It begun in the dead of night. Probably.
He couldn't be sure about it, no light pierced the darkness of their cell of soil, stone and roots and sickening whiteness, and Jaime was sure of nothing, lately. He glimpsed at the tall body lying in the dirt, at the opposite side of the hole where they had been forgotten by the outlaws, but then the stabs started again. It was like his own skin was no sufficient to bear it all inside, the pain. Jaime found no solace in consuming his nails on the crude stone he used as a pillow, nor in retching bile and foam on his mattress of bare soil.
“Stay far away from me”, he growled, hearing Brienne move, because he needed nothing more from her, nor her lies, nor the warmth of her back against his.
The only answer he got was a ragged breathing, resounding dull on the low ceiling of weirwood tangles. She isn't well, either, Jaime realized suddenly, hating himself for not being pleased enough by the sight of her fingers gnarled for the pain, and pressed on her belly. The water they gave us. It was muddy, putrid. It must be the water.
The last thought was almost a hope, a vain one, but the last of lions refused, categorically, to acknowledge what was happening to the body that was his, once.
No matter how long the outlaws kept him in a fucking cell, he wasn't giving up the remnants of his mental lucidity. It was just poisoned water, and no damned legacy.
Hair, not fur.
Nails, not claws.
And the Lady Stoneheart was just a trick for idiots, and not an Undead, as the wench claimed.
He tasted blood, as he bit his lower lip not to turn again towards her.
She shouldn't talk to him with such a hoarse, broken voice, she shouldn't look at him in that way, her eyes the only spark of light in the dark, as if she cared. Liar, she was just another liar. If the wench truly cared about Jaime, she wouldn't have consigned him to the Lady Stark or Stoneheart or whatever.
He spat and coughed, harshly, choking, as the vomit came out his nostrils in a yellowish filament, burning him from the inside. His stump burned even more, now that it was no more a stump. Oh, Gods. Yes, the Gods above, they had Lannisters blood, probably. A bunch of witty, sarcastic bastards. Jaime had prayed them a hundred times to make the ugly maid die in the Riverlands and she was dying now that he could do nothing, he had prayed the merciless Gods a thousand times to make him die as a whole man and he was dying, too, whole, in a certain way.
He had to laugh, no matter how it hurt him. But it hurt, it hurt so badly that Jaime had just the time to crawl his way till the wench, before passing out.
She didn't reply, but heaved a sigh as he easily ripped the rope that the scums had tied around her arms, so tightly that Jaime noticed dried blood spots on the sleeves of the filthy rag the wench was wearing.
“See, wench, how much they fear us?” Jaime freed her legs, too, and started rubbing them, gingerly, to help the circulation of blood, paying attention not to touch her skin with the long claws of his new hands. Hands? Hands, he decided. Besides, a name was worth another, and he had no time to find the proper term for those things or to get used to the new situation. He probably would never get used to it, or to her stillness. “I never saw such a waste of good hemp, for a cripple and for the mass of scars and broken bones you has become, wench.”
Even in the absence of light, he knew perfectly how deep and red was the sign left by the noose on her neck, and nothing could make him forget the horror of her cheek. Jaime was no more a cripple, though, and he had grown bigger and taller. Probably he was taller than the Mountain, now, and surely stronger. He felt it. The renewed, yet ancient, strength flowing in him. His senses, too - they were so acute, now, that his head was spinning.
He tried to concentrated, to recall all detail of the fucking legend the old Maester had taught to a fair-haired child, forgetting to warn him that it was not exactly a legend - and it worked. A bit.
When Jaime opened again his eyes, he could focus perfectly and stare at the new right hand that his legacy had gifted him. It was bigger than the wench's head, covered with a thick, soft fur that glimmered faintly as if it was made of beaten gold. A pretty thing, but its claws were too long, too sharp. Unapt for holding a sword, or for a caress. He retired it, not daring to touch the mangled skin of her cheek, for fear he could re-opened the wound, and he didn't surely want to be misunderstood. Jaime detested the wench. Oh, how he detested her. The only thing that made bearable the fact that Jaime hadn't already died was the consideration that nobody might oblige him to share a tree or a lovely pyre with the Maid of Tarth, now.
“Brienne, wake up.”
It came out more similar to a plea, than to a order. The fangs, he was prone to think. You can't speak properly when your front teeth change suddenly into four nice razors. The sudden doubt of not being more able of kissing a wench came into Jaime's mind and disappeared in the blink of an eye, and he felt ashamed.
Shame wasn't a feeling deign of a Lannister and Jaime had other worries than shame or kisses, in that very precise moment of his wretched life. She was pigheadedly keeping her eyes closed. Not that he wanted the wench to see him in such a state, but he disliked even more the role she was playing.
Someone should tell Brienne that it was ludicrous for her to pretend to be a helpless girl, she was not that kind of wench. If she had found the energies to ride till Pennytree with two or three broken ribs - only to rant about rescuing a she-wolf and it was a red-eyed brat instead - she ought to be a good wench now, and lift those stupid eyelids of hers, for him, for the knight who had saved her stupid arse in the bear pit, for the man who dreamed of her, vividly, even after she had betrayed him.
That was the thing that made Jaime anger the most. Couldn't she let him in peace, in his fucking dreams at least, for a change? Couldn't she simply stop shivering?
Brienne was cold, a bit feverish - that was all.
His hair, his beard, well, his fur was long enough to keep her warm – Jaime had only to learn to be patient, and wait. She hadn't go trough a metamorphosis, the lion was sure about it. She looked every inch the same wench that had delivered him to the outlaws and stubbornly refused to end her work, after the worn copy of the Lady Stark had freed the skinny lad and the hedge knight.
Stupid wench, Jaime thought.
His senses had become so incredibly good that he could even smell the same, stupid smell of blue silk and soap she had in the White Tower, well hidden underneath the stench of dirt, exertion and dried blood. He brushed away with his nose a strand of greased, limp hair, stuck to her copiously sweated brow and kept waiting, glad that Brienne came from a lesser House and that she hadn't to suffer for the consequences of an ancient curse running in her blood.
Legacy, his father used to call it, but even Lord Tywin didn't fully believe in the old tales.
As the wench's trembling slowly returned to quietness, Jaime relaxed a bit, his mind running outside the amiable cell they were going to leave, as soon as Brienne recovered enough to walk. Carrying her wasn't a problem, now, and not because she had grown so thin, but Jaime couldn't risk that she got harmed whilst he mauled their thoughtful guests, beginning from the man wearing the Hound's helm, who had stolen Oathkeeper from the wench and given her a backhanded blow, when she was already tied like a sacrificial kid.
“Sorry, my lady, but you're not authorized to add another scar to your collection tonight, because I'm not a fucking nurse, is it clear?”, Jaime purred in her ear, and she stirred in his arms, as if she had heard him.
A false alarm, and Jaime went on waiting, pondering.
If the legends were true, mayhap someone had died, one of the Seven Great Houses had gone extinct. The Arryns, for instance - the young Lord of the Eyrie had always been a sickly child. Someone else, with another name but with some drops of the same blood, would take his place, like Orys Baratheon's heir had took the place of the Durrandon Kings and the falcon power would burden some other back. In the past, the power of the Gardener Kings had passed to the Florents, most likely. Or to the Rowans, the Hightowers, the Oakhearts, but not to the Tyrells, since the Tyrells were Andal blood, it was known. Like the Tarths, with all probabilities.
The problem was that a House could nominally die, but the curse followed blood, not names – silently, secretly, until something threatened the equilibrium. Only then, according to the tales of old, the legacy showed its beastly face, but to one person at a time. Among all the descendants of the Kings of the Rock - and they were a fucking crowd - Jaime was the chosen one. What luck. He wondered who were the other privileged ones, among the Reachers for instance, and how the power had worked on them.
“Gods be good, wench, maybe ser Arys of the Kingsguard has been transmuted into a monstrous oak, for all we know,” he murmured. “I should have listened more to the Maester, instead of throwing spitballs in Addam's direction, but Addam had always been so fluid in reading whilst I sucked in it, I still suck in it and in many other things.”
“Mmmm. Who's Addam?”
A moron, as any friend of mine, but skilled and loyal, you'd appreciate him, Jaime was on the verge to answer, but the words halted on his tongue, at the thought he was naked, if not for the fur and the shreds of his former clothes.
Her lashes fluttered open, her left hand escaped his hold to brush, tentatively, the hairs on his too broad chest, up to his throat, getting to his lower lip. She didn't break in shouts, however, not even when she cut herself - just the tip of one finger and a few drops of blood, smelling so strong and inviting - on a lion's fang.
“Oh,” she simply said. The fact she was always so loquacious made Jaime willing to scream. He swallowed, instead, because of her smell, she didn't smell of fear, of disgust, but of something else, something he wasn't used to.
“Is that all you have to say, wench?”
“I-I..” Jaime was almost tempted to mangle off the hand that was still exploring the remnants of his face. After two days of starving, it would be a nice snack. “I'm sorry that it's that painful for you,” she concluded after a long while.
He didn't deign her of an answer. It had been painful, but now the pain was gone. He was well, he had never felt that well. Half a giant, half a lion. A perfect monster, but with a mane of pure gold. The Others take the Stark direwolves and the boring, gray fur that was surely wrapping one of Ned's pups.
Suddenly, Jaime's hunger became unbearable, and, beyond the improvised door of planks and hemp that closed their cell, there was game. A lot of preys, little, bad men who had dared to hang a lady-knight and her poor squire. He almost hit a root on the ceiling with his head, when he raised on his feet, helping Brienne, for her brow was fresh now, but she wasn't still the warrior maid he used to know.
A bit too undecided, uncertain on her feet, her hand always searching for a touch, even if brief. Delicate, like a winter blossom... but Jaime was surely conditioned by the fact he was a head or two taller than her, now. It was mere appearance. Inside, she was still the hell made wench. Stubborn, till the point of being exasperating, she didn't take the hand, the paw the lion was offering her.
“You should go and let me here, ser.”
“I have no time to waste with your nonsense, oaf of a wench.” His paw grasped her wrist, and if the maiden was disgusted by the touch, she had the grace to keep the loath well concealed.
“I-I betrayed you.”
The lion shrugged, impatient. “True enough.” He should jump at her throat, and end that farce. He really should. He was still angry with her, he trusted no more her words or the tears washing the dirt off her hideous face. “What really matters is that the Payne boy's safe now, and the edge knight's surely leading him to Tarth as you desired, wench. Now let's go.”
She didn't hint at following him, not even when he yanked her, with too much a haste, a force out of control, making her fall into his arms, like a rag doll with a lot of of thin, dirty, strange hair. Her hair, it seemed different, all of sudden. Paler, white hair, or silvery. Definitively longer, falling till her ankles. It couldn't be.
She gave him no time to recuperate from the shock.
“I-I can't come. I'd only get in your way.”
Her voice was so small, she was so small, now, compared to him.
Jaime inhaled deeply, bringing one of his hand or whatever to her scarred cheek, finding out he was able to force the wench tilt her chin in a gentle way. He was still able to make a caress, after all, and this realization curved his lips in a smile, a smile that faded abruptly, as he look into her eyes. Abnormally huge, black pupils were drowning into the blue, mirroring a terrifying lion. A terrified lion.
“You can't see.” The maid gasped in a painful admission when he involuntarily squeezed her wrist. “But you saw me when... when it begun.” It wasn't a question. He remembered how Brienne had glanced at him, desperate, and how he had felt desperate at his own turn.
Astonished, Jaime looked down, at the bruise already forming on the smooth skin of her arm. Something had changed, even for her, but why, he couldn't say. She was only a Tarth girl, young, no more than nineteen, coming from a stupid island lost in the Narrow Sea, who didn't rely on him, clearly. Of course, he could understand if the wench wanted to hide a weakness from the fucking monster who had send her alone into war, to fight his fights. There was no need to ask her.
“Why, Brienne?” He heard the lion babble, instead. “You should have told me you're blind.”
She made out that hateful sound she made every time she struggled to keep the tears at bay, but tears went on soaking the fur on the back of Jaime's hand. “I trust you, that's why. If you knew, you wouldn't have let me behind, and now you know, and I-I do not d-deserve your...” She choked on her own sobs, luckily, so she stopped to utter idiocies and, Gods, if the wench was ugly, now, eyes shining and snot dripping from a nostril.
He had to step backward, not to make a folly – and Brienne misunderstood, as usual.
“Goodbye, Jaime,” she said, the dumb, the brave, the unbroken.
“Listen, Brienne,” Jaime said in the softest tone he could find in his immense ribcage, bringing both hands on her shoulders to steady her, “I make the rules, for once. We'll get out of here and find someone who will heal us, and we'll do it now. Together, because Kinglayers must band together, have you forgotten it?” He rested his brow on hers, and even if the wench was still weeping, a bit, she was calming down, he knew. “I know there are children and women living here, but I swear you I won't touch them. About the others, my lady, it won't take long.”
His new, mighty muscles shivered in repressed fury and expectation. The wench shivered, too, because of a cool draft or because of the carnage that was going to happen in a cave of soil, stone and weirwood roots - or maybe because the Lion of the night had called her with the title that what hers by right. The latter option was Jaime's favorite, but he didn't feel the need of bother the wench about it, not before she would have back her full strength.
He grinned, a wide grin, for the first time since he had become a legend, feeling good enough to devour the whole world and even the seven hells, if necessary, now that her hand was laced to his and the starred sky was waiting for the both of them, at a few, bloody, strides from there, just outside a cave of soil, stone and weirwood roots.