The worst part was the candles. Whose idea had it been to put these fucking candles all over the place?

Sansa's, most likely. She'd always had a penchant for drama, though of late, it had grown much worse; ever since the wound to his stomach had begun to stink; staining the sheets and everything he wore with a sickly, malodorous shade of Lannister crimson.

Dying didn't bother him. It was as it should be, and he had only held on this long out of habit. But the candlelight around him…it was like a lie; the opposite of his life and how he had lived it, and he knew that if he looked out of the window, he would see the lie stretching golden and brilliant across the plains beneath Casterly Rock as hundreds of smallfolk stood at vigil with candles in their hands, waiting for the signal: the Lord of Casterly Rock is dead. And every vicious bastard there assembled would be delighted by the news when it came – the Lord of Casterly Rock is dead – but they wouldn't cheer. Out of fear, and out of respect. For Sansa; not for him.

The people loved her; his Stark bride. They had loved her since the day he had brought her home from the capital, and she had waved and distributed bread as she rode through the streets of Lannisport like the sweet, empty and utterly blind little possession that she was; passed from the hand of one enemy to the hand of another, so that the war between North and South, that had raged for the better part of a decade, might end.

The people hated him, of course. They had hated him before he married Sansa, and they had continued to hate him even after his marriage to the sweet, innocent, ill-used girl from the North. To them, he remained the Kingslayer, the Oathbreaker, the man without honour; the traitor who was only alive because of something Brienne had said to Daenerys Targaryen that the stubborn, block-headed wench always refused to speak of; even to him.

As if he didn't know her well enough to guess.

He wondered what Brienne was doing now. Hacking away at the quintain, if he knew her at all. Or perhaps on duty, guarding the Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men; the dragonspawn bitch that she had inexplicably sworn to protect to her death.

Inexplicably. What a fucking joke.

Brienne had accused him of arrogance and idiocy when he had told her that swopping her life for his had been a very poor exchange.

'Hard as it may be for you to believe that my entire life doesn't revolve around you, Lannister,' Brienne had said; studying the floor; 'my decision to enter Her Grace's service has nothing to do with you. What will I do, now that the war is over? Return to Tarth? Marry? Have children? Don't make me laugh.'

She spends her life protecting people who don't deserve it, Jaime thought, Me; Daenerys…and Sansa.

He chided himself automatically. His wife had done nothing – or little – to earn his enmity, but he couldn't help himself. Each time her blue eyes fell upon him, they were marked by an expression of empty-headed adoration so blind and so utterly uncomprehending of who he really was that in his darker moments, he wanted to strike her, and make her hate him.

Each time her blue eyes fell upon the place where his hand had been, they were marked by an expression of subtle, yet exquisite revulsion that he had seen too many times on Cersei's face for its presence to be endurable in another human being. And yet he had done his duty by his wife, and nobody had forced him to. Did that make him a good man?

He no longer knew what that meant.

The bell of the sept struck the hour of the wolf, and at Casterly Rock all was quiet around him. Jaime had sent his maesters, his wife and his children away from him; ordering the latter to get some rest and the former to fuck off, and for once he was alone, and for once he could hear nothing but silence; the sound caressing his ears and calming his blood within him. Nobody speaking to him. Nobody looking at him. Just silence and emptiness. A hint of what came when he finally stopped breathing. A hint of what came after, if anything came after at all.

There was a sudden noise below the window to his left; a light flumpf like the paws of a cat hitting the ground after a fall, and 'who put all these fucking candles in here?' a high, musical voice scoffed, 'I can't breathe. Can you breathe?'

Jaime's breath caught hard in his throat, and a warm, burning light was born in the center of the pain as his heart moved painfully in his chest and turned towards the place where it belonged; turning like his head that was moving towards the sound of her footsteps that he recognised; of her breathing that he recognised, and she was there; standing at the window: Arya, in worn travelling clothes; her face lined and weary; her grey eyes smouldering at some real or imagined offence. Her footsteps made almost no noise as she crossed the room, and the mattress sagged as she sat down and looked at him intently; as though branding his image into her eyes. And his hand was moving without his permission and winding his fingers through hers; and he felt her tremble as his hand ghosted up her arm, and across her shoulder, and to her face; and when he touched her cheek, and she tilted her head slightly to kiss his fingertips; he knew that it was her, and that he wasn't dreaming.

'What have you done to yourself?' Arya demanded accusingly; as though the hole in his stomach were all his fault.

'Seven blessings on you too, Lady Arya,' Jaime replied; delighted by the opportunity to have his first decent fight in fifteen years; 'how wonderful to see you, Lady Arya. How did you find the East, Lady Arya? Does the climate agree with you? Have you found any passable dressmakers?'

'Fuck you, Jaime,' Arya snapped.

'Fuck you too!'

'You're very chirpy for a dying man.'

'It's your fault. You were always a bad influence.'

'I was always a bad influence?'

'So bad an influence that I feel unsafe even now. Should I summon a septa to protect my virtue?'

'Can't you protect it yourself, Ser Jaime?'

'Does Sansa know you're here?'

An expression of indescribable hurt flickered across Arya's face; so raw and so sudden that he almost blurted out an apology.

'No,' Arya growled; glaring at him; 'Sansa doesn't know I'm here.'

'Good,' Jaime remarked, and he raised his left hand, seized the front of her doublet and pulled her clumsily down to him; his lips gasping upwards to meet hers. He expected a black eye for his trouble; like the one she had given him the last time he had seen her – after that night; at the end – but she was opening her lips for his tongue and devouring his mouth with hers; her fingers gripping his and moving them from her neck down to her breasts. He felt her sigh into his mouth as he clumsily caressed her through her clothing, and he was kissing her greedily with all the strength that he had left; with all the strength that he didn't have left; every roll of her tongue, every nip of her teeth; every callus on her hands as they gripped the back of his neck more familiar than home.

'Where have you been?' he breathed; cradling her head between his hand and his stump, 'where did you go?'

'Far away,' she whispered; staring at him; her eyes like a tempest of sadness and anguish as they met his, and tried to pull away, and failed.

'Has it changed anything?' Jaime asked; holding her gaze; holding her there; and she opened her mouth and half-closed it again as she realised what he was asking.

'No,' she whispered; her body shuddering, as though with sobs; 'no.'

Jaime kissed her again; his lips wordlessly caressing hers and saying what he never had; and she kissed him back with passionate, euphoric desperation; her fingers gripping tightly in his hair as her mouth bit hotly and hopelessly at his; and more and more of her body was meeting more and more of his, like magnetism, like inevitability, and as pain roared through his stomach at the clumsy touch of her elbow; he winced and bit down; the reflex and his teeth piercing her lip and making her gasp out in pain.

Blood stained her bottom lip and dripped uncaringly down her chin as she stared at him; the crimson mark making her seem both predator and prey, and he was reminded of who she had been when he had first met her; a little savage of seventeen with her terrible eyes shining; their gaze so penetrating and so effortlessly understanding of everything inside him that he had known from the moment he saw her that he would be bound to her for the rest of his life; even if it killed him.

They had met on the battlefield, on opposite sides of the War of Conquest; Arya fighting for the Dragon Bitch; Jaime fighting for all those who stood against her. They had clashed for what had felt like an eternity; Jaime in armour, the girl in mail and boiled leather, and their dance together had been beautiful, and vicious, and raw; difficult and exhausting; scarring, and bleeding, and hard; and he had been repulsed and irresistibly drawn to her exhilarating, unapologetic blood lust, and to the grief, so similar to his own, that he had seen in her grey eyes as they met his; in every curve and line of her body as it lunged for his; in every burst of fire in her soul. Fighting her was life with the lies torn out of it. Fighting her was doom, because it showed him what the truth felt like; what being felt like without the lie. And he loved her for it; even though he didn't know her name.

In the end, they had been separated by the teeming, iron tide of battle; by the thousands of men churning and bleeding and screaming to occupy the same space, so that their dance was left unfinished; their perfection cut short. And when he met her again after the war, in the great hall of the Red Keep as the multitudes of fools, lickspittles and nobodies ate, drank and danced in celebration of Daenerys' coronation, the girl whose name was Arya had wordlessly taken his hand and led him from the hall, and he had gone with her willingly; knowing full well what she wanted; knowing full well that he wanted it too.

Their affair had been a disaster from the beginning: driven to the edge of the seventh hell by Arya's guilt about her wretched brother; by Jaime's guilt about his wretched sister; by the fact that he hated her for making him love her; that she hated him for the same reason; that they hated each other because they hated themselves; because they were broken shards of the same shattered mirror; because they could destroy each other with nothing but a word; because love was weakness, and weakness was death for those who presumed to hold a sword. And yet every night Jaime would enter her chamber without knocking, and she would be lying naked on top of the covers; her limbs long, wiry and inviting in the firelight, and he would tell himself that this was dangerous and stupid; that this would be the death of him. And yet every night they would make love until they sobbed; until their bodies were slick with sweat and their lips were raw from kissing, and he would fall asleep with her head on his chest; breathing in the scent of Arya's hair; wanting to drown in it, and reminding himself that love was weakness, and death.

It was only when his betrothal was announced, suddenly and without warning, that he realised there was no greater pair of idiots in Westeros than him and Arya Stark.

People only talk about love being weakness when they're in no danger of losing it.

Jaime would never forget the joy on Sansa's face when the betrothal was announced in court. He would never forget the horror on Arya's, or the mask that had rapidly replaced it, or her steely determination when they met later that day…or her words: 'I love you. But we must end.'

He would never forget the look in Sansa's eyes on the night that he and Arya realised that they could never end; on the night that Sansa entered her sister's chambers without knocking, and found them together: Jaime with his body slick and hard against Arya's; his lips tenderly brushing hers; his fingers caressing her hair and pulsing beneath the heat of her burning scalp as he thrust slowly and deeply inside her; her hips rolling ecstatically against his; her moans tasting red in his mouth; her hands caressing his shoulders and back, and brushing across his buttocks.

Sansa had taken one look at them and fled; slamming the door behind her. Arya had thrown a robe about her nakedness and had gone after her sister; swearing violently to herself and ignoring all Jaime's pleas for calm. And the next time he saw her, she was packing a trunk and leaving the city forever; and punching him in the face when he asked her to stay.

He never saw Arya again. He had married Sansa. And every single one of their children had been born with large, haunting grey eyes that gleamed like a storm in winter. A knife to the chest a thousand times a day.

Jaime's fingers brushed lightly at the blood on Arya's lip; crimson streaking across his callused fingertips. Arya's eyes closed at his touch, then opened again; hooded, mysterious and beautiful; her heart pulsing through them as moisture formed between her lashes, and her gaze dropped away from his.

'Why have you come?' Jaime murmured.

'For you,' Arya replied; iron lurking in her hesitancy and whispering out a nameless warning that fled from Jaime's mind as she leaned forwards and kissed him again, her lips the briefest whisper of heat and skin on his; and in that moment, he was home.

'I love you,' Arya said softly; her right hand touching his cheek.

Jaime slowly took her scarred lip between both of his, and kissed her lightly.

'I want you to know that,' Arya whispered; her eyes grey and beautiful; 'I want you to understand. But Jaime, don't forgive me. Please.'

He stared at her; his lips forming a question; his eyes already asking it as she pulled rapidly away from him and stabbed him in the heart.

The force of the blow both felled and mauled him; sending strength, sending light, sending…everything….that her presence had brought him roaring out of his chest along with his blood as she tore the blade from his flesh and watched him collapse backwards onto the pillows. His heartbeat drove the blood from him, deluge-like and sorrowful, and when Arya's face swam back into focus; her eyes bright with tears and her dagger dripping blood; his heart became an easy thing to kill. A fist made of paper, with nothing to hold it together.

She was crying uncontrollably and babbling nonsense that he didn't understand about justice and mercy being the same thing while her face contorted in agony, and the dagger trembled violently in her hand as she looked down at him with undisguised horror; his blood staining her sleeves up to the elbows; her mouth opening in a soundless howl.

'Why?' Jaime rasped; blood splattering out of his mouth and pain beginning to turn his vision black.

'For Bran,' Arya cried; staring at him with her glorious grey eyes as he began to choke on his own heartbeat; 'for Bran. And for you. I won't let you waste away until there's nothing left of you; I won't let you die like this -'

Her dagger slipped from between her fingers and clattered to the floor, and the fingers of Jaime's remaining hand were clawing at the sheets and grasping at life, even though he didn't want it anymore, even though nothing could make him want it after this, and Arya's face was a horror before him; such a horror that he wanted to make it better, even now.

Look at me. Don't cry. It's alright. I love you.

How could you do this? How could you? I love you. I love you. I love you.

'I'm sorry,' Arya wept; her body bent almost double; her hands clasping her stomach as though she had stabbed herself as well as him, 'I love you; I'm sorry; I'm so sorry…Jaime…Jaime –'

'You…little…shit,' Jaime choked; understanding; refusing to; wanting to kiss the tears on her cheeks; wanting to put his fingers around her neck and squeeze.

And he couldn't move anymore. He couldn't see. Grief crushed his heart to powder and made the blood come easier. The darkness called to him. He called back. He heard Arya crying; her sobs long and deep and terrible; and as her body softly cradled his; as she lay beside him and held him as he choked to death; her trembling was like earth moving, and her tears were more real than the world.