Author's Note: Written for the LiveJournal community GameOfShips Shipwrecks Angst-a-Thon challenge. Many thanks to my beta, mrstater! Any mistakes you see are mine. ;)
Snow falls silently outside the stable, and the hush in the air is so complete that Jaime can feel his heart pounding in his ears. He smells the musky sweat and pungent dung of their horses in the adjoining stalls. He hears the horses' nickering, as well as the steady crackle of the small fire outside and the occasional mutterings of the two men guarding the wooden structure. His fellow prisoner sits across from him against the wooden slats of their stall, her blond head bowed, hands clasped across bent knees.
Jaime muses that in the darkness he and Brienne could almost be mistaken for brothers. They both are long and sinewy, and they are dressed alike, in woolen breeches and shirts and leather boots. But their armor has been seized, along with their weapons, their horses, and Jaime's golden hand. Their boots will likely be taken tomorrow morning, after they are hanged. Their captors will ride the horses, wear the boots and whatever armor fits, and sell the rest. They won't fetch the price they should, particularly for the hand, not in these times. Perhaps they will sell it to a jewelsmith, who will melt it down. The thought of his hand transformed into something lovely adorning a lady's throat makes his mouth quirk in a wry smile. It wasn't long ago that he dreamed of it strangling Cersei.
Brienne begged Lady Stoneheart to release Podrick; but the woman turned her back on the two traitors, commanding that she and Jaime spend the night together in the stable, "to atone for such a wicked alliance," before their hanging in the morning. Perhaps she was hoping they would freeze to death in the night, slowly.
Hours have passed since Jaime and Brienne were put in their little prison; now a full moon slices gashes of light through the decaying roof. When they were first shoved inside and the door was barred behind them, Jaime had paced their cell; but he'd found no way to escape, and Brienne had not tried. He'd cursed her for a craven, and she'd slumped down at his feet. She has not moved from the spot since then, save for a small shrug when he placed a horse blanket around her shoulders. She told him, when they arrived at the camp at dusk and were surrounded, that she did it for Podrick, that she and Jaime both deserved to die because they hadn't kept their promises, and that Pod had done nothing wrong; she had to keep the boy from paying for her mistakes with his life.
Jaime had trusted her. He's kept all his promises to her, and then some. And yet he cannot fault her. He did deserve to die, so many times over. He'd refused to die, time after time, when by all rights he should have. But he trusts Brienne; yes, he still does trust the wench, after all this. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps tomorrow is the day he should die. Who's to say she is wrong? How many times can a man outrun the Stranger? Besides, Podrick saved Tyrion's life in the Battle of the Blackwater; perhaps Jaime's death would release his brother – wherever he was – from the boy's debt.
And moreover, Jaime is too weary to remain angry with Brienne for bringing him here. It's the dead of night, it's freezing cold, and Brienne has lost hope, which frightens him more than he would ever admit aloud. After all, she kept him from giving up when he lost his hand; but now that it's her turn to despair, he doesn't quite know what to do with her.
They will don their nooses together in the morning, and Jaime does take comfort in the thought that he won't be dying alone … but he doesn't really wish it to be Brienne dying with him. She deserves better. Nevertheless, he crawls awkwardly through the dirty straw – with one hand, everything is awkward – and sits on the earthen floor next to her for warmth. He nestles under the blanket with her, and she stiffens.
"Oh, come now," he whispers. Not a word has been uttered above a low murmur since their incarceration, because of the guards outside. "It's our last night on earth. No need to be prudish. I'm cold, and so are you. I can see you shivering."
Brienne does not reply, but as she inhales Jaime hears her teeth chatter.
"Not even a snuggle?" he prods, jostling her shoulder with his. When there is no reply, he sighs. "As usual, you're too honorable for me."
Brienne raises her head to stare at the wooden beams opposite them. "I'm too lots of things for many people."
"Oh, and philosophical, as well? Tell me more." He might as well have a thought-provoking conversation on the last night of his life.
Brienne merely darts a sideways glance at him, then fixes her eyes on her hands again.
It is so cold that Jaime's stump feels prickly, and there's an ache in the memory of his fingers. He tucks his right arm into his left armpit, but finds small comfort. After a moment, he snakes his left arm around Brienne, pressing the stump between them. They do not speak for minutes. Her body is rigid at first; but as they sit, it slowly relaxes. Though she is taller than he is, her waist is curved, like a woman's, under the man's breeches and shapeless woolen shirt. Who would have thought? His manhood stirs, which amuses him somewhat, as fucking should be the last thing on his mind. Perhaps facing certain death at sunrise does strange things to people.
"We have nothing to lose," Jaime says, almost to himself. "We might as well be warm."
She looks at him then, the bandage on her left cheek a faint gray in the moonlight. Her deep blue eyes look almost black in the dimness.
"You're right," she finally admits. And she scoots closer to him so that her right torso, hip, thigh, and calf are touching his left. He tightens his grip around her waist and she shivers, whether from the cold or embarrassment or something else he cannot tell.
The two guards – Jaime doesn't know their names as Lady Stoneheart did not grant him the courtesy of an introduction – pace around the stable, one complaining to the other that the cold is going to freeze his hand to his cock when he takes a piss. At least Jaime and Brienne have a bit of shelter from the wind, although the men have a fire. Lady Stoneheart and her Brotherhood are camped in the warmth of the old stone farmhouse up the hill, probably enjoying a roaring fire in the hearth as they sleep the dreamless sleep of the blameless.
"Why don't you kill me now?" Brienne whispers.
The question takes him utterly by surprise. "Why would I do that?"
"For the satisfaction of it. I betrayed you."
Jaime is silent for a time. "We've both done wrong for the right reasons. At least – " He swallows. " – at least that's how I see it."
Brienne chuckles. It's a quiet, breathy sort of sound, and it takes Jaime a second or two to recognize it as laughter because he can't recall ever hearing her laugh. "Sometimes I wish I had your conscience," she says.
"I wouldn't wish it on you. It's grown heavier of late."
She looks at him and they both slowly smile, though the sadness does not leave her eyes. Underneath the anger and fear and despair, Jaime feels something strange. Is it shyness? Whatever it is, it's something he's not used to. He's never been able to figure out what it is that Brienne has unleashed in him, what makes him dream of her in such odd and erotic ways. It's not her beauty, and Jaime is fully aware that he is not skilled in looking much deeper than that.
Brienne turns away. "I will die a maiden," she says suddenly, as if surprised by the realization. "I wonder if the Maiden or the Warrior will claim me."
This time Jaime chuckles.
"Don't laugh," she says. "You don't know what it is not to know what you are. You know the Warrior will meet you when you die."
"Ah, but will he? I think it will be the Stranger. I've delivered so many souls to him – and some of them were quite important, from what I've heard – he probably wants to thank me personally."
Brienne watches him carefully. "Quite often, yes."
"Then I must be japing now."
They fall silent again. Brienne's shivering has subsided, and Jaime feels warmer. "Perhaps the Warrior will take me," Brienne says, as if saying it will make it true.
"Do you really believe in the Seven?"
After a protracted silence, she sighs. "I don't know. They've never guided my hand, never helped me succeed in protecting anyone I was sworn to protect. Except for Podrick, and I was never sworn to him. But the price for that is my death. And yours." Her eyes flicker to his.
"Seems rather a steep price for one boy."
Brienne tilts her head at him.
"If you ask me."
"I wasn't asking you."
"My apologies, my lady." He bows his head courteously and smiles. She looks at his mouth and then back to her clasped hands. Their breath steams in the cold air. Soon Jaime sees her eyes glistening in the moonlight. Tears? This is new, so he must ask. "What is it?"
She shakes her head, rubs a hand roughly over her eyes.
"Come on," he whispers. "We die tomorrow. What can it hurt?"
"You – " Her voice breaks, her hands clutch each other tightly. "You are the first person – " She cannot go on.
Jaime's heart pounds, insistent. With his left hand he reaches up and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Brienne doesn't pull away.
She inhales, lowers her chin, and squares her shoulders, determined to speak, though she still won't face him. "At first I hated you mocking me. Calling me 'wench.' But somehow you have become the most – the most sincere person I know."
Now Brienne looks at him, waiting for his response. Jaime has been called many things, but sincere? They regard each other solemnly, the exhalations from their nostrils creating puffs of steam between them as if they were two dragons about to fight or mate, and then Jaime begins to snicker. It grows into a chuckle, and before long it's a full-out guffaw. Brienne's face is crestfallen, but then, when the guards start rapping on the barred door and hissing that the Kingslayer ought to shut his cakehole, laughter bubbles up in Brienne.
And the sound is exquisite. Her laughter is girlish, perhaps the only girlish thing about her. It is light and musical and, for the first time since he's known her, completely unguarded. It softens her features and she looks quite striking – almost feminine, perhaps even pretty – for a moment. Aside from a reprieve, nothing could have shocked Jaime more on this night. Again there is angry rapping on the door. Tears spring to his eyes as he cackles even harder, and he appreciatively gropes the curve of her waist, practically wallowing in the unexpected femininity he has discovered there. Brienne shrieks at his grasp and snorts with laughter. He is dimly aware that they are perilously close to hysteria.
"What is wrong with me?" she manages, wiping her eyes through hiccupped breaths. "I trust you more than anyone I've ever known. Am I insane?"
"You are beautiful," he says in his delight.
Abruptly her laughter stops, her eyes become vulnerable. "Do not jape."
He stops laughing, too, and angles his head to look straight at her. "I wouldn't jape about that. Not tonight."
"I've never been beautiful. And now look at my face," she says, gesturing disgustedly at the dressing on her left cheek.
"I've never been trustworthy. And now look at my hand," he says, brandishing his stump like a sword. "Serves us right."
Brienne's eyes widen and at once they are snickering again, this time more quietly, like children trying not to wake the parents, and Jaime feels that perhaps they both are insane; but at least they are happy lunatics. They might as well be, on the eve before their deaths.
After another minute, their laughter dwindles, and Jaime considers the notion that Brienne's might well be the last laughter he ever hears. He speaks without thinking.
"I should very much like to kiss you, Brienne of Tarth."
She becomes as still as stone and looks down at her hands. His heart is thudding as if he's ridden onto a battlefield and is waiting for the first attack. He has just begun to wonder if she is ignoring the statement when she says, quietly, "If it please you, my lord."
Certainty floods Jaime, and he moves at once. Brienne has turned her injured cheek away from him, so he leans closer and brushes his lips across the other, inhaling her sweat and finding the scent pleasant and somehow familiar. Though she remains still, she doesn't resist, so he keeps kissing his way across her cheekbone down to the corner of her mouth, and little by little his kisses coax her to turn her head towards him. He hovers at her lips and they breathe together, making warm vapor between them, and he muses once again how beautiful her eyes truly are, especially now when there is an undeniable expectation in them, and then their mouths meet.
Her lips are not Cersei's, not by any stretch of the imagination; they are rougher, fuller, and certainly less practiced. But there is something behind Brienne's kisses – something that has been missing from Cersei's for years, Jaime realizes – and he can only call it intention. And he is grateful, oh, so very grateful for it. When she finally reaches for him, her hands are surprisingly gentle on his unshaven jaw, and his own hand creeps up to caress her unmarred cheek. So soft. Their kisses grow more frantic and quickly they are on their knees together, their blanket falling to the ground. His good hand finds her hip and wrenches her against him, and she gasps – such a womanly sound, it makes his body thrum and his cock strain against his breeches – as her body feels him. She slides the inner portion of her right thigh up the outside of his left, planting her boot in the straw for balance, and he takes full advantage by grabbing a handful of her rump, reveling in its firmness, and pressing again into the heat between her legs. He is rewarded by a throaty whimper and the surprising plunge of her tongue into his mouth. He groans, and he gives her his own tongue gladly, feeling almost euphoric at how swiftly she is learning to kiss him.
On another day, this would be wrong, but the time for considering right and wrong is long past; and anyhow, by all accounts he's never been a very good judge of the two. All he knows is that Brienne is the one person who seems to accept him for exactly what he is, and a Lannister always pays his debts.
A night of firsts, a night of lasts. Through desperate kisses he whispers, "If you wish, I can help assure that it is not the Maiden who meets you tomorrow morning."
Brienne pulls away, sitting back on her heels as her hands slip down to clutch Jaime's waist. The both are breathing hard as they look at each other. She does not reach for the laces of his breeches, though, and with a jolt, it dawns on him that he might have offended her. He touches her cheek once more to soothe her while he catches his breath and tries to find the right words. But Brienne's expression contains something milder than offense; could it be … wonder? Her mouth opens and closes, and he feels the cheek he is cradling flush with heat. At last she says, "I … I think I would need longer than a night to … grow accustomed to the idea."
Jaime vaguely registers the sound of snow crunching outside behind the stable as he ponders what he's just offered, and her refusal. Sudden disappointment tightens his chest, and he feels stunned. "Do you abhor me so much?"
"I – no!" She rises to her knees again and places her hands on his chest. They are face to face, and he wraps his hand around her wrist, unsure whether he wants to pull her closer or push her away. "No," she insists. "It has nothing to do with – what I mean is – "
"Shh!" Jaime places his fingers over her mouth and turns his head, listening. That was definitely a grunt that he heard outside, and that – yes, that was the thump of a body falling onto the snowy ground. Brienne has heard it, too.
There is another thump, and Jaime and Brienne stand as one, legs braced, prepared to fight, though they are defenseless and a hand short. She steps in front of him, and before he can react and push her behind him, the iron bar, with a quiet rasp, lifts and the wooden door opens a crack.
A whisper. "My lady?" Silhouetted in the moonlight, Podrick's snow-covered head appears through the opening. "I mean, Ser? Oh, and … and you as well. I mean, Ser. My lord." He nods to Jaime. Oathkeeper, bloodied, is in Podrick's hand, and Brienne rushes to take the weapon from him.
With a little more luck tonight, come sunrise they will not be meeting the Maiden or the Warrior or the Stranger, for near the fire two bodies lie facedown in the snow, dark blood staining the white drifts beneath their bellies. The farmhouse is far enough away that Lady Stoneheart and the others likely did not hear or see a thing. Jaime's and Brienne's horses wait inside the stable that was of late their prison. A cache of weapons and supplies, prepared by Pod, sits beneath a nearby pine, and golden fingers protrude from the top of a sack. Jaime shakes his head; the boy has yet another Lannister in his debt now.
Brienne grips the boy's shoulder, looking him carefully in the face. Podrick nods firmly; his conscience is clear, and he has made his choice. Brienne turns to Jaime, her hand still on Pod's shoulder, her blue eyes shimmering in the moonlight. Snow falls softly on her pale hair; and standing tall with Oathkeeper in her hand, she is again the heroine Jaime needs her to be. Her voice does not quaver when she asks quietly, "What was that you were saying about doing the wrong things for the right reasons?"
Is that a smirk on her face?
"Bugger that," mutters Jaime with a grin. "Let's go."