"Brienne of Tarth is not guilty," the Hand of the King declared. But Brienne barely heard. She saw Jaime falling as if in slow motion and the entirety of the castle guard could not have kept her from him. She forced her way through the mob, immune to their snide whispers and horrified gasps.
He barely looked like Jaime at all anymore, so bloodied and beaten. Brienne curled her arms beneath his back and legs, lifting him, cradling him against her chest. She had carried him this way before, from the baths at Harrenhal, only then she had not felt nearly so naked.
She searched for a pair of eyes that weren't hostile; for someone who would tell her where to take him, where a maester could tend to him. Cersei was watching her. Brienne caught the Queen's gaze and was stunned by the coldness in her eyes. There was no trace of concern for Jaime. Did she bear no love for him, her own twin?
"Can you carry him?"
Brienne looked around for the voice, surprised. A tap on her knee drew her attention lower. Tyrion Lannister.
As they strode from the great hall Brienne expected someone to stop them, expected the guards to try and have her arrested for something else. She glanced down at Jaime frequently, praying for him flash that dazzling smile, to make some witty remark. But he did not. His head fell back and blood still ran from his wounds, splashing down onto the stone.
"Is he breathing?" Tyrion called back to her as they climbed a winding staircase. His voice conveyed a barely restrained panic.
Brienne listened and caught the shallow, jagged rasp of an inhale.
Her arms were tired, her own breath coming hard after they had ascended the staircase. At least he hadn't been in his plate - she didn't think she could have borne his weight then.
"On the bed. I sent Pod to fetch the maester,"
Brienne didn't know where within the maze of towers and corridors they had ended up, nor did she care. She laid Jaime down where Tyrion told her to, and they worked together to remove his armour. She found the laxity of his body distressing as she loosened buckles and undid lacings. Unknotting the kerchief around his left arm she realised what it was - Tarth's colours.
"Oh Jaime," she whispered, her heart aching. She pushed his hair back from his brow tenderly, willing him to open his brilliant green eyes. So she could tell him how bloody stupid he'd been, and how grateful she was. "Why did you do it? It should have been my fight,"
"I'm sure you'll find need of your sword soon enough my Lady, from the way my sister looked today," Tyrion said, lighting a fire in the grate. Brienne spared no worry for the Queen. It was past due for her to play to her strengths; if she was accosted by sellswords in the yard she would relish in it.
"Pycelle you old goat, where are you?" Tyrion fumed as the kindling caught. Brienne could have helped but it would have meant leaving Jaime's side. She couldn't bear to do that, couldn't bear to take her eyes from his chest as she watched for every laboured breath.
It seemed they waited an eternity for the old maester, only for him to do nothing but mumble and dither when he arrived. Brienne held Jaime's head as Pycell put a glass bottle to his lips and tipped a potion into his mouth. She lifted him carefully as the maester wrapped bandages around his broken ribs, saying nothing at all. There was plenty of pity in his eyes, but it seemed to be for her rather than for Jaime. It would have irked, had she not been past the point of caring about such things.
"Liniment, for the bruises…" he said, handing her a pot of something oily. It had a pungent, herbal smell. Brienne's jaw ached with how hard she was clenching it. She thought of asking Pycelle why he was giving it to her to apply, but she didn't want to hear his answer. She wasn't that naive; she knew how it seemed. Why else would Jaime have done what he did for her?
"The next few hours will be vital," the maester intoned sagely.
"Why isn't he conscious? Is the head wound serious?" Tyrion asked, sounding sharp. Brienne detected acrimony between him and Pycelle.
The maester cleared his throat phlegmily, "No… The head wound seems… It's hard to say for definite, it could be the shock…"
"The shock?" Tyrion repeated. Pycelle actually flinched from him. Brienne switched off to their conversation and began to wash the blood from Jaime's face. It was badly swollen now, his left eye already the colour of midnight.
Tyrion eventually persuaded her to leave his side if only to bathe and change from her grimy clothes. What if he wakes and I'm not there? She had wanted to protest, but Tyrion's mention of Sansa reminded her of the duties she was now free to fulfil. Their duties; hers and Jaime's, to the Stark girls.
"I'll send word when he wakes," Tyrion promised.
The bedchamber Tyrion had guided her to when she had carried Jaime in her arms was in the same wing as the quarters he shared with his lady wife, as well as the modest rooms he'd set aside for Brienne herself. It seemed they had been occupied until recently.
"I already like you better than Bronn," Brienne turned and saw the girl, her ward, standing in the doorway, "though I suppose that's not saying much."
She was the ghost of her mother; long hair that shone copper in the sunlight, eyes as wide and blue as summer skies. But there was a sadness to her, an aura of melancholy.
"Lady Sansa," Brienne bowed, having never quite mastered the curtsy. She had imagined this moment since her oath to Catelyn Stark, all those moons past. And now it was here, and all she could think of was Gods, don't let him die, don't let the Kingslayer die.
"I am sorry that I was not there to defend your mother," Brienne said gravely. Sansa's gaze darted around suspiciously and she stepped forward, closing the door behind her to protect against eavesdroppers.
"I'm not. You'd only have died too,"
"Did your husband tell you of my oath?" Brienne asked, and saw Sansa wince at the word husband.
"He said you're loyal to my mother, that you swore to her that you would take me home,"
Brienne smiled, "Yes,"
"He said that the K- that Ser Jaime swore to let me go back to Winterfell once he got to King's Landing," Sansa corrected herself quickly, but Brienne was reminded of how Tyrion had described her; a wolf in the lion's den.
"I am glad he defeated Gregor Clegane," courtesy made her rigid when she said this, made it impossible to gauge her sincerity. Brienne bit her tongue against the urge to insist upon his honour. It wouldn't do to paint herself in red and gold to Sansa. "If only because it meant you were set free."
"I made myself clear to Lord Tyrion," Brienne told the girl, "I serve House Stark, my oath is to Lady Catelyn. Not House Lannister,"
She saw that Sansa badly wanted to trust her, was desperate for an ally, but had been so long a captive here that she could not believe Brienne on her word alone. It would have been foolish of her not to suspect that Brienne was Tyrion's agent over her own, but Brienne would win her faith with her actions.
She knew little of Tyrion Lannister, but in his address to her in her cell he seemed to care sincerely for his young wife, indeed to have her best interests at heart. For as long as that remained true, she would have no problem with following his directions.
Sansa showed Brienne the clothes that had been made for her, telling her that blues and sea-greens best suited her complexion and brought out her eyes. It was strange but not entirely unbearable to listen to the girl give her reasonings and occasions for each outfit; she spoke not with the air of one who pities, but with the enthusiasm of a girl who has lacked in female company, and sorely missed it. Brienne was hardly feminine, but it seemed she suited better than Tyrion. Brienne thanked her for the garments, though her eyes lingered on the rose-and-azure plate armour that was mounted on a stand over the dresser, and she knew it was the only tailoring she would ever feel comfortable in.
"Your- Tyrion told me about Joffrey ordering his Kingsguard to hurt you," Brienne said softly, quickly thinking better of referring to him as her husband again - she was trying to gain her confidence after all.
Sansa's gaze was cool and guarded, hinting at the freshness of those scars.
"I want the names of these men. You must point them out to me," she added, "and I really must get a sword to go with that set of armour."
After Tyrion returned to take a late supper with Sansa, Brienne made her excuses to leave. She hadn't eaten, which Tyrion had noted with aggravation, but she couldn't bear the thought of food. She was anxious to see Jaime.
"Has he woken at all, maester Pycell?" she queried, slipping into the bedchamber.
The old man peered up at her myopically from Jaime's bedside.
"No change since you were here last," he said, "but then it has only been a few hours. May I make a potion for you, my lady? Some honeyed milk with a drop of essence of nightshade should give a restful sleep..."
She declined his offer.
"He seems no worse, at least," Pycell said, jowls quivering. "I was about to re-dress the wounds..."
"Let me," Brienne insisted. Pycell seemed to consider the idea a while before he consented and shuffled off to leave her to the task.
Jaime's broken helm had wedged deep into his scalp; they had shorn off his golden hair to better see the wound. It had been the source of most of the blood. Brienne knew scalp wounds bled the worst, but it was of little reassurance. Jaime hadn't woken up yet, after all. There was another cut through his eyebrow, now the swelling had gone down some it was possible to tell it would more than likely leave a scar.
His face was so bruised. Carefully, Brienne used a washcloth against his feverish skin. His chest rose and fell in steady rhythm, but there was a worrisome crackling sound with each intake of his breath.
"This will never happen again," she promised him with fierce tenderness. The next time any man thought to raise his blade against Jaime Lannister, he would have to go through her first. As would every man foolish enough to try again after that.
Brienne cradled Jaime's head gently and washed his hair, the water in the basin turning bloody-pink despite the care she took.
"Come back to me, Jaime," she murmured, fingertips tracing the strong line of his jaw, bristly with beard growth. His eyelids were still, as though wherever he was, he did not even dream.
The door swung open and Tywin Lannister entered without knocking. Brienne brushed the wetness from her cheeks abruptly at the intrusion.
The older man's gaze was hard and green as malachite, and she could not tell if he was surprised to see her there or merely irritated.
"Lord Hand," she greeted tersely, standing to go, to leave Tywin alone with his son.
"Brienne," he acknowledged her coolly. Before she could pass by him he held out an arm to stop her.
"Your influence over my son has been quite profound," he said it in a way that made Brienne have to resist from flinching, but even so she wasn't sure if it was meant as a rebuke or a compliment. Of course, he was furious with Jaime, but she could not believe he was blind to what went on right beneath his nose; not Tywin Lannister. Jaime's behaviour of late was suggesting the end of his... over-attachment to his sister, and surely he was glad about that.
"At least it's you here instead of Cersei," he remarked sharply, as if reading her mind. Brienne's eyes went wide and she floundered for something to say in answer.
"Pycelle says he hasn't awoken at all," she decided a change of subject was in the best interests of all parties, lest she blurt out professions of love and admiration for his firstborn in an attempt to justify her presence there alone with him.
Brienne noticed a sword in Tywin's hand, sheathed in sumptuous red leather, a golden lions-head for a pommel with rubies set into its eyes. Tywin followed her glance but said nothing, daring her to question him. She held for a moment, considering the likelihood that he had brought it to slit Jaime's throat with.
"Anyone who seeks to bring harm to him shall answer to me," she warned. Tywin raised a brow at her, looking almost amused at her declaration.
"The harm he has befallen thus far has been down to you," he said icily. That time Brienne did flinch.
She did not require being told twice.
Those eyes, those astonishing blue eyes, the last thing he'd seen before the ground rushed up to meet him. Then darkness; milk of the poppy; fever-dreams of violent black seas. It came back to him in shards, like glass. His father. His father had come to him.
"You're a fool. The biggest embarrassment in a Kingsguard full of embarrassments. And you're lucky you're not dead, though there's still time for that."
He had no words for Tywin, even if he'd had breath to carry them.
"I had this forged. valyrian steel. It was supposed to be yours - for the good it will do you now."
Valyrian steel; no amount of gold had been able to procure such a thing for their House before. It was paid for in blood, then. Jaime's eyelids had been too heavy to lift.
"Do you know what you've done? You've shown weakness. You've made House Lannister look weak. You're a laughing stock. You'll be lucky if Joffrey doesn't strip you of your cloak like he did Selmy. He will not spare you just for the blood you share. Go back to the Rock and wrest back some respect through rule instead of relying on showing off with swordsmanship."
Jaime had found his voice, hoarse but clear; "is she free? Safe?"
He hadn't needed to open his eyes to detect his father's fury, his contempt. It was palpable. But it didn't matter, none of it mattered. The only thing that did was her.
His eye was swollen shut, he couldn't see his brother's face clearly. Jaime was relieved that he was here; he had to make his deathbed confessions. The darkness that he had found so comforting in the depths of his agony had become frightening, swallowing him without warning. Each breath felt like his last. He closed his eyes and saw the black pits of eyes, deep in the cavern of an iron greathelm, breath steaming from the slits in the visor like some mythical beast. Only it wasn't Clegane this time within the monstrous armour, no - it was the Stranger come to claim him.
"Jaime, you bloody fool," Tyrion scolded, "what were you thinking, goading him? What were you thinking fighting him in the first place?"
But the words came hard, pained. Tyrion didn't sound angry as much as he sounded sad. A skin of water was pressed to his lips and Jaime fought to swallow, tasting his blood as the cuts in his lips cracked and wept.
"I have to tell you," he tried to speak but anything more than shallow breaths sent a lance of pain through his chest from the left, where Clegane's gauntleted fists had worked over his ribs.
"Not now, whatever it is, it can wait," his brother replied, but the lightness was forced.
"Shall I bring the maester?"
"Please, my lady, yes,"
Footsteps fading into the distance.
"Tyrion, listen," Jaime implored, trying to raise himself into a sitting position and wincing at the discomfort it brought. Explosions of light danced before his eyes at the exertion.
"Jaime for goodness sake-"
"Tysha," as soon as he uttered her name, Tyrion fell silent.
"What about her?" he asked quietly.
Jaime gritted his teeth and forced himself to speak, not just struggling against the pain, but knowing that what he was about to tell Tyrion would break his heart. Even if he lived, his brother may never speak to him again. But there was a chance that he would not, and he could not bear the weight of this secret any longer. The thought of taking it to the grave made him sick.
"I lied," he confessed in a whisper. His eyes were suddenly wet, his throat tight. Tyrion's face was a mask.
"What did you lie about?" He sounded cold and not like Tyrion at all. Tysha, the sweet orphaned crofter's daughter, the girl who Tyrion had loved first. The girl who had loved him back, all along.
"She was never a whore," Jaime's voice trembled as he spoke. Tyrion jumped down from the chair and for a moment it seemed to Jaime that he would strike him. If it would make Tyrion feel any less hurt, he would welcome it.
"I didn't know - I didn't know what he was going to do. Father told me to tell you I paid her-"
Tyrion held his hand up, gesturing for him to be quiet. Jaime swallowed past the lump in his throat and pushed on,
"I can't ask your forgiveness. Not now, not like this," it was too cruel to force that from his little brother. It seemed Tyrion would not have offered his forgiveness anyway; he was shaking his head, his mismatched eyes ablaze with hatred.
"I'm sorry Tyrion," he whispered. His brother could not stand to look at him any longer. He left without a word, and darkness swallowed Jaime once more.
"You saved me," Brienne's voice came to him from the black, musical and sweet, "you saved me again,"
"We saved each other," he replied, his own voice sounding thin and rough - the voice of a man ten days lost in the Red Wastes.
"Jaime? You're awake?"
He had startled her. Tyrion must not have told her he had woken. It hurt Jaime's heart to think of, and the expression of honest, furious hatred on his brother's face chilled his blood to remember.
"I'll fetch the maester,"
"No," he murmured, trying to reach for her. She was all he had now. A few seconds passed and the lamp burned brighter, illuminating the bedchamber. Her face was a welcome sight. She put down the light and he heard the sound of water being wrung out of a cloth.
"Your fever is breaking at last," she told him, pressing the rag to his skin.
"Stay with me," he croaked.
"I won't leave you,"
The fierceness in her words moved him, and she was so strong as she took his only hand in both of hers.
"Are you in pain?" she asked, mistaking the moisture that was pricking his eyes, threatening to spill over. "I'll get Pycelle-"
"No," he insisted, "I don't want anything for it,"
Jaime turned his head carefully, seeking to rest his gaze upon her a while. Her attire glimmered in the lamplight; masterfully wrought plate, Tarth's house sigil on the breast.
"Tyrion brought it to me, when he came to me in the dungeons," she explained, reading his intrigue.
"Tyrion?" he murmured. Was his brother still on his side, then, despite the secret that had grown rancid between them, a secret Jaime had never understood the true weight of before now? He tried to think of how he would feel if someone were to do to Brienne what Tywin - what Lannister men - had done to Tyrion's beloved. It sickened him. "How is he?"
"What's happened between you?" Brienne asked. Jaime closed his eyes. She was too good of heart;he was afraid that if she knew she would be repulsed. He couldn't tell her of Tysha anymore than he could tell her of how he'd crippled the Stark boy. He hadn't known that Tywin would give the girl to his guardsmen - that he would force Tyrion to watch as they took their pleasure from her. He hadn't known. Somehow that didn't seem a good enough excuse.
"It's none of your concern,"
She recoiled at his tone, her hands slipping away from his. He mourned the loss of her touch immediately.
"You need to rest," she forced a smile, and he could tell she was about to make her excuses to leave. Conscious for less than ten minutes and he'd managed to chase her away. It had to be a new record.
"You said you weren't going to leave me," he pouted, by no means above exploiting his current sorry state to gain in her affections. It stilled her, as he knew it would.
"Help me sit up?"
She obliged, curling an arm around his waist and plumping the pillow behind him. He caught the scent of sweet roses as she leaned close, and lifted his hand to lay his palm against her neck.
"It's becoming a habit of mine, rescuing my Maiden," he mused, running his thumb across a ridge of scarring. Echoes of the bear pit.
"You were reckless," she scolded him, but there was no anger in it, and she didn't pull away from his touch.
"Clegane is my father's dog. He'd savage you for table scraps, but he knew if he killed me he'd be put down,"
"That doesn't seem very honourable," she ran absent fingers through his cropped hair. It drew his attention and he copied her movement, noticing it for the first time.
"Neither does shaving a man while he's unconscious," he complained, half-jestingly.
"I like it," Brienne said, and he enjoyed the way she blushed at the confession. "It makes you look more like Jaime,"
And less like Cersei..
"I am Jaime," he pretended to look concerned, "Are you sure I'm the one with the head injury, wench?"
There it was, that crooked smile that so melted his heart. He'd fight bears and Mountains and whatever else, just to glimpse it.
"Kiss me," it was a command yet still somehow half a plea, and he saw her wondering whether he was joking, "I believe that's the going rate for the rescue of a Maiden, is it not?"
Brienne's lips were warm and chapped and smiling as she pressed them lightly to his own, over-careful not to hurt him. He cupped his hand around the back of her neck, tangling his fingers through hair as dry and pale as wheat. It was almost chaste, the way she kissed him. It brought memories of rain and smoke, of their first kiss, of Brindlewood.