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we have survived all, we who knew we would not

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It takes her some time to fully realise that it’s over.

The endless army of the dead has toppled like so many toy soldiers; the roar of the ice dragon has ceased; the clash of swords and raised voices have finally silenced.  Her body will not respond to the message her brain is sending, and for a long moment she is frozen in battle stance, her muscles strained and unmovable.

Jaime is to her left, silent and absolutely still.  His mouth is slack, his breath billowing into the frosty air in short, slow bursts – the only evidence that he is breathing at all.  His eyes are blank and empty, unseeing.

She searches desperately for Podrick and finds him at Jaime’s side, sword still in hand, his eyes skittering wildly across the morbid landscape in front of him; she recognises that look on his face, sheer terror fuelled by adrenaline, waiting for another surge of wights.  Surely it cannot be over.  He must sense Brienne staring at him because he suddenly turns his head, snapping his gaze to hers with a look of panic.  With a great effort, she forces herself to nod in reassurance.  Podrick’s arm relaxes, his sword lowering; a shaky breath leaves his lungs and he collapses against the wall.

Brienne’s limbs finally unlock, her arms drooping as Oathkeeper succumbs to gravity.  She ignores the burn of pain for long enough to sheath the sword, then allows her head to lean against the rough-hewn bricks at her back, grounding herself in this new reality.

They stand, all three, knee-deep in a pile of corpses which only minutes ago had been the stone floor of the courtyard.  A few more minutes and they would have been overwhelmed.  She cannot recall how they ended up here, only that at some point the battlements lost structural integrity from the ice dragon’s lethal rampage; it was Podrick who saw the opening, Jaime who shouted for her to follow, mere seconds before the entire floor beneath their feet disappeared.  At ground level there was no reprieve; after hacking a path through the wights they found themselves at a dead end and had no choice but to defend it. 

They will not stop coming.  For every wight they take down, two more replace it.  Snarling faces with bright blue eyes; bodies in various states of decrepitude and decay; the godsawful noise and the stench of death.  Relentless, unseeing, unstoppable, moving as an ocean.  The scorch of dragon fire vying against the deadly bite of frost; Winterfell crumbling to dust; every fallen man another of the Night King’s minions.  She has never been more certain and more unprepared for death.

Brienne is brought sharply back to the present by the sound of the horn, signalling once and for all that the fighting has ceased, and she snaps to alertness as though being woken from a nightmare.

Jaime has still not moved; all around them shouts and cheers are erupting, but the noise is not enough to break him out of his stupor.  Her energy is quickly draining, but she summons enough to push herself away from the wall and wade forwards, corpses rolling from the pile in her wake, to stand in front of him.

“Jaime.  It’s over.”  Her voice is hoarse, raw from screaming.

He does not hear her, looks straight through her, seeing only some indescribable horror.  She considers shaking him, or slapping him, or kissing him – anything to cause a reaction – but instead she places a gentle hand against his arm and squeezes.  Finally, he looks at her, and it takes a few seconds for the cloudiness to leave his expression, but once it does he comes back to her with a physical jolt and a sharp intake of breath.  She grips his other arm to steady him, his face reflecting every confused emotion as he slowly processes the sudden lack of urgency around him. 

“Jaime,” she says again, and he looks and he sees, green eyes softening at the very sight of her, and she will never believe, not ever, that such a look on his face could be reserved for her.

“Brienne…”

“It’s over.”

 “Over.  How?”

She shakes her head.  “I don’t know.”

“You’re alive.”

“Yes. And so are you.”

The fingers of his left hand unfurl, his relentless grip on the hilt of Widow’s Wail yielding just enough for the sword to drop.  It travels in a downward trajectory and embeds itself, with a sickening squelch, into the decaying head of a long-dead, freshly-killed corpse.  In the next second, Jaime’s legs buckle and he keels forwards; Brienne grips tighter to his biceps to keep him upright, but her strength is fading fast and he is a dead weight in her arms.

“Podrick!”

Her squire’s eyes snap open at the urgency of her voice, and he quickly assesses the situation, stepping over the bodies to get to Jaime, lifting one of his arms to shoulder some of his weight. 

“Jaime, you must walk,” she instructs, and something about the firmness of her tone must get through to him because he rallies and manages to drag his feet from the pile of putrid bones and flesh.  As they finally reach solid ground he wavers again, and Brienne inserts herself beneath his other arm.  She reaches behind for his abandoned sword and uses it to support her own weight, so that she can carry half of Jaime’s.

Podrick’s lesser height makes the journey all the more difficult as they stagger across the courtyard to find somewhere, anywhere, to regroup with the others.  Jaime is rapidly losing consciousness but manages a few steps, drawing energy from whatever reserves he has left, but the effort finally takes its toll.  His head slumps against his chest and Brienne panics, her heartbeat thudding against her ribs for a few horrific seconds until she realises – thank the gods – that he is still breathing. 

Every one of her limbs is screaming in agony, begging for rest, but she grits her teeth and presses on; Podrick heaves a breath and matches her step for step, as they half-drag, half-carry their Lannister-shaped burden to the nearest safe haven they can find.