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Rebuilding

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"My lady," Brienne nodded, her gaze moving down to the floor quite quickly after meeting Sansa's eyes. "You wanted to see me?"

"Ser Brienne," Sansa started, with a slight tremor in her voice that only Brienne could detect, "We just received a raven regarding King's Landing."

Brienne's eyes shot up, widening. It had been weeks since the raven came, proclaiming Daenerys and her army had finally arrived in King’s Landing after the month long journey. Though she didn't want to admit it, her first thought was not of Arya, whom she was sworn to protect, not of Cersei or Daenerys, either of whose triumph would affect the future of the realm- but of Jaime. While he had left her, chosen Cersei over her, she wanted him alive. "What news is there?"

"Daenerys burned the city," Sansa's tone was solemn, but unsurprised, "Tyrion was imprisoned for treason and Jon... he's ok, but Ser Davos doesn’t know what he's thinking. He sent the message as soon as he could, so who knows what's happened since."

"Any news of Arya? Or Cersei?" Where Cersei is, Jaime is, Brienne thought.

"They haven't found Cersei's body yet, but nearly the entirety of the Red Keep was reduced to rubble. Qyburn's body was found in one of the stairwells, so I can't imagine she got very far without him," Sansa smirked slightly, but it melted away as she cleared her throat, "There was no sigh of Arya anywhere."

"Arya is quick and clever," Brienne was trying to convince herself as much as Sansa.

"Doesn't help much against dragonfire, does it?" Sansa asked sadly. She handed the message over to Brienne and left the room.

The scrolled message started to crease as Brienne clutched it in her hand. She reread it, leaning back against the trunk of a snow covered tree, breathing in the icy air. By Ser Davos's account, the entire city was demolished, which means that there was very little for her to hope for.

When she had heard that Arya left with the Hound, she wanted to follow, to bring her back. But too much time had passed and Arya was too fiercely independent; if she had gone to King's Landing, she would not be swayed to return. Sansa ordered Brienne to stay in Winterfell, in case things went awry at King's Landing and the North needed protection. While Brienne conceded to stay, she couldn't deny that she had failed to protect Arya yet again.

"I'm sorry I failed you," her whisper materialized as a cloud in the air. Her apology was meant for Lady Catelyn and Arya, though she couldn't help but touch the hilt of Oathkeeper as she closed her eyes. Her thumb traced the outline of the lion head in an endless path.

It was only at the sound of hoofbeats that her eyes snapped open. Brienne leaped up and ran towards the gate. It was open, as it had remained since the end of the Great War. She stood at the threshold, her hand now firmly gripping Oathkeeper, ready to defend Winterfell alone if necessary.

The horse appeared so quickly that Brienne barely had time to process what was happening. A disheveled Jaime was steering the horse with his left hand and kept his right arm behind him, firmly holding onto an unconscious, badly burned Arya.

Jaime hadn't even seemed to recognize that it was Brienne standing at the gate when he yelled out, "I need help, now!"

The horse came to a stop just before the gates. Brienne held onto Arya as Jaime dismounted to the other side. When he came around, Arya was leaning fully on Brienne, barely standing.

Jaime finally noticed who had come to their aid. He was caught off guard and opened his mouth to say something, but Brienne cut him off, "No time, we should get Arya inside." She now had her attention on Arya, though she also wasn't ready to face Jaime. She felt him wrap Arya's other arm around his shoulder, and the two carried her inside.

"She'll be ok," the maester said, "The Kingslayer did a good job wrapping up most of her burns." He looked from Brienne to Jaime, "You did the right thing bringing her back here."

Jaime nodded, not looking up. His own wounds had only just been bandaged and treated by the maester after he tended to Arya. The entirety of his right arm was badly burned- down to his stump.

"If there's nothing else you need now, Ser Jaime, I best go back to Arya." The maester left quickly; despite everything, he seemed uneasy near the Lannister.

"Podrick," Brienne addressed the other man in the room, "Go with the maester, and wait with Lady Sansa. If Arya's condition changes, let me know at once." Podrick nodded, hiding a smile as he looked between Jaime and Brienne, then left.

The two didn't look at each other, and the silence seemed to swell between them. Brienne wanted to snap at him, throw insults at him as she would have done. But she couldn't, not yet anyway. All she could think of was the way he had turned away, reliving the heartbreak yet again.

"What happened?" She asked softly.

Jaime met her eyes for the first time as both looked at each other. His eyes were sad, defeated. "You know that Cersei was pregnant…" Brienne nodded a fraction, he had told her as much when he first came to Winterfell, before they had gotten together.

"When she didn't send her armies north, I thought I made my decision; I was choosing life over her and her need for power. But when I heard Daenerys was going to King's Landing, I knew what would become of Cersei, what would happen to the baby. I-" His eyes were pleading, wanting Brienne to understand, "I couldn't outlive another child. And if Cersei did survive by chance, I couldn't leave him or her without a father."

Late, after one of their many nights together, Jaime had told Brienne about his regrets, that he was only ever able to truly be a father to Myrcella in the moments before her death. Brienne knew it pained him that he had never been there for his children.

Brienne was silent, allowing him to continue, "Once I got to King's Landing, it took me much longer than I thought to reach the Red Keep. Half the city was already burning. When I turned down an alley to get to one of the entrances, I saw her- Arya. A piece of rubble crushed one of her legs. In that moment, I knew that leaving her there would have been murder, another Stark child I would have been responsible for-"

"You didn't kill Bran," Brienne interrupted.

"He's not Bran anymore, is he?" Jaime asked sadly, "Anyways, I couldn't leave her to die, so I brought her to the rowboat that Tyrion had left for me and Cersei, should I have gotten to her. I realized as I left with Arya that even if I had been able to get to Cersei, which was doubtful, I still wouldn't have been a father. When Cersei wanted to tell people that I was the father, it was a power play; no matter what, she would have controlled the child." Jaime still obviously felt guilty.

"Cersei made her choice to stay there, you didn't kill her." Brienne told him.

"I suppose," Jaime said, unconvinced, "But, regardless, I made my choice. We got to the boat and I rowed us away from King's Landing across Blackwater Bay to Kingswood. I knew of a stable there, got a horse, and took Kingsroad to Winterfell. Arya was in and out the whole time, I think she knew who I was, but she seemed to trust me enough when she realized where we were going."

After a few moments of silence, Brienne realized he was done talking, "Thank you for saving her."

Jaime shrugged, then winced in pain. At Brienne's concerned look he said, "It's nothing." But it wasn't. Brienne crossed the room towards him and slowly began to untie his shirt, mimicking the scenario from that first night. When she removed it, she saw his left shoulder was a deep blue color, badly bruised.

Jaime looked at it, "Must've been from King's Landing. So many buildings were falling, and I had to keep Arya shielded."

"I'll go get the maester," Brienne turned to leave but Jaime caught her hand.

"I'm sorry, Brienne. I'm so sorry for leaving you." It came out as half a whisper, half a sob.

Brienne hadn't turned around yet to face him. This was the first time they were addressing them, and that night. "I thought you went back for her, you said so yourself, it's always been Cersei."

"It's always been Cersei… when I made selfish decisions, hurt people for my own benefit. She's always been the worst in me. I- I suppose I thought sacrificing myself, or saving her for the baby, maybe it would have made up for it. I didn't want to be hateful anymore, I needed to finally go against that part of myself."

Brienne finally turned around, "Can't you see that you have been going against that?” Brienne twisted her arm in his so that she was now holding onto his hand, "Was loosing your hand for me selfish? Fighting the bear with me? Coming here alone to fight the dead knowing fully well you might not make it out?"

"I didn't-" Jaime started, "It seemed like I had to make amends in other areas, right the wrongs I had made with all of the others… Joffrey, Myrcella, Tommen." Jaime paused, looking down again, "Maybe I was also scared. I didn't deserve to outlive another child, but I also didn't deserve you."

“Perhaps you didn't," Brienne agreed. It was silent for a moment, then she countered quietly, "But, perhaps you did- perhaps you still do.” Her hand was still in his, and she squeezed it slightly. His eyes widened as he looked at her incredulously.

"We've wasted a lot of time, over the years and more recently. I wouldn't have ever been with you if I didn't love you," she paused- that was the first time she acknowledged it. "And that hasn't changed. But I need to know you won't just leave again."

Jaime let go of her hand to cup her cheek, despite the pain in his shoulder. "I will always stay with you. From now on, I'll always choose you.” His eyes searched hers, desperate for her to see the truth in them, the conviction he held that he would never leave her again. This time, she was the one to initiate the kiss. It was hard, as was the first, though there was a slowness to it that came with the familiarity they had developed since their first kiss.

Brienne moved back, stopping the kiss, eyes downcast. ”You haven't, you know," she said in a whisper, "outlived all of your children."

Jaime met her eyes, realizing what she said, "You're sure?" Brienne nodded. Jaime couldn't get out another word, but his eyes lit up like she had just given him the world.

That night they retired back to Brienne's bedroom, where they had spent their nights together before. There wasn’t a question of what would happen- there were still wounds that needed to heal before Brienne could let him back in so completely. They only shared one more kiss that night, then simply held each other, Brienne careful of his injuries, and Jaime disregarding them in an effort to stay close to her.

"I love you, too, you know," Jaime said, realizing he never said it back.

Brienne lips lifted in a small smile, "I know,” she was starting to believe it again for the first time in months.

Chapter Text

In the first week after that, Winterfell received word that Tyrion and Jon were taken as prisoners by the Unsullied and the rest of Daenerys's forces. Sansa, Bran, Arya, Brienne, and Jaime (who would act as speaker for House Lannister) were called to ride south to King's Landing to assist in their trials and decide the fate of the realms.

Arya was weak, her leg still severely injured. That didn't stop her though; she used a wooden crutch to walk. They were all preparing their horses for the journey when she approached Jaime. He could hear her coming, with the sound of the wood hitting the stone ground.

"You saved me," she stated, her tone revealing no emotion. It was the first time she had spoken to him since they arrived. Well, there was the time when she first woke up and saw him sitting in the chair next to her; she yelled at him and sought her sword, ready to attack the Lannister who abandoned Ser Brienne. If it wasn't for her injuries, Jaime admitted to Brienne, she could have easily killed him then and there.

"Yes, well, I couldn't leave you to die in King's Landing, could I?" Jaime said, not turning around to look at her. He didn't want the credit, didn't feel he deserved it, no matter what Brienne told him.
Arya hobbled over to the other side of his horse, forcing him to look at her, “You could have, but you didn’t,” she rolled her eyes, "Brienne's been on my back about thanking you or acknowledging you or whatever, so here it is."

Jaime nodded, and winced slightly as he raised his saddle over the horse; his shoulder still bruised. Arya took notice of it.

"You were hurt?" She looked at the bandaging on his right arm- he still couldn’t wear his golden hand, the burns were so bad. Then Arya turned her attention to his left shoulder, where the bruising peaked out slightly from under his shirt. She furrowed her brows, as if remembering something. "You protected me, from the rubble. That's why your shoulder is bruised."

Jaime only nodded again. He didn't want this conversation with Arya, much like the conversation he forced himself to have with Bran when he arrived at Winterfell the first time.

Arya's tone grew less hostile, as she started to see him again, not as the man who left Winterfell to return to Cersei's side, but as the one who fought alongside Brienne against the dead. "You were never on my list, you know."

"Your list?" Jaime couldn't help the curiosity.

"The list of people I intend to kill. Cersei and Joffrey were at the top. I didn't find out who pushed Bran out of the window until recently."

Jaime finally finished adjusting the saddle and looked her in the eyes for the first time, "Well, now you know my name."

"I've known it was you for a while, and yet you still aren't on my list," Arya replied, "The Hound was on my list for quite some time, but eventually I took him off the list, when I saw a different side of him. When you arrived at Winterfell, I saw a different side of you, too. One that didn't deserve to be on the list."

She said it, the word that consumed Jaime quite frequently, deserve. What did he deserve? Did he deserve the fate he originally intended for himself, to die in King's Landing? Did he deserve Sansa's mercy in allowing him to come back here? Did he deserve Brienne's love? Her acceptance? Her willingness to take him back? He never thought so.

But to hear it from Arya, the ferocious fighter who killed the Night King, who showed no mercy, that he was worthy of at least some redemption- it struck a cord in him. "Thank you, Arya," he said, his voice trembling slightly.

Arya nodded this time, smiling slightly. "You know, I'm a left-handed fighter as well," she gestured towards his stump, "Once I'm off this bloody crutch maybe we can spar sometime? While I don't want to kill you, it would be nice to take you in a fight. Plus it can give you some practice, I've heard you're not really much of a Kingslayer anymore."

Jaime scoffed, mocking hurt, "I did come out of the Great War alive, you know. I've adapted quite well to using my left hand."

"We'll see," Arya smirked as she turned away.

Jaime looked over to see Brienne, watching the interaction from a distance. She smirked in a similar way to Arya, then walked away, handing the reins to her horse over to one of the guards. Jaime followed suit, then followed her to her room.

She purposefully left the door open, listening as he closed it behind him. She didn't turn around, and simply asked, "Enjoy your conversation?" She expected him to be at least a little angry with her for orchestrating it, and she would rather get the fight over with now, so the ride to King's Landing wouldn't be even harder for him.

Jaime surprised her, however, by wrapping his arms around her, his hands closing around her stomach. He pressed his forehead to the back of her neck and sighed, "Thank you."

Brienne ran a hand along his arm, leaning back into his body a bit, "I thought you would be mad."

"I thought I would be, too. But Arya was… kind to me. In a way that I didn't expect. I know that you have been too forgiving with me, but to hear that from a Stark child…" He couldn't find the right words, but he didn't need to; Brienne understood.

She turned around to face him, placed a hand on his cheek, and kissed him softly. "If we aren't going to fight, we should be going; Sansa wanted to leave as soon as possible."

As Brienne moved to walk away, Jaime caught her hand and kept it on his cheek. "I am yours, completely. I won’t speak for you, after everything I’ve done, but I hope someday I can say that you are mine.”

While they had exchanged 'I love you's' this was something else entirely. It was a promise above all else. Brienne pressed her forehead to his, then brought her hand, still covered by Jaime's, to her stomach. She repeated back to him, "I am yours, and you are mine. Completely”

They stayed there for a moment, before Jaime drew back. "Right, now, let's go to King's Landing and save my brother and Jon Snow."

"And decide how the realms will be ruled from here on out," Brienne added.

Jaime laughed, making Brienne smile with him, "It should be the easiest thing we've done in quite a while."

Chapter Text

A pained scream rang through the air, jolting Jaime from his sleep. He took in his surroundings as he looked for the source- he and Brienne were in their tent, on the first night on the King’s Road. He nearly got up, but another terrified scream stopped him- it was Brienne. He turned to her and saw the lines of pain in her face, the tears that were falling even has her eyes squeezed shut.

“Brienne, what is it?” He asked, reaching for her shoulder with his stump. He called out again, but only her screams were an answer, and he realized she was still asleep.

He began shaking her, calling out louder, “Please, Brienne, darling, please, wake up.”

Finally, Brienne’s eyes snapped open. She searched out Jaime’s face, as her scream faltered. She sat up quickly, hands flying up to hold her head as she breathed, trying to calm herself. One hand fell to cradle her stomach.

Jaime held his hand on her shoulder, rubbing circles. Every few seconds Brienne would look over at him, as if to remind herself he was there.

“Brienne, are you alright? What do you need?” Jaime asked softly.

For a moment she refused to look at him, as she asked quietly, “Can you please find Podrick, see if he’s awake?”

“Pod- what? why? I’m here, what can I do?”

“Jaime, please-“ Brienne started, but then the flap to their tent was opening and a disheveled Podrick was stepping in, clearly having just woken up.

“Brienne,” his expression was worried, and Jaime was taken aback by the familiarity- he had never heard Podrick call Brienne anything other than ‘my lady’.

Brienne looked to Pod, and something unspoken passed between them. Podrick rushed the few steps towards her to clasp her hand.

Podrick looked to Jaime, “I’m sorry, Ser Jaime, could you give us a moment?”

Jaime furrowed his brow, about to say no, when he caught Brienne’s eye. She gave him a slight pleading look and nodded.

“Alright- I’ll be just outside if you need me,” Jaime said quietly, shooting a worried look to Brienne as he stood.

Jaime paced outside of the tent, breathing heavily. His breath turned to mist in the cold, but otherwise he barely noticed the temperature- he was too worried about what happened- what was happening- with Brienne. He ran his hand through his hair and looked around, trying to find something to do, a way to use his nervous energy. He froze when he saw Sansa moving towards him.

“Is Brienne alright?” She asked- concerned, but not surprised.

“I- I don’t know, Pod just went in there and told me to leave and-“ His tone must’ve held the thread of jealousy he felt, as Sansa picked it out right away.

“You have no right to be jealous, Ser Jaime,” She started, disgust in her voice. She rolled her eyes, “And no reason to be- you know she thinks of Pod like her own son.”

“I’m not- I know he would never- it’s just- I don’t understand-“ he stammered out.

Sansa laughed unhappily, “Of course you don’t. The only reason she’s been relying on Pod like this is because of the nightmares she’s had since you left. Ser Brienne fought the dead, and yet it was you who broke her.” Her voice dropped to a sad, half-whisper, “Pod was there to pick up the pieces. First, on the night you left, when he found her, frozen in the courtyard, staring absently out the gates. Then, nearly every night for a fortnight, waking her from the nightmares, helping her calm down until she could sleep again.”

Jaime blinked away the tears that blurred his vision. “Thank the gods for Podrick.”

“Yes,” Sansa answered, having grown fonder of the squire over time- he seemed to be the only one who cared as much for Brienne as she did. “Brienne would say she was fine, not wanting his help, but he was adamant. She only listened because he mentioned that the stress could hurt the baby.”

There was a silence as Jaime put the pieces together, “When did Brienne find out she’s pregnant?”

“The day after you left,” Sansa said, breaking Jaime’s heart further. “Once he said that, she listened. She didn’t want to lose the only tie she had left to you.”

Jaime let out a choked breath. He had incorrectly assumed it was only recently she found out- but she had known the whole time he was gone that she was pregnant, that she would have had to raise their child alone.

Sansa eyed him wearily, taking in his reaction. “I understand that people make mistakes.” she said, “But you, abandoning Brienne for King’s Landing- that’s the only one your allowed.”

Jaime opened his mouth, but Sansa cut him off, “I’m aware you’ve made mistakes in the past, but because of Brienne, you won’t be tried for those mistakes again. But from the time you came to Winterfell until now, leaving Brienne was your fatal mistake. The only reason you’re still alive is because you brought back Arya- clearly you hadn’t lost all of your honor. But from here on out, you don’t get another chance. This is it.”

Jaime nodded solemnly, not daring to break the silence Sansa created when she stopped speaking. So they stood, outside of his and Brienne’s tent, listening to the softening sobs, and gentle words coming from the inside.

Eventually, Pod came back out, gave a sad smile to Jaime, with a flick of his head towards the tent, letting him know to go back inside. Pod nodded to Sansa, then walked back to his own tent.

Sansa turned to leave as well, but first looked to Jaime, “You’re on thin ice, Ser Jaime. I have faith in Ser Brienne, and because of her choice to take you back, I suppose I have to have faith in you. But if you hurt her again, make no mistake, winter will come for you.” She nodded to him, “Goodnight, Ser Jaime.”

Jaime eventually turned from the space Sansa vacated, and faced the tent. His thoughts spun out, surrounding him in self-hatred and disgust. But a sniffle from inside the tent broke through to him, and he reigned in all those thoughts. They weren’t helpful- his self-hatred wouldn’t help Brienne- only his presence, affirming his continued place in her life, would soothe these wounds.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Jaime allowed himself to feel that shame course through him once more. Then, he swallowed his pain and stepped into the tent, thinking of nothing but the woman in there- the woman he loved.