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and give all the love that you have in your soul

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The blasted, horrible cold has toughened Winterfell’s ground to the point that it feels harder than diamonds, so Brienne has been hours at digging this bloody grave –

But she’s going to dig it if it’s the last thing she does, and it may as well be.

If anything, she knows Jaime appreciates the irony of being buried here.

 

“Look at that, my lady”, he had said as he coughed blood, “it’s only fitting that I should die where I committed my most nefarious act.”

Brienne had wanted to tell him that he had to live and that he wasn’t going to die, but she hasn’t been in the habit of lying to herself since the Long Night fell upon them all. 

“You know he doesn’t blame you,” Brienne had said, her fingers grasping Jaime’s, his left hand keeping such a weak grip on her right one, she had wanted to cry.

“I know, I heard that tree when it talked to me, but it’s still fitting.” Then he had spat some more blood.

She had figured the two of them would have an honorable death fighting against the Others, and that it’d have been sooner rather than later, given that there are not many people left in the castle anymore, nor in Westeros, and the sun hasn’t risen in two moons.

She hadn’t imagined he’d die of bloody pneumonia before being given a chance of ending his existence on the battlefield.

 

She breathes in icy air, raises the shovel again and imagines that the piece of ice under her feet is a wight she needs to kill, and then slams it downward – it finally breaks, thank the gods, and she crouches down, throwing it outside. At least now after four layers of ice she’s reached a piece of ground that’s not frozen over. Maybe she can make it deep enough now. He told her, bury me deep because if I happen to wake up again I don’t want to come back in this world as a bloody wight.

Since she couldn’t even die with him, she might as well pay him a last favor and bury him properly before she goes back to the castle and to their useless resistance. There’s no Stark left here anymore, they’re all dead except for Bran who is – well, no one knows where he is, exactly.

(But he has talked to them through trees. This, she knows. She was here for it.) There is no king or queen – the dragons arrived, but too late.

Everyone was too late. The Wall fell a long time ago and she had only been here to bring Sansa Stark back where she belonged along with Jaime – she can feel the scar around her throat as sharply as she can remember her steel piercing through Lady Stoneheart’s chest, and then they stayed because there was nowhere else to go. She doesn’t know how many other people have survived, but –

They haven’t seen the sun in two moons.

They’re doomed, and there won’t be any new songs for the knights of summer, she thinks bitterly.

“I would ask if you needed help, my lady, but I fear that task is beyond me.”

Brienne looks up, to her left.

Well, indeed Lord Connington would not be able to help her digging, not when his arm ends just under his elbow.

(Grayscale. He cut it off before it could spread, hoping it would buy him time to see Rhaegar Targaryen’s other son on the Iron Throne.

Turns out, he outlived the lad.

Brienne understands how he feels, even too well.)

“Do not bother, my lord,” she shrugs. The weirwood tree looms above them and Brienne doesn’t even bother to glance at the red on its bark. “I am done with the worst part of it. But if you would be so kind to help me lower him down when I am finished…”

“Of course. Anything to have something to do while waiting for our inevitable demise.”

At least, Brienne thinks, the few people left have taken their situation with the necessary irony.

Once she wouldn’t have appreciated it.

Seems like I’ve grown on you, wench, Jaime would have said –

She wipes away a few stray tears that were already threatening to freeze on her cheeks.

“Thank you,” she replies politely, and shovels away some more dirt.

--

By the time it’s deep enough, her hands are full of red blisters but she can’t even feel them.

Not that it’s going to matter. Even if she lost her fingers to frostbite, it wouldn’t matter.

She climbs out of the hole, shovel in her hand, and turns towards the white sheet wrapped around the body laid next to the tree.

“I think,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady, “that if I get the shoulders –”

“Of course. I will take the feet.”

Gods. She does, and Lord Connington does the same, and a moment later she has let Jaime’s corpse fall into the grave. She put two coins on his eyes before wrapping it in the white sheet.

(He joked about dying in Kingsguard white, but she couldn’t bear to bury him in any other color.)

She’s not sure she believes in such things anymore, but it can’t have hurt, not that anyone needs gold dragons these days.

She says nothing as she shovels dirt back inside the grave again and she can only think, no flowers will ever bloom here, will they?

As she finishes, she considers just sticking Oathkeeper in the stead of a gravestone, but then again, it’s the only sword in the entire castle that can kill wights. And as hopeless as their survival is, she can’t quite bear to get rid of it yet. Instead, she picks his sword from the ground, the one he used until he could hold one, and plants that instead in the cold, hard ground.

Lord Connington is still there.

When Brienne looks at him inquisitively, he shrugs. “He still was a knight of the Kingsguard. He probably deserved better send-off than this, and Aerys was not the Targaryen I cared for.”

Brienne hasn’t talked to the man more than a handful of times, and never in depth, but she thinks she could kiss him for that. But it wouldn’t mean anything, not now.

“I – I never was the best with words,” she says. “He deserved far better than this.” He deserved far better than most of what he got, truth to be told. “He was a far better man than most people assumed. He was – he was indeed reviled for his finest act, not that anyone but me knew. He tried his best. And he was the one person who ever thought for real that I had any merit at being a knight.” She thinks she might stop here, but when she looks over at Lord Connington, she sees that he looks… understanding?

And even if he wasn’t, does it even matter now?

“I loved him,” she sobs, wiping at her eyes. “And I know he didn’t believe in it, and I don’t know if I do, but I honestly hope he’s in a better place. May he rest in peace.”

She throws away the shovel and turns her back to the grave.

“I – I think I am done,” she says.

“I have seen worse funerals.”

“You must have seen many horrible things, my lord.”

“Too many, but it hardly matters now, doesn’t it? That said, having buried the man you loved isn’t something all of us can claim to have done for ourselves.”

He turns his back at her and heads back to the castle after that, and Brienne doesn’t run after him to ask, who do you mean.

He never said out loud, but it was obvious since they saw Aegon die and Brienne is hardly going to be the person berating him for loving someone he shouldn’t have, not when she’s done it herself twice.

--

There’s not much talk around dinner, that evening. Not that there’s much of it lately. It’s about fifty people in the entire castle right now, and none of them are lords except for the two of them, it’s all Night’s Watch recruits – all that’s left of the Night’s Watch, truth to be told.

Brienne doesn’t know why they’re even pretending that this has a point, but she knows that it’s because they’re all scared shitless of what’s coming after. She eats her hard beef stew and thinks about the grave she’s left behind her, and curses her exceedingly good health, or so the maester at Evenfall Hall used to say.

Later, she goes to sleep on the ground in the main hall – all of them sleep there at this point – and goes to sleep not knowing if she should hope to wake up or not.

--

 

She’s standing in the snow, in front of a cave. She doesn’t know where it is or how she got here, but it’s cold. Cold in ways she had never imagined the world could feel, even in the chilliest of winters. The entrance is barely visible, but it’s also because there’s a blizzard all around – the air is freezing and she can barely see where she’s going.

It’s night, but some stars are bright enough that something is visible. She heads for the cave, wanting for shelter, and then she hears a horse running by, straight in her direction –

She moves out of the way, but the horse trips against a tree root and the rider crashes on the ground, or better, he would have if Brienne hadn’t caught him.

“My lady…?” Lord Connington asks her as she drags him to his feet.

“My lord,” she answers, as courteous as she can manage. Then she looks down at him.

He has both arms.

It has to be a dream, hasn’t it? 

She feels for her neck. The rope burn is gone. She touches her cheek, and the scar is gone, too.

If only it mattered now, and if only it were true.

She nods towards the cave, and he follows her inside. It’s dark, too dark to see anything, but then her hand touches something that feels quite like a weirwood, and –

And – 

You have to come, an ethereal voice that she hasn’t ever heard in person but that she’s heard from a tree says. You both have to, now, it repeats, and then her entire sight is filled with light and –

 

--

Brienne wakes up at once, cold sweat plastered all over her forehead. She looks towards the other side of the hall, and –

Yes. Lord Connington is also awake and doing the exact same as she is.

Well then. She takes care to be silent as she stands up, takes her sword and heavy cloak, and walks towards the end of the hall where he’s already heading.

“We had the same dream, didn’t we?” Brienne whispers when they’re close enough to talk without disturbing the others.

“I suspect so. Or better – I woke up as I fell from my horse, but I remember I had both hands and I remember seeing you at the end of the road.”

“I – no. I started dreaming as soon as you fell from it. We walked into a nearby cave.” She takes a deep breath. “I heard Bran Stark’s voice.”

“How do you know?”

“I – I heard it before,” she chooses to reply. It’s the safest answer she has to give him. “It said – we both had to go, but I don’t know where.”

“I do,” he answers. “I dreamed the way there.”

He dreamed half of it, and I dreamed the other. It’s no coincidence.

“Shall we go?” He asks after a silence that lasts she doesn’t know how long.

“Mayhaps we’ll die on the way.” It sounds fairly likely. “But on the other side, what do we have left here?”

“… That is an extremely fair point, my lady. I think there are still a few horses left in the stables.”

“Then we’ll see to them. I – I will take my armor and I will be with you.”

“Do you wish to leave now?”

“Does it make any difference?”

“… It does not,” he agrees with a certain reluctance.

She knows he visits his son’s grave (prince Rhaegar’s, not his) every day, and that he might have wanted to see it once again, but –

But she had a sense of urgency from her own dream, and the prospect of seeing Jaime’s grave while Lord Connington pays his last respects makes her want to throw up because she could barely stand its sight not even twelve hours ago.

“If you wish to visit the graveyard while I saddle the horses –”

“Thank you, but I think there’s no point in doing it. Not just now.”

“Are you sure?”

“It would just make things worse. I will meet you in the stables.”

It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to have this conversation anymore, not that Brienne can’t understand why, and so she goes to get her armor. She dons it easily, it’s not as if having a squire for a while (and she won’t think about that lest she loses it here and now, and she can’t afford it) has made her forget how to put it on without help. She checks that Oathkeeper is at her side (useless now, isn’t it?), ties her cloak around her shoulders and leaves the corner she had claimed for herself in Winterfell’s former main hall.

No one even asks where she’s going, out of the few people who are still around.

She’s not surprised.

When she gets to the stables, they are empty save for her and Lord Connington. He has managed to saddle his own, and she provides to hers – she can see he’s tired already, and doing it with half an arm missing can’t have helped.

She makes a quick work of it, and when she’s done she mounts on the mare. Lord Connington has done the same a short while ago and now he’s fixing his cloak around his shoulders, but it’s still not tied properly. Brienne wordlessly trots closer and helps him with it, resolutely not thinking of when she did the same for Jaime not too long ago, and then leaves it be.

“Thank you,” he tells her. “Shall I lead the way?”

“I will follow,” she replies, and goes after him into the dark night.

She doesn’t spare a glance for the castle they’re leaving behind even if she knows it’s unlikely they’ll ever see it again.

--

She has the distinct feeling that it should have taken longer.

Or maybe it’s because it’s always night and Brienne’s completely lost sense of time, which is the most likely explanation. They do stop a few times to catch a bit of sleep and eat what food they brought from Winterfell (not much, not when there are others in there who might not want to starve until it’s not something that can be delayed anymore), and no one stops them at what used to be the Wall – now, in place of Castle Black, there’s just rubble and the entire section of the Wall it manned is torn down.

“Was it much far from here?” Brienne asks as they ride on.

“In that dream, it looked – about a day’s ride,” Lord Connington tells her. “But I don’t know how long it would be, if we cannot count how long a day is anymore.”

They have two more portions of salt beef.

Just enough for a day’s ride, she thinks.

“Very well. Then we should move on.”

They leave the Wall behind as well.

It’s so cold that her hands have become numb.

If a White Walker showed up now, I don’t know if I could even hold that sword, she thinks, but then again, it’s highly unlikely it would happen. She has a feeling that if anything, they will get as far as that cave.

She doesn’t even dare imagine what’s waiting for them inside, though she remembers the light and how rough the weirwood had felt under her fingers, and she remembers that voice

She shakes her head and rides on.

She almost wants to tell Lord Connington that she’s in awe of his resilience – not many people would have survived what he did and still be here pushing through snow and hail and cold to reach… a cave, but the words lay heavy on her tongue and she can’t manage to get her out.

She only ever got the hang of teasing and speaking freely without thinking too much about it with one person only, and that person’s dead.

--

“I think that’s all I recall,” Lord Connington says a while later, and – yes. Brienne recognizes the place. It’s all covered in snow, and they’re caught in a small blizzard that makes the sky look white and everything around them as well, but – but she thinks the rock on the side was something she had seen in her dream, wasn’t it?

She turns there and then her horse trips into something and crashes to the ground – she jumps off it, and… there it is. The weirwood root.

Her mare’s leg is definitely broken, though.

Hells. She knows what she has to do, even if she’d rather not, and it’s just the last item in a list of things she would rather not do, but –

“My lord,” she says, “we should follow that root. And I should – please let your horse go.”

Lord Connington nods and dismounts, grabbing his meager pack from the horse and sending it on its way. Brienne doesn’t know how long it will survive or if killing him would have been kinder, but –

She brings out her sword.

I’m sorry, she thinks, and then lowers it downwards.

--

The weirwood root brings them to a cave.

They look at each other before walking in – it’s dark, but they can see some light coming in from far ahead. She doesn’t know how, because It’s about to turn dark outside, she knows it, but never mind it. They’ll find out, she supposes, and walks forward.

The clearing they reach is fairly large, and the light comes from a few small fires lightened in the corners of the cave. Dry leaves crack as she and Lord Connington walk over them, and for a moment she thinks, there’s no one here, but then –

“Welcome, my lady. My lord, too,” a voice says, coming from the direction of the large weirwood tree standing in the middle of the cave, the one whose root they’ve been following until now.

Wait a moment –

There is someone over there, sitting on a throne carved in the weirwood, unmoving legs touching its base, and she’s horrified at seeing that it’s a boy, not older than four and ten, with –

With white eyes and the same hair as Lady Catelyn.

And – is there a skeleton of a direwolf crouching at his feet?

“What –” Lord Connington says, but Brienne shakes her head. She thinks she knows who this is.

Bran Stark?”

“Well-guessed, Lady Brienne,” Bran replies, tiredly, “though I’m more than Bran Stark right now, all things considered.”

More than?” Lord Connington asks.

Three-eyed crow would be more accurate,” the boy says, “even though I wish I was not. However, this is not the reason why you’re both here.”

Three-eyed crow? Brienne heard a few wildlings talking about a mythical greenseer known as such, but she hadn’t realized –

That it might’ve been him. She clears her throat.

“You – you called us?” Brienne asks, taking a step forward.

“I did,” Bran says. “You are both wondering why, I suppose, and it was because there is a way to – to undo all of this.”

This?” Lord Connington asks. “You mean, the Long Night?”

“Not that, sadly,” Bran says. “But you should be explained from the beginning.”

Brienne nods, even if looking at the boy is making her skin crawl – why the white eyes? It’s just – it’s unnatural, and he’s too young for this, whatever it is, and why are roots growing through his legs?

“You see, being what I am, it gives you… powerful greensight. It goes way beyond warging. It lets you see the past, and – and also the future, if you choose to do it. When I realized that the war was about to be lost, and now it is… I might have done a few things that I was told were forbidden.”

“By whom?” Lord Connington asks. Good question.

“By the previous three-eyed crow. We can see the past. We are not supposed to meddle with it, or worse, try to change it. However, I also happen to be more powerful than he was, and who was going to stop me from looking into the future, too?”

He shrugs minutely, his tiny fingers grasping at the roots on the throne’s arm.

“I looked into a lot of possible futures, to see if there was some way to prevent this from happening. And I have reached a conclusion.”

“As in?” Brienne asks, feeling somewhat hopeful in spite of everything. After all, if there was nothing to be done about this, then he wouldn’t have summoned them here somehow, right?

“As in, there is one future where the White Walkers are defeated immediately, the Long Night is merely a passing shadow and we are spared most of the senseless deaths that came upon Westeros since Ned Stark died. But it’s not a future I can try to turn into a reality,” Bran says with a long sigh.

“What – what do you mean?” Lord Connington doesn’t sound too convinced, but he’s listening intently, or so it seems from his expression.

“That in order for us all to live, Aerys Targaryen must die not sooner and not later than he did, but Rhaegar must live,” Bran says tiredly, “along with Elia Martell and her children. Whether Lyanna Stark does or not is irrelevant, as long as all three children live and know they are the heads of the dragon. It’s no job for someone like me – I can only walk if I visit the past or the future, not if I want to live in it. How useless it is that one has such powers but then cannot even walk, isn’t it?”

“You – you mean to – send us to the past?” Brienne asks, barely audible.

“My lady,” Bran says, nodding, “it was, in truth, a turn of luck that the two of you did not perish. Because you are two people who could turn that tide around. Yes, I mean to send you both to King’s Landing, in the past. It will be before the Lord Connington of the past loses his position as Hand of the King, and the fact that you, my lord, are here, will be your luck because you only can convince yourself to help the two of you, which should make you things plenty easier.”

“And – what it is that we should do, exactly?” Brienne asks.

“You have to make sure Rhaegar Targaryen doesn’t die, at the Trident or wherever else, and that Ser Jaime does replicate his previous feat,” Bran says.

“But – if Rhaegar wins the war,” Brienne protests, “why would he need to kill Aerys, or why would Aerys try to burn King’s Landing?”

“That’s for you to make sure of,” Bran says, sounding – sorry about it? “He has to die. And Rhaegar has to live. And no one else would kill the Mad King, and we all know that.”

Of course, Brienne thinks, resigned. Jaime was the only one who’d do it in the past, after all, so who would do it when the Targaryens actually might have won the war?

“The moment both deeds are done, this new future will be set,” Bran goes on. “As for the two of you – if you both live to see those deeds accomplished, you have to go back at once to the place where you will find yourself at the beginning. There, if I am still here, which should happen – I will bring you back to your future selves. In that world.”

“Not – not in this one?” Connington asks.

“No. This future is done and over. There is nothing for either of us here. But if you live, you will find yourself in that world, at the age you have right now. And I know that it won’t be one where the Long Night has prevailed.”

“If we live?” Brienne had noticed that.

“You might die in the attempt,” Bran confirms. “If you do – you will be dead and another version of you will exist and go on in that future. But if you don’t die there, you will die now for sure.”

Which is – a fairly valid point.

“So,” Connington says, “the lady should make sure Lannister kills Aerys and I should make sure Rhaegar doesn’t – doesn’t die?”

“Something,” Bran says, sounding somewhat sympathetic but at the same time detached in a way that makes Brienne’s skin crawl all over again, “tells me that it’s a task you would take extreme joy in performing, my lord. Wouldn’t you?”

Of course,” Connington says. “It’s – it’s everything I have wanted since I heard he died. I’m not so sure that the lady is so enthusiastic about her part.”

She laughs. Of course she’s not. The idea that she should somehow force Jaime into doing what he spent his life being loathed for when he’d have no reason to do it is honestly abhorrent, but she can see they have no choices here, and –

And if she goes, she’ll see him again, though not the Jaime she knew and grew to admire and love and whose loss still makes her feel like someone carved a hole into her heart and tore it out with enough force to rival the strongest whirlwind, and maybe she’ll find a way to make sure it doesn’t turn out sour, and Bran is right.

If they stay here, she dies for sure. If they go – maybe there’s a chance they’ll live.

And that Jaime will, she thinks, feeling like she could cry.

“I don’t relish it,” she says, “but I’ve always done my duty and I will do it again.”

Except that you would have let Stoneheart kill you for him. Are you sure you will be able to lie to him or force him into doing the one thing that ruined his life?

She honestly hopes Bran cannot read thoughts, but he just looks at the two of them with a nod, his lips stretching in a thin smile.

“Very well. Then, I am ready whenever my lord and my lady wish.”

She looks at Connington, shrugging. “I don’t think we have any business to attend to here now, do we?”

“No,” he agrees, “we don’t. I am ready now.”

“Then do come closer,” Bran says.

They do.

“I need the both of you to take one of my hands and touch the weirwood with the other. Lord Connington, for you is fine to just lean against it as long as you’re touching it somewhat.”

They both do, and Brienne shivers at how cold Bran’s hand is.

What did he say before?

I am the three-eyed crow, even though I wish I was not.

He’s younger than four and ten, she thinks in anguish, and he’s talking with the voice of someone who’s lived for centuries.

Of course he doesn’t want this future either, would he?

“My lord, my lady,” he says tiredly, “we won’t likely see each other again in this world, and I don’t know if I will remember it in the new one. I kind of hope I don’t, but regardless, I hope you succeed and I wish you the best of luck. May we meet again in a better place.”

Brienne had figured she should say something, but suddenly Bran’s hand is burning hot rather than freezing cold, and she meets Connington’s eyes as her entire vision fills up with a blinding, white light and she feels like someone just punched her in the stomach with an iron gauntlet – Bran’s hand disappears from under hers and she immediately moves it to grip Oathkeeper’s hilt, feeling unreasonably reassured to find it still there and hoping it doesn’t disappear when she arrives in the past, because she couldn’t bear to live without the last thing she has left of her Jaime, and then she closes her eyes before the white light completely blinds her and braces herself for what she has to do.

Of course she’ll do her duty, she thinks despairingly, but she knows –

She knows she will hate every moment of it.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

One moment, everything was white, and Jon had felt like he was going to burn from the inside out as he closed his eyes, and then

He opens his eyes as he feels himself crashing down on hard ground, though at least it’s not cold and snowy – well, then whatever Bran Stark did, it worked.

They’re not too far from King’s Landing, he can see in the distance, and he’s not too surprised to find out his back is pressing against a weirwood tree.

He groans as he sits up. That hurt.

He also hears a feminine voice echoing him on the other side of the tree.

“My lady?” He asks. “Are you all right?”

“As well as one can be after crashing against a tree,” she replies, and he stands up, reaching her side of the tree. She’s also standing, her hand clenched around her sword, and she lets it go after a long moment. She wipes dirt from her very homely face and pulls her hair behind her head. He’s rarely seen her out in the daylight, when they met for the first time the Long Night was already long underway, and he hadn’t noticed exactly how still raw the scarring on her cheek is, nor how she looks dead tired and how the skin under her pretty blue eyes borders on purple.

He remembers how the few times she smiled in his presence were because of something Lannister said.

He doesn’t envy her at all.

“Very well,” he says, “then I think we must plan before taking any action. I don’t think there’s much room for error here.”

“No,” she agrees. “There’s arguably no room for error. And – you were… here, I suppose, so I imagine you would have a better idea of how to proceed. How do we do this?”

No-nonsense – he likes her, as much as he’s ever going to like a woman, he thinks bitterly.

She has eyes too old for someone of nine and ten, he thinks.

“Bran Stark said he would send us here before the Battle of the Bells – it has to be, otherwise I – well, you know, my younger self – wouldn’t still be Hand of the King and we’d be indeed fucked, pardon the language.”

“Don’t you worry, my lord, I’ve heard worse.”

“So, whenever this is, it has to be before. Before we lost it Aerys didn’t take the rebellion that seriously, and of course Rhaegar is at the Tower of Joy.”

With Jon Snow’s mother, he doesn’t say.

“He didn’t come back before, but I had to be long gone from court by the time he was finally back.”

“Gods, this situation is already not ideal, my lord.”

“How so?”

“If Aerys was taking it seriously, he’d have probably raised less questions about you and I showing up at the Red Keep.”

“That’s true, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved. Especially because we all know that the Kingsguard is currently not at the Red Keep in its entirety and that if Rhaegar comes he will take all of them to battle, bar Lannister of course. And I’m afraid that’s where you should be, my lady.”

“I doubt Aerys will give out a white cloak to anyone who asks for one,” she sighs.

“Maybe not, but if you show that you’re capable he might agree to keep you around because he’d know the more skilled people around to protect him the better. He was mad, true, but not to the point of refusing help, especially not right now. After the Battle of the Bells he might have, but now – I think it’s doable.”

“Very well. So I try to get into the Kingsguard or his service if the Kingsguard isn’t an option. Gods, to think that once I dreamed of it.”

“And now?”

“Now I’d do anything not to, but what I want is not the point. And what about you?”

He sighs. “My role is a lot more complicated, I fear. Rhaegar is in Dorne. I have to find out when exactly are we, because if I know how much time it is before the Battle of the Bells, maybe there’s half a chance we can avoid the fight on the Trident in the first place.”

“How exactly?”

He’s had a lot of time, in these last years, to think about where he went wrong when it came to that godforsaken blasted battle.

A lot of it.

“Rhaegar wasn’t there, and it didn’t help. And I couldn’t find Robert Baratheon before Ned Stark came to his aid, and that was the end of it. The fact that I had to go for a retreat was what made me lose everything and made Rhaegar come back, and they fought on the Trident, and – well, we all know how that went. It has to go differently. I need to make sure the Trident doesn’t happen at all.”

“My lord, that makes sense, but I think we should take something into account.”

“As in?”

“Bran Stark said that in the next future he might not remember us. And then he said that the world we came from won’t exist anymore and that we should be quick to come back here after we’re sure the deed is done. I – if we want to be halfway sure we will come back, I don’t think we can let happen anything that might turn into – the boy not having been born at all.”

Damn, that’s an excellent point, Jon has to concede.

“You mean, the war has to end in a pardon,” Jon says. “Or at least, Ned Stark has to live and he cannot lose the North.”

“My point exactly. I mean, if his sister lives then maybe he would be pardoned, but we cannot leave that to chance.”

“No. That’s fair. Well, I do know what happened at that battle, now. My – present-time self does not. But if – if we somehow manage to get Rhaegar to leave Dorne and ride to the Stoney Sept, and meanwhile convince him that a truce is the best way to solve this, maybe putting in the terms that his father needs to step down because no one wants him ruling – we could avoid the Trident altogether. That would be reasonable.”

“It would. After all, Arys did kill Ned Stark’s father and brother in front of the Iron Throne, that’s enough of a reason to take arms,” she agrees. “There’s just one problem, though.” She sounds as if she wants to laugh so that she doesn’t break down in tears, but she eventually does not.

“Tell me. I have a feeling I know.”

“If Aerys has to die and Jaime has to kill him and he’s nowhere near that paranoid, and if your side wins the battle or at least agrees to the truce and you come back finding the king dead, how is that going to look for him?”

… That is a very fair point.

“Not great,” Jon agrees. “And I can see it pains you greatly.”

She does laugh at that, and wipes at her eyes at the same time. “My lord, killing Aerys ruined his life the first time around and at least he had a very good reason to do it and they couldn’t very well kill him for that, like this he’d really risk to lose his head. And I will do my duty, but I – I cannot convince him to do such a thing if I know it’ll cause him that much harm. Do you understand?”

Jon knows.

Gods, he knows.

“My lady,” he said, “believe me, I know everything about loving someone so much you couldn’t bear to think to be the reason they were harmed. I – it seems like this is my chance to undo it. I – I spoke to him a couple of times in Winterfell. He said that he only ever had a chance to try and be a better person because of you.”

“He was entirely underestimating himself.”

“Well, I can imagine why you don’t want to ruin his life now. But – we have to do it. And Bran Stark was imperative about it.”

“I know,” Brienne admits. “I – I suppose I will try to expose the wildfire plot. I’m sure it already had to be underway. Maybe there is half a chance it might come out in the open and then maybe it wouldn’t be so unreasonable.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Jon agrees, even if he knows it’s nowhere near enough. Still, it’s something. “Try and do that. That said – for what it’s worth, I swear that if I can think of anything that might let him off the hook, I will try to make it happen.”

“Thank you,” she replies, and she does look truly grateful. “I – I will try to do the same. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad you have the chance to, well, save the man you did love.”

“… Did you guess or did I tell somehow?” Jon asks, not even feeling surprised.

“My lord, I – I saw you as you watched both of the prince’s sons die. It would have taken someone utterly daft to not guess who that person was.”

“And that doesn’t – cause you distress?” He’s kind of curious, if anything because who else has he ever told? Not many people. Actually, no one.

She laughs. “My lord, have you looked at me? I used to love Renly Baratheon, who I am told had your exact same preferences when it came to who he loved, and no one ever saw me as someone worth to be with until Jaime, do you think I could ever berate you because you’re still in love with a man? I am as well, and I don’t really think judging you for it is what anyone of us needs or wants, anyway.”

He doesn’t want to say it sounds relieving to hear it, but –

It does, if anything because he knows she understands and she knows he does, and he entirely means it when he says he’ll try to find a way to let Lannister off the hook.

Hopefully he will.

“Then – well, my lady, all you have to do is stay in the Kingsguard, keep an eye on Lannister, try to keep the situation under control and make sure Aerys dies. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll deal with Rhaegar. Now we only need to actually get a foot inside the door, so to speak.”

“And how are we going to do that?”

Jon smiles. It’s not a happy smile.

“Come with. We need to find the inn where I used to go for drinks when I was Hand and didn’t feel like hanging around the castle.”

“You mean –”

“I mean, we’ve got to meet myself and we have to do it as soon as possible.”

--

It takes them little to get into the city, the tree was not far from the gates, and they’re let in without much of a problem – Aerys still hasn’t turned so paranoid to question anyone who’d enter or to put soldiers at every corner.

He pulls his hood upwards as he thinks about how many chances he has to be recognized if he doesn’t dye his hair or does something drastic to alter his appearance. He doesn’t think it’s very likely, the Long Night did take a toll on him and he looks plenty older than he actually is, his hair is more silver than red at this point and he doesn’t have half an arm. Still he should probably ask Brienne when she sees him and his counterpart next to each other.

He also doesn’t even know what in the Seven Hells he’ll tell himself except either you listen to me or we’re both dead and Rhaegar is, too, but he doubts that it would work.

No, that wouldn’t work indeed. He needs to convince himself of his intentions and of why they’re here, he needs to convince him to help them and to follow his damned plan, and given that back then he was young, stupid and sure that the Rebellion could be won that easily and way, way over in his head…

Well, no point in being negative before even taking a good view at the situation.

Would I have heard myself out back in the day, he thinks, and then figures that he’ll find out soon. It’s not too hard to find the tavern he used to frequent back in the day, though he didn’t come here too often – he hopes this is one of those days or it’d be a problem to find himself inside the Red Keep now, wouldn’t it?

They walk in and they take a seat, then he orders some ale – good thing he did have a few coins with when he left Winterfell.

He takes a sip, then waits.

“Did you use to come here to eat?” Brienne asks.

“Sometimes, when I needed to not be in the castle. Aerys wasn’t easy to handle even when he wasn’t at his worst. It’s about midday, though – a bit earlier than I used to get my food.”

“So we should just wait?”

“For a while. Would you care to entertain me?”

“I might, but I never was good at entertaining, my lord.”

“You could tell me how you and Jaime Lannister ended up liking each other that much,” he says, shrugging – he’s kind of curious, and they do have time to kill.

She laughs. “It’s a long story.”

“We do have time,” Jon says, and listens to her as she tells him – by the time she’s told him about the man jumping into a bear pit to save her life and coming back for her when she thought she was done fore, he thinks he can imagine why she’s so loathe to cause the man any ill.

Gods, he does hope he can come up with some way to make sure she doesn’t have to, or that she does if he can’t.

He thinks of how Lannister was when Jon was hand, as in, now. Much too young,

(same as for him, maybe)

brimming with something that might have been anger but which he kept carefully under control, with green eyes too old for his age and obviously regretting the moment he accepted that white cloak.

Same as he always regretted accepting that golden hand-shaped pin.

“He said he dreamed of you? Sounds romantic,” Jon says, taking another sip from his ale.

“That – well. Thinking about it now, it did,” she replies, blushing ever so slightly.

She’s nine and ten, he thinks.

She’s much too young for this, too, but it’s not as if they can do anything about it now, can they?

And then, the door opens. Jon glances at the man coming inside, and –

This is apparently somewhat their lucky day, because he is walking in. Well, not him. His past self. Jon looks with envy at his two hands for a moment, at how tall he’s carrying himself and at the bright red of his hair. The pin is hidden under the cloak, of course.

“My lady,” he says, “would anyone think it suspicious if they saw us next to each other?”

“You mean, would people understand you’re the same person? Not at first glance,” she replies immediately.

“Good enough. Wait until I – he takes a seat, then follow me.”

She nods and finishes her drink, and he stands up, going straight to the table where he is sitting.

“What –” His past self says as Jon takes a seat, Brienne next to him. He looks straight at the two of them – gods, Jon thinks, how young and proud was I ever.

“My lord,” he says, wanting to laugh, “the lady and I have urgent need to talk to you.”

Urgent need – you know that audiences exist? And who would you be?”

Jon snorts, and drags down the hood covering his cloak. “As far-fetched as it might sound, my lord, you’re talking to yourself.”

--

Of course, his first reaction is standing up and try to leave, but Brienne immediately stands up herself and moves sitting next to him, effectively blocking his way out.

“I don’t know who in the Seven Hells you are,” his past self says, obviously not buying it, “but if you’re playing some kind of jape –”

Jon sighs and moves his only elbow forward, lowering his voice.

“My lord, I’d like for you to look at me in the eyes while I tell you a couple of things about ourselves that no one else could possibly know.”

“I refuse –”

“The first time you noticed women weren’t as beautiful or enthralling as songs might make them sound like, you were one and ten. It was the son of Griffin’s Roost’s handsmith. He was taller, older, maybe six and ten, he used to apprentice with his father and he often walked around without a shirt. Sometimes you’d catch yourself staring and thinking that looked more attractive to you than a woman’s bosom ever would. His name was Edric. Sometimes he looked at you and called you m’lord and you wished he wouldn’t.”

Immediately, his own younger face goes pale.

How do you know?”

Jon ignores that and goes on. “The first time you saw Prince Rhaegar in the flesh, you felt the way knights in songs are always described to feel when they meet their lady. You had never laid eyes on someone who made your heartbeat double its speed, and you were thinking about kissing him for the entire three hours following your first meeting.” He lowers his voice once again. “You never laid with a woman, but you laid with a few men in a few discreet whorehouses. The first was blonde with blue eyes that looked violet in the right light. It was the worst half hour of your life.”

How –”

“It was easier with the ones who didn’t look like him. And, before the prince left for Dorne –”

How do you know he is –”

“Please, everyone in court knew, first of all the Hand of the King, he came to your castle and he told you to never do whatever his father asked of you, which you did not do, anyway, because you thought that if you were Hand you could help him better whatever madness Rhaegar had thrown himself into, and he kissed you before he left, and you’re still wondering if he meant it, if it was merely to thank you for your service, or if he understood and it was somehow out of pity. Now look at me again, and tell me that I can’t know that because I lived through it, too.”

He sees his past self openly swallowing and finally look at him, and he can see the moment when he recognizes his own eyes staring back at him, because his own, younger face turns pale and his lip trembles and then he notices what’s of Jon’s arm.

“What – how? And what happened to –”

“To my hand? Grayscale,” Jon cuts him off. “Don’t worry, I didn’t want to let it spread. That’s why I don’t have the damned arm. As for how I’m here and when I come from, well, that’s why we have urgent need to talk to you.”

“Fine. What’s the urgent need?”

“Averting the end of the world as you know it,” Jon says. “Rhaegar did talk to you about the Long Night.”

“Of course.”

“You do know everything he’s doing is to prevent it.”

“Well, you would know, if you’re me.”

“Exactly. I know. And what I can tell you is that when I come from, it’s all for nothing.”

“It’s – for nothing?”

“The White Walkers won. Most people are dead. Including him and his family. We’re here because – ever heard of the Three-Eyed crow?”

“What? That legendary greenseer beyond the Wall? That’s a fairytale.”

“It’s not. He sent here the lady and I in order to avoid what’s to come. Now, listen to me – if things go the way they did where we come from, Rhaegar dies before the year is over and the war is lost.”

“You’re lying –”

“I’m you, do you think I would ever lie when it comes to Rhaegar?”

They stare at each other – Jon doesn’t have anything to hide concerning this, not anymore, and he doesn’t know for how long they do, but he eventually wins out, because at some point his younger self’s hand slightly trembles as he grasps at the table.

“He – he does?” He finally asks, in a thin, sad voice.

“Yes. And he must live. Not just because you and I obviously want him to, but also because it’s fundamental to everyone’s bloody survival.”

“Fine. What happened, where you come from? And who is the lady anyway?”

“My name is Brienne,” she says. “Brienne of Tarth. You wouldn’t know of me in your time.”

“What happens,” Jon goes on, “is that Robert hides at the Stoney Sept, the villagers don’t hand him over when you go there and try to fish him out, Ned Stark arrives with reinforces and forces you to retreat and they pretty much win that battle. Aerys sends you – us, in exile after stripping us of everything for having failed to handle them, Rhaegar comes back from Dorne to fight them and Robert kills him on the Trident. Meanwhile – my lady, you might want to refer this part of the story.”

“Meanwhile Aerys was planning to blow up King’s Landing with wildfire so that the rebels wouldn’t take it and Ser Jaime killed him before he could do it, but no one even thought to ask him why he did it, and the princess and the children were killed on his father’s orders which he didn’t know about.”

“Well,” Jon says, “Aegon is saved and Varys then comes to find you, or me, or us, in the tavern in Essos where we’re drinking our sorrows after joining the Golden Company and hands him over saying that we should raise him so he could take his father’s throne. That did not come to pass, since he died during the long night along with Lyanna Stark’s son, too.”

He must have sounded dead serious, because he doesn’t get questioned.

“And how did you get – grayscale?”

“A misadventure in Essos. That’s not the problem. The problem is, we need to stop this.”

“Do you know how?”

“We were told that Rhaegar must live but Aerys must die the way he did where we came from. And this is where everything goes to the Seven Hells if you don’t help us out.”

Come on, Jon thinks as he looks at himself pondering it, I know I was an arrogant know-it-all who thought he could reach too high, but I know I wasn’t an idiot then and I’m not now.

For a long moment, no one speaks. Then –

“How am I supposed to help you out? I mean, this is mad and I wish I could afford to call you a madman and give the both of you to the City Watch. It makes no sense. It’s not possible. But, but – no one but me could know.”

“About what?”

“About that kiss. Or the blacksmith’s apprentice. I never – I never told –”

“I know. Because I never told anyone either,” Jon goes on, “and you have seen me. You know I’m telling the truth. So, are you going to help us out or will you let Rhaegar die and turn the entire world into a wasteland for the dead?”

Nothing is said for a long moment, and then –

“Well, if you’re right about this, then I won’t get exiled, I suppose. Fine. How do I help you? Tell me.”

Good gods, finally.

“Rhaegar must be at the Stoney Sept,” Jon says. “He can’t stay in Dorne as long as he did. And when we’re there we need to make a truce.”

“The king –”

“Never mind bloody Aerys,” Jon hisses, “the situation must be negotiated and Ned Stark must live at all costs since his son sent us back here and if Stark dies we don’t know if our staying here might be mucked up. Never mind that they rebelled only because Aerys burned alive Stark’s father and brother. How many Kingsguard are in the castle?”

His younger counterpart thinks for a moment. “Lannister,” he says. “Then Whent and Darry, I think.”

Jon sees Brienne cringing without saying nothing.

Three people, and only one of them guarding the king.

“Well, one of them at least need to go fetch Rhaegar and the others and tell him to go to the Stoney Sept immediately and – to do something about Lyanna Stark because she can’t stay there.”

“Why can’t she?”

“Because where we come from, if she has her baby there, she dies,” Brienne interrupts.

“Wait, her baby? Oh, gods – all right. Fine, though I suppose that will take longer to arrange. Gods, the Stoney Sept – I was going to head there shortly.”

When were you supposed to go there?”

“In a couple of weeks at most. We did get messages that Robert might be hiding there, but –”

“Postpone it. Rhaegar must be there and we must convince him to be reasonable. Or you have to, since he would probably recognize me at some point if he saw the two of us next for each other for too long. The rebels will accept a truce if it includes Aerys stepping down and Rhaegar becoming king.”

His counterpart takes it in and nods wearily. “I guess it can be arranged somehow. Fine. I’m going to try. What else?”

“You need to get the lady a place on the Kingsguard.”

--

Jon almost wants to laugh at his own younger face twisting in complete shock.

Almost.

“What – a woman in the Kingsguard? It’s completely bloody unheard of. I couldn’t find any reason to –”

“My lord,” Brienne says, her voice low, calm and absolutely steady. “Look down here.”

She brings her sword out of the sheath enough to make him realize that it’s Valyrian Steel.

How? Valyrian steel is the rarest there is, how do you have –”

“It used to be Ned Stark’s sword,” she said, “before he died and it was reforged. Ser Jaime gave it to me back in – in my time. It should have been red and gold, it’s red and black. The king might take it as a sign, since it looks like it was forged for a Targaryen. And I will be glad to fight the best the Kingsguard has to offer for a place in it. Or whatever it takes you to get me there.”

“Why do you need to be part of it so much?”

“My lord,” Brienne says, “Rhaegar must live and Aerys must die, and if Lord Jon here is in charge of saving Rhaegar’s life, I must make sure of his father’s death. And what other excuse might I have to be around the castle? Just present me as someone who wants to do their duty for the realm.”

“And could you beat Arthur Dayne?”

“I know Ser Dayne’s not here, but I would certainly be glad to try if he were.”

She stares him down and finally they get a shrug of acceptance.

“Fine. You look like you could beat at least half of the others, for what it’s worth,” he says, “I will try, but I cannot guarantee anything. What I know is that the both of you cannot come to court like this.”

“What?” Brienne asks.

“Your clothes are old, you both need a bath and Aerys doesn’t react well to people he doesn’t take seriously these days.” He sighs, searches for something in his pockets and then hands Jon a small bag of silver. “Buy yourself some clothes and take a bath at the nearest inn. Come to the castle tomorrow morning – it will give me time to find a story to introduce the two of you halfway convincingly. I wouldn’t be doing this if – if you didn’t know something no one else could, and if you tell me Rhaegar dies – I can’t let it happen.” He stops, breathes in, looks at the two of them again with the face of someone who cannot even conceive such a thing, and Jon wants to laugh bitterly, because back then –

He hadn’t conceived such a thing either, did he?

You should remember how things are at the Red Keep,” he tells Jon, ignoring Brienne for the moment. “Make sure she does, too. Show up dressed properly.”

“We will,” Jon says, “and thank you.”

“Well, we shall see,” he sighs. “Hopefully he doesn’t exile me because he thinks I turned mad.”

--

“Should I try to find an armor?” Brienne asks him later as they head out of the inn where they booked a room.

“It’s not worth it,” he tells her. “If you’re accepted in the Kingsguard, you’ll be given a white one. If not, you still would need something better than what you’d get for little here. Just try to find something that fits you and that doesn’t look like you cobbled it together, or he’ll think you’re not worth his time. For that matter, just don’t contradict him on anything when we’re there – you’ll be better off for it. And keep your mouth shut even if you see something you don’t like, or we’ll be done.”

She nods, not looking like she’s enjoying carrying out this task in the slightest – of course she wouldn’t, it’s obvious that she doesn’t appreciate the task, and he can imagine since he doubts they’ll have much luck finding clothes that fit her. They find a shop that seems to sell clothing that’s not dubious quality, good thing that, and he goes through a few stacks of clothes cursing the fact that he only has one arm to do it.

He should definitely avoid anything white or red, his younger self will obviously wear his colors and he doesn’t want to make anyone notice that they might look a bit too similar. He doesn’t even know how he’s going to be introduced as, though he has a feeling that if they have to justify his lack of an arm and he knows himself it’s going to be either former soldier or mercenary, which means he should pick a damned neutral color rather than anything that might remind anyone of house sigils. In the end, he picks an honest dark green breeches and tunic that thankfully come together, don’t have holes in them, don’t look too peasant-like and most of all, that should fit him. He pays for it without trying it on – one-armed it’d be too complicated and long and at worst he can ask one of the inn’s maids to fix it for him.

Jon turns back to check on what Brienne’s doing.

He finds her staring at another pair of breeches and tunic – it’s all blue, though. A nice shade of blue. She’s running her fingers over it as she checks the measures; they’re both large, so they should fit her fine.

She looks like she’s about to cry, though.

“What – what is the matter?” He asks.

“Nothing,” she answers. “He just – he always said blue was my color,” she replies softly, and then she folds the clothes and nods. “I’m taking these.”

“And I’m taking these ones. Hold them, I’ll pay.”

She does, and they head back to the inn. She’s clutching both sets of clothes to her chest, so hard her knuckles are white.

Jon isn’t sure if he wants to know what she’s thinking, and so he doesn’t ask.

--

They do take that bath. He doesn’t shave – his younger self does, and he’ll keep anything that makes them obviously different – but he eventually asks Brienne to help him trim the damned beard and hair so he doesn’t look too much like someone who hasn’t done it in three moons.

Which he hasn’t.

She does without even batting an eyelid, moving her knife efficiently and without losing too much time, and she doesn’t make him bleed once.

“Do I have to ask you how you’re so good at this?” He asks after she’s done.

“Can’t you imagine?”

“I think I can,” he replies.

“Shaving without your right hand might prove complicated at times,” she says, leaving it at that. He turns his back on her while she tries on her clothes – he can’t believe that they’ve been so lucky, but they all fit her and they don’t need adjustments.

Thing is – Jon’s never even looked at a woman the way most men do, and he’s certainly not looking at her like that, but he can look at them objectively, and he can see what Lannister’s point was. It does look good on her, more than the dirty Stark gray of her previous outfit, and it does match her eyes.

“Those clothes go well with your eyes, if that’s what you’d like to know,” he tells her.

“That’s what he used to say,” she sighs, smiling ever so slightly, but still sounding sad. “Gods,” she goes on, “I cannot believe I’ll see him tomorrow and he won’t know – anything, I guess.”

“Think that at least in this world he’ll never even catch pneumonia, if we make good of our quest.”

If we do,” she agrees, but then says nothing more and proceeds to take off the clothes.

Jon turns her back on her again.

--

They sleep for long enough – both of them know that they won’t have much of it in the next few days. They go downstairs to eat. They don the clothes when they go back upstairs, not looking at each other as they try them on – Brienne helps him with the clasp at his cloak and with a few laces, he can’t help her with anything but watches her put her sword back where it belongs and looking a tiny bit relieved as it’s finally back at her waist, and he thinks, she does look like a knight.

Now if only she looks like one to Aerys, as well, they would already have done a good part of the job here.

“So,” he tells her as the afternoon sun slowly lowers itself towards the horizon line, “are we going?”

“I imagine we should,” she says. “My lord, do go first.”

“All things considered, I think we can do away with the formalities, if you’d like.”

“I would,” she agrees. “It does make no sense. Well – Jon, do go first.”

Brienne, thank you.”

She closes the door behind them and they head down the stairs, walking out in the street. The Red Keep is not that far.

He hasn’t seen it in years. He doesn’t know if he missed it – he most probably did not, even if he missed who was in it.

But there’s no Rhaegar here now, is he?

No, he thinks, but I’ll see him again soon, hopefully not in that bloody godsforsaken castle, and if I get to save his life this time around then I don’t care what happens to me, and good thing that is something he and his younger, luckier and less weary self will always agree about.

“Are you ready?” He asks her.

“No,” she says, truthfully. “But I don’t think I ever could be, and we have to do this, so we better be going. And – for what it’s worth, I hope you get to save your prince, out of the two of us.”

“Thank you,” he replies, meaning it entirely. “And even if it looks dire, I hope you get to do the same regardless of the odds.”

She smiles for a moment, and it’s a very sad kind of, but it’s better than the grim expression she’s had since they arrived here.

Well then –

Time to go.

They walk forward, with the Red Keep and his younger self and Aerys and a Jaime Lannister that has no idea of what’s in store for him now or in the far future looming in the distance, and he hopes with all his might that this time round, things turn out for the best.

He really, really does.

 

 

TBC

Chapter Text

They’re halfway there to the Red Keep when Brienne realizes something she should have thought of a long time ago, before proposing to actually use the Valyrian sword to convince Aerys to take her on.

“Damn,” she whispers, “I think we might have a problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“This sword is Valyrian steel and I did say it looks Targaryen, but it has a Lannister handle. Wouldn’t it raise a few questions? I’m sorry, I didn’t think of it before.”

“… We do have a problem, damn it,” Jon sighs, sounding like he’s already so tired he could go to sleep for the next six moons. “But I don’t think it’s unsolvable. When we get there, we just take the other me on the side, tell him to hide it in his rooms and then he can give it back to you after you’re hopefully taken on. That said, hide it, because you don’t want anyone to find that out of everything. Then we can find an excuse or replace that damned handle before you bring it out in the open, if you have need to.”

“Of course.” She nods, and her hand goes back to the sword’s handle at once. It’s probably obvious that she’s nervous.

Very nervous. She’d know. She wants to throw up for how nervous she is.

“Sorry about it,” he tells her, “but –”

“I know,” she interrupts him. “It’s just – I don’t have anything else left of him.”

“Look at the bright side,” he says, obviously trying to lighten up the situation without quite managing. “At least you’re going to see him in the flesh sooner than I’ll see Rhaegar.”

“True,” she has to agree, but –

There are things Jon doesn’t know, she thinks.

She will see him in the flesh, and it won’t be the man she knew, but thing is, they did talk to each other, in the last months before – before he died.

The person they’re going to meet definitely won’t be the man she loved, but he also won’t be the one she met while barely free of Riverrun’s dungeons.

It’ll be –

Can you believe it, Jaime had told her, that I wanted to be like Arthur Dayne, back then?

Brienne can entirely believe it.

What she doesn’t like, is knowing she will have to be the reason why he turns up to not be that person this time around.

She lets Oathkeeper’s handle go lest it starts hurting for how strong her grip is becoming, and she falls into step with Jon, and she tells herself, don’t fuck it up and don’t even try to let it show how much you wish Aerys Targaryen had dropped dead long before Jaime had to kill him.

--

Unsurprisingly, present-time Jon is not too happy about the delay, but they’re earlier than they should have been, or so it seems, and so he quickly ushers them both into his room, grabs Oathkeeper, hides it under the bed’s mattress and then drags Brienne over to the armory where she picks the most suited sword she can find at short notice. Then they all head back towards the throne room.

“All right,” Jon – present-time, of course, not the one standing at her left – says, keeping his voice low, “now you two listen to me carefully. You, as in, me, but – well, we all understood – you’re a former Golden Company mercenary. You wish to fight for us, and you have happened to get off your ship in White Harbor, not here, which means that you have tactical information that we will sorely need for our upcoming battle with the rebels where we’ll hopefully get rid of them, as far as Aerys is concerned anyhow. Just tell him whatever you told me or whatever is Ned Stark planning to do, then say that you absolutely need to go with us to make sure Rhaegar is properly warned or whatever. He might hear you out, you know me as well as I do if not better. Just sound like you mean it.”

“Understood,” Jon says, sounding satisfied, but then again it’s a sound plan and he was with the Golden Company a while, so he should be able to sound at least convincing.

“As far as the lady’s concerned,” present-time Jon goes on, “you don’t even want to know the amount of sleep I lost to find some way to justify her presence. I’m not even too sure of that story, but –”

“A moment,” Brienne says, stopping dead in her tracks and staring at the shield hung on the wall in front of which they’re passing.

“We don’t have much time –”

“I know, but whose sigil is that? On that shield.”

“The white tree with the star? It was Ser Duncan’s. Duncan the Tall. Commander of the Kingsguard during Aegon V’s reign. Why?”

Brienne stares at the shield, swallows, then turns and looks back down at the other man.

“I know who he is. Everyone does. But – that’s – see, there was one just like it in Evenfall’s armory. In Tarth. When I was a young girl. I had my shield decorated like that as well when I was on a quest Ser Jaime sent me on in my time, I did it so people wouldn’t recognize me and I figured it was as good as any.”

Both men suddenly stop in their tracks and look at her before looking at each other.

“And you didn’t know who it belonged to?”

“Until now? No,” she tells the Jon who came with her.

Well,” present-Jon says, eyeing her, “as far as we all know and as far as everyone who knew him remembers, Duncan was admittedly… very tall. Hells, he was named like that. And well-built. And blonde. And he was an exceptional knight indeed.” He seems to think for a moment.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” His future counterpart asks.

“Given that I’m you, I have a feeling I do. My lady,” Jon says, “how likely it is that your shield was in the armory because Ser Duncan ever visited your fair island for a considerable amount of time, or maybe a son of his?”

“I – I have no idea,” she says, honestly. “It wasn’t a family story or anything of the kind. As far as I know my grandmother on my mother’s side wasn’t from a noble family, she might have even been a commoner, but no one actually knew for sure, so –”

“Seems to me that Ser Duncan might be related to you, my lady.”

Sorry?”

“Never mind that. Even if he wasn’t, he might as well be, and it might be your stroke of luck. Surely you look like you could be related. So… never mind the story I had in mind. You, Lady Brienne, will walk in that room giving Aerys another name and saying that Duncan was your great-grandfather or something of the kind and that you’re a commoner, because if you were nine and ten in… 303, you surely were born already at this point, and who knows if someone keeps track of who’s born on Tarth or who isn’t. You can’t risk anyone finding out you have a newborn double out there. You will say you were brought up hearing stories of his deeds and so on, and that you inherited his prowess, which wouldn’t even be a lie if you’re as good as you look like. And then you’ll ask for a place in the Kingsguard same as your grandfather because same as him, you want to protect the rightful Targaryen king. Most likely you’ll have to fight a Kingsguard knight if not all of the ones who are here, which would be Lannister and Whent – Darry’s left on some errand on the king’s account and won’t be back for a few days. Certainly not Dayne, who’s with Rhaegar. Understood?”

“Understood,” she says, wishing she actually had some time to take in the information that her great-grandfather was most likely a commander in the Kingsguard and she hadn’t known that until this very moment, never mind that she had no idea about where that shield came in the first place.

And of course, she’ll need a new name.

Damn it. She thinks they have a few minutes left until they reach the throne room – the Red Keep is large. Given that from what she knows of Ser Duncan he traveled all along the Seven Kingdoms, she could be from anywhere, but – she’s not really a great liar, is she. Storm will have to do. At least she won’t have to lie when discussing where she comes from.

About the name –

If she’s supposed to come from a family where it was known who her ancestor was, she should be named accordingly. Certainly, not after a queen or anything of the kind. She racks her memory, trying to remember if she ever read of any woman in the songs concerning Duncan, and she heard enough of those, and read enough of his adventures, too – the man was famous and she had devoured those books, back in the day.

Didn’t he run into a beautiful noblewoman who offered him a place in her guard? Brienne thinks he did. She thinks the woman was Lady Rohanne Webber.

She thinks, and if she were, it’d be likely that her commoner family might have named her like that in honor of their illustrious ancestor, but it’s going to have to work either way, because they’re right in front of the door, and present-Jon is asking for permission to be allowed inside, and gods Jaime is behind that door, and Aerys Targaryen is, too, and she kind of wants to faint, but –

No.

No, she won’t.

She stops. She waits until the door is open and she’s told to come forward.

Gods, she’s so not ready for this, but it doesn’t matter, not when the fate of the entire continent is resting on her shoulders.

--

At the beginning, she doesn’t even dare glancing anywhere but at Aerys, and she can’t help thinking, if this is how he looked like when he wasn’t at his worst I cannot imagine what his worst was, because – maybe it’s what she knows. Maybe it’s that she feels cold creep along her spine. But the man looks already beyond mad, with his silver hair and violet eyes and lips set in a cruel, tight line, looking down at all of them as if he could annihilate them with merely a thought, and maybe he might at this point. She glances at his hands as he kneels. They’re grasping the throne’s handles. His nails aren’t too long, but they’re longer than they should be. She doesn’t even dare not raise until she’s told to.

She keeps her eyes down as the Hand of the King is told to stand and as Jon is told to stand, too.

He does, next to her. She does listen to him introduce himself as Roland Storm, former Golden Company captain, who lost his arm during his last fight and who had sailed to White Harbor so he could go back home after spending some time with some old friends from his mercenary days without knowing that the North was rebelling, and who had heard enough of Ned Stark’s plans on the way South to be sure that the King might want to hear them, as well.

“Interesting,” the king says, and his voice makes Brienne’s skin crawl. “Do go ahead.”

She does want to pay attention to the conversation.

She does.

But then her eyes catch the white cloak on the King’s right side.

No one is paying attention to her.

She glances at the person on the left. She definitely doesn’t know him. Must be Ser Whent.

The one on the right, though –

Gods.

It’s him.

He’s all clad in white, and same as when he was older, he looks all the more handsome for it, Brienne thinks. He has longer hair, and he’s completely shaved, and he’s standing fairly still with a hand on his sword and his back held up straight.

Honestly, he looks like a drawing out of a book, she thinks, that is, until she glances at his eyes.

He did tell her, that since Rickard and Brandon Stark died in front of him, he really did not pay attention to his surroundings whenever he had to stand through Aerys’s summons.

But –

She can see that he’s not with them, not even close. He’s staring at someplace under the throne, his eyes completely unfocused, not the bright green she remembers it being, and for a moment she feels like throwing up, but –

No.

No, she won’t.

She forces herself to listen to what’s been said.

“ – so, if I may give my humble opinion…” Jon is saying.

“Give it already,” Aerys says, still sounding very cautious.

“I think, knowing that Baratheon is hiding in the Stoney Sept and that Stark will come to his aid before the moon turns, it would be beneficial if we contacted Prince Rhaegar and warn him that he should head there before they can be aware of it, so that the rebels might be captured and tried as His Grace sees fit, and this whole matter be closed shortly and swiftly.”

Aerys hisses.

“Well, well,” he says, obviously considering it, “I would not easily trust someone I do not know, but your information does sound solid. Lord Connington, are you sure we can trust him?”

Brienne holds her breath. Please convince him, she thinks.

“I did try to check and verify what I could of it,” he says, “in such a short time. What I found out, does look true. Of course, I would leave as soon as possible, and I would bring him with for counsel, if His Grace accepts, and he would be carefully guarded to make sure he’s not lying nor bringing us into a trap, but nothing seems to indicate that he might.”

“Given that he might have just handed you, Lord Connington, enough information to deal with these traitors at once, of course you would bring him with. Well then, I suppose you should contact my son, after you explain me what he is doing here.”

Brienne doesn’t dare rise.

“Please, do rise,” present-Jon tells her.

Brienne does, shakily.

“Your Grace,” she says, hoping that her voice sounds firm and not brimming with the rage she’s trying to tamper down, “I am honored to be here.”

For a moment, Aerys stares at her, very intently, with dark violet eyes that seem to want to flay her open, and Brienne shudders.

How did Jaime even stand to be near him for two years?

What a question, she thinks. She knows how. She’s seeing it, or she would, if she dared look at her right.

“A woman?”

He doesn’t sound too pleased of it. Actually, he sounds like he’s not appreciating such a joke being pulled on him.

“The last living descendant of Duncan the Tall, though,” present-Jon interferes, and Brienne could kiss him for saving her from falling back on her knees all over again, even if she knows he wouldn’t appreciate nor care for it. “Roland here met her on the road and they traveled together, and that’s why they came together to talk to me.”

At that, Aerys’s interest is piqued. If anything, he doesn’t look at her as if he wants to burn her alive for sure, just that as if he’s considering it, which is a definitive improvement.

Ser Duncan,” he mutters. “Well, you certainly do look like him, and he did have a few mistresses scattered around the kingdoms, or so my grandfather said. Hm. What’d your name be then?”

“Rohanne,” she says, “Rohanne Storm. I was born on the cost facing Tarth. I never knew him, my great-grandfather, I mean, your Grace. I was too young for it. But I heard of him from his daughter – my grandmother. And – as I am sure His Grace can see, the gods didn’t grace me with a womanly built.”

“That they didn’t,” Aerys says.

Actually, no. He laughs.

It sounds like he is the only one having fun in between the whole lot of them, but better that he finds her amusing than anything worse. Whatever humiliation she has to go through she will take it, if it means she gets to stay here and that she can carry out her mission.

“But – she said – that I kind of did look like him. And – I might not have a womanly build, but I have a knight’s build. The entirety of my village agreed that I did take after him, when it comes to skills with a sword. And – Ser Duncan died honorably protecting your grandfather and your family. I should like – I should like to follow his example.”

“By dying?”

“By fighting for you, my king,” she says, not adding as much as I wish you would drop dead right the hell now.

Aerys says nothing. Present-Jon clears his throat. “Your Grace,” he says, a lot more smoothly than before, probably emboldened by the fact that Aerys hasn’t ordered her killed yet, “I have seen her fight. She’s quite a threat,” he adds, and she can hear I just hope she’s as good as she says she is even if he’s not saying it. “And – the Kingsguard is admittedly barren, right now, what with only Ser Whent, Ser Darry and Ser Lannister in the Keep, and who knows if some of them won’t be needed for the upcoming battle. If we leave, I should rest easier knowing there’s more than one person guarding you or the princess.”

Aerys laughs again, so loudly that Jaime startles – Brienne can notice it – and everyone else in the room does.

“Lord Connington,” he says, his long nails scratching against the iron of the throne, “are you seriously implying I should take a bloody woman in the Kingsguard or having her playing knight in the first place? When I don’t even know if she’s halfway good? I can believe she’d be related to Duncan, she’s his split copy, even if he was admittedly nice to look at. How about that scar, Rohanne?”

“I got it fighting a bandit,” she says, hoping her voice doesn’t betray how much she loathes him. “He tried to bite my face off.”

“And how did that end?”

“I killed him, Your Grace.”

Aerys scoffs. “Let’s assume it’s true. Even then, from that to being capable –”

Brienne knows she shouldn’t interrupt a king, never mind a mad one.

But –

Fuck that.

She’s gone through too much to be humiliated like this all over again, and at least in Winterfell no one ever questioned her skills, and she won’t gain her place by not showing some spine at the very least.

“Your Grace,” she says, “it’s true. There is nothing I wish more than to be in the Kingsguard.”

In truth, there’s nothing she wishes any less, but once she did wish for it. She just has to think very hard about how it felt.

“And I will fight every single knight in your service if it means that you will give me a chance to prove my worth.”

Aerys laughs again, though at least he sounds amused all over again and not like he’ll have her dead for having interrupted him. Maybe he thinks that he’ll have fun watching her fail.

Let him.

“Ser Whent,” he says, nodding towards the knight at his left, “do you reckon she could take Ser Dayne?”

“No,” Whent says, “no, your Grace. Definitely. But Dayne is not here. If you want me to show the woman her place –”

“No, no,” Aerys interrupts, “I think I have a better idea. See, Rohanne, Ser Dayne is sadly not here, but he seems to think that Ser Jaime has potential to be the second-best, after him, or might be soon.”

At that, Jaime does finally stop looking at the ground and moves his stare to her instead.

It physically hurts to see him not recognizing her at once, but –

But –

At first he looks completely out of his depth, but a moment later she thinks the look in his eyes seems… intrigued, instead?

“Your Grace?” He asks, his voice sounding carefully controlled.

“Lannister,” Aerys says, openly gloating. “I think you should fight the lady. If she bests you, or if she manages to at least not lose, maybe I could be swayed. If not, well, now that would be useless to even consider it. How about that?”

“Whatever His Grace commands,” Jaime says, shrugging off his cloak.

“I should be honored,” Brienne says. “And I shall need no armor.”

Jaime does look at her again, halfway smirking, and looking – amused? Maybe halfway impressed? But not because he thinks she has a chance of beating him, that’s for sure.

“My lady, playing with swords isn’t a light past time. Playing with swords without armors, though, now that’d be a trifle excessive, wouldn’t it?”

It’s delivered so blandly she can’t even feel offended.

As if.

She knows his heart isn’t in it and she has heard him when he insulted her for real, back when they first met each other. This is nowhere near the venom he had in him, back in the day.

“I don’t play with swords, Ser. I fight with them.”

She takes hers outside the scabbard and moves into the correct position. There’s enough space in front of the throne for a fair fight, she thinks, and –

The last time they did this, it was when he still had two hands, was in chains and had been prisoner for a year.

It was also the last time he fought someone with both hands.

And they had been pretty much on the same level, like that.

But –

She tries to think, as she waits for the thrice-forsaken king to tell them they’re free to spar.

Of course, he’ll be good. He’s most probably the best, not counting Dayne.

But she was as good as he was, when he was in his thirties and had had a decade (at least) to hone his skills, and when she was seventeen. Now he’s seventeen, barely, and she’s nineteen and he has seen Aerys, but she’s seen Lady Stoneheart, the White Walkers, two wars, and she’s killed more people than she could care for. Most important, since she killed Stoneheart and they fled to the Vale, she and Jaime sparred every damned day if they could, and they kept at it until the Walkers came and it became useless. It was to make him better with his left, of course, but the point is, she’s fought him countless times, and while only for one of them he was at his best, she knows how he fights, she knows his favorite tricks and he did teach her a thing or two that he couldn’t pull off anymore but that she could.

This Jaime, of course, has no clue that she knows. He also obviously thinks he’s going to win easily.

She needs to balance this fight, because if she disarms him too soon it might seem suspicious and she wouldn’t want to make him look incapable in front of Aerys on top of everything.

Brienne decides that the best course is trying to draw this out long enough to show them that she’s good at what she does but making sure that Jaime doesn’t look like a poor match against her, and then winning after an acceptable amount of time.

“Really,” Jaime whispers, as their blades touch – Aerys is still looking down at them, saying nothing –, “this is not a game. What are you even trying to accomplish?”

If anything, he sounds merely annoyed at her now.

“You wouldn’t imagine,” Brienne whispers back, and then –

“You may begin,” Aerys shouts, and Jaime moves back, his blade raising and then moving downwards.

Brienne thrusts hers back up, missing Oathkeeper’s familiar weight in her hands, and meets the steel kiss of Jaime’s, and settles to play this game for as long as she can stand doing it.

She does expect him to not imagine she’d know exactly what he was going to do – they danced this dance once upon a time, didn’t they? She blocks the next couple of blows he deals her, careful to not skim towards the throne and to not move back too much, and she purposefully doesn’t attack too boldly when it’s her turn, but enough that he has to hold his ground and take a step back.

She keeps herself on guard.

He stares straight at her.

His eyes don’t look so dead anymore, for now.

“All right,” he says, “you’re better than I thought.”

“I don’t like to brag,” Brienne replies, quietly, and she can see him smirk ever so slightly as he moves forward.

Good – she’s ready for him.

She meets all his blows, purposefully loses a bit of ground every time just to regain it later, and she’s just glad he’s obviously not noticing that she’s dragging this out on purpose, but thing is – they are evenly matched, and the more her sword clashes against his, the more she can see that he’s enjoying it, and if this was how he fought when he was barely seventeen –

Gods, she thinks, how would it have felt to fight him at his prime when his hands weren’t tied?

The thought distracts her enough to almost leave him enough of an opening to disarm her, but she manages to dodge at the last moment, not before his sword cuts through the blue of her tunic on her leg and stains it in red.

How ironic, she thinks.

That – that was close. She can hear Aerys humming, and then, Lannister, just show her already, he says, almost as if the fun of seeing them fight is wearing off.

Jaime looks at her with a face that says, it’s been fun, but sorry about having to disarm you for real, because of course he wouldn’t want them to go on if Aerys isn’t appreciating their little show.

I’m sorry, she thinks, for what’s not the first time and won’t certainly be the last, and when he comes at her again she stops playing around and turns on her side in a move that Jaime taught her in Winterfell, one that he assured her was especially effective, which according to him would have made the opponent think you were going to run or dodge when instead –

When instead you end up on your knees, and if you have the strength, can strike from below and surprise your opponent enough to disarm them.

She has the strength.

It works, and seconds later Jaime’s sword is out of his hands and flying towards the corner of the room.

She considers making him yield, but that’d be excessive humiliation and she thinks it’s not the point, not when she moves up to her feet with her sword pointed at his breastplate.

“What will it be?” She asks, keeping her voice as calm as even as she could.

“I’ll be –” Jaime starts, but then he raises his hands upwards and shakes his head. “I yield,” he admits, but he doesn’t sound very sorry about it.

Actually, he’s sending her an intrigued look, all over again.

Brienne has no time to consider it, because then –

“Look at that,” Aerys says, “I see that maybe Dayne should reconsider his opinions about his possible successor, hm?”

Jaime flinches. “I suppose so, Your Grace,” he says, suddenly sounding much more closed off, and his eyes go dull again. As if he’s going through the motions.

“Whent,” Aerys says, “let’s see if she can take you, too. In theory Lannister should have been the best, but who knows if it was an overestimation.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Brienne barely has time to glance towards her companions on the side – she’s fairly sure that both of them are wearing twin expressions begging her to not push this, but fuck it all. She needs a place in the guard and she’s not going to let this poor excuse for a knight come off as a better swordsman than Jaime, especially given that Jaime is the better one anyway. She won easily because she knew him already and he didn’t suspect that she had such an advantage, after all.

She lets Whent have a few blows, then disarms him as quickly as possible and she does leave him with his back to the ground while pointing her sword at his neck.

“What will it be?” She asks again, hoping to sound as calm and collected as before.

“I – I yield!” Whent doesn’t seem too happy about it, but Brienne cannot give a single damn about it. She dares glancing at Jaime. Now he’s looking at her in utter admiration – what, why?

Aerys tuts under his breath. “Well, well, well, seems like the woman is indeed Duncan’s seed, somehow. Lord Connington, what was it that you were suggesting, again?”

“That she’d guard you, Your Grace,” younger Jon says, cautiously, and wisely backtracking on the Kingsguard suggestion. “I understand that having her in the Kingsguard might be too much, but she would definitely be an asset to your protection, and if we leave for the Stoney Sept – well, there are orders for Ser Whent to come with, should we fight. The Lord Commander told me before he left with Rhaegar. Leaving you with two guards would certainly be better than merely one. Just in case.”

Aerys seems to consider it.

Then –

“It is unheard of, but then again, I am the king and I shall do as I please. Very well. She can’t be in the guard properly, because all seven men are still among us, for good and for bad, and I won’t stand for such a ridiculous notion made official. She can guard as much as she likes, though. That said… I doubt anyone could find her an armor on short notice. She can wear her grandfather’s, it will be good enough, whether it’s white or not. As far as you two are concerned, you can think about what it says about you that a woman beat you both,” he laughs, and Brienne can see that Whent is staring at her with a fair amount of hatred, most likely wishing she would drop dead.

Jaime, though –

Jaime isn’t.

He goes back at once to his blank expression from before, but for a moment, Brienne was sure he looked relieved.

Wait.

Didn’t he tell her –

Didn’t he tell her that he rued being the only one left in the Red Keep when everyone else had gone?

Of course, he’s relieved she’s here. It means there’s someone else to share his duties with, and if he has to go through this humiliation to get it, he probably thinks it’s worth the price.

She feels sick.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” she says, as courteously as she can, wiping sweat from her forehead. “I will try my best.”

--

“Good gods,” Jon tells her the moment the three of them are escorted out of the room and towards the armory in the White Sword Tower where she is supposed to look for Ser Duncan’s old armor, “I thought I would bloody die in there. Did you completely lose your mind?”

“By doing what,” she hisses, “replying to him? He did take me on, after all.”

“Fair,” he replies, “but you know that now he’s going to use you to make Lannister feel lesser, don’t you?”

Doesn’t she imagine that. “I know,” she says, “but I’ll live. And he’ll live. That’s what’s most important.”

“Well, you’ve barely managed, but never mind that. Come over.”

They’re at the first floor of the Lord Commander’s tower, following Jon’s present self.

“Here,” he said, “they keep the armors belonging to all previous Lord Commanders. It shouldn’t be too far or hidden, since he died recently all things considered.”

He brings the both of them in front of a large, white armor standing just on the left of the room, and – right. It was definitely made for a man. A large man, and a tall one. Still –

“Can you try it on?” Jon asks.

“Of course I can. I didn’t exactly have squires for most of my life.”

She’s not going to think of Pod.

Not now.

She quickly puts it on over her clothes, maybe not as accurately as she could, but by the time she’s done it’s obvious that while it might be a bit large, it does fit her well enough.

“Well,” Jon tells her, “at this point, proof or not, you might as well be the man’s heir. That thing fits you entirely too well.”

Gods. She’s going to parade around in a former Lord Commander’s armor.

“Take it off and bring it over to whatever room they’ll show you,” younger-Jon tells her, “you can fix it later. And I have to give you your own sword back before anyone finds out about it.”

“How about the two of you?”

Jon sighs. “I’d leave tomorrow, but we need to put a proper army together and we need to contact Rhaegar, and if I don’t remember wrong –”

“No, no one bar Whent and Darry knows where he is,” his counterpart says, “in theory, because you do, but –”

“I know, I can’t exactly say it. I will find Whent later tonight and instruct him very thoroughly about what he should say to convince Rhaegar to at least meet us at the Stoney Sept, or I could instruct you and you will instruct him, however works best for you.”

“Certainly we’re not leaving tomorrow.”

A moment later, a servant knocks on their door asking if they’re done, because he has to show the lady Rohanne to her room, not that it’s far. Brienne quickly takes off the armor, then hoists it under her arms and follows the other two men outside. The servant doesn’t look too impressed with her, but motions for her to follow.

“In theory,” he says, “you shouldn’t sleep here, since it’s only for the men in the guard, but most of them aren’t here and the king won’t have you in the castle. You can have the room near Ser Jaime’s.”

This is getting worse and worse, she thinks, or maybe it’s good news but she can’t see how right now. She nods and she’s shown to a small, bare room – it’s Ser Barristan’s, or so she’s told. There are belongings in it, of course, but not many. The window is small and the bed is barely big enough for her – gods, she had longed for this job once, and now she has just another reason to think it might not have been such a good idea.

Never mind.

“I am grateful,” she says. “What are my duties?”

The servant shrugs. “The king says you should go back to the throne room as soon as you can change into your armor and proper garb. There should be some old clothes of your grandfather’s left on the bed.”

“Very well. I will be there shortly.”

“You’d better be, my lady,” the servant says, and leaves quickly.

For a moment, neither of them says a thing.

“Get adjusted,” Jon tells her, sympathetically, “that’s all you’re going to get for the next few weeks.”

She shrugs. “I’ve been through worse.”

The other men look at each other, and Brienne can’t help feeling weirded out still – knowing they’re the same person isn’t helping.

“My lady,” younger-Jon says, “we should probably go and plan what we need to do when Rhaegar is concerned. Since that will require a lot of thinking, I fear. Will you be all right?”

“Of course. I – I will see you both whenever my service is over, I suppose?”

“Indeed. I’ll bring you back the sword and leave it under the mattress. That said… good luck. You’ll need it.”

Jon squeezes her arm before following his younger self out of the door.

Well then.

Brienne quickly gets rid of her clothes, makes sure that her wound is just a scratch, cleans it off with her ruined breeches and looks at the dusty, old ones that have been left on the bed.

She wears the breeches and the shirt and marvel at how well they fit her – not perfectly, Duncan must have been just slightly taller than she was, and a bit larger, but not too much.

She was kind of feeling guilty for just going with the Duncan’s great-granddaughter story without even knowing if that shield was in the armory for any other reasons, but at this point she really as well might be. It’s too much of a coincidence that not only she’d share the man’s features but also his size.

Maybe he’s the reason, she thinks as she puts on the armor and secures it. With a bit of work she manages to fix it in place properly – it’s not her custom-made one from her own time, but it will do.

She thinks of what Jaime said once about this damned white plate changing you the moment you wear it.

She shakes her head, places her sword at her hip, missing Oathkeeper’s weight all over again, and heads straight for the throne room.

--

“There’s the lady,” Aerys says. “Well, my Hand said he had need for Ser Whent. That’s his place. All yours.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” she says, and stands in the damned place.

She doesn’t even dare glance at Jaime.

Though maybe it would have been better if she had, she realizes not long later.

--

By the time the king says that it’s time for dinner to be served, it hasn’t even been that long, after all it was already sundown when they arrived here and now it’s dark outside, but she had to hear Aerys sentence to death some five people who were in the dungeons for fairly minor crimes, see a minor lord who hadn’t given – according to Aerys – enough men for their fleet being dragged to the dungeons with a promise of dying very soon and everyone else around them doesn’t even try to discourage Aerys’s decisions.

Good gods, and it’s been what, an hour? Two? Not even that long. She thinks of looking at worse than she has every day for years and she wants to hurl.

--

At dinner, she’s introduced to the princess Elia and the two children – both mother and daughter look surprised but not enraged or anything at her appointment. In truth, it’s the exact contrary.

“I think,” the princess tells her after their introductions, “that you would like Dorne, Rohanne.”

“Are knights such as me more common?”

“Entirely,” Elia replies, and her daughter beams next to her as she confirms her mother’s statement.

Brienne thinks, if I fail they will die all over again, and the appetite she had felt suddenly vanishes.

She also wonders how they’re supposed to sleep or eat when it’s two of them here (or will be soon) and Whent will leave soon.

How did Jaime even do it alone?, she thinks as she glances at him, standing right behind Aerys, looking down at the ground with that same, blank face while she stands behind the princess, though not as close.

--

“Lannister will escort me,” the king says as he finishes eating. Brienne feels really grateful that both Queen Rhaella and her firstborn are in Dragonstone already, or she can just imagine what Jaime would have had to listen to. “Rohanne over there will worry about the princess.”

Jaime bows and follows Aerys out.

Brienne doesn’t move.

Then –

“Rohanne? Please do eat something,” the princess says.

“I – I wouldn’t,” Brienne replies.

“Please,” Elia goes on. “You look like you need it. And I can escort myself and my children back to my room, don’t worry.”

“My lady,” Brienne says at once, “I wouldn’t want to be remiss in my duties on my very first day here. I will escort you and then I will come back and eat something, if it please you.”

“Well, it’s a fair compromise. Let’s walk then.”

She takes Rhaenys by the hand and waits for a maid to pick up Aegon, then Brienne follows all of them back to her chambers, memorizing the route. She answers to a few questions about her childhood as vaguely as possible, bides the princess goodnight and when she’s sure she’s settled she leaves while a few City Watch guards stationed by the door snicker at her and she goes back to get the food in question.

She eats a few leftovers, and then looks at the tray of lemoncakes left on the table. The maids are standing, ready to bring them away.

Brienne grabs a couple, making them think she will eat them outside the room, but instead she asks directions to Aerys’s rooms.

She finds Jaime perched outside the door, alone.

Of course he would be.

She swallows once, twice, and then she walks up to him, not daring to speak up in a high voice.

“Ser?” She whispers, and he suddenly turns towards her, tired green eyes meeting hers, and – he’s not hostile.

Just – guarded.

“Lady Rohanne.”

“I’m no lady,” she protests, and then she hands him the lemoncakes she had bundled in one of the dirty napkins – she hopes no one noticed, but given how many of the things are around a noble household, never mind the court, she highly doubts it. “I – I noticed that you must have been standing guard for the whole day. And I haven’t seen you eat anything. I haven’t been told our shifts, so I don’t know when yours ends, but I thought I’d bring you something from the kitchens.”

For a moment, he looks completely taken aback, as he reaches out and takes the bundle. “I’m not supposed to eat on duty,” he huffs, “but then again, I haven’t had anything since this morning. I suppose that I shall accept your peace offering.”

“I – was there ever a war between us?” She asks, and when he smirks ever so slightly in the exact same way he used to twenty years from this moment, she thinks she might faint.

“Unless you want it to be,” he says. “But you did give me a good fight, before. Not very good for my reputation, I’m afraid.”

“I – I only wish to do my duty,” she says cautiously.

He snorts, but it’s a very ugly sound. “You’ll wish I won that fight soon enough. But thank you nonetheless. As far as our… shifts go, I will be here for a few hours still. I was told you are to join me tomorrow morning, but since you’re sleeping next to my room, I suppose it won’t be hard to find you.”

“I will be there.”

“Good. Then go get some fucking sleep, since you can.”

No man of seven and ten should sound so tired, Brienne thinks as she nods and takes her leave.

--

Oathkeeper is indeed to be found under her mattress when she comes back to Ser Barristan’s room– she considers a better place to hide it, but then decides that the closet wouldn’t be that much safer and it’s highly unlikely that the owner of the room will come back anytime soon, if things go the same as they did. Actually, it’s even less likely if Rhaegar leaves the Tower of Joy and goes to the Stoney Sept, all of the Kingsguard will be there.

She leaves it where it is and sleeps, very little and very badly.

She’s almost glad of being woken up by someone knocking on her door, because it takes her from a fairly horrible dream where her Jaime looked at her with sad, disappointed her and asked, why would you hurt me so, and –

She looks out of the window. It’s night still.

She stands up and opens the door – it’s Jon.

“May I come in?”

“Of course,” she answers, letting him in. “Do you have any news?”

“Yes,” he says. “Thankfully he, well, we know, has enough sway to convince what’s left of the Small Council. I mean, I remember I did, but never mind that. I’m just convinced anything might go wrong.”

“Don’t you tell me,” she agrees. “So, what’s the result?”

“There’s a council meeting in the morrow – if everything goes the way it should, Whent is going to the Tower of Joy with our message to Rhaegar and he’s on orders to convince him to come whether he wants it or not.”

“What about Lyanna Stark?”

Jon sighs. “Well, she’s – she shouldn’t be able to travel at this point, maybe, I think, but I’m not so sure. But – I’ll bargain to send a maester with Whent and leave him there should she go into labor and hope that the truce works so Stark can go get her before she even delivers that baby.”

Brienne nods – it’s good enough, for now. It has to be, anyhow; she doubts that they could do more right now.

“Anyway, the plan is the following. Whent goes, we assemble more men than I had back in the day and we all leave for the Sept in time to meet Stark when he gets there. At that point Robert will have to come out of hiding or he will have already, and hopefully they’ll talk. Hopefully.”

“When should you leave?”

“As soon as the men are put together, I suppose, even if we’ll take the trip slow so that Rhaegar can catch up with us.”

Brienne nods. This makes –

“So how long do I have to be here? One moon?”

“I hope less,” Jon tells her, “but I doubt it’ll be the case. I’m sorry,” he says. “That said, I think I figured out a way to – well, make things less ugly for Lannister, shall we succeed. Or well, make it less likely that he’d die for killing the mad bastard.”

“Do tell me,” she says, trying to not let the small flicker of hope that just sparkled to life inside her turn into a flame lest she really does get burned.

“Mind that it’ll be dangerous.”

“I don’t care. Whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it.”

“Very well. We will have ravens, there. Before the negotiations start I’m going to send a message to the court. Unsigned, of course. It will say that everything has failed and Rhaegar died and the rebel army is marching towards King’s Landing.”

Oh, Brienne thinks, I think I know where this is going.

“If Aerys isn’t changed, he will react – the same way he did back then,” Jon whispers. “Which means that he might try to light that wildfire, and if he does, well, there you have an excuse. Rhaegar won’t protest if he’s told that his father was going to burn everything down, the responsible for the mistake won’t be known and be sure that – I, as in, my counterpart, will make sure to let him know that it was unavoidable. Mind that it will make Aerys lose whatever’s left of his wits.”

Which would make things wildly unpredictable, Brienne knows, but –

“It’s better than nothing,” she says. “I will wait for your message, then.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am,” she says. “Don’t worry. I can handle it. And I’ll make sure that the princess and her children are safe before making sure Aerys dies.”

“Good,” Jon tells her. “Good. Then we have an agreement.” He sighs, sounding very weary. “I should go,” he says. “Tomorrow will be a hard day and before I have to leave I should like to – to –” He can’t even seem to say it, but Brienne thinks she knows.

She tentatively puts a hand on his wrist. “You wish to see Aegon, don’t you?” She asks quietly.

“I can introduce myself the way I did to the king,” Jon replies. “Elia wouldn’t know me. And – gods, I thought such horrible things of her because I thought no one was worthy of Rhaegar, back in the day. What a fool I was.”

“Jon, we all made mistakes and we all were young and stupid.”

“Brienne, you’re not even twenty. I think you’re still young, albeit I would disagree on the second half of that sentence.”

“Believe me, I don’t feel young at all. Never mind that. Do it – I can imagine how it must feel.”

If it felt anywhere like it did for me when I saw Jaime again, I can indeed imagine it.

“You would,” he agrees. “I will introduce myself tomorrow. Meanwhile – I don’t know if we’ll have any more chances to talk like this from now on.”

No, Brienne realizes, that’s very unlikely, if he gets swooped into military planning and she’s guarding – either Aerys or Elia or her children.

“Probably not,” she agrees. “And in theory we shouldn’t even know each other, as far as everyone else but yourself is concerned. I – I imagine this is goodbye, at least if we don’t have another chance to talk?”

“I would like to not take any chances,” he agrees, and stands up. She follows, nodding, and feeling a knot in her throat. For a moment she thinks, should I, and then –

Fuck it all.

It’s awkward because she’s taller than he is and this isn’t something she’s done with many people – actually, maybe just with Jaime and a few others she could count on one hand – but shaking his hand would feel entirely too little, and so she reaches out and hugs him instead, and it might be awkward but she can feel that he has a strong grip as he returns it with his good arm.

“Good luck,” he tells her as they part. “I hope you succeed.”

“I wish you the same,” she tells him, trying to not cry. “I really do hope you can save your prince.”

“And I hope you can do the same with your knight, as much as you can,” he says softly, and then he squeezes her shoulder one last time and leaves the room, as quietly as he had come in.

She breathes in once, twice, thrice.

Her eyes are burning, and she kind of wants to cry and not just because she’s losing the one ally she had for sure (and he’ll bring his younger self with, so she’ll be on her own from a few days from now, and it never used to be a problem before, but now it is, gods if it is).

She doesn’t know who has it worse in between the two of them, because he at least has to save Rhaegar’s life and not ruin it, but he couldn’t very well stay around him lest someone recognized him, could he? As far as she is concerned, she can stay around Jaime indeed. She will have to.

But she still has to –

Her trail of thought gets broken when she hears steps outside her room. She stands still, breathing in shallowly, until she hears someone coming inside the next room over.

Jaime. Of course, it has to be. Maybe during the night, the City Watch takes his place guarding the king, or maybe Whent did for the last time.

She hears him take off his armor in silence, and she hears noise of clothes being shed, and she thinks of the times she would watch him take them off or she’d help him do it

(but this Jaime has two hands and no need for her help, nor would he want it)

and all the times they brought to other things, that she surely will not think of now because they had little time enough as it was and she can’t torture herself like this.

She hears Jaime sliding into the bed – damn. It has to be right on the other side of the wall.

She lets out the breath she had been holding and slides under the covers again. Maybe she can sleep again.

That is, she closes her eyes. She dozes off, maybe, with difficulty –

And then she hears screaming coming from the other side of the wall.

Her first instinct is throwing away the covers and running to the other side, the way she used to in Winterfell and on the road from the Vale

(she would move behind his back and put an arm around his waist and he’d stop turning over on his back, and he’d breathe slower, and then he’d wake up and look at her and closes his eyes as his face softened in relief, and he’d move his head against her shoulder and she’d run her fingers through his soft, golden hair and at some point they stopped pretending that sleeping separately was what they both wanted)

but she can’t now.

This is not the man she knew, and she already pushed it bringing him that food when she shouldn’t have and they have barely bloody met, in this time. She can’t just barge inside his room and do anything lest she looks absolutely inappropriate, and so she grasps at her pillow hard enough she thinks she’ll break its case as he screams again.

And again.

At some point, she’s sure he starts crying, and his voice is completely broken as he says, please don’t burn them.

She can’t do anything.

But –

She lets those tears she had kept in before fall against the pillow, not even bothering to stop them, because as miserable as she feels, she might at least keep him company even if he can’t know that.

Gods.

She’s right next to him, and she can’t do a thing, and whether Jon manages to send that raven or not, she has to make sure he kills Aerys, and she has never felt less deserving of even looking in his direction than she is now. Of course, when they met it was absolutely different and he wasn’t the man she realized he had the potential to be later (not the one he had become when he had understood he could still be Arthur Dayne), and she thinks she had gotten over thinking that in a world where the war hadn’t happened, someone like him would have never looked at her twice (and it seems like in this one he has noticed her, one way or the other), and he had told her she had helped with finding where the best part of him had gone, but –

Now she has him right beyond that wall, before his life was ruined, before he sacrificed his honor to save people who only ever had contempt for him after, before he gave up on his dreams of being Arthur Dayne, and instead of helping him –

Instead of helping him, she has to figure out the way she can least hurt him to save everyone else’s life, his included, and he can’t know, and she can’t go and tell him I know exactly what you’re dreaming of because you told me some seventeen years from now.

She’s never, never, never felt so useless, not even when she watched Renly die in front of her own eyes.

She hides her face in the pillow, pulling her blankets over her head, even if she can hear him all the same.

For now, she can’t do anything.

But if she has one moon left here at least, she will try to not be useless, even if she feels like she is right now, and maybe she will figure out a way to do what Bran said without risking to wake up in the future and find out Jaime’s head isn’t on his shoulders anymore, because that is a future she would very much hate to live in.

It should probably worry her, that she’s thinking if it has to be so to save all of Westeros I’d do it, but I’d never not regret it for the rest of my days and that if she had to live in a world where he’s dead then she might as well have stayed in Winterfell and died there.

In the morning, she won’t let those thoughts touch her any further, she decides, but for now she can’t stop them from coming, and she falls asleep listening to Jaime’s curses coming from the other side of the wall whenever he wakes up (and he wakes up at least three times before she loses count), swearing to herself over and over that she will try to find an alternate way to the obvious outcome of this quest until the very last moment.

It’s the least she owes Jaime, after all.

 

 

TBC

Chapter Text

He knows he should head for the council immediately – they have to give Ser Whent his letter to bring Rhaegar, he has to convince everyone of his plan and he has to do it while Aerys still thinks him an asset and he needs to be fast, because the more time passes the worse the pit in his stomach seems to become even wider with the need to know things are under control and that Rhaegar will live.

But as he breaks his fast at the far end of the table he can’t help glancing over at Elia and her children, sitting on the opposite side. Aerys isn’t here – thankfully. Brienne and Jaime Lannister aren’t here either – then again, Aerys breaks his fast in his own room and Jon has a feeling the princess isn’t the first priority around the Red Keep when it comes to make sure of the royal family’s safety.

He eats the last of his bacon and stands up, hoping against hope that having wholly ignored Elia’s existence as much as he could back in the day means that now she won’t even link him to the current Hand of the King.

“My lady,” he tells her, clearing his throat and bowing as much as he can without looking ridiculous and losing his balance.

She looks up at him before nodding back courteously and standing up – Rhaenys is dutifully finishing her food, Aegon is sleeping in the crook of her arm.

He feels a damned pang to his heart.

“Ser – Roland, was it?” She asks, only courtesy in her tone.

“Indeed,” he says. “Forgive me if I disturb you, but I haven’t had the chance to pay my respects properly yet and it seemed the appropriate moment.”

“Oh, that’s no bother at all. I heard you will talk to the small council soon?”

“In a short while, yes, but I do have a bit of time left. I merely hope that what I heard will help the crown settle things.”

“If it brings my royal husband back here alive we shall all be plenty grateful to you, Ser,” she says, her voice turning slightly sour as she looks down at her child.

Who once was also his, even if she cannot know that yet and never will, however things go.

“I – I hope the same,” Jon says, as diplomatically as possible. “Hopefully he will be.” Indeed. “And – I should go soon, but I just wanted to say, those are two absolutely fine children.”

Rhaenys smiles behind her spoon.

Jon thinks, guiltily, and I never even took notice of her back then, because she looked like her mother.

“Thank you,” Elia says, and now she sounds delighted. “Admittedly, this one’s all his father, but let’s hope he is for the best reasons.”

Oh, he will be, Jon barely manages to not say. “From what I hear about his lord father, it sounds like the truth.” He had been about to tell her that yes, he was, but then he remembers that a soldier who’s been in the Golden Company for years and is supposed to be bastard-born to boot would have never had the chance to see the crown prince up close.

Then he notices how tired she looks, and how – older than he remembered her looking, and then he has to admit, wouldn’t she have all reasons? Her husband just disappeared with a younger woman he ran off with and that he crowned Queen of Love and Beauty while she was attending, and she’s been here with two children, little protection and Aerys for company for most of the time since.

How unfair had he been to her, back in the day? And just because Rhaegar married her, when admittedly, and it hurts to say it, he never really loved her in the first place?

(Same as he never could love him, Jon thinks bitterly.)

“You’re one courteous knight, ser,” she replies, sounding happy about it, though. “Let’s all hope that you being here is a sign we can end this – this rebellion without further bloodshed.”

“That’s what I hope, too. I – I should go now, the Small Council won’t wait that much longer, but I will do my best to help out.”

“Then let’s all hope we succeed,” she says, smiling sincerely even if tiredly, holding her son closer to her chest.

Jon has to bow and take his leave before he throws up or does something even worse.

Bran Stark had said that Elia had to live, but thing is – before, he had figured he’d take what precautions he could and leave the rest in Brienne’s hands.

Now, though –

Now he doesn’t know if he can without making sure he’s done everything in his power to avoid it, if only as a late apology to the poor woman when he only scorned her for jealousy all his life.

He breathes in, puts himself back into a semblance of composure and heads back for the Small Council’s room.

--

Ser Whent had not looked too convinced at his orders, Jon thinks as he watches him leave not long later, but at least he hadn’t questioned them.

Good thing that, since if he had – well, if he had Jon would have remembered enough from his time here and heard enough from Brienne to know how to convince him anyway.

“I still don’t understand why you had to send the maester. It’s just going to slow him down.”

Jon had never thought he’d ever wish to chide himself, but look at where he is.

He turns back to his own younger face staring straight at him.

“Because,” he says, “it’s mandatory that Ned Stark lives and that he has at least his first four children, and if his sister doesn’t die in childbirth maybe it would make things somewhat easier.”

“You’re assuming that it’s mandatory.”

“Well, I’m here because his fourth son saw fit to send me, now do you think I really want to risk doing something that would put that child out of existence for sure when I can avoid it?”

And when I saw Jon Snow die in front of me in my time, and when I knew him long enough that I’d have given my other arm if it meant that he’d live.

He can’t help remembering how dreadfully unhappy Jon always looked, more than his father ever did at his most melancholic, and how he thought that was no way a boy of not even eight and ten should have looked. If he can shape the future somehow, he wants him to have at least both his parents, if he can’t have a normal life at any point.

Because he is the one, isn’t he?

Even if it eventually didn’t matter, did it?

“Gods,” his younger self groans, “couldn’t we just have gone ourselves and warned him?”

How rash I was back then.

Or now.

“No,” Jon replies, hoping it’s with a tone of finality. “It’s a long way until Dorne and I need to make sure of a few other things here.” He considers telling himself of the plan when it comes to Lannister, then he decides that it’s better saved for later. The last thing he needs is throwing that into this whole affair, too.

“As in? You have free leave and free reign of the Red Keep, as far as everyone’s concerned for now, but I’d like to know what it is you’re thinking since according to the king and according to the entire court, I brought you here.”

Right, that would be a sensible request, Jon thinks.

Too bad that knowing himself, he knows he’s not going to listen, at least at first.

“Very well. I need to make sure nothing happens to Elia Martell first and foremost, nor to her children.”

He can see his own eyes narrowing and his own hands (how lovely it would be, to have two once again) curling in fists.

“I’m not –”

“I never said you had to make sure. I said I had to make sure.”

“I don’t see how – you said her children were important.”

“No, you didn’t hear me out. Bran Stark said Rhaegar had to live, along with all of his children, along with Elia. Lyanna’s survival wasn’t as relevant, as long as her son did live, but – Gods, you think I don’t remember?”

“What, how it feels to look at her and hate that she –”

That exactly,” Jon interrupts himself. Shit. Right. It’s a sour wound still. He knows it was. It was for him, too, years later, but that was before he realized how vain his efforts had been and before he saw how Lannister looked gutted in the days before he died when he was delirious with fever and said he couldn’t protect her but that he had wanted to, and before he actually talked to her earlier in the morning. “I know. Do you think I don’t remember that wedding? Do you think I didn’t want to look away when they kissed? Do you think I don’t remember that I got drunk before the bedding on purpose so I would have an excuse to not join? I do. But I also raised that woman’s son for years, and I saw him die in front of me, same as I saw his half-brother die for nothing, and she hasn’t – she hasn’t chosen this, she’s been treated ill enough and I certainly don’t want her to die while Gregor Clegane rapes her with her son’s blood on his hands, as far as she knows anyway.”

He can see a certain disgust come across his own younger face. Good.

“Fine. And how do you plan to make sure of that?”

“I’m thinking on it, but I have a feeling I need to talk to Jaime Lannister to clear my mind. Do you think you have enough sway to excuse him from his duties for a while?”

“Have you forgotten? Aerys isn’t ever letting it happen, unless you ask him first, I suppose. Especially now that Whent’s away. Fine, Ser Darry should be back shortly, but I doubt he’s going to stay here.”

“No, and he shouldn’t,” Jon sighs.

“… Wait, why? Because he wasn’t here the first time this happened, according to you?”

“No, because Brienne has to make sure Aerys dies and from what I remember he’d have opposed it. Never mind that. I’ll have to chance it, I suppose.”

“So what, are you going to ask Aerys to let you borrow his Kingsguard for the day?”

“Hopefully I will just have to talk,” Jon sighs, and then leaves the room. He needs to be fast, especially if Aerys is not in a good mood today, and if he wants to find some way to make sure Gregor Clegane never even reaches the Red Keep he needs to talk to someone who would have a clue of how the man thinks or behaves – he only hopes Rhaegar knighted him because he wanted such a strong man in his ranks, and didn’t that backfire spectacularly? – and the Cleganes are sworn to the Lannisters and there’s just one person in here whose name is Lannister.

He doesn’t have much of a choice.

He heads for the throne room, hoping against hope that Aerys is in fact in a good mood –

Just to run into Jaime Lannister walking in the other direction, with a weird look to his face – on one side he looks utterly relieved, on the other he’s a bit hunched on himself, as if he wishes he could disappear into the ground.

Doesn’t Jon get him now.

“Ser Lannister,” Jon says, and he stops at once.

“Ser Roland,” Lannister replies, looking up at him with a young face that Jon can’t quite place because he talked to the man more when he was five and thirty than when he was seven and ten and it’s just all so weird. “Can I help you?”

“Actually, yes. Do you have a moment or are you in a hurry?”

Lannister lets out a strangled laugh. “Well, in theory the King has sent me to look after the princess for the day because since I lost to a woman yesterday, it’s fit that I spend time with the women, so I was heading to her rooms, but you might walk with me if you like.”

“Of course,” Jon says, thinking that it’s ideal – he won’t need much more time to make his point. He’s tempted to ask Lannister whether he’s relishing his situation or not, but from what he sees the burn of the humiliation doesn’t hurt near enough to outshadow the relief of being out of Aerys’s shadow for a while.

He hopes Brienne will fare decently, but he’s seen enough of her to know she will.

“So, what do you need to know?” Lannister asks, guarded and without letting anything transpire from his tone.

Jon remembers him looking overjoyed at Harrenhaal.

He doesn’t ask himself, what happened to him. He knows.

“I was – while I was traveling North, uh, I ended up sharing bread with some soldiers who thought I was just going to King’s Landing for a passage to the Summer Islands. Some were talking of possibly convincing some prominent Lannister men to join their ranks, so to speak.”

Lannister obviously bites his own tongue. “Such as?”

“It seems like the rebels are thinking of Gregor Clegane. Because he was technically sworn to the crown, but –”

“Don’t even count on that,” Lannister interrupts him. “I mean, if you need to know whether you’ll have to fight Clegane or not, stay sure that unless my father tells him that our family is joining the Rebellion, he won’t.” Jon can hear some sort of desperate hope in that, and of course, because isn’t Lannister also a glorified hostage in all of this? Sure as the seven hells Aerys did keep him here to avoid his father siding against the crown.

“Well, that’s a relief to hear, I suppose. And what if we wanted to convince him to come back?”

“Ser Roland, you’ve been with the Golden Company too long. No one in my father’s service ever leaves it if he doesn’t agree with it, and Gregor Clegane isn’t an exception. Good gods, he’s even employing that monster’s younger brother who’s what, twelve? No one is stupid enough to risk that, unless the rebels lose and Aerys threatens my father with fire and blood to make him bend the knee.”

“So we can assume that Ser Gregor is currently in your father’s army waiting for his orders?”

“You can also assume he will carry them out brutally,” Lannister agrees tiredly.

They’re almost at the princess’s rooms now, and Jon should probably think his plan through.

Still –

“I – I hope yesterday didn’t cause too much trouble for you, Ser.”

Lannister about has to stop himself from laughing in his face. “Sorry, meaning what?”

“Well, the lady was coming with me, and –”

“Ser Roland, may I tell you something, from knight to knight, that I should hope you will never report to anyone else if you don’t want me to murder you on sight the next time we see each other?”

Jon holds a breath at how Lannister suddenly sounds serious, completely and utterly, and gives him a soft nod.

“I’ll need your word.”

“You have my word.”

“Very well. Ser, as much as I hope for everyone’s sake that this rebellion ends with the least possible bloodshed and that Prince Rhaegar comes back to everyone’s satisfaction, you have seen how the king is lately.”

“I – I have.”

“There’s quite literally no bloody humiliation I wouldn't suffer if it means that I don’t have to stay in his presence for the entire day, and if being beaten by someone who’s at least as good as I am is the price I have to pay, who cares. And I have never told you this. Are we clear?”

“Of course,” Jon says at once.

Lannister sends him a fairly surprised look. “What? Nothing to say about how I’m not doing my duty?”

“I’m not wearing white,” Jon tells him. “It’s not my place to judge you. And – I hope you have some respite then.”

Lannister sends him such a grateful look, for a moment, that Jon’s knees almost falter.

“If it consoles you, if more people like you were wearing white maybe we’d be better off,” Lannister mutters. “Have a good day, Ser Roland. And may your knowledge help save us all.”

He turns his back to him and knocks on the door, and Jon starts to leave, but then he turns back just to glance at Lannister’s utterly relieved face as he’s let inside the room.

Fuck.

Fuck.

If he needed any more reasons to go ahead with his plan when it concerns Lannister then he just got them, but – he was going to send that raven because of Brienne more than anything else, and because he knows she wouldn’t want the consequences of their actions to ruin the man’s life, but now that he’s actually talked to him –

Fuck, how did he never even notice the first time around?

Because I was too absorbed thinking about helping Rhaegar, resolving this rebellion honorably and successfully and I didn’t think of anyone else.

Not that his younger counterpart isn’t making the exact same mistakes, in theory.

No, he thinks as he makes his way towards the room he’s currently being given, he’s not going to leave anything to chance if he can when it comes to this entire business, and if it includes making sure Lannister doesn’t die or has his life ruined, so be it.

--

At least it’s a comfortable bed, he thinks as he sits down on the mattress and tries to make some kind of mental list of everything he has to deal with before he leaves. He wishes Brienne was here to discuss it with, but now that would be risking too much and he can’t afford to go look for her, especially if she is on Aerys-watch duty.

So.

Lannister has to kill Aerys and live, but his timed lying raven should be enough to solve it, along with making sure his younger counterpart listens to him and supports Lannister’s cause, but he will make himself listen, however much it takes.

Lyanna Stark should live, if he can help it, but beyond sending the maester there was nothing else he could have done bar making sure the war ends and let Ned Stark get her.

Elia has to live and the children do, too, and that requires making absolutely sure that Gregor Clegane never even sets foot in the Red Keep, because even if Brienne manages to be there to guard Elia, she’d be one against the bloody Mountain and however many men he brings with, and he knows she might be that good and that she has Valyrian steel, but chancing it wouldn’t be a good idea. Now, Clegane only comes if Tywin Lannister sees value in Elia dying, but if they do manage the truce, he wouldn’t have any reason to do so –

Would he?

Can he trust his hunch on this? He can’t, especially because who even bloody knows how Lannister would behave in such a situation – he didn’t raise a finger during the Rebellion until he was sure of who’d win, and – no. From what he’s heard from both his sons back before they both died –

He can’t plan anything based on assumption when it comes to Tywin Lannister. He can’t make sure Gregor stays out of King’s Landing for sure –

But –

But then he realizes, who even brought Aegon to you?

He stands up at once, slamming the door open and looking for Varys – if he can’t keep Gregor from Elia for sure, he can keep her from Gregor.

Or better, Varys could, and Jon will most likely make sure he fucking will. As he walks through the hallways, he considers coming up with some lie, but maybe –

Maybe not.

He knows he should keep his mouth shut, but Varys is observant, and Varys figures things out, and Varys is most likely going to want to know more about the mysterious Rohanne Storm, and Brienne might need a friend or at least someone who’ll help her in this nest of vipers the moment he’s gone.

Also, Varys works for the realm, and what is Jon doing right now?

He has to ask around and it’s too long a time before he’s finally directed toward the gardens, where Varys is taking a stroll.

Good, at least they’ll be alone.

“Lord Varys,” he says, falling into step with the man, and not even attempting to introduce himself.

“Ser… Roland,” Varys replies, sounding surprised. He looks so much younger than he did when he brought Aegon over, Jon thinks, and it’s been merely years. “I believe we haven’t had the pleasure yet?”

Jon considers it – should they do this now, or somewhere else?

They’re out in the open. Maybe it is too dangerous.

“In theory,” Jon says.

“In – theory?”

“My lord,” he says, “I urgently need your help. But I cannot say now or here. I need a private place.”

Private? And what does in theory –”

“It means we already know each other,” Jon whispers. “My lord, take a good look at me.”

“Excuse me?”

“I know how it sounds. Just do, please.”

Varys scoffs but does, staring straight into Jon’s eyes for a moment, then longer, than longer, and then –

Then he shakes his head.

“I – Ser, I am afraid I am seeing things.”

“If you are assuming you already know me because I look like the Hand of the King but older,” Jon whispers, “it’s because I am. Now, can you bring me somewhere secluded? Because I am in dire need to talk to you.”

Varys’s face goes pale in the scarce moonlight, blood instantly draining from it, and of course it would, because who even reacts to this kind of thing with composure? But thankfully, instead of calling him mad or asking for help, he nods and motions for Jon to follow until they go back into the castle and Varys turns into what looks a small door in the kitchen’s direction and then leads into a long tunnel instead.

Of course, it would.

Jon follows Varys until they stop in a small recess underground – it’s cold and damp and miserable and the only light is Varys’s torch, but it’s definitely quiet, secluded and private.

“Is this secluded enough for you?” Varys asks.

“It is. And I’ll be brief. Yes, I’m Jon Connington. If you’re wondering how and why I’m this old and short an arm, it’s because I come from the future.”

“… My lord,” Varys says, slowly. “The voice is the same. The eyes are the same. Your face is – well, if you look, it’s obvious that it’s the same. But such a story –”

“I need you to listen to me, Varys, the same way you wanted me to listen when you approached me outside in the gardens on the night Rhaegar married and you let me understand you knew I was in love with him.”

Fuck, he hasn’t ever said it out loud like this, but –

Varys’s face turns even paler – right now it’s bordering on ashen. “No one saw me –”

“That’s because I was there and that’s how I convinced myself to listen to me. Now, Lord Varys, please do listen to me because I don’t have much time and I really do need your help. Actually, the entire realm needs it.”

Varys nods and listens as Jon tells him everything, leaving out the fact that Brienne and Lannister were involved back in their timeline because he doesn’t need to know that and use it as leverage, and by the time he’s done, Varys looks like he might faint.

“If – if what you say is true –”

“It is. I haven’t lost an arm for bloody nothing. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, Rhaegar thinks he’s doing the best for the realm, and he technically is, but he’s going at it wrongly, and this rebellion won’t help things, and the boy – the three-eyed crow – did say that there was more than one future he tried to look at.”

“And?”

“And, things only worked out in one of them. One. Which is why I cannot leave anything to chance, and neither can the lady.”

“Right. Lady Rohanne, or should I say –”

“Lady Brienne of Tarth,” Jon sighs, “but no one has to know.”

“Good gods,” Varys whispers, “Lord Selwyn’s last daughter is named –”

“Yes, it’s her, just very much grown up. Now, we do have a plan. What I need you for, is to make sure everything goes as it should.”

“As in?”

At least he’s hearing Jon out. Good. “The plan is, I’ll be going to the Stoney Sept with an army and with… myself, I suppose, and with Rhaegar in time to meet Ned Stark instead of trying to lure Robert out and lose time and men and strength. In between me, myself, hopefully Arthur Dayne and so on, we will manage to convince Rhaegar that he wants a truce and not a war, and if we are lucky and convincing and talk reason into all of them, they will agree on finding a solution that requires stripping Aerys of his crown and putting Rhaegar in his place.”

“Didn’t you say Aerys has to die and Lannister has to do it?”

“Brienne is in charge of making sure that happens, but at the same time, you will receive an anonymous raven saying that the negotiations failed and Rhaegar is dead so that Aerys loses control and they have an excuse to actually kill him without Lannister losing his head for it. And the first thing I need you to do is making sure he doesn’t lose his head for a mistake after it’s found out that the raven lied.”

“But –”

“My younger self will, too. No one here wants Lannister to die for it. Clear?”

“Clear,” Varys says, resigned. “Is that all?”

“No. In my time, Gregor Clegane killed Elia and Rhaenys and a baby you had swapped for Aegon at the last moment.”

“You told me.”

“In this timeline, Elia has to live. Along with all her children. So, I don’t think that if our truce stands Lannister would attack King’s Landing, but if he ever does – you hid Aegon only one time. You have to hide all three of them if Clegane ever sets foot in King’s Landing. Don’t give me any horseshit about it being impossible – we’re under a tunnel that only you know of, probably. I don’t care if you have to hide them in the least famed brothel in King’s Landing, they have to be out of the Red Keep if Ser Gregor ever comes close to it. Understood?”

Varys stares at him for a long moment, but then he nods once, curtly. “My lord, I can recognize you just by the temper. Very well, I swear I will attend to the princess.”

“Good, because if they die, we’re done for. All of us. It’s not just about Elia or Rhaegar or Lyanna Stark, is about the entire realm.”

“I can hear it in your voice,” Varys sighs, sounding troubled but not as if he wants to contradict him. “And I’m not sure I even want to know what I would be avoiding. I have a feeling it’s in those same books Prince Rhaegar read a long time ago.”

“If anything, you always were quick on the uptake, Lord Varys. Also, let the lady know that if she needs help, she might ask you.”

“And how should I help her?”

“I don’t know, but the moment I leave along with myself she won’t have anyone to turn to and she might want to know someone would be able to help her out, if she needed anything.”

“So what, I am your contingency plan?”

Jon has to laugh at that. “You might be, Lord Varys.”

The other man thinks about it, then sighs wearily. “Fair enough. Will you let her know or should I?”

Good question. He doesn’t know if he’ll have any chances to talk to Brienne in private, especially if Aerys decides to further punish Lannister by keeping him in Elia’s chambers.

“I will try, but – tell her yourself anyway. Just in case I cannot.”

“Very well. Is this conversation over?”

“Yes,” Jon says at once – it is. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

“Well, you’re helping out, or you’re saying you are, and I suppose I can’t ask for more than that. Just – let her know.”

Varys nods again and nods towards the way they came from.

Jon understands the message and leaves him be, heading back towards the exit of the tunnel, and wondering what else is he supposed to do now. Whent won’t be back at all and he can’t expect any raven to reach them from the Tower of Joy for a long time if it ever reaches them before they have to leave.

Gods, it’s going to be at least two weeks before they do – Whent and the maester won’t get to the Tower of Joy before then if they change horses throughout the entire trip, travel part of the journey by river and exhausts themselves, so it’s likely they won’t for longer, and from the Tower of Joy to the Stoney Sept it’s a hell of a long time.

Thing is, if he remembers right, and he thinks he does, Ned Stark isn’t going to get there for a good month at least, probably longer, so their timing is good, but –

But it means he has to spend two weeks at least in the palace, and won’t that be hilarious when the last thing he does is being seen along his younger counterpart long enough to raise suspicions? Varys did notice, when prompted. Granted, not everyone is Varys, but still –

He resolves to not be around his counterpart as much as he can handle.

--

That evening, he’s invited to dine with Aerys.

He’s thankfully put near Elia and not near himself.

He can see Brienne standing behind both Aerys and himself with the pale face of someone who regrets all of their life choices, while Lannister is sending her occasional pitying looks, as if he knows exactly what she’s going through but he can’t do anything about it.

Jon doesn’t dare sneak out of his room that night, and he sleeps very, very badly.

--

The next day, he considers not even showing up for breakfast, but he does. Lannister is still outside the door, casting a glance on Elia and the children once in a while. Aerys isn’t there.

Brienne isn’t either.

--

He doesn’t dare join his younger self for any meeting of the Small Council, not after he said his piece, and maybe he should have, because then he thinks, will Rhaegar understand how urgent it is that he leave Dorne and join us?

Jon should know he will and would, because after all isn’t he doing all of this for the third head of the dragon to come into the world? Of course he is, and so he should come at once if he’s warned that he might lose his own life for it, but still –

Still, he hadn’t even thought about it back in the day. His younger counterpart isn’t doing it either, most probably, but what good was in going so far from the capital, to bloody Dorne, instead of – taking the girl as his lover or a second wife or anything that wouldn’t have caused a damned war?

Rhaegar never was this rash or irrational. Jon would know, he’s known him for years

And still.

He only ever came back from the Tower after Jon lost everything, didn’t he?

He should be here, a small voice tells him. He should have been here all along.

It’s not even mid-morning and he’s in dire need of passing out drunk, he thinks.

He shakes his head, stands up from the bed and decides that there’s nothing forbidden in taking a stroll in the gardens or maybe outside the Red Keep.

Though in that case he should maybe leave a warning.

He settles for the gardens, which seem fairly empty all things considered –

That is, until he runs into Princess Rhaenys, who’s also running across the garden and slams right into his leg.

“Sorry!” She says sheepishly, as –

As Jaime Lannister shows up just behind her.

“No harm done, Princess,” Jon tells her, shakily.

“Ser Roland,” Lannister tells him, nodding, as he takes a breath of relief seeing that the young lady is unharmed. “Sorry about that. It seems like I cannot quite run so fast with an armor on,” he says, but he doesn’t sound annoyed. He sounds relieved?

Hells, he looks a year younger than he did when they showed up, and he’s been away from Aerys how long, two days?

“Ser Jaime,” Jon nods back. “I see that you aren’t… with the king?”

Jaime shakes his head. “He seemed to think I need a prolonged lesson in humility,” he says, shrugging. “So I’m paying the princess company for a while, it seems.”

Rhaenys lets out a very unladylike laugh, as if she’s absolutely not unhappy.

“You don’t seem very gutted about it,” Jon says, cautiously.

“Ser, quite honestly?” He comes closer, dropping his voice so that no one hears them. “I’d be glad to learn this lesson for however long I have left in the King’s service, at this point. Even if it’d be unfair to the poor lady,” he admits, sounding halfway guilty about it.

Suddenly, they both freeze.

If he hasn’t just heard a faint scream coming from the throne room then Jon’s ears are as badly off as his arm, and given Lannister’s ashen face, he’s not the only one who’s heard.

He’s not sure he wants to know whatever Brienne has just witnessed inside that room, and from Lannister’s expression, he doesn’t want to know either.

Lannister excuses himself a moment later, quickly making sure the young princess is with him and then leading her back inside.

Good gods, she could be his sister, he thinks helplessly, and he feels suddenly his stomach clench in guilt as he recalls that he barely ever spared that girl a thought after he had to leave Westeros, and even after he took on raising her brother.

It’s not as if he can go find himself and explain him how and why he should have actually cared, and so he runs after Lannister.

“Ser Jaime?”

“Yes?”

“Can – can I ask you a courtesy?”

“If it’s in my power, of course.”

“Just – I need to go on an errand in the city. If you see the Hand of the King, can you tell him that?”

“Of course. Should I tell you where he’ll find you?”

Jon thinks about it for a moment.

Then –

“If he needs to find me, he’ll know. Tell him I said that.”

“Very well,” Lannister agrees.

Good.

He needs to be out of here already.

--

“Isn’t it a bit too early for this?”

Look at that, Jon thinks as he downs the last of his second ale. He didn’t lose any time.

“It’s barely midday,” Jon shrugs. “And I needed a distraction.”

“A distraction. You know that I’m hanging this entire plan on your information and the last thing anyone needs is finding you in an inn in Flea Bottom drinking away whatever is your problem?”

Jon looks up at himself and smiles sadly – it’s not as if he’s even drunk.

“Don’t you worry,” he says, “I’m nowhere near a pathetic state. Not even close.”

“Fine, and why the hell are you even here?”

“I needed to get out of there,” Jon shrugs. “I had forgotten how pleasurable was to listen to Aerys’s business from outside that room.”

What?”

“Right. I could barely even notice, back then. I guess you can barely even notice.”

“You’re making no sense.”

“Aerys is burning people alive in front of him,” Jon shrugs, “and that poor girl is there staring at it and she’s probably thinking that it’s a good thing she is and Lannister is not.”

“About that,” his younger self says, “what the hell is going on with her and Lannister? No one without any stakes is that eager to take on that bloody job.”

Jon shrugs. “They were in love,” he says. “Back when we come from.”

He does expect the laugh. “Sorry, what?”

“Why,” Jon says, “you think she’s too ugly for him? Don’t you worry, he can look beyond that, and so will we. Or better, so will you, in a few years, if this entire thing doesn’t work out and you end up the way I did.”

Excuse me?”

Jon laughs. “Didn’t you hear me out the first time? Aerys exiled me. Let’s not say you, yet. Before Varys found me and I had to pretend to have fallen in disgrace to raise Aegon in secret, I was in the Golden Company. I imagine you’ve never met Myles Toyne, since I had not at that point either, but I can assure you that he didn’t look fair, either.”

“Are you telling me that –”

“I’m telling you that sometimes you take what little you can find and it turns out that he didn’t dislike male company, once in a while. I think his nose was about as pretty as the lady’s and his jaw was even uglier, but he was a good man and honestly, in the dark or not, it didn’t even matter. He wasn’t Rhaegar, but he was hardly a penance to spend time with. So I wouldn’t pass judgment if I were you. Anyway, she was in love with him then and she is now, of course she has stakes in trying to keep him alive.”

His younger self doesn’t look too happy to hear that news.

“Don’t worry,” Jon adds, “we never love anyone else. Being with other people is an entire other problem.”

“You’re talking bloody nonsense,” comes as a reply, but the tone is weak and Jon can hear it.

“No, I’ve never talked so much sense in my life. Never mind that. So I needed a drink. So what?”

He stares at himself for a long moment, and then he sees his younger face scowl and his head shake a couple of times before standing up. “Just pull yourself together before you come back. And don’t you dare not come back.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Jon assures, and he watches his younger self leave.

He finishes his ale.

He thinks, should I go back?

He should. But he doesn’t want to. Not yet, not when his breath probably smells like alcohol and not when he hadn’t thought having a chance to save Rhaegar would mean – this.

Shit.

He stands up, pays for his drinks and heads for Flea Bottom. Hopefully, his younger self is not going to risk paying a visit here, even if he does know the place – he would, since he’s an occasional client, and –

Thing is: he never liked it, and it always made him feel worse than he started because no one could be Rhaegar, but he has (had?) needs and it’s not as if he ever had any chances to satisfy them otherwise back in the day.

It was easier in the Golden Company, a lot easier, when you could make it pass for making do with what you had and women were scarce. Not that any man in the Golden Company ever looked like Rhaegar, and not like any man he ever bedded in here who did somehow bear a passing resemblance ever made him feel in any way better after he was done, he thinks, coming closer to the brothel’s door.

He knocks and waits – it’s not a very well-known establishment, after all. Some young man opens the door not long later and Jon says that he’s an edge knight passing through and that he’s learned of this place’s business from an old friend who used to be a client (he actually learned from Oberyn Martell, who made no mystery of what establishments he liked to visit) and that he can pay for some company.

His money is deemed good enough and he’s brought in, and the owner asks him if he has a preference.

Once, he used to say, blonde and blue-eyed, even if it was a preference that couldn’t be satisfied most of the time and it only made him feel worse about the entire situation.

Now he says, “Just someone who won’t have problems with the arm. The closer to my age, the better.”

He’s not sure he wants to forget his problems by fucking someone who looks like Rhaegar and who’d be that much younger than he is. Actually, he feels half-sick at the prospect, and he’s relieved to see that he’s presented with a man who must be around thirty (maybe a bit younger, but he’s admittedly older than average in this business), with chestnut hair and eyes and who absolutely does not look like Rhaegar.

“Will he do?” The owner asks.

“How much do I owe you?” Jon replies, and hands him the money in advance.

--

It’s probably somewhat ironic that when Jon asks, he says his name is Eddard.

Good thing he doesn’t look like Ned Stark either – no gray eyes, just plain hazel. The owner was at least truthful about the arm issue, since there’s no disgusted face pulled at the sight of it, either.

“Can I ask what happened?”

Jon figures there’s no point in refusing to reply – he never said a thing to the previous men he ever ended up bedding for money and that’s not what he wants right now.

“War wound,” he lies. “It was either cutting it off or dying.”

“I see,” and at least he sounds understanding of it.

Gods, Jon can’t remember the last time he bedded anyone. Sure as the seven hells, properly, he hasn’t since taking Aegon in, and how could he have?

“So, Ser…?”

“Roland,” Jon says.

Ser Roland. How do you want me?”

Jon considers it.

The last thing he needs is actually having to worry about where to put his goddamned arm.

He shrugs, takes off his cloak and lies down on the bed, shrugging ever so slightly. “Like this.”

Eddard whistles softly. “It’s not a very common request, Ser.”

“Some of us like it both ways,” Jon shrugs.

“Fair enough,” Eddard replies, and Jon kicks off his shoes.

--

It’s better than it used to be back in the day – or, better than Jon remembers it being. It’s not anything that will change his life, and it doesn’t feel good the way it did with Myles back in the day, and it’s definitely not the fantasy he used to have when it came to Rhaegar, and that, he knew, would never happen for real, but he relishes not having to do anything, it’s certainly not a bad fuck nor one he doesn’t enjoy, and having someone that’s not himself touching what’s left of his damned arm certainly hasn’t hurt. By the time he’s spent and looking up at the ceiling trying to regain his breath he feels somewhat relieved, slightly more sober and he has spent his time not thinking about the utter disaster waiting for him at the Red Keep.

“So, are you satisfied with the service?”

“Very much,” Jon replies, no point in lying. “Do you think I can get a bath before I leave?”

“For couple stags more I can give you one.”

“Do you ask everyone that question?”

Eddard does laugh at that. “Only the clients who let me be on top, I suppose.”

Jon sorts. “Well, those stags are yours if you want to earn them.”

Not that he couldn’t have done it on his own, but having someone else massaging his shoulders while he bathed turns out being a fairly good idea, or at least so his muscles say.

--

He dresses and eventually hands over five stags.

“I imagine there’s no way you’ll be a regular client?”

“Maybe I’ll come back,” Jon says, feeling strangely flattered. “Why, am I better than average?”

He doesn’t even know why he’s having this conversation.

Maybe he just doesn’t want to go back, not yet.

“Well, you don’t have… exceedingly complicated tastes, Ser, and as stated, I do enjoy it if I don’t have to stare at the pillow all the time. And you pay well. It’s a lot better than average.”

Jon figures he has a point.

He doesn’t know how he should feel about it.

--

What he knows is that it’s sunset when he comes back to the Red Keep, his younger self has to guess immediately where he’s been because he just glares at him and says nothing, Brienne is nowhere to be seen because Aerys has decided to dine in his own quarters and the moment he sees Lannister looking overjoyed to help the princess cut her meat he feels like throwing up.

--

He finally gets to exchange a few words with Brienne the next day – he risks waiting outside the White Tower at night until he sees her come towards him.

She looks like she’s barely slept a wink in the last few days.

“I can’t stay long,” he whispers. “But – how badly are you doing?”

“Why, not asking me how I’m doing?” She replies, but she sounds somewhat relieved to be actually talking to someone.

“I know how he is,” Jon says, “no point in pretending it’s going well.”

She shrugs. “It’s – horrible,” she admits, “but I’m fine. I knew. And he’s not keeping me company, so as long as he’s not – I’m fine.”

You’re not, Jon wants to say, and neither am I. Also, he’s not surprised that it turns out he was right all along.

“If anything,” he says, “he seems to appreciate the reprieve. That said – I don’t know when I’m leaving, but I told Varys.”

What?”

“I had to. If I leave and no one else knows – let’s just say that if you’re in trouble, he’s someone you want to have on your side. He said he’d contact you as soon as he could, but in case you need any help, he knows. Just ask him and don’t do anything stupid.”

“All – all right,” she accepts, nodding. “And how are you doing?”

“I could do worse,” he replies truthfully. “Right. I should go. Just – ask him if you need help, all right?”

“I will,” she replies quietly. “Thank you.”

As if you should be thanking me, he thinks as she disappears inside the Tower. He leaves, not wanting Lannister to see him in case he’s around, but he shouldn’t be.

That night, he hopes to at least sleep without dreams, but when he wakes up in the morning it’s with the horribly, clear memory of how Jon Snow’s sword did not burn with bright light and it did not pierce the breast of the wight who killed him.

He wants to vomit. He heads down to break his fast instead, and he does before anyone else is in the hall because it’s too early –

And he would have just gone back to his room to further plan if he wasn’t told that he had to be in front of the Iron Throne in an hour’s time.

--

Turns out, Aerys has seemingly found two rebel spies in between the serving staff. It’s probably not the truth, not from the way the two poor maids swear to hell and back that they haven’t even seen Robert Baratheon in their life – he’s convinced that they tried to poison him and Jon remembers that there was no trial to be had in these cases.

He looks at his own impassive younger face so to try to not pay too much attention to how the poor girls scream as their clothes catch fire – he knows he’s thinking that this is all for Rhaegar and whatever keeps him alive is worth it, and gods it is, but –

But maybe he’s seen too much to be able to shrug it away just like this.

Brienne is looking horrified, he notices, but she’s still as stone. The princess is without the children, thankfully, and she’s trying to not let anything show on her face but she obviously doesn’t want to be here at all.

Everyone else is just looking downwards, except for Jaime Lannister who’s staring straight at the flames, but the moment Jon notices that he looks like he’s thinking about something else completely and that his eyes are so blank they might as well belong on some finely made doll’s, he feels like throwing up all over again.

And then they all wondered why would Lannister stick a sword in Aerys’s back, he thinks with a shudder.

--

The room still smells like burning flesh when, not long later, Ser Darry arrives from whatever recon mission it was that he had been sent on – no, he says, there were no Baratheon spies to be found in the village he had been told to check, yes, he’s sure of it. Aerys declares himself satisfied, informs him of Rohanne’s newfound role – Jon notices how Ser Darry doesn’t look at all in agreement with the idea, but he doesn’t dare suggest that she should go ward the women and children in front of Elia Martell – and then tells him that he should talk to the Hand and to Ser Roland to see about his new orders.

Jon is relieved when they’re given leave to discuss it outside – all bar Brienne, of course.

In between the two of them, they do explain Darry the basics of the plan.

“Whent is on his way to the Tower of Joy,” Jon finally tells him. “He and the prince should join us at the Stoney Sept in a month’s time, or a bit longer I suppose.”

“How do you know that is when Ned Stark will get there, Ser?” Darry asks him, sounding cautious but not as if he sees anything wrong with the plan.

“I traveled with a few rebel soldiers on the way here from White Harbor, and I heard enough when I was there in the first place,” Jon says. “They did say when they were planning to attack, but they also were putting forces together and as far as I saw, they couldn’t be ready before then.”

And I know because I was bloody there, he doesn’t say.

“Fair enough. What should I do?”

“Well,” present-time Jon says, taking back the reins of the conversation, “you shall come with us, I suppose. We leave two weeks from now, we’ll take it slow and recruit as many people as we can on the way. For now, just follow your usual orders.”

“My – my lord?”

Wait – oh. That’s Lannister.

“Yes?” His younger self asks.

Jon takes a better look at Lannister and understands at once what he might want to ask. He looks impossibly young in his white armor and cloak, his forehead covered in cold sweat and dark bags under his eyes.

“I wouldn’t want to presume or mess with your plan, but I was wondering – after you’re gone, the only knights around will be the lady and myself. Maybe – if you don’t need Ser Darry, maybe he could stay as well? Three would be better than two.”

For – it was very politely put, and it was obvious that he was trying and failing to sound as if it was a mere suggestion, but Jon isn’t an idiot. That wasn’t a humble suggestion or request, that’s downright pleading, and for a moment he thinks, so what? In case Darry could just guard the princess. Maybe it’s not necessary that the two of them are alone with the king, but before either Jon or himself can reply, Darry lets out a long-suffering sigh.

“Lannister, you asked the prince already and he said no, and I was there to hear it. Did you think it was some kind of game when you swore your vows? When you donned that cloak, you promised to obey them, not to weasel out of them.”

Lannister, at that, looks like someone just physically punched him in the face. “Of course. I know. Never mind, my lord, I never said anything.”

Then he bows and turns his back on them. Jon is really tempted to ask Darry whether he had to be that much of an arse when telling Lannister that, then he decides it’s not his place.

“Well then, Ser. You will be told when you should get ready to leave.”

Darry bows and heads back for the throne room.

Jon really should keep his mouth shut, but –

“He could have been nicer,” he says.

“Well, it’s not my place or yours to tell him, and the situation is precarious as it is.”

“Fine, and – gods, never mind that. Am I needed somewhere?”

“Not before tomorrow’s council. Why?”

“Good. I need to be out of here.”

“I hope not drinking yourself to death.”

“No,” Jon says, and since when does he sound this tired? “It’s in the other place you might know where to find me, if needed.”

Suddenly, an iron grip closes on his good arm. “Are you mad? If anyone finds you there –”

“They didn’t yesterday. They didn’t when I was you. Don’t worry, they won’t now.”

He leaves, heading out in the direction Lannister went before.

Jon stops and carefully goes the opposite way when he sees Lannister leaning against a wall on the way to the princess’s chambers.

He’s almost sure he’s trying to put himself back together or to not cry or something of the kind, and he’s entirely sure no one else was meant to witness it.

He leaves the castle feeling like his stomach turned into lead.

--

“Do you have any different preferences, today?” The brothel’s owner asks.

“Actually,” Jon tells him, handing him a stag more than what he paid yesterday, “if the same man you had the last time I was here is available, I’d rather have him.”

“I think he’s not currently with anyone,” the owner says with a sly smile that Jon doesn’t much like, but he’s seen enough of his kind to know it’s common to anyone in his line of work.

Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.

--

“Ser Roland. I see you weren’t just passing through, were you?”

“No,” Jon confirms. “I might have to stay for a bit longer.”

“Very well then. And how would you want me today?”

“The same way I did last time,” Jon says, kicking off his shoes. “And if you want to be rougher, I’m not going to complain.”

“Why,” Eddard says, smiling in a way that doesn’t look entirely professional, “sounds like I’m going to have a better time than you, no offense intended.”

“At least one of us would,” Jon sighs, and falls back down on the cushions.

--

It’s true – he gets relief well enough, and he doesn’t like it, but he did ask for it, and at least if it’s painful it’s breaking through his current bloody need to just go back to sleep and wake up ten years from now.

--

He asks for another bath, he doesn’t want to be in the Red Keep smelling like he asked a commoner whore who’s probably too old for this job to fuck him until he almost passed out.

“Am I still the kind of client you want to have twice?” He asks as he slips his boots on again, refusing help for it.

“Unless my instincts are failing me, Ser, you’re the kind of client a man would like to have more than once.”

It’s not that it makes him feel better – now that’d be pathetic.

But at least he can delude himself that someone is profiting from his stint in the past, because right now until he sees Rhaegar alive and safe, he’s not sure anyone is.

--

He gets through another council meeting, another day without news from the south – and of course there wouldn’t be –, another day of hearing people screaming from behind the door containing the Iron Throne, Aerys and Brienne, and another day of noticing Lannister staring at Darry as if he desperately wants to ask him to reconsider.

He doesn’t.

Jon doesn’t want to even conceive it, but –

Why did Rhaegar ever think this was a good idea?

He should have left Dayne here, he thinks. He should have, and then again, hadn’t Dayne died so that Ned Stark wouldn’t get to his sister, who was –

Who was dying?

He never even thought about that, because it was useless and everyone involved was dead and it made no sense to torture himself further, but each way he looks at it, he doesn’t see how it was a viable plan, or a sensed one.

Gods, Rhaegar wasn’t such an idiot. Dayne wasn’t such an idiot. What in the seven hells were they thinking, the both of them? And back then – now – he hadn’t even spared a thought for Lyanna Stark because why would he, she was the same as Elia Martell to him, as in, someone who didn’t deserve Rhaegar and got him anyway when he could have never dreamed of it, but –

The girl is six and ten, pregnant and on top of a damned tower in the middle of nowhere, she’s dying of it, and Dayne fights her brother?

He kind of hopes Dayne comes with Rhaegar just to ask him if it actually had been a plan from the beginning should Rhaegar have died.

Or maybe he doesn’t want to know, because the person he loves wouldn’t have done this –

Would he?

He glances at Elia and her children, on the other side of the table.

His food feels like lead as he swallows it.

--

“So, I am the only person who comes here who’d rather not fuck you senseless?” Jon asks the next time he goes to the darned brothel – he let a few days pass, but the atmosphere in the Red Keep is so heavy you could cut it with a knife and the more he sees himself and Lannister and everyone else the more he wants to scream.

He might as well have a conversation, since he pays for his time.

“The only man for sure,” Eddard replies casually, covering himself with the bedsheet. “Most men who come here are from the golden cloaks anyway. Not many of them are interested in taking it up the ass, sorry to say.”

“Why, you also trade in women?”

Some do come here.” He shrugs. “I’m good with both, though I do have a preference for men. That said, I doubt I have much left in this trade.”

“Why would that be?” Jon asks, sitting up. His back hurts, damn it. Good thing he has practice dressing with just one hand.

“Most men prefer their whores a lot younger than I am and this place is not for women, ser. Too bad, because it’s steady employment and pays well enough.”

“That’s why someone with a northern name is here?”

“Well, you’re observant, if anything. No, my father was northern and my mother was from King’s Landing. And what does a hedge knight from the Stormlands do here for longer than a week?”

Jon snorts. “Seems like I’m not the only observant one. And I’m afraid I cannot say.”

“Fair. I did try asking. Nonetheless, I’ll be here a while longer, I suppose.”

Good, Jon thinks, because I might need your services for a while longer if I’m not leaving tomorrow.

Who’d have thought that he’d actually miss bedding people.

Too bad he has to pay for it, but you can’t always get what you want, he figures, and doesn’t he know that.

--

“You need to stop.”

Now that wasn’t something he’d have ever imagined coming from himself.

“Doing what? Drowning my sorrows in Flea Bottom’s less notorious establishment?”

He feels a pang of nostalgia looking at his own younger face scowling at him, and his own younger eyes, and his own two arms crossing over his chest.

Drowning your sorrows. I’m not though, am I?”

“Because you have no idea of what we’re doing,” Jon sighs. “But never mind. I didn’t have either, the first time around. And it’s a good thing that at least one of us isn’t thinking about the ramifications of what the hell we’re doing, so just let me drown my damned sorrows. I can assure you no one is going to know.”

“Oh, yes, with Aerys sending men everywhere to check for spies that most likely don’t even exist, you absolutely can be sure no one is going to know?”

“Well, I can’t stay here all day if I want to keep my wits about myself.”

“I don’t remember being this overtly dramatic, you know. Do I become like this with time or what?”

“No,” Jon says, “you don’t. But you work towards a goal for more than ten years of your life just to fail all over the place and then you come back here to try and fix it and you realize everything you got wrong and you can’t do much to fix that.”

“Isn’t fixing it what we’re fucking doing until now?”

“Oh, we’re averting the end of the world, and Rhaegar’s death because if he dies there’s no going on, but let me tell you, did you ever spare a thought about what was going to happen to Elia? Or to the Stark girl? Up until now?”

Why should I?”

“That’s my damned point. I remember not caring, and now I’m here and they’re both alive, and Rhaenys is, too, and I remember not even caring a whim for how they ended up because they weren’t Rhaegar, and I’m sure you’re not thinking about Lyanna Stark because she’s the reason Rhaegar’s not here, and I hadn’t either, but that girl will most likely die giving him a son who died in front of my own damned eyes trying to save us all when he wasn’t even nine and ten, and Arthur Dayne’s going to die trying to prevent Ned Stark to get up that tower while she’s dying. And maybe I’m changing this, maybe not, but I utterly and completely ignored it when I was you, am I allowed to feel bad about it or not?”

That at least makes his counterpart look slightly sorry, as if he hadn’t exactly taken that into account, but Jon knows he hadn’t. Because he hadn’t, back in the day.

“Never mind that Lannister didn’t deserve any of this shit and we all know it.”

“Oh, don’t tell me this is about –”

Yes, it’s also about Darry. Was there any need to be that – that terrible to him?”

“Well, he did make a choice.”

“A very badly informed one, and he’s seven and ten. Given where it brings him, I’d like to think that being somewhat more understanding towards his plight might’ve helped. Never mind that. Don’t worry, I’m being way more careful than you used to be when you did the same thing.”

“I don’t – not as often.” He doesn’t try to deny it, though. “And it was just when it was unbearable. Not every other day.”

“Good thing I am not the Hand of the King this time,” Jon scoffs. “Again, I’m being careful. And I’ll be ready when we leave.”

“Good, because it’s in a week, give or take. You’d better be.”

Well, he thinks as his younger self leaves, that could have gone better.

--

He does try to be extra careful. He only sneaks out headed for Flea Bottom twice in the next week, both times during the day but not when he might be asked for, and the one time he decides he doesn’t just want to lie down and take it, the last, he takes care to not be too rough and he doesn’t resolutely close his eyes and imagine it’s Rhaegar below him as he used to back in the day.

It just – it feels wrong, and maybe that was why back in the day he never could find any satisfaction in whores, though at least he could bed them if they weren’t women (the one time he tried is a time he wishes he could forget). This time– this time is better, still not ideal, but better, and as he dresses after giving himself a thorough wash, he doesn’t feel like going back.

But he has to.

“So,” he asks, “I suppose you didn’t appreciate the change?”

“Ser, there’s no harm in enjoying it both ways. And you were fairly considerate, so you’re still the kind of client a man wouldn’t turn away.”

Jon snorts and considers it, then puts three gold dragons on the nightstand.

He doesn’t miss how Eddard’s hazel eyes take a fairly shocked expression at that.

“Ser, what –”

“I’m leaving in a couple of days,” he says, “I’m with the king’s army. As much as they can use me, anyhow. If you’re not in this line of work for much longer, I guess you should try to start saving, and I don’t really need that money.”

“No one doesn’t need gold dragons.”

“I beg to differ. If we have to fight, I don’t even know if it’s likely that I should survive. Really, do take them.”

“Fine, but if you start with that attitude, you are going to die for sure.”

“We shall see.”

“Fair, but if I were you I’d try to stay alive. If anything, it’d be hardly courteous to wish the contrary when you’ve been more than.”

Jon has to laugh at that. “I doubt it, but I don’t really know who am I comparing against.”

“Well, no one complains about how generous you are with your dragons, but most people do close their eyes, when I’m under them.”

Jon feels a pang in his chest thinking of what he used to do when he came here, a long time ago.

“Then I guess I could be worse.”

“You definitely could. Try not to die, ser, you don’t look like someone whose life is over.”

How wrong you are, Jon thinks as he leaves, but at least it was nice to hear it, he supposes.

No, his life is over the moment he’s sure Rhaegar lives. He’ll have fulfilled his purpose, and he’ll have done what he came here for, and then – then he doesn’t know, but what had Bran Stark said?

If you live, you will find yourself in that world, at the age you have right now. And I know that it won’t be one where the Long Night has prevailed.

He doesn’t know if he wants to find himself in place of his current younger self some seventeen years from now. It wouldn’t change much for Brienne because after all she’s barely born in this world, but his – his younger self is certainly not so, and as much as he hates seeing all his old mistakes written in his face, he’d hate to just close his eyes and wake up inside him, not when that man probably has had a life beyond whatever Jon will try to accomplish. Never mind that he’ll be at the Stoney Sept when Aerys dies, if everything goes according to plan, so how would he even reach that tree as soon as they did the deed? Bloody unlikely.

Gods, the more he thinks about this mess, the more he wants to drink until he passes out, the way he was supposed to in that unflattering story about his exile that he and Varys came up with.

But no.

No, tomorrow he’ll leave for the Stoney Sept, where he’ll try to make sure everything goes according to plan, where he’ll hopefully see Rhaegar live because that’s the one reason he’s doing everything he’s doing and the one reason that’s driven his life until now, and he doesn’t regret it because Rhaegar was worth all of it and more, and he’ll do his damned duty, and then –

Then he shall see.

But for now, he still has to make sure his part of the plan is brought to completion and he can’t afford to let anything else distract him to this point onwards.

--

The next afternoon, an army twice bigger than the one he had when he tried to find Robert the first time around leaves from King’s Landing.

Ser Darry is in front along with Jon’s younger self, and Jon tries to not think about Lannister’s utterly wounded face as he watched them leave from the Red Keep a short while ago – of course it was. Aerys had just informed him that two weeks were long enough and he’d be back to his duties from the next day onwards. Brienne had looked physically pained at hearing it, but hadn’t moved an inch, and Jon had just felt horrible about the entire situation and had forced himself to think that all of this suffering would be worth it, because –

Because at the end of it, Rhaegar would have lived. And patience if he won’t be able to be recognized or to tell his prince who he really is. As long as he lives, and as long as both he and Brienne do their duty, nothing else matters, whether he likes the circumstances or not.

He holds on tighter to the reins with his remaining hand and rides on. Hopefully, by now, Ser Whent isn’t too far from the Tower of Joy. Hopefully, Rhaegar won’t wait before coming. Hopefully, Brienne won’t need to ask Varys for any help. Hopefully, they’ll both succeed.

Hopefully.

He’s not going to listen to the small voice telling him that there’s a bit too many hopefullys in this plan and not enough certainlys, and he rides on thinking that if anything he’ll see Rhaegar again and he did everything he could to protect all of his children, and if he accomplishes what he has to, then – then he will die content.

Not before and not after.

 

 

TBC

Chapter Text

It’s been three days since Jon left with the army.

Three days too long, Brienne thinks as she walks where she can see Princess Elia, her son and her daughter as they enjoy a walk in the gardens.

Of course, the moment Aerys decided that Jaime’s lesson in humility was done, he had her moved to guard the women and children and Jaime’s back on Kingsguard duty, and she’s noticed even too well in the few times they ran into each other that the shadows under his eyes getting darker and his entire stance becoming wearier once again.

And fine, she hadn’t enjoyed guarding the man, not at all, and she saw things she wishes she could forget in that week, but – but, she could have handled it. She could.

Except that she can’t exactly contradict Aerys now, can she?

She can’t. Gods, she can’t, and she hates every second of it, especially because she still can hear him during the night and he’s sleeping so badly, it can’t be healthy. But of course, it’s not – it wasn’t when she wasn’t here the first time round and it isn’t now.

Three days and she’s already itching to do something incredibly stupid, and there’s no way Jon might send that raven before one month at least.

Can I do this for one month?, she asks herself.

She has a very distinct feeling that the answer is not, she thinks, and then the baby breaks out in tears.

“Lady Rohanne!” the princess calls, and Brienne runs up to her.

“My lady.”

“I think,” she says, “that he needs food. Could you look after Rhaenys for a moment, since she wanted to be out for a while? I shall be back soon.”

“Of – of course,” Brienne says. “Do go ahead, we’ll be here.”

Elia nods at her and walks inside the palace, a City Watch soldier immediately following after her.

All right. She looks down at the princess, suddenly feeling completely out of her element – she never was around children much, not that young anyway, and having felt for years like having one would be entirely beyond her – it’s not as if anyone would have wanted her for a wife if not for her lands, and the idea of having children for duty always was abhorrent to her, and it’s not as if she could ever consider it with Jaime, right? She just – never really thought about it.

Except that she has now.

“Well,” she says, “is there some place in the garden my lady would like to visit?”

“I like the godswood,” she says, “but we never go there when Mother is with Aegon.”

“We can do it now,” Brienne says, figuring that there will be no harm. The godswood is within the Keep’s walls and she can take care of any problem that might arise.

Rhaenys smiles, looking delighted at the prospect, and she sets in the right direction when they both suddenly stop the moment they hear screaming coming from the throne room just above them.

Brienne’s been there long enough to entirely understand what’s going on – she’ll eat her own sword if someone’s not been set on fire just a moment ago, given that they keep on screaming.

Well, time to leave then, even if her first instinct is running there and doing something unsavory.

“We really should go,” Brienne says, and Rhaenys nods weakly as she walks quickly towards the godswood, but the mirth in her step is gone.

Of course it is.

--

By the time they get there, the man hadn’t stopped screaming but they’re far enough to not hear him. Brienne follows the princess along the path, suddenly feeling slightly better in between trees that cover both their heads and provide some quiet, at least for the moment. She can see the heart tree in the distance, but Rhaenys isn’t hurrying there, and neither will she.

“Lady Rohanne. Can I ask you a question?” Rhaenys says suddenly.

“Of course,” Brienne replies at once. “Even two, if you like.”

She does smile a bit, even if weakly.

“Is Ser Jaime upstairs?”

Can she even lie? “I think so,” Brienne says truthfully. Of course he’s there. Why wouldn’t he be? Or better, where else would be be?

Rhaenys looks plenty troubled at that.

Gods, she’s four or barely so if she even is, and she already put two and two together when it came to how horrible her grandfather was, and no one else could or pretended not to?

“Oh,” she says. “Do you sleep near each other?”

If only you knew, Brienne thinks sadly. “He has the room next to mine in the White Tower, yes,” Brienne says. “But we haven’t talked much until now. Should I bring him a message from you?”

Rhaenys suddenly perks up. “Would you?”

“Of course. Never mind that you’re a princess and I’m at your orders, why shouldn’t I?”

Rhaenys shrugs. “It’s not nice. I mean, not for you. But I’m not supposed to say this kind of thing.”

Brienne has a very distinct feeling she won’t like whatever Rhaenys has to tell her, but has she liked anything she’s seen since coming up here?

She stops and kneels down so that they’re at the same eye level, more or less – she’s still a bit taller but not that much.

“I promise to not tell anyone if you’re worried about not being supposed to.”

“You wouldn’t tell Mother, too?”

Anyone. I’m a knight,” she says, if only Jaime knew he knighted me himself, “and knights always keep their word.”

Rhaenys looks straight at her for a moment and then decides she must be trustworthy, because then she leans a bit closer.

“It’s, uh, Ser Jaime is… the only one in the guard who’s always happy when he’s with us. The others – they’re nice, but I know they don’t like us.”

Brienne should probably tell her that it’s not true, but knowing what she knows and given what she’s seen, she has a hunch Rhaenys has the whole truth of it. So she says nothing.

“He always is. And I hear things. They say the King is mad. And – I know what was happening before.”

Good gods, she’s four.

“So I just want to know how he is. Because he’s always nice to us.”

“You and your brother?”

She nods. “I asked a few others.”

“Who?”

“Ser Whent and Ser Darry. They said he was fine something else –I didn’t understand. I asked them to tell him something from me. They weren’t even listening.”

Brienne doesn’t ask her if she’s sure. She has a feeling she would be insulting her intelligence if she did, and she remembers enough of how humiliating it felt when it happened to her at the same age.

“I’m listening,” she says. “So, what should I tell him? That you hope he’s doing well?”

Rhaenys nods eagerly. “And that I hope he can come back to see us soon. Please.”

“Of course,” she says. “I will do that.”

Rhaenys smiles at her and then she stops herself, as if she realized she might have done something she shouldn’t.

“Oh,” she says, “Was I rude?”

“… You weren’t?” Brienne replies. “Why would you be?”

“I said I hoped he’d be back with us, soon. Then I guess it meant I don’t want you here and it’s not true. Not really.”

Brienne has to laugh at that, maybe for the first time in months. “My lady, I hadn’t even imagined you might mean that. It’s quite all right. After all, he was here first, wasn’t he? I won’t take it personally if you prefer him to me.”

Especially because she can understand the feeling even too well.

“He was, I guess,” she says. “It’s just, he listens if you talk to him. No one else in the guard does.”

“And he’ll run after you in the gardens?”

“How do you know?”

“I was in the throne room the previous week,” Brienne says, “I did look out of the window a few times.”

While your grandfather was doling judgment on poor bastards who he thought were spies.

But she doesn’t need to know that.

“And I – I don’t know him much,” Brienne says, forcing herself to lie, “but he sounds like a great knight. I can see why you’d want to know.”

“So – will you tell?”

“Of course.”

“And you won’t tell I spoke badly of the others?”

If only you knew what I think of them.

“I won’t,” she confirms. “Also because truth to be told, I think the same.”

“Really?”

She shrugs. “Let’s just say, Ser Jaime was the only person in the guard who didn’t hate the idea of me joining it.”

Rhaenys openly scoffs as she starts walking again, headed for the heart tree. “Are you better than them at swordfighting? Of course they would hate it. Well, if he likes you then he’s right.”

Brienne stands up feeling like she could cry all over again.

Gods, and this poor child had to die like that, back –

Of course, Jaime felt guilty about not having been able to save her, her mother and her brother.

And of course, her father is – not here.

If she ever sees Jon again, she’s going to have to ask what he ever found so charming in Rhaegar Targaryen that he’d travel back in time just to save him.

For now, she has a duty to do, and she follows Rhaenys to the tree, feeling observed as she does, and wondering if she’s being paranoid or if Bran might be here checking on her, at least.

She doesn’t know if she hopes he is or if she hopes he’s not.

--

That evening, she waits for Jaime outside the door of her room – if she wants to relay that message, there’s no other way they might cross paths, for now.

“Lady Rohanne,” he greets her as he walks the stairs down the hallway. He looks tired. He looks too tired. No one his age should be this weary, she thinks for the umpteenth time, and he also looks ready to pass out as soon as he hits the bed. “Is there any reason you’re here, or can I get some damned sleep?”

She doesn’t let herself flinch. She can only imagine why he’s not happy to engage in any conversation.

Why would he be?

“I – I have a message for you.”

You have a message from me?”

“From the princess,” Brienne says. “I mean, Princess Rhaenys.”

She can pinpoint the moment Jaime’s stance goes from guarded to slightly more relaxed, and he actually looks at her in the eyes when before he had been glancing behind her, at his room’s door.

“She has messages for me now? And what does it say?”

“That she hopes you’re doing fine and that – she can’t wait for you to spend some time with them again, I suppose.”

For a moment, he looks like he’s about to cry, and then he shakes her head and obviously tries to pull himself together. “How good a liar are you?” He asks instead.

I never was much of one, she thinks, but I learned, didn’t I?

“I can do it,” she settles on.

“Then you can tell her I’m doing all right and I’m sure I will see her soon. None of that is true, but she doesn’t need to know that,” he says, and then suddenly looks horrified at his own outburst.

Right.

Because he admitted he’s not doing all right.

“Ser,” Brienne says, fighting the urge to reach out and touch him, “anyone with a pair of eyes who doesn’t want to deny the truth would see that you are not fine. And – I’ve been in your place for one week. I wouldn’t expect you to be.”

He keeps on looking at her as if she’s just grown two heads.

“You – you wouldn’t?”

“Of course not,” she whispers. “He burned two girls at once on the fourth day. And one of them was with child, you could see it. Anyone who expects you to be fine guarding one such man knows nothing.”

Now he’s just incredulous rather than guarded or downright hostile. “Lady Rohanne, forgive me for being so blunt, but if that’s what you think, why are you even here? You don’t have to be.”

She shrugs. “I wanted to be useful. And I know I can be. My grandfather –”

“The latter King Aegon was not the same kind of mad as this one,” Jaime interrupts her. “It’s not the same thing.”

“I know,” she says, “but – I came here to do my duty and now that I saw how it is, I will stay because I have the skills to be of help and leaving just you here is asking too much of you. You’re one man, you cannot guard him and his family.”

“Seven hells,” he says, “I wish I could say that honor will get you far in this line of work, but you seem too smart to fall for that. That said, I suppose I’m too selfish to tell you to just leave already. Have a good night, my lady.” He moves past her, opens the door to his room, and then he turns back to her again.

“And tell Rhaenys I would like to be back with them soon very much,” he says, his voice suddenly turning soft.

She’s itching to ask him if he misses his brother.

She doesn’t and merely nods at him before retreating back into her room.

Minutes later, she hears him tossing and turning in his bed again, and then of course he’s having nightmares, and he was doing better when he wasn’t guarding that insane dragon.

Gods, there has to be something she can do. As much as she has enjoyed Elia’s quiet company and her tales about how someone such as her would like Dorne, she’s not here for that.

She’s here to make sure Aerys dies and to make sure Jaime doesn’t in the process, and like this, she can’t do it, and of course Jon’s not here so she can’t ask him for help –

Wait a moment.

What did he tell her before leaving? That he told Varys in case she needed external help from someone with resources.

Well then, she thinks, time to ask for it.

--

She leaves her room and heads back to the castle. She asks around and finally locates Varys in the gardens – is the man always in the gardens at night? Never mind that.

“Lord Varys,” she tells him.

“Lady Rohanne,” he greets back. “Or should I say –”

“I need to talk to you. Privately.”

“This is happening too often for my tastes, lately,” Varys mutters, “but of course. Do come with me.”

He brings her inside the castle, to some kind of hatch that of course leads to the damned tunnels under the place, and she follows him until they’re in some nook that’s entirely not tall enough for her.

Never mind it. At least it’s secluded.

“Lady Brienne,” he says, “how can I help you? Pardon me, but from what Lord Connington said you might have had need for my services a bit farther in time.”

“Well,” she says, “I also thought I wouldn’t need you at all, but case is, I do. Now, I know that you’re about the only person the king will listen to.”

“Well –” He starts.

“My Lord. Don’t bother. I know. Where I come from it’s a truth universally acknowledged.”

“And what if I am?”

“Then I need you to convince him to let me and Jaime guard him alternately.”

“… What?”

“Lord Varys, I thought I was clear.”

“My lady, have you seen how he is? No one can convince him to do anything –”

“Bar the person who gives him most of the hints about who might be spying on him inside this castle? Lord Varys, I don’t think you understood the situation, so I will explain it to you again. Jaime and I, we knew each other back where we come from.”

“I have a feeling knew is an understatement.”

“Excuse me?”

“You look like your friend Lord Connington does when he speaks of the heir to the throne, my lady. Do go ahead.”

Well, at least she doesn’t have to fake anything.

“Well, I knew him. I know what being with that mad excuse for a king is doing to him and I can’t stand hearing him not sleep at night. And I didn’t come here to just walk in the gardens. Convince Aerys to have either him or me with him. He needs a break and I would take his place indefinitely if I could, but I know I can’t, so – please do try.”

Varys stares up at her and she holds his stare – she’s not going to back down.

Then he smiles ever so slightly.

“I think I can understand why you two would, uhm, take to each other, so to speak. Very well. I will try to do what I can, but don’t expect anything.”

“Just do it. I trust your skills,” she tells him.

“If only everyone was this gallant about it,” he tells her. “I hope you do realize what you’re asking for.”

“I’ve done it for a week, I can handle the next month. And if I can help him out in any way, I will.”

Varys finally nods and takes a step back. “Do follow the hallway. You will run into another hatch and it will lead you to the White Sword Tower. Tomorrow I will see if I can do something for you, Lady Brienne. But don’t let feelings blind you too much.”

“I know that,” she cuts him off. “Thank you, my lord.”

She doesn’t wait for a reply and follows the hallway until she’s out of the hatch and back in her room.

She barely sleeps, listening to how badly Jaime is doing the same on the other side of the door, and at some point she thinks her hands are wrapped up in fists so tightly that she ends up cutting her own skin.

Not that anyone will notice.

--

The next day, she reports Rhaenys what Jaime told her and the princess looks overjoyed, and leaves her another message to deliver. She resolves to do it that night.

Then, at dinnertime, Aerys proclaims that maybe this heir of Duncan’s should be put to the test and maybe she will take the next two days of guarding him while Ser Jaime can think about what it means that his own king would rather trust a woman than him to watch his back.

Brienne doesn’t dare searching for Varys in the crowd, and bites down on her tongue so that she doesn’t look too happy about her new placement.

--

“Lady Rohanne.”

When she comes back to her room, Jaime is waiting in front of it.

“Ser Jaime,” she says. “Is there a problem?”

He stares up at her, and it’s obvious he doesn’t know whether he should be angry or relieved or surprised and he hasn’t quite settled on one yet.

“Varys might have told me I had a friend in this castle and I might want to thank them for the reprieve. Do you have anything to tell me?” He sounds guarded. Like he can’t just buy that she would want to help him out.

Gods, why did Varys have to tell him? She’s half-sure he wants to get back at her for having pretty much demanded his help, or maybe he has some kind of other plan brewing that she can’t know about.

Never mind that. Varys is not her problem.

“I – I’ve heard that he has leverage with the king.”

“He does.”

“So I figured that if I wanted to make sure you did get to spend some time with the princess I might have to ask him to make it happen.”

“But why?” He asks, frustration dropping from his voice. “Why would you – volunteer for that? You’ve done it already. You saw how he is. You don’t even know me. No one with a shred of sense would do it.”

You don’t know me.

For a moment, she feels like a blade just struck through her heart.

But she can’t tell him otherwise. She hates every damned moment of this, because if only she could –

No. The most she can hope for in this timeline is being his friend, if she can even manage that, and she should make peace with it now.

“Because it would be unfair to leave it all on you, especially when you’ve done this for two years already.”

He freezes. “It would be unfair.”

“Just one person having that job is unfair in itself. Given how he is, I think it’s even more unfair. And – leaving it all in the youngest member’s hands is – not what people with a shred of sense should do, and that’s not a slight to you, ser. It’s the truth.”

He keeps on staring at her without saying a thing.

She’s tempted to just bolt and get inside her room, but – no. She needs to make this clear.

“You shouldn’t be doing that on your own,” she keeps on. “I came here, I chose to be here, I should help you out somehow.”

He shakes his head weakly. “It’s – I should be able to. I shouldn’t need that. I can handle that. Just tell Varys –”

“Why, you’d risk Aerys really getting angry over it?” She knows it’s a low blow, but he can see his eyes turn utterly terrified as he considers it. “And maybe you should be able to, according to Ser Darry and whoever,” she goes on, suddenly unable to stop even if she really should keep her mouth shut, “but it’s still not fair. And I thought it wasn’t what being a knight was about.”

At that, she can see his shoulders relax ever so slightly and now he’s looking at her still guarded, but – as if he’s starting to see what’s her point here.

“I didn’t think so either. When I joined, I mean,” he says, his voice dropping so low she can barely hear it. “But –”

“Ser,” she says, “I have – I have been around. All of us need some help at some point or the other. I have been here for not even a moon, you have for two years, and if that is what you had to go through for two years, you are highly deserving of at least a break. Being a woman doesn’t mean I can’t handle this job.”

“I – I wasn’t thinking that,” he says. “That was clear from the moment you disarmed me.”

“I am amenable to give you a rematch, if we ever have the chance.”

The ghost of a smirk appears on his lips, and gods, he smiles the exact same way now as he did then, when he meant it.

“I doubt that, but I should be glad to.” He looks up at her again. “You said you’ve been around.”

“I have.”

“How long?”

Well, damn it. “I – I picked up a sword for the first time when I was nine. I left home when I was seven and ten.”

How long ago was it.

“I am twenty now. It’s not been… very long, I suppose, but long enough for me to see a lot.”

“Your grandfather did the same, after all,” he concedes, but – is he looking at her with respect now?

“He did,” she concedes.

“And – you still – I mean, you’re still here discussing how unfair it is that I’d be the only one guarding the king?”

Oh.

“I am,” she says.

How? The more – the more time passes the more it seems like everything I swore when I was knighted is just horseshit.”

Well, she thinks, this happened remarkably faster than I thought it would, but then again – then again, it’s not exactly a surprise. He did tell her he asked his other Kingsguard fellow knights about their vows more than once, didn’t he?

How ironic, she thinks, that she’s about to dish him his own advice.

“Ser,” she says, “I – I don’t know how this might be of help. But – since I left my family and I went on to – to be a knight, as much as I was allowed to, I realized that vows are hard. It does seem like they’re conflicting all the time. And in your case, I can imagine how keeping them must be hard even if I’m sure I haven’t seen the first thing about it.”

She knows she hasn’t. Good thing the queen isn’t here.

“You – you cannot balance them all. But some are more important than others, or feel more important than others. And – following the ones that feel wrong never brings anything good. But – when you understand what you want to stick up for, it’s a lot easier to do it.”

He nods, taking in the small speech – he doesn’t seem entirely convinced, but it looks like she did give him something to talk about.

“And what vows are you following right now?”

Damn it. He always had a knack for asking the right questions, didn’t he?

“The ones that tell me I should do as much as I can to help the realm and whoever I notice might need it.”

He holds her stare and she doesn’t dare move, even if she has to physically stop herself from doing something stupid like bolt into the room for real, because he hasn’t looked at her like this since that time in the bathtubs in Harrenhaal and that’s not what she wants to think of right now.

“I don’t need help,” he finally says, but it sounds so weak he cringes the moment it leaves his mouth.

She takes a step forward and reaches out, touching his wrist ever so slightly. “Ser,” she says, “it took me a long time to learn that lesson. But there’s nothing bad in accepting it, when it’s offered. Whether you need it or not.”

“But –” He starts, then he looks down at the ground, and for a moment she wants to know what is tearing him apart so, but then she thinks she might know.

“Let me rephrase that,” she says. “There’s nothing shameful in accepting it. Go run after the princess in the gardens tomorrow, I can handle whatever the king has in store for me.”

She thinks she’s smiling. She doesn’t know what it is that he sees in it that convinces him of her good intentions, but then he gives her a tiny nod and moves over so she can finally access her room.

“Fine,” he says, “but don’t regret it a week for now.”

If only I could afford that.

“I don’t think I will. Have a good night, ser.”

“I wish I could, but thank you nonetheless.”

He turns his back on her and walks inside his own room.

She lets out a breath of utter relief the moment she shuts her door, and she hopes he hadn’t noticed how her brow seems to be covered in cold sweat.

Good gods, she hopes it’s not always like this when she talks to him from now on, or she’ll have a hard time not letting the truth slip forward, and she cannot. Not for now, at least, but she hopes she won’t have to tell Jaime at all, because who in the seven hells would believe such a story? It’s already a miracle Varys bought it.

She shakes her head, takes off her armor, changes into night attire and goes to sleep. She wakes up thrice, because the screaming from the other side of the wall did, but she forces herself to stay where she is and goes back to sleep every time.

She’ll need it, if she has to bear through Aerys Targaryen for the next two days.

--

The next day, she goes through an entire morning of jabs at her expense that she only answers with thank you, Your Grace. The fact that she’s reprieved only when some terrified minor lord comes in to pledge his alliance and openly tries to not grimace at how long the king’s nails are getting isn’t much help, but then she glances outside the window. She can’t see faces from here, they’re too high, but she can see Rhaenys tugging on Jaime’s white cloak and she has to try to not smile openly lest anyone notices.

If at least she gives him a reprieve, then she’ll bear whatever she has to.

--

It’s not a surprise to see that when they run into each other in the hallway – they hadn’t the previous night – he’s waiting for her on her door and looks definitely more relaxed than he was the last time they spoke.

“The princess has a message for you now,” he says, sounding amused.

“Really? And that’d be?”

“That you are her second-favorite in the guard because you actually keep your promises like a true knight.”

She smiles in spite of herself. “I imagined she appreciated your reprieve as much as you did?”

“Believe me, she did. I told her she could tell you in person tomorrow, but she insisted.”

“You – you sound very fond of her,” Brienne says, hoping against hope she doesn’t sound accusatory or like she’s demeaning him, but he merely shrugs.

“She’s a nice child.” He stops, then he shrugs again. “Sometimes she reminds me of my brother.”

She doesn’t know if she should be glad he told her on his own or if she should just break down in tears as soon as she’s alone, given what his older counterpart did tell her, back in the day.

“Is he that young?” She asks, pretending she doesn’t know that –

“She’s the age he was when I left Casterly,” he says, a certain longing in his voice. “It’s not that they have that much in common other than that, but still.”

“She likes you.” That’d be stating the obvious, wouldn’t it?

“I guess she hasn’t made a mystery out of it.”

“Well, if you’re the only person in the Kingsguard that actually wants to be around her or her brother I can see why she would.”

He snorts. “As if. I don’t know how they wouldn’t want to. At least she and her brother don’t set people on fire now, do they?”

That they don’t, indeed. “You know,” she says, “if you do like spending time with them you don’t have to, well, pretend you don’t.” Not with me, she wants to add, but she doesn’t know if they’re well-acquainted enough for that right now.

He looks at her as if she just caught him in the middle of committing some kind of heinous act. “I don’t, huh?”

“Please, you’re better with her than I ever could be. It’s a compliment.”

“Now that she likes you, you’ll find it remarkably easier.”

“Maybe, but – you are.” She shakes her head. “I had two brothers and a sister. They both died when I was young,” she says. “I don’t even remember my sister, though I do remember my brother. I hated losing him. There’s – nothing bad in missing yours, especially if he’s alive for you to miss.”

That seems to drive the point home – he looks up at her and smiles sadly. “You do have a point. It’s just – you know, right?”

“That he’s a dwarf? I think most of the realm knows.”

He shrugs again. “I just – I think I was about the one person he did like. I guess. He had his reasons,” he says sadly. I can imagine why, Brienne thinks. “And – I guess it’s fate that I have to end in the same position here, too.”

She can understand it even too well.

“There’s nothing shameful in being good with children, either.”

He scoffs. “If you’re a woman, maybe.”

“I’m one and I’m not really that good with them. And why? Really, it’s commendable.”

“Commendable?”

“There’s nothing wrong in caring for people. Or why were you knighted then? It’s what the entire thing is about, you know.”

Her heart skips a beat when he actually does smile back at her.

“Fuck me,” he says, “you’ve got a point. It’s just, I haven’t done much of that lately. What I swore when Ser Dayne knighted me, I mean.”

“How could you, given what I’ve seen around here?”

He looks at her as if he’s pondering whether he should trust her or not. She holds his stare back.

He takes a deep breath, moving slightly closer. “The Queen. You couldn’t know about her.”

No, but I know, and I can’t say nothing now, can I?

“I – I can imagine, though.”

“Can you?”

“I don’t suppose her husband treats her properly.”

“… No, that he doesn’t. It’s just – I’ve had to stand outside her door while he hurt her, and I couldn’t lift a hand because the man I swore to protect was the one harming her, and I know he only ever accepted me in the guard because he wanted to anger my father. I know now, anyway. And just – that’s not really knightly, is it?”

She wants to cry. Especially because he sounds about to.

“No,” she agrees, “but you know it’s wrong. That makes you a whole lot better than people even denying it is, doesn’t it?”

“Small consolation,” he says, suddenly moving back. “But thanks, I suppose. Talking to you is strangely invigorating, Lady Rohanne.”

You don’t know you’re talking to yourself, though, she thinks sadly. “My pleasure, Ser Jaime,” she says, and watches him retreat to his room.

He sleeps somewhat better that night.

Too bad that if her predictions are right, he won’t in the next two.

--

At least the princess is overjoyed to see her and informs her that she absolutely is a true knight since she did do what she promised.

Brienne is so not adjusted to the prospect of people under the age of ten being happy to see her, it’s never not going to feel queer, but she does appreciate the rest from what goes on in the throne room even if she still wishes she was up there and not Jaime.

Still, when the princess goes to take her afternoon nap, Brienne expects Elia to either dismiss her or ignore her.

Instead –

“Lady Rohanne, can I ask you a, somewhat private question, if I may?”

“Of course,” Brienne says, hoping that Elia hasn’t guessed something.

“It’s not even about you, but – you came along with that Ser Roland who left with the hand of the King, am I right?”

“Yes,” she says. “We met on the road and found out we had a common destination. And since he doesn’t have an arm he figured I could watch his back while we reached the city.”

“That sounds reasonable. But – he said he knew something about the Northern plans.”

“He overheard while he was in White Harbor, yes.”

“I was wondering – he wouldn’t maybe have heard of what those people’s plans for Rhaegar are?”

Of course she’d be worried, Brienne thinks, but she really can’t help there. She doesn’t even know what plans they might have had for Rhaegar in the world she just left, this one is beyond her imagination. “I’m sorry,” she replies, “if he knew, he didn’t share them with me.”

“I understand,” Elia says, sadly. “It’s just – I’m worried,” she admits.

Brienne honestly admires her, because in her place she’d be devastated. “Well,” she says, “Ser Roland’s plan did include any possible way to make sure he would live. If it goes through, I am sure he will.”

How? They never will let him. And – I am sad to say, they have the right of it.”

“My lady –”

“Rohanne, let’s not tell each other lies. My husband did greatly disrespect me by running away with Lyanna Stark, true, and only the gods know if she was in agreement or not. The gods surely know that after he learned I couldn’t give him a third child he changed for the worst. But as far as Ned Stark is concerned Rhaegar kidnapped his sister and Aerys burned his brother and father alive. I also would be waging war, if it had happened to mine own father and brothers. If they wanted him dead, I could hardly begrudge them for it. But if they wanted them dead –” She says, looking at her son and daughter, who are currently sleeping on the other side of the room.

Brienne swallows bile. “I – I don’t know about Robert Baratheon, but from what I know, Ned Stark never would let that happen. That said, Ser Roland had a very good plan. Hopefully it will succeed. Still, if he comes back –”

“If he comes back, I will have to discuss matters with him. Still, he – he already was a trifle too obsessed with his children being the three heads of the dragon back when we married. When he realized I couldn’t give birth to the third, he just – became a completely different person,” she sighs. “I don’t know. I don’t know, but I don’t want to think he would just let them die.”

I wouldn’t want to think that either, but what do I even know? She knew, by the end, that he had married Lyanna Stark but hadn’t divorced Elia, so he certainly hadn’t wanted his two other children to die. And considering how reckless he was when it came to having the third, who even knows if he was thinking straight.

“My lady,” Brienne finally says, “I couldn’t say without knowing him, but if everything one hears about him is true, or even halfway true, he would make sure they would be safe and that you would be, too, whatever his reasons for disrespecting you might have been.”

“Well, most of the things that are said about him were not false, at least they weren’t before – before he changed that drastically, I imagine, but thank you.”

“For what? I haven’t exactly given you any useful information.”

“Sometimes someone just listening to you will be enough. Sorry to burden you with it, but it’s not like the golden cloaks would listen. And – never mind.”

“Was that about, uh –”

“Ser Jaime? I guess my daughter was her usual talkative self,” Elia laughs weakly. “Let’s just say that it feels unfair to burden him with questions he wouldn’t know how to answer when he’s plenty burdened already and everyone with eyes can see it.”

But no one could do anything about it, could they?

“I cannot fault you for that,” Brienne finally tells her. “He – he looks like it.”

She just hopes she didn’t betray how much she hates admitting that.

Elia nods at her and goes back to her embroidering, and Brienne breathes in relief and guilt, because of course Rhaegar didn’t care enough or worry enough to make sure his children would live – never mind his wife – but Elia doesn’t need to know that and hopefully no one will need to know that.

She really hopes Jon’s plan works out.

--

That evening, Jaime is nowhere to be seen when she finally can go to sleep. She had saved him some food, same as last time, and since it’s always bread and sweets (she couldn’t bring anything else without being noticed) she supposes that it can hold until tomorrow morning.

She supposes until she hears steps in the hallway – heavy steps – and the door of the room next to hers closes with a distinct clash. She can hear Jaime taking off his armor while throwing the pieces to the ground instead of doing it carefully.

She looks at the bundle of food neatly wrapped in the table towel she stole from the table. She wonders if he’ll hear her through the wall if she speaks – given that she hears him, he might.

“Ser?” She asks. Suddenly, the noise from the next room stops. “Ser, are – are you all right?”

For a moment, nothing happens.

Then –

“I’ll be fine, my lady,” he replies tiredly.

“Could – could I see you for a moment?” She asks.

She seems to not get any answer, but then –

“Fine,” he says.

She immediately stands up and grabs the bundle, then walks out of her room just as he walks out of his.

Gods, he looks terrible. His eyes are red-rimmed and his hair has never looked more disheveled, and he looks like he could sleep for a month at least.

She doesn’t ask him anything, though, even if she’s itching to know what exactly happened to put that look on his face.

“I – I imagined you might have had to skip on dinner again, since the King wasn’t there,” she stammers for a moment before regaining her bearings. “I saved you some.”

He takes the bundle with less hesitations than he had the first time, then glances inside. For a moment, it’s obvious he’s tempted to give it back, but –

“You didn’t have to,” he says.

“I don’t only do things I have to, ser.”

“Fair,” he concedes. “Then – thank you. I did not have dinner, after all.”

“The princess is very relieved to know you are doing all right and will be with them again shortly.”

“You can tell her I am, too,” he cuts short. “I – I’ll eat this and try to sleep. Thank you again,” he says, and then goes back inside the room.

Well, she’s not going to push it. At least he’s not going to bed with an empty stomach.

He doesn’t sleep that night. She hears him wake up and toss and turn all night, he has at least three different nightmares and she’s almost sure that in one of them he was pleading with Aerys to not burn his brother and sister the way he did Ned Stark’s, and she feels sick just at the mere idea of it.

She doesn’t see him throughout the next day at all, but she hears that something particularly nasty went down yesterday in the dungeons, and that the King isn’t faring too well today, which means he’ll be in his chambers – along with Jaime, of course – and that one could cut the tension in the air like a knife during meal times, when the emptiness at the head of the table can be wholly felt.

Jon, she thinks, where in the seven hells are you and your army and how long will it take yet?

A long time, still. How long has it been, a week? Maybe? It’s another three, at least.

The only upside is that at least she is going to deal with Aerys tomorrow. Small mercies, and if she thinks it an upside, it speaks entirely of how badly this situation is spiraling out of control.

--

That evening, she still brings extra food from the table. The room next to hers is empty. She stays awake, feeling the familiar shape of Oathkeeper under her mattress and wishing she could just take it out, but she can’t risk that, not when she doesn’t know how many eyes might be watching.

She expects footsteps, and instead she hears them at the beginning but then they halt and then there’s the sound of someone wearing armor clashing to the ground making a lot of noise.

She’s out of the room in a moment, and – Jaime’s in the hallway, sort of kneeling on the ground, a hand gripping the wall, while his cheeks have taken a worrying shade of scarlet, and he looks about to pass out.

Well, fuck protocol.

“Ser,” she says, kneeling in front of him and lending him an arm. His hand immediately seizes her wrist, but he says nothing. “Ser,” she goes on. “Can you stand?”

He shakes his head, closing his eyes and breathing even faster, and now his hand grasping her arm is shaking wildly, and –

She’ll deal with the consequences later, she thinks as she hoists him upwards and drags him inside her own room, as the door is open and her bed is large enough. He sits on it when she lets him go and she quickly removes the white plates of his armor, and a moment later she can see him breathing in deeply and coughing slightly – obviously that wasn’t helping.

She puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Ser Jaime,” she tries again. “How – how are you feeling?”

He shakes his head and finally looks down at her, as he finally notices her presence for real, and his free hand suddenly grips at the fabric of his shirt. “Poorly,” he admits, “but – I’ll be all right. I – I’m sorry.”

“Why should you be?” She asks.

He sends her a look that makes her think that at least he won’t faint for now. “I’m in the Kingsguard. I shouldn’t – it’s not –”

“Have you drank or eaten today?”

“… No,” he says, weakly.

She feels very thankful she has kept a cup of water in the room at all times just in case – she gets it and hands it to him, telling him to drink it slowly, and then gets her stolen food.

“I got that today, too,” she says. “It’s just bread and some honeycakes, but – just eat them. It should help out.”

“I don’t need –”

“You almost fainted just outside that door, ser. Please.”

For a moment, he looks about to refuse, but then she stands up and turns her back on him. She hears him eating a moment later and she busies herself getting some water for herself and then refilling the cup for him. He’s done already when she hands it back to him. Gods, he must have been starving.

“Here,” she tells him. “It cannot hurt.”

He takes it.

“I – thank you,” he says, not quite looking at her. “I – I still shouldn’t – but thank you nonetheless.” He sounds pained.

“Ser, it’s – it’s normal. Anyone would faint if they stood in an armor for an entire day without food or drink.”

“Ser Dayne could,” Jaime replies, sounding even more pained.

Ser Dayne was older than you and a seasoned knight and someone who should have known better than leaving you on your own here, and should have known better than fighting Ned Stark over a dead man, but she can’t say that.

“I did almost faint because I forgot to eat for two days once, and no one can be Ser Dayne. He’s himself, and you’re yourself, and you should get some rest.”

He doesn’t say no at that. Then he tries to stand up.

Then his legs falter and he falls back on her bed, almost hitting his head against the wall.

Fuck,” he says, and tries again, and doesn’t crumple to the ground just because she grabs his arm and helps him sitting back on the bed. His eyes are closed, scrunched up so tight it must be painful, and she can only think, is he trying to not cry in front of me?

“You’re exhausted,” she tells him, “don’t try that.”

“It’s ridiculous, fuck –”

“It’s not. Everyone has a limit. This is yours, I guess. Just – you can sleep here.”

What? It’s your bed, my lady. I cannot –”

“I can sleep on the ground, I wouldn’t take yours and the other rooms are locked. But I’ve done worse. Ser, honestly, do get some sleep.”

He stares at her. “No,” he says. “I couldn’t – just let me get enough sleep and then wake me up and I’ll move back to my room.”

It’s enough of a compromise, she decides. “Very well. Do go ahead.”

He thanks her with such a garbled voice she can barely make out the words, and then he moves under the covers and passes out almost immediately. She doesn’t know if she could bear watching him sleep without feeling like someone was indeed stabbing her heart more than once at the same time and so she busies herself placing his armor’s pieces in a neat pile near the door and polishing hers, and it all goes fine until he starts turning on his side again.

Damn it, she thinks, what do I do now, because she has a clue he wouldn’t take being woken up very well, not at all, but then he turns from his back on his side, and fuck but his face is completely wet, isn’t it, and –

Why are you leaving, he sobs, or she thinks he does but that’s definitely how it sounded, you said we’d be together, why did you leave me here, and of course it’s about his sister, isn’t it, and if Brienne hadn’t even thought about Cersei Lannister in months because she was dead and gone and good riddance to her – she’s usually not like this but from what both Jaime and Tyrion told her

(before they both died)

there was little about her that wasn’t despicable, never mind that if she thinks about how horrible she was to the both of them she can’t help wondering how can anyone be that cruel to their own blood, never mind someone she presumably loved.

But she’s thinking about her now, and about how in her time Jaime had said in a horribly sad tone that he didn’t even know if she wanted him to join the Kingsguard because she knew he coveted it or because it was convenient for her anymore, but he hated to think the latter was more probable.

Of course, she thinks, maybe more bitterly than she’d have once upon a time, convince him to be next to you always even if he’d give up his life for you while you’re still thinking you’ll marry someone else, what’s fair about that, and then he makes another noise that makes her want to cry.

Fuck protocol, she thinks not for the first or last time as she kneels next to the bed and puts a hand on his shoulder, shaking it softly.

“Ser Jaime?” She asks, feebly.

He goes still, then opens his eyes, slowly, and they’re still more red than white and it’s obvious he hasn’t had any rest whatsoever. He blinks once, twice, and then he finally seems to recognize her.

“Oh,” he says, “I guess I should go.” She doesn’t know if she’s ever heard his voice tremble so much in her entire life.

“You don’t have to,” she replies at once. “You should have gotten some rest, not this.”

“I don’t know if it’ll get any better,” he says, bitterly.

“Give it a try,” she insists, and gods but she’s itching to –

She’s almost horrified at herself as she sees her hand move without authorization and her fingers brush his scalp tentatively.

Obviously.

Because it would work, back where she comes from, it always would –

She expects him to punch her in the face.

Instead he closes his eyes again.

What

She holds her breath as she does it again, maybe not so tentatively now, and he breathes out a lot less hurriedly than he had before.

He must be exhausted, really, but – until he says no, if it’s helping, which shouldn’t she go on? She does, not daring moving her fingers upwards or to run them through his hair properly, until his breathing evens out. She considers going on, but she has a feeling she’s pushing her luck here, so she stops and leans back, figuring she’ll let him sleep –

And then his left hand reaches out and grasps her wrist.

He’s not sleeping, but he’s also not looking at her.

She doesn’t move, waiting for another sign, and then –

Then he scoots back against the wall. Enough for her to actually climb inside the bed, should she want to.

A part of her that she would have listened to back when she left home to fight for Renly Baratheon says don’t, he doesn’t know, you’d be taking advantage, it’s not honorable.

That part of her, though, hasn’t been one she’s listened much to when she had to use Oathkeeper to kill Lady Stoneheart, and so she climbs cautiously into the bed, putting the covers above the two of them. It’s barely large enough for the two of them and they have to press against each other, and as soon as she lies down, he lets her wrist go.

She could say something.

Or she could let him pretend whatever it is that he’s telling himself to justify this – to him – most probable display of weakness, and so she puts an arm around his waist and moves her hand back to his hair, slowly carding through it, and she feels him go lax in her grip with a shudder before his breathing evens out again.

It’s – it’s strange, because it’s the same situation as before but at the same time it’s wholly different, and she can’t do a lot of the things she wishes she could or that she used to when they shared a bed back when she comes from.

But at the same time, just the fact that he’s here and he wanted her to be in the damned bed is making her head spin, and she just hopes this brings him a modicum of comfort because it’s about the most she can hope for. She keeps on running her hands through his long

(maybe too long)

hair until she falls asleep out of exhaustion, and she keeps her hold on his waist and before she passes out, she can’t help notice that he’s barely moved at all.

--

The morning after, she wakes up before him, and good thing that because she is guarding Aerys today and tomorrow, so she can’t linger long. She looks back down at him, and he’s still sleeping, still moving just slightly, still breathing regularly. It seems like he did get some sleep, after all.

She runs her finger through his hair one last time before leaning back and leaving the bed, bringing up the covers. He rolls over, burying his head in the pillow, and he looks so impossibly young, she feels another pang to her heart as she drinks the last of her water, washes her face and dons her armor.

It’s going to be a long day, she fears.

At least for her.

--

It’s less of a long day than she had imagined it being – the fact that Aerys is feeling very poorly means that he spends it in bed and whenever she has to be inside the room or outside she merely gets on with it by answering yes, Your Grace to every question he asks her and agreeing at everything, even if it’s something demeaning her – who cares.

If anything, since he’s feeling poorly he doesn’t even take notice of her half of the time.

She hears him coughing a lot.

She wonders what in the seven hells went down yesterday and then asks herself, do I want to know?

--

Brienne comes back to her room feeling like she could bathe for two months just to wash off the wrong feeling every minute spent in Aerys’s presence leaves on her skin, and of course it’s empty. She takes off her armor, changes into clean clothes deciding that she will take a bath tomorrow and is about to risk reaching for Oathkeeper under the mattress, but then someone knocks on her door.

It’s Jaime, only wearing the white cloak and not the armor, and looking visibly more rested than usual but also utterly embarrassed.

“My apologies for what happened,” he finally says, looking up at her as if he wishes he could disappear under the ground.

“There’s – no need for that?”

“No, there is. I behaved very foolishly, and very shamefully, for – for being in the Kingsguard and for –”

“Ser, if you were about to mention your family, I suggest you stop,” she says, and then he does and still looks up at her as if he can’t make sense of her at all.

“It’s true,” he protests, but it’s painful how it’s obvious it’s his father talking right now and not him. She knows because not even when they had just met and she couldn’t stand the sight of his face he ever said something so colossally stupid, but she does remember what Tyrion had told her one night when they had both shared a bottle of Dornish red while waiting for the end in Winterfell, after Jon Snow died and just before Jaime fell ill, and not long after then Tyrion was found dead in his own bed.

(Brienne is sure he found a way to take his own life painlessly and quickly.

 

Probably, the smartest way to behave in their current situation, and given that he certainly was the smartest person in between the whole lot of them, it says all.)

He did tell her that their father always had some variation of that speech ready for the both of them to hear whenever he thought they weren’t living up to the family name.

He told her that among other things, and she wishes she didn’t know them now because it’s just making this entire situation even more wretched.

“You needed some rest,” she says instead. “You got it. You’ve been here for what, two years, without anyone you know or without contacting your family. I know what vows you swore. There’s nothing shameful or foolish in what happened, and if I may be blunt, it doesn’t seem to me like not sleeping at all was helping you much more, or wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t,” he admits. He’s not looking at her anymore. “But – my father wouldn’t be exactly be happy to hear it, and I should apologize –”

“Ser, I didn’t mind. And – are you your father?”

“Well, no, but –”

“If you were, I’d have accepted his apologies, since I suppose he would have believed that little speech you just gave me. But you aren’t, and I don’t think anyone who swears a vow to be brave and just and to defend the young and innocent would think that it’s shameful or foolish to need some help themselves once in a while. You don’t have to apologize to me for something that was freely given and offered and you don’t have to apologize for being – yourself, I suppose. Surely you’re a better knight than any I’ve met inside this castle.”

“I doubt –”

She has to laugh, even if it’s wildly impolite at this point. “You’re the only one I met up until now who actually thinks about what he’s doing, ser. Does Ser Darry sleep as badly as you do? Does Ser Whent?”

“Not that I know of,” Jaime scoffs. “But –”

“Then it seems that you do have a conscience. Which I would think is necessary, in our line of work. And it seems like they don’t like to listen to it.”

“At least their sleeping habits are better for it.”

“That doesn’t make them good knights or good people, though. Or at least that wouldn’t be what I would take as the ultimate sign of it.”

“And how do you sleep at night, Lady Rohanne?”

Gods, of course he had to ask that.

“I used to sleep horribly,” she says. Because she had, while she was looking for Sansa, hadn’t she? “Then – I had to do something I loathed. You wouldn’t know of it, it was a minor squabble happened a year ago or so.”

While Aerys was already beyond mad, so who would notice?

“I’m listening.”

“I – I cannot go into details because some of the people involved are still alive, and they don’t wish for this story to be known, but – I had sworn myself to someone. It was someone who had actually taken me seriously, for once. Not many people do, even if learning who my grandfather used to be does change some minds.” Since when have I become this good of a liar? “This person – suffered a personal loss. A deep personal loss that came after a betrayal. That would have turned anyone mad. At some point, they started leading some bandits and killing people around the area in order to get revenge, and they were sure a, uh, close friend of mine was involved with that personal loss. So, I was given a choice. Killing that close friend or die.”

“And what did you do?”

“I couldn’t kill an innocent person I was friends with. And I couldn’t let them kill innocent people out of revenge. I – I had to kill the person I swore myself to. It was horrible and I regret that I had to every single moment, but I don’t regret having picked decency over following someone who had become a danger to everyone around them and to themselves. I made peace with the fact that you had to choose what vows to follow and I made my choice. And if you’re asking yourself what I’m doing here, from what I heard the realm needed capable people and I’m doing it for the realm. Not for your king.”

She wishes she could tell him, and I wouldn’t ever have made sense of any of it if it wasn’t for you, and it’s really, really strange to see him hanging on to her every word when it would have never left her mouth hadn’t they met each other a long time ago.

“That – that’s fair,” he concedes.

“Anyhow,” she goes on, “since then, I sleep better. I made peace with it. But I understand why anyone wouldn’t, and someone who sees the same thing I saw and that I suppose you see daily and goes through his life blissfully unaware of what they’re allowing their liege lord to do, was not cut for this job. Seems to me like you are aware, at least. And again, I am not accepting any apologies for what happened last night. I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I sleep better if – if someone else hadn’t helped me see it.”

“That friend you mentioned?”

“Them and a few other people,” she says, noticing that he’s speaking like it’s some kind of complicated notion he cannot quite pinpoint, but –

He’s ten and seven. She knows that until he left Casterly to go squiring he spent most of his time with either his sister or his brother and that his father wasn’t too fond of his children mingling with commoners or the likes. He’s never talked to her of making friends while he was squiring and she doesn’t think Arthur Dayne would qualify as such, nor anyone else in the Kingsguard, and as much as some relatives could have come close to it, it’d still be relatives.

Maybe he really just can’t conceive it.

“You know,” she says, not liking how her voice is suddenly softening too much, because he shouldn’t realize the depth of her feelings, “everyone needs friends once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with trusting other people.”

She knows he’s about to say, my father wouldn’t agree.

But then –

“So that’s what we are now?”

“Friends?” She asks, willing her heart to just stop beating so wildly. “We could be if you’d like.”

“Why, would you?”

“Why wouldn’t I? There’s nothing I’ve seen until now that suggests me it would be a poor life choice.”

“I don’t know about that, but I suppose it’s your funeral,” he says, smiling ever so slightly as he does.

“I’ll take my chances. And –” She considers risking it or not, then decides to just go for it. “And if we’re friends, there’s no need for the lady. I never felt much like one anyway.”

“So what,” he says, “it’s Rohanne now?”

“If you want it to be.”

“Then it’s Jaime, if you want it to be.”

Then he wishes her goodnight and moves back to his room.

As she closes the door, she’s breathing so heavily one would think she just ran here all the way from Dragonstone, but it seems like it went down as well as it could be, and maybe if it means she can make things less bad for him for whatever time they have left, it can’t be a bad thing.

--

That night, he still sleeps badly, though not as much as before. The next one, it’s the same. And then they have to switch again, and she’s extremely sad to hear that the king is feeling better and will come back to his duties tomorrow, when Jaime has to take her place.

Meanwhile, no letters arrive from either the Tower of Joy nor anywhere else.

Maybe no news is better than bad news, she decides.

--

That is, until the next day Varys walks up next to her as she leaves Elia’s room and the gold cloaks take her place.

“My lady,” he asks, “I must ask you to come with me for a short while.”

“What – what’s going on?” She asks.

“Well, it seems like our common acquaintance Lord Connington has sent you a message, but couldn’t risk letting it reach the castle and might have chosen an unorthodox way to do so, hoping that my eyes would see far enough to notice.”

“I suppose they did.”

“You suppose right. You need to leave now and be at the place where you went for food the first day you were here. Someone will bring that message to you.”

“Very well. Thank you,” she tells him. “And thank you for switching us as well.”

“Don’t thank me for things you might regret, my lady.”

She takes off her armor – it wouldn’t do to go around the city in that white noticeable get-up – and heads for the tavern.

--

She walks into the tavern and sits down at the first empty table she sees.

A moment later, someone else sits in front of her.

She takes a good look at him – a man, tall enough but certainly shorter than she is, chestnut hair and eyes, commoner clothes, quite handsome. Not as Jaime, but he holds his own.

“Lady Rohanne, I suppose?” He asks.

“Do we know each other?” She asks back cautiously.

“No,” he says, “but we have a common friend, I think.”

He rummages in his pocket and hands her a sealed raven. “This came to my, uh, place of employment earlier this morning along with another message. It said the sealed one was for a lady Rohanne who’s currently in the King’s employment, is taller than most men and has blonde hair and blue eyes, and that I should try to give it to her, was it possible for me.”

Place of employment. He’s quite not looking at her.

She clears her throat. “Uh, I am aware of our common friend’s preferences,” she says. “Did you meet recently?”

“A month ago or so.”

Right. While he was still in the castle.

“I can imagine then. Well, thank you very much for actually searching me out.”

“Don’t mention it. He was – generous enough on his last visit that I could certainly spare the time to pay him a favor. If I get another such message should I make sure Lord Varys is informed of it?”

“That would be the ideal, yes. Thank you, uh –”

“Name’s Eddard, Lady Rohanne, but I doubt you’ll have much other need for my services. Have a good evening.”

He stands up and leaves as Brienne looks down at the raven and breaks the seal.

We are traveling on time and we should be there in two weeks at most. Rhaegar sent us a message from the Tower of Joy and apparently he will be there as well. It didn’t mention anything or anyone else. Everything is going as well as it could. Take care and burn this.

It’s not signed, but it’s obvious it’s Jon’s – gods, it’s not exciting news but at least they aren’t all dead.

She considers keeping it, but no, he’s right. She throws it in the fire burning in the corner after ordering some ale just so that she doesn’t stand out too much and only leaves when her drink is finished and the piece of paper is turned to ashes.

--

The hallway is silent when she gets back to the Red Keep. She figures that it won’t hurt to ask for that bath now and for her water pitchers to be refilled – she calls for a maid and the latter is accomplished shortly, while the bath is brought down to her room not long later. By the time she’s done, she feels not cleansed but at least better off than before, and she doesn’t like how there’s no noise coming from the next room, but she can hardly go knock.

She puts on clean bed clothes and turns in, hoping that Jaime’s not here because he’s taking time having dinner or not being with Aerys and not because his shift might have gotten longer.

She sleeps, not too deeply but she does, except that then she’s brusquely woken up by a knock on her door that’s actually way more tentative than it feels – she only jerks awake because it was utterly silent before.

“It’s not locked,” she says, even if her hand immediately reaches for the sword currently placed up against the wall. “Come in.”

For a moment, nothing happens, and then the handle is tentatively moved down, and the door opens to show her Jaime’s utterly devastated face.

She’s out of bed in a moment, all traces of sleep completely gone, and walks up to him stopping just short of the two of them actually touching, not that it would amount to much given that he’s wearing armor and he’s doing nothing to divest himself from it.

Actually, he’s doing nothing at all – he’s looking somewhere in the direction of his right hand but his eyes are completely unfocused, and she should probably get worried but he looks exactly the way he did when she walked into the throne room the first time, doesn’t he?

What did he tell her once, when they were still both prisoners of the Bloody Mummers?

To go away inside?

She shakes her head and starts taking his armor off – he lets her, not even saying a thing, and she says nothing for the entire time it takes her to do it, hoping that maybe he’ll come back to himself in due time.

Though hopefully soon, since she hardly knows what she should do, not when he’s not looking at her even if he did come to her first.

She puts away the armor in one of the room’s corners, thinking and he had no one to do that for him the first time round, and when she turns back to check on him he’s still standing in the middle of the room, staring at her bed but not looking at it, and no, she decides, she doesn’t want to know what went down today. Not at all.

“Jaime?” She asks, trying to at least sound calm. She gets no answer, so she tries again, but this time she closes her fingers around his wrist, not too strongly but enough that he has to feel it, and at that he does look at her, shaking his head ever so slightly.

“Rohanne?” He asks back, shaking his head slightly.

“Yes,” she says, not moving her hand. “What do you need?” She goes on, trying to keep her voice as low as possible.

He keeps on staring at her.

Then –

“Are you really here?” He breathes, now looking like he doesn’t know if he’s making her up or not, and gods, she doesn’t have a clue of what she should do here or of what wouldn’t make things worse, but then again, if what was fine with him during the (too little) time they had together is fine now, maybe –

Well, it’s not like she has many better options.

She grabs both his hands and squeezes, hard but not painful.

“Yes,” she says again. “Yes, I am, and you are, too.”

At that, he seems to at least focus some, though not as much as she’d like. Then she notices that his left hand feels different, and she turns it around.

Well, there’s a superficial burn on his palm. What

“What happened,” she says, not even asking.

He looks down at their joined hands in a frankly disturbing way. “He – we went to the dungeons.” He’s talking in such a detached way it makes her stomach turn over on itself. “He said one of his pyromancers found some – some new kind of wildfire. He said they needed to know something.”

“And?”

“He said I should try to touch the flame. While I was wearing armor and gloves. Until it became too much. I did.”

… Of course he has a superficial burn there, gods, and she should probably go get some water and wrap a wet bandage over it or something, but he’s grasping at her hands so tightly, she couldn’t.

“He had no right,” she says, fully realizing how hollow it sounds.

“It didn’t hurt,” he goes on, and how wouldn’t it – unless he was purposefully trying not to think about it, and wasn’t that again what he advised her to do when it looked like the Bloody Mummers would have tried to rape her?

“It – didn’t?”

“It does now,” he says, shrugging a bit, and she can see his eyes tearing up and –

Seven hells, there’s a limit to everything, she decides, and she’s pretty sure he was not expecting her to leave his left hand be and put an arm around his shoulders, but then that same hand reaches up and grasps at her shirt just below her neck, and wait is he hugging her back?

He is, she realizes a moment later, and so she lets his other hand go to do it properly, and she hopes her heartbeat doesn’t get too fast as his chin moves over her shoulder and she buries a hand in his hair again and keeps him close and hopes that this is grounding him somewhat.

Then he shudders against her as if he’s just woken up from some kind of dream and she can feel him getting tense, as if he doesn’t really want to move but doesn’t want to do something potentially humiliating either, and if only she could tell him that there’s nothing he could do in front of her that she’d take as such.

“It’s fine,” she says. “Whatever – whatever’s happening, it’s fine.” She’s sure she didn’t sound too convincing but it’s evidently enough because he about stops holding himself up and she ends up having to move back to the bed and make sure he lies down on it along with her, and she thinks, if only my septa could see me now I’d dare her to tell to my face that being larger than most men was a weakness. Right now she’s glad she is, if anything because if she was smaller she wouldn’t have the strength to do all of this, never mind holding him up.

“Should I look at that hand?” She asks softly when he’s not shaking anymore but not moving, either.

“Would you?” He asks, with such a tiny voice she can barely recognize him.

“Of course.” She moves back, takes it between hers again to take a better look at it in the candlelight – right. It’s superficial. At least that, she thinks, but her feelings for Aerys Targaryen aren’t getting milder because of it, all the contrary. She rips a piece of the old shirt she had on when she traveled from her when, wets it in the coldest pitcher of water she has and then goes back to the bed, where she wraps it around Jaime’s hand as tightly as she can without making it hurtful. “It’ll heal on its own, I think, but this should make it burn less.”

“Thank you,” he croaks, not quite looking at her again.

“I – I imagine you couldn’t feign sickness tomorrow, could you?”

He shakes his head. “Not for this. And no, having you take my place wouldn’t – it’s already a miracle he’s accepting this situation. No.” At least he sounds like he’s back to himself, mostly. “I will live. But – how did I get here?”

He doesn’t remember?

She decides to not point it out. “You knocked,” she replies.

“Hells. Well, sorry if I woke you up, but – thank you. I should –”

“Do you want to sleep here?” She cuts him off. At this point she’s aware that he won’t ask.

He stops, looks at her, and then –

“Would it be too much to ask?” He admits, still not quite looking at her.

“Lie down,” she says instead, turning to blow on the candles so the room falls into darkness, and she moves with her back against the wall so that she won’t crowd him and so that he can leave tomorrow morning without having to climb all over her.

He does, and they have to grasp at each other again lest they fall over on the ground, but as his bandaged hand cautiously touches her hip and he seems to fall asleep the moment she runs her hand through his hair, she decides that whatever happens she’s glad she could be here because the only thing she can think of is that the first time around he was most probably feeling the same and he had no one to even coach him through it.

She falls asleep wondering how someone can be failed by so many people throughout his life, and she wakes up to find the other side of the bed empty because of course he’d have to leave sooner if he has to guard the king, and his armor’s gone, but the bed is still warm and she just hopes he slept decently.

--

That evening, she can hear rustling come from Jaime’s room when she comes back from her rounds. She considers leaving it be, but –

She takes off her armor and then proceeds to knock on his door.

“Rohanne,” he greets her as he opens it, “is there a problem?”

“I just wanted to ask how you were doing,” she tells him. “I mean, after yesterday, I wanted to make sure.”

“Oh,” he says, shrugging and raising up his left hand, “it’s holding up. You were right though, keeping it wet helped. A few days and I should be good, I think.”

“That’s great. And for the rest?”

“You aren’t going to let me forget it, are you?” He asks, but why does he sound fond?

“I’m sorry but I couldn’t,” she admits. “Really. How are you?”

“I could do worse. And nothing like that happened today, but thanks for inquiring.” He doesn’t sound sarcastic, though. He sounds – pleased that she asked.

“Then I’m glad to hear it. Well, I’ll go then.”

“Wait,” he tells her, “I – do you think you could come in a moment?”

“Of course,” she says, and walks inside the room.

It’s not much better decorated than hers, or better, Ser Barristan’s, but it’s more lived in, and there are a few papers and books on a small desk pushed to the corner. Pieces of his armor are scattered all over the bed, a cloth thrown nearby.

“It’s just – hells, this is embarrassing, but – yesterday, we were in the dungeons. That armor got dirty. And I should polish it, but if I use the left hand to hold it still it hurts, so –”

“I can do it,” she says, not stopping herself from smiling. “It’s not such a big deal.”

“I could do it on my own, but –”

“I know you can, but it’s fine if you don’t want to hurt your hand any further. It’s fine, I can do it.”

“Thanks,” he tells her, and then moves over to the desk as she sits on the bed, grabs the cloth and starts scrubbing the plate. It’s an automatic motion by now, so she doesn’t pay too much attention to it – instead she glances up at him as he grabs a leather book and opens it, taking a piece of paper out of it and reading it, his eyes slightly scrunching as he does, but he’s smiling as he does.

“Is that some enticing novel?” She asks.

He laughs at that, a little. “Not really. My brother sends me letters sometimes. Well, actually, he sent me letters when I was squiring for Lord Crakehall, now he doesn’t anymore but I highly doubt I would receive them if he did write them. I kept them,” he says, and now he looks a bit embarrassed of it.

“No shame in it,” she tells him as she keeps on scrubbing. “It’s – endearing, actually.”

“Knights of the Kingsguard shouldn’t be endearing,” he protests.

“Who says? It’s nice that you’d do that. I’m sure your brother would appreciate.”

She looks down at the white plate. It’s pristine, now. She puts it on the side.

“Oh, he would,” Jaime agrees. “Too bad I don’t think he knows. I should find a way to tell him. Never mind that.”

She stands up, moving closer. “How old did you say he was?”

“Ten this year.”

“But he sent you letters from what, five years ago? That’s impressive. At five, I couldn’t write anyone letters.”

Jaime snorts. “He definitely is the gifted one in the family when it comes to that I think. Do you want to read one?”

Wait, what?

“If you feel like it would be appropriate, why not,” she replies, not wanting to make him feel like he has to share.

He shrugs. “I might have showed them to other people, back when I was still squiring, but it was apparently childish and not too interesting.”

And then he grabs that one letter and another one and just about shoves them at her – gods, he does look somewhat excited about it? She takes them and checks the dates – one it’s from 278, so Jaime must have left for a year. It’s quite short and it has a few spelling mistakes and it amounts to Tyrion telling Jaime he misses him very much and he hopes he’s having adventures like he always used to tell him, but honestly, when she was five she could read fine but wouldn’t have managed to write all of that in two sentences. The handwriting is also, well, belonging to a child, but she can read it fine, and hers never was great until she was seven or so.

“That’s impressive,” she finally says, before going on to the second one. “I mean, I don’t know anyone that young who’d actually write people letters. I couldn’t have, back in the day.”

“Neither could I,” Jaime agrees, but he sounds ridiculously proud of it rather than resentful. Brienne moves on to the one below which is from 280, and – never mind that the handwriting is clearer and more legible and there isn’t one spelling mistake that she can spot, it covers the entire page and there’s one sentence which is about four lines long. She whistles – it’s not as if she didn’t know Tyrion Lannister always was extremely well-read and she did talk to him enough times to know it, so seeing that he was from such a young age isn’t a surprise, but still, she hadn’t expected that age to be quite so young. The content is what you’d expect – updating Jaime on what’s happening in Casterly Rock, then informing him of what interesting things he read recently and so on, but the form is just exquisite.

She also notices that neither his father nor his sister are mentioned, but she chooses to pretend she’s not aware of it.

“That’s – that’s amazing,” she says, not lying. “I mean, I could write like this at maybe twelve. Though admittedly I was more interested in swords than books,” she adds – it’s not true, she also was very interested in songs and stories, but if she’s supposed to be a commoner she can’t push it too much.

“I don’t think I can write like that now,” he says, but he doesn’t sound angry about it or anything of the kind. “And I know. I just – he could read when I left. I was so excited to see that he was getting that good at it, but – I ended up keeping it for myself, I guess. At least I told him the few times I came back.”

She hands him back the letters and he puts them back in the book carefully.

“You should be,” she tells him. “He seems extremely bright. Maybe he could be a scholar at some point.”

“I don’t know if our father would be happy for it, but last I know, he was aiming for High Septon. Apparently, the crown gives you a foot in height.”

Brienne has to laugh a bit at that. “When you see him again, you can tell him that being too tall doesn’t help you either, but it hasn’t stopped me from achieving what I wanted.”

“Rohanne, you always know how to be inspiring,” he laughs. “But thank you. I will make sure to do that, if we survive this rebellion.”

Gods, I hope we do, she thinks.

“I am sure we will,” she says, and then wishes him goodnight before letting herself out. He’s still somewhat smiling as he waves at her and she does the same.

She thinks, if only you could look like that all time, and then goes back to her room.

Whatever happens tomorrow, she’s relieved Jaime’s not going to guard the king. After what happened yesterday –

She hopes that they get that damned raven from the Stoney Sept soon, because she can’t watch him suffer this much longer, she can’t watch Elia Martell kill herself with worry over a man who honestly did not deserve her and who she honestly hopes will see reason when he arrives at the Stoney Sept.

Gods, she hopes he will, if anything because with the reputation he has and with how it clashes with what she’s learned up to this point, one would hope that he would think smartly and live up to his damned reputation.

Then she thinks that he didn’t think it a problem to leave Jaime to handle his father and protecting his wife and children on his own and she just hopes that she isn’t seeing what Jon saw in him and that there’s more to him than what it seems like to her.

In her entire life, she’s never hoped so much to be wrong.

--

The next day, she wonders how the Brienne of Tarth who left her home to follow Renly to his or her death would think of herself now.

It’s not that the king ever talks to her much when she’s guarding him. Good thing, because she can distract herself thinking about more pleasurable things. But sometimes he remembers she exists, and as he tells her that it’s quite amusing how she seems to have more guts than the actual Kingsguard member in the castle she replies thank you, Your Grace, but thinks at the same time, laugh for now because you’re going to be dead in a moon’s time and I won’t shed a tear over it.

Her seventeen-year old self would have abhorred thinking of a king that way, she thinks sadly.

But she’s not seventeen anymore and just the idea that he dares comparing the two of them when she’s been here for less than two months and Jaime’s been here for years and had to endure worse than she has is just so maddening, she can’t think otherwise.

He has ten times the guts you think he has, and certainly more than your son or anyone else in this guard, she thinks, but of course doesn’t say.

She glances at the garden where Jaime seems entirely too happy to give Rhaenys a ride on his shoulders and tells herself that at least her suffering is paying off somehow.

--

Things do go moderately well for the next week or so. Whatever Aerys might be planning to do, he doesn’t burn anyone throughout that entire time, and it seems like having a two-day break from Aerys does seem to work at least as far as Jaime’s sleeping habits are concerned.

Once she catches Elia crying softly into a fine silk

handkerchief as she looks at her sleeping children when she arrives for her shift in the morning and she hopes she never meets Rhaegar Targaryen in the future when she gets there, if she gets there, or she might do something incredibly stupid.

Then Varys tells her that there might be a message for her at that same tavern, at the same time as when she got the first one.

Thankfully it’s on a day where she’s on Princess Elia duty and not Mad King duty, so she’s entirely in time when she gets there. The same handsome man from before, Eddard, is sitting at one table and she joins him.

“My lady,” he says. “Our common friend sends you this.” He hands her another raven and she pockets it.

“My thanks,” she replies. “Are you sure you don’t require payment?”

He laughs. “If you insist, a man who’s putting money aside from when his line of work won’t pay anymore won’t say no, but give that our common friend left me gold dragons before he joined the army or whatever it is that he did, I’m fine without as well.”

Brienne has understood what line of work it might be. She reaches into her vest’s pocket and hands him a couple silver stags. “Sorry, I tend to not carry dragons around.”

“That’s fine enough, for having just brought a message. Well, I shall go or I would miss my shift, but can I give you some advice in exchange for your generosity?”

“Please, do.”

“I don’t know what it is that you do at the castle, but you look like someone who could stand to have some fun for one night or so. If I’m not your type, I have a few friends who might –”

She feels her cheeks go red at once. “Thank you,” she says, “but – there was a man. He died a short time ago. I – I don’t think I am quite ready for that kind of fun.”

He raises his hands. “My apologies. But if you change your mind, ask Lord Varys. And even if you don’t choose to have that kind of fun, I would suggest you find a distraction. Every client I get with eyes like yours, is a client who ends up fainting if they stay longer than an hour. Have a good night,” he says, curtsying slightly, and then he leaves.

Good gods, she thinks, if a whore who knows her because Jon most likely paid for his services can guess that by looking at her for a minute, she can’t imagine what he’d have said when it comes to Jaime.

She looks down at the table, remembering one night just before Jon Snow left Winterfell to go fight the damned White Walkers and it was time for the beginning of the end to start.

Have you ever drunk for pleasure, Jaime had asked.

Not really, she had replied.

Wench, he had said, we might die in a week’s time. You shouldn’t leave this world without having had some genuine fun once.

I don’t know if I trust your definition of genuine fun.

But do you trust me? He had asked, and of course she did, and so she told him to show her, and he had found a full bottle of Dornish somewhere, possibly from his brother, and they shared it on the ramparts until the both of them were pleasurably drunk and giddy from it, and she had told him a lot of embarrassing things that didn’t feel so embarrassing at that point, and he had told her that at some point when he had seen snow falling in Riverrun he had rued having had one hand only because you can’t make snowballs without a full set, and then he told her he used to throw them at his brother once. Then they had looked at each other and she had told him she was willing to give him a hand, and they had found Tyrion in the godswood where Jaime did throw at him a fair number of snowballs that she had shaped for him, and Tyrion himself hadn’t looked too sad about it. Then they sparred, or tried to, because they were both so tipsy that they couldn’t hold their swords properly, and then they had walked up back to their room more or less keeping each other upwards, and then she had pushed him against the mattress and they had kissed once, twice, while she was holding him down against the mattress, and –

It’s probably not what she should think about now, because this Jaime isn’t the one whose moans she’d swallow and who begged her to keep his arms still when she rode him and who’d look up adoringly at her like no one had ever done up until that point.

But maybe, not counting that, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. She checks how much money she has left – enough, she thinks.

Brienne stands up, goes to the tavern’s owner and asks him if she can buy a full bottle of anything with that much money. He says she can have either cheap wine or medium-quality spiced rum from the Summer Isles. She picks the rum and heads back to the Red Keep.

--

She’s glad she’s done it the moment she walks into the hallway and finds Jaime sitting outside her door, still in full white armor get-up, with his head hiding in between his knees.

“Jaime?” She asks him, worried that he looks like he might be throwing up. “What are you doing here?”

He looks up at her. Gods, he has been crying.

“I couldn’t be arsed to walk back into the room,” he says. “Or better, I got as far as here and then my legs gave out and I couldn’t stand up anymore and while it’s hardly dignified, if you would help me up I would be plenty grateful.” It’s sarcastic, but he is holding a hand out.

She grabs it and helps him up before opening the door to the room and leading him to the bed.

“What has he done now?

“What hasn’t he done?” Jaime sighs. “Nothing new. But three executions in one day when I had gone weeks without were maybe too much. And he didn’t let me leave his side for a moment. Hells, I’m tired,” he admits, quietly, barely audible, and she wants to walk up to him and tell him the truth and that he deserves better and that everyone is doing him so wrong she can’t even begin to quantify it.

Instead, she sits down next to him, bottle in hand.

“I have a proposition,” she says.

“What – is that rum?”

She nods. “Did I tell you about that friend of mine I couldn’t kill?”

“The one who made you figure out you had to pick and choose your vows wisely?”

“He once said I wasn’t any fun and I should try it out more.”

“And he got you to drink?”

“We shared it,” she says, “at the end it wasn’t so bad. You don’t have to guard him tomorrow and I can handle it. I was thinking we might share this one, too. But maybe not now.”

“Why, what are your plans for before?”

“You should go to the kitchens and find something to eat, then we should go to the gardens and have a serious sparring session that I know you’ve been wanting since the first time we crossed swords, and then we should share that bottle.”

“I – I don’t know,” he says, obviously tempted. “I mean, it sounds – tempting, especially the sparring session, but – we have a duty. We can’t just –”

“Can you swear on your honor that your other Kingsguard companions never did something such as this?”

“I – I probably couldn’t.”

“So why not? You need a break. I need a break. How much can it hurt?”

She holds his stare, suddenly wanting this very badly because if everything goes to the seven hells later then she wants this evening to go well.

“You know what,” he says, “fuck that. You’re right. And I have been wanting to fight you fairly since you showed up.”

He smiles tentatively and she smiles back, and she follows him out of the room, hiding the bottle in her cloak and bringing her sword along.

--

He manages to find some food to eat, it’s not as if they could refuse him, and then he brings her to a secluded part of the gardens that he guarantees her are always empty at this time. She takes off her cloak, leaving the rum nestled inside it, and takes her sword out of its sheath, regretting that it cannot be Oathkeeper, but it would be asking too much.

He’s grinning tentatively as he takes his own sword.

“So,” he says, “shall we?”

She moves into position.

“Whenever you like,” she says, smiling, and this time she doesn’t let herself think about how she knows his strategies already and he’s not trying to beat her with Aerys’s eyes pointed at his back, and neither he has both hands tied like the only time they did this while he still had both –

And he’s beyond magnificent, like this. If he’s not hindered by other thoughts or burdens, he fights like it’s in his blood, and it is and she knows because it’s in hers, too, and they’re pretty much evened out at this point

(which makes her think, how would he have been ten years from now, with both hands?)

and the more their blades kiss the more he grins openly, as if he missed just doing this for the sake of it, same as she had, and by the time she’s short for breath and he is, too, neither of them has disarmed the other, they’ve gone through that path some five times if not more and they’re both covered in sweat, but it’s the good kind of.

“Hells,” he says as she blocks his hit, “you think you might settle for a tie?”

“Fine,” she replies, and they both lower their swords at the same time. “I think it was a tie anyway and winning out of exhausting a more tired opponent isn’t fair.”

“Thanks for the consideration,” he laughs, and now he’s really smiling, and it’s the exact same way he used to when he meant it back in the day, and her knees are weak now and not just because she’s tired.

“So,” she says, grabbing the rum, “shall we?”

“Yes,” he agrees, “but not here. I have a better idea.”

--

“Gods,” she asks him, “are you serious?”

Jaime laughs and then raises an eyebrow in obvious provocation. “I never do things halfway. And who’s in this tower except the two of us? What Ser Gerold doesn’t know, won’t hurt him,” he says, and then walks out on the Lord Commander’s balcony and hoists himself up, on the ledge of the White Sword Tower’s roof. “So, you coming or not?”

The risk of getting caught is honestly nothing in comparison to seeing him this carefree, and so she hands him the bottle and hoists herself up next to him. He opens the bottle and takes a sip, immediately leaning back.

“Wow, it’s been months since I drank anything stronger than wine,” he says, “but it’s good. Here, your turn.” He hands the bottle over.

She takes a drink.

It burns down her throat, but in a pleasurable way, and the slight spiced hint just makes it better. She hands it back. He takes it.

--

“Hells,” he says when they’re halfway through, “this city almost looks nice from up here.”

“Why, because it’s dark and you can barely see it?”

He laughs, taking the bottle back from her. “Fair, but there’s the moon. You can just pretend it’s not full of terrified and starving people who deserved better than the king they got.”

To think that you’ll give up your reputation for them, she doesn’t say.

“You’re right,” she agrees, “I’ll drink to that.”

“Here.” He hands it back to her. By now they’re both pleasurably tipsy, and his cheeks are a healthy pink instead of the usual unhealthy pale shade, even if he still has bags under his eyes and his eyes are way, way older than ten and seven. “Hells, you read stories all your life about how this city is magical and its castle holds treasures and so on, and then you find out no one would live here if they could and the castle only holds disappointments.”

“I know,” she agrees. “The Kingsguard really isn’t everything they say it is.”

“It’s nothing like they say it is. Gods, if I had known I’d have never listened to her.”

“To – to her?” Brienne fakes. She knows who they’re talking about. But she can’t tell him now, can she?

“If I tell you, you might change your mind about how worthy I am of this cloak.”

“Ser, honestly,” she says, taking another swig, “nothing might change my mind about this cloak not being worthy of you,” she slurs on purpose, but then she meets his eyes and he’s suddenly gone serious again, and she’s not surprised when his next drink is longer and heartier than the previous ones.

“What if I told you I joined because I wanted to be like Ser Dayne, and because my sister made a splendid case that if I did we’d always be together and I wouldn’t have to marry anyone else, because – because I love her?”

It’s most probably a good thing that she’s already heard this confession more than once, and she knew it even before she heard it from him.

“I’d say,” she says, after another drink, “that while I can’t say I would understand how one would love their sister, that if you did it seems like a sound reason even if to me wanting to be like Ser Dayne sounds like an entirely more – comprehensible decision. It’s your business, Jaime. Everything I’ve seen since we met makes me understand why would Ser Dayne knight you, I cannot judge you for that. But if you’re regretting it –”

“She’s not here,” he says. “Hasn’t been since I was appointed if not before, and it was – what you saw. Since then. Why wouldn’t I regret it? But I can’t – I can’t say any of this now, can I?”

“Your secret’s safe with me,” she assures him.

She’s tempted to ask him, but how would you two have been together if she had to marry someone else?, but she doesn’t, because it would be unfair and even if she knows his sister is not good for him, it would be just wrong to do it now when he’s in his cups and he obviously trusts her enough to share that.

No. She’s not going to point it out.

“And I’m sorry it worked out like this,” she adds, sincerely as he tips his head back and drinks again. “Hopefully they can negotiate with the rebels and this will change.”

“If only,” he agrees, handing her the last of the rum. “If only. Anything as long as this torture’s over.”

She finishes the bottle. She looks at him, at his golden blonde hair bathed in the moonlight and puts a hand on his arm. “It will be,” she tells him, hoping that she’s right.

He doesn’t tell her to move her hand, and so she doesn’t.

--

They manage to jump back on the balcony without breaking their necks and they stumble downstairs until they reach their hallway, more or less leaning on each other as they walk.

She’s less drunk than him, unsurprisingly, and so she opens his door and sits him down on the bed.

“Well,” she says, “I have a king to guard tomorrow. I should probably go.”

“I guess,” he tells her, “but – just – wait a moment.”

She does, standing in the middle of the room, and then he stands up, finding balance on his trembling legs, and then he moves up to her and throws his arms around her neck, and for a moment she’s taken by surprise so much that she only holds him back when he latches at her back way more forcefully.

“Jaime?” She asks.

“Rohanne,” he replies, “I don’t know why in the seven hells you’d want to be here or why you’d stay, but there isn’t a damned moment when I’m not grateful you actually did. Just – I am.”

She has to really put serious effort into not breaking out in tears. Instead she moves back enough to look at him, because there’s one thing she has to tell him before everything possibly spirals out of control and before she goes back where she came from, if she survives it, if they all survive it.

“Well,” she says, “sometimes I don’t know why I’m here myself, but if my presence did anything to – make things better here, then I’m glad I did come. And – it doesn’t matter how many doubts you have. Real knights tend to have doubts, or at least all the real ones I met always did. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Especially Ser Darry or Ser Whent or whoever else might share their opinion.”

“Duly noted,” he says, squeezing her shoulders before letting her go, maybe a bit reluctantly. “I won’t. Or I’ll try not to.”

“Good. And don’t let anyone convince you that needing a hand once in a while is something bad.”

“All right,” he agrees, still smiling, showing a row of pearly white teeth, “that’s fair. Have – have a good night my lady.”

“Same to you,” she tells him, and if anything, she thinks it is, because when she wakes up the next morning, she isn’t hearing him toss and turn in the next room over and she hasn’t been woken up throughout the night, either.

She dresses, and goes to the castle, and walks into the throne room, and does her duty until midday comes, as usual –

That is, until both Jaime and Elia walk inside the room, and the both of them have a horrified look in their eyes, and then Pycelle walks in from behind them while holding a raven in trembling hands, and Varys immediately leaves the King’s side to reach Pycelle’s.

Oh.

Oh, Brienne thinks, is it –

“Pycelle,” Aerys scoffs, “what it is?”

“Your – Your Grace – it’s –” The man starts muttering, and then Varys grabs the raven from his hands and his face goes remarkably pale, for someone who’s most definitely acting, because if this is the raven Brienne thinks it is, then he knew already.

“Your Grace,” Varys says, “this is not signed, and was obviously sent in a hurry, but if what it says is true, and I think it is – well. Prince Rhaegar is dead and Robert Baratheon is marching towards us.”

For a moment, there’s a deafening silence.

And then Aerys stands up, his hands bleeding as they grip the blades on the throne’s armrests, and he says, clear and loud and unmistakably mad, “Then let them, if they want to burn.”

She locks eyes with Jaime, seeing naked terror well up in both his own and Elia’s and most probably in hers.

She can’t say, not as long as I live. She also can’t say, it’s most probably not true and it was the only way to save your life.

She can’t say it, but she swears it to herself, and stands up straight.

From now on, she has to do what she came here for regardless of how much she will loathe it, and she will.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

They’ve been at Stoney Sept for a couple of days when, finally, Rhaegar shows up on the road coming up from the South.

Jon feels like fainting as he sees three figures, two of which clad in white, riding up at sundown – he can’t see their faces, but he’d recognize the Lord Commander’s height even without needing that, Ser Whent is obviously the one on the left, and in the middle –

In the middle

No, he thinks, moving back towards the side of the path leading into the camp, along with other commoner soldiers in between which he’s been staying for now. No, I mustn’t lose my head now. Of course, his younger self is waiting ahead, ready to meet his – their – silver prince, along with Ser Darry, Ser Barristan and a few golden cloaks who came with them, too. They did agree that at some point he’d be called inside the tent in order to share his info directly with Rhaegar, so he – he won’t do anything stupid now.

Regardless of how much his entire being yearns to do otherwise.

Gods, he hasn’t seen Rhaegar in how long, sixteen years? No, longer. Eighteen, maybe? Maybe even longer. And now he will –

Now he will accomplish nothing if he ends up looking like a lovestruck fool at the years he has now when he cannot afford it and when he has to look like someone experienced and seasoned and certainly not like a smitten girl of two and ten, regardless of how much his stomach is contorting over on itself at the mere thought of setting eyes on his silver prince all over again.

He stands up straight.

He also notices that Dayne isn’t here. Fair enough, someone would have had to stay at the Tower of Joy, but still, he had figured Rhaegar might bring his closest friend and leave the Lord Commander behind. Then again, maybe bringing the Lord Commander was a sounder strategy.

Never mind that. He waits until the three finally are out of the blinding sunlight and walk down the hill, under the shade, and Jon’s heart about stops at seeing Rhaegar the way he used to be, almost exactly as he remembered him. He’s a bit gaunter now, and he has lost a bit of weight, but the silver of his hair is the same lovely shade he remembered it in all these years, and the moment those amethyst eyes meet his for a moment as Rhaegar nods gracefully at all of them flanking the path he almost feels like fainting.

But then nothing happens and Rhaegar disappears into the tent along with himself and the rest of what Kingsguard is in this camp, and Jon dares breathe again.

All right. All right. Rhaegar is here, and fine, it was obvious he was smiling perfunctorily at all of them, but what might one expect after such a trip? It took them a month and some to arrive here and as he had predicted, taking it slower than he had the first time around meant that by the time they did, Ned Stark had already come and made camp, so he cannot come to Robert’s aid the way he did before. They’re camping far enough from the village to see it swarmed with Stark, Baratheon and Arryn banners, but their own camp isn’t too far and it’s obvious that for now they’re living in a precarious truce. The moment they got news that Rhaegar was coming up and would be here in a few days they had proceeded to send over a messenger to the other side, asking for a parley to discuss a truce as soon as the prince came, and they received a positive answer this morning. Jon had been surprised – he had thought it would take longer, and be harder, but instead it hadn’t.

He chooses to see the positive side in this. Maybe, maybe he’s owed a few strokes of luck after almost two decades of the contrary, he dares hope.

Meanwhile he glances at his own reflection in the armor plate of the man standing next to him for a moment – he hasn’t shaved for very long and his beard is more gray than ginger by now, while his younger self has taken care of doing that and cutting his hair. Jon’s commoner armor – without fancy sigils or anything of the kind – is old and battered, and he’s cloaked in a Targaryen black and red cloak instead of his House’s colors. He hopes that it’s enough to fool people when he has to come into that tent and talk, but until now – well, until now all the people who needed to see it did, but no one else even suspected.

He hopes it’s the same thing now, even if admittedly he is cultivating a small fantasy in which Rhaegar recognizes him nonetheless and Jon gets to tell him everything and inform him that he did try to get one of his sons on the Iron Throne and that he did try to help the other out as much as he could, but he knows it’s moot and it’ll never happen, and it’s better if Rhaegar doesn’t know.

Still –

It would be sweet if he knew me, he dares think, and not to say.

Then he shakes his head, berating himself for even going there – good gods, he’s gone back in time, there’s the entire continent’s fate resting halfway on his shoulders and, more prosaically, at least the life of most people in King’s Landing and in the Red Keep as well, and he’s here thinking about how much he’s loved Rhaegar Targaryen and how much he loves him still, which will do no one any good.

Least of all Rhaegar himself. When Darry comes out of the tent and says to break their ranks because it will be a while before they are all done discussing strategy, Jon stays close and busies himself helping the others getting the fires ready for dinner and such, if only to keep his mind off the matter at hand.

Gods. They have to convince Rhaegar and the rebels that the best thing to do is leave things as they are, depose Aerys and have Rhaegar step up as king and possibly hoping that Robert Baratheon won’t mind marrying Lyanna Stark if she’s with child, because Jon has no illusions on the fact that Robert will not relent on that, and honestly it would be a slight against the Dornish if Rhaegar actually left Elia and disinherited his two children along the way.

Gods, Jon thinks, and they have to live, too. All three of them.

He suddenly feels like his stomach has just turned into lead.

Fuck. Now that will be interesting, since he can’t know what’s going to go down in King’s Landing the moment the letter he has safely tucked into his pocket and that he’s brought with since before they left, ready to send it the moment he’ll know how this entire bloody matter goes. He just hopes that Brienne will manage her side of this sorry job, but he knows she can – she’s good at what she does and she’s honorable to the point where she wouldn’t risk the end of the world just to spare her own feelings, but still.

Still.

Still.

He shakes his head and goes to gather some more firewood. He’s not going to lose whatever optimism he has about this matter when he has no reasons to. He just has to wait until they’re done with niceties and he’s called in and he’ll make his case nicely and reasonably and of course Rhaegar will listen, because he always listened to everyone, and the plan is fairly sound and he has all to gain from it.

Yes. It’s going to go over well. It is.

There’s no reason it should happen otherwise.

--

He doesn’t have too long to wait, admittedly – Ser Whent comes to get him not later than maybe an hour from the moment Rhaegar arrived, and he’s quick to follow him back to the tent where Rhaegar is, along with himself of course.

All right.

All right.

I can do this, he thinks. If he does this, he’s accomplished everything he set out to accomplish when he accepted that Hand of the King pin years ago and he’s not going to sabotage it with his own hands. Or his own one hand, as it is.

He walks inside. It’s large, and there’s a table covered in maps in the middle – of course – and with quill and paper on the side, but that’s not what Jon’s worried about. He takes in the rest of the occupants – Ser Barristan and Ser Darry are standing at the corners and his younger self and the Lord Commander are standing behind the table, and at his younger self’s side –

Rhaegar took out his armor and obviously changed into clean clothes – he’s clad in Targaryen black and red, a lot finer than anyone else’s of course, and Jon’s bursting with how much he missed him, but –

No.

He cannot let anything show.

He breathes, trying to mask his turmoil as being in awe of standing in front of his future king, since he’s supposed to be a commoner here.

“Your Grace,” he says, bowing. “My lords.”

“You may stand,” Rhaegar says, and fuck, Jon is not going to weep just at hearing his voice. He’s not. “I am afraid we don’t have time for such formalities, Ser –”

“Roland,” Jon remembers to say before his own name escapes his lips.

“Right. Lord Connington told me but I’m afraid I missed it in between all the information he had given me. So, he said you have information as far as the rebels are concerned?”

He stands and comes closer – no one tells him not to. He stops just when he sees his younger self glaring at him; he figures that it’s as close as he should get before anyone starts noticing they have the same eyes.

“I suppose you have been informed that I traveled with the northern army in order to get a safe passage towards King’s Landing.”

“I have.”

“Very well. I learned there of the plans concerning Stoney Sept and that Robert Baratheon would hide here while Ned Stark rallied the rest of the army and then he’d join him.”

“As we all can see,” Rhaegar agrees. “Lord Connington said you heard more, though. Which is why he said he’s considering talking to them rather than fighting them.”

Right. If he gets this wrong, they’re all dead.

“Yes,” he says. “For one, the morale in the army is grime – everyone agrees that they should fight, of course, and they see the point of it, but they don’t like fighting you. The – the one they rue is the King, sorry to say.”

“I can imagine why,” Rhaegar says, shrugging slightly. He sounds weary. Of course he would. “Do go ahead.”

“Of course I couldn’t talk to either Ned Stark or Baratheon, especially because I was trying to disguise myself, but from what the rumors said, Ned Stark and Jon Arryn have nothing against you, Your Grace. The one who has a grudge is Robert Baratheon, I am afraid, but from what I gathered two out of the three of them would be satisfied with seeing your father removed and you in his place, and Hoster Tully would most likely follow since his daughter is married to Ned Stark, not Robert Baratheon. There is a very likely chance that war might be avoided if our side talks to theirs and finds an agreement.”

“Hm,” Rhaegar muses. “This all makes a lot of sense, but – no, I can guess why my presence would be necessary.”

At that, Jon kind of feels taken aback – why would it even be a question? Of course, it’s necessary. If the person supposed to take Aerys’s place is there to argue that option it’s a lot stronger message instead of having a middleman speaking for them.

“If only petty politics weren’t involved when it comes to the state of our existence,” Rhaegar whispers, and Jon shudders at once – so he knew. “Never mind. I suppose this has to be carried out as soon as possible. Did you contact the rebel camp already?”

“Indeed,” Jon’s younger self says, “we are meeting them on the morrow midway in between here and the village.”

“Very well,” Rhaegar agrees, clapping him on the shoulder.

Jon almost winces at how he knows exactly how is younger self is feeling right now.

Most likely, as if he’d leave this world happy if he dropped dead on the ground instantly, and the worst thing is that he knows that if Rhaegar had done that to him he’d have felt the same. He quiets the pang of jealousy he felt because really, being jealous of himself isn’t a thing he should be considering, and waits for the next part.

“Ser Gerold, what do you say?”

“That it’s a sound idea,” the Lord Commander says. “Surely no one would want a war to potentially upset the status of things, especially not with the King so… volatile, I suppose we could say. Also with the fact that Lord Lannister hasn’t exactly said on whose side he wants to be in this war it would be very prudent to just end this without fanfare or bloodshed and go back to King’s Landing with our positions secured.”

“That’s also true,” Rhaegar agrees. “Did you already think of the terms?”

Jon tries to not show how nervous he’s getting. They did. Well, he had, and then argued about it with himself for half of this journey, and he compromised on some things and not on others. He just hopes that his double stands his ground, because if he doesn’t then they’re all fucked to the seven hells and back. But then again, there shouldn’t be the need. The terms are all fairly reasonable, he thinks.

And he suggested that knowing how it went the first time around.

“Well, they should agree to lay arms and bend the knee immediately, to you. Then, they would relinquish any right of deciding how to deal with the King – of course, the general agreement is that he has to step down and that you shall follow him, but you would be the one deciding how to punish him for his wrongdoings – because they will demand some justice for Brandon and Rickard Stark, if anything. But, of course, it should be you taking that decision.”

“That sounds fair,” Rhaegar agrees, blanching slightly at the mention of the dead Stark men. “Then?”

Jon sees his younger self obviously bracing for the next part, which is not as favorable.

“Well, we’d give them all amnesty. It wouldn’t do to kill them or their soldiers if they accept to lay down arms when they only raised them after the Stark men died.”

Rhaegar holds his stare for a moment, but then he nods. Wearily, but he does. “I suppose that’s also fair. Would they accept to bend the knee, though?”

“Our man did confirm that two out of four leaders would agree with that and the third would most likely follow them. Of course, the fourth is a problem, but I suppose that we could negotiate and maybe grant the Baratheons a marriage within the family at worst.”

“Very well, then I suppose we shall talk to Lord Robert tomorrow. But I can hear that you haven’t said your entire piece, my lord.”

Jon knows that he is bracing himself for it. Jon is also bracing himself.

Gods, I hope this one goes over as well as the other two.

“I imagine Ned Stark will want to know what is of his sister.”

At that, Rhaegar’s spine goes rigid.

Damn, Jon thinks, please don’t let her be dead before her due time, or we’re all fucked, and she deserved better.

Knowing of is said soon,” Rhaegar says. “She’s doing fine and that’s all I can tell him.”

“I doubt he will content himself with it,” Jon says tentatively.

“Well, he will have to.”

“Your Grace,” the Lord Commander interrupts, “Lord Connington does have a point. And on top of that, Robert Baratheon was betrothed to her.”

“Does the fact that she was not interested in him matter any?” Rhaegar replies, his tone very even.

“I doubt that,” Ser Gerold answers. “If anything, he will want her back, I have a feeling.”

Good thing he said it, Jon thinks. If it had come from his younger self it wouldn’t have made things easier, and from him – he cannot do that now, can he?

“I am afraid that will not be possible,” Rhaegar says. “Since I married her.”

Oh, fuck, Jon thinks, and from what he sees, everyone else in the room bar Ser Gerold has thought the exact same thing.

Thankfully, it seems like his younger self has found the voice to ask the obligatory following question. “Rhaegar, you haven’t annulled the marriage to Elia, have you?”

“Of course not,” Rhaegar replies. “My children are the heads of the dragon, I wouldn’t disinherit them such. But I certainly won’t have the third be baseborn.”

Jon is almost proud of himself as his younger self holds the stare. “Very well, but how will the Martells take it?”

Rhaegar shrugs. “It is not unheard of that a Targaryen took more than one wife and in this case it’s a vital necessity that both of them are. The Martells will accept it, same as the Starks, or we’re all dead. The reason I did it is beyond such petty squabbles.”

Well, all right, it is, and Jon wants to go up there and say, I know, but it didn’t work out so well for any of us the first time and I know how to fix it and it’s not like this. Good thing that at least Lewyn Martell is assembling Dornish forces and hasn’t made it here in time or they’d be all… more than royally fucked, Jon thinks grimly.

That said – he told his younger self how it went so many times he could throw up just thinking of it.

He just hopes that he keeps on holding his ground for how much it might hurt, because it’s hurting him so, but –

“So what should we tell them tomorrow?” He asks instead, and no. No, why didn’t he insist?

“Give them the terms that you listed just now. Maybe we can concede something more. But Lyanna Stark isn’t marrying Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark is not to know where she is at all costs.”

The tone is so definitive that no one could disagree.

“Fine,” his younger self agrees a moment later, and Jon wants to scream. “But may I have a word with you alone, Your Grace?”

“Of course. Anyone else, you may leave. I think this conversation is over.”

He barely even glances Jon’s way as he bows and leaves the room first.

He didn’t recognize me, Jon thinks bitterly as he walks out, but then again, that was the point, wasn’t it?

Still.

Still.

He leaves, but then he immediately walks to the back of the tent and checks over until he finds a small hole in it, and then he proceeds to stand nearby so he can actually hear what they’re saying – he can’t see unless he makes it obvious, and he’d rather not do it.

“ – all right, Rhaegar, but why can’t Stark know?”

“Because,” Rhaegar replies, “that child has to live and I cannot risk anyone interfering with it.”

“I doubt Ned Stark would care for it, from what I know.”

“It would still be the child of a woman who was promised to someone else and Ned Stark is not his whole family nor Robert, and – I will have to admit that Lyanna – the pregnancy could be going better. I thought she’d be stronger than Elia,” he says, low enough that Jon can barely hear it.

It could be going better.

Good gods, he’s glad he sent that maester along –

“Actually, thank you for sending that maester with. It was good thinking.”

He dares glancing through the hole. Rhaegar has an arm on him again and he knows, he just knows that whatever Rhaegar says now he will not refuse it.

He knows, because he wouldn’t have, back in the day.

Now, though –

“I thought it might be helpful,” his younger self says. Jon can hear his own voice shaking.

Hells.

“It was. Nevertheless, should things go astray, that child is virtually defenseless and I could not impose him on Elia, which is why Arthur has orders in case things do go wrong.”

“So – so that’s why he is at the Tower?”

“Yes,” Rhaegar says, “and that’s why Ned Stark can’t know. Of course, we all hope nothing bad happens and everyone survives the delivery.”

“Of course,” he agrees. “And may I ask which are Arthur’s orders?”

“As long as you keep it a secret,” Rhaegar whispers.

“Of course I would,” Jon-but-younger replies, and Jon doesn’t know if he wants to hear this, but he’s here, he has to to.

“If anything goes awry, he’s to take the child and go to Essos and come back only when he’s old enough to know that his destiny is to help stop evil from taking over the whole world. I know it’s not ideal, but it’s necessary, and I cannot risk anyone harming that child or changing the plan. Our survival rests on it. The coming of the Long Night rests on it. Of course, I doubt he is the Prince that was Promised, that one is Aegon, but still, there have to be three heads of the dragon. And he – or she – will be the third. I think a she. Anyhow, do you understand why they cannot know?”

“Of course,” Jon’s younger self says, and with those two little words Jon thinks that he has just signed their own demise. “They won’t.”

“Good,” Rhaegar says, clapping him on his shoulder, again. “Then I shall see you before dinner. It’s been a long ride and I should take some rest.”

“Of course. I will see you later.”

Jon can hear it in his own younger voice that at this point he won’t call Rhaegar back and ask him to think back on it. So, he moves away from his precarious position and waits for Rhaegar to leave the tent, and then, rather than think about the specifics of that plan, because he just can’t right now, he slips inside the tent before anyone can notice him.

“What in the seven hells,” he hisses the moment he’s sure no one can hear him.

At least, when his own younger face looks at him, it’s… somewhat apologetic.

“You heard him,” he replies. “Do you think he’s going to be swayed?”

“Do I think – that’s not the bloody point!” He tries to keep his voice low, but it’s very hard right now.

Damn it, he’s arguing with himself.

If he only gets a headache out of this, he will feel entirely relieved.

“Oh, really?”

Really. For – I told you that if this war is fought we’re all dead. Good gods, I know that he thinks he’s saving us all, but he’s dooming us all by going ahead with that plan and you could have insisted.”

“Oh, because you would have in my place?”

Fine. That was a low but fair blow. “Not in your place, but if someone had told me what I told you I’d have tried a bit harder, I think. Gods, I told you that Ned Stark compromises his honor for his entire life in order to save that baby and he never told a soul where I came from, would it have been so hard to try and convince him that knowing Stark there was no need to worry for that child’s safety?”

“That happened in your world, not in this one. What do I know if it’s still valid?”

“It is, fuck it – damn. Damn. We’re all dead.”

“Now I think you are being exceedingly pessimist.”

“Because you think Robert Baratheon will acquiesce to those requests? And do you think Ned Stark will content himself with Aerys stepping down when he doesn’t even know where his sister is? They won’t. And neither would I, truth to be told.”

“Careful now, you sound like you’re on their side.”

Why was I such a stubborn idiot when I was young?, Jon asks himself and doesn’t say out loud.

“Don’t,” he says. “I lost too much for you to even dare assume that. I’m on the side of whatever saves Rhaegar’s life and the entire world’s, and in this case making compromises is somewhat necessary.”

“Just have some faith in him, won’t you? You’re me. I know you have it. He’ll get us that truce.”

His younger self sounds so sure of that, Jon wishes he could share even half of that enthusiasm.

“I cannot exactly do anything as it is,” he concedes. “I just hope you’re right. But I don’t really think you are, or that he is, and like this he’s digging his own grave. And I’ve – I’ve had to bear news of his death once. I’m not watching it happen in front of me because you couldn’t tell him no for once.”

“That’s rich, coming from you.”

Jon has to laugh at that. Very bitterly, though.

“Of course it is.” He holds up his severed arm. “And this is what it brought me. Grayscale, exile, seeing both his two survived children die in front of me, losing everything I ever owned and the end of the world. I made mistakes. I was just hoping you wouldn’t, but at this point we’re in the hands of the – the gods, I suppose. Let’s just hope you’re right.”

He doesn’t say the old gods just out of catching himself before doing it, even if by now he’s plenty sure that they exist, and the Seven really might not, given how helpful they’ve been throughout his life.

Then he slips outside the tent, tries to not think of anything until he finds a small group of people who lets him sit around their fire for dinner, eats and excuses himself to lay down his bedroll and try to sleep.

Try being the key word, because –

Because what has happened to Rhaegar?

That – that’s not the man he knew. The man he knew wouldn’t have come up with such a cold plan, nor he’d have left Arthur behind just to smuggle that baby away without a care in the world for a woman he supposedly loved, so much he started a war for her.

Then again – he has left behind Elia and his other two children, didn’t he?

Maybe it’s the weight of what he has to do, Jon thinks. Maybe it’s that Rhaegar obviously would go to any length to save the world from the Long Night, and that’s fair, because that’s exactly what he’s trying to do, but – but he cannot believe that he can’t see how his decisions will just ruin everything and cause a war anyway.

To think that Rhaegar didn’t even think much of fighting until –

Until he found out that the Long Night was coming, Jon tells himself.

Still – it’s obvious he hasn’t, because it’s just a bad strategy all around, and what he was thinking when he married Lyanna Stark while being married to Elia already? As if the situation wasn’t horrible already, seven hells.

Never mind that he did blanch at the mention of Rickard and Brandon Stark before. Jon doesn’t want to ask himself that question, but – but does Lyanna Stark even know? Because if she doesn’t –

If she doesn’t

The Lord Commander had gone to the Tower of Joy exactly to inform Rhaegar of what had transpired, so he definitely knew. But he can’t know if he told her. And now she’s alone, in an isolated tower in Dorne surrounded by the desert, pregnant and with a pregnancy not going so well, and Rhaegar doesn’t even want her to see her brother but Arthur has orders to run with her child if things go awry? (And if they don’t, maybe to run with the both of them?)

That’s not the man he knows.

That’s not the man he loves.

Still –

He’s obviously not thinking straight. That must be the explanation. There’s no other explanation, Jon tells himself as he falls into a very fitful sleep from which he wakes up three different times, and in all of them he sees Jon Snow’s pale, lifeless body falling over pure white snow just a few hours after he said that he regretted having never been South in his entire life when he was actually born there, as far as he knew.

The next morning, no one tries to talk to him as they take up their weapons and head down for the meeting point – they can see movement on the other side of the village, as well.

He has a very, very bad feeling about how these negotiations will go.

--

“No,” Robert Baratheon replies immediately as Rhaegar finishes laying out the terms.

Jon is absolutely not surprised of that, because of course he’d say no, and the only silver lining is that he can see Ned Stark’s face grimacing into a pained expression where he stands, a few steps behind Robert – or better, it’s not a silver lining because he just heard that Rhaegar has no intention of returning his sister to him, but still, he had looked hopeful when the entire conversation had started, and it was obvious that he was hoping very much for a peaceful resolution which he can see slipping from under his fingers right now.

Too true.

Jon feels exactly the same way, and the only satisfaction he has in this is that at least his own, idiotic younger self is cringing.

Good, because he told himself so, didn’t he?

“No?” Rhaegar replies, very calmly. “These are very good terms, Lord Baratheon.”

“They might’ve been, until you got to the very last one,” Robert says, not even bothering to sound courteous nor to mince his words. “We are here for Lord Stark’s father and brother, but they wouldn’t be dead if you hadn’t run off with his sister. You cannot presume to strike a truce and convince us to bend the knee if you aren’t returning her.”

Thing is – he’s right, as much as Jon doesn’t want to admit it.

And he really doesn’t want to admit it. Not at all.

But, of course, they wouldn’t bend the knee if they aren’t given Lyanna Stark back.

“I see,” Rhaegar says, entirely too calmly. Why, why, why? “But you do realize that the rest of the terms were extremely favorable, Lord Baratheon.”

Lord Targaryen,” Robert spits back, and Jon flinches at it – that was a low blow –, “they were, but I didn’t go through the effort of raising arms against you and your bloody bastard of a father just to bend the knee if you aren’t even willing to say where my betrothed is, when your actions are what caused all of us to be here in the first place.”

Ned Stark comes closer and puts a hand on Robert’s arm, but he’s quickly pushed away.

Jon can sympathize.

“I could agree with you in place of your father – that would be acceptable, and all the other terms were absolutely acceptable. But not even telling us where she is – that is out of the question. She’s the reason we’re all here.”

Jon looks at Rhaegar – he’s staring ahead, and he hopes with all his might that he won’t say he married her.

Gods, please, no.

“Then it seems like we’re at an impasse,” Rhaegar says, and at least he sounds like someone with the situation under his control. “None of us wants to shed blood nor fight, both of us want my father gone, but you won’t bend the knee even if we agree on pretty much almost everything?”

“Not when you’re not addressing the very reason we are all here.”

“My lord, I understand that you are angry, but I can assure you that she wouldn’t be any happier if married to you.”

Gods, no, Jon thinks, horrified, and he can see that Robert’s going very pale under his dark beard – pale with anger, though.

Good thing Stark grabs at his arm and hisses something and he calms down.

Hells, he knows how Rhaegar died. Robert has no hammer, not now when they came to talk, but he most surely has it with him, and he’s heard of how he smashed Rhaegar’s head on the ground along the trident, and at the idea he just wants to hurl. They cannot go there. They must not go there or all is lost.

“I think,” Robert says, “that we should settle this ourselves.”

“How, if I may ask?”

“You’re a valiant fighter. I am as well. We are both weaponless, and surely you rode from somewhere far to arrive here and I have rested for a long time. Never let it be said that I would go into battle with my enemy at a disadvantage. I say we meet tomorrow at this hour and we fight, man to man. Whoever wins has the right of it.”

Jon has barely the time to notice Ned Stark’s eyes widen in terror just before Rhaegar smiles and says –

“I shall be glad to accept, Lord Baratheon,” he replies, with all the calm in the world.

No.

No, no, no, Jon wants to scream, but he can’t, and he’s standing motionless as he watches them shake their hands and agreeing to meet here at midday again and to duel to their deaths, and the only thing he can think is, I failed.

 

Again.

--

“You have to get him to change his mind,” he hisses at his double after ambushing him a long time later – the sun has just set on the horizon line and of course all the present Kingsguard and his own self had been planning all day, without calling for his advice. Most probably, following your younger self out into the woods while he goes to take a piss is not ideal, but he’ll take what he can get.

“Are you out of your own?” He gets as a reply. “He’s set on it. He won’t.”

“Oh, for – I fucking told you, if he ever fights Robert, he dies.”

“Maybe not this time.”

“You cannot bet on the fact that maybe he’ll have a stroke of luck and it won’t happen!” He’s about to scream, except that he can’t and he just wants to hurl instead. “Robert is a much better and seasoned fighter, he’s stronger, he has very good reasons to want Rhaegar dead and has probably spent his entire time at the Stoney Sept to imagine all the ways in which he’d like to smash his hammer into Rhaegar’s face. Rhaegar might have rested for the entire day but he learned to fight later than Robert, he’s a very competent swordsman but Jaime Lannister at seventeen is better than he is right now and we all knew it back in the day, and he has no idea. This ends with Rhaegar dying, don’t you see it?”

“And if you remember anything about how it is to be me right now, you should know that I cannot convince him to do otherwise. I would, if I could. And you know how much I don’t want him to face danger, but ultimately he is my king and he decides. Not me.”

“Of course,” Jon groans. “But – try. Please, try. Like this, he just ruins everything with his own two hands.”

His own eyes stare back at him. “I will,” comes as a reply. “But don’t expect me to succeed. Believe me, I wish I could.”

He stalks away and Jon –

Jon wants to cry.

Instead, he decides that maybe if he takes a long walk to clear his head, maybe he’ll find a way out of this.

--

Easier said than done.

He’s walked for he doesn’t know how long – by now he’s in rebel territory – and he’s keeping to the woods. Hopefully no one finds him wandering.

And all along he tries to figure it out, but –

But

What the hell should he do? Rhaegar won’t listen, but if he dies they’re all fucked to the Seven Hells and back – Bran Stark was clear. Rhaegar has to live, most likely because he’s the only one who knows about the Long Night and how to prevent it, and if he goes against Robert in single combat he will die. Jon knows it in his bones – Robert almost slew him, back in the day, and he survived for some kind of miracle, and Jon is maybe not a natural as Rhaegar was when he picked up a sword for the first time – Rhaegar is competent at least in everything and he immediately took to swordfighting – but he’s been trained to fight since he was much younger than his prince, and he could barely escape the man back then. Robert is better than the both of them put together – such a fight can only end horribly for them.

And if he fails here, whatever Brienne does in King’s Landing is in vain because if Rhaegar dies – gods, maybe the other children would live, if she saves them and Elia, but still, he cannot risk that. He cannot risk any of that. He can’t do this assuming that things might go a certain way and he can’t leave this damned place if a truce isn’t reached.

At this point, he thinks, they need to find a different solution. If either side won’t relent it would be hard, but – but then again, why should they decide for a person who is not here?

Maybe – maybe convincing them that they should be at peace until they can ask Lyanna Stark what does she want and with whoever in between her husband and her former betrothed she would prefer staying, they could avoid that damned duel and it would be a fairly good compromise for all of them, and Lyanna Stark probably would appreciate.

And that’s all good and proper, but how does he break it to Rhaegar, or better, how does he convince himself to break it to Rhaegar and how does anyone get Robert Baratheon to consider it? He needs someone on the rebel side to do it, and good luck to him finding such a person – anyone in that army would murder him on sight and he knows no one in it.

Damn it, damn it, how does he go about this? How –

“ – gods, if you’re there, I really need your help.”

Wait.

That was someone else.

Someone else nearby, who is not sounding happy.

Jon follows the voice’s sound – it’s not far – and reaches a small clearing. There’s a single heart tree in the wood, and someone’s in front of him.

Someone in grey Stark colors.

Ned Stark, Jon realizes.

He’s touching the tree’s bark reverently, and he really did sound desperate as he said it. Jon waits.

“I know Robert was right,” Stark goes on, “and if anyone knows how much I want Lyanna back, it’s you, I suppose. But this is going to end horribly whichever way it goes, I just know. Please help us out now if you’re here and you ever heard us.”

For a moment, Jon just stands still – he has to think this through, and fast.

Stark is here. Stark is alone. Stark is obviously sharing at least some of Jon’s fears here, even if maybe not coming from the same side. Stark asked the gods for a sign.

Jon should really talk to him and see if he can somehow help out. Of course, that would mean telling him that he comes from the future, and that would be a goddamned problem, wouldn’t it, but

But what does he have to lose? If he doesn’t do this, they’re fucked. If he does, maybe they’re not. And fine, maybe he should have kept any information for himself about when he comes from, and if he tells Ned Stark he risks greatly because if his son sent them back who knows if he creates some – some kind anomaly, and he shouldn’t have even told Varys for that matter, but…

But either he tells Stark or they’re all dead. It’s not much of a decision now, is it?

“Lord Stark?” He calls out.

Stark immediately turns towards him, sword in hand, but then lets it drop back into the scabbard when he sees that his interlocutor is a man without an arm coming towards him with his remaining one raised up.

“Do I know you?” He asks.

“Yes and no,” Jon sighs. “And I think I know how to help you, even if it might seem unlikely.”

“How to help me?”

“More so, I think we can help each other out,” Jon replies.

“Wait,” Stark says, “why does your voice sound familiar?”

He’s realizing it and Rhaegar didn’t even blink, Jon thinks sadly. “Because it should be,” he says. “Can I come forward? Mayhaps the moonlight would help you realize why.”

“Fine,” Stark says. “I am not eager to play any games, but we shall see, I – I suppose.” He barely says the last two words, because at that point Jon has moved right where the moonlight hits the clearing.

Stark is staring at him as if he’s seen some kind of ghost.

Gods, Jon thinks again, he barely knows my younger self, but he is figuring it out in a moment, isn’t he?

“Ser,” Stark says, slowly, “either I’m dreaming or you look like the Hand of the King, except older, and I am sure that the Hand of the King looked his usual today. Care to explain me what does this mean, especially since you also have the same voice?”

“Are you willing to believe something… quite unusual?”

“If it means I get to avoid this war and save my sister, I am willing to hear you out.”

“Very well.” He breathes in. “I am, in fact, the Hand of the King. I just – I come from the future.”

From the future,” Stark replies, not sounding particularly impressed.

“Yes. Have you ever heard of the three-eyed crow?”

“That’s – some kind of greenseer who’s supposed to live with the Children of the Forest, isn’t he? But – he’s some legend, isn’t he?”

“… He is, though he’s a lot more powerful than just a greenseer since he sent me back in time, and no, he isn’t. It’s just – a job people inherit, I suppose. Very well. I need you to listen to me and let me tell you the entire story before you call for help and kill me.”

“I won’t,” Stark immediately says. “It would hardly be honorable of me. And I would like to know how you, a Lord, are dressed like a common soldier, on top of that.”

“Because there’s another me around, my lord. Anyway, I will – start from the end. It will be easier. Where I come from – it’s seventeen years from now. And the Long Night has come.”

“The – the Long Night?”

“Yes. Again. And – His Grace, I mean, Rhaegar, he read of it in a prophecy. That prophecy – as far as I know and as far as we all could guess back when I come from, was clear in saying that he was the key to stop it. That was why he took up fighting and whatnot. But it also said that in order to defeat the Others, there will be three dragons and they shall have three heads to ride them, and one of them is the Prince that was promised, and all of them have to be Rhaegar’s children. That – that didn’t quite go as predicted.”

“It didn’t.”

“What happened was that I fought Robert here before you joined him, I was sorely beaten and then exiled, Rhaegar came back then, Robert killed him at the Trident and at the same time Tywin Lannister stormed King’s Landing. Gregor Clegane killed both Elia and Rhaenys – Aegon was smuggled out and brought to me in Essos, and I raised him for sixteen years and then brought him back to Westeros to take his father’s place. Meanwhile, Jaime Lannister killed Aerys before he could blow up King’s Landing with wildfire and Robert claimed the throne.”

“Good gods,” Stark says. “Go on.”

Well, he’s not telling me to fuck off at least. “Your sister – she was – she is carrying Rhaegar’s third child. By the time you reached her – well, no one knew except for you and Howland Reed, but as far as I know, you got there as she was dying after giving birth to that child. You took him in and lied about the parents, and said he was yours even if it was a stain on your honor. You never told the truth to anyone – it came out a long time later.”

“Did – did I die?”

“Yes,” Jon admits, “but almost everyone did, because while Rhaegar’s sister found some way to hatch dragons and your son – his son – was more than willing to step up to the challenge, same as his half-brother, it was too late by that point. No one knew, no one had a clue of how that prophecy was supposed to go, both of Rhaegar’s children died in front of my eyes after their aunt, and at the point when the – three-eyed crow made his presence known and sent me back along with another person to try and prevent everyone’s death, the Wall had fallen and Westeros was as good as a wasteland.”

“I want to say this is ridiculous,” Stark says, “but I can hear that you’re serious. Gods. I can hear there’s more. Go ahead.”

Thank the gods he’s actually listening.

“Me and – this other person, who’s currently in King’s Landing, were sent back with a mission. The – the three-eyed crow, he said he could see various futures. The only one where we all survived was – one where Rhaegar and his children lived but Aerys died, the same way he did back when we came from. So – I was in charge of keeping Rhaegar alive, and the other knight is in charge of making sure his father dies. And as you can see from today’s negotiations, it’s not going the way I was hoping it would.”

“How are you here, though?”

“I am in agreement with myself,” Jon laughs. “We try to not spend too much time next to each other, you see.”

“I see, because it’s plenty damn obvious you’re the same person. But if you want Rhaegar to live and the truce is your idea, I suppose –”

“You suppose right,” Jon agrees, “and my terms included giving you back your sister, but Rhaegar refused and he couldn’t hear otherwise.”

“I see,” Stark says, pain dripping from every word he pronounces. “And I see that you want the same things I do, don’t you?”

“I want the same things we all do and for all the love I have for Rhaegar and for how much he’s the dearest friend I’ve had, if he does this, he dies, and he ends up not preventing the very thing he’s been working so hard to avoid.”

Stark nods. “All right. I – I don’t want to believe this, but it’s too – I cannot imagine how anyone would come up with this and giving these many details, and you are Jon Connington, it’s just plain obvious. So, you said you could help me and I could help you back.”

Jon thinks he could kiss the man even if he’s not really the kind of man he finds easy on the eyes. But he doubts it would be appreciated now, so he just moves closer and nods. “We can. I – I thought about it. Obviously, the point where Lord Baratheon and Rhaegar won’t meet is… your sister. And you have the right of it, as much as I wish I could say otherwise.”

“Thank you,” Stark says, sounding pained. Of course, he would.

“I – I thought about it. And I think I might have found a viable solution, but you should try to convince Robert to agree to it while – while I try to do the same on our side.”

“What would that be?”

“To put the matter aside for the moment and let her decide what she wants. Your – your sister sounds like a young woman with a very strong will –”

“On that, you are absolutely right,” Stark says, and now he sounds pained and fond at the same time.

“So she most probably will know what she wants best. You need to convince Robert to work with Rhaegar for now and then when she’s back with you, she will decide what to do and you all should agree to respect her decision now. That would at least put the matter aside for the moment and solve most of our current problems. What do you say?”

“I say I would wholeheartedly agree with it,” Stark replies immediately. “Gods, I would. And actually – if it was the case, I might get her myself, if –”

“She’s at the Tower of Joy,” Jon immediately tells him. Maybe he shouldn’t have, but – but if it goes awry Stark has the right to know, and if he doesn’t have to find out on his own maybe he can get there in time. “I – given that she died in childbirth the first time around, I took the liberty of sending a maester along with the Kingsguard who went to alert Rhaegar that he should come back here. But still, she would probably be better off with you there.”

“Gods – that’s – that’s where Arthur Dayne is right now, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Jon confirms.

“But – why did you tell me? You didn’t have to –”

“Lord Stark, she’s your sister. And – as much as it pains to say it, Rhaegar is completely in the wrong in this. You deserved to know. And – I know that you sacrificed a lot to keep that child hidden back in my time, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you would know.”

Stark moves closer, and unless the moonlight is lying, Jon thinks that his eyes are wet.

“My lord,” he whispers, “I – I don’t know how to thank you. If –”

“Lord Stark, if there is one thing you could do to thank me, is making sure Lord Baratheon accepts our terms. If I fail here, it doesn’t matter what happens in King’s Landing, and – I failed at what I was set to accomplish twice, in my time. I don’t want the third to be the one that dooms us all.”

“It’s in my best interest, too,” Stark agrees. “Robert will agree to it.”

“Will he? Because –”

“I grant you, he will. I know him. If he doesn’t want to see reason, I’ll make him. You have my word if I have yours that Rhaegar will do the same.”

“Well, I’ll have to make my own self do it, but – I will make them listen, whatever it takes.”

“Then we are in agreement,” Stark says, holding out his hand.

Jon shakes it – he has a firm grip, but he also has the eyes of a man who’s absolutely relieved he’s had this conversation, and then Jon is hit all over again by how young he is – barely older than Brienne, isn’t he?

Gods, he thinks, we were all children playing at war, weren’t we?

“We are,” he says. “Please, just – just don’t speak of this to anyone. In theory, I shouldn’t have told you the truth, so – no one can know. You understand, don’t you?”

“I do,” Stark replies. “But I think – from what you told me, I think it’s obvious that I can keep a secret, can’t I?”

“That you can, my lord,” Jon agrees. “I don’t know if you’ll ever see me again, but if we don’t have the chance to, thank you. I think you might have just singlehandedly saved all of our lives.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

Jon shrugs. “I have no idea what happens to me after I do my part. But that’s not the point.”

That said –

“One more thing though,” he says. “I told you, Aerys had to die. Has to die. And – Lannister is supposed to kill him.”

He remembers that Brienne at some point told him that Lannister resented Stark for not having even asked him why he killes his king. Maybe – maybe he can fix this, somehow, and even if he doesn’t, since it seems like he has an ally, he should make sure he has everything covered, just in case.

“Didn’t you say Aerys has wildfire under the city?”

“Yes,” Jon says. “We – have taken precautions to make sure that no one involved in whatever is happening in King’s Landing is held responsible, but just in case – remember that he won’t do it out of dishonor.”

“I – I will,” Stark nods. “Thank you again, my lord.”

“No, thank you. Let’s hope that tomorrow brings us better negotiations.”

Stark’s lips quirk upwards in a small but sharp grin. “Oh, they will. I will make sure of it right now, if I may take my leave.”

“Of course you may. I – I hope we see each other again. If not, I wish you all the best.”

“Likewise. I – I suppose that if I asked you a few things, it would be too much, wouldn’t it?”

Jon shakes his head. “My lord, I – I am loath to saying any more. I – I wouldn’t want to accidentally change more of the future than I am supposed to. I cannot tell you if your sister might live now, though.”

“I – you are right. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s fine. Anyone would. Thank you again and – may we meet again, I suppose.”

“May we, indeed,” Stark says, nodding, and then he bows quickly before turning and walking back to his camp –

And Jon thinks, fuck it.

“Lord Stark!”

He stops, turns back to him.

“Yes?”

“I was exiled the first time around, so I do not know about you specifically. But from what your son – your sister’s son – had to say, you – you won’t regret your life choices. The one you took before this moment, of course. That’s as much as I can tell you, but – it’s worth it. I think.”

He thinks he sees a tear falling over Stark’s cheek, but he wipes it away at once.

“Thank you,” he says, and then he disappears towards his camp.

Good.

Now he has his own part to do, again.

--

“I met Ned Stark in the woods,” he says, walking up to his younger self again in the same situation as before.

They need to stop meeting like this – hopefully it would be the last.

“What – Stark? It’s the dead of the night, what –”

“He was in the woods, I was taking a walk, I ran into him and good thing we both were alone. Now listen to me. He was obviously distressed and I realized that he might be of help.”

What –”

“I told him.”

“What the – have you lost your wits? It’s already bad enough that you told that Varys, but –”

“Listen to me, damn it. I had to, because if anyone could convince Robert to relent on anything it’s him and I cannot leave this to chance. Now listen to me carefully. I found a midway.”

“A midway.”

“They agree to work together until they fetch Lyanna Stark and she decides what she wants.”

What –”

“Listen, it’s the only way. Rhaegar thinks that the baby is more important than her, and don’t lie to me about it, because I heard you, but he liked her enough to marry her, so I suppose he also wouldn’t want to have her marry someone else after carrying his child. Robert thinks that since she was his betrothed she has to marry him. Given that she is the person in question, maybe it should be up to her. And it’s a reasonable enough solution that no one could refuse it. Stark was enthusiastic of this plan and he swore on all the old gods that Robert would accept such an agreement tomorrow. If I could walk in and tell Rhaegar myself I would, but I cannot, so you’re going to wake him up, inform him that you come up with this amazing plan that might solve all of our problems and convince him to accept. I don’t care how you do it but he has to relent. Or he’s dead, and since avoiding it is the last thing I can do for him, you’d better make sure I don’t fail this time. Or we both do.”

“Wait, the last thing? What do you mean?”

Jon laughs. It’s the bitterest laugh that’s ever left his mouth. “I mean that as far as Bran Stark was concerned, the moment I was done with my mission I should have gone back to the place where I arrived and if he still could, he’d bring me back to this timeline, except in your body.

What –”

“Except that I don’t know if I can do that – stealing your life doesn’t seem too ethical to me right now – but other than that, I arrived in King’s Landing. Whatever happens here, the raven warning Brienne and the others will get there before a month. And Aerys will be dead long before I arrive in King’s Landing, so I cannot get a passage back to the future, I suppose. And I certainly cannot go around and say I’m you.”

“So what –”

“I have no bloody clue, but I’d like to see him alive and thriving before anything else happens. Understood?”

For a moment, they just stare at each other.

Then his counterpart reaches out and squeezes Jon’s arm, once.

“I will. I – I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.”

“It’s all right. As long as he lives and you don’t do anything as stupid as the things I did, it will be worth it. Now go.”

He nods, and goes, and Jon kind of wants to sit down on the ground and fall asleep right here and now, but instead he follows his counterpart to Rhaegar’s tent and ponders, should I hear it?

Thankfully, it’s on the edge of the camp.

He hides someplace dark where he can hear, though not see – this one has no holes.

Rhaegar refuses at first, but miraculously he doesn’t back down, and after a bit, Rhaegar finally admits, you have the right of it, Jon, and agrees on supporting that proposal tomorrow, even if he will go to battle ready for it if Robert still wants to fight him to the loser’s death. At least he sounds convinced of it, but Jon can’t help thinking of that first conversation, the one about Arthur’s orders.

How could he think something so horrible?, he thinks. Mostly, why, when there was no need and Ned Stark would have sheltered that child without batting an eyelid?

Rhaegar, has this prophecy changed you this much?, he can’t help thinking. Too bad, too bad that the answer seems to be yes all around.

He finds himself a place to sit not far from the tent – there was a small group of soldiers in between which there’s an empty bedroll. He lies down on it, even if he cannot sleep and he doubts he will until the morrow and it’s too cold for his tastes, and he thinks, I hope Brienne is faring better than this.

--

He does sleep, even if little and badly.

At dawn, he’s wide awake and stands up, fixing his clothing, when Rhaegar leaves the tent.

For a moment Jon just stares at him, at how his silver hair is glimmering with warm golden hues of yellow and soft orange in the rising morning sun, and at how his skin is a healthy shade of pink in his light, and at how breathtakingly beautiful he is. If anything, I’ll have a good memory of him, he thinks as he tries to not make too much noise, but then Rhaegar turns and his eyes meet Jon’s and he immediately bows, moving his head downwards.

“Your Grace,” he says.

“It’s fine,” Rhaegar replies, sounding all too weary. “I might not be that, after today.”

Jon looks up at him again, taking a chance maybe he shouldn’t – he doesn’t know if he wants Rhaegar to recognize him or not, but a part of him is thinking how do I wish for it, and so he risks it and does. Their eyes meet again.

“I very much hope so,” Jon says. “I – I have a good feeling about today’s outcome.”

“At least someone has. Well, I should go get ready. Let us all hope. And thank you for the information you shared with us, Ser – sorry, how did you say your name was? I am afraid I didn’t catch it.”

“Oh – Roland,” Jon says, catching himself at the last moment.

“Well, thank you very much, Ser Roland. May we have a fruitful day ahead,” Rhaegar says, smiling slightly, and then he ducks back into the tent.

Jon stands there for a moment, then two, then two, then he breathes in once, twice, and then he grabs his cloak, putting it around his shoulders. Most people are asleep and the woods are nearby.

He finds a large tree that provides a good shade. He sits down on the ground.

And then he lets himself break down in tears that he hasn’t dared shedding since he set foot in King’s Landing again, and he doesn’t hear at all the part of himself who’s telling him that he shouldn’t and that crying is not even for women but for little girls who know no better, and on one side he knows it was a ridiculous hope and that it’s better like this, but he had hoped –

He had hoped

He cries harder into his black and red cloak, hoping it muffles the quiet sounds he wishes would not escape his mouth, and just lets himself do it.

He can deal with the rest later.

--

He’s spent but tense as Rhaegar and Robert talk again. They’re both fully armored, but when Ned Stark asks for a word and his younger self does as well and they both propose to let Lyanna Stark be the judge of their own situation in a way that would almost make Jon impressed – after all, they both knew the other knew, but they certainly haven’t rehearsed it – if only he wasn’t feeling like he could just fucking walk away and die in a ditch right now that his work is done.

Well, almost.

When both of them agree on it and shake hands on it, he slips away from the rest of the crowd before knees can be bent and so on – he has to finish his damned work here.

He runs to the tent where the ravens are kept and the moment the soldier manning it is called away because all the army has to be present when the rebels bend the knee and the birds won’t run away, he slips inside it and thanks all the old gods that when he was young his maester insisted for him to learn how to care for the birds and mostly, how to use them to send the thrice-damned messages. He takes out of his pocket the message he has carried along for a month and re-reads it.

 

Negotiations have failed. Prince Rhaegar is dead, Robert Baratheon slew him and he’s marching towards King’s Landing. Please be ready for it.

 

He hasn’t signed it and he has purposefully written it very quickly, to make it look as if it was sent in a haste. He nods, folds it up again and attaches it to the closest raven – all of them are trained to fly to King’s Landing for sure, so whichever will be good. He gently brings it out of its cage, and then lets it free.

It flies in the right direction.

My part is done, he thinks, and he wishes he could feel only joy as he does.

But he’s not.

He’s feeling – nothing. Nothing, really.

--

He doesn’t even bother with personal effects – he had nothing of import with him, and he has enough money to survive for a bit, should he choose to. He waits until everyone is back – the soldiers are overjoyed and everyone is discussing excitedly of going back home soon, and at least everything seems to have ended well for them.

For them.

Brienne, he thinks, I really hope you can handle things where you are. I really hope you do. And that you have better luck with the man you love than I had.

Still, he should talk to himself one last time, and so he slips inside his tent when no one’s looking.

He doesn’t have to wait long.

“So you were here.”

“I needed to warn King’s Landing that Rhaegar is dead,” Jon shrugs.

“Right. Your ruse to make sure Lannister lives?”

“Yes,” Jon says. “Please don’t forget it.”

“I hadn’t,” he replies. “And I won’t. You were right, after all.”

He laughs as he stands up. “I come from the future, don’t I? Anyway. Try to give him good counsel and don’t let him always have his way, though I suppose that if he’s assured that the prophecy is fulfilled, he might go back to being more reasonable.”

“He’s just tired,” his younger self replies defensively, and of course he does, but Jon will just – let it go for now. It would be cruel to tell him of what happened this morning, and anyway, Rhaegar was never his to have and maybe it will be the same for the man in front of him, but if either of them should have a chance at a life at his side, it’s not Jon.

That ship sailed a long time ago, and he just wishes he had understood it first even if he still would have done all of this and he wouldn’t have regretted it.

Still, he’d have never thought that saving his prince for good would have turned to be this.

“I’m sure he is. Anyway – I’m leaving.”

“What?”

“I’m leaving. I cannot certainly take your place and I cannot be around court lest someone notices we’re the same person, and don’t you worry, I won’t – I won’t take your place. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Then – then what are you going to do?” He looks up into his own younger, worried eyes.

He smiles, as much as he can, and puts his remaining hand on the arm he used to have, a long time ago.

“I guess I will find out just living, won’t I? Just, be there for him.”

“Of course I will, there’s nothing else I should want.”

“Don’t I know it,” he mutters to himself. “Good,” he says to his other self with a clear voice. “Then I wish you the best luck. After today, I doubt Tywin Lannister can even aspire to be Hand of the King again, and that’s good news for all of us.”

“Fair enough. Then – good luck. Are you sure, though? If you’re supposed to be a commoner, I’m sure I could find you a keep or something –”

“No,” he refuses. “No, I – I don’t think I want anything belonging to the crown. It would be risking too much. But thank you nonetheless.”

“As you wish. If you change your mind, you know where I’ll be.”

“I will, but I don’t think it’ll be the case.”

He nods, his younger self nods back and then it’s too much.

He can’t have this conversation anymore and he thinks he’s earned the right to just back out of it, and so he slips out of the tent and of the camp and then he’s walking fast and faster and faster from it until he can’t see it in the distance anymore and he’s short of breath and it’s a month on horse to King’s Landing which means it’ll take more if he just walks there.

Maybe I should go somewhere else, he thinks, but –

But where would he even go?

He shakes his head, trying to get his bearings, and then he decides that he really doesn’t have any better option.

Still.

The road is open in front of him, he has nothing to go back to, nothing to go towards, at this point one place is worth the other.

And that is when he hears that voice.

 

Lord Connington, if you want to go back, you have to hurry. You have six days.

 

That was –

That was Bran Stark.

He knows it was Bran Stark.

And he also knows there is no bloody way he can be in King’s Landing in four days. Just a raven might get there that fast.

But then again, he would feel like an usurper if he ran just to wake up in his other self’s body seventeen years from now, not after the conversation they just had, and not when he knows he could never look at Rhaegar the same way after this morning

(after he didn’t know me, even if I’d have known him anywhere)

nor after what he heard about Lyanna Stark and the carelessness with which he treated his own marriage – he wouldn’t have noticed years ago, and he’s not surprised that his own younger self had not, but –

But he can’t. Not now. Not after what he had to go through, not after seeing both Jon and Aegon die, not after realizing that the man he loved had changed that much and not for the better.

“No,” he says, quietly but firmly. “I’m not coming back.”

 

Are you sure?

 

“Yes,” he says, even if he’s not sure of anything. “Just worry about Brienne. I’m fine like this.”

 

If that’s what you wish. Goodbye, Lord Connington. You have done your part and you have done it well.

 

“If only it hadn’t cost me so,” Jon says quietly, but he never gets an answer for it.

He grabs a coin out of his pouch and flips it.

Heads I’m going back to King’s Landing, tails I’m going the other way.

When he looks at what side he picked, Aerys’s face is staring up at him.

All right. King’s Landing it is.

He puts the coin back where it came from.

Brienne, he thinks, I did my part. I just hope you’re not finding it as hard to do yours.

He takes a deep breath as he walks on, and if his face turns wet all over again not long later, he doesn’t even bother to dry away however many tears he still has to shed. At some point they’ll end, he thinks, and meanwhile he just feels thankful that the sun is high in the sky and warm on his skin. After all, he hadn’t had the chance to enjoy it for a long while, and he might do just that as he takes it slow.

 

 

After all, he has all the time in the world now, doesn’t he?

 

TBC

Chapter Text

By the time the sun has set Brienne decides that she had thought that the Red Keep under Aerys Targaryen could have been one of the Seven Hells if it existed on earth before, she was wrong. Now it is. She can barely remember the details of what she’s done for the previous ten hours or so, but it included terrorizing people off the streets, helping setting up the defenses and locking the gates, witnessing helplessly another round of possible spies being thrown into the dungeons –

and she has seen Aerys talk to some of those pyromancers.

At least Jaime was with the princess, she thinks.

Now, though –

Now she has to time things, and to time them well. She can’t act before she’s sure Aerys has given the pyromancers their orders, and she can’t act too late because if the army shows up it will be obvious that Rhaegar is alive and well.

Most likely, but if he was really dead she thinks they would have gotten a wholly different kind of raven. A signed one, for starters.

Then there’s the part where she should orchestrate things so that Jaime is in the right place at the right time to –

To –

Gods, she wants to throw up just at the thought. But –

Aerys has to die. And Jaime has to do it. Or they’re all dead.

She really hopes Jon had it better than her in his part of this thrice-darned quest.

She goes through the motions of another evening of sticking to Aerys’s side and trying to not stare at his hands as skin gets cut on the throne’s blades and by the time some golden cloak comes to tell her that she has six hours to sleep and then she should be back here, she feels like sleeping for a year. She nods, bows courteously and gets the hell out of the room, and she’s entirely set on heading straight to bed.

But then she decides to take a moment for herself and goes to the godswood.

The heart tree is silent as she walks up to it, of course. She puts a hand against its bark, not even knowing why she’s doing it, and then –

Then Varys suddenly shows up beside her.

“It seems,” he whispers, “like Lord Jon’s plan is finally coming to a close?”

“It seems like it,” she agrees. “I probably shouldn’t ask, but has any bird told you about wildfire placed right under the city?”

Varys clears his throat. “I should ask you to please refrain from talking about such things in the open.”

When I come from, everyone knows.”

“Not here,” Varys says. “Anyhow, not yet. Would you like a warning when that happens?”

Please,” she says.

“I see,” Varys nods, and Brienne doesn’t like it at all. “You need a diversion, don’t you?”

“My lord –”

“Please, I can put two and two together, my lady. You obviously don’t wish to whisper in your man’s ear when it comes to his duty –”

“He’s not –”

“I would argue that he is, my lady, but that’s neither here nor there. You don’t wish to do it, because that would be hardly honorable and you don’t want to use him as some kind of pawn, so the wildfire would be a perfect chance to put it as a justifiable action, isn’t it?”

“It’s not – it’s what happened the first time around and I’m sure Lord Jon told you.”

“He might have,” Varys says. “He did tell me a lot. Anyhow, I just wanted to be sure of a few things.”

“Of what?”

“That’s not your concern. Now listen to me well, Lady Brienne. I have a question, and I need you to ponder that answer well. You need a diversion. A huge diversion, I suppose. I might be able to give you one in a couple of days.”

“In a couple –”

“Indeed. At most, but maybe even before then. It’s either that or waiting however long it takes Aerys to get paranoid enough to set fire to this lovely city, and who knows how long can it be. Should I do it?”

Brienne is about to say yes, do it, whatever it is – the sooner this mess is over, the better, but then she remembers what Bran Stark told her and Jon before they left.

In order to leave, they need to go back to that same place in which they arrived.

The army is at the Stoney Sept.

Jon will never make it if she tells Varys to just do whatever it is that he’s considering, and – can she just leave him here? She’s about to tell Varys no and that she’ll just hope things happen the way they should, but then the tree’s bark against her hand suddenly burns.

 

You can say yes, she hears, and wait, that sounds like –

Bran?

“But Jon –” She whispers.

 

He’s not coming back. He made his choice. Do as you think best.

 

Then the tree is cold again, and she wants to throw up.

He’s not coming back.

She swallows. Maybe he found a place in Rhaegar’s service? Maybe Rhaegar recognized him and realized what he has given up until now just for him? She hopes it’s the case – Jon certainly deserved recognition for that, at least, and if he gets to spend another life with the man he loves, who is she to begrudge that?

“My lady?” Varys asks again.

“I suppose you won’t tell me what is your ruse, is it?”

Varys shakes his head. “If it makes you feel better, it’s nothing that hasn’t happened… the first time already.”

She’s so tired of riddles, she realizes, but it’s obvious he won’t tell her more.

All right.

All right.

“Do it,” she says. “I need this over with. For best or worse.”

“Very well. Be ready, Lady Brienne.”

And then Varys has disappeared in the shadows before she can ask him anything further.

Damn it.

Damn it.

She shakes her head and leaves, going back to her room, and then she finally lets herself consider what Bran told her.

Jon is staying.

She hadn’t realized it was something she could do. For a moment, she considers it. She could stay, and she could – she could stand up for Jaime when it’s time to do it. She could – she could make sure he doesn’t end up doing something horribly stupid, she could make sure no one thinks him dishonorable –

For a moment, she thinks, I could do it. I could stay.

Except –

Except that I can’t, she realizes with a heavy heart, stopping just as she walks through the White Tower’s door.

Jon might manage that ruse, because the story he went with cannot be verified – he said he’s a hedge knight with a bastard name, who is even going to? – and if Rhaegar and his other self know the truth, they’ll find a way to shield him from any such thing. Also, he has no relatives that might recognize him or that he would need to face.

Meanwhile, she told them a specific story. She told them she was Ser Duncan’s niece, and it wouldn’t take much to find out that if Duncan ever had a niece, her name is Brienne of Tarth, not Rohanne from nowhere. She said she had a family, she gave them enough details that will not hold up the moment someone checks, and she should lie to Jaime all her life if she ever managed to avoid that, and when her younger self grows up into someone with exactly her facial features and shows up at court, what would happen?

She could stay.

But it would be a huge risk, and she doesn’t know if she can live out her entire life lying to Jaime after – after he kills Aerys all over again, and because she has done nothing to stop it.

She wishes she could do it.

But she had to lie to him once, when she brought him to Lady Stoneheart, and all along she felt like she would rather pierce her own heart with Oathkeeper rather than doing it, and then it was not a choice in between killing her former liege lady or him, and –

She can’t.

She just can’t.

She shakes her head, heading for her room. She needs sleep. She needs a lot of sleep, and she knows she won’t get much.

She opens the door, figuring the room will be dark –

But the moment she does, she realizes that there are candles lighted.

What –

Then she looks at her bed, and she wishes the ground would crack open and swallow her whole, because Jaime’s sitting on her bed, and there’s Oathkeeper lying over his legs.

--

“Rohanne,” he says, and at least he doesn’t sound angry, merely – merely very surprised. “Do I want to know why there’s a Valyrian steel sword hidden under your bedding?”

She swallows.

“I don’t know if you do,” she says, “but – how –”

He shrugs. “I – I wanted to talk to you,” he says, standing up and putting the sword back on the bed, with a certain reverence. “You weren’t here, so I sat down on that bed, and – I hadn’t noticed before, I guess because I’ve never been in it with a clear head, but then I realized there was something weird about that mattress and – I guess I shouldn’t have checked, but –”

“No,” she says, “I would have done the same.”

Damn.

Damn.

“So,” he says, “what is this about? Because I hadn’t known Ser Duncan the Tall was hiding Valyrian steel swords anywhere.”

“He wasn’t,” she says, defensively.

Think, damn it, she tells herself. You need to take a decision, and quick.

She could lie.

Or, she could tell him the truth.

Thing is – she has lied to him enough up until now, and before, too, and he’s about the one person she doesn’t want to lie to. It’s tore her up inside too many times already.

Still, if she tells him the truth, what will he think? That she’s just used him all along, when – when she’s tried to do anything but?

Still –

Still –

This happened once already. She couldn’t look at him in the face after Lady Stoneheart, even if she killed her to save his life when it came down to taking that decision. She couldn’t even bear to do it, because she thought she’d only see hate in his eyes, and she’d deserve it, because what kind of knight would do such a thing?

And instead –

 

You know, he had said, they did tell me you only looked for me to save your friends or otherwise you’d have been hanging, too.

What –, she had started.

I don’t think anyone’s ever actively decided to die for me, you know. 

But I lied to you.

And don’t you think that out of anyone, I would understand why you’d do it? I lied about Aerys for half of my life for – I don’t even know what anymore, and I lied about me and Cersei for all of my life, and look where it brought me. And you did it to save people and then you certainly didn’t let them hang me. You need to learn that not all of us have your standards, wench. Some of us do understand the point of telling lies for the greater good sometimes.

 

She hadn’t trusted him from the beginning, then.

Maybe she can trust him now, and if he hates her for it, so be it. She’d deserve it.

“It’s about a lot of things,” she settles on. “And it’s a long story. One that you might not even believe. But I will tell you, if you ask again.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to know?”

“Now that’ll be telling, wouldn’t it?”

He cracks half a smile, raising up both hands. “Well, never let anyone say I was scared of one story. Do tell, lady Rohanne.”

Gods, he shouldn’t know. Too many people are in the know about this. It can’t lead to anything good.

Still.

Still, she’s done.

“Very well. Look at that sword,” she says. “I mean, there’s something about it you should have noticed, other than its steel.”

Jaime looks down at it again – at the beginning it seems like he’s not quite getting it, but then –

“Wait. The hilt?”

“Yes,” she says, dropping on the mattress, next to him but not close enough that their sides would touch.

“… It’s a Lannister hilt,” Jaime says. “But – unless someone kept it from me, and I doubt it, there’s no such thing in the family heirlooms.”

“There’s not. Yet,” Brienne says. “There will be, though. Seventeen years from now.”

Seventeen years –”

That was why I said you might not even believe it. To answer the burning questions I think you might have after such a statement… yes, I come from the future. No, my name is not Rohanne, it’s Brienne. And I’m not a commoner – my father is Lord Selwyn Tarth.” And doesn’t it feel liberating to say it. “But yes, my – great-grandfather is still Duncan the Tall.” She’s sure enough of it that she might as well point it out. “And yes, that sword technically came into your family’s possession, but I have it because you gave it to me.”

“… I gave it to you?” At least he sounds completely baffled rather than angry, and she can hear the question, why would I give anyone Valyrian steel if I could have it for myself?

If only he knew.

Yes, and a couple of years later most of the people in Westeros died, and I’m here because I’m trying to prevent it.”

“I think,” Jaime says after a long pause, “that I need you to go over all of this in detail, Roh – no, did you say Brienne? Starting with how would anyone travel back in time.”’

“Yes. And – fair enough. Seventeen years from now – has anyone ever told you about the Long Night?”

“The Long – what, that story about the Night King and the Others coming back to Westeros and killing us all lest the… prince that was promised or something stops them? Well, yes, I guess my mother read it to both Cersei and I when we were children and before – never mind. But it’s a story.”

“It’s not,” Brienne says. “Or at least, not where I come from. Where I come from, most of Westeros is gone. And let me ask you something, have you ever wondered why is Rhaegar going to such lengths to assure himself that he will sire three children, or why he would take up a sword well past the age anyone from his background would?”

Jaime stares at her for a moment, but then she can see that he’s reluctantly seeing her point. “Gods, wait, Arthur did talk a few times about Rhaegar’s obsession with… some prophecy about three heads of a dragon. And the princess said the same. Wait, are you telling me –”

“Rhagear Targaryen has most likely stumbled into some book that was very clear about it, and he realized that he must birth the three heads of the dragon. But Princess Elia couldn’t give him three, that’s what I’m telling you. Anyhow, where he comes from, he dies at the Trident fighting Robert, and – his father dies here, too, and Robert becomes king. No one knows. And it dooms us all because we’re not prepared when it does. Not even – not even the heads, even if it pains me to call them such.”

“You mean, Rhaegar’s children?”

She shakes her head. “Two of them. Rhaenys dies during the war, Aegon is smuggled out and he grows up with Lord Connington, who had been exiled in the meantime, and the third – is Lyanna’s child. Ned Stark raises him, but doesn’t tell him the truth before his death. And the truth comes out too late.”

“Wait, who’s the third head of the dragon then, if Rhaenys dies?” Gods, he sounds pained at the prospect of seeing that sweet girl dying, and at least – at least he’s believing her, for now?

“Rhaella’s last child,” Brienne says. “She’s – she’s pregnant right now, isn’t she?”

“Yes, but –”

“She gives birth to a girl in Dragonstone. She was the one hatching the dragons, but – it’s too little and too late. And they all died – the dragons, and the heads, and all of us who survived them didn’t for too long. Because no one knew, and everyone was too busy fighting over the damned Iron Throne after Robert died and – and Lord Stark’s death started a civil war.”

“Right, and never mind the pressing question I have, how are you here if you come from – whenever it is you say you come from?”

“Speaking of legends, have you ever heard of the three-eyed crow?”

“… Some other northern legend? I don’t know, I think Tyrion read something about this crow once when I went back to visit, but I don’t really remember. Is that some greenseer?”

“The most powerful. And he can – travel back in time. Or, send other people back in time, even if I think he shouldn’t.”

“So – he sent you?”

“Me and Lord Jon. From my time.”

For a moment, Jaime just stares at her as if she’s gone insane, but then –

“Wait a fucking moment. Are you telling me that I wasn’t going insane when I thought I knew Ser Roland from somewhere but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and I decided he did look suspiciously like Jon Connington but he couldn’t be?”

“That’s what I’m telling you,” she says, relieved. “And yes, it’s him. We – have an agreement with the – the present Lord Jon, if I’m explaining myself.”

“Right. Right, that would make sense, and – so you should… what? Change the past?”

He should. I – I shouldn’t. But I’m doing it, I think.”

“… Wait, I don’t think I’m following you.”

“That’s because you don’t know the terms. And I think they might answer a few of your other burning questions. The terms were that we should make sure Rhaegar and his children lived. Which is why Jon is at the Stoney Sept.”

“But Rhaegar is dead.”

“No he’s not,” Brienne says. “That was a ruse to – to protect you.”

“… To protect me?”

Now he looks like he can’t even begin to make sense of this entire mess.

But of course he can’t, since she’s been avoiding the worst of this conversation and he will never understand if she doesn’t tell him straight.

“Listen, this – this has to do with why you give me that sword in the future. I – you won’t like what I’m about to say, and if you hate me for it after I’m done, I couldn’t blame you. Just – let me tell you the entire story first.”

“I’ve been listening until now, haven’t I?”

And I’m still in awe you have.

“There were – two conditions, in those terms. One was that Rhaegar should live. The other, that Aerys should die in the same way he had in the – in the world I come from. That is, so that Rhaegar takes his place and when the Long Night comes, he’s ready.” Or at least, that’s what she supposed the entire point was. “In – in our world, Aerys dies because you kill him.”

Jaime quite literally blanches at that, and Brienne doesn’t know what possesses her to reach forward and grab his hand – possibly the lack of self-preservation – but never mind that. He’s not telling her not to and he doesn’t shrug it away, and so she holds on to it. For her own sake, too.

“In my world, Rhaegar dies and he – he completely loses it. And he plants wildfire under King’s Landing to blow it up along with himself because he’s just not letting the rebels have their say, if you get my meaning. This, while your lord father is assaulting the city, having decided which side is he on, while the rebels march on it, too.”

“As in, the winning side?” Jaime asks, his voice trembling.

“Yes,” she says. “Gregor Clegane kills – kills Princess Elia and her daughter during the sack. Supposedly Aegon, as well, but he was smuggled out before it could happen.”

“And where the hell am I if –”

“You can’t protect them because you are in the throne room with the king, you hear him ordering a pyromancer to burn down the entire city and you kill him so that it cannot happen at the same time of their death. And you save the entire city, but no one gives you credit for it also because you don’t tell anyone. For – good reasons, I guess, but that’s not the point. The point is that Aerys has to die and it seems like it must happen that way, so Lord Jon was in charge of changing how things went at the Stoney Sept, and I should have been here to make sure Aerys met the same end as before.” She grasps tighter at his hand. “But while in our world Robert pardoned you because after all you paid him a favor, in this world, if Rhaegar lived, it would be harder to do it, which is why we came up with the fake letter.”

“You – you and Lord Jon?”

“The point was, if everyone thinks Rhaegar’s dead, Aerys also would make use of those pyromancers, and no one could fault you for saving the city while you thought the rebels had won. And believe me, I – at this point I’m trying to think of any possible way to make sure you don’t have to do it.”

“But – but why?” He asks, and he sounds completely baffled rather than betrayed as she thought he would be, and he still hasn’t moved his hand away and gods, gods, she needs to finish this.

She doesn’t want to tell him, because it ruins you.

“Because it’s not fair to you and – I guess that’s where the sword comes into play. Jaime, we – we already knew each other, in the world I come from.”

“We did,” he says. “Well, I gave you that, didn’t I? And where the hell it comes from anyway?”

“From Ned Stark’s,” she says. “He – he dies in King’s Landing. And your father has that sword melted in two different ones. One goes to you, one goes – to one of the children you have with your sister.”

“We – we have children?”

“Not that anyone knows. They’re Robert’s, as far as the realm is concerned. But – before you come into possession of that sword, we – gods. The Starks take you prisoner during a battle, before Ned Stark dies. I am in service of Lady Catelyn. She sends you and I to King’s Landing so I can ransom you for her daughters, who are hostages there as far as she’s concerned.”

“Why, aren’t they?”

“No. Just one of them. But never mind that. We run into some bandits. They cut off your right hand.”

“They do what?” He asks, and now he looks like he could throw up just at the mere thought of it.

If only he knew the details –

No. She’s going to spare him that. It’s the least she can do.

“They do,” she says, quietly. “And believe me, it doesn’t stop you from doing very heroic things, but that’s not the point. The point is that after we get out of that conundrum and we go back to King’s Landing, and throughout it you actually did tell me about Aerys’s death, both daughters are gone and there’s – a difficult situation. I’m sorry, I wish I could tell you everything, but I already don’t know if I’m doing something very stupid by telling you the future at all. And – you send me to find one of them. After giving me that sword.”

His face is still ashen – he looks terrible.

And he’s still holding her hand.

She just hopes it means he doesn’t want to kill her with his bare hands for not having told him all of this.

“And – after that?”

“Things happen,” she says, “and we find her together eventually, but – it’s a long story. What counts is that it’s all for naught because the Others invade the entire realm and – you died of pneumonia in the North. Just before I was sent back here.”

“I – that doesn’t sound like a very honorable death,” he says.

“No one had an honorable death, where I come from.”

“You do know that this is a very – very hard story to swallow and that I’m going to need you to prove that we did know each other… previously, or whatever it is that you’re implying?”

That – that sounds fair, and the fact that he’s still here and listening to her is already a miracle in itself. Too bad that the only way she can think of is telling him private matters that he only ever confessed to her when they were lovers already, but there’s no other way.

Gods, but she doesn’t want to do this as much as she hadn’t wanted to tell him the whole harsh truth, but fine.

Fine.

“When you and your brother were kids during the last winter, you used to have snowball fights. You’d put some in your sister’s dress, too.”

“How –”

“You and your sister used to swap clothes when you were young sometimes, to see if you could fool other people into thinking you were – the other person. And when your mother caught you and her – I think kissing, but it could have been more – while she was pregnant with your brother, she made you sleep in opposite sides of the castle. You and her – laid together for the first time the day she convinced you to join the Kingsguard. If you wanted to ask how I know – I do because you told me. Some sixteen years from now.”

He stares at her with wide eyes, obviously trying to make sense of it and she wonders, should I tell him –

Well, at this point she’s just going to do it.

“Also, when you – when you knocked on my door and your hand was hurt.”

“What about that?” He asks, his voice barely audible.

“You call – what you did, you call it going away inside. And I know because you gave me that exact same advice once.”

“For – let me guess, you didn’t take it.”

“No,” she agrees. “No, I didn’t, and – you did something very dumb and brave after I refused to take it, but that’s not the point. Also, just after you had to watch Rickard and Brandon Stark die, you asked Ser Gerold how could you allow it and he said you had to guard the king and not judge him.”

No one knows –”

Now, they don’t. But you did tell me,” she says, and then looks up at him again, and he’s just staring at her without saying nothing, and –

Curse me or call me a liar or leave or kiss me, though I know you never will here, but don’t leave me hanging like this, she thinks, not breaking their eye contact otherwise he’s never going to believe her, and she doesn’t realize that she’s crying until she can feel salt on her lips, but –

“Gods,” he whispers, “you’re not lying.”

That wasn’t a question.

That convinced you?” She almost sobs, reaching up with her fingertips to wipe at her eyes.

“That sealed it,” he says, “but you’re a really – I mean, now that I think about it, knowing this, you’re a terrible liar. Because you did always look troubled but I thought it was for the same reason as me. And for the rest – you really didn’t lie about anything technically, did you?”

She shrugs. “I guess, but I hated every moment of it. Anyway, I – I understand if you’re angry, and –”

“I’m not,” he says, disentangling his hand from hers and moving it back to the sword lying in between the two of them. “Really, I’m – I’m not. I mean, it’s a lot to take in but I can’t even fault you for not telling, who’d have believed you? I’m not even certain I want to, but you couldn’t know what you’ve just told me in any other way. And – gods, I think I can understand why I’d tell you that in the future, if – if it felt good to tell you more or less the same things now. That said – I have to kill Aerys, don’t I?”

“Jaime, you don’t have to do anything. I mean, if I hadn’t been here, you would have done it. It’s just – now I told you that you might, which I guess might change things or not, but –”

“You just said that if he doesn’t die the entire world is fucked,” he interrupts her. “I’d be pretty damned selfish if I didn’t do it, right? Just – you said that –”

“Varys is – working on apparently making things easier. And we broke a deal with him so that he’d help Elia and Rhaenys get to safety rather than risk their lives. So, I think we have a day or two before it cannot be delayed anymore. But –”

He shakes his head, a sad laugh leaving his mouth. “R – Brienne, did I ever tell you why I wanted to join the Kingsguard back in the day, as well?”

“You might have,” she says.

“What did I say that I haven’t told you already?”

“That you wanted to – go on quests such as what you had done going against the Smiling Knight.”

“Well, it seems, from what you said, that if I get to do something heroic it’s going to be making sure the world is rid of bloody Aerys. I can live with it,” he says, and now he’s smiling slightly but it’s obvious that he’s trying to make it sound like he doesn’t mind when instead he minds, very much.

She wants to cry. Then she remembers she’s still doing it, and doesn’t even try to stop herself.

“Jaime, you – I don’t even know how much I should tell you at this point, but it’s far from the only heroic deed you pull through.”

“Even after I lose a hand?”

“Especially after,” she replies softly. “I – I don’t want to risk possibly saying more. But can you trust me if I tell you that Aerys is not where your knightly honor ends?”

“I want to doubt it, but – hearing you, one would be sure of it. Does – does the sword have a name, by the way?”

“Yes, ” she says, wiping at her eyes. “You named it, actually.”

“I did? And how?”

“Oathkeeper,” she says, not able to keep the fond tone from her face.

“… That’d be an honorable name for a honorable sword,” he agrees. “Well, good thing you have it, I suppose.”

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have it.”

“Honorable swords should be used for honorable deeds, my lady, and I think mine will suffice. And if where you come from I didn’t have my sword hand, I doubt I could have used it. Seems to me like I didn’t make such a bad choice.”

“… Wait, what?”

“Did I give it to you to pull through when it comes to the aforementioned honorable deeds, Brienne? Because going back in time to make sure all of us survive for another couple of winters and having volunteered for guarding Aerys just to spare me from it when it seems to me like you were entirely aware of it even before meeting his royal self seems fairly honorable to me.”

“I – I could have told you from the beginning.”

“My lady, I don’t think you would have gained my trust any faster. Especially – given when you did show up. No, you couldn’t have. And stop looking that devastated, I’m not holding it against you.”

Maybe she should have expected it.

But she hadn’t.

To her own horror, she realizes she’s openly weeping in relief and she brings both hands to her face, and never mind that she always hates touching the side of her face that’s still scarred and angry-red for it, because she just can’t do otherwise, and then he tentatively puts a hand around her shoulder and –

She cries harder.

“Gods, did I say something wrong?” He asks a moment later.

“No,” she says, “I just – I didn’t think – never mind. You did tell me once that sometimes people might hear why you’d lie to them, but – I didn’t want to. I’m sorry I ever did.”

“It’s fine. I told you I get it.”

“I know, but – never mind me. Gods, I guess I should just tell you if you haven’t figured it out already, but I already had to lie to you once and it was bad enough. I didn’t want to do it again.”

“Let me guess, I was the infamous friend who told you to learn how to have fun?”

“You might’ve been,” she agrees quietly, wiping at her eyes one last time as she gets her wits together and looks back at him. He’s staring at her like he’s seeing – not a completely new person, but like he’s seeing something in her he hadn’t before and she doesn’t know what to make of it.

“Well,” he says, obviously trying to lighten up the situation. “I guess that whatever happens to me at least I don’t turn into a sour bastard.”

She does laugh at that, unable to stop herself. “No,” she says, “that you don’t. Even if your humor is questionable most times, but I might have grown to like it.”

“Good to know that,” he says. “So – gods, now the reason I was here in the first place sounds downright ridiculous.”

“Why? What was it?”

“I wanted to know how you were planning to handle the current situation.”

They stare at each other and then – she doesn’t know how they both end up laughing hysterically at the damned same time, but they do, and she doesn’t stop her hand when it finds his elbow, and she thinks, gods if only I was brave enough to lean forward, but –

No.

No, that would be beyond wrong, especially now.

“Right,” she admits, “maybe, but – if you still want to know the answer, I’m planning on following my orders until I don’t have anymore.”

“That – sounds like a legitimate choice. Just – but after Aerys dies, where – where would you and Lord Connington end up?”

Fair question, she has to admit.

“In theory,” she says, “by going back to the place where we arrived, just after Aerys dies, we might – well, the person who brought us said that we’d just wake up in this new future we created. In our bodies. But we’d remember everything. If it all goes well. Lord Connington is not going back, though.”

“How would you know?”

“I – I’ve been told. I don’t know why, maybe the prince has recognized him and he’ll be able to be in court as – some kind of advisor? I hope it’s something like that. Anyway, he’s at the Stoney Sept, he’d have never made it. But he could do it. Me, I – I don’t think so. At some point, when the other Brienne of Tarth grows up, someone would notice that we’d be eerily similar, and I’m – hardly the person you mistake for anyone else. And the story I told the king, it will hold up just until someone tries to check it. I should probably go back and see if I really do wake up in Tarth seventeen years from now. If it all goes well. But I’ll worry about it when it’s time.”

“Fair enough,” he says. “Just one last thing then. You – you said there shouldn’t be any shame in asking for help, or am I wrong?”

“No. What do you need?”

“If fate says I have to kill that mad bastard, I will. But – do you think you could be there for it?”

He’s whispering as he asks, his voice so low it’s barely audible, and he sounds so uncertain about it that she can feel what’s left of the already broken pieces of her heart shatter all over again as she reaches out, grasps his hands and says, “Of course I will. That’d be the least.”

“All right,” he says, sounding relieved, and after he gives her hands a squeeze, he lets them go and stands up. “I suppose we should both get some sleep then. We do have a lot to think about, don’t we?”

“Indeed we do.”

He doesn’t look like he wants to go, though.

“Unless you wish to – share again?” She asks, tentatively.

“Could we?” He replies, sounding relieved, all over again.

She nods and they both end up on her bed, the sword lying in between them because none of them had tried to move it from the place it was in and she’s entirely fine with it, her hand grasping his own as they both wrap it around the hilt, and when the next morning she has to slip away from the bed in order to go resume her duties, she leaves it be instead of trying to move it back under the mattress – he should get some sleep while he still can.

--

Then she arrives in the throne room and is welcomed by the news that Tywin Lannister’s army has surrounded the city and is trying to break in.

For a moment, she can only think, what, why, how –

And then she remembers what Varys said.

 

Nothing that hasn’t happened before.

 

Gods.

Gods.

He made sure that Lannister got the same fake news that they got, so now he’s –

Trying to storm the city the same way he did before, isn’t he?

Of course, Varys isn’t anywhere to be seen. Of course, Jaime is immediately roused and dragged downstairs and she can see his skin turn an unhealthy shade of pale as Aerys notifies him of the fact and asks for his father’s head, same as he had the last time, hadn’t he?

They need to act.

And they need to act soon.

--

What is this about?” Jaime hisses at her when Aerys tells the both of them to leave because he has people he needs to confer to and they should make sure the Dornish princess is safe, and then go at once for Lord Tywin.

Brienne was actually surprised he didn’t order them to go for Lord Tywin first.

“It’s – I told you, it happened before, but – gods. When Varys said he had a plan in the works that might get things moving, I hadn’t realized he meant making sure your father thought Rhaegar really had died.”

“Shit,” Jaime says, “and what we do now? That room is full, you can’t presume –”

“No,” she says, “no. You – go find Elia, Aegon and Rhaenys. Possibly, get Varys along the way – he has to be lurking somewhere and we had agreements to smuggle them out through the hidden tunnels under the castle.”

“There are hidden tunnels?”

“Varys would know them,” she says. “I’m – I’m going to get Oathkeeper and I’ll wait for you here. If things are going the way I’m suspecting, it cannot be long. The wildfire is already under the city and we know it. Go and keep them safe.”

“I could –”

“Jaime Lannister, at the ripe age of thirty-five you still regretted not having saved them. Go.”

He stares at her for a long, long moment, then nods and runs off in the other direction.

Brienne hopes that Varys will let himself be found lest she ends up killing him before she has to leave, and she runs towards the White Tower. She bursts into the room, throws out her sword, raises the mattress and puts Oathkeeper back where it belongs, finally, and then runs back out, towards the palace.

She sees most of the golden cloaks head for the city and she can hear that the gates are crumbling, and she can hear people screaming, and she only hopes that Gregor Clegane is not heading for the Red Keep.

Then she takes in a deep breath and starts running again. She needs to see this through, however it goes.

--

No one stops her – the Red Keep looks almost empty, in comparison to its usual. Someone tells her to get her arse out and go find Lannister already and she says she will the moment she sees that the king is taken care of, but other than that, no one tries to even talk to her.

Good.

By the time she has reached the throne room’s door, her heart beating so fast she thinks it’ll jump out of her damned chest if they don’t end this soon. It’s not even locked, and she stands, hoping to see Jaime come from the other side of the hallway, but then –

“So, have you heard?” Aerys asks someone, most likely the damned pyromancer.

“I heard, Your Grace,” the man says.

“Then go. Burn them all. Burn them in their homes, burn them in their beds, and you can open the gates to Tywin Lannister if he burns, too.”

No, Brienne thinks, no, no, this is too soon, but – but she can’t let that happen. She can’t, and so the moment the man leaves the room she’s right there outside, sword held out.

“I’m sorry,” she tells him, and she is, at least for him. The man barely has time to see what he’s running into before he’s fallen on Oathkeeper’s blade and died in the span of mere moments, and at least this is taken care of.

Gods, if she thinks about how she felt when she killed a man for the first time and how she’s feeling now, she could throw up.

She could.

(No one had told her killing would feel so horrible the first time, and then less and less. She’s never not felt somewhat badly, but right now she wants to feel sick just for how detached she’s feeling at the sight of that man’s corpse crumbling over the ground, and –

There’s no point. It’s useless.)

But she won’t, because that Brienne of Tarth has changed for better or for worse, and Jaime still cannot be seen anywwhere, and she can’t wait for another pyromancer to come here to take Aerys’s orders.

She lowers her sword slightly, and walks inside the room.

--

“And what are you doing here?” Aerys spits the moment he sees her, standing from his iron seat. His palms slash themselves open against the blades surrounding the throne’s armrests. He doesn’t seem to notice.

“Preventing a catastrophe,” she answers, as calmly as she can, holding the blade out. It’s probably telling that Aerys doesn’t even notice that it’s not a normal sword, but then again the entire room has the curtains closed and the only lights around are torches on the walls and in the corners, the entire room bathed in bloody firelight, and she can feel her own skin sweating all over inside her white armor that belonged to a man that surely deserved to wear it more than she ever will, and for a moment she wonders, how would it have felt to die the way Rickard Stark did?

She grips at Oathkeeper’s hilt tighter.

“You have different orders, Lady Rohanne. And don’t think he was the only one with the same instructions. This city needs to burn. All of it.”

“And you with it, Your Grace?” She asks, trying to sound neutral and not like he’s mocking him, but everything she sees right now is an old man who lost his wits and sanity and touch with reality a long time ago and wants to – to burn everything down so that no one else can have what he considers his by right. She thinks of what Jaime told her the first time. Maybe he really thinks he’d be reborn as a dragon – didn’t his son come to life during such a night, as well?

Hadn’t her own ancestor died on such a night, too?

Well, I cannot afford to follow in your footsteps, Ser Duncan. Not for this, either. As much as I wish I had followed in yours when it came to different things.

“And all of us,” Aerys hisses, stomping down the stairs. “They have to burn. So, they think they can take my realm from me? Burn. Them. All,” he laughs, and Brienne thinks, how could everyone have thought Jaime dishonorable for ridding the world of such a man, and then –

Then –

Then everything is so clear in front of her, so perfectly, crystalline clear, that she can’t understand how she didn’t reach this conclusion first.

Maybe because she never was good at skirting around oaths even if she became better at choosing them, and maybe because when she’s been in front of this same choice it hadn’t seemed so similar, and maybe because she wouldn’t dare mess around with prophecies, and maybe all three things at the same time and maybe not just that, but –

But she hadn’t realized, while looking at this specific matter from every angle and every point of view, that she couldn’t find a way to get out of this mess because she was part of the problem, and she wishes she hadn’t taken this long to realize it, because then – then she could have solved things much faster, and she wouldn’t be coming to the obvious conclusion at the least convenient time of all.

Still.

Now she knows what she has to do, and she doesn’t know how she hadn’t seen it before, but the more she stares at Aerys’s thin form, at his mad eyes, at his skeletal hands and at his once silver hair burning almost red as embers with only fire as a light source, she knows who she’s seeing.

She’s not seeing Aerys right now.

She’s seeing Lady Stoneheart asking her if she chose a sword or a noose and asking her for Jaime’s head, and what did she answer the first time?

 

I will not make that choice.

 

But then –

Then she had, hadn’t she, and it had hurt, it had torn her up inside, but she couldn’t choose the man she loved over a woman that was long dead and who should have stayed dead, and right now she knows that she can’t let him do this, she can’t let him do this in a world where he still hasn’t had to tear himself apart the same way she had.

Well then.

“No,” she says. “No, no one is burning, Your Grace. Not even you.”

And then she steps forward and thrusts the sword into Aerys’s heart, without letting him have a say – she hears a feeble, barely audible let them before she thrusts in deeper, and she doesn’t know what it says about her that the only thing she can think as she watches the corpse sink on the ground and dark, red blood spills on the ground and on the blade

(it’s the same shade of red)

and on her own hands and white cloak is good riddance and I hope there’s enough fire in whichever of the Seven Hells you end up in, but the moment it does –

The moment it does, she doesn’t have time to let herself feel relieved, because then she’s heard a sword clash to the ground behind her and she’s turned towards the door and Jaime’s right behind her, sword on the floor, looking at her with wide, surprised green eyes, his mouth opening and closing, and then –

“What have you done?” He asks, sounding like he’s going to be sick.

“What does it look like?” She replies, hoping that her tone of voice stays steady instead of dropping fast into the realm of hysterics, even if she’s entirely tempted to let it.

Gods. She did it.

She killed the Mad King. And she can entirely understand why Jaime had said he didn’t rue it, back when he told her in that bath.

Gods, it seems like it happened such a long time ago, and instead it’s been merely a few years, for her.

“But – you – but you said I had to,” he finally manages to say, sounding like he doesn’t get it.

“True,” she said, “you should have had to. But then I decided I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Brienne, for – you said it, it was fate! If that prophecy said it had to be me –”

Fuck fate!” She blurts, and then she realizes what she’s just said, and he’s still looking at her like he can’t make sense of what she’s even saying, but –

But it had felt damn liberating to say it, and she knows that her time here is coming close and that she cannot stay.

She might as well make the most of it.

“Fuck it,” she repeats. “You did it once. It destroyed you. And even with everything that’s changed now, I don’t know if it would again, and I cannot let that happen, Jaime. I can’t risk it. I just – I cannot. Because you deserve better than that, and you deserve better than living with that man’s death on your bloody conscience, and you deserve better than people calling you an oathbreaker with no honor for having paid the realm a service. I – I already had to kill my old liege lady after she went insane. Well, more than that, but there’s no time to go into that right now. I’ll have to live with it, if I live. At this point, living with him on my conscience changes nothing to me, while you – you still haven’t – there’s no point in turning you into a kingslayer when it could be avoided. ”

“Brienne –”

“No, listen to me. I – I don’t know how much time I have, and there’s a way we can salvage this so that fate is content with it.”

“I’m listening,” he says, nodding and suddenly staring at her with full awareness. Good.

She moves closer to him, puts a hand on his shoulder, fully aware that this is most likely the last time they’ll ever touch, and then thrusts Oathkeeper’s hilt into his free hand.

“You gave that sword to me once,” she said. “I – I always thought it was on loan. I never gave it back to you because you always made the exceedingly good point that I could have used it with more proficiency, especially when we were surrounded by dead men we had to kill all over again. But there are no dead men here now and I think I kept all the oaths I could, so – you should have it back.”

“I can’t –”

“You can. Take it.”

He nods, his fingers closing around the hilt.

“Good. Now – you never lacked for imagination. Say you found that sword somewhere and saw it as a sign, or hide it and get yours dirty with his blood or come up with a story that might satisfy whoever walks inside this room next. Hopefully Jon will be with Rhaegar – well, both of them will be – and they both know that you had to do this. Tell them you did it – no one is going to remember that I was around save for the princess and her daughter, and I think Elia will know that speaking of me around would be a very bad idea. But gods, please tell them why you would have done that and don’t let anyone call you dishonorable for it. It shouldn’t have happened. No one should have put you in that position and you should have never had to guard such a man for oaths and then called an oathbreaker for saving the entire city. Whoever tries to put it into question, just tell them. You kept that secret for fifteen years and it ruined you more than killing Aerys actually did, I think. And you deserve much better than that. All right?”

“All right,” he says, seriously, always staring at her like he’s trying to figure something out, his fingers wrapping around Oathkeeper’s hilt so hard it hurts. “And – are you leaving now?”

“I have to,” she says. “If I’m around questions will be asked, and staying wouldn’t be worth the amount of lies I would have to come up with. I don’t even know if it will work or where I will find myself in, but – would you pay me a favor?”

“After everything you just did?” He laughs, disbelievingly, and maybe it’s just wrong given that she has her hands dirty with Aerys’s blood and there’s a corpse on the ground and this is not how things should have gone, but she can’t bring herself to care. “Of course. You only have to ask.”

She tries to put it nicely, but words never were her strong suit – they were his – and she doesn’t know how much longer she can stall.

“Back where I come from – doing this didn’t pay you any favors, but you also – didn’t really try that much harder to be better than what other people thought of you. Don’t do it again. Don’t let other people dictate what you should want or do. Because that’s what you had done up until the point we met, and I’m not saying it because I figured that out, you told me on your damned deathbed. You know what was your biggest regret?”

“No. What was it?”

Having wasted fifteen years of my life not giving a fuck, or so you said. You can be Arthur Dayne still, you know. You don’t have to be the Smiling Knight, if you choose your vows wisely. And the man I buried was the best man I had known and a better one than this realm ever deserved. Don’t let anything stop you from being that person, if you want to pay me one favor should we never see each other again.”

“I – I don’t know if I can swear that, but I guess I could try. That said, I think – I think there’s something I should do before you leave, my lady.”

“Then be quick about it because I don’t know how long I have left –”

here, she was about to say.

She never does, because then he’s dropped the sword to the ground and he’s put his hands on her face and he has angled it slightly downwards and his mouth is touching hers way more gently than anyone would think in such a situation, and –

And then he presses, and –

And Brienne thinks there’s a limit to anyone’s force of will, and she just about reached hers, and she doesn’t know if she’ll have another chance and gods, she’s only ever kissed him when he had a beard and his cheeks certainly weren’t smooth, but the mouth is the same and he kisses in the exact same way he used to back in their when, and she thinks she’s crying as she parts her lips and kisses him in return without holding back, her tongue meeting his and her bloodied hands grasping at his hair

(it’s longer than it was when they did this, but it’s as soft as it was back then and he moans into her mouth the same way he always did)

and her vision is blurry when she has to lean back and take a breath, and her mouth feels like it’s burning and she has to wipe at her face just to see him in focus, and –

Why is he smiling?

“I knew that,” he breathes, his hands still cupping her face.

“You – you knew?”

“Fine, I suspected,” he says, and why does he sound happy about this? He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t. “I mean, I might not have much of an experience with having friends, but sometimes I thought you looked at me the way – the way I know I looked at, er –”

“Cersei?”

“… Right,” he says, shaking his head. “But I thought I might be making it up, and then you went and did that and – Brienne, apologies, but no one does such a thing for their friends.”

“… That’s because you’re not,” she admits.

“I understood that. Now please, just – don’t lie. Where you come from, were we lovers or not?”

“We were,” she says. “Not from the beginning. We kind of couldn’t stand each other at that point. But then – yes.”

“Good,” he says, “because I can entirely understand my own bloody choices then.”

“What –”

“You said your father is the Evenstar and if everything goes well you’ll be with us again seventeen years from now, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but it’s not sure –”

“Never mind that. Good to know.”

“Jaime, you aren’t seriously implying that –”

“I would be willing to wait for that long?” He laughs, but now it’s not sad or self-depreciative or anything of the kind. Now it’s – it’s the same way he used to when he meant it or when they had the luxury of waking up late in the morning after sharing a bed the entire night, the same way he used to when he told her – “Brienne, I think I would be making a very, very poor decision if I did not.”

“Jaime, no,” she immediately retorts, feeling like she will pass out if this conversation goes on any longer, and she shakes her head at once. “Don’t. It’s too long. I don’t doubt you could, but –”

“Why’s that?” He asks, smirking, and he has no business doing such a thing, damn it –

“Because you told me straight that you never had any other woman than Cersei in your entire life and we met when you were three and thirty, and it was obvious you were telling the truth. But – you deserve better than waiting around for that long for the likes of me. Find a nice woman who’ll be the lady you deserve, if you don’t want to stay in the Kingsguard anymore, but – you shouldn’t bet half of your life on –”

She never finishes that sentence either because he’s shaken his head and brought hers down and kissed her again and she’s so weak that she can’t resist and she kisses him back, her hands grasping at his neck and shoulders, and she knows she should go, but if this is the last time it happens she wants to remembers how he tastes and how his tongue feels against hers and how his lips would always find a way to drag moans from her, and then he’s moved back, his fingers caressing her face, scar included, and it’s too much.

It’s too much

“I shouldn’t bet that much time on the one person who was good to me in the last what, seven years, and on one person who I’ve been wanting to kiss for a damned long while before finding out I actually might have done that in another life, and on one person who cares for my well-being so much that she killed a king just so that I wouldn’t have to and who actually doesn’t make me feel like I’m just convenient to them?” He shakes his head, and then stares back up at her, dead serious. “I know you have to go. I’m sorry that you have to, but I understand it. I’ll see you seventeen years from now, Brienne. Then we can discuss things properly.”

“Jaime, you don’t have to –”

“What if I want to?”

“But – you said –”

“If you mean Cersei,” he says, “I think maybe my older self knew better. And if it took him long enough to understand a few things, I don’t have to make the same mistakes all over again. Elia and her children are safe, he’s dead, I think you did good. Go, I’ll make sure everyone thinks it was me. And remember that I keep my oaths.”

“You don’t have to,” she says, not even bothering to stop a few more tears from falling over her face.

“I know,” he says, “but I want to.” He leans forward again, his lips pressing against her scarred cheek, and then he moves back and he’s smiling at her so sweetly she almost might faint. “Go, before I stop you.”

She should.

Instead she nods, then puts a hand behind his neck, crushing their lips together a last time just in case this really goes wrong, and then –

Lady Brienne, I won’t be here for long. You have to leave. Now.

“I – I have to,” she says, “but – I hope I’ll see you again. In whichever way it has to happen.”

“I know you will,” he says, leaning back down to take Oathkeeper in his hands again, and she turns her back on him lest she does something colossally stupid and misses her passage back to the future, or so she supposes.

She runs, getting rid of her cloak so that it doesn’t stand out too much, then reaches the stables – there’s a few horses inside it, good –, steals one of them and gallops out of the castle. Thankfully there’s such a mess outside that no one notices her in the rubble – she steals a sword off some soldier who tried to stop her, and she makes her way through the crowd, up until she sees an opened gate.

She rides out.

The tree wasn’t too far, she remembers the way, and she pushes the horse as hard as she can, hoping that she’s not too late and completely unable to regret having stalled for so long, not when at least if she has to die she will do it with the memory of Jaime’s mouth against hers fresh and bright, and then she’s finally seeing the damned tree in the distance and it’s glowing white, but faintly, and –

She jumps out of the horse, wishing she wasn’t wearing armor because it slows both of them down, but taking it off would require to much time, and so she runs uphill towards a tree that’s still glowing but not so brightly anymore, and progressively less so, and then –

Quick, Bran’s voice tells her, and she takes another deep breath and sprints into a last run, and her hand slams on the tree’s glowing bark just as it shines bright all over again as if in a last blaze of glory before it dies down for good, and –

You did it, Bran says, thank you, she hears, and then –

Then she feels again like someone’s just punched her in the gut with an iron gauntlet and she closes her eyes against that blinding, white light, and hopes against hope that she really wakes up in a better world than either of the two that she left behind.

One moment, she’s standing in front of the heart tree.

Then next, she’s not there anymore.

 

 

One month later

 

 

Seems like Rhaegar will have his work cut for him, Jon thinks as he walks inside the infamous tavern he used to go to, and which has somehow survived the sack of King’s Landing intact. Half of the city has been torched, but then, from what he heard, Lannister managed to get the situation under control almost on his own by going around with a Valyrian steel sword, not that Jon can’t imagine where that came from, rallying the golden cloaks and putting some semblance of order into the chaos that had aroused. He also slew Gregor Clegane as he tried to enter the Red Keep, and that’s ot what people say – he knows that because he’s spoken to a fair number of people who had been running from King’s Landing. He also knows that he actually arrested his damned father while waiting for whoever won at the Stoney Sept to get inside the city on account of having sacked the city when there was no need to do it. Jon was tempted to actually go to the Red Keep and investigate, but the mere thought sends a pang of hurt through his chest and he doesn’t think he can do that now or ever, or at least not so soon. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing here, to be honest, but he figured that if someone wanted to find work or any such thing, even leaving with a group of people would be easier, from here.

At least, he has enough money to survive for a short while, he thinks bitterly as he orders an ale. The owner is in good spirits, though, or so it seems.

“Any reason why you’re the only happy man I’ve seen in King’s Landing up until this point?” Jon asks, figuring that it won’t hurt.

“Food and ale are never out of business if armies pass by, and in between what’s left of the golden cloaks and the royal army, I’m doing plenty all right. And thank the Seven the place got spared when bloody Tywin Lannister stormed in. Admittedly, everyone would be fine with it if his son decided to stick around, but who knows.”

“Who, Jaime Lannister?”

The owner shrugs. “Might not be eight and ten, and he might’ve killed the fucking mad arsehole, but no one thinks it was a bad deed and sure as the seven hells he’s not half bad at keeping the situation under control. Though I guess that now that the king’s back he’ll have to resign his post or somethin’.”

“Just resign?”

“If they tried to kill him when as far as we knew Rhaegar was dead, the entire smallfolk would kill them first. He hanged everyone in his father’s army who destroyed honest people’s business or raped their women or both, people don’t forget so soon.”

Good, Jon thinks. At least the one thing they were mostly worried about won’t come to pass, as much as he hates that the sack happened nonetheless, but he has a feeling that it was somehow fated to be. He drinks some more of his ale, finding a free table, wondering and what in the Seven Hells do I do now, and then –

“Fancy seeing you around again, Ser Roland,” a familiar voice says, and he looks up to see someone indeed familiar sitting in front of him at his table.

“It seems like there was no fighting to be had,” he truthfully replies. “Fancy seeing you around, too, Eddard. Still in the business?”

“No,” comes as a reply. “I mean, I could be, I guess, but when entire armies are passing through the city, it’s not a very good business to be in except for the owners, and that place’s owner was done with me a long time ago, I think. I might’ve told him I was quitting that specific business. He saw nothing wrong with it.”

“Should I congratulate myself or not?”

“Good question. I don’t know either. I mean, I had been working there since I was twelve, it’s not like I have much more experience.”

Jon tries not to flinch at how young he just said he was when he started out in that job.

“Then again, I hated it, especially lately, if not for some specific exceptions to the rule.”

Jon looks up and meets hazel eyes all over again and lets himself smirk ever so slightly – fair point.

“I don’t know,” he says, “if it says anything good about me, that it seems like I was one of the specific exceptions to the rule.”

“Why shouldn’t it? Say anything good about you.”

“If the average sucks, being slightly better than average shouldn’t really say much.”

“See, just the fact that you’re actually saying that proves my point. Anyway, as I was saying, fancy seeing you around. Did you have any plans?”

Jon laughs and drinks the last of his ale. “No,” he says. “I just didn’t have a better place to go.”

“Nice,” Eddard replies, “since I haven’t left just because I don’t have a better place to head to, either. Should we toast to this unlikely coincidence?”

“Why not,” Jon says, and then he raises his remaining arm, waving at the owner and telling him to bring two more tankards and paying for both immediately.

“Flattered,” Eddard tells him, “but I could have paid.”

“I could pay, too,” Jon mutters. “And I think I need a few drinks.”

“Any particular reason to? Sorry if it’s a nosy question, but I don’t get too many chances for this kind of small talk.”

Jon shrugs, figuring that there won’t be anything harmful in admitting it. “There was a man,” he says. “In that – in the army.”

“I suppose it didn’t go well?”

“It couldn’t,” Jon sighs. “I – I don’t really think I had a chance. But this – this time around, it was clear. I’ve been trying to sort it out. I think I mostly have, but I sorely need a drink anyway.”

“Fair enough,” Eddard replies. “So, your man isn’t interested?”

“Definitely not,” Jon admits, cringing slightly, trying to not let that get to him. He shouldn’t. He’s learned his lesson, hasn’t he?

“Too bad for him,” Eddard says very nonchalantly, as he takes a drink, too, and Jon almost spits his own.

Sorry?”

Eddard shrugs. “Sorry if I’m kind of blunt, but you know. My line of work. I never learned the point of subtleties.”

“No, it’s – it’s all right. I meant, too bad for him? Really?”

“Well, unless this man isn’t interested because he only likes women, which I suppose is fair… given the look on your face right now, he did something worse than just not being interested, and given what I’ve seen of you… you deserve far better.”

“Don’t flatter me too much,” Jon says, conveniently downing some more ale – he doesn’t even know if he understood right, but if he has –

“By the way,” Eddard asks, “what were those ravens about?”

“Oh,” Jon says, “I suppose you mean –”

“The ones I had to give to the lady,” Eddard says. “Don’t worry, I haven’t actually read them.”

“They were – I was informing her of how things were proceeding with the army.”

“And wasn’t that something people at the Red Keep would be informed of, anyway?”

Jon has to laugh at that – point taken. “You know, you might’ve been wasted in your previous line of work.”

“I beg to differ. I might not notice this kind of thing if not for that. How do you think I would learn to figure people out quickly?”

“That’s – that’s also fair. It’s a long story,” he says, cautiously, “and I wouldn’t be above sharing it, but it’s – nothing most people would believe, anyway.”

“Intriguing. So I suppose you wouldn’t share with just about anyone?”

I might as well, Jon thinks, since I’ve told at least two people who shouldn’t have known.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I mean, just about anyone wouldn’t even believe it anyway. But I guess I wouldn’t be above sharing it if I knew the other person would listen to it.”

“Fair enough.” He reaches out for his own drink and Jon can’t help staring at his mouth the moment he lowers it and licks his lips for a split second.

Gods, he really has his mind in the gutter, doesn’t he?

“So,” Jon clears his throat, figuring that breaking the silence wouldn’t be a bad idea before this turns somehow embarrassing, “neither of us has plans, or am I wrong?”

“That would be correct. By the way, does the fact that our lady friend has seemingly vanished into thin air have anything to do your story being somehow unbelievable?”

“It might,” Jon concedes. “But it’s – it’s how things were supposed to go for her.” He takes a deep breath. “And maybe that’s how they were supposed to go for me, but they didn’t.”

“As in, you should’ve disappeared into thin air?”

“Pretty much,” he admits, “but – I chose differently.”

“Well, let me tell you, it’d have been a pity given that not many good-looking men who weren’t also total arses bought me any drinks lately.”

At that, Jon about chokes on the ale he was swallowing and doesn’t cough it out just because it was mostly down his throat already.

Before, he could have just assumed they were both joking, but –

He looks up into hazel eyes that are staring straight at him, and –

Gods, he actually means it.

“I wouldn’t know about the good-looking part of it, but good to know I’m not an arse.”

“Don’t sell yourself too short, Ser Roland. Some of us can look past missing limbs. And – gods, it really does show what my previous line of work was, doesn’t it?”

“I – I don’t think it is. How so?”

“Because,” Eddard replies, his voice suddenly dropping a lot lower, “I might be trying to say that I think the chance of running into you out of everyone in this mess of a situation was low and I’m certainly not regretting it, but everything I can come up with is ways to hint that we should fuck already, and that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say here.”

Jon looks down at the table, where he can see that the other man’s free hand, the one not gripping the tankard, has fingertips drumming slightly over the dirty wood of the surface, as if he’s nervous and very much so, and he’s not quite looking at Jon when he glances back up – more at the bottom of his pint.

Before Jon can consider is he actually trying to proposition me and when the hell did that happen, his own remaining hand has suddenly moved downwards, grasping at Eddard’s wrist just enough that any motion of the man’s hand stops but at the same time, so that people might not get suspicious. It’s not lunch or dinner time, but it’s still almost full and the last thing he needs is drawing attention.

“Really?” He asks, his own voice going so low he can barely hear himself.

“It’s kind of sad that you need to ask.”

“Kind of – just so you know, I’m hardly a catch right now, I’m missing an arm, I’ve just realized that I’ve spent more than half of my life loving someone who could have never reciprocated it and my real name’s not even Roland. I’m flattered, but I don’t know if –”

“I think I knew that,” comes as a reply. “I mean, both you and Rohanne seemed to stop yourselves before using your given names. And no one who comes to our humble establishment ever gives out their real names. Other than that, I think I made it abundantly clear that the arm isn’t an issue. And when it comes to your… other man, if you were in love with him that long and he didn’t even notice it says nothing good about him, and if he noticed and didn’t at least let you down nicely before you could move on it says nothing good either, and if you still loved him that long – that doesn’t exactly make you not a catch, if you grasp my meaning.”

Hells, Jon thinks, what do I even do or say, no one’s actually ever done this, certainly in the Golden Company none of us propositioned each other

“And maybe you can’t see it, but coming from my position, loving someone for that long is kind of a feat, ser.”

Oh.

Oh, Jon thinks, the pieces suddenly falling together, and –

He considers bolting for a moment, because what should he even do, but then he stays where he is, their hands still touching, and he thinks, what were the chances we might actually run into each other in the first place?

“I think,” he says, “that maybe this conversation should – we shouldn’t have it here.”

“I think,” Eddard replies, “that you’re entirely right.”

They finish their drinks, then Jon stands out first and nods towards the back – there’s a small alley there, he noticed before. He leaves the inn, turns right and heads for the backroad, breathing in heavily, thinking what in the Seven Hells I’m doing here, and he doesn’t know how long he has to wait before he hears footsteps coming from the other side of the street.

“So,” Jon says, “are you saying that for some kind of reason you like me and we should try to make sense together of our lack of plans?”

“Maybe that’s what I was saying,” the other man replies, moving up closer. “I mean, that is, if you’d want to. You think you’re not a catch but I doubt I count as one, for that matter –”

Jon can see it in the way he’s holding himself together and at how rigid his shoulders are right now, and for a split moment he thinks that it’s just surreal that he’s in this position when a month ago or so he was in – in the opposite, pretty much, but that’s not the point.

The point is –

The point is, what does he want?

He doesn’t know if he’s ever asked himself that question. Especially given how long it’s been since the answer wasn’t something that was tied to Rhaegar somewhat.

He shakes his head, moves closer, puts his remaining hand on the rough cloth of Eddard’s old cloak, and –

“Just so you know,” he says, “my real name is Jon, as much as I was starting to get adjusted to the other one,” and then before he can get an answer he leans in, and he thinks that they actually never kissed even if they did fuck quite a lot during that past month, and damn, the last time he kissed someone and meant it, it was when he was in the Golden Company.

It should be sad.

It probably is sad, but maybe it’s high time he stops thinking about how much that word can be applied to his life up until this point and does something to make up for it, and a moment later there are hands around his shoulders and soft lips pressed against his own and he doesn’t know what he had been expecting, but the moment it happens he just stops overthinking it and takes a few steps forward, headed towards a darkened corner and pressing Eddard up against the wall, their tongues meeting the moment it happens, and there are nails digging against his back and as he leans back to catch his breath, he realizes he hasn’t thought about how it would have felt to kiss Rhaegar instead for a single second, when it had happened – with about every other person he’s ever kissed in his life, he thinks.

“Nice,” Eddard breathes against his mouth a moment later. “I mean, both that and – the name. Suits you better than Roland, I think.”

“Good to know,” he replies, and why is he feeling somehow giddy right now? “Still, I had very good reasons to use it. I might need to use it as long as I’m around here.”

“Is that about – the infamous unbelievable story?”

“I’ve got enough money for a room for a couple nights at least,” Jon says cautiously. “Maybe I could tell you later?”

He almost gasps when a moment later his hand is grabbed in a fairly tight hold. “Maybe you could. But I’m paying for drinks next time.”

He can’t – he can barely make sense of everything that’s happening right now, but as he grasps back and tangles their fingers together (for now, they couldn’t risk doing such a thing in the open, but there’s no one in this alley and he’ll take advantage as long as he can), he decides that whatever happens now, going back to King’s Landing was – was worth it, after all.

 

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Brienne opens her eyes.

For a moment, everything is completely blank – a moment ago she was standing and she was wearing armor and there was blinding white light everywhere and her stomach hurt, and now she’s lying down on a bed and she’s staring at a familiar ceiling but she can’t quite put together how

Or better, a moment ago she was just waking up after a more or less decent night, not counting that horrid dream she had about what she heard Ronnet Connington say behind her back that time he visited Tarth years ago, I wouldn’t marry Lord Tarth’s sow of a daughter if they paid me to

Then she almost screams as she arches upwards, sitting up on the bed, feeling like she could throw up and like her entire brains are getting scrambled and on one side she’s seeing herself going through more or less all the same things she had gone through the first time around except for a few differences –

(Ronnet Connington never was one of her suitors because with his uncle being Hand of the King he could aim higher, she never followed Renly anywhere because there was no war of the Five Kings to be had so she’s never left Tarth and at this point she hates knowing that she most likely never will because Ser Humphrey still happened and the ban on not marrying anyone who couldn’t best her in combat is still valid)

And she remembers feeling like something was missing or lacking or was wrong all this time and now she knows what it was, it was not knowing all along that she’s gone back in time and that she killed the Mad King however long ago it was

She barely recognizes her own room on Tarth that she hasn’t seen in years –

(Or maybe since yesterday evening)

and reaches down for her empty chamber pot, and doesn’t try to stop herself from feeling sick – better to just let it happen.

She closes her eyes as she breathes in and out, her head pounding, her hands grapping at the handles of the pot as she puts it back on the ground. She remembers Jaime’s first death and his face as he said that he would wait for her and Septa Roelle’s voice as she tells her again that she only has to look in the mirror to know what lies in the heart of people complimenting her appearance, and she feels sick again – by the time her stomach’s settled and she’s lying back against her bed she’s breathing in heavily and she feels slightly more settled, even if she hasn’t opened her eyes yet.

She breathes in and out once, twice, thrice, then she does.

Now she knows she’s in her room in Tarth, that has never changed, and that the pink-tinted sky outside her window is her island’s, same as the sapphire waters all around it, even if now as the sun rises they look a warm shade of rose, not blue. She stands up on unsteady legs, still taking in deep breaths, and immediately finds the mirror that she always loathes looking at, now and before and any time.

For a moment, she’s utterly relieved that she doesn’t have that scar on her face anymore, but of course she wouldn’t, because she’s never been in the position to have one here, has she? For the rest – she looks the way she had back when the Long Night happened, just… not as hard, she supposes. She doesn’t have that scar and she doesn’t have any others, her hair is longer (but doesn’t suit her that much better), her hands are still rough with the callouses that only sword fighting brings and she’s wearing a horrid white nightshirt that she remembers wishing she could tear apart in two lifetimes.

All right.

All right, it seems like whatever’s going on it’s working because she doesn’t feel sick anymore and it just feels like everything’s falling into place, except that then she tries to remember if she knows what went on during the Long Night, if it happened already for that matter, or what Ned Stark ended up doing, or what Jaime ended up doing, because there is no way she wouldn’t know, but –

But she can’t come up with anything.

Damn. Damn, maybe something went wrong in – in the process? Probably. It might as well have.

But – she remembers everything from both her lives and it’s more or less settling in now, so patience about that – she’ll find out. She’s quick to get her bearings together and empty the chamber pot in the privy attached to her room, the last thing she needs is people wondering why she’d throw up in the middle of the night, and she’s washing her face with the cold water left in a pitcher in the corner when someone knocks on her door, and not tentatively.

“My lady?”

That’d be – no one she remembers.

“I – I am awake, just one moment,” Brienne replies, and then opens the door. It’s a maid that she absolutely does not recall but she knows should be named Jeyne, and – right. Of course she’d know.

“Oh, good,” she says. “We’re barely on time.”

“Barely – on time?”

“Apparently, there was a miscommunication or something of the kind and the Lord of Casterly Rock is getting here today, not tomorrow, and you need to be ready. Your lord father warned us as soon as they got the raven. May I –?”

“Oh – sure. Of course,” she lies, and –

The Lord of Casterly Rock? What – why? She’s fairly sure that if things went as they should have, it should be Tywin Lannister. Or Tyrion. Why would Tyrion come here? If Jaime even halfway followed her advice, he’s putting Oathkeeper to its best use and doing what he was born to do, that would be, being a knight, never mind that he couldn’t be Lord of anything if he was in the Kingsguard and if his father was still alive.

Anyhow, she can hardly go and ask direct questions about it, so she moves away and lets the maid come in – another three follow, bringing in a blue dress she hated back in the day and is sure she will hate now, but she can hardly disagree about it, either. And if she’s not getting anything wrong, the one bringing in the dress should be Alysanne and the third Elen, and she doesn’t protest when after advising her to wash her face thoroughly Jeyne starts trying to braid her hair, for how little it can be braided anyway. She knows she took a bath yesterday, even if it wasn’t all of her, and Jeyne remarks that it was a good thing she did, at least she doesn’t need to do it again now.

Brienne just nods and says nothing.

Sadly, the maids do not indulge in chattering or gossiping, and she can’t find out anything more specific about what this entire visit is about – she just knows that by the time the sun is high in the sky she’s dressed properly – corset and gown and proper flat shoes so she doesn’t look too tall, same as always, her hair is braided to the best of its potential and she still doesn’t look any better than she ever did, she thinks glancing at her reflection in the mirror, but –

She has a feeling that after everything she’s gone through, she’s so done caring about how unattractive she might look that it doesn’t affect her at all. And even if she is, Jaime ended up somehow wanting her twice ugly as she was and is, and whether he kept that promise or not (she wouldn’t hold it against him if he didn’t), she knows he meant it both times.

“There,” Jeyne says, “I think you’re ready. Your father said that you should come downstairs as soon as you were done, my lady.”

“Of – of course. I will come in a moment.”

She gives herself a last look in the mirror, shrugs, and then leaves the room.

It’s surreal, walking down the steps of Evenfall Hall when she’s been here all her life and hasn’t been here for years at the same time, but she figures it will stop mattering soon, and she heads straight for her father’s solar, her chest tightening – gods, she hasn’t seen him since yesterday evening but she also hasn’t seen him in years since she left Tarth to fight for Renly, and when she sees him standing behind his large wooden desk and smile at her she has to keep herself in check from running at him and throw her arms around his back – she can’t, not if she doesn’t want him to be worried. After all, as far as he knows, she’s never left Tarth, hasn’t she?

“Brienne,” he says, “I see the maids have told you the news, haven’t they?”

“Yes,” she replies. “He’s – he’s coming here one day earlier than he should have?” If only she knew who he is.

“Seems like it. I still don’t know why he insisted on coming here, usually Tarth is a stop only for the Stormlands lords when they undertake that kind of journey, but then again he is stopping by most castles belonging to lords allied to the Baratheons, too.”

Brienne would like to know what kind of journey Tywin Lannister is undertaking – she’s fairly sure it has to be him. And if Jaime lives after he killed Aerys, she’s sure his father would, too, regardless of having stormed the city – after all, they were acting based on the same piece of information, weren’t they?

“Anyway, let’s just all be at our best behavior and let’s see if we can break some deal or alliance out of it – given that they are allied with the Baratheons it can’t hurt.”

Allied with the Baratheons?

“Of course,” she says, bowing slightly and knowing she’s hardly graceful, given her skirts. “It cannot be worse than that time Lord Humphrey visited, can it?”

Her father laughs at that, looking at her fondly, and he moves from behind the desk, putting a hand on her shoulder – she has a feeling he wanted to ruffle her hair but then didn’t because they’d need to fix it all over again, but he always does it – used to do it – so she knows and she could cry for the familiarity of the way he’s looking at her.

Gods, she missed him so much.

“No, I guess it cannot. Well, let’s go. We should be ready to meet him at the harbor. The horses should be ready.”

She nods and follows him out, and she tries to figure this mess out as she does.

Allied with the Baratheons.

The Baratheons have no female heirs to marry off, so it’s definitely not because of Tyrion or Jaime. Then Cersei, she supposes, but – it’s happened once already and she knows even too well how that went. And with whom, for that matter? Stannis? Robert? She can’t imagine it going well either way. Maybe some daughter of Tywin’s sister? If she even had one?

And what kind of trip would Tywin Lannister be on, anyway?

She shakes her head and decides that she’ll just find out when it’s time to – no point wasting time trying to put together some picture when she doesn’t have the pieces.

She mounts on the horse, hating how it uncomfortable it feels because of the damned gown, and rides out following her father, Septa Roelle – she’s still here in this world, isn’t she – and Ser Goodwin, who sends her a complicit look when mutters she’d have rather worn breeches.

Well, she decides, at least her island is safe and her father is safe and whatever happened in the rest of the continent, it didn’t touch either of them.

Good. At least she hasn’t gone through all that suffering in vain, even if it’s the only result she obtained.

--

They’re at the harbor at midday, just in time to see a ship flying a red and gold sigil heading in that direction. Brienne glances at her father – he looks… not worried, not quite so, but he’s obviously ready to be courteous and as deferential as it gets with the head of such a House, and she still would like to know what is Tywin Lannister doing on Tarth. Or traveling around the Seven Kingdoms. Of course, if Rhaegar is king then he wouldn’t be his Hand anymore, she thinks Jon – or better, his young self – will have that position as long as he lives at this point, but then – why?

She breathes in, bracing herself for whatever’s going to happen – she doubts that Tywin Lannister would even look at her twice, and she doubts she would appreciate her looking down on him in the first place.

Then the ship docks.

And the moment she sees who is coming up in front of anyone else in the crew, ready to dismount first, she wants to faint.

It’s not Tywin Lannister. It’s not even Tyrion.

It’s –

It’s Jaime, but –

When they met for the first time, he had both hands but certainly hadn’t been in his best shape, not after a year in a dungeon. After, it’s not like he ever looked any less beautiful to her, but it was obvious that he resented losing that hand however much it might have lessened through the years, and most of all, she always had seen him dressed in either Kingsguard white or gray, at whichever age they ended up meeting.

Now –

She remembers that time when she was in the Riverlands and recalled their bath in Harrenhaal, when she had thought that he looked half a corpse and half a god.

There’s no half corpse here. Not when he’s the same age he was when he died the first time around but is standing up straight, there’s no gray in his hair (yet), has both hands and is wearing an outfit that’s mostly Lannister red, including a leather jacket that only compliments him more than any white cloak ever could. He’s wearing his hair shorter than he had in the Kingsguard but longer than he had during the Long Night, enough that it touches his neck and it curls slightly at the base, with a short, pristinely kept beard, and the moment she sees Oathkeeper’s hilt at his hip, she decides that if she doesn’t faint before this meeting is over, she’ll be the first one to be surprised.

So –

So, it was Jaime all along?

“Lord Selwyn,” he says as he descends from the ship with a motion that’s entirely too graceful for his own good. “Thank you for coming up here with such short notice. We had better winds than we had figured.”

“My lord,” her father replies, bowing his head. “No need to thank me for doing my duty as a host, at least. I trust your journey was without hassle?”

“Oh, definitely,” Jaime says. “I couldn’t have had it better. And I trust that this is your daughter?”

He turns to look at her, and she looks back at him.

“She is, yes,” her father confirms.

“My lord,” she immediately curtsies. “It’s – an honor to meet you.” She hopes she hasn’t stammered as she said it, but then he moves up closer to her, grasps her wrist in between his fingers and brushes his lips against her hand in the most courteous move anyone might have pulled at that point.

“Lady Brienne,” he says, “likewise.” But then the corner of his mouth quirks up in a small, questioning grin, as if asking, for the second time?, and she can only nod back very tentatively, but his grin gets wider and then he takes a step back. “I’ve heard,” he says, “that you’re extremely proficient with swords, aren’t you?”

“I – I might be,” she replies, cautiously.

“I suppose Lord Renly spread the tale?” Her father asks, his voice neutral.

Renly –

Right. He did come here, too, and he also danced with her, but – but this time something told her that it didn’t feel right, and while she had felt finally like a real lady for the first time, she could see in his eyes that he was doing it out of politeness, not because he was interested. Now she knows why, but still, they did dance, so he probably might have told others that she was better at using a sword than at being a lady after going back to Storm’s End.

“He might have,” Jaime replies. “Well, my lord, I suppose you know from the letter I wrote you that I am here also to discuss a few political matters, but as I think you know as well that I certainly haven’t stopped putting my skills to use when it came to swordsmanship, I was wondering if the Lady Brienne would be so inclined to spar with me one of these days?”

For a moment, her father looks completely baffled, and Brienne is, too, but –

No. No, she shouldn’t be. Because –

He did say he was going to wait. And he’s shown up here seventeen years after the Rebellion, whatever it is that happened after, and he certainly has no wife with him, and –

“I would be glad to, my lord,” she says before anyone else can answer for her. “Even this afternoon, if you wish.”

“Oh, I haven’t had a good spar in months,” he grins. “I would be delighted,” he finally says before mounting on the horse they brought for him. The retinue will follow, she supposes as she mounts on hers, and of course he talks to her father as they go back to Evenfall Hall and not to her, it would seem indeed very strange if it was the contrary, but –

Her heart’s beating so fast she thinks it won’t hold. Gods. Gods, he’s here and he came back and he just casually challenged her to a swordfight and –

Does he know what she swore? Is he doing that so –

She doesn’t want to think he’s doing this just so that if he wins then he can ask for her hand, because that’s just out of anything she’s barely even dared of dreaming at various points in her life, but he might be and he’s here and he’s the Lord of Casterly Rock and now she wants to know what happened to the Kingsguard and how is his family allied with the Baratheons and a whole heap of other things that she can only ask him, but maybe they’ll have a moment together before evening comes. Gods, she hopes so.

Meanwhile, she’ll be more than glad to get out of this damned trap of a gown and wear her usual garb before she has to challenge him.

--

She’s honestly relieved when Jaime says that he’d rather just dine in the evening because he had more than enough food on the ship and he’ll be glad to meet her in the yard after he’s done discussing whatever he should with her father – she immediately goes back to her room, gets rid of that damned gown and corset without waiting for a maid to help, and she feels utterly relieved when she is in her usual breeches and shirt. Gods. Gods, she can barely believe this is happening and she needs to talk to him alone, as soon as possible, but she supposes they’ll have time to after their spar, however it goes –

And then she realizes that this time she gets to fight him at his prime and he’s going to have a much better sword than her and both hands and full strength and –

And gods but even if it’s probably not what she should be worrying about, she can’t help thinking, I can’t wait.

--

She’s in the armory an hour later – she’s picked the best sword they have at her disposal, but even after she’s taken hold of it, she keeps on glancing at that shield still hung on its wall, the one with the white tree painted on it.

Ser Duncan’s shield, not most likely but for sure, at this point.

She resolves on asking her father later because at this point she needs to know if she was right in her assumptions, and then she hears noise outside, which has to mean that Jaime’s there already. She considers it for a moment, then grabs Duncan’s shield and another one from the wall and brings them both outside.

“Would my lord care for using one?” She asks, as courteously as she can manage, and there’s half the staff of the palace and her father standing there but she can only notice Jaime coming up to her, still wearing that red leather jacket – he’s obviously washed his face and refreshed himself a bit, but nothing more than that.

“You know what,” he says, “I might.”

She hands him the one with the Tarth sigil and fixes Duncan’s on her arm. His eyes suddenly get a bit wider as he takes notice of it, but she merely gives him a small nod that no one else might perceive and then says she’s ready and moves in front of him.

“Shall we?” He asks, unsheathing Oathkeeper, and for a moment it feels weird to see anyone else using that sword, but he’s handling it like he was born to do it and she’s just glad that he finally got to use it the way he should have, if fate had been fair to him back in the day.

“Whenever you want, my lord,” she says, trying to sound as neutral as possible, and a moment later their blades are clashing together and the only thing she can think of is, so this is how he was always supposed to be, because he’s moving as surely as he did when he was seventeen but with the skill it was obvious he had back when they fought in the woods before his hand was cut off, and as she blocks the blow and counter-attacks she can’t help thinking that he might have lost nothing leaving the Kingsguard but the Kingsguard lost a lot with him leaving, and then she stops overthinking this because if she gets distracted she’ll lose in a minute.

Thing is – before, they were even. Every other time, they’ve been even.

Now – now he has Valyrian steel and both hands and just from the way he moves it’s plain obvious that there’s a reason why he was the best in her time and he’s most probably the best now. She can keep up, she does keep up, and she gives him a tough fight – maybe she has to stay on the defensive more than she’d like, but she doesn’t let him have an opening for a long time – that said, he certainly doesn’t let her advance too much. He moves with such grace that she almost wishes she was watching the both of them rather than being at the opposite end of this fight, but – never mind it. He’s –

Everything he was supposed to be, maybe, she thinks as she dodges another blow and as her blade clashes against Oathkeeper’s so hard that a few sparks fly.

“I hadn’t had such a good fight in a long time,” he suddenly says as she brings up Duncan’s shield to block his attempt at disarming her.

“Glad to provide it, my lord,” she shouts back, and gods she can’t help grinning at it because it’s also the best she has ever had even if she knows she’s not going to win it – at most she can hope for a tie, if she’s lucky – and any trick she tries to pull on him, even the ones he taught her, doesn’t work, but a few times she catches him smirking and oh, maybe he actually knows that she knows.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that she thinks she needed it, because she hasn’t felt this right since she woke up this morning, and as that specific notion flies through her head, she sees him trying to take advantage of a weak spot she just uncovered on her left side, and she spins so that she can block it, but he had put a lot of strength in it, and she’s matching the blow with equal strength, and for a moment she can feel her muscles straining –

And then the steel of her own sword cracks against Oathkeeper’s, enough that it’s barely usable anymore, and at that she realizes that unless she finds a way to disarm him with Ducan’s old shield that has also seen better days, this time she lost.

Not that she particularly minds.

She lets the hilt of her ruined sword fall and raises up her hands. “I yield,” she says, “I don’t really think I have much of a choice.”

He looks almost sheepish as he relaxes his position and looks down at the cracked steel lying on the ground. “In my defense, I hadn’t known that would happen. That said, too bad, you were giving me an excellent fight, my lady.”

“Likewise, my lord,” she answers. “Anytime you want a rematch, as long as you’re here, I’m available.”

“Thank you,” he says. “And I was wondering, how is it that you ended up with a shield that closely resembles the one that Ser Duncan the Tall left in King’s Landing?”

She feigns surprise and turns to her father, who is not feigning surprise but rather looking like he just figured something out.

“That – that’s a family heirloom, actually. It’s been here since before Ser Duncan died, I think, and admittedly my wife’s grandmother was not a noblewoman as far as we know – she could have been Duncan’s daughter, yes. But I never quite thought – never mind.” Brienne can hear, I never quite realized who was the ancestor my only living daughter took after, but she’ll forgive him – she hadn’t had a clue until she went back in time.

“Well, seems like your daughter inherited his skill, at least.” He pauses, and then – “Actually, my lord, would you mind if I had a word with Lady Brienne on my own? Just to discuss that fight, of course.”

Brienne almost laughs at seeing how her father gets red in the face and immediately raises his hands in agreement – she has a feeling it was the last thing he expected, and given that she knows that he did try to find her a good match in two timelines, she can barely imagine how he’s feeling right now.

“But of course. Uh –”

“Father, maybe Lord Jaime could come back with me to the armory? I need to put his shield and mine back in their places.”

“If he agrees with it –”

“That will absolutely do,” Jaime replies, grinning and exuding charm from every word, and gods, has he ever look that sure of himself without bragging when they knew each other the first time around? Maybe, but – not quite so, especially because after they left Stoneheart’s thieves and went on to look for Sansa and then fought the White Walkers he always sounded somehow self-depreciating whenever he bragged about anything.

Anyway, she heads for the armory, and he follows, and the moment he’s walked inside, she closes the door just in case, putting both shields against it –

And then she turns just to find herself face to face with him.

He’s grinning like this is the best day of his life and she doesn’t know how she looks like, but she knows she’s tentatively smiling back, and –

“Brienne?” He asks. “Please tell me I didn’t get here too early or –”

“Jaime, you got here exactly in time,” she replies, and a moment later his hands are at the sides of her face and he’s hauling her in and the moment their mouths meet she feels so relieved she could burst, and maybe she’s a bit too enthusiastic because he has to take a step back because of how fast she had thrown herself against him, but before they can crash to the ground she’s taken a hold of herself and she’s grasping at his shoulders as her tongue meets his, and she’s completely breathless when they move apart, and he’s laughing against her mouth and she doesn’t think she’s ever heard a loveliest sound in her entire life.

“Well, let me tell you, if this is how you start paying me back for the last seventeen years, you’re starting exceedingly well.”

He’s laughing as he says it, but then she realizes what he’s just implied and –

“Good gods,” she whispers, “you – you actually did wait that long?”

“Who do you take me for? I keep my promises. Thing is, the anniversary of Aerys’s death is tomorrow so I was worried that you might not have remembered yet or whatever, but –”

“Jaime, I remember everything, don’t – there was no need for worrying. But – really?”

Really,” he smiles, “and I think it was an excellent choice given the welcome I just got.”

She shakes her head. “I – I should hope you actually, uh, didn’t…”

“If you mean to ask whether I have been with anyone else while I was waiting, no, I haven’t, and I hope you know that I will have to make up for it, but if I could do that for – for my sister, sure as the seven hells I could do it for you.”

He sounds so impossibly fond, she thinks she wants to faint. “About that, uh, listen, whatever happened when I woke up – I remember everything from my life before and – never mind. It’s too complicated to explain when everyone’s waiting for us outside, but it seems like if I knew anything about Westeros’s current situation I forgot it, so – could you please tell me what in the Seven Hells went down and why you’re not in the Kingsguard and what did my father mean when he said your family and the Baratheons were allied? And possibly what was of Ned Stark and Lord Jon, if it’s not too much.”

He shakes his head, moving his hand behind her head, his fingers tangling in her hair.

“It’s not, I think. Well, I suppose I’ll start from what happened after you left. It seemed like I was the one left in charge and given that there was nothing honorable in the sack and I knew that the first time around Elia and Rhaenys dying were on my father, I might have taken the liberty to stop the entire thing and arrest him.”

“You did what?”

“I actually saved his life while doing it, because when Rhaegar and Robert Baratheon showed up a while later, I had the entire situation under control, I dealt with all of my father’s men who committed crimes while storming the city including Gregor Clegane and as you said, both Varys and the younger Jon Connington were ready to defend me, but – since Rhaegar was going to be king at that point, I thought it wiser to leave my position. I don’t know if I’d have been any good at it anymore and – honestly, when I walked back into my room the first time I felt sick and knowing you weren’t on the other side didn’t help. And since my father was already jailed and we broke a deal… well, he’s currently on house arrest at my aunt’s as long as he lives, and I took his place. Obviously.” He shakes his head, then takes a breath. “At that point… well, when I went home, Cersei had ideas about reprising our relationship. I might have told her to forget it.”

“Jaime –”

“I take my vows seriously, my lady, and honestly, the moment we saw each other again – less said about it, the better. At that point I held my ground and told her that I was willing to let her choose whichever husband she liked or to stay unwed if she so wished, but we were over. It lasted a while, but eventually she did relent. And I guess that at this point I need to inform you of what Ned Stark was doing.”

“What does Stark have to do with this?”

“He has. So, he wasn’t in King’s Landing because he had gone to get his sister at the Tower of Joy. Good thing your Jon Connington sent a maester there because it’s not sure she would have survived delivering that baby otherwise, but she did. With Stark present. When they came back they had named that baby and Rhaegar was very surprised that it was Jon and not whatever Targaryen name he had in mind. I can only imagine why,” Jaime snorts. “Anyway, the point is, your Jon Connington had managed to negotiate a deal that his younger self carried on, and the deal was that Lyanna Stark would have to choose what she wanted to do herself. As in, stay with Rhaegar as his second wife since they did marry, and Elia seemed fine with that as far as Lyanna was concerned, not as her husband was, or honor that betrothal with Robert.”

“Let me guess, she chose neither?”

“I might have been present when she told the both of them that – well, she was nicer about it, admittedly, but the gist of it was that she never wanted to marry Robert in the first place and Rhaegar had done her dirt wrong and she hadn’t appreciated being left in that damned tower on her own, never mind that she felt horrible about what their infatuation caused the realm, so – she said she was done with marriage talk, that she was going back to Winterfell with her baby and that when the time came she would have sent him to King’s Landing because she knew he had to play a part in the Long Night, or she would have welcomed Rhaegar and the other children in Winterfell, but she wanted no part of it.”

Brienne almost wants to laugh – that sounds… that sounds perfectly plausible, given what little she knows about the lady in question.

“So, Robert found himself without a wife and Rhaegar realized it wasn’t really a good idea to press the issue, unless he wanted the whole of Dorne to take up arms just when one rebellion ended without too much bloodshed. He contented himself knowing that his precious heads of the dragon were all in the world, and Robert went on to look for a wife.”

“… Are you telling me that –”

“We had a few suitors over in Casterly. My sister obviously despised all of them. Then he also showed up, and – they actually did… somewhat like each other. I’m still not sure of how much or of the specifics, I certainly never asked her and I never will, and she barely talks to me these days for that matter, but they’ve been married for fifteen years, they’re apparently not that bad of a match, they have three children one of which is a spoiled brat while the other two are quite lovely kids and I’m told that they argue a lot but make up for it in different ways, so who am I to question it.”

“…That – didn’t go over so well where I came from,” she says. And those children were yours, most likely.

“I was surprised myself, but at that point she had realized I wasn’t going to go back on my word and he was… over Lyanna Stark, I suppose. As far as Ned Stark is concerned, he went back North with his sister and his Tully wife gave him five children who get along splendidly with their cousin. Which I know because I’ve spent a year up there and I just recently came back.”

A year?”

“Well, you did say the Long Night was going to come, but this time it was indeed – not what you said a while ago.”

“You mean that –”

“Rhaegar was kind of wrong about that prophecy because – well, making a long story short, at some point just before letters from the Wall about the White Walkers started arriving all over the Seven Kingdoms, someone gifted him three dragon eggs from Essos. He thought he should make them hatch, but – I don’t know how it went but his sister did it.”

“Daenerys?”

“Exactly. Why, did she –”

“She did that in my time, too. So she was one of the heads of the dragon instead of…?”

“Aegon, actually. The poor kid apparently couldn’t even get close to those beasts. Anyway, they sent for Jon – I mean, Jon Stark, not the other one – and turns out that the heads were him, his aunt and Rhaenys. They called the banners and all went north and I also tagged along because everyone knew I had Valyrian steel and Rhaegar knew that it could kill those – those things, and if he hadn’t I’d have volunteered anyway. Anyway, he knew what to do, he knew where to strike, those dragons did obey their owners and the entire thing was done and over in a month.”

“A month.”

“Well, you did go back in time to fix things, didn’t you?”

She thinks about how long they fought those damned living dead and shudders. “Never mind. I did. So what, people are singing about your deeds?”

He laughs. “Well, I guess some did. I mean, I did kill my share of wights at that point. Anyway, just after I did, and after everyone settled back in their lives – except with dragons flying around King’s Landing and one in the North, because the poor thing wouldn’t leave Winterfell at any cost – I figured that it was time to make good on that promise I made you.”

“So what, you were traveling all around the Stormlands to have an excuse to get here without anyone getting suspicious?”

“Well, I made sure a few trusted people spread around a rumor that I was doing it to look for a wife. Which meant that every single daughter of any lord I visited was trying to convince me that she was the right person for the position, but never mind that.”

“Gods, you actually did go through that effort with the swordfight on purpose?”

“I did want to fight you again, but I also knew you did say you’d only marry someone who could beat you. Also, now people would understand why I might be interested – as much as I’d like to just walk up to your father and asking for your hand, he would think me mad if I did it without even meeting you.”

“That’s – that’s fair,” she laughs, her hand going to his face. “Does that mean you’ll spend the next week or so finding chances to talk to me and such other things?”

“That’s absolutely what I’m planning on doing. And I guess we should probably leave now lest people start wondering what we’ve been talking about, but I’m not leaving this island until your father agrees to it.”

“Jaime, he’s been hoping for me to find a good match since – since I can remember, I’m sure it won’t take much convincing. But – gods, you do know that you look – amazing, for lack of better words?”

“More than usual?” He winks, and she has to laugh again because she’s never seen him so – carefree, maybe? – and it’s making her heart beat twice as fast.

“Don’t take me too seriously,” she says as she opens the door and leaves the armory, and as he follows her out, she thinks that it was entirely worth it to go through all that effort just to see him like this.

It really was.

--

Thing is, she had expected Jaime to talk with her father soon enough, but instead he takes it… not slow, but he takes his time indeed. He asks her to spar every other day if he doesn’t have pressing matters, he prolongs his stay because he really likes the island and his father of course doesn’t refuse him (and even if he wanted to he couldn’t), he talks to her regularly even to just exchange amenities so that other people see them talking to each other, and a few times she finds small pieces of paper slipped under her room’s door with a place and a time – usually the armory, usually after supper – where she finds him waiting for her, and while they don’t do anything past kissing savagely and Jaime telling her what else went down since she disappeared and Aerys died while she tells him more about the world she came from that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s – it’s somewhat exciting. Lovers would meet clandestinely in most songs and novels after all, and she doesn’t ever ask him if he’s really sure about this because it’s obvious from the way he looks at her, and a few times those notes come with dried flowers inside it and she feels ridiculous at how much she finds it touching that he’s… pretty much courting her even if he knows he doesn’t have to.

He doesn’t touch the marriage subject with her father until it’s been almost a moon and they have fought every day, more or less, and half of the serving staff is talking and gossiping about Lord Lannister possibly liking her, and Brienne is just very happy to notice that Septa Roelle – who has obviously moved on to other duties – seems completely baffled at the turn of events.

When Jaime does break the subject with her father, it’s in a private conversation in his solar she isn’t a part of, and she only knows of it because Jeyne comes down to get her and asks her to come up because her father wants to talk to her.

When she walks inside the room, Jaime is looking fairly calm about it but she can see that he hasn’t approached the matter as he was sure her father would agree and Selwyn himself is – well, he doesn’t look angry, merely surprised, but he clears his throat as she walks in and closes the door.

“Brienne,” he asks, “you do know that Lord Jaime has just asked me if I’d consider agreeing to giving your hand to him in marriage, or don’t you?”

She plays it safe. “He mentioned he might ask you,” she replies.

“He mentioned it. Fair enough. And what was your opinion on it?”

She smiles slightly, knowing that she might be blushing given how much her cheeks feel like they’ve just gone on fire. “He said he might ask you if I agreed,” she says. “So – I did, or he wouldn’t be here. Also, he did beat me in a swordfight, didn’t he?”

Selwyn nods, looking at her and then at him, and then he focuses on Jaime.

“My lord,” he says, “if we were discussing this in mere political terms, I would be a complete fool if I told you no, since we both know that only a fool would say no to an alliance with your House, never mind with the head of your House. Honestly, my only objections would have been – I imagine that if you and my daughter have talked as much as people around here say you do, you would know how her previous betrothals have gone.”

“She might have informed me, yes.”

“Well, it’s obvious that you mean it and it’s obvious that she likes you, so as much as I had not expected it, I would only be too happy to agree to this marriage. If you’re sure, of course.”

“My lord,” Jaime says, “I think you aren’t saying that I would be… somehow marrying beneath my name if I went through with it because you’re too polite to, which is a concern I can understand given that you only have known my father personally. Fact is, I am not my lord father. Actually, you do know who my brother is currently married to, right?”

“Yes,” Selwyn agrees. “Admittedly, it came as unexpected news that he had married a crofter’s daughter.”

“Well, they did like each other and she definitely doesn’t care for the family name nor for Lannister gold, and why would I be against it if it’s what makes him happy? And as far as I am concerned, I don’t need more alliances than I have already, I don’t really care for marrying someone I wouldn’t like and I think she and I will get along splendidly. So maybe I’m marrying beneath my name, but I couldn’t care less. Does that satisfy your lingering doubts?”

Brienne doesn’t know if she’s ever seen her father smiling this brightly at anyone he wasn’t related to.

“My lord, you just might have,” he says.

Brienne almost wants to break down crying in relief, but she doesn’t do it until she’s back in her room.

--

They stay for another couple of weeks – Jaime sends ravens to Casterly and a few other places, she packs whatever she wants to bring and doesn’t even try to not gloat every time she crosses paths with her old septa, they arrange for her father to leave with them because Jaime doesn’t want to wait months and says he doesn’t care for inviting half the realm other than the people they have to.

Brienne doesn’t know how it will feel to actually be face to face with Cersei, but she figures she will cross that bridge when she gets to it. They agree on inviting the Starks – Brienne feels like Bran should be there whether he remembers or not but she figures that if they don’t bring him along it would still be appropriate to invite them – and when they sail, she decides that leaving Tarth now feels a lot better than it did when she did it for Renly.

She’s entirely not surprised when for the entirety of the trip Jaime sneaks into her room every other night and sneaks out before dawn – they still don’t do anything past kissing, and in between the two of them and how many years she’s actually lived they’re maybe too old for sneaking around like kids, but – it’s nice, and she had missed sharing his bed, and he evidently missed that, too, and so she never tells him not to.

--

“So,” she asks Jaime as they ride up to Casterly Rock, and she has to admit that it’s indeed impressive, “your brother actually married… Tysha, that was the name?”

“He did it also –”

“When I come from, yes, but your father sabotaged it. But never mind, you don’t want to know.” You really don’t, given how guilty you felt about it all along.

“I don’t think so, either,” he agrees. “For that matter, she’s a lovely girl and she’s been great for him and the entire staff, you’ll probably like her. I don’t think they’ll be here until tonight though, he’s going around Lannisport getting things ready for the wedding and she’s going with him, as far as I gathered from his ravens.” She nods and they ride silently until they’re at the gates.

Then –

“By the way,” he says as he dismounts and they walk inside the castle’s yard, and if the soldiers at the gate are looking at her queerly she can’t give a damn, “there’s someone here who’d like to talk to you who’s not my brother. You go ahead, I’ll wait for your father and the rest of the luggage.”

Someone who wants to talk to me?”

“Just go ahead.”

“… Fine,” she agrees, and walks inside the castle’s inner gate after crossing the yard – no one is there, thankfully, and, apparently, Jaime cares not for people welcoming him with a lot of effort whenever he comes back from anyplace.

As she takes notice of her surroundings, she only notices servants going one way or the other, but then –

“I see he brought you back after all.”

Brienne freezes and turns to her right side, looking down and finding herself face to face with –

Jon?” She asks, her voice suddenly faltering.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

It has, she thinks, but it’s definitely him – his hair is a more faded shade of red and it has more gray than it did back in the day, he still lacks an arm, he’s wearing a dark red outfit with some gold here and there and he looks definitely happy to see her, if anything.

“It has,” she whispers. “But – how are you here?”

“I think this requires an explanation. Do follow me.”

She does, and he brings her into a quiet room full of what looks like accounting books. He locks the door.

“I assume,” he says, “that you thought I would be in King’s Landing, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she replies. “I mean, Bran did – talk to me. He said you chose to stay, so I figured Rhaegar recognized you and you wanted to stay for that. I – guess I was wrong?”

He shrugs, looking wistfully out of the window. “Pretty much,” he says. “I mean – my plan originally implied giving Lyanna Stark back to her brother, Rhaegar didn’t agree and Robert didn’t agree, either, and they were going to fight each other to death to settle the matter. I ran into Ned Stark, he agreed to help Robert convince him on that middle ground of letting his sister decide what she wanted, and – throughout the entire thing, I talked to him twice and he didn’t recognize me, sad to say.”

“I’m sorry,” Brienne immediately says. She feels horrible for him, honestly – she knows how he felt about Rhaegar, and she had hoped he had finally found his place beside him, but –

“Don’t look that devastated,” he says, and – he doesn’t sound too broken up about it. Then again, it’s been almost twenty years, but – “First of all, you were half right anyway. Who do you think is the current Hand of the King?”

“… Younger you?”

“Exactly. He got what I wanted back in the day, so I suppose one of us won out, and – if Rhaegar was better to him than to me, no point in getting myself too broken up about it. I lived for him for – a very long time, it was probably time I did something for myself. Also – well, I might have moved on.”

“Moved on – wait a moment,” she asks, wondering if it means what she thinks it means, but he’s smiling very sweetly as he says it. “Oh. Oh. Congratulations. Someone I know or –”

“You do,” he replies. “Unless he never brought you the ravens I sent, but he says he did.”

“The ravens – oh.” The pretty young man from the inn, she remembers. “No, he did give me both, if you mean that northern man who met me in the inn. So – he’s here, too? And what’s the name? I think he told me but I can't recall right now.”

“Eddard, and believe me it was the cause of entirely too many jokes before your future husband got tired of it. That said, it kind of ties in with how I’m here in the first place. I went back to King’s Landing after Stoney Sept, and I ran into that someone you know and – things happened. So we figured we’d go somewhere together but no one had clear ideas, then your man quit the Kingsguard and left the city, but before then he did a last check around the city to make sure it was as safe as it could be and we ran into each other at the inn. Where he immediately recognized me because you told him, didn’t he?”

“I might have,” she says. “But I imagine Jaime shared the entire story, didn’t he?”

“He did,” Jon agrees. “So, he hears me out and asks me if I have any plans, I tell him no. He asks me if I know anything about handling a castle’s finances and so on, and I tell him that of course I do, I was my father’s only heir. He says that since he had been set on being a knight all along and he never was too great at actually reading and his teachers hadn’t exactly cared to hear him out he has no idea of how you handle being that kind of lord and asks me if I’d be willing to go with him and help him out. I said yes and warned me I might have someone with me without such a skillset, he shrugged and said that Casterly Rock was huge enough that we could definitely work something out. So, we went with. It was a fairly good life decision, let me tell you.”

“So you do his accounting now?”

“No, he does it, but I had to teach him from scratch. Along with his brother. He did learn, though. Anyway, if you were doubting whether he waited for you that long, he actually did.”

“I knew he would,” Brienne replies. “He did it for his sister back in the day, I was sure he would if he wanted. I just was hoping he wouldn’t do it for nothing in case things didn’t work out, but –”

Jon shakes his head and moves closer. “Brienne, he counted the damned days.”

What?”

“He did. There’s a book somewhere – we helped do the math to figure out how long we had to wait until it was seventeen years for sure, and he kept count of it. Let me tell you, you chose a lot more wisely than I did when it came to –”

“I didn’t really,” she interrupts him. “I told you that I thought I couldn’t live if Renly Baratheon didn’t, and I actually did, so – I think I understand where you come from more than you might imagine.”

Right,” he says. “Well, then I guess we both picked better the second time.”

“For sure. By the way, if you’re doing the accounting, your –”

“Oh, he did a lot of things here and there I think including instructing Lord Tyrion on the fine ways of making a woman happy when it comes to one’s marital duties, I never dared ask, but at some point he’s ended up in the kitchen and never left. Most likely he’ll be in charge of your wedding sweets.”

“Will he?”

“He found out he has a talent for that. None of us are complaining.” He looks exceedingly glad of it as he speaks, though, and Brienne smiles back as she moves closer.

“Good. So – I suppose – it might not have been what you imagined but – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look happy in the entire time we’ve known each other.”

“I had no reasons, I guess,” he shrugs. “Now – well, I like what I’m doing, it’s nothing terrible or that implies having to fight people or watching them die, I have a nice house in Lannisport and I’m not on my own in it and I still had the chance to do right by some of Rhaegar’s offspring, so I do have reasons, don’t I?”

“Wait, what’s that about?”

“Why do you think Jon Stark has that name in this timeline? Not for Jon Arryn.”

“For – oh. Oh. Where we come from Ned Stark named him after Jon Arryn but here they named him after you because you sent that maester or because you told Stark where his sister was?”

“Both things,” he confirms. “I do visit there once in a while, and likewise. He’s – the same as he was back in our time, just nowhere as perpetually sad about things.”

Brienne nods – she’s glad of it, really. Jon Snow hardly deserved the hand he was dealt, and she could believe he was perpetually sad about things back in the day. She’s – she’s happy he’s not, now.

“That said,” Jon tells her, “I certainly wasn’t expecting to be organizing your wedding when we got sent back in time, but I suppose I can’t complain about it.”

“Please, I’m glad it’s you,” she replies, sincerely, and she means every word of it.

At that, they do move at pretty much the same time, and it’s not the kind of awkward-feeling hug they shared before he left King’s Landing – it feels a lot nicer than that, and she can’t believe they both ended up here after all, but –

She’s only too glad of it.

--

The wedding is a moon later.

The only two things she’s glad of are that Jaime has spared her most of the menial tasks she should have handled like sewing her cloak – some very eager maid is working on that, thank the gods – and that most of the guests won’t get here until maybe a couple of days before the day in question.

For the rest, she has to endure every other Lannister in existence that’s not Tyrion or the infamous Aunt Genna being openly skeptical of Jaime’s choices – Jaime mostly replies that it’s not like anyone can tell him not to and doesn’t listen to any of them, which is honestly a balm to her nerves, but she just wishes for this farce to be done as soon as possible. She ends up delegating any choices she might have about the food or the organization to Jon and his man, who is in face exceedingly good at crafting cinnamon honeycakes and who might also look older than he used to be but is still fairly handsome, if one asked for her sincere opinion, and then she ends up with her room filled with red and gold gowns courtesy of Aunt Genna and she hates how all of them fit her.

One week before the wedding, she tells Jaime that she’d rather get married in armor, and he laughs and asks her if she really wants to.

“Well,” she admits, “when I was younger I – liked to think that if it ever happened that I would marry someone I liked and who didn’t hate the idea of marrying me I wouldn’t have to wear something different, but all of these are just – I’m going to faint if I wear any of them. And they’re so –”

“Excessive?” He suggests.

“… Yes. Sorry, I don’t mean to insult your aunt, but –”

“Brienne, being excessive is the family trait. That said, I might have a solution.”

“You might?”

“Just you wait,” he tells her, and three days later a maid brings another dress that he sends, not his aunt.

Brienne tells her to leave it on the bed, and –

Oh. It’s a dress, all right, but it’s not a gown – for one, it wouldn’t need a corset. The waist is higher than usual, just under the breasts, which means she could wear it the way it is. It’s obviously tailored, but it’s also – very soft dark red cloth, without many frills except for the hems sewn in gold and a small gold bow keeping the waist tied. And it has long sleeves but not terribly tight.

“I had to pay a few seamstresses in Lannisport to have it down on time,” Jaime says walking inside the room, “but I think that would fit you better, wouldn’t it? I just hope your problem wasn’t with the color, but –”

“Jaime, I’m marrying you, as long as it’s not pink I’m fine.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Did I ever tell you about that time you saved me from a bear?”

“You did. Why?”

“Because I was wearing a horrible pink gown while it was happening. Anyway – I could try it on.”

“Do go ahead. I was assured you wouldn’t need a maid to do it.”

He leaves the room and she gets rid of her clothes and slips the dress on. It fits her perfectly – gods, it almost looks like she has more of a bosom like this. She doesn’t think she’s ever worn a womanly dress that fit her so nicely.

Jaime walks back inside the room a moment later.

He whistles.

“I really hope you might want to wear it,” he says.

“… It would be a pity if it was only for the wedding though, wouldn’t it?”

He looks positively radiant at her reaction, and she doesn’t even think as her hands slips downwards and grabs his.

“I concur. You can wear it whenever you like,” he agrees. “And by the way, no traditional bedding. If anyone ruined it now that would be a pity, wouldn’t it?”

She shudders at the thought of it – yes, she can absolutely avoid a proper bedding.

“I’d say it would be,” she replies, and she doesn’t take it off for a while yet.

--

Guests start trickling in three days before the wedding. Most of the Westerlands lords are here, of course, and a few from the Stormlands. Stannis Baratheon arrives before both of his brothers, and Brienne is somewhat surprised to find out that in this timeline he’s wed to Dacey Mormont out of everyone – she needs to ask Jaime about that, but he certainly looks happier than he did when she met him at the Wall after both his wife and only daughter died and he had words to spare just for the latter. His daughter has greyscale here, too, she notices, but she doesn’t look as sad or sullen as Brienne was told she used to and her parents obviously love her, so – good for him, too, Brienne decides. Renly arrives along with the Tyrells in attendance because he left from Highgarten, of course, and she’s really glad that the first thing she feels as she sees him and Loras Tyrell riding in side by side with Margaery trailing just behind is not jealousy or anything of the sort but – she’s just glad he’s happy if anything because he always was good to her, but that’s it.

The Starks arrive at the same time as Robert and Cersei, more or less, and Brienne doesn’t want to know if they arrived late on purpose or not. What she’s more interested in is noticing who came with Ned Stark – his wife, of course, then Jon Snow – no, he’s not Snow here, who is definitely in great relations with his namesake and looks definitely happier now than he ever did back in the day. Then there’s Sansa, and Brienne can imagine why she wouldn’t want to miss what’s most likely going to be a very talked about wedding, and – and then they brought Bran, who one might not think an obvious choice and who is perfectly courteous as he introduces himself to her.

He walks in this world, she can’t help noticing, but of course he would, because nothing that brought him to his fall has transpired now, has it?

Cersei is obviously pretending to be as polite as she can get away with while side-eyeing her, but she doesn’t look like she cares overtly much, and Robert is quick to finish introductions because then he ends up finding Ned Stark and mostly sticking to his side, when he and his wife aren’t agreeing over the wine’s quality throughout the entire dinner the evening before the wedding day.

“I don’t understand,” Brienne whispers as she leans closer to Jaime, “if she wants to murder me or not.”

“Maybe,” Jaime agrees, “but I think it’s been long enough and she’s over it. I hope so, anyway.”

He sounds like he’s not interested in pursuing that conversation any further, and so she doesn’t press.

She just hopes he’s right.

--

That evening, she slips out of her room and walks into the yard – there’s no godswood here, but it’s also very empty, and she needs to breathe some fresh air. Gods. They’re getting married tomorrow, and she has no idea of how she got here at all, but it seems like she did, and maybe it’s high time she gets to enjoy her life instead of suffering through every turn of it.

Maybe it is –

“Lady Brienne?”

She’s not surprised to find Bran Stark climbing down the wall next to her – his room is on the first floor and has a view on the yard, now that she thinks about it.

“Has your mother ever told you how dangerous that is?”

He shrugs, smiling sheepishly, but then he looks up at her and his eyes suddenly look way older than they should be.

Oh.

“I asked to come,” he says. “I remember everything.”

Oh.

“I – I don’t know if I would have wished it on you or not,” she says quietly.

“It’s all right,” he says, “it didn’t happen here, after all. And it was probably better that I knew. Don’t worry, I pay a lot of attention when I climb.”

She laughs in relief. “Well, good to know you don’t regret it. It’s just, you said you hoped you wouldn’t.”

“Well, I hadn’t – I regretted about everything. But not sending you both back. I just wanted to wish you all the best, my lady, and him, too. He paid in spades for his wrongdoings, I think, and he’s earned it this time around.”

“Thank you,” she tells him, sincerely. “And – if I can – I just wanted to say, you were too young for having such a job thrust upon you. I’m glad you don’t have to have it now.”

“Believe me, no one is happier about it than I am. Have a good life, Lady Brienne, you both earned it.”

Before she can say anything in reply, he climbs back up to his opened window.

She goes to bed feeling lighter than before, and now that she was pretty much confirmed that it’s done and over and she can just worry about what comes next, she feels – a lot less nervous about tomorrow, and the day after.

--

The next day, she wears the dress along with a pair of red flats that the maids conveniently bring up. She lets them style her hair as much as it can be, again, but she’s glad they settle on the least intricate braid they could come up with. By the time they’re done she looks – she doesn’t know how she looks but she knows that she’s never looked this good in female garb. Hells, she didn’t know she could look good in female garb in the first place.

She laces her blue and pink cloak and takes a last good look at herself in the mirror, then walks out of the door and finds herself face to face with her father.

“Gods,” he says, “now I’m sad Septa Roelle never thought of finding you that kind of gown.”

“I’m glad she hasn’t,” she replies. “If she did, I might have had to marry someone else, right?”

She knows she sounds ridiculous, but then her father takes her arm saying that she has a point and he hopes Lannister will make her happy, but he as a feeling he might.

They walk down to the sept and she absolutely does not even glance at the people in attendance – she just stares ahead where Jaime’s waiting for her dressed in red and gold, too, looking even more handsome than usual if that’s even possible, with Tyrion behind him holding the cloak, and she doesn’t know how she doesn’t faint on the spot because this kind of grand marriage had never been in her plans, but she doesn’t – honestly, fuck that, she killed a king and traveled back in time and had to bury Jaime once already and to forsake her vows more than once, she won’t be stopped by something that she’s actually wanted.

“That looks great on you,” Jaime whispers as they turn towards the septon. “Do wear it more often.”

The septon clears his throat loudly enough that they get the message, but she doesn’t really take notice of what he says until it’s time to exchange cloaks and say the vows. Jaime makes quick work of getting rid of her cloak and draping the red and gold Lannister one around her shoulders, and she doesn’t know which one of them says with this kiss I pledge my love more promptly, but the moment the septon finally says they can kiss (as if they never have before) they move at the same time and she kisses him for real, and he kisses back with enough enthusiasm that a few people from the audience cough, and then some clap and others don’t, but she can’t give a damn, not when she’s feeling so happy she could burst with it and he’s looking at her like he finally has everything he’s ever wanted right in front of him.

As they leave, she dares glancing at the first row. Cersei looks like she just swallowed a lemon, Sansa is openly crying in the second, Jon is in the third smiling knowingly at her and she nods back at him before Jaime drags her outside saying that they should just get started with the feast already.

She doesn’t say, for me it’s already started since you showed up on Tarth – she can tell him later.

--

“So,” Jaime asks as he finally shuts the door of his (their?) bedroom behind him, “am I wrong or your favorite wedding present was absolutely Stannis’s set of plates and glasses for everyday dining?”

“Your brother’s books were also very appreciated, but – maybe.” She admits, “That said, the dining set is useful. Definitely more than your cousin’s Essosi sewing tools and threads. I mean, does he really think that I might spend any amount of time sewing?”

“Fine, fine, point taken. Well, you don’t have to use them, do you?”

“Please, I was never good at that.”

“It’s not your most prized skill,” he agrees. “And by the way, before anything else… you didn’t get my wedding gift.”

“… I didn’t think you needed to give me wedding gifts.”

He shakes his head – he does look entirely too amused for his own good.

“Just close your eyes.”

“For real?”

“Please, humor me.”

She huffs and does as she sits down on the bed, and she hears him opening and shutting the closet – what? She doubts it’s a dress, but – maybe armor?

She doesn’t open her eyes, though, not until she feels a familiar shape being placed in her hands and a weight she knows even too well, and –

Brienne’s eyes slam open at once and she looks down at Oathkeeper – he’s holding only the hilt, but the moment her fingers wrap around the sheath, he lets it go.

“Jaime –”

Brienne. I don’t know if – if when I gave it to you in your time I was intending it as a loan or if it was just what you thought, but if I know myself, it most probably wasn’t one, especially if I couldn’t use it. But never mind that. What I know is that as far as I’m concerned this was yours when you showed up in my life and it was yours when you left it, and while I certainly couldn’t have asked for a better sword in these last years – it never felt mine. It’s yours. It will always be yours. And you should have it back. Now, there aren’t many wights around left to kill, sadly, but I’m sure that you will find some way to put it to use.”

She thinks she’s crying. Her vision is definitely blurred. “Jaime, I don’t know if I can do anything worthier with it than what I already have, but –” She reaches up, wipes at her eyes and yes, her hand comes away wet with salt and she doesn’t even know what she should say, so she reaches out, takes his hand and puts it back on the hilt. “Maybe we should just share rather than arguing about whom it belongs?”

“I do like that prospect,” he smiles, “and speaking of swords of other kinds –”

“… That was terrible,” she laughs, and puts the sword away carefully against the wall before standing up and moving close to him. “But do go ahead.”

“I merely meant to say that I took my vows seriously and I haven’t touched a woman since you ran off the throne room in King’s Landing, so I should hope you have appreciated it.”

She shakes her head, her hands going to his hips. “You mean, you want me to show you exactly how much?”

Well, for real, we don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to –”

“Jaime, I think there’s something you might have missed in the whole part where I told you we were lovers.”

“Do explain.”

“It was the end of the world and I was entirely done caring about dishonor and the likes. In this world, we might have done nothing. In mine, we have laid together enough that I might have lost count, at some point.”

She can pinpoint at once the moment he understands what she means.

“Are you implying that –”

“That not only I absolutely would like to show you how much I appreciated your effort, but – I know what you like, for that matter, unless your tastes have changed.”

“… I would be entirely fine with finding out, then,” he says, his voice suddenly dropping lower.

“Gladly,” she breathes against his mouth before kissing him and turning the both of them so that he’s with his knees pressing against the mattress, and she kisses him long and hard before gently pushing him backwards – he ends up with his back on the bed, his hands grasping her dress at the hips, and – right. Maybe it’s high time she takes it off, she decides, and so she does in a swift motion before she leaves it on the nearest chair and moves back to the bed; while she was doing that, he has moved so that he’s lying against the pillows, but he made no motion to imply that he’d like that position reversed. He’s also taken off his boots, good, and who cares if she’s naked and he still has most of his clothes on – he won’t very soon.

“So,” she says, her hands unbuttoning his jacket and shirt, “there were a lot of things you used to like, but feel free to correct me at any point.”

“The only thing I have a problem with right now is that I’m wearing clothes,” he huffs.

“Well, you did seem to like it if I was the one taking them off,” she quips back as she slips both jacket and shirt from his shoulders, revealing his bare chest underneath.

“Not complaining,” he breathes, and she can see that his face is flushing slightly. Good.

“You also,” Brienne says, “really liked this.” She reaches out, grabs his wrists and pins them against the pillows, and the fact that he has both hands now feels strange for a moment but then she looks down at him and she can see that his lips have parted and his pupils look larger and the green around them is glinting in ways that are making her stomach turn on itself again.

Absolutely not complaining,” he whispers. “If you don’t mind –”

She leans down, kisses him again to shut him up and then she figures she does owe him the truth.

“Do you know how we figured that out? Or better, do you want to know?”

“I might become jealous of myself here, but do go ahead.”

 

She laughs. “Don’t worry, it’s always you,” she tells him, and patience if she’s not even trying to hide how glad she is of it. “Well, we used to do it – properly, I suppose. Then you started saying we should switch because without a hand being on top might be a problem, and suddenly it was way better, and then you said it was a half-excuse because you didn’t want to outright ask me. I think,” she goes on, “that it’s a waste of time to go through the same charade now if there’s no need?”

“That – that sounds very sensible,” he admits, shivering as her mouth brushes against his cheek. “So, I assume you have a plan?”

“My plan is that given that you definitely deserve to find out how much I appreciated your sacrifice, you could grab the headboard so I can have my hands back for a moment and you just lie back and I do all the work, what do you say?”

“I think I can do that,” he says, looking like he can’t wait for it, and he reaches back and grabs the headboard the moment she lets his hands go and –

Right. Right. It’s been a long time, technically and not, but Brienne hasn’t forgotten anything, especially not what he used to like, not when she committed to memory every single time she got him to scream her name, because after finding out that what happened when sharing a bed with a man was not the chore her septa always sold it as and that they could both find pleasure in it she was set on remembering it, and she knows what to do.

She takes it slow. She leans down, her hands curling around his shoulders and squeezing as she kisses him full on the mouth first and then as her mouth trails lower, along his chin and neck – she bites lightly at the hollow of it and from the noise he makes, he definitely likes this now as much as he did back in the day.

Good, she thinks, and kisses her way down his chest, taking her time to run her tongue over most faint and not scars he still has on his skin – some are different than what she remembers but she can’t care less, honest, and by the time she’s done with lavishing attention at them she can feel that he’s way beyond bothered, and since right now she’s not interested in making him suffer, given how long he’s actually waited for her, she doesn’t tease. She unlaces his breeches, moving them out of the way along with his smallclothes, and she considers her options for a moment before deciding that they have the entire night and a lot of time to make up for so it’s not as if she’s in a hurry to do everything at once.

“Don’t hold back,” she says, and before he can ask for explanations she leans down – it’s not the ideal position but it’s too much hassle to change now and she’s sure they’ll have time to do this with more finesse – and she takes him in her mouth, feeling moderately thankful that he’s not full hard yet or it’d have been a lot harder and she’s somewhat out of practice, and she’d smile as he moans her name while she runs her tongue along the head before sucking on it slowly, but she has better things to think of, as in, how to make sure he keeps on doing it, and she picks up a faster pace as she feels him get harder inside her mouth, and fuck but she had felt horribly embarrassed the first time she did this and now she really is not – who cares. He’s enjoying it, vocally, and she feels blood rush downwards at the thought that she’s the cause of it, and she’s this tempted to touch herself but no, not now. She hears him say something about being close and she considers ignoring him, but then she figures that maybe –

Maybe not.

She stops and moves away, taking a moment to wipe her chin somewhat clean given that she’s sticky with pre-come everywhere, and he groans in utter displeasure as she does it.

“That’s cruel,” he moans as she moves upwards, her hair sticking to her face.

“Just you wait,” she says, her hand reaching out for his wrist – she kneels so that her knees are around his thighs and she moves his hand in between her legs without too many ceremonies. He groans again at feeling exactly how wet she is, and then before he can do anything else she wraps her fingers against his own and lines herself up with his cock, which at this point looks painfully hard, and she doesn’t know if it’s going to hurt but she can’t care less, and so she takes a breath and lowers herself down on it. It doesn’t hurt too much, actually, and she’s fairly sure that people must have heard the both of them downstairs for the noises that came out of both their mouths, but who cares.

“Gods,” he says, “you weren’t japing when you said you knew.” He’s smiling though, and he sounds breathless as he speaks, and she smiles back as she reaches out with the other hand and tangles their fingers together, and then presses both their joined hands against the pillow.

“Of course I didn’t,” she says, and then she moves and he thrusts up against her, but he does it following her motions, and she should probably consider paying full attention to what’s going on here, and then she realizes that he doesn’t have to pull out a moment before she comes now – he had to back in the day where it would have been a disaster if she should end up pregnant after the world had died, but now it’s not a problem, and so she leans down and kisses him again as she slows down the pace, because she wants this to last as much as they can manage.

“Fuck,” he blurts, “I have the feeling – I haven’t been the only one who needed to make up for lost time, have I?”

“No,” she says, “gods, no,” and she leans down again, their mouths meeting halfway, his fingers’ grip on hers getting stronger even if he’s absolutely not trying to switch their positions – he warns her again when he realizes he’s getting close but she just slows down maybe a bit more as she feels getting there, too, and she clenches around him just after he thrusts upwards with a last push, and at that point she lets his hands go so that she can take his face in between her palms and kiss him again – his own arms go around her back and they ride it out pressed close together, and even when she can feel that he’s not shaking against her anymore and that he’s completely spent, she can’t bring herself to move. She leans back a bit so that they both can catch their breath and when he opens his eyes he definitely looks like someone who thoroughly enjoyed what they just did.

Brienne reaches out and smooths a few errant strands of hair from his forehead and she feels a shiver run along her back as he presses up against her hand and when she leans back down they kiss a lot slower and a lot less frantically than before – at some point she does have to lean back a bit so he can pull out, and there’s a comfortable burn in between her legs, and she thinks she could stand going for a second round soon enough.

Though not just now.

“So,” she finally manages to say, “am I rewarding you properly?”

“More than,” he confirms, his right hand undoing what little is left of her braid. “But I should hope it was the beginning of it. Seventeen years are a long time, you know.”

“Don’t worry, as far as I’m concerned I’m not even done for tonight.”

“Now that’s something I like to hear,” he whispers against her cheek. “But I think the wait has definitely paid off for now.”

“Flatterer.”

“You know,” he tells her as she rolls over and moves on his side, figuring that maybe she should let him breathe for a while, “Rhaenys was devastated when you disappeared.”

“What, really?”

“Yes,” he confirms, “she kept on asking me if I knew where you had gone and I told her that I knew but you couldn’t come back for a while. Now – I avoided inviting any of them because it’s still a delicate enough situation and while everyone agreed that killing Aerys was justifiable, it’s just – better not to. But she does visit once in a while.”

“She does? Gods, what is she going to say when we meet?”

“Most likely that it was time you showed up, and she’ll probably want to know, but I guess at this point telling her the truth wouldn’t hurt.”

“No, I don’t think it would. We’ll tell her then, but – if I could have stayed I would have.”

“I know.” He rolls over, his forehead touching hers. “But really, I get why you couldn’t have. And I think I did all right, didn’t I?”

“More than,” Brienne tells him, not even giving it a second thought. “And let me tell you, I – it’s not been easy but I couldn’t have asked anything more than getting to be with you twice.”

“Now that’s unfair since as I am concerned it’s been just once, but all things considered I’ll trust your judgment. If anything, I get to reap the benefits now, don’t I?”

She laughs, because of course he’d say that, wouldn’t he?

“Jaime Lannister, I’m more than amenable to show you all of those benefits in the shortest possible time. I could start again shortly, actually.”

“Let a man catch his breath,” he says, “but I’m absolutely delighted with that plan. Especially if you have more ideas of that kind.”

“Well, I should be fair to you and show you all the things I know for sure that you might like.”

“Now I like that even more,” he nods.

“I’m just – I’m just sorry that I had to leave, you know. And you know, you could have been with other people in the meantime, I wouldn’t –”

“Brienne, just so that I don’t ever hear you apologize for it again, let me tell you now – it was a long time and if I could have avoided it I would have, if it meant you being there of course, but it had to happen and I’m japing about making up for lost time, but it wasn’t a hard decision, and it wasn’t hard to go through with it. I know you wouldn’t have minded, if it was what you were about to say.”

“It – it was.”

“Well, that also was one of the reasons it wasn’t hard. I knew you weren’t asking it of me in the first place, and if I had been with other people it wouldn’t have been the same thing. For that matter – when I kissed you it was also to see if I was right about the two of us having been together in your time.”

“And what did you deduce other than the fact that you were right?”

“That you weren’t kissing me expecting it to be about what I could do for you, and that was plain obvious. I’ve had enough time to think about it to come to that conclusion. And if I had been with other people, it – it wouldn’t have felt right. So no, it wasn’t hard. I knew it’d be worth it. And it was, and we do have all the time to catch up now, so – don’t go around feeling guilty about it, all right?”

“All right,” she answers, feeling like her throat is so clammed she can barely speak, and then she realizes that she might have showed it to him in every other way, but she hasn’t actually told him. “Gods, I’m – I guess it would sound kind of ridiculous now after everything and I’m sure you don’t need to be told to be sure of it, but – I love you and I just hope it was the most redundant thing I could say.”

“I think I understood that seventeen years ago,” he says, but he looks radiant at having heard it, and his grip on her waist gets tighter as he presses up to her. “But it’s never redundant to hear it. And I love you, too, or do you think I wouldn’t have found it hard to wait? I just knew it would have been worth it.”

“Well, everything else I had to do in order to get here was worth it, too.” She throws a leg over his waist and kisses him again, and again, and she thinks she’ll move on to showing him how much exactly she means it in a moment.

But for now –

For now she’s so glad she’s here she could burst with it, and she can’t wait to see what this future has in store for the both of them (after all, with all the effort they put into making it, it better be worth it), and maybe next time she should tell him, I couldn’t have asked anything more than getting to love you twice, but they have time for that, and as he kisses her back like he’s been starved for it all along –

Brienne knows that she’d go through what she has all over again if it means getting here, and maybe she should tell him, but she’s sure that he knows that, and they talked enough.

 

Yes, everything they had to go through to get here – it was worth it.

It was completely, absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

End