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King’s Landing.

He had thought to never see it again.

Jaime dismounted from his horse awkwardly, tumbling gracelessly off the saddle but recovering quickly enough to keep his feet. Around him the crowds jostled and pushed, not sparing more than half a glance for what appeared to be another wounded soldier from the war. Indeed, Brienne with her impressive height and almost destroyed gown was attracting more stares than he was. It felt odd to be so inconspicuous when he could clearly remember being a member of the Kingsguard, the crowds parting for him wherever he went. Powerful, handsome, richly dressed, so evidently at ease in the city it was as if he owned it.

Now he was knocked from side to side by the indifferent crowds, a poor excuse for a knight in rags.

Brienne came to stand at his right side, looking for all the world like an overgrown child in a dress that she’d matured out of. It had been a shame they could not have taken her armour with them from Harrenhal. He would have to remember to get her more made.

Even without it though she had a warriors bearing, feet planted firmly apart, shoulders squared. He caught her eye and smiled but she did not return it...though there was a softening in her face which, for Brienne, was practically the same thing.

They followed Bolton’s men as they shoved, pushed and elbowed their way through the crowds in the direction of the Red Keep.

A man carrying a crate suddenly collided with Brienne, causing her to flinch back, hand dropping to grasp for a non-existent sword.

“Sorry Ser! Oh, I beg your pardon, m’lady.”

Jaime stifled a chuckle as she frowned and muttered “Really, even in a dress…?”

Steelshanks finally managed to shove enough people aside to make his way up to the guards that were on the Keep gate. After a few low-spoken words both he and the guards promptly disappeared inside, leaving the rest of the company to wait out on the bustling streets where the warm midday wind blew dust from the streets into their faces, bringing with it the ripe stench of the unwashed masses. Though, given the last few days, Jaime wasn’t exactly sure he or the band he was with smelt any better.

It took nearly an hour before the gates were opened and they were hurriedly ushered in, admit sycophantic apologies from various members of the guard and household. As he suspected, no sooner had he set foot inside than Varys oozed his way out of the shadows, greeting him with soft platitudes he had little time for. It was only puzzling that Littlefinger had not appeared on his other side yet. This was one thing he had not missed about court, and he wondered how his sister found the patience to put up with dealing with these obsequious cretins…

“Jaime!”

As if his thoughts had summoned her, the doors of the main Keep were thrown open and there she was.

Cersei. Looking as radiant, as golden , as glorious as he remembered.

His pulse quickened and his steps became more hurried.

She practically flew towards him, joy on her face and for a moment he felt like his heart might burst. After so long here was his precious sister, his other half, Cersei.

She came up short just before she reached his arms, her eyes focusing on the stump and a look of horror filling her face.

No one had told her, he thought, fighting the urge to hide what was left of his arm from view. He had assumed Bolton would have mentioned the maiming, if only to deflect blame from himself.

“They’ve hurt you? Did they do this to you Jaime?”

Cersei seemed to be on the verge of demanding that the guards to seize everyone present but Jaime waved off the concern with his good hand, eyes still fixed upon her. She was so close he could smell her intoxicating perfume. Part of him wanted to sweep him into his arms, hold her for hours, days even, whispering promises about never being parted again. Another part didn’t want to touch her for fear of sullying her with the accumulated grime of the road.

 “These men are not the ones who harmed me; they are to be compensated for their services and allowed to return to their liege lord.”

Cersei’s eyes flickered to at his side, eyebrow raising.

“And….this?”

He became aware again of Brienne, steadfast at his flank.

 “This is Lady Brienne of Tarth. She was charged by Lady Catelyn to bring me home, which as you can see she succeeded in.”

His sisters eyes raked briefly across Brienne’s torn, blood encrusted dress.

“Do knights dress in gowns now? I must confess this curious fashion has yet to reach Kings Landing.”

She dismissed the other woman with a flick of her hand, her focus entirely on Jaime again. Her face was just as flawless as he remembered.

“Take her to a cell then, we shall deal with her later…”

“No.”

The word flew out of his mouth before he could even think about it. All eyes turned to him.

“She is to be seen as an honoured guest,” he ordered the dubious guards “Give her quarters, good ones mind, and allow her to refresh herself. “

He paused, glancing up at the Tower of the Hand.

“We have much to discuss with my father.”

 

 

Brienne ran her fingers through her hair, untangling a few snarls and wearily wondering who she had to speak too about a bath. The blood and the dirt she'd accumulated over the past few days seemed like it was ground into her skin, creating an itchy irritating coating.Absently scratching at her neck, she looked around, taking in the room she’d been given. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the bed, a monstrosity of a thing in red and gold all over-stuffed cushions, heaps of soft looking blankets and silken sheets for when the nights were too warm.

She collapsed on it without even bothered to remove her boots. It was almost outrageously soft and welcoming; the mattress moulding to her body with such ease that she immediately decided she was never going to leave this spot again.Throwing an arm across her face to shield from the daylight spilling in, Brienne inhaled the slightly unpleasant mix of sewage and spices that drifted in from the windows, concentrating hard on each breath in the way her swordplay instructor had taught her when checking for injuries.

In….out….in….out….where did it hurt?

 It ached across her stomach, and there was a flare of sharp, bright pain in her shoulder if she moved a certain way but…it didn't seem to be anything irreparable. Nothing that would not heal given time. She had gotten through this journey in one piece, which was more than she could say for Ser Jaime. But right now, Brienne did not have the strength to feel the optimism which should have come with successfully finishing her quest. For now all she could feel was exhaustion.

 

When Jaime knocked lightly on her open door not long after, he got absolutely no response. He pushed it wider, enough to stick his head inside.

“My lady, are you…”

Brienne was sprawled out on the bed in a truly ungainly manner, fast asleep, still in her blood-encrusted and hideously pink gown. He watched her for a moment, a curiously fond expression finding it's way onto his face before moving swiftly to the window and tugging the drapes shut.

After all they'd been through recently she needed the rest, he decided, he would not disturb her merely to drag her through the ordeal of a meal with his family.

 

 

 

Repasts with his family were darker and more sombre affairs than he remembered them being. Or maybe it had always been the case and it was simply that he no longer possessed the same penchant for levity he had once had. At least his food had been thoroughly and handily cut into small cubes for him, being he no longer had Brienne at his side to hold it still. He took a sip from his cup, taking a moment to appreciate how opulently good the wine was, spiced with ginger, its familiar taste warming to him. It made that given to him by Lord Bolton quite pale in comparison. And he didn’t even want to remember anything else he’d had to drink before that…

Tyrion sat opposite him, head down, melancholy and quiet, seemingly deep in his own thoughts. His little brother had been overjoyed to see him back but there was something troubling him, it seemed, leeching him of his usual gaiety and good humour. A fresh scar marred his features as well… worse than those that intersected Jaime’s cheeks. He would have to find time to sit down with Tyrion, to talk through all the had happened while he'd been gone.

Cersei was on her third cup of wine already, and though he ached for her, he could not help but notice the delicate shudder of revulsion on her face every time she looked at the place where his right hand should be. She appeared to be drowning her sorrows at being returned this one-handed old man rather than her golden knight of a brother. Later, he would talk to her and she was sure to adjust to the situation. For now he would allow her the distance she obviously needed to get over the shock.

Tywin Lannister sat, straight backed at the head of the table, as usual eating little and poring over documents. Occasionally he would flicker his eyes over his children, resting them for a split second longer on Jaime than the others.

“I gather we are not being joined by the incomparable Lady Brienne?” Cersei’s question broke the silence, barbed and bold from the wine.

“She is resting.”

She reached for the flagon, pouring herself another glass.

“To my knowledge, traitors from the opposing sides of war are not normally placed in the family quarters, in the best unoccupied room no less. Then again I suppose she did such a good job getting you here in one piece…oh wait, my mistake.”

“Cersei…”

“That creature is responsible for this horror, she should be thrown in cells and still consider it the highest amount of mercy.”

“To be best of my knowledge she never held a blade to Locke’s neck and told him to chop off my hand.”

“Enough.” Tywin’s eyes quelled his children instantly “She returned Jaime to us. We are in her debt.”

“And Lannisters always pay their debts,” Cersei parroted, in as mocking a tone as she would dare use with their father “Tell me dear brother how are you planning on repaying the beast?”

“It is not her I need to repay but Catelyn Stark.” He paused, watching his father’s  impassive down-turned  face “She asks for her daughters back in payment.”

Tyrion’s head snapped up, a desperately hopeful expression appearing on his face.

“No.” Tywin didn’t even raise his eyes from his papers “Sansa Stark is the key to the north and she is to be wed to Tyrion, she’s too valuable to be let go. Arya Stark… has been misplaced.”

Now he understood the source of his little brother’s gloom. Sansa Stark had to be all of…12?

“You married the girl off? And what do you mean misplaced?”

“Yes.” His father finally looked up, folding his hands atop his papers “Joffrey will marry Margaery of House Tyrell, securing their continued aid and, it appears, the good will of the people. Tyrion is to marry Sansa Stark and secure the North. And Cersei will marry Loras Tyrell to secure sympathy in Highgarden and to prevent them from forming any other alliances. And I mean that we do not currently have her in our protection, but that shall be remedied as soon as we have better information. ”

Cersei…

He looked over to her, meeting her agonised eyes over the rim of her goblet. Another arranged marriage, oh sweet sister no wonder you are troubled.

Still given that Loras’s proclivities were strongly rumoured to be similar to Renly’s, perhaps it was a situation that could be made the best of…

“And you…you will quit the Kingsguard and marry, as you stand fit to inherit Casterly Rock.”

He looked up, catching his father’s unflinching stare. Nearly every day of his life until his capture last year, his father had reminded him that he represented the family, the Lannister legacy, in all that he did. That without the Lannister name, without his father, he was nothing.

Brienne had reminded him that he was something beyond the name… he was a knight, a protector. And he would not forsake that duty so easily.

 “No man may compel another to resign his sworn duty.”

 “You think you will be much of a knight now?”

I think I will be a better one now.

 “We shall see I expect.”

His father held his gaze "Yes, I expect we shall."

 

Exactly how late was she going to sleep?

It was well into the afternoon. Jaime had already cleaned himself up as best he could one-handed and was now impatiently waiting for Brienne to wake. He needed to discuss the revelations of his family meal with her, discuss what they would do now his father had refused to release Sansa Stark.  Finally his patience wore thin and he found himself outside her chambers.

He knocked softly on her door, paused, and then knocked a little louder.

“My lady?”

No response.

He eased the door open, peering around it cautiously.

The light that the chink in the drapes let in was scarcely enough to see by…all he could make out was an un-moving lump on the bed.

“Brienne…?” He tried a carrying whisper, hissing her name. How could she sleep so long and so soundly still dressed like that? Wasn’t it uncomfortable?

A ridiculous sliver of fear worked its way under his skin.

Every rational thought told him that she couldn’t be dead, her injuries weren’t anywhere near that severe…Qyburn had said they were more minor than they looked, that they would heal quickly, besides the fact the woman seemed to the constitution of an ox.  And it was unlikely anyone in King’s Landing would’ve had time to enact an assassination, even if she’d given anyone reason. And people rarely just died in their sleep until they were extremely advanced in years, so he needed to not behave like an idiot and let the woman get her rest…

It took him a moment before he realised he’d already moved inside the room.

Moving silently across the floor, he decided there was no harm in just…checking. To be completely sure. Reaching the bed Jaime stared hard at her shoulders for a moment, trying his best to discern movement. Seven Hells it was dark in here, he wasn’t sure…

He leant in closer, putting a knee on the bed for more support,

The sleeper shot bolt upright, nearly head-butting him in the face as she rose, groping blindly for a sword that was not there.

“It’s me!”

He moved hurriedly backwards holding up his remaining hand in a placating gesture and watched the shock dancing across her features. After staring at him, totally lost, for longer than he deemed necessary or good-mannered, she seemed to remember where she was.

What are you doing?”

That was a perfectly valid question, and one he had no idea how to answer. Instead he removed himself from her bed and strode over to the window, flinging back the curtains as dramatically as he could with only one hand.

The golden light of evening flooded the room, setting the equally golden Lannister decorations glinting.

 “Waking you, you’ve been asleep for positively hours. You missed an absolutely enlightening afternoon meal with my family and now the evening meal has come and gone as well. I thought I’d make sure you weren’t intending to starve to death up here. It would be so inconvenient.”

Brienne frowned, rubbing at her eyes in a curiously childish gesture.

“I did not realise I had slept so long.”

“And I did not realise you were so fond of that dress as to keep it for sleeping attire.”

She glanced down, wincing as she obviously realised she was still wearing the hideous thing.

“I could have it laundered for you, if you are so set on keeping-”

No.”

He almost laughed at her vehemence.

“But why not when it looks positively charming on you?”

She looked like she was seriously considering beating him to death with a throw pillow, but he sat himself back down on the side of her bed, snagging her hand before she could finish reaching for one. The dress really was hideous; it’s only charms lay in revealing hers, what little she had.

“Very well in that case I suggest we take it out to one of the gardens and ceremonially burn it. An offering to the gods, though quite what they’d make of it I don’t know.”

Something that was almost a smile flickered around the corner of her mouth…certainly there was that softening in her face again. She tugged her hand away reservedly, reaching up to pluck at the neckline of the awful gown where the dried blood had adhered it to her skin.

“It is probably not wise to offend the gods so, Ser Jaime.”

Well that was almost playful. It was a shame that soon she’d hate him again; this new almost pleasant Brienne was perfectly tolerable.

“Well until we come up with a suitable method of disposal I shall find you some breeches and a shirt and then I suppose I’ll have to talk to someone about getting a dress made for you, because as amusing as the sight of you at official functions in your everyday attire would be I’m not sure it would be deemed acceptable …”

“You don’t have to-“

“I do actually, you’re my guest therefore when you inevitably do something to upset someone it’s going to be my responsibility. Best do what we can to avoid it, or at least delay it.”

“But I’m not going to be here for long, I must return the Stark girls to their mother.”

He looked across; saw her tense as she looked back at him. Her somewhat agreeable mood had abruptly disappeared, leaving in its place a wariness that he had hoped never to see on her face again.

“It will take time,” he explained gently “I talked with my father while you were resting and he is loath to part with Sansa Stark.”

Her lips tightened, her fingers spasming into a death grip on the sheets.

“And the other? Arya Stark?”

“No one has seen her since…since her father’s death actually. She probably escaped the city, smart girl. She’s doubtless making her own way back to her mother now, but I assure you I will make every effort to track her and assist her. Just as I will make every effort to convince my father to release Sansa Stark. Please…trust me.”

Brienne regarded him for a long time, and then dropped her chin in a sharp nod. Relief washed through him, perhaps he had not lost her confidence after all.

“I will not fail you, my lady.”

He bowed his head, acknowledging that he would pay his debt. Somehow.

“You would allow me to remain here until you have secured Sansa Stark’s release?” she asked.

Jaime hesitated. The truth was he had no intention of summarily sending this woman to her death, given the likelihood that she would be hanged as a traitor were she to make the journey North. However given Brienne’s unflappable sense of honour and justice it would be a difficult task to talk her out of it…it would take time…so for now a small untruth would have to suffice.

“Yes, I would.”

He paused, wrinkling up his nose and added,

“By the way you smell awful.”

She look affronted at his comment, even though they both knew it was true. The dress had smelt musty and old the first time she had put it on at Harrenhal, now overlaid with the powerful odour of bear, days’ worth of sweat and the sharp tang of blood it was really becoming quite pungent.

“Just because you have found time to bathe, does not mean all of us have….”

“-No, some of us were apparently taking up hibernation-”

“…and need I remind you that for a large amount of our journey you smelt far worse than me, yet I felt no need to bring it up?”

He smiled at her annoyance.

“I shall have some of the servants bring up a bath and fresh clothes.”

Purposefully he jumped to his feet, feeling relieved that this talk had gone far better than he had expected coming into it. Maybe it was a good omen, maybe he’d figure out a way to make his father release Sansa Stark.

“Ser Jaime?”

He paused, his hand on the door and half-turned back, an inquiring look on his face.

Her eyes caught his and for a moment he was lost in their earnest, clear blue.

“I trust you.”