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Brienne stands with her back against the wall, Oathkeeper put down. She is not able to raise her sword any longer. She is so exhausted. As never before. 

Jaime is breathing hard beside her.

Their eyes meet and only then the impossible truth waves over Brienne. 

They have won.

In a battle where their chances were almost non-existent.

They have won.

And they are alive. Pod. And Jaime. And her.

*

 

Not everyone is that lucky. 

Lady Sansa lost her sister and friend. Daenerys mourns after her knight.

The great pyres with all the fallen warriors are set on fire. 

No one says a word as their bodies disappear in flames and the acrid smoke envelopes them, making their eyes wet and the lungs burn.

Brienne feels Jaime’s hand on hers. He isn’t looking at her but the slight squeeze of his hand is all the reassurance she needs at that moment.

*

 

Then there is a feast. 

To celebrate their victory.

To celebrate life.

This is why she lets her inhibitions go. Or maybe it is Jaime’s hand on hers again.

And his smile and shining eyes. All directed at her.

*

 

When she finally feels free and accepted among their small group, everything goes wrong. 

The stupid question.

And the humiliation.

It is nothing to be ashamed of, she tells herself. Brienne is a highborn lady. Unmarried. It is expected of her to be a virgin.

There is no shame in it.

But the implication hangs heavily in the air. 

Nobody has ever wanted her. 

Three betrothals. All of them have been broken.  

And the man she loves would never reciprocate her feelings because he loves another.

*

 

Jaime finds her later in her room. 

A bit tipsy with a jug of wine and two cups.

He demands answers she doesn’t want to give.

The awkward conversation goes on. Brienne drinks another cup of wine, hears him admitting his jealousy, and watches him fumbling with the laces of his shirt. 

It’s not happening

This must be a dream.

Maybe this thought is the one that gives her the courage to take his shirt off and to make her own follow.

And then Jaime is kissing her. His lips are hot and insistent. 

He is kissing her like she is his air.

Brienne quickly catches up, her inexperience and insecurities quickly forgotten.

Not stopping their kisses, they make it to bed. Soon their clothes end up on the cold floor.

Jaime is lying on top of her, his forehead resting on hers. 

“Brienne?”

Just her name. The question.

“Yes,” the only answer. It’s enough for him as he slowly enters her. The feeling is strange and not pleasant at all. Then the quick strong thrust, the cutting pain, and Jaime is fully sheathed within her. A single tear that escapes her eye is immediately caught by his lips. 

Jaime is still above her, kissing away her pain and whispering words of apology into her ear. Soon enough the discomfort is replaced by the unfamiliar feeling of fullness.

And when he starts to move, Brienne feels something. Not pleasure but something more like a promise of it. 

Jaime moves faster, his breathing becomes laboured and soon, he falls on her with a hoarse groan.

But it’s fine. She is strong enough to hold him. Brienne tightens her embrace around him and listens as his heart and breathing calm down.  

He rolls off her and they both, drunk with wine and exhausted after the feast and… and this, find their sleep. 

*

 

The next morning Brienne wakes up with a throbbing head and dull ache between her legs. Everything that happened the previous night feels like a distant dream.

Jaime’s right arm with a heavy golden hand lays over her, pulling her close to his chest. Why is that monstrosity still attached to his wrist? Brienne can’t remember if she had forgotten to remove it in the fervour of their unexpected closeness or if she'd tried and he didn’t let her.

Not knowing exactly why it bothers her so much, slowly and carefully to not wake him, Brienne works with the straps of his golden hand and puts it on a nightstand with a quiet clung. 

The sight of his wrist makes her gasp. The skin is angry and red. She reaches to the nightstand again to retrieve a tiny pot with a salve which helped her greatly with the bruises and wounds she had got during her training and travels. 

Making sure Jaime is still asleep, Brienne gently applies the salve on his irritated skin. 

His breathing is still deep and even when she finishes. He looks so peaceful and Brienne can’t help a slight pang in her heart, knowing that the soft expression will be gone the moment he opens his eyes.

She gets up from the bed, trying not to look at a small brown dot on sheets. As quiet as possible, she puts her clothes on and leaves the room.

*

 

Brienne doesn’t see Jaime for the whole day. Everyone is recovering from the battle and the feast as well. But it doesn’t matter to her.

She needs to occupy herself somehow. To not think about him. To not think at all.

*

 

But then it’s evening again. She’s in her room when he knocks. 

And despite her better judgment, Brienne lets him in.

Again.

This time there is a different tension between them, which she tries her best to ignore.

“Do you regret last night?” Jaime finally asks when she refuses to meet his eyes.

Does she? 

“No,” Brienne replies after a moment. Of course she wouldn’t regret the night with the man she loves, even if it was everything she would ever get from him. “Do you?”

The question somehow escapes despite her steel resolve not to ask it. Brienne holds her breath, preparing herself for the answer. 

“No, not the night with you.”

“If not the night, then what?”

Suddenly it’s Jaime who drops his gaze. If Brienne didn’t know any better, she’d think he’s embarrassed and ashamed.

But maybe he is, whispers this tiny voice in her head.

“The execution of the night was not…” 

Instead of finishing, Jaime gives her a meaningful look and makes a vague gesture with his left hand.

Then it hits Brienne. She was so stupid. She shouldn’t have asked. 

“I… I’m sorry,” she stumbles, her cheeks getting hot. “I know I’m not very experienced to… to make it good.”

“What?” The confusion overtakes the previous embarrassment on Jaime’s face. “That is not what I meant. I wanted to make it good for you and I know I failed.”

“You didn’t, Jaime. It was alright,” Brienne tries to sound sure and convincing. Making Jaime feel guilty for giving her the experience she has never expected to have is the last thing she wants to do.

“It shouldn’t be alright.” Jaime takes a step closer, his green eyes locked with hers. “I want you to feel as amazing and wonderful as I did while being with you. If you’d let me.”

And Brienne does.

His kisses are not as desperate as the previous night. They are slower, deeper, more passionate.

Everything is. 

Jaime removes her clothes one by one. And she does the same for him but when Brienne reaches for his golden hand, Jaime stops her abruptly.

“You don’t have to look at this. It’s unsightly but you already know that.”

“Yes, I saw it,” Brienne admits, reaching again for his hand. Her fingers stop on the straps. “It doesn’t bother me. You don’t have to wear it when you’re with me. Unless you want to.”

“Gods, no.”

Soon the golden hand is shoved on the nearest chair and they are free to continue their previous activity.

“Thank you,” Jaime whispers into her ear, leading her to the bed.

He explores her body without a hurry, with his hand and his mouth, lingering on her neck, her breasts, her cunt.

It is nothing like the night before. 

The pleasure of having him overwhelms all her senses. Again and again.

Sated and exhausted they fall asleep in each other's arms.

*

 

Life in Winterfell goes on. 

The preparations for the next war are in progress and the Dragon Queen is eager to take back what is hers.

Brienne goes around with her duties. With Jaime at her side. 

They start every day together, they break their fast together, they attend the councils together and do the work around the castle. Together.

Together. For the first time in her life, Brienne learns what this word really means. 

They only part when she is with Sansa. The Lady of Winterfell still looks at Jaime with cold hostile eyes and sometimes Brienne feels the same gaze at herself. 

She knows Sansa is aware of their relationship. Everyone at Winterfell is. 

However, Sansa never speaks about it and when Brienne turns her head to meet her lady’s gaze, Sansa always looks in another direction.

*

 

Soon the army marches South. Jaime stays behind.

“It’s not my war anymore.”

*

 

Life goes on. 

Days are filled with hard work.

And nights with love.

Their room is filled with the soft orange glow and the crackling sounds of burning fire. They are lying under soft furs and enjoying the slowly fading effects of their blissful union when Jaime says these words for the first time. 

“I love you, Brienne, you know that, right?”

Brienne doesn’t know that. In recent days she just felt that way. Being loved by Jaime. Her more rational part scolded her for believing that and was coming up with all the reasonable arguments proving it wrong. But maybe this one time her heart wasn’t wrong.

“I love you too, Jaime,” she says, her voice a little more than a whisper. 

*

 

Days are passing. The air is filled with tension. Everyone is waiting for the news from the South. 

Sansa is worried more than everyone else, Brienne sees that even though her lady is doing her best to hide it.

Bran doesn’t tell them anything. If it is for the lack of knowledge or his unwillingness to share, no one can tell.

*

 

Finally, the expected raven comes but the news is not something they expected to hear.

The second dragon was taken down by Euron’s forces. As well as their fleet. And Daenerys’ friend was captured.

Brienne is in the courtyard with Sansa when Jaime finds them. 

Her lady gives her permission to tell the news.

“I always wanted to be there when they’ll execute your sister. Seems like I won’t get the chance,” Sansa says, her words filling the tense silence around them. 

Brienne doesn’t know how to interpret the look on Jaime’s face, nor does she have time to linger on it. 

She follows her lady, leaving Jaime behind.

 

She finds Jaime that evening in their room, sitting in front of the fire with a brooding expression on his face.

He doesn’t greet her as usual. With a smile and a kiss. 

He doesn’t even notice her arrival. 

“Jaime?” Brienne says, not sure how to approach him. He was never like that during the time they have spent here together.

Jaime doesn’t respond and Brienne's heart falls. 

She goes with her usual routine, removes her armour, washes her face and hands. 

The knock sounds and their dinner is brought into their room. 

Jaime still hasn’t moved. It’s understandable he is upset. Cersei is his sister.

But Brienne doesn’t know what she is supposed to do. How to comfort him, how to ease his pain? 

“Jaime?” she tries again. 

She tentatively comes close and gently puts her hand on his shoulder.

It pulls Jaime out of any trance he has been in. 

“Brienne?” He looks up at her, his eyes wide open and vulnerable as she has never seen before.

Brienne wants to say something, but Jaime takes her hand and brings it to his lips. 

“Be with me tonight,” he whispers. 

At first, Brienne is not sure if those words weren’t just her imagination.

But Jaime stands up and kisses her.

Soon they find themself in bed. 

Their lovemaking is passionate as always but there is a desperate edge to it. Like the first time.

Or maybe it’s the last, the unwanted thought crosses Brienne’s mind as her back arches in pleasure. 

*

 

Brienne wakes up in an empty bed.

The fire is long gone and the room is filled with thick darkness.

She cannot see it but she knows Jaime is not here.

He has left, her heart clenches at the thought. Not thinking, Brienne finds the closest garment and puts it over her naked body. 

Then she leaves the room.

The corridors are cold and empty. There is no sound in the rooms she passes by. It must be the middle of the night. 

Brienne reaches the main courtyard but there is no one there as well. I’m too late, she tells herself, not able to hold back a tear, streaming down her cheek.

The cold of the winter night freezes her to bones but it’s nothing compared to the ruthless truth cutting straight through her heart.

He left me behind and went back. To her.

*

 

Brienne doesn’t know for how long she was standing in the empty courtyard. She should have returned to their room but the mere thought of being there alone again is too much for her.

So she walks instead.

Not remembering the way she ends up in godswood. 

Despite the darkest hour of the night, red leaves of the weirwoods are shining with the lightest subtle glow, 

“Gods, wench, what are you doing here at this hour?”

“Jaime?”

Brienne turns to see a dark cloaked figure. She can’t see the face but she knows without any doubt that this is him. 

Jaime steps towards her.

“Brienne, what are you doing here?” he asks again.

“I…” thought that you left. But she doesn’t say it. Her voice is shaky and her teeth are clattering from a cold. 

Without waiting for her answer, Jaime removes his cloak and in a swift move drapes it over her shoulders with Brienne’s hand coming to assist him.

“You’re freezing. Come here.”

She doesn’t have to be told twice. Leaning in, she can feel Jaime's hard body under the layers of clothes and imagine the warmth hidden underneath.

They are standing in a tight embrace, their heavy breathing is the only sound in the surrounding silence.

“What are you doing here, Jaime?” Brienne can’t keep this question any longer. She steps back a little to see his face.

“Having a nice stroll around the castle, but even without dreary northerners in sight, I hardly see any appeal.”

 It’s not the answer she expected to receive but she finds herself nodding anyway.

“And what about you?”

“I woke up and you…” You weren’t there

Jaime lets out a deep breath.

“You thought I left you, didn’t you?”

She did. There is no sense to deny it now so she nods again.

“I thought that after the news you might be willing to… to return.”

“Why in seven hells would I want to do that?” The disbelief in his voice sounds so genuine yet it’s hard for Brienne to believe that it has never crossed his mind.

“She’s your sister and you love her.”

“You’re right. She’s my sister, she’ll always be that. And I did love her. But not anymore. Not the way you think.”

Brienne blinks trying to prevent new unwanted tears from falling from her eyes. Why is she crying? He’s here. At least for now.

“You thought I left you for her,” Jaime says again. It’s not the question anymore. Now it is a straightforward statement and she can hear a clear accusation in his tone.

“The bed was empty and you were nowhere to be seen and...” Brienne stops herself from saying anything further. She doesn’t want to appear more pathetic than she already does.

“And this was enough to make such a conclusion? Next time I suggest you bind me to the bed if you can’t learn to trust me.”

“I do trust you.”

Jaime snorts at that and faces away. 

“You say you trust me. You say you love me. You let me in your bed every night. And yet, you expect me to leave you and go back to her just as every other bloody northerner does.”

There is nothing to say in her defence without reminding him of how ugly and unlovable creature she is and implying that all those words of love he said to her were as good as lies.

“Jaime...”

“Kingslayer, remember? My sins are past forgiveness, is it not right, lady Brienne?”

“I don’t think that anymore. I said that before I knew the real you.”

“And what do you think is the real me?”

“The man of honour. Oathkeeper,” Brienne says without hesitation. He’s not Kingslayer anymore. He hasn’t really been for quite some time. Not to her.

Jaime lets out a bitter laugh.

“What about king slaying, laying with my sister, pushing a child from the window? I did all of it and never regretted anything. Do you want to say it’s not real?”

“No,” her answer comes before she even has time to calm down her spinning thoughts and feelings. “I know of it. I knew from the very beginning and you were the worst of men for that in my eyes. But then you lost your sword hand defending me and told me the truth about Mad King. You returned for me and jumped unarmed into a bear pit for me when you could be safe on your way back to her. Then you gave me the precious sword and sent for a quest to uphold our vow. You were the only one to believe in me. All those things are also real.”

“And yet it’s not enough for you to trust me. What should I do to earn that at last? I’m sorry I don’t have another sword hand to spare.”

Brienne closes her eyes. She can’t bear the look on his face as much as she can’t hold back the tears that are threatening to fall. She desperately tries to even her breathing.

When she opens her eyes, Jaime is still standing there, his gaze locked at the uncanny face carved in its white bark. He was the one who really saw her and now he refuses to spare her just one look. 

“I’m sorry, Jaime,” Brienne whispers in a strained voice. She needs to tell him. She needs him to understand. “I trust you. With everything, with my life. The last few weeks were like a dream for me that I never dared to even entertain. And after my experience I… I cannot let go of the fear that one day you will realize who you are with.”

This finally grabs his attention. Jaime studies her with a sharp look.

“I know perfectly well who you are. Thickheaded, stubborn, annoying, good, loyal, gentle, caring, passionate wench with astonishing blue eyes.”

“I’m ugly and…”

“Does it only matter that you are not a beauty? What about the rest? Have you just ignored that or should I add deaf to the list of other things you are?”

“But I am,” Brienne insists, not entirely sure on what exactly.

“You are,” he agrees. “And I love you all the same.”

Despite hearing those words from him many times, Brienne still needs to learn how to accept them without questioning. 

“I love you too, Jaime.” She is also getting better at saying this in response. Every time she is equally amazed at how easily those simple words can make his whole face smile. 

“Then marry me.” 

“What?” Brienne blinks in confusion. It is not the best time for such jokes.

“I think you’ve heard.”

“I did but you can’t mean it.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it’s marriage.

Jaime chuckles hearing that, making Brienne even more confused. Does he really want to marry her? If she says yes, then they will be married. A husband and wife. Does Jaime realize that or did he just say those words without any thinking?

“Yes, wench, I’m pretty much aware of what marriage is. And I know I want this. With you. Do you?”

“Yes, but...” the words are no more than a whisper but they make Jaime’s smile wider. He lunges forward and kisses her until she is breathless.

“So if we finally agree on this, then I suggest we better proceed. I would like to get to the bedding part tonight.”

“I’m not sure it is the proper time to hold a wedding,” Brienne tries to rationalize but is cut again by his kiss.

“Why postpone?” Jaime asks in a low voice. “The tree is right over here and my cloak is already on your shoulders. Shall we proceed, my lady?”

Chapter Text

The next morning Brienne wakes up in Jaime’s arms. After the night in godswood, it feels impossible to be warm again. 

Brienne turns to face him and she is met with a pair of green eyes, which are looking at her with the softest expression she could never quite figure out before.

“Good morning, wife,” Jaime smiles at her.

“Good morning, husband,” she replies. The word still feels strange on her tongue. Husband. And only then it strikes her for the first time that they are really wed. 

They said their vows under the red leaves of weirwood tree. In chilling air among dancing snowflakes. A fairy tale.

“It’s time to get up. There are duties-”

Jaime snorts hearing that.

“If you are so diligent then you need to take care of your husband first, and let him finally perform his marital duties.”

Formally their marriage is still not consummated. After returning to their chamber, they were too exhausted to do anything but reach the bed and fall asleep.

“I really need to go,” Brienne exhales as she lets him kiss her neck. Leaving the bed is the last thing she wants to do but neglecting her responsibilities isn’t something she looks forward to.

“Stop thinking. This one time Sansa can wait a bit for you,” Jaime says as his lips travel down through her collarbone toward her breast. His hand that somehow sneaked down between her legs finds her already hot and wanting. 

“Jaime…” she sighs when his fingers start stroking her.

“Did you say something, my love?”

The smug smile on his face quickly disappears under her passionate kisses.

*

 

Soon Brienne finds herself beside Sansa. Since the battle, her lady became more reserved and reticent. She is grieving for the two closest people she recently lost but for some reason, today this coldness unnerves Brienne more than usual.

Brienne takes a deep breath. She and Jaime decided it would be fair to inform Lady of Winterfell about their marriage. In fact, it was Brienne who insisted on it, and Jaime, despite his reluctance and distrust of a young Stark, relented after a while.

“Brienne, good that you're here,” Sansa says. “There is one important matter to discuss.”

*

 

Brienne doesn’t believe her ears when she learns what Sansa has to say. But the serious expression on her lady’s face is more than enough to convince anyone that she means every word.

 “You cannot imprison him,” Brienne finally finds her voice after the first shock subsides. “Ser Jaime is not your enemy.”

“He’s a Lannister,” Sansa says as this fact alone is enough to prove anyone guilty of anything.

As am I, the thought crosses Brienne’s mind but she keeps herself from voicing it.

“Ser Jaime abandoned Kings Landing and came here to aid our cause. Now he chose to remain here instead of returning back.”

“What a great aid it was. One man with one hand,” a distaste is clear in Sansa’s voice. “A great aid indeed…”

“It only proves that he’s a man of honour.”

Sansa ignores this comment. She leans back in her chair, clearly immersed in her thoughts, as Brienne waits for the next orders or dismissal.

“Great aid…” Sansa whispers again and a strange fear slowly rises in Brienne’s heart.

She doesn’t like the direction of this conversation.

“Why did he remain here, Brienne?” Sansa asks after a while. “Why?

I came here for you, Jaime said one night but Brienne won’t tell this Sansa. This is only between her and Jaime. 

“I told you before, my lady. I know ser Jaime and I vouch for his honour. I’m certain of his good intentions. He has no ill will toward you and your house and I believe it would be unreasonable to use such drastic measures towards him.”

“And you want me to believe that all those words are not affected by your association with ser Jaime?”

“These are the same words I was saying before anything of it happened. I trust ser Jaime with my life and if you value my service and trust me, you shouldn’t have doubts about him.”

Sansa gives her an appraising look.

“Alright,” she says after a moment of silence. “You are dismissed for today. And for ser Jaime… He can stay here as he was. I believe you and I won’t take any measures regarding his stay.”

For now, the implication lingers heavily in the air.

*

 

Brienne doesn’t say anything about this conversation to Jaime. She doesn’t want to upset him.

However, sometimes it seems to her that he sees the new tension between her and lady Sansa but he never says anything of it.

*

 

Days pass. Winterfell is gradually getting rebuilt.

The news from the South doesn't come.

Bran is silent as well.

*

 

Jaime and Brienne continue to live together. 

They are married after all, yet they don’t share this information with anyone.

“It’s not safe for you to be a Lannister in a bloody North,” Jaime insists every time the question of the announcement is raised.

“Is it safer to be viewed as a Kingslayer’s whore then?” 

Jaime sighs.

“They would have considered you one regardless of it being true or not,” he says without looking at her. 

He has a right of it, Brienne steals a quick glance towards Oathkeeper.

“And Kingslayer’s wife has even less honour here,” Jaime adds with a sullen expression. 

“Why would you care for their opinion?”

“I do not in the slightest. Fuck them. It’s your safety I’m concerned about.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“I know,” Jaime comes to her from behind and kisses her neck. It’s not fair, he knows how strongly his lips can affect her. 

 “We don’t need to keep it secret. I’m not ashamed of being your wife,” Brienne breathes, trying to escape his ministrations that are making her hot and needy for him. “Or are you?”

“To have a glorious knight as a wife? No. This is the happiness I do not deserve.”

He kisses her again and soon all Brienne can think of is the pleasure of being united with him.

*

 

They do not have this conversation again.

They do not tell anyone about the night in a godswood.

*

 

More days pass. 

The Winterfell almost looks as before the battle. However, with every brick put back into the walls, the tension in the air raises.

Jaime is uneasy about the situation in the South, Brienne can tell. She sees him less during the day. It’s alright if he needs space. 

They meet in the evening in their chamber. 

They make love as always.

But Brienne doesn’t ask anything when Jaime turns away from her as they fall asleep.

*

 

Sansa is worried. Brienne sees that even though her lady was distancing herself recently from her sworn knight.

Over two months have passed since the latest news.

Something must have happened, everyone feels that.

Yet silence is everything they have.

*

 

“They’ve been watching me,” Jaime says one evening. “Someone’s always following me everywhere. Like I’ve grown a bloody tail.”

He doesn’t look at her, facing the burning fire.

“I’m sorry, Jaime,” she replies not knowing any better words to offer him. 

“Throwing me to the dungeon would have spared lady Sansa any trouble concerning my location.”

Brienne sighs at that.

“She wanted to.”

“Yet, my noble wife came to my defence again.”

“I only spoke the truth.”

“Next time tell her that I’m not a valuable prisoner anyway. They won’t take me back.”

Brienne doesn’t respond. This is the first night she falls asleep alone.

*

 

Jaime is not there the next morning.

Eventually, Brienne finds him in godswood with Bran.

She does not interrupt whatever conversation they have.

She leaves without being noticed.

*

 

Something strange is happening. 

Jaime is still with her. He’s his usual self except for the time he’s in a brooding and self-depreciating mood but Brienne can sense something shifted inside him.

There is something in his eyes she cannot explain.

And lately, more and more often, Brienne wakes at night in an empty bed.

She doesn’t go to look after him.

Jaime mentions nothing of this and Brienne doesn’t ask.

*

 

One morning a general commotion wakes them. Lord Bran is nowhere to be found. As several of the northern men. The search is sent out immediately but the men return with nothing.

“Ah, lady Stark. If a boy without his legs could run from your grasp, then what are the chances for a handless man?” Jaime smirks toward their host only to be met with a deadly glare.

He knows something. Brienne cannot tell why she thinks that but is more than certain there is something he’s hiding from her.

*

 

The news hit them like lightning. The battle for King’s Landing was lost. There was not even a battle. A carnage.

Cersei Lannister demands they surrender and bow the knee to the rightful Queen of Seven Kingdoms.

Or die like traitors if they refuse.

*

 

Golden Company is coming. And they are closer than anyone has thought.

Several days of march at best.

*

 

The war council is a gloomy affair.

Everyone knows they stand no chances against twenty thousand experienced men.

Their main forces went with Jon, leaving Winterfell with a small garrison of elders and children.

Even if they could hold the walls, barely rebuilt after the battle, they won’t survive the siege.

Their supplies are running low right now, they won’t be able to feed people for a long time.

The best option would be to escape but nowhere is safe.

And there is no hope for anyone coming with aid.

They're on the losing side.

Everyone knows that. Yet...

“We will fight till the last breath. I won’t surrender to Cersei Lannister,” Sansa declares.

No one voices a disagreement. But Brienne sees the silent fear that resides in people’s eyes.

*

           

They try to prepare the best they can.

A few days later the infamous Golden Company arrives.

*

 

They do not attack.

From the walls, the defenders see that the enemy is not in a rush to get to the castle. 

So it’s starvation then, Brienne thinks, wishing for a sword.

*

 

In the following days, there are several attacks on the castle but it is clear it is more like a warm-up before the real attack begins.

*

 

From the day the army arrived Jaime has been more distant than ever.

Does he regret being here? Does he regret not going back when he still had a chance? Does he regret marrying me?

Those thoughts occupy Brienne’s mind constantly but she fears confronting Jaime on that. She’s afraid of his answer.

*

 

The food in the castle is running low. Their warehouses are empty and all the routes from the castle are closed.

The rations are thrice smaller than they were and the number of meals decreases to one per day.

The served grey bland porridge becomes more and more watery with every passing day.

*

 

Something is different tonight when Brienne returns to their chambers after her watch.

Jaime hasn’t been so needy of her lately. They would fuck until they find release and fall asleep afterwards. It’s not like their passionate lovemaking from the time they got married.

It’s so different tonight and it puts Brienne off guard, making her suspicious and wary.

Jaime is my husband, I trust him, she has to repeat again and again as they tear off their clothes but the strange feeling doesn’t leave her.

Jaime kisses her hard, with teeth and tongue, his hand is wandering down her body, exploring all the sensitive spots he’s come to learn about her.

 Brienne reciprocates, her own hands all over him.

Let me forget, her kisses beg him. It’s only me and you.

Jaime seems to feel the same. He completely loses himself in her. Caressing, kissing, thrusting.

Jaime, she’s no longer sure if she voices her thoughts. Jaime, please. I love you.

I love you too.

So much.

Brienne.

You and only you.

My wench.

My love.

He breathes with every thrust. His eyes so soft and vulnerable.

His whole body shudders as they come together.

*

 

Brienne is woken up by strange sounds coming from the corridor. The distant clunk of armour and muffled steps.

Jaime, she turns to his side of the bed to discover that it is empty. She looks around confused. 

What is happening?

Brienne quickly leaves the bed and puts her clothes on. She’s about to cross the room and reach for Oathkeeper when the door suddenly bursts open and five armed soldiers are coming inside.

Her heart sinks. These are not northerners. 

Golden Company.

Inside Winterfell. 

And they are surrounding her in her own room.

“You go with us, whore,” one of them, seemingly commander, barks at her.

Brienne stands still. She needs Oathkeeper now. And Jaime. Where is Jaime? Is he alive? And Sansa? What is happening?

“Are you deaf? Do as you’re told or we’ll make you.”

The Oathkeeper is hung by the fire. Too far to reach.

And Brienne doesn’t have her armour on.

There are no chances for her to defeat them.

But she tries anyway and almost immediately is overpowered.

A fist comes to her face and heavy boots to her ribs. 

“You’re lucky we have to bring you alive, bitch,” someone says close to her ear as the others rope her hands and drag her outside the room.

There are no fights. How did they get inside? Crossing the main courtyard, in flickering light of torches, Brienne sees a couple of bodies lying down in the snow. She tries to look closer to see if she recognizes them.

Where is Jaime, she keeps thinking, and Sansa, and Pod?

*

 

Brienne ends up in a dark cold and wet dungeon. Her eyes cannot adjust to the surrounding darkness. Brienne trembles from a cold. She didn’t manage to put on her warm cloak.

Seated against the wall, she tries to listen. Any sound that could indicate what is going on.

And where is Jaime?

He wasn’t in her bed that night. Where did he go? Did he manage to escape? Or did they ki… No, they couldn’t. Not Jaime.

Not her Jaime.

He lives. 

He must live. 

He must.

*

 

She has no idea how much time has passed. And she’s too cold and numb to care.

She doesn’t move when she hears the key in the door and feels someone's hands that are dragging her again. 

*

 

Brienne is in the main courtyard again. Her hands are still tied. She doesn’t raise her head, the morning sun too bright after the time she has spent underground. Lady Sansa is also there.

She’s alive, Brienne sighs with relief. Seemingly unharmed, her lady stands tall with her head raised and proud. Despite her hands behind her back and the paleness of her face which holds so much contrast to the bright red hair, Brienne cannot look at the young woman without awe.

It takes Brienne a while to notice that the soldiers are moving around in a hurry. They are leaving, there is no doubt about it.

Brienne looks around. Where is Jaime? The question doesn’t leave her mind. And Pod? They couldn’t… No, that’s impossible. They couldn’t…

*

 

Brienne and Sansa are seated on the same horse. Brienne feels the stung in her heart as the lady visibly flinches at the forced closeness to her sworn sword. The only little comfort is that they don’t have to face each other.

*

 

They are about to leave through the main gate when Brienne finally sees him.

Jaime is crossing the courtyard with Widow’s Wail at his hip. He is not tied.

He’s not a prisoner.

In her confusion, Brienne cannot turn away her gaze from him. Jaime comes to a group of Golden Company soldiers mixed with Lannisters. They quickly exchange a few words but Brienne is not able to hear. 

What’s going on? Jaime, she begs him silently.

Then, as he could hear her silent call, his head turns in her direction and his eyes lock with hers. It is not the look Brienne is used to see on his face. This one is full of coldness and contempt. Jaime has never looked at her that way. Even when he was nothing but a Kingslayer to her.

“Jaime?” Brienne can’t stop herself from uttering his name. Her voice is weak and trembling from disuse but she needs him to hear her. Jaime, what’s going on? Please, tell me it’s not… Jaime…

He turns away.

“Let’s move,” he says loudly to the soldiers. “The Queen is waiting to serve her justice.”

Chapter Text

The road is wearying and long, however not as dreadful as her first journey as a captive. There is no beating, no torment, no torture. 

Yet for Brienne, this feels more like an agony than the whole time spent with Brave companions and Vargo Hoat. 

Jaime, the name is like a knife in her guts.

Not Jaime, the Kingslayer, whispers a tiny voice in her head as she falls asleep on the hard cold ground.

*

 

Every day Brienne is seated on one horse together with Sansa.

And every day the young lady flinches at their forced closeness.

*

 

Sometimes Brienne overhears the conversations between the soldiers. 

They confirm the truth she’s already known.

It was Jaime who opened the gate and let the Golden Company in.

Not Jaime, the Kingslayer.

There is no Jaime anymore.

*

 

He is nowhere to be seen. Not that Brienne wants to see him. She doesn’t. 

 

*

 

The bread prisoners are given is hard and stale. Brienne makes herself chew it but it sticks in her throat. 

Every day she forces herself to eat. Not for herself. She has already died that day in Winterfell. But the others...

Lady Sansa is sitting near to her, facing away from Brienne. She never looks at her. Not once. Since they left Winterfell. 

“Lady Sansa,” Brienne whispers so soldiers cannot overhear. She’s concerned about the young woman who became pale and thin. Her hands tremble, from cold or from exhaustion, Brienne cannot tell. 

Sansa ignores her.

Brienne doesn’t try to reach her again.

*

 

Today it is raining. The first sign of retreating winter. Horses are struggling in the mud. Their pace slows down. 

Brienne’s clothes soak in mere minutes. 

She keeps her head down, trying to occupy her mind with counting drops falling down from the stands of her hair.

The Kings Landing is getting closer. She recognises this land.

She doesn’t want to think about what awaits them there. 

How she has failed again.

*

 

Everyone is relieved when they stop for camp this evening. The fire has never been more welcoming.

Brienne is chilled to her bones but her discomfort is nothing. Not when lady Sansa is so clearly exhausted. Despite being so close to the fire, her whole body is shuddering and her breathing heavy and laboured. 

She’s in fever, Brienne realizes.

“My lady,” she whispers.

Sansa hears that. Brienne is sure about this from the way her lady’s brows have furrowed but she doesn’t open her eyes to acknowledge her sworn sword.

“My lady, you’re fevered, you need to drink more,” Brienne tries again holding out her waterskin. “Please, my lady.”

Sansa turns her back to Brienne.

*

 

Hours later their fire is ceasing. There is nothing around to keep it going. Brienne is surprised that they were allowed to have it in the first place until she remembers that the Queen wants them alive.

It must be hours before dawn. The darkest and the coldest time of the night. Half-dry clothes don’t protect from freezing air.

Brienne can’t find her sleep. She has given up on trying to find some rest. She just harder clenches her jaws to prevent her teeth from clattering and disturbing the uneasy sleep of others. Especially lady Sansa.

Suddenly her attention snaps at the sound of someone’s steps. It should be nothing unusual, guards and patrols are crossing the camp quite often. 

These steps, however, are different. Quiet and stealthy. It sounds like someone who doesn’t want to be caught by the soldiers. 

Brienne stills.

They are moving in her direction.

 Soon she catches the glimpse of a dark silhouette of a man.

It looks familiar. She knows him.

A man stops for a moment, assessing his surroundings.

And then he’s right next to her.

“My lady?”

“Pod? What are you doing here?”

“I brought covers. For you and lady Sansa.”

“How did you manage to free yourself?”

“I’m not a strict prisoner like you. The Westerners took me with them as a servant. I’m also from the West as you may know… I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, I’m being watched almost all the time.”

They talk in low quiet voices as Pod passes her the covers. These are solid and thick, just from touching them Brienne can imagine the warmth of being wrapped in them. 

But then something else hits her.

“Where did you get them, Pod?” In those circumstances, such covers are definitely not a spare good.

“It doesn’t matter. You need them more.”

“He has sent you.” It’s not a question, Brienne already knows the answer and all she can feel is a piercing cold that no amount of fire and blankets could chase away.

“Take them back,” she says as Pod remains quiet. “I don’t want anything from him.”

“Ser, please. I don’t want you to freeze here.”

“So I could be delivered to Kings Landing and die there?” She’s being unfair to Pod, Brienne knows that. But she can’t… she just can’t…

“Not everything is the way it…”

The coming guards interrupt anything Pod was going to say. He quietly leaves without uttering another word.

The unfortunate covers are left on the ground.

*

 

Brienne doesn’t want them. She doesn’t want anything from him. 

Not anymore.

Yet the covers are still here.

Brienne picks them up and makes the only thing that comes to her mind.

*

 

Lady Sansa doesn’t say anything when she wakes up. At least she looks a bit better than the previous evening. 

*

 

Brienne doesn’t see Pod anymore. She only hopes it doesn’t mean that he got into trouble because of her.

*

 

They almost reach Kings Landing when Brienne sees him again. 

The Kingslayer is talking with the others. He doesn’t look in her direction but Brienne can see his face.

It’s smug and arrogant. And yet distant somehow. His eyes... Brienne turns her head away. She hates the fact that she can read his face so easily.

Of course, you can’t, she needs to remind herself. He wished to be with Cersei all the time and I foolishly had thought it was for me, the great beast of a woman. 

*

 

It’s their last camp between arriving. Nobody told them that but Brienne knows it nevertheless. 

No one bothers to light a fire. They will survive one night without it. 

And why waste firewood for people soon are meant to die anyway?

*

 

“I hope it was worth it.”

Brienne turns her head in surprise. Those are the first words spoken by Sansa from the moment they were taken from Winterfell.

“What do you mean, my lady?”

“Being fucked by the Kingslayer. Was it not what you longed for? I hope it was worth it.” 

The crude words feel like a slap on her cheek. Sansa has never spoken to her like that. Brienne lowers her head. There is nothing she can say in her defence.

But Sansa doesn’t need any response to continue.

“I’ve always known you had a weak spot for him. It was hard not to notice the way you touched this stupid sword or flush at the mention of his name… When you have vouched for him, I knew it was something deeper. And against my better judgment, I let him stay… I hoped that it wouldn’t matter when the dead arrive. That he’ll die and won’t be my concern any longer because what can one man with one hand do against the army of the dead?”

Words that have been gathering behind Sansa’s silence and indifference now are flowing like water.

“What a brilliant scheme it was! Send one handless man and nobody would see him as a serious threat. What can one man do?” Sansa lets out a bitter laugh. “I should have seen that coming but the words coming from my devoted and loyal sworn sword blinded me. How could I listen to a woman so obviously in love with him? I should have wondered why Kingslayer wanted to stay behind instead of returning. Did he really cut the ties from his sister after years of blind devotion?”

Listening to this, Brienne has never felt more stupid in her life. It was her who should have asked these questions then. 

She didn’t.

She trusted him.

She loved him.

And she believed him. When he was kissing her and touching her. When he said he loved her. When he married her.

How stupid she was.

He insisted on keeping their marriage secret.

He was distant and upset.

He was spending nights somewhere else.

What a man like him was looking for with someone like her?

It is so blatantly clear now. How easy it must have been to manipulate a pathetic creature by giving her the illusion of affection and love she yearned so much for?

“I’m sorry, my lady,” Brienne whispers in a choked voice. “If I could do anything to…”

“You already did enough,” Sansa cuts her off. “I release you from any vow you might think that binds you to me. I’ve had enough failures in my life.”

Chapter Text

The North…

This wretched land does not leave her mind. It’s the last thing that keeps her from being a Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

But they won’t last for long, Cersei knows that and the best thing is that they also do. 

*

 

Euron’s presence is more and more aggravating. As much as he was useful to have at her side, now, when the war is practically won, he becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

Cersei sighs. She will have to deal with him soon.

But now she grinds her teeth just from the thought of having him in her bed tonight. 

*

 

The coming news report that everything goes according to plan and Cersei, however pleased, cannot prevent herself from feeling almost disappointed. This was easier than she’d thought. Obviously, they are not a match for her.

Just like this dragon bitch who had taught herself invincible with those beasts at her side. And how did they help her? Your beasts are worthless if you turn out to be too stupid to live.

Pity, Cersei muses drinking her wine. But they were asking to be obliterated. Who in his right mind would come defenceless under the city walls and demand surrender? If it was the Imp’s plan then he would definitely win the title of the stupidest Lannister. If he was a true Lannister, of course.

*

 

The raven comes. Winterfell has fallen. There was no resistance and no loss. They had help from inside. Jaime finally came back to his senses. Good.

*

 

The thought of Jaime makes her uneasy. He betrayed her, rode North and somehow managed to survive.

At first, Cersei raged at his disobedience. How dared he to join their enemies? And for what? A stupid promise? Once he promised to never leave her side but apparently, this one has never meant much to him.

It was another betrayal, something Cersei couldn't forgive. Yet she was glad she didn’t send this sellsword after her traitorous brothers.

She knew that eventually, they would come back by themselves. It was much more satisfying to be there and watch the Imp’s so well-deserved death. 

As for Jaime… When he returns to her, she will have a plan to make him useful again.

*

 

Cersei wakes up in a far better mood than in recent weeks. Finally, Euron has left Kings Landing to deal with his rebellious niece. Good, let them fight each other.

Soon Euron will be dead. She and Qyburn made sure of that. Cersei would never put all hopes in some Ironborn bitch. If you need something to be done, you do it yourself. Cersei has learned this lesson long ago. 

It was her who prevented Jaime’s separation from her side.

It was her who got rid of Robert when he became a serious threat to her and her children.

It was her who in one decisive move removed all those fools who dared to think they had the right to put her on trial.

It was her who finally became a Queen.

*

 

It takes her army much longer to return to King's Landing and deliver the captured traitors. Are they deliberately taking time to plot against her on the way?

No, she dismisses the thought. Golden Company is loyal to the gold she pays them. As the Lannister men are loyal to her, the last true Lannister. 

*

 

Finally, the day comes. Cersei is sitting on her throne when the last, most awaited prisoners are brought to her.

Little dove.

A great cow of her sworn sword.

And her foolish twin, though he hardly looks like the beautiful golden man she used to love. 

Unlike the women, Jaime is not tied but he ends up on his knees all the same. It doesn’t escape Cersei’s attention how the beast flinches away from him as his hand accidentally brushes against her. Interesting, the cow had no problems to reach for Jaime with her grubby hands before. 

Cersei will investigate this later. There are more pressing matters now.

She scans the prisoners. None of them looks at her, their heads dropped down. 

“Brother, welcome home,” she says after moments of heavy silence. “However, I did not expect to see you in one line with traitors.”

“As I didn’t expect that my service to the crown will be considered a treason.”

“We have got the word about your contribution in the defeat of northern rebels. And the crown will see you rewarded accordingly for your service.”

“Service to the Crown is my greatest reward,” he says but Cersei knows he doesn’t mean any of it.

*

 

The women are thrown to the dungeons as well as the other prisoners from the North. Some time alone and an occasional visit from the Mountain will make them more agreeable. And maybe it will help some of them to make the right decision. Because Cersei doesn’t plan to execute all of them. Such miserable cowards like Tarly are not even worth the effort of the executioner. 

But not the little dove and her cow. 

Their fate has been sealed a long time ago. Jaime can say whatever he wants about the old Tyrell and her supposed confession but Cersei knows better. She will never let go of her son’s murderer and her accomplice.

*

 

Cersei runs her fingers through her golden hair. Her locks are not as long and beautiful as they were before but they are not those short awful strands she hated so much.

At least I’m still golden. Not like her stupid brothers who lost their colours together with brains.  

She will need to see Jaime soon. 

But not today.

Let him wait. Let him come around. Let him ask for her.

*

 

Jaime doesn’t ask for her. As much as she is annoyed by his stubbornness, Cersei realises that she doesn’t have as much time as she’d like to have. 

*

 

Finally, Bernadette comes to report everything their people got from the northerner prisoners. Cersei tries to look indifferent and composed but there is just one burning thought that consumes her insides.

“Send for Qyburn,” are the only words she manages to say.

*

 

Qyburn comes immediately. 

“Tell me everything you know about my brother and the beast.”

“Do you mean lady Brienne of Tarth?”

Yes,” Cersei hisses through gritted teeth.

And Qyburn speaks. About Jaime saving her from rape, about him losing hand, about a shared bath and the bear pit.

Every word makes Cersei's blood boil. 

She has always known the woman fancied herself in love with her brother. One look at this pathetic creature was enough to tell that.

But Jaime? It feels impossible that he would even spare a glance at such a monster and yet...

According to Qyburn, from the very beginning, there was something more. 

After the Dragon Pit Cersei has wondered for a while.

Of course, she noticed the looks that passed there between them. And Jaime’s sword on the beast's hip.

And the familiarity with which beast grabbed Jaime’s arm. 

She has wondered but in the end, she dismissed such a ridiculous possibility. Jaime might have had a weak spot for ugly monsters but he would never… 

But now it doesn’t seem so preposterous. Now Cersei remembers.

The beast told him to fuck loyalty.

And he did.

How could he abandon me for such a creature?

*

 

Cersei is calm and composed when she enters the chamber serving for his cell. 

“My Queen and her personal bodyguard,” Jaime sarcastically raises one brow at the Mountain's presence behind her back. “What an honour that your Grace finally remembered  about her prisoner.”

“It seems that time alone is doing you good, dear brother,” she smiles at him. Finally, he looks more like himself, with cut hair, shaved face and fine crimson shirt on his shoulders.

“I do my best with your generous reward.”

“So now you call your treason a service, quite convenient for you.”

“I helped you to get control over the last opposing kingdom and brought your enemies here. Am I considered a traitor for this?”

Cersei stops herself from rolling her eyes. Does he think her stupid?

“Maybe a treasonous coward at best,” she says, closely watching his face. “You defied my orders and joined our enemy. This alone should be enough to put your head on a spike. You stayed with them when they appeared to be a winning side, but when I crushed them, you changed the sides again. What should I make of it? How can I trust you after that, dear brother?”

“Think whatever you like. They would take my head on a spot if they didn’t think there was a conflict between us. In truth, I have never left your side. Winterfell should be sufficient proof.”

Blatant lie, Cersei hides this thought under another smile. 

“So, dear brother, as much as your service is appreciated, I don’t recall it to require giving your sword to the ugly cow.”

The meaning is clear and Jaime visibly flinches at that. 

“Do you deny it?”

Cersei looks straight into his eyes. She has always known how to read them. He can’t hide anything from her.

“I do not,” Jaime doesn’t lower his gaze.

At least he’d have the decency to look ashamed.

“I would have never thought you’d fall so low.”

“Don’t be so surprised, sweet sister.” A cutting smile appears on his face. “Aren’t we the same? You whore to get a fleet and I whore to get North.”

The sound of a slap that fills the room is followed by his chuckle.

“Gentle as always, sweet sister. Did Euron also appreciate your tenderness?”

She slaps him again. How dares he? He has no idea how hard it was to endure that obnoxious pirate. He can’t know what relief it was to finally find out that Qyburn’s poison has worked and Euron will never be her concern again.

Still fuming Cersei turns to the table to pour herself a glass of wine. She almost forgot how infuriating and annoying Jaime could be.

“Don’t get upset, sweet sister. I was merely joking. It gets lonely here without company.”

“Shall I arrange a cell with your beast?”

He scoffs at that.

“What for? You already got the North. There is no more use for her.” 

That’s where you’re mistaken, dear brother. 

When Cersei faces him again, there is a blank indifferent expression on his face that almost makes her believe his words. But after everything she has learnt from Qyburn, words are not enough. They are just words, they are never enough. And she needs to be sure where his loyalties really lie.

Cersei makes a step toward him.

“Did you not enjoy those big cow eyes looking at you with utmost admiration?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t really seen anything in the darkness.”

He swallows hard when she puts her hand on his chest. Cersei feels every beat of his racing heart.

“Did you think about me?” she asks as her hand travels down his body.

“Only you.”

Cersei smiles at that. Of course he had to. The beast wouldn’t even get him hard.

“What are you doing, Cersei?” he says in a strangely strained voice when she starts unlacing his breeches.

Testing your loyalty.

“I am happy you are finally here. I was worried for you. And I missed you,” she whispers into his ear between light kisses.

Jaime grabs her hand.

“No,” he hisses as she bites his neck. “Not with that monstrosity in the room.”

It takes Cersei a few seconds to understand what Jaime is referring to. 

“He stays. He doesn’t care.” 

“You do not trust me?”

“I want to. Show me that I can. Prove that you are mine and only mine.”

She kisses him hard, pressing her body to his.

“Cersei… no…” he breathes out when she leaves his lip to travel down his neck.

He failed, she thinks ignoring his words as well as his hand pushing her away. But he still has something I need.

Cersei turns her eyes to the Mountain and then gives Jaime a meaningful look. 

“Are you here to defy your Queen, dear brother?”

*

 

Later Cersei stays at her balcony with a glass of wine.

She is satisfied the way she wasn’t with Euron. With nobody, to be honest. Only Jaime can make her feel that good. Just a mere thought of him being totally under her control makes her wet and aroused.

But he is getting older. It took her twice as long to get him hard and even longer to get him to spill inside her. Usually, she had the opposite problem. In the past, it took her some time to teach him not to be overenthusiastic. 

 But today Jaime wasn’t even close when she finished. She had to ride him further to get what she wanted. Did the beast break him also in this way? The sudden image of this stupid cow watching them at this moment sent Cersei spiralling again and that time she managed to take Jaime with her. 

 

She visits him every night with a Mountain guarding her back. 

Jaime does everything she demands from him.

Every night she falls asleep with his seed inside her, hoping it would quicken in her womb.

*

 

After a week Cersei finally agrees to grant Jaime freedom of wandering around the castle. 

Better to keep him thinking that he has his freedom and her trust. But every one of his steps is closely watched and everything he does and says is immediately reported to her. She won’t have him doing something stupid again.

*

 

Cersei visits dungeons one day. 

Little dove keeps her head high, staring her directly into the eyes and stubbornly refusing to utter a word. Every day Cersei must fight the impulse to put her head on spike. But it is too soon, this one time Jaime has a right of it. This time little dove won’t escape from her hands and Cersei may enjoy her second visit to King’s Landing much more than the first.  

“You may think of how strong you are. But soon I will have you begging for a quick death.”

No response comes. 

*

 

The beast sits in the corner when Cersei enters her cell. Her arms wrapped tightly around her bent legs and eyes locked on the entrance.

At the sight of Cersei, the beast’s head drops down.

“Did you expect someone else?”

Silence.

“Jaime won’t come.”

Silence.

“He’s quite busy pleasuring his Queen. He will do everything for the one he loves. ”

The beast clutches her knees tighter to her chest.

“You didn’t truly think he could love you? Everything he said to you was a lie. To gain your trust and bring my enemies to me. Jaime will never leave my side. Especially not for the likes of you.”

“I know,” the cow finally speaks. “Why is Your Grace so concerned about delivering the truth to prisoner instead of enjoying your time with your great love?”

Now those stupid cow eyes are directed at her. Involuntarily Cersei wonders how her brother could look at such a hideous face. Even not beaten and not covered in grime and blood, it was painful to look at. Jaime must be a better liar than he appears or the cow was just that desperate for a cock.

“I will enjoy. More than you ever had.”

            *

 

 Jaime never comes to her. Not like he used to do in the past.

It’s even better, Cersei tells herself. Finally, he has learned his place.

He always replies to her summons and she doesn’t have to deal with him after she gets what she needs.

*

 

The council is a real thorn in her side recently. They insist on sending back the Golden Company which Cersei cannot allow now. They are still needed to back up her rule. To be her power making other kingdoms think twice before rebelling.

“We don’t have gold and provisions to keep them in check. We don’t even have enough to feed our people in King’s Landing,” Jaime says to her when they’re both alone in her solar. 

“So what? We don’t need smallfolks. We need the army…”

“Who soon will turn on us demanding their payment,” he interrupts her. “And you can’t have more gold from the Iron Bank and Casterly Rock.”

“So it seems you support the council and not me.”

“I want you to see the reason and…”

“I don’t need your input. It was me who won the war,” Cersei cuts him off. “I know what I’m doing.”

*

 

Cersei doesn’t let Jaime anywhere near the council. He doesn’t understand anything and she doesn’t want him to oppose her.

It’s better to have him swinging the sword in the courtyard. It’s the only thing he has ever had any talent for. 

But now he can’t even do that. Cersei watches through the window how one of the Lannister soldiers Jaime has been training with, knocks him down to the ground. She turns away from this sight, disgusted.

Useless, pathetic cripple. 

*

 

Summons are sent to all great lords that remained in the Seven Kingdoms. They are to come to King’s Landing and swear fealty to their Queen and to witness the severity of her justice.

*

 

Cersei wakes up with cramping in her lower belly. It can mean only one thing, her moonblood has come.

She curses. Yet again Jaime failed to put a babe in her.

It is no doubt his fault. He is weak and passive during their couplings. As much as she enjoys being in control, she needs him to be more aware and more engaged. Maybe she should ask Qyburn if there is something that could help with Jaime’s issues. 

*

 

Qyburn disappears.

No one knows what happened. No one saw anything.

How can one just disappear? Did he abandon her? No, not Qyburn. He was the last she expected to betray her.

*

 

A week passes. There are no clues about Qyburn and no body to find.

Even the threat of executions doesn’t convince involved traitors to talk and she is tired of their teary assurances of innocence and pleas for mercy. 

There is no mercy for traitors.

Cersei doesn’t have another choice but to execute them. 

*

 

Getting rid of those snakes doesn’t solve her problem.

Qyburn is gone and two council seats remain empty. Cersei understands it can’t stay this way any longer. Not having a Hand and Master of whispers is not a trivial issue. With all the enemies around, plotting her demise, having loyal councilors is a matter of life and death.

And there are no loyal people around her. As always she’s surrounded by useless greedy fools. There is no one who she can trust immensely.

*

 

The Mountain is found dead by the entrance to her chambers. 

No signs of a fight, no wounds. Nothing. 

No one speaks.

More executions take place.

Silence.

For the first time, Cersei feels the fear rising deep inside her guts. Traitors are everywhere, conspiring to take her down. They removed Qyburn, now the Mountain. She won’t let them get to her. She won’t be next.

*

 

Cersei orders Jaime to be her Hand. 

“You forget sweet sister that I lack a hand,” he snickers in response. “Offer the position to someone more suitable than me.”

“I don’t trust any of them.”

“Do you trust me?”

She is still not sure if she can rely on Jaime entirely. He has been closely watched but nothing suspicious was reported about his behaviour. He was mainly training in the courtyard, he responded to every of her summons and did exactly what she had asked of him. He has never tried to get in touch with the beast nor has he uttered that wretched name. Yet the doubts never leave her. 

“You are my brother and my other half. I trust you won’t let any harm happen to me and our child,” Cersei puts her hand protectively over her womb. This should work. It always had.

“Do you?” Jaime sceptically raises his brow. “I recall you fucking me in front of a Mountain out of a pure trust.”

Cersei barely stops herself from slapping him. 

She needs him now. She hates to admit it, but she does.

*

 

However reluctantly, Jaime accepts his new role. We rule together now, Cersei muses taking a sip of wine. Once she had dreamed about this when she was a little girl. This could have happened long ago, had Jaime listened to her but he was weak. He still is, Cersei decides watching as he struggles with the piece of meat on his plate. 

They dine together as Jaime reports her about all official matters but she can’t focus on his words because of the annoying sound of a fork scratching the plate.

“I hope you are more capable as a Hand than you are at dinner.”

Jaime’s hand freezes and the room is instantly filled with the blessed silence. “Does my beloved Queen have any other concerns?”

“This is no time to be weak,” Cersei takes another sip. “I thought you understood the stakes.”

“I did.”

They sit for a few moments in silence. Jaime stares dully at the crescent moon lurking from the window. When did he become so old, Cersei wonders, noticing significantly more grey strands in his hair as well as wrinkles around his tired eyes.

“If that is all, I’ll take my leave,” Jaime says suddenly, standing from the table.

“You barely ate anything,” she points at the almost full plate and an untouched glass of wine.

“I lost my appetite.”

Without waiting for her response he leaves her alone in her chambers.

*

 

Jaime presents her new knights for her Queensguard.

Cersei is not impressed. None of those weaklings are good enough to replace the Mountain yet she smiles listening to Jaime’s praises.

Now everyone is more capable with a sword than you, Cersei thinks with irritation as he continues to boast over their skill with a sword.

 

“Will they be loyal to me?” she asks later when they are alone in her solar. 

Jaime puts his full glass of wine on the table. 

“They all have served diligently in the West army and never refused to conduct any order. Their Houses were always loyal to ours. I’m sure it will be a great honour for them to defend you.”

Cersei nods at that, taking another sip of wine.

“Pity I can’t take all of them. So who would you grant the place in my Queensguard?”

Jaime takes a long moment before answering. Then he tells her the names.

She nods again, giving him a knowing smile. Now she is sure who she shouldn’t pick.

*

 

The lords and ladies start to arrive at King's Landing. Soon they will swear their felty to her. After the trial and following execution, everyone will think twice before going against her will. And even if some of them are that stupid, the great collection of spikes is already ready to use.

The Queen is expected to greet the nobles, Cersei knows that, but lately, she doesn’t feel well enough to do anything. She is constantly tired, her head heavy and stomach unsettled.

It seems too soon for such symptoms. Cersei tries to remember her previous pregnancies. Probably she just miscalculated and Jaime somehow managed to put a babe in her. It’s not the ideal time but there is no way back now.

The next few days Cersei spends in the seclusion of her chambers. The only visitors are her maid and Jaime who comes to report to her about all the meetings he had to lead in her name.

*

 

“You should reconsider the execution.”

“Do you have any objections?”

“It won’t make people love you.”

Cersei lets out an annoyed huff. In such moments she regrets making Jaime her Hand. Luckily she barely gets to see him recently but it is going to change because she feels significantly better with every passing day.

“You don’t get this, Jaime. I don’t need their love. As the Queen, I demand respect and obedience.”

“Execution of the nobles won’t bring the others to your side. They already hate you for the sept alone. You don’t need to make more enemies.”

“So my Hand advises me to call off the execution of the traitors? To show everyone that treason against the crown goes unpunished?”

“Yes. They are not worth the consequences. And if you showed mercy…”

“It’s interesting, dear brother,” Cersei doesn’t let him finish. “That you care so much for the fate of my prisoners.”

She gives him an assessing look but his face remains still and composed.

“I don’t give two shits about what happens to your prisoners. As your Hand, I’m merely concerned about the repercussions of those actions.”

Cersei smiles. He could almost fool her. Almost.

“Haven’t you paid attention? There will be no repercussions. No one has enough power to oppose us.”

Jaime only grits his teeth in response but Cersei is not done. Not yet.

“Ser Alyn!” she calls the knight guarding the door. 

“Your Grace?”

“It’s about time to pay a visit in a beast’s cell,” she says, stealing a glance at Jaime. “You know what to do.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

The knight bows and leaves the solar. 

Jaime is silent but his pale face and clenched jaws tell her everything she needs to know.

*

 

Everything is ready. Even Jaime, as useless as he usually is, managed to somehow prepare everything for the upcoming events.

Tomorrow it will be over. Little dove’s lovely head will decorate the gate along with a beast’s. A murderous bitch who killed her dear son and the pathetic cow who tried to steal Jaime from her side. Finally, they both will get what they deserve. 

*

 

Cersei walks down to the dungeons. She wouldn’t miss the last opportunity to say goodbye.

When the door to the cell opens with a loud creak, she enters inside only to discover that there is no one in the room. 

The beast’s cell also turns out to be empty.

“Where are they?! Where are the prisoners?!” the echo of her voice bounces from the stone humid walls.

The guard swallows.

“The… they were moved…”

“Where?”

“I don’t know… I wasn’t told. And… and I didn’t question the order.”

“Whose order?”

“The… they said your order, Your Grace…”

The rage overtakes her. There is only one thought in her mind. 

Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.

*

 

Cersei leaves the dungeons and summons all her Queensguards. 

They follow her as she walks through the corridors of Red Keep.

Cersei finds Jaime in the throne room, sitting on the Iron Throne. How dares he? He is not alone. There are other nobles with him but Cersei doesn’t care. They are not armed and her Kingsguard will take care of them if those fools try to interfere. Maybe it is even better they are here. Let them see what happens to those who choose to go against her.

“So it’s true. You betrayed me again,” Cersei says in an icy voice.

“What are you talking about, sweet sister? The throne? I am merely keeping it warm.”

The wave of amused whispers spreads through the room, igniting new flames of rage and betrayal inside her. He will pay her for that. They all will.

“Guards, take him!”

No one moves. Her knights are standing there with impassive stone faces. Lords exchange curious looks.

“I command you to take him!”

Queensguards do not react and Jaime lets out a short strained laugh.

“It seems your own guard won’t listen to your command. They are all Lannister men after all who answer to their Lord.”

“I am the Queen! Take him!” Her commands fall to deaf ears. 

“Not the Queen anymore. Just like you never were to us,” Cersei catches disdain on Edmure Tully’s stupid face. She certainly won’t forget that. They will regret the day they turned on her even if it will be the last thing she does.

Jaime stands up from the throne. Now his figure towers above her, blocking everything else from her vision. 

“Cersei Lannister, you are accused of using wildfire and blowing up the Great Sept of Baelor, of betraying mankind in a war against the dead, for unjustified death of innocent people, smallfolks, members of noble houses and your own kin. As you have heard, you are no longer a queen. ”

Treasonous snake. She should have removed its head the moment he betrayed her for the first time. Instead, she was giving him chance after chance to prove himself, to prove his love he’s always so ardently declared.

“How could you? I am your Queen, your love, your sister, your other half. How could you, Jaime?”

Jaime takes a few steps towards her. He stands so close that she can feel his hot breath on her cheek. 

“How could I?” His voice is no more than a whisper in her ears but involuntarily her whole body shudders at the intensity hidden in it. “I ask myself every day. How could I be so blind? How could I follow you after everything you’ve done? How could I not realise sooner who you were and what I’ve become at your side?”

“We finally had everything we’ve ever wanted and you ruined it again." Everything she has fought for. So much sacrifice, so much suffering over the years. All for nothing because of her stupid brother who was supposed to be her twin, her mirror, her warrior. "I’ll make you pay for this, dear brother.”

“You already did,” Jaime says with a strange expression in his eyes and adds louder for the whole room to hear. “ Guards, take Her Former Grace to her cell.”

Her own knights take her and drag her back to the dungeons. She is thrown into the exact same place she so much enjoyed visiting and soon her voice is hoarse from screaming that no one can hear.

Chapter Text

Brienne will never see a light again. Even if she stood under the bright summer sun it would not be enough to tear the darkness occupying her heart.

*

 

Memories of the past few months swirl in front of her eyes. They are the only thing she can see in the deep darkness of Red Keep dungeons.

She would erase everything if she could. It would be easier to forget. To not remember how happy she was. To love and think she is loved in return. To be one heart and one soul with the only person who ever saw her.

Now this love feels like a knife in her heart. Cold and sharp.

*

 

Cersei’s visits do no good. Every time Brienne hears the opening door, she hopes for any soldier instead of the queen. Hard fists are more welcomed than sneering remarks veiled in honeyed words coming from the queen.

            *

 

Brienne doesn’t know how much time has passed. Nor does she care. It doesn’t matter. Soon they will execute her as if she hasn’t already died.

            *

 

The cold stones freeze her to bones. There is nothing to cover herself with except for wet stinky straw. 

Involuntarily her thoughts go back to Winterfell. In her mind, Brienne can still feel the softness of the furs surrounding them and the heat of his body lying on top of her. 

She still remembers him whispering the words of love that used to set her whole body on fire.

The warm touch of his hand on her face when he kissed her the first time.

The last night full of desperate passion and the fervent flame in his eyes.

And the thick covers left in a pool of water.

            *

 

He appears in her dreams every time Brienne drifts into an uneasy sleep. Jaime, her Jaime. With a soft loving smile and mischievous spark in his eyes. He holds her close to his chest and Brienne can swear she hears his racing heart singing about his love for her. 

But sometimes it’s not Jaime who comes to her. It’s the Kingslayer. Arrogant and mocking. 

She never knows who she will see as well as she doesn’t know who she dreads more. Both are so real. Jaime and Kingslayer. Like two sides of a coin. Two sides of a man.

The man she loved.

*

 

The door slowly opens revealing two figures of soldiers. 

She prepares for punches but they do not come.

“Stay quiet,” one of them commands her in barely a whisper as the second unlocks the chains.

“Move,” she hears a hiss in the darkness. They do not have a torch as usual.

Why are they keeping their voices down? Brienne wonders while trying to stand on her wobbly legs.

*

           

They move through the long and dark tunnels. At some point, Brienne needs to bend almost in half to be able to go through them. After seemingly hours of walking, she finally feels fresh air. They are outside the castle walls and it is dark, she notices surprised.

Would Cersei execute her during an attempted escape?

Few people are waiting for them. They wear simple indistinctive clothes instead of armour and without a word they take Brienne with them.

*

 

The narrow streets of Flea Bottom look abandoned just as a building they step inside.

It’s dirty and unkempt.

Brienne is given some bland food and soon she's left in a tiny room with a hard narrow bed. 

She is not chained anymore but she knows the guards are standing outside her door.

She doesn’t care. She’s too exhausted to do anything except for finding sleep.

*

 

The next day Brienne wakes up with a startling feeling of complete disorientation.

It takes her a minute to recognize the abandoned house and another ten to calm down her breathing.

She steps down to the common room with a guard at her side to discover that lady Sansa is also there. Thin and pale, with bruises on her face.

Not knowing what to say, Brienne stays silent. But deep inside she is glad her lady is there and alive.

*

 

Their captors do not say who they are and who has sent them.

Yet, they will not let them leave.

“We need to stay low for some time.” It’s the only thing lady Sansa manages to get from reticent guards.

*

 

They spend several days there. 

These are not dungeons anymore but they remain to be prisoners anyway.

Guarded and locked.

*

 

Time passes slowly without anything to occupy herself. Even looking through the tiny windows and observing the streets is not allowed.

So Brienne just sits and waits. Sometimes she feels Sansa’s look on herself and catches an uncertain expression on the lady's face but now Brienne knows better than to respond. 

She sits and waits.

Unwanted thoughts of him seem to never leave her mind and Brienne hates herself for remembering him. For being so pathetic and desperate for his love and affection. For believing his words.

Words are wind, she was always told. How could she forget that?

Because he knighted me, fought beside me, desired me, married me. Could the actions lie as well as words? 

The more she dwells on it the more confused she gets. 

Where is the truth? In which words? In which actions?

It doesn’t matter now, Brienne scolds herself. In the end, he chose to go back to Cersei. That is the truth.

*

 

To somehow distract her mind, more and more often Brienne thinks about escape. If she managed to get any kind of weapon, she would be able to fight the guards.

But what next?

Where would she go? There is no place for her anywhere.

She can’t return to her father. Cersei would come after him if she knew he helped his disgraced daughter.

She could return Sansa to safety. But where would it be? Winterfell has fallen and they wouldn’t be welcomed in any other place they go. Maybe leaving Westeros would be the best option. If Sansa agrees to come with her. 

She won’t, the certainty of this weighs heavily in Brienne’s heart. 

*

 

One night they are moved to another house. This one is everything their previous location wasn’t. 

Brienne and Sansa suspiciously look around, trying to comprehend what hides behind all of this. What trap did Cersei prepare for them?

 

Brienne is escorted to a room upstairs. A hot steaming bath is waiting for her in the corner together with clean expensive-looking clothes on a nearby chair. 

A young maid starts helping Brienne with her dirty rags, but she is quickly dismissed.

Brienne doesn’t want anyone around until she understands what is going on. Yet the bath looks too enticing to ignore. After weeks of travel and weeks spent in dungeons, Brienne grew a new skin of grime and dirt.

What harm could come from having a bath? 

*

 

Brienne lowers herself in hot water, her beaten muscles relax. She lets herself be enveloped in the bliss of warmth and pleasant scent of something Brienne is not able to name.

She starts scrubbing the dirt from her skin, the water gets darker with every move of the hard brush. Brienne scrubs harder wishing her failure and her guilt could be washed away as easily as grime.

Not so hard, you’ll scrub the skin off.

Brienne raises her head and looks around. There is no one in the room except for her. 

She shakes her head, hoping to get rid of his voice which was haunting her in her darkest dreams.

After drying herself with a soft towel she puts prepared clothes on. They were clearly made for someone else, with slightly shorter legs and arms.

Clean and dressed, Brienne examines the room. The wide comfortable bed with feather pillows and quilts. The shelves with a variety of different books, the expensive covers on a floor and on walls. Whoever lives here does have a taste for luxury.

*

 

Her uneasy sleep is interrupted by steps outside her room. Someone is clearly in a hurry to get on the second floor. Brienne sits on the bed.  

In a moment the door to her room bursts open and a silhouette of a man appears in the dim light of dying hearth.

She knows him. Just as she knows that he shouldn’t be here.

He can’t. It's just a dream which soon will turn into a nightmare.

In a few strides, he is beside her, wrapping his arms tightly around her. Brienne doesn’t want him here, yet she can’t find it in her to get away from his embrace. His arms are so warm and solid, and safe. No, it’s deception, the illusion of her tired mind. Just as the heated words of love that are whispered in her ear. Words, her heart so desperately wanted to hear once.

“I’m here. You’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

 Lies, lies, lies. 

This is just a dream. It will be gone soon and she’ll wake up alone.

Until then she can pretend that nothing happened, no lies and no betrayal. Dream, where she can pretend, they are happy, embraced in each other's arms.

It’s just a dream. It will be over soon. 

“Jaime… Don’t leave me alone.”

“Here, I’m here. My Brienne, my wench, my love.”

*

 

The rays of the morning sun gently illuminate the room when Brienne opens her eyes. She is lying in bed, feeling light and rested. She hasn’t slept that well since… 

She turns her head and freezes. She is not alone.

He is here. Solid and warm.

It was not a dream

And she wishes it was. 

But he is here and it is not a dream.

His arms are real and his hand stroking her hair. And his familiar masculine scent and the softest expression in his beautiful green eyes.

“Good morning, wench. Or should I rather say good midday?” Jaime says, noticing she's awake. He smiles at her like they are still in Winterfell. Like nothing ever happened. 

Brienne sits up abruptly and ignoring the shocked and hurt expression on his face, quickly leaves the bed.

Jaime follows.

“What are you doing here?” She asks, finding the furthest spot from him and crossing her arms on her chest. 

“Brienne, I came to you the moment I could.” 

Jaime makes a step closer.

“Stay away from me.” 

“Brienne,—”

“Leave.”

“No.” He stands defiantly in front of her with a stern expression on his face. “I won't go anywhere. Not before we talk.”

“There is nothing to talk about. I know what you did.”

“Do you?”

“You betrayed us.”

Jaime closes his eyes as if he’s shielding himself from the thrown accusation. When he speaks, his voice is hollow and dull. 

“It was never my intention to do so.”

“Wasn't it? You stayed and let us believe—”

“Us?” he repeats, taking a step closer. “I have never really cared about what the northerners believe or not.  It was only you that mattered.”

“You succeeded. I believed you. I thought…” A thick lump comes to her throat. “And in the end, you just used me.”

“No, I didn't—”

“Didn't you? You knew I trusted you, you knew I loved you, you knew I would let you in my bed. And that I would vouch for you when you'll be there, waiting for a convenient moment to betray us and return to your sister.”

“If I wanted to return to her as you say, why would I bother to do any of it? Why didn’t I simply go back right after the battle? Why would I risk staying longer in Winterfell at lady Stark’s mercy? I wasn’t needed inside the castle. We stood no chance against her army. You know that as well as I do.”

She stays silent, not knowing how to respond to this. Surely there must be a valid explanation, a reason which made him act like he cared, like he loved her.

“Brienne, I didn't return to her,” Jaime says again when she fails to provide an answer. His voice is tender and soft and it makes her think about other words he told her once in the cosiness of their shared room in Winterfell. The words which couldn’t be true because if they were and he still decided to...

“The queen seemed to have a different opinion on that matter,” Brienne says to chase away the scary thought threatening to break into her mind and question every painful truth about him she was made to accept for the past few weeks.

“Even her you would believe over me?” Jaime doesn’t even try to hide the bitterness in his voice. “Whatever she told you, it's not true. I did not return to her.”

“Did she lie about your… your… encounters?”

“I...” Jaime falters and Brienne doesn't need to hear anything else.

“Of course. Maybe it’s not her who has to lie.”

“It's not what you think.” Shame appears on his face. “I didn't want… I wasn't ever there… And she...”

“I don't need your explanations, ser. Why would I care who you bed?”

“Because you are my bloody wife!”

His angered words bring her back to that night when they married in a godswood, surrounded by the dancing snowflakes. Sometimes Brienne thinks if it was just her imagination, the vision she created being drunk on love and trust and affection. But deep down, she knows that it was true. He asked for her hand and she gave it to him. She is his wife. She has been for months but now it feels more like a burden than the source of absolute happiness it once was. 

“Am I?” she questions him, not bothering how harsh her words sound. The memory of that night so vividly plays in her mind and only now Brienne realises what had happened. The argument sealed with a marriage vow. “You did not marry me to cover your real motives and goals? Am I not your dirty secret you tried so hard to keep from anyone? You don't have to worry about this. I don't even think it was valid anyway.”

Jaime looks like she has just slapped him with her words. His face suddenly turns ashen.

“I meant every word I said in the godswood. Even if the whole world deems my words as dishonest and false, even if you choose to see our marriage as invalid, I will not. My vow to you was honest and true and I don't intend to break it.”

“You already did.”

Jaime takes a deep breath.

“You trusted me with your life and all I did was to put you in danger. By not stopping Cersei when there was still a chance, by associating you with my disgraced name. I couldn't let you die because of me. So yes, I did everything in my power to keep you alive, even if it meant becoming a traitor, giving up Winterfell and myself to my sister's hands.”

His words sound so sincere and genuine that Brienne wants nothing more than to believe him. But she can’t. She won’t make the same mistake twice. She doesn’t have another heart to break.

“I never asked you for that.”

“I knew you never would. You would be first to give up your life for the Stark girl. And I couldn't accept that. Your life is worth more than your vows.”

“It wasn't for you to decide.”

“Yet I made the decision. Hate me for that and curse me but I do not regret doing it. I'd do it again, I would go through each of Seven hells if it meant your life and your safety.”

Brienne is silent, not knowing what to make of all of this. His words weigh down on her like a mass of rocks. If he wanted to protect her, why does it feel like a betrayal? It’s too much to bear for her heart, too much for her broken trust.

“Brienne.” She hears him whispering her name as he steps closer.

This time she doesn’t have enough strength to escape and she ends up in his arms again. Strong and solid. His only hand pulling her body closer to his as her head rests on his shoulder. 

She hates how good it feels to be again beside him. And to realise that despite everything, she missed him. So much that it scares her and makes her feel even more pathetic than she already is.  

“Do you believe me? You have to…”

Does she? 

“If that is true, why didn’t you tell me? Why didn't you trust me instead of going behind my back? Instead of destroying my trust and making me question everything I knew about you?”

“I wanted to. I would. But there was no other way…”

There was. There always is.

“And what now?” Brienne asks instead, stepping away from him. “It doesn't matter while I remain your sister's prisoner.”

“Not anymore.”

“But the guards—”

“They are my men and they are here to keep you safe. You are free to leave any moment.”

She doesn’t meet his eyes when she answers. “I will.”

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know but I can’t stay here.”

“Brienne, please-”

“No.”

Jaime nods in response. The utter resignation on his face makes her turn her eyes away from him again.

“I would suggest you stay here for a while. There is one person that would like to see you. I have already sent for him.” He lingers at the door for a while like he is waiting for any sign from her that could give him a reason to stay. None comes. “I will take my leave then. Goodbye, Brienne.”