Jaime felt numb in the days after Joffrey’s death. Cersei had sought to have Tyrion seized, only to find he’d escaped her clutches. Jaime had to think his brother hadn’t killed Jaime’s son; he couldn’t allow himself to consider otherwise. Even as Cersei descended into grief, even as they crowned Tommen and tried to soldier on, he told himself it wasn’t true, it couldn’t be true. Tyrion might do that to Cersei - he would do that to Cersei - but he would never betray Jaime like that.
But of course no one really believed him. Even Brienne, as he gave her Oathkeeper and tried to convince her to leave the capital, looked at him with baffled pity when he told her Tyrion hadn’t killed Joffrey.
“I know you love your brother,” she said carefully. “But he had reason to fear -”
“We all had reason to fear!” Jaime burst out laughing, hysterical, unable to stop himself. “I know he was a monster, damn you. I know. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.”
“As you say,” Brienne said quietly. “But the Queen Regent thinks otherwise.”
She had already tried to remove Margaery and Sansa, one after the other, and she’d failed at both because her grief rendered her foolish. Jaime’s heart broke to see her these days, but any escape he sought only brought its own complications. Brienne had developed an awful habit of examining him with wary eyes, waiting for him to do something stupid.
“You should leave,” he said, not for the first time. “You know she’s not - she’s dangerous.”
“I cannot leave Lady Sansa, my lord,” she said, also not for the first time.
“And what will we do when my sister decides to kill the rival to her brother’s affections?”
Brienne’s eyes went wide. He had never asked that before. “Jaime.”
He couldn’t help but smile; he felt as though his entire world were crumbling to ask. “Exactly.”
“That won’t happen.”
“I won’t let it.”
He couldn’t lean into her. They stood on a parapet, where dozens of the Spider’s spies could see them. But he could close his eyes and let himself imagine it, her warm bulk, her comforting smell. “I hope to every god that you’re right, Lady Brienne.”
Neither of them got a chance to be proven right.
The Dragon Queen came the way winter hadn’t: suddenly and devastatingly, with no warning at all. The Iron Islands, they thought, were overwhelmed - and then they realized that Yara Greyjoy had given them to her, Daenerys Targaryen. The Red Keep was soon surrounded. The Dragon Queen sent them Stannis’s head, and then the Blackfish’s entire body. Tarth fell when Brienne’s father didn’t bend the knee; Father died when she stormed King’s Landing. They had no options. Her dragons and her Dothraki made Tyrell wheat and Lannister gold look like the poorest homespun.
So they surrendered.
“I’ll kill her,” Cersei breathed, after Jaime had sent the other councilors away and gotten her safely locked in her room. “I’ll kill her, I’ll kill her dragons, I’ll kill everyone who seeks to usurp our future!”
It truly was her fire he loved. “I know,” he said, trying to be as soothing as he could be. “I know, darling, but Tommen -”
“In a cell, that bitch locked him up, I’ll kill her, I’ll kill all of them -”
Jaime looked up to see Brienne standing in the doorway. “I thought I locked that.”
“You did,” she said. “I’m sorry; we don’t have much time. She’s going to come for your sister soon, and put her on trial.”
“I believe you’re mistaken,” Cersei said coldly. “I’m sure you meant to call me Your Grace.”
“Now is not the time,” Jaime ground out. “A trial - she could win; Tommen is the legitimate -”
“Tommen is a bastard. The Queen has been informed,” Brienne said. “And -”
“What, Brienne?” He was nearly out of breath from restraining Cersei; he wasn’t sure Brienne fully appreciated how close she was to having her eyes torn out. “Spit it out.”
“The Queen’s trials do not last long,” Brienne said. “Cersei will die by dragon fire if she stays here.”
He felt dread wrap around him like a winter cloak. “What are you suggesting?”
“Lady Sansa has allied herself with the queen. She promises me that if Cersei is - removed - from King’s Landing, that the Queen will not take action against her. She doesn’t want to kill her; she merely wants her somewhere she can’t cause trouble as the Queen re-establishes her family’s rule.”
“And you believe her?” Cersei snareld.
“The Queen? No. But I believe Lady Sansa, my lady.” She met Jaime’s eyes. Nothing had changed; she was still good and honest, strong and true, and dreadfully in danger of being killed. “Please, Ser Jaime. We don’t have much time.”
“Damn it,” Jaime said. “And damn you, too,” he added when Cersei tried to scratch him. “All right. What are we going to do?”
“You won’t like it,” Brienne said, and held up some rope. Jaime groaned and held out his arms, wrists pressed together.
It didn’t occur to him to ask until she’d loaded them into a cart and taken them through the walls of the Red Keep. “Wait, where are we going? Where has the Dragon Queen decided is far enough out of the way?”
“Tarth,” Brienne said from her position behind the carthorse.
Cersei’s screech of rage echoed off the still-smoldering bricks of King’s Landing.
“What do you want?”
“What do you mean, what do I want?” Cersei had to look up at Brienne from her spot in the cart, but she did her best to look down her nose anyway. “I want the Throne. I want Tommen back in his rightful place as King. I want Jaime to be a whole man again - I want you dead. Is that enough, or should I go on?”
“I can’t get your brother his hand back,” the great stupid beast said. “But I don’t think you want the Iron Throne. Not really.”
“Given it a lot of thought, have you?” Jaime said, voice heavy with irony.
But Brienne didn’t so much as blink. “Yes, I have. My lady, you want your children and your brother. I don’t think you care about anything else. Only you think the throne is the only way to secure a future with them, to be powerful enough that no one can touch you.”
She clearly thought she had it all worked out. The best thing Cersei could do would be to let her keep going and betray just how stupid she really was, so that Jaime would stop making cow eyes at her at last. But she couldn’t make herself hold back. “Are you going to try to tell me it’s not? What do the goat-herders of Tarth know of king and queens?”
“Not much, which is precisely my point. My lady, anyone who sits on the Iron Throne is a target. You’re powerful enough that no one can gainsay you, and because they can’t, they wait for the day they can put a knife in you instead. And they will. Especially since you’re a Lannister, and no one likes Lannisters, and your son’s the product of -”
She stopped there, turning red. Cersei felt possessed suddenly, mad with it. What did it all matter? Her children were captives under the Dragon Queen. Her lover had rejected her for a monstrous oaf of a woman. And now that oaf couldn’t even name the truth of what her beloved had been doing before he’d put his cock in her. “Say it. Say it, you coward. Name what lies between us, what’s going to be sharing your bed.”
Brienne gave her a flat look. “Incest. My lady. No one wants someone like that on the throne.”
“The dragon bitch’s parents were siblings fifty times over.”
“But she’s got dragons.” Jaime sounded drolly amused. “We don’t, dear sister. We’ve only Lady Brienne.”
“You couldn’t get your cock wet with a dragon, so I suppose you’re thankful for it.” She smiled when she felt Jaime flinch against her. “Fine, no one wants a Lannister babe on the throne. My children are still prisoners. How do you propose we solve that? There is only one thing that fends off the jackals, Lady Brienne. Power.”
“Distance,” Brienne said. “Diplomacy, strong allies. An island known for its defenses.”
“Tarth?” Cersei could scarcely believe the foolishness of it. “You think if we’re on Tarth, everyone will leave us alone?”
“I think they won’t care anymore. They don’t throw themselves against you for the fun of it.” Brienne shrugged. “Tyrion gets Casterly Rock, you and Jaime get each other, and you’re under the protection of a house with strong allies.”
“I’m not going to accept the protection of the Starks,” Cersei hissed.
“Suit yourself.” Unspoken was the other truth: they were going to Tarth anyway. Brienne had stolen them away, and even now Tommen rotted in the dungeons of the Red Keep.
When Cersei didn’t reply, Brienne turned back around again. The horse pulled the cart, and Cersei’s blisters grew worse by the mile. She scarcely noticed. She spent her time staring at the back of Brienne’s head instead, at her lifeless pale hair and her mannishly thick neck. Jaime would kiss it, she knew, the nape of it, probably whispering lies about how beautiful and perfect she was.
Cersei would never lie to Brienne. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she’d touch Brienne’s neck, too. And then she’d slit her throat.
“Jaime, please. You have to make her listen.”
“If you didn’t realize it back at King’s Landing, surely now you know I can’t.” Jaime shook his head. “I’ve followed her my whole life, Brienne. She’s even more stubborn than you are. She thinks you’ve no idea what you’re talking about, and the second we send for Myrcella and Tommen, you’ll bundle us all up and sell us to the highest bidder.”
“Why would I do that when I -” She flushed bright red.
It was as unlovely as ever, and Jaime basked in it, the blotchiness of her skin and the ridiculous, dear way she bit her lip in agony. “You did tell her you didn’t care. Many times, in fact.”
“I was lying!”
“Cersei doesn’t know you well enough to know that.”
“If she’d talk to me -”
“She’d as soon slit her own throat.” She probably would, too, if Brienne hadn’t had them under guard.
“Damn it,” Brienne said, burying her face in her hands.
Jaime watched her with resigned interest. For a moment he wanted to propose they make his sister’s suspicions fact. He might be chained to the wall, but he could just have her sit on the table and bring her off like that, service her here in her ancestral home. As always, the idea had lurid appeal beyond justification. “I’m still not sure why you care about leaving her chained up forever.”
“Because I don’t want to have Lannisters in my dungeon for forty years!”
“We’d likely die before then. Damp, mistreatment, lack of exercise -”
“And if I only freed you, I know you’d get her and escape, because you do what she tells you. And if I freed her, she’d try to kill me, and then I’d have to stop her and you’d hate me for it.” Brienne shook her head. “She’s the one whose mind needs to be changed.”
“Let us go.” He felt mad even as he said it, but he needed to hear her refusal from her own lips, to understand truly why it had to be this way. “Just put us on a boat to the mainland. Who cares what happens to us then?”
“You’re the Lannister heir and she’s the former queen. If I let you go, the Dragon Queen will have you both killed. I had to beg Lady Sansa to spare you, and even then -” Brienne bit her lip and looked away.
“Why won’t you tell me what happened between you and Lady Sansa?” He had a sudden, horrible thought. “Are you in love with her?”
“I - what! No!”
That, at least, was the truth. “Then why won’t you tell me?”
“Because it’s none of your business!”
“As your guest -”
“- I think I ought to be well versed in who your house’s allies are.”
“We remain allied with the Starks, and I’m not going to tell you more than that,” Brienne said firmly. He thrilled at that adamant tone, as he always did. “Please try to convince your sister to agree to stay here. All I need is your word.”
“She won’t, Brienne. Not without the children.”
“Keep trying.” An order, not a request. Jaime inclined his head.
He thought for a moment that she hesitated as she stood. That she looked at him like she understood what he wanted, like she wanted it too. But the moment passed, and then he was alone in the dungeon once more.
“Aren’t you tired of climbing down here every day?”
“It’s not that far, my lady.”
“But it’s uncomfortable, is it not? And every day you worry that someone has brutalized us in your absence.”
Brienne looked at Cersei for a moment, silent, and Cersei thought she’d hooked her. But then she said, “I trust the men here not to harm you, my lady, no matter how much they might want to.”
Cersei hated her more than she’d hated anyone in a very long time. She forced a smile. “Well, I’m uncomfortable and miserable. This is hardly the way to earn the regard of House Lannister.”
“I wrote to your brother. He told me it was fine.”
“Jaime’s uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you rather visit him somewhere with an actual bed? He’s so ill-used, I fear when winter comes he’ll catch a chill and drop dead.”
“My lady, I’ve already told you both what will get you a more comfortable room.”
She had, and Cersei would rather die, would carve her own eyes out after she killed Jaime for getting them in this position. “I will not forsake my children.”
“I’m not asking you to -”
“You’re not a mother and you never well be, even if you manage to force my brother’s seed to quicken in you,” Cersei snapped. “But I am. I can no sooner forget my children than you can learn a lady’s graces.”
“Listen to me, please,” Brienne said. Her voice was quiet, patient, as though she were talking to a child. Cersei would find someone down here who hated her. She’d find a man who saw what an abomination Brienne was, or she’d get her hands on something toxic, and then this horrible, enormous bitch would be out of her way for good.
“I can’t get your children back from the dragon queen,” Brienne said. “I think we could negotiate for their release. But not if you’re going to run off the second you’re no longer under heavy guard. I can’t. Don’t you think I would, if I could? Do you think I want this?”
“I think you want my brother’s cock.”
Brienne met her gaze. “Not the way you do, my lady.”
Cersei recoiled. “Damn you. Damn you!”
“I just need your word. If you were to promise me -”
“May the Mother render you barren for the rest of your days,” Cersei spat.
Brienne’s eyes searched her face. Cersei didn’t know what she found there, and didn’t care either. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what she’d been hoping for. Brienne shrugged and turned to leave.
It was so dark and so damp, she hated it so much and she couldn’t plan down here. She could barely think. As Brienne began to ascend the steps, she called out, “Fine. I promise.”
Those enormous shoulders stopped, stiffened. “You promise what? Exactly.”
“I won’t leave. I won’t make Jaime leave. We’ll both stay here, and you can fail at diplomacy all you like.”
She didn’t understand why Brienne slumped then, why she looked so upset when she turned around. She’d gotten what she wanted, hadn’t she? “Thank you,” she said, cow eyes big with emotion. “I’ll have you both moved later today.”
She was gone back up the stairs before Cersei could request more details on their accommodation.
Jaime looked around the room, at the slightly too-small bed, the dark blue wall hangings, the enormous door opposite the windows that overlooked the sea. “Ah. I see.”
“So do I. Sub-par furnishings and a view that can’t come close to rivaling the Rock.”
Jaime thought Cersei might sneer at a dragon’s egg if it was Brienne who gave it to her. “These are the lady of the house’s rooms. Tell me, Brienne, if I open that door, what will I find?”
“Me,” Brienne said easily. “This way I can keep an eye on you.”
He pitched his voice to be teasing. “It’s a bit selfish, don’t you think, keeping the biggest bed all to yourself?”
Brienne blinked at him and didn’t say anything. It was Cersei who said, “Don’t be ridiculous, Jaime. She’s nearly as big as the two of us put together. She needs the space.”
“I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” Brienne said, meeting Cersei’s gaze with all the appearance of honesty. “If you need anything, let me know.”
“I’ll have to teach Jaime how to be quieter when we fuck.” Cersei smiled sweetly. “Unless of course you plan to summon him to your bed every night.”
“No, my lady. If I’d intended that, he’d be in the master bedroom.” Brienne left before Cersei could deliver another poisoned rejoinder.
Jaime laughed at the look on her face. “It’s not that easy to get a rise out of her.”
“Yes, we became good friends on our journey.”
“Friends. Is that what they call it?”
Normally, Cersei’s rage was second only to her tenderness in Jaime’s heart. Normally, his blood thrilled at her aggression, and he sought to return it in kind. But right now he was tired; they were far from home, their children under control of a bloodthirsty little tyrant-in-training, their father dead. It seemed pointless. He lay down on the bed and said, “Yes. I know you don’t want to believe it. I know you’d rather I was like you. But I never touched another woman when I was away.”
“You might as well touch her now. I certainly won’t.”
And oh, that thought sparked amusement. “You won’t touch her?”
“Don’t be disgusting. You know what I mean.”
“I do.” He touched his golden hand, always so cold. “How long will you punish me, exactly?”
“As long as my children are away from me, as long as they’re in danger.”
“Damn you, Jaime.”
Eventually she lay down next to him, but she held herself stiff, entirely apart. He wondered then if Brienne knew what a perfect punishment this was, giving them a stately room in which to rediscover how much they hated one another.
Of course she didn’t. She was too kind; she didn’t think in terms of hatred and selfish revenge. For that, he resented her almost as much as he did Cersei.
At least this godforsaken nothing of an island had wine.
The first few days after Brienne moved them, Cersei had waited for the trap. Perhaps Brienne would take Jaime into the master bedroom after all. Perhaps one morning Cersei would wake up next to Jaime and his throat would be cut, his blood soaking the sheets. Perhaps one day Brienne would drag Cersei into the master bedroom. Wasn’t that what they all said about women that large, that unwomanly? She was practically a man; surely she had a man’s lusts as well.
She sipped her wine as her mind returned to the concept over and over. Jaime’s remaining hand was strong, and though he’d been brutalized in his time away from her, he took good care of what limbs he still had. Brienne didn’t seem to care for herself at all. Her skin was patchy and disgustingly dry in spots, her movements ungainly; she’d be rough, Cersei thought, not because she didn’t care but because she didn’t know how to be any other way. Jaime had always been so diffident, even when he manhandled her, and Robert had been disgusting. Brienne might be something else entirely: desperate to please, yet utterly unskilled. When Cersei had trained Jaime to please her, they’d both been young and stupid. But Cersei knew what she liked now. She’d have to tell Brienne how to do it, smack her when she got it wrong. How tedious.
Poor Jaime, putting up with such a lumbering wretch in his bed. No less than he deserved for his failures, of course, but Cersei couldn’t help but pity him. She’d had such long practice dealing with the attentions of disgusting men, but Jaime had only ever had her in his bed. Going from his beautiful twin to a sow who looked like a man must be awful for him.
She smiled to herself. Yes, he must truly only endure it out of hopes that it would aid their escape. Her poor, devoted brother.
Every day she waited for the blade to drop. Their rooms were as extensive as any lord’s wife might expect, and though they weren’t grand enough for a Lannister, they were much more comfortable than a cell buried in the cliffs. Every day Cersei could bathe, dress her hair, and have wine and cheese brought to her. Every day she drank until the dull edge of pain blurred, until she could stop looking out the window and thinking of her children, lost without her.
She watched her figure. She was so careful. But Jaime still noticed, of course - and after awhile Cersei realized Brienne did, too.
Cersei glanced at the door, affecting as though she hadn’t heard Brienne knock. “Oh. It’s you.”
“It’s me,” Brienne agreed. “I’ve finished with my administrative work for the day, and I was hoping -”
“What work could there possibly be? How many people even live on Tarth? Do you manage each individual goat yourself?”
“- to take you and your brother down to the sword yard, my lady, for exercise.”
Cersei blinked. “Jaime’s not a fighter anymore. He doesn’t have a hand.” And if he did, Cersei wasn’t sure she’d let him duel against this lummox, who was likely to forget the rules of civil swordplay and stab him. She’d hit him, bruise him, bully him, because she was a brute who couldn’t help but be -
“He can still pick up a sword, my lady. You can as well.”
Her heart tripped and froze in her chest. She found herself staring at Brienne’s eyes. They were such an unearthly color. On a less hideous woman, they might have been beautiful. “You’re joking.”
“Why would I joke about such a thing? You’re too old to have real skill, but it’s good exercise.”
“So I can get big, ugly muscles like you?” Cersei laughed. “You truly have no idea what it is women do. Very well: I’ll go down to the yard. And you’ll allow me a servant to accompany me as I walk through the gardens.”
“Of course.” Brienne bit her lip. It did her no favors; they were already too thick and red, and that habit only made them look bigger. “I’ll ask that you give me your word that you won’t try to escape, or dash yourself against the cliffs.”
What exactly did she think a woman’s word was worth? “You’ll have my brother, Brienne. I would never endanger him so.”
Brienne nodded, courtly and mannish as ever. “Jaime’s down in the yard already. You’ll follow me.”
It was infuriating. But Cersei did it, setting her wine glass down and gathering her skirts, keeping her eyes on Brienne’s ungainly movements as they walked through the castle.
“Oh, stop it,” Cersei said, knocking his hand away. But her eyes were laughing and her expression alight, and as soon as she’d done so, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him in, kissing him.
It felt like a massive chasm had opened in his chest. He didn’t just want her, he needed her, needed this. She was beautiful and awful and he couldn’t help but pull her onto his lap, tugging at her dress until it slipped off one shoulder, exposing a single tight nipple to his hand - his mouth - and she moaned when he licked it, cried out when he bit her shoulder -
“Oh gods, I am so sorry.”
He saw Cersei’s smug smile before he looked up, and knew she’d planned this. Brienne stood in front of them, wearing only her nightgown, dagger in her hand. “I heard shouting,” she continued miserably. A glorious blush had swept down her body, blotchy and impossible to ignore. She was so transparent, he thought, and choked back a noise when Cersei shifted on his still hardening cock.
“Care to join us?” Cersei said, cruelty in every syllable.
Brienne fled, slamming the door behind her. Cersei burst into laughter, beautiful peals of it, not even muffling the noise as she kissed Jaime’s neck and tugged on his hair.
She was so beautiful, golden and perfect, but Brienne had only been trying to help. She was the most noble person Jaime’d ever met, and she hadn’t even pulled Cersei off him, despite how disgusted she must have been by them both. His loyalties caught between them for a moment, trapped and shining, and somehow the end result was him blurting out, “What would you have done if she’d taken you up on it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Cersei said, nails dragging against his jaw.
“I’m not. Come on, think it through next time. Do you really want -” He gasped as she pinched his nipple, moaned as she moved her hips against him.
“Do you?” Precise as ever, cruel as she’d been with Brienne. And somehow that spurred him on.
“She wouldn’t let you push her around, you know. She’s gentle, but she’s bigger than I am.”
“Hmm, that’s true.” Danger lurked in those words, he realized as Cersei gripped his shoulders and settled herself on one of his thighs, flicking her skirts up so that she sat wet and warm and nearly bare against him. “She’d let me do this, though. You never do. You get too impatient.”
He gasped when she started moving; he couldn’t help it. He reached for her, but she grabbed his wrist as quickly as a viper. “Don’t you dare.”
“Do you think I’d give her what she wants? Of course not. You’d just stare at her like a fool, you wouldn’t even try to make her be useful. It would fall to me to show her what to do.” She gripped Jaime’s hair again, tugged, fucking herself on him as she played with his nipples. “It would probably be just like this, too. I bet she’s flat as a board under there.”
“She’s not,” Jaime said before he could stop himself.
They were balanced on a knife’s edge of something very dangerous, but Jaime pushed forward anyway. “She’s a woman, Cersei. Get her clothes off and she’s like any other woman. She has hips. She has tits.”
“And ugly, beastly hands -”
“Strong hands,” Jaime said, “and she’d touch me with them, I know she would. She’d hold me. You too, if you let her.”
“She’s a fool.” Cersei’s voice was stuttering now; she’d started moving again, working herself against Jaime frantically. “She wouldn’t know what to do.”
“So you’d show her. And I’d help you. Just the two of us, breaking her down, making her want it.”
Cersei made a tiny sound, half a moan and half a snarl. Jaime took advantage of her distraction to get her dress down, pulling her back square on his lap so his cock rubbed against her.
“I’d put my mouth on her,” he said as he eased Cersei onto his cock, “same as I do you. Would you?”
“Would I what?”
“Lick her.” He moved his hips, a rough and ragged motion that nearly unseated her. “Fuck her.” He grabbed the base of her neck, holding her as he filled her over and over. “Make her scream.”
“Damn you. Damn you.”
He brought her off just like that, fucking her on his lap until she sobbed with it. Brienne never left them; when he placed his thumb on Cersei’s clit, when she muffled her scream by biting his shoulder, he said, “She’d let you do this. She’d let us make her scream,” and every time he felt Cersei’s reaction, desperate as she’d ever been.
After, they lay next to each other, not quite touching. It was strange, he realized suddenly: they’d never been able to do this before. There had always been secrets to keep. But everyone in Westeros knew, even if some of them still believed it to be rumors, and the lady of this particular hall both knew and - endorsed it.
Or at least wouldn’t stop them. Brienne the Beauty, honorable to the last.
“Stop thinking about her,” Cersei said tightly.
“I’m not -”
“If she ever thought to join us, I’d carve her up like a pig before I let her touch you.”
And she would, Jaime knew. It shouldn’t warm his gut to think of. But of course she never could do that with Brienne. In King’s Landing, Cersei could’ve killed her, would have killed her. But here…
Here, Brienne would stop her before she even got her hand on the knife. It was comfort of a kind Jaime had never known, the safety of feeling someone else could limit his sister’s excesses.
“But what about if she touched you?” he mumbled, half-asleep already. Cersei didn’t respond.
It had taken work, a few days of gritting her teeth and pretending she wasn’t disgusted by Brienne’s careful questions about her time outside, but she finally won the right to sit in the gardens more or less alone, with only a maid down the walk from her. She didn’t do anything with the privilege, didn’t try to escape or even look for something she might use to poison the Maid of Tarth. There was no point right now, and Cersei knew it. If she tried to escape she’d dash herself against the rocks; if she poisoned the Maid, her men would kill her before Cersei could even tell them she wasn’t a maid but a whore, and undeserving of their devotion.
But she could at least be alone, free of Jaime’s endless study and Brienne’s stupid attempt at chivalry.
Ugh. “Lady Brienne. I assume this isn’t coincidence?”
Brienne blinked stupidly before she realized what Cersei was asking. “No, my lady. I sought you out. May I sit?”
The bench was hardly large enough for two normal sized women, much less a hulking beast. But Cersei had no choice, so she nodded. Brienne settled next to her, moving lightly enough that she managed not to knock Cersei from her seat.
For a moment there was only the wind, the chirping of birds, and very distantly the ever-present sound of the sea. Then Brienne said, “Lady Margaery and Lady Sansa are to visit Tarth for three weeks.”
Cersei’s blood turned to ice. “Excuse me?”
“They will not be bringing your children with them.”
“Obviously,” Cersei snapped.
“But we will have dinner with them. You and your brother are honored guests of Tarth.”
“Why do you seek to dishonor the Starks you’ve sworn to serve? Unless you just want the little bitch queen to see how far I’ve fallen?”
“Neither of those things,” Brienne said. “And she’s not a queen anymore. She is simply Lady Margaery Tyrell. And I’m not sworn to the Starks.”
Jaime had told her about this tedious insistence. “You’re sworn to Sansa. Don’t be coy.”
“I’m not. Not anymore. She has released me from that set of vows.” She paused, took a deep breath. “Quite firmly.”
Cersei didn’t care about what blunder Brienne must have made for that to happen. “Fine. If I’m going to be forced to dine with them, I’ll need a new dress. I realize you never use a seamstress -”
“I do. My breeches wouldn’t fit otherwise. I have to have them custom made, or heavily altered.”
For a moment the mental image caught in Cersei’s throat, strangling whatever else she might say. She couldn’t even wear men’s breeches? How monstrous was she? But no, that wasn’t what she’d said; apparently the fit of her clothes, how tight they were around her thighs, was deliberate. How humiliating. She probably thought Jaime enjoyed looking at such things. “Then you’ll send her to my room, and I’ll have a dress made. Three dresses. How long are they staying? Five.”
“Your brother has sent an allowance,” Brienne said.
Cersei’s hands curved into claws. She wanted to rip Brienne’s eyes out -
“I didn’t tell you because we don’t really need the money, and I assumed you’d look at me exactly like that. But there’s more than enough for you and your brother to have clothes made. I’ll tell them to hurry; they’ll be here in only a month.” She frowned at Cersei. “Don’t say anything terrible to Jaime about it, please.”
“I’ll talk to my brother however I like,” she managed to bite out.
“I know. But he loves you, my lady. I don’t think hurting him really helps.”
Brienne left before Cersei could fly into a rage, could remind her that she knew nothing, absolutely nothing, of Cersei and Jaime, of what they were to each other. She left before Cersei could break all her promises and shove her off a cliff for daring to dictate how she behave with the other half of herself. Cersei spent the rest of the day imagining how she would - eventually, finally - make Brienne pay for it.
“I’m very worried she’ll try to start a war.”
“Does it ever occur to you, do you ever think about, how annoying it is that we spend half our time out here talking about my sister?” Jaime darted forward, trying for a lunge.
Brienne smacked his sword aside as though it were a fly. “No.”
“Really? I think about it all the time.”
“You think about her all the time.” Brienne frowned a little, watching him move. “Adjust your left foot. You’re leaning on the outside, it’s disrupting your balance.”
Because everything was mirror-fucking-image, and he was too old to re-learn swordplay. But Brienne knew all his complaints in that direction already; restating them would only annoy them both. He gritted his teeth and did as she said.
“You talked to her, though. Did she promise you she wouldn’t try to start a war?”
“No. She demanded five new dresses.”
Jaime smiled in spite of himself.
“She’s really awful.”
“She is, and to you most of all. You know why.”
“I’m not - we’re not. She must know that.”
Ah, here it was. The maidenly blush creeping up Brienne’s neck, rendering her distracted enough that for a moment it was almost something vaguely approaching a fair fight. “I did tell her.”
“You slept with her! I walked in on - and she still thinks -”
“She doesn’t, not really. She tells herself it because it lets her feel wronged.”
“Why not focus on the Dragon Queen?”
“Daenerys is far away and controls her children’s lives. Why do you think?”
“Your children,” Brienne said, very quietly. She’d stopped attacking, her guard down.
“Yes,” Jaime managed to say. “My children. Our children. Any day now we might receive word they’ve been killed. It eats away at her, and hating you is a pleasant enough distraction.”
“She seeks to hurt me.”
“It’s how she is, Brienne. How she understands the world.”
“And you love her for it?”
There was a question there Jaime didn’t really understand, but he knew easily enough what his truth was. “For it, in spite of it. Do you love your worst impulses? So it is with me and my sister.”
She didn’t reply. She only watched him, unreadable and still.
And Jaime found that he had to ask. “If we do manage to bring Tommen here, if we get Myrcella back from Dorne, will they be safe?”
“What do you mean?”
“Children.” Brienne’s voice was as sharp as a whip crack. “No harm would come to the Dragon Queen’s own get here, no one will hurt children in Evenfall so long as I am lady. I swear it.”
And because she was Brienne - brave, stupid, stubborn Brienne - Jaime believed her immediately. He nodded, and she fell back into a formal stance, and their fight continued.
Later, he found Cersei in their rooms, going through a stack of his letters to Tyrion. “You didn’t mention an allowance,” she said, not looking up.
“Well, Brienne’s our captor. I was letting her handle it.”
“I’m going to have gold thread on my gown. Lions.”
“And it’ll be red, too, I suppose? That’s a bit predictable.”
She looked up at him with narrowed eyes, but took his bait all the same. “Tell me how you think I should dress, then, brother.”
“Blue. As blue as the sea.”
“As blue as your ugly love’s eyes? I shan’t.”
He’d never mentioned her eyes in front of Cersei. He’d been careful not to, in fact. Perhaps noticing such things was inevitable for both of them, as natural as the blood they shared. “It would be lovely. You’d outshine them both.”
“I’ll outshine them both anyway.”
He walked over to the table, dropped to his knees. Put his hand on her thigh. “Blue, Cersei. Please. For me.”
“I don’t do anything for you,” she whispered.
It was a lie, and they both knew it. But - “For yourself, then. Let them know Brienne’s promise of protection is true.”
Her mouth tightened at that as he knew it would; mention of Brienne in their room always made her furious. But it also made her wet. She said, “She’ll look even uglier next to us, I promise you,” and let her legs fall open.
He didn’t bring her up again. He only licked Cersei, smiled against her cunt when she tugged his hair, shook in her arms when she scored his skin with her nails. But he felt Brienne’s presence anyway, a ghost, not between them but behind them, hovering with a question in those noble eyes.
Jaime left for two nights, to go with some of the local men and give his opinion on their defenses at the far side of the island. The first night, Cersei drank until she was sleepy with it and fell asleep dreaming of pushing Lancel away, of waiting for Jaime despite his utter unworthiness, his cowardly abandonment of her and their children. The second night, she found herself exhausted and still awake, staring at the dying fire flickering on the ceiling and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks below her window.
She was so tired and yet she couldn’t sleep. Somehow, though, she woke screaming, the fire having long since died down, strong hands on her arms.
Hands on her arms. Hands -
“Get off me!” she spat, and Brienne backed away from her immediately.
But it wasn’t enough. She’d tried - what had she tried? It didn’t matter. Cersei flew at her, scratching and trying to bite, slapping at her hands, drawing blood from her arms.
It only took Brienne a moment to get her restrained. Her arms locked around Cersei like iron bands, holding her still from behind. Brienne’s voice was low in her ear when she said, “My lady, it’s only me. You’re safe here, I promise. No one is going to hurt you.”
“Then why did I wake up to you -”
“You were screaming, and by the time I realized my mistake, you were waking up. I apologize.”
Her breath was disgustingly warm against Cersei’s ear. She burned down the length of Cersei’s back, as abnormally warm as she was enormous. “Let me go.”
Brienne obeyed immediately, taking a step back. Cold air rushed against Cersei’s back. She refused to turn around and let Brienne see her shivering. “You may leave now.”
“Is it Jaime? Are you worried about him? He’s safe with my men, I promise.”
Gods, but she was stupid. Nothing Jaime had ever said about her had prepared Cersei for her sheer, unrelenting stupidity. “I slept in a bedroom like this for fifteen years, you cow, and for fifteen years I found myself waking to a drunk rutting over me. Does that elucidate it enough for you, or shall I go on?”
The silence took on a different quality, one Cersei again recognized: pity. She would kill Brienne of Tarth, she vowed yet again, for seeing her like this, for not having the decency to just ignore it.
“And being with Jaime breaks that pattern.”
Being with Jaime felt like being whole for the first time since they’d been children, but Cersei would kill herself and everyone else in this pathetic excuse for a Hall before she admitted such to Brienne. “Go. Away.”
Instead, Brienne said, “Come to my room.”
“The bed’s bigger. You can -”
She turned around mid-peal of laughter, just in time to see Brienne shut her mouth in a mulish expression. “You hate being laughed at, so why do you say such things? How can you possibly think propositioning me would solve any problems?”
“I’m not propositioning you. I’m trying to comfort you. As a -”
“Sister?” She couldn’t push down another laugh. “Truly, you do indeed think highly of yourself. No.”
“Maybe it’s selfish,” Brienne said. “Maybe I just don’t want to be awakened by your howling.”
But it wasn’t selfish. That was clear as day, now that Cersei knew what she was looking for. She thought of Jaime telling her about Brienne. He’d insisted there were no deeper motivations to look for, nothing but pathetic courtly love and devotion to ideals. In King’s Landing, Cersei had figured her brother was just an idiot, a dupe for women as all men were. But Brienne was hardly a woman, and Cersei couldn’t be fooled. No, she really did mean it, and suddenly Cersei saw an opportunity for perfect revenge.
“Very well. But if you snore, I’ll hack your head off with your own sword.”
“Oathkeeper isn’t my sword, my lady. I’m only borrowing it.”
Cersei rolled her eyes. As if Jaime would take it back now, as if her brother had ever been anything but careless with his things.
They lay down on the bed together, several feet apart. The master bed was truly enormous. “Were all your ancestors oversized as well?”
A long pause. “No.”
“Your mother was attractive, then? Not a giantess, as they say she must have been? Perhaps she wasn’t your mother at all. Perhaps your father found you in the mountains, product of a goat and a -”
Brienne’s hand burned on Cersei’s mouth, heavy enough to press her down into the pillow. “Be quiet, please. I need to sleep.”
Oh, she itched to hurt her. Every limb of her body, every breath in her chest, burned to rip her to shreds. But when Brienne removed her hand, Cersei only lay there, fists clenched at her side, imagining in exquisite detail exactly how many strokes of a dagger it might take to saw her great ugly head off.
Brienne breathed softly and evenly next to her, asleep already. A true soldier, Cersei thought mockingly. She could poison her with this kind of foolish trust. She could make Jaime look at her face, white and bloodless, her soul fled from her.
He’d cry. No: he’d sob, and he’d beg her to take it back, and she’d refuse. Her other half, wholly hers once more.
Yes. Someday soon, she’d do it, and then she’d know peace.
Two days spent in the salt breeze of Tarth, asking questions about their naval movements and ground defenses, left Jaime feeling more like himself than he had since before he’d been captured by the Starks. Something about these dull island men and their by-the-books military movements was wonderfully invigorating. “It’s the air,” one of them, Dolan, said on the way back. A salt breeze had smacked Jaime in the face and he’d laughed about it, catching himself even as he’d done it.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Aye, you’re a fancy lord and they ain’t got feelings like we common folk. You do. It’s lighter up here, better. You don’t need to care about dragons or kings.” He grinned broadly. “Or sisters.”
“Watch your tone,” Jaime said, his left hand going to his sword.
“Or what, you’ll fumble at me? I’ve seen milady fight you. You’re nothing as of yet.” Dolan shrugged. “I ain’t scared of you so I’ll tell you what all the others are thinking. You and your sister, it’s disgusting. Even Lannisters ain’t Targaryens. But here Lady Brienne is, where she belongs, with no lords mincing about making bets on her cunt.”
“Watch. Your -”
“Oi! I’m paying you a compliment. I’m saying it’s good you’re here, you lion bastard, I’m saying you’ll keep her here if you know what’s good for you.” And Dolan stomped ahead of him, muttering about golden fools.
His good mood had thus evaporated by the time they reached Evenfall. He found himself preoccupied by a question he’d never much considered before: what exactly did everyone else in Evenfall think of the Lannister presence here? Did they all believe the rumors? Did they all accept them? What sort of love must Brienne’s people hold for her, if they’d accept poison in Evenfall provided its antidote stayed there as well?
Brienne and Cersei greeted them at the gates, Cersei wearing a new dress and glaring, barely perceptibly, at the back of Brienne’s neck. Brienne gave no sign of noticing. She smiled at Jaime and said, “Ser Jaime, it’s good to have you back. I hope you haven’t uncovered any grievous weaknesses in our defenses.”
“I’m sure you already know I didn’t, my lady,” Jaime said. “Nymeria herself couldn’t have designed your patrols better.”
“I can’t take any credit. I inherited most of it from my father.”
Behind him, Dolan snorted.
“But I thank you for taking the time to look, all the same,” she continued. “I’ve asked the cook to set dinner out in an hour; we’re taste testing a few creations for when the Queen’s delegation arrives. Could I trouble you to join us?”
They walked into Evenfall. Cersei said, “Brother,” as coolly as he’d ever heard.
“I was only gone for two days,” he murmured. “What happened?”
“Oh, nothing.” She tossed him a knife’s edge smile. “Nothing at all.”
But he knew it as soon as he entered their room. She looked different. She looked - “Did you sleep well without me?” Have I been disturbing your sleep, he meant.
She pursed her lips. “I slept the same as I always do.”
“You look different.”
“Are you trying to tell me I look tired?”
“I think we’re all tired, aren’t we? Wars, kidnappings, invasions…”
“Fuck you, Jaime.”
He thought about it, Cersei on her own, the medicine he knew she’d had the maesters mixing up for her. “You get nightmares, don’t you.”
“My darling brother.” She turned a smile on him. “I’ll leave you to bathe.”
He knew he’d get no answers from her then, so he waited. When they’d all sat down to dinner - Brienne at the head of the table and Jaime and Cersei across from one another, like misbehaving children - he said, “Brienne, how were things while I was gone?”
“The same as they usually are, Ser.”
“Oh, come now, you can dispense with the formality.” He smiled at her, trying to be charming. He’d been charming once, he swore it. He just needed to summon it now. “Cersei already told me.”
Guileless eyes blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“Jaime,” Cersei hissed.
“She mentioned she’d been having trouble sleeping.”
“I don’t…” Brienne glanced between them. Cersei looked regal and impossible even to Jaime; he couldn’t imagine what Brienne saw. For his own part, he did his best to look innocently amused. “I don’t wish to be between this. Whatever this is.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, by which point Cersei was already laughing. “You’ve never met a single person who wasn’t smarter than you, have you?” she asked Jaime. “I apologize for my brother, my lady. He thinks he’s uncovered some sort of fellow feeling between you and I. He thinks perhaps I’ve found myself the sister I never had.”
Jaime would have wagered all the dwindling gold in Lannister coffers that Brienne wasn’t thinking what he was just then: what exactly was sisterhood when Cersei’s brother was already her lover? But perhaps Brienne understood herself to be another Tyrion in this scenario Cersei had just proposed. Or perhaps - it seemed very likely - she simply thought her twin prisoner-guests had gone mad.
“Cersei had nightmares,” Brienne told Jaime. “I sought to offer her comfort. We shared my bed last night and she slept well and did not wake screaming.” She took a bite of her pheasant while Cersei stared at her, brittle, eyes filled with hate.
Jaime kept it together until they were back in their room, the lord’s wife’s chambers, a designation that had never seemed symbolic to him before tonight. “How many nights would it have taken, do you think, before you fell into bed with her for real?”
“Don’t speak to me of it.”
“I thought you thought she was ugly.”
“She is,” Cersei spat. “And she’d be dead if we didn’t still need her, if I thought her lackeys wouldn’t kill us before we managed to leave the family wing. Stop laughing. Stop it!”
“She is very comforting, I’ll grant you that,” Jaime said, full of a manic feeling he couldn’t rightly call joy. “She’s lovely to lay next to, isn’t she? So protective.”
“Shut up, shut up, you -”
He caught her hand before she could slap him. Her skin was warm against his, smooth as ever. Tiny wrinkles adorned her face, so small you could almost pretend they weren’t there. Almost, if he didn’t see the mirror of them every time he looked at his own face. “I don’t blame you.” He wasn’t laughing anymore. “Cersei - I don’t blame you.”
Her brilliant green eyes caught his and held them. He felt a surge of warmth as he always did, as he always had, since before he’d even known what it meant. He’d only ever been for her, until he’d met Brienne.
“I hate her,” Cersei whispered. “I hated - I was dreaming of Robert. I screamed. She came to get me. She had no idea.” Her lip curled. “A maid, or close enough, someone who loves you, someone who loves her honor. She knew nothing about what’s wrong with me.”
“Nothing’s wrong with you.”
“Everything is, and you know it. Don’t be a fool.” Cersei’s lip curled in disdain. “And don’t leave me with her again, damn you.”
He should have just left it at that, but he found he couldn’t. “Why? What are you afraid of?”
“It’s what you should be afraid of,” she snapped, and after that she wouldn’t speak to him, even as they lay down next to one another, even as the flickering candle light in the adjoining room dimmed, guttered, and died.
The Tyrell bitch and Sansa Stark arrived a week after Jaime returned. Cersei had done her best to forget about the whole matter. It hardly signified; she didn’t imagine Brienne would be sending the man she loved on errands very often. She’d been compelled to share a bed with a monster and once again lived to tell the tale, and that was all there as to it. She focused on ensuring her dresses were ready and her hair fashionably styled. She wouldn’t allow either of the girls to outshine her, not when every other person on this godforsaken island was wind-worn and ugly.
(Jaime likes Brienne well enough, her mind sneered. But Cersei knew it was a passing fancy. He’d been desperate and foolish, and she was punishing him for it. It didn’t need to go further than that.)
Sansa Stark surprised her by meeting her eyes immediately, not a scared mouse at all. “Lady Cersei,” she said, inclining her head.
“Lady Sansa. How you’ve grown.”
“Indeed she has. Lady Sansa sits on the Queen’s small counsel now.” Margaery Tyrell’s smile was as lascivious as ever.
“Oh? And who has the Dragon Queen whored you out to, my dear?”
She said it too quietly to be overheard, and smiled so that none would guess the poison of her words. She expected one of Sansa’s pathetic little flinches, but the girl didn’t so much as twitch. Margaery, for her part, inclined her head to acknowledge the blow. “I am a widow, my lady,” she said. “The Dragon Queen, in her bountiful wisdom, has chosen to respect my privacy.”
Which meant Tommen was unmarried, and damn her, unprotected. Cersei clenched her own skirts so tightly she half feared she’d rip the fabric. “I see.”
“I doubt you do,” Sansa said, very quietly.
“Be that as it may, I’m not your host, so I must pass you on now.” She looked up and met Brienne’s gaze, smiling broadly. “Lady Brienne, you mustn’t neglect your guests! Come here and listen to Lady Sansa’s tales of the Dragon Queen; they are so diverting.”
Brienne gave her a long, unamused look, but she did as Cersei bid. Before long she was absorbed in earnest conversation with her liege lady, and Cersei was free to return to Jaime’s side.
“Imagine swearing your loyalty to a stupid little sixteen-year-old girl,” Cersei said, watching them.
“Oh, yes, I can’t imagine swearing loyalty so young, and to a girl besides.”
“You swore to the Kingsguard. Don’t imply -”
“That I followed you? But I did. That I love you? But I do.”
She had always so loved how Jaime spoke, his arrogance and wit. Even before she’d understood what it truly meant to have him, the knowledge that she could have him, have all that deadly cutting humor and handsomeness, had thrilled her to the bone. But since he’d come back to her, he’d been so demanding, placing himself in front of her and baring his love to her, like he wanted to hurt her. How long and I came back to you and I love you and I’ll follow you anywhere. It was unbearable because she knew it to be false. She saw the ridiculous longing when he looked at Brienne, the way he flinched when Cersei called her ugly. It was ridiculous.
But she couldn’t say any of that - not generally, and certainly not now. “It’s not terribly chivalrous for someone like Lady Brienne to try to take Lady Sansa to bed. Imagine how she must cry.”
Cersei sipped her wine. “Stop what?”
“Brienne wouldn’t, and you were happy to let Joffrey torment her.”
“Don’t you dare speak to me about Joffrey.”
“You know he was cruel, Cersei.”
“Not everyone.” And again he looked at Brienne, again he gazed at her with that absurdly transparent worshipful regard. It was like watching a stallion pant after a mule.
“You disgust me,” she told him sweetly. She handed him her empty wine glass and took his full one, and went off to flirt with the Tyrell guards who’d accompanied the ladies.
By the end of the night, she felt half-mad. The only good part of the evening was how freely the wine had flowed. Brienne had done nothing a host might be expected to do; she spent half the night in a corner with Sansa Stark, no doubt plotting away at Lannister ruin. Cersei had found herself moving from group to group and being more or less charming because she had to be, because the actual Lady of the hall was a mannish freak who could barely make conversation with courtiers who had been trained specifically to speak to the reluctant and clumsy-tongued. Cersei went to her room exhausted, drunk, and angry.
She noticed it all in one go. The adjoining room’s door was open; Jaime and Brienne sat together on the chaise in Brienne’s chamber. She knew that look on Jaime’s face, she knew it. It had been directed at her more times than she could count, devotion and love and lust all rolled up in a single glance. It was disgusting that he should direct it at someone else now. She stomped into the room and said, “Jaime! What do you think you’re doing?”
But she wasn’t going to listen to his lies. “I already told you, you don’t need to whore yourself out to the Evenstar. We’re going to get out of here on our own terms. Come to bed.”
But Jaime didn’t budge. He didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed. He said, “I’ll come to bed when I’m done talking,” and looked back to Brienne.
Lady Brienne, bright red in the firelight, her tunic straining at the shoulder seams. Cersei snorted. “Don’t bother. Warm her bed tonight.” She slammed the door behind her and fell asleep fuming.
She woke the next day to see Jaime sleeping on the floor by their bed, and to a summons on her breakfast tray. Lady Sansa wished to see her in the solar that morning, when she was feeling ready. She would wait until the bell sounded for tea.
“How lovely,” Cersei said. For a moment all she could see was Joffrey’s face, still forever, his beloved eyes shuttered. Her son. And Sansa had been glad - Sansa had likely encouraged Tyrion to do it. Oh, but she hated her. And now she was Lady Sansa again, reportedly with more political power than Cersei had ever touched, even as Queen Regent. “Damn her,” she whispered, and went to get dressed.
She half expected Sansa to greet her with a sword to the throat, or to order a guard to toss her into the waters below. That was what Cersei would do in her place: a carefully concocted story, loyal guards, and no other witnesses. Tarth was remote and few people liked her, after all. Lady Sansa could get away with it, could profit from it. But Lady Sansa was still just a girl; the Dragon Queen hadn’t beaten innocence out of her the way Cersei had attempted to. She met Cersei with her hands folded and greeted her politely, no more threat than a kitten given a bit of string.
“Are you enjoying your time here?” Lady Sansa asked, toying with the yellow flower she’d picked as she bade Cersei to sit.
Cersei couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Surely you jest.”
“I think it’s lovely here, and Lady Brienne is so kind.”
It occurred to Cersei that she could solve a nagging mystery, with the subject of it so open to conversation. “People are usually kind to their owners.”
Sansa frowned. “Lady Cersei, I don’t understand your meaning.”
“She serves you, does she not? She takes her oaths comically seriously.”
“I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed,” Sansa said slowly. “She did serve me, after my lady mother was murdered. But I released her from that oath. I had to, when she told me she was taking you two. I couldn’t allow her to involve me in - all of that.”
All of that. Cersei’s own treachery, Jaime’s oathbreaking, their romance and its issue. This was the secret Brienne had kept from them. Well, from her; she’d likely told Jaime, obsessed with him as she was. “I see.”
“But I was wondering if you liked Tarth,” Lady Sansa said. “If it suits you. Brienne mentioned she was doing her best to make you comfortable, but I thought I might ask you myself.”
And suddenly she understood what the girl wanted. “You can just tell me to beg, my dear. No need to stand on ceremony.”
Gods, she was almost as slow as Brienne. “You’re here to see if you can send Tommen and Myrcella here. Brienne has the space and her ridiculous oath to Jaime might lead her to accommodate us. I imagine the Dornish are ready to pitch Myrcella into a pit; she’s useless to them as a bastard, doubly so as the bastard of the pretender’s widow. Tommen, of course, is a threat, but keeping him locked up forever might not play so well with the kingdoms your Queen is trying to pacify. And her dragons can’t be everywhere at once.” She couldn’t help but smile a little, thinking of all that power, even if it wasn’t hers. “Ask me to beg, Sansa. You know I will, for my children.”
“I’m not like you,” Sansa said. “I never was. I think Joffrey might have liked me more if I had been.” She looked at Cersei, searched her gaze. Cersei doubted she’d find what she wanted: repentance? Shame? Joffrey might have been a monster, but no more than any other king. He’d been unusually lacking in tact, not unusually cruel.
“So like a Stark,” she said when she realized Sansa was waiting for her reply. “Very well: I yield. Please, Lady Sansa. Please give me my children back. Please, I beg you.” She didn’t have to summon the tears: they appeared organically.
“That’s not what I want!” Sansa sounded so alarmed Cersei almost believed her. “I’m trying to make sure you won’t return and try to take the throne! Brienne told me you were half mad and I didn’t believe her - I see now I should have.”
“Half mad? What do you mean?”
“With grief,” Sansa said, “and fear that someone will hurt you, or the children.” She stood, dropping the yellow flower to the ground. When she spoke, her voice was steady, calm. Not childish at all - not anymore. “I think it would hurt them more to be around you again. I think it’s only that Lady Brienne is so good, that she manages to withstand you at all.”
Sansa left her alone in the solar then, taking all the guards with her. Cersei was glad; she didn’t need reports making it back to the Maid of Tarth that she’d wept over her own empty hands.
Jaime had been awake long into the night, discussing with Brienne what House Lannister might offer the Dragon Queen to get their children back. He spent hours stunned at Brienne’s willingness to negotiate on their behalf. Cersei would have flown into a rage if she’d gotten wind of it, entreating him not to trust Brienne and verbally abusing him when he trusted her anyway, so they’d kept her out of it. But Brienne hated it, he knew. “She loves them,” she’d told him. “Even if she loves no one else - I’m sorry.” She touched his hand, warm and steady. “I didn’t mean it like that. But she’ll do anything for them. She deserves to know you’re trying.”
“I’m their father.” He’s forced himself to say it, over and over again, this truth he’d guarded so carefully even while the world went mad. “Of course I’m trying. But we’ll come to Cersei with a real plan, or not at all.”
“Sansa says it won’t be that simple. Daenerys isn’t willing to give Tommen up so long as he holds such value to a family that wants her throne.”
“It’s reasonable,” Brienne had said. “Or as reasonable as anything else about politics.” She shrugged, dismissing the whole of thirty years’ war in a single movement. “It’s why it’s important that you stay here. You need to appear unambitious.”
“You can’t tell me Sansa thinks my sister has no ambition.”
“She knows that your children are first in Cersei’s heart,” Brienne had said. She’d taken such care, not quite meeting Jaime’s eyes, not lying but not telling him the whole truth, either.
“Why are you doing this?” He’d had to know, then. He’d burned for it, for her. This wasn’t a desperate ride on horseback, it wasn’t Harrenhal; she had no reason to be loyal to him, and every reason to hate Cersei. “Why not just abandon us?”
“I can’t,” she’d said. A simple statement that explained nothing at all, and that had been the end of it.
So their children were still stranded, and he knew Cersei was angry. Talking with Sansa hadn’t helped that at all. Still, he hadn’t expected to see her produce poison on the delegation’s second night, moving her hand towards Margaery’s cup with every intent of killing her.
He was too far down the table to stop her. No one else noticed. No one was quite as attuned to his sister as he was. For an agonized moment he thought to cry out a warning, and he knew he wouldn’t, couldn’t, that the words would choke him in his own throat. But then he didn’t need to, for Brienne put her hand over Cersei’s, gripping hard. She spoke too quietly for Jaime to hear her, but Cersei - his beautiful sister, murderous and devoted, beloved and deadly - put the poison back in her pocket.
Oh, there would be hell to pay.
They bade Brienne goodnight relatively early in the evening, abandoning her to awkward conversation as they walked back to their suite together. For a moment, as Cersei locked the door, Jaime thought she meant to shout at him - to rail, to throw things.
Instead, she advanced on him as a cat stalks prey. He took a step back, she took a step forward, until he stood with his back pressed to the wall and she was kissing him.
It sent fire through his blood. She twisted his collar in her hand, braced cruel nails against his shoulder blade. She bit his ear and then his lips, tore at his shirt. She was furious and beautiful and his, once again his, not pulling away or hiding parts of herself. His other half, his soul.
“She stopped me,” Cersei breathed. “That enormous - I hate her. Jaime, I hate her.” She spun them so that she was braced against the wall, pulling him down to her. “I hate her, I want to kill her, she stopped me.”
“I know,” he whispered, and he did. He fell to his knees right there in front of her, knocking her legs apart, ducking beneath her skirts.
He did know. He remembered the terrible way it had hurt in the beginning, to fall under Brienne’s regard and fail to live up to her standards. He remembered how badly he’d wanted her to fulfill the promise in her disapproving looks and just fuck him, bend him over and force him to be whatever she wanted. Cersei’s knees trembled as he touched her and he knew, deep in his bones, that she felt what he had, that she finally understood.
“She wouldn’t like it,” he whispered. It was safe under here; she couldn’t see him. She could only feel his fingers teasing the wetness out of her cunt, his tongue against her lips. “She’d hate knowing we’re doing this. She’d think it’s wrong.”
Cersei shuddered against him. “Who cares what that great ox thinks?”
But he knew the heart of it. “She’d tell us to stop.” He drove two fingers deep inside her. She was so wet that he heard it, smelled it, felt her leaking around him. “She’d force us to stop.”
“No she wouldn’t. She’d watch. She’s pathetic, Jaime, I’ve seen her look at you.”
“I’ve seen her look at you.”
Choked laughter. “I hate her.”
“I hate her too,” Jaime whispered, a confession that meant the opposite.
Cersei didn’t answer; she only moaned, moving on his fingers. He gripped her thighs and licked her, sucked her, until she came around him; then when she’d fallen to the floor he rose over her and fucked her, first on her back and then braced on her knees, hard and fast and slow and cruel. He gripped his cock to keep from coming too soon, holding her tightly to him when she tried to provoke him into movement. She needed to understand, she needed to feel it. He had been loyal to her and she had been monstrous to him, and they were the only two people in the world, the only two who mattered. Except he carried a ghost in him now, reproachful blue eyes and monstrous honorable faith. I know you don’t mean that. I know you know better. He did, damn her, he did. But Cersei didn’t. There was no hope for her, unless Jaime could convince her of one more person, one more truth. Just one.
When he finally came inside her, she screamed. He didn’t think it was on purpose, but it sealed their fates anyway: Brienne would have heard, must have heard, for her room had shown light beneath the door for twenty minutes now, as Jaime had brought Cersei off over and over. She clutched him, bit him, even as he spilled inside her; when he was done, she pressed her thighs together, and he watched his seed drip out of her and onto the rug.
“The Dragon Queen demands we all bend the knee to her,” Cersei said in tons of brittle bitterness. “I think sometimes I understand her.” She looked over to Brienne’s door. “I’d like to burn all the world. I’d like to see them weep for my forgiveness.”
Brienne would never weep, not for that, Jaime thought, but he didn’t tell her. He couldn’t tell her. If his soul had stayed tender towards honorable knights, it was only because its other half had grown hard and cold, and nearly beyond his reach altogether.