He paces around the entire island, much to Hyle Hunt's annoyance. "Stomping around won't change the brothers' rules, Kingslayer", he spats. "You still have to wait outside for news of the lady, like me and the Payne boy."
This time, he ignores the hedge knight. He and Hyle have not been in the best of terms since he had the misfortune of meeting the man and helping Brienne rescue him from Lady Stoneheart alongside Podrick Payne—the boy he had known as Tyrion's squire, now the wench's.
Speaking of the wench… he must find a way around the Elder Brother's ridiculous imposition. Brienne is alone in her cottage, delirious with fever and raw with infection, and she calls for him. He can smell disease coming from her window from a mile away. The Elder Brother himself told them she may not survive the night, and they are to leave her alone to die because she is unwed? As if he'd dishonor her in such a state! As if he'd dishonor her, period!
(Not out of lack of desire; he accepted he wanted her since before she came to him in Pennytree. But she's a highborn lady, and he is not going to tarnish her name any further by taking her maidenhead. The calls of Kingslayer's Whore he heard from the Brotherhood were more than enough.)
No, he won't let that happen. He must find a way to get inside her cottage and stay with her, either to help her heal or to ease her pass—no, he won't think like that. His wench must live. Live, fight and take revenge, she told him back when he was the one about to die. She nursed him back to life at that time; it's his duty to return the favor. A Lannister always pays his debts, after all, and he owes Brienne the greatest of them.
She was ready to die for me, he thinks, recalling young Pod's stammering words and Hunt's nod of confirmation. She'd rather die before killing me. She only stopped because Pod was about to die. He's incredibly grateful for the boy's presence at her side, as selfish as the thought is; he cannot bear the idea of Brienne dying, especially for him. He does not deserve such loyalty.
Funny, he never deemed himself unworthy of anything or anyone before meeting the wench. He may not have considered himself entitled to anything, but he only began to think among the lines of not deserving when Brienne showed up with her over-the-top sense of morality and her insane level of loyalty to people and oaths. First, he realized he was indeed unworthy of the Kingsguard—although not for the reason others would claim it—and now of Brienne's loyalty.
Actually, he does not deserve Brienne in general. She is far too good for the likes of him, but damn if he's going to let that stop him from reaching out for her. He went for her in Harrenhal; he won't be craven to turn away from her now. And perhaps, if—when—she survives, she will accept him by her side, and he will make himself worthy.
Woah, woah. He stops himself and shakes his head. It is not a good idea to follow that line of thought. He is Kingsguard, and she is the Maid of Tarth. The combination of the two seems even more impossible than him and his twin. No, he cannot entertain such fantasies. He has to go back to her cottage and nurse her to health—
Wait, where am I?, He wonders as he realizes the place around him does not look like the Quiet Isle at all. In fact, it reminds him of the general scenery of the riverlands. How did I leave the island?
Before he can investigate further, a horse rider approaches. Good; whoever he is, he can provide answers. He walks to the rider as he comes closer. He can see the man is tall and fully bearded, even more so than Jaime is at the moment—though not as full as it had been when he was held captive. His thoughts threaten to go to the flashed memories of Brienne's gentle hands caring for him despite their animosity, but he shakes them off. Focus, you idiot.
"Ser", he calls when the rider is within hearing range, because the man's posture is indicative of a knight (or at least a highborn), "would you give me some direction, please?" It's far more polite than he usually is, but he's lost; being his usual self is unlikely to help.
The rider stops, and only then he notices his right hand is golden, just like his own. He seems to notice it too, for he asks, "Who are you?"
He raises his head and is met with a man who looks… way too much like him. "Jaime Lannister", he answers. "A knight of—"
"Impossible", the man counters, and damn if both voices don't sound eerily similar. "I'm Jaime Lannister."
What the fuck.
After a series of questions regarding their childhoods and teenagehoods, they come to the conclusion that both of them are Jaime Lannister, which means one of them comes from a parallel realm.
The older Jaime—he's nearly a decade ahead of him—seems unfazed by the latter guess. "I've seen dead men rising and a boy having the power to look into the past, the present and the future at will", he explains in his standard tired voice. He doesn't like that. "A parallel realm is not far-fetched. Question is, who came into whose realm?"
He frowns. "I suppose it was me", he replies. "I was on an island—the Quiet Isle—and suddenly walked into the riverlands without getting on a boat or even swimming. Tell me… Jaime, how are things in this realm of yours?"
Old Jaime hesitates. "It seems that we are not from the same year. It's better if you tell me what happened to you so far, so I can fill in the blanks."
Fair enough. He tries to pinpoint when his life turned into the mess he's currently in, and concludes it all began when Jon Arryn died and they had to go to Winterfell, so that's what he begins his tale with.
Old Jaime flinches at the mention of Bran Stark and confirms he's done exactly the same; something in his expression tells him there is a lot more to the story in this alternate realm. He proceeds to talk about how the War of the Five Kings came to be, and his other self says it happened in the same way.
Then he mentions Brienne for the first time. Old Jaime curls into himself. He wants to ask what happened, but perhaps it's too soon. When he begins to tell about his trip with her and Cleos, he interrupts him. "Who's Cleos?"
He tilts his head. "Cleos Frey", he says, slowly, "Aunt Genna's son. Our cousin."
"I know no Frey cousin", his other self insists, "nor an Aunt Genna. The only kin I saw while held captive by Robb Stark was a distant cousin, Alton Lannister, who I killed in order to escape." His voice is full of remorse when saying that last bit, and Jaime doesn't bother to question it. Of course he regrets killing a cousin. "And Brienne and I traveled alone from the start."
"Well, I know no Alton Lannister. There is no one of this name among the Lannisters of Casterly Rock or the Lannisters of Lannisport." He shrugs and resumes his tale of his journey. It's not like Cleos did not end up dead anyway—just not by his hand.
When he reaches the point where he got his hand cut off, Old Jaime flinches again. He frowns this time. "Was that not how you lost yours?"
"Of course it was", he retorts. "It's just not a memory I'm fond of. Are you?"
"Obviously not", he replies, deadpan, "though I have to admit, I remember rather fondly of Brienne's efforts to keep me alive. She goaded me back to life by calling me craven and claiming I should live to take revenge."
Old Jaime chuckles, and Young Jaime knows for sure his other self has feelings for his Brienne too—then again, how could it be any different? "She didn't call me craven, though I think she aimed for the same effect. She called me a bloody woman. As if she wasn't one."
This does not sound much like his wench, but then again, this is a realm where Aunt Genna doesn't exist. A slightly different Brienne should not be so surprising. He continues on his story, and Old Jaime seems to confirm most of it, until the part they hear of the Red Wedding. "We did not hear about it until we reached King's Landing, and Brienne was too busy trying to earn Lady Sansa's trust that she barely had time to mourn. Well, in front of me, at least."
Wait, Lady Sansa? "You two met Sansa in King's Landing?"
"Yes", his other self replies. "She fled after Joffrey's death—"
"You arrived before Joffrey's death?"
"No. When we got to the capital, he was already dead, Sansa was already missing, and everyone was just waiting for Tyrion's sad excuse of a trial."
Another change is that Old Jaime never imprisoned Brienne, because Loras Tyrell never tried to kill her. This Loras seemed barely affected by Renly's death, he notices. Were they not lovers here? Well, it's not important anyway.
Old Jaime also points that, aside from a horse and Oathkeeper, he gifts Brienne—who he never calls 'wench'—fit armor and a squire, Podrick. "Pod had already fled King's Landing", he recalls. "He found Brienne anyway, on the road."
As he proceeds to tell how his relationship with Cersei crumbled day by day, his other self looks perplexed. Did he not break things off with his twin here?
When he reaches the part where he goes to Riverrun, Old Jaime frowns. "You went there earlier than I did."
"Cersei wanted me nearby as much as I wanted to be near her", he retorts in response. "So she sent me to take Riverrun in Tommen's name." He tells of how he took the place without bloodshed. "I remembered the oath I swore to Lady Stark, to not take arms against the Tullys, and decided I should keep it, for variety."
Old Jaime raises his eyebrows at that. "I… also took it without bloodshed… but because Brienne asked me to."
Wait, what? "You met Brienne in Riverrun?"
"Yes, but… well, do go on."
He obeys, going straight to the part where he met Brienne in Pennytree. Old Jaime grows more uneasy at each word, but he gapes at the story of Lady Stoneheart. "Was she a wight?"
"A wight. Dead flesh, exposed bones, unnaturally blue eyes, silent…"
"Er, no." What is he even talking about? "I mean, she was clearly Lady Catelyn's corpse reanimated, but her eyes were not blue—I don't really remember their color, but it wasn't anything remarkable—and she spoke. I mean, it was hard, because her throat had been cut open, but she was eloquent enough to force Brienne to bring me to my death in exchange for her life and Pod's." And Hyle Hunt's, but he refuses to mention his name out loud.
"This… never happened here. Go on, go on."
He talks about how he caught on to his wench's lie instantly, but could not guess what the truth was until she spilled it out to him, and of course he helped her get Podrick and Hunt to safety. He described the battle against the Brotherhood in excited detail, up to the point Brienne slew Lady Stoneheart, and they fled.
"But she got injured", he finishes, his grin falling down. "She had been walking around with several injuries beforehand, but the fight gave her new ones and reopened old ones. The closest safe place was the Quiet Isle, so we rushed there. And now she's lying on a bed, alone in a cottage, and I can't help her because the Elder Brother insists a lady shall only share her bed with her husband! As if I'd take advantage of her weakened state! She might die in the morrow, and those idiots would rather have her die alone than allow a man inside her room."
Old Jaime's gaze is vacant, and he says nothing until he urges him to tell his own story. As predicted, a few things change, but Jaime grows more and more irritated when he talks about his relationship with Cersei. How could he not leave her? She seems even more vicious than his own version of their twin.
He heart breaks at the tale of Myrcella's death, and he silently vows to not let that happen to his daughter. Then he gets to the wildfire.
"YOU STAYED WITH CERSEI AFTER SHE BLEW UP THE SEPT AND DROVE TOMMEN TO SUICIDE? WE KILLED AERYS FOR LESS!"
"I would not kill my own sister!", his old self replies, finally speaking a more lively tone. "And yes, I stayed with her, because she needed someone to tone down her worst impulses. If it meant being with her, lying with her when she wanted—"
"You still fucked her after this?"
"I was in no position to say no! She was the queen! She could do as she pleased, even showing our relationship to everyone who had eyes to see. I could not just leave her, not then."
Not then. "But you did", he guesses, to which he nods. "What finally drove you away from her?"
Old Jaime tells him briefly about a parley between his sister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, where the latter two showed them a wight and asked for a truce to fight against a common enemy. "I left when I found out Cersei lied to them about pledging her support. I—Brienne was there and helped me see the fight was more important than politics."
He's disappointed that it took this version of him so long to leave Cersei, but at least he did. Old Jaime then proceeds to talk about the battle in Winterfell, and how he got together with Brienne after it was all over.
Young Jaime doesn't even try to hide his delight. If his other self got dismissed from the Kingsguard, he was free to wed the wench if he so desired. If he was free of Cersei, there was no reason not to propose to her. So, naturally, he asks if he did it.
Old Jaime flinches and looks away. "No", he replies, turning back into his almost-dead voice. "I left her. I'm on my way to King's Landing, actually."
He doesn't let him finish. The moment he mutters his damned sister's name, Jaime draws his sword and hits his head with its pommel, knocking him unconscious.
Out of all things that Sansa could have expected to arrive at her doorstep, an unconscious Jaime Lannister carried by another Jaime Lannister was definitely not one of them. She wouldn't have even believed the other man's tale if Bran wasn't there to confirm it.
"He's definitely from another realm", her brother says firmly, but his eyes seem intrigued by what he sees. Well, so is she. "We should hear what he has to say, after our Jaime Lannister is taken care of."
Awake Jaime Lannister appraises both of them. "I'm glad both of you are fine", he says, a bit hesitant. "The last news I had of each of you were… not good."
She glances at Bran, who shakes his head; his powers don't reach alternate realms, apparently. "What have you heard of us?"
"Bran Stark is deemed dead where I come from", he replies easily while handing his other self's body to a male servant. Sansa briefly interrupts the conversation to tell the man where to put him. "It's been a year or so since I heard of Theon Greyjoy's assault on Winterfell. I remember your mother grieving for both of her younger sons."
"Rickon and I survived that day", Bran replies. "Rickon is dead, indeed, brutally murdered, but only years later, and not by Theon's hand."
"What of me?", she asks, letting curiosity take over.
He frowns. "I sent Lady Brienne after you", he says, his voice softening when mentioning Brienne's name—oh no, not again. "After we arrived at King's Landing to find that you fled after Joffrey's murder. Old me said he and his Brienne arrived before the catastrophical wedding, but well. It doesn't matter. The capital has mostly forgotten about you, but I plan to follow Brienne into her quest to find you after she recovers. All we know is that you are not in the crownlands, and probably not in the riverlands either."
She feels an impulsive urge to help this man, so she blurts out, "Your version of me must be in the Eyrie. I was there for a time, posing as Littlefinger's bastard Alayne Stone." Alternate Jaime startles at that. "Then he sold me to be wed to Ramsay Snow."
The man's face contorts in disgust, but quickly relaxes. "I doubt this will happen in my reality", he says, half to himself, half to her. "Ramsay already got his Stark bride—a girl my father sold him to pose as Arya Stark. I even warned Brienne of that, so she wouldn't risk her life going to Winterfell on a false lead."
Sansa shudders at the thought that another girl is suffering under Ramsay's hands, but her more selfish part is glad that she is likely safer in the Eyrie. "Well… Ser Jaime, I would really like to know why you brought your other self back here. Do you, by any chance, know why and how he left this castle?"
At that, Young Lannister's shoulders fall, as if in defeat. "Yes, I heard his version countless times on our way from the riverlands", he replies, seemingly irritated with his other self. "Apparently, this realm is sacked with a version of me who kept being Cersei's dog for years long and, even when he finally breaks from her, can't afford himself an ounce of happiness."
She narrows her eyes at him. "And you think he was happy here?" She had suspected as much back then, but those suspicions were thrown in the wind when he left her sworn sword and friend crying in the middle of the night.
"Definitely", he answers easily. "He was where his heart is. Let me tell you something, Lady Sansa… there is no version of Jaime Lannister who isn't madly and hopelessly in love with his Brienne of Tarth."
He says those words with the conviction of a king leading his soldiers to battle. The ferocity of his tone nearly makes her jump, and she turns to her all-seeing brother. He doesn't really look surprised, but when does he, nowadays?
"If this is true, Ser", she asks carefully, "then why would he leave the woman he loves?"
He huffs. "I wish I could answer that one as easily. You see—"
"Lady Sansa", she hears her friend's voice, "why is Ser Jaime here unconscious? What happened to him?"
Of course Brienne's first questions are about his well being, despite everything. That's just who she is, right?
Young Lannister turns to where her sworn sword emerges from, and his entire body softens at the sight of her. His eyes grow wide, mesmerized. By the gods, he might be worse than our Kingslayer!
His voice is almost a whisper. "Brienne…"
She stops on her tracks. "I—What—Are you—Jaime?"
He chuckles at her stammering. "The one and only, wen—my lady." What was he going to call her? "Although not the one you know. I'm way smarter." He then takes a few steps closer, and his grin falls. "You look…"
As he gets closer, Brienne straightens up, in a posture Sansa learned to recognize as defensive. "Miserable? Uglier in daylight? Boring?"
Young Lannister flinches, but doesn't stop walking towards her. "Healthy", he replies softly. "Healthier than my Brienne, at least."
Bran wisely intervenes. "He's from a parallel realm", he explains, deadpan. "No one knows how he got here, and things are a bit different."
Brienne frowns at her brother, then looks back at Young Lannister, still frowning. "Was it you who delivered…"
"Your Jaime?", he asks, still soft but somewhat cocky as well. "Yes, it was me. I know he was an ass to you, but I think I knocked some sense into him."
"Quite literally", Sansa mumbles under her breath. Neither of them seem to hear her.
Young Lannister continues. "He loves you, my lady, just like I love my Brienne. Neither of our hearts belongs to Cersei any longer."
Brienne looks rightfully skeptical. "He said everything he's ever done was for his sister, and that he's as hateful as her."
Sansa can almost hear the other Kingslayer rolling his eyes. "He's an idiot, I'll give him that. He told me his story. I assure you, my lady, he did not lose his hand for Cersei." Wait, what? "He did not jump into a bear pit for his sister." Wait, what? "He did not give you a Valyrian steel sword, customized armor, a horse and a squire to please his twin." Oh, that story she knows. "He did not seize Riverrun without bloodshed for Cersei—actually, that's the exact opposite of what our sweet sister would have wanted." That… sounds accurate. "He did not come here for Cersei, which you should know, given she tried to kill him twice for leaving."
At that, Brienne's eyes go wide, reflecting Sansa's own surprise. "I did not know that."
"No? He told me she gave an order to kill him in King's Landing, but aborted it at the last minute, and then she sent Bronn to end him and Tyrion." He takes another step closer to Brienne. "He did all of this for you, my lady, because he's in love with you, not his cunt of a twin."
Brienne shakes her head. "Then why did he leave me for her? You don't make any sense, Ser. You give me pretty words that are not compatible with my reality. Perhaps you love your Brienne very deeply, but my Jaime… He doesn't feel that way for me."
"He does", Young Lannister insists. "He may lack the ability to say it, but it's easy to catch when he talks about you." He sighs. "I was furious when he first told me he left you to go back to Cersei. So furious I hit him with the pommel of my sword, stole his horse and brought him here instead of, you know, try to find my way back to my own realm—to my own Brienne." He shakes his head. "As I rode, though, he woke up, and we talked a bit more about his relationship with both you and his Cersei. I—I can't speak for him, but it seems that… this Cersei was a lot more effective in making him believe she loved him."
It's Sansa's turn to speak. "What do you mean? Your sister doesn't… love you?"
"No", he replies instantly. "She only ever saw me as a pawn, a tool to get what she wanted. I was the fool who fell for it and mistook it for love. It… I only realized it when Tyrion told me about how she fucked half of King's Landing while I was held captive. That, and her behavior around me after I went back with one less hand. His Cersei seemed to have at least pretended to not feel disgust at his stump. Mine did not bother. This Jaime also never found out about her infidelities, so I suppose he never had the opportunity to realize she saw him the same way she saw all her other fucks."
She's tempted to feel some sympathy towards both Kingslayers. Brienne clearly does. "I'm sorry that this happened to you", she says quietly.
"Well, I'm not", he replies, shrugging. "Knowing she never loved me made it easier to end things with her. In my realm, she had the nerve to send me a letter asking her to be her champion in her trial for her crimes against the Faith. She knows my skills are shit, and there was no way I could win—she wanted me to die for her, to die with her. You know what my Brienne did in the meantime?" No one answers, so he continues: "She nearly got hanged because she refused to kill me."
Brienne's step backwards tells her this is not something that happened in their world. "I do not recall being threatened this way."
"I figured not", he replies. "Your Jaime told me you never came across the Brotherhood without Banners, and you don't have a Lady Stoneheart."
"I don't even know what you're talking about."
"It's not really important." He waves a hand dismissively. Then, he raises the same hand to touch her cheek. "I know your Jaime barely deserves a second glance from you. But I'd ask you to give him a chance anyway, my lady. He's not worthy of you, but he can become so."
Tears fall from her eyes. "He already is", she lets out, voice heavy with emotion. "He just needs to believe that himself."
"I told him to tell you the truth of his feelings", he says. "He may be too craven to do so, though; he seemed really afraid of seeing you again. And… he doesn't seem to believe you could love him."
"He's a fool."
"I know, I know. I'm sure that, if you tell him, he won't think about leaving ever again." He lowers his hand to grab her and kiss her knuckles. "Like I said to Lady Sansa and Lord Bran, there is no Jaime Lannister that doesn't love his Brienne of Tarth. Give him another chance."
She nods, teary-eyed. "I'll… see him now. If you excuse me, my lady."
Sansa nods, smiling a bit. If Young Lannister is right about his older self, those two may still have their chance at happiness.
The man looks at Brienne's direction until she disappears. Then, he sighs—looking like a lovestruck fool—and turns to her. "Now, my lady", he says, "if it's not too much trouble, I'd like to know everything that happened in this Westeros. I've heard plenty of things that may yet be avoided in my world, but I need details."
Her brother is the one who answers. "I can help you with that too. Sit down, Ser Jaime."
Bran Stark, or whatever bird name he goes by these days, advises him to try to go through a weirwood tree. Since he has nothing to lose, he follows his advice. Taking a deep breath, he marches to a random tree…
And falls flat on his face right behind a cottage. The horrid smell tells him it's Brienne's—his wench. Grinning like an idiot, he stands up. He knows exactly what to do now.
The Stark siblings, along with his alternate (idiot) version, gave him a lot of information. He is unsure whether he should go to his Sansa or back to King's Landing to save his son from Cersei, but he can discuss things with the wench when she wakes up. One thing he's sure of: he won't leave her side unless she orders him to.
It's after sunset, so no one is around when he opens the door. Brienne is lying down, breathing rapidly and with clear difficulty. She is bandaged all over, and her broken arm rests on a wooden surface. There are sheets covering her, but he has a feeling she isn't wearing anything aside from smallclothes. No matter; it's not like he will uncover her, and it's nothing he hasn't seen before.
The other Brienne indeed looked healthier. Actually, she looked prettier than the wench, which makes him wonder why she is just as mistreated for her appearance. But, as similar as they are, he could tell there were fundamental differences between them, just as there were fundamental differences between the two Jaimes. He's certain he would not fall for the other Brienne as easily as he fell for this one, and neither would the other Jaime fall for his wench as easily. It doesn't change what he said in the alternate Winterfell: no matter the reality, Jaime Lannister always falls in love with Brienne of Tarth. It's meant to be.
The other Jaime did not seize the opportunity to marry his Brienne as soon as he was released from the Kingsguard; this Jaime won't waste time waiting for confirmation. He's bound to be dismissed anyway; either because he will be reported as dead after going missing for long enough, or because Cersei or the Tyrells will see fit to replace the crippled aging knight for a 'better' one, more agreeable to whoever rules in Tommen's name. He just needs to tell the Elder Brother he was already released and get him to wed him and the wench.
But first, he needs the lady's consent. He has a strong feeling this Brienne loves him back, but he must be sure.
He sits down at her bedside and kisses her temple. "I'm here, wench", he whispers softly. "I'm not leaving you ever again." She mumbles his name, but otherwise stays silent. He won't get her consent tonight, but that's okay; for now, he needs her to survive the night.
He wakes up to a dark room. He's no longer out in the open, being carried by a younger and angry version of himself; he must be in Winterfell then. Panic settles in, and he sits up, ignoring the dizziness upon doing so. Where is the other Jaime? Where is Brienne? Does Lady Sansa know he's here? Does—
"You're awake!", he hears someone—her—exclaim. He turns his head, and there she is. She looks as puffy-faced as when he left her, and his heart shatters at the sight.
"Shh", she interrupts him, placing a finger on his lips. He fights every instinct to kiss it. "Your other self told me all I need to know. You're forgiven, Jaime, as long as you stay."
"I will", he murmurs against her finger.
She smiles and replaces her finger with her lips. It's a quick peck, and it ends before he can even kiss her back, but it fills his soul with hope. "He said… there is no version of Jaime Lannister who doesn't love his Brienne of Tarth."
He raises his hand to cup her cheek. "I agree. I should have told you sooner."
"You can say it now."
"I can, can't I?" At that, he leaves the bed and goes down on one knee in front of her. "I love you, Brienne of Tarth", he says solemnly, "and, if you see fit to give this poor excuse of a knight a second chance, I wish to marry you so we can never part."
"You are a knight", she replies, giving him a teary smile, "my knight. I love you, Jaime, and I very much wish to marry you."
Their kiss is filled with tears from both sides, but at least those are happy ones.
Later, much later, they will find out Cersei died when the Red Keep crumbled under dragonfire. Jaime will mourn his sister, but will feel relieved that he wasn't there to die as well. Even much later, Tyrion will suggest two candidates for the crown instead of one: Bran the Broken and Jaime Goldenhand the Just—both, he claims, with great stories to tell. Jaime will freak out and wish to kill his little brother, and then pray no one will choose him.
But this is all for later. Now, he is too busy and happy kissing his betrothed to care about the world outside.