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like the bough of a willow tree

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His siblings were in his head.

I think we might live , he heard Tyrion say. Over and over, as he struggled to put his armor on one handed. Maybe he was right. They’d faced horrible odds before, all of them. They should have all died twenty time over.

But they didn’t. They were here. They’d survived.

Maybe they could again.

His gold hand fell hard against the metal surrounding him, reminding him that he’d been a different man when he’d survived those odds. A man of skill, of fire. A golden lion.

Now he was neither gold nor a lion.

Just a one handed man who couldn’t get his own armor on. Ready to fight & face death.

Steps clattered outside his door, A small, frightened looking north boy peered in at him, clearing his throat nervously.

“Ser–” he began but Jaime cut him off.

“Yes, come on then,” he grumbled. The boy helped him prepare, securing his armor in all the right places. He couldn’t have been older than 10. Ten . In his eyes he saw another small northern boy, a sin he’d yet to confess to, haunting his every step in this godforsaken place. The final barrier between himself and absolution.

I think we might live.

Tyrion had always been the smartest Lannister. Even Tywin knew it, though he’d detested it. The smartest man in the most powerful house in the seven kingdoms. That had to mean something.

When it was done, he told himself. When they’d lived as Tyrion said they would, as he knew she must, he’d confess. He’d take the punishment or the retribution he deserved. He’d wipe himself clean of all his dirty secrets, he’d bare them all at her feet and finally know his end.

He just had to make it through this one last fight.

I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister.

Cersei’s cruel voice taunted him now even still. Because what fool made plans to end themselves right when they’d gotten another chance to live? What fool looked at the army of the dead and thought, I’ll see this through and make plans for when it’s over.

The boy coughed.

“I’ve finished, Ser,” he said meekly. “If it please you–”

“Go,” Jaime barked. “Find someone else to dress now.” Just as the boy nearly vanished from his site, he bellowed after him. “Wait boy,” he called. He rested his golden hand on the small shoulder below him. “When you’ve finished, get yourself to the crypts.”

“I’m to fight with the rest of you sir,” he protested.

Ten . The voice that whispered it almost sounded like his own. A younger man. A different man. A shameful man.

“To the crypts.” He said, more forcefully.

“Yes, Ser.” The tiniest of nods, and then he was gone.

•••

I think we might live.

How? How could they live through this chaos? How could they pick their way through death itself? How long could they beat it back?

He watched as Brienne gripped Oathkeeper tight, the muscles of her large, strong hands clenching nervously, and he realized there more than just one confession to be made yet. He’d known it, of course. He’d known it in his ride to the North, in his pledge to serve her, in his fingers dancing across his sword when he knighted her.

He had accepted that it was his truth, that he would never let it go, that he would die just learning it’s power if he must.

But what sort of man did that make him? What honor was there in hoarding it away to himself, leaving her one last lie by omission.

I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister.

He couldn’t breathe, his lungs were tight and the air around them was icy cold, getting harder and fiercer by the second.

She moved quickly, broadly. Different than all the others around them, wildly flinging their swords and spears and dragon glass as far as they could. But she was like water through air, a giant wave crashing and reeling back up. Unrelenting power, undiminished courage, an inhuman strength like the sea or the wind itself was coursing through her veins, pushing and pulling her in every direction she needed to go.

I think we might live.

And what if they did not? What if his heart was buried and burned with him here on the fields of Winterfell? Could he bear it? To know that he’d withheld something from her in their final moments?

But when the wretched voice in his head started once more ( I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister ) he felt it pushed out by another.

I know Ser Jaime.

He is a man of honor.

He wanted to believe that voice, the one that ran like honey down his throat. But it wasn’t honor that brought him to the north. It wasn’t honor that lost him his hand, that gave away his sword, that made her the armor glinting at him across the battle. Honor hadn’t compelled him to do any of it.

Only her.

What was the difference then, between honor and love? Which would she rather he have for her? Could she bear it if he wasn’t the man she thought he was, but a man hopeless, lost, bound to no one through honor, bound to one through love?

“Brienne.”

His voice was strangled and scratched. From shouting and grunting, barely a whisper left to call out to her.

She had turned in the other direction, pushing forward, beating back the night. He clamored after her, his lungs like ice as he shouted through the darkness ahead of him.

“Brienne.”

This time she turned, her blue eyes wild and wide.

“Ser Jaime–” she started, startled, but he cut her off.

There was a gap, he could see it. A few seconds were it could be just the two of them. No battle, no fear, no long night pressing in. He had to make the most of them. He slammed the tip of his sword into the ground, cracking the cold dirt beneath them so he could use his left hand to pull her in against him.

Through his armor he couldn’t feel her, couldn’t melt into the heat of her so he pressed forward, claiming his lips as her own as they met.

“It wasn’t for honor,” he said when he pulled back. Just slightly, as his forehead rested against hers, his hand reaching out frantically to find the hilt of his sword before their moment ran out. “It was for you.” His mouth wrapped around a small smile. “Ser Brienne.”

“Jaime, I–”

But there wasn’t time.

“After,” he promised her. He took a step forward, slotting himself just in front of her as she nodded back at him.

“Okay,” she said. “After.”