Jaime was not the one who went in search of the Beast. Perhaps that was odd, given that out of the three Lannister siblings, he was the one who had most been consumed by the stories as a child.
The Beast was a legend in Jaime’s village, and in the villages around it. The creature never aged, and never died, and the legend had been around for centuries. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who had stumbled across the castle in the woods and had been frightened away by the monster that guarded it. When Jaime was a boy, he had been the kind of boy who lived for stories about adventures, and he had turned into a man much the same, and so perhaps he should have been the one to seek it out. There was very little adventure to be had, otherwise, except between the pages of a book, and Jaime had never been a very good reader. He sometimes rode out with other men to clear bandit encampments that threatened the surrounding villages, and he had from time to time engaged in some smaller heroics when his brother was threatened by fellow gamblers or husbands of the women Tyrion had a habit of seducing. Not much, really, for a man as skilled with a blade as Jaime.
It would have made sense for him to go looking. The possibility of a true adventure should have drawn him in. But he never even thought of it. He didn’t see the point. The stories promised gold and riches and the creature’s castle as a reward, but Jaime didn’t want any of those things. His father was the richest man in the village as it was, and he liked his house fine.
He would like to fight the Beast, perhaps, but that was only because Jaime was very good at fighting, and there was no one in the village who could give him a challenge, and the stories always said that the Beast could not be beaten. Jaime was the kind of man who heard statements like that and could not help but think that’s only because they haven’t met me yet.
But a good fight wasn’t worth the risk of losing, he didn’t think. And he just didn’t have time to be riding off into the woods on some fool quest, trying to find the castle and the Beast within it. As much as he loved the stories, someone had to be around to keep his siblings from getting into too much trouble, and someone had to be his father’s heir, and someone had to make sure that the village was safe from thieves and mercenaries who rode through on their way to King’s Landing. Jaime was a man who took very little seriously, but his love for his family could not be doubted, and he would not want to ride off and leave them unprotected.
As he grew, as he aged, that willingness to throw away his own thoughts and dreams for the comfort of his family became a yoke of a kind. A curse of its own. As a boy, he had been sure that he was meant for bigger things, but that certainty faded with time. He became tied to the village in which his father was the richest man. He learned to do without adventure, and without wants or whims of his own, so busy was he in ensuring that his siblings got their way in everything they wanted. They hated each other nearly as much as they hated their father, but they all cared about him. More than that: they needed him. Jaime was the type of person who enjoyed being needed. He had not yet realized that being needed was not the same as being loved.
So he was not the one who found the Beast.
But he was the one who stayed.
It was Cersei who found the castle. Jaime and his twin had shared a similar appetite for adventure when they were children, but that had been years ago, and no one was more surprised than Jaime when Cersei disappeared off into the woods on Jaime’s horse. In the years since their mother’s death, Cersei had become more ladylike, more serious. Her eyes still flashed with an appetite for conflict, but she was much less likely to act on it. She still had the same energy, the same clever schemes, but she used them for things beyond the childish games they used to play. She was still so familiar to him, in some ways, and in other ways, he resented how different she had become.
Tyrion was the one to tell Jaime where Cersei had gone. She’s off to find the Beast, he had said, laughing, halfway to drunk, as was usually the case. Their father had been traveling to the city on some business, and so Jaime had gone after Cersei, alone.
Their father had recently secured a match between Cersei and a man named Robert Baratheon. Robert was a boorish, loud, lusty man, but he had inherited his father’s sprawling estate in a not-too-distant village, which was enough to win him Cersei. The Baratheons were the wealthiest family in their village, same as the Lannisters were in theirs, and so the marriage was professed only natural from every side. But Cersei had not wanted to marry him, and so Jaime understood why she ran, even though he didn’t understand at first why she chose to run to the Beast’s castle, of all places.
He found out eventually: Cersei wanted to take the Beast’s castle for herself so that their father would not need to marry her off. She told Jaime this, whispered, from inside her cell when Jaime managed to track her down. He had crept into the castle under cover of night, expecting to have to fight the Beast to rescue her, and instead had found a trail of candles and lanterns that led him right down to the cells.
Perhaps he should have been more concerned about what was obviously a trap, but he was too overcome with relief to think much of it, and he began to work on trying to get the lock open.
“What did you think you would do against the Beast?” he asked.
“I hadn’t figured it out yet. I only wanted to hide here for a time! You know the stories as well as I do!”
There had been tales. Not the distant, myth-like ones, but tales from people they knew. Travelers in need who found sanctuary in the castle for a night, or two, or perhaps a week, if the weather was bad enough. None who had actually seen the Beast, but there was an old peddler in the village who reported being tended to by invisible servants: waking up in the morning and finding breakfast left on a tray by his bed, encountering a newly built fire in every room he entered. Some people thought him mad, but Jaime had always believed him, and it seemed Cersei did as well. It was too bad she never paid attention to the fact that the people who spread those stories had always wanted nothing more than safety. It was the people who coveted the Beast’s domain who ended up vanishing forever or being driven into the woods with half-crazed stories about the Beast’s claws and mighty roar.
He could understand why Cersei had fled. Robert Baratheon was not the sort of man he would have wished for her to marry, and he had been trying to persuade his father to break the engagement from almost the moment it had been made. But Tywin Lannister was an ambitious man who thought often of legacy, and he never seemed satisfied no matter how much wealth he gathered to himself. Robert Baratheon’s estate was large, and that was all that mattered. The Beast’s castle, though, was larger. Of course Cersei thought it would be enough to end the match.
“The Beast isn’t a fool, Cersei,” he said. “If your intentions were to kill the creature or to try and swindle the castle away, it’s no wonder you ended up down in this cell.” He made excuses for his sister the same as he made them for his brother, but he knew in his heart what they both were. And what Cersei was was clever (if not half as clever as she thought she was), and conniving, and unafraid to be cruel. He was surprised to find that she had run to the Beast’s castle for protection from their father. He wasn’t surprised to find her in the cells.
“Whoever steals the Beast’s heart will break the curse and win the castle,” Cersei said. She was bright, glimmering, with a fevered gleam in her eyes that he didn’t like. The cells were cold, and winter was coming. He was distressed by how shaken and pale she seemed. He loved his sister. Even knowing what she was, he loved her. He couldn’t leave her here. Her fingers were white as they gripped the bars that separated them, and Jaime drew his sword, using the hilt to smash against the lock, heedless of the noise he was making. “There’s a curse, and I could have broken it! The feather duster told me.”
Jaime hit the lock harder. Cersei wasn’t well, and delusional, and not making any sense. He needed to hurry.
It was no use. The lock held. The door above, up the stone staircase, slammed shut, blowing out the candles that had led Jaime to his sister. The dungeons fell into shadow, with only a single lantern left burning in the darkness.
When the Beast appeared in the shadows at the top of the stairs and revealed that Jaime had no way out but through, Jaime made a choice.
Jaime could have fought the Beast. Perhaps he even could have won. The village was a small enough pool of people that he never felt right calling himself the best among them, because it seemed like no difficult feat, but he’d always beaten even the people he met in other villages, and he knew he was an excellent fighter. The Beast was enormous, so much bigger than him that Jaime had to crane his neck up to meet the creature’s eyes. There were also teeth, and claws, and corded muscle beneath all that fur. And there was a grace to the Beast’s movements that was surprising, and spoke of the same kind of prowess that Jaime enjoyed. His blood sang to think of it: fighting this creature who dared stand between he and his sister.
But the risk…
All he knew about the Beast as a fighter was what he could see in front of him, and that was bad enough. But there were also the stories to remember. The Beast was said to give sanctuary to the truly needy, but the ones who attacked were never so lucky. They fell, or they were driven out, or they were simply never seen again. No matter how many men went into the woods to slay the Beast, they were done away with. The wolves, some people claimed, but most believed it was the Beast, and looking at the creature now…Jaime knew they were right.
He was a good fighter. He had no doubt of that. But there was every possibility that he could lose the fight, and he could not endure that. For himself, he might have. If he found himself alone in this moldering place, and if the Beast was the only thing between him and escape, then yes. He would have fought. But the thought of failing Cersei stopped him, and it allowed him to be rational for once. Tyrion often accused him of thinking with his sword the way most men thought with their cocks, and maybe he was right. But knowing that his sister’s life was in his hands, and that if he died, she would be trapped with the creature, it kept Jaime’s sword pointed safely at the ground and kept a civil tongue in his head as well.
There was only one thing for it, really, and it was probably not very surprising to anyone who’d ever known him: he offered himself in Cersei’s place.
“We’re twins,” he reasoned. “Surely one of us is as good as the other.”
This plainly alarmed the Beast, who regarded Jaime for a few beats with an air of distrust, and then seemed to deflate, posture relaxing into a slightly less threatening loom. Still much taller than Jaime, but without the puffed-up feeling of a territorial bear. Jaime waited, and the Beast considered, and Cersei grabbed at the back of Jaime’s coat and whimpered helplessly, but did not tell him no, Jaime. He had known she would not.
The Beast stepped forward, into the light, allowing Jaime to look his fill. Beast was such a vague term, and Jaime had heard so many descriptions over the years from so many different stories as to be half convinced that there must have been fifty beasts roaming the countryside. But now that he was before the monster, he could see what those panicked people had described, and he understood why their fear must have addled them. Beast. It was the only word that worked. The Beast was taller than anyone Jaime had ever met, had limbs thick with muscle, was covered in pale brown hair, and had fingers and toes that ended in claws that reminded Jaime of talons on a falcon’s feet. The Beast. Only ill-fitting and ill-made clothing kept the Beast from looking like some bastardized animal, and the fact that no creature spoke, never mind with the hesitance and awkwardness with which the Beast then spoke.
“You have done nothing wrong.”
The Beast’s voice rumbled deep in Jaime’s chest. He had seen a lion only once, from a traveling Mummer’s show that had a few of the poor creatures carted about in wagons. Caged. He and Cersei had been very young, and Cersei had cried to see the animals locked away. They had been so excited to see the lions: the sigil of their house. Their family’s chosen animal. But the Mummers’ lions had been withered, scrawny things. The only power they still had was in their roar. Deep and rumbling and creating an instinctive, prey-like fear in anyone who stood by. The Beast’s voice was a little like that. It made Jaime want to flee. Like everything in his body, like long lines of survival instincts passed down from father to son were telling him to get out. He didn’t listen to them.
“My sister has done nothing to you either, yet you seem determined to keep her here.”
“Your sister attempted to deceive me,” The Beast retorted. Jaime refused to look at Cersei. He also refused to ask the Beast for further details. He knew the creature wasn’t lying. Cersei had always been too clever for what the world and their father expected of her, and that unacknowledged cleverness could so easily turn to cruelty, and she was capricious at the best of times, and she did not mind who she hurt. It didn’t stop him from loving her, and it didn’t change his mind. He could endure here, he was sure. Cersei should not.
“I’m sorry she hurt you, but I can’t let her die here.”
“She didn’t hurt me.” It was difficult to tell, with the way the shadows fell in this dungeon, and the light from that single lantern did very little to illuminate anything but disparate features—eyes, gleaming white teeth, wide pink nose—but Jaime believed that the Beast was flustered.
“Angered you, then.”
That seemed to make the Beast even more unsettled.
“Do I seem angry?”
That was an unfair question, and it made Jaime want to laugh. Do I seem angry? How was Jaime ever supposed to tell that? Flared nostrils. Tufted ears that were pulled back, flattened against the Beast’s head. Growling voice. Bared teeth. Those were all the ways to tell that a dog or a wolf was angry, but this was a creature unlike any other Jaime had seen. Perhaps it was unfair to judge by an animal’s temperaments, but he couldn’t help it. The Beast did have some human elements. Some human mannerisms. But on the whole, the Beast was…well. Beastly.
“Yes,” Jaime admitted. “You do.”
The Beast was silent, looking as if Jaime had touched a nerve, or at least said something very annoying, and Jaime knew that he did not have much time to be convincing. He could hear Cersei’s breaths, fast and shallow and rabbit-like, from where she was locked away, behind the cell door. He did not think of how miserable he would be once he was in her place. That wasn’t his nature. He only thought of how to get Cersei out, and see her safe, and then he would worry about himself.
“Jaime,” Cersei begged, and Jaime stood up taller. He tried to sound strong, and brave, and not at all afraid. He knew he hadn’t done anything to the Beast, and he knew he had no true reason to fear, beyond the obvious savagery implied by those sharp claws and those gleaming fangs. But it was impossible to say what sense of justice this creature had. What sense of honor. It was well within the Beast’s right to throw Jaime in the cell just beside Cersei’s. Damn honor and damn both of them to slow starvation and death. Why had Cersei done it? Why had she put herself in danger? Why had she not told Jaime that she wished to run away and avoid marriage to Baratheon? He would have gone with her anywhere she asked. Protected her at every turn.
He would stand in front of her still, regardless of his annoyance and his hurt, but he just wished…
It was pointless to wish that Cersei had made more rational choices, just as it was pointless to wish that Tyrion would not drown himself in drink and throw his charms on every woman who would accept the coin he flashed around to catch their interest. The Lannisters were creatures of excess, and creatures of plotting, and creatures of vanity. They did not ever take into account the people that they hurt. Even the least offensive of his relatives, like Aunt Genna and Uncle Kevan, could be counted upon for some truly despicable plots if they felt that their family was being threatened. And the thing about the Lannister family was that they had a tendency to see threats everywhere, and in everything. A family gaining influence in the village was a threat. A shopkeeper not having enough gold to pay the tax was a threat. A marriage alliance made between two almost-wealthy families was a threat. Everything was a threat to them, and they dodged threats both real and imagined with such force as to make enemies of everyone. Cersei had not done anything so strange, in coming here and trying to deceive the plainly offended beast. Cersei had done exactly what a Lannister should do, and it was Jaime who was the odd one, in not being able to understand.
Jaime was his father’s eldest son, and as such he was expected to be just like the rest of them. Obsessed with gold. Obsessed with power. If it had been Jaime to sneak into the Beast’s castle with the goal of winning it for his family, their father probably would have praised him for it. There was a chance he would even have praised Cersei, if she had not been caught. It was a very Lannister thing to do.
“I’m sorry for what my sister has done,” he said, and he felt very strong, even though he also felt very afraid, and very far away from his own body. “But we’re twins. Cersei is the other half of my heart. I cannot allow her to stay here.” The Beast seemed unaffected, unmoved, and Jaime felt his desperation mounting. “I’m skilled with a blade, but I don’t want to fight you, Beast. I don’t want to risk leaving her alone and undefended. I will take her place in this cell gladly, until you deem her sentence served.”
The Beast was taken aback by that—physically, took a step back. Jaime swallowed, and it sounded comically loud. A silence fell over them as the Beast watched Jaime and thought it over. Cersei’s fingers grasped the back of Jaime’s shirt, pulling him closer.
“Jaime, the sentence…” she started, in a wavering, guilty voice.
“I will determine his sentence,” the Beast finished. Cersei sighed in relief, and Jaime could feel her pressing her forehead against the bars behind him in thanks. “Because of the honor your brother has shown, and because he has done nothing wrong. As of now, it’s to be considered indefinite.”
“How long was your sentence before?” Jaime muttered aside to Cersei. She smiled sheepishly in return.
He was not allowed to hug his sister goodbye. He was barely allowed to shout it. The Beast opened the cell, and Cersei was pushed up into the stairway, past Jaime, and told to run.
“Keep running, and don’t look back,” the Beast said, and Jaime thought that Cersei might be frightened enough to actually listen, all the way back to the village.
“I’ll find a way to free you!” she yelled as she went, hiking up her skirts and disappearing up the spiral stone steps that led up to freedom. The Beast did not seem to care that Jaime was stunned by the suddenness of his imprisonment, or hurt by his sister’s so willing abandonment. Jaime was shoved into the cell, and the door was locked, and then he was alone. The Beast even took the lantern up the stairs, out of the dungeon, leaving Jaime in darkness.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been in that place. Once his eyes adjusted, he was able to see some dim light that made it through the cracks in the masonry at the base of the stairs, so he was able to tell night from day, but that was it. He didn’t see the Beast for all that time. He didn’t see anyone. When he slept, food appeared mysteriously in his cell. When he spent one night trying not to sleep, waiting until daylight so that he could speak to the Beast, he spent the day hungry, for the Beast seemed to know he was awake, and did not bring him anything. After that, he gave up. The Beast must be watching him. Lurking somewhere. When Jaime called out for attention, he received none.
He stayed sane and physically fit as best as he could in his cell. He had not been permitted any water with which to wash himself, and precious little to drink, so he had no doubt that he stank fit to make even the Beast wrinkle up that wide pink nose, but after a while he hardly cared about that. He mostly cared about his muscles, atrophying in such a place. His cell was small and cramped, with barely enough room to lie down on in the hay. There was no bed. A bucket that was humiliating to relieve himself in, and was emptied at the same time his food was delivered. He stretched and walked the length of his cell and did every exercise he knew that he could perform in such a small space, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He was wasting away. Not fed enough. Not given enough to drink. Unable to sleep as much as he needed. It was cold, too, and he knew it would get colder as the winter approached, and it seemed too much to hope that the Beast would think to deliver a blanket or two with his food one morning.
He wondered if Cersei had told their father the truth, or if she would claim that she had no idea where Jaime was. Tywin would be furious if he found out what Jaime had done. He was not the sort of man to tell his children that he favored one over the others, but that was only because he’d never had a need to; they all knew it. Cersei slipping up and leading to the “indefinite” detainment of the only child he held in any esteem was not something he would take lightly. Perhaps at this very moment, they were gathering at the inn, preparing to storm the castle. Pitchforks and torches, like an old story.
He quickly lost enthusiasm for that pretty picture. He knew his sister too well to treat it with any seriousness. It was far more likely that Cersei would pretend at having no knowledge. She would tell Tyrion, because she would want his help in figuring out how to get Jaime back, but they would not tell their father. Jaime knew that his siblings would send someone for him eventually, but it would be on their own terms, without their father’s knowledge. They would send Tywin on a chase, claiming that Jaime rode off in a spirit of adventure to rescue some damsel. Tywin would believe them, because he knew that Jaime had always admired the stories. He had always been too much in search of honor and glory for Tywin’s liking. They’d send their father searching all over the Riverlands for his lost heir while Cersei charmed and Tyrion gambled and they gathered coin that their father could not trace. When Cersei and Tyrion had enough gold, Tyrion would hire some mean mercenary who they believed would be able to fight the Beast, and they would try to sneak into the castle to free Jaime. That could be months from now. Years, even, if they were long enough about it.
His best hope in getting out was to capture the pity of the Beast. He did not think the Beast an unfeeling creature. There were moments, and pauses, and expressions on that day with Cersei that made Jaime think that perhaps Cersei’s biggest sin was in causing the Beast some kind of pain. And a creature that felt that kind of pain could surely be roused to pity.
He stopped his constant pacing and exercise. He stopped eating and drinking the food that appeared in his cell. He stopped shouting for attention and talking aloud to himself in the hopes that the Beast would hear him and be amused enough to stop by for a chat. He lay on the floor of his cell, curled in the fetid hay that was his only bed, and he waited.
He was a patient man, Jaime. His father often called him a dullard and an impetuous idiot, and his brother and sister called him meaner words that meant the same thing, but Jaime knew that he wasn’t. There were different kinds of cleverness, and Jaime’s cleverness was more in problem solving and strategizing than the endless scheming at which the rest of his family was so good. His brand of cleverness was less helpful to them, because they never rode out to fight when swords were needed against bandits, or ventured far beyond the village where they had the most influence, but Jaime knew it for the skill it was. Perhaps lying in a pool of his own filth and starving himself slowly wasn’t the most exciting of plans, but Jaime knew that it would work, and that made it the best available option.
It was only a few days of that before the cell door creaked open. Jaime blinked up blearily at the lantern, squinting against the light. He could make out coarse, pale brown hair. A ruffled white shirt that stretched over broad shoulders. When the Beast bent to pick him up, he felt a gentleness and a care that he was surprised by. He had gotten weak more quickly than he had expected. It wasn’t that he thought he would fight the Beast when his door was open, but he was at least expecting to be able to stand on his own power. Instead, he blinked blearily and didn’t bother moving at all. It was rather nice, actually. Being carried. Being taken care of. Not just nice because it had been days and weeks without companionship, but nice because it had been years, since his mother’s death, since anyone had ever cared to show him any amount of protective affection. It was a thing he had not realized he was hungry for, and only now that he was starving and exhausted did he allow himself to want it.
“You haven’t been eating,” the Beast said. Jaime’s ear vibrated with the power in the Beast’s chest. He tried to shrug.
“I decided I would prefer to die than be in this cell alone,” he replied. He tried to sound jaunty, or at least amusing, but his voice was thin and reedy, and he sounded nothing so much as pathetic.
“You must eat,” the Beast said. Jaime sighed, and buried his face in the Beast’s shirt. They were moving somewhere, he and the Beast. The stairs? He hoped so. He was asleep before they reached the top.
When Jaime woke, he was in a bed. He felt like he had been asleep for days. Likely, he had been. That cell had been cold and hard, and the bed in which he woke was the nicest bed he’d ever been in. It was soft, and he was warm. He rolled over, without opening his eyes, and he could feel how easy it would be to sink back into sleep. He refused to let himself. He sat up, instead, prepared to face whatever he had to.
Jaime’s bed at home was large enough, but the sheets were rough and plain, and the mattress was old and uncomfortable. This bed was different. It had a canopy, just like Cersei’s bed, which he had always been jealous of; his father told him that canopy beds were only for girls. Comfortable silk sheets were for girls, too, and colorful clothing, and anything soft or nice. Whoever assigned him to this room apparently felt differently. The sheets were a deep, deep blue, like the deepest part of the lake near Jaime’s house. They were silk, softer even than the fine clothing that Jaime was allowed to wear for feasts. Not very warm, so there was a white fur laid out on top of them. That was soft, too. Jaime could have slept happily for a hundred more years.
There was a plate set up on a stool by his bed. It was heaped with food—far more than he had been given when he was in the cell. Jaime sighed, and he forgot his resolution to get up and face the day, and he flopped over onto his front, sinking his face into the pillow. There was a lingering scent there. Something soft and flowery that he quite liked. He’d been scrubbed clean, he realized. He had slept through it all.
He felt the past years bleeding away as he lay there, unmoving, breathing deeply. He forgot about Aerys, the mad old sheriff who had been poised to slaughter everyone in the village on suspicion of witchcraft before Jaime stopped him. He forgot about Cersei and Tyrion and their endless, constant suspicions and hatreds and arguments in which they tried to win Jaime, like he was the prize for being better at their cruelties. He forgot about the Beast, even, and the deep rumbling voice, and the ice blue eyes, and the way torchlight glinted off the enormous, sharp teeth. He forgot that he was no less trapped here in a comfortable bed with silk sheets than he had been covered in his own filth in the dungeon. He slept again, and this time it was a restful sleep, and when he woke, he felt better.
He ate ravenously from the plate that had apparently been replaced by his bed when he slept; it was still warm, as if fresh from the kitchens. The food was all incredible, richer than anything he’d ever eaten. He tried to imagine the Beast buttering toast and found that he could not. There must have been some sort of household here.
Once he was finished eating, he got out of bed. He was fully naked, he discovered, and his clothes were nowhere to be found. He briefly considered wandering about the castle in nothing but a blue sheet tied around his waist, but there was an armoire on the other side of the room that yielded some more practical results. One half of it was stuffed with enormous dresses. A plain style, with very little lace, but still quite finely made, with patterned fabrics he liked. The cuts were all old-fashioned, and quite outdated. Jaime knew enough about recent styles to know that. But he also thought they looked nice. The other half of the armoire was dedicated to more comfortable outfits: breeches and shirts and riding gear. Jaime pawed through them eagerly, eventually settling on a pair of tan breeches that were slightly too large for him and a ruffled white shirt that was at least a hundred years out of date and also hopelessly floppy.
“This won’t do,” he said aloud. He looked at himself in the mirrored door of the armoire and tried to look fetching, but it was hopeless, swimming in so much unnecessary fabric.
Someone nearby stifled a laugh.
Jaime whirled, and took in the room. The door was still closed, and the room was still empty. He checked under the bed for good measure, and rifled through the clothes in the armoire again, but there was nothing. No one. He was the only one in the room. A trick of the mind, he tried to convince himself, though he wasn’t sure he believed that. He felt along the wall for hidden passages, knowing that these old castles often had secret tunnels that the servants could move through. Maybe one of the kitchen workers who had delivered his food had come by to check on him, and then fled when he heard them laughing.
He couldn’t find any sign of anyone. He gave up, satisfied that he was alone.
He found a sewing kit, abandoned in one of the drawers of the armoire, and he set about taking in the trousers and shirt so that they would fit him better, and he took off some of the ruffles so he didn’t feel so foolish. He was eager to explore the castle, but didn’t want to look ridiculous while he did it.
When he was finished, the shirt was still hopelessly outdated, and he would really have to do something about the rest of the ruffles, but he felt more human and less like the beast he’d become in the dungeon. Whoever had washed him hadn’t bothered to brush his hair—it was matted and tangled in places now. Perhaps they hadn’t wanted to wake him by trying to untangle the curls. He took the time to do so now, eyeballing the rest of the clothes in the armoire while he did. There was some sort of dinner jacket tucked in with the dresses, clearly made to be worn over one of them. But he liked the pale pink and gold brocaded design, and he knew that it would fit him. The former owner of the dresses had been bigger than him in the shoulders and in the waist, probably even before the weight Jaime lost during his confinement. That was helpful.
Once he was dressed and approved enough of his appearance in the mirror, he headed out into the hallway, prepared to track down the Beast.
His confidence disappeared quickly.
Though the room he had awoken in had been beautiful, and clean, and though he would not have been able to find any fault with it, the hallway into which his door opened was…different. There were cobwebs hanging from the light fixtures, and moldy spots on some of the walls, and there was dust staining the rug, as if years of footfalls had beaten it into the dark fabric. The sconces on the wall were tarnished, and very few of them were lit. He passed by a short, rather stubby candlestick that flickered brightly enough on a small cabinet, and so he picked it up and carried it with him as he ventured down the dark hall.
He found a grand staircase, one that went both down and up, and he chose down, hoping to find the Beast somewhere in the living areas of the house. He managed to locate the kitchens, where the hearth was burning brightly and the air was filled with the scent of baking bread. He found a drawing room where there was a moldering portrait of a very staid-looking family hung over a fireplace. He found a dining room, and a library, and a ballroom, too. None of them held the Beast. Actually, none of them held any signs of life. The aborted giggle in his room and the break baking in the kitchen was the only sign of other people he’d had since he woke. He suddenly felt just as lonely as he had when he was in his cell.
He tried calling out for attention. It worked just as well as it had when he was locked away. His voice echoed through the empty house. He headed for the doors. Perhaps the Beast was outside.
He found the Beast in the practice grounds.
It looked as if this place had once been home to a full household of people, because the practice grounds were enormous and well stocked. Most of the swords looked half rusted and useless, but there were some that were mostly untouched, and it was one of those that the Beast was trying to use. It was rather clumsily done, but Jaime could recognize some of the movements his training masters used to use when he was beginning. Except Jaime had never had paws, nor claws.
“Why do you even need a sword?” he asked. The Beast whirled and growled at him. Instinct. He could tell it was instinct, because embarrassment swiftly followed.
“I don’t,” the Beast said. “It’s not about need.”
“What’s it about, then?”
“Forgetting. Not forgetting.” The Beast looked down at the sword and then flung it aside. “What do you want?”
“I was looking for you.”
“Why? I gave you the nicest rooms.”
There was a gruff defensiveness there that Jaime found charming despite himself. He thought of Tyrion, and how Tyrion was always prickly with new people until he knew exactly what kind of person that new person was. He’d been burned too many times as a child, and despite Jaime’s best efforts, there was a hardness to his little brother now that he saw again in this Beast.
“I came to thank you. For letting me out of my cell. You didn’t have to do that.”
“You were dying.”
“Maybe, but why should that matter?”
The Beast’s eyes were very blue, especially when they flashed with anger the way they did then. Ice blue, Jaime had thought, when he was in the cell, but they seemed less cold than that, now.
“You are my prisoner. You’re my responsibility.” The Beast scoffed. “Honor may not mean so much to you, but it is everything to me.”
“You assume honor means nothing to me? Have I tried to escape? Have I even asked you to be released? Have I tried to trick you into it? I traded places with my sister, and I mean to honor that pledge. However long you mean to keep me, I will stay.”
He could not tell if the Beast was abashed or not, but he felt sorry for the outburst anyway. He had never been very good at holding to his temper when his honor was questioned. But what could the Beast know of that? Jaime’s sensitivity to that accusation…the Beast was a stranger who knew nothing except what went on in the walls of this castle.
“Forgive me,” the Beast said, and it surprised Jaime. Off-balanced him. “You are not your sister.”
“No. I’m not. I’m sorry for whatever she did.”
“She did nothing that men before her have not tried to do,” the Beast sighed. “But she was…”
“Cruel?” Jaime guessed. The Beast made a considering, agreeing noise. It sounded rather like a huff from an irritated dog, though Jaime wasn’t going to say that. “Cersei can be like that. She’s never been the same since our mother died. I suppose none of us have. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“I suppose you had a mother.”
“Of course I had a mother. What are you talking about?”
“Well. I wasn’t sure…you are human, then? Or were, originally? I didn’t know how to ask.”
“So you decided to imply that I was a monster with no mother?”
“No. Well. Perhaps. You are a bit of a monster. I don’t suppose that’s shocking.”
“There are different sorts of monsters.”
“How philosophical, beast.”
“Is there something you wanted? Or did you just track me down to insult me?”
The Beast was holding the sword clumsily still, pointed just a bit outward. Not quite ready to impale Jaime, but perhaps thinking about it. It made him feel a thrill of something unexpected. A bit of danger. There was no one in the village who could stand against Jaime for long. Not that they never tried, but none of them had been trained like Jaime, and none of them had his natural talents. Fighting against them was never very fun, or exciting. Nothing challenging, and Jaime had always craved challenge.
“I would like to fight you,” he said. “You could use your sword, if you wish. Or simply your claws. I think you’d do a better job with those, and I would…”
“No,” the Beast said shortly.
“No? Is there someone else you’d rather practice with?”
The Beast stalked closer, and again Jaime felt that little thrill of fear, of danger. The sword was cast aside, but still the threat remained. Those claws…but the Beast was not interested in attacking him. Just looming. Staring, with those calm blue eyes.
“You are my prisoner. Don’t forget that.”
And with that threatening rasp, the Beast stormed off, and Jaime was left in the courtyard alone, his breath shuddering out of him.
The Beast may have thought that a few threateningly spoken words would be enough to keep Jaime skittish and hidden away in the castle, but the Beast hadn’t known Jaime for very long, and could be forgiven for the mistake. Jaime returned to his room, leaving the candlestick on the cabinet in the hall, so he could explore the castle further if he wanted to later. There was another plate of food on the table beside his bed, and he indulged his urge to sulk and lick his wounds, lying on the bed and staring up at the canopy while he ate, complaining aloud to no one about the rude, stubborn creature.
Was this where Cersei had slept, before she insulted her host and wound up in the dungeon? Probably. It was the only room that Jaime had so far seen that wasn’t covered in cobwebs and old debris. He had trouble imagining Cersei cleaning it herself, but he had no trouble imagining her tracking down a servant and making them do it for her. There must be other people in the castle. Jaime and the Beast were outside together when the food was replaced in his room. He imagined that he could sense them, and it made his skin prickle, to feel like he was being watched. He glared up at the canopy, remembering the way the Beast dismissed him so casually in the yard. Jaime was not a man used to being dismissed. People vied for his attention, usually. He’d expected the Beast to be glad for his company, and he felt stung, a bit hurt, to be proven wrong. It was foolish of him. Maybe his family was right: he could be quite dull about these things. Insulting and teasing the Beast as he would have insulted and taunted a friend, or a foe in the practice yard, like the Beast was just another companion. A village boy with a wooden sword, eager to test his mettle against the boy who slew Aerys Targaryen.
Well, the Beast was not a village boy. The Beast was unlike anyone Jaime had ever met, and he should have known better. He wished yet again that he had been allowed a few private moments with Cersei. What did you do? he would have asked. How far did you go? What did you say that made the Beast hate you? I would not want to make the same mistakes.
But Jaime had never been a cautious man, so once he had yet again eaten his fill, he took off his ruffled shirt, and he altered it further, using the time to calm himself down and think of a battle plan. He had always been a steady hand at stitching. When he and Cersei were children, they looked enough alike that they had been able to switch places whenever they chose. Cersei would play at swords and numbers for the day while Jaime learned stitching and embroidery and how to play various instruments. A lady’s pursuits, their father called it, and Jaime had reveled in the forbidden arts the same way Cersei reveled in fighting and riding horses. He was grateful for those spent afternoons now, as he tore out the stitches on the ugly ruffles and savagely remade the shirt into something more flattering. He trimmed his hair in the mirror. Trimmed his beard. Wore the brocaded dinner jacket that was clearly meant for the large person who owned the dresses. He did all of this with more intensity than he had ever entered a fight. When at last he was ready, put together more nicely than before, he left his room again.
The next few days were like this. In the mornings, he would alter a new shirt, or a new pair of breeches. He cut up one of the dresses entirely and made a cloak of it, because he liked the pattern. The Beast looked at him askance that morning, and Jaime waited to be mocked, but the Beast only complimented Jaime’s sewing, and asked if he was very good.
“I am,” Jaime said. “If you’d like me to fix anything, let me know.”
He was not expecting the pile of torn shirts and breeches and jackets to be dumped on the table just outside his door, but they were there the next morning. When Jaime returned the garments, the Beast seemed surprised, and reluctantly thanked Jaime for the work.
The Beast showed him the barest courtesy when they were forced to be in the same place together. Jaime was usually the one doing the forcing. He sought his out reluctant companion in the training yard, in the library, in the dining room.
Jaime started asking about the curse. It didn’t help. The Beast had already been closed off, so perhaps it was not possible for more distance to open up between them, but it felt like it. It felt like those blue eyes looked right through him, if they weren’t glaring at him in open disgust. Jaime had never gone so long without being liked by someone. He had been told a time or three in his life that he was quite charming, even when one started out disliking him. The Beast would have disagreed, probably.
“There is nothing to tell you about the curse.”
“Stop asking about the curse.”
“Why do you care so much about the curse?”
Annoyance. Disdain. Suspicion.
“I want to help you break it,” Jaime said one morning. It was the morning of the cloak, and he was feeling quite put-out, because he was running out of clothing in the armoire to alter, and he was running out of rooms to explore, and there was nothing in this castle but bleak, empty halls and cobwebs and echoes and the occasional sounds of disembodied voices that went silent whenever he got too close. Half the rooms had the feeling of having been full just moments before he had arrived. Was that a part of the curse? If so, he could see why the Beast was so skittish. It was driving him mad already, and the Beast had been living with it for centuries.
The Beast seemed surprised by his pronouncement on that day.
“There is no breaking it.” It was the most that had been said about the subject, and Jaime was relieved.
“So there is a curse,” he said.
“Of course there’s a curse. Do you think I chose this?”
“Chose to be a beast? Perhaps. I think I would, if I was given the choice.”
“To be made so hideous? To spend your life alone here? Without anyone to listen to your ceaseless chatter? I don’t think you would survive.”
“You aren’t alone, are you? I’m here. Chattering at you.”
“Yes, you’re here. Regrettably.”
“You’re the one in charge of my sentence,” Jaime pointed out. There was something sly in his voice, but he didn’t think…really, if it came down to it, Jaime did not think he was ready to leave. Maybe if the Beast opened the front gate and told him to get the fuck out, he would. But he’d be annoyed about it. He’d like to be released because the Beast liked him enough to let him go. Not because he was so irritating that he was driven out.
“I could put you back in your cell at any time.”
“Yes, you could. You could chain me up, gag me, do whatever you like. I’m your prisoner.” Jaime’s retorts were always cheerful, and the Beast’s responses always grim, annoyed. This one caused only silence, and Jaime felt he had won something. He shrugged. “Or you could let me go. Or you could tell me how to break the curse, and I could attempt it.”
“I’d sooner chain you up,” the Beast replied, and Jaime thought about that later, for some reason, as he tried to sleep.
He was never sure why the mania for curse breaking came over him. It just seemed like it was the only thing that could be done. What else was there? There was a library filled with books, but he could hardly read as it was, not without difficulty, and the thought of laboring over all those words exhausted him. There was an abandoned, overgrown garden that he could tend, for Jaime had always adored flowers, but winter was approaching, and it was not the time for that yet. He cleared the dead leaves aimlessly, and he cleaned what he could before the frost set in, but it was hardly enough employment for a man as restless as he. He went from room to room, gathering the clothing that was tucked away in forgotten chests and drawers and armoires. He tore apart fur cloaks and made his own, lining those dress fabrics with the softest furs. Indulging himself. He ate the food that was left for him. He practiced swordplay against those old, moldering practice dummies, fruitlessly hoping that the Beast would see him at it one day and finally offer to fight. All the while, he prodded at the Beast, trying to figure out the point of a curse that kept this castle from fully falling into disrepair, kept the Beast from aging or dying, but seemed to do nothing else.
He had been given no instructions by the Beast, and no warnings about where he was or was not allowed to explore, but there was a locked door in one of the castle’s towers that had intrigued him since he discovered it. He had fiddled with it a few times, always when he was sure that the Beast was elsewhere, but he had so far had no luck, and no desire to chance being caught and embarrassed for it.
One day he finally lost his patience, because if the Beast would not tell him how to break the curse, then he would simply have to find out on his own. He was conscious of some guilt even as he left his room. He carried a pail of cleaning supplies as he went, in case the Beast should happen to spot him. He wore the plainest pair of tan breeches and one of the shirts he had not been able to turn into anything fashionable. There was too much terrible embroidery on the sleeves, like a particularly untalented child had done the work. It served for when he knew he would be getting dirty, such as when he took it in his head to clean, or when he knew he would be spending some time in the practice yard. In the morning, no matter how late he remained awake the night before, the soiled shirt would always be cleaned and hanging back in the armoire, as frustrating and impossible as everything else in this place.
He did not pass the Beast on his way to the tower. He was grateful for it, though annoyed, too. Annoyed especially that he was annoyed. Annoyed that he wanted to speak to the stubborn creature at all.
The truth was that he liked the Beast. Liked the silences and the gruff replies and the constant reproach in that arresting blue gaze. There was a person beneath all that fur, hidden behind that wide mouth with those sharp teeth. There had been fingers once beneath those claws. He found he could not imagine anything about who the Beast had once been. Did it matter? The Beast was the Beast now, and it was the Beast he had to live with.
It was the Beast he wanted to help, too. Jaime had always been a man ready for adventure, and perhaps there was a part of him that saw this curse as just a part of that. A thing that needed to be done, so he would do it. He was not the sort of man who would sit around, idly waiting for things like curses to sort themselves out. The Beast might have the patience for that, but Jaime did not. If there was a curse that needed breaking, why then Jaime would break it. What was the use in waiting?
He managed to pick the lock on the door, and he was disappointed by the plain, circular room that lay beyond it. But there was a staircase that led him upwards, and so upwards he went, carrying his bucket of cleaning tools, like he really thought he was going to fool the Beast into thinking he broke into the tower in order to clean it.
When he reached the top, he was in a stone room with many windows. Some of them were stained glass, and the light shone through, and the beauty of it snatched Jaime’s breath more than the long walk had. He had long been a man who prized function over beauty, but he could appreciate the beauty of things too, and he appreciated this.
He took the feather duster from the bucket and began to dust idly at the windows as he walked around the room. There was only one item of interest, but he didn’t much understand it: a small wooden table that held only a bell jar, under which a rose wilted in a cracked pink vase. He frowned at it. Walked around it. Observed it. As he watched, a petal fell from the rose and crumbled to dust on the surface of the table. Actually, there weren’t very many petals left on the rose at all. He wondered at the Beast, for keeping it up here, hidden away. Was it the last rose from the wasted garden, perhaps? He could give the Beast more roses. Whole bushes of roses, actually. Why should this one be so special?
He reached for the bell jar, hoping to see the rose closer. Pick it up, smell it. In the stories, there was always a point to this stuff, and there must have been a point to this.
The voice was small, and squeaking, and afraid, and Jaime whirled around, the feather duster held aloft. Just like the smothered laughter and the sense for the past days that he had been watched, this turned out to also be fruitless. Whoever had spoken was already gone, hidden away in the walls.
But there were no walls to be hidden away in here, and Jaime registered this just as there was a curt, uncomfortable sigh and an utterance of “oh, fine. Look down.”
Jaime looked down. Not that he was often in the habit of doing what he was told by strange voices, but he had a sinking feeling that he knew what was speaking before he saw it.
The feather duster told me, Cersei had said, and Jaime assumed her driven mad already by her confinement. But she hadn’t been mad at all, had she?
He still shouted in alarm when he saw the feather duster begin to squirm in his grasp, and he still tossed it away from him, shaking it off like a spider that had accidentally found its way up his arm. The feather duster made an indignant sound. Some kind of annoyed squawk. When it landed, it picked itself up again, resting on its feathers, looking startlingly like a slim, elegant woman in a poofed out skirt.
“That was rather rude, wasn’t it?” it chided him.
“You’re the feather duster,” he said.
“Obviously,” the feather duster replied. Jaime felt embarrassed, suddenly. The voice was reproachful, a little hurt. He’d flung it across the room like a diseased rat.
“Look, I’m sorry if I injured you, or offended you. You surprised me.”
“I gathered that.”
“It wasn’t very gallant of me.”
“No, but neither was breaking into this room, was it? You don’t seem like a very gallant sort of man.”
“I admit I haven’t given you reason to form the best impression of me.”
“Neither did your sister.”
Jaime sighed and sat down cross-legged before the feather duster, so as to observe it more closely. It swayed forward a bit, like it was walking. It had no hands, and no hips on which to place them, but Jaime had the feeling that if the required parts weren’t missing, that was exactly what it would be doing.
“I’m sorry for my sister. She said she talked to you. Was she cruel?”
“She was…nice. At first,” the feather duster said quietly. Embarrassed as well, Jaime thought. “I told her about the curse. I shouldn’t have done that. But I truly thought she wanted to help.”
“She might have,” Jaime said, mostly to be kind, but the feather duster made a grumpy little noise, and Jaime knew that he wouldn’t make any friends here by defending Cersei. It was just that he had been defending Cersei all his life. It was such an automatic thing. But he knew her nature, and he knew that she could be cruel, and he knew that she hadn’t wanted to help the Beast at all, or this castle, or its…cleaning implements. “Cersei is usually trying to help herself,” he admitted. “And if it seems like she isn’t, that’s only because you haven’t figured out how the thing she wants is going to help her, yet. I’ve been through it before.”
“But you took her place anyway. That was brave, what you did.”
“I would do it again,” Jaime admitted.
“Because she’s your sister.”
“I had a sister, before. I suppose I still do. She sticks to the kitchens, mostly. She’s a knife. But it’s different, when you’re not human.”
“You were human once too, then?”
“Of course I was!”
Her feathers were quite literally ruffled in annoyance, and Jaime had to hide a grin behind his hand.
“All right, I apologize. I keep asking and keep offending. I’ll just assume everything used to be human, shall I?”
“Well. No. The scrub brush you brought with you is just a scrub brush. And the bucket is just a bucket.”
“Suppose you’re probably grateful for that,” Jaime mused, looking at the bucket and trying to figure out, anatomically, a way in which it wouldn’t be weird for a once-human feather duster to ride inside a once human bucket. The feather duster giggled a little, and its feathers smoothed out. “What’s your name, then?”
“Sansa,” the feather duster answered, and Jaime stuck out his hand. Sansa laughed again, and bent. The top of the feather duster’s handle pressed briefly against Jaime’s palm, in a mockery of a handshake.
“Sansa,” Jaime repeated. “Tell me about the curse, Sansa.”
Sansa didn’t want to tell him about the curse. Not at first.
She wanted to talk about the curse, but not about the particulars or the parameters or any ideas about how to break it. She was more than happy to chatter on about how boring and lonely it was, being a cursed household item. It was clear that she had been a trusting, friendly girl in life, and Jaime understood her reluctance to tell him anything now; she had probably been excited to meet Cersei. Glamorous and warm when she wanted to be, Cersei could win over anyone. And friendly, trusting girls were some of Cersei’s favorite people, because they believed her honeyed words more easily, and took less effort to win over. Jaime loved his sister, and he did not regret protecting his sister, but he knew her for what she was, most of the time, when he wasn’t busy trying to ignore it.
But Jaime was not totally without charms of his own, and though he felt a pang of guilt for being so like his sister in this, he was able to wheedle the story out of Sansa eventually.
It wasn’t like he was lying. He truly did want to break the curse, and he truly did want to help, and he truly did feel like it was something out of an old story or an old song. That those were all things that he assumed would appeal to the little feather duster didn’t make them any less true. It just also made them clever things to say.
Just from the start of the story, Jaime understood why Cersei had turned on the Beast so soon. The Beast wasn’t the lord of the castle, presiding over everything. Those stories had all been lies; a marriage wouldn’t magically make the castle Cersei’s once the curse was broken. The lord of the castle was Lord Stark, Sansa’s father, and the Beast had been their ward.
Sansa was vague on the terms of the curse, and Jaime couldn’t tell if it was because she was trying to be mysterious or if it was because she actually didn’t know. From what Jaime could gather, a red priestess cursed Lord Stark and his household after her son suffered some insult from the Beast. Rather than punishing only the Beast for the insult, the priestess thought Lord Stark deserved punishment as well, because he refused to force his ward to apologize. What the insult was, Sansa would not say, though Jaime got the sense that she did know that part. She delivered its description in girlish, gossipy tones that reminded him of the girls in the village that Cersei disdained and Tyrion loved to chase.
“We were cursed to be furniture because my father allowed his ward to walk all over us, according to her,” Sansa said when she was finished. “I think it was meant to be a joke. She turned father into an armchair.”
“Uh. Which armchair?”
“The one in the drawing room, by the fire.”
“Gross,” Jaime muttered. “I wish he’d said something.”
“Oh, he wouldn’t. He never does. I’m always the one who cracks first.” Sansa sighed and ruffled her feathers a bit. “Did you sit on him, then?”
“Only once.” At Jaime’s miserable tone, Sansa giggled. “Well, what about the Beast? Why wasn’t the Beast turned into furniture?”
“I think the Beast was cursed for vanity. Made into a monster because the witch thought it would be fitting, after the way her son was treated. I’ve never understood that. It wasn’t vanity. The witch’s son was cruel, and horrible, and nothing that was said to him was undeserved.”
“Vanity,” Jaime mused, looking at the floating rose. Another petal fell. “So the rose, then?”
“She gave it to the Beast to mark the passage of time. And we’re running out.” Sansa hopped up onto the table and dusted off the bell jar. She was careful about it, tender in a way that made Jaime feel very sorry for her and the whole family, and the Beast.
“What will happen when you run out of time?”
“I don’t know. None of us do, really. I suppose I become a feather duster for good? Maybe we die, or maybe we just keep on lingering here. That would be worse, I think. Not that it’s too terrible, being a feather duster. I still get to see my family. And I have more mobility than the rest of them! But poor father, stuck as that armchair. And mother forever an armoire. Jon a candlestick, Robb that sword over the fireplace. Arya a knife. Actually, I think Arya would prefer it that way. She does like being a knife.”
“Wait. Armoire? Which armoire? Not my armoire?”
They made their way back down the tower. Jaime carried the bucket, but Sansa perched on his shoulder now, like a rather content little bird.
“We weren’t supposed to talk to you at all,” she revealed happily. “But it was so boring, not talking to anyone, and I could tell that you weren’t like your sister at all.”
“We are twins.”
“Yes, but not in the ways that matter.”
Jaime supposed that was true, but he still didn’t like hearing it, so he kept quiet as he descended the winding staircase. He still couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to do about the curse. Most of the time in stories, curses had some riddle to them. The hero just had to figure it out in order to break it. Not a great design for a curse, really. The red priestess had been more straightforward, but Jaime suspected some trap, anyway. He figured witches and priestesses probably didn’t go around intending for their curses to be easily broken.
“You said someone must capture the Beast’s heart. That the Beast must lose it.”
“Yes,” Sansa said. “That’s what she said. I remember it well. She was very clear.”
“And you think…I mean, she must have meant falling in love, right? Not…murder?”
Sansa was plainly stricken by that. Jaime felt her stiffen on his shoulder, and then her feathers nervously rustled, like a roosting bird.
“No, of course not,” she said. “It must be love. Don’t be absurd.”
“I’m just asking. It’s just…you love the Beast. Everyone in your family loves the Beast.”
“If it was love that’s supposed to break the curse, wouldn’t that be enough?”
“No,” Sansa answered, much more firmly. “You know better than that. In the stories, it’s always a kiss.”
“A kiss isn’t love.”
“No, but that doesn’t matter! You know what I mean! Romantic love. True love. Someone choosing to give their heart away! Please, Jaime. You have to try and love the Beast.”
“The curse didn’t say anything about me loving the Beast,” Jaime pointed out, but Sansa was quiet, and sulking, and he knew it was the wrong thing to say. He could imagine Cersei coming to the same conclusion. I just have to make the furry monster fall for me, do I? That shouldn’t be so difficult. He didn’t like what it said about him, that he so quickly determined the same. “I’m not my sister,” he promised. “I’ll try.”
“You will,” Sansa said, though it was plaintive, and a little hurt, and he knew that she did not quite believe him.
At first, Jaime wasn’t particularly worried about making the Beast love him. He knew himself to be handsome, because it was always the first thing people said about him. Not that he was brave, or strong, or loyal. He was handsome. It had bothered him in the past, but he was glad for it now. At least he knew he had one thing going for him.
And it was a superficial kind of charm, the charm he had cultivated over the years, but it was effective. He could affect gallantry, give sweeping bows and roguish winks and gentle smiles. The villagers his age had always liked him and had, from time to time, given him a bit of a chase, even though they knew that they would have to face Cersei’s wrath for deigning to believe that they were good enough for him—none of the village dwellers were good enough for them, Cersei had decided early on, and she never answered when Jaime asked who would be good enough.
Not that Jaime expected he would ever get a choice in who to love. He never gave in to the pursuits of those village youths. He never lingered too long on any smile, or flirted enough to give anyone expectations. He would be fated to marry someone who could provide the best alliance for Tywin, and he knew it. He thought he would have liked to be in love. He thought there was a lot of love within him, and he would like the chance to give it to someone. It was a secret part of him that he never got to use, and he hoped it would serve him well against the Beast.
He had never fought a foe with love before, and he was interested to see how effective it could be. Surely it would not be too difficult.
The Beast, it turned out, found many things not to love about him.
“You talk too much.”
“Why are you still here?”
“Put that down.”
“You’re an annoyance, and a menace, like a fly I can’t get rid of.”
“Are you still talking?”
“You’re covered in mud. Do you ever bathe?”
“Your hair is in tangles.”
“You’re not even that good of a fighter. Why would I bother to fight you?”
“Please, please shut up.”
Jaime remained cheerful in the face of these insults, because he had no other choice. He had to capture the Beast’s heart. Since the day Sansa told him the whole of the curse, he had met more and more of her family, and he felt sorry for them, and he wanted to help them. He wanted to help the Beast, too, but the stubborn creature didn’t seem to think that was possible. The Beast preferred sulking and endlessly trying to practice with swords that would not fit in paws with claws. The few times Jaime brought it up, his ideas had not been met with cheer.
“Kiss you?” the Beast asked, when Jaime approached the problem head-on, with a bright smile, hoping to look as charming as possible. He was wearing his new fur cloak at the time, with a red trim that he had stolen from one of Lady Catelyn’s old dresses. The other members of the household—especially the ladies— seemed to like him, though it was hard to tell with wardrobes and teacups and feather dusters and especially knives how charmed they actually were. Charmed enough to tell him where to find new fabrics for his clothing, at least. And there was cousin Jon, the stubby little candlestick that sat outside Jaime’s room, along with an old wind-up clock called Sam. They both liked him more than anyone except perhaps Sansa, and the four of them often stayed up late in Sansa’s old room, hiding from the rest of the household, coming up with plots while Jaime sewed tighter and more revealing and flashier clothes, trying to tempt the Beast somehow.
Most of their plots went nowhere. The kiss thing was Sam’s idea. He seemed to think he was a master of romance because he’d been dating one of the kitchen spoons for however many years they’d been a clock and a spoon, and he had a kind of shy but also kind of forthright nature that meant the kiss suggestion probably had worked for him. It didn’t work on the Beast, though.
“Why would I kiss you?” the Beast asked, and when Jaime stammered, trying to list his most kissable qualities, the Beast only snorted and left.
“Cersei ruined it, I think,” he mused to Sansa and Lady Catelyn one morning as he was feeling sorry for himself in bed and sewing another fashionable cape. This one was made of the curtains from Arya’s old room, which she had been delighted to give him, because she hated the lavender color and the gold embroidered flowers. Jaime thought they were pretty, and he thought they’d make him look pretty, too. Sansa flitted about the miles of fabric, dusting them off, while Catelyn loomed over his shoulder, watching his stitches. She never found anything to criticize, which was the highlight of Jaime’s pathetic days in this castle. “She tried too hard, probably. That’s what she always does.”
“She was very obvious,” Lady Catelyn agreed. She closed her doors and then opened them, flinging out a shirt. “Try this one. It’ll look better with the color.”
“Oh, you’re right,” Jaime said. He liked Lady Catelyn, though she’d been prickly at first, when she realized that Sansa had told him everything. Cersei had nearly ruined a lot of things for him. Luckily, Lady Catelyn seemed to be a good judge of character, and she realized pretty quickly how unlike Cersei he really was. “What kinds of things did she do? I want to try and avoid them.”
“Just be yourself,” Lady Catelyn advised. “Your sister wasn’t that, and the Beast doesn’t trust easily. If you’re false at all…”
“Right,” Jaime agreed. “Be myself. How difficult can that be?”
It was odd to discover at his age that he was insecure. He’d thought the opposite, all his life! But once Lady Catelyn gave him the advice to be himself, he realized that he didn’t…like it. Being him. He liked being charming and airy and false. He liked striving for some impossible goal of being like a hero from a story, riding in to save the lives of all these…noble pieces of furniture. He liked being that man, that Jaime Lannister. He didn’t like being the boy who still missed his mother and who struggled with his letters and who sometimes just wanted a bit of a cuddle instead of being the strongest and best at everything. He didn’t like being a failure of a brother, trying to wrangle Cersei and Tyrion and desperately attempting to keep them out of trouble. He didn’t like feeling helpless, not knowing what was going to become of him in the future because he had lived by his father’s rule for so long that he didn’t know how to be a real person without Tywin’s guidance.
He had always been a charming man, but when people saw to the heart of him accidentally, he had a tendency to get snappish and rude, and so he was snappish and rude in those early days of attempted-curse-breaking with the Beast. Quite the opposite of what he set out to do, but the Beast seemed to trust it more than his charm anyway. Whenever the Beast questioned him, or prodded at him, or called him something that got too close to the truth, he snapped back, and the Beast would snarl at him. Show some hint of beastliness beyond the carefully regulated cool annoyance that was usually what Jaime inspired.
“I think I’m an asshole,” Jaime lamented to Jon one day, as he stomped back up to his room after another unsuccessful interaction with the Beast in the practice yard.
“Maybe,” Jon agreed readily. “But you’re all we’ve got.”
That made it easier, after a while. It made him determined. He didn’t want to be sparkling and false like Cersei, because he already knew that that wouldn’t work. Sansa told him that the Beast would never have fallen in love with Cersei anyway, that Jaime was much more the Beast’s type, so he got at least a tiny boost of confidence from that. And he didn’t want to upset the Beast by being too forward. He was himself, more himself than he had been in years, probably. He was beholden to no one but himself. He wore clothes he liked, and he ate whatever he pleased, and he made friends with the furniture. He didn’t have to maintain a haughty Lannister distance from everybody, and they liked him. He was determined to make the Beast like him, too. You’re all we’ve got, Jon had said, and that rose in the tower didn’t have too many petals left on it.
Jaime had always wanted to be a hero, and now this was his chance.
And it was difficult to say, really, whether a person could will themselves into feeling something. Jaime thought it was probably impossible. He hounded the Beast and needled the Beast and learned to understand the Beast’s humor. He laughed and cajoled and attempted to impress. And if it was impossible to force oneself to feel something… then that meant that the odd, squirming softness he found himself feeling for the Beast was not something he had tricked himself into but was real. An affection that grew within him the longer he spent in the Beast’s company.
He asked the Beast to show him around the grounds, to give him an official tour, and the Beast actually obliged. There was a hedge maze, overgrown and untended. More gardens than Jaime had yet seen. Even a greenhouse, though everything in it looked like it had been untouched and left to grow for centuries. The Beast seemed charmingly embarrassed about all of it.
“There were gardeners to do the work, before, but they were seasonal, and not…not cursed, like the rest. I tried, for a while, at the beginning, but…”
“Claws,” Jaime finished, when the Beast could not.
“Claws,” the Beast agreed, and Jaime watched those claws disappear back into fur as the Beast furled those massive paws into embarrassed fists.
He started insisting that he and the Beast take their dinners together, in the dining hall. He made it seem like it was only civilized, like he was some poor rich boy who couldn’t handle the thought of not having a proper dinner, but really, he just liked it. The Beast never ate much, and Jaime had a feeling that it was embarrassment again. A lot of the Beast’s standoffish nature could probably be explained by embarrassment. It couldn’t be very easy to politely hold a knife and fork with claws like that, and for someone who had once been the noble ward of a noble family, it must have been difficult to stomach. Jaime pretended not to notice. He kept up a careful stream of chatter and asked questions and shared stories of his own family. After enough days passed, the Beast started to reply, and ask questions, and share careful stories as well.
After a while, it seemed that the encouragement of the cursed furniture wasn’t even necessary. Jaime found himself seeking the Beast out. Enjoying every moment he spent roaming the castle and asking a million questions and receiving the answers. The Beast revealed that the claws made it difficult to turn pages, and Jaime revealed that he’d never been very good at reading, and so they would sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch in the library, and Jaime would turn the pages while the Beast read aloud and the fire roared, keeping them warm through the winter. Jaime decided that he wanted to learn how to bake like the servants in the kitchen, and so he talked the Beast into joining him, and everyone laughed, including the Beast, at the way the white flour seemed to stick so well to pale brown fur.
The winter kept them inside and locked away, but Jaime didn’t mind. The castle didn’t feel like a prison to him, though occasionally he would miss his family, and he would remember that he was not allowed to leave. It seemed like a temporary thing. It wasn’t that he was so confident that he could win over the Beast, though he supposed he was. It was just that he trusted the Beast. If he was truly unhappy. If he truly wanted to leave. The Beast would let him. He was sure of it.
When he wasn’t spending time with the Beast, Jaime cleaned. His hair had always been long, but it had gotten even longer and even curlier in his captivity, so he would tie it back using ribbons stolen from repurposed dresses and stalk off to whichever room he had chosen, and he and Sansa and some of the numerous servants who had been turned into a cleaning implements would attack it. Dusting and scrubbing and patching up upholstery that the Beast had somehow ruined over the years. Jaime had always hated cleaning, but there was something about it that he liked now. It gave him a purpose. Whether he was dusting off old books in the library or patching together an old carpet in which the Beast’s claws had torn holes, he was helping. He was making a change. He was fixing things.
He enjoyed the winter months a lot, holed up with the Beast inside the castle. Something about it made him feel safe. Like nothing from outside could touch them. He was ashamed for wanting the coziness of it so badly. For yearning for something softer than what he’d been granted back home. But he couldn’t help it, and his father wasn’t around to tell him that he wasn’t being enough of a man, or enough of a Lannister, and so he was free to lean into it as much as he wanted.
There were a few moments when they were reading where he would look up just as the Beast was looking down, and he swore…
But the Beast never lingered too long in softer moments like that, and it drove Jaime mad. He turned his frustrations to the greenhouse, where he spent days on end covered in dirt and tearing up weeds and pruning back the plants that had been allowed to grow unchecked. He liked gardening even more than he liked cleaning, especially since the Beast would poke in at odd moments to check on Jaime’s progress, almost shyly.
“Those claws are good for some things,” Jaime pointed out once, mildly enough so that the Beast would not take offense, and from then on the Beast would join him often, digging in the dirt when Jaime asked, cutting plants when Jaime asked, obviously pleased to even be asked. They were friends for a certain, and whole days would go by before Jaime would remember the rose in the tower, and the fact that he didn’t have a lot of time left.
It was frustrating sometimes, because Jaime would want to ask “what are you afraid of?” when the Beast would turn away or back out of moments that got too close. But why bother to ask? He understood the Beast’s fear, he thought. He knew the Beast thought him attractive. He’d seen those blue eyes lingering appreciatively more than once when he rolled up his sleeves to dig in the dirt or when he straightened after building up the fire in the library when they were reading. He knew that the Beast was attracted to him, and he could even say, in all honestly, that he was a bit attracted to the Beast. Not that he had any idea how it would work, or whether it even could work without Jaime risking being impaled by one of those fucking talons.
Not that he thought about it at all. Not that it was driving him crazy.
But attraction was easy to admit, and it was easy to face. It wasn’t something that one could really control. But anything stronger than that…well, he could understand why the Beast would be worried, and he couldn’t figure out how to prove himself.
It took until the spring for the Beast to agree to fight him.
It wasn’t that Jaime ever stopped asking. He spent most of the winter asking. But the Beast seemed to be laboring under the impression that Jaime was exaggerating his fighting prowess, or perhaps offering to fight as some kind of joke. Jaime decided that the skepticism was because he dressed nicely and enjoyed gardening and baking and other things that would make his father ashamed. It annoyed him. Of everyone, he hadn’t expected the Beast to be so narrow minded as his father, thinking that men could only be one set of things or another. A strong man or a weak one. A fighter or a gardener. Men shouldn’t do this and men shouldn’t do that, and if they did the wrong things, it meant that they were wrong. Men should not lie with other men. Men should never wear this arbitrary set of colors or else it meant something. Men should not like soft things, and they should not be gentle people. They should never cry. They should never show any emotion at all but a cold, calculated rage. Tywin’s definition of manhood was so narrow as to be impossible to meet, and maybe that was why Jaime had long ago given up on trying.
It wasn’t that Jaime thought the Beast meant the same kind of harm that Tywin did. He thought that the Beast just didn’t understand him, or was perhaps afraid. Even Jaime was still sometimes afraid, all the way out here, with no one but the Beast to judge him. That lavender cape with its gold swirls, he would never feel comfortable wearing something like that in the village, but it wasn’t because of him. If it was up to him, he would wear that cape everywhere. But men like his father and men like Robert Baratheon would never stand for it. Women like Cersei, too, who bought into it and believed that there were things that men should do and women should do and that the two should never mix. She hadn’t always been like that, but she had grown into it. Accepted it when she realized that it could be used as a weapon. He wasn’t sure why it was the way that it was. He wasn’t sure why it was so difficult for people to see that life was more enjoyable when you didn’t try to box everyone in.
So the fight.
It became a thing that he needed to do, even if just to prove to the Beast that he could. He knew that he was the best fighter in the village. He knew that a man could be many things at once. He was sure that the Beast knew it too, but he wanted to prove it. So he asked, and cajoled, and came just barely short of begging, and at last, when the snows were melted and the weather started to warm and the Beast had at last endured enough of his complaints and enough of the stuffiness of the old castle, it was agreed that they would fight.
On the day, Jaime was so excited, he could hardly sit still. He was dressed simply, in his least blousy shirt and his best pair of breeches. He was wearing his own boots, because they fit him best. He had practiced for hours the night before, until Catelyn threatened to lock him inside her and smother him into sleep if he didn’t get in bed. He was outside in the yard for at least a half hour before the appointed time, and he spent that half hour concerned and convinced that the Beast was going to back out.
The Beast didn’t, though, and appeared exactly at the appointed time, as diligent and responsible as ever. Jaime was nearly giddy with relief for it, but something stopped him at the expression on the Beast’s face.
The thing about the Beast’s face was that it really was quite expressive, once you knew what you were looking for. The wide-set mouth and the pointed fangs looked monstrous until Jaime realized that the fangs drooping slightly meant that the Beast was upset. The blue eyes were always expressive, but the Beast’s face still scrunched up with laughter or disdain like a human’s might, and Jaime could read it. Broad, beastly shoulders, sure. They tensed when the Beast was tense. They unfurled when the Beast was comfortable. Even those enormous, clawed feet had emotions attached. They shuffled when the Beast was feeling overwhelmed or at odds.
When the Beast entered the practice yard…Jaime wasn’t sure what he was seeing, not at first. Then he realized that it was hurt. The Beast was hurt.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, and the Beast looked at him, and Jaime for a moment thought that the Beast wasn’t going to answer at all. And he wasn’t sure he could put it together on his own. He knew he had been obnoxious about wanting to fight the Beast for the past few months, but he didn’t realize he had been annoying enough to hurt the Beast’s feelings.
“If you are so desperate to escape, I can simply set you free,” the Beast said, finally. “You won’t win your freedom this way.”
Jaime frowned, not understanding. Perhaps his siblings were right when they said he was abominably slow, because it took him a moment to figure out what the Beast was even referring to.
A prisoner, he remembered. I’m a prisoner who wants to fight his captor.
“Don’t be an idiot,” he said, which was probably not the kindest thing to say. The Beast glared at him. “I’m not expecting to win. I’m hoping to win, and I’m even more so hoping to give you a bit of a fight. But it’s not because I think it’s my way out.”
“But…you’re so eager to fight me.”
“For fun. I’m a good fighter, and I imagine you are, too.”
“You’re my prisoner.”
“A voluntary prisoner, who chose my position. We’ve discussed this before. Just because you think I have no idea what honor is…”
“It isn’t that…”
“You have not tried to bargain with me, and you have not asked to go home. Why?”
Why? Jaime hadn’t really given it much thought, but now he did. Why? At first, the answer seemed obvious: he wanted to help save the Beast and the Starks and their household, and he couldn’t very well do that if he was at home in his village, back where there were no true adventures to be had. But there was more to it than that, wasn’t there? He hadn’t realized it until now.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said. He said it slowly, disbelieving, but he knew it was true. He looked into the Beast’s great furry face, and he thought about going home, thought about leaving this castle forever. Why would he want to? What would he be getting in return? His family? They resented him or expected too much of him or loved him but only on their terms, never his. There was no magic at home. And not just magic like the curse that was keeping the Starks as furniture and the Beast as the Beast, but magic of any kind. The slow transformation of the castle into a livable place again under his hands. The way the garden bloomed with his help. The clothes he made and the books the Beast read to him. All of it was magic.
“What about your family?” the Beast asked.
“How can that be true? If I could see my father again…”
“I’m sure your father was a lovely old wolf of a man, but my father is just…a monster, perhaps. Half of one, anyway. More of a beast than you are, only he disguises himself as a man. And my sister…well. You know my sister. She’s kind and she’s cruel, whichever serves her needs the most. And my brother is not much better, though he thinks he is. I love them all. I do. I have always loved my family. But, gods. The thought of going back…”
“You don’t want to go back,” the Beast said again, awed, confused. Longing, Jaime thought, though perhaps he was projecting. Or just being the kind of fool who found hope where there wasn’t any. But he thought…well. The tone was almost pleased.
“I don’t want to escape, and I don’t want to hurt you. I think you’re going to slam me into the dirt, and I will welcome it. I haven’t fought anyone the entire time I’ve been here, and I used to spar every day. I think we could both use the exercise after spending all winter cooped up inside.”
The Beast hesitated, but eventually nodded. Worried brow unfurling. Worried eyes no longer darting. Shoulders no longer tense. Jaime felt his own body responding in kind. Loosening. Readying.
The first bout was rather short. The Beast did indeed knock him back into the dirt, and Jaime laughed, exulting. The feel of the sword in his hand, even if it was only a blunted practice blade, awakened something that he had not realized was asleep. A fire in his blood. The Beast was careful with him, cautious about rending his skin and hurting him too deeply, but Jaime was fast enough and skilled enough that eventually the Beast seemed to realize that it was possible to let go a little bit. Actually fight.
As long as Jaime had been locked away without using his full abilities, the Beast had been locked away longer. The more they fought, the better it felt. The burn of old, unused muscles. The joy of it, the thrill of the adrenaline, the sweat and the smiles and the inward gutpunch of pleasure that came with a fight fought well. Cersei said something once, disdainful, about men when their blood got up. They’ll fuck anything, she’d said, and Jaime had laughed and declared it true, even though he had never been that sort of man. Fighting was its own pleasure. Its own reward. But he could understand it in other men, how it might awaken that sort of want.
He understood them better than ever, now, fighting against the Beast. He jumped on the Beast’s back, once, trying to keep from being thrown across the dirt, and he hung on for only a little while before the Beast ducked and flung him tumbling off to the side. Then he was pinned to the dirt on his back, and there were claws pressed into his chest as the Beast perched over him, massive thighs on either side of his hips, snarling face above him. Jaime breathed, smiled, exhaled heavily, and through all of it he shook with unexpected heat and warmth. It had been a long time since he’d so much as touched himself—he could never be sure who was watching in a castle filled with cursed fucking furniture—and it had been even longer since he’d touched another person with intent. He wanted the Beast. He’d liked the Beast for months. Enjoyed spending time together and enjoyed the unexpected softness beneath the hard outer shell that the Beast wore like armor. But want. It nearly blinded him. He nearly made some sound, some indication. Nearly canted his hips upward like some lust-crazed creature. He only didn’t because he feared the Beast would hate him for it. But gods, was it an effort.
“Is that enough for you yet?” the Beast asked, panting above him, seeming not to understand why Jaime’s breath had gotten so heavy and his smile had begun to fade.
“Maybe for today,” Jaime admitted, because he was a man who understood his own limits, and he knew that he would not be able to feel the weight of the Beast land on him again without doing something that he would regret.
“Tomorrow, then?” the Beast asked, and Jaime nodded.
“Tomorrow,” he promised.
They sparred nearly every day. Jaime learned how to fight the Beast, but the Beast almost as quickly learned how to fight Jaime. They fought together like a dance, and Jaime more than once compared it to one—both aloud and constantly in his head—and so it was no surprise when one day Sansa got it into her head—or handle, or whatever—that they should hold a real dance.
“People always fall in love at dances in the stories,” she said. “And you can make something to wear. Something for the Beast to wear, too. A gift!”
Jaime expected to hate the idea. He’d never had a head for dancing, and the dances that they held at the village were always disappointing, because every interaction meant something that he didn’t understand until too late. A power play, or a chance for Cersei to do something to some rival, or a chance for Tywin to show off his wealth to some visiting nobleman or other. It was never just about the enjoyment of it the way Jaime wanted it to be. But Sansa was right about the importance of dances in stories, and Jaime did have a few untouched pieces of fabric that he had gathered from some storerooms and old chests in the forgotten rooms, and he liked the idea. So by day, Jaime worked in his garden, tending to the flowers. He fought the Beast, and the two of them flourished together. He cleaned the final rooms in the castle, scrubbing them until they shone, paying extra attention to the ballroom with its high windows and its chandeliers.
At night, he piled his fabric high on his bed, and he and Sansa went through it together, sometimes enlisting Catelyn’s help, though she often protested Jaime’s habit of stealing her curtains to make his outfits. But the Beast was so big and broad, and the curtains that hung in Jaime’s room complemented those blue eyes that he liked so much.
It was Catelyn who sent him into her old room, giving him a key that got him into a locked chest he had not been able to open. There was a gold fabric there that she had been saving for some project or another when she was human, and she granted it to him begrudgingly. Jaime was careful with it, beyond touched that she would allow him to use it. He lined the inside of the Beast’s jacket with it, and he made a perfect little pocket square, and with the remainder, he made his own suit. A golden, glimmering jacket that was brocaded and swirling with elegant designs. He knew he looked handsome in it from the way Sansa sighed when he tried it on: the happy, dreamy sound of a girl who wished that she could go to the dance, too. She liked dances when she was a human, Jaime gathered. She tried to teach him a few steps, but it was rather difficult work when one didn’t have arms or legs. Jaime knew more than enough to get by on his own, especially since Sansa told him that the Beast had never been very good at dancing, and actually refused to stand up during the last few dances the Starks had held before they were all turned into furniture and the Beast was turned into the Beast.
“You’ll be lucky if you can convince the Beast to dance at all,” Sansa said, and Jaime stewed privately and told himself that he shouldn’t listen; he knew his own charm, and he knew that he would be able to do it.
He worked in the garden diligently. Sparred with the Beast. Made his clothing. It was a smaller existence than he had been used to when he lived in the village with his family, but he found that he thrived with such a routine. He enjoyed himself, and he liked the company, and the only thing that kept him wanting to go home was the fact that he felt guilty sometimes, wondering how his family was faring without him. He wasn’t worried about his father; Tywin could get over his disappointment and marry some other woman to give him some other sons if the one he had left wasn’t good enough for him. But Cersei and Tyrion needed him. Or he thought they needed him. They claimed they needed him, anyway. How were they faring without him? Jaime just wasn’t sure. Sometimes he thought about asking the Beast if he could go home for a visit. Sometimes he got close to it. When the Beast was reading some book that spoke too fondly of home. When they were working side-by-side in the garden, laughing and joking together like honest friends. When he was eating dinner, watching the Beast eat like some kind of common animal. Those were all moments when he thought he could perhaps find the right words to make it gentle, make the Beast believe him when he said he only wanted to go for a visit. But he never worked up the courage. It was too easy to imagine it going wrong, and he didn’t want to hurt the Beast.
Some days, he’d be angry about it. Angry with himself for falling for it. For caring so much. He was a prisoner. He was a Lannister, and he was a prisoner, and if he was any one of his family members, he would be trying everything to get away. He would have charmed the Beast and then killed the Beast and then used the Starks for kindling or something on his way home. Or he would have claimed the castle as his own. Smashed that bell jar and its rose on the ground. Lannisters took what they wanted, whether it was on offer or not, and Jaime had always been a disappointment. He could imagine what his father would say if he saw Jaime flouncing around wearing custom-made dinner jackets sewn together from old curtains. You’re not my son, he would say. Or I thought your sister was a disappointment. Look at you. Something cruel and cutting and…
Unimportant. That was what always deflated Jaime in the end. Did away with the panic that made Jaime feel like he couldn’t breathe when he imagined being such a disappointment to his father. It was unimportant. Those things that Tywin cared about. The person he thought that Jaime should be. Even the disappointment. It was all unimportant. Jaime didn’t care about any of that stuff. He only cared about what Tywin thought because Tywin was his father, and the longer Jaime was away from him, the less he cared about that, too. Everyone in his family seemed to think he was thick for not caring about the things that they kept themselves miserable by caring too much about. For the first time, Jaime felt like he was the only one who understood.
The Beast understood, too. Jaime didn’t know much about what life had been like at Winterfell before the curse. He didn’t know anything about where the Beast grew up, or what kind of childhood the Beast had. But he could tell that the Beast was likely not a normal sort of person even before the curse. Not normal in the way that Jaime’s family thought they were normal, anyway. The kind of person who followed the rules and acted as they should and never questioned it. He wasn’t sure how he knew it, but he just did. He just felt it. Something about how he and the Beast would look at each other after a particularly poignant passage in a book. Or how they could both fight well and both recite poems and both liked to read—or be read to, in Jaime’s case. There was an openness that evened out the guardedness that the Beast often showed. It was a contradiction, and it was fascinating, and Jaime loved it.
Loved it. He knew it was true. He’d never been in love before, and perhaps it was too soon to say it, though he had been with the Beast for months now. But he looked at the Beast, and it didn’t matter. The claws, the fur, the wide-set teeth. It wasn’t frightening to him, as it had been at first. It wasn’t repugnant. He didn’t look at the Beast and see a monster. He looked at the Beast, and his stomach swooped, because he knew the Beast, and he knew that he had nothing to fear, and he knew that if he were to fall, the Beast would not hesitate to catch him.
The evening of the dance, Jaime was nervous. He’d rarely been nervous when courting before. Part of that was because he’d only ever courted on his father’s suggestion, or his sister’s, and he’d never been much interested in it. He’d get nervous over making a fool of himself or embarrassing his family, but that was it. It wasn’t like it mattered to him if some village girl or visiting lord’s daughter liked him. He could kiss her hand and lead her onto the dance floor and make her blush or giggle or chat with him for hours, but it never meant anything. By the end of the evening, Cersei and Tywin would both have reasons to declare her unacceptable to marry into the Lannister family, and he would never see her again. The Beast was different. Jaime wanted it to mean something. He wanted the Beast to understand that he wasn’t just paying empty compliments, and he was terrified that he didn’t know how to do anything else.
After dinner, he rose from the table, the same way he always did.
“I had something I wanted to give you,” he said. His throat was dry and scratchy, and his knuckles were white where they gripped the edge of the table. He felt lightheaded. Pathetic.
“What is it?” the Beast asked. The question was a wary one. That didn’t help Jaime’s nerves.
“If you’ll come with me? It’s in the library,” he said.
He’d left the gift in the library because it seemed a good neutral location, and it allowed him to keep the Beast out of the ballroom for as long as possible so that Sansa would have the time she needed to finish preparations for the ball.
He was glad for it, too, because there was no one lurking in the library, disguised as a book or a chair or a mop or whatever. He and the Beast were alone when he walked to the table in the center of the room and presented the Beast with the box on top of it. The Beast looked at Jaime narrowly, eyes suspicious. Jaime had wrapped the outfit with the utmost care, but had been careful to make it easy to open with the Beast’s claws. He wondered if the Beast noticed that, if the care stuck out the way he wanted it to. The wrappings opened easily, and then the Beast was staring down at the blue fabric within, unmoving.
“It’s,” Jaime started, but the Beast interrupted, “it’s beautiful,” and Jaime subsided. The Beast lifted the coat carefully from within the box, and it hung down for them to admire together. Jaime walked around the table so that he was standing just in front of the Beast. He could admire the material better from here, and he could admire his own handiwork as well. Cersei always said he was a vain creature, and maybe that was true, but he felt a kind of pride in being the one to make something so wonderful. And to give it to someone like the Beast, who deserved it. Who deserved to be cared for and wanted and cherished.
“I made it from some curtains,” he found himself saying, which seemed like a mistake. He hastened to add, “I’ve been working on it for days, trying to make it…nice.”
“Nice,” the Beast said, voice strangled. “It’s the finest thing I’ve ever owned.”
“Oh,” Jaime breathed. “That’s…good. I’m glad.”
“You made it,” the Beast said. Maybe doubtful, but Jaime didn’t mind.
“I made it,” he replied. “The pants, I took them out a bit, but they were already...”
“It’s beautiful, Jaime,” the Beast said, cutting him off before he could ramble too much, and Jaime smiled.
“I was hoping you would wear it tonight,” he said, and the Beast paused in the action of smoothing one paw over the gold embroidery on the lapels. Those blue eyes turned on him. They really do match the coat perfectly, don’t they?
“Tonight?” the Beast asked.
“I…I’ve been planning something,” Jaime said. “A dance.”
For a second, Jaime’s stomach swooped. A dance, the Beast said. A sneering, caustic tone. It wasn’t quite the same as his father’s, but it made him think of Tywin all the same. Disdainful of the things that Jaime liked. Frivolous, stupid Jaime who never thought of anything clever or useful. Idiotic Jaime who cared about things like nice blue velvet coats when he should be trying to get out of here and get home. A fool who was too empty-headed to realize that the Beast wouldn’t care about a fucking dance.
“It was just an idea,” he said. The Beast looked at him. Jaime looked back. Neither of them moved. Jaime wondered how it was possible that he had gotten the Beast so wrong. He wondered what the Beast was thinking. He knew there were any number of dangerous things. Tywin’s words had taught him a few things about the way that the world thought about men who liked too well the things the world termed “for women”. Jaime wondered if he was afraid. Not that he thought the Beast would strike him, or fight him. The Beast was too good for that. But would the Beast disdain him? That might pierce Jaime as easily as those claws.
But no. The Beast was not looking at him with disgust, or with fury. It was only a lack of comprehension.
“Why a dance?”
The question was quiet, and plaintive. The coat was still held up in the air between them, but the Beast lowered it slowly back into the box, and Jaime tried not to watch it go with too obvious a regret.
“Because I thought it would be nice,” he said. They stared at each other a moment longer. Jaime wondered if there was some context that he was missing. “I like to dance,” he offered. “I thought it would be nice.” He’d said that already. “Something to celebrate the spring.”
Another moment passed. Jaime usually found moments like these funny. The stunned silences. He’d never been able to take them very seriously before. But he couldn’t laugh now. The Beast finally picked the coat up again, cradling it.
“All right. When?”
“When the sun sets,” Jaime blurted, relieved. The Beast nodded. “I should. I’ll go get ready.”
The Beast nodded again, and Jaime left the room, hoping that the Beast would be in the ballroom when he went down there.
The Beast was. Jaime entered the ballroom, standing at the top of the stairs that led down to the dance floor. The double doors had been opened for him by two suits of armor, former guards of Winterfell. Jaime thanked them, so nervous that his palms were sweating. His gold coat fit perfectly, and his black pants did as well. He had trimmed his hair and beard until they were a perfect length, and he had shined his boots until they were spotless. There was nothing else he could do to improve his appearance, and it wasn’t his appearance he was worried about, anyway. The Beast had seen him, in the library. He was sure of it. Saw what Jaime wanted. What Jaime felt. It was an exciting kind of nerves that fluttered through him. The kind of nerves that he felt when the Beast was reading a story aloud and Jaime was anticipating the next part.
The room shone with candlelight, the chandelier above them sparkled, and everything gleamed and glittered. The windows had been dusty and grimy when Jaime arrived, but they shone now, and the lanterns outside in the gardens could be seen as well, lighting up the area in which Jaime had been focusing most of his work. Everything looked as he had imagined, as he had hoped. The Beast was standing in the center of the floor, waiting for him.
The Beast was nervous. Jaime could tell. There was already music playing. Jaime wondered if it had started playing the moment he entered the ballroom. He found that he liked the idea. He walked down the stairs, his smile growing, his confidence returning, as he saw the Beast wipe one giant paw on black pants, the same as Jaime was doing. Both of them nervous, fumbling. Jaime was relieved to see it.
He bowed to the Beast when he reached the bottom of the stairs, and the Beast bowed as well, and held out one hand. One paw. Jaime took it, and he was pleasantly surprised when the Beast began to lead them into the dance that Sansa had done her best to teach Jaime. He was grateful for the instruction now, and all the hours he had spent in practice, because the steps left his head the moment he touched the Beast’s hand, and then they were moving, and he did not have time to think at all. The Beast was confident, knew the steps better than Jaime, and Jaime was glad to follow. Like when they fought, it felt natural, like they were meant to complement each other in such a way. Jaime thought it was a shame that they could not fight someone else, side-by-side. Perhaps the suits of armor would be up for it, though he had to imagine that it would be no contest; the two of them would be unstoppable.
“What are you smiling about?” the Beast asked, and Jaime smiled wider.
“I’m thinking about fighting,” he said.
“Yes. With you. Alongside you. How no one would stand a chance.”
“Your confidence is…” the Beast paused, and Jaime laughed, tilting his head up to better look into those eyes he loved so well.
“Alluring?” he guessed, and the Beast snorted.
“I’m sure there are wolves in these hills or something. We could ride out and fight them. Though there would always be the chance they’d mistake you for their mother.”
The Beast laughed at that, unexpectedly, and it made Jaime warm. He loved to make people laugh. He loved when people were brightened by him. Made brighter by him.
“Wolves,” the Beast said. “What about people?”
“We could find a pack of bandits, if you’d like.”
“Bandits. There are no bandits around here.”
“How would you know? You’ve never been down to the village.”
“Yes, well. Obviously.” The Beast seemed amused, rather than hurt, but there was hurt lingering there somewhere, Jaime knew.
“You should,” he said. He meant it, though he also knew that the Beast would never. And Jaime could understand; to be stared at. Mocked if not screamed about. The Beast was a gentle creature. Jaime knew that well enough by now. That early prickliness had been defensive, careful. Used to being hurt. Jaime would not ever want to be the cause of that.
“Go to the village?” the Beast asked.
“Yes. The worst people live there, you know. I’d love to watch you terrify them.”
The Beast snorted, and the two of them twirled across the room, faster than Jaime was expecting. He could see Sansa and Jon attempting a kind of dance off to the side, Sansa laughingly berating her cousin over his lack of feet. Catelyn stood placidly next to her horrid armchair of a husband, but Jaime could see that she was tapping one of her small, wooden feet in time with the music, and she was swaying lightly. Jaime could almost see them as people for a moment, watching them. Like each time he and the Beast spun around, Jaime could see their shades, their ghosts. The reflections of the people they used to be.
“My place is here,” the Beast said. “With them.”
“They love you,” Jaime said, because it was true, and because he didn’t know what else to say.
“It’s my fault that they’re like this.”
“I don’t think they blame you. And even if they did, they would love you anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter if they blame me or not. It’s my fault.”
“How would you know? You weren’t here.”
Jaime was quiet at that, because the Beast was right, and because he knew that there were some things that a person could not talk themselves into, no matter how true they were. The Beast believed that they were to blame. Sansa had mentioned it, and Lady Catelyn, too. They had all been trapped here for so many years. Never aging. Never experiencing the world outside. That was a lot of time for guilt to sustain someone.
“I know that I would not blame you,” he said.
“Yes, but you…” A pause, and Jaime waited. “You are a different sort of person.”
“You accuse me of vanity and then stroke my ego. I hope you know it’s only going to make me more insufferable. Because you’re right: I’m an uncommon sort of man.”
“Not many men would have traded themselves for their sister.”
“More men should.”
“Perhaps, but that’s not what I said.”
“No,” Jaime agreed. “Cersei…I have spent most of my life cleaning up after her. Her, and my brother, too. You would like Tyrion, I think. At least at first. Most people do.”
“If he’s anything like your sister…”
“More like her than he likes to admit, but I’m not going to be the one to tell him that.”
“You love them. Your siblings. Your family. And yet you claim you don’t want to go back.”
“I don’t. I…” I love you, too. He nearly spoke the words. Mad, incomprehensible Jaime. What would the Beast have said? “I like it here. It is peaceful here.”
“Peaceful,” the Beast said, with another snort. There was always this way, this compulsion to pull away from Jaime. Make things into a joke. Jaime understood it, because he was the same way. But there was something different about the atmosphere tonight, and he wished…
Well. It didn’t matter what he wished. The Beast was still a skittish creature, and there were parts of Jaime that were skittish as well. Afraid to be rejected. Afraid to be too closely seen.
“There wasn’t much peace for me back home. You’ve got a very nice castle. And it’s very nicely furnished.”
The Beast laughed again, and he looked up into those blue eyes, and he liked every bit of what he saw. Had he ever truly found the Beast so hideous? He remembered it. He remembered being frightened. Almost repulsed. And yet it seemed now that that Jaime must have been a dramatic fool. There was beauty even here, in the monster the curse had tried to make. It seemed not to be a very effective curse, if it was supposed to put people off forever.
“You aren’t unhappy?” the Beast asked. And even that seemed softer, sweeter than usual. Plaintive. Jaime felt his stomach swoop again. They took another turn, spun around each other. They were paying less attention to the steps now, and just staying in the middle of the room. Turning, holding on to each other. The Beast’s arm was around his waist, and Jaime felt so much trust. He wasn’t the one holding everyone together, here. He was safe, here. Protected. Able to protect in kind. He remembered the way the Beast’s blue eyes glimmered when they landed on the coat that Jaime had made. It had been so long since he had been able to make someone feel like that. Maybe when Tyrion was a boy, but even then…
There was nothing with the Beast that was conditional. Nothing that felt like it was owed. It was chosen, and that felt…it was something different from the love that Jaime had always felt for his family, and the love of his family was the only love he had ever known, and so it was strange to realize that it could feel like this. Like something huge and pressing up inside him, filling up all his empty spots with softness.
“I’m not unhappy,” he said, and he meant it, and he wished that there was a way to open up his soul so that the Beast could see into the heart of him. “I feel more settled here than I have ever felt at home.”
“How could you?” the Beast asked. “You are a prisoner.”
“A prisoner who shares your table, and who is read to by you, and tended to very well by your servants.” He laughed at the Beast’s stubborn expression. “I haven’t felt like a prisoner in a long time.”
“And yet you are. If I told you that you could not leave…”
“I don’t wish to leave.”
“But that doesn’t change…”
“Gods, why are you arguing? I’m telling you I’m happy.” Jaime laughed again, because it was true, and because it was so unbelievable to him that the Beast could not see it in his every word, his every movement, in the way that he was pressed so close and so willing. “I would not lie to you. I know that you like to be consumed with your guilt, but you need not feel it on my account.”
The Beast was quiet, then, and Jaime knew he had hit on the truth of it.
“It has been…lonely,” the Beast finally said. Admitting, like it was a truth dragged out. “The Starks have been kinder than I deserve. I am the reason for the curse. I am the reason we are all stuck like this, and I sometimes wish that they blamed me more than they do.”
“They love you,” Jaime said. “Whatever it is that you did to cause the curse, they have forgiven you. And they believe in you.”
“Why not? You’re a model creature, you know. Faster and stronger than anyone I’ve ever fought. I bet you’re a fantastic hunter. And you’re kind, and gentle, too. I thought you would be much more monstrous, and I instead found a kindred spirit. I didn’t expect that. I should have said it earlier, when you so kindly complimented me on being a different sort of man: you’re a singular creature yourself, you know. And it’s not just about the fact that you’re a beast. I hope you realize that.”
“I like being as I am,” the Beast admitted quietly. “I was mortified at first, and devastated. But…it’s only the guilt that I wish could leave. If it was only me, if the witch only did not drag the Starks into it…It was unjust of her. But for myself…I am strong, as you said. And I can fight. No one took me seriously before, with a blade in my hands. No one was afraid of me until I showed them what I could do. And even then…I felt I was a freak. Now I know that I am, but now it feels as if it has a purpose, and I don’t mind it as much.”
“I have seen the way you fight. I know you would be glorious even without the claws,” Jaime said blithely. He tried to imagine the Beast as a human, and found that he could not. It didn’t matter much. The Beast was the Beast, and that went beyond body parts. More than fur and claws and teeth, but more than hands and feet and hair as well. Jaime had never really been the sort of person to be blinded by beauty. He’d always joked that he was beautiful enough for two, and that was why. But it wasn’t just that. It was something missing. Some connection that was required to make him feel something beyond fondness. He felt it with the Beast now.
“I was strong,” the Beast admitted warily. “Big. But that was all.”
“That was all. As if that’s nothing. I bet you beat the others into the dirt.”
“Yes, and they didn’t thank me.”
“Of course they didn’t.”
“You thank me for it.”
“Yes, but I’m an odd man, as we’ve established.”
“I didn’t say odd.”
“No. I did, though. You’ve never felt normal, even before you were a beast. Well, I’ve never felt normal either, but I don’t have the benefit of a magical transformation to explain it.”
“You’re not,” the Beast said, so earnest that it hurt to listen to. “You’re nothing like any man I’ve ever met. You’re…more. Something else. Golden.”
“Quite golden,” Jaime agreed, looking down at his coat and smiling.
“No. Not like that. I just don’t…I have never been very good with words.”
“You’re doing all right,” Jaime assured the Beast softly.
He thought, I could lean up. How does one kiss a beast? I suppose I’d like to find out.
He imagined it. Kissing. Fucking? Gods, how would they even go about it? He had no idea, and that was a thrilling thing in itself. Even just holding, just like this, just swaying in the middle of the dance floor, could be enough for him, but he wanted all of it, more and more. He was greedy, he supposed. Always reaching for more than what had been offered.
“Let’s go outside and get some air,” he said, because he wanted to be away from the ears of the Starks and the servants before he said anything. He wasn’t even sure what he was going to say. He could feel it pressing up within him. Welling up like something that could burst out of him if he let it, and he wanted to let it.
They went outside. Snow was falling. A last spring snow, before the winter was done away with completely, and Jaime liked that. He had changed a lot during his so-called captivity, but not so much that he sometimes couldn’t see things that were staring him in the face. Like the tension in the Beast. The suspicion. The worried, anguished expression. Jaime looked up and saw snow and the perfect place to confess his feelings. The Beast looked at him and saw his sister, and wondered.
“Sansa told you,” the Beast said, suddenly, and Jaime looked over his shoulder. The Beast was standing a little ways away, still hesitating near the door.
“About the rose.”
“Oh.” Jaime still did not worry. Not yet. “She did. Only after I found it myself.”
“How did you find it?”
Remembering that he broke into that tower, Jaime felt himself blush.
“Well. I went looking for something. Some way to break the curse.”
Breath came out of the Beast in a rush.
“And you found it.”
Jaime was not so much a smitten fool that he couldn’t hear the relief in the Beast’s voice, but he did not understand it the way it was felt.
“I did,” he said. The Beast nodded.
“I thought so. It was the only thing that made sense.”
Jaime knew, then.
“No,” he said.
“Why you suddenly were so kind. Why you suddenly could not leave me alone.”
“No, you’ve got it wrong.”
“Don’t insult me!”
“You looked so like her. I don’t know why I thought you’d be different.”
“I am different.”
“Yes, you were better at it than she was.”
Jaime felt the pain in the Beast’s words, then, and he strode up, determined to make it make sense, to explain himself. But the Beast misunderstood him, and the claws came out. Pointed in his direction.
The Beast’s words were cold, and final.
“No,” Jaime said. It sounded more pleading and less sturdy than he wished. “I’m a prisoner, remember?”
“You’ve served your sentence.”
“No, I haven’t. Beast, we can…”
“That isn’t my name.”
“I don’t know your name.”
“Because all I am is a beast to you!”
“Because you’ve never offered it! I only…”
“She never asked, either. I thought you were different.”
“I am not her.” His words are stronger, angrier than he meant for them to sound, but he found that he could not take them back once he had shouted. I’m not Cersei. I’m not like Cersei. Something he had told himself a million times since they were children, but it never seemed more important than now. Both for the Beast to understand and for himself to hear. We are not the same.
He wanted to break the curse, yes. He wanted to be the hero from the story, who would tame the Beast. Love it instead of killing it. Cure it instead of hurting it. He wanted to free the Starks. He wanted to make things right. Cersei had wanted it for different reasons. Why could the Beast not see that? And why could the Beast not see that he was earnest now?
“I am not so good a liar,” he said.
“How am I supposed to trust that?”
“You know me.”
The Beast only stared at him. His voice cracked in the middle, weary, sad, and the Beast only stared.
“I know that men have tried to trick me for years,” the Beast said. “Tried to claim the castle and win my heart. Or kill me and capture it that way. It won’t work.”
“How do you know?” Jaime asked. He was still being held away those claws, extended defensively towards him, but he edged around, tried to get closer, tried to appeal with his eyes. “If you won’t let me try?”
It was the wrong thing to say. The Beast lunged, shoving Jaime back, and Jaime was on the ground, stunned, scrambling back, as the Beast slashed at him. Opened up the skin of his arm when he was not quick enough to pull away. He managed to scuttle backwards, an undignified retreat, and then scrambled to his feet. The Beast snarled at him. Hideous. He didn’t mind. He didn’t care. But the Beast did. The Beast could not look at him and see anything but a monster’s face. His sister’s face. Perhaps that was all he had ever been.
He didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the Starks, or any of the servants. He didn’t have a chance to retrieve anything. The Beast told him to go. The Beast threatened to attack him again when he tried to stay. He left.
He stumbled blindly through the woods, through the snow, cold and shivering in the coat he had made only because he wanted to look nice for the Beast, and he wondered how it had gone so horribly wrong. He wanted to turn around and go back, head back to the castle and storm in and refuse to leave. Make the Beast understand. But he was angry. Angry, and hurt, and he knew that he needed some time to let that anger and hurt fade before he returned. He knew the way back to the village; he’d found the castle easily enough, and he knew he would be able to find it again, once he was ready.
His chest felt bruised from the Beast’s shove, or maybe it was just his ego that was damaged. Blood dripped steadily from the shallow wounds on his arm. He rubbed at his chest, dragging his knuckles over the silky shirt beneath the coat. He felt like a bigger fool than his siblings and his father took him for. He felt like a monster, for making the Beast see him as such. He staggered through the woods, and by the time he was in sight of the village, the sun was beginning to rise.
His father was not home—he was away, working on closing some deal or another. It didn’t matter. Jaime was glad. He was happy to see his siblings again, as happy as he could be when he was feeling so wretched, but that happy feeling didn’t last long. Tyrion bundled him into the sitting room and had one of the servants light a fire. Cersei fetched him a blanket from her own bed, and she wrapped it around his shoulders. They sat with him, Tyrion on the footrest in front of him and Cersei draped over the arm of their father’s comfortable armchair, holding him by the shoulders and rubbing briskly up and down his arm. Tyrion wrapped Jaime’s wounds in clean bandages, and Cersei wept prettily at the sight of his torn skin. Both of them looked at him with a wide-eyed gleam that he was happy to see until he recognized it.
He had always known the true natures of his siblings, after all. He’d just gotten very good at convincing himself that he didn’t. It was different, now. He didn’t have such an impulse to pretend. He was tired, and perhaps he was heartbroken. He still felt numb, both with the cold of his late night walk and with the cold of the Beast’s rejection and his expulsion from the castle. He wanted to go back. Now that he was warm, and now that Cersei was pressing tea into his hands and Tyrion was smiling up at him, he wanted to go back. Not just because he knew what was coming, but because he felt like a coward. He should have argued. He should have made himself clearer. He should have stood just outside those gates and taunted the Beast until the stubborn creature understood.
He did not know anything of what the Beast was like before the curse. But he knew what it was like to be mocked for the things you were and the things you wanted to be, and he could recognize the same effect of such harshness on the Beast as he felt within himself. It pained him to think that he had been the cause of worse feelings. That the Beast had not understood him, and now thought him false, like Cersei, instead of just a smitten fool, as he was.
“You need to sleep, brother,” Cersei said, pulling him closer and kissing him on the side of the head. Gently, and she brushed her hand over the soft gold coat, and she pulled back and smiled at him. Motherly and sisterly and wifely all at once. She was always so good at playing whatever part she knew would make him most pliant. “You’ve come a long way. When you’re awake, we’ll talk about what to do next.”
Jaime did not want to sleep, but she was right. He had walked a long way, in the cold and in misery, and the tea was warming him, and there was something pulling at the backs of his eyes. A tiredness that he knew he would not be able to resist forever. Tyrion was watching him sharply.
“You were very brave,” he said, and Jaime even thought that he meant it. “But it’s time to rest now, Jaime.”
Jaime nodded. Cersei helped him over to the couch near the fire. Tyrion tucked the blanket around him, and made sure the pillow was wedged comfortably beneath his head. Jaime drifted, and he thought of the Beast’s arms around him during the dance, and he felt the room swaying as he fell asleep, as if he had left part of himself behind in that ballroom, and still was dancing.
When he woke, it was from the noise.
Robert Baratheon was the son of the richest man in another village, and so of course he was the one that Cersei was going to marry. Jaime’s fate would be to marry the daughter of the richest man in yet another village. It was the way these things worked, when you were the children of Tywin Lannister.
Cersei had hated Robert Baratheon, when Jaime left. She ran into the woods to find the Beast’s castle in a desperate bid to avoid marrying him, and yet when Jaime exited the sitting room, she looked pretty and content standing by Robert’s side in the hall.
Tywin would have shit to see the Baratheon brothers spread out across the room with all their various attendants and servants and companions, treating the hall like they would have treated a common inn on the road. Robert was the loudest, and the largest, and he never seemed to be able to keep a shirt on for long without tearing it performatively while challenging anyone within earshot to a fight. He was carrying an enormous warhammer, and Cersei was looking at it covetously, which made Jaime’s stomach sink with dread.
Stannis, the next in line of the brothers, was dour and grim as ever, but he was similarly dressed for battle, with plain gray armor and an unadorned sword. He had few friends, but all of them seemed gathered around his table. Tyrion was with them, laughing at something that one of Stannis’s companions said, looking eager and older than his years. Jaime’s wounded heart cracked further.
Renly, Jaime’s favorite Baratheon, if only because the other two choices were so poor, had one boot propped up on the table in front of him, balancing back on one leg of the chair. His lover Loras Tyrell was with him. It seemed the two of them had mugged Stannis and stolen all the color and adornment from him, because there was not a piece of their armor that was not jeweled and pretty. Loras favored flowers in the same way that Jaime favored lions: because they were the sigil of his house, naturally they belonged on everything. Renly had an antlered helm to represent his house’s own sigil, but he preferred dark green to the Baratheon yellow, because he looked better in it. Jaime couldn’t fault him for the choice. The cape he wore over his armor was a beautiful one.
“You’re awake, sweet brother,” Cersei cried, leaving Robert’s arm and crossing the room to Jaime. She was dressed in a beautiful gown, red and gold. It had once belonged to their mother.
“Father’s going to kill you,” he said. For the party, if he ever found out, but for the dress, too. Joanna’s things had all been locked away in her rooms, never to be touched.
“Father is going to thank me,” Cersei whispered, and her nails dug into Jaime’s arm where she gripped his coat. “We’re going to kill the Beast.”
Jaime reeled back as if he had been struck, but Cersei did not let go of his arm. Her smile grew, stretched, got more painful looking as she glared at him. He could almost hear her: don’t ruin this. Don’t make this difficult.
“No,” he said. “You can’t.”
“That creature kept you captive, and you had to escape through the snow,” Cersei reminded him. “You’re injured.” She squeezed his bandaged arm, as if he needed the reminder.
“No, I was kicked out. I…I said something I shouldn’t have. I…”
Cersei’s lip curled with disgust, and she shoved his arm away.
“You should have been the one to lead the charge,” she hissed. The others were watching, though they likely could not hear the words over Renly’s laughter and the merriment from every corner of the room except the one that Stannis occupied. “It would have looked glorious.”
“You can’t,” he said.
“No, I can’t. But Robert can. And when he takes the castle, it will be ours.”
“Cersei. You were there. You know the Beast is a gentle creature. You can’t do this.”
His pleading fell on deaf ears, as he knew it would. Cersei didn’t care for gentle creatures. She didn’t care for anything that stood in her way. I was a gentle creature once, she would have said, if they were alone. The world doesn’t care. Why should I care? I grew stronger. Let the gentle creatures grow as well, or let them fall out of my way. Jaime looked to Tyrion for help, but much as Tyrion and Cersei were different, in this they were the same. I learned to deal with the way the world was not built for me. Why can the Beast not do the same? They did not pity creatures like the Beast who had not learned to push past every obstacle and damn whoever was hurt in the process.
“Enough of this posturing, Lannister,” Robert bellowed. He slammed his hand on the table, and the sound of it rang out and quieted even Renly. All eyes turned to Jaime, still in his rumpled gold coat, torn and stained with blood. He felt unprepared. Normally, when facing men such as the Baratheons, he was all smiles and quick barbs and cutting humor, but he was tired and confused, and he did not feel prepared to slip the mask back over his features. “Take us to the Beast. My future wife wants its head.”
“No,” Jaime said. He did not say anything else. Cersei could plead all she wanted, and Tyrion could try and rationalize, but Jaime would not budge. Cersei seemed to realize that. She turned her back on him.
“I think I remember the way, my Lord,” she said sweetly. “If you’ll find me a horse to ride, I will lead you.”
“A bold woman!” Robert laughed.
“No!” Jaime shouted. “You can’t.”
He was a better fighter than he’d ever been in his life, and he almost managed it. Hindered a bit by his injured arm and by the fact that he didn’t want to kill anyone, he grabbed Stannis’s sword and struck out, trying to fight them back, trying to get them out of the house, but Loras was almost as good as him, and he distracted Jaime long enough for Robert to hit him in the chest with his warhammer. Cersei screamed as Jaime fell, cracking his head against the floor, but it was only a glancing blow. Enough to wind him, but not enough to truly wound him.
“Lock him somewhere he can’t interfere,” Robert said dismissively, as Cersei fell over Jaime and cursed him for being such a noble fool.
Jaime was dragged away, and was still struggling to breathe when they locked the door behind him. He felt as if his ribs were broken. Perhaps some of them were, but perhaps they were only bruised. He heard the others readying to ride out. He heard Tyrion’s laughter, and Cersei’s clear voice and its melodious orders. He heard Renly braying and Loras bragging, and he heard Robert Baratheon above it all, blustering and promising a glorious battle. The only comfort was that Stannis was silent.
Jaime lay gasping for breath on the floor, his head ringing, his blood boiling. He had never been one who was slow to anger, and even his possibly cracked or possibly just bruised ribs couldn’t keep him from it. He heard the revelry fade as the hunting party rode off into the hills. Shouting and laughter and promises of glory all going away. Jaime struggled into a sitting position. Pain lanced up his sides, into his fingertips. He staggered to his feet. They were numb, tingling. Weak. It didn’t matter. He got dizzy, and had to lean against the wall, but he knew he didn’t have much time, and so he fought through it.
He needed to help them. He needed to…
He managed to stagger up the stairs and into his room. It was closed off, dusty and untouched. Just like Joanna’s old suite, locked away. There was a sword displayed on his wall that his father had given him when he was sixteen. Jaime had never been allowed to use it for practice, because it was too precious. He had not brought it with him to face the Beast the first time, because he had considered that he might not make it back alive, and he had wanted to leave it behind for Tyrion.
He didn’t think of Tyrion now. He ripped the sword off the wall. He felt stronger already with good steel in his hands, and he took a few practice swings. He was already recovering.
He rode hard, but the only horse that had been left to him was an old mare who resented bitterly that she was being asked to climb up the rocky hills and run through the snow instead of being allowed to sleep through the late season storm in her stable in comfort. She did as she was asked, and Jaime sweet talked her as much as he was able, but she was slow, and there was nothing he could do to make her go any faster.
He knew already that he would see something terrible as he got closer to the castle. There was an orange glow through the trees that he knew was too much to be from mere torchlight. He rode on. He could smell the smoke. He rode on. He could hear shouting.
Cersei and Tyrion were outside the gates, both of them pale by the orange light. The castle was not fully on fire, as Jaime had feared, but there were fires in some of the upstairs rooms, and he could see that someone had lit up one of his gardens. His stomach hurt at the sight. It was not his castle. They were not his gardens. But he had worked so hard, and it would be destroyed for greed. There was only the Beast inside to protect it, and surely the Beast could not stand against all of the men that had ridden with Robert and his brothers.
“Jaime!” Tyrion cried, and Jaime leapt off his horse, charging for the gate. But when he ran for it, he crashed against it, and the gates did not open.
“Ow, honestly,” said Jon’s miserable voice, and Jaime reached through the bars and yanked the candlestick out of place, where it had been blocking the gates, between the two handles.
“What are you doing in there?” he asked.
“Locking the gates so no one else can get in,” Jon said, miserably. “It wasn’t very well thought out, I admit. We didn’t think you’d be coming back.”
“Of course I came back. Come on.”
“Jaime, don’t,” Tyrion said, sliding off his horse. He was looking at Jon in Jaime’s hands like he had a thousand questions and regretted only that he couldn’t ask any of them. “It’s too late.”
“It’s not,” Jaime answered.
“You’re only going to get yourself killed. Stay with us. We’ll sort it all out later.”
But there was that condescending tone again. Tyrion always thought he knew best. Always wanted the help and affection of his older brother, but never listened when his older brother tried to teach him. Always thought he knew better. Always thought that he was the clever one, and that his siblings were just too thick to realize it.
There were a thousand things Jaime wanted to say to his brother. A thousand, and yet he couldn’t say any of them. He sent one last mighty glare back at his siblings and then pushed through the gates.
“No one else is coming,” he said to Jon. “Not to help, or to hurt. Where’s the Beast?”
“I don’t know. Sulking in the tower, last I heard, but in all this fighting? I don’t know. Arya has the kitchen utensils waging war in the dining room. Lady Catelyn and Sansa were holding down the second floor. I lit a man’s trousers on fire and knocked him out a window and then landed down here. I couldn’t get back up the steps, so I figured…”
“You’ve done well,” Jaime said, cheered to hear that the Starks and the servants were holding their own.
He left Jon in the front hallway, where Robb the sword was darting about, flinging himself into battle with Loras, who kept shouting about a phantom wielding a blade. Renly was bleeding from a slash in the side, but he seemed fine, and had found some abandoned pillows on which to recline and groan in agony, trying to rouse the pity of his lover. Ned the armchair was guarding the stairs, refusing to let anyone pass, occasionally bucking like a horse and sending attackers flying with careful application of two of his sturdy legs. Catelyn was flinging clothing at people, smothering them in silk and brocade, and the hangars inside her doors were unfolded, sharpened, and bared like teeth, ready to stab at anyone who got too close. Jon immediately began setting the clothes on fire. Men fled the house, wrapped in burning garments, to fling themselves into the snow.
“There you are!” Lady Catelyn cried when she spotted Jaime. “Quickly, up to the tower! That big man was headed there!”
Jaime ran, dodging flying furniture and the flailing swinging of swords. Stannis was doing his best to incapacitate a table that was not, as far as Jaime was aware, one of the cursed servants. Jaime shoved him over the balcony anyway as he ran by. There was more fire in the upstairs hallway, and Jaime ran blindly through the smoke, passing a few unconscious men who had been knocked out by an enormous gargoyle statue who had slammed through one of the windows at the end and was shouting “Hodor” as he flung himself from wall to wall. He allowed Jaime to pass, and then Jaime was turning up to the tower. The doors had been destroyed, and Jaime knew it was Robert. His chest hurt in remembrance of being on the receiving end of that warhammer. He ran faster.
He was gasping for beath by the time he reached the top of the tower, but the Beast was nowhere in sight. Neither was Robert. The bell jar with the rose lay smashed on the ground, and the rose was looking wilted, with only a few petals left clinging to the stem. It seemed like a bad omen, and Jaime found he was whispering no no no as he ran to the balcony.
There. He spotted the Beast first, on the roof below. Robert was there too. They must have jumped down from the tower, or fallen perhaps, and either way Jaime needed to find a way down. He climbed over the edge of the balcony, and his feet slipped on the railing. He nearly fell, but he managed to grab on. The Beast roared below, and Robert laughed. Jaime looked over his shoulder, hanging from one hand, and he saw Robert swing his hammer.
“No!” he cried. The Beast dodged back, and then lunged, and knocked Robert onto his back. Even from this distance, Jaime could tell that the Beast was fighting Robert in the same way Jaime had, back at the house. Trying not to kill him. Honorable, stubborn creature. Robert aimed to kill everyone in this castle and take it for himself!
He looked down, and the ground swam dizzyingly. Worryingly. He released his hold anyway, and he heard his ankle crack as he hit the roof and rolled. The slope was not very much, but it seemed worse with his ankle shooting pain and with the snow gathering on the tiles. He cried out, and staggered to his feet, and the Beast cried, “Jaime!”
Jaime turned and fell back painfully onto his back to avoid the warhammer as it flashed out of the night at him. Robert stood over him, leering.
“Of course,” he said. “I thought you were just a craven. Refusing to lead us here. Now I understand.” He laughed, and he turned to face the Beast, who was prowling just out of sight in the storm, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Robert opened his arms wide and began to sing The Bear and the Maiden Fair. A burst of flame from down below lit up the roof, and the Beast was closer now, and Robert laughed when he saw, and turned to engage. He was mad with it, with the thrill of fighting. He’d always claimed that he was made for war.
“Beast!” Jaime cried, and he scrambled to his feet again. His feet slipped on the tiles, but only briefly. He kept his footing. He would not allow himself to fall. He charged across the distance between he and Robert Baratheon, and he swung his blade. It clanged off Robert’s armor, and he ducked as Robert swung the hammer overhead. Jaime laughed; Robert Baratheon wasn’t the only one made for the fight.
“Jaime, get back!” the Beast snarled, but Jaime refused. He ducked again when Robert swung, and he slashed, unexpectedly, surprising the great bear of a man and opening a slash in his chestplate, the armor falling open before the expert make of the sword. Robert roared, and the Beast roared as well, pouncing again out of the shadows and tackling Jaime out of the way of another swing of the hammer. The Beast’s arm took most of the blow, and Jaime cried out, trying to get to Robert.
It was an odd dance between them. Each trying to get in the way of the other. The Beast out in front, growling for Jaime to stay back. Jaime sneaking around and ordering the Beast to stay behind him. Jaime’s sword flashed in the firelight from the burning castle, and the Beast’s claws sparked on the stone tile, and Robert’s hammer swung at them, sending crumbling masonry down to the courtyard below. Jaime wondered whether the Starks still lived. He wondered whether the rose still had any of its petals, and what would happen when the last petal fell. He wondered these things vaguely, without real feeling, because he did not know anything but trying to protect the Beast and trying to stop Robert. His existence had so narrowed.
Robert swung, and the hammer struck Jaime’s hand. A brutal blow, and Jaime felt something crack within it, too. His ankle already throbbed, and now his hand screamed, and his sword flew from his grasp and tumbled down the sloped roof and disappeared without a sound out into the darkness. Jaime watched it go, oddly removed. He clutched his hand to his chest. The Beast roared. Robert kicked Jaime back, and Jaime slid, and scrambled, and managed to hold on to the edge of the roof with his good hand. Just barely. He tried to grab hold with his injured hand, tried to pull himself up, but it was already swelling, and he could not hold on to anything tightly, and he was suddenly afraid. He didn’t get afraid very often. Not truly afraid, anyway. Then again, he’d never had much reason for it. He’d always managed to get out of the situations he put himself in, and he had thought that this would be no different, but…
The edge of the roof was slippery, but Jaime was tenacious, and he did not want to die, and so he held on to it with everything in him. He trusted the Beast. He knew that the Beast would not let him fall.
There were the sounds of fighting above him, and he hoped, and he hung there, his fingers aching, slipping, until the Beast’s furry face appeared above him, and he almost laughed.
“Jaime,” the Beast cried, and then pulled him up, barely straining. So strong, and Jaime laughed with relief, dizzy with pain, and he wrapped his arm around the Beast’s shoulder and kissed the Beast roughly where he thought the Beast’s cheek was.
“Thank you,” he said.
The Beast jolted. Stiffened. Cried out. A bit dramatic for a cheek kiss.
But no. The Beast turned, and Jaime could see. Robert Baratheon stood over them, covered in blood, savaged by the Beast’s claws. Still, somehow, standing. He was holding a bloody dagger. He’d stabbed the Beast. Oh, gods, he’d stabbed the Beast. Jaime scrambled to his feet, and he tackled Robert back, and the two of them went sliding down the other side of the roof. Jaime managed to hook his broken hand on a tile, hanging on for his life, but Robert wasn’t so lucky. He grabbed at Jaime’s foot on his way by, but Jaime kicked him, and Robert, fell, and fell, and kept falling. Screaming until he fell into darkness.
It was not easy to get back up the side of the roof, but Jaime was terrified, and he knew he did not have much time. The Beast had not appeared to help him again, and he knew. His hand screamed out in pain. His ankle. He used them anyway. There was no time to think about himself.
When he managed it at last, he felt as if he had climbed a mountain. He lay gasping for breath on the narrow flat part of the top of the roof, but only for a moment. There was no time. He had to get to…
The Beast was lying there, just in front of him. Curled to one side.
“Beast!” Jaime cried, and he slipped and staggered the short distance and fell to his knees beside his fallen friend. “Beast!”
The Beast’s eyes opened. The firelight made them look more electric than ever, and Jaime felt his heart clench, seize, knowing from the look in them that the Beast would not be getting up again.
“Jaime,” the Beast said. Jaime could not lift the Beast. He wasn’t strong enough, and the roof was slippery, and the Beast was dead weight already. But the Beast managed to sit, and so Jaime could reach behind and find the jagged wound that had torn the fur and the skin beneath it. There was a lot of blood. When he pulled his hand back, the Beast covered it with one paw. “Jaime,” the Beast said again.
“We need to get you back inside,” Jaime said, and the Beast laughed. He knew it didn’t make any sense. He knew it was impossible, and he didn’t even know what was happening inside. He knew nothing except the sound of the wind around them, and the fires that were still burning through the windows down below in the castle, and the Beast’s ragged breaths. Even if they could get back inside, even if they could get the Beast to safety, Jaime was the only one in the castle with fucking hands, and one of them was broken. How was he supposed to stitch the Beast back together like this? Take a prisoner, maybe. Make someone help.
“It’s all right, Jaime,” the Beast said.
“It isn’t,” Jaime replied, stubborn and teary-eyed and feeling like such a fool. What use was crying? What good did it do? It could not help the Beast. It could not help him. He was useless.
The Beast gripped him by the back of the neck, and pulled him in. Pressed their foreheads together. Jaime’s mind bounced madly between we’re safe and the Beast needs help, and he could do nothing but hold his hand against the Beast’s wound, trying to keep the Beast from bleeding. It was hopeless. Useless. Blood oozed out from between his fingers, and there was nothing he could do.
“I can’t let you die,” he said, but the Beast didn’t seem interested in listening. “Beast,” he said. A huff, and the Beast’s eyes closed briefly. “We need to get you inside. Please.”
At the broken sound of his voice, the Beast’s eyes opened again, and Jaime felt that he could drown in them. He would, gladly, if only…
“I’m sorry I sent you away,” the Beast said. “I don’t…I can’t…trust isn’t…”
“I know,” Jaime said, because he did not like the labored quality of the Beast’s voice.
“It isn’t easy for me anymore,” the Beast managed to finish. “I’ve forgotten how. You were a friend to me.”
“I still am,” Jaime said.
“I sent you away.”
“And I came back.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
“I had to try. You know me well enough by now, don’t you?”
“Stubborn,” the Beast agreed. Jaime hated the faded quality. The quiet tone of voice. He swallowed back a lump in his throat. There was an odd sort of acceptance coming over him, like when hours had passed during Tyrion’s birth, and he just knew that his mother would die. Something about the language of the servants. The way they whispered. The way his father had not appeared to reassure them, or put them to bed, or anything. When the screams from his mother’s bed went quiet, that was when he knew. He knew it now. There was always something so vital about the Beast. So alive. It was fading now, and he knew it, though he could not describe how. He could only hold the Beast as close as he could. He did not mind the weight that was slumped against him. He pressed his forehead into the fur at the junction of the shoulder and neck, and he wanted to cry, but couldn’t, yet. He wanted to be strong, too. For the Beast, if for no other reason.
“Not stubborn enough,” he said. “Not fast enough. Not strong enough.”
“You tried,” the Beast said, like that was some miraculous thing. It didn’t feel like a miracle to Jaime. He was a man full of effort, and trying, and wanting. It did not make him feel special to try and fail. He was always doing that. Failing to please Cersei. Failing to keep Tyrion out of trouble. Failing to temper his father’s meanness to the two children he cared little for. Failing to be as a man ought to be. What had he succeeded in? Nothing. Killing his sister’s fiancé. Killing an old sheriff who no one but he knew was truly mad. What else? He could not think of anything, and the Beast was dying, and he had failed again.
“I failed,” he said. The Beast’s head shook, slowly, barely. Running out of energy, and Jaime did feel tears gathering behind his eyes, then, and he could not stop them from welling over and spilling down his cheeks. One of the Beast’s paws came up, and one claw gently caught a tear that fell from his eye. The Beast wore an expression of astonishment.
“I love you,” he said.
It was not a simple thing to feel, but it was a simple enough thing to say. He could not tell if the Beast believed him. There was something awed and longing in the way the Beast looked at him, but he could not say what it was, or if it was anything at all. His sense had left him. It was the truth, however. He did love the Beast.
“I wish,” the Beast said, but never finished the thought.
Jaime cried, then. Allowed himself to sob brokenly, as much as he wanted. He knew the Beast was dead. He could feel the life leave the form he clutched as best as he could in his arms. It was too big to hold, and heavier without life. He tried anyway. He could not imagine ever moving from this roof. Ever climbing back down to the ground and having to see what remained. What would become of the Starks now that the Beast was dead? What would become of him?
He pressed his face against the Beast’s white shirt. The blue coat. He cried. His tears were bitter, hating things, because he had failed. The Beast had relied on him, and he had failed. The heroes in the stories never failed. Not for long, anyway. Not the stories that Jaime liked. The ones where good things always followed bad, and the ending was always happy. What a fool he had been, to believe in stories like that. The Beast had been real. The curse had been real. Why could the ending not have been ripped straight from a tale? Perhaps Tywin had been right when he complained to Joanna that she was making Jaime soft with all those stories. She only ever told him about the good things in the world, and the bad things he learned were softened by all the good that rose up against it. Perhaps Tywin was right, and he should have been more prepared.
Not that it mattered now. It was too late to prepare himself. His heart was shattered.
It is impossible to say how long he would have stayed there, sobbing into the Beast’s unmoving chest. He was sure it would be forever, but surely at some point he would have moved, and made his way off the roof, and back down to his life. But he was interrupted in his mourning by a growing light behind his eyes, and it made him raise his head, and open his eyes, and see.
The snow was still falling, but the flakes seemed now to be golden. Light was filtering down from above—no, it was filtering up, from the body of the Beast. Jaime scrambled back, his hand and ankle both screaming in pain. It woke him up, made him realize that what he was seeing was real. The Beast’s body was rising, floating, but Jaime couldn’t see it for longer than a few seconds before the glowing gold light overtook everything.
The curse, he thought, finding it within himself to hope. It’s lifting.
The light faded slowly, and the Beast was gone, but there was a form left behind, crumpled on the roof. Smaller. Still large. Still bulky. Still wearing the blue coat that Jaime had made. He scrambled over, and blue eyes met his own, and he laughed. Disbelieving. Grateful.
“You’re alive,” he said. Then, in further surprise. “You’re a woman! Beast!”
“My name is Brienne,” the Beast said. She sat up, feeling at her side. Her white shirt was still torn, and her coat as well, still blood-stained, but the pale skin beneath it was unbroken. She looked up at Jaime, and her expression twisted with something disbelieving. “You broke the curse.”
Jaime nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak. There was something growing and swelling within him. Some softness he hadn’t expected. An utter joy, too. I did it. Me. I was enough. I loved enough.
He hugged her, because he wanted to, and her arms were slower around him than his were around her, but she hugged him back. He wanted to kiss her. He pulled back to look at her, and wondered if it would be welcome. She was still looking at him in an odd way. Undecided. Like there was something about him that made her uncertain.
“You seemed surprised,” she said.
“You were dead. And then there was a light…”
“That I’m a woman,” Brienne ground out. She was still so like the Beast. It was delightful to find that she hadn’t changed. Jaime had never known a woman like the Beast, and it made him giddy, to know that she was like him, in a way. Where the lines were allowed to blur.
“I never thought of you as a woman,” Jaime admitted. Brienne frowned at him. “I never thought of you as a man. You were only the Beast, and I loved you.”
“Then…it doesn’t…matter?” Brienne was uncomfortable, and he could read it so much easier now. She blushed, and Jaime was delighted. There were so many new things to learn about her. So many new things to discover. But she was just the same as she ever was.
“No, it doesn’t matter. Not to me,” he said. Brienne smiled. A hesitant thing. Her teeth were still rather large. Her mouth still rather wide. There were features that were so like the Beast that it made him want to cry. He laughed at her, at both of them, at the whole situation as the snow continued to fall around them. “Though I have to admit: I’ll miss the claws.”
He did not very much miss the claws, in the end. Brienne had been a wonder with her bare hands when she was the Beast, but the first time Jaime fought her with practice steel, he nearly cried at how well matched they were. No one had ever been able to keep up with him, let alone drive him to his knees like Brienne.
He did not go back to the village that first night, nor for many nights after it. Cersei and Tyrion had begged him when they found him on the grounds, the morning the Beast died and Brienne returned. He’d been helping the newly restored servants and Starks remove the Baratheons and their followers, most of whom were neatly unconscious and some of whom were dead. Renly was the only one with any sense, and he negotiated well with Ned Stark, who was rather more like an armchair as a human than Jaime had expected. The youngest Baratheon and his beau loaded up the wounded and dead onto a carriage given to them by the Starks, and they rode home, never to be seen again by the occupants of the castle.
Jaime had been too angry to give his siblings much of a chance to explain or apologize or cajole, and he sent them away after Renly. He’d been covered in soot and badly wounded, and they had both been afraid of his calm, serious manner. Jaime had never been known for seriousness, and his siblings often lamented his lack of cold calm. To see it on him then must have been quite a shock.
It hadn’t lasted long, however. Once the invaders were all gone, the Starks and their servants surrounded him, reintroducing themselves, all of them looking enough like their furniture counterparts that Jaime could not help laughing with each fresh introduction. Catelyn Stark’s hair was as red as the varnished wood that made up her wardrobe. Sansa was willowy and thin with full lavender skirts that brushed the ground when Jaime spun her around in glee. Sam was a rather worried, rather stout lad, and the Stark’s cousin Jon was shorter than average and always seemed glum in a way the slumping shape of the candle had somehow reflected. They hugged him and thanked him and then surrounded Brienne, granting all the forgiveness she wished to beg for before she had to ask, and bidding her not to mention it again.
The story came out, then. Brienne’s father had sent her to be raised by the Starks when his wife died, believing that living under the tutelage of a great lady would help do away with some of her more mannish ways. On the contrary: being raised alongside Robb and Jon and the others did not make Brienne any less martial or any more marital. Ned and Catelyn Stark were happy as long as Brienne was happy, and so when Brienne’s father sent a suitor who was cruel and mocking about Brienne’s looks, they sent him packing. Ronnet Connington was sent away shamed, but he returned with his mother, a red priestess, who cursed the family for allowing their ward to dictate the way they treated their guests, and cursed Brienne for her perceived vanity.
None of the Starks ever blamed Brienne, but Jaime knew better than them how that kind of guilt worked, and he knew that Brienne would carry it for a long time. She wished to strike off from the castle immediately, become a hedge knight and spend the rest of her life making up for the wrongs she had committed, but the Starks refused to hear of it, and Jaime was glad. Brienne could do whatever she wanted, but she would always have a place with them.
Through all of it, Jaime stood beside her, waiting for a moment alone. Wondering what he would say.
In the end, it wasn’t very difficult. He told her that the heroes at the end of tales were often granted a kiss. They were in his garden, half burned, but Jaime still thought it was romantic. She looked at him, bewildered, but kissed him regardless, and they melted against one another, and Jaime was glad to do it. The kiss on the rooftop had been giddy, relieved, but this felt more like a choice than that had. Deliberate.
“Wherever you do go,” he said. “I wish to go with you.”
“I am not the sort to make a good wife.”
“Neither am I the sort to make a good husband. We can be pure shit together.”
Brienne looked at him, and her blue eyes were wide, and calm, and suddenly filled with mirth, and she laughed.
“All right,” she said. “I think we can handle that.”
And they lived happily ever after.
lmao I forgot when I was editing this chapter that I straight up stole a line from To Wong Foo, of all places. Oh well, I guess this shouldn't be surprising!
Thank you to everyone reading and commenting <3 I've been absolutely horrible about responding to comments the past....year? But I very much appreciate them!