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Fic: When It's Wrong and Useless [Game of Thrones | Ned/Cersei]

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Aug. 6th, 2011 | 09:45 pm

When It's Wrong and Useless | The weak sleep during the day. They need to. It's a hollow kind of sleep, not like sleep at all. It's more that they need to focus on not dying; just lean against a wall and stare up at the rotting stone and listen to the sound of the crackling flames; Ned/Cersei, Robb, Jaime, Catelyn; R; 4700 words.

notes: I'm not sure that this is nearly as successful as I thought it was when I was writing it. Upon the second read through, it wasn't exactly what I'd imagined in my head, but ah, well.

"A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist."
{Stewart Alsop}

They see Jaime for the first time in a month that morning, and Ned is just a second away from bashing his head in with the hilt of his sword before Cersei runs between them. He thinks that it would be easier to kill them both then, goddammit, rather than let Jaime rip her to pieces and have to burn them both in the morning. It would be one less mouth to feed, and then what? One death closer to the good part when there's no false hope left to fight for.

He forces himself to look away and respect her wishes, because somewhere beneath all the dirt and blood and fear, she's still a lady, and he's still a lord. And there's a way that these things are supposed to go, even now.

She's got her arms around Jaime, and she's screaming, "don't touch him don't touch him he's alive," which is when Ned realizes that Jaime's skin is turning green, not black, and he barely moves out of the way before Jaime vomits all over the floor.

"Thank the gods," Ned says, and helps Cersei drag Jaime up the stairs, but inside he's just thinking seven hells no because it's so much farther from over with someone like Jaime Lannister on their side.

There are probably a thousand easier places to hold than the guard-tower just south of Hornwood, especially for a broken bunch of ragged people, two women, and two children and only one strong man in the while bunch. And that was in the beginning, before the starvation started settling in and the flies started landing on their skin like they were corpses. As it is, the building is rotting out; a trembling tower of thick stone, with wooden steps that spiral up the sides and are falling out as quickly and surely as a dead man's teeth.

This makes dragging Jaime up the stairs all the more difficult. It's only the strong ones who come down on most days, because they can climb the pile of rubble at the base high enough to grip the lowest step, some ten feet up, and swing themselves up onto it. For all the trouble it causes, the divide does hardly anything to stop the Others when they come.

In the end it's Ned who braces, Cersei who pulls, from the offending height of the first step. She's stronger than she looks, Ned thinks as he aids Jaime in reaching higher with trembling arms. He's been thinking that a lot lately.

It's easier after that, though they strip Jaime of what's left of his armor and throw it back down. It clanks against the pile of rubble and sends echoes all the way up to and out of the tattered holes that are beginning to form in the ceiling. The stairs don't hold weight well though, so they move quickly, just in case, but the blood oozing from his leg just makes him all the more difficult to hold.

It's something like a bite, Ned finds, when he rips Jaime's breeches to shreds to examine his calf. The muscle is practically shredded, by deep gauges that are turning the surrounding flesh a sickly shade of blue. It doesn't seem right; Others don't bite, but when Ned looks closely he can see it, and Catelyn comes up right behind him and says, "fingernails."

She's right, obviously, in the hoarse resigned voice that makes him not want to look at her. She's damn right, and he's damn disgusted when he looks at the five-pointed star of ragged wounds on Jaime's leg. It's Ned draws his sword— it has to be Ned who draws his sword, because he's the only one of them who has one anymore. Robb lost his a week ago, to hesitation and fear on the third night that Rickon came back, small and black and screaming from his eyes. His took Robb's sword and two fingers with him. Ned finally burned him the next morning, when they decided that they were tired of bashing his skull in every goddamn night —but it's Cersei who snatches it away.

Ned thinks that she'll say 'no,' which would be stupid and futile and disgusting of her, because he would be the one who'd have to hack Jaime to bits and pieces in the end, after his green eyes turned blue and his leg wasn't the only part of him rotting to death.

But after all, what Cersei says is, "I'll do it. Let me do it," in this breathless, desperate voice that has him tying a piece of fly-eaten fabric tightly around Jaime's upper calf before he knows it. Oh dear gods no, he answers her in his mind. This isn't play. But he's so fucking tired of drawing blood.

"Goddammit do it Eddard you bloody coward," Jaime groans, the first words he's spoken since they found him, stumbling dazed and alone across the empty plane. Since Cersei grabbed him. Since Ned almost bashed his skull in without a second thought. His eyes are closed. He does not see her raise the sword with those strong arms that tremble anyway.

She brings the blade down.

Dull and blunted and worth more for its hilt now than its blade, Ice takes eleven uneven, shaking sweeps of Cersei's arms to cut all the way through his flesh. And even when she's crying on the last three, she won't let Ned finish it.

The weak sleep during the day. They need to. It's a hollow kind of sleep, not like sleep at all. It's more that they need to focus on not dying; just lean against a wall and stare up at the rotting stone and listen to the sound of the crackling flames.

It wasn't like this in the beginning. In the beginning they worked together, and Bran was the only one who never left the tower room. He taught them that falling doesn't matter, not the first fall, anyway. That falling is perhaps the easiest part to deal with. But when you fall again, through a wormy bit of rotting wood in the floor, down thirty feet through jagged jutting stairs to the rubble below, where there's something in the darkness come to eat you, it kind of does matter.

But burning Bran was easier than burning Rickon.

Now the tower room is for the others, for Robb and Catelyn and now for Jaime, who can't stand for his leg and can barely move for the infection. Ned thinks it sick that they've stopped the Other infection from taking him, only to watch him die by inches because Ice was far too rusty a blade and Cersei was far too frightened to wield her strength and make it clean.

Ned hates her. On a good day.

Catelyn keeps her distance; doesn't move her arms from around Robb's shoulders. It's not a problem for anyone, really, because Robb hasn't spoken since he lost his fingers, since the scream that ripped their souls out for the seventh time that week. His scream was worse than the blood, and the stench of his hand even after Catelyn bandaged up the missing fingers.

Ned knows that it's not the fingers that got to him, really. Robb hasn't spoken a single word since Rickon stopped coming back to kill him. It's perverse, really but that monster was his brother and his son and her son, too, and it's not that hard to miss a monster once you've burned it and buried it in the ground.

But even that feels like before.

Dear gods, it's they who are the walking dead, Ned thinks when he sees what remains of his family huddled in the corner opposite Jaime, whose head rolls side to side aimlessly. Robb doesn't move. And Ned's not sure what Catelyn clutches more tightly: their remaining son or her tiny, useless knife.

He learns to stop looking fairly quickly.

The strong work under the sun because the Others only come at night. Ned can almost believe that this is nothing but a dream, when he pushes open their barricaded door and feels the dust and dirt fall trembling from the ceiling to mist his face. He believes it when he sees Cersei, stripped down to her smallclothes, knee deep in black and battered bodies that it's time for them to burn and bury before the sun begins to set.

She turns to him, dirty knotted tangled hair catching the sun and flashing somehow through the filth. The bit of gold is blinding. He decides that he needs to learn to look away from her, too. But for now they lift the bodies of the Others that they drove back in the night, and try to pretend that the shattered remains are too distorted to recognize. It doesn't work. Ned still remembers the day that he kicked a body over, yet another whose head Ice's hilt had seen to, only to look down on Jory's face. Dead blue eyes and the way that Cersei had just looked at him when he was trying not to cry.

When the bodies are stacked, Cersei holds a stone against the ground while Ned runs Ice across its face again and again. Some days it takes hours to get a spark, and Ned gets so tired that he's barely putting pressure on the blade. On these days, they switch without having to agree to it, and Cersei pulls the blade from him and scrapes it for a while.

The spark is never pretty, when it comes, never once in all the days that they've been doing this has Ned looked upon the fire and thought yes, thought of feasts and cooking and hunting and the brilliantly lit hearth in Catelyn's chambers back at home. Home. What is it, goddammit, and where?

The coiling flames hit the bright blue sky in long moments, consuming bodies that burn slow and bury slower, when it's just the two of them dragging apart the earth with makeshift shovels. They manage, mostly, except on the days when Cersei prefers to throw the ashes to the wind. There's no point to burying them anyway; it's honestly just something to do.

There is a time, a small time, each morning before he goes to get the shovels, when they stand side by side with their backs to the ruined remains of their salvation, and watch the flames climb higher and higher toward the heavens. There is a time, a small time, when the flames lose their brilliance against the pale light of morning and Cersei's hair can't find the strength to sparkle and Ned is so goddamn dead inside.

There is this time, that is just companionship and strength and the kind of exhaustion that doesn't fit quite right in the places you want it to, when neither of them dares to say a word.

He doesn't speak to her. On a good day.

They can be the strong ones, but Ned knows that if he speaks, his words might betray that he is lost.

Evening. The in between. The edge of a rusty knife. Cersei stumbles as she pulls herself up onto the bottom step. Ned moves to catch her, out of instinct, but holds himself back at the last minute. She tumbles close to seven feet, and lands without a sound amidst the rubble. Ned doesn't move. She doesn't either, until with only the clicking of tiny rocks to mark her movement, she pulls herself back to her feet.

The second time, she does not stumble, and she does not look at Ned. He's glad; he should not have to see the thank you in her eyes. Some days he lives because he's living, and other days he lives for pride. Her pride, he thinks as he pulls himself onto the steps behind her, and then he tries to stop thinking altogether.

When the push into the tower room, much is how they left it. Jaime sits a little higher, but not much, and Catelyn stares sightless daggers against the far wall. Ned's not sure when she went blind and if it's her eyes that aren't working, or her brain. Still, he and Cersei split; they choose their sides, and Ned joins his fractured family while she joins hers. Ned wraps his arms around his son; Catelyn turns to him and for a moment he thinks she sees him.

"Ned," she says softly. But he wishes that she wouldn't speak.

Cersei lowers herself next to Jaime, gaunt folds of empty skin over ribs that poke out too damn far. Ned watches him grasp for her hand. She moves it out of reach. No, she might have said to him a month ago, Ned thinks. No, Jaime. When this is over, we won't want anyone to know. But now they know better; that this will only be over when there is no one left to know anything, and the last bit of secrecy dies with Ned's final breath. He might have told someone in the beginning, if he'd known, but now he holds his family and stares at Cersei, who stares right back and sits next to her brother without feeling his heat.

Ned does not know this as family, as life or death or love or honor. This is just waiting. For the sun to set. For the world to darken. For the unnatural relief of fighting for his life to contrast the loathsome time that he must spend with this husk of his family.

He remembers how he felt, that day that Jaime returned. It would be easier to kill them both, goddammit. Easier to kill them all. But he fears that, then, the insurmountable instinct to survive would be too much.

When the flies descend upon their skin, just before dusk, none of them so much as flinches.

Night is for living. That's what he tells himself, when the first wave comes like a sheet of wavering blue droplets rumbling through the dark. That's what he has to tell himself, as he watches Robb stand up, clarity shining in his eyes. He's just a puppet, Ned thinks sometimes, as he hands Robb whatever blunt bit of wood or metal he can get his hands on. And the light in his eyes at nigh time is just a trick meant to entertain a fool. But night must be for living, for Catelyn rises, too, knife in hand, and suddenly knows how to wield it.

She looks like his wife for a moment, before she cracks the first skull with such impassive determination that he's almost sick. He has to look away again, and he doesn't look back.

It's all sound after that; Catelyn's hoarse screaming and Robb's indefinable grunts of rage, the only sounds he ever makes anymore. It's a joy to hear, really, Ned realizes, over the sound of his own panting breath and the cold clank of Others' armor. It's better than silence, which Cersei wields more deftly than anyone can. She fights with it, it and a sturdy oil lamp she found in one of the hollowed out walls. She swings it with all her might at one and then another and seven hells will they ever stop?

And then it happens, and Ned doesn't have to look to know what's happened. He feels an odd sort of relief, even as Robb wailing and Catelyn is screaming "ROBB" over and over from the bottom of her choked up lungs. He barely hears her; he barely hears a word she says anymore, but he hears Robb's broken, angry cries, because he remembers them.

And it's just like the day they decided that they were going to have to eat Grey Wind, and Ned cut his throat with Ice and cooked him beside Cersei on a fire burning seven-and-ten bodies from the night before. That's the sound that Ned hears as Robb is ripped apart.

And when he turns around, Catelyn is fighting and Cersei is just watching, with eyes that are daring him to cry. He hefts his sword and bashes another head in, and pretends he doesn't see her smiling out of the corner of his eye.

There are endless days before they see the godswood burning. They probably should not be able to see it from the ground, but sacred wood burns brighter, faster, higher, and the red flames send lonely red leaves leagues and leagues across the empty snow. Ned and Cersei watch, small and bereft beside their own fire, which burns low and barely golden against a pale blue sky.

They watch the godswood burn, and know that Winterfell burns with it.

It makes him sick, this proof that others were alive, and they've given themselves up to death and darkness and burned all that they could before they died. Brilliant, lucky fools, he thinks, and then tries to remember his old gods.

Cersei reaches for his hand, eyes pointed straight ahead at the rising red flames. Her palm is tiny; her fingers a mess of brittle bones, but he doesn't pull away. This is his religion now. Whatever it is.

"I didn't worship as you did," she says quietly, and he knows that what she's left unspoken is I'm sorry, but all he can think of is the feeling of her hand and You do now, don't you?

They burn the weight of the things they don't speak about.

Jaime is fading fast. Cersei does not sit with him anymore. None of them sit with each other. Four lives; four corners, and they sit and stare across an empty room and try not to step on all the broken wolf bones when one of them has to stretch their legs.

It's weird, not knowing where to place your eyes. Jaime just closes his and Catelyn might as well be blind, but Ned and Cersei search the room with loose, hollow sockets until they find each other. And somehow it is easer just not to look away.

They burn their thoughts and emotions, which weigh them down when they should be fighting and keep them up when they should be sleeping.

It never works; no matter how many days in a row they coax their fire back to life.

What are we waiting for? he wants to ask her, but he knows there's no good answer and nothing she could say that he would want to hear. Odds are, Cersei would just look at him and smile.

For hope, he tries to imagine her saying. But that's just another made up word that can never mean anything tangible no matter how hard you try. And she would never, ever say it. She probably hasn't known hope in her entire life.

There's sound today, which rises above their crackling fire and intrudes upon their thoughts. Ned is almost grateful for the respite, for the invasive noise of whatever Jaime and Catelyn are saying up above. It is unintelligible and violent; guttural and sickening; filthy and depraved. It's just like hope, a measly set of sounds that mean only as much as you make of them.

So when Cersei stares into the flames and says, "It sounds like they're fucking," Ned almost replies, I don't mind if you don't mind. But then she's laughing, and he's not sure if it's because she's going crazy or because she thinks that what she said is just ridiculous.

It's a little bit of both, probably, and it's for those same two reasons that Ned stands there silently and just watches her.

They find Jaime, bent and broken and heaped just inside the door when they walk inside. He's clearly dead, and Ned thinks of Cersei's eyes on the day he came back to them. Don't touch him don't touch him he's alive, and that shrill pitch that only comes from someone who still cares. And now, she steps over him with unlikely grace and looks up toward the broken roof.

Sure enough, Catelyn stands there at the broken edge of the tower room floor, peering thirty feet down at them. It's like the most literal kind of separation, finally visible in a way that it hasn't been before. For a moment, Ned thinks that Catelyn is going to jump, and he holds his breath. But then she turns and disappears.

He breathes again.

Cersei doesn't look at Jaime, doesn't say we'll burn him in the morning, even though they both know that they will. Instead, she grips the bottom stair and pulls herself up, and Ned mounts them right behind her. Her foot falls through when they're two steps from the top, and she collapses through.

Ned catches her. He doesn't mean to.

Oh my gods sorry, he thinks and hates himself for saving a life. She doesn't say thank you, but she doesn't look angry, and he doesn't realize how hard he's gripping her arms until he feels her heartbeat beneath his fingers. He releases her and they stumble forward into the tower room.

I'm sorry, his mind screams, but still no words come out. That we're here that this happened that my wife killed your brother lover that I kept you from joining him.

But none of those words are real unless he says them, and he's too goddamn afraid to say anything. He and Cersei look at Catelyn, who obviously pushed Jaime to his death. It's almost poetic, considering what Cersei whispered to Ned days ago in the face of their morning fire. He pushed your son, you know, she'd said, and Ned had found that he already did.

Ned doubts that this is why Catelyn pushed him; more likely it was lack of sleep or food or caused by the overwhelming delirium that she had been facing for weeks. Or, perhaps most likely of all, Jaime had said please, end it and at this point that was the only kind of thing that Catelyn understood.

He draws Ice without considering another option, and Catelyn looks at him with cold dead eyes. He'll remember them, anyway, and thank the gods he never had to see them glow bright and blue.

Call it an eye for an eye or just a mercy killing; either way, both he and Cersei breathe a sigh of relief when Ned manages to bring her head off with one smooth stroke.

They burn them both in the morning, after the longest night of their lives. They're down to two, and they are weak, and the Others come in numbers that are ever greater than before. By morning, Cersei's lamp is dull and dented, and Ice is turning to a useless ump of metal in his hands.

They stand alone, in front of their fire as they always do, with just as little to return to inside as ever. They watch their lovers burn, their other halves consumed in smoke and fire and ash and each wonders why in the world they felt the need to cling to something that hasn't existed in months.

Ned looks at her out of the corner of his eye. There is nothing pretty about her, nothing golden or beautiful. She is grey, so grey that the flickering flames don't even reflect on her skin. She's sallow and sunken, with matted hair and dull green eyes. She's short and tiny and he can count her ribs with one eye closed. She is disgusting and dying and hopeless and filthy. She is depraved and a liar and all he has left. He looks at her out of the corner of his eye. This is my religion now, he remembers.

She's hard to hold when he kisses her, so he doesn't bother being gentle. She yields, for a moment, and then she bites his tongue so hard it splits and begins to bleed. When she pulls away, her lips are bright red splash against her pallid face. She smiles disgustingly and takes a deep, shuddering breath, like she felt it, too: the goddamn electrocution of finally feeling something after all these months of emptiness.

"Eddard. Ned," she says sadly, and puts her calloused palm against his chest. "I'm not made for that anymore."

And it takes her saying that for him to realize that he isn't, either, and that beneath his heavy leather armor, he's wasted away when he wasn't even looking. When they go back to watching the fire, which they do without another word, their arms are brushing, just barely, and neither even tries to move away.

"We're the strong ones," Ned says, finally, when the fire burns to nothing in the early afternoon and Catelyn's ashes mingle with Jaime's in the dust.

Cersei doesn't look at him. "Are we?" And she's saying that they're only here because they're too afraid to die.

The tips of her fingers are turning black. He notices it in the darkness, somehow, as she brings the oil lamp back and swings it, hard, into the side of the next one's head. There's a thud and wail and she's drawing back again, silent and determined and entirely removed from the experience. Ned wonders if the black on her fingers is a sickness, or if she's just been stained by all the bodies they have dragged. In that moment, he glances down at his own.

His arms are black up to his forearms and he hasn't even noticed. It hits him suddenly that he is so goddamn tired of living like this. He holds up Ice and looks at it, contorted and mangled in his hands. The roar of the Other's dulls until he's deafened, and Cersei turns to him, matted hair flying in her face.

"Ned," she says blankly, like she knows his mind and it is hers. "Ned don't leave me here—" and he wonders how long he's been going mad before he plunges the sword right through his chest.

"Does it hurt?" he hears himself ask aloud, and she's roaring, enraged.

"Eddard Stark you fucking bastard," she's screaming, bashing heads apart to bits and pieces and fighting as he's never seen her fight before. They come at her and she beats them back toward the dawn, which begins to split the sky as Ned closes his eyes for what he prays will be the last time.

I pray. His religion. He remembers his religion. And as he dies, her hair is gold again.

Cersei burns him in a separate fire from the Other's that she killed, as an homage to the fact that he was the only thing keeping her alive for all these goddamn months. She wonders, only briefly, if that is something she should be thankful for. She wants to call him coward; craven, but in the end he had more strength than she: to cut the cord and accept the fact that there was nothing left to live for.

Perhaps she should be offended that she was not enough, but the old wound hardly stings at all anymore. She has never been enough, not for her father or for Rhaegar or for Eddard Stark who longed for peace and death and a good long rest.

It's a shame, she thinks. All these endless months for this, to burn those who I love and those I don't. She looks down at her hands. She's holding Ice, or what used to be Ice, a noble shining sword when she first saw it in his hands. Seven hells, she doesn't think she ever had a hope of understanding men and their weapons, but this twisted hunk of metal with Eddard's blood still on the blade will be her savior. In the end, he'll take her.

She looks up at the horizon, which stretches in all directions, bleak and grey and white. Then she stares into the fire, which hurts her eyes, and thinks about all the times she's stood here. She thinks about Eddard and their secret thoughts, about that word hope that they each saw the other thinking and prayed the other wouldn't say.

"Hope," she says quietly, like that might break a spell, and points the sword at her chest. She can feel the heat of the fire on her face, see Eddard's body burning to a crisp. "I hope that I never wake up."

She falls forward, onto the sword, into the fire, and, in the end, the last survivor burns as easily as the first.

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Comments {6}

hear me roar

(no subject)

from: magisterequitum
date: Aug. 7th, 2011 02:09 am (UTC)


What is this? Except something perfect. I mean, shit, the way you wrote this is amazing. That you take this desperation and this grief and yet you still have Ned with his honor and Cersei with her pride. And that they are just surviving and everyone else can either do it or not. This is just so amazing. I love love love it. Cat and her grief and pushing Jaime off and then Ned killing her. And Ned dying and Cersei being the last one.

Basically, drawing hearts around this forever.

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(no subject)

from: the_stark_words
date: Aug. 7th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)

I'm going to faint. You're too nice to me, as usual, you horrible enabler you. But I'm glad you see Ned having his honor and Cersei having her pride because it's incredibly hard to have people go insane and still keep them in character.

Guh. Thank you.

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(no subject)

from: blackout_girl
date: Aug. 7th, 2011 03:35 am (UTC)

...Wow, really I read this and was speechless.

This was just gorgeous and so well characterized, despite the craziness of the plot. Like, Ned and Cersei are totally zombie trope characters, I could so see Cersei being all "Last Girl Standing" in any form. The relationship between the survivors was so poignant and real, Cersei and Ned being the "strong ones", Cat killing Jaime, and everyone's deaths were completely perfect. Just amazing!

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(no subject)

from: buriedbooks
date: Aug. 7th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)

oh god Jaime so obviously doomed the moment he came in and Cat half-mad and with her knife and Ned so stubborn, as always, and Cersei angry and proud and with Ice Sho what are you

"This is my religion now" broke me utterly.

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(no subject)

from: syrul
date: Aug. 7th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)

Oh my god, this is amazing. I don't even have words to describe how this makes me feel. It's like some cross between happiness and misery, but I love it.

This especially broke my heart:

And it's just like the day they decided that they were going to have to eat Grey Wind, and Ned cut his throat with Ice and cooked him beside Cersei on a fire burning seven-and-ten bodies from the night before. That's the sound that Ned hears as Robb is ripped apart.

In short, you're amazing.

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sloth wrangler

(no subject)

from: cnidarian
date: Aug. 10th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)

holeeee sheeet

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