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Jaime winces, sitting down against the broken walls of Winterfell that were, not too long ago, ablaze with blue fire. He had seen a thing or two in his life, Jaime Lannister, he has made kings and unmade them, lost his sword hand, fucked his sister, lived through the battle of the five kings, witnessed Balerion the Black Dread come again and raze armies to the ground, he has fought the army of the dead and lived to tell the tale.... but an actual undead dragon?

That did it for him. That was truly the moment that he felt that cold shudder down his spine, the overwhelming fear that this truly is the end. The fear that the never-ending long night was upon them, an icy breath away from snuffing out all life as they knew it.

But he daren’t look back, did he? He fought on, snow and sludge and the dead shattering around him, wight after wight. He had never known fear like that, he had never known death like that. He’d swung Widow's Wail like a fanatic, as best his left hand would let him. And with a firm faith that Brienne had his back as they protected each other fiercely. It was the dance with death, and he had felt truly alive then, his blood singing with bloodlust, at last fighting on the same side as Brienne. With Brienne, looking out for her, trusting her to keep him alive as he did the same for her.

He had been ready to die for her. In her arms if the gods be good.

Jaime takes a deep breath, trying to calm his palpitating heart. The rank stench of strewn corpses flares his nostrils and he coughs up a violent fit instead.

The dead of the battle hadn’t started to even decay yet, but the army that the Night King brought with him had been long dead. And they spewed an absolutely rotten stench that sat still in the air, heavy on the lungs of the living.

“Ser Jaime?” He turns around swiftly at the voice he recognizes, eager to meet her eyes.

“Yes, Ser Brienne?”

Brienne hopes that the lights are dim enough for Jaime to not catch the redness in her cheeks when he calls her that. Ser Brienne. That’ll take some getting used to.

“They’re serving soup in the great hall. Care to join the feast?”

He wasn’t particularly hungry, just tired, so tired.

“Not yet. I’m admiring a dead undead dragon” he points to the carcass of the twice-dead Viserion a ways ahead of him before extending the invitation, “Care to join me?”

“I’ve had enough undead for the evening, maybe even a lifetime,” Brienne grimaces, stepping towards Jaime nevertheless, “seven hells what happened to your face?”

It’s only after closing the distance between them that Brienne notices that the right side of Jaime’s face is caked in dirt and dried blood, running down his neck and soaking through his armour. One eye is swollen shut. Gods know how many wounds the stubborn man has suffered. And here he sits, as if he has not a care in the world.

“You haven’t visited the Maester yet, have you?” she asks and as he just opens his mouth to concoct an excuse; he stops. There is no point in pretending with her; she always knows. Jaime just shrugs, looking up at her with a boyish grin.

“Oh come now,” he teases, “you’ve seen me worse.”

Brienne just furrows her glare at him and Jaime’s good-natured smile falters. Her blue eyes are shining, brimming with life and for a second he feels a mad abandon. She is alive. So is he. He should just fucking kiss her.

She extends an arm towards him which he willingly takes, pushing himself off the ground as she pulls him to his feet.

Jaime is sure to make eye-contact with her before he says the next words, raising the stump of his arm where the golden hand used to be, (he lost it in the war fuck knows where). Brienne has just pulled him upright, and their noses are almost touching and he can feel the heat off her body, radiating off her face, the life of her and dammit he really just wants to kiss her... But he fears she might punch him and he isn't sure how much more beating his face can take. He can’t miss this chance, though. So instead he waves his stump in her face and says, “thanks for …giving me a hand.”

Brienne maintains that sharp look in her piercing blue eyes for two seconds before she sighs loud enough, the playful disappointment distinct in her tone. He can tell she's trying to suppress a smile when she says, “You’re lucky you’re only almost dead otherwise I’d had stabbed you with your own sword.”

"That's not very honourable of you!" he whines, unable to mask his smile as she leads him down the stairs and towards the Maesters’ quarters, through the hallways of Winterfell now brimming with the relief of those still standing, and the mourning of those who have fallen. Brienne navigates with ease. It’s only on arrival at the Maester’s quarters, and three knocks later that they realize the door to his chamber is unlatched, and the Maester isn’t there.

“Sam’s probably attending to the wounded in the Great Hall” Brienne tuts, “that’s where Gilly must be as well.”

“Oh, it’s fine I’ll clean myself up” Jaime limps into the well-lit room, about to wash his hand, only to stumble forward just as Brienne catches him.

“Sit down” she orders, steadying him against the nearest chair. When she has that tone in her voice, Jaime knows better than to defy her. He simply complies.

Brienne brings forth a bowl of hot water that Samwell had left to warm on the fire, some disinfectant and some clean pieces of cloth. She sits on her knees, bending closer to his face. She is only a hair's breadth away and her breath tingles the warm skin above his lips.

“Do you know what you're doing?” he whispers, his breath strained. She is too close for him to have any rational thought that isn't borderline indecent. She has no idea, the effect she has on him.

“I'm cleaning the mess on your face,” Brienne answers simply as she dips the cloth in warm water, her eyes obliviously focused on her hands.

"Make me handsome again, wench." He teases and even he can't miss the twitch of her smile, the slight reddening of her cheeks.

“I’m going to clean your wounds now." she says sternly, "Don’t. Move.”

Jaime holds still, so still that the sound of his own strained breathing seems to fill the room. He watches as her hand edges closer and closer and he gulps in anticipation, until it's so nerve-wracking that he can't watch anymore. Her fingertips are softly brushing the hair off his forehead and the comfort of it sends his eyes rolling back into his head. He leans into her touch. Coarse, but gentle fingers dab the cloth against the point in his head where he realizes that throbbing had been originating from. Both her hands are on his face and the touch of her fingertips, her palms warm against his skin feels like wildfire being stoked inside him. It makes Jaime’s breath hitch in his throat.

He does everything he can to suppress the shiver that just runs down his spine. He bites back the sigh that threatens to fall from his lips. Jaime is a little starstruck, he can’t help but stare at her now, opening his gaze to those bright blue eyes and that soft freckled skin. His hands itch to trace across them. Her short hair messy, almost white in the glow of the candles, like a halo. But what really sends his pulse into a titzy is that kindness in her eyes, that concern as she furrows her brows at the wounds on his face; as she takes care of him.

Cersei had never looked at him like this—Jaime realizes. She had never touched him like this either. Jaime breathes shallow, entranced in the way Brienne’s eyes follow her hands as she wipes the gore off his face. He can hear his restless heartbeat in his ears and it feels as loud as the bells tolling in the King's Square. Gods, can she hear it too?

And if Jaime was being honest, he has never felt the way he does about anyone, as he does about Brienne. So utterly completely at her mercy, so utterly completely ...safe. He didn't know he could ever feel this way, no maester could compare to her gentle touch, no lover could compare to the warmth in her eyes. He had loved Cersei, true. But Cers-- no.

He is not going to bring his sister's shadow to Winterfell, to this moment with Brienne. Brienne, who is gallant and gentle, soft and strong and kind, oh so kind. One who has staked her own honour on the honourless Kingslayer. He would not dishonour her with his wretched affections. She, who was a true knight of the Seven Kingdom, perhaps the truest of them all. The best of people, of knights, of women too perhaps. And here she was in an empty room. With him, alone. While he ached to claim his lips with hers and more, so much more.

No. He would not stain her like he stained his own knighthood, like he stained that bitter white cloak which in turn, stained him. She could do so much better than an old besotted fool like him. An honourable man would turn away, would let her go. But Jaime Lannister is not an honourable man, he thinks bitterly to himself. I am selfish and gods, I love her and her astonishing blue eyes bring me to my knees, her relentless bravado that makes him want to be better knight, a better man. How could he ever let her go, his shining Evenstar? The light that guides him on this journey to reclaim his lost honour?

She doesn't need him, doesn't ask for anything from him. But at moments like these, Jaime wishes she would.

He can’t take his eyes off her. He knows the naked longing in his face is blatant, plain for anyone to see. True, that he’d figured out that he’s been in love with her for a while now, but the urgency to tell her that grows restless in his throat. Jaime gulps nervously, swallowing the impulse.

When Brienne glances back at him, her features soften and Jaime is suddenly starkly aware of the dryness in his throat.

“It’s a bad bruise, Ser Jaime,” she says, unaware of the battle raging inside him. She cleans the rag before gently dabbing it near his injured eye, “but a bruise it is, not a cut. You won’t lose your eye.”

To her surprise, Jaime doesn't answer. He continues to stare at her with that impossible look on his face that makes heat pool in her belly. She knows not what it means and she dare not ask.

As she wipes his wounds, Brienne would be lying to herself if she said she wasn't commiting the angles of Jaime's face to her memory. His beard brushes rough against her fingertips, and she enjoys the prickly feeling more than she’d like to admit. He’s a handsome man, Ser Jaime, but the tufts of white in his beard and his hair seem to elevate a sense of rugged handsomeness even more so. It's very attractive and she hopes he doesn't know that-- he would be insufferable if he knew. She surely isn't going to tell him. She tries to suppress the creeping blush on her face as unbidden, unmaidenly thought wanders into her mind: how would his beard feel against her face? How would his lips feel against her own? Carefully, she cleans the wound and her fingertips linger on the side of his face, absentmindedly mapping out the scar near his brow with her thumb. Under her, Jaime draws a low shaky breath.

She shouldn’t be letting herself fall like this. Not after Renly. Men like Jaime don’t care for women like her. It all ends the same and she knows it.  Gods, does she know it.

But Jaime is kind to her. Maybe he wasn’t always so but he's not the same man he was when they set off from the Riverlands together. She wasn't the same woman anymore either. Jaime had armed and armoured her, he had given her a sword and called it Oathkeeper. And when she'd tried to return the priceless Valyrian steel to him, he had refused to take it back-- insisted that it was hers, that it would always be hers. He had said so with such an intense conviction that it was almost like he meant more with those words than he actually spoke. It had made her foolish maidenly heart flutter once before she squashed those daydreams as not only highly improbable but most impossible. But then she'd talked to him at the Dragonpit and then he'd come, all this way to Winterfell, to keep his oath, to submit himself to her command; that if she’ll have him, he’d follow her to battle.

And he did. Just like he had kept his oath to Lady Catelyn, he had kept his oath to her. He is a man of his word. Even if he doesn't so much as believe it himself.

They fought the dead together, they fought Death together. Side by side, saving each other countless times. And against all odds, they had won. And Brienne knows in her heart that because of Jaime, she had also survived. She remembers how it had felt, fighting back to back with him, in tandem. Like a dance of sorts, with death on the edge. Her trust and respect for him had grown tenfold in this battle alone. As had her love, but Brienne chooses to not disclose that to him.

“Thank you, Ser Brienne” Jaime croaks, breaking the silence and it’s only now that Brienne realizes how close their faces actually are.

“I’m no Maester, Ser Jaime but knowing how to clean your wounds is any layman’s basic knowledge”

“Yes, not just this but for ...everything, for vouching for me, for saving my life a millionth time,” Jaime gulps again, a little nervous “...and would you stop calling me Ser all the time? Aren't we more to each other than just these courtly formalities, Brienne? Jaime’s fine.”

Brienne nods once before putting the rag away and spreading the antiseptic on the big gash on Jaime’s forehead, her fingers cool against his skin. Jaime winces from the bite of the antiseptic and there’s a twitch of a smile on the corner of Brienne’s lips again.

“What?” Jaime’s confusion turns to a smile, and her smile gets wider in response, “What’re you laughing at?”

“You.” she tells him, honestly.

“Me?” Jaime asks. He looks so silly, so young when he's smiling like that.

“Yes, you. You survived the battle against the dead, Jaime." She glances to meet his eyes and Jaime's certain there is no way he can mask the unabashed longing that overtakes his face. His name uttered so naturally on her lips feel like a soothing balm and he is utterly helpless in the sea of her gaze. She continues, however, "You survived Death himself and yet a little antiseptic is all it takes…”

Brienne doesn’t need to finish the sentence. Jaime winces once again in response as she puts the bandage to close up the wound. Thankfully, he won’t be needing stitches. It’s good because stitches get messy and she’s not good at needlework at all.

“I should be thanking you, Ser Jaime” she utters formally again, “for having my back in the field, for holding our ground. I truly don’t think I would be alive here without you.”

“Nor I without you” Jaime replies just as eagerly, searching her face for something. And as he finds it his voice is low but tinged with fear, “You know what my absolute nightmare was? When we were falling back in that ice, that storm?” His index finger lingers near her face before he allows himself to touch her cheek anyway. She is soft and warm. And alive

Brienne leans into his touch and Jaime suppresses a smile, wary that if she realizes what she had done she might pull away. She tilts her head into his hand in response, gesturing her interest in the story. Jaime continues.

“That if you died…" Jaime seems to choke on the last word, "and became one of those things... that I’d have to kill you.”

“Then you’d kill me.” Brienne says matter-of-factly and it bothers Jaime more than he’d like to admit.

“Of course not! I couldn't kill you!” Jaime looks positively horrified at the thought, “because if you turned into a wight, Brienne. I…” Jaime isn’t sure how to say this, “…I don’t think I could ever hurt you.”

A warm feeling pools in Brienne’s heart, some semblance of a hope, an eager desire that contradicts her basic instinct to say, that's absurd. But she bites her tongue on that response.

“…Why?” she asks instead, her voice is smaller and her heart unwittingly picks up pace. She’s ...nervous? Almost afraid to look Jaime in the eye but afraid to look away all the same.

“because I–” Jaime feels exasperated, anxious, afraid everything all at once; his eyes are locked on hers, hoping that they’ll convey what he feels he’s too much of a coward to put in words. He had cowered just like this when she had asked him why did you come to Winterfell? And he had almost told her the truth back then too.

Because you're an honourable woman, a true knight. Because you saved my life when I wanted to die. Because I dreamt of you. Because I will follow you to the jaws of death and fight the Stranger to bring you back to life. Because you're impossible and stubborn and kind. Because I rode south in the hope that I shall be reunited with you again, without the battles of men separating us. Because you make me want to keep my vows and restore my wretched honour. Because you look at me with those ridiculous blue eyes and I am lost, I am found. Because you truly see me for what I am and still care for me. Because you make me want to earn your respect. Because you are the truest goddamn knight in the seven kingdoms and I wanted to die fighting beside you. Because, because, because--

Because I  love you.

Jaime chokes on all that is unsaid. “Because you’re a much, much better fighter than me, Ser Brienne. You’d take me down in one fell-swoop” he says, swallowing what he initially intended to say. I am an old oaf of a Lannister cripple with shit for honour, he thinks, what would an honourable woman like her want to do with me?  No, I wouldn’t embarrass her.

And while something in her eyes lights up at his compliment, something in her beautiful eyes also dulls. Brienne looks away hastily, hiding herself from his gaze.

“Well, I better get going” she stands up hurriedly, her chair screeching loudly against the floor, breaking their comfortable shell of silence that suddenly feels deafening, “Lady Sansa might be in need of me. Should I help you to your room? The Great Hall?”

“I’m only injured m’lady Brienne, not indisposed” Jaime touches the bandages, appreciative of Brienne’s care and how well she’s bound them. Her touch is cathartic in ways Jaime can’t even begin to explain.

“And for what it’s worth Ser Jaime,” Brienne is looking at him in a peculiar way, “you may not be the swordfighter you once were, but you are at least twice the man you used to be, twice the man you give yourself credit for. I trust you with my life-"

"And I trust you with mine” Jaime interjects, almost admitting the words that tangled the tip of his tongue.

“I am glad to have fought beside you, Jaime. For you. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”

She gives him a curt nod with a soft smile on her face as if to indicate that she was proud of him. It made Jaime’s heart swell in his chest and the threat of tears in his eyes makes his vision blurry around the edges. It feels different to be appreciated the way she appreciates him, after years of being called a man with shit for honour, the simple act of being trusted, and by someone like Brienne nonetheless, it makes his throat heavy with sentiments he can’t seem to swallow.

Brienne had barely crossed the threshold when Jaime softly breathes into the air the sentence he hadn’t been brave enough to say in front of her, to her face. His chest constricts and then he lets go.

“because I'm in love with you Brienne.” the words leave his mouth just as Brienne is crossing the door, and Jaime almost thinks that Brienne stopped in her tracks. But then he blinks and he is confident he only imagined the pause in her step.

Brienne walks on, eyes wide with shock and her heartbeat drumming in her ears, pretending that she had only just imagined Ser Jaime Lannister admitting that he may be in love with her.

Chapter Text

The raven that arrived from South late that afternoon lay on the table in front of where he stands. Sansa Stark stares at him from across the wooden furniture, cold and unmoving as she assesses him, a man missing a swordhand and his honour long before that. A man who’d lost the same hand with which he’d killed her father’s men. When she speaks, her voice is unforgiving.

“You know what this is, yes Ser Jaime?”

He glances at the parchment then, even though he’s already guessed. “I assume it’s news from the South.”

She nods stiffly but continues, a vengeful glee in her eyes.

“Cersei has been captured and put on trial.” She tells him, still staring at him closely, examining every emotion that crosses his face and cherishing it, cherishing what it means . He knows she has every right to enjoy every inch of misery that befalls his family, he wouldn’t grudge her that. But then Sansa continues, “She asked for trial by combat and would you know? She asked the Kingslayer for her champion.”

His sister. His twin. His lover. The mother of his children. Soon to be dead and she has named Jaime her champion?

Jaime? The poor excuse of a knight who was short a sword hand? Her brother, her twin, her lover. Complicit in all her crimes from childhood.

Who else would she name? 

The rest are all dead now, their pride of lions. His mother was long gone by the time his father joined her. Then his children. And now his thrice-damned sister will die upon that thrice-damned throne. All of the Lannisters and their wretched ambitions upon the crown, dead for the iron throne they had bought with a river of blood that that had ultimately drowned them as well.

He had to know this was coming. He had the same blood on his hands as they did.

“Lady Stark,” he croaks, still partly disbelieving, “Surely, you’re mistaken. I am short a sword hand. The Mountain would do for her what I can’t.”

A sly smile breaks on Sansa’s face, dangerous and daring. “The Mountain is dead, Ser Jaime,” she tells him, “Sandor Clegane dealt the killing blow.”

“Good.” he breathes before he can catch himself, relieved and horrified in equal measure. The Mountain had always been a monstrosity, but after whatever Qyburn did to him, he became an abomination altogether. Not that Gregor Clegane had much of a heart to begin with, but Jaime highly doubted that one still beat under that shiny Queensguard armour. But now with the Mountain gone, his sister is truly alone. Alone in the world and she’ll die that way. If he doesn’t join her. 

So that’s why she’s called for me , Jaime swallows as the sinking feeling settles in his bones, We came into the world together, and we’ll leave it together as well. 

Sansa quirks an eyebrow at him. “This came for you.” She draws a much smaller piece of parchment from her sleeve. The seal is broken and Jaime can already see a familiar handwriting and the recognition twists his heart.

Jaime reaches for the parchment, unsuccessfully trying to hide the tremor in his hand. He isn’t afraid of death, no. He is afraid of love. And what his love for his sister is capable of driving him into doing. He reads the note. It is tiny but it feels nothing short of a noose around his neck.

“Come at once. Help me. Save me.
I need you like I have never needed you before.
I love you. I love you. I love you.”

There was a time once when he would have sunk all ships into the Narrow Sea and razed all armies to the ground just to reach her who was at the end of this note. The promise of her love, body and soul was enough to entice him into a madness.

Yet now, he feels hollowed out, his resolve caving in on himself. Jaime draws a shaky breath, running his thumb across the dry ink, her swift hand that traced the words on the paper. His sister. His lover. The mother of his thrice-damned children. His twin, all alone in this wretched world that hadn't been kind to her and had suffered her scorn in turn. He still feels the pang to rush to her side, to protect her from every evil in the world… but how could he ever save her from herself? That sickness that grew inside her until it consumed her whole? He realizes suddenly, a little too late, that there wasn’t a child, that there never had been one at all. Cersei had lied to him and like a fool he had believed her. Again.

And all for what? That uncomfortable ugly throne? For power? Her insatiable hunger had cost her the lives of their children and then to both of their surprise, Jaime's own loyalty as well. All she now had was her wretched crown. They were going to strip her of that soon and cleave her head with it for good measure. 

His dying sister. And her dying wish. How could he not go to her rescue?

Until he gets to her, will she make her home in the black cells as dark as her soul? It does not befit the likes of her. She’s too delicate, too proud to go willingly. Which begs the question, “how did they capture her?”

My sister has her ways,” Sansa’s otherwise neutral voice is tinged with pride, “I’m surprised Arya didn’t slit her throat.” 

“So am I.” Jaime finds himself agreeing, “Where are they keeping her?”

“Do you wish to go, Ser Jaime?”

“Are you going to stop me, Lady Stark?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Sansa says without missing a beat, “Nothing personal, Ser Jaime, but I would rather two Lannisters die instead of one.”

He understands. He has committed enough sins against the Starks to deserve the hate on Sansa's face and more. Wordlessly, Jaime gives a curt nod, his lips drawn thin. Sansa’s face softens just a patch. There is a short pause before she speaks again.

“Ser Brienne seems to think highly of you.” Sansa’s voice is as impassive as ever, but there’s no mistaking that tone of her voice. At the mention of her name, Jaime feels a wretchedness overcome his self, he is so tired of these broken oaths, of lies and hatred he’s helped his family spread, of the blood on his hands that water from no sea nor waterfall could ever wash away. His shoulders feel too heavy and Jaime’s head hangs in despair. He could never be worthy of her. His sins would bleed through the cloak he's dreamt of putting on her shoulders and sully her good honour with him.

He deserves to die with his sister. So die he will.

When he looks up, Sansa is staring at him still, her steely eyes shrouded in silent assessment.

“Take your time.” she offers him, not unkindly, “have an answer by the morn on the morrow. I’ll send out the raven then.”

When he leaves Sansa Stark’s solar, Cersei’s note is still clutched tight in his fingers.

 


 

Unlike the first night of the celebration at Winterfell, two moons ago when the wine in his veins made him brave enough to make the journey all the way from the Great Hall to her chamber door, yet not brave enough to knock, he finds himself in a similar yet slightly different situation. His fist is raised, waiting to rapt against the wood, yet there is no wine in his blood or breath. Only the heaviness he carries in his heart.

The least he can do is tell her what he plans to do. 

Swallowing once, Jaime gives the door two quiet knocks. He is nervous, and his heart beats so loud against his ribcage that he feels like it could wake the dead in the crypts if there were any left. He almost leans into the door but then she opens it barely a few seconds later and as her impossibly blue eyes meet his, his heart picks up an erratic pace that he is sure would see him to the grave tonight itself.

“Ser Jaime?” Her pale eyebrows are furrowed, confusion quickly morphing into worry as she takes him in, “...are you well?”

She is in her sleep-clothes, preparing for bed. She had shed her winter layers and stood to welcome him only in a thin shift that clung to her skin and breeches. She is sheltered from the cold only in her heavy wool cloak, worn in haste. Her hair is mussed and slightly damp, probably form a hot bath and Jaime is suddenly reminded of Harrenhal where he had first glanced upon her naked form and felt a stir without even realizing what it meant. It all feels a lifetime ago now. Had he come to her that night of the feast, had he knocked and kissed her with all his intention… would she be his now? Would they be in her bed, making sweet promises to each other instead of what Jaime had come to inflict on her? Would she have loved him back? When half of himself was shackled to another from birth? Would she have been satisfied with half a man with twice the shame? 

In another life, if he hadn’t been so wretched, so rotten... she could have been his. She could have loved him, maybe. He could’ve loved her, showed her all the ways he could love her, on their bed, against the wall, definitely in a hot bath… They could have had so many children by now, their babes safe from the angry clutches of war, safe and content on their little island. He could’ve shed the bloody Lannister name and taken shelter in hers, become a Tarth.

The dream of it is so vivid and so impossible that it knocks him speechless. He tries to speak and realizes that he had been staring at her too long like an open-mouthed fool.

“My apologies for waking you, Ser Brienne” Calling her by that title makes him swell with pride —no one deserves it more than her. Any knight worth half his name should've knighted her. He doesn't know what took him so long, but Jaime is only grateful he had the luck to be the one to give her the honour that was by all right, hers— he makes his voice sound stronger than he feels, and he continues. “I came by to say farewell.”

Brienne's eyes widen in surprise, "...farewell?" she mouths as a flash of hurt crosses her face and then, too quickly, she looks away. He could fool himself that her eyes were shining with unshed tears —wench would you weep for me? when I'm gone? he wonders wistfully. He wasn't half worthy of her tears but to think she would feel his absence, it warms and twists his heart at the same time — but then she breaks his gaze and stares at an unspecified point on the door latch instead and Jaime doesn't know what to think. She worries her bottom lip to hide the trembling, mulling over what to say. Jaime’s eyes don’t leave her face. He feels a moment of wanton longing and a modicum of joy. She cares for me; the wench will miss me, he thinks and takes small satisfaction in that.

But then Brienne releases her lower lip and takes a steadying breath and says, “Oh.” and nothing else so he waits, waits for her to say more, but the silence lies heavy with all that’s unsaid  and it makes disbelief flood Jaime’s veins. He is suddenly furious.

Oh? Is that all you have to say?” He steps forward, storming past the threshold and into the room, his voice slipping into his usual bite, “come now wench, don’t I at least deserve a goodbye kiss?”

Fury and hurt boils in her eyes. “Is that what you came here for, Ser?" the way she spits the last word, like he doesn’t know that he’s unworthy of his knighthood, like he’s a fool for trying to restore basic decency within himself, for his honour was long lost now. Like even she didn’t believe in him and that was the loss that carved deep into his chest and lodged itself in his throat.

So what if I did come here for that?  he wants to lash out, but the words die on his lips for she's staring at him strangely now.

Maybe all of his misery was etched plainly on his face for she seemed to regret it instantly. Will anyone ever know him as thoroughly as she does? Read him like the open book that he wants to be? No more secrets, no more lies?

“Forgive me, Ser Jaime. That was unkind.” she says as she shuts the door behind her and locks the outside world away. Its just him and her in the chamber and for the love of old gods and new, he wishes they weren’t fighting.

He flops down on one of the chairs as she takes the other. She wraps her cloak closer around her, refusing to so much as look as him as she mumbles, “I thought you’d be on your way South by now. We all did.”

We? Are you placing bets on me, Brienne? Who’s we? ” he asks, even though a part of him wanted to scream, did you really think so little of me? I came here to die with you. I made that choice, I chose you.

“Tyrion, Sansa… Pod.” Brienne shrugs. She still wouldn't look at him, and Jaime can't look at her either. A wretched shame burdens his shoulder. He wants to make promises to the woman beside him, promises he would gladly keep if it weren't for the shadow of his sister who beckons him to come fulfill his other vow, one made a long time ago before he even knew the cost of vows, before he even saw who she was. When he refused to see her for what she was.

"I cannot go South." He twirls a stray thread that had come undone from the cuff of his doublet, “we parted on bad terms, Cersei and I. She threatened to kill me and I still left. I’m banished from her kingdom.”

“But you’re going back now? ” Brienne asks softly, a tremor in her voice as she tries to hide something she dare not speak of.

“She sent for me” he shrugs like that’s the only answer there is. He produces the piece of parchment from his pocket and hands it over to Brienne. While she reads it, Jaime stares into the fire instead, like a red priest desperate for direction, “They’re putting her on trial and she wants me to be her champion.”

The gasp that falls from Brienne’s mouth is sudden, and more out of genuine fear than anything else, “Her champion? Jaime, this is madness!”

“Is it?” The natural instinct to defend Cersei is a habit he fears he will never unlearn.

When she leans forward and touches his arm, his ruined arm, his useless arm which ends in stump, the warmth from her fingertips seeps through his doublet and into his very bones. When he looks up her, those concerned blue eyes are enormous and full of— Cersei never looked at me that way, he thinks before he can help himself.

“Jaime,” she says, not unkindly, ”You are a good swordsman, but,” she looks like she has difficulty getting the next words out, “...you cannot possibly hope to survive this, Jaime.” He had survived men and wars, dragons and wights but she is right. All of these monstrosities pale next to Cersei. She will take him with her one way or another. He cannot hope to survive Cersei.

“I don’t .” He states defiantly, his pride deflating the instant the words are out of his mouth, his voice raw and fraying at the edges.

Her eyes widen in horror and she gives a little shake of her head, her mouth working words that go unsaid. She knows how determined Jaime is and how strong his love is. How much he means it. And Brienne doesn’t know what she could say to stop him from riding to his death, if he could even be stopped at all.

"She just wants me to go South for her." Jaime’s lips tighten into a line. He has no illusions on Cersei's part. Champion or no, she would have his companionship in death. "so that we may exit the world as we came into it. Together."

Brienne doesn't say anything for a long time, mulling it over, glancing at him ever so often and then quickly looking away. Jaime’s devotion to his sister is unparalleled. He had ridden north to fight the dead, against her wishes but it must a lovers' spat at best. One cannot simply undo years of devotion, Jaime was living proof of that. And soon to be dead, a voice whispers at the back of her head and the panic that grips her at that thought is staggering. Would he succumb to her yet again?

He had whispered something in the dark of the maester's room that Brienne tried more than once to banish from her thoughts. Because I'm in love with you Brienne, he had said but it sounds impossible. He hadn't meant it for her ears. Perhaps he hadn't meant it at all. Brienne had waited for any signs of confirmation after that night of the battle but he was the same. Close yet far, nearer yet so much more distant. Perhaps he'd said that in the heat of the moment, the rush of battle still hot in his blood, she tried to pacify herself many a night when she found herself reflecting back on it, Perhaps it was gratitude. Perhaps he hadn't said it at all and she'd imagined it.

Maybe it was her blood all hot from battle, from sleeplessness and exhaustion that implored her imagination to run amok. Because how could he? How could he feel anything akin to love for Brienne after having been with Cersei, the most beautiful woman in the seven kingdoms? She was nothing like Cersei. Not in personality and certainly not in beauty. She clutched to that reason whenever her eyes wandered to him and her mind with it. He wouldn't say something so preposterous to her, wouldn't mock her in such a twisted way. Because I'm in love with you Brienne, she hears it so clear in her head sometimes like he had whispered it in her ear. And what a fantasy that would be! A silly maiden's fantasy. She needed to lock it away and never look back. But that faint whisper of his voice haunts her sleep and she wants to wash it away, unhear it altogether. She swore to herself she wouldn't wait. She wouldn't hope. But then he looks at her like he's looking at her now, with those eyes like... like...

Jaime watches as a thousand thoughts flash across her face before she speaks. Again, only a single word.

“Why?” she asks, almost bewildered.

“Why? Because she is my sister! The mother of my dead children, my twin and I loved her!” Jaime’s voice shakes and Brienne’s grip on his arm is stronger, almost like she's lending him her strength. Guilt and heartache close around his throat like a hungry noose and he chokes out, “I love her still. Not the way I used to, but she is still my family. I cannot abandon her to a fate that befits the both of us. I enabled her madness, I am just as much a sinner as she, Brienne. If she must die, so must I. It’s only fair.”

Upon an instant, Brienne is kneeling in front of him, imploring him to look her in the eyes as he makes a confession of his sins. But her hold on his arm is gentle, like the time she had nursed the wounds on his forehead on the night of the battle, when she held his face in her hands. He longs for her touch, longs to melt into it even if it’s the last she’ll ever touch him. She doesn’t know. If she knew all the ugly things he’s done, she wouldn’t touch him. She wouldn't be looking at him like this.

“I have done violent things, unspeakable things where killing a king is the least of them.” Jaime’s voice grows fiercer and his eyes more lost with every word he utters, “I bashed a guard’s head in just to get back to Cersei. I would have killed Arya Stark if I had found her in the Riverlands, just because Cersei asked me to. I threatened to trebuchet a baby over the walls of Riverrun. I threw Brandon Stark, an unarmed child out of a tower, Brienne. I intended murder.”

The words grow heavier and heavier in his throat until he can't swallow anymore so he has to gasp for breath. Only then, does he looks upon her face, truly helpless, “Why should I be spared? Cersei’s sins may be her own but mine are no better.” He clutches her forearm urgently, trying to convince her, “I want to save the sister I loved, but now I look upon the woman she’s become, the Queen who blew up the Sept with wildfyre, the Queen whose youngest son killed himself because of what she did… I cannot recognise her anymore. I look upon the man I’ve become and I can not recognize myself anymore either. I always wanted to be Arthur Dayne ...when did I become the Smiling Knight instead?”

Hot, wet tears spring from his eyes and he wants to look away, to hide but Brienne lets him bury his face in her neck just as an onslaught of the grief floods his lungs. She is stiff at the sudden contact, but as the silent sobs shake his chest, she softens and holds him as he weeps in silence. The long column of her neck is fragrant, a lingering sweetness that makes his mouth water. It's with extreme restraint that he keeps himself from letting his lips brush against her in this moment of vulnerability. If he tastes her, he might break, he might never be able to leave. Her warmth is intoxicating and true. Jaime involuntarily tightens his arms around her waist and pulls her closer to him. She is like a safe harbour during a maelstorm, a distant beacon of light that is giving him hope that he can find a way ashore, that he can be safe, if only he can swim against the current and stay afloat. Jaime gravitates towards her like it’s the only light he’ll ever know.

“You’re not a bad man, Jaime.” She reminds him, her voice falters only a breath before it's strong and sure and calming. After a slight bit of hesitation, she strokes a comforting hand through his hair and he melts into her arms. He never wants her to stop. “You are not just the mistakes you've made. You are more.” 

She pulls back, cradling his jaw in her hands with care, all pretense of decency forgotten. Her palms, coarse with swordplay, are tender where they touch his face. She holds him like he has never been held before, and Jaime has to actively fight the impulse to lean it and steal a kiss, to hold her in the way he's wanted for so long.

“You saved all of King’s Landing from being blown up by wildfyre and you paid it’s price with your reputation. You saved me from Bolton’s men and lost your hand for it.  You put me in the finest suit of armour and armed me with a priceless Valyrian sword so that I may keep our oath to Catelyn Stark. So I could return her daughter Sansa safely to Winterfell for the both of us. We kept that oath. You jumped into a bearpit for me, Jaime, without so much as a tourney sword. You saved me.” her thumbs are rubbing soothing lines on his face and her large, honest blue eyes could almost convince him that he is the man she believes him to be.

He is undeserving of that look in her eyes. 

She doesn’t stop when his arms go limp around her in shame, “You made a promise to fight for the living, and you kept that promise.” she continues, “You protected the Seven Kingdoms with your sword, with your life. You are a true knight.” Her eyes are so intense with conviction and her faith in him is so overwhelming that he has to look away. “Everyone has made mistakes, Ser. Its more about what we take away from it. The way you look back on your deeds now …” she drops her hand then, suddenly realizing for the first time how close they were sitting together, but she does not move away.

She stares at a fixed point behind his shoulder and Jaime notes her reddening cheeks with an increasing adoration that he has come to associate with her and her alone. Only, it looks even more endearing in the fire-light. He wants to tell her, do you know you are the one who saved me instead? When I was dying with my sword hand rotting around my neck, you willed me to live. You wench, you made me believe in honour, in knights, in the stories of my boyhood again. That I could be a better knight if I tried. You saved me again and again and again, in ways you don't even know.

But they had saved each other a million times now. After the battle with the Long Night, it feels foolish to keep count.

Her eyes meet his and he can slowly feel the world fall away, her calming voice his only tether to the ground beneath his feet, “...but do you think she looks back on her actions the way you do?”

Jaime doesn’t have to think. He already knows. “No,” he answers honestly, “Cersei has always been surer of herself, to a point where it has blinded her altogether. The girl I used to love...” he gives his head a small shake, "I'm not sure she ever existed in the first place."

“She’s your sister, ” Brienne tells him, gently untangling herself from him now that he’s no longer a weeping mess and he immediately misses her warmth, “I won’t pretend to understand your relationship with her but you love her, that much I understand. But you are different people, Jaime. You made your choice, she made hers. If you go to King’s Landing, Jaime... is loving her really worth dying over?”

He wants to tell her 'it is' but the voice in his head that whispers it is not his own. It's Cersei's. And it is the truth. Loving her was worth dying for. Once. When he was blinded by his love for her, when he was the knight and she was his queen, his wife in everything but name. It was before he knew how unfaithful she had been to him, before the atrocities she commited came to demand their golden price. Before she came into her own and brought with her the very catastrophe that Jaime had defied his vows and killed a King to avert. Loving her had been worth dying for once. A long time ago. When he was still a golden fool eager to return to his golden twin. When he still had his swordhand, the very hand that had clutched at her ankle as he followed her into the light of the world. But that hand was gone, as is the man he used to be. Is loving her worth following her out of this world as well? A long time ago, he would've said yes without a second thought. Now, he isn't so sure anymore.

“It’s what she wants,” Jaime says, helplessly, shoulders slouching in defeat, “What she always told me: We were born together, we shall die together too. It’s what she’s always wanted.”

His sister, who had wanted power. Who has always told him that he belonged to her. The sister he had been in love with for all his life. The same sister who burned everyone alive in the Sept Of Baelor with wildfyre as green as the hate in her eyes. His sister who so carelessly undid the one good deed he'd done in his life. Bleak hopelessness settled deep under his skin and spread everywhere. All the lives that he had bought with the price of his honour, all those curses and whispers of 'Kingslayer' he had endured, telling himself that there was no other way to save the people of King's Landing. It had all been for nothing.

I didn't stopped Aerys' massacre, he realized, I'd only delayed it until Cersei crowned herself Queen. And then she sat on her iron throne, a powerful Queen at last, guilty of crimes he had slain a Mad King to prevent. He couldn't kill her but he should have left her then. Gods, he was tired of sheltering her from the consequences of her choices. Lions have their pride, his father used to say, we protect our own. But Tywin Lannister was gone now, cold and buried and gone. A loyal lion maybe he was, but Jaime didn't want the ghosts of his long-dead pride pulling him down into the ground with them. He wants to be able to choose, to make a choice unshackled by the weights of his family's sins, untethered from the fraying love he holds for his sister, unbound from these chains that selfishly demand his sacrifice.

How could he ever go back?

Lost in his own thoughts, Jaime did not expect Brienne to hook two fingers under his chin and pull his gaze up to hers, but she does it anyway. It sets the sweetest wildfyre aflame in his bloodstream and leaves him entirely speechless for what he can assume is only too long .

“And what do you want, Jaime?” she asks the impossible question and he almost tells her the impossible truth, I want you.

No gold no castle no kings or queens, no more of the wars of men that pits us on opposite sides, he thinks, just you.  

What he ends up saying instead is the other truth, “I want to be free.”

She smiles, ever so sweetly that Jaime wonders how he could have ever thought her ugly. The firelight glows a soft amber against her skin as her freckles stand out even more and he has to suppress the extremely strong urge to count them all, with his fingers or his lips, preferably both . Her hair is a pale halo around her head, giving her this divine appearance worthy of her and only her. There’s a comforting kindness in her eyes as she hands him back Cersei’s letter, folding it into his palm and closing his fingers around it with her own.

“Then be free” she tells him like its so easy and he sees it again; the meadows of Tarth, the tower of Evenfall Hall, several big blond children who all have her eyes. Jaime wearing her cloak, her colours. Growing old and grey beside waters the colour of sapphires, as blue as her eyes but only half as pretty. It’s vivid and tempting and it makes him feel a pang of guilt for not wanting the same thing as his sister. For denying her this one thing in her death—his life.

He doesn’t want to die with Cersei. He doesn’t want to die at all.

He wants to live.

Jaime takes a deep breath, a long one, for he now knows what he has to do. He rises to his feet and pulls Brienne into an awkward hug. She grows stiff and her face is again that delicious red; he can’t help wondering how deep that trail of blush disappears down her neck. He doesn’t ask. Perhaps there will be a better time.

“I’m sorry for,” his face grows hot as he tries to apologize into her hair, “the weeping and uh, the moping.” Her nervously shifts his weight from one foot to another, “it’s unbecoming of men to—”

But she interrupts him, “Oh to hell with what’s unbecoming and what is not.” Her breath tickles the nape of his neck and Jaime suppresses a shiver, "If I let unbecoming things stop me I wouldn't have a sword or a knighthood, I wouldn't be here.” With you, she doesn't say it but he hears it all the same. He can even feel her smile in their embrace. The thought of giving this up, giving her up is suddenly unbearable.

“Oh." is his only response, stunned as he is. Cersei had seen him weep once as a boy and called him less of a man. Its a woman's weapon Jaime, she had said, stop weeping you look like a fool. He hasn’t wept in front of her since. But of course, it’s only fitting that the woman who sees all his vulnerabilities and still chooses to stand by him is the woman who has seen his weep like a child, who has seen him despair and give up and almost die in his own shit, the woman who hasn’t lost faith in him still when he could find none for himself. The woman who takes up her sword with him, who shares his fight as she shares the other half of his sword.

When she reluctantly pulls away from the hug, her hand lingers a moment too long on his arm, her eyes imploring something she looks almost scared to voice. Jaime sees the struggle in her gaze, the request she does not make, but wishes she could. That she wants to. He wants to be worthy of that want first. 

If he hadn’t been sure before, he is sure now. 

His chamber would’ve been colder when he returned, if he hadn’t left the fire burning. He walks up to the fireplace, settling in it’s hearth.

Jaime lets his thumb brush over her words again, let's the weight of it settle on his fingertips before he lowers his hand and lets the note drop into the flames. "I'm sorry, sister", he says, "I have to let you go now." He watches as the parchment is eaten up by the fire, slowly and wilfully until there is nothing left to watch and even then, he watches some more. 

The next morning he walks to Sansa’s solar, his feet heavy with the weight of his decision yet somehow also lighter all the same time.

“Shall I send for the horses to be prepared, Ser Jaime?” she asks without looking up from her paperwork.

“No.” his reply is short and sure and it makes Sansa Stark look up.

“No? What would you have me reply then?”

“Tell them I decline. Cersei shall face her sins, as I shall face my own. I can’t fight her battles for her, no matter how sweet she writes to me in her hour of need.” Sansa’s face grows fractionally less stoic as Jaime tells her, “Tell them I put her letter in the fire.”

As Jaime turns to leave, he could have sworn that there was a fleeting look of approval, a flicker of a smile at the corner of Lady Stark's lips as he closed the door to her solar behind him, but he wouldn't bet on it.

Later that morning, he watches from the alcove near the courtyard as Brienne trains some of the younger boys and girls with Pod. He watches for a long while as she takes them through the footwork, teaching them how to move. When he’d left her chamber last night, she wasn't aware she had unmade the decision he had walked in with. She probably expected him to be gone. He wonders if she will notice him now.

When she eventually does, she squints once in surprise and confusion until he waves to affirm that it is indeed him. He approaches her with his sword and she draws her own. And as they quickly settle into their sparring stance, their dance begins. She tilts her head slightly to the side as they are circling each other, an eyebrow raided as if to ask, shouldn’t you be on your way back to King’s Landing by now?

He shakes his head in reply, even goes as far as to say aloud, “I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Their blades kiss then and the smile she gives him is blinding.

 


 

“Pod! Pod!” Jaime shouts after the boy even if he is a man grown now. The boy pretends to not have heard him and scrambles to his feet and runs in the opposite direction, disappearing into the smithy.

“Oi Gendry! Where did Pod go?” Jaime asks the lad who is bent over making new arrowtips.

“dunno, wasn’t looking,” Gendry says absent-mindedly, still bent over his work. He draws a fresh arrow-tip and pulls it in front of Jaime’s face, “how’s this? I’m making these for Arya. I widened the end and the edge is so sharp it could—”

At that exact moment, Jaime catches sight of Pod's head as the boy is making his exit through a small corridor that leads back into the kitchens, just as he also spots Arya coming down the same way.

“Arya!” Jaime shouts, “restrain Pod!”

Upon hearing his voice, Pod tries to make a swift exit but Arya is swifter. Wordlessly, she has Podrick pinned face-first against the wall with a knife right under his chin in the mere breaths it takes Jaime to reach them.

"Ow ow ow" Pod groans as Arya cocks her eyebrow at Jaime.

After Arya returned to Winterfell, she'd sought him out of her own accord, inviting him to spar with her. Jaime was so sure she was going to kill him.

“Why didn’t you tell anybody?” she asked him as her blow barely whizzed past his nose.

“Didn’t tell anybody what?” He is already panting, cursing his old knees.

“About the wildfyre.” She aims another jab at his ribs but Jaime manages to block that by pulling out of her reach.

“I did tell you about the wildfyre!” He says between hard breaths, “that’s how she blew up the Sept of Baelor.”

“No, not Cersei.” Arya doesn’t miss this time. “Aerys.” The tip of her sword is against the soft flesh of his throat and he has no chance no choice. Jaime yields.

“You were in his Kingsguard. You definitely knew. Why didn’t you tell anyone about Aerys ?” Arya persists, the blade still against his throat.

The surprise of it knocks him back and he falls on the cold hard ground, staring up at her in suspicion, as stony grey eyes stared back at him. What did he have to lose anymore, anyway.

“Truly?” He asks and Arya’s usual cold gaze softens. She gives a curt nods. “I thought no one would believe me if I told the truth.”

"No one?" there’s a small smile in Arya’s eyes as if she's enjoying a private joke but then her voice is even and curious when she asks, “is that why you killed him? The wildfyre?”

“You’re a nosy one aren’t you?” Jaime huffs in fake-indignation before his tone changes to a serious one. Arya had asked, unlike her honourable father Ned Stark. He would dignify this Stark with the truth. 

“He had wildfyre stacked all over the city. When I begged him to surrender, he gave his pyromancers orders to light all the wildfyre instead. Burn them all , he kept saying. Burn them in their beds, burn them in their homes…” Jaime drops his gaze from Arya’s face as memories of the Starks burning in front of him rise anew in front of his eyes. He shakes it off and busies himself with getting the padded leather armour off his chest, “I killed the pyromancers first. Aerys was walking up the steps to the throne so I stabbed him in the back. He thought he would be reborn as a dragon in the same fire that he had burned your grandfather and uncle and countless other innocents. He was still laughing, cursing burn them all when I slit his throat for good measure."

He pauses for breath before continuing in a low voice, "I didn't know Cersei had stocked it all over the city, I thought she had merely used up Aerys' cache in blowing up Baelor."

Arya considers him for a good long while before giving a more affirming nod towards him, “Good enough.”

Jaime isn't sure what it means but he hopes it means the girl won't stab him in his sleep.

“How did you find out about Aerys and the wildfyre?” Jaime can’t help but ask, not when he’s so willingly provided the tale he has spared only with Brienne, and sparingly with Tyrion.

“Davos found them while trying to smuggle me and Sandor into the city. He recognized it in a heartbeat, said it took out Stannis’ army in the Blackwater Bay. Said it killed his own son as well. Varys confirmed and helped locate all the caches, told us there were more, told us Aerys had enough to blow up the city.” Arya face looks too haunted for a child so young, “then he conducted searches around the Red Keep. They were stacked in the underground cellars and some of the older civilians he questioned swore that they didn’t know what it was, just that it had been placed there under Aerys’ orders and then duly abandoned, until the Queen's men came again and restocked it. Sounds like a shit system to me.”

Arya tucks her blade back into her belt and she turns to go, but Jaime still has one more thing to ask, one that won’t let him rest until he knows. 

“Arya?” he flexes his hand, trying to make up his mind. They told him his sister had never made it to the executioner's block. But did he really want to know?

"Did you kill Cersei?” He had never asked this question before, he hadn’t dared.

Arya regards him carefully. “Hmm,” She mulls it over before replying, “one secret for another, that’s only fair.”

He waits as patiently as he dares.

“I found her in the throne room, on that ugly chair. She didn’t recognize me. I…” she struggles to explain it to him for a minute, “I looked like Qyburn to her. I killed that rat man and stole his face.” Rat man. Jaime suppresses the urge to smile, “she ordered me to get the pyromancers and burn the Red Keep down if Daenerys ever gets close to the city walls. She’ll be Queen Of The Ashes, Cersei laughed. I told Jon instead and Davos got to clearing the Red Keep as fast as he could. Davos suggested they dip their arrows in wildfyre and fire at Greyjoy’s ship. That slimy pirate went down like the horseshit he was when Asha showed up and relieved him of his head. Cersei realized she’s lost her allies and tried to order me as Qyburn, to take her somewhere safe, which was when Sandor attacked the Mountain. I escorted Cersei to safety and locked her in the pantry in the chaos.”

Jaime laughs humorlessly at that, “You locked her in the pantry? What killed her then? Wine and a block of cheese?”

"I didn't kill her like that." she hisses, although there is a gleam in her eyes.

"How did you kill her then?" the words felt heavy in his throat, like a betrayal still. He had left his sister to die. He wished he didn't feel so guilty about it.

Arya raises her chin as she says, "I offered her a choice"

"A choice?"

"Yes," She nods, "when we got Sansa's raven that you weren't coming, she did not take it well. I wanted to slit her throat just to make her stop talking but Jon wouldn't let me."

Jaime sends a silent prayer of thanks to Jon Snow.

"She was very upset with you, calling you a traitor and saying all sorts of awful things about Brienne too, but she was already gone mad by the time I offered to end her misery."

"So you slit her throat?"

"I will slit yours if you don't stop interrupting me."

Arya glares at him until he holds his hands up in mock-surrender.

"I went to her prison cell. And offered her a choice." Arya continues, "death by blade on the morrow or death by poison in the dark."

"I see." Jaime murmurs.

"She made her choice and I slipped her the vial. It was painless. I slit her throat after she was dead."

He knew Arya had wanted her revenge on Cersei, she had made no secret of her intentions to give Cersei a bloody, painful death.

"What changed your mind?"

Arya regards him carefully before answering, "I was tired of letting vengeance consume me."

Her whole childhood had been stolen from her by the hateful actions of his family. This girl owed Cersei pain and blood for the death of her father alone, and to think of the rest of the atrocities the Lannisters had committed... Jaime shudders. He is glad, however, that unlike all the bloodshed Cersei had caused, his sister's passing had been at least, bloodless and easy.

"Thank you" Jaime murmurs and Arya's gaze snaps back up to meet his.

"I didn't do it for you." she says, fiercely, "I wanted to make it painful for her.

"Why didn't you?"

"Sandor dissuaded me." She grumbles like a sullen child, and Jaime finds small delight that she's coming back into her youth now that the worst was over.

"And where is he now?" Jaime says, realizing that the Hound hadn't returned with the rest to Winterfell.

"Gone. To the Quiet Isle. He didn't want any part in any of this anymore."

"Wise choice." Jaime remarks and Arya gives him another curt nod before disappearing from the training yard altogether.

Presently, she holds Pod at the foot of the stairs. Jaime and her had come to sparring more and more as she coached him through the Braavosi style of fighting. Jaime wouldn't say they were friends, but they did regard each other with a modicum with respect. There's a truce that comes with slaying monarchs who have a penchant for arson. An unspoken solidarity. She was the only other person besides Brienne who knew the truth of Aerys. He was the only person she had told the truth of Cersei's death to. The rest of the realm believed the Queen had been murdered in her prison cell and it was hardly unbelievable— Cersei she had no shortage of enemies.

"Why were you running?" He asks Pod as soon as he catches up with them.

"I wasn't running, ser!" Pod denies and Arya lets go of her grip but holds him in place nevertheless.

"I saw you running why you lying for?" she hisses at him. She has been acting less like the cold Stranger and more like a girl of her age lately and Jaime suspects the Baratheon in the smithy might have something to do with it. He finds himself feeling a sort of paternal happiness for her.

Jaime ignores Arya and asks instead, "Why is Brienne angry with me?" 

Pod's eyes go wide as saucers. "She isn't angry with you, Ser. I swear. She is just upset."

"With me?"

"Her life doesn't revolve around you, Lannister" Arya snorts, letting go of Pod altogether and leaning back against the wall to watch them instead.

"Is she? Upset with me? " Jaime asks again.

"Nay, ser." Pod says and Jaime breathes a sigh of relief.

"Then what is she upset about?"

Brienne had been preoccupied all morning, even when they were sparring, so much that she had not even noted the tons of sly remarks he'd made specifically to make her blush. She was scowling all through the morning and when Jaime tried to talk to her about it, she had made swift work of it until he was flat on the ground. By the time he sat up, she had disappeared into the castle in quick long strides.

"She…" Pod hesitates, before attempting to lie, a skill which he was about as good at as the knight he squired for, "I uh, I don't know ser."

"Just tell us, Pod," Arya coaxes, "I promise we can keep a secret." and she gives Jaime a sly glance, a childish glee that makes her look her age and again, it makes Jaime's heart swell. He's beginning to understand why the Hound acted so protective of her. He must've felt that paternal instinct as well. 

Pod glances between the two of them warily and attempts a second escape that Jaime intercepts immediately.

"Fine!" he huffs, blushing angry and red and it's times like these that Jaime realizes how much Pod resembles Brienne, so much that if it weren't for his dark hair and dark eyes, he could pass for Brienne’s own son. The fact that the boy dotes on her as if she were his own mother is proof enough. Jaime feels a twinge of pride at being the one who gave her Pod. It was one of the few things he had done right.

“You want to know why she’s upset?” Pod smoothes his jerkin where Arya had crinkled it and he frowns at the pair of them, “She got a raven from her father this morning.”

Jaime feels panic surge in his chest, “Is her father not well?”

“He is quite alright Ser. That’s not the problem.” Pod frowns before glancing nervously at Jaime, “he has sent Ser Brienne uh… another betrothal.”

Jaime’s stomach sinks to the floor. No no no, I thought I’d have more time. He wanted to be sure she returned his affections before he proposed anything to her, he didn't want to presume and then lose her favour and her friendship. He wanted to take it slow, through compliments that she knows better now than to think of as jests, through meals he shared with only her, through the sparring they'd get into where he sometimes manages to make her yield, however reluctantly (he's gotten considerably better since Arya has taught him some dirty tricks that Brienne frowns at), through seeking her out when he misses her, through rides shared when the castle walls are too stuffy and they long to stretch their legs. Now that winter was receding, green was starting to grow on the ground again, something that had felt impossible in the cold of the winter not so many moons ago. In this promising sunshine, Jaime dares to dream. He dares to shows his devotion to her through everything but words, dares to touch her more often and more meaningfully. And she smiles at him, smiles more, shares private jokes and laughs at some of his and scowls at more of them. She was more at ease around him and he hopes, hoped that one of these days he might—

But Brienne hadn’t told him of any of these betrothals. Why didn't she tell me? I thought— He can hear his pulse drumming in his ears and his whole world seems to shift around him, tilt from axis as only panic and fear take up residence in his heart. Brienne, his Brienne, the woman he loves. Was getting betrothed. Yet again to someone else, someone that wasn’t him. He felt a flash of reminiscence, of having to watch from the distance as the woman he loves marries some other man and wakes up in a stranger’s bed. Brienne with her legs wrapped around someone else, sighs of pleasure that Jaime will never hear ...or Brienne lying stiff on her marriage bed, suffering and choking back tears. 

Both these thoughts are atrocious and make him blanch.

“Another?” he croaks out, his voice hoarse with despair, “How many have there been?”

Pod’s face is a mask of pity, “Three ravens her father has sent her,” Pod’s voice morphs into anger directed straight at him, “and three ravens she has sent back, rejecting them all. She got the fourth one today.”

Jaime is awash with cold relief at that news. She has rejected them all, perhaps there is hope for him yet. If he doesn’t act soon, who knows which man will come along and ask for her hand, who knows when she is too tired of rejecting, will she take on a husband to appease her father… who knows maybe she’ll even fall in love with this other man, have his children and build a life that takes her away from Jaime. Forever.

And Jaime will be the fool who watches and yearns from the side as she gives herself to a lesser man. 

It won’t do, it just won’t do.

“Looks like you better act fast, lover boy” Arya remarks before she rolls her eyes and strolls towards Gendry.

Jaime grips Pod by the shoulder, shaking him, “Pod, where is she now?!”

“She retired to her chamber not an hour ago.” Pod looks like he can barely contain the excitement in his voice, like he is knows Jaime’s intentions and has been waiting for him to act on it. It offers him a small boost of encouragement.

“Good lad.” Jaime pats Pod strongly in the back before he all but sprints to Brienne’s chamber. His footsteps are almost as loud as the drumming noise inside his head as he climbs the stairs, swerves people in the corridors, crosses the hall and finds himself in front of chambers. He doesn’t know if his heart is beating madly out of exhaustion, excitement or plain anxiety when he finally raises his fist and knocks, loud and urgent on her wooden door.

 

Chapter Text

“Come in” her voice lilts and Jaime is drawn towards her,  through the door that’s fallen ajar and stalking into her chambers, into the space where she had offered him hope not long ago without even knowing it.

“Jaime?” she looks startled to see him, even more so than she did the night he came to bid her farewell. She’d changed his mind, back then. With his heart pounding in his ears and his mouth run dry from desperation, he hopes to do the same for her now.

Soft northern sunlight filters in through her window, slanting on the chair where she sits, unarmoured, scribbling on a piece of parchment. He doesn’t know what she’s written on it, but she’s written something and whatever it is, he would be damned if he’s too late now.

“Do you need something, Ser Jaime?” she says, straightening her back and pushing the parchment away. There’s a quiet distance in her voice, a formality. Ah, how astute of her to assume that he comes to her only when he needs something.

But then again, doesn’t he?

Didn’t he come to her when he decided to come north? Didn’t he come to her when he needed a direction, a purpose? Didn’t he come to her when he selfishly needed her warmth? He always seems to come back to her, and the thought that soon she won’t be his to come back to is a stab of torture.

“You can’t marry any of them,” he blurts out, without preamble, “Brienne, you can’t—”

Her eyes go wide in terror —that he knew, and a sickening pain twists in his stomach. Did she think he’d never find out? That he wouldn’t notice if one day she slinked out of the castle without so much as a backward glance at him? Did he truly mean so little to her that she would leave him with so little thought, after everything? 

“Were you never going to tell me?” He tries to keep the betrayal he feels out of his voice and misses by a mile, “Or was I supposed to find out when I saunter into your chambers one day to find you gone?” he says, the hollowness in his chest that accompanies that mere thought is agonizing.

“I—I didn’t...” she stammers, before her gaze hardens, “I didn’t think it mattered.”

“No?” his jaw tightens as he fixes her with a piercing stare. The sneer that comes with it is involuntary and it makes Brienne flinch. A cruel smile dances his lips, one that doesn’t touch his eyes.

He waits for her to say more, to say anything at all but all she gives him is an unyielding gaze and it feels worse than being denied, worse than being turned away, it feels like being unseen altogether and hurts all the more for it.

“It’s my duty, Ser Jaime. To Tarth, to my father” she murmurs and her shoulders slouch with an invisible weight, “I’ve evaded it long enough. I can’t evade it forever.”

“So you’ve agreed already?” He huffs. A pain as sharp as valyrian steel slices through him and Jaime crosses his arms over his chest as if that could hold him together. It doesn’t. Jealousy always brings out the worst in him. “Who’s the lucky groom, then? Is it some hedge knight in need of a title? Some bloody lordling who has his eyes set on your castle?”

His words are like a thousand cuts and even though Brienne is aware of what she is, how she isn’t the maiden that’s expected of her, it still hurts. Some hedge knight who would want her title. Not her. Some lordling who wants her castle. Not her. It’s always the same. They want her father’s lands, riches and the property that comes with it. But never her. Taking her for a wife is the price of the land and for most, it’s a price too heavy. They don’t want her. Jaime voicing it doesn’t make it less true, but it does hurt worse than usual.

She squares her shoulders and straightens her spine and rises to her full height. She stared back at him, her blue eyes lined with exhaustion. It breaks his heart just a little bit as she shakes her head and says in a weary voice, “Why are you here, Ser Jaime?”

Did she not know, even after all of this? Can she not hear the despair in his voice? Or does she feign it? Will she really make him say it like this? In a fit of anger and want and desperation? He isn’t beyond begging, he isn’t above pulling her in his arms and showing her exactly why he is here. 

“I’m here because I—,” he swallows, his eyes steadfast on hers, “I would really rather you married me than any of those poor sods your father has picked for you.”

“You?” Brienne recoils as if he’s struck her, her cheeks flushed. He’d be lying if her reaction didn’t sting like being thwarted with the flat edge of a sword on a tender bruise.

“Don’t you mock me.” She says through a voice that waivers, much to her embarrassment. Her eyes bright and glimmering, “I won’t have you goading me with your pity.”

“Pity?” he scoffs, taking another step closer and when she doesn’t flinch, he continues, “I’m not here out of pity Brienne, never pity. Selfishness, perhaps. But not pity.”

A wry confusion overcomes her features as if she’d never considered why he is here, why he loitered all the time in her orbit, as if it’s never occurred to her that she’s the reason why he’s even chosen to stay in this frozen wasteland. Understanding dawns on her face only moments later and she laughs, “You’d marry me? To what end? To save me from these suitors who want an island for spring and have to suffer Selwyn’s dour daughter to buy it?” She shakes her head at him ruefully, “you’re already honourable Ser Jaime, you don’t have to serve a life sentence to prove it to me. Or anyone else.”

How can she laugh about this? He’s trying to propose godsdammit.

His expertise in this field is questionable but Jaime is sure she’s not supposed to laugh at him when he’s trying to propose, when his heart is going berserk in his chest out of apprehension and annoyance that everytime he tries to voice himself, he feels fear rear its ugly head that he is not enough , that he is old and crippled and all he has to his name is a rotting castle he doesn’t want and glory of yesteryears, goldmines that have run dry. This had never been a problem with Cersei. Cersei needed him just as much as he needed her, they’d poisoned each other their whole lives and that had been some twisted comfort. But with Brienne, it’s all very new, very unfamiliar and he feels like a green boy trying to court a lady he knows is well beyond his station. A fear that he might lose her no matter what he says, fear that he’s already too late and she’s already set the date for the wedding and now she’s just humouring him is hard to overcome. It’s definitely something Cersei would do.

But Brienne isn’t one for cruel games like that, not like Cersei who would goad him and bring out his anger and jealousy and relish in the dark feelings she evoked from him. This is Brienne, and she’s standing in front of him acting like she truly doesn’t understand that he chose the bloody north, that he chose her and he’d choose her every time for the rest of his life if she’ll let him.

She smiles at him more often these days. He has felt her shiver at the touches he tries very hard to keep casual. Has even seen her blush at all those compliments he showered her with, seen her struggle to believe it all first but then he’d taken it slow, taken his time to scale her walls instead of forcing a battering ram through them until she let him in, until she let him see her smile secretly with her head bent low when he did something particularly stupid, as if it was something they were sharing together and he found himself doing increasingly stupid things in front of her just to share that with her. She spends time with him publicly as she does privately and it’s such a natural thing to love her, to not be ashamed of his love or try to keep it a secret. Because there’s no shame in it. Her smile is a secret everybody knows, and yet he’s one of the privileged few who get to witness it in all its glory.  It feels extremely validating when she grabs him by the hand, or entwines his fingers with him and pulls him towards some important business that needs attending or simply something that made her think of him and she wanted him to see. He has seen her laugh boldly when they were out riding and Jaime says something particularly inappropriate about whatever, just as he’s seen her glower at all the indecent jokes he makes. He’s felt her lean into his touch, has caught her staring at him when she thought he wasn’t looking. He has felt the warmth of her trust when she confided in him about her brother who had drowned when she was a child, the mother she was too young to remember. The bet that had been placed on her in Renly’s camp that had made his blood boil. He remembers her taking his hand in hers the night drink had made her bold, absentmindedly tracing the veins on the back of his palm and his wrist as she talked, the walls she’d lowered for him alone and didn’t regret it the morning after. His heart had been ready to give out back then too.

Every little thing she did, from sparring with the younglings and throwing him to the ground to seeking him out on some rare nights when they’d spar alone, in the courtyard and then climb a turret and talk for hours and hours under the stars— about Tarth, Casterly Rock, about losing their mothers, about the childhood stories they loved best, and everything in between— until the sun comes up over the horizon. They talk about everything except Cersei. It still hangs in the air  between them and Jaime wishes it didn’t but he doesn’t want to drag his sister shadow into these moments that are his to keep. He’s very protective of these memories, of the way she looks in the first light of dawn, sunlight setting her flaxen hair aflame and he has to try very hard to not fall into her eyes and steal a kiss or two.

He now wonders what stopped him.

To think that after all of this, after every moment he’s willingly spent with her, she’d think that he’d be condemning himself if he decides to spend a lifetime with her instead… it’s frankly insulting.

“No, I—” he runs his hand through his hair in anguish, “this is not how I wanted to do this!” He had thought of writing to Tyrion in King’s Landing to arrange for their mother’s sapphire ring to be sent here, but he wasn’t prepared! He thought he’d have more time!

This? Brienne grimaces internally. Of course getting married to her isn’t something he’d thought he’d want to do but he didn’t have to look so pained about it. “Ser Jaime, I assure you, just because we’re friends—”

“Would you stop calling me that?” He snaps, “We’re not friends Brienne. Haven’t been for a long time now.”

“No?” Brienne can barely croak out as her heart skips a beat.  There’s an insinuation in his tone that has her feeling like she’s been caught in the act, like she had been indulging in sweets that her septa had forbidden and now they’d had found her, with the cookie jar under her bed and there were going to be consequences. Jaime starts pacing the room, a frown etched on his face, every so often glancing at her. It does not bode well and Brienne feels the air still, the danger of an oncoming storm lurking just past the corner of her eyes.

He stops then, mumbles to himself before he takes a few deep breaths, his mouth working as he starts saying something and then changes his mind and thinks of saying something else and changes his mind too.

“If I asked,” he looks nervous, tension knotted in the width of his shoulders as he asks, “would you answer one thing, truly?”

“I would not lie to you, Ser Jaime.”

“Aye, but you continue to lie to yourself, don’t you wench?”

Brienne is about to protest when Jaime steps close, too close into her personal space and his eyes soften as he takes a steadying breath. Brienne tries not to step back from the intensity of his gaze. Succeeds by continuing to stare at a fixed point past his shoulder.

“If I had asked,” Jaime’s breath fans against her mouth, he’s too close and it’s too heady and it’s not fair that he gets to do this to her. The room becomes inconsequential, the fact that the door is still ajar and anybody who walks by could see them being inappropriately close stops mattering at all when he lifts his eyes to hers and she can see the sincerity in them, “before these ravens from your father hastened you to make a decision, before these unworthy suitors clamoured about for your attention, if you had all the time in the world…” he gulps as he searches her eyes, letting go of a sigh that tingles her lips, “would you have agreed to marry me?”

“What?” her mouth runs dry. He is too close to think properly, to answer without being embarrassingly honest, “Jaime, I wouldn’t ask you to—”

“But I would. I would ask you very much.” She sees his hand rise slowly in the periphery of her vision and he waits for her to pull back, to thwart his hand away, but when she doesn't, he reaches out and tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear. His fingertips graze the shell, setting her face aflame the very instant  and she can’t immediately catch his words because she is too distracted, he is too distracting when he says, “I am asking now.”

Perhaps marrying her would be safe for him. The other women around him would leave him be. Gods know he's only ever loved one woman till her dying breath. And even now, he refused to talk about it thereafter. She had seen him staring into empty space, more than once, lost in his thoughts. She did not begrudge him his grief but she also did not broach the subject either, didn’t want to hurt him more that by reminding him of what he’s lost. She wants him to be able to talk freely to her, she had extended the same to him too, told her things about herself. Not because it was owed, not because she felt like she had to. But because she wanted to. She trusted him and she wanted him to know that if he ever wants to speak about his grief, she would be there for him. 

But being married to him when she’s already harbouring feelings for him, and he’s in love with his dead sister seems like a complication she could do without. Especially when there is no one forcing him to marry her, there is no one forcing him to choose her. He doesn’t have to. 

So why is he?

“You want to marry me?” Brienne asks, even now the idea seems preposterous.

“Yes.” he says, and the sincerity of it is astounding.

“No,” she says, even though it breaks her heart and she can feel her lower lip quiver. She steps back then and Jaime’s hand falls limply to his side. An indecipherable look glazes over his eyes when she says, “no, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

Strangely, Sansa Stark is the one who finds him, sulking in the corner of her cellar next to a cask of wine she usually stores for celebrations. He hears her footsteps against the stones, knows immediately that it’s too light to be who he actually wishes it were and takes a generous sip of his wine. He would climb a turret or something but Arya had pulled him down and left him here all the while grumbling that even though she didn’t like Lannisters she wouldn’t like him in particular to fall and split his skull open.

“Arya told me I’d find you here” Sansa gathers her skirts and sits on the barrel across from him. He still doesn’t know what implored her to appoint him as her Hand but ever since his decision to stay in Winterfell, she has warmed up to him considerably, even though she eyes him with a look of disappointment and weary suspicion every now and then. With his track record, he can’t blame her.

“And what else did the little wolf tell you?” he isn’t much for drinking but he can see why his siblings indulged it so much, the numbness is almost comforting, the haze it brings has an addictive lull to it.

“You look miserable,” Sansa comments, raking a disapproving eye over him, “how bad was it?”

“I asked Brienne to marry me” he grimaces at what a disaster that endeavor had been and tilts his head back to rest against the wall. The cold stones help with the numbing he craves, “she turned me down.”

Sansa winces and eyes him piteously now, but there is no disdain in it, “why did you do that?”

“Because I love her” Jaime grumbles, taking a small sip, his head against the stones makes it impossible to tilt the bottle any further, “and I thought she… liked he, at least. Enough to give me a chance.”

Sansa thinks it over for a while, makes a face as if it makes no sense to her, “Did you tell her that? What exactly did you tell her?”

“You’ve seen the ravens her father’s sending her, yes?”

Sansa nods as Jaime puts the bottle down next to him, “she got another one today. I don’t know if she’s sent a raven back, but when I got to her, I told her she should rather marry me instead of the halfwits her father’s setting her up with.”

“And she said no?”

“She...,” jaime quotes the bitter taste of rejection as it rolls on his tongue, “ didn’t think it was a very good idea.

Sansa tuts before continuing, “Let me ask you a question.” she cranes her neck lower, so her face is level with him, sitting on the floor like a miserable old oaf, “Did you tell her you love her?”

Jaime frowns. He hadn’t. But it was such a simple truth, one that went without saying. Loving her was as simple as breathing, as easy as a sword feels in his hand. It was just the rule of the universe at this point. He loves her and that’s just the truth of it. He saves a seat for her at supper, he stores away any funny thing he hears under things he must tell her, he makes a record of all the blue things around that remind him of her, the curtains in the southern wing, the blue wildflowers that have recently started growing along the footwalls of the castle a few steps away from the godswood, even the sky on really good days, now that the promise of spring was in the air. He loves her. It’s just simple truth, like the weather, like rain, like everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. It’s inevitable and it’s insurmountable and it’s the truth he knows in his very bones and he’s sure it’s plastered all over his face as well, for everyone in the castle points it out to him every now and then, that he was absolutely smitten with his lady knight.

“She knows.” Jaime insists, but it feels weak. He had just pointedly started assuming, out of nowhere now that he thinks about it, that just because he loves her and everybody around him seems to be aware of it, she must too. She knows ...right?

“That’s not what I asked,” Sansa says, pulling him out of his reverie, as it only starts to sink in that there might be a possibility that Brienne isn’t aware that he loves her. That she might be the only one who doesn’t know.

“Everybody knows,” Sansa verifies, like she can read his mind, “but did you tell her?”

He hadn’t. He hadn’t told her. He had just asked her to marry him and expected her to accept him just like that, like he was still half of a whole begging her to pick up his broken pieces and put him back together again. But she made him feel like he was whole all by himself, like love was a choice. Loving her was a choice he continued to make everyday and he chose her , doesn’t she know that? Doesn’t she know that he would choose her always?

And then a familiar fear gripped his heart. When she knows ... will she choose him back? His stomach lurches, rattling the hope that had spurted in his chest in mere moments. He can live with that, even if she doesn’t. He knows he doesn’t have much to offer, the Westerlands are all but ruins and he hasn’t heard back from Casterly Rock’s castellan in a long time now. 

But it’s not a choice he can make for her, sulking in the corner of Winterfell’s cellar. It is her choice too.

“I.. didn’t .” the revelation comes to him as he picks himself off the floor. He isn’t drunk, his senses are coming back to him again, the numbness fading from his limbs, replaced with an urgency that he must attend to, that he should’ve done a long time ago instead of stewing inside his own head and fucking it up the way he did.

“She deserves to hear it from you” are Sansa’s parting words as he finds himself climbing up the staircase with burning lungs and ragged breath and he makes his way over to their turret. He has a feeling he’ll find her there.

“I was looking for you,” he pants as he climbs up and finds that she had indeed been sitting there, alone and gazing at the stars. It’s a particularly clear night and from this point, with the night sky reflected in her eyes as easy as the sunset will be in a few hours, Jaime finds it easy to bare his heart.

“Jaime?” she helps him up as he takes a seat next to her and catches his breath. An unbroken climb from the cellars to the turret really did a number on his knees, or as Arya likes to call it, his old man bones.

“I love you, did you know that?” the words come easy now that he’s realizing so many of his thoughts hadn’t been out loud, “I loved you when I rode all the way to Winterfell, I loved you when we fought the dead together, I loved you when you cleaned up my wound after the Long Night, I loved you when you showed me my life had purpose beyond Cersei and I loved you this morning when I asked you to marry me. I have loved you all the days in between as well. But I loved you long before that too, long before I knew how I’d fallen in love with you, or when. It was inevitable, you and I. We’ve crossed paths and then swerved again too many times for me to not want to come back to you every time we part. And I don’t want us to part again. When you tried to give me back Oathkeeper at Riverrun it felt like I was being torn apart, like you were trying to return something that I can’t take back without feeling like my tether to you has been broken. When I said the sword’s yours, I meant my heart as well. Both of those things are yours, they will always be yours. You took my heart with you when you first left King's Landing and again when you left Riverrun, and I wouldn't trust anybody with it the way I trust you. My heart has been yours to keep since Harrenhal, at the least. Did you know I dreamed of you? So many times now. I have loved you in all of them. I have loved you longer than I cared to admit, but I am admitting it now. To you. I am in love with you and I want you, Brienne.... will you'll have me?”

“No…” she mouths the word, her breath coming shallow and her eyes wide with the shock of his confession. Even though he promised that he’ll be fine if she turned him down after all the truth, he can’t help how deep this one simple word cuts. Her eyes are glimmering, shining in the moonlight and her chin wobbles, a single tear streaking down her cheek, “no, it can’t be.”

“No?” He doesn’t want his voice to break, but it does. It crumbles. His sliver of hope squashed. But his hand instinctively reaches forward to cup her cheek, to wipe that tear that has escaped her lids and is now making its way down to her chin. He catches it deftly with his thumb.

“But.. you’re in love with Cersei.” She breathes, her brows furrowed. Like she had convinced herself that he couldn’t love her, that he wouldn’t. When he had loved her for longer than he knows. Maybe it was the bath in Harrenhal, or when she struck down the Northern soldiers, or maybe when he’d first set his eyes on her. He understood how her history with men, with people had put her in a sore spot, made it so difficult for her to believe that she could be loved that she had thrown herself in her own wine cellar where the only thing she knows is that she is unlovable, undesirable and unwanted.

He couldn’t wait to prove her wrong.

His thumb lingers at her cheek and it absentmindedly finds its way to the corner of her lips. He brushes her lower lip tenderly, tracing the scar there. He feels the rush of air, her small intake of breath and her eyes grow darker. It sets off a want that lurches deep inside his belly. 

“Ah...” he shakes his head, holding her gaze so she knows the truth of it in his eyes. He hopes it’s enough to make her believe it. “No. Cersei and I were over a long time ago. Before I even left for the North. We were over since I saw the Sept burning. Estranged since I returned from the Riverlands, with you. I'd perhaps always love Cersei, but as one as one would a sister. A very ...very, difficult sister.”

She stares at him for a long time and he can see her mind working, taking in the truth of his heart that he has laid out bare for her to see. His pulse hammers inside his own chest, worry weaving knots in his stomach.

"Jaime...?" she asks tentatively and her gaze flits to his lips for once and second but oh the look in her eyes, the flicker of hope it gives him. He'll give her the moon if she asks, he'll give her anything.

"Are you sure?" she asks, her voice small but firm.

"I've never been so sure of anything else in my life, Brienne," he says, earnestly; honestly, "I love you, Brienne. And I'd choose to love you every day till the end of my days... if you'll let me."

"I'd let you," she says, her mouth curves into a ghost of a smile, "I'd let you very much," and she doesn’t think it’s very appropriate to smile right then, because she bites down on her lip trying to hide it but it only makes her smile more and he wants to kiss her, is it alright if he kisses her?

She nods very faintly and she leans in before he does and plants a soft peck on his lips before pulling back just a smidge. He can feel her breath mingle with his own as it’s only a second’s halt as he processes that her lips were just on his. She had initiated their first kiss, as chaste as it might be and it sets off a flame of unbridled joy as he pulls her in closer by her chin and kisses her like a man starved. Her lips are warm and soft and pliant under his and when his tongue asks for permission inside her mouth, she parts her lips and grants it readily. The kiss is all teeth and tongue and for all her inexperience, she makes it up with enthusiasm. Her hands tentatively roam his chest before he ends up slinging her arm around his shoulder to pull her closer and closer still, and another hand knots in his hair and gives a gentle tug. The growl that forms in his throat only seems to urge her on as she responds with a whimper of a moan.

“Jaime...” she says his name like it belongs nowhere else as it belongs on her lips, that breathy lull of her voice that draws him in deeper into the chasms of her eyes.

“Hmm?” he kisses the corner of her mouth. He can kiss her freely now, everywhere. How has he gone this long without kissing her?

“Do you want to get married?” she asks, her voice attempting to be airy but he can see her blush, strong and red and the heat off her skin is intoxicating and he can’t resist it, can’t resist kissing her again. This time deeper, stronger and pouring every bit of himself into the kiss that he’s held back for longer than he cares to remember. She tastes of honey and lemon cakes and he strongly suspects Sansa had something to do with making his second attempt at a proposal easier.

“Yes, gods yes.” He agrees, swallowing the moan that bubbles from her throat as he holds her waist to his, the stump rubbing comforting circles on the small of her back. When they break from it, they’re both heaving, His hand had wandered over to her neck to brush the stray strands aside as he nuzzled into her hair, breathing in the scent of her. Breezy like the seas and salty and sweet and in her embrace lingers the hope of his dream of spring. And he tells her that.

“Me too” she agrees as she kisses his jaw, her lips nibbling gently on his lower lip and he has to ask her to stop, because if they don’t, he might embarass himself on top of their turret. When she makes a face like she doesn’t understand what he means, he presses himself even more firmly against her and after a brief second of confusion, as she realizes what is poking her on her left thigh, she blushes a deep red and it’s endearing as fuck and Jaime wants her, he wants her so much he doesn’t know how he’s gone on for so long without having her to hold and to keep.

Sansa officiates the ceremony in the Godswood. Pod, Arya, Bran, Gendry and Davos stand as witness as they are tied by a silky blue ribbon in front of the heart tree. She doesn’t have her Tarth cloak and he doesn’t have his Lannister cloak, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The blue ribbon intertwines around their wrist and stump and ties them together as a physical marker of the only oath that had been left unsaid. They have been tied to each other for a long time now, in oaths and pledges and love unspoken that lingers in their every breath, in everything but ceremony. Until now. When Brienne glances at him and smiles, he knows that she knows it too.

“I am yours and you are mine,” they say in unison, "from this day, till the end of our days" and Jaime is giddy with love that threatens to spill from his eyes. Giddy with the headrush that comes with kissing Brienne as her husband, and from the realization that from this moment onwards, he gets to call Brienne ‘wife’. 

My wife Brienne. My wife Brienne. My wife Brienne. There’s so many ways he could say it, to so many people, to whoever would hear.  He can’t wait to bring it up in every conversation he has for the rest of his life. He doesn’t think he could stop. She’s his wife. His wife Brienne. It feels like being drunk tenfold and no cask of Dornish red or Arbor Gold could compare to the heady feeling that comes with calling Brienne ‘ his wife’ .

Sansa’s smile is large but nothing can compare to his wife, Brienne’s smile. It makes him smile even more, the fact that marrying him has made her so happy. Her father’s dimwit suitors can go fuck themselves.

He is the dimwit she chose. His wife, Brienne. She chose him.

Arya winks at him mischievously before rolling her eyes, as if to insinuate that he’s so dramatic. Which he must admit, he is. And so is his wife, Brienne. They’ve both been very dramatic for two people whose paths always lead them back to each other.

Later that night, in the confines of their room after he has explored every line of her body, touched every scar, from bear's claws or steel's singe, and kissed every inch of her skin, as he still lies awake, committing every freckle, every scar every inch of her to memory as she massages his stump and plays with his hand or runs her fingers lazily through his hair (which makes him almost purr under her touch like a lazy lion) or when she just simply rests her head on his chest, his heartbeat the perfect lullaby as she draws slow circles in his chest hair, long after she had wrapped her legs around his waist and Jaime had almost gone mad with need, greed and joy, long after he has moved inside her, drowning in the blue of her eyes, relishing the feeling of her as she kept moaning his name in that impossible way that made him come undone, long after she had instinctively flipped them over, her body as attuned to his on their bed as in battle and she had wrung her pleasure from him and left him speechless, slack-jawed from the fireworks going off behind his eyes— when they are both satiated and exhausted, verging on the brink of sleep as the amber glow of the fireplace is starting to die down in the room, Brienne’s voice pulls him gently to this side of wakefulness.

“Jaime?” she asks, tentatively, like she’s testing if he’s asleep.

“Umhmm?” She feels his chest rumble more than she hears it and she raises herself slightly so she can meet his eyes, in the dying light of the room. He opens a sleepy eye as he feels her move.

“I’m in love with you too,” she admits, her voice a bit sheepish, her gaze wavering as Jaime can feel her cheeks heating up, “I… I just wanted you to know that. I love you.”

He hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to hear it until she said it and then, then it’s the only thing he wants to hear.

“Say it again,” he almost pleads, nuzzling against her earlobe, biting tentatively into her jaw. His hand inches towards her stomach and when he touches that newly discovered spot, she bursts into a girlish giggle that makes his heart swim in his throat. It’s delightful, “say it again, wife.” Oh, hearing it out loud is much more satisfying than saying it in his head.

“Ser Jaime Lannister, I have loved you for a long, long time” her heated face muffling her voice against his shoulder, her nose nuzzling his collar and he reaches to tickle her again.

“Come here and say it like you mean it, wench.” He nips into her earlobe and pulls her hips closer to his, his lips now travelling down the column of her pale neck blossoming with bruises born out of love. He kisses them tenderly and she gasps softly, keening. There’s a shift in the air then. Her hand reaches out to touch his forehead, her fingertips stroking along his hairline, brushing the few stray hairs out of his forehead as she holds his face in the palm of her hand. Then she bends down to kiss him ever so gently, so tenderly on the lips its the sweetest kiss he’s ever tasted, a kiss that fills his heart to the brim and makes him feel loved and secure and… safe. She always knows how to make him feel so safe. He has never been kissed like that.

“I love you, Jaime.” she says, her voice barely above a whisper and it envelops him completely, like his whole existence could be condensed down to this single moment of overwhelming happiness, of him being content in her arms, “...now and always.” and she kisses his brow like it’s the easiest thing in the world to love him too.

Five years after Sansa has released Jaime from the position of her Hand and Brienne too from her Queensguard, she visits Tarth. She isn’t surprised however, to find Jaime and Brienne have not wasted any time in expanding their dynasty of tall blonde children. Standing at the shore with twins on either hip is Brienne, and a tall girl no older than four runs amok hunting seashells and screaming at the top of her lungs at her brother who is in Jaime’s arms and also quite desperate to join his sister in her noble endeavor of sea-shell hunting. Jaime is barely holding him back and cautioning Joanna don’t tease your brother even though his voice has a playful lull to it and he sounds like he’d rather be hunting for seashells too, with the kids instead of being the responsible one holding one of them back.

“Twins?” Sansa coos at the two kids at Brienne’s breast as her luggage is being carried into the castle, “what are their names?”

“This is little Cat,” Brienne points to the blue-eyed dusty blonde babe on her left hip, and then to the green-eyed flaxen-haired babe on her right,“and this is little Selwyn.”

“We just have to keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t end up… y’know .” Jaime cringes, shuddering which makes Sansa laugh.

“I’m pretty sure that’s just a you problem, Jaime.” She scoffs good-naturedly, hugs Brienne lightly over the kids, “Arya took a detour at Storm’s End with Gendry and Pod. They’ll join us soon.”

“And that’s Galladon, I know that from my greenseeing powers.” Bran joins his sister, face blank as he points at the blue-eyed flaxen-haired boy still struggling in his father’s arms. To this day it unnerves Jaime when he thinks about how Bran Stark’s powers work and he wants to ask how he knew but he's not sure if he wants to know when Bran bursts into a grin and goes, “I’m just messing with you. Tyrion wrote to me about them when he visited three months ago.”

That would explain it.

“We got word from the crown that both harvest and trade have been good,” Sansa says as they step into the threshold of the castle, and Brienne calls out at Joanna that supper would be ready in ten minutes and she should wash up before they eat. Joanna throws a fit as a child of her age is wont to do, and grumbles back into the castle.

"They have" Brienne agrees, continuing her conversation as she walks up the stairways first, followed by Sansa as Bran is ushered into the platform that can carry him up. Jaime stands back at the doorway, watching Joanna and Galladon, who has wriggled out of his grasp and followed his mother and his sister and his siblings upstairs, from where Grandpa Selwyn Tarth’s voice could be heard, jolly and booming as introductions are made.

Jaime looks back at the sunshine on the beach, the deep blue waters of the sea and the sound of the waves breaking against the shore. His wife Brienne is with their kids upstairs, talking laughing, as are Sansa and Bran, who are also in some way, his kids too. And Arya, Gendry and Pod would join them soon. Jaime had never dared to dream of a family as loving, as caring as chaotic and as happy as the one he has now.

It seems almost impossible that fate could’ve dealt him a winning hand at last. He remembers Cersei still sometimes, but in a good way. He remembers young Tommen, sweet Myrcella. Joffrey even, the monster that he was. He hopes they're all finally at peace. His father and his extended family too, they’re all gone but he’s still here, content in a domestic life they would’ve despised. He hopes they don't grudge him his little corner of happiness.

But this suits him. He has a wife, he’s been married for five good years and yes, his wife Brienne is fantastic, she is amazing and she still defeats him in the courtyard and makes him keel in bed and she is still the best thing that ever happened to him and he's still watching the waves crash against the shore as he thinks of Catelyn Stark, who freed him on the promise of safety for her daughters, who sent him away with Brienne on a journey that took his hand but saved his life because it gave him Brienne. Brienne, who he didn't know then was going to be his wife. He smiles at the memory of Catelyn Stark, righteous and angry, whose son terrorized Tywin Lannister's forces, the woman who perhaps set off the unlikely chain of events that led him here to the life he has now. His smile widens, for he realizes how furious she would be if ever knew how much he owes her, for her daughters are now as good as family to him too. Who would’ve thought, right?

He sends a silent prayer of thanks to Catelyn Stark. None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for a mother who loved her children enough to free him, a known oathbreaker, and still trust him enough to return her daughters safely to the North. But even more so, none of this would’ve been possible without his wife, Brienne.

He hopes Catelyn Stark is content too, wherever she is.

He spends a quiet moment there, watching the waves from the great castle doorway. Winter came, winter went. This is spring. His children will know summer. They will inherit the summers that he and his wife, Brienne fought tooth and nail to bring back to this world. This is what all their pain and suffering had been for. It is in moments like these, watching the waves crash against the shores, the leaves sway in the gentle breeze, the sound of family shuffling about in their castle, laughter and joy ringing in their halls, his children running and playing in this very home they've built... it feels like it was all that pain the toil it took to get here was perhaps worth it.

“Jaime, are you coming?” Brienne’s voice rings from the top of the stairs and Jaime finds himself taking two steps at a time, even though his ‘old man knees’ protest at it.

“Yes, dear!” He calls back, until he reaches her at the top of the stairs and plants a soft kiss on her lips.