Author's note: I'm really sorry I've been so bad about updating this! I've taken on a summer job where I have no internet at my house, and not a whole lot of free time for writing.
I appreciate all your reviews and how you've stuck with this story though. I will never abandon it and will try to have the next update sooner!
The days after Brienne departed for Tarth were among the darkest of Jaime's life, even considering his long and filthy imprisonment by the Starks and the loss of his hand that came after his release.
Jaime knew he had done the right thing in letting her go, but that did not make the loss of the one bright spot in his life any easier.
He would not change his decision to send her home, though in the darkness of the room he kept to, he often wished he'd had it in him to be as selfish as he once was. But thanks to her relentless goodness, Jaime was no longer the man he once was. He had become better, and because of that, he felt so much worse than he imagined he could.
That stupid, stubborn honorable girl had taught him the meaning of selflessness and, without even trying, had made him love her enough to let her go.
He sometimes laughed bitterly as he wondered at what spiteful glee Catelyn Stark would get if she could see him now, a once proud lion with the life gone out of him.
Tyrion tried his best to help in the days that followed, to cheer him up and to commend his kindness and tell him he had done the right thing.
It didn't help.
The castle was as full of lords and ladies and soldiers and squires as ever but the loss of one muscular, homely, blue-eyed wench filled every last hall and room with a palpable loneliness. It may as well have been empty, for every time he ventured out of his quarters, he saw the shadows and memories of where she used to be.
Jaime saw her striding through the halls with her long legs, little Timeon struggling to keep up with her and talk her ears off.
When he dared to take a peek at the training yard where she'd patiently taught him to use his left hand and slowly allowed him beneath her walls to get a look at the gentle girl within, his heart cracked to pieces and he turned on his heel, back to his quarters.
He stayed there for days, brooding, until Tyrion persistently talked him into attending dinner to stop people from gossiping about his absence.
Tyrion had done his best to engage him in conversation, to get him talking so the visiting lords would not whisper all the things they had been whispering since Brienne had left.
Jaime tried to keep up with their conversation for his brother's sake, but found his eyes drifting down the table to the place Brienne usually sat.
She'd been so sullen and withdrawn, in those first days, dressed in the awful gowns she'd been made to wear, as Jaime sat her among enemies out of boredom and spite.
Those memories seemed pale and distant now, but other images of her were much clearer and more inclined to cause him an ache.
Towards the end of her stay, when Jaime stared down at her from across the hall, he was more likely to find her smiling indulgently at some lad's story from the yard, her magnificent eyes sparkling even from a distance.
He missed her.
Jaime thought he understood how much she meant to him when he searched through his mother's jewelry chest for the ring he intended to use to ask for her hand in marriage. He thought he understood, as he searched the castle to ask her the question that had his heart hammering in his chest, how important the wench from Tarth had become to him.
He had not truly understood it, even then.
It was only now that she was gone that he truly understood how much her company and her kindness and her eyes had meant to him.
For the first few weeks, Jaime found himself drinking more wine that he should, holed up in a room he should be leaving more than he did. The sulking was pitiful, he knew, but he preferred to wallow in darkness than to walk through the places Brienne used to be.
Eventually, Tyrion's goading and his own pride made him come back to the world. She was gone, and that was that.
He vowed to forget all about Brienne and go on living and behaving as a Lord of Casterly Rock should. He buried himself in duty and allowed his most mundane bannermen to go on as long as they liked, for they provided distraction from his bitter longings. He cursed himself whenever he thought of her and focused harder on whatever distraction was on hand.
For a time, it almost seemed to work. The pain he felt at her loss began to fade into a sort of numbness that allowed him to carry on.
Then he got the raven from Tarth.
The Maester brought it to his chambers, and he stared at the sealed letter for a long time before he had the courage to open it.
I have arrived safely on Tarth, with many thanks to the men you sent to escort me. They were most honorable and dutiful. They have been sent back to Casterly Rock with more than enough provisions to sustain them on the journey home. I suspect they should be returning shortly, if they have not already.
Jaime, I scarcely know what to write or where to start. My departure from the Rock happened so quickly, there was little time to say all the things I wished to say. I can scarcely think of the right words now, but the depths of my gratitude compel me to try. Your decision to send me to my father was an incredible kindness that I cannot even begin to properly thank you for.
I hope it will please you to know that it has not been in vain. My father still lives, though he is greatly weakened.
Since I arrived here yesterday morning, he has opened his eyes only once, briefly, and I cannot even say with confidence that he recognized me. I am shocked by how much he has aged in so short a time, but I am more thankful than I can say for the chance to be with him in these last days. He has been a far better father than a girl like me could hope for, and I could not bear for him to leave this world alone.
I do hope your father has not come down very hard on you for letting me leave. I swear to you, as soon as I am able, I will send as many men as I can spare to pay homage to King Tommen and prove our loyalty, in the hopes that it will alleviate any tensions that may have arisen between you on my account.
I will bring this rambling letter to a close now. I've let it go on for too long, I fear, but it has provided some small distraction, at least.
Please do write back to let me know how you are faring and if there is anything I can do about Lord Tywin. Let me know how the lads are doing. Tell them that I miss them and I am sorry I did not have the chance to bid them goodbye.
Again, Jaime, I thank you with all of my heart.
Jaime's heart raced as he read her words, pounding from open to close.
The dull ache that had been in his chest these past weeks had flared up once again, as intense as it had been the day she left. As he read her letter, he was able to call up her image as clearly as if she were seated at his side, saying the words aloud with a gentle hand on his arm.
He shoved the letter aside and rose to his feet. It was too much. So full of her overwhelming kindness, which he could no longer experience firsthand, and her pain, which he could do nothing to ease, so far away as he was from her.
He left his chambers at once and busied himself throughout the day with whatever he could, trying not to think of her eyes, wide and blue and full of sadness as she sat at the side of a dying old man.
What could he do or say to make it better? Not a thing.
He spent the remaining hours of daylight supervising the storage of grain for winter and found his frustration making him more irritable and short with the men than he was normally inclined to do. He could feel them exchanging looks behind his back and ignored it.
When the sun had set and work ended for the day, however, he returned to his chambers to the unanswered letter lying on his desk.
He sat and stared at it for a time, trying to think of a reply. He did not possess the words and the more he sat and tried to think of them, the angrier he got.
Eventually, he blew out his candle and crossed the room to his bed, thinking now that the wench was free of him, it would be best to let whatever there had been between them fade away. If he was never to see her again, there was little sense in repeatedly reopening his wounds with correspondence. Let us be rid of each other, he thought resolutely, but he lay awake well into the night, unable to force her image from his mind.
Tyrion, sharp little fiend that he was, clearly detected the unpleasant change in a Jaime, who had been showing some semblance of improvement prior to the arrival of the raven.
Tyrion said nothing about it for a few days, but Jaime could feel his mismatched eyes shrewdly taking it all in. Jaime would not satisfy him by bringing it up, though he hated the feeling of inevitability that loomed over them whenever he was in Tyrion's company.
On the fourth day, the Imp finally decided to address the matter.
"So, brother. I've heard a bird arrived from the Sapphire Isle recently," Tyrion said as they sat together for a private dinner.
"You've heard correctly," Jaime shrugged, stabbing at his meat in annoyance and offering no further information.
Tyrion watched him for a time, waiting.
"I've also heard that no return bird has been sent back to Tarth."
"Your ears appear to be working quite well then, little brother. I am glad to hear it," Jaime said dryly, raising his goblet to his brother and taking a long sip of wine.
Tyrion raised his eyebrows and drank as well. The fire in the corner of the room crackled, but aside from that there was naught but heavy silence.
"And how does Lady Brienne fair? I trust she has arrived safely on her Isle?"
"And her father?"
"He still lives, though likely not for long."
"And have you any intention of replying with an expression of concern for either of them?"
Jaime stared at his brother for a long moment. Tyrion stared back.
"No," he said at last.
Tyrion, who had been keeping his features quite impassive as he fished for information, finally revealed an expression of visible disappointment.
"Jaime," he frowned. "You ought to write something to the girl. For a letter to have come so quickly after her arrival home, you know she wishes to hear from you. She is doubtless in need of comfort at a time like this. I know the separation pains you, brother, but the honorable thing to do would be-"
"You forget who you are speaking to, brother," Jaime interrupted bitterly. "I'm the Kingslayer, remember? A man without honor, and I shall do as I like."
He glanced at Tyrion for just long enough to see his disappointment deepen, and then rose from the table, his dinner half-finished.
"Goodnight," Jaime said shortly, walking across the room and out the door. As he trudged through the halls angrily, he barked at a servant to bring wine to his chambers. When it came, he drank until he was deep in his cups. On an almost empty stomach, it did not take long for him to get drunk, but no matter how many goblets he swallowed, it was not quite enough to chase away the feelings of guilt and anger and longing that plagued him.
When he ran out of wine, he stumbled to his bed, trying not to think of Brienne seated at her dying father's side, waiting for a letter that would not come.