This is what Jaime remembers of that fateful day in the Riverlands:
She saved his life with sword in hand, his champion and defender in a battle that left her bloody and marked with still more scars. She was still standing when the blades finally stopped their singing, the last golden rays of the sun setting in the distance glinted off her armor as she stood before him, her blade dripping red on the snow. In that moment, he knew he had never seen a truer knight, and never would see one truer than her for as long as he should live, but those are not the words he said to Brienne of Tarth.
“As the maiden in this song, I suppose I owe you a kiss,” Jaime said. “Although, I must warn you, my lady, I am not a maiden of the virtuous sort.”
“No kiss is required, ser,” Brienne replied without a hint of playfulness in her tone.
He kissed her all the same. One hand slipped through her snow and sweat damp hair to pull her face to his. Her body tensed at first, her lips maddeningly unyielding, but then they parted for his tongue, and inexperienced though his maid was, the gods know she tasted sweet.
Jaime remembers this. He remembers it for the both of them. Then he tells it to Brienne as if it were a tale, changing their names so as not to confuse her any further.
Jaime knows that he is not a good man. He would never claim to be. If this fate was his, and only his to bear, he would accept it gladly (a lie; he would rage against it till his dying breath, that is his nature, he’s a lion, after all, a lion of the rock), but to inflict it upon Brienne…that is a jape crueler than any he has ever known.
“I loved a woman once,” he tells her. Brienne is practicing in the yard, Oathkeeper slicing through the frigid air with every swing of her powerful arms.
The long winter has settled upon Westeros, and death seems to always be knocking these days. King’s Landing is silent as a stillborn babe until the night comes. Jaime thinks they may be the only living things left in the city. He hasn’t ventured far enough beyond the Keep to know for sure.
“I care not for love stories, ser,” Brienne says.
“Yes,” Jaime replies, his voice soft. “You’ve told me before. Shall we go inside before we freeze our asses off, wench?” He waits for her to correct him, to tell him her name.
Brienne merely brushes past him as she is sheathing her sword.
Their first night he made her forget all of her vows and all of her promises. They found shelter in a cottage gutted by fire on their way out of the Riverlands. It was little more than a blackened shell, but it sufficed.
He relieved her of her armor with his good hand, stripped her down to the ragged smallclothes hidden beneath. There was a time when she would have been afraid, would have blushed like the maid she was, but that time was before he sent her off to find the missing Stark girl. Before she witnessed the bodies of Ser Hyle and Podrick swaying from frozen branches, back when she was still dreaming of knights and honor from the safe haven of her bedroom on the isle of Tarth. That day had long since passed.
Brienne clung to him, his name falling from her lips with the steady rhythm of a hymn. She cried out when he entered her, and Jaime pressed kisses to every fresh bruise, to every scar, to her ruined cheek.
As he lay on his back staring up at Brienne’s face, twisted in concentration and surprise while she learned how to ride him, how to make him groan, he could see the black sky above them. There were no stars that night, but the shine of Brienne’s eyes still burns in his memory.
Night falls and they stand guard at the door, swords in hand. “We hold the castle,” she says confidently, her jaw set.
“That we do, my lady…or we die defending an empty pile of stone. Do you suppose there’s any honor in that?”
Brienne is watching him out of the corner of her eye. “I shall not be craven and run, if that’s what you mean, ser.”
“Perish the thought,” Jaime replies. But it does him good to hear her say the words. For all that was taken from her, at least her honor had been left in tact.
They returned to King’s Landing to recover. Brienne wanted to continue on her quest. I will not stop until I find her, I swear it, she told Jaime angrily, and he begged her to stop making vows. It took a fair amount of cajoling on his part, but eventually she agreed to go back with him.
Guilt over leaving Cersei had finally cut through his anger. He was amused at the time by how reflective near-death experiences seemed to make him.
“It’s beautiful,” Brienne murmured as they rode through the city gates.
“It’s an improvement over the rats and the horse shit that usually line the streets, I’ll give you that, but I’m sure we’ll tire of it soon enough.”
Tire of it they did, and sooner rather than later. Fighting in the snow was a thankless task and there was plenty of fighting in the first days. (The fighting never ends.)
He found out quickly that he was too late to help Cersei. Whether she is dead or alive remains a mystery, all he knows for certain is that she and Tommen were both gone by the time he made it back to the capital. Sometimes he fears the worst, other times he imagines them in Dorne with Myrcella and Tyrion. It’s an impossible picture, a fantasy, but it warms him on cold nights (the nights are always cold).
The place was overrun by Varys’s little birds, Jaime’s uncle was dead, and the city was in chaos even as it was covered by the season’s first blanket of snow. Then the dead began to rise and the long game of thrones came to an end. Or perhaps only to a pause, either way there were more important things to worry over than whose ass was warming the Iron Throne. Jaime thought he was seeing hell pour across the land then (he was a fool).
“Tell me what you remember of Tarth, my lady.”
Brienne stares blankly ahead. There’s a scratching at the door. The white walkers come every night, more insistent than beggars holding out their hands for coin. That makes its own sort of sense. There were plenty of beggars in King’s Landing, after all.
“Tell me of your King Renly. Tell me how you dreamed of him, how you served him, tell me how it felt to sink your blade in his gut…”
“I am no kingslayer,” she hisses.
“Ah, but are you sure?” Jaime continues. “Do you remember?” Tell me of the shade, he thinks.
“I would never kill my king,” she insists.
“You have no king,” he tells her. His sword weighs heavy in his hand. There is still three hours till daybreak. Gods, he’s tired.
“And I dream only of you,” she adds. There is resentment dripping from the words.
“Are these sweet dreams or bitter ones?” A crimson blush creeps across the freckled skin of her neck, and hope, that cruelest of mistresses, rises unbidden in Jaime’s chest.
“Bloody ones,” Brienne replies.
He draped the white cloak over her shoulders after the first wave ended. At the time, he was still trying to maintain some semblance of order. He had even gone so far as to knight half the maesters who migrated in from Oldtown after the city fell, green lads though most of them were. Even Varys had appreciated the effort. At least that’s what he said when Jaime visited him in his cell.
“No woman has ever served in the King’s Guard,” Brienne said slowly.
“It’s too late to say no now,” Jaime replied. “I’ve already made your page in the book.”
“There’s no king to serve,” she tried again.
Jaime preferred not to think of that. “My lady doth protest too much,” he said, fingering the hem of her cloak. He cupped her cheek with his golden hand. “You’ve earned this, Brienne.”
He falls asleep as dawn is breaking. His dreams are not all of her, but many of them are. Her lips, her voice, her fingers tracing patterns across his skin. I saved you, she says happily, and Jaime buries his face in the crook of her neck, breathes in the scent of her. I kept my oath.
Yes, you did, my lady.
When he wakes Brienne is lying beside him on the hard, stone floor. Just watching him. Jaime is still hard and wanting from the dream, so he turns away from her.
“It’s impolite to watch a man sleep, wench,” he says with a sigh.
“That’s not my name.”
Jaime’s breath catches in his throat.
The day he lost Brienne dawned like any other. They fucked lazily in the quiet time between the end of the night and the start of the morn.
“Leave the cloak on,” he begged.
“But my oath,” she protested. They had played this game before.
“Fuck oaths,” Jaime said punctuating the words with a desperate roll of his hips. “Fuck me.”
And so she did. It was his favorite way to end a long night of killing dead things. They slept after that, slept till midday and then they broke their fast with the bleary-eyed knights and honorary knights tasked with defending what was left of King’s Landing. Jaime was happy. Afterwards, he would come to believe that was his mistake. A man such as him should not be permitted happiness. Not in the face of all he has done, not in the face of so much pain.
The moment it happened, Jaime swears he could hear the gods begin to laugh. Dragons came. Their mistress was still wandering the red lands as far as Jaime knew. Or maybe she was dead. (He hopes she’s alive, he hopes he’ll live to see a day when they’ll hiss queenslayer as he passes.)
Either way, the dragons came and the city began to burn. Brienne led the charge, Oathkeeper held high. She ushered suckling babes and their mothers to safety beneath the Keep, she stood at the battlements swinging her sword every time the beasts came near, screaming direction to the archers who were torn between running and shitting their pants.
His lady, his maid, his knight—under her guidance, if not by her own blade, the first dragon fell. Someday they’ll sing a song of Brienne the Dragonslayer, he had sworn. They’ll sing it if I have to write the damn thing myself.
There was no time to rejoice. Night crept up on them and with it came the dead.
“Get as many people into the castle as you can,” Brienne told him. “I’m going down to help hold the gate.” She was bleeding, breathing hard. Too tired to keep on fighting, too stubborn to admit it.
“You usher the small folk to safety and I’ll go close the front door,” he said, but Brienne shook her head.
They paused for a moment, each of them holding their ground. It was the bear pit all over again, each one vying for the chance to leap in front of the other.
“It’s my turn to lead,” he said finally. “You’ve had the last seven dances, at least.”
“I’ll be right there,” she insisted, and Jaime kissed her once, for luck.
Then he went down to stand with the other men, to close the gates, and some fool plunged a sword through his back.
Blood magic comes at a price.
He told Brienne as much, better to let me die.
But she and the boy, Sam, insisted it would work. Sam, it so happened, had been the fool. He didn’t blame the boy, he had aimed for a wight, and Jaime, for once in his life, moved too slowly.
“I read about it in a book,” Sam said. “The directions are all there, it’s old magic, but I...I can do it. I…I earned my Valyrian steel chain…before, you know.”
“Oh, I feel much better now,” Jaime wheezed.
The table beneath him was sticky with his own blood and he felt consciousness ebbing away. Brienne’s hand in his was the only tether he had left. He knew he had only a moment left to make her understand.
“You have to let me go…I can’t always play the maid…” he had begun to cough then; blood covered his hand and trickled down his chin. Brienne would not meet his eyes. Stubborn wench.
The last words he heard her speak were, do it.
“And what is your name?” he asks.
She reaches out experimentally, her fingers tracing his jaw line. “Tell me about how he came back for her,” she says instead.
“I thought you didn’t like love stories.”
Her hand lingers on his cheek. Not for the first time, Jaime wonders if she would wake if he kissed her. That’s how the song is supposed to end.
He pushes himself up until he’s sitting, and Brienne tries to move her hand away, but he catches her wrist, his fingers settle over the steady thrumming beneath her skin.
“Please, who?” he prompts.
Her eyes meet his.
“Jaime,” she says. “Please, Jaime.”