was fear or awe.  It lay at the queen’s feet, the size of a well-grown horse, its curiously flat eyes watching them like it was trying to decide if they could be its next meal. The girl was stroking it absently, running her fingers over its dark scaly back as if it were a favoured pet. It made odd little crooning sounds as she did, pushing its massive head up against her hand.

The handle of the spear hit the back of Brienne’s knee, forcing her to the ground. Beside her Jaime hit the floor a little more heavily, unable to get his remaining hand out quickly enough to catch himself. Lady Sansa dropped to her knees of her own accord before they could strike her and Hyle quickly followed suit.

Brienne raised her head to look more closely at the figure sitting high above them.

Clad only in delicate wisps of silk and bathed in noonday sunlight from the high windows, Daenerys Targaryen was beautiful in the way Brienne had longed to be as girl. It was a gentle sort of beauty, the kind that inspired ballads and poetry, inspired men to leave their liege lords and pledge themselves just for a smile.

Right now she was not smiling.

 

Jaime’s knees ached fiercely from where they had smacked into the hard white stone of the floor. Well they would probably not bother him for that much longer, he was entirely sure he would be dead before the day was out. If he was lucky. And a death that quick would be the best outcome-- he felt fear, cold and unfamiliar, coil and twist in his belly.

The Targaryen girl sat high above them with her back straight, all condescending assurance and regal bearing. Cool grey eyes stared down at him, steady and unrelenting in her childlike face.  He remembered her father, of course, and Rhaegar–and they both looked out at him from that face. The upturned nose, the hollow of the cheekbones; they were Rhaegar’s made softer, more feminine. But the eyes were her father’s, bright and clear yet somehow cold.

He recognised one of the men stood to the side of her--Jorah Mormont who looked like a worried old man with lines creasing his forehead that Jaime could swear hadn’t been there the last time he’d laid eyes on him. Then again how long ago had that been? Five years, ten? Mormont had not exactly figured largely in court life and it was difficult to keep track. He’d been exiled as a slaver, he remembered that much. The other man was an unknown, a mercenary by the looks of him, with far too much amusement on his face.

The dark skinned girl who stood on the other side of the throne stepped forward, hands demurely clasped in front of her, and announced in a clear, precise voice.

“You stand in the presence of Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Andals ,the Rhoynar and the First Men,  Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Queen of Meereen ,the Breaker of Shackles and Mother of Dragons.”

The pretentious litany of titles annoyed him somewhat, made him childishly determined to reel off his own if the opportunity presented itself.

The girl on the throne stood gracefully then, arranging her trailing skirts, but did not make a move to step down from her elevated perch. It seemed as if she would continue to make them crane their necks to look at her.

“I am told you are Jaime Lannister…” She paused as if assessing him, trailing a hand over the head of the beast at her feet. “…The man who stabbed my father in the back and left him to bleed to death on the steps of his own throne.”

 “And you are… did you say Lord of the Seven Kingdoms? Forgive me, but this doesn’t look like King’s Landing.”

He could see out of the corner of his eyes Brienne wincing at the self-destructive flippancy of his tone, and felt a stab of annoyance. As if anything he did or did not say could sway this woman into sparing his life.

The girl stared down at him, appraisingly.

 “You will find that I am not so cruel as to simply leave Meereen,” she said at length. “I am a liberator, a mother to those I have freed.”

Mother. Her cold tone and manner made a lie of the word. She was no mother, she was a conqueror.

“Not cruel? Was I perhaps imagining the corpses then?”

There were the first signs of anger in the flaring of her nostrils and her clenching jaw, it made her seem younger somehow and Jaime took it as a hopeful sign. Maybe if she was angry enough it would be a quick death, she might even let her dragon burn him alive in seconds.  He could remember all too clearly her father’s penchant for inventive deaths and if the men they’d passed in the streets were any indication then his daughter had definitely inherited the talent.

 “You murdered my father and you think to talk to me of cruelty?”

Brienne struggled to her feet then, her expression earnest and beseeching, seemingly ignoring the armed guards who lowered their spears as she moved closer. He tensed, wanting to step forward and drag her back but knowing it would do no good.

Her voice rang clear and steady in the vastness of the room, “Your father was a tyrant, he planned to kill thousands. I am sorry that you lost him, truly, but Ser Jaime did what needed to be done.”

The young queen looked slowly from one to the other, the first little sliver of uncertainty working its way into her face, barely there at all unless you were looking for it.

She’s probably been brought up with tales of her father as a mighty and benevolent ruler, she’s probably never heard anyone say otherwise.

 “You weren’t there, you don’t know that.”

“Neither were you, Your Grace,” Brienne reminded her softly. “Nor anyone else.”

 “And who are you to speak for him?”

Brienne hesitated, turning tortured blue eyes on him. She was afraid for him, he could see that, terribly afraid, and in one dreadful moment he realised what she planned to do.

“She’s just a sellsword,” he broke in with at exactly the same time as Brienne said in her most decisive tone, “I’m his wife.”

Curse her and all the gods, the wretched woman was deliberately tying her fate to his own. All that would earn her was a painful death alongside his.

“She’s not. We were betrothed but no longer.”

There was another shift in the girl’s mood, like a cloud across the sun, and the hint of vulnerability that had shadowed her face was gone. Her eyes, grey and clear, were fixed solely on his face again.

“Your father is proclaimed a tyrant too, but where you allowed my family to be slaughtered I will be merciful.”

At her feet the dragon uncoiled suddenly, its wings making a whispering sound against the stone. Its gold-red eyes were watching them with its head tilted, as if it were somehow interested in the outcome.

The last Targaryen stepped forward, white hair gleaming palely in the sunlight. Though she was young and very beautiful there was something terrible in her face at that moment.

“All I ask from you is what you took from me. Bring me your father’s head and you will be allowed to live.”

The words pierced through him, so familiar that the room seemed to swim around him. For a second it seemed he was in a different room, one that smelt of smoke and death. His mouth was too dry, words weren’t coming but at last he managed to answer in a voice that sounded strained and unnatural.

“I can’t… I won’t.”

The girl’s reply was flat, her gaze implacable.

 “Then you will die.”

Chapter Text

“We got further than I expected,” Jaime said, back against the rough stone wall of the cell they’d been rather unceremoniously forced into. “Though it says something of our uniquely bad luck that we should run from my father’s clutches only to fall straight into the waiting arms of the only remaining Targaryen.”

He wondered briefly where they’d taken Hunt and Sansa but decided he had more pressing issues to be concerned about. His imminent death for one.

“Her advisors don’t seem like they’d be the best in a fight though. Mormont… well he wasn’t bad from what I remember but not the best fighter, you could certainly take him. I don’t know anything about the mercenary but he seems to be a competent swordsman… he’s got the oozing smugness that the good ones seem to get.”

“Yes.” Brienne’s response was deadpan and he turned his head to look at her, raising his eyebrows

“Yes, ‘apart from you Jaime, you’re so modest’ is I’m sure what you meant to say.”

A slight sad smile pulled at the corner of her mouth and then she dropped her gaze again, staring at her hands where she was twisting them nervously against her drawn up knees.

“I saw Barristan Selmy, as they were bringing us here.” It had been a shock to see a fellow Kingsguard—well, former Kingsguard--someone he had spent so much time in the company of regard him so coolly as he was dragged away. It shouldn’t have surprised him really, the old man had always been a Targaryen sympathiser at heart and had never really liked him.

“He may be old but he was still a Kingsguard until recently. He was good in his prime, though I can little speak to how he fights now. It would not do to underestimate him though should you end up fighting him.”

It was pure speculation anyway, there wasn’t likely to be a fight--not for Brienne and certainly not for him. The Targaryen girl had an army at her disposal and they didn’t even have a sword between them.  He could attempt to invoke the right to a trial by combat but he didn’t think they’d put much store by such Westerosi customs here and besides… Brienne was the only one who could possible fight for him and he was not about to wager her life for his.

“You worry too much about me,” she said quietly, eyes never rising from her twisting hands.

He smiled slightly “Who else do I have to worry about?”

“Sansa perhaps?”

Jaime did wonder briefly what would become of the Stark girl. Her father had aided Robert in the rebellion after all. But she was young, innocent and, more than anything, a good hostage to hold. It never did harm to have impressionable heirs around to imprint your ideals onto. Sansa Stark was probably not as naïve as she appeared but was also smart enough not to let anyone know that. The girl would be fine.

And as for Hyle, the rat bastard would probably talk his way out of everything and end up back in Westeros, swilling ale and telling tall tales.

“Sansa Stark does not need me to worry about her, she is a thoroughly competent young woman. You on the other hand…”

“And I’m not?”

She looked up at him, her expression bordering on the genuinely offended, her brows creased.

“In swordplay? You are one the most competent people I have ever met in my life. In everything else? Not in the slightest. You’re far too good and honourable. So you need me to worry for you and to protect you. And since I’ve failed in the latter you will at least allow me the former.”

Her expression softened, becoming slightly more reflective. “Perhaps we would have done better to have gone North, to the wall. Or stayed in Tarth.”

“My mother used to say if wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds.”

She nodded, biting at her lower lip thoughtfully, a single line creasing her brow. There was such a terrible sadness in her big blue eyes that it cut him to the bone. Cautiously he reached out and caught one of her hands in his.

“I do not regret following you, Brienne.”

His words were soft and he watched as a flush darkened her cheeks. She glanced down and away from his direct gaze, replying awkwardly,”Nor I you.”

He knew that he would remember, that he would always remember even if he managed to escape here somehow and he lived to be a hundred, the look on her face when she said softly,

“I want you to know that you are the most honourable man I have ever known, Jaime Lannister.”

She seemed strangely calm now. It was remarkable, the absence of fear in her eyes.

When he’d been seventeen the world had seemed to hold so many possibilities, as all boys at that age do he had thought himself invulnerable, believed that he would never grow old and tired, his bones would certainly never ache in the night. He’d been certain that he’d been destined for glory, honour and fame. And then he would die in a spectacular blaze of glory, a hero and have his chivalrous deeds written about in the White Book.

All those dreams of glory seemed very far away but it somehow seemed enough now to know that he would go to his death with Brienne of Tarth believing in his honour.

 

Later that night, Brienne lay on her back in her hard bed and stared up into the darkness. Silent tears trickled down her face toward her ears, dampening her cheeks and wetting her pillow. She could hear Jaime’s soft, even breathing in the quiet of their cell and she envied him his ability to sleep at such a time. He’d fallen asleep fully clothed and half-propped up, as if he expected to be woken for his execution at any time.

If she had slept she had no doubt that she would have dreamt the same dream again, the dream that had been tormenting her for weeks now… Was this what they had been about? Him being taken from her like this? Her dreams had never been prophetic before and yet there was something different about this one.

Giving up on her own sleep Brienne instead slid quietly from the bed and crept to his side, watching him sleep in the moonlit darkness. He was frowning, his eyes screwed shut in something that looked like pain. Whatever his dreams were, she didn’t think they were pleasant.  Almost without meaning to she reached out and smoothed the hair back from his brow, her touch gentle.

He really shouldn’t be as handsome as he was, Brienne thought, what with the lines on his brow, the grey at his temples and the place on his nose where it looked like he might have broken it. She wanted to ask him about that, wanted to wake him and have him tell her the tale of whatever fight or accident had caused it. Was it when he was a young man perhaps, out to prove himself or had it been the older, cocky Jaime who could never seem to keep his mouth shut when he needed to?  She didn’t know, would never have the chance to know beyond tonight.

With a shaking finger she traced the flat place on his nose, then down over his cheekbones. His beard looked entirely silver in the darkness but she remembered the strands of gold still in it well enough. It was not as unruly as it had been on their journey to King’s Landing. If she stroked downwards, over the smooth angle of the jaw, then it felt softer under her fingertips.

She had done this once before, touched his face out of curiosity while he slept, brushed the hair from his eyes. Tender gestures that she could never bring herself to repeat when he was awake, watching her with those sardonic green eyes that always saw too much. Because it would cut too deep and she had not been able to be honest with herself.

There was no denial left in her now. She was too worn out, too spent, to lie to herself anymore. Too achingly aware of what tomorrow would bring.

She loved him.

And she knew what she had to do.

 

After far too long trying to communicate with her stoic faced guards Brienne finally managed to get herself escorted up to the highest point of the pyramid though they seemed disbelieving of her explanation that the Dragon Queen would want to see her. Or possibly had trouble with understanding the common tongue, she wasn’t sure which. The room she was led to had a large balcony open to the sky, beyond which were all the flickering night-time lights of Mereen. At any other time it probably would have been an awe-inspiring sight.

The old man—Barristan Selmy— was sat at the table watching her with guarded interest as she entered. The other, the one Jaime had speculated was a mercenary was perched on the table itself, casually eating an apple using his knife. The Dragon Queen herself stood by the window, her back turned to them all for the moment as she looked out over the lights of Meereen. She was shorter than she’d appeared on the throne, willowy and delicate looking in her deep blue gown.

The bow Brienne gave this time was at the waist, a Westerosi bow. More accurately, a Westerosi knight’s bow. When she straightened from it the girl had turned from the window and was watching her with a little frown but her grey eyes remained calm. A breeze from the window stirred the delicate strands of her hair as it hung about her shoulders.

Brienne spoke as calmly as she could manage.

 “Your Grace, I will do as you ask. I vow that I will bring you the head of Tywin Lannister if, in return , you will agree to free Jaime Lannister and forgive him of all crimes.”

She was selfish, she was so wretchedly selfish and she could not allow him to die.

There was silence in the room as all three of them stared at her. They clearly hadn’t been expecting this, knowing it was a foolhardy mission that was unlikely to succeed. That it had been intended to be Jaime’s death warrant that was clear enough, even if it succeeded there would have been no way for him to escape the consequences of the act.

“In my absence I would like your word that you will not allow any harm to befall Lady Sansa. And I request the company of the sellsword we had with us, he may be able to aid me on my journey.”

Little as she liked the idea of travelling with Hyle again she needed a guide and he was the only candidate.

Barristan Selmy levered himself up from his seat at the table, staring hard at her as if he could discern her motives from her face.

“Your Grace, it might not be wise—“

The Targaryen girl silenced him with a look, forestalling any further protest from the old man and then continued to watch Brienne with a complex kind of pity in her eyes. She understands, Brienne thought suddenly, she understands why I’m doing this.

“Very well but know that I will execute him should you fail.”

Brienne clenched her jaw, meeting the stare head on.

“Then I will not fail.”

 

 

Before Brienne returned to her chambers she requested ink and parchment, a request that her captors seemed to find strange but they were still quickly found for which she was grateful. To explain this to him face to face might well be impossible, would most likely end in him demanding that she stay.

Behind her, two of the well-trained and eerily quiet soldiers stood stock still, staring stoically  ahead. One of them held a lamp aloft to provide enough light that she could write easily but the other had his hand tense on his spears. It seemed that the Dragon Queen did not entirely trust her at her word.

 She dipped the quill in the ink pot and stared at the blank piece of parchment before beginning to write.

I have loved you.

Her quill paused long enough that the ink beaded on the end of the quill then dropped onto the ‘y’ turning it smudged and slightly illegible. Clumsily she smeared it off, wishing she had a greater talent with words.

 Before all else I want you to know this, I do not think to guilt you or ask for you to feel the same. Just to know that this act I commit is one born out of that feeling.

I know you will not forgive me this but I hope you can find a way to understand why I have done it. I know you would not be able to harm your father yourself and that you will not thank me for this. I assume you will hate me.

If you wish your vengeance when I return I will allow you it. I will not fight you but neither can I allow you to die when there is a chance that I can save you.

Let me save you, Jaime. I feel that

I owe you a debt, after all you have given up for me.

And Lannisters pay their debts. And I am a Lannister now, am I not?

Your devoted wife,

Brienne

It was a mess of scratchings out and blots, of half-finished sentences and false starts but she rolled it up as small as she could and stowed it away. She would leave it somewhere that Jaime could find it in the morning, after she had disappeared back onto the road for Westeros.

“Please take me back to my chamber.”

 

The sound of the door shutting behind her appeared to jar Jaime awake. She watched as he blinked sleepily at her, pushing a hand absently through his hair.

“Brienne?”

She remained motionless just inside the doorway, watching him. Trying to memorise what he looked like in that moment. A memory to hold close, secret and safe in the days ahead.

I can’t lie to myself anymore.

The walk between the door and his bed was little more than a few steps but it felt like it took her years. As she sat down her added weight made his bed creak ominously but he didn’t protest the intrusion not even when she reached down and pulled off her boots, letting them fall to the floor next to his own with little ceremony. Brienne sat still for a long moment, fingers digging into the edge of his bed and stared resolutely downwards. I could call for a candle, she thought, sit with him in the dim light it would grant us and truly talk to him. Make him understand that this is the only option, for both of us.

Instead she slowly and hesitantly reached out her hand, placing it on his arm. She could feel the rough cloth of his jerkin under her hands and wished he hadn’t worn his clothes to sleep in, wished she could feel his warm bare skin beneath her touch. Somehow she thought it would have made this easier if she didn’t have to undress him. Gathering the shreds of her courage she looked up at him, the night bright enough to make out the intent way he was watching her.

“Jaime I—“ She faltered and fell silent, praying he would somehow know what she was asking even if she wasn’t entirely sure herself. When she’d thought of this moment at all it had been in terms of a marriage bed and a duty, one both she and her potential husband would probably take very little pleasure in. But this was her husband, wasn’t it? Looking across at her with hope and a measure of concern in his eyes. He moved tentatively closer, reaching across to touch her cheek, callouses rough against her skin.

“You are sure?” Jaime asked, quietly but his voice seemed to ring in the emptiness of the cell.

“I am sure that I would not regret you.” She dropped her gaze to the contrast of her pale skin against the dark of his jerkin as she said it, unable to look him in the eye again. Brienne thought she heard him let out a quiet laugh at that, but she couldn’t be sure, didn’t want to look up at him to check if there was mockery in his gaze.

Didn’t think she could stand it if there was.

The fabric was rough and worn, familiar under her fingertips and she tightened her grip slightly. Her hands were no pure maid’s hands, no delicate fingers that had done little more than thread needles and be clasped lightly at dances, her hands were both criss-crossed with the patchwork of small scars all swordsmen acquired. Her nails were short and ragged and the knuckle on her left hand was forever crooked where she’d struck it in her fight with Ser Humfrey.

Not a maiden’s hands, to be trembling this way.

 “Brienne…” he said her name again, but softly this time.

She felt the rickety bed shift and creak under them as he moved closer. Then his breath was warm against her cheek and now that he was next to her all she could focus on was the feeling of the heat radiating from him, the smell of day-old sweat on his skin.  He settled his good hand firmly on the nape of her neck, making her shiver and drew her slowly, slowly toward him. It bothered her that he was treating her as if any sudden move was likely to make her take flight and run--she had never run from a challenge before, she would not start now.

His fingers moved up to thread through the lank tangles of her hair as he gently encouraged her to bend her head down toward his. Then there was just the slightest brush of his lips behind her ear and he was moving gently across her skin, with fleeting, tender kisses, to her mouth.

For a second Jaime paused, then with what seemed like deliberate slowness he laid his lips on hers. They were dry and warm as he moved them lightly; attempting to coax her firmly shut mouth into opening to him, beard bristles scratching slightly at her skin. For a long moment she just let him kiss her, silent and still. She could feel the heat of his body so close to hers, hear the low sound he made in the back of his throat when she finally, cautiously, opened her mouth to let him slide his tongue against hers.

As they pulled apart she could hear her own breathing , unsteady and shallow and so loud in the silence of the room, feel her body shuddering as his good hand slid down her neck, fingertips barely caressing her skin. He caught his own lower lip between his teeth as he watched her intently, smiling around it.

Brienne managed to smile back at him in the moment before he leant in to capture her mouth again and this time there was such a sweet, eager urgency to his kisses that made him seem younger than his years. Somehow she expected him to try and overpower her this time, to push her down onto the bed. She almost wished he would, this slow pace was giving her time to feel nervous, to acknowledge the doubt trying to seep into her mind. But he was still tender, exploratory, tasting her lips as gently as if this was all they would do all night.

His callouses rasped against the material of her shirt as he slid his hand yet further down to finally tangle in the excess of fabric around her torso. He wasn’t taking it off her yet, just playing with the hem, moving the fabric around as if he wanted to make her aware she was wearing it, revealing only the tiniest amount of skin.

Jaime moved his fingertips to gently graze against the sliver he’d exposed. They just rested there, hot on her bare skin, and her blood rushed under his touch. For a moment her whole world seemed to narrow down to the place where his fingers met her skin.

His hand was shaking slightly with his restraint as he curled it into the fabric, pulling it tight against her, making her shudder with the feeling of the coarse material rubbing across the sensitive skin of her stomach.

“Can I?” he asked, voice so hoarse that for a moment he sounded nothing like himself. She couldn’t help the brief feeling of horror, wanting to clutch the shirt around herself but… they would have to take their clothes off, if they were to do this. And he had already seen her naked before.

Mutely, Brienne nodded. She did want this, even despite her nerves she still wanted it so badly that it was a physical ache in her middle. Slowly, slowly, he inched the fabric up her stomach, watching its progress with rapt interest. Then he disappeared from her sight as her arms were urged up and he tugged the fabric over her head, catching it briefly, painfully, in her hair. The air in the cell was warm, muggy even, but Brienne still shivered a little as she sat there in nothing but her breeches. She clenched her fists, fighting the urge to cover herself.

She gathered all her courage and glanced up at Jaime’s face. He was staring down at her breasts, his attention seemingly entirely captured by them for the moment. It was difficult to think anyone could be so enthralled by them, they were little more than the barest curves but the lust in Jaime’s eyes was difficult to ignore.

He reached out a hand and ran his fingertips over the curve of her, rough skin barely grazing hers. It took everything she had to keep from arching up into his touch, pressing herself wantonly closer, or from pulling away, grabbing her shirt and retreating. Instead she gave a breathy little sigh that sounded as if it should have come from the mouth of someone much more delicate. A blushing maid on the night of her bedding perhaps. His fingers scraped lightly across her nipple and to her surprise a sharp shudder of pleasure wracked her body, forcing her to draw a startled breath. His eyes flickered upward at the sound, holding hers with same intensity they did when they were fighting. Rather inappropriately, she was thrown back to her sword fighting lessons… to Ser Goodwin telling her you could always read an opponent’s motives in his eyes.

Jaime’s eyes were burning.

Without moving his gaze from hers he reached out, caught her hand and deliberately brought it to his lap. He didn’t hold it there or press himself against her, just placed it on the very obvious swelling in his breeches. A slow smile was curving the edges of his lips, obviously noticing the blush that was heating her cheeks.  Gathering all her courage, she ran her shaking fingers over him, feeling utterly foolish, but even with the lightness of her touches she could hear his breathing becoming heavier.

Without warning he leant over and kissed her again, plunging his tongue deep into her mouth this time, hot and wet and with an edge of desperation. There was an ache starting up in-between her thighs, battling for her attention with the fear that still squeezed at her heart.

Jaime’s arms tightened around her and almost without warning she was urged back and down onto the rough cotton sheets of the bed. Before she could even gasp he was urging her legs apart with a shaking hand and then all she could focus on was his weight against her, the insistent press of his clothed hips against hers.

There was a barely-there caress of fingers against her stomach and then he was pulling clumsily at her laces, causing her to draw a sharp, shocked breath. She had to steel herself so as not to pull him away as he awkwardly tugged her breeches off one-handed, peeling them first down one leg then the other

He grabbed hold of a fistful his own shirt, yanking it clumsily over his head with such force that she was sure it had to hurt, and then lowered himself back down on top of her. She wondered what she was supposed to do with her hands, to have them by her sides felt strange, to leave them either side of her head felt too much like she was playing at being maidenly. So instead she laid them hesitantly  on his newly bared shoulders, felt the sweat-dampened curves of his muscle under her grip. The wanting hit her then with an unexpected, fierce blow and she clenched her hands, digging her fingers into his taut muscles. Jaime grunted and pushed himself closer to her, his damp skin pressing against her own.

“Tell me you want me.” His voice in her ear was rough and demanding but there was a pleading edge to it. “Tell me Brienne!”

He had turned his back on his sister, fled to the barbaric lands of the East, given up prestige and gold and family… because of her. Because of Brienne of Tarth, huge, ungainly, an oddity and a freak, so out of place wherever she found herself. How could he ever think she wouldn’t want him?

“Yes…”

He made a strange little sound in his throat, then and bucked himself against her. His remaining hand was strong and warm on her hip, pulling her to him, guiding her to press herself up and into his thrusts.  She moaned at the feeling, a little shocked at the sound of helpless need the movement had driven from her.

Jaime was fumbling with his own breeches now, cursing under his breath as he struggled with the laces. She knew she should offer to help but couldn’t make herself to reach down to him, even now laying underneath him like this she couldn’t bring herself to do something as brazen as unlace his breeches.

Finally he unknotted the laces and pushed his breeches hastily down his hips. Brienne stared a moment then turned her head away, blushing and feeling even more ridiculous.  The rough cotton of the pillow felt cool against her burning cheeks and she wondered if he thought her foolish, so ridiculously naïve and childish. It wasn’t her first time seeing one, of course, you couldn’t live in a camp full of men without seeing far more of their private areas than was generally acceptable, she’d even seen Jaime’s before when he’d relieved himself against a tree on their journey.

But it looked…. different. More frightening somehow.

 “Brienne…”

She let out a shaky breath, tightened her grip on his shoulders, still not able to look at him but she whispered her entreaty into the pillow, eyes clenched shut for a moment.

“Please… Jaime, I-I want--”

Then he was there, right there, straining against her. Her hips rose without her permission, rocking into his, feeling him sliding against her. The surprise made her open her eyes, almost involuntarily, and she watched him staring down at her with an intensity she had never seen on his face before.

Then a heavy, shuddering sigh escaped him as he thrust forward. There was a feeling of being pushed and stretched in a strange way but no overwhelming sharp pain like she had expected. And when she looked down as he drew back, no blood.

Shock washed over her, driving any pleasure away.

“I-I swear to you Jaime-- I haven’t--”

His shoulders shook under her hands and it took her a long moment to realise that he was laughing. When he raised his head, a mixture of desire and mischief was sparking in his eyes, the intensity from a moment before gone.

“You expected blood I take it? Gods, Brienne, you really think you would still be a true maid? I’ll wager a horse had your maidenhead long ago.”

 “A horse?”

Did he mean to taunt her by bringing up his old japes from when they first met? Confusion struck her and for a moment the undeniable certainty swept over her that it was all a joke, all some kind of amusement for him. Humiliated she struggled to free herself from him but Jaime refused to let her go, tightening his hold on her to the point that it was almost painful.

“I only mean, you ride so often that it’s likely your maidenhead was broken. I meant no offense.”

She quieted in his hold, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. Of course, she could remember hearing now that many noble women did not bleed on their bedding if they were avid horse riders, though there were some who scoffed and called it a convenient excuse for women to get away with not being pure on her marriage bed. It had just… it had never occurred to her that she might not bleed.

“Oh.”

Brienne looked away from him again and moved her hips slightly, still adjusting to the feeling of fullness. It still felt more strange than pleasurable, the desire from before having retreated until it was just a tingle in her stomach.

Jaime pulled slowly away from her, then took her again, and then again, driving so much harder into her than the first time. He bent his head to her breast, taking her in his mouth and suckling on her in a way that sent that odd shivery heat spiralling down to her belly.

After a few moments the rhythm suddenly felt familiar, like a sword fight, moving into each other, thrusting faster and faster, muscles aching and burning. The tingle was spreading again and she could not help writhing in his grip, though she put a hand to her mouth to try and stifle her inadvertent cries. This made Jaime abandon her breast to frown at her with annoyance, catching her hand with his own remaining one, pushing it back down beside her head.

“Don’t.”

 It was strange, almost uncomfortable, the feeling she would shiver out of her skin at any moment. She tried to focus on her hair, which was getting stuck to the sweat on her face and her legs, which ached strangely from being splayed open in this manner.  This wasn’t an act that was supposed to be enjoyed, it was supposed to be endured. Her septa had told her that, in no uncertain terms. The pleasure that was felt at a kiss would give way to pain and blood and submission.Some women pretended to enjoy it for the sake of their husbands or because they were paid to but it was an act that a woman should expect nothing from apart from the satisfaction of enduring pain so her husband might enjoy pleasure.

Jaime shifted, his movements speeding up. He was staring intently down at her, a type of victory gleaming in his eyes but there was also a softness there, in the corners of his mouth, that she hadn’t seen before. The pressure seemed to be building inside of her, almost agonizing and she wondered if this was the pain her septa had talked about. But it had always been talked about as a sharp, tearing thing, this was a throbbing, building feeling that almost scared her in its intensity.

Jaime’s hand came up, almost overbalancing him, and fisted in her hair, dragging her back so he could stare at her face.

“Don’t hide--look at me Brienne--” he demanded and she obeyed without question, staring up at his almost pained expression, taking in the trickles of sweat on his forehead and the darkness of his eyes.

“Are you nearly—Brienne--gods…” his voice was harsh, desperate, cracking with the effort of keeping control. His hand fumbled urgently between their bodies, rubbing and pressing just above where they were joined, causing a sudden harsh jolt of pleasure in her stomach. Her hands tensed on his back, suddenly needing him even closer, deeper in. He pulled back his hand, driving it into her hair again. She could hear herself cry out, her back arched and the feeling washed over her, shuddering and so strange.

He groaned, his screwed his eyes shut in helpless pleasure, hand clenching painfully in her hair, his expression going tight for a moment before he sagged down on top of her, a dead weight in her arms.

 

Chapter Text

The sea breeze lightly ruffled Brienne’s sweat-slicked hair, the taste of salt on her tongue and the sound of the waves surging against the dock made her feel desperately home sick. It was certain that she would never see Tarth again and was she not likely lay eyes upon her father once more. That thought hurt a little, a quick sharp pain in her chest but less than she would have expected. A choice had been made and she could not change her course, would not.

Jaime had saved her in King’s Landing, gifted her with a year of life that she would not have otherwise had and allowed her to know what it was to love someone, truly and fully. She would always be grateful to him for that. But now it was time to go back, to give them the death they’d been denied. To save him.

Still, watching the fisherman cast off their small wooden boats in the early morning light made her wish it could be different. That she could see Tarth one last time.

In the place of the Dragon Queen, Ser Barristen Selmy had come down to the docks to make sure she kept her oath. A few of the blank faced soldiers flanked him, she supposed in case she took it into her head to kill him and to…what? Escape? They were letting her go anyway, had handed her back her armour and sword. Attempt to free Jaime perhaps? If there had been any other way she would have tried already.

She had thought briefly of escape the night before, when the feeling of being in Jaime’s arms had been too strange to allow her much rest. But no daring plans had come to her, no ideas that would allow the both of them to live and to spend more nights together like that one. The memory of his fingertips sleepily stroking the warm skin of her arm made her smile a little. It was a good memory, one that she would never thought she would have had. And it would be enough.  It would have to be enough.

The act itself had been less painful and less overwhelming than she had feared. She had expected to feel differently, soiled maybe, ashamed certainly but instead there was nothing. A mild ache in her stomach, not even as bad as when her moon’s blood first came.  It had been more than worth it for the look in Jaime’s eyes, for the feel of his lips against her, for his touch.

Tears flooded her gaze, sudden and unwelcome. She didn’t want to weep like a child in front of the old knight who was watching her, unfeeling, from the docks. Or in front of the likes of Hyle Hunt who was clambering down onto the boat beside her, stumbling a little as it rocked.

Brienne determinedly blinked back the tears, unshed.

 

Jaime woke suddenly, feeling vaguely as if something was wrong. He was lying on his hard bunk in the dim cell the little queen had so graciously bestowed on them and he was naked, sweaty and sore. A small smile curled the corner of his lips as he remembered exactly how and why he came to be like that. He reached a hand out sleepily for Brienne, meaning to draw her closer and perhaps see if she would like to repeat the experience. But his fingertips only met cold sheets. For a moment he wondered if he’d simply dreamt the whole thing but he doubted his imagination was quite that vivid. More likely that she had simply gone back to her own bed, driven by some strange residual modesty.

He opened his eyes a bleary crack. Sunlight was filtering in through the small high window, illuminating a decidedly empty cell.

“Brienne?”

Jaime’s heart jolted and suddenly he felt entirely awake.

He twisted around and grabbed his breeches from the floor, hastily pulling them on to cover himself. Her clothes had been taken from where they’d been tossed aside with his own, which at least meant they’d allowed her to dress before taking her. But why hadn’t he woken if that was the case? Gods knew he wasn’t such a heavy sleeper as to doze through guards marching her out of the cell.

Jaime walked up to the door, peering out as best he could at the guards standing still on either side of the door. He rattled the bars on the tiny window but that didn’t even provoke a flicker of response from the two men.

“The woman who was in this cell with me, where is she?”

The guards remained silent, staring straight ahead. He felt the first stirrings of very real fear deep in his chest.

“Answer me! Where is she?”

He slammed his remaining fist into the bars but the guards didn’t so much as flinch. All he received for his troubles was a painful red welt across his knuckles. Defeated, he sunk to the dusty floor, hand balled up against his chest, cursing loudly.

As he absently scanned the room, he noticed something had been placed carefully on the small rickety table that was the only furniture, a small white square of parchment that he was sure hadn’t been there last night. Jaime stumbled to his feet, looking down to see the innocuous scrawl of her handwriting.  At the sight of the letter, it all clicked into place. He didn’t even have to read the damned thing beyond his name written at the top to know what she’d say. He laughed then, long and loud and bitterly even while his rage threatened to choke him. Of course, had he taken even a moment to think about it then, it would’ve been so damned obvious what she was doing.

Brienne had sacrificed her virginity to him just as she was running off to sacrifice her life.

 

Brienne stared back at the shoreline, watching the looming pyramids of Mereen as they started to fade into the distance. The sun was already high enough that she could feel it begin to redden her skin, her borrowed armour making her sweat uncomfortably.  It would be sensible to take shelter in the meagre cabin and yet something rooted her to the spot.   

Jaime was back there, in Mereen. Would he be awake yet? Aware of her deceit? Would he be cursing her?

Leaving him there felt like falling apart inside, piece by piece. She didn’t dare hope he would find any forgiveness for her.

A voice interrupted her thoughts.“I shouldn’t have left without Sansa.”

She hadn’t even noticed Hyle until he spoke, focused as she was on the shoreline. He was leaning on the sea-spray dampened railings next to her, his face creased in uncharacteristic worry. It was the first time he’d spoken since being escorted onto the boat and for just a second, she was touched about his concern for the girl.

Then she remembered exactly who this was. “Why?”

He didn’t answer straight away, scratching at the sunburn on his neck instead while grimacing slightly. Then he sighed, “I—well, let’s just say there are people who would be less than pleased should I come back to Westeros without her.”

She was too weary and heart-sore to even feel the sting of his betrayal too deeply. He looked sad, big brown eyes full up with hurt but she had learned long ago not to trust in the sincerity of his expressions.

“Are you working for the Lannisters? Did you sell us out?”

He laughed shortly, the sound causing one of the crew to shoot them a suspicious look. *

*“Well I’m working for you, Lady Lannister. Does that count?”

For a moment they locked gazes and her fingers twitched against her borrowed sword hilt. Then he looked away, back toward Mereen, with something that seemed  genuinely like regret on his face.

“No I’m not. It was Petyr Baelish—Littlefinger—he’s gotten married to her Aunt up in the Vale apparently. He offered a generous reward, on the quiet, to whoever could bring her to him. It seemed like it would be best for her as well but, of course, I knew you and Lannister wouldn’t go for it, you were too focused on running.”

That cut her deeply.

“So you would have returned Sansa to her family.”

Something I couldn’t do.

Brienne took a deep breath and let her hand fall from the hilt of her sword. A wave of guilt rushed over her and she turned away in case it showed on her face. All she’d done for Sansa was get her stranded half-way across the world, further away from her home than she’d even been at the start.  And now she was leaving her to the mercies of the Dragon Queen.

There were too many people she’d failed, too much she would never be able to make right now.

Hyle was watching her closely, squinting against the sun. “Look, as a gesture of my goodwill...”

He knelt and rooted around in his boot for a moment, then carefully drew out a long, delicate chain. Her necklace—or rather Jaime’s mothers—the  one he had given her what felt likes years ago. She’d thought Connington still had it, thought he would have probably sold it by now or lost it in a game of cards. She thought it was gone forever. But here she was staring at it as Hyle gently lowered it until it pooled in her palm, the metal warm from his body heat.

 The clasp was broken, twisted where it had been roughly pulled from her neck and the pendant had acquired more of a tarnish.  But the sun still caught the pale blue stone, making it glitter prettily in her hand. She closed her fist around it quickly, lest any of the crew spot it and decide to relieve her of it.

“You stole it.”

Hyle shrugged, apparently unconcerned. “Well Connington stole it first, of course, I just stole it from him. He owed me a good few weeks of wages,.  It was my payment.”

“It’s still stealing.”

He had probably been planning to sell it for money to take Sansa back to Westeros .  Why else would he have kept it hidden away from them when they were in such dire need of money? He’d been starving just as much as they had.

Still, he was handing it back to her now. And it meant more to her than it probably should have.

“Thank you.”

Hyle smiled at her, that warm honest smile that had made her think so fondly of him back in Renly’s camp.  She’d been so eager to trust him then, won over by his little kindnesses and apparent decency. It wasn’t a mistake she would make again.

Brienne looked away, tightening her fist around the necklace until she could feel the edges dig into her skin.

Chapter Text

There was an army at the gates. 

It had taken Jaime awhile to figure it out but there had seemed to have been far more hushed voices, more urgent whispers and worried looks from his jailors over the past few days.  Though his guards remained as stoic and stony faced as ever, the servants who brought his food and haphazardly cleaned his cell all seemed to have a certain nervousness about them that hadn’t been there before. Jaime had tried to engage them in conversation, wondering if perhaps they were skittish around him because he was going to be executed. But they’d just stared at him, blank faced and worried, then scuttled away. They probably didn’t even speak the common tongue, now that he thought about it. But it wasn’t until his guards had shackled him and taken him out into the streets that he’d realised what was happening.

He might not speak the native language here but every city was the same when it came down to a siege.  As he was forcefully marched through the teeming streets, Jaime could feel the familiar buzzing tension in the air. He well remembered the atmosphere in King’s Landing when his father had been marching on the gates, even long ago as it was. That had hardly been a siege at all, considering that Aerys had opened the gates and welcomed him in but this feeling had been in the air just before, this same nervous tension. An army at the gates, whether they were considered to be friend or foe, tended to worry the smallfolk, and for good reason.

Seven hells, it was worrying him as well.

Jaime wondered if the little queen had the wits to rule through a blockade. He thought of Stannis Baratheon and the siege of Storm’s End, when he’d supposedly been reduced to eating rats. Would this rabble follow some stranger, a woman at that, through starvation? Had she laid in provisions? Stockpiles? Had she even been here long enough to do so? Or would her newly freed slaves be back to starving in the dirt all too soon?

He didn’t know. Wouldn’t have cared much but he didn’t really want to be torn limb from limb by a hungry mob half-way around the world. Not while he still had things to do.

The square of parchment was neatly folded and tucked away into his shirt. He was surprised the ink had not worn away with the number of times he’d read it over and over, wondering at the meaning behind each scribbled word.

She loved him.

She loved him and he was finding that it was incredibly poor solace for waking up in a prison cell alone, knowing she’d marched off to her doom. Sometimes he wanted to tear the letter to pieces or burn it to a crisp, scatter the ashes about his cell and be done with it. But each time something had stayed his hand.

It was the only piece of her he had left.

Brienne would never get close enough to kill his father, that much he was certain of, they’d have her in chains the second she set foot in King’s Landing and most likely executed a day later. And imprisoned half-way across the world as he was, there was precious little he could do about it, other than seethe and rage at his stony faced guards. Maybe it would be best if the army waiting out there swept in and killed him before the little dragon queen could have the pleasure, it would be much better than waiting impotently in his stuffy cell, wondering all the time if Brienne was already dead by his family’s hand.

When the guards finished the long and arduous march up to the top of the pyramid and they entered the grand audience chamber once again, Jaime was struck by how different the atmosphere was. The Targaryen girl was sitting as before, very straight on her throne, the hard stone blocks looking almost as uncomfortable as the swords of the iron throne. She was dressed even more finely than she had been the first time, with an intricately woven headdress on her pale hair, glittering gold in the morning sunlight in a way that was undeniably regal.  But this time there were no dragons, indeed no Jorah Mormont or Barristan Selmy either, just the blank faced sentinels on either side of her throne.  

It made her look a lot younger and rather less sure of herself.

“You killed my father,” she began.

So no litany of titles this time? No invasive reminder that she was the ‘true’ ruler of Westeros? “This again? I thought we’d already established that fact?” He kept a bored, flippant look on his face as he answered.

Daenerys stared at him for a long moment, pale eyes cold and searching. He wondered if she was remembering Brienne’s words, her heartfelt assertion that Aerys had been a tyrant. Maybe the queen thought after a week or so in the dungeon he’d be singing a different tale of her father?  That some memories of what a kind, benevolent, and wonderful ruler he’d actually been would have magically surfaced? Well if that was the case, he was happy to disappoint her.

He spread his hands—well hand—wide and smiled.  

“Your father was an incompetent murderous lunatic and I shoved my sword into his back. Is that what you want to know? Unless I’m mistaken, it seems to me you’ve got a few more pressing problems to deal with.” Jaime smiled, raising an eyebrow.  “You know—an army at the gates baying for blood and a murderous Targaryen on the throne? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was King’s Landing all over again.”

She didn’t answer him, mouth pressed firmly shut. He wondered where the dragons had gone and if she’d fetch them up specially to roast him alive. It probably wasn’t wise to deliberately antagonise someone who was holding him captive, but every time it happened, he couldn’t help it. Imprisonment and subjugation sat ill with him. If Brienne had been here, she would have talked to the girl softly, laid out the truth earnestly once again, and it might have worked.  Too bad she was off getting herself killed.

“As far your father goes, I’d say I was probably doing you a favour.  Or would you have liked watching him burn people alive? Maybe I’m wrong, your tastes do seem to run to similar pastimes. Maybe you would have been burning them right along with him.”

The anger on her face felt almost as good as striking a blow in a sword fight.  It gave him the same vicious satisfaction. The girl was good though, he’d give her that.  Lady Stark had split his head open with a rock under less provocation.

When she finally spoke, her voice was still measured and controlled, with only the slightest hint of a break in it. “I want you to be aware, you live now only on the mercy of my rule. I will have you put to the sword the second you trouble me.”

He considered her for a moment. Hardly more than a child, but a dangerous child, that was for certain. And one who had sent Brienne off to her death without a second thought, merely to punish him for his crimes.

“No, I don’t think you will. I think you’d like to, but you need me. I’m your leverage—over my noble utterly misguided wife, over my father should she fail, over my sister, as a last resort. No.  You need me.”

The truth of his words was reflected momentarily in the ineffectual hatred on the girl‘s face. Then she took a deep breath and her features were once again blank “You’re right. I need you—“ Her mask was firmly back in place but her eyes glinted for a second with murderous promise “—for now.”

 

Brienne woke suddenly, feeling disorientated and oddly afraid.

Without thought, she reached out a hand for Jaime, her fingers closing on nothing but the empty space next to her. Of course he wasn’t there, no matter how much she might wish it. 

There was no one in the room but Hyle, who was snoring noisily with his mouth open. They had agreed to take it in turns. to sleep on the narrow cot, the other having to wedge themselves into the corner of the cabin for the night, as she had done. It was uncomfortable but there had been little other choice.

A chill breeze was blowing as Brienne made her way out onto the deck, making her shiver and wish she had remembered to take her cloak from the cabin. King’s Landing was just visible in the distance, a dark grey smudge against the horizon, growing ever more dreadfully clear.  It had been a long, lonely, and unpleasant voyage.  The  ship was small and the oncoming winter had made the Narrow Sea rough but she could not say she was glad to see land.

She reached up and brushed her fingertips against the cool metal of the pendant at her throat, the touch calming her.

It had been the same dream again, the same one that had been plaguing her since Essos. This time the rocks had towered up to the sky, rising up and up until they blotted out the starry night above her and closed in around Jaime’s retreating form.

And once again she’d been unable to stop him, utterly powerless to help him.

It was foolish to be so afraid of a simple dream, even if it had once meant something, it probably didn’t anymore. He was safe and, as long as she completed her mission, he would remain safe.  But still the dream came to her, night after night.

The cabin door clattered open and Hyle emerged, bleary-eyed and yawning.

“We’re there?”

 “Nearly.”

She could make out the vague shapes of the Keep and the Great Sept of Baelor now and she watched them materialising from the early morning mist, feeling the weight of worry in her stomach growing steadily heavier. Almost to the city and yet she still had not a clue how she was to even get inside let alone make her way to Tywin Lannister alive.

It was possible that Hyle could do it, he was ordinary looking enough to slip through the Keep unnoticed, make his way to the Tower of the Hand posing as a messenger. However she didn’t trust him not to simply disappear into the crowds at court and never be seen again—after all, he had no love for Jaime, no need to save him. Besides, even if she trusted him to complete her task for her, whoever killed Tywin Lannister was likely to never leave the city alive. She might like Hyle little on some days but she couldn’t ask him to die for her.

As they slipped into the dock, Brienne craned her neck back to look up at the massive walls that encircled the city, still bearing the scars of the Battle of the Blackwater. At their base, people teemed about, a din of voices crying out, boats creaking, and cargoes clattering to the ground.  It was cold, the salt wind making her eyes stream and biting through her sea spray flecked clothes, but it didn’t seem to be bothering any of the sailors unloading their wares. Maybe that was because, unlike her and Hyle, they weren’t dressed in thin linens more appropriate for the Essos climes they’d left behind weeks ago.

Hyle shivered, rubbing his arms in an attempt to keep warm and squinting up at the guards on the wall.“So, what exactly are we doing once we get to the Keep?”

Good question, and one she would like to know the answer to herself “I kill Tywin Lannister, you take his head and return to Essos to free Jaime. Can you manage that?”

He scrunched up his face, as if he were considering how to answer.

“I’ll take the head back and who knows, maybe I’ll stay there. It’s a damn sight warmer there and the Targaryen queen is easier on the eyes than most of the lords I’ve served.”

“She’s not the rightful ruler.”

Then again, who was? Poor little Tommen who sat on the throne now was Jaime’s child, she knew that much, and Robert Baratheon had borne no true heirs. In truth, it should be Stannis but he was a kinslayer, a vile murderer, and she would rather see anyone else take the crown than him.

Hyle shrugged “She looks like she might be, from where I’m sitting. Targaryen and all that. And she’s got an army, might be nice to be on the right side of the war for once. I’m sure she’ll be generous with lands and titles once she takes the throne,” he smiled at her.  “Maybe she’ll even give me Casterly Rock if I ask nicely enough.”

Casterly Rock. Jaime’s ancestral home and, at this moment, by the laws of gods and men, hers as well “You’re despicable.”

“You don’t understand.” He kept his eyes fixed ahead on the bustling docks of King’s Landing. “Before we went to Essos ,you’d never gone hungry in your life, had you?”

That surprised her “Hunt is a noble house—“

He cut her off “A noble house of hedge knights, with no land and little money. I would have wed you for your claim, of course I would—you were an honourable woman and Tarth is a prettier prize than I’m ever likely to see again. And since you wouldn’t have me, well maybe I’ll go serve this dragon queen and hope she’s generous. Either that or I can spend the rest of my life fighting, knowing that as soon as I stop being useful, as soon as I get injured or old, that I’ll be reduced to the same as the scum in Flea Bottom. And you can’t eat nobility, my lady.”

His voice was bitter, so unlike the usual easy-going façade he projected that it rattled her for a moment. He sounded as if he was being honest but he had proven himself to be an accomplished liar before.

“If you do go back, if you stay… keep Lady Sansa safe. Please.”

 “I will.”

She wasn’t sure if he would keep true to his word but it was all she could do for poor Sansa. They both stood in silence as the long gangplank thumped down on the dock, the sailors scurrying down to unload the cargo they’d bought with them from Essos. Hyle had brought their meagre belongings up from the cabin and Brienne grimly buckled the sword about her waist, trying not to think what would happen the next time she drew it. Their cloaks were donned and their hoods raised in an attempt to offer a little anonymity but Brienne doubted she could blend in for very long.

 “To the Red Keep, then?” Hyle asked.

She took one last look over her shoulder at the little boat that had brought them this far, then took a deep breath.

“Yes.”

 

As they pushed their way toward the Red Keep through the crowds of sailors and store keeps, Brienne thought she heard the name ‘Lannister’ spoken a few times but it was swallowed up in the din before she could hear more.  It made her wonder what Jaime’s family had been up to in their absence, what had changed in the city while they had been on the other side of the world. It felt like a hundred years since the last time she’d walked into King’s Landing, with Jaime at her side, returning beaten and maimed from the North. It had been a homecoming for him, he’d been so relieved at the prospect of seeing his sister, his brother, his…father… again.

“—Tywin Lannister—“

This time she was sure she had heard it and stopped dead, almost causing Hyle to walk into the back of her. Two men were leaning up against a shop front, smoking and watching the world go by through narrowed eyes while they talked.

“—dead and rotting up in the Sept. Never would have believed that he could die so easy—“

She heard Hyle’s sharp, shocked intake of breath and then the world seemed to swim around her for a moment, the street pitching and blurring. Lord Tywin couldn’t be dead.  If he was already dead then she couldn’t save Jaime. He just couldn’t be already gone.

“I think it was poison myself, since he seemed like a man in fine health.”

The second man nodded thoughtfully and took a long drag on his pipe, blowing noxious smelling clouds of smoke out into the street.

“Could be that Dornish Prince, the Red Viper, he knows his poisons they say, or that twisted little imp that’s the Hand’s son, no love lost there. Hells, it could be the traitor Ned Stark risen from the grave to poison his porridge, for all I know.”

“Could be the other son and his whore.”

Brienne stood stock still, head down, listening as the first man continued talking.

“I mean she poisoned King Joffrey, rest his soul. Who’s to say she didn’t poison the Hand as well?”

Who’s to say I didn’t?

 

It started to rain as they approached the Sept, spitting drops plastering her hair to her head and dampening her cloak until it was heavy and sodden. Around her, people were hurrying into the shelter of shops and taverns, feet slipping on the wet stones.

If I had married Jaime properly, I would have walked down this street wearing my maiden’s cloak in Tarth’s colours, with the crowds cheering about me and my father at my side. Jaime would have been waiting for me through those doors.  He would have kissed me and fastened a red and gold cloak around my shoulders. He would have bedded me that night in his chambers.

Perhaps I would have been nursing his child by now.

It was a strange, slightly unsettling thought.

The cloak she wore now was a dull grey, designed to conceal her, rather than draw attention to the bride, and there would be no husband waiting to take it from her in the Sept. As they approached she could see two members of the Kingsguard standing on either side of the imposing doors, their breath smoking in the misty rain. Brienne hunched her shoulders, pulling back further into the shadow of her hood. But neither of them so much as glanced at her.

Brienne and Hyle pushed their way through into the huge echoing space beyond. The dim vastness of the Sept was lit up with a myriad of candles, the golden light lending the place a serene air. She’d been expecting more guards inside but there was no one but Tywin Lannister, laid out in all his glory on the high marble bier. That struck her as odd, surely there would have been guards, septons, smallfolk seeking favour with the gods? Especially with the rain outside, the sept should have seen at least some people finding cover from the storm.

She took a step toward him and the smell hit her. It was indescribable, the invasive stench that clung to the body, both sweet and rotting in a way that violently turned her stomach. Beside her, she could hear Hyle retching as he clamped a hand over his mouth.

Gods, how long has he been dead? The way they were talking about it, I thought it had only just happened but this is foul.

At every funeral she had ever attended, the corpse had smelt of fragrant herbs and incense, maybe a dark suggestion of rot underneath but it was always so buried that she was never sure. There had been corpses left to rot and putrefy at Harrenhal, those had smelt worse, but nothing, nothing she had ever smelled in her life had been as bad as this.

She braced herself and took a step towards him.

 “Excuse me, you cannot—“

She had been so focused on the task that she hadn’t heard anyone approach, hadn’t even noticed until a hand closed upon her elbow. A small, harried looking septon was staring up at her, seeming slightly ill at being so near the corpse. Abruptly, he snapped his mouth shut, some kind of recognition dawning on his face.

“You’re—you—the Kingslayer’s —“ He dropped his hand, backing away with eyes flitting between her face and the hand she was absently resting on her sword.  Behind him, Hyle loosened his own, looking up at her with a question on his face “Don’t kill me, please, I—”

She shook her head sharply at Hunt, waiting until he moved his hand from the hilt of his sword before turning her attention back to the cowering septon.

“Go tell them,” she whispered “Go tell them that I poisoned Lord Tywin, as I poisoned his grandson, and am here to face the judgement of the gods.” He stumbled backwards, almost tripping on his robes in his haste to comply. He’d probably run straight to the guards at the door, so they wouldn’t have long.

She turned back to Lord Tywin.

Her sword drew cleanly, the sound ringing in the cavernous space as she climbed the remaining steps towards the bier. From the smell, she had been expecting him to look rotted, sunken in, but instead he merely looked peaceful, an almost healthy looking flush on his cheeks.

Jaime…forgive me.

Brienne raised the sword high and bought it down.

There was a solid, wet thunk and the smell became a hundred times worse, a foul stench of rot and decay. She turned away and retched, acid burning in the back of her throat. Black blood was sluggishly oozing out from the cut she opened up in the throat but it hadn’t been deep enough. She steeled herself, then raised her sword again, putting all her strength into the blow.

This time, the head rolled from the bier onto the floor with a damp thud, where it sat, staring up at her grotesquely with its almost accusing eyes. Quickly, she used her sword to push it onto her cloak and then shoved the dripping bundle into Hyle’s arms.

“Go, quickly.”

She expected him to take it and run but instead he hesitated, then reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it. His skin was warm through the fabric of her shirt.

“I would have freed you anyway, back in Braavos, I would have freed you without your hand. And I just wanted you to know that whatever wrongs I may have done you, I have always admired you, Brienne of Tarth.”

He seemed sincere, his brown eyes beseeching. Maybe it was the truth, maybe it was a pretty lie but what did it matter now?

“Just take the head back, save him, and I will consider the wrongs forgiven.”

He nodded to her one last time and lifted his hand. Her shoulder felt oddly cold without it as she watched him walk away.

Leaving her alone to await her fate.

Chapter Text

Brienne’s memory of being dragged through the streets was a whirlwind of shouts, of people pawing at her, the iron grip of the Kingsguard on her arms.

“Traitor! Backstabber!”

“Kingslayer’s lying whore!”

“Monster!”

Someone had thrown a rotting tomato; it had burst in her hair and slid down the side of her neck. Sticky gobs of it were still drying on her skin, the smell would soon be nauseating but the stench of her prison cell was already overpowering it.

She hadn’t been expecting this.

Though she had tried not to think too much about what would happen once they reached King’s Landing, if pressed, she would have said she would not see the inside of a dungeon at all. She had believed that the murderof someone like Tywin Lannister would surely merit a quick death, maybe at the sword of one of the Kingsguard. After all, why would they even need a trial when she had been proclaiming her guilt to anyone who would listen?

She realized swiftly it had been foolish to hope it would all end without much suffered.

The last time she had been in a prison cell, the thought that had kept her going had been the certainty that Jaime would rescue her. She had believed whole-heartedly that he would come for her.  And he had.

But this time, no one would save her. She would die here.

Brienne dragged in a heavy breath, throat tightening. Never in her life had she felt so alone.  She missed Jaime deeply.  She even wished that Hyle could be here with her. For a moment, her lips trembled, a tear dripping down her cheek to spatter on the dusty floor. She was tired, so very tired, the kind of bone deep tiredness that seemed to seep into the very core of her. The bricks of the cell were rough against her back and her wrists ached where they were manacled to the wall above her, but still she felt her eyelids drooping.

 

Brienne opened her eyes to the familiar sight of the canopy above her bed in Evenfall Hall. The bed felt huge around her, and when she stretched out her arms, she could not touch the sides.

I’m nine, she thought suddenly. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she felt it was true.

The wind outside was blowing up a gale against the windows and she could hear the distant rumble of thunder. There was no fire in her grate and the fireplace stood black and empty, reminding her of a cave entrance. She waited, but the crashing thunder outside her room never ended with a flash of lightning.  Normally she found the sound of storms outside her bedroom to be comforting, especially when she was tucked up cosily in bed, as she was now. But there was something about this one that made her uneasy.

Carefully, she slid from her bed, small pink feet curling away from the cold flagstones. When she peeked outside her chambers, there were no guards outside her room.  And there was no one in the hallways at all as she padded her way along the familiar path to her father’s solar.

Brienne pushed open the heavy door, the comforting heat from the fire washing over her. It looked the same as it always had, with the same tangled pile of dogs sleeping on the hearth and the desk stacked haphazardly with books and correspondence.

“Father?”  He was standing with his back to her, silhouetted dark against the windows. The door groaned shut behind her as she shuffled inside, waiting for him to acknowledge her.

“What is it?” He turned toward her, his worn, familiar face lit up by the fire‘s glow. But he looked tired, somehow defeated. Brienne wanted to run to him, to have him enfold her in his arms.  Instead, she took small, measured steps forwards. She was nine, after all, it would not do to act like baby in front of her father.

“There was a thunderstorm. I was scared…”

He smiled and reached down to rest a hand on her head. She was so small he could easily cup the crown of her head in his palm. For a moment she felt safe, protected.

“That’s not thunder, child, that’s lions.”

Brienne frowned.

“Lions?”

They didn’t have lions on Tarth. They didn’t even have wolves.

“Roaring for your blood.” He gestured to the tall windows of his solar. She could see mountains outside, high grey stony peaks.  But there shouldn’t be mountains there.  She was surethere were no mountains there.

“Mine?”

Her father was right, it didn’t sound like thunder at all. It was too animalistic, too demanding for that.

 “Do I have to go out to them?” Her high, little girl voice shook. “I could…  I could stay in here with you.”

He smiled at her sadly, stroking his fingers through her hair.“They’ll find you even if you stay here. I can’t protect you anymore than I already have.”

She stared out at the darkness and caught a glimpse of a pale figure walking through the storm, moving towards her.  “There’s a man out there.”

Jaime. His name is Jaime. 

It came to her suddenly, that she knew the man out there in the rain-drenched darkness. And he was someone important, though she couldn’t say precisely why.

Jaime was…he was…

 

Brienne woke with a start, head jerking up painfully.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d slept, but there was still grey light filtering into her cell, so it couldn’t have been long. It was raining, the high barred window of her cell letting in a steady stream of cold, wet raindrops to drip down the collar of her shirt.

There was another bang as someone slammed an armoured hand down on the other side of the door. “Wake up in there! You have a visitor.”

The thick door was wrenched open with a shriek of rusted metal, candlelight from outside spilling in to illuminate the dimness of the mouldering cell. Brienne felt a sudden stab of panic, wondering if this was it, but no guards stormed in to drag her to her death.

Instead only a single figure entered.

Cersei’s face was thinner than when she’d last seen her, dark smudges had taken up residence under her eyes and an unnatural looking flush had settled on her high cheekbones. Grief had taken her beauty and sharpened it somehow, driving away the last vestiges of softness from her face. Yet it had not diminished it, quite the opposite, in fact.  

They stared at each other across the darkened space of the cell. All was silent except for the clinking of Brienne’s manacles and the faint patter of the rain outside.

“Wasn’t killing my son enough for you?” The words were soft, venomous. Brienne didn’t answer, even if she had planned to plead her innocence, there would be no chance this woman would listen to her. “You took Jaime, you killed my father—“

She looked up sharply. “I didn’t take Jaime.  He left with me of his own will.”

There was a crack and her head rolled against her own shoulder from the force of the other woman’s blow. Cersei was stronger than she appeared. A thin line of blood ran from Brienne’s nose, over her lips to trickle from her chin while a slow steady throb of pain started up in her cheek.

 “Your father is here, did you know that?” Cersei sounded almost conversational, as if she were simply inquiring out of curiosity. Brienne felt a wash of relief that he was still alive.  Ever since they had fled Tarth, a small, aching doubt had been tormenting her. 

“After what you did to mine, I should have him dragged down here and make you watch as I stick a blade through his heart.”

Brienne felt an accompanying sudden stab of panic. No, no please no.

Cersei’s eyes were two slits, shining in the candlelight as she regarded her prey.  “Where’s Jaime? What have you done with him? Tell me.” It was a command, a demand, rather than a plea for information.

Brienne dropped her gaze, staring down at the floor and watching the blood drip from her chin to land in the dust. Her eyes slipped closed for a moment and she saw him as she had last- asleep and dreaming, with all his cares smoothed from his face and a smile on his lips. He had never seemed more beautiful to her. “He’s safe. As long as I die here, he’s safe.”

She looked up and saw Cersei was staring at her, eyes dark and unfathomable. “You will.”

 

Each time Jaime was brought before the queen the dim, echoing pyramid reminded him more and more of a dusty old tomb or a Sept. He wasn’t sure why, it might have been the dull fading grandeur of the place and, for this meeting, there seemed to be a pervasive smell of rot that was even less pleasant than the one in his cell. The vast stone floor was cold against his bare feet and he felt somewhat underdressed in his rags. Still, at least they hadn’t shackled him this time, which was somewhat of a relief.

He wondered how many times they’d parade him about for her amusement before she got bored.

Today, the Targaryen girl looked almost happy, which immediately put him on his guard. Barristan Selmy was stood next to her now, looking like nothing less than a faithful old dog, waiting patiently for its master’s attention. More weathered and gaunt than ever, he still carried the same air of complete command that he’d had in King’s Landing. But there was no sign of Jorah Mormont again, which was interesting, as there had been none since the first time he and Brienne were dragged into this place.  

The little queen smiled down at him coldly, her blue and gold robes one of the only spots of colour in the room.

“We have to stop meeting like this.  People will talk.” He tried to keep his voice flippant but that smile was somewhat unnerving.    

There was a bag sitting at her feet, stained with dark patches of blood and a smell that was an insidious mixture of shit and rot. It seemed like once he’d noticed it, Jaime couldn’t bring himself to look anywhere else in the room.

She, almost daintily, tilted it so its contents rolled out onto the step in front of her with a damp thump. He almost didn’t recognise him for a second, the face was so caved in and patches of it had blackened and putrefied, sloughed away to reveal the bone beneath.  Whoever had brought it had obviously forgotten to dip it in tar to preserve it. That explained the smell that was making the Dragon Queen wrinkle her pretty nose.

 “This is your Father.” One of the guards grabbed the hair and held it aloft while she spoke, black liquid dripping from the severed neck to splatter on the steps of the dais.

“So it is.” The words seem to come from a very long way away, as if he were hearing himself speak from the other side of a vast room.  His father had never seemed enough of a mortal man to die, rather he’d seemed more like a somewhat cruel and distant god.

 “I plan to have it displayed at the gates to my city.”

He knew the pain was waiting to descend on him, the bitter fury. He could feel it edging closer, making his non-existent right hand itch for a sword. And, selfishly, there was also the relief.  It was not Brienne’s head in that bag.  She had succeeded and she might still be alive.

 “It will fit in very well with the rest of your decorations, I’m sure.” His voice was steadier than he’d been expecting.

The queen’s mouth twisted and he wondered what she’d been hoping for. Tears, perhaps? An outburst of anger? But Jaime kept his face blank, neutral, bored.  “You are a monster.” Her words echoed in the cavernous room, sending whispers of ‘monster’ ringing in his ears.

Jaime managed a scoff.  “Are you sure you shouldn’t be looking in a mirror when you say that? How much blood is on your hands?”

She stood up, the sunlight making her hair dance with pale gold fire. Her voice shook with suppressed rage as she spoke. “One day, when I take my rightful place on the Iron Throne, I will see every member of your family persecuted and killed as mine were. I will see you flee in terror, sleep every night wondering if it might be your last. I will see you begging, hungry and hopeless, on the streets. And then I will burn you.”

“Well, I’m afraid you’re rather late with that. My father already had me fleeing to your barbarian lands, living in poverty and hunger,“ he replied.  That seemed to bring her up short momentarily; a frown marring her delicate face and Jaime took the opportunity to plunge onward. “He sentenced my wife to death, sent sellswords and bandits after us to bring back her head. Perhaps if you had taken a moment to question me on what we were doing here you, wouldn’t be waving that head around under my nose, expecting me to sob for a man who made my life a misery.”

It was true, in part, just not as true as he wanted it to be.

Daenarys stared at him in silence, her expression strange.  He wondered if he’d moved her to compassion on his behalf.

“I want you gone from my city. Today.”

Perhaps not.

“With an army at the gates?” he asked. “And a desert to cross beyond that? How exactly do you propose that I do that?”

“I said I would release you but I promised you no aid,” she said with a hint of smugness tugging at her mouth.

 Jaime laughed, genuinely, for a moment. Well, it was a creative death sentence at least. “Smart, very smart. You honourably keep your word and I die alone in the desert? I might starve, I suppose, or die of thirst. But then again, I suspect I might also have an unfortunate little accident just far enough from the city walls.” He looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Some lost bandits perhaps? Or will it be a soldier, strangely mistaking me for a fleeing slave? The possibilities are endless. You do realise no one will believe you didn’t kill me yourself?”

She stared down at him, her eyes stony. “You may believe what you wish, I have freed you,” she replied coldly. “You have until sunset to leave my city.”

 

 

The sun was getting low when Jaime stepped out of the great doors, just peering over the tops of the walls and touching the pyramids with gold.

I have until sunset, do I?

He hadn’t realised how late it was. But the queen most likely had.

I’m a dead man walking.

Was it better to run, to try and make it to the gates before the sun disappeared completely? Or to stroll nonchalantly? A running man was usually chased after-all while a ragged one walking aimlessly might slip through the streets unnoticed. Either way, his chances were not good.

He thought he could feel the eyes of the guards on him as he made his way down the high steps of the pyramid, causing the back of his neck to prickle. The great maze of the city spread out below him, every twisted street potentially concealing a sellsword waiting to earn their wage with his head. And even if he managed to get beyond that, over the walls all there would be was sand stretching away in every direction, to the far, far, horizon that he’d have to somehow walk across.

Once he’d reached the base of the pyramid, he tried his best to blend in to the crowds. It was not as difficult as he might have thought, given that he was filthy and barefoot. Not that it was a pleasant experience to edge through the fetid, stinking alleyways, doing his best not to breathe through his nose and it was definitely not helpful to think about what he was stepping in.

There were two men, standing around by the exit to the alley, trying their best to look nonchalant. And if there was one thing his recent ventures had taught him, it was that men trying that hard to look casual were almost inevitably up to something.

I’d better run as best I can then.

He burst through the mouth of the alley, knocking down the first man and managing to evade the knife the second thrust out. Twisting away, he set off, feet pounding on stones, muscles screaming in pain as he forced them to work after so long in disuse. A wind had blown up, swirling about the narrow streets and whipping dust into Jaime’s face as he ran. He hurried past the beggars in rags, sitting on the street corners, past the rotting corpses of the slave masters the Dragon Queen had nailed up, as fast as he could go.

Someone caught hold of his shirt, hauling him to a stop. He would have struck out with his sword, if he’d had one or, indeed, a hand to strike out with. Instead he tried to twist away, tried to rip his shirt out of the tight grip, but it was no use. He had exhausted what little strength he had on his dash for freedom.

So this was how it ended, in a grimy back alley half-way across the world.

“You want to live, boy?”

There was an unmistakable hint of Westeros about the man’s accent. And now that Jaime focused on his captor, he didn’t look like an assassin particularly, rather more like an old solider down on his luck. He was struck with a sense of familiarity, as if he should have known this dishevelled wreck of a man somehow.

 “Come on!” the man dropped his hold on his shirt, gesturing for him to follow. What choice did he have? There were already shouts starting up behind them.

They came out of the maze of alleyways, slipped through a knot of bored looking soldiers and made their way down to the docks. There were still ships moored, but it didn’t seem like they’d be there for long.  Sailors were swarming about, calling out frantically to each other, hastily loading cargo. When he looked across the long sweep of the horizon, he could see the dim, heavy outlines of ships too menacing to be merchants.

“You’re lucky that they haven’t shut off trade yet, or I wouldn’t have been able to get to you.” The wording sounded vaguely ominous to Jaime. He tilted his head, watching the other man’s eyes.

“You know who I am, don’t you.”

It wasn’t really a question.

“I do. You’re Jaime Lannister.”

‘Jaime Lannister’, rather than ‘the Kingslayer’.  Well, that was at least a little promising. It could be that this man planned to ransom him off to his family, rather than cut his throat for the Dragon Queen.

 “And who are you?” Jaime asked.

 “Belenus. And this is my ship.”

It was less of a ship, more of a shabby looking little runabout, with patches on the sails and a piecemeal look, as if it had been put together from the remnants of a much larger boat. Honestly, it looked more than likely to sink before it made it out of the harbour.

“Firstly, and I hope you’ll forgive me, but are you planning on murdering me at sea? Because all things said and done, I think I’d prefer to die on dry land.”

The other man—Belenus—sucked air in through his teeth and began to gather up the rope mooring the dishevelled little craft. “No, no plans.”

“Forgive me if I seem inclined to disbelieve this incredible act of kindness,” Jaime said, not bothering to help. “In my experience, people don’t usually stick their necks out without wanting something in return.”

The man regarded him steadily for a long time, then a strange, sharp smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. “I knew your uncle.”

“Uncle Kevan?” For a moment the ‘knew’ stuck in his heart and he wondered, in a panic, what had been happening back in the capitol while he’d been gone.

“No, your Uncle Gerion.”

Uncle Gerion, the one who’d sailed off searching for their ancestral sword in the wastes of Essos and never returned. It was possible this man had known him, since he’d certainly taken a full complement of Lannisport sailors with when he’d left. Then again, it was common knowledge that his Uncle had been lost in the Smoking Sea.  He could simply be using the tale to lure him to the boat, to ransom him somehow.

Jaime hesitated only a moment, then he swung himself into the little craft . It rocked slightly under his weight but he decided to take the fact that it didn’t immediately sink to be a good omen.

“Are you going to Westeros?”

“That’s a long way, boy.” The other man seemed to consider it for a moment, then very slowly nodded. “I’ll take you as far as I can.”

Chapter Text

The first traces of dawn were creeping gradually over the sweeping horizon, the sky catching fire with gold and pink, creating a soft tinge of light on the undersides of the dark clouds and along the edges of the waves.

And Jaime was being violently ill over the side of the boat.

The sea wasn’t anywhere near as rough as it had been on his crossing from Tarth, but the diminutive size of the craft made every wave feel like a giant. It probably didn’t help that the piecemeal boat looked as if it might sink at any moment.  Really, if it got them all the way to King’s Landing, Jaime though that it would be only from the mercy of the Seven.

The deck dipped abruptly underneath him again and he heaved dryly past the edge, sending nothing more a thin line of spittle into the sea. There was little left in him now, the dry bread his companion had given him having been rather thoroughly ejected earlier. Belenus himself was sat at the back of the boat, perfectly silhouetted against the dawn and apparently completely unaffected by the pitching of the sea.

Bastard.

Jaime could remember resting his head on Brienne’s lap on his last crossing, her gentle fingers in his hair soothing him through his sickness. He had been cruel in return, sniping at her until she chastised him.  And still, she had never stopped comforting him. Brienne always had been too kind for her own good. And in return for that kindness his sister would probably have already proclaimed her guilt for the entire city to hear, before taking her to be executed. His wife’s head would likely be on a spike to greet him if they ever made it to the capitol.

He swallowed hard, the sickness in his stomach no longer just from the sea.

“You’re not much of a sailor, are you?” The other man spoke for the first time in hours, sounding amused.

Jaime lifted his head, trying to glare balefully through the greasy hanks of hair hanging in front of his eyes, but he didn’t think he managed to look particularly intimidating. “No, I can safely say I’m not.”

Belenus smiled his strange, sharp smile and then went back to scanning the brightening horizon. He wasn’t a particularly talkative man, seeming to prefer they undertake their journey in wary silence.  But Jaime wasn’t sure he could do that, particularly not when the outline of the other man’s profile against the illuminated sky was creating a niggling sense of familiarity in him.

“You said you knew my Uncle.”

The faint lines around the man’s eyes grew deeper as he nodded but he didn’t look back at Jaime.

“Is he dead?” It was a difficult question to ask.

It took the sailor a long time to answer, the lengthening silence snapped taught, filled only with the slap of the waves and the mournful calls of the seabirds. Then, finally, he spoke. “A man goes into the Smoking Sea and he wouldn’t come out the same man, even if he did survive. But, yes, your uncle is dead.”

There, once again in the pit of Jaime’s stomach, was that little pull of doubt at the man’s words. But surely Uncle Gerion had been taller? And this man’s matted hair looked to be a dull, sandy brown, streaked liberally with grey, rather than the shining gold of his favourite uncle. Ten years away might change a man, but that much?

Jaime wasn’t sure and the other man’s steadfast refusal to look at him quite clearly suggested he was not getting any more answers right now.  So, instead, he asked, “Do you have any news from Westeros?” Any news of Brienne. He didn’t say it, barely, but it was all he was hoping for.

“Your father’s dead.”

The words caused an unexpected stab of pain in his chest, a tightening he hadn’t been prepared for.  His father was dead. It would be a difficult thing to get used to.

“I was aware of that one. The little dragon queen took it upon herself to show me his head.” There was a flicker of distaste across the other man’s face, something akin to pity, maybe. Jaime leaned his head back against the rough side of the boat, a sudden surge of hopelessness washing over him “I wonder if she’s going to come after me, since me doing anything but dying horribly wasn’t part of her plan.”

The man shook his head a little “Got other things on her mind, I’d wager. Word is she’s planning on making a move.”

“With her city under siege?” Jaime wondered. That didn’t make sense. She’d seemed firmly entrenched from what he’d seen.

“There’s another Targaryen attacking Westeros,” Belenus replied with a shrug.  “He made land in Tarth, devastated the place, and is making his way to King’s Landing—“

Jaime closed his eyes. Gods. Tarth. Brienne’s home, her inheritance. What about her father? Is he dead? Would she know? Would she even be alive to find out?

“—so she won’t be able to sit around for long. This one’s the brother apparently, though no one seems to know where he came from. But if she wants the Iron Throne, she’ll have to take it now, before he does.”

Jaime tried to shake his swirling, dark thoughts as he studied the man across from him. “You’re awfully well-informed for a sailor.”

The other man just grunted his reply, getting up and hauling on the ropes to raise the meagre sail. The wind caught and the little craft shuddered and surged forward. Jaime tightened his grip on the boat’s side, desperately trying to hold on to what little he had left in his stomach and wishing he was anywhere else but here.

Then again when was the last place I’d been happy?

His mind wandered back to the house in the fishing village. While he couldn’t say he’d been happy precisely, he’d been far too hungry for that, he had been content. And it was because Brienne was there, as she’d been at his side through every miserable, wretched moment ever since she’d met him. Sansa and Hyle had been there too, of course, and he’d not much cared for their company. Still, he hoped the girl at least was safe, though he’d not seen her since they’d been dragged off to the queen’s dungeons. Hyle, however, could have been fed to the dragons for all he cared.

 

It was apparent that Winter had arrived in earnest while Brienne was shut in her little cell. As the guards escorted her out into the misty, grey morning, she could see her breath smoking in the cold air and tiny, stinging flakes of snow were floating lazily down from the clouds, melting as they touched her skin. They didn’t settle on the ground, melting into rainwater before they reached the stones. It was a pity, as she would have liked to have seen real snow one more time.

Perhaps it was strange but Brienne was glad to be finally know it was ending.  It was better than waking each morning, wondering if this would be the day they’d take her head, better to know it was all over and that there was no more hope, no more pain to deal with.  

 “Lady Brienne!” A small figure was hurrying across the damp courtyard, squinting against the sleet. It was Jaime’s brother, Tyrion.

He came to stop in front of her, his guard following at a more leisurely pace, and there was a long pause as he looked up at her. Then, he awkwardly patted the side of her leg. It seemed to be as high as he could reach. “I am truly sorry, my lady.” Tyrion’s eyes seemed genuinely sad but she still wasn’t sure whether she trusted him or not, certainly not enough to tell him of her reasons for doing this.

“Don’t try to help me. Please,” she implored. If he interfered on her behalf, she did not dare imagine how long this might drag on while she was shut up in her cell. Again.  A swift trial and a clean execution was all she asked, quick and as painless as possible.

 “This trial is a farce,” Tyrion beseeched. “You must know that you will find no mercy at my sister‘s hand.”

 “I know.”

“There must be something I can do.”

Her guards looked as if they were getting impatient, one had his glove on his pommel as if he would very much like to draw it and hurry her along. Quickly, she knelt down in the freezing slush, trying to ignore how the guards’ hands were tensing on their swords. “Lady Sansa…Daenerys Targaryen has her. Find her. Help her. Please.” She whispered quickly, quietly so only he would hear. They were almost the same words she’d spoken to Hyle, begging others to help the girl was all she could do now.

Tyrion looked up at her for a long time, brow furrowed in thought and then, very slowly, he nodded. “I will do my best.”

Brienne smiled and straightened. “Thank you.”

His mouth thinned, pulled into a strange, sad little smile and it looked as if he wanted to say more, but, after a moment’s hesitation, he stepped back. The guards grabbed hold of her arms again, marching her away before Jaime’s brother could say anything more to her. She watched him over her shoulder, a small, solitary figure, until he faded away into the grey morning.

 

It was dim in the throne room, the cloudy day outside letting little light filtering in through the long windows. A handful of candles had been lit, their flickering flames failing to illuminate the whole of the dim, echoing space. It was thronged with people, representatives of most of the Houses seemed to be there in their gold and finery. In comparison, Brienne’s hair was hanging lankly about her face and she still wore the same travel-stained shirt and breeches she’d been taken in. She remembered Tywin Lannister’s insistence that she dress like a lady at court and almost smiled at the fact that she was bought to answer for his murder dressed this way.

Brienne tried to fix her gaze straight ahead, not looking at the nobility gathered on either side of the hall, whispering and staring at her as she passed. Unfortunately, that meant her eyes met the queen’s. The regard that held hers was full of silent contempt and poorly concealed fury.  Cersei was sitting in the Iron Throne this time, looming above everyone else in the hall, with her hands resting delicately on the arms, the candlelight catching the gold of her hair and making it shine.

“In the place of King Tommen, first of his name, the Queen Regent will sit in judgement upon this matter.”

Cersei‘s eyes didn’t even flicker away during the announcement. Brienne wondered exactly what it was the other woman was searching for so intently in her face.

“You stand accused not only of the murder of my beloved son, Joffrey, the rightful King of Westeros, but also of my father, Tywin Lannister, a man who faithfully served his crown for years as the Hand of the King.” It was strange how she could talk in such a low, careful voice and yet it seemed to fill up the entire room. “Do you deny you poisoned them both, in the most cowardly way possible?”

The word ‘coward’ stuck in her heart for a moment, the knowledge that this would be her legacy. But no matter, if it was a coward they needed her to be, then a coward she was. For Jaime’s sake.

 “I do not, your grace.”

Cersei didn’t answer her straight away, that assessing stare never wavering. When she finally did, she spoke softly. “Well, at least you have the decency to be honest about it.”

Someone cleared their throat behind Brienne and the queen’s incessant gaze flickered away momentarily.  “Prince Oberyn, you have something to add?”

Brienne looked around. The man who had spoken was standing almost directly behind her, head tilted to the side as he stared past her up at the queen. He was handsome, in a hawkish kind of way, dressed like a Dornish nobleman.

“Yes, as I have reasons to believe that the Lady Brienne is innocent.”

Her breath caught in her throat and her heart started to pound.

No. No, no, no.

 “And why do you say that?” Cersei’s words were still very soft, very controlled, but there was an edge to them that had not been there a moment ago.

“It is very simple, I believe her to be innocent because I killed Lord Tywin,” He threw up his hands in a careless gesture “You see, it is difficult to think how we both might have managed it.”

There was an uproar around him as he stood, smiling serenely up at the Queen Regent with an air of complete calm. Cersei raised an appraising eyebrow, something that wasn’t quite a smile pulling at her lips. “You are joking, of course.”

Prince Oberyn’s own grin did not falter. “I do not joke, your grace. Lord Tywin was responsible for the killing of my sister, Elia, and so, I took my vengeance on him.  I wish to invoke my right to a trial by combat and to challenge Ser Gregor Clegane to answer for his part in those crimes visited upon my family.”

“No, no it was me!” Brienne’s voice was small and shaking, losing its conviction. Her knuckles were turning white where she was gripping the parapet in front of her. Why had he confessed? She needed to be blamed.  She had to die.  If the Dragon Queen found out she wasn’t the one who killed Lord Tywin then Jaime was as good as dead.

Oberyn cocked his head to the side as he looked at her, his dark eyes bright. “Tell me, then, Lady Lannister, how did you come to poison Lord Tywin?”

It took her a long moment to figure out he was addressing her. To be called Lady Lannister sounded so strange to her, though she supposed he had the truth of it.  “I-I brought the poison back with me from Essos, I slipped it in his drink one evening—”

It was difficult to find the words, since they sounded so hollow now.  

“And you managed to get all the way into the Red Keep without being seen, when the whole city is looking for you? Tell me, did you spend your time in Essos training with the Faceless Men?  If not, you will forgive me for not believing you.”

Brienne felt her cheeks go warm, trying desperately to think of some detail that would lend her story authenticity. She opened her mouth.  Then soundlessly shut it, unable to think of a single thing.

Oberyn continued blithely on, “There is also the fact that Lord Tywin’s food taster remains in mysteriously good health, despite having consumed everything that he had consumed since the untimely death of his grandson. That is some very smart poison, no? To know which man to kill and which to save?”He smiled at her again, not unkindly. “I know my poisons, my Lady Lannister and—“

This time Cersei could not hold her tongue. “She is not a Lannister.”

Oberyn looked amused. “No? I was certain that I heard that your brother married her in secret?” He turned back to look at Brienne “Which would make you the Lady of Casterly Rock. Is that not true?” She just stared at him, not knowing how to answer, painfully aware of the ever rising blush on her face. “No, I think you are not a Lannister after all. No Lannister would pass the opportunity to save their own skin. So, my Lady of Tarth,” he corrected, inclining his head with a knowing smile. “I know my poisons, am famous for it, in fact, and that is why I can tell you the precise one with which I killed Tywin Lannister. I can tell you I used Widow’s Blood, that it looked to be a sickness of the stomach and bowels, until it was too late. I can tell you that I stole it from the rooms of your Grand Maester Pycelle. I can tell you that I slipped it into Tywin Lannister’s drink before even the death of his grandson and it has been doing its work since. You can tell me no more than you used a ‘poison from Essos’. I cannot but help to feel in my heart of hearts that you are lying, that someone—“ his eyes flickered momentarily toward Cersei “—is making you take the blame for this.” He turned to stare fully at the Queen, eyebrows raised. “So, do you deny my case is stronger?”

Cersei’s narrowed eyes flickered between them for a moment. “You were in league, somehow.  You supplied her with the poison and the means to get to my father, I have no doubt, and you will be arrested and tried as a traitor.”

There was a way out of this, Brienne desperately thought. There had to be. For Jaime.

“He’s lying.  He did nothing to assist me.” Brienne took a deep breath, clenching her fists. “I demand a trial by combat.” She spoke the words as loudly and as clearly as she was able. “Let the gods judge me.”

A small strange smile pulled at Cersei’s lips. “Very well, a trial by combat. How fitting. You will face Ser Gregor Clegane, two days hence. Let the gods show how wretchedly guilty you are.”

 

Sansa nearly tripped on her skirts as she was hurried up the dark, torch-lit staircase, trying her hardest to keep up with the guard who held her arm.

 “Where are you taking me?” She asked as forcefully as she could, but he didn’t answer, merely continued to pull her along. He had just appeared at the door of the cell she’d been kept in and, without any words being exchanged, hauled her up and marched her off down the corridor.

“My Lady Sansa!” A second man appeared from nowhere, seizing her other arm and she instinctively flinched away before she recognized the voice and form of Hyle Hunt.

For a moment, Sansa forgot that she had ever distrusted him, she was so glad to see a familiar face. He looked a little thinner, a bit more drawn than the last time she’d laid eyes on him, but he was still mostly the same, and familiar, after months of seeing no one she knew.

The guard tried to pull her onwards but Ser Hyle reached out and grabbed her hand, anchoring her. “The queen will have to wait a moment, I need to speak with her first. Do you understand?” He snapped. The queen? She was being taken to see the dragon queen? A cold sliver of fear worked its way into her chest and she tightened her grip on Ser Hyle’s hand. The guard stared at him through narrowed eyes, but after a moment, took half a step back, watching both of them warily.

“Ser Hyle, I’m so very glad to see you! Where is Lady Brienne?”

He swallowed heavily, the muscles in his jaw clenching tight. “She…she went to King’s Landing. The queen said if she killed Tywin Lannister then she would spare Jaime.” Sansa felt a fresh wave of loathing for the man sweep over her. Lady Brienne had been a good person, a decent person. Of course he’d let her go off to die for him, that was what his family did, wasn’t it? It made her want to cry, thinking that she’d started to believe he might be a better man than she had assume.

“Did she—did she succeed?”

Hyle’s haunted brown eyes told her all she needed to know before he even spoke. “He was already dead when we got there but she took responsibility.”

Sansa squeezed her eyes tightly shut. So Lady Brienne would be dead soon, if she wasn’t already. It just wasn’t fair.

When she opened her eyes again, Hyle was staring down at where he held her hand, eyes distant. “I want to be a better person.” His words were quiet enough that she barely heard them. He was holding her hand so tightly now that it almost hurt. “I won’t leave you here, I promise you, my lady. I’ll find a way to make the queen release you.”

His grip was solid, reassuring, and she almost believed him.

Her guard shifted, pushing his sword an inch free of his scabbard in what was clearly meant as a warning.  Sansa wanted to beg him not to leave her, not to let them take her to this queen, to make good on his promise right now and take her away, to take her home, but she pressed her lips together before the plea could leave them.

Without warning, he suddenly bowed his head and pressed a burning kiss to her hand. It felt odd, his warm lips forced against her cool skin. It made her think of the stories she’d liked as a child, of chivalrous knights and the fair maidens they’d protect.

But those stories were lies.

 

The keel thumped against the dock and the deck jolted under Jaime’s feet, nearly sending him sprawling. He managed to steady himself at the last moment and stepped out onto the harbor of King’s Landing, his second homecoming even more inglorious than his first. And this time, he was even less sure of his welcome than he had been when returning without his hand.

“You have a plan for once you get up there?” the man asked as he coiled the heavy rope around the mooring post, tugging it tight.

The honest answer was no. If Brienne was still alive, he supposed he’d walk up to his sister and demand her release, for all the good it would do him. If not, then he hadn’t a clue.  He was a traitor to the Crown and should rightfully be beheaded so he wasn’t entirely certain of what Cersei would do, though she’d probably want him back at her side, pretending everything was as it always had been.

And Jaime was sure he couldn’t do that.

“Throw myself on my family’s mercy,” he shrugged. “Not really much else I can do, I suppose.”

“A family name isn’t everything, boy.  You don’t have to live and die a Lannister. You can choose your own path.”

Jaime eyed him warily. “Like you did?”

There was no answer, save for the other man regarding him coolly. His eyes were more hazel than green but again there was that tug of familiarity. If Tyrion were here, he would have weaselled it out of him in no time, but, unfortunately, Jaime lacked that ability. The gods had seen fit to give him only one talent and he’d lost that when he lost his hand.

 “Uncle Gerion had a daughter,” Jaime continued on. “She was three when he left, almost a woman grown now. She’s well, a happy child by all accounts, though I’ve not had much cause to see her since the war began.” Jaime watched carefully, catching the slightest softening of the man’s face as he spoke. “He loved that girl very much.” The words were quiet, slow, as if he were unsure about speaking them. “I know. We all knew, though Father didn’t want to see it.” He paused. “I thought you’d want to know that she’s been well cared for, in his memory.”

“He’d be pleased to hear it, I’m sure.” This time, there was a finality to the other man’s words and the look in his eyes had become wary again. Jaime wanted to push further, but made himself bite his tongue, as it would do no good. They stood there in silence for a moment, the wind pulling at the ragged hem of his shirt and causing little waves to slap against the boat behind Belenus.

 “Thank you, whoever you are.”

He grunted, turning round to swing himself down onto the floor of the swaying little boat, “Told you my name, boy, told you all I mean to.”

For a heartbeat, Jaime thought that would be all there was and the man would climb back into his boat, leaving without another word. But then, Belenus turned around and thrust a bundle of what looked to be old sail bound with twine into his arms. “Your uncle would have wanted you to have this.”

Between the folds of grubby cloth, something glinted brightly. Jaime pushed away the covering from an ornate sheath, noticing the sweeping golden lion carved into the hilt. There could leave no doubt as to what it was. With shaking fingers, he slid it free from its scabbard, the light shining down the long, straight edge of the sword. The midday sun caught on the blade, making it flash and glint in the light, the brightness of the metal and the fineness of its edge gave it away as Valyrian steel.

Bright Roar. It had to be.

“He found it then?”

“He did, but it wasn’t worth the price.”

Jaime frowned. “Are you sure you want me to take this?”

It was priceless. More than that, it was a work of art, the pinnacle of a swordmaker’s craft. And, crippled as he was, Jaime would never be able to properly wield it. A spasm of bitterness gripped his insides, a fierce longing to have held this sword back when he was whole and could have fought with it. He’d been lauded as Westeros’s finest swordsman but, with this blade, he could have been more, with this blade, he could have been legendary.

The other man’s fingers lingered on the sword, caressing the smooth steel for a moment before he drew back. “Yes, it’s yours.”

Who are you really?

There was silence between them and it was on the tip of his tongue to ask, to demand to know the truth. But the other man’s eyes brokered no argument.  It was clear he’d do as well shouting his questions at the city walls.

“Go on then, go save her if you can.”

As he walked away Jaime called out after him. “What do you think my uncle would say, if he could see me now?”

The man paused, back still to him. “He’d probably be proud of you.”

And that was enough. It would have to be enough.

 

Sansa stepped out of the shadowed doorway into the full, piercing light of the midday sun. It was so bright and so very hot but there was at least a pleasant breeze up here on this plaza, high above the city. A white clothed table set out, tiny plates with delicate food laid out on them, none of which Sansa recognised.

At the foot of the table, sat Daenerys Targaryen. For the first time, Sansa got a proper look at the woman who was her captor. The queen sat up straight on the soft cushions, pale white hair flowing about her shoulders, clad in breezy silks that wafted around her in the slight breeze. She was so beautiful, so radiant, that once Sansa would have been beside herself with admiration. But she’d learnt already that beauty could hide a black nature.

The queen held out a hand, smiling, and beckoned her to sit. “Come closer, I don’t bite.”

The table was low to the ground, the smells making her mouth water. It reminded her of taking tea with Margaery and her grandmother, and her heart ached with longing to see her friend again.

“Come, sit.” Again the queen beckoned and Sansa forced herself to move forward, to cautiously kneel on the cushions, trying her hardest not to look apprehensive. “Your name is Sansa Stark, isn’t it?”

She nodded, just the smallest movement of her head.

“Please, don’t be afraid,” the queen continued. “I would never harm you.”

Her words were gentle, kind, but the last person who had been considerate to her was Lady Brienne. And she had been sent off to die. Sansa hadn’t forgotten the corpses that had lined the streets when they’d been bought here, the ones that were left out in the sun to rot, just like her father’s head had been back in King’s Landing. No one who sat on a throne was to be trusted.

“Thank you, your grace.” It was the only safe thing she could think of to say. Some of the small fragrant cakes were placed in front of her by a servant but she couldn’t even contemplate eating them. The hot sun beating down was starting up a dull throbbing in her head and suddenly she felt very tired. All she wanted was to get away from this dreadful hot place, to go home.

She didn’t realise she’d spoken those last words aloud until she felt the queen rest a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to take back my throne and then I will give you back your House, if you wish.”

There was a swell of hope in her stomach but then it drained away, leaving her feeling empty. What good was Winterfell to her without her family? Without her father, her mother, without Bran and Rickon, without Arya? And who would find her sister if Lady Brienne was dead?

Her hands clenched hard in the fabric of her dress. This queen seemed kind but Sansa no longer trusted her own judgement. Instead, she kept her eyes demurely on her tightly balled hands. “Why would you help me?” Everyone who had ever promised they would help her had wanted something from her, everyone except Lady Brienne.

“I am told that Lannisters took your home from you, that they killed your family, made you a prisoner, tried to marry you against your will.” The queen reached out her dainty hand, tilting up Sansa’s chin until she was looking into her eyes. “I will give you vengeance.”

 

Brienne could already hear the crowd outside of the heavy doors. It was like a strange, expectant hum that seemed to ebb and flow like the tide. It reminded her of walking out to the tourney at Renly’s camp, but that hadn’t made her hands sweat and her stomach turn over like this. Fighting for sport was a world away from fighting for her life.

She tried to bring to mind Jaime’s smile, the feeling of tracing her fingers down his strong jaw, the way he’d held her back in Meereen.  Part of her wished he could be with her now, that she could see him one last time.

She walked up to the closed doors, then stopped, closed her eyes and leant her forehead against the heavy, smooth wood. Sweat ran down the back of her neck, plastering the fine blonde hairs to her skin. The noise of the crowd was rushing in her ears as she tried to breathe deep and compose herself. This would be her last fight and she would have to do all she could to make it a good one, to not let them see her fear.

Brienne of Tarth would not have it said she died like a coward.

“I’m ready.”

The doors were heaved open.

“Lady Brienne of Tarth!”

She stepped forward and the roar of the crowd suddenly swelled. It was a surprising amount of cheers and applause, considering she’d supposedly killed both the Hand and the King. Still, she supposed it was the spectacle they were cheering for, not her.

Her eyes were drawn to where the second set of doors was being drawn back.

“Ser Gregor Clegane!”

But the man who made his way out of the doors was far too small to be the Mountain.

Brienne froze. She couldn’t breathe. She felt her heart begin to pound, very hard. Her mouth was suddenly dry. 

Jaime.

Chapter Text

There was a moment of stillness as they stared at each other across the expanse of the arena.

Brienne felt a sudden and painful rush of longing. She wanted to run to Jaime, to throw her arms around him and confirm that he was real, that he was here and he was alive.

For a moment she thought that he might call out to her but, instead, he turned away, raising his voice to address the whole stand. “As a knight of the Kingsguard, in Ser Gregor’s unfortunate and inexplicable absence, I claim the right to invoke justice on behalf of my father, Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock.”

The crowd seemed to like that, a great roar of approval went up all around them, people drumming their feet and cheering. Brienne fought the urge to look toward the area where the royal family was seated, knowing that whatever Cersei’s reaction to this was, it would not be good. They both knew Jaime better than to believe in this sudden change of heart.

“Inexplicable absence?” she asked, in as calm of a voice as she could manage, barely loud enough for him to hear.

Jaime shrugged, graceful and uncaring. “I drugged him, a little something I pilfered from Varys’s room. He’ll doubtless be angry when he comes round but I don’t expect that I’ll be alive to deal with it.”

Her heart lurched at the words.

He stepped back, drawing his sword from its scabbard, the sound of the steel ringing cleanly in her ears. The draw seemed easier for him than it had before, more fluid, but she could see his grip was still shaky. The blade flashed in the weak sun, the strength and beauty of the sword distracting her for a moment. She ran her eyes over the intricately carved lions on the hilt—a Lannister sword then, had he gotten it from Tyrion?

“I won’t kill you Jaime.”

“You will, if you want to spare me the humiliation of having to accidentally fall on my own sword in combat.”

 He lunged forward, striking out at her in a showy move that she parried with ease. His left hand was weak, she knew that, but after a few moves, it quickly became clear that he wasn’t even trying. The sounds of the audience muttered and swelled with discontent as she and Jaime danced back and forth, doing little more than tapping their blades together, like two squires touching swords tentatively, for the first time, in a training field. This was hardly the bloodthirsty battle to the death that people had come here to watch.

 “You can’t make me do this.” She lunged slowly and Jaime pushed it aside with his blade, obviously knowing it would do barely more than scratch him.

“It’s not nice when people make decisions about your life without consulting you, is it?” He sounded positively breezy but his smile was knife-edged and there was something angry flickering in his eyes. The faintest spark of hope stirred in her chest at the thought that she could make him enraged enough that, maybe, just maybe, she could get him to strike a killing blow.

“This is my death, my choice,” she snarled at him. “I won’t let you deprive me of it—”

Suddenly he surged forward, his face all seething fury.  “I can and I will.”

I need to make him hate me.

She back-handed him harshly across the face, watching him stumble backward in surprise, blood blooming on his newly split lip. It would have been the perfect moment to strike out, to finish him. He was open and weak, no way to block an attack.

But, her sword point dropped down into the dirt, instead.  She had another blow to deal. “I killed your father Jaime.”

He straightened up, touching a finger to his bloodied mouth. His eyes searched hers for only a moment and then he smiled indifferently, torn lip dripping blood down his chin. “You didn’t.” His tone was decisive, he knew her too well to be fooled.

“I would have.”

“I don’t care.” There was a wordless accusation in his eyes that she didn’t know how to answer but it pricked at her insides, almost worse than steel. She looked away, and heard him move closer until he was standing right in front of her, shielding her from the sight of most in the stadium. “You are my wife Brienne.”

His voice was edged with something like desperation now, something new and vulnerable. His wife. Hearing the words from him made it difficult to breathe somehow.

“So mine to protect,” he continued. “Mine to care for, and mine to die for, if it damn well pleases me.”

“It’s not…the High Septon would never recognise the vows we took…”

He threw his sword to the ground, grabbing her with his free hand, and kissed her possessively, his lips claiming hers in a show of defiance. The crowd was still roaring around them but her world seemed to sink down to the firm press of Jaime’s mouth against hers, the metallic tang of his blood on her lips and the warmth of his hand gripping her neck.

I missed you, I missed you, I love you.

When he broke away, he leaned his forehead against hers, gently wiping the beginnings of a tear from her eye. “Fuck the High Septon and the whole church. You are my wife and I swore you were under my protection.”

His hand dropped down to tenderly trace the jagged scar just above her lip, his finger brushing along it slowly. Her breath caught in her throat, skin tingling where his fingertip rested while her sword point rested against his chest, habit had prevented her from dropping it even while he kissed her.  He reached out, resting his hand over hers and leant forward slightly, the tip biting through the thin fabric of his shirt. A single bead of blood ran down the blade. His dark gold hair fell forward into his eyes and he smiled at her, the gentlest smile she had ever seen on his face.

She had failed to protect Renly.  She had failed to keep her promise to Lady Stark.  She failed her father by bringing the wrath of House Lannister down on him. And she had failed poor sweet Sansa Stark by leaving her in the dragon queen’s clutches.  She refused to fail again.

Brienne felt a sudden wash of calm, pulling the sword gently away. It wasn’t difficult to break Jaime’s weak grip. “And you are under mine.”

There was little room to reverse the blade but she somehow managed it, lining the point up with the gap in her own armour. It was mercifully sharp as it bit through her skin, pain radiating from the cut that she dug into her side.

Could she do this?

Jaime’s eyes were widening in realisation and she knew that the moment the shock left him he would try and wrest the sword from her.

She could.

Chapter Text

Jaime lunged forward, his hand closing heavily over hers. She could still feel the sharp bite of the steel in her side but it wasn’t deep enough. Warm blood started to drip out around her fingers, making her grip slippery.

“It’s too late. Let go!” he shouted over the crowd.

No.” She tried to break his hold, tried to force his hand backwards but he grit his teeth and hung on. “Jaime—“

There was a strange wail above them, a high sound that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, getting closer and closer.  Her grasp on the sword loosened and Jaime pushed her hand away but she barely noticed.

Something is wrong…

Then, suddenly, she saw them.

The dragons.

They were huge, having grown even since she’d left Mereen, casting dark shadows over the arena. Brienne’s ears were ringing with the unnatural screeching sound they made, drowning out the screams of the people in the stands. The sword clattered to the ground beside her.

The air around them was ripped apart by wind, the thump of wings, and then a great rush of heat. She fell to the ground and clasped her arms over her head, pressing her face into the gritty sand and squeezing her eyes shut. Something crashed down beside her temple and she felt Jaime’s hand grabhers, like a lifeline in the madness. She clung on to him while a noise like the end of the world broke rose up about them, screeches and roars and chaos. She gasped and jammed her eyes together so hard they hurt, ash and dirt and stones stinging her cheek.

When she finally looked up, the beasts were gone but the air was so full of soot, she could barely see. Flames flickered along the stands, flares of bright orange in the grey haze. All around them she could hear confused cries, shrieks and worst, the heartbroken wailing.

“Come on,” she hauled Jaime up beside her and grabbed at the nearest sword, knowing deep down it would do no good if those beasts came back.

 

As they made their way back into the Keep, Jaime couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scene before him, the chaos that was ruling King’s Landing. The Sept of Baelor had simply ceased to be, a smouldering crater where it had once stood. From every corner there was shouting and the smell of the fires that were ripping through the buildings. Worse than that was the rich, charred scent of burning flesh. He’d seen battle, was no stranger to death but this, this was carnage. And the Dragon Queen’s army hadn’t even arrived yet, though surely it couldn’t be far behind.

How did she get this far without my sister noticing? Without Varysnoticing, more to the point?

Cersei might have been so focused on her revenge she simply dismissed an advancing army but Varys? Varys had to have known. Had too.

They found their way through a gap in the tumbled-down wall, boots crunching on broken glass and shattered masonry as they climbed through. All around them people were panicking, running this way and that, some fell and were simply trampled under the feet of the terrified crowds. But Brienne’s hand was warm and strong in his and she never faltered.  There was blood on her tunic, a dark red stain that seemed to be spreading, but she didn’t seem to be taking much notice. Staring at it, he felt a brief, bizarre flare of gratitude for the damned dragons, even if they were liable to turn the whole city to ashes. She’d been on the verge of overpowering him, if another moment had passed-No. It didn’t bear thinking about.

A man sat in the wreckage that had once been the White Tower, bloody and shaking hands pressed to his face so only his eyes were visible, staring up unseeing at Jaime as he walked past. He could have been a member of the Kingsguard, his clothes were too caked in grime and soot to see. There were others in the wreckage, he could hear them crying out, begging for aid.

My sworn brothers perhaps, another family I have betrayed.

He turned his back. What was one more betrayal to a man who’d done nothing but break oaths his entire life? Instead, he moved in the direction of the Great Hall. Maybe there was still one member of his family that he might be able to save. “We need to get to Tommen and then get out before anyone thinks to look for us in all this chaos.”

If she felt any surprise that he was even thinking of his son, she gave no sign of it. High above them, one of the dragons was looping lazily around the Keep. “My father’s here. Lord Tywin brought him back…”

Jaime cursed under his breath, eyes never wavering from the circling dragon. There was Tyrion to think of as well, his baby brother. He would need to find him. Too many people, not enough time. “I’ll find your father, you get Tommen. You have the sword and you’re far better equipped to use it than I am.”

Her father would be held in one of the towers, noble captives always were, which was a far more attractive target for the dragon’s wrath than the Throne Room, he hoped.  “What will you use?” she demanded, seeming like she was going to press him to take Bright Roar.

“If it comes down to a fight, I’m worse than useless, so I suppose I’m going to have to use my intellect and boundless charm.” He looked over at Brienne’s frankly horrified face and felt a slight twinge of annoyance. “You’ll need the sword more, since there will be others after Tommen. The dragon queen is sure to want him dead. Now, go! We need to move!”

“Jaime, I…” She trailed off, staring at him with wide, terrified eyes.

“Don’t.” No goodbyes. He couldn’t think about losing her, not after all this. “Take the sword, defend my son, I’ll find your father, and we meet back here.”

It took everything in him to turn his back on her. But they couldn’t do this together, there was too little time. Ash billowed in great clouds across the road in front of him and he threw an arm over his face, coughing. How much of the city was on fire? How much did the dragon queen intend to burn?

He tried not to think too much about the smoking wreck that had once been the White Tower as he slipped through the door and began to march up the stairs. No one challenged him or asked him to explain himself. Then again, who would stop him now? No doubt the guards would be relieved to hand off their prisoner to another and flee, if they were even still there.

The cell door hung open, a man dead half-in and half-out, run through with his own sword, by the looks of it.

“Lord Selwyn?”

The room beyond was untouched and empty. He took a step in, looking around. Through the window he could see crackling lines of fire catching on the houses, shooting across the rooftops. Jaime wondered how many people would die here tonight, in their own houses, in places they thought were safe.

The wildfire.

The memory came to him suddenly and, for a moment, the room seemed to tilt around him. He put a hand out to steady himself, trying to breathe normally. Would anyone have thought to clear it out? Would anyone have even known where it all was? The Mad King had hidden it away but even though Jaime had been by the man’s side near constantly in those last few months, even he didn’t know where all the caches were.

One under Flea Bottom, that much is certain, and there was definitely one under the Throne Room.

The Throne Room. The place he had just sent Brienne. His eyes were drawn to the tall building, a darker shape against the grey sky.

“It appears Lord Selwyn has escaped his prison cell,” a familiar, willowy voice said. “A most singular man, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m not quite certain where he’s gone but one would imagine he’s looking for his daughter.”

Jaime clenched his remaining fist, wondering how he hadn’t heard the bastard enter.

“You knew about this.” He turned to face Lord Varys, who was staring around the little cell as avidly as if this were a social call.

“Of course, you’ll find there is little that goes on that I don’t know about. But I could not prevent this attack, even if I had wanted to. There were two Targaryens making their way here, one an imposter, the other the rightful heir to the throne. I could not stop both.” He shrugged his bulky shoulders, oddly graceful. “Your sister was informed of one and dismissed all rumours of the other, thinking the army that was moving forward belonged to the brother. And he had a small army, by all accounts.”

“And no dragons.”

“And no dragons.” Varys agreed airily. The screams from outside the window were getting louder.  “I’m rather eager not to be burnt alive so I will make this brief, Ser Jaime. All the Lannisters in King’s Landing will die. That is inevitable. But it is possible that a man, if he were smart enough and moved quickly enough, might be reborn from the ashes.”

‘You don’t have to be a Lannister’ The sailor, who had most likely been his uncle, had told him that. But he’d never been anything else.

“Why should I trust anything you say?”

“You shouldn’t,” Varys agreed. “And I don’t expect you will. You are not poor, honourable, yet misguided, Ned Stark or even your brother, who believes he is smarter than everyone. Your delusions of grandeur were ripped away from you all those years ago when you saved a city and received condemnations for it, weren’t they?”

A city that is now falling.

“So you’re telling me to leave King’s Landing to its fate this time? To let it burn? You do know about the wildfire don’t you?” Hidden all over the city, ready to burn the whole thing down, should one of the dragons light the wrong building. It could happen at any moment. He felt the sweat trickling down his neck.

“You cannot stop it. King’s Landing will fall.”

“And if this Queen turns out to be more her father than her brother?”

Varys simply smiled his enigmatic little smile and tucked his hands out of sight in the voluminous sleeves of his robes. “Run Ser Jaime, run fast and do not look back.”

 

The throne room was empty as she shouldered open the heavy door, the creaking sound echoing in the cavernous room beyond. It was still bright outside, and sunlight was pouring in through the great stained-glass windows, throwing coloured shapes across the immense floor. Apart from the distant cries and the acrid smell of smoke, in here she could almost believe everything was as normal.

All alone on the imposing Iron Throne sat a boy, looking very small and very afraid.

“They left me.” He said as she walked up, sounded plaintive, bewildered.

“I’ve come to help you, your… Ser Jaime sent me. You must come with me.”

“I can’t leave,” he told her earnestly, fingers gripping hard on the arms of the seat. “They said I had to stay here.  They said it was the only place I was safe.”

“It’s not.”

There was a high-pitched squealing cry from outside, then the beat of heavy wings followed it.

“Please, we have to leave.” She hurried towards him.

“Are they…are they the dragons?” The boy was staring up at the ceiling, as if he could see the creatures through the brick. It made her suddenly very aware of the weight of all the masonry above their heads.

“Yes. That’s why we have to go now.”                                                             

He was evidentially too terrified to move and even though he was nearer to a man grown than a child, she stepped forward and swept him up in her arms. A painful twinge jabbed viciously at her side but she ignored it.

There were footsteps behind her and she froze.

Hyle was pushing his way into the throne room, at the head of a band of men. Men sent by the Dragon Queen.

“We have orders to take this boy before the Queen to answer for his crimes.” It wasn’t him that spoke, though, but another man, a battered looking fellow with scars across his face.

“He’s only a child!” she spat, arms already beginning to ache where she held the boy. He looked like Jaime, more than Joffrey had.

“He’s a usurper and unlawful King.”

She fixed her eyes on Hyle, staring at him. There was a flicker in his gaze that looked like it could be regret or sorrow.  “Jaime will swear, he’ll swear that he is his son, with no claim to the throne. We’ll…we’ll take him away.”

She felt the boy start and realised that must be news to him but, with the exception of Hyle, those in front of her showed no reaction to her plea. These were not men who could be appealed to, she understood suddenly. These were hardened soldiers; they thought she was a foolish girl. Three men, four, if Hyle fought. She had beaten more.

Gently, she set Jaime’s son down, her fingers smoothing his golden hair back from his forehead. He looked so much like his true father, but with fewer edges, softened by youth. “I swear to you, I won’t let them hurt you. Do you believe me?” He nodded slowly, eyes round with fear. To the men she announced, “If you want to take him, you’ll have to kill me first.”

She readied the sword, the strength of the steel in her hand calming her as she moved into position, trying to watch all five at once. Her side was already throbbing and she was achingly tired but there was an anger swelling deep in her chest. After all they’d been through, after all the false accusations, endless days of running, after so many close calls, it could not end like this. She wouldn’t let it.

The one who’d spoken drew his heavy curved sword, steel scraping, the two others stepping up beside him. She looked slowly from man to man, assessing them. Hyle had dropped his gaze, taken his hand from his sword and was even now edging away. So he didn’t mean to fight, not yet anyway. It still left her with three to deal with and no element of surprise. One was short, stocky with an unpleasant leer and a large axe that looked almost comically big for him, another taller with long hair that seemed out of place on a fighter. And the leader, the scarred man, looked like he’d seen, and won, many battles.

The tall man came at her, fast as a snake, sword flashing out in an attempt to cut at her chest. She danced backwards and he missed, so she took the momentum to slash back at him and her blade just grazed his cheek.

One of the other men darted round her, evidently trying to get to Tommen. But she charged at him, her armoured shoulder crunching into his ribs, lifting him off his feet and sending him sprawling. The pause nearly cost her, though she was able to spot the movement behind her and she spun to catch the sword of the tall man with her own.

Where was the third?

She ducked and threw herself to the side, only just quick enough to avoid the axe that would’ve cleaved her skull. It swept forward, too heavy to stop, lodging itself deep in the arm of the tall man that was on her other side. Blood splattered to the floor as he howled and cursed in some language she didn’t understand.

Pain shot through her ribs  but she ignored it, scrambling back to her feet. The short man was still trying to free his axe from his friend’s arm when she lunged forward and cut his throat. He looked surprised, reaching up to clutch at the wound as the blood fountained over his fingers. But, then his knees hit the floor and he was dead in another instant, sprawled out on the stone, stained red.

Two left.

Her eyes were drawn by a flash of steel. The leader was on his feet, sword in hand, trying to decide whether to attack her or go after Tommen again. She backed up, making room for herself, eyes flickering between the injured man and the leader, who was edging once more toward the boy king.

She saw his eyes flicker to his friend, something passing between them and then the other man was up again. His arm was still bleeding profusely and he was holding it cradled against his chest but he had the sword in his uninjured hand.

There was a flash of familiar annoyance deep in her stomach. They clearly thought one injured man was enough to subdue her.  Her anger tempered when he came at her, it was clear that while he was fighting with his left, unlike Jaime, he had practise, and the strokes held no weakness. He lunged to the right but changed direction at the last minute, striking at her from the left. She saw it coming, but only just, barely managing to get her sword up in time.  He was still feebler, given time she could certainly beat him but she didn’t have time. She needed to end this now.

They parried back and forth for some time, blocking each other’s blows carefully, watching for a moment of vulnerability. Finally, she feinted one way, then turned the other, quickly enough that he did not have time to think about it. He moved instinctively to defend where he thought she would be and her sword slid neatly between his ribs, splattering more blood onto the tiles of the throne room.

One left.

The leader was on the steps of the Iron Throne, holding a pale and scared Tommen tightly by the arm, sword drawn.

“Let him go!”

“Throw down your sword.”

After a moment’s hesitation she did, the clang echoing loudly in the empty space.

“Now, just—“ There was a flash of metal and he was cut off. The man looked surprised, even as he reached up to clutch his throat, managing to choke out “You!” then went down with Hyle’s knife in his neck, leaving her and Hyle, staring at each other, bloodied and breathless.

“Thank you,” she wheezed.

“The queen has promised to give Sansa back the North. I’ll go with her, since she’s going to give me a holding… I’ll make sure she’s safe, whatever happens.”

Brienne held out her hand to him and he looked shocked. Then he took it carefully in his and they shook. Perhaps he was not someone she would have chosen as a friend but she was glad they didn’t part as enemies.

“Good luck,” she said.

“You too, I think we’ll both need it.”

She bent down to retrieve her sword and the world suddenly reeled, turning red in her sight. She doubled over, clutching her side and as she pulled it back, her hand was glistening dark red with fresh blood.  But, no one had struck her, no one had even got close.  Then she remembered the cut from earlier, considering she must have pushed deeper than she’d first thought. Now that the fight was over, her drive was leaving her and the pain was rearing up to replace it.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” The boy looked so concerned that with a shuddering effort she forced herself to straighten up and smile at him, an act of will more than anything else. She quickly wiped the blood on her tunic.

“It’s— nothing. A scrape. Come, we need to find your—Jaime, we need to find Jaime.” She struggled to keep moving, not to hunch again or put a hand to her wound.

To show no weakness in the face of the boy‘s trusting smile.

 

The stairs shook under his feet as he ran, dust trickling down from above as, distantly, he could hear a dull thudding boom, though not loud enough to be the wildfire. Gods, please, not the Throne Room.

There was another dead guard on this landing but this one still had his sword. He tugged it from the man’s bloodied grip, since he’d need it more than the corpse would after all. Even if it was likely to do little good against dragons, it made him feel better to have it.

There was a crash as the door on the right was flung open. Jaime whirled, raising his newly acquired weapon. A soot-blackened, frowning man made his way through, someone he vaguely recognised, but there was no mistaking who was following him.

 “Tyrion!” It had been so long, so very long since he’d seen him. “We need to leave!”

“That’s just what I’ve been saying” the other man put in.  Jaime could place him now, Tyrion’s guard—Brin or Bren or something like that. Though he looked entirely unperturbed by the chaos happening around them, Jaime couldn’t help but notice the man had yet to remove his hand from his sword.

Tyrion dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “I’m going to go to the Targaryen girl. I’m going to negotiate. She’s destroying her own city, she can’t mean to keep this up.”

“She won’t negotiate with you, Tyrion.”

His brother spread his hands wide, giving him a grim little smile. “It’s what I’m good at, perhaps I may yet save us all.” Tyrion paused and raised his eyebrows. “Again. This hero business is starting to become a bit of a habit. Maybe this time someone will even acknowledge it.”

There was no time to dissuade him from this. Jaime could see from his brother’s face that he was set on his course. I could follow him but then I would be abandoning Brienne, Tommen “Let’s hope you’re better suited for it than I was.”

He swallowed down the lump that was suddenly in his throat. There was another boom, closer this time, and the building shook around them again.

“Tyrion, the wildfire…”

A frown creased his brother’s face. “We used most of it in the battle of Blackwater but—”

“No, you don’t understand. There’s more. Hidden all over the city. If you can talk to her, you have to tell her. You have to make her understand. She has to call off her dragons or she’ll be the queen of nothing but a pile of ashes.” All the Lannisters left in King’s Landing will die. He couldn’t help thinking of his foolish, golden twin. Until Brienne, she was the only woman he’d loved. “I know I have no right to ask it of you but…keep Cersei safe, if you can.”

“You don’t,” agreed Tyrion. “Yet, she is still our sister. As bitter and wretched a one as she might be. I’ll try.”

“Good luck, brother.” He grasped Tyrion’s smaller hand in his. Whatever happened tonight, this would likely be the last time they ever saw each other. He had the sudden urge to tell him about Tysha, to tell him about the role he’d played in the destruction of his happiness. To confess, to be absolved.

The door to their right slammed open, bouncing off the wall so hard it raised a cloud of dust. An impossibly huge shape loomed large in the open doorway. The Mountain had obviously woken up from his unplanned nap rather angry. Tyrion hesitated, his sellsword tightening his hand on his pommel but Jaime motioned them on. Saving King’s Landing, whatever slim hope they had of it, was more important than whatever happened here.

“Ah, Clegane, nice of you to re-join the world of the living. I expect you’re rather angry about that whole drugging incident, well—”

He saw a flicker of movement and bought his sword up with only a moment to spare. The first blow sent him reeling, shattering what little hope he had and sending pain screaming up his arm. He knew Clegane was monstrously strong, of course, he’d fought him in melees, but nothing could have prepared him for meeting the man’s full strength with his weak and clumsy left. For a heartbeat, their swords were locked together, Jaime using all his energy to keep the point at bay, agony flaring in his arm. Then Clegane grunted deep in his chest, took one step forward and tossed him aside as easily as a child might fling away a toy.

Jaime stumbled backward, surprised, trying to right himself—suddenly, painfully aware of the expanse of empty space at his back.

Oh gods, the stairs…

Chapter Text

King’s Landing had descended into chaos.

People were running, screaming, trying to escape the fires which were filling the air with thick, choking smoke. Someone slammed into Brienne, sending her reeling into Tommen and nearly knocking the boy to his knees. A wave of light-headedness passed over her, forcing her to stop and lean against the stone wall for support. Her wound was bleeding more fiercely now, splattering dark red drops onto the stones as she walked.  But she had managed to keep the boy on her other side, to shield him from seeing. He was terrified as it was, clinging to her arm, slowing her down. But she couldn’t leave him.

When they finally reached the courtyard where she’d parted from Jaime, he was nowhere to be seen. She looked frantically into the milling crowd, trying to spot a glimpse of gold hair.

“Jaime!” She called for him but her voice was lost in the frenzied commotion.

Daenerys could have taken him.  Ifthey sent mercenaries after Tommen then they probably sent them after Jaime, as well.  Her heart lurched in her chest and, for a moment, she couldn’t breathe from the thought.No, no I can’t let myself believe that. “We need to hurry.”

 

I’m dead, I have to be.

Jaime’s vision swam with pain, while all he could make out were the shadowy steps looming above him. Maybe not quite dead, then, but definitely well on his way. He struggled to drag himself into a sitting position, waiting for any sharp stab of discomfort that would indicate a broken bone. Blood was running freely from his nose, dripping down his face to dribble off his chin and there was a sharp persistent ache in the bridge, where he was sure the steps had made their acquaintance with his face a few times on the way down.

His entire left side felt weak and sore and he knew he needed to assess how badly he was hurt. When he worked up the strength to move, he pressed his hand against his ribs and found they were tender to the touch but it didn’t feel like anything was shattered. His arm was much worse, though, torn and bloody. When he shifted, the pain was intense, but his fingers still worked well enough, thank the gods. He couldn’t afford to lose another hand.

Nothing broken – except his nose maybe, but it was hardly the first time.

A heavy tread on the stairs reminded him of exactly why he was lying there and he struggled to his feet, grabbing his sword, ignoring the flare of agony the action caused.  With Tyrion’s help he had laced Clegane’s drink heavily enough that the man should have been asleep for a day and a night, at least, even given his size. But here he was, most definitely awake and most definitely livid.

When Jaime spotted him again, he wasted a moment frowning and looking.  Something’s different.  It’s something in his eyes.

He managed to catch Clegane’s first thrust with a wrist-jarring clash, agony shooting up his arm. It took everything he had not to drop his blade and scream. The other man grunted, drawing his sword back for a second strike. Jaime lunged clumsily toward him, trying to get the upper hand but he was so tired, in so much pain. The sword was heavy in his left hand as it had never been in his right, and it was getting heavier all the time.

Clegane’s second blow knocked him back easily and Jaime crashed down, the impact sending him flying off his feet.

This is it.  This time I won’t be getting up. It took everything I had last time.

The Mountain was going to kill him.

There was a measure of both anger and relief in the thought. He was exhausted, fighting or so much and for so long.  And now it was over. Just like that. He wished he’d had more time to spend with Brienne, one paltry night amongst the hundreds that had made up his life seemed hardly fair. I was a fool not to realise I loved her sooner, he thought, briefly wistful.

Then he stopped thinking, since there was no time for it. Gregor Clegane’s sword was already in the air and his time was nearly done.

Jaime closed his eyes and waited.

Except the killing strike never landed.

Every breath was still painful but his head was attached to his shoulders, and that was more than he’d been expecting. He braved a glance while trying to push himself up into a sitting position, but pain in his back flared and the world lurched alarmingly sideways.

When he righted again, he looked up at his saviour, locked now in combat.

Selwyn Tarth was hardly a young man but he moved well, with determination. His blows had a fearsome strength behind them and a precision borne of years of practise. But he was only clad in poorly fitting mail and already there was blood streaming from a gash in his arm. The Mountain, in no armour, appeared barely human, the slices and wounds only serving to anger him.

“Come on! Brave, aren’t you, fighting against a cripple!” The old man spat at his opponent’s feet. “You’ve not a shred of honour. House Clegane never did have much, but you, you’re no knight! You’re hardly even a man!”

Lord Selwyn was trying to goad him, to make him do something rash. Clever, but, while Clegane might be ugly, he wasn’t nearly as stupid as he looked. He wasn’t going to leave himself open just because he got angry and he was too big to overpower. Selwyn needed to have speed as much as strength, and never give Clegane the tiniest opening.  Selwyn needed luck.

I can’t let him fight this alone.

Jaime wiped his bloody nose on the back of his hand and set to hauling himself painfully to his feet, ignoring the screaming protests of his muscles. It was difficult with the room weaving and pitching around him like a boat in the storm.

Gods I may be more of a hindrance than a help.

Lord Selwyn hammered the blade viciously into Gregor’s, actually gaining some ground against the monstrous man. For a second, Jaime felt a swell of hope. He might be able to do it.

But then, Selwyn misjudged the swing, coming up short and, in the brief moment that he was vulnerable, Clegane was on him like a rabid dog. There was a wet crunch and Brienne’s father collapsed to his knees. Jaime saw the silvered mail on his chest turned red.

“No!”

Using what had to be the last of his strength, Lord Selwyn shoved Clegane backwards, the man stumbling and falling with a resounding crash. “Damn it to the seven hells!” he swore in a shaking voice, taking a few steps forward before his legs gave out.

Jaime knelt by the fallen man, trying to form the empty words of comfort onto his tongue but he couldn’t quite manage it. What would empty platitudes mean to a man who was soon to die anyway?

“She would have protected you, if she were here.” Brienne’s father pressed a hand to the wound in his chest, grimacing. The front of his mail was a clotted mess of blood. “Seven hells, I regret, just a little, helping you as she would want. I would have been better hanging back, let the monster finish you off. I always did have more honour than sense, your father said that to me once. It’s where she—“he broke off to cough for a moment, an ugly wet sound. “It’s where she gets it from, you know.” His voice quavered, cracking a little on the final word.

Jaime looked away, not wanting to let him know he’d heard it. He was glad her father was extracting no promises from him, no death-bed pledges to look after the man’s only daughter. Not that she needed it, and not that he thought he’d be able to fulfil them. After all, he could already hear Clegane gaining his feet behind them. The remainder of his life was likely to be measured in mere moments.

Clegane reached for his sword, Jaime watching and waiting.  But, then he stopped, eyes wide and surprised. He and Jaime stared down at the blade that was suddenly protruding from his gut. As it was wrenched out and a spray of blood coated the wall in red, Jaime saw Brienne holding the sword. Clegane lurched forward, bloody slobber hanging from his lips, and tumbled to the stone beside Lord Selwyn.

 

Brienne fell to her knees beside her father, hand trembling as she reached out, not wanting to believe it was real. His eyes were flickering, so he was still alive, but only just. With great care she shifted him so that his head was pillowed gently in her lap. A scream or a sob was building in her throat but she swallowed it down. She would not cry out.  If she did, he feared she wouldn’t be able to stop.

Jaime moved to sit beside her and she allowed herself one wretched, guilty moment to feel relief. He was alive, battered and bruised, but alive and warm against her even as her father lay dying in her arms. Her father’s eyes opened properly, focusing on her and a small, genuine smile graced his lips. His hand reached up and she caught it in her own, squeezing tightly. “Brienne…”

She smoothed his bloodied hair back from his face with her free hand, tears momentarily blinding her, sliding hot and unashamed down her cheeks. “Don’t—” The words came out scratchy, catching in her throat. She had meant to tell him not to talk, to save his strength but all that came out was “—don’t, please don’t.”

He made a wheezy, bubbling sound that was terrible to hear, and coughed. She put a shaking hand to his face, her father.  Her father.

In the distance, she could hear screams and the sound of flames crackling but they seemed very far away, very insignificant right now. 

“I am proud of you, I’ve always been, you know—” he stopped, not seeming to know how to continue. Or maybe he simply couldn’t anymore.

Abruptly, she remembered him giving her a sword to hold for the first time, when she’d been no more than seven years old. She recalled how heavy it had felt, how strange and unwieldy in her hands, but more than that, she remembered his large, warm hands closing over hers, guiding her. Those same hands squeezed hers tightly, so tightly, now.  And then they went slack in her grip.

Her throat felt tight and the world seemed to pitch sideways. It was like a great weight pressing on her chest that was squeezing the air from her lungs and crushing all the strength from her body. Jaime’s arms were around her, holding her together, and he was whispering to her but she couldn’t hear a word. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. She wanted to scream but had no voice.

She hadn’t said goodbye.  She hadn’t told him she loved him or offered any words of comfort.

Her father.

 

Brienne was sitting beside him, staring fixedly down at her father’s corpse, hands wet with his blood and her skin streaked with ash and dirt. Jaime noticed Tommen hovering nearby, his eyes brimming too, as he rubbed at them with his sleeve, though he had known the man not at all. He has a soft heart, gods know where that comes from. Certainly not his mother.

Jaime wondered how long he should wait before he could convince her to leave. It might have been callous, but time was short and it would take a miracle to get them out in one piece as it was.

The sky outside the window seemed to have taken on an ominous red hue and he could hear that the distant screaming sounded closer now, more desperate. It added to the unpleasant swell of rising panic in the pit of his stomach. “Brienne…”

She wouldn’t look at him. Instead she carefully slid her hand under her father’s neck, gently lowering him to the ground. Her face was almost eerily calm, eyes distant and unseeing. But her side was still dripping blood, a steady stream that had soaked her shirt through now. His heart thudded when he looked at her, truly looked at her, and saw the paleness of her skin, the tremor in her hands. The wound was deeper than he’d thought.  In horror he realized she might well bleed out from it.

Jaime felt a complex stir of emotions in his chest. His own father’s death had caused little grief to him, since the man had never loved him. Brienne’s father had hated him, yet shown him more regard than the one who sired him.

If she dies from that wound, then I’ll know how she feels. I’ll probably sit here while the whole gods damned city burns to the ground around me.

There was a tightening in his throat and for a brief moment, he feared he might cry. He drove himself to his feet, ignoring the agony that raced along his side as he did so. “Brienne, we have to leave him, we need—“

There was a boom and the tower shuddered violently beneath them. Jaime staggered but managed to remain standing.

The wildfire, the gods damn it. Tyrion didn’t get there.

It had sounded quite far away but, even so, he could feel how the heat in the room had risen, sweat breaking out across his forehead. “We need to leave, now.” 

Bright Roar was still protruding from Gregor Clegane’s back. Better to have a sword he could barely use than be completely unarmed, Jaime thought. So, he reached out and yanked it free. The sword burnt suddenly hot in his hand, flames flaring until they engulfed his arm. Distantly, he heard Tommens cry of alarm, Brienne’s pained gasp, but they were quickly drowned out by the roar of the fire.  And yet, he felt no pain.

These flames would never burn you.

He started, wanting to wheel around and look for the source of the voice but he was, somehow, unable to move. The light on the sword burnt even brighter, till he was forced to squeeze his eyes shut against the searing brilliance.

You can be reborn as the saviour of the entire city. He who wields this sword shall be Azor Ahai come again. You will be a hero.  You will be legend. You will drive back the darkness, reclaim the North from the frozen wastes.

It was so real he could almost taste it. Inthe blackness behind his tightly closed eyes, he could see the fire consuming the dragons as he thrust the blade through their hearts. He watched himself putting Tommen back on the throne, for who would oppose a hero, after all? And the little Targaryen queen would be nothing without her pets. He would be a true champion, a true saviour. And people would acknowledge it this time.  They would cheer for him.

When the voice came again, it was purring, wheedling. Like a merchant who smelled a sale.

It just takes one death, one sacrifice. Finish what was started and claim your place in legend. She has come willingly, as she must, but the final blow must be yours.

It took him a moment to realise what it was asking, who it was asking for.

Without you, all is lost, the world will be consumed by darkness. There is no choice. She is dying.  Itis a mercy.

The voices seemed harsh, urgent now. Hungry.

“No.” This time he spoke it aloud, forcing the words past his lips “There is always a choice.”

There had been a choice made when he had slain the King. Manywould have called it an impossible one. But it had really been simple.

And this was, as well.

It was a decision that had been made long ago, after all, when he’d thrown himself into the water after her boat.  In truth, it had been before that, when he’d jumped into the bear pit.  Or maybe even when he’d stepped in front of her, shielding her from Locke. He wouldn’t let Brienne die. He couldn’t.

The sword dropped from his grip, flames flickering and dying on the blade as it clattered to the ground.

Tommen and Brienne were both staring at him, eyes wide. He looked down at the innocuous looking sword, wondering if he’d hit his head harder than he’d first supposed.

You imagined it, he told himself resolutely.  Yousimply imagined it, entertaining the idea that glory and heroes still existed. The flames were some cheap trick, triggered by the gods know what.

It had to be his imagination, because, if it wasn’t, then he had just possibly damned the entire world to destruction. That would be just his luck though.  Every good thing he’d ever tried to do had come back to haunt him. But he had learned long ago that there was no easy answer, no clean fix.  He had taken the life of a man capable of taking thousands, and even then the consequences had been dire. But he would not rob an innocent woman of hers, especially not the one he loved.  The woman who had saved him more times than he could count.

“It’s a trick,” he told them. “Some cheap conjurer’s idea of a magic sword. Leave it here to rot.” He heard the shake in his own voice, and tried to ignore it.

Brienne was watching him carefully. She drew a deep breath and nodded, getting to her feet. Her eyes were still agonised but she looked to be a little more clear-headed.

He took one last look down at the sword, the heirloom his uncle had sacrificed so much to return to the Lannister family. Even lying amongst the dust and rubble there was still something about it that seemed hungry.

No. Not her.

Tommen edged closer, reaching down tentatively for the sword, curiosity sparking in his eyes.

“Don’t touch it,” Jaime snapped. The boy jerked his hand back at the last second, looking a little shame-faced.

In the time they had paused in the darkness, it had begun to sound as if all seven hells had broken loose outside. Jaime moved to the door he had come through, stopping to look from Brienne to Tommen, taking one last moment of calm. “We died,” he told them. “We died in this city. Jaime Lannister, Tommen Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, those are people who simply cannot survive this day. ” He wasn’t even sure right now if that death would be literal or not.

Jaime gave a shove and the door creaked torturously open, spilling them into the middle of utter chaos. People were seething everywhere, trying desperately to escape the fires that seemed to have taken hold of most of the city. Rubble littered the courtyard in front of them and smoke was pouring up in great columns from the buildings.

Another thunderous explosion rocked the city, this one sounding closer than ever, shaking the ground beneath his boots so hard that he almost fell. Around them, people screamed, running for cover as pieces of masonry worked their way free and tumbled to the ground in front of them. A slab almost the size of Tommen toppled to the ground a few strides away, bursting to razor-sharp pieces on the cobbles. Jaime took a cautious step back and drew a steadying breath, instantly regretting it when it caused him to double over, coughing.

The air was absolutely thick with soot and ash, what should have been day transformed to night. He glanced upwards but it was impossible even to tell where the dragons were now. Through the darkness, though, he could see that there were colossal circles of destruction carved into King’s Landing, only swathes of formless, smoking wreckage remaining of whole parts of the city.

The only good thing about all this smoke is that it will make us difficult to spot, he thought grimly. Reaching back, he took a firm grip on Brienne’s hand and gestured for her to do the same to Tommen. If they lost anyone in this, there would be no way they’d ever find each other again.

They hurried on down the darkened streets, buffeted by the panicked crowds. His mouth seemed endlessly dry, his throat infinitely rough, his skin already turning black with soot. He could just about make out the jagged outline of the city’s walls at the end of a street strangled with rubble. So much of it ruined, it would be easy to slip through into the night, though it was likely they’d simply walk straight into the Dragon Queen’s waiting army. But what choice did they have?

“This way!”

Brienne struggled after him over the rubble-blocked street, pausing to catch her breath. Her wound seemed to be bleeding less but she was pale and hollow eyed, her skin grey, and not just from the ash. She was strong, he knew that, but the question remained if was she strong enough to overcome this.

She is dying.  It is a mercy. The words suddenly rang in his head again and he shook it, as if he could clear them away. She wouldn’t die, couldn’t die, after all this.   

Tommen was faring better physically but the boy looked terrified, and with good reason. The Dragon Queen would want his head, to get rid of any other claimants to the throne. If he’d just taken the sword, he could have easily protected his son.

The boy would never be King again but maybe, just maybe, Jaime might be able to right some of the mistakes he’d made toward his son. Perhaps he could be a proper father to the child. “Are you alright?” Jaime asked him. 

Solemn green eyes met his own and the boy nodded bravely, though his lip was still trembling. On instinct, he dropped Brienne’s hand and reached across to lay his palm on Tommen’s head. Gods, the lad was nearly as tall as him already, though he was still a child.

He looks like me, not Cersei.

Jaime drew a ragged breath in through his broken nose and turned back to the fallen wall. Brienne reached for him again without asking and he took reassurance from her warm hand in his. Lines of sooty soldiers were barely visible as they tramped by them, spears gleaming orange with reflected flames. It was difficult to tell whose side they belonged to, but Jaime put his head down anyway. It was unlikely that his sister had managed to rally any troops in the short time since the attack had begun. Yet, there were lines of these men forming, passing buckets of water from hand to hand, faces half-lit by the glow of unquenchable fires. He wondered if they were the Targaryen girl’s, if that meant his brother actually had gotten to her in time, and she was trying to undo the destruction.

All around them, civilians were fleeing, brushing past them like ghosts, black and grey shapes in the sweltering night. There would be a lot of ghosts after tonight, people he could have saved.

He remembered coming here for the first time, seventeen and determined to become the greatest swordsman, the best Kingsguard, to become a man everyone would speak of, rather than simply a footnote in the Lannister family tree. To become a true hero, like the ones he’d read about as a child. Well, heroes died young, that was the truth of it, or lived to be old enough to realise there was no such thing. And it didn’t do to place faith in mystical speaking swords any more than it did to place it in the Gods.

He held Brienne’s hand rather than a sword and nothing had ever felt more right.

It was a moment of strange calm, stumbling through the soot choked streets, realising that he really did know what he wanted from his life. Just this, Brienne’s hand in his and her by his side. Nothing else really mattered.

Just this, he thought it like a prayer, please just let me have this. Not that he expected to live long enough to do anything about this revelation, as the winds seemed to be changing, shifting the fires so they were bearing down on the buildings between them and the gap in the wall.

“Jaime…” He could hear the doubt in Brienne’s voice but he forged ahead, dragging them into the dense smoke. It was the only way out and they needed to leave before the city became a tomb.

He could feel the sweat start to slide down his neck as they got closer, Brienne’s hand becoming damp in his. The heat was so intense that, for moment, he wondered if he’d just dragged them all to their deaths. They stumbled passed the buildings in flames, fire flickering in their windows, pluming up from broken roofs and making the air shimmer with heat. Jaime sweated, coughed, wiping at his forehead with his handless arm.

The smoke seemed to clear, just long enough for him to be sure that the long column of men advancing toward them through the hole were definitely the Dragon Queen’s army. His heart thudded against his ribs and he unconsciously reached to his side, hand seeking a sword that wasn’t there.

I’m a fool. I should have taken the damned sword just to use for a blade.

But the army seemed to flow around them, as if they were a rock in a fast moving stream. Of course, Daenerys wanted to be thought of as a saviour, didn’t she? Doubtless she’d told her army to leave unarmed civilians alone. Jaime almost laughed aloud. If he’d kept the bloody sword, with a roaring lion carved into it practically screaming ‘Lannister’, they would probably have skewed him through. As it was, they were just three more soot-covered, wild-eyed refugee’s fleeing the inferno that King’s Landing had become.

They climbed through the gap and joined the trudging legions that were heading North, blending in to the dirty, world-weary crowd with little effort.

“We’re never going to be entirely free, Jaime.” Brienne’s voice broke through his musing.  Itsounded weary, bone-tired but she seemed to be standing a little straighter. Tommen was clinging to her unbloodied side and she had a protective arm around him, looking like nothing more than a mother shielding her child.

“I know.” And he did.  They were too recognisable. Maybe the Dragon Queen would stand by her word and Brienne truly had earned his freedom, but he wouldn’t count on it. Maybe Brienne would bleed out in some country lane beyond the city and everything would be for naught. Maybe the world would end because he made a choice and made it selfishly. It was impossible to know what might happen.

He remembered coming back to this city with Brienne, a lifetime ago now, it seemed.  As he considered, she stroked her thumb across his hand, a surprisingly tender gesture.  And when he looked up, she smiled at him, a weak pained smile, but a smile nonetheless. Maybe she was thinking similar thoughts because there was a soft expression on her face that he would like to see every day for the rest of his life, however long the gods saw fit to allow them.

He leant across and kissed her, without propriety or caring who saw. I can do this. I can do this any time I want to. I can kiss my wife without concern about allegiances and houses, without wondering if I’m somehow starting a damned war. It made him feel almost dizzy with freedom. Her lips tasted of powdery soot, gentle and momentarily hesitant against his, before she gained the courage to kiss him back, fully and sweetly.

“Why did you do that?” she asked when he finally pulled away, flushed, but her expression still slightly guarded. Beside her, Tommen was watching them, wide-eyed and a little shocked.

“Because I could.”

He turned back one last time to look at King’s Landing, still burning brightly against the grimy black of the sky. It was over. The city was in ruins, let the last Targaryen be the ruler of the ashes as her father had wanted to be, all those years ago. And he was leaving, not as a saviour, not as a Kingslayer, not as a Lannister. Just as himself.

And Jaime found that he could live with that.

 

Daenerys stood before the Throne Room, looking down at King’s Landing spread out before her. The smoke was lying in a thick haze over her city, though the Unsullied were bringing water up from the Blackwater to quench the fires that were still burning. Some of the wildfire had gone up, regardless of her efforts, the fierce flames ripping through the city before she could stop them, turning it into a swath of blackened ruins. She could feel the weight of each innocent death trying to settle on her.

It had to be done. I had to claim my birth-right. The blame lies with the usurpers, not me.

The dwarf—Tyrion – had come to her, warned her, and it had bought a little time. She wasn’t entirely sure if she trusted him, but he had sworn there was no love lost between him and his father or sister. The fact he had neglected to mention his brother did not escape her.

No one could find the imposter King, the little Lannister boy.  He seemed to have disappeared into the chaos that was King’s Landing. A small, selfish part of her was relieved. It wasn’t in her to kill a child, even one that might be a threat to her.

Still, it seemed suspicious that of the party she had sent to fetch the pretender, the only knight to come back had been Hyle Hunt.  He was standing not too far from her now, looking over a sword he seemed to have managed to acquire somewhere out in the city. Daenerys frowned as she noted the intricately carved lions racing across the hilt. A Lannister sword then.

“You have a new sword, I see.”

He smiled and offered it to her, hilt first, as if that was what he meant to do all along. “I found it amongst the rubble and thought it too fine to be left in the dirt, my lady.”

Daenerys put out a curious hand, fingertips resting on the finely carved hilt.

The blade blazed.