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When Did You Last Let Your Heart Decide?

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There were blue and white petals on the comforter and perfectly placed chocolates on the pillows, the cloying air of cliched romance hitting Brienne square in the face as soon as she'd opened the hotel room door. She knew she shouldn't have accepted Jaime's invite to present at Essos' answer to Comic Con even before she'd learned it coincided with Valentine's weekend, and had spent hours second guessing her choice while the Narrow Sea ferry kicked through the white horses of choppy water. Jaime would be flying in later. She still preferred being on the water rather than over it, a hold over from growing up on one too many aircraft carriers and navy rations.

Despite her reservations, she hadn't been able to, in good conscience, turn down the opportunity to further promote Oathkeeper. Not after years of writing and illustrating and world building had resulted in enough of a financial backing for the launch of her expansive medieval novels as a new online role playing game. Jaime had been by her side almost every step of the way, right back to when her characters had only existed as doodles in the margins of her college notebooks, adding his own extensive backstories to each picture whenever he got bored in their shared classes. As they were still toeing the fiercely drawn line between friend and foe at that point, it was easier to let him corrupt the blue knight than have to deal with the semi-seductive insults that he liked to whisper in her ear. Occasionally, though, even she'd had to admit defeat as Jaime's ideas weren't all ones she could easily ignore. The blue knight wouldn't be the same without the suggestions that Brienne add in why the sword and armour had been gifted to her.

The Lannister brothers had shared the dorm room directly above Brienne's comfortable single throughout first year. Although Jaime was a little older and Tyrion a little younger than the average freshman, neither were particularly bad neighbours until Ty managed to get his hands on an appropriate fake ID after Winterfest. She soon found out that ear plugs were a necessity if she wanted more than a few hours sleep at weekends.

It was following one of those increasingly raucous parties that Brienne had her first proper interaction with Jaime outside of class. Their schedules were irritatingly identical apart from a couple of STEM requirements and one advanced animation class she'd pleaded her way into, leading to thrice weekly heated discussions on subjects such as Arthur Dayne, the history of fencing as an Olympic sport and modern romance novels. Their seminar leaders were always delighted that they backed up their opinions with equal parts knowledge and passion but with a group project looming, collaboration and cooperation were being encouraged more and more.

Whether by luck or good judgement, she'd been paired with the person least likely to know the meaning of 'teamwork' but hadn't ever expected their first meeting to take place in her shared kitchen on a lazy Sunday morning, Jaime still damp around the edges from his forbidden shower, stealing bacon and eggs for breakfast.

"You're not supposed to be down here," she'd told him, her arms folded across the front of her hoodie while he checked through drawers for cutlery. "And certainly not to use the girls' showers. It's against the rules."

"Come on, Bree, live a little," he replied, placing a plate of steaming scrambled eggs in front of her. "I'm sure there were worse things going on last night that would better suit your superior moral judgement."

"Worse?" she frowned. "And my name is Brienne, not Bree."

Jaime had only laughed. "Eat your eggs, they're getting cold."

"Don't tell me what to do!"

"Fine," he huffed, taking the fork out of her hand before she could bring it up to her mouth. "I'll eat them. But I seem to remember someone telling me that we're supposed to be working together now."

"That doesn't mean you get to boss me around for the next semester."

"So you like being in charge," he smiled, his lips twitching as he ran his eyes across her shoulders and down her arms like there was something inherently funny about their situation. "Good to know that under all those ugly sweaters lies an honest to Gods dominatrix."

"I-I didn't mean it like that," she spluttered, uncomfortable with how easily he could twist her remarks. Taking a deep breath as he continued to stare, and inwardly cursing the blush that was freely painting her cheeks, she attempted to get her point across a different way. "If we're going to get an 'A' we can't-"

Jaime almost choked as he tried to laugh and swallow at the same time. "You might want to hold your horses there, Bree. Unless you really want to do all the work, I suggest you start to lower your expectations."

"Why?" she volleyed back. "It's not like you're ever short of an opinion. And that's all Dr Dondarrion wants. We've just got to research the subject he's given us."

"The thing is," he started, chewing on his lip like there was something bothering him and she took a step back, giving him more space if he felt he needed to share something important. But barely a second had passed before the twinkle in his eye reappeared, as he leaned against the bench to finish eating. "The kitchen is a little more public than I'd like, but if you want to, we can start right away."

"Okay," she drew out the word, searching his face for a reason why he was being so affable all of a sudden. "I went to the library yesterday, if you just let me get my books...What?"

"That's not the kind of research I was thinking of." Jaime slowly shook his head as she continued to blankly watch for changes in his attitude. "Surely you can't be that naive?"

"About what?" she snapped, suddenly suspicious all over again.

"Those songs Dr Dondarrion gave us to look at," he smiled triumphantly. "They're all about sex."

"N-no," she stuttered, rushing to find safer ground. "They are not. Not The Song of the Seven or...or...The Rains of Castamere."

"Touché, Bree," he winked, beginning to tick the remaining songs on their list of his fingers. "But what about The Bear and the Maiden Fair, The Dornishman's Wife or Six Maids in a Pool?"

"He didn't say we had to look at all of them." Brienne drew herself up to her full height, trying to find enough self confidence to intimidate, looming over him. "I am not prepared to write a paper that's worth sixty per cent of my grade on some bawdy tavern ballad. And it's 'Brienne'."

"Okay, okay," he backed down without too much of a fight, looking up and straight into her gaze. "If you feel that strongly why don't you look at war and I'll look at women and we'll meet somewhere in the middle? There's not too much of a line between fighting and fucking if you believe all those writers Dondarrion keeps bringing up in class."

"I could...work with that. I think," she paused, narrowing her eyes as his considered study of her face turned flirtatious, mockingly fluttering his lashes before strolling across the room and collapsing down onto the hideously patterned sofa. "Just go back upstairs before you get us all into trouble."

He waved her off. "I'll see you around, Bree."

"Brienne."

***************************

She managed to avoid him as best she could during the following week, buffered now by her chemistry lab partner, Margaery Tyrell, who insisted joining her table at mealtimes, catching Jaime's eye only a couple of times during a particularly heavy political history debate. But when Sunday morning rolled around again and Brienne finally dragged herself away from the perfectly quiet school gym, Jaime was back lounging in her kitchen, only this time with coffee and croissants and a mountain of printed pages.

"Morning, sunshine," he quipped as she sat down, already picking through his unfiltered research, accepting the breakfast peace offering with a brief smile. "Are you impressed I've made a start on this?"

"It's due in nine weeks, you're exactly at the point you should be," Brienne replied dryly, hearing him bark out a laugh in return. It was a nicer sound than she was expecting, especially as she'd caught him off guard for once, giving Jaime a chance to forget whatever snark he usually hid behind and simply react. It didn't last long. But despite him being as exasperating as ever, they made a big enough dent in the reading to be able to part amicably several hours later, Jaime to basketball practice and Brienne to a DVD in her dorm room.

The next week he was there yet again, ready to work and joke and pester well into the afternoon, Brienne having to double her normal lunch order when it turned out Jaime's favourite restaurant was the same as hers. And so it went on until she almost thought of him as a friend, Sundays with Jaime allowing them to find a mutual respect that kept his comments about her appearance to a minimum and her irritation over him still using the girl's floor like a hotel to a bearable level.

Though they still rarely exchanged more than a few sentences at a time, except when a specific subject got their competitive juices flowing, it came as a great surprise to discover that she had more in common with Jaime than she could have guessed. Their pairing didn't seem so odd when she took into account the years he'd spent in military service before applying for college with his brother, partly to act as a distinctly hands-off guardian, partly in need of a better education after his voluntary discharge caused a divide with the rest of the Lannister family. While Brienne couldn't relate to the way his father had treated Jaime and Tyrion, all of their lives had been filled with learning how to settle into unfamiliar places quickly and finding structured routine in the chaos of upheaval. And it seemed to have struck the same chord to Jaime as even after their project was handed in, the final presentation made, so her Sunday afternoons could open up to a wealth of sporting possibility, he turned up at her dorm room door with a pizza and a pile of recordings from March madness, insisting that they celebrate their achievements.

"You've got to stop bringing me food," she grumbled as he stepped past her, awkwardly avoiding looking at the tangled knot of blankets spread across her bed before claiming the desk chair. "People are going to talk."

"About you having the hottest delivery guy this side of town?"

"You know what I mean."

Jaime's smile stretched across his face like molasses. "I don't care. You shouldn't either. I think by this age I should be allowed to have a female friend who can both kick my ass and ace her chemistry finals. Besides," he shrugged, "a lion doesn't concern itself with the opinions of sheep."

Brienne shut the door behind her with a bang, fighting back the unbidden tears that had started prickling in the corner of her eyes the minute his nonchalance filled her personal space. "You don't care that people think we're...together or you don't care that m-my entire rugby team thinks you...seduced me like we're in some stupid teen comedy to get a good grade because you're-"

"Because I'm dyslexic?" Jaime finished for her, sitting up a little straighter in his seat. "It's not like it's some big secret but I haven't been shouting it from the rooftops either," he shook his head, appearing to be mulling over his options. "Your teammates are fucking assholes for treating you like a joke. As if you would fall for something like that."

"It wouldn't be the first time somebody tried," she muttered under her breath, just loud enough for Jaime to hear and growl something unintelligible. "I...The way I look tends to bring out the worst in certain people."

"When?"

"High school." Brienne pulled a face, not wanting to remember the details. "That's a story for another time, though."

"I'm going to hold you to that one, Bree," he promised, cocking his head as he started to study her shoulders for the hundredth time. "You should start a girls' team."

"Where would I even...Don't change the subject, Jaime, you still didn't tell me about you," she replied through gritted teeth. "Three months we've been working on that project and you didn't say a word."

"Why would I?" he retorted sharply, scrambling to his feet, finally fed up with seeing her stare down at him. "So you could look at me with those big blue eyes like I needed your pity? I'm okay, I'm dealing with it."

"The last thing you need is pity, Jaime Lannister," she closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she sat down on the edge of her bed. He had no clue how lucky he was to simply be here after so many years on active service. "But if we are friends like you claim, then maybe I could help you...talk through your ideas. We have more finals coming up."

"My place or yours?"

"I was thinking Campus Coffee."

And after several extended lunches in the student coffee house, hours whizzing by while she attempted to rein his overenthusiastic, though often inflammatory, ideas into something resembling essay answers, Jaime called to cancel the sixth, complaining about missing out on Tyrion's end of semester paintball tournament between sneezes. It was a mark of how far they'd come that she barely hesitated before breaking one of her rules and climbing the stairs to the boys floor, armed with the best chicken soup she'd found in the city and a video game Jaime had mentioned multiple times. He fell asleep with his head on her shoulder half way through the second quest, cuddling into her like a comfort blanket, and she gave him a grace period of a minute or two before pausing the game and heading back to her room. They could pick it up again when he was feeling better, even if they were sophomores the next time they saw each other.

Chapter Text

Summer came and went in a blur that year, as if time was speeding up as she counted down to another birthday spent with only her father for company, caddying at Tarth's only country club and planning the first draft of Oathkeeper keeping her so busy that the thought of school or friends or Jaime hardly crossed her mind. So much so that when two familiar young men turned up for a round of golf days before she turned nineteen she believed it to be a mirage caused by the strange melancholia of the last days of the summer, the same trick that had made her think she'd recognised a voice amongst a group of ladies checking into the spa earlier that morning.

They had to use all the garden folding chairs to make sure everyone had a seat for her birthday feast, her dad overjoyed to have so much laughter in their home again. And later, after Jaime had drunkenly shared a few secrets that had been sealed by the army and she'd automatically reached over to hold his hand, lying side by side in the long grass under a blanket of stars, Brienne felt like she would never have another night like this one. She was wrong, of course, but back then the possibility that she had finally found a group of people who would care, no matter what, hadn't really been an option she'd been expecting.

A lot had changed in the five and a half years since she'd woken up in his arms, curled up together like it was completely natural to want to be held by her best friend while she dreamed of her blue knight falling in love, but the shared classes, family dinners and worried hours spent in the hospital all added up to something she could never fully accept without willingly letting go of their friendship. So it was easier to pretend that they didn't spend Tyrion's alternative New Year's Eve furiously making out in the back seat of a limo on the way to the Water Gardens' Casino or that they skipped their graduation ball to make her inept fumblings with that overly interested guy from her writing group seem even more mediocre than they actually were, both convinced they were never going to see each other again.

She tried to stay in touch with everyone afterwards but it was only really Margaery, whose insistences that a successful writer didn't necessarily have to be a recluse, that stopped Brienne from slipping into a life of isolation. The Tyrell family welcomed her into their quirky circle of quiz nights, amateur dramatics and polo games with open arms, giving her time and space when she needed it but not allowing Brienne to sit out what was left of her youth. Tyrion sent the occasional postcard, and even rarer group email, with updates from his and Jaime's adventures in Essos, the pair having put their inheritance money into real estate and sporting teams across the Narrow Sea. With each scrap of news, Brienne was learning more and more to school her features into a mask of pleasant interest. She still missed how close they'd been, before the kisses had turned them into something else, something less, but Margaery never asked for her true feelings on the subject and Brienne never volunteered the information on her own.

Her emotions and experiences had always coloured the way words formed in her head, the way her characters chose to approach their challenges, but this feeling of losing something she'd never really had was new. And, as the weeks of considered fantasy transformed into months, it added a sense of longing to the honourable blue knight and her missing squire, Brienne finding it almost cathartic to pummel her frustrated thoughts into her undersized keyboard. At least she still had control over how the tale would unfold, right down to their last words, even if every interaction she'd had so far with Westerosi publishers about Oathkeeper had been met with letters of rejection. Her short stories were keeping a roof above her head and food in her stomach but those chapters that she'd poured her heart into now needed more action, crusades and civil war aside, and less introspection to reach the target, predominantly male, audience. Or that's what the frazzled assistants kept telling her, slowly losing their positivity with time.

She blamed her deflating mood and almost daily, depressing interactions for being more susceptible to the Tyrell's efforts to get her more involved with their social calendar. It wouldn't be the first time she'd been invited to the soirée that Margaery's grandmother threw each Easter, but it was the first time Brienne had been politely persuaded into attending. Realising her mistake too late, she was so grateful to see a familiarly handsome face amongst the crowd of strangers that she barely protested as Jaime dragged her onto the antique marbled dance floor to the sounds of the Old Valyrian philharmonic orchestra, Olenna having chosen the best from the dozens who'd auditioned at the beginning of the year.

Brienne let out a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding as Jaime finally drew back at the end of the second or third waltz, his hand still running comforting circles along her flank, letting go of the pretence that they were dancing. "Do you want to get out of here and get a real drink?"

She'd had about as much champagne as she could tolerate by that point, Margaery making sure everyone's glasses were topped up on a regular basis, but they knew each other well enough to know that that wasn't the only thing he was asking. "As long as that drink is black and full of caffeine."

"Just because you're a fancy published writer now, doesn't mean you can't have something a little sweeter." Jaime's smile slowly stretched across his face, reminding her of all the times she'd inadvertently, pleasantly surprised him in the past. "I'm sure my wallet'll stretch to a cup of coffee, if you're sure that's all you want."

"I am."

"My suite at The Valyrian has a state of the art expresso machine. I might even have worked out how to use it over the last two days."

Brienne couldn't help but match his grin, his enthusiasm over mastering such a task infectious. "You mean to say you didn't put all those hours in at The Vale of Beans just to flirt with Myranda Royce."

He bit his lip, purposely running a hand through his hair like an underwear model. "Can you blame her for hiring based on eye candy?"

"When it's you, yes, I can."

"Hey," Jaime protested through a swallowed chuckle, instinctively pulling her out of harm's way as they were jostled by couples joining the dance floor, her hands coming dangerously close to stroking the back of his neck, the unintended touch causing his voice to drop lower than a murmur. "I didn't force you or your friends to drink all those cappuccinos. I could have almost set my watch to when you used to come in for your fix."

"Student discount," she croaked, being willingly walked through the house and towards the parking lot, need overwhelming sense. If Brienne been thinking clearly, she would have at least counted the reasons why Myranda Royce might have recently expanded her family friendly cafe chain to Essos, one popping up in each of the Lannister's sporting and conference centres. Not that she'd ever had the benefit of clarity before falling into bed with Jaime.

"Plus all the free refills," he added, taking the chance to graze his lips along her jaw as they paused to let his driver opened the car door.

"You wanted to keep me writing."

It used to be so simple, coffee and midterms and chapter rewrites, but she no longer had that welcoming environment to escape to, or Jaime to keep her spirits up, his fully formed life in Braavos keeping him out of reach.

"I still want to keep you writing," he admitted evenly, a teasing lilt wrapping around his words like the unwanted climbing roses that had taken over her garden wall, marring the view from her kitchen window. She'd always hated roses. "I look for Oathkeeper every time I'm in a book store. It's been nine months since you told me you'd finished it, so where is it, Bree?"

"Brienne." She met his lips gently, sliding along the leather as he joined her on the back seat. "No one wants it."

"That's not true. I do," he returned her kiss with ferocious aplomb, running a hand up her thigh until he remembered just where to squeeze before she would squeak a couple of uncharacteristic expletives. Jaime no longer needed to run through his tenderly enthusiastic repertoire to seduce her. In truth, he never really had, but he seemed to find greater pleasure in seeing her satisfied first if their previous tumble was anything to go by. "And Belle would."

Brienne's immediate reply was muffled by the feel of his tongue stroking along the length of her own, their hands beginning to roam over familiar territory, a cacophony of moans slowly filling the space. Her shirt buttons popped open with ease from the gentle pressure of his nimble fingers, his mouth hungrily following the freckled trail of gradually exposed skin, sucking and nibbling down the curve of her neck, the feel of his warm breath making it momentarily difficult for Brienne to come up with a single coherent thought.

"Who's Belle?" she gasped as soon as she could catch her breath, being encouraged to sit astride his lap while Jaime enjoyed winding her tighter, fastening his lips around the pounding of her pulse, hardening against her thigh.

"Black Pearl Publishing. She prefers to pluck her new authors out of obscurity personally, but Tyrion's been to a few of her parties now so I'm sure he can persuade her to take your call." Jaime lifted his gaze but not his mouth, almost attempting to soothe her into sighing his name with gentling kisses between words. "I can find you her number if you want it."

She felt somewhat uneasy accepting a favour from either Lannister, but things were easily justified when she realised that her work would have to speak for itself. She was just being offered a foot through the door. "I want it."

He smiled again, letting Brienne take in the colours that had started to lustfully caress along his cheekbones while her attention was elsewhere. He really was too pretty to keep wanting to mess around with the likes of her, no matter if he'd been the one to initiate their first step towards the repeat button. She knew that all of this was her fault, for feeling so defeated that she'd eagerly embraced the chance to escape from her current reality with a man she could have fully fallen for.

"Gods," Jaime breathed, breaking Brienne out of her world of wonder, unable to stop staring up at her. "With those eyes you shouldn't be allowed to say things like that."

Blushing profusely, despite having long accepted that she didn't need his compliments or attempts at adoration when there was little they had in common other than sex, Jaime tightened his grip on her thighs as the car slid to a halt, completely enamoured by tracing freckles along her jaw with his tongue.

"Are you sure you want coffee?" he rumbled against her skin, breath hitching as she tangled her fingers in his hair and bared her throat for more attention. "It would be such a shame to waste that giant bed if a couple of cups were all it took to keep us awake...all night."

"I'm...Can you just kiss me again?"

"With pleasure."

*******

Brienne promised herself this would be the last time they'd hook up like this, even as she lay with Jaime wrapped around her afterwards, pretending that he thought she was sleeping while watching the sun rise through half closed eyes, warm and safe and so far out of reach. His easy exhales ghosted over her bare skin and she shivered at the change of temperature, Jaime moving to straighten the sheets as he pressed a whisper soft kiss to her shoulder before languidly rolling out of bed, whatever connection they'd shared gone.

There was a note stuck to the TV making excuses about an early flight when Brienne eventually decided she needed to shower away the sex and sweat and scent of him, but Jaime had been as good as his word in leaving contact information for the infamous Belle at Black Pearl Publishing in Braavos. Despite her soft smile, she remained under no illusions that a two night stand meant they had any kind of future, only hesitating for a minute before reaching for her phone and saving the number for Tyrion's friend.

Chapter Text

Brienne saw Jaime slightly less sporadically, though more often at a distance than not, over the next year or so, her world changing yet again after the Oathkeeper series was snatched up by Black Pearl Publishing. Following a series of meetings, she was given a dedicated genre editor to work with, her manuscript needing a few finishing touches though it wasn't long before their professional and social circles grew smaller still, the online release of several chapters whetting appetites just enough for a publication date to be confirmed and Brienne to start showing her face at a few, minor conventions. Her dad was so proud to see her name on the line up for the Stormlands' Sci-Fi Symposium that he bought his own ticket as soon as they went on sale.

And while staying in Westeros posed little risk of running into Jaime, it was difficult to say the same when Belle pushed her towards events across the Narrow Sea. She couldn't help but feel uneasy appearing at any of the arenas or concert halls that the Lannister brothers had purchased in their attempt to gain a monopoly in Essos, especially given her history with Jaime and how early she was in her career. So she tried to avoid, for the most part, the spaces where there was a lot of Casterly money involved. It was easier said than done, though, and Jaime had a habit of turning up to each event and capturing her attention even across a crowded room, his casual, knowing winks and waves leaving her skin burning.

She didn't get a chance to talk to him again until Halloween, six months after their night together, amorously connecting in the bathroom at a party thrown in honour of Belle's fifteenth anniversary with the publishing house. And then he turned up, with Tyrion in tow, for her first book signing in Braavos, charming all the ladies in line even though when he got to the front of the queue every other phrase past his lips was 'I told you so'. He'd arrived later than the store had advertised and by that point in the day Brienne was too emotionally drained to resist her urges when he offered her a ride.

It was quick and dirty in the backseat of his car, having no time to properly undress though they didn't miss a chance to kiss, and she felt guilty saying goodbye to him for the first time since their friendship had changed. She knew monogamy would never work between them, that she wasn't enough to keep him interested in the long run, but none of that stopped Brienne from falling back into wondering 'what if' all the way home. In the grand scheme of things, she knew having sex with Jaime four times didn't mean anything but they were familiar with each other and had similar carnal appetites. However, there was no denying the fact that she hadn't been on four dates with the same guy before, no matter how hard Margaery was trying to get her to go out, never mind do anything more intimate.

Still, it weighed on her mind more and more as Tyrion's emails increased in frequency, starting to talk about setting up a celebratory reunion, and she didn't dare to hope that Jaime was also reaching out across the water to check in on them all. She never let herself get carried away, even while planning out the sex scenes in her second tome, as there was always a little voice in the back of her mind telling her that she'd only been convenient and available and lonely. As luck would have it, she ended up being in the north on the day the reunion took place, meeting with the two young founders of Greywater Games who'd contacted her about turning Oathkeeper into an online RPG.

Meera and Jojen Reed were barely out of high school, but they were just experienced enough at turning words on a page into legitimately exciting action sequences to put her worries at ease. They weren't planning on diluting any of her character intentions or skill sets just to please the perceived market, instead wanting the individuality in the tale to shine through the way it had when they'd first picked up the novel. The siblings had kept her involved in the process, sending out invites to visit on a bi-monthly basis, the latest of these short working vacations coinciding with another of Jaime and Tyrion's visits.

She didn't want it to look like she had purposely been avoiding seeing Jaime since the previous Spring, their extended separation only making this Valentine's Day weekend more awkward, but life kept taking them in different directions again and again. It also didn't help that the hotel staff had apparently overlooked the memo that had asked for separate rooms, the request clear when Brienne had made the booking through Jaime's perky assistant. She hadn't wanted to assume he hadn't settled down in the meantime or be overly tempted by his proximity if nothing had changed.

"This was such a bad idea," Brienne grumbled to herself as she made her way across the room, determined to call reception before Jaime arrived and politely correct their booking mistake. The Wicked Wench wasn't usually seen as a romantic spot and she couldn't have imagined them being overbooked enough to warrant her and Jaime sharing a bed, but the reception full of convention attendees who were seemed to be especially fond of piratical themed guest houses was evidence to the contrary.

"Good afternoon," she replied to the brightly pleasant voice at the end of the line. "I'm in room 12 and there appears to have been some sort of mix up. My name is-"

"Brienne?"

She wasn't sure if it was the gentle sound of rapping knuckles against the slightly ajar door or his tentatively excited voice that made her drop the receiver, but seeing Jaime standing in the doorway after so much time apart set her heart to race and palms to sweat, the receptionist's tinny apologies the only thing cutting through the descending tension. Despite the surprise, Brienne found herself wondering how long exactly this had existed between them.

"Y-you're early," she said as calmly as she could, trying not to stare at the strands of spun gold that were falling haphazardly across his forehead, balling her hands into fists to stop from thinking about brushing them back into place. They weren't doing that again. "I wasn't expecting you until tonight.

"It's nice to see you too," he replied, the droplets of snark she could hear beading on each syllable reminding Brienne that some things would never change between them. This was the sharp, reckless man who existed on top of the Jaime she'd grown to care about. Rolling her eyes as he threw his bag down, seemingly unaffected by the unexpected sleeping arrangements, she was suddenly struck with the idea that this mixup had been helped into existence.

"There was a favourable head wind," Jaime continued, unaware the dangerous places her thoughts were taking her, curiously picking through the historical memorabilia that decorated the windowsills and mantelpiece alike. "Plus," he paused for effect more than anything else, turning back to face her, his eyes alive with amusement. "I've now got use of a company jet. If you'd not been so stubborn about travelling on that damn rust bucket of a ferry, we could have picked you up."

She chose her next words carefully. "So you're not planning on staying? If you're not waiting for a scheduled flight you mustn't want-"

Jaime laughed, though there was little evidence of malice or distrust in the sound. "Whatever you might think, there isn't enough room outside my apartment block for a landing strip. You might finish with your fans at six tomorrow, but most of us will be working on until ten-thirty and then starting again at seven. It's not worth going home in between."

"Oh...okay."

Jaime's face fell dramatically as she stuttered to a standstill, her gaze flickering between the window and the picture on the wall behind him. "He doesn't know you're here, does he?"

She felt her nose scrunch up in confusion, her earlier, more romantic, symptoms abating as her irritation rose. "I have literally no idea what you're talking about."

"The guy who's been...keeping you occupied for the last year," Jaime's words slowed, spelling out what shouldn't have been weighing on his mind each time she had been missing from their reunion visits. "He's Northern, right?"

Brienne thought about the security guard at Greywatch Games who had made passes at her each time she'd visited, feeling a shiver of revulsion run the length of her body. "That man might consider that something's going on but there's definitely, unequivocally, not."

Jaime raised a perfectly golden eyebrow, beginning to kick at the striped rug covering otherwise bare floorboards as if he was trying to stop himself pacing like a caged animal at the zoo. "Margaery was convinced otherwise."

"She's wrong. We don't talk about...." Brienne trailed off, knowing there'd only been one man who she could have discussed and he hadn't stopped watching her since he'd walked in the room. Her body and mind were torn between wanting to fill their lingering silence with curses or kisses, although neither action would be productive if she wanted that weekend to continue being professional. But finding something in Jaime's gaze that was beyond his usual argumentative nature, she forced herself to stretch the truth. "I've all but grown out of romantic notions."

"Is that what you tell your fans when they ask about your blue knight's fate?" Jaime scoffed in disbelief. "You've never been that good of a liar, Bree."

She swallowed hard. "I tell them that...that an ending is only ever the beginning of something else. And I would never kill my girl for dramatic effect."

"How enlightened of you," he spat back in reply. "You have no problem bruising one or two hearts along the way but draw the line at breaking thousands when the cool kids suddenly start to accept you."

"You have no idea, do you?" she pushed herself up off the side of the bed, thinking about Oathkeeper's readers. "Those girls are...They're not...The only pretty people who've ever accepted me are Margaery and you, you jealous prick, you can't even begin to-"

"Go on, Bree," he growled, every inch of him bristling with arrogance and disdain, Jaime's rage being brought past boiling point with every passing minute. "Say what you really mean."

"Did you want more than a dedication? A writing credit?"

A dedication?" he scoffed, looking down his nose in a perfect imitation of his terrifying father. "As if I'd care about something as trivial as that. And surely your best friend is Margaery?

"Have you even ever spent any real time around Margaery?" Brienne asked, dumbfounded that Jaime hadn't known those words had been meant for him. "So, if that's not it, what do you want?"

"I want you."

Chapter Text

"W-what?" Brienne spluttered, having to remind herself again that she'd promised not to repeat any of the mistakes she'd made with him. "Just because it looks like we might have to share a bed tonight, doesn't mean you can say three words and we'll end up sleeping together."

Jaime laughed bitterly. "Is that seriously all you can think about?"

"No," she huffed. "I just meant we-"

"I know what you meant and don't get me wrong, we're good together when we fuck," he paused, channeling his anger into obvious, forced flirtation, looking at her in a way that was equal parts appreciative and lascivious. "You're great when you're not wound up so tight and I'd prefer not to go another year without seeing you naked but that's not what today is about."

"But that's all we ever were about, Jaime," Brienne countered. "After college and whatever friendship we had wore off."

"And whose fault was that?" Jaime asked, not missing a beat, their exchanges getting quicker and quicker as more emotions rose to the surface. "You didn't want anything more to do with me unless you were horny at a party. I suppose I should think myself lucky that you didn't run off with someone else."

"Me? You've been screwing every secretary and celebutant across the Narrow Sea for all I know!" She knew that such a thing was unlikely, but she was just mad enough to throw the accusation at him. "And with my face how could there be anyone else? I've only ever been seen as a conquest or a challenge until you. Look at me and tell me what we had wasn't just convenient."

"Those overly peppy teenagers are more my brother's thing," he dismissed the thought as if it was nothing. "Why would I accept something meaningless when I knew there was real connection out there? And are you sure about the past tense, Bree? I don't remember us breaking up."

"Do you have to break up if you weren't ever really dating? Just having sex doesn't count as a date."

"We went to graduation together," he spat back furiously. "It wasn't my fault we ended up in bed before we got anywhere else."

"I went to graduation with my best friend," Brienne corrected with a growl, wondering if she had read everything wrong over the past few years. She felt a wave of concern rise up, threatening to drag her down into a vicious circle she had no desire to revisit. "You could have called, Jaime. Friends call."

"And what about you? Did your fingers drop off from all that writing? You never even replied to one of Tyr's emails. I had to result to offering free promotion just to see you again." Something in him seemed to be slowly deflating as he stood in front of her, fighting back against each parry she threw up in defence. "There's really been nobody else?"

"Over the last year, Jaime, on average, I've been writing ten thousand words a week," Brienne jutted out her chin, defensive, yet feeling a sense of pride in her work that she was only just coming to terms with. "When I'm not writing, Belle has had me in meetings or travelling or promoting. And the nights I've been giving myself off recently, I go and play bridge with Margaery's grandmother. Or I binge watch Westerflix. You say you want me. But do you really want that kind of life? Or do you just want my body?"

"Of course I want your body. Do you know what your legs do to me?"

"That's not helping."

"The truth often doesn't, Brienne." He cocked his head, taking her in from a different angle though she doubted the overall picture would change much. "Your eyes are even more beautiful when you're mad."

"Is that you satisfied then?"

"Brienne, sweetling, that's another loaded word you're using. You really don't want to know."

She blinked, momentarily lost for words. "Has there been anyone else for you? Since...Since last time."

"Only if you count my left hand." There was a flicker of a smile playing at the corner of his mouth as she defiantly stared directly at him, surprised that he could still make her blush with so few words. "Since I last saw you, we've signed a dozen new building contracts, including one that's still in pieces in Valyria City and another on Dragonstone, plus two multiplexes in Yi Ti for their film festival next year. I nearly bought land on Tarth when I started dreaming about you. I spend my days in negotiations with stars who have riders bigger than your last novel. And when I'm not in the office or travelling halfway across the world for The Lions or meeting with developers I'm bailing my brother out of brothels," he seemed to be running out of breath when he stopped, still overflowing with emotions and ideas. "But I need more than a quick high and someone to keep the bed warm."

"What a fine pair we make," she said, caught in the no-man's land between bitterness and laughter, slowly bubbling release making her near hysterical. "Maybe we weren't supposed to want anything more than what we've got."

"And what is it that we have, Brienne?

"I don't know what it is we have, Jaime. It's not as if you want a relationship, is it?"

Jaime set his jaw, shaking his head like she couldn't possibly understand anything. "Stupid, stubborn woman, of course I want a relationship, I've been in love with you for nearly six years!"

Her mouth fell open of its own accord, Brienne immediately feeling like she was caught in some bizarre recurring dream that would all too soon turn bad. But, no, the bed was still between them, their battle lines clearly drawn even though Jaime hadn't stopped moving since he arrived and she was fighting the nervous electricity that was sparking beneath her skin each time she caught his gaze. She knew she should agree with him, wanting so much to know what it was like to be loved but the sudden slap of such a thing made it too hard to vocalise her own solitary experiences. "Before or after my birthday in the fairy meadow back home?"

"I don't know," he said sharply, his face twisting as if trying to remember. "I'm not sure when I realised."

"But since we..."

"Became beneficial? It's a definite maybe. But it's not like I woke up one morning a changed man."

"Okay," she breathed, struggling to keep up with the effect this new information was having on the emotions she'd kept chained up for too long.

"I thought about asking you to come visit Essos once we were finished with school, and then again when the business was set up and secure, but Tyrion talked me out of it. I didn't know...I couldn't be sure you weren't just using me."

"Me?" she heard her voice shoot up a couple of octaves. "Using you?"

"It's not like it hasn't happened to me before," Jaime replied darkly and Brienne almost tripped over her tongue to apologise. It was another woman at another time in his life, before he'd decided to leave the army but Brienne had selfishly never considered he could feel that way. There had never been any real sign of insecurity in him at all.

With a sense of deja vu echoing in her head, she forgot to think before blurting out everything. "For gods' sake, Jaime, I love you too much to ever do that! I thought...I thought you weren't...No, I knew you weren't interested in anything more permanent."

"I was in half a mind to marry you the day after graduation, if you'd have had me."

"We didn't have a sept on campus," she reminded him, a flash of fondness turning to despair before Brienne could find any comfort in it. "Seriously, why are you telling me this now?"

She watched him swallow, all sense of sarcasm and superiority melting away into a stillness he was rarely capable of. "Because the thought of losing you is slowly killing me."

"You're...We can't go on like this."

"Of course," he agreed, taking a step towards the door. "I'll get another room. Give you some space to think."

"No." She barked out the word quicker than she could prevent it leaving her lips, glancing across the room to find a crease of confusion decorating Jaime's forehead. "I mean you can try but they don't look to have anything left. Not if they shoved us in here together after I specifically asked for separate rooms. I can sleep on the sofa, it looks comfortable enough."

"Like I'm going to let you do that. You won't get any rest and spend the morning all grumpy and snap at my paying customers. Take the bed, it's fine."

She didn't want to admit that just having him close was going to affect her sleep, knowing how hard it would be not to want to curl up with him. "I can keep my hands to myself if you think you can do the same."

"It's been a long year, I'm getting good at keeping things to myself."

Closing her eyes, Brienne took a deep breath, hoping it would be easier to talk if she couldn't see to judge his reactions. "I wish we'd been better at staying in touch." I wish we didn't have to keep misunderstanding each other. I wish you'd hold me again. I miss you like crazy.

"Well, we ain't dead yet, Bree," he drawled, something in his tone making her focus on him again, his efforts at diffusing the situation they'd brought about not going unnoticed. "You wouldn't want to get something to eat and catch up? I'm guessing you didn't have lunch on the ferry."

Brienne felt her stomach turn over at the mention of food, having forgotten how long it had been since breakfast. "My cab passed a vintage diner on the way here."

"Hot Pie's? He only serves the best burgers in the city." Jaime took another step towards the exit, beckoning her closer with just a look that made her mouth water more than the possibility of good fast food. "Just don't steal all my fries."

"We'll get a double order, like we used to do," Brienne rolled her eyes as she made her away round the bed, only to pause when she realised it still felt like there was something missing, something they needed to say. "Is this a date?"

"It can be, but I don't really want to 'date' you, Bree," Jaime informed her casually, though he couldn't have known how her heart sped up as he explained further. "I think we're past that point anyway, I think what we should be aiming for is something a little more serious and long lasting."

I love you. "I think it-it would still be long distance, anything between us. My life...What it is, it's in Riverrun. It might not be a lot of fun but it's my home."

"And I wouldn't want to force you away from it before you're ready to leave. I'll come to you and you can see me when you visit Belle. In restaurants and museum libraries and not the back seat of my car."

Brienne smiled through a returning blush, despite the voice that sounded a lot like her childhood nanny still ringing in her head. She would never be perfect, she knew that, but maybe she could be enough. So, banishing the childhood insecurity with rare thoughts of how blessed she'd been with success and friendship, Brienne allowed herself to believe in the possibility of finding true happiness with Jaime. "For the record, I didn't really have a problem with the back seat of your car."

"Good to know," Jaime grinned, his face lighting up with a heady kind of giddiness that was a shock to see. "Also for the record, if you're keeping record that is, I'm in the middle of an expansion into Westeros at the minute so I can be in or around Riverrun at least two, three times a month."

Brienne didn't even try to fight her smile that time. "I don't really have room for a private jet."

She watched as his tongue darted out to lick his lips as if he found something inviting in working through the practicalities. "But Margaery does."

"Olenna would love that," Brienne replied, fighting the laugh that wanted to bubble up her throat, the flicker of amusement sparkling in his eyes like bubbles in champagne. "You'd have to pay for a new gardener just to clean up after that monstrosity you ride around in."

"With the amount of tourism I'm about to throw her way, Olenna should be thinking about paying me."

Brienne finished traversing the adorned bed while he spoke, Jaime automatically opening an arm to usher her out into the corridor, but his fingertips caught the sliver of bare skin along her hip that refused to be covered by her shirt. She shivered, and before Brienne knew she was being pulled into a tight hug, his nose buried in the curve of her neck. And although the action felt closer to a friendly embrace than something sensual and demanding, it still took her a second to relax into the warmth he was offering.

"I'm sorry I didn't write," Jaime murmured into strands of hair that had escaped the confines of her ponytail, now long enough to softly caress her shoulders. "Or call. But would you really have replied if I'd said I missed you?"

"I think...I think it's better that you're here, saying it," she turned her head to press a kiss to his temple, inhaling the spicy scent of his shampoo, listening to him purr as she grazed his cheekbone with her chin in the rush to remind herself of how silky his hair felt under her chapped lips. "And I should have told you, too. Every day if that's what it would have taken."

"Told me what?" She could feel his smile branding her skin with its ferocity, his words barely audible as they rumbled pleasantly along her freckles. "For a best selling author you're not exactly being eloquent."

"I love you, you idiot."

She felt him cling to her a little more intently, like the strength had suddenly left his muscles, like he'd been waiting for her declaration, like he had to make sure she was real, sharing this moment with him. "Gods, I love you, too, but we've got to come up with some better terms of endearment before 'idiot' sticks."

"Jaime."

"I love it when you say my name," he laughed as he lifted his head, enjoying teasing her even now, her stomach interrupting whatever was coming next with a loud growl. "I'm not sure what The Wicked Wench would come up with at short notice, Bree, but we could order some room service if you're that hungry."

She shook her head in reply, keeping hold of his hand as they briefly parted, already missing having him within cuddling distance. "Let's go out, Jaime, we've stayed in enough over the years. We can always brave room service tomorrow night if things at the hall run late."

"I didn't think you'd-"

"Tyrion said there'd be enough to keep me here all weekend," she gently interrupted, her explanations repeated so many times over the past few months that they made perfect sense. She hadn't agreed to stay an extra day just for the opportunity to catch another few glimpses of Jaime at all. "And it went up on my blog that I would be here through to Sunday. Once I promised, I didn't want to disappoint."

"Well, then," he grinned again, the tension that had tightened his jaw and shoulders disappearing now that everything was being released out into the open. "I'll be holding you to those promises."

"Shut up." The kiss she gave without thinking was nothing but a quick brush of their lips but it was full of feeling. She didn't quite realise she was mirroring his smile when they pulled apart. Initiating such an outward display of love was something she hadn't felt comfortable making before. "You still haven't shown me around."

Jaime didn't miss a beat, pointing around the room as if she hadn't noticed any of the glaringly obvious features. "Here's the bed, Bree, and the window, and there's a really ugly picture of a pirate ship behind me. Not much to see really."

"I meant-" she started, staring at him as he were hopeless before falling into a deep sigh. "You must know I don't get much time to explore the places I visit on tour."

"Okay," he nodded, suddenly determined as he picked up the room key she'd dropped on the table by the door, spinning it between his fingers like a magician. He looked back at Brienne, winking as he squeezed her fingers gently. "Let me show you the world you've been missing out on."