It was another long, hard day of crossing unpleasant terrain in wet and chilly conditions. Normally, Jaime might have tried to liven up the ride with a song or two but today he was content, or at least determined, to keep his silence. He felt the wench's eyes on him often as they rode and tried not to think about her.
He knew it was silly to hold a grudge over so silly a thing, after all they'd been through; after all the times he's saved her life and she's saved his, all the horrors they've endured side by side, but he barely spoke a word to her all day.
At one point, Pod worked up the nerve to ask him about Tyrion, which put a brief end to the unpleasant silence.
He gave the boy a softened version of the truth and assured him that his brother was likely drinking himself blind at the finest whorehouse across the narrow sea as they spoke.
Brienne gave a little cough of disapproval at that and he assumed she felt he shouldn't discuss such unsavory things with the lad, but Jaime ignored it. The boy has spent enough time in King's Landing that he'd have had to be blind and deaf not to know about the existence of whores. He'd have only needed to squire for his brother for a day to realize what sorts of pleasures Tyrion was fond of.
Besides, the look of relief on the boy's face was plain, and he even let out a chuckle at the image.
Jaime went on to tell Pod a couple of amusing stories about his little brother, as the lad seemed to admire him so much. Pod laughed heartily at each punchline, but Jaime felt a painful twisting in his gut as he tried to fight off the memory of his last meeting with Tyrion and recall just the good ones.
At one point as he spoke, his voice audibly cracked with emotion and Brienne instantly turned to look at him. He had no desire for her concern though, and carried on with his tale in a slightly too-cheerful tone, gesturing emphatically at him as though Pod was the only one there.
By nightfall, they found a small cave, and after leaving Pod with the horses and checking to make sure it was unoccupied, they settled in.
They sated their hunger on a quiet supper of some salted pork and some apples they found en route, and turned in for the night.
Brienne settled down next to Pod and Jaime chose a spot to lay his bedroll that was about as far from the wench as he could possibly get in the small cave and quickly fell asleep.
There she goes again. Seven hells. Cursing the gods he doesn't believe in, Jaime scowls and rolls over, trying to ignore the rapidly increasing whimpers coming from where the wench lays sleeping.
No way is he getting involved again. No way.
Her accusatory eyes still burn in his mind and he is still more than a little bitter about it, logic be damned. He has no intention of having a repeat performance of this morning.
You're on your own, lass.
He tries to tune her out.
Everyone has nightmares. It will pass.
She's made it clear she doesn't need his help on this front. However, turning his back on her does nothing to drown out her desperate words of anguish,
"Please, My Lady. Please. I swear to you, he's changed. He sent me after your daughters...coin...sword...find them and keep them safe. Saved...my life. He's shown...highest honor. Don't make...cannot make...POD! No, please. Pod. Pod!" she cries out once again, reaching out towards the cavernous ceiling in her sleep.
Jaime feels something strange stir inside of him as he listens to her words. He was never much opposed to choosing denial as a method of ignoring things he'd rather not acknowledge. It had served him well in the past.
But as he takes in Brienne's desperate cries for mercy, even he cannot fool himself to thinking the wench can be talking about anyone other than him.
His stomach clenches oddly as takes in the meaning of her words, and he risks a glance over at her sleeping form, writhing and distraught beyond all imagining.
There had been nothing to forgive, as far as he saw it, but hearing her earnest words about touch him more deeply than he is comfortable with.
Perhaps he had not destroyed whatever esteem she might have held him in with his foolish decision the previous night.
Highest honor, she'd said. His heart feels oddly full at the thought.
The fearless wench had stood up against whatever monstrous and vengeful bit of soul remained in Catelyn Stark's body and defended his honor.
The sincerity and urgency of her words is almost too moving to bear.
He is also sure the wench would be humiliated beyond belief at this unintentional invasion of her privacy.
Sighing, he gets up, strides over to her flailing body and nudges her hard in the thigh with his boot.
"Wake up, wench," he says loudly. "You're at it again."
Touched he may be, but he will not cross any lines that might lead her to stare at him with that shocked and wary expression ever again.
He nudges at her with his foot once more, but she doesn't wake, just lies there muttering, "I cannot betray him. I cannot," and crying out for Pod and Hyle.
Unable to bear it any longer, he bends down and shakes her shoulders roughly.
"Come now, girl. It's just a dream. Wake up," he says.
Her eyes snap open and she gasps, sitting up with a start.
"What? What is it?"
"Easy now. You were dreaming again. Quite loudly. Pod's fine, wench. Look, he's right there." he says, inclining his head toward the sleeping squire. "Then again, there's a fair chance he could be dead, seeing as he hasn't stirred, despite you yelling for him like some mad harpy." he adds flatly.
She stares at him, open-mouthed and absolutely mortified.
"Oh...I...I'm sorry," she says quietly, staring intently at the floor. Even by the low light of the fire, he can see her cheeks blazing red. "Was I...very loud?"
He sees her wipe quickly at the wetness on her cheeks and a wave of pity and guilt washes over him for being so blunt.
"No," he lies. "Not very. I was just..." he trailed off. Being a bastard. "I was awake and heard you, is all."
She bites her lip, eyes pooling with pain. She turns away from him, and gazes over at the fire that is still burning but starting to fizzle out. After a long moment of silence, she says in a small, cracking voice,
"I can't get the images out of my head. Them hanging there, kicking for their lives, losing the last of their breaths, while she just watched. Her face so torn up, her flesh...like a corpse... but it was her. You saw her. Lady Catelyn.
"I tried so hard to tell her the truth, but nothing I said could sway her. It was me she wanted, but them who suffered. Pod. Hyle. Poor Hyle. He was only there because of me. And I couldn't save him," she murmurs softly, tears in her eyes. She is staring at the fire, speaking more to herself and to the flames than she is to him.
His stomach twists at her words of regret and self-loathing. He wishes she'd stop. He recalled times on their travels together when he had to fight to get two words out of the stoic wench. If only she'd be silent now, for her pain weighs heavily on him and he knows not what to do.
But now the floodgates are open and she's spouting off feelings like there's no tomorrow and he's sure he should be saying something to soothe her, but finding such words were a lot easier when she'd been unconscious and unable to hear him stumbling over them.
He hasn't the slightest idea what to say, never having truly learned how speak gentle words. Jests and japes flew easily from his lips, like swallows flitting about on a summer breeze. Witty retorts came to him without any sort of effort at all, straight and swift as a marksman's arrows, but finding words of comfort had never been a strength of his.
When she pauses to catch her breath and stare into the fire, he takes his chance to speak regardless. Feeling as though he's riding a swollen river without a paddle, he begins.
"It- it wasn't your fault, my lady," he says stiffly. "The Catelyn Stark standing in that cave was fueled by darkness and vengeance. She and the men who followed her are the only ones to blame.
"Hunt was a grown man. You cannot hold yourself responsible for his fate. You fought with much valor and you saved your young squire. None of us should have made it out of there alive, but your skill and determination got the lad out. You saved Pod, Brienne, and you saved me-"
She had been listening with wide eyes, full of pain and disbelief as he spoke, but at those last words she looks truly horror stricken. She buries her face in her hands.
"You?" she says, aghast. "Jaime, you should not have even been there. If I had not deceived you, led you there, after swearing an oa-"
"Hush. That's not-" he says sharply, but the stubborn wench cuts him off, blubbering out apologies he doesn't want or need to hear.
"I tricked you, after you trusted me to...to-" she lets out a dry sob that tugs at his heart painfully, face still hidden behind her hands.
"I'm so...I'm so, so sorry, Jaime," she continues. "She was hanging him. An innocent, brave boy. The life was leaving him and he's so young and eager and good and I just...I couldn't let him-couldn't let them-"
He seizes her hands and pulls them away from her face, wincing at the sight of the tears in her beautiful blue eyes.
"Stop it, Brienne. It's alright. I know exactly why you did what you did. I understand. All's forgiven. Hells, there was never anything to forgive. One only needs to glance at you for a second to see how much you love the lad. I understand. Just...just... please shut up about it and stop your crying. I've no soft words for dealing with a woman's tears. And it's making me feel bloody useless."
He scowls at himself for ending on such a blunt note. What a blundering idiot. Perhaps he ought to take a walk outside, give the wench some space and privacy.
He starts to rise, but to his surprise, she lifts her head and gives him a watery smile.
"Thank you, Ser Jaime," she says shyly, gazing at him. "You're...very kind. I cannot tell you what that means to me."
He stares back at her for a long moment, enraptured by her shining eyes, so full of sincere gratitude.
He can't recall ever having someone look at him this way, with such tenderness and softness in their expression. He feels the heat rising up his neck and shrugs, grinning lopsidedly.
"No bother," he says, intending to sound chipper, but his words come out rather hoarse and crackly. He manages another grin and waves his hand, as though hoping to wave away the intensity of the moment and the feelings stirring inside him.
"Now, you best try and get some rest, lass," he says briskly. "Go on then, lie down. I'll wake you again if you have another nightmare."
Brienne glances uncertainly at Pod, sleeping beside her beneath a blanket of fur. For quite some time, the only sounds are his soft snores and the crackling of the fire.
Then she murmurs, eyes downcast, "I…I don't want to wake Pod. He…he needs his rest. He needs to save his strength. He has another hard ride tomorrow."
"So have you," Jaime shrugs. "You can't stay up all night for fear of waking the lad. He wouldn't want that. As I said before, I'll wake you if need be. Sleep."
Brienne watches him, and opens and closes her mouth a few times, as though struggling to find words.
Spit it out, wench, he thinks. I'd like to get some sleep myself. I can't spend half the night waiting for you to find your words.
She sits under her covers by the fire, and forces herself to meet his eyes, though she looks as though she'd much rather retreat under the blankets and never emerge.
Finally she manages to stutter out, "I- I think- last night…I think it…you...you helped," she says, so low he can barely hear her, though he's kneeling right beside her. "Could…could you, perhaps- I mean- if you don't mind-"
She's cringing in embarrassment every step of the way, and for a while he has to struggle to process what the hell she's on about. Then it dawns on him and nearly barks out a laugh.
You ridiculous bloody wench. You want me to lie with you? After the stink you kicked up this morning!
For a brief moment, Jaime is tempted to play dumb, to force her into completing her request, taking a little vengeance for her strong reaction and accusatory stare that morning.
Go on then, wench. Tell me you what you want.
But then she begins to turn from him, her humiliation painfully evident, and he recalls the touching words he overheard her crying out in her sleep. He thinks of her caring for him so doggedly after the Companions took his hand, and he thinks of her remarkably gentle hands tending to him, about her cajoling him into holding onto life when he'd been so tempted to slip away.
He thinks about her genuine belief in honor and chivalry, her fierce loyalty and and his sympathy beats out his ego.
Alright, wench, I'll help you out.
"Are you asking me to...lie with you again?" he asks her, as kindly as he can, but it still makes her cringe with shame.
"Y-yes. If you- only if you-"
"Of course, My Lady" he says immediately, and relief washes over her features. "Anything I can do to help. I'm no stranger to dark dreams."
"Thank you," she says quietly.
He walks over to his bedroll and picks it up, bringing it back over to her. She looks highly uncertain, chewing on her lip and looking up at him with questioning eyes.
"Alright then, wench. Lie down," he says softly, settling down beside her. "It's over. Just remember that's it's all over. What's past is past, but Pod is safe and alive and sleeping soundly right beside you. Now rest easy."
She smiles and lays back down. He lies down down too, on his back. He stares up at the dark stone ceiling for a while and wonders whether he should do anything more. She probably wouldn't want him to touc...well, being beside her is probably enough.
He doesn't need to reach over and press himself against her back, or wrap his arm around her stomach, or rest his chin upon her shoulder.
But gods, does he want to. The urge to touch her is overwhelming and quite a bit disturbing.
This is close enough, Lannister. If she has another nightmare, you'll do what you have to, but this isn't- it isn't anything else, and you're a bloody fool for wanting it to be.
"Jaime," she says, barely above a whisper.
"Mmm?" he asks.
"Could you...I...I-" she stutters once again, and he almost laughs in frustrated amusement at her bumbling words.
Bloody incoherent wench can't even get out a full sent- but then she's taking his hand in hers and tugging it towards her and draping it across her side and his mind goes blank.
Stunned, but not unpleased, he tightens his grip around her and whispers, "Goodnight, Brienne."
"Goodnight," she says quietly.
He falls asleep to the sounds of her peaceful breathing and the crackling of the dying fire, feeling warmer than he has in a long time.
A/n: Thanks for reading! I love reviews more than Cersei loves wine!
A/n: Thanks for reading!
I love reviews more than Cersei loves wine!