The Kingslayer is never quiet. Perhaps Brienne ought to have gagged him at the start of the journey. Now, doing so would only fill him with a kind of smug triumph, she's certain, and she does not mean to allow him even a whit of triumph. He's smug enough without it.
And so she lets him carry on: he sings old songs of chivalry as if he has any right to them; speculates over her childhood with excruciating thoroughness; devotes seeming hours over wondering, in great detail, what fate might have befallen any man who made the grave mistake of attempting to venture between her legs. He isn't the first who's taunted her about such things, but he may be the most interested. He seems quite taken with the subject. It dances across his dirtied face, turning him handsomer than she would prefer.
“I do so love these chats of ours, milady,” he says merrily. “Don't you?”
She says nothing, and keeps walking.
“I shall take your silence as a no. I confess, I'm hurt. What does a man need to do to win your favor, hmm? Come on, then.” He stumbles into her, his shoulder playful against hers. “Tell me, and I just might do it.”
“Shut,” she answers calmly, “up.”
“Ah, well.” He breathes in – a teasing, dismayed hiss of a breath. “I don't know about that.”
“I thought not,” she says flatly, and tugs on the rope that binds them.
“If you want me closer, Lady Brienne, you need only say so,” he laughs. Conversationally, like he might offer his arm and propose a stroll, he adds, “You know, some have called me a brave man.”
“Some have low standards.”
“Ah! Touché! My point being: you're rather getting on in years. How old are you? Forty? Fifty?”
“How old are you?” she counters, not intending to. “Twelve?”
“Aha! My lady fights back!” He grins broadly, as if she's the best thing he's seen. “At last, living up to your reputation. Rest assured, good ser, that if you ever wish to do something about that stubborn maidenhead of yours – well, I confess it—” He winces, delighted; “—even a cock valiant as mine is not precisely eager to rise to the task, but I might at least contribute a small step in the right direction. If you ever need, let's say ... a kiss.” He considers her mouth, his own lips twitching with amusement.
She has been laughed at her whole life. She does not mean to endure it from this man who makes a mockery of everything he ought to revere.
Brienne has always had a knack for knowing just what kind of blow to strike. “And what would Queen Cersei think of that?”
His expression darkens. She knows that look: it belongs to men who never expected her to best them.
“It won't do at all,” he says, his merry tones turning hard, “to have an ugly misshapen oaf of a thing even speaking the name of my sister. Keep that in mind, wench.”
“Forgive me, Ser Jaime,” she answers, in a voice as cool as his is harsh. “I never meant to sully the lady's purity.” She pauses. “What an unforgivable act that would be.”
And just like that, she is no longer something to laugh at. He looks at her like a proper enemy.
“What?” she says, mildly as she can. “No kiss? Let’s keep going, then.”
He obliges, sullen, silent for once.
Later, she can barely remember the bliss of being encumbered by nothing but him. Suffering through his prattle seems like a dream. They have not been with the Bloody Mummers long, two days at most, but time has stopped mattering. Every second drags on for years. Jaime’s scream still rings in her ears, lurching in her stomach, clawing at her heart.
He fares poorly; the infection has its poison in him. The stench makes her dizzy at first, but she grows accustomed to it. He is bleary eyed. His forehead burns beneath her concerned fingertips. He is quieter than he was, but not silent: he murmurs things, names mostly. Cersei, often. Wench, more rarely. Brienne, once or twice.
She cleans up his blood and vomit and shit the best she can. They force her to do it, but she would either way. Jaime Lannister is not a good man, but there are worse ones, and he is what she has. Loyalty comes naturally to her, it seems.
Night falls and they follow suit, pushed from the horse by one of their captors. They have been rope-bound together.
(Beauty and the beast, came the jeers. Question is, who fucks who? They all mean to fuck the beast, who is at least full of holes to fill and therefore good for something. Before, Brienne had only killed because she knew she must, but she would like to fill these men with holes, let out their blood and guts. No blood or guts deserve to be trapped inside such heinous shells.)
She drags Jaime as far as she can, slightly away from the rest but not so far that she can’t hear their plans for her. She does not choose to listen. She sits up as best she can and rests his head in her lap. She thinks of Lady Catelyn. Of her daughters. It is enough to make her sit up straighter and refuse to die.
“Brienne,” comes Jaime’s voice to interrupt her. It’s stronger than it has been yet.
“Shh,” she orders. She is not much of a nursemaid, but it seems the right instruction.
“Shh. Don't talk, just rest—”
“I mean it,” he interrupts, obstinate as ever. “You think I’ve got shit for honor and still you’re willing to clean up mine. Most knights are not so true.”
She does not know what to say, not to Jaime Lannister being kind. (It is the fever’s fault, she reminds herself.) For an awful split-second, she thinks she understands why the queen would choose her brother over her husband. Perhaps sin and gnarled hearts are not entirely to blame. Perhaps he spoke to her in soft true tones, looking at her like she deserved all the respect in the world.
“Have they raped you yet?” he says; his eyes flutter sleepily, and she knows his mind is wandering.
“No,” she reminds him. “No, I’ve been here with you.”
“That’s right.” He forces his eyes open, conviction in his look and tone. “When they do—”
“If they do.”
“When they do,” he insists, weary, “don’t try to fight them. It will go easier if you don’t struggle. They’ll tire of you sooner.” She tenses; he feels it. “Wench, I admire your bold heart, but here it will bring you nothing but agony. They’ll only tear you to bits.”
“They can try.”
She cannot argue.
“You should have let me kiss you when I offered,” he says. The slightest hint of that dancing, teasing look ghosts over his face. “I’d have given you one pleasant memory. I can be gentle, you know.”
“I know,” she says, trying to pay no mind to the sudden lump in her throat.
“I’d kill them all to preserve your virtue, only I seem to be missing my sword. And the hand that went along with it.”
Kindly as she can, she tells him, “I don’t need you to protect me.”
“Well, that’s not fair,” he grumbles. “I certainly seem to need you.”
He takes her hand in the one he has left, with all the ceremony a dying man can muster. (Dying but not dead. She will not let him die.) His chapped lips brush her knuckles. It is not quite a kiss, but it’s the best she’s had.
He squeezes her hand before letting it go. “Is that a blush I see on my fair lady’s cheek?”
She rolls her eyes, thankful for the dark. “Rest now.”
He listens to her for once. She runs her fingers through his ratty hair, half-expecting him to tell her that such clumsy paws have no business trying women’s work. He doesn’t. His breathing turns even, and he relaxes in her arms. She can be gentle too.