Tyrion heard nothing but silence when he entered the cell. Why would it have been different? There was nothing but shadows, here.
She was huddled up and kept her head down. Was she sleeping? Was she ignoring him? Was she dead already, reduced to a shadow among shadows?
Tyrion came closer and knelt to be at her height.
She opened her eyes. Her green gaze that light had left so long ago stared back at him. He shivered.
Green spots everywhere. Wildfire. The dragon. Screams.
She was weak and her face was dirty. Her hair had regrown but had lost its shine for good. She had also lost weight. He was sure that he almost would have been able to lift her.
But it wasn't the worst thing. The worst thing was the ghosts dancing in her eyes, alongside explosions and wildfire.
"Cersei," he said. "Can I stay with you for a little while?"
Why did he ask? He didn't know. She was so weak, so feeble that she never would have been strong enough to push him away. She nodded as if it didn't matter at all.
"You... you slaughtered them, as if it didn't matter at all."
Two purple eyes poisoned with madness stare at him coldly.
"I've come to take what is mine"
She enters the devastated Throne Room.
There was still blood on the floor. Cersei had given birth only a week earlier and no one had bothered cleaning it up. They had hoped she would die, Tyrion knew.
He also knew that it would have been better if she had.
He sat down beside her. She was chained to the wall - an idea of the Breaker of Chains. Oh, he wished he could have laughed about the irony of her current situation. He had wanted to. He had dreamt of this instant when he would glare at her, of the sneer that would twist his lips, of the feeling of victory that would consume him.
You've lost, Cersei. You tried to get rid of me but you've lost, and I've won.
In his dream, the chains were on fire and she was burning, screaming as he burst into laughter.
He had woken up trembling, suffocating.
His laugh had remain stuck in his throat.
Now, he was looking at the chains fearing to see them start burning, to see the dream come true.
She didn't ask him why he was here and for that he was grateful. He didn't want to tell her, not now. If he did, he was sure the chains would be on fire at once.
"A girl. She's fine," he answered immediatly.
The dead embers in her eyes came back to life for a few moments.
"We found them in the rubble."
Grey Worm and four other Unsullied throw two bodies at Daenerys's feet. Tyrion's heart breaks when he recognizes Jaime.
He freezes when the realization that Cersei's still alive strikes him. She clings to her other half and weeps in silence.
Their eyes meet and they both know it would have been better for her to die with him.
"She looks like Jaime," Tyrion told her. "She has his nose and mouth. But she has your eyes."
Why was he telling her this now? It was cruel, telling her about a child she would never see, she would never hold. Maybe, deep inside, he wanted her to suffer. A Lannister always paid his debts, right?
A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid.
So this was the payment? Ashes tasted like blood, the blood of the innocent people in King's Landing, the blood covering the child when she was born, the blood flowing from Jaime's body, along with his life.
No, it definitely wasn't why he was telling her.
I know you're not a monster.
Cersei loved her children and he knew he wanted to give her something to hold on to. It was the last thing he would ever be able to do for her.
"What's her name?"
It was like a slap. She gave him a cold glare.
You killed mother and now you name my daughter after her?
He almost wished she had said it. It was what Cersei would have done, but Cersei had probably died in the rubble, just like Jaime. Didn't they use to say they were only one soul? All that was left was a ghost, an echo of the past.
"Joanna Lannister," she repeated. "Good, good..."
"Cersei Lannister. I, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of my name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, sentence you to die."
Cersei has no last word. She still cuddles Jaime's body as Drogon casts a shadow over her.
It has already opened its mouth when Tyrion casts himself between them.
"Your Grace, I beg you. She's pregnant."
Daenerys laughs coldy. He's shaking. Where is the Mother of Dragons? The Breaker of Chains swearing to fight to make the world a better place? Where is Mhysa?
"Two of my children died. Why would her fate be different?
He kneels and starts begging again.
"Please... the child is innocent."
"My children were innocent. Missandei was innocent."
"It's my nephew, or my niece. My family. Please, Your Grace, show mercy..."
He had begged for a long time.
Minutes, hours maybe. He had lost the count and he had lost hope too when Daenerys had cut him off.
Fine. The child will live.
And she had thrown Cersei into a cell before forbidding Tyrion to ever contact her. He had sneered. What would they have said to each other anyway? He had also hoped that locking up Cersei in a forsaken place would make his mind forsake any memory it had of her.
He had been wrong.
"She will die."
He noticed the hopeless tone she had used.
"What? I told you, she's healthy."
"It doesn't matter. She will die."
A bitter laugh came out of her.
"I was told a prophecy, a long time ago. Queen you shall be until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear."
"You'll have three children. Gold will be their crowns. Gold, their shrouds."
"I refuse to believe that."
"That's what Jaime told me," she whispered, her voice somewhat broken.
Tyrion lowered his head and the visions came before his eyes all over again.
Daenerys, the mother of Dragons, had spat a river of fire over King's Landing. Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen, the golden-haired children, had died.
"Three children, Tyrion. Three."
"I won't believe it. She'll live, I'll make sure of it."
"I once told Jaime he was the stupidest Lannister. I was wrong. Do you really think your Queen will let her live?" she spat.
"I'm Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. I let this child live. Give her to me."
Feeling a lump in his throat, Tyrion glances at Sansa but she doesn't look at him. There are flames in her eyes as she holds the baby tighter and stares coldly at Daenerys. He holds his breath.
Sansa gives her the child at last.
"Her name is Joanna. Joanna Lannister."
That's a new slap. Sansa is brave, she's Wardeness of the North, she fears nothing. Affection takes over his heart.
But Sansa is made of ice, and fire melts ice, doesn't it?
He can't read anything in the purple eyes. Daenerys responds with a cold smile.
"Such a lovely name."
The way she looks at Joanna foreshadows nothing good.
"Nothing will happen to her. I'll protect her."
Cersei raised an eyebrow, far from being convinced.
"How? I don't see your pin. Has the Mother of Dragons grown tired of your presence?"
He was lying. A few days ago, Daenerys had summoned him into the Throne Room. Jon was there and he was keeping his head down.
From now on, I'll make my decisions alone. The Queen of the Seven Kingdoms doesn't need a Hand, her judgement is the only one that matters.
He had wanted to say that she had stopped listening to him long ago but he had just nodded. He had thrown his pin onto the ground and he had come back to Sansa and the baby.
He was lying and Cersei knew it but they both chose to ignore it.
"I'm not staying in King's Landing. I'm taking her North, with Sansa, in a few days."
"We got married again."
Cersei seemed to think it was rather ironic, and it surely was, but Tyrion didn't care. He truly loved Sansa, she had been his own sun among the city's ashes during these long months. She had only come to the capital because Jon had asked her to and she missed Winterfell. It was time for them to leave.
"We will take good care of her."
"Sansa hates me."
What about you, Cersei, do you hate her? Your little dove is no longer a child, you know. Sometimes, I see you in her, a long time ago, when we were still able to talk without threatening each other. You've taught her a lot, you know? But you're anger and wrath whereas she's passion and softness. Were you ever soft? Not with me anyway, but you surely were with Jaime and your children.
"Sansa knows the child is innocent," he says at last.
Sansa is bending over Joanna's cradle and watches her sleep, preoccupied.
Tyrion joins her.
"Do you think she's in danger?" he asks.
"She's Cersei Lannister's daughter. Of course she's in danger."
The one thought of Daenerys coming after her makes him feel dizzy. A part of him still refuses to believe it.
"Jon tries, Tyrion, he tries every day! She doesn't listen to him any more. The only reason he's alive is because she's still have some affection for him, but I think she's growing impatient by the day."
Her voice has become higher. Joanna wakes up and starts crying. Sansa takes her gently.
"The day she is done being patient-"
"The child is innocent."
"I know, Tyrion. I know..."
She knew, they both did, but it wouldn't change anything.
"You're not satisfied with your new Queen," Cersei noticed.
It wasn't a question. It was tempting to deny it, but what for? None of it mattered any more. Cersei would take his words away with her.
"She terrifies me," he confessed.
More than you ever terrified me, he wanted to add.
"I thought... I believed in her. I thought she would make this world a better place, but she lost everything and never recovered from it."
You didn't recover either, Cersei. How did you feel looking at your children's corpses? Did you dream of them? I saw them in my dreams. Did you feel powerless? Did you see your humanity leaving you a little bit more every day? I saw it. When I left Westeros, there were stars in your eyes. They were burning with anger and I thought they might explode and devour me, but they were right there. When I came back and saw you again, when you blamed me for the death of Myrcella and Tommen, there was only one left. It was barely shining and its light was fading, as if it were going to disappear but it was there for Jaime, for the child you were carrying in your womb.
I can't see any stars, now.
"Sansa wants to proclaim the North's independence," he added.
There was fear in his voice. How was Daenerys going to react? She'd hated Sansa since the very beginning, since she had opposed her in Winterfell, at the beginning of the war.
"I think Yara Greyjoy wants to do the same for the Iron Islands... and Dorne's intentions are yet to be clarified."
Tyrion knew it would end badly. Cersei glanced at him as if he couldn't have expected anything else.
"Fire and Blood."
It squeezed his heart and he thought of Daenerys Stormborn, the silver-haired girl who had crossed the Narrow Sea with her promises of freedom.
"She may kill you for this."
Sansa stays still.
"I won't let the North live under the rule of a tyrant. Daenerys may stay on the Throne, but I won't have my people living in fear. The North is counting on me."
She knows she's been harsh so she apologizes with a kiss.
"It'll be alright."
Daenerys may stay on the Throne, Sansa said, but could she be overthrown after all?
"I know why you're here," Cersei said.
That was it. Tyrion wanted to run away, crushed by the horror of the situation but he was trapped by her green eyes.
"The time has come, hasn't it?"
If she was afraid, she didn't show it.
"Everything could have been different."
For the first time since he had arrived, he showed how angry he was.
"If you had surrended-"
"I never would have surrended and you know it."
"Daenerys was willing to spare you!"
"Look me in the eye and swear she would have let me live."
He tried. His mouth was open, ready to portray Daenerys as a woman who was true to her word, ready to say that she had a good heart and had never betrayed her promises.
The bells. King's Landing on fire. Screams, blood, corpses.
He remained silent.
"You betrayed the truce and your word to send your armies North. You killed Missandei..."
I believed you Cersei. I believed you because I saw that last star in your eyes, because I thought you would fight not to let it die. I believed you because I saw Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen staring sadly at your belly. I was a fool. After all, maybe I made up that star. I believed you, and you betrayed me, and you betrayed her, and now, Jaime is dead and you'll never see your daughter.
Cersei gave him a contemptuous and pitiful look.
"You don't even believe that. This whore would have had me executed anyway. I would do everything I did again and again, for my child, for house Lannister, for the Throne."
A shadow covered her eyes.
"For Jaime and our family."
He remembered seeing her clinging to Jaime's body, desperate, weeping, begging for him to come back to her, or begging to go with him, it didn't matter as long as they were together...
She hadn't let go until the Unsullied had made her.
"Well," Tyrion said, bitter. "It didn't work."
It didn't work. You've lost. It didn't work, Cersei, and you're going to die.
"Daenerys came to see me in Joanna's room earlier."
Tyrion looks up and already knows he's not going to like what's next.
"She told me her plans for Cersei's execution."
He's quite surprised by her outraged look.
"She told me as well," he answers.
"I thought you'd be glad. You wanted her dead, didn't you?"
Sansa frowns and sits down next to him.
"For a long time, to attend her execution was one of my dearest wishes. I thought that watching her die would bring me happiness, that her screams would be like a sweet song."
"I've seen too much fire, Tyrion, way too much. I know how terrible Cersei is, but I picture myself looking at Joanna and seeing it all again."
Tyrion hadn't thought about that. The feeling of horror overwhelms him a little more.
"I won't go."
"I'm sorry, Tyrion. I won't be able to watch, I won't."
"No," Cersei said. "It didn't work."
For the first time he heard some regrets in her voice, but it didn't make him feel any better.
Would I have been able to convince you, had I used other arguments? Maybe I should have knelt and offered my life for your help. Was it possible to reach that distant star?
"It doesn't matter any more, does it?"
"I suppose it doesn't," Tyrion said .
No, it doesn't matter anymore. You've lost, you're going to die and I will have to watch.
They remained silent for a few minutes.
"How?" Cersei asked.
Her voice was shaking. Deep inside, Tyrion was shaking too.
"First, a walk of atonement."
Cersei's frail mask of indifference shattered to pieces. Her eyes screamed.
No, no, not this. Not this.
In Essos, he had heard the tales about Cersei's walk, how she had been forced to walk naked across the city, how she had been spat at, how she had been humiliated with the sound of a bell.
Shame. Shame. Shame.
Daenerys had heard them as well.
"I guess you'll be at the forefront."
You'll like that, won't you? You'll throw the first stone, she seemed to say.
"Not exactly. I'll walk with you."
"I don't want you to-"
"Yes you do, even you'd rather die than admit it. You're scared, Cersei. You can try to conceal it as much as you want but I can see it anyway. You don't want to be alone."
Loneliness has always scared you. When Jaime left, you had no one else. How did you feel at night, alone in your bed? Did you regret choosing the Throne over everthing else? I'm sure you did, when the Red Keep crumbled around you. You would have been alone if Jaime hadn't come back to you. You probably deserved it.
Cersei was nothing but hatred and despair, now.
"Why?" she asked eventually.
I hate you. You hate me. We've spent all these years trying to destroy each other... you owe me nothing, then why? she shouted in silence.
"You're my sister," he sighed.
You're my sister. My family, whether I like it or not. Remember what Father used to say? Nothing is more important than the family. You deserved to die under those rocks, but you didn't. This time, you will die but I'll be there anyway.
Their silent talk lasted a few seconds, then Cersei lowered her head, defeated.
"And after the walk?"
But she knew. Of course she knew. She had known since the very beginning.
Of course, fire. What else? Fire and Blood. Burn them all. The Unburnt. You thought you mastered fire when you blew up the Sept of Baelor but you'll never match her. She came out of fire, Cersei. It was a miracle, I wished I had been there to see it. I thought she was a miracle, and that she would spread more miracles.
She didn't. She burned them with fire and all that was left was blood.
She sounded as if it were what she hoped for. A quick death, that was all she wanted. A brief instant of pain before nothingness.
But Daenerys never would have granted her what she wanted.
"No," he said. "She thought it would be too quick. A pyre."
I don't want just her life. I want her screams.
"I'll be in the fire with her. I'll watch her burn. My face will be the last thing she sees before dying.
Tyrion gives a worried look to Sansa and Jon.
"Dany," Jon begs. "Please, there is no need for that. There has been too much blood already... stop this madness. Help me make this world a better place. There is good in you, I know there is."
A tear rolls down Daenerys's cheek.
"You don't understand, do you? Being merciful has brought me nothing but misery and pain. Westeros never wanted my love and took all that I held dear."
Her face hardens as she turns to Tyrion.
"I suggest you bid farewell to her."
Cersei was weeping silently, now. The ghosts of her past were dancing around her, lurking, ready to devour her.
He gave her his hand and she took it before squeezing it, leaving him puzzled.
"It won't be long," he promised. "Just a few minutes."
But what were a few minutes? The bells had rung a few minutes after their arrival in King's Landing. The Red Keep had crumbled after a few minutes. He had begged for Cersei's life for a few minutes.
Her skin burning and melting, the smoke blinding her, the heat smothering her, it would all take a few minutes.
What he thought, she thought as well.
A few minutes were a long time. Instants of blinding pain wouldn't feel instantaneous for any of them.
I'm sorry it has to end this way. At night, when Sansa is asleep, I lie awake and I stare at the canopy, thinking about what could have been. I wish we had been able to get along, I wish you hadn't hated me so much. A part of me hoped I would be happy to watch you burn, but now I know, there will be nothing but regrets.
Dawn was getting closer, it was time for him to go. He stood up and made her let go of his hand.
"This prophecy had a third part," Cersei said.
But she didn't say anything else.
"Has it come true?"
"No. Not yet."
Confused, he started to walk toward the door with a lump in his throat when she called him back.
He had already opened the door but something in her voice made him freeze right away. It was so unusual that it took him a few seconds to realize what it was.
She was begging him.
He turned around.
"Don't let her."
She had never begged him before. She had never begged anyone. Never.
So Tyrion nodded, took a step back and closed the door.
Sansa was waiting outside the cell. She didn't ask him any questions and he was very grateful for that. She just took his hands and squeezed them for a few moments.
"Where is Daenerys?" he asked
"In her room, she's still asleep."
Troubled, he nodded and they both started to move.
"We need to stop her."
They were getting closer to the Queen's room. Tyrion stopped and Sansa knelt to be at his height.
"What do you mean?"
Don't let her.
A sad smile twisted his lips.
"Take care of Joanna."
Tyrion kissed her soft lips before walking away.
If I look back, I am lost.
"Tyrion, come back. I don't understand what you mean."
If I look back, I am lost.
Oh, his sweet Sansa. Would he ever see her again? He hoped so but he wasn't so sure. At least, he was certain she would take care of Joanna, their little lioness. He was going to proctect her from the fire of the dragon.
He crossed the hall and Sansa's desperate calls faded away - yet he could still hear them.
If I look back, I am lost.
When he was outside the door of Daenerys's room kept by two Unsullied including Grey Worm, he took a deep breath.
Don't let her.
As his hands were squeezing, squeezing and squeezing Cersei's throat, he had seen them again. The warm, comforting light was coming back so he had squeezed tighter instead of doing something stupid like cry.
When he had choked the life from her, he was sure she was smiling.
There were also stars in Daenerys's purple eyes. They were different, brighter, more volcanic and they looked like embers but they were definitely stars. Even her tears couldn't extinguish them.
She had barely struggled when he had climbed on top of her, crushing her and wrapping his hands about her throat.
She hadn't even screamed whereas he had wanted to so badly.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Forgive me. I didn't wanted things to end like this. I'm sorry.
The stars seemed to respond.
I'm sorry. I wanted everything to be different. I'm sorry.
As if they were comets, they shone one last time before disappearing for good.
Tyrion unclenched his fingers and kissed her forehead.
Don't let her.
I didn't let her burn you, Cersei. I extinguished the fire in her mind. I don't know what will happen to me but I saved Joanna, I saved Sansa and I saved her from herself.
Nothing else mattered.