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oh, my love (spare my blood)

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Jaime is a terrible gardener, and they learn that together when they settle in Pentos.

It comes from a wager they form early on – if he takes up gardening, she will take up embroidering again, which is something she hasn't done in years and has no desire to start again. She hadn't meant for him to accept. Hadn't meant for it to become real.

They give both of those things up on the same day, in the same hour; he comes to her holding something wilted in a cracked planter in his hand, sighing, a cheek smudged with dirt. “I can't,” he says, defeated, and then he sees her sitting in the alcove beneath the window overlooking the sea, stabbing spitefully at a cushion with her needles.

They never make such a bet again.

It must be difficult with only one hand, tending a garden, the same way it must be difficult to do anything at all like draw the curtains or touch her, and it's something she uses against him in her darker hours, when the ache in her chest gets to be too much and she wants to lash out at something, anything, anyone.

It had been among the first things to go when they arrived in Pentos, his golden hand; haggled over for longer than she liked until, finally, the sharp-eyed man that took it gave them enough to purchase food, drink, a home away from everything else at the edge of the city. Cersei had insisted more than once that it was worth more, much more – and then he had looked at her for too long, had looked at Jaime and his stump for too long, had looked at the hand for too long. His eyes had sparkled, like gems though they were the color of rotting dirt. He combed his fingers through his long beard and looked at them again.

“It isn't,” Jaime had said, then, when she couldn't open her mouth to speak, when she didn't dare. “It sounds reasonable to me.”

The man smiled, and gave them greasy kisses on their hands, and left, and they never saw him again.

The first time they have such an argument, it's more one-sided than she'd like. He doesn't flinch, doesn't even fight back, doesn't say a word through her angry ranting and bitter, spite-fueled insults; he does, instead, leave without a word.

She pays no attention to it, and instead busies herself with other things around the house, knowing with all the certainty in her heart that he will return. He always returns.

And then night falls, and she lights the candles, and she tries and fails to read a book, and Jaime doesn't return. It's early still when she sits nauseous and awake in bed, stroking her stomach, murmuring to herself. “He will return,” she says, to herself and to her child, “he will come back, he will.”

It settles in that she sounds like a madwoman there, whispering to herself, and perhaps she is a madwoman after all, that she's chased away the only person she has left in this world.

The only person she's ever truly had.

Jaime comes back, of course, and he finds her curled beneath the half-open window, shivering and trembling, her cheeks streaked with tears. He pulls her up into his arms, running his fingers through the hair that's started to grow longer from her scalp, murmuring nonsense against the top of her head like she's some fragile thing that needs to be comforted.

She doesn't fight it, so perhaps she is. She melts into him, against his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing with all the strength that she has left in her – not much, not enough – and gasping his name. “Don't leave again, Jaime, don't leave, never leave me, please—“

He kisses her, vows never, and leads her to bed.

It isn't the last time that she yells at him, but it is the last time that he leaves without promising he'll return.

Three months into their new life, a man she never lays eyes on again slips a letter into her hand in the marketplace and fades from sight before she can call after him. The wax seal is crimson, nondescript, and she opens it then and there with shaking hands, reads it over too many times to count, puts it back and takes it home to Jaime.

The scrawl is terribly familiar. Good luck, the letter says. Good luck.

That's all.

“Is it him,” she asks Jaime, even though she knows the answer.

He nods, pale and soft-eyed, and burns the parchment away in the fireplace. She cries in his arms then, long and heavy and hard enough that she can't breathe by the end of it, and she doesn't know why.

She blames it on the pregnancy.

She blames it on Tyrion Lannister.

Cersei doesn't sleep well, in that house—it's the bed which is smaller than she's used to, the company of her brother that is a constant in a new and different way that it's never been able to be before, their new names that sit ill and twisted and wrong on her tongue, the city that is not King's Landing, the home that is not her home.

It's the nightmares.

The bells ringing, the dragon roaring, the dust suffocating her until the rubble falls around them and they are covered and they are dead, the dragon roaring the dragon roaring the dragon –

Cersei wakes always in strong arms, pressed back against a broad chest, the scent of Jaime surrounding her, his hand perhaps on the rounded curve of her belly or resting on a breast or in newly-grown hair, and sometimes he's awake to hush her back to sleep and sometimes he isn't, and it doesn't matter.

They are safe, and alive. Their child will be safe and alive.

That is all that matters.

Cersei goes into labor months after their hasty departure from King's Landing but too soon, too early, too quick. She wakes from a vivid, eerie dream where she is screaming and Jaime is crushing her skull with his golden hand and she is not dying and she is screaming, and she's laying in a puddle of fluid with a sharp pain going through her body which is very much like the dream but very, horribly different, and Jaime murmurs sleepily, slings an arm over her, moves close enough to feel – his eyes snap open, and in the dim dark, they meet hers.

They do it alone, some hours before dawn, just the two of them, the way that she knows it was meant to be all those other times, and it is so long and it is so grueling and there is blood and there is pain and there is Jaime holding her, coaxing her through it gently, and there is the thought that she is going to die. She's going to die, the way their mother did, and this is her Tyrion, and she is going to die without ever seeing her child's face or if it's died or lived or if, if, if –

Cersei doesn't die, but she wishes she had, in the moments after; the child comes in the early hours of the morning and in complete silence, and she stares dizzily at the golden-white ceiling, floating between awareness and the endless black, eyes fluttering. If she was a little less alert, just a little, she wouldn't know about the silence, wouldn't understand it for what it was. Instead it settles inside of her, deep and rattling, the cold grip of death scratching her lungs open, except it isn't her death, not the way she'd thought, not the way she wanted now because what was happening now was so much worse, so much crueler, please not again, please not again.

Don't take another from me.

“Let me hold it,” she says, dimly, feeling her voice echo down through her throat to the chambers of her aching, empty heart. Let me hold the carcass of everything I have ever wanted. Let me hold another dead child in my arms before you bury it in the earth of the garden you failed to grow. Let me close my eyes and pretend, just for a moment, just for a second. “Jaime. Jaime, let me—“

A squalling scream wrenches the air, splitting it open before her, and the tender meat of her insides pour out of her throat in a desperate, hopeful cry of her own, and it feels like a dream.

Cersei's shoulders rock forward, and then Jaime is settling on the bed beside her as she sobs, his warm scent flooding her senses when he presses hip to hip and side to side and cheek to cheek, kisses sliding up her jaw and into her hair. He's holding a beautiful, crying pink thing all wrapped in a blanket, covered in fluids and smelling of life.

“Her,” Jaime corrects her gently, and places their daughter into Cersei's arms.

“It's a girl?” she mumbles, clinging to those tiny, grasping fingers. Jaime kisses her, again and again, and this is not the dream where he is killing her again and again. That dream will never become reality. She knows it, here and now and always, when she looks into his eyes and sees nothing but a font of warmth.

“It's a girl,” he says.

Cersei closes her eyes, and breathes for the first time.