'Stop shivering, wife,' Jaime insisted, Arya's back quivering against his chest, 'we both know you would never have done it.'
Arya did not reply as she steered their horse along the rocky banks of Blackwater Bay, knowing full well that they both knew nothing of the sort. Her teeth were chattering, and not from cold.
She had almost done it. The steel had seemed to sing in her hands as she had moved in for the kill, a soaring ecstasy spreading from where Needle's tip nestled almost lovingly against Jaime's chest, through her hand, up her arm and into the rest of her body. He deserved to die for what he had done. He deserved it. He deserved it. She didn't care about appeasing Robert, or Tywin, or the gods, or the mob. She had allowed herself to love him, and he had repaid her love with treachery, turning her into a weak little mouse too blind to notice what was staring her in the face. Yet in all the long hours that she lay awake thinking of him in the dark cells miles beneath her, she could not fathom when or where (she did not allow herself to think 'why') Jaime would have found time for Cersei after their marriage. Arya and Jaime had not slept apart for a single night in all their years together. They spent each morning beating each other senseless in the practice yard and each afternoon on the streets of King's Landing; Arya's curiosity about every backstreet, cellar and tavern in the city positively insatiable. They did this all day, every day until the children arrived, but Jaime had barely left her side even then. From the earliest days of their marriage, people had loved to gossip about their obvious attachment to each other despite their fairly constant arguing. Simpering maidens liked to whisper that it was positive proof that the love the singers spoke of existed. Soldiers liked to cackle that it was positive proof that cunt was king. Septas mentioned it constantly to any of their young charges who struggled to accept arranged marriages. And all the while Cersei was watching. What she saw did not please her.
Much to Cersei's disappointment, Arya had proved excruciatingly difficult to torment, avenging each insult and intrigue the Queen threw at her with equal, if not greater candour. Jaime had not slept a full night for any of that time, rowing incessantly with both women, but knowing all the while that his twin was truly to blame. It was only when Arya had refused the option of a whipping girl after hitting Cersei full in the face for a callous comment about Bran's legs that Jaime's mind on the subject had been made up. He had sat facing Arya as a maester attended to the lashes that traversed her back like cross-stitching; watching as she fiercely bit her tongue to keep herself from crying, her knuckles white on his shoulders. He had bowed his head rather suddenly, and as Arya's eyes bore into him, she saw that his eyes were damp. She would have ridiculed any other man from that day to his last for being so affected. Instead, she embraced him as the maester continued to work, her chin resting on his head, his breath warming her chest. That was the night that he told her he loved her. Cersei had never spoken to him again.
Only now did Arya realise what that had meant. She grew nauseous and slightly faint, as she always did when thinking of Jaime and Cersei together. She shivered at the thought of who she was, or perhaps of whom she had become, that she could be capable of thinking that killing Jaime would bring her peace; Jaime whom she loved wildly, as one of her pack. And she shivered because she had risked bringing the wrath of Tywin Lannister down on her in a hot-headed moment of stupidity. He had a high regard for her, but she knew full well that it would take him less than two days to send House Stark the way of House Reyne if she betrayed him.
'Arya!' Jaime exclaimed in alarm as her trembling became more violent.
She wanted to snap at him to leave her be and to keep his thoughts to himself, but he was warm, and she liked his smell. So she allowed Jaime to wrap himself around her like a quilt, her skin prickling beneath her clothes as the shivers gasped, clawed at her, and eventually died.
It was Lord Tywin's intention to tell the world that his son had been killed during the siege of King's Landing, reasoning that everyone capable of saying otherwise would very likely be dead by the time the siege was over. Arya was told to release Jaime and to put him on a boat to the Free Cities, using Syrio's contacts there to get him as far away from Westeros as possible. Jaime's death would prove invaluable in lightening the stain on the family name, though the blot itself would take centuries to disappear.
Syrio had given Arya strict directions to one of the many smugglers' alcoves that dotted the rocky outcrops around Blackwater Bay, and it was in this direction that she and Jaime now rode. Across the water, the siege had already started, Lannister warships bobbing almost cheerfully on the waves as their trebuchets hurled fire at the city walls. Jaime tried to speak several times, but was continually shushed by Arya. She did not intend to get this far, only to be compromised by his smart mouth.
Arya checked their position relative to that of the Red Keep and spoke to the darkness.
'Valar Dohaeris,' a voice at Arya's knee responded.
She felt Jaime jump in surprise.
'It's alright, you dolt. It's only Syrio.'
Arya dismounted as Jaime gave the Braavosi a foul look. Syrio then remarked that if they were to reach their place of destination alive, Ser Jaime would have to learn to be looking at people with more respect. Arya smiled to herself. Jaime always got on unfailingly well with people he could have a good fight with.
'Arya, child,' Syrio said, taking her hand, 'it is best that you know nothing of where I take your lord husband tonight.'
'I agree,' Arya concurred, 'what I don't know cannot be torn from me.'
'Torn from you?' Jaime interjected in horror.
'We can't tell what may happen in future, stupid,' Arya drawled, as she would to a five-year-old child.
Jaime was suddenly frantic.
'I am not leaving this place if you will be in danger.'
'Your concern should be for those who might seek to place me in it.'
Syrio retreated hastily from the line of fire to the nearest outcrop of rock, from which he proceeded to pull a boat. It emerged from the stone as though from thin air. Arya would normally have been fascinated to learn how such a feat was achieved or what manner of camouflage was used. Tonight, she simply did not care.
'How will you write if you don't know where I am?' Jaime demanded.
Arya's chest broke that he still imagined they'd be able to write, her temper flaring that he assumed she would want to. Her fingers curled into a fist, but instead of planting it on his nose, she unfolded it and reached up to cup his cheek. He was so much taller than she was.
'Oh, my sweet summer child,' Arya murmured, as she would to a total innocent.
Jaime's face was a distorted blur of confusion and turmoil, his eyes like the wolfswood in winter.
'But how will we – is this –' Jaime floundered.
He recovered quickly, stepping away from her.
'What happens now, my lady? I sneak off with your dancing master in the middle of the night, my father sacks this city and chooses you a new husband from among his allies?'
'What a splendid idea!'
'It is, isn't it? You two have probably discussed it at length!'
'Not really. I told him I would accept any man among them who hasn't fucked his own sister. That didn't leave much to discuss.'
A strange coalescence of sighing and groaning burst from Jaime's throat.
'How dare you stand there groaning at me, Ser?' Arya demanded, 'If I plagued you about this for the rest of your life, it wouldn't be enough!'
'Well, perhaps you're entitled to that – '
'Perhaps I'm entitled to it?'
'Cersei and I may already have been fucking twenty years before you were born, but I certainly didn't love her!'
'How madly generous of you!'
'Cersei doesn't love anyone; she loves herself!'
'That must be another thing you have in common!'
He ignored her and plunged on.
'All Cersei wanted was a mirror she could carry around in her pocket! A half-blind, half-drunk copy of herself; with a cock, of course, that she could send out to do whatever she wanted. She must have loved it: possessing a slave so willing to obey that he had no notion of having a master at all. So no, my stubborn wolf child: I didn't love Cersei, I don't love Cersei, I love you. She made me a slave. You have – '
'If you say 'you have set me free,' I'll cut your tongue out and eat it.'
Jaime tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
'But you have, my dearest love. You have.'
When he kissed her, she didn't pull away, almost crying with the desire to simply take his hand and run with him. But she hadn't forgiven him, could not forgive him, and at Casterly Rock, Tyrion and Visenya were waiting for her. If she did not return from the war before Tywin did, he would make both of them geniuses in strategy before their tenth birthdays. She was not sure she wanted that.
Syrio was waving insistently from where he stood knee-deep in water, the boat rope coiled around his arm. The tide was going out.
Arya and Jaime stood together for a moment; close, but not touching. Arya later thought she'd told him that she loved him…but perhaps she didn't. Neither would surprise her.
As she watched the boat become smaller and smaller, and the flames on the city walls burn higher and higher, it occurred to her that she'd forgotten to ask.
'Husband?' she called out, afraid of Varys' little birds.
Jaime stood immediately and nearly tipped the boat over, the darkness turning his hair silver.
'Did you fuck her while we were married?'
Jaime laughed and bowed theatrically.
'And why would I do that, you little fool? I'm married to perfection!'
As the boat disappeared from view, Arya kicked at a rock and stalked away.
'Perfection, he says,' she muttered.
That's all, folks! I will start working on a sequel in two weeks, when I get back from holiday. Thank you for all the favourites and the kind reviews! Please leave more of these, so that I can better spread the love of Arya and Jaime!
Finally, fans of Daughter will notice that I've stolen two images from 'Wild Youth' in this last chapter. This is because certain parts of this beautiful song do a far better job of describing this ship than I ever could. Apologies if offence is given. It is intended as a tribute/subtle wink to sister souls.
Valar Morghulis, all, and thank you once again!