A/N: Okay. So, once again, what I intended as the final chapter wrote itself out of control, and I had to split it up again rather than make it insanely long. There's still a lot of ground to cover in the next chapter, which at this point I am loath to refer to as the "final" chapter because apparently that's a recipe for disaster and unexpected words. I'm hoping that the ending, when I finally get there, packs enough of an emotional punch that the wait will be worth the effort… (Possibly you can consider that a warning in advance?)
Which is to say: there will be yet more angst in this chapter, but I promised a happy ending and it will be coming, I promise. (I always think happy endings are more satisfying if you earn them…) I will eventually be dealing with the fates of various characters, including Cersei and Daenerys, but the main focus will obviously remain on our two favourite lovesick idiots. So: lots of angst and plenty of fluff, and a few (hopefully) amusing moments – and there may be some surprises, along the way. I shall say no more, for fear of spoilers. *zipped mouth emoji*
Apologies once again for the delay on this chapter, but it took a while to percolate, and I was trying to keep all the elements that I wanted for this fresh in my brain so I wouldn't forget them when the time came to actually write it. I've also upped the rating just to be on the safe side: there's nothing graphic but I thought it best to cover all my bases, particularly because I'm not quite sure whether the next chapter will warrant it either…
I hope you enjoy. =)
In an ironic twist of fate, Jaime is one of the first to witness the arrival of the messenger from the South.
He is once again overseeing the reconstruction of a section of Winterfell, trying to make up for the days lost to the blizzard. Several of the men have tried to convince him that the temperature has increased, but he finds it hard to believe. They would not say so to his face, but he can tell from their barely-concealed smirks that they think him soft, a cosseted Southerner who has never experienced cold in his life. Standing around and barking orders, assisting only when his single hand is needed to help balance a stone or lift a piece of timber, is not exactly enough to keep him warm – so Brienne makes sure to kit him out in multiple layers of wool and leather and fur, two left-handed gloves and three pairs of socks. (She will make someone a fine wife some day, he often ponders to himself, and then smiles to remember that she'll be his.) Despite that, the chill somehow finds its way through to his very bones, and he has to concede that either the Northerners really do have thicker skin, or he's merely not built for winter weather.
He is atop the scaffold, supervising a complex system of pulleys designed to transport the heavy stones to the top of the wall they are rebuilding, when he hears a noise that he had hoped never to hear again outside of his nightmares. For a moment, he almost does not believe his ears, thinking to have imagined it. Then the sound once again echoes across the vast expanse of barren land surrounding the castle, and from the reaction of the men he knows they have heard it, too: the blood-curdling shriek of an approaching dragon.
Suddenly, he is back on the battlefield, facing down the Targaryen girl and rushing at her monstrous beast with nothing but courage and a spear; he is back in the Dragon Pit with his sister as Sandor Clegane releases that horrific, half-decomposed creature for everyone to see; he is back in the courtyard of Winterfell as the wights are descending in their endless droves, whilst an undead fiend breathes deadly ice and destroys everything in its path.
Another shriek, closer now, snaps him back to reality, as the unmistakable shape of the Dragon Queen's last remaining child soars into view. It swoops low over the tower, casting the building into shadow, and several of the Northmen duck or cover their heads whilst others merely watch in wonder, as the dragon circles around the castle – once, twice, with deliberate finesse, as though showing off – before coming to land some distance outside the main gate.
Shielding his eyes against the bright sky, Jaime can just about make out the riders on the dragon's back. There is no shock of white hair against the black scales, no sign of Daenerys; instead, a mop of dark curly hair and ample furs identifies one of the riders as none other than Jon Snow. The other is huddled in front of him, and Jaime cannot see properly until Snow dismounts, the dragon lowering its massive head towards the ground. Snow half-climbs and half-falls to the ground, showing none of the poise of his Targaryen queen, and his unconventional mount grunts out a puff of air through its nostrils, as if snorting in amusement.
The other rider is slower to react, but as he also rises and makes his way downwards, his identity becomes apparent.
Jaime barely registers the protests of the men as he abandons them, passing the guide rope in his hand to the nearest person and descending the scaffold far quicker than a one-handed man should be capable of. He lands inelegantly in a pile of swept-up snow at the base of the tower, stumbling briefly before righting himself, and then breaks into a run towards the castle's main gate.
His gait is easier, these days, without the golden hand to weigh him down, but his balance is definitely not what it once was and he almost falls flat on his arse on a few occasions, skidding on patches of ice or whilst trying to negotiate a corner at speed. He is vaguely aware that a few onlookers have ceased in whatever they are doing to stare at him, but he pays them no heed and continues on.
He passes Brienne and Podrick in the training yard with their gaggle of young students; the children gather at the fence to gawp at him, and Brienne halts in her lesson, watching Jaime run past with a questioning expression. She calls out to him, but he can barely hear her in his haste, abandoning the training yard as quickly as he stumbled into it. With the main gate in sight, he quickens his pace.
Lady Sansa and her entourage are making their way from the castle to meet the unexpected guests, Maester Tarly pushing Bran in his wheeled chair. The gate slowly opens as Jaime draws nearer, and after a brief hesitation, Jon Snow steps through into the main courtyard to approach Sansa and wrap her in a warm hug. Jaime's attention is elsewhere, and he only just manages to avoid the family reunion as he barrels through the open gate, dropping to his knees and sliding the final few inches to collide with a small figure, who he practically knocks off his feet with the force of his embrace.
In the sudden silence, he becomes aware that a few others have joined the crowd by the gate and a small audience is now staring at him in various states of confusion, but he cannot quite summon the energy to care.
"Jaime," says a muffled voice at his shoulder, "I'm glad you're so pleased to see me, but I need to be able to breathe."
His arms finally relent, and Tyrion emerges, a bemused expression on his face. Jaime grips his brother's arms with perhaps more pressure than is necessary, making certain his presence is real, and shakes his head in disbelief.
"Gods, I was so sure I would never see you again."
Tyrion's smile reaches his eyes. "My luck hasn't run out just yet."
He nods. "Yes, it reached me, and just in time. But I'll share all of that later."
"Later?" Understanding dawns. "You mean you're the messenger?"
"Oh, well now you've ruined the surprise."
Behind Jaime's back, Sansa clears her throat deliberately, and when she speaks her voice is light with amusement.
"I'm sure Lord Tyrion and Jon are weary after their journey," she suggests. "Let's all go inside so they can rest and warm up."
Jaime nods, and finally releases his brother. He gets to his feet, brushing the snow from his knees, and when he turns around he is unsurprised to find that Brienne has also joined the welcoming party, and is now staring at him with an expression midway between affectionate and concerned. He had shared some of his fears for Tyrion with her, but even Jaime himself had not been aware of just how much he had missed his little brother. He should feel embarrassed for the display, but he cannot, now that he knows Tyrion is safe. As he moves to her side, he communicates with a glance that there is nothing to worry about; nonetheless, Brienne's hand finds its way surreptitiously into his, and squeezes gently.
Tyrion straightens his slightly rumpled clothing and slowly approaches the Wardeness of the North, reaching for her already-outstretched hand and pressing a courteous kiss to her knuckles.
"My Lady, it is good to see you again."
Sansa's cheeks are flushed; from the cold or some other reason, it is difficult to say.
"Winterfell is glad to welcome you back, my Lord."
Tyrion nods with a knowing half-smile, and then focuses his attention instead on Brienne. Her hand is still joined tightly with Jaime's; she is usually wary of public displays of affection, no matter how minimal, but their linked fingers are hidden by their furs. Tyrion's height provides him with an advantageous viewpoint, and he does not miss the subtle connection of their hands. He chooses not to mention it, but stores the knowledge away for later.
"Ser Brienne," he begins, "allow me to thank you for looking after my brother. I thought for certain he'd have frozen to death by now."
"Not for want of trying, my Lord," she responds, the neutral expression on her face in direct opposition to the almost-imperceptible lilt of her voice, and Tyrion's face lights up in an amused grin.
"Oh, I'd forgotten how much I like her, Jaime. Please say we can keep her."
Jaime sighs in exasperation, but he allows the comment to pass, still a little overwhelmed by the unexpected arrival of his brother. Even Lady Sansa cracks a smile, suggesting that not every Lannister is low in her regard.
The entourage makes its way indoors, the heavy gate closing behind them. Tyrion catches up to Jon and Sansa, interjecting his own comments to whatever Snow is saying to her; she laughs, the first genuine mirth anyone has heard from her since watching the children play in the snow.
Jaime and Brienne are the last to follow, and he cannot tear his eyes away from the back of his brother's head, as though he will disappear if he moves out of sight. Brienne's hand is firm and warm in his, and when she lightly squeezes it again, grounding him, he returns the pressure and inches very slightly closer, bumping his shoulder against hers as they walk.
By mid-afternoon, Winterfell's unexpected guests have been fed and watered and given some time to recover from their journey. (The dragon, having delivered them, has taken off and headed in a southerly direction, back to the capital.) Jaime lunches with his brother, firing questions across the table that Tyrion refuses to answer until everyone is gathered to hear the news together. He cannot conceal his amusement at how long it takes Jaime to ask perhaps the most obvious question: how the dragon arrived without its mother to guide it, and indeed the whereabouts of the Targaryen Queen. Tyrion merely smiles enigmatically, and says nothing.
When it comes to the subject of Brienne, Jaime is equally as reticent to share information. Notwithstanding that their last conversation about her ended with Bronn aiming a crossbow at his head, Jaime is not willing to divulge anything more than what Tyrion has already surmised, not without first seeking reassurance that Brienne is comfortable with him sharing the events leading up to this point. It is their story, not only his, and in any case he is certain his brother will berate him soundly for his idiotic decision to leave, which makes Jaime even less inclined to tell him.
An hour or so later, Lady Sansa is ready to receive everyone, and sends Maester Tarly to round them up. The War Room does not feel an appropriate venue to share news about new-found peace, so the announcement will be made in the Great Hall.
On Jaime and Tyrion's arrival, they find the large room set up with a blazing hearth and a collection of chairs set up in a half-circle around the fire. The scene is not dissimilar to the night before the Battle for Winterfell, except that there is daylight – dwindling and grey, but unmistakable – beyond the windows, rather than a soon-to-be interminable darkness. The servants bring a large pitcher of water, another of wine, and set out goblets, before swiftly disappearing again.
Jaime finds a chair, and Tyrion heads directly for the wine, pouring himself a generous serving. Jon Snow and Sansa enter next, the older Stark sibling now responsible for wheeling Bran into the room, and they are followed by Samwell, Brienne and Podrick, the latter of whom remains by the closed door to try and deter anyone who might try to gain entry. Lady Sansa does not wish the door to be barred, but equally she does not want to be disturbed.
Samwell takes it upon himself to serve drinks to anyone else who wants them, whilst everyone finds a chair. Jon positions Bran at the end of the row, close to the fire's heat.
Lady Sansa is the first to speak, standing to address those in the room once they are all seated. The fire brings out the vibrant red of her hair; throws flickering light onto the intricately-woven fabric of her dress to create shadows where there were none before; reflects with a subtle glint off the direwolf brooch near her collar. When Jaime chances a glimpse to his brother, he suppresses a smile at the far-away expression on Tyrion's face, as he gazes at Sansa in all her regal beauty. He does not draw attention it, unwilling to embarrass either of them, but also because there's no point in denying that he must look very similar himself when contemplating Brienne.
"Thank you all for joining me," says Sansa by way of introduction. "I must say, I am as surprised as the rest of you to discover the identity of our mysterious messenger, and just as impatient to learn what he has to tell us. Before we begin, I wanted to make it clear that I consider everyone in this room a trusted friend. That may come as a shock to some of you," – she glances to Jaime – "but there is no sense in taking alliances for granted. We must find them where we can, and have faith that they will endure."
Sansa pauses for a moment, gathering her thoughts.
"I am equally as ignorant of the recent events in the capital as most of you," she continues, "and I'm sure we have all formed our own ideas as to what has happened. In a few moments, we will know for certain. All I would ask is that whatever Lord Tyrion has to share with us, it must not yet leave this room. The time for formal announcements to the common-folk will come later. Rumours have already been spreading and I do not wish to give them any further fuel. I am putting my faith in all of you that you will not break this confidence. Is that understood?"
"Aye," says Brienne with conviction, and the others echo the sentiment in turn, including Pod from his sentry position at the door.
Sansa gives a brisk, satisfied nod.
"Lord Tyrion, I shall leave the rest of the proceedings in your capable hands."
"Thank you, my Lady."
Tyrion hops down from his chair as Sansa resumes her place. He does not cut quite such a commanding figure, but those assembled train their eyes on him nonetheless, eager to hear his account of Daenerys's victory. He begins with pleasantries and inane commentary about the weather, much to the frustration of his audience. He attempts a joke, which falls awkwardly flat, and in the uncomfortable silence that ensues, he casts his gaze about the room.
Bran Stark is wearing his usual enigmatic expression, revealing nothing as to his reactions, though the corners of his mouth upturn slightly into a smile, suggesting that he knows something as yet unrevealed. It is Jon Snow, however, who silently encourages Tyrion to continue, giving him a reassuring nod. His stoic face does not falter.
Tyrion hesitates, trying to find his words, and after a few agonising seconds he heaves a sigh and turns to Jon imploringly.
"It would make much more sense if you told them yourself," he suggests.
"He's right," adds Sansa, and Samwell nods solemnly, as though he too is aware of the situation.
Jaime and Brienne exchange a glance, both of them thoroughly confused. They and Podrick, it seems, are the only people in the room unaware of whatever knowledge Tyrion is supposed to impart.
Jon eventually nods his agreement and rises from the chair, but it takes him a long moment to decide how best to proceed. When he does finally speak, he is succinct and to the point, quickly explaining the circumstances of his birth and his true lineage as if reciting it by rote, as though he has grown tired of repeating it. A river of familiar names washes over Jaime as he tries to make sense of the information.
"So you were never actually a Stark?"
"No. My true name is Aegon Targaryen."
A tree is branching in Jaime's mind as he pieces the information together, and within moments he has made the connection to Daenerys – and, indeed, why Jon and Tyrion had arrived by dragon without getting thrown from the creature's back mid-flight. Jon's relationship with his Dragon Queen makes Jaime pause, but he is hardly one to pass judgement on family lying with family; at least the Targaryens have always been open about it, which is more than can be said for Lannisters. He does not wish to dwell on thoughts of his sister, but now that the seed is planted he cannot quite shake the nightmarish images that his subconscious mind has been conjuring up. He grits his teeth and tries to focus on the situation at hand.
"But surely that gives you a right to the Iron Throne?"
Tyrion interjects: "We'll get to that part. Jon's— apologies, Aegon's parentage is a rather important factor in what happened in Kings Landing, or I should say what will happen."
"Who else is aware?" asks Brienne.
"It was me who discovered it," says Samwell, holding up his hand as though volunteering. "Well, so did Gilly. Between us we found out about Rhaegar and Lyanna, and after that it was a case of putting everything together."
The rest of the story emerges, how the news trickled like melting snow to Daenerys, to the Stark siblings, to Tyrion and beyond. The younger Lannister's face turns ashen as he recounts the fate of Lord Varys, their foiled attempt at a coup resulting in his fiery demise.
"Your raven arrived mere days after Lord Varys's execution," he clarifies, "just at the point when I was despairing of ever making her see sense again. She had no reason to believe me about the wildfire – no reason to trust me at all, in truth – but her only alternative was to take the risk."
"I assume you managed to talk her around?" asks Brienne.
"Not as such." Tyrion hesitates, trying to find the right way to explain it. "You need to understand, Daenerys never wanted any bloodshed, if it was possible to take the Throne peacefully. It was never in her interest to destroy thousands of innocent lives, nor to rule over her people with fear. If there was any possibility that the wildfire existed, she simply couldn't take that chance."
The assembled persons in the room lean back in their chairs in relief, to know that Kings Landing was not taken by means of fire, and Tyrion continues:
"She used Drogon only where absolutely necessary. To take out Euron Greyjoy and his fleet, first and foremost, in vengeance for Rhaegal. If she had not made that decision herself, I very much suspect Drogon would have taken matters into his own… claws. Then she took care of the Scorpions, to ensure there were no further accidents. I have no doubt that the sight of the dragon circling the castle put the fear of all seven Gods into the small-folk, but they all survived to tell the tale."
As Tyrion continues, weaving a narrative to describe the melee that took place between the forces on the ground, whilst Daenerys patrolled the sky, Jaime finds it more and more difficult to concentrate on his brother's words. The visions of his sister have returned with a vengeance, appearing before him in the flames as he stares into the hearth, Tyrion's silhouette becoming an indistinct blur and his voice sounding further and further away. Try as he might, he cannot shake the images; his sister's name is the only thing to filter through the noise in his brain and whatever Tyrion is saying, Jaime knows it cannot be good; the flames are engulfing everything, Cersei's screams drowning out all other sounds, the smell of smoke and blistering flesh, burn them all, green sparks and glowing blue eyes and the sickening push-snap-squish of Oathkeeper plunging straight into Brienne's heart as her blood spatters across his chest and drips between his fingers, oh Gods I have to get out of here—
As Jaime's chair scrapes across the flagstones, everyone turns to the source of the disturbance, Tyrion's narration halting mid-flow to stare in alarm at his brother's sudden movement upwards. Before Jaime can leave, Brienne's hand reaches instinctively for his right forearm, halting his escape. It grounds him, enough to regain a little composure.
He focuses on Brienne – the warmth of her hand against his arm, the dark blue of her eyes in the low light, her brow furrowed in concern – and releases a slow breath before speaking.
"I… I can't."
Brienne nods in understanding and releases him, and he heads straight for the doorway. Podrick barely has time to move out of the way, but his own surprise at Jaime's demeanour is enough to make him step aside and let him through without incident.
The door shuts again and Brienne stares at it for a moment, before turning to Sansa. She does not have to ask if she can follow, as Sansa is already nodding her assent. Brienne nods back, in gratitude, and then rises to leave the room. Podrick smiles reassuringly as he opens the door for her, closing it behind her as she exits.
She finds Jaime in the corridor just outside, a few paces from the door, leaning back with his head against the wall. He seems less troubled than he did in the Great Hall; his eyes are closed, but when he hears her approach he opens them again, a hint of surprise on his face.
"You didn't have to follow me," he says.
"We both know that isn't true," she counters, as she comes to a halt in front of him, and he gives her a grim smile.
"You should be in there," he suggests, gesturing towards the door with a slight movement of his head. "Your duty is to Sansa."
"I doubt she's in any immediate danger." Brienne takes a step closer and reaches for his hand, squeezing it reassuringly. "Right now, my duty is to you."
He stares at her, the disbelief writ large on his face, a familiar expression that she wishes she had vanquished by now. She has been trying hard, these past few weeks, to make him understand that her devotion is not limited, that her love is unconditional, that he deserves it to be, and for the most part she thinks he is starting to believe it. Then there are occasions, such as now, when it seems as though he is spiralling away from her again. The unexpected arrival of his brother has thrown him off-centre, and the news of Jon Snow's true parentage has raised questions for Brienne herself, the most pertinent of which is why Lady Sansa did not trust her enough to tell her before now, though Brienne imagines she must have had her reasons to keep it a secret.
Neither she nor Jaime expected to hear news about his sister so soon, and neither of them are adequately prepared, but Brienne at least has the benefit of detachment. To her, Cersei has been nothing but a somewhat distant figure, an occasionally troubling acquaintance, a shadow looming in the dark. To Jaime, she is so much more than that. Brienne has admittedly shied away from dwelling too much on Jaime's history with his twin, but their connection runs deeper than she will ever fully understand.
Despite that, Jaime loves her; Brienne knows it, more clearly and succinctly than she has ever known anything in her life. He left Kings Landing to travel North, to fight with her, to die with her. Surviving to see another day was an unexpected surprise, and as time has progressed, Brienne has begun to understand more clearly why he felt the need to leave. His past and potential future had warred within him, and he had chosen the easier battle to fight. Coming back with her to Winterfell was his own choice, and they had not really planned beyond that. They both knew this day would come eventually: that Cersei's fate could not be ignored indefinitely.
Hearing about it in a room full of new-found and slightly reluctant allies, some of whom would gladly have seen his head on a pike only months ago, is not an ideal situation. Whilst Brienne is thankful that Lady Sansa provided an alternative option for Jaime, she does not feel adequately qualified to remain in the Great Hall and later repeat whatever Tyrion was in the middle of sharing. She has no great skill in story-telling, and Tyrion can undoubtedly deliver it in a more sensitive manner. For now, her priority is ensuring Jaime is in the right mindset to hear it.
His expression has turned glassy again, focusing on a point somewhere just behind her, as the silence between them extends and gives him room to drift off towards that dark place that Brienne can never quite reach. She reaches up with her free hand to cup his face, a sure but gentle pressure, and the warmth of the contact brings him back. He blinks rapidly and then meets her gaze, leaning into her touch as her thumb gently caresses the line of his cheekbone.
"Tell me what you need, Jaime."
"You," he says, without hesitation, his hand squeezing hers before he relinquishes it and raises his arm to mirror her gesture, his palm resting against her cheek. "I need you."
In the next second, his hand shifts, fingers sinking into her hair as he cups the back of her head and draws her down, rising up on his toes to meet her halfway as he presses his mouth to hers. His right arm winds around her waist so he can tug her closer, so she's almost crushing him against the stone wall of the corridor, but when she tries to give him space he tightens his grip possessively and kisses her harder, deeper, desperate.
They are in one of Winterfell's main thoroughfares, and ordinarily she would try her best to extricate herself from Jaime's insistent embrace, rather than give any passers-by a reason to throw jeers and whistles in their direction; but instead, she relents, because she asked him what he needed and this is his answer.
Only a few nights ago, he woke thrashing and yelling from another nightmare, unaware of his surroundings for a long moment until Brienne's touch – a gentle hand against his arm – had reoriented him. In the stillness of the night, it did not seem appropriate to speak; he responded to her concerned expression with a silent nod before collapsing with relief into her open arms. He had nuzzled his nose against her face until his lips found hers, until everything was a blur of tangled limbs and frantic hands and fumbled clothing, until he finally fell asleep with his head resting over her heart. It had taken her quite some time to follow him into slumber, listening to his even breathing in the dark.
The recollection of that night is what finally forces her to separate from Jaime, before things can become any more heated. She raises her other hand, encircling his face so she can persuade him away from her. He protests, and tries to kiss her again, but she shakes her head. His gaze flits to their location and he gives her a small, amused smile, finally understanding her reticence to continue, and her hands drop away. Still, he does not relinquish his grip just yet, his handless arm stroking gently up and down the dip of her spine. His hand at her nape tugs her gently towards him again, but this time he merely presses their foreheads together, exhaling on a sigh.
"I love you," he says, his voice thick with emotion. His left arm wraps around her waist, his hand grasping at the material of her jerkin against her back; her own arms raise to receive him, and he melts into her embrace, his chin coming to rest against her shoulder. "Gods, how I love you. You can't possibly know how much."
She can feel tears stinging her eyes and wills them away, not trusting herself to speak just yet. They remain like that, wrapped up in each other, for quite some time, before Brienne finally releases him and tentatively pulls away. He lets her go, this time, though his hand drifts back into hers.
"Let's go home," he suggests, and her heart skips a beat unexpectedly at the words.
She can no longer recall when her quarters became his, became theirs, but she has never really considered Winterfell her home. Tarth is her true home, and maybe Jaime's as well in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, what else can their shared accommodation be called? They are modest quarters, designed for one rather than two: not the smallest room that the castle can provide but not the largest either. Brienne is certain that if she asked, Sansa would willingly move them elsewhere, into something more fitting, but the need has never arisen. She has never given thought to moving. For better or worse, her room at Winterfell has been the backdrop of the life they have slowly carved out together since Jaime arrived North. When she thinks back over everything that has happened, she realises just how many moments of true vulnerability they have shared within those walls, how many times she has returned from her daily duties to find Jaime there already, content to do nothing but sit and wait for her, and suddenly she understands:
It's the only place he's ever felt safe.
The feelings that engulf her at that realisation are overwhelming, and she dare not try to speak over the lump in her throat. Instead, all she can do is nod, and walk beside him as they navigate the corridors to their room.
Dusk is descending over the North, its white canopy streaked with bands of muted colour: pink and orange and yellow, barren trees standing out in stark silhouette against the horizon.
Since their return, they have done little except enjoy the silence. Brienne has methodically cleaned and polished her armour, whilst Jaime has been staring out of the window, lost in thought. She knows better than to try and engage him in conversation, though she has checked on him, periodically, to ensure that he's still with her.
They have no idea how much time has passed when a tentative knock at the door attracts their attention. Brienne looks to Jaime before getting up to answer it.
"Should I send them away?" she asks.
"Yes," he responds. "Please. I don't want to speak to anyone."
She nods her understanding and crosses the room.
When she opens the door, at first she thinks someone is playing a joke, because there does not appear to be anyone outside, until a voice below immediately identifies their visitor.
"Ser Brienne. I've been led to understand that my brother may be here?"
She looks down to find Tyrion, clasping a pitcher of wine in one hand and two cups in the other, with an expectant expression on his face.
"Yes, Lord Tyrion, he's here. But he doesn't—"
"Let him in, Brienne," interrupts Jaime. "I'll make the exception for family."
Brienne stands aside to allow Tyrion to enter, and he makes a beeline for the table to set down his supplies. He pours a cup of wine for himself, and another for Jaime, and holds it out for him to take. Jaime merely stares at it, making no effort to move.
"Believe me, Jaime, you're going to need it. Join me."
His face turns ashen, as he realises belatedly why Tyrion has sought him out. He had hoped to delay the inevitable for a while longer. Still, he feels decidedly saner than he had in the Great Hall, and perhaps it might be best to get it over with, air the wound so it can heal faster, although he suspects there might be some salt to pour into it first.
He crosses to the table and pulls out a chair, dropping into it sullenly, and Tyrion climbs up onto the other. Once they are settled, Brienne heads for the door, not wanting to impose on what is likely to be a painful moment between the two brothers.
"I'll leave you to it."
Her progress is halted by Jaime softly calling her name, and she turns back to face him, a silent question on her face.
"Stay," he says. "Please. I want you to stay."
She nods, and moves to the window where Jaime had been only minutes ago, to observe the proceedings from a safe distance and make herself as inconspicuous as possible. Tyrion glances at her apologetically.
"I would offer you some wine, my Lady, but I only brought two cups."
"I… don't drink wine, my Lord, but thank you for your consideration." She feels decidedly awkward and out-of-place, as though she is intruding on something which she does not need to be present for. "Jaime, are you sure—"
"Yes," he insists. "Stay."
She falls silent, at that, and tries to melt into the shadows.
Tyrion has finished his cup of wine and is in the process of pouring a second when he realises Jaime's is still full. He gestures towards it impatiently, and for a long moment the two brothers merely stare at each other in silence, before Jaime heaves a sigh and lifts the cup. He takes a mouthful, just to stop Tyrion from complaining, and is pleasantly surprised to find that it is of much better quality than usual.
Tyrion smirks at his expression as he lowers the cup again.
"I took a detour to the cellars on my way here," he admits. "If we're going to drown our sorrows, we might as well do it properly."
"Is that what we're doing?" asks Jaime, and Tyrion's face becomes more serious again. He gives up on banalities about the drink, and launches into a hesitant explanation.
"Lady Sansa thought it might be best if I came to see you… to finish what I started earlier."
Jaime levels a thoughtful gaze at his brother.
"Out with it, then," he says. "Tell me how our sister died."
"I assume that's what you were saying in the Great Hall," he continues, his tone becoming harsh and ironic. "I'm afraid I stopped listening. I didn't particularly relish hearing it in a room full of people who would gladly take her demise as a cause for celebration."
Tyrion sighs, and takes another drink, knowing that Jaime is including him amongst that number.
"I loved her too, you know."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Fine," he counters, "you're entitled to believe or disbelieve whatever you like. But it's true, I assure you. I loved her, as much as I hated her – as much as she hated me. And she did hate me. Right up to the end, to her last breath."
Tyrion's face is stricken and haunted, and it's at that moment Jaime realises why his brother is the only person who could have delivered the news from the south.
"You were there…"
The younger Lannister nods, closing his eyes for a moment before seemingly shaking off the images in his head. He composes himself, taking another drink for courage.
"I was not the only eye witness," he explains. "Jon Snow was there, and Arya Stark – she has elected to remain in the capital, for now, but she'll be returning to Winterfell soon enough. Daenerys did not want me to come here, but I insisted, for your sake. Tell me, Jaime, would you rather hear this from me, or from some impartial messenger?"
"Was the Stark girl responsible?" he asks, though he's not entirely certain he wants to know. He has seen for himself how lethal the smallest Stark can be, and he hopes that she would have been merciful, that she would not have dragged it out. Cersei would not offer the same courtesy, he knows, but even now he cannot stand the thought that she might have suffered.
"For our sister? No. But she helped to clear the path."
Jaime wonders just how many people Arya Stark could have taken down on her own. She dealt with the Night King single-handedly, but a horde of Queensguard is a different matter, and Ser Gregor is an indestructible, untiring barge of a man – if he can still be called a man. It seems preposterous that she could have defeated him in single combat when so many before her have failed.
He has too many questions, and not enough answers, and from Tyrion's cryptic comments so far, it seems that the tale he needs to tell will be long and arduous. Defeated, Jaime slumps down in his chair and reaches half-heartedly for the cup of wine.
"Why don't I start at the beginning?" suggests Tyrion, and Jaime can only nod in agreement.
Tyrion leans back, trying to get more comfortable in the hard wooden chair. The tale he had spun for the others was sparse in certain details – memories he has been carrying around since Cersei's final moments – and he wants nothing more than to unburden them to someone who will understand. Jaime is the only family he has left, but more than that, he is the only person within their immediate circle to ever treat Tyrion with any semblance of decency. He wishes he had better news to impart; that their reunion could be based on happier circumstances.
Before he begins, he chances a glance to Brienne, keeping a steady watch in the corner of the room. He tries to impart without words how sorry he is, that she will have to take the brunt of however Jaime chooses to deal with the news, and he thinks she must catch his meaning when she gives him a single, stoic nod, an indication to continue.
Jaime does not miss the silent exchange, and the reminder of Brienne's presence gives him a new-found courage: a reminder that, no matter what happens, she is there. His past life is gone, countless miles away; his future is standing only a few short steps behind him, stoic and certain. Brienne's concern, her love for him, seems to radiate outwards, bathing him in warmth from the inside out and slowly overcoming the chill in his heart when he thinks of his sister.
The visions which have plagued him are gone, now that the truth is so near. Tyrion is waiting, giving him time, and Jaime has to concede that he was right: an unknown messenger would not have been so considerate.
Finally, he takes a breath, steeling himself, and gives his brother a nod.
Tyrion swirls his cup of wine, staring into its crimson depths until the liquid settles once more, before setting it down on the table's surface. He clasps it with both hands, anchoring himself, and then, he begins.
A/N: Just a quick catch-up on some background machinations:
1. Jaime told Brienne about his raven to Tyrion (in "North II") and Brienne subsequently advised Sansa, without going into detail as to why Jaime (and Tyrion) would know about the wildfire. I'm also assuming that Tyrion is aware of the real incident behind 'Kingslayer' because in all honesty I can't recall if he is in canon (or if it was ever clarified).
2. Nobody at Winterfell other than Sansa, Bran and Samwell are aware of Jon's true lineage.
Given how many words this thing grew, I didn't want to spend too much time hashing all of this out, so hopefully this has helped to clear up any loose ends. :)
With any luck, the next chapter will ACTUALLY be the final chapter, though I seem to jinx myself every time I say that. I know where it's going, and I know how I want to write it, but in all honesty I'm absolutely dreading it - so I apologise in advance for the delay. Hopefully, there was enough angst and fluff in this segment to satisfy.
I've never attempted writing Tyrion before so please let me know if he seems OOC at all. I am a low-key Sanrion shipper so you can expect that in the background of the next chapter also. :)
Thanks for reading!